Phantom 2: amazing technology, poor quality control, terrible customer service.

Phantom 2 with zenmuse gimbal and GoPro Hero 3+ camera

Phantom 2 with zenmuse gimbal and GoPro Hero 3+ camera

I photograph a lot of architecture and landscape / gardens. Throughout the years I mastered my skills, learned to do panoramas, virtual tours, and so on. And I wanted to expand my possibilities. When I learned about the Phantom 2 quad-copter by DJI, available with a Zenmuse gimbal made specially for the tiny but nice GoPro camera, I decided to give it a try.

By now I own and fly this system for some 4 months, or a bit more. I totally realize that I did not master it yet, and still have lots to learn. However, I now use it for photography and video, I experienced some technical problems for which I had to contact DJI customer support, and I discussed various issues with several other Phantom pilots on-line. Therefore I think I have enough of general first experience to write my comments designed to help fellow photographers interested in flying a drone like this.
My setup is:
Phantom 2 with H3-2D Zenmuse gimbal and original remote controller (included in the kit).
GoPro Hero 3+ Black camera.
It basically is the original kit. My humble modifications are carbon fiber propellers, and carbon fiber protectors – all bought on e-bay.

with-phantom1Why Phantom 2?
I did lots of research on internet. I learned that a quad-copter offers good flight stability, and a company called DJI packs their Phantom 2 model with really advanced technologies. It has GPS, auto-pilot, and other sensors which make tit a novice-friendly and reliable device. I needed something affordable, yet quality built and capable of taking reasonable good photo/video. I had zero experience when I bought it, so – this being available as a „ready to fly” system was very temptiong (you purchase GoPro camera separately). I watched many video clips, reviews, and I decided that the image quality from GoPro is significantly better than from Phantom Vision with its integrated camera. The Phantom 2 is priced at around $900, and I found a deal on GoPro Hero camera on ebay. That was together just a bit over $1200, which for me had the right balance between the quality and price of my first flying camera system. There are amazing, much bigger systems able to use heavy bigger cameras and gear – such as Spreading wings 800 or 1000 – however, they are also in a different price range, and not so portable for travel.

Flying experience:
You can’t learn to drive car by reading manuals, you need plenty of practice, and only with time you can become a really good driver. Same with flying these drones. I have to admit – I thought it will be much easier than it was. I did not install my camera right away, and it was clearly a smart move. I did have a few nasty crashes right away. Trying to fly slowly and do basic maneuvres, I still crashed from time to time – either by banging on a tree/bushes, or when trying to land. I have to say – Phantoms are VERY durable. I trashed the props very quickly, which made me order a set of prop protectors. They help a bit to spare props in case of crash or hitting something, and also protect everything/everyone – including you – as these props can inflict real damage. When ordering new props, I ordered carbon fiber ones, and noticed a more steady, a bit more precise flying. The original plastic ones gave a bit „soft” flight. Anyway, I was getting better at it, and able to control my copter reasonably well when doing basic tasks.

aerial photo from the gopro

aerial photo from the gopro

Customer Service experience:
After couple of weeks of practicing without camera, I decided to install the gimbal and my GoPro.
Installation was easy enough, but I discovered that the gimbal control on my remote did not work. I tried calibrating it as per recommendation in manual, but nothing helped. I was unable to control the gimbal’s position.

I tried to call US tech support for North America. Instantly, I noticed how bad it is. There is no toll free number. You pay for your call. That is OK if I can actually talk to someone. A machine announced that my waiting time will be… over 2 hours! Calling internationally from Canada! Pretty bad, eh? I decided to email them instead. After 2 days of silence I was getting really annoyed. Called again – only to hear about a similarly crazy waiting time.

Desperate, I searched for my problem description online, and found a few forums dedicated to flying various remote controlled copters. I signed up with one,, and described my problem there. Helpful comments and suggestions from more experienced pilots quickly started to come.

My terrible customer service experience had been confirmed by several group members – one saying he waited 2 weeks and still did not get a reply. Someone pinpointed my problem precisely, having the same difficulties with gimbal control before me. He suggested I open my remote and see if the controller knob is properly anchored, turning a dial inside – as in his unit it was not properly assembled. I opened my remote and could not believe it. Instead of properly fitting two parts together, it was badly assembled and the knob actually squished the dial, not turning anything. I used pliers to pull up the dial, carefully assembled it together, and – bingo! The knob worked! However, the fact that my problem was known before, points to very poor quality control at DJI factory. They let the badly assembled units out for sale! I thought it is not my job to fix assembly problems, and I would ask for the remote replacement – if not for the impossible technical support! I fixed my remote thanks to some helpful pilots – but I still did not receive any response from the support!

At last, an email response from support came in about a week time. I was told – to calibrate the unit! Clearly nobody bothered to read that I already did it several times, and that I mentioned the knob dangling losely, like nothing is attached to it. No other help suggestion was offered in this matter, except stating that if I still need support – I can call them! Damn! I say it is the worst tech support I remember. It is not a support, but quite an opposite. I now know that the real support can be found among fellow pilots – not from DJI company.

