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Photokina 2010: Beyond the cameras, part 2  
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | by Rob Galbraith
Photokina has officially wrapped up for another two years. In part 2 of our look at interesting gear for working photographers on show this past week in Cologne, Germany, we highlight new (or just new to us) products from Elinchrom, Lowepro, Godox, Sun Sniper and more.

And They're Off: The first attendees of the day enter Photokina 2010 on September 25. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Wireless control of Elinchrom RX flash from an iPhone/iPad

Elinca demonstrated a cool addition to its 2.4GHz Skyport wireless product line, one that enables any RX-series Elinchrom light to be controlled from an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. The system is made up of an Apple iOS app and a small AC or battery powered unit that functions as a custom Skyport Wi-Fi router of sorts, though instead of routing network data it's responsible for relaying RX settings changes from the app through to wirelessly linked flashes.

Even in the congested Wi-Fi environment of Photokina, the demo light - a Ranger Quadra RX - appeared to respond quickly and reliably to power and modeling light adjustments made within the app. The system is bidirectional too, meaning that any changes made on the flash itself are also communicated back to the app. This also appeared to be working properly, and promptly.

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In Control: An early version of Elinca's upcoming wireless control system for Apple's iOS devices. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Skyport router (this is what we'll call it for now since it has yet to be officially named) doesn't need to be physically connected to either the Apple device or a flash, it can be anywhere in the vicinity that puts it within wireless range. Both it, and the app, are at the proof-of-concept stage, though as noted it's all quite functional already. But, Elinca has yet to complete the design of the Skyport router and is still deciding on the final layout and features of the app, so it will be several months before the system ships (booth staff were tentatively quoting a first quarter of 2011 time frame for its completion).

When available, the app will be free from the Apple App Store but will require the Skyport router, at a price that hasn't yet been set.

Foolography GPS

Short of putting a GPS receiver in the camera itself, geotagging doesn't get any less obtrusive than this. The direct-embedding GPS systems available from Foolography, a small German company, are comprised of a tiny Bluetooth module of their design that attaches to a Nikon digital SLR and receives location data wirelessly from an external Bluetooth GPS unit, both ones that they sell as well as most other Bluetooth-capable units. The current location is passed to the camera, which then inserts the data into each picture's EXIF information.

The company's product line consists of three Bluetooth modules covering Nikon's current lineup, including the D7000. Cameras as far back as the D200 are also supported. The modules are:
  • Unleashed D200+ This module is for the D200, D300, D300S, D700, D2HS, D2X, D2XS, D3, D3S and D3X (as well as the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro). It connects to the 10-pin remote port on the front and provides a 2.5mm jack for connecting a wired remote release.

  • Unleashed DX000 This module is for the D3100, D5000 and D7000. It attaches to the GPS port of these models and includes a remote release connector also, for Nikon's MC-DC2.

  • Unleashed D90 Though largely the same as the DX000, this module is for the Nikon D90 exclusively. It features a slightly different case design that enables the camera's GPS port cover to be affixed to the module.
All three modules draw the power they need from the camera. All three modules will also remember the last known position, in the event of the loss of the GPS signal, and embed that location into pictures for up to the next 30 minutes.

The photo below shows the Unleashed D200+ attached to a D300 and the Unleashed DX000 attached to a D5000. In the middle is the M-1200E Bluetooth GPS unit from Holux.

Bread Crumbs: The Unleashed D200+ attached to a D300, left, a Holux M-1200E Bluetooth GPS unit, middle, and the Unleashed DX000 attached to a D5000, right. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Foolography sells GPS units from Holux to pair with their Unleashed modules. Of these, the M-1200E is perhaps the most interesting. In addition to being an especially compact Bluetooth GPS device, custom firmware in the units soon to be sold by Foolography will enable its point-of-interest (POI) button to serve as a remote release, wirelessly triggering a camera with an Unleashed module attached.

The M-1200E we saw at Photokina had this capability, but there was a noticeable delay before the camera would fire. The delay is present only in beta firmware, says Foolography founder Oliver Perialis, and will be reduced or eliminated in the official firmware release. (If you own an Unleashed module and this GPS unit now, contact Foolography to discuss the possibility of having your M-1200E updated with the new firmware.)

If you've stayed away from GPS because of the size of the devices, the need to run a cable to the camera or because you haven't wanted to dedicate your hot shoe to the task, check out the Unleashed line from Foolography. About the only noteworthy GPS feature you'll sacrifice is compass direction, which is obviously impractical when the GPS data is coming from a separate unit that's unlikely to be oriented the same way as the camera.

