Godox V860II hot shoe flash review

Godox V860II hot shoe flash review
Introduction
Godox is a Chinese camera accessory maker based in Hong Kong. Their factories mostly make flashes for other brands, but they also have an in-house brand under the name Godox. Since virtually every electronic device is now produced in China, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you get value for money and a decent support desk should anything go wrong.

I’ll be looking at the Godox V860II (or mark 2) for Sony MIS (Multi Interface Shoe) in this post. You’ll find this exact flash under different brand names like Neexer and Flashpoint in various parts of the world.
The box comes with a high quality carrying pouch
There is much to like here on paper. This is a powerful flash with a high guide number (GN) of 60, offers High-speed sync up to 1/8000th of a second, TTL (through the lens metering), a powerful built-in 2.4G ultra-long-distance wireless remote system for transmitting and receiving and to top it all off comes with a 2000mAh rechargeable Li-ion Battery that provides 650 Full Power Flashes with a Recycle time that is less than 1.5s.

Build
The Godox V860II is roughly the same size and weight as top Sony speed lights like the HVL-F60M. This isn’t a light flash, but there is no difference in weight when compared to ‘brand’ flashes costing four times as much. The build quality also looks equal to those top brands. Not a big surprise really as they are probably made in the same factories, or at least with the same quality control mechanisms. The buttons, switch, and wheel also feel quite feel durable.

The foot is made of plastic and locks securely in the Sony MIS. I would complain about the plastic hot shoe, but I’ve had a Nissin, and Sony flash shoe break on me too It’s always better to break a flash foot (they are cheaper on often self-replaceable) than break the camera’s metal hot shoe itself.
Battery
I am used to flashes with AA batteries and these last for around 200-250 flashes. Recycle times do get longer too when they drain, so there is much to be said for a flash that comes with a powerful 2000mAh rechargeable Li-ion Battery. The manual states that you can get around 650 flashes with one fully charged battery and this is also what you can expect when using it in real life. Replacement batteries are also available at a reasonable price if you think 650 pops wouldn’t suffice for you. These are by the way the same as the Godox or Flashpoint replacement batteries.

One thing you won’t find on the Neewer V860II is a port for external battery packs, but with a spare battery in your pocket, it’s not that difficult to switch them over during a full day of shooting.
The lithium-ion battery gives you a very fast recycle speed of 1.5 seconds at maximum power, with AA’s you’d be getting recycle speeds of around two seconds, and that is when they are at full power. Excellent performance!

Power output
Having compared the V860II output to the Sony HVLF-60M at the same camera and flash settings, I can tell you that there is no difference in power output. It looks as though this cheap flash for Sony Mis performs just as well as a flash that cost three times as much.
Usability
This Neewer is a fully functional HSS and TTL flash. This allows for much creative freedom.

TTL or ‘through the lens metering’ means that the camera will decide what flash output is needed, taking into account your aperture and shutter speed. This works very well, just as good as you’d get with a Sony branded flash, so again no difference here. This is an ideal system for wedding or event photography, where you don’t have the time to set everything manually, and want to get a decent exposure quickly. The metering process does involve a pre-flash to meter the effect that the flash has on the scene you are shooting. So don’t panic if you notice this, it’s not a synchronisation issue, it’s just the way TTL works.

HSS or high-speed sync’ is another very useful feature. This allows the flash to sync to very high shutter speeds up to 1/8000 second. Say you’re shooting portraits on a bright afternoon and you want to stay at a large aperture with the use of flash, this is possible with HSS. If your flash is strong enough, you’ll even be able to overpower the sun using this system. I have decoupled exposure and flash compensation on my Sony A7rm2, meaning I can slightly underexpose to let the flash shine in certain situations. This means you can shoot an outdoors portrait like you would in a studio environment, eliminating all background distractions with a high contrast image as a result.

The powerful built-in 2.4G ultra-long-distance wireless remote system allows you to either use the Neewer V860II as a controller for other off-camera flashes or for it to be controlled by a wireless transmitter like the Godox X-1 or FT-16S. Yes, these particular OEM flashes are all interchangeable (at least the ones I have tested) and can be wirelessly controlled by each other. The only thing you need to make sure is that they all comply with the 2.4Ghz system, most of the time clearly marked in the literature. Who knew life could be so easy? Even better, the 2.4Ghz wireless system is very reliable even up to 100 meters, and I haven’t had any hiccups yet.

Available Flash modes are TTL,M,Multi,FEC,Master,Slave, S1,S2. For TTL, you set it to the appropriate mode and fire away. With that neat little decoupling of flash and exposure compensation, I see no need ever to use manual. If you want to use it as a Master controller, the screen will turn from green to red when you scroll through the modes.
Compatibility
I’m testing the Sony MIS version here, but there is also a Canon and Nikon version available. Rumour has it that there might be a Fujifilm version coming in 2017 too. Even better, all these versions can be used together (though of course not on the respective shoe) for off-camera flash triggering with full control over all functionality including HSS and TTL metering.