Hatley Castle in victoria, BC Canada - aerial photo from phantom 2

Hatley Castle in victoria, BC Canada – aerial photo from phantom 2

Further experience:
With gimbal and camera working, I started test flights using GoPro app for remote controling the camera. The Phantom is usually doing well, but sometimes it has dizzy spells and is hard to control. I found some comments on the forum that it is a programming bug, and DJI is working on a firmware update to fix it. Well, will see soon enough. Overall, it is quite an amazing tool, thanks to very advanced technology packed inside. Quality of GoPro Hero 3+ in video is stunning. However, I find photographs from that camera leaving much more to wish for. Firstly, these are jpg files, it does not shoot RAW. Lens distortion is quite bad, so is the chromatic abberation on many photos. You need lots of know how, to position your Phantom in a good way and have reasonably good photos. I wish Phantom could support a more professional camera. There are other drones, but they are bigger and cost much more.

Reading on the forum about different upgrades people do to their copters, I tried to figure out which remote control would work nicely with my Phantom (the original one feels very crude, not precise enough), and how can I see all flight data on a monitor, in order to fly out of visual range. That helped me realize that the DJI web site is quite badly done. There is no information which components can be used together for what effect. Each available upgrade part has only a brief description, and no effort has been made to really explain what users can achieve using differently upgraded and configured copters. Once again – your only option is chatting with other users on one of these forums and watching their instructive video clips.

I am impressed with strong durable materials of my quad-copter, and with possibilities and potential of my Phantom 2. And – thanks to poor manuals, sketchy information, and terrible customer support – I know I do not know all possible options. I have hard time to understand which components I should use if I want to do various upgrades. Still, as it is out of the box – the Phantom 2 is a great tool, lots of fun, and is priced reasonably. I only wish I did not have to fiddle with my remote and it was properly assembled. And I strongly hope no major problems will occur with my system – as I learned the hard way that it is impossible to count on their customer support. Once you buy it – they openly screw you as a customer.

xwith-phantom2Clearly, there are some brilliant engineers and programmers working in this company – but they did not learn yet about the importance of quality control, and have no clue what a customer support means.

If you want to start with aerial photography/video – this is a great unit, affordable enough to learn on it. But remember – if something happens, don’t count on any official support from DJI. Sign up with one of these forums, and ask for help there. Or ask your dealier- if you luckily bougt your unit from Canada Drones – my favorite dealer. After a bit of learning you will have great fun, and a new way of taking impressive videos. Good luck, and fly safe!

Ah, one more thing – if you are in Canada and want to order one, I highly recommend Canada Drones. I have nothing but good things to say about this dealer. Great customer support (totally unlike DJI experience), good advice – you just can count on this guy. Even if you are a seasoned photographer, I would buy it from this guy, NOT from B&H Photo or Vistek. Why? Because what you buy is the quad-copter and quad-copter parts. And this guy is a seasoned expert in quad-copters. He knows this stuff inside out. You buy camera separately, and GoPro camera is no gimmicks, anyway. So, in case of problems/questions about your Phantom, you will get much better advice from an experienced professional like him, than from a camera shop. As simple as that.


Here is my short video – hope you enjoy!


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This blog is a bit outdated. Why? I simply decided to put more time into my Youtube Channel, where I continue evaluating gear I use.
Please also check my other sites,  and my portfolio site


Preparing photos for fine photography competitions /salons – juror’s tips – part 3

If you followed previous parts of this series, you know that today we will discuss the tip #2 – Select your best images AND make sure they have enough bang.

If you just jumped here without reading previous parts, here are direct links to them:  Part #1,   Part #2.

Picking winning images

Picking winning images.

So, you have good photos which are great choices for categories you want to enter. Please take time selecting the best ones, and try to avoid submitting very similar shots. Leave your photos for a few days and look again with fresh mind. Ask your friends, colleagues in camera club. Select ONLY the best images, and try to have a diverse selection. It is YOUR job to select your best images. I sometimes see almost identical entries – like 2 or 3 portraits with just a slight pose change – but otherwise identical to the previous entry. Not only you lose a chance to win with another image instead, but you lower the impact of your work. “We’ve just seen that, didn’t we?” – the jury will say, and will not pay much attention to this second and third image. In other words – it will be quickly rejected. Unless you are entering a portfolio of several similar images, a series intentionally selected to tell a story –avoid such repetitions. They won’t give you more chances to win. And, when selecting the best image, keep in mind one VERY important factor – pick the image which has the most “bang”. I mean by that – an image which will have a strong first impression. While some small-scale, local or unknown photo competitions may have few enough entries for judges to spend lots of time discussing all images from the day one of judging – the tendency of international photo salon is to be big. More and more people try to get more recognition, and the number of entries can be enormous.

Jurors often have  just couple of seconds per each image at the first selecting run. They have trained eyes, and can quickly decide if a shot is well done or has some noticeable flaws. Also they will decide if your image is interesting enough to go to the next round or judging or not. All that within two or three seconds.

To help your luck, pick the most impressive images you have – help your image being instantly noticed.  Once your image got noticed, the jury will examine it for more detailed flavours, artistic and technical values. But your image should shout its story, or have a fine composition, colours – it  has to stand out and be striking. And this brings us to the tip #3 – Try for your work to be original and unique. But this will be posted tomorrow…

Ah, here is another tip – entering many salons myself, I often wondered – should I send glossy or matte prints? should I print them close to maximum allowed size?  And, sitting in this jury and seeing thousands of prints, I can say – size does not matter. Lots of smallish prints were much more appreciated than large ones. Quality matters a lot, size – not so much. And use the paper most suitable for the given picture – be it gloss, metallic, mat – whatever shows your work at its best. There is no preference as to the paper type getting more jury attention.