Foolography sells direct, shipping worldwide from its base in Wiesbaden, Germany. The Unleashed D200+ is 167.23, or 230.25 with the Holux M-1200E. The Unleashed DX000 or D90 is 125.21, or 188.24 with the Holux M-1200E. Shipping is in addition to that. Customers in an EU country will have to pay VAT as well.

Unleashed modules for Canon are not currently available. The company has not yet investigated whether it's feasible for their system to integrate with Canon digital SLRs, either by attaching directly to the camera or connecting through Canon's GPS-supporting WFT transmitters.

Foolography lists a Bluetooth barcode scanner on their website, but it's availability is currently in limbo.

Godox Leadpower LP-750

Portable power options for studio lights continue to proliferate. From low-cost units such as the Innovatronix Explorer 1200 and Paul C. Buff's upcoming Vagabond Mini Lithium to the superb but pricey LibertyPak Little Genny LG400, pure sine wave inverter + battery pack products now take many forms and provide different levels of performance.

On display at Photokina was the only NiMH-based pack of this type that we know of. Called the Godox Leadpower LP-750, it takes the shape of a studio pack, has three power sockets, 750w (continuous) inverter, slide out battery module that can be charged either inside or outside the pack, five-increment battery life indicator, quiet automatically-controlled fan and top notch fit and finish.

This last point is worth restating: the build quality of the units at Godox's booth was excellent, they looked solid and felt solid.

The LP-750 has two operating modes, one of which is meant to conserve power by putting the unit into a standby state to preserve the battery when it detects that connected devices aren't drawing power. This mode is not intended for flash but rather for other gear you might be using intermittently on location, such as a fan.

The 12.3lb/5.6kg LP-750 is rated for up to 3000ws worth of lights. While the practical watt-second limit with any inverter is driven by various factors, based on the LP-750's specs and a demo we watched with three 1000ws flashes connected, it seems likely that it could power a trio of 640ws lights like the AlienBees B1600 and provide recycle times comparable to AC wall power.

The only spec in which the unit comes up a bit short is the number of full power pops per charge. It's rated for 380 with a single 600ws flash, which is a little thin for portable power that's expected to sell for about US$1200. It is possible, however, to connect a 12VDC battery, such as a car battery, to terminals on the LP-750's exterior. Plus, extra internal battery modules will be available also.

When asked why NiMH was chosen over one of the lighter and more power-efficient Lithium variants, Godox general manager Eugene Zang, who also designed the LP-750, said that it's because Lithium is not yet safe. This opinion would seem to be out of step with the general perception of Lithium today, or at least of the better Lithium options now available. It is nevertheless the reason the LP-750 has NiMH inside.

The Godox Leadpower LP-750, in both 115VAC and 230VAC versions, is to ship in October for about US$1200 in the U.S. Additional internal battery modules will be about US$200.

Lowepro S&F series

We've owned lots of Lowepro bags over the years, but when two of the designers of Lowepro's pro lines left to start a camera bag company that caters exclusively to working photographers, we figured out pretty quickly that we preferred the carrying solutions coming from the new company over products from Lowepro.

That new company is Think Tank Photo, and almost six years into their existence both myself and site co-editor Mike Sturk have amassed a large collection of their intelligently-designed and durable rollers, backpacks and more. Meanwhile, not much from Lowepro has caught our attention, other than a couple of rollers perhaps. The company started by Greg Lowe back in 1967 seemed to have shifted its energies away from pros and more to the mass consumer market.

Against that backdrop, you can see why we weren't expecting to be overly impressed by the company's revamped S&F modular belt and vest system, introduced at Photokina and shipping later this year. But impressed we were. Make that shocked: this is not the sort of pro effort we'd come to expect from Lowepro in recent years.

First introduced as the Street and Field series in 1998, the 17 belts, backpacks, pouches and vest that make up the new S&F line are well thought out and feature several clever and useful design elements. Here are some examples:
  • Lens Exchange 200 AW If you've ever precariously juggled a lens coming off your camera with the one going on then you'll wonder why this lens pouch wasn't invented eons ago.

    When zipped up it has room for a single 70-200mm-size lens. While unzipped, however, an inner compartment extends outwards to reveal two slots, one being a temporary home for the lens you've just removed. That way, both the inbound and outbound lenses have a secure perch while you make the swap. Brilliant.