Summary
There is much to like in the Neewer V860II. Let’s start with the high capacity rechargeable battery with a short 1.5 second recycle time for no less than around 600 flashes. Extra battery packs can be bought quite cheaply for around 40 Euro-30 dollars. The backlit interface is also quite clear and concise, although it could take a few times to wrap your head around what is where exactly. The build is quite decent and up to par with brand flashes costing a multitude of what this one costs. The only thing I am not crazy about here is the quality of the flash foot itself. But as I stated earlier, it’s better to break your cheaper flash foot than the shoe on your camera.
 
All functionality you could ask for in a modern flash is here. TTL metering for Sony cameras, high-speed sync up to 1/8000 sec and a powerful 2.4 GHz wireless system that allow the V860II be used as either a transmitter to control off camera flashes or a receiver. The best part is that it is compatible with these flashes under the other OEM brand names like Flashpoint or Neewer.
 
 
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Neewer NW860II hotshoe flash review

Neewer NW860II hot shoe flash review
Introduction
Neewer is a Chinese camera accessory supplier based in Hong Kong. Most of their catalogue are rebranded OEM products, sourced from other Chinese camera equipment producers. Since virtually every electronic device is now produced in China, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you get value for money and a decent support desk should anything go wrong.

I’ll be looking at the Neewer NW860II (or mark 2) for Sony MIS (Multi Interface Shoe) in this post. You’ll find this exact flash under different brand names like Godox and Flashpoint in various parts of the world.
The box comes with a high quality carrying pouch
There is much to like here on paper. This is a powerful flash with a high guide number (GN) of 60, offers High-speed sync up to 1/8000th of a second, TTL (through the lens metering), a powerful built-in 2.4G ultra-long-distance wireless remote system for transmitting and receiving and to top it all off comes with a 2000mAh rechargeable Li-ion Battery that provides 650 Full Power Flashes with a Recycle time that is less than 1.5s.

Build
TheNeewer NW860II is roughly the same size and weight as top Sony speed lights like the HVL-F60M. This isn’t a light flash, but there is no difference in weight when compared to ‘brand’ flashes costing four times as much. The build quality also looks equal to those top brands. Not a big surprise really as they are probably made in the same factories, or at least with the same quality control mechanisms. The buttons, switch, and wheel also feel quite feel durable.

The foot is made of plastic and locks securely in the Sony MIS. I would complain about the plastic hot shoe, but I’ve had a Nissin, and Sony flash shoe break on me too It’s always better to break a flash foot (they are cheaper on often self-replaceable) than break the camera’s metal hot shoe itself.
Battery
I am used to flashes with AA batteries and these last for around 200-250 flashes. Recycle times do get longer too when they drain, so there is much to be said for a flash that comes with a powerful 2000mAh rechargeable Li-ion Battery. The manual states that you can get around 650 flashes with one fully charged battery and this is also what you can expect when using it in real life. Replacement batteries are also available at a reasonable price if you think 650 pops wouldn’t suffice for you. These are by the way the same as the Godox or Flashpoint replacement batteries.

One thing you won’t find on the Neewer NW860II is a port for external battery packs, but with a spare battery in your pocket, it’s not that difficult to switch them over during a full day of shooting.
The lithium-ion battery gives you a very fast recycle speed of 1.5 seconds at maximum power, with AA’s you’d be getting recycle speeds of around two seconds, and that is when they are at full power. Excellent performance!

Power output
Having compared the NW860II output to the Sony HVLF-60M at the same camera and flash settings, I can tell you that there is no difference in power output. It looks as though this cheap flash for Sony Mis performs just as well as a flash that cost three times as much.
Usability
This Neewer is a fully functional HSS and TTL flash. This allows for much creative freedom.

TTL or ‘through the lens metering’ means that the camera will decide what flash output is needed, taking into account your aperture and shutter speed. This works very well, just as good as you’d get with a Sony branded flash, so again no difference here. This is an ideal system for wedding or event photography, where you don’t have the time to set everything manually, and want to get a decent exposure quickly. The metering process does involve a pre-flash to meter the effect that the flash has on the scene you are shooting. So don’t panic if you notice this, it’s not a synchronisation issue, it’s just the way TTL works.

HSS or high-speed sync’ is another very useful feature. This allows the flash to sync to very high shutter speeds up to 1/8000 second. Say you’re shooting portraits on a bright afternoon and you want to stay at a large aperture with the use of flash, this is possible with HSS. If your flash is strong enough, you’ll even be able to overpower the sun using this system. I have decoupled exposure and flash compensation on my Sony A7rm2, meaning I can slightly underexpose to let the flash shine in certain situations. This means you can shoot an outdoors portrait like you would in a studio environment, eliminating all background distractions with a high contrast image as a result.