Thank you, cheers!

Derek If you like this post, Share it with friends, and Follow our blog to get more.

Chairman of Al Thani Awards, Dr. Chris Hinterobermaier gives us opening briefing.

Chairman of Al Thani Awards, Dr. Chris Hinterobermaier gives us opening briefing.

Preparing photos for fine photography competitions /salons – juror’s tips – PART 2


Judging process at Al Thani Award for Art Photography in Linz, Austria. Photo by Faizal / Mia Besari.

As promised, I will share with you all detailed thoughts and things I learned about judging process, based on example of my experience as a juror at the Al-Thani Awards for Art Photography 2013. Why this one? This salon have had the number of entries close to 10,000, very high overall quality of entries, and was judged within a very limited time – two days – which as my colleagues-jurors confirmed – is now quite a standard procedure. We like it or not, high volume salons do not allow for much time spent on each image at the first screening, and rely on jury’s ability to quickly decide on the first round. So, this salon is a good example of a large-scale, very efficiently organized competition.

There are a few points worth discussing, so let’s start with naming them here: 1) Stick to the theme of category you enter. 2) Select your best images AND make sure they have enough bang. 3) Try for your work to be original and unique. 4) Take your time to edit your images the best you can.

Above points may seem obvious, but they are vital and I saw many entries clearly  ignoring them. Even most tiny weak points could make the difference between the final “yes” or “no” for your image.

Let’s begin with talk about the “Stick to the theme” aspect. While most photo competitions or salons have  an “Open” theme – there are sometimes special or leading themes. They can offer you a higher chance of winning – IF you stick to these themes well. If you don’t – you may actually harm your chances of winning. At the Al-Thani Awards for Art Photography we had several categories, and a main, special theme. On top of Open Color Prints, Open Monochrome Prints, and Open Digital Images, the special theme was “Discovering the World”.  If you think of it quickly, you may think it calls for travel or nature photos. But such themes need to be thought of a bit deeper if you hope to win.  Keep in mind that in today’s world the number of photographs taken everyday, and number of people travelling are enormous. Therefore, to be better than other competitors you really need to show your creativity, understanding of the theme, and stick to it.

We had thousands of photos to judge, and some fantastic images had to be rejected from the main category because they did not adhere to the theme. All jurors were reminded over and over by the chairman to think of the theme when voting. “Does this image help us discover the world, or shows us someone who really grasps something new in his understanding of the world?” – we were asked. And we had to take some tough decisions to select finalists and winners. We had to pick photos showing us the most unique and unusual places and situations, or action showing convincingly that persons on a photo really do discover the world.

To give you some examples we faced  – would you decide between a fine, artistic photo of a butterfly,  a fine long exposure photo showing  the grand canal in Venice,  a small boy in a class learning geography with a globe, or perhaps a slightly less refined image of climbers on a remote, little known peak of  exotic mountains?

While all four did show us something from our world in an attractive way – we had to ask ourselves– is the butterfly photo really  about “discovering the world”?  Chances are you’ve seen many butterflies in  gardens and on  meadows, or at least on many nature photos. Therefore it is not a real discovery to most of us to see yet another butterfly – however lovely it is, and this would be the first image to go, despite its fine artistic qualities. Perhaps it would stand better chances in the “Open” category – a perfect fit for a Nature category. The shot from Venice can be most fine, but it is a cliché in a way – thousands of people shoot from the Rialto bridge the view at the grand canal, and while the submitted photo may show us a glorious sunset  lighting and a well composed scene, it  still does not have that sense of discovery the theme is calling for. So, this one had to go either. It would do in any Travel category, though.  Now, between the studying boy and climbers – the boy’s face expressed a thrill at learning new things, one could see he tried hard to learn and remember something new about our world. The scene clearly showed the boy “discovering the world” in his small ways.

The climbers were visibly exhausted, yet determined to reach the peak, to expand their limits and succeed in their quest. Not only that, but we all – looking at the photo – had a sense of learning something new, seeing some far-away, remote mountains –seeing their harshness through eyes of these climbers.  Additionally, this shot was done from an unusual angle, giving us a different perspective than typical “calendar-style” mountain photos. So, this image both showed us people discovering something about our world, and also gave the viewer something fairly rare to discover. Conclusion?  With first two photos rejected without even  considering their quality, the voting would proceed on the two last images. Now it would be seen which one has a better composition, technical quality, and an overall story to tell.  With not hundreds but thousands of images to select from, a jury has no choice but really stick to all rules and use these criteria to select best images without mercy.  By sticking well with themes, you help jury consider your image and make yourself a favour.

Another quick example – something we noticed a few times, and had to remove these entries. If you enter “monochrome” or “color” themes  – know their definition. While a photo done all in tones of blue is a monochrome, adding even one more color to an image disqualifies it immediately. We noticed a few photos entered as monochrome, and they had a touch of extra color. Even if it is just a bit – it breaks the rules, and will have to go.  And, believe me – it will be noticed. If not at the first selection, then when discussing  the potentially winning images.  An unfortunate reason to remove good photos.

