Nikon D4, Nikon WT-5A, ShutterSnitch, and the iPad ... Winner!!!

Many of my clients like to be able to see the results from a shoot real time, which is great by me because I can get real time feedback on the shoot.  I used to have to take my laptop and a long 25 foot USB cord to hook my camera to the laptop.  Between the cord and the laptop it was kind of clumsy.  I like to move around on a shoot and being tethered doesn't help.  I often shoot outside, and here again, the cord and laptop just got in the way and the laptop was hard to see in bright light without some kind of cover.

I read an article about an iPad app called ShutterSnitch that allowed a photographer to easily acquire images from his/her camera over WiFi.  Many photographers use the Eye-Fi card, but it only comes in SD format and my Nikon D4 doesn't support that.  You could use an SD to CF card adapter but I read about a lot of problems with weak signals and slow transmission.  Then there was the Nikon WT-5A Wireless Transmitter which is designed for use with the Nikon D4 D-SLR camera.  At $553 dollars at B&H it was a major investment vs. a $69 SD Eye-Fi card.  As I always tell my kids, when you GO CHEAP you PAY MORE. 

How many times have you bought something that was cheap and supposedly just as good as the best solution, only to have to deal with all the frustration and lost time, and at the end of the day you finally end up buying the best solution anyway.  And when I am with a client I don't want to be fumbling with unreliable equipment.

The WT-5A fits like a glove on my Nikon D4.  It was fairly easy to configure, and the connection to my iPad was fast and reliable.  The ShutterSnitch app is very intuitive.  It acquires the photos quickly, it allows you to rate and sort the files quickly.  Customers love to flick through all the photos and rate them real time.  

On a portrait shoot I use to put the proofs from the shoot on my website and have my client pick their favorites when they got back to their office.  Because the iPad is so easy to use and setup, I find myself using it on portrait shoots and I allow my client to pick their favorites before they leave and I can go right to retouching without the intermediate step of putting the proofs online.   This saves time, disk space, and my clients get their images faster.  The $553 for the Nikon WT-5A was money well spent!


Einstein E640 Reliability and Firmware Upgrade on MAC

Einstein E640 Reliability

I have had two Paul Buff Einstein 640s fail (they just die and won't power on ) on me over the last six months. These units are less than 18 months old.  I had about eight other Alien Bees and While Lightning strobes from Paul C. Buff over the last 10 years and never had one problem with them.  I don't know if it is just bad luck, or a trend, but if another fails on me I will consider replacing them with another brand.  Other than that, I really like the units and the Cyber Commander interface that lets me control the strobes from my camera position.

I just received my a new E640 unit from Paul C. Buff to replace my dead one that I sent in a week ago.  I can't fault the service.  I just hope the Einstein's reliability is as good as their service.


On another note .... Paul Buff came out with a new Firmware upgrade (v31) for the Einstein units.  I bought a 2GB Micro SD card as instructed, it came pre-formatted as FAT16.  I downloaded the firmware onto my MAC, copied the firmware to the SD Micro card and when I put it into my Einstein it just went into an endless loop where the fan kept coming on and off.

I then reformatted the card in FAT16 using the MAC Disk Utility, but that didn't help.  I called support and they couldn't figure out what was wrong and offered to send me an SD Micro card with the firmware on it (for free).  In the meantime my wife brought home her Windows laptop from work.  I loaded the firmware onto the card using her Windows machine (the card that was formatted FAT16 by my MAC) and it still didn't work.  Then I reformatted the SD Micro card using the Windows Disk Management utility, and then reloaded the firmware .... IT WORKED! 

For some reason, unless you format your SD Micro card with the Windows Disk Management utility, it won't work.




MATROX Thunderbolt Docking Station for MacBook Pro and MacBook Air

I bought this docking station about two months ago hoping that it could clean up having to plug in my audio cable, my USB 2/3 hub cable, my DVI cable, and my ethernet cable seperatly into my laptop by combing them into the Matrox docking station and just having to plug one thunderbolt cable into my MacBook Pro Retina laptop.  Great concept, but it has been very unstable.  I had a hard time waking my laptop from sleep, my USB3 devices simply wouldn't work,  and I found my laptop just becoming unstable.  I have unhooked my Matrox and went back to using direct connections into my laptop for the last two weeks, everything works great, the laptop wakes from sleep with no problem.  

Bottom line - don't buy the Matrox Thunderbolt Docking Station.  I have been on the Matrox website and there are some references to these problems, but the answer is always that they are working with Apple to find a solution (you get the feeling they believe it is Apple's problem, not theirs).


Upgrade Mac Pro with More Memory, Graphics Card, and SSD

I bought the original Intel based Mac Pro back in January of 2007.  It had two dual-core Xeon 2.66 Ghz processors (four processors total).  I think it came with 3GB of memory and I added an additional 4GBs for a total of 7GB.  About a year ago I added the ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card to my system. The Geekbench scores for this system were around 5000, respectable, but many of the iMac and MacBook Pros that are being sold have Geekbench scores over 10,000.

I am a photographer so most of my heavy lifting is done with tools like Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and Photoshop CS5.  I use CS5 plugins like Nik Color Efex Pro and Portrait Professional.  Most of these tools take advantage of the GPU so the ATI Radeon HD 4870 gave me a good boost.  But there were times with Aperture, exporting from Lightroom, and running some of the CS5 plugins that my system got a little sluggish.

So last summer I had to decide to buy a new Mac or upgrade my 2006 Mac Pro.  The future for Macs is definitely going towards buying high powered laptops with an SSD (solid state drive) and using Thunderbolt devices for access to your high speed drives and monitor.  The problem in the summer of 2011 was that there were few Thunderbolt peripherals available, and you knew that the current, heavy MacBook Pros were going to go the way of the MacBook Airs.  I really use the internal drives of my Mac Pro and didn't want to give them up, and someday Thunderbolt drives will be my answer.  So I looked into the current Mac Pros, they are fast, but they currently don't support Thunderbolt.

Given that we are in a period of transition with Apple Mac products, I decided to extend the life of my current 2006 vintage Mac Pro.

I replaced my original 256GB main hard drive with an 256GB SSD (Crucial Technology $372).  I added 4GB ($108) to my memory taking me up to 11GB.  And I swapped my two dual-core Xeon processors  for two quad-core Xeon processors ($200 on ebay), giving me an eight core machine.


My Geekbench score  went from 5000 to over 10,000.   I spent $680 and I got a machine that was current in terms of performance vs. spending what would have been over $3,000 to get a new Mac with an SSD card and 11GB of memory.  The new machines have faster cores, so applications that only run on a single core aren't as fast on my machine as they would be on a new Sandy Bridge Intel CPU.  But for most things my performance is much better.

After I did this upgrade and things were working well, I got greedy.  I decided to add a USB 3.0 card to my Mac Pro last November.  The only card I could find that claimed to work on a Mac Pro the was CalDigit SuperSpeed PCI Express Card.  My system has crashed more times in the last two months than in the prior five years.  I suspected the CalDigit card, so I removed it two weeks ago.  Guess what ... no crashes since.  You have to install a USB 3.0 driver from CalDigit to make this card work because the operating system, Mac OS X Lion, doesn't support USB 3.0.  It seems to be that this driver doesn't play well and causes the system to crash.

CONCLUSION:  For $680 I have extended the life of my Mac Pro for probably at least two years ... well worth the money.