  • Laptop Utility Backpack 100 AW Built expressly for wire service shooters, this small backpack is just big enough to contain a 10-12 inch notebook, which is held suspended to allow airflow and to connect cables, plus a few accessories. On the outside of the backpack is an insert for a 3G/4G USB stick, while a second insert, on the shoulder strap, enables a card read reader to be attached.

    Like all Lowepro products with the AW designation, this one incorporates a raincover. Make that two: the card reader gets its own, separate raincover as well. There are also numerous openings to run cable between the backpack's compartments and out to the USB stick and card reader.

    Designed with the help of Calgary, Canada-based Reuters photographer Todd Korol, the Laptop Utility Backpack 100 AW is potentially useful not just for wire service work but for anyone trying to carry a small computer or an iPad on their back. It would be a natural fit for the iPad + ShutterSnitch workflow we wrote about earlier this month.

  • Audio Utility Bag 100 This multimedia-focused offering includes a nifty cable organizer designed to allow for quick cable deployment, a headphone hook and a drop-down holder for a shotgun mic that folds up small when not in use. Openings allow for cables to run between pouches as well.

  • Transport Duffle Backpack Sometimes, the combination of belt, vest and pouches that you'll want to wear at the assignment is not necessarily what you want to wear to get to the assignment. Enter the Transport Duffle Backpack, a big, lightly-padded carryall for the S&F gear you'll put on once you get to the job. On the inside are straps to which you can attach S&F pouches individually, or you can deposit your belt and vest and pouches, already set up the way you like, into the Transport Duffle Backpack as one piece.

    With everything out, the backpack can be rolled up tight and worn on your back like a quiver of arrows.
That's just a taste of what Lowepro's new S&F series is about. The photos below show these and other S&F components, some in both closed and open positions.

Lens Exchange 200 AW
Lens Exchange 200 AW
Slim Lens Pouch 75 AW
Slim Lens Pouch 75 AW
Quick Flex Pouch 55
Quick Flex Pouch 55
Audio Utility Bag 100
Audio Utility Bag 100
Filter Pouch 100
Laptop Utility Backpack 100 AW
Technical Vest
Light Utility Belt
Transport Duffle Backpack
Transport Duffle Backpack
Worldwide availability of all 17 items in the Lowepro S&F series may vary somewhat, and some components may show up in stores before others, starting as early as next month. In Canada, the official launch is November 29, with most or all of the series available for purchase at retailers at about the same time. In the U.S., the new S&F series will be shown at PhotoPlus Expo in late October and is to expected to arrive on store shelves at about the same time.

Sun Sniper Sniper-Strap

Photokina presented the perfect opportunity to try out two of the better-regarded quick deployment cross straps on the market, the Black Rapid RS series and the Sun Sniper Sniper-Strap (the model called "The Pro" - Steel & Bear). Phottix also had their variant on this theme, the Velo, which we'd not seen before.

After visiting all three booths and giving each company's straps a try, it was easier than expected to declare a winner: the Sniper-Strap. It was the most comfortable, for starters, particularly when walking briskly with a pro body and 70-200mm f/2.8 in tow. But what really sealed the deal was its camera attachment, called The Bear. It feels especially sturdy, is all but impossible to twist loose accidentally, provides for smooth travel up and down the steel-reinforced strap and gives the camera the best balance of the three, especially when threaded into the tripod mount of a lens like a 70-200mm f/2.8.

The photos below give a good idea of what the Sniper-Strap and The Bear camera attachment are about. What the photos don't tell you is the camera and lens can also ride along your hip, while standing on the sidelines of a soccer or football game, for example. Positioned this way, the camera can be gripped and brought to your eye even faster.

The Bear 1
The Bear 2
If you're considering the purchase of a Sniper-Strap, the models with The Bear camera attachment are the ones to get. We shelled out for The Steel strap, which has a steel cable embedded in it, but this was probably overkill. The less expensive The One strap, which is identical to The Steel except for the lack of steel reinforcement, is likely to be more than adequate.

Sun Sniper products can be purchased from a handful of dealers worldwide as well direct from the company in Germany (for customers NOT in the United States). If you reside in the U.S., both B&H and Adorama stock Sun Sniper products and they might be sold elsewhere too.

Oh Deer: A visitor to Photokina 2010 poses for a picture. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Part 1 of our look at interesting gear for working photographers at Photokina 2010 is here.
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