Most  of best international photo salons have paid entries these days, and you would be surprised how many people pay to enter, only to waste their chances by not taking real care about themes. Consider this, and you are already better than them, a step closer to winning.

Thank you for reading. Part 3 is coming very soon, please Follow and Like this blog, if you find it helpful. HERE IS DIRECT LINK TO PART 1 of this article. Thank you! Derek Galon

Sorting photo prints for judges.

Sorting photo prints for judges.

Preparing photos for fine photography competitions/salons – juror’s tips

This is a multi-part article intended for fellow photographers interested in participating in various international photo salons. Such salons are a nice way of displaying photos in galleries and photo clubs, also getting deserved recognition and often helping get photo distinctions of such fine international organizations as FIAP, PSA or RPS. Winning a medal at a fine salon can be a real honour and a way of gaining international exposure.  However – it is not always easy to win, and I hope my article may help you get a few steps ahead of your competitors.

Over the years I judged various art competitions, mostly photographic ones. That always is a good learning experience giving me an insight as to how a jury can see and evaluate submitted works. _DAG8427

I just returned from Linz, Austria,  to where I was invited as a juror of  the famous Al-Thani Photo Awards for Art Photography – one of the world’s most fine and highly attended photo salons offering not only medals, but also very high financial awards.  Being a juror there had been a really unique experience for several reasons:  quality of submitted images was overall very high (making our work most difficult, but exciting), working with co-jurors – highly experienced artists-photographers from around the world – gave me an insight into their views, knowledge, and judging styles, and lastly – the sheer number of submissions being in many thousands,  made me see some fantastic works – sharpening  my eye, and improving my judging abilities.

The process of judging so many images in a very limited time, along with all  aspects mentioned above, allowed me to see challenges of participating in such photo competitions more clearly. We often discussed that  after our jury work, and I want to share what we all learned there,  in a hope this will help you to prepare your submissions in best possible way.

Please Share and  Follow this blog to read next parts of it – I will share with you within next few days all what I learned as a juror of Al-Thani Photo Awards.

Thank you! Derek Galon

Fine Tethering Software for Nikon – ControlMyNikon

Often working in studio, I wanted to use tethering to fine-tune my images. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with tethering options I had so far. My experience was not so good with my older cameras (Nikon D700, D300s and D7000), and it turned for even worse with my new Nikon D800.

I tested Lightroom tethering, I tried Nikon’s Camera Control Pro, as well as some other third-party software. The story repeated itself: errors, crashes, “camera not found” messages, sluggish action, unbelievably crude and user-unfriendly interfaces, you name it. Yes, user unfriendly – and plain silly too. For example – you have a Live View window on your laptop, but it remains so small (and you can’t resize it) that it really defeats its purpose of seeing better than on camera LCD. On top of all that, control options offered by most software are so basic that it makes you run between camera and laptop to change every detail of setting. Plainly, while photo-editing software made really big progress over last years, tethering limped far behind, remaining a gaping hole in the full software suite required by a studio photographer.

I can’t talk about Canon or Mac users. This is not an official review. I only share my own experience using Windows laptops (several brands, like Vaio, Samsung 9 and Dell) and various Nikon cameras. I often carried my Samsung laptop along with other things to use tethering, only to get annoyed with its total unreliability. So many times I tried, only to give up. Once in a while I tried a new piece of software, only to be disappointed again and again. So I simply decided to forget about tethering and shoot without it.

Just recently, by a chance, I heard from a friend – photographer about a small software company near us, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He recommend trying their tethering as something really good. He was so convincing that I decided to give tethering yet another try. Wow! Boy, was he right!

Comparing to everything else I tried, this piece of software is simply a miracle! It works flawlessly, it has a nice interface, and it has sooooo many options that at first it is even a bit too much. (but hey, it is good to have them all, you just use what you need).

boxcmn1The software I mention is ControlMyNikon, by TetherScript Technology. It is software solely for Nikon, and works on Windows. However, I’ve been told they are working on a Mac version too.

I tested it several times, and so far – I am in love with it. It did not crash on me a single time. It sometimes takes a moment or two to connect with camera – but it still is best, comparing to the other soft I tested. It is very responsive and quick, with a sleek interface, large Live View, support for two monitors, and an image browser.

First screen gives you a detailed info about software, possible updates, etc. Then – you select and connect your camera. You have tons of options to set right from your screen. I will not mention all, but only these which appeal to me. You can change ISO, aperture, shutter speed, you have a very precise light balance control, batch shooting options, you can even control the whole thing in speech mode, by talking to your laptop. Of course you can set bracketing too, you can focus, re-focus, shoot, or use manual focus mode. You have battery level of your laptop displayed all the time, so you know when you’ll get short of juice.

What I also love is an option to save your photos to laptop, camera, or both. I prefer keeping all images on my camera card, not to clog single drive of my laptop – and now I can do just that. Of course, you can set your image format and size right from ControlMyNikon too. You can set customized profiles and scripts. When you open Live View panel, a whole array of additional options opens too. A histogram, grid, many other options will assist you composing the right image. And, there is a special treat for macro-photographers. I am no macro photographer, so it was a new thing to me – Focus Stacking. It is a bit like taking bracketed photos for HDR. You take several differently exposed photos, and edit it later in a dedicated HDR program.

