Review: Novoflex MagicBall 50 tripod head

20150418-Novoflex-Title-001A multitude of heads for tripods is available on the market. There are three-axis heads, ball heads, geared heads to name only a few. I have gone through different tripod heads in my photographic life and today I want to share some thoughts on the Novoflex MagicBall. To say it up front in case you wonder: This is not a new head, it’s been around for several years now. I purchased mine about 2 years ago and now I felt it was time to share some experiences.

Three different sizes of the MagicBall head are available with a carrying capacity of 5 (MagicBall Mini), 7 (MagicBall 50) and 10 kg (MagicBall). The model reviewed in this article is the MagicBall 50 with a carrying capacity of 7 kg. The MagicBall 50 weighs around 600 g and is roughly 15×9 cm.

The MagicBall is (nomen est omen) a ball head. Such heads allow a quick composition of the shot, since the camera can be moved freely on the ball head. The MagicBall construction consists of a precision machined aluminum ball and a metal bracket, onto which the camera is mounted. The screw for mounting the camera is operated by turning a contoured metal wheel. The aluminum ball has an insanely smooth surface and a stylish blue coating which further improves the surface. The bracket moves with two plastic gliding pads on the aluminum ball. Once the camera is aligned in the desired position, a knurled metal handle is turned and the gliding pads are pressed against the metal ball, thus creating friction and locking the camera in place.

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Composing a shot can be achieved quickly by loosening the knurled operating handle, aligning the camera and tightening the knurled handle again. The bracket slides smoothly over the aluminum ball. The amount of friction can be controlled by turning a tension adjustment ring, which sits between the knurled handle and the metal bracket. Locking the ball head in a certain position can be achieved with a high degree of accuracy, although a little offset might occur when the handle is tightened.

Fastening the camera is done by turning the contoured wheel which sits below the mounting screw. The idea is good, but the contour is not deep enough to obtain enough leverage when turning the wheel. Tightening the camera is fairly easy, but behold those fools who want to unscrew it again. Unscrewing requires a lot of force and made me curse a few times already. In a few situations I was unable to loosen the screw by turning the wheel, so instead I grabbed the camera and rotated it instead. That worked, but also ripped off the rubber pads on the mounting surface (I glued them back in place, that is why the surface looks a little messy on my model) [Note: During Photokina 2014 I talked to one of the engineers from Novoflex about that issue. They are aware of the fact that unscrewing might require some force, but won’t change the design at the moment due to cost issues.]

The MagicBall allows a movement of roughly 45° in the one direction (tilting sideways) and 180° (tilting back and forth).

The camera axis is usually aligned perpendicular to the bracket axis as seen above. Taking images in portrait mode is not possible that way, as the camera can only be tilted 60° to the side. There are two solutions for taking images in portrait mode though.

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You can mount the camera at an angle of 90° (so that the bracket axis and camera axis align). This way the ball head can be tilted (sideways, see image) the full 90° to achieve panoramic mode. But the camera is not supposed to be mounted that way on the ball head – the body won’t rest completely on the rubber pads of the bracket. That means lower friction. If you have a heavy lens the weight of the camera might induce rotation of the complete camera around the axis of the screw.

On the following image the camera is mounted as seen above and the head is tiltes 90° sideways. As you can see the camera axis and the bracket axis are a few degrees off already. I was not able to tighten the mounting screw enough to prevent rotation. My verdict – not usable with heavy lenses in that position.

CameraRotation

But there is another solution – lens brackets. That way the ball head can remain in the upright position and images in portrait mode can be made by rotating lens and camera in the lens bracket. Unfortunately not all lenses are equipped with such a bracket.

Bottom line:

The Novoflex MagicBall is a compact, robust and fast ball head. Its built quality is excellent and the blue coat of the aluminum ball gives the product a stylish appearance. With the MagicBall quick and easy image composition when using a tripod is possible.
On the downside the fastening mechanism (screw with contoured disc for rotating) requires a lot of force to unscrew, furthermore images in portrait mode are difficult to obtain due to special restrictions when tilting the ball head. A lens bracket is advisable in that case.

Photographing the solar eclipse

20150320-Eclipse-Montage I am a little late with my report, but little late than never. During the solar eclipse on March 20th 2015 I took some photos of the event. The results are ok, although I could have done better in my opinion.

I have to admit that I did not prepare very well for the event. I missed buying one of those solar filter foils, which come at a price of 25-30 € for a 20×30 cm sheet. The day before the eclipse (ahem, yes, that’s late) I started looking for a solution and the only thing I could find in the nick of time was a welding mask, borrowed from the workshop at my workplace.

“Unfortunately” it turned out to be an active welding mask. These masks are electronically triggered, meaning the glass only becomes ultradark when a bright lightsource is present. I did not attempt to disassemble the system, so I strapped the complete mask in front of my lens. This worked much better than expected:

I mounted the Tamron 150-600 mm lens on my D800 and strapped the welding mask with a rubber band to the camera. The mask sat stable on the lens, only the rubber band prevented the lens from being locked at 600 mm – the tension pushed the lens back to approx. 460 mm. If I wanted to shoot at 600 mm I had to zoom manually and keep my hand on the zoom ring to prevent it from being pushed back.

That way I shot many images and also made a short timelapse-video.

Here is an unedited image (if you disregard the watermark…):

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The sun is green, and no contour is visible. Well, what did I expect. The sun does not have craters like the moon.

Basically I photographed green pac-mans / smileys. On most  images the sun is hardly recognizable as such. Through the smeared glass of the welding mask a sharp picture was next to impossible. As mentioned above it was an active mask with a screen which is triggered in bright light. The construction has several layers, meaning several layers of glass, meaning a  loss of sharpness.

One detail I could capture though was a sunspot in the upper left corner:

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Bottom line:
Due to bad preparation the results were not as good as they could have been. However I managed to take a timelapse video and show a sunspot. The main lesson I learn from this shoot is to prepare well (D’UH…) and use appropriate filter media (D’UH²).

Against which risks are you protecting your data ?

20150405Lumenatic001Backups are absolutely essential. I wrote about that topic quite a few times already and I can’t stress that point enough. I live a solid backup strategy and it has saved my a$$ multiple times already.
The core of my backup system is a 4-bay NAS system (Network Attached Storage) with a time machine backup (=the content of my computer’s harddrive) and my archive (=everything I do not want to keep on the computer’s harddrive, mostly images). In addition to that there are two identical copies of the archive, which I keep in different locations. Those are “naked” harddrives which I connect to my Mac using a USB 3.0 docking station.

The reason for all that hassle lies in the multitude of sources for data loss. Let me structure this a little. In my opinion the four main sources for data loss are:

  • User or software-related events (eg. accidental deletion by the user, buggy software)
  • Hardware failure (faulty parts, “natural” aging of components)
  • Physical / electrical damage (harddrive dropped to the floor, water damage (the famous coffee spill), lightningstrike/power surge)
  • Major catastrophic events like fire and theft.

Let me explain how my backup strategy covers those risks:

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The Synology DS414 – a 4-bay RAID system

User- or software-related events can be rescued by using the time machine backup I keep on the NAS. If I accidentally delete something, time machine (from here TM) is there to fix it. Same applies if some software runs amok. The little risk which remains is that something happens to TM itself. But for data really being lost two events have to occur at the same time: data loss AND the failure of TM. That is a small risk in my opinion.

Hardware failure is a more extensive topic which requires some sub-points. There are several reasons for hardware to go faulty and each one of those risks can be countered by a different measure.