This is my first quick test with only 4 photos. A single shot on top, and stacked image on bottom. Depth is significantly better, although not enough to keep end of battery in focus.

This is my first quick test with only 4 photos. A single shot on top, and stacked image on bottom. Depth is significantly better, although not enough to keep end of battery in focus.

Here, the ControlMyNikon will take several photos, focusing each time on a slightly different distance (you set it how you want it). Then, photographs can be simply saved, or exported to Zerene Stacker – another small piece of software which will combine all photos for you. As an HDR software uses best exposed pixels from all photos to combine them in a single high-dynamic-range image, this Stacker will take the sharpest pixels, and will produce an incredibly all-over sharp macro photo! A real treat for macro photographers, isn’t it?

To try it, I had to download a trial of the Zerene Stacker. Comparing to the ControlMyNikon – I found it rather crude and overpriced. But hey – it works just fine! (There are some other focus stacking progs around, including free CombineZP, just Google them.) Extended Photoshop has also a “stacking script” -and I tried it with success. First, you open all images in Photoshop, then go to File>Scripts>Load Files into Stacks. Once it is done, select all created layers and go to Edit>Auto-Blend Layers, and choose “Stack Images” (selecting “Seamless Tones and Colors”. Flatten the resulted image and – voila!

Second test - much more successful. A single macro shot on top, and stacked image made of 8 photos - using Photoshop. Click image to see higher resolution and say "wow"! :-)

Second test – much more successful. A single macro shot on top, and stacked image made of 8 photos – using Photoshop. Click image to see higher resolution and say “wow”! 🙂

Well, back to ControlMyNikon. Another Great aspect of this unique tethering software is its price! While it does so much more than most of its competition – it costs only… $29! (and it is good for up to three computers + has extensive video tutorials on line).

So, what I don’t like about ControlMyNikon?

It sometimes takes a bit longer to connect with my camera than I would wish. But it still is good, comparing to other programs. And, for some reason it did not see my D800 when connecting through the USB3 port of my laptop. I wasted a bit of time troubleshooting, but then – it works perfectly – and rather quickly – through regular USB2. Not a big deal, just don’t be surprised when you can’t hook it up via USB3. I wrote about it to TetherScript Technology tech support, and I received a very prompt response that they are aware of the issue and are working on a fix. So, not only I know it will be fixed, but I also had a chance to see their impressively quick customer support.

I am hooked on this software. The best tethering soft for my Nikon, I waited years for it.

Thank you, TetherScript. I will later try your other product – Cinematographer Pro. If it is as good as this one, it can be worth checking.


Until next time. If you like this post, please SHARE it with friends. Thanks!

Photos: Software box courtesy of TetherScript , example photos by Derek Galon
Derek is a pro photographer working with Ozone Zone Books. Please respect his copyright on images.

Ozone Zone Books

I recently prepared several prints for a Photo Salon in Japan, and used this opportunity to work on newly purchased selection of papers from a young, dynamic company Breathing Color. Results of that work are so pleasing that I decided to share them with you ASAP.

Normally I would use this kind of post  in my other, more technical blog (and maybe I will repost it there too). But this story is bordering between technical, and a simple sharing of a great photo experience. It also shows several photographs from my portfolio – therefore I decided to post it here.

Preparing for THE 73rd INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SALON OF JAPAN, I selected images of different styles, subjects and techniques. Among them, my favourite image with model Koko, called Tile Tales (which -by the way- have been just published in a limited edition book showing select fine art photography from around…

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My Neck Doesn’t Hurt Any More

It was a while since I posted to this blog. Last half a year proved to be extremely busy for me, and I had to go travelling a few times. Therefore I did quite a few travel blog posts – but not this one. However, my recent travels actually contributed to this post in a way – today I want to share with you comments on my favourite camera bag and couple other such things.
Over the years I tried many camera bags and went through several manufacturers. Unfortunately – I never was really happy with my choices. Some bags were heavy, some not really designed smartly enough, they tended to slip-off from my arm, making walking around with them real pain. I say, Lowe Pro was one of my most decent experiences. But it was no thrill either. One Nikon bag I had looked promising as it was very light and slim. However – it did not give enough protection, and just walking around – I damaged a filter attached to my lens. Yes, it was packed in my bag, and I possibly did slightly hit something. Nothing so strong to remember it as an accident – but damage was done. That was the last time I used that Nikon bag – if it can’t protect my gear from a little impact, it has no use for my travels.
Then I heard from a friend about that Australian brand Crumpler. The company – I was told – was created by a guy sooo fed up with insufficiently and poorly designed courier and carrying bags and the discomfort they created to their owners, that he decided to change the way bags work – forever. Quite amazing story, I thought. And – I tried their largest camera bag called Seven Million Dollar Home. (Oh, you need to go to their Web site and see names of their products – quite fun!) Smallest from this series is called One Million Dollar Home, then – Two, and it goes up in size of bags to Seven Million.