  • “Natural” aging of components. Harddrives are pieces of technology, and using them causes wear, both mechanical (if you still have spinning HDDs and not SSD drives) and electrical, since also chips won’t last forever.
    This can be easily countered by replacing the your backup drives with newer ones after a certain timespan. I deliberately choose not to further specify that timeframe since I have no objective measure or guideline. To speak for myself – I replaced the drives when they became too small.
  • Single components can be faulty. Although quality control is exceptionally good in the electronics industry, there will never be a 100% certainty that all defect parts have been sorted out in the factory. Keep in mind it does not have to be the actual medium carrying the information which can break. The discs inside your harddrive can be in perfect condition, but if the controller fails you still lose your data since it is no longer accessible.
    This risk is taken care of by using a RAID system where the data is redundantly stored on different drives. As mentioned above, I am using a 4-bay system from Synology. The configuration is RAID 6, meaning that two drives can fail at the same time without losing any data. It is safe, but also requires a lot of space. In my current configuration I have 4×2 TB drives installed which result in “only” 4 TB of usable storage space (upgrade to 4 TB drives imminent).
  • Design flaws in the harddrive series. Not very likely, but also not impossible. If all the harddrives in your RAID system are the same model and the series has a design flaw – there is a miniscule, yet not impossible chance, that all harddrives might fail at the same time.
    To counter that the harddrives in your RAID system should be at least different models (same size) and/or from another manufacturer.

The risk of physical / electrical damage can be countered by different measures:

  • If the cat pees into your computer or RAID system (don’t laugh, happened to a friend of mine) or the drive drops from your desk, your drives are most likely be toast. Redundancy is the answer.
    That is why I have two copies of my archive. These drives are stored separately from the computer and are not plugged in permanently. In my case I have a naked internal 3,5” HDD, which I plug into a dock when updating my archive. The rest of the time the HDD is stored in a plastic container, which I keep in a drawer in the same room as my computer. This way my archive is safe.
  • Power surges (e.g. when a lighting strikes the power grid) can damage electronic equipment. Here two countermeasures come into effect.
    20150405-Data-Protection-003

    Power surge fuse

    The first one is a filter device, which is placed between the wall power socket and the electronic device. If lightning strikes, a fuse is blown inside the filter device which cuts power. That’s much better than roasted electronics.
    The second counter measure is described in the point above. If one copy is not physically connected to the power grid (like the backup copies I keep in the drawer), it will not be affected by a power surge. So even if the filter fails and your computer is damaged, you still have the separate copy of your archive.

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“Naked” HDD with storage container

The pinnacle of data protection is protection against major catastrophic events.
I am talking about a fire, burglary or a flooded apartment due to a broken water pipe in the walls. In that case only an off-site copy of your data will save you. That is why I have two identical copies of my archive (the naked HDDs in a plastic storage container). The first one is stored in a drawer at home, see above. The second one is stored in another house. You might deposit the HDD at a friend’s house or at work, if that is an option. That brings some hassle as you have to collect and bring back the HDD for the next archiving session, but if you are willing to go the extra mile for extra security, that is what you have to do.

Bottom line:
–        Backups are essential, protect your data !
–        Redundancy helps you to protect against multiple risks
–        Choose for yourself which risks you want to protect against.

Moon and Venus

At the evening of March 22nd 2015 I stepped out of the cottage where we spent our vacation to take out the trash. When I raised my head I was awarded with an astonishing view. Moon and Venus were in conjunction.

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I rushed back into the cottage, grabbed my tripod and a camera with the Tamron 150-600 mm lens (yes, I took that with me on vacation) and headed outside again. truly beautiful.20150322-Moon-and-Venus-003

What I love about the following shot is the fact, that you can see not only the moon sickle, but also the texture of the dark parts of the moon. 20150322-Moon-and-Venus-002

Enjoy the images, like, share !