I use my Seven Million Dollar bag long enough to say with confidence – I love it. It is super smartly designed. You can quickly grab your camera for unexpected quick shots. All is handy inside, and you can fit there plenty of stuff. It offers great protection, as it has really sufficient cushioning. In fact it is so soft that on couple of occasions I used my bag full of stuff as a cushion for a nap on my travels. It is made of very durable, water-resistant fabric, and it is not heavy at all. You can open your bag very quickly, but you can also protect it against easy opening with extra clamps (pick-pockets)?
And another interesting thing – it does NOT look like a pro photography gear bag. It is not calling for full attention of potential thieves, looking like typical camera bag with stuff of big value. It is just a bag…

I like my Seven Million Dollar Home bag so much that I did two more purchases of Crumpler products. A backpack – Karachi. It is a very smart backpack of a really decent size. You can put there all necessary gear including small laptop, tripod – and still you have some room for a snack or drink. It sits on your back amazingly well, does not feel heavy or give you any balance problems when you walk even on rough hikes. And – what is also great – it opens from your back side! This way it is totally pickpocket-proof, as there is no way to get inside without you knowing it. Super smart solution, if you travel to places where thieving is a problem.
And last of the items I bought from Crumpler is perhaps the smallest, but most loved piece of such equipment I have. It is a neck strap for my heavy Nikon D700. D700 and a tele zoom can weight together about 3 kilograms, it is like handling a brick. Do you like these straps manufacturers include with their cameras? Do you think they are adequate? Sometimes I think that the only purpose of these straps is advertizing the brand with big logos printed on them. These straps are so narrow, inflexible, uncomfortable. You can do same well using a shoelace. Walking around all day with camera hanging on that original strap around my neck sent me many times to see a chiropractor. It made me overly tired, with headache, and simply jeopardized quality of my work.
A camera costing $2,500 or more with a $0.25 strap – a real industry disgrace. Would you say so? Well, Crumpler did! And, they named their superbly designed neck strap “Industry Disgrace”! How appropriate! They shame Nikon, Canon and other big names in the most obvious way.
Now I can walk with my camera for hours. The nicely cushioned strap distributes weight in such way that your neck is pain free. The strap is breathable and has an amazing grip – it won’t fall off your arm. It is just a marvel, proving once again that thinking and experience can improve many products we think are good.

All these three Crumpler items help me do my job better, with more comfort and pleasure. I bet most other items by this company are similarly great. Go, Crumpler, Go!

And while Crumpler is now available through many camera stores and e-bay – you need to visit their web site, just for the fun of it!

Until next time, cheers!

Thank you for your visit, if you like this post – SHARE it with friends.
Written by Derek Galon – photographer behind award-winning books Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean, and Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean.
You can see his travel/location blogs here.

Do you HDR? Or Fuse?

I belong to an informal group of photographers here on Vancouver Island, and a question of HDR was discussed on our forum several times in recent weeks. Seems like there is lots of interest in HDR technique, and people look for other solutions than new in-camera HDR processing, (like one offered in new Sony, and often not quite satisfactory).I used HDR technique many times, and it helped me creating some good images for both of my Caribbean coffee table books. However, they gave me lots of grief too.
I experimented with different HDR software, but while results were quite different in quality – one side effect was constant and unwanted. Some of colours were always hyped and changed, giving the final image quite artificial, over-sweetened look.
With each new software on the market my hopes went high again and again, but I always found that colour problem to be quite an obstacle in creating images the way I wanted. I always edit my photos quite a bit, and such HDR-ed images were always somewhat difficult as a starting point for my work.

Some of HDR software offer lots of manual settings, some are more automatic, another yet offers several different presets like “eye catching”, “human eye” etc.. But the problem of sweetened and hyped colours seemed to be always there for me.  (Dynamic Photo HDR was the closest to my liking from three HDR progs presented here.)
Another quite decent tool called Photomatix offers an extra option called Fusion, and explains quickly that a different algorithm processing images in a more direct way is used for that. I actually quite liked it. So, I dug deeper.

I found two simple programs for fusion processing, and I love them. I am happy to say they give me exactly what I wanted – more detail in highlights and shadows – but without any twists in color. What else I love is,  they both are FREE and they are very simple to work with. They operate in DOS (sorry Mac users!), and you simply drag and drop your images over the program icon. So, it is quick and easy, and the quality I wanted is there.

Dynamic Photo HDR in Eye-Catching preset
I believe that relatively not so many people are aware of these tiny DOS programs, perhaps because  these are free, therefore not advertisied aggressively to gain best sales.
They are called TuFuse, and SNS HDR-lite. (Yes, it says hdr in the name, yet it is a fusion application.)
There are some vital differences between them; TuFuse is very quick, but does not perform any image alignments, therefore you really need to shoot on tripod.
SNS on the other hand aligns images perfectly, fixing even photos I shoot free-hand.
TuFuse creates softer photos without strong contrast. It is nice for interiors, where you don’t want to see every single crack on walls, stains or discolorations.
SNS is razor-crisp, giving amazing detail in rather strong contrast, and I love using it for landscape and nature shots.

For this post I used 5 images I took using Nikon’s bracketing: one correct, two under and two over exposed. All images are totally unedited, except for the final one.
You can see the image sequence, as well as results created using default settings of three different HDR programs: Dynamic Photo HDR, Photomatix, and HDR Expose (I skipped here some other programs).  And then – you can see these images created by TuFuse, and SNS.
As said – my favourite for nature and landscape is SNS, therefore I also edited that image to my liking (at the end).

HDR Expose
I don’t intend here to convince anyone what is best, I merely share my experience and conclude that for my needs these small Fusion progs are the best, as they give me perfect starting point for my edits, and they also complement each other nicely.
Possibly you will like more results created with one of other mentioned HDR programs. There are many choices to explore.
At one point one can also ask – is it all worth doing? Is the HDR or Fusion worth the time spent on it?
I can only answer for myself: Yes, fusion adds so much detail that I just love it. To compare it – creating photos with Fusion or HDR is like wearing fine prescribed eyeglasses. Yes, you can see around pretty well without them because you are used to it – but with your glasses everything gains crisp, sharp detail. You simply see more.
It is my hope that showing you quite different results of my experiments can help you find what is closest to your heart, and save you long search for your perfect tools.

If you wish to try these free progs, here are links:

And SNS – this is a direct-download link, as the site is in Polish and you may have problem understanding it (I speak Polish, it is my native tongue).

SNS after my edit.
And as always – if you find my comments helpful in any way – simply click Share or like.

Thank you! Until next time! Derek.

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Pixel Soldier flash remotes – small is beauty!

When a while ago I decided to buy remote wireless trigger system for my flashes/strobes, I was a bit overwhelmed with selection, price range and various opinions. Tough call! Some cheap ones cost really very little on ebay, but then, well, they are cheap! You can see plastic mounts will crack, and can imagine thin cheap toy-like plastic will crack quickly. The “professional choice” triggers on the other hand – cost a small fortune! Yes, they work in a really wide distance, can withstand a strong hammering,  and you can see their thick antennas will never fail. But they are painfully expensive and often quite bulky.

I gave it some thought. I did not want my remotes to disintegrate quickly, or fail on a location work. But I don’t really work in extremely harsh situations and I always can take reasonable care of my gear. Therefore I did not require  any heavy-duty product at a price tag of $500 or more.
I looked some more on Internet checking reviews for less known brands and their prices. As often with me – I am willing to take some risk and try a less known brand if it looks reasonably well made and priced. I have to admit – I lost a few times in this game, but I won perhaps more times than i lost, so all is good.

After some more deliberation I ordered on ebay set of a trigger-transmitter and two receivers called Pixel Soldier from a Hong Kong company (just search for Pixel Soldier on ebay, you will quickly find them). They arrived promptly and the price I paid was among the lowest prices I could actually find for anything of that sort – around $100 for the set of 3 pieces (it is even less expensive for set of 1 and 1).

I use them constantly for almost a year now, and I can say they easily passed my quality and reliability test. They are light and small, yet reasonably strong, and they work to perfection.

Just recently I had a chance to use their special feature, and I loved it. Together with my friend-photographer we had a shoot together. To keep things simple, we used only one set of three strobes.
Normally it would be just one of us able to use wireless trigger, or we would have independent strobes on set, cluttering it quite badly. Thankfully my friend uses the same brand of remotes, and it all worked beautifully.
Each of us wanted to use only two strobes at a time – one strobe was the same for both of us and we shared it, while we had slightly different angle for our additional “personal” strobes.

These remotes have three channels which can be flexibly configured. So, my remote transmitter was set for channels A+C, my friend’s – for channels A+ B.
Receivers plugged to our “personal” strobes were set to our exclusive channels – mine to C, and his to B. The strobe we both wanted to use was set to Awhich we shared on our transmitters.
This way strobes worked perfectly for both of us, each of us had the desired light control, and we shared our lighting being able to have a different light setup for each camera. A beauty!

(I need to say that for the shared flash we used my new  Fomex (see previous review). Its lightening-fast recharge made it problem-free for both of us to shot at random. It was always ready to go!)

What I also like a lot in my remotes are control lights showing in green when they are connected and ready for shot, or reminding you to switch them of with flashing red light, after you’re done.
They are well designed and well made. In my personal opinion they are worth more than the low ebay price I paid. Two happy thumbs up!

I paste below some more info and specs from Pixel Soldier in hope you may find it handy (select your model, etc.)
Thank you for visiting, and as always – if you find it helpful – click Share or Like button. Cheers!

Photographic accessories manufacturer Pixel Enterprise Ltd. are releasing a new model of wireless flash trigger, the Pixel Soldier TF-37x.
Wireless Flash Grouping is the main feature added to the Soldier TF-37X since the Pawn TF-36X. In addition to 16 frequency channels (the Dip switches for which are still buried in the battery compartment) the Pixel Soldier offers three Wireless Flash Groups A, B and C. With a simple switch on the receiver you can quickly set a flash, studio light or remote camera to any of the three groups.
What’s more, the transmitter features a control panel that allows you to select and trigger multiple groups at once. This creates seven (7) different combinations which are:

  1. A only
  2. B only
  3. C only
  4. A and B
  5. A and C
  6. B and C
  7. A, B and C (all)

Wireless Flash Grouping on the Pixel Soldier can allow a photographer to control multiple lighting setups at once. It may also be used for individually metering up to three different lights without having to switch any of them off. This could even be used with remote cameras too.