Another lens review for Nikon Rumors: Venus 60mm f2.8 2:1 macro

20150131-Venus-60-mm-011Hey there,

I wrote another lens review for nikonrumors.com and it just has been published. This time I take a closer look at the Venus 60mm f2.8 2:1 macro lens. The lens has a maximum reproduction ratio of 2:1, which means that the image on the sensor can be twice as large as the actual object. Definitely an interesting lens which can produce sharp images, but it is not easy to handle.

Here are some sample images made with that lens. Please visit Nikonrumors.com to read the full review (link above).

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Putting your gear on display

20150122-LED-Lighting-011There are many different philosophies and solutions when it comes to storing one’s camera gear. Since the hunter-gatherer blood runs strongly in my veins I amassed quite a collection of gear over the years. After some interim solutions with shelfes and boxes I finally decided on  a dedicated IKEA Billy shelf with glass doors for storing and organizing my photo gear, see this post from 2012.

Since then equipment and accessories cluttered the shelfes and what was once organized turned into a chaotic heap. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I sifted through my gear to get rid of equipment I rarely used.

Along with this screening process I installed some LED lighting on the shelf. I bought two sets of IKEA LEDARE LED lights. One set consisted of four LED spots while the second set contained four LED strips. I chose the IKEA lights because they were the cheapest and have a warm color temperature of 2700K. There are also variants of the LEDARE lighting set which contain coloured LEDs and a control panel to change the color. I decided to place the spots on the shelfeswith lenses and cameras, because those are the core components of photography. The LED strips add a little more ambience to the shelf, so I installed them on the “flash shelf” and the “auxiliary photo stuff shelf”.

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At first I punched a hole into the back lining of the Billy shelf. I used a drill bit and manually rotated it to create the hole. The reason I did this manually is that I wanted more control over the process. Since the back lining is very thin an electric drill would have punched through in a second and also damaged the wall behind it.

20141230-LED-Lighting-001The spot can either be installed with adhesive tape or screws. I chose to employ the adhesive tape. Then I threaded the wiring through the hole in the back and plugged it in. A package contained four spots, I installed two spots on each shelf.

The LED strips consist of X white LEDs, encased in clear glass casing. Connectors which come with the set can be used to either have four separate strips which can be placed individually or they can be connected to a longer strip.
20150104-LED-Lighting-008I opted to make two longer strips out of the four elements. A hole was punched into the back of the shelf lining as described above. Again the strips were installed using adhesive tape. I bundled the cables at the top of the shelf, organizing them with cable binders. To have easy access to the switched I taped them to the side of the shelf. All that was left was to lay a cable channel for the power chord and there we are !


20150122-LED-Lighting-010Bottom line. Installing LED lighting to a shelf is not rocket science. All it takes is some tidy cable management and simple installation procedures. Once installed, an illuminated shelf can enhance the lighting mood in your room.

Lumenatorial: The Baby Ladybug

20150204-Baby-Ladybug-001Today’s Lumenatorial covers how I captured the photo of that baby ladybug. The story begins when I drove my car through the car-wash. Back home I inspected the cleaning job and found the ladybug on the car’s roof (however it got there at temperatures around zero). I took it inside and quickly assembled a makeshift studio.

An old film roll served as a holder for a matchstick on which I placed the ladybug. Two SB-R200 flashes with diffuser panels provided light. I mounted the Venus 60 mm f2.8 macro lens on my D800 and put the lens into macro mode (2:1 magnification !). The image was taken at 1/200s and f8, ISO 100 (don’t get fooled by the metadata. The lens is fully manual, no information is transmitted to the camera. The standard setting f2.8 is written into every picture’s metadata.SetupThe ladybug crawled and down, back and forth. I took around 80 shots during the session and chose the one at the top to be the winner. The grey blurry spot in the background was not intended, but helps the image. It is actually a reflection from the frame of my iMac which stood about 30 cm behind the ladybug.

Post processing involved stamping away some sensor dust (“a dirty mind posesses a dirty camera” or how did this saying go ?).

As a bonus here is a 100% crop of the final image. Not so cute at all, that ladybug, eh ?

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