  • Professional flash trigger with simple shutter remote control
  • Wake-up function wakes compatible flashes from sleep mode
  • Transmitter can control A, B and C groups individually with 7 different flash combinations
  • Receivers can be set as group A, B or C
  • Swappable shutter release cable for your camera model
  • Power saving mode on the transmitter
  • Receiver battery life of up to 400hrs with 2xAAAs: more than 10x the life of similar products
  • Low voltage design allows use of rechargeable batteries
  • Multi-power design allows use of power socket
  • Syncs up to 1/250-1/320sec on compatible cameras


Type FSK 2.4GHz Wireless System
Operation Range 100m
Channel 16
Transmit Power
Sensitivity -97dB
Cable length 1.2m (coiled style)
Standby Time Transmitter 3 years (CR-2 lithium ion battery)
Receiver 400 hours (2x AA alkaline battery)
Dimensions (L*W*H) Transmitter 66 * 37.5 * 28.5 mm
Receiver 80 * 37.5 * 30 mm

Which model?

  • TF-371 – Canon
  • TF-372 – Nikon
  • TF-373 – Sony
  • TF-374 – Olympus & Panasonic 4/3

Photo from Pixel Enterprise.

Fomex strobe flashes – worth every penny to me.

When couple of months ago I decided to sell my small and simple strobes (monolights) and acquire new, a bit stronger ones, I promised some fellow photographers to share comments about the new ones I will get. Now, after several shooting sessions I think I can fulfill my promise.

As most times, I didn’t have a big budget for it, and had to look around trying to find combination of a good value with fine quality, which can be a tricky task. I often order less known brands, risking disappointment, and sometimes I lose. But I am happy to say that I enjoy quite a few pieces of such photo gear which proved to be an excellent value and also very reliable. I think my new strobes will be added to that more fortunate category.
I did not look for very fancy strobes – but a stabilized light, quick recharge time, and a strongly made unit with cooling and good modeling light were what I was searching for.
After looking at several brands I felt a bit disappointed. Known brand names offered very little for a budget shopper, with their cheaper units being rather unimpressive to me (yes, including the Bee).
More affordable “no brand name” strobes on the other hand looked cheaply made, or did not have features I needed.
There was one Chinese unit offered on Ebay and on, called Menik. A Chinese made, but looking more durable and smart – it has an impressive 5 years’ warranty and optional remote control, all with a really low price tag. It could be quite decent for the amazingly low price.
Still, I decided to dig more and I contacted a dealer of photo equipment from Korea I knew from before.
She highly recommended strobes made by Fomex, a small branch of the Korean giant Hyundai.
I contacted Fomex directly for all specs, and they looked impressive. That Korean dealer I know offered me decent 3 year warranty and a good direct deal, therefore I placed my order for Fomex 200W and Fomex 400W strobes.

After a week I received my express shipment, all arrived intact and well.
I was instantly impressed with the quality of my new strobes. Made of fine aluminum and covered with some unknown to me fine finishing, with all-metal parts, Bowens mount and a very clever umbrella holder, they look and feel like the best Japanese equipment. Surely it is very durable, with very well made switches, a rather quiet cooling fan and really fantastic mount. Yes, the mount is really handy, allowing for quick and precise angle adjustments with a single hand. Switchable beeper and a tiny but strong 250W modeling light make it a really nice package to me.

I used them in several different setups, and both of them work like charm. Their super fast recharge is really impressive. The flash is so strong that in a very large room, using a large soft box I set it for about 1/8 to 1/16 power and still can easily work with ISO200. And, with such power setting, recycling takes just a split of second, so in fact I can have my camera take bursts of shots, all properly lit.

The precise power knob allows for 6 full stops of power range.

This strobe is so well made that if it would be one of top brand names, it would cost close to $1000 each, I would say. Yet, being rather new on the market, Fomex priced their strobe flashes really reasonably – making it a perfect deal. I was also told Fomex is looking for an agent/dealer in Canada – if anyone involved in photography is interested…
Ah, one more thing – I also ordered a special carrying bag for two strobes, very handy and protects them well!

I am happy to really recommend this line, and paste below specs for several models (model number indicates power of flash) I found in Fomex brochure.
Until next time! If you find my comments helpful, please click “Share”.

AC Voltage
100 – 120V , 50/60Hz
190 – 250V , 50/60Hz
Flash power
Tube Replacement
Detachable (Easy to replace)
Color Temp.
Power Control Range
F2.88 – F227
F4.09 – F451
F5.66 – F456
F5.69 – F640
F8.01 – F642
F8.06 – F647
Power Control Knob
Volume Controller (VR)
Recycle Time
Model Lamp Type
Halogen 250W (E11 base, screw typed)
Model Lamp Control
Volume Controller (VR)
Ready Charge
Sound On : Buzzer and LED On / Sound Off : Model Lamp Blinks
Over Temperature Warning
O.T(Red LED) Blinking, Warning Buzzer
Syncro. Voltage
Flash Trigger
Infrared Photo Cell, Synchro Cord, TEST Button
(Infrared Sensor)
Cooling Fan
DC Cooling Fan (Ball Bearing Type)
Size (W x L x H)
190x140x170 mm
7.5×5.5×6.7 inch
235mmx140x170 mm
9.2×5.5×6.7 inch
350x140x170 mm
13.8×5.5×6.7 inch
2.35kg / 5.2lbs
2.5kg / 5.5lbs
2.7kg / 5.9lbs
3.5kg / 7.7lbs
3.4kg / 7.5lbs
3.9kg / 8.6lbs