The powerful built-in 2.4G ultra-long-distance wireless remote system allows you to either use the Neewer NW860II as a controller for other off-camera flashes or for it to be controlled by a wireless transmitter like the Godox X-1 or FT-16S. Yes, these particular OEM flashes are all interchangeable (at least the ones I have tested) and can be wirelessly controlled by each other. The only thing you need to make sure is that they all comply with the 2.4Ghz system, most of the time clearly marked in the literature. Who knew life could be so easy? Even better, the 2.4Ghz wireless system is very reliable even up to 100 meters, and I haven’t had any hiccups yet.

Available Flash modes are TTL,M,Multi,FEC,Master,Slave, S1,S2. For TTL, you set it to the appropriate mode and fire away. With that neat little decoupling of flash and exposure compensation, I see no need ever to use manual. If you want to use it as a Master controller, the screen will turn from green to red when you scroll through the modes.
Compatibility
I’m testing the Sony MIS version here, but there is also a Canon and Nikon version available. Rumour has it that there might be a Fujifilm version coming in 2017 too. Even better, all these versions can be used together (though of course not on the respective shoe) for off-camera flash triggering with full control over all functionality including HSS and TTL metering.

Summary
There is much to like in the Neewer NW860II. Let’s start with the high capacity rechargeable battery with a short 1.5 second recycle time for no less than around 600 flashes. Extra battery packs can be bought quite cheaply for around 40 Euro-30 dollars. The backlit interface is also quite clear and concise, although it could take a few times to wrap your head around what is where exactly. The build is quite decent and up to par with brand flashes costing a multitude of what this one costs. The only thing I am not crazy about here is the quality of the flash foot itself. But as I stated earlier, it’s better to break your cheaper flash foot than the shoe on your camera.
 
All functionality you could ask for in a modern flash is here. TTL metering for Sony cameras, high-speed sync up to 1/8000 sec and a powerful 2.4 GHz wireless system that allow the NW860II be used as either a transmitter to control off camera flashes or a receiver. The best part is that it is compatible with these flashes under the other OEM brand names like Flashpoint or Godox.
 
 
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Miller & Shneider eyecup for Sony A7x review

Miller & Schneider large eyecup for Sony A7x review
Introduction
Miller & Schneider make replacement eyecups for Panasonic, Canon and Sony Cameras. This company started out as a crowdfunded startup by a team of Hollywood filmmakers who wanted to make a better eyecup for videographers. They now have global distribution, but it looks like very few eyecups are still available. If you’re lucky enough to find one still, I would suggest that you pick it up asap.

Installation
The Miller & Schneider eyecups are designed to attach to your camera like the original Sony version simply. This eyecup clicks securely in place on the camera and looks quite sturdy. You will have to take into account that it is larger than the original one, and this might cause some problems when storing your camera in a backpack or case for travel. I would suggest leaving the original eyecup on your ILCE7-RM2 and taking the Miller & Schneider with you in case you need it. There is nothing worse than arriving somewhere only to find that your favourite eyecup was torn apart during transport.
Miller & Schneider Eyecup for Sony mirrorless A7 series in use
The main advantage of these eyecups is that they provide a greater degree of contact when using the EVF. More stray light is blocked, and hence you’ll get a clearer and brighter view of the EVF. This is useful for many reasons like allowing for easier composition in bright daylight with less eye fatigue. Their large eyecup certainly looks like a vast improvement on the rather weedy stock Sony eyecup. It simply adds a significant cushion to the EVF rather than adding any new optical elements.

The A-Cup improves handheld shooting most of all, so the combination of our secure, comfortable eyecup and Sony’s 5-axis IBIS stabilisation is a problem, I think video shooters, in particular, are going to feel great about only picking this camera up and shooting handheld without supplementary rigging.
Conclusion

The Miller & Schneider A-Cup for the Sony A7 series is designed to look and feel like an extension of the camera. It can be used with either eye, providing a comfortable, flexible cushion to push against and a solid third point of contact. It wraps around the eye to block out light, and it doesn’t disrupt the camera’s shape or balance. The A-Cup doesn’t add a diopter or lens; it merely changes the form of the EVF’s cushion.
This is one of the best third party eyecups I’ve used, and besides some reservations when it comes to portability and travel, I would highly recommend it.

 
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JJC ES-A7 eyecup for Sony A7 series review

JJC ES-A7 eyecup for Sony A7 series review
Introduction
Although the eyecup of the Sony A7 series cameras has significantly improved in the A7rm2 and A7Sm2, some photographers and videographers still prefer a larger cup. A larger cup has several benefits like sealing out stray light for improved viewfinder optics, a more comfortable fit for eyeglass users or a more ergonomic oval shape that fits the dominant eye better. This does come at the cost of a larger form factor that might be harder to store in a bag.

JJC, a Chinese manufacturer of peripherals for cameras from chargers and batteries to screen protectors and remotes, now have a replacement eyecup for the Sony FDA-EP16.
JJC ES-A7 eyecup specs and installation

The JJC ES-A7 eyecup is larger than the Sony equivalent and is made from what seems like a more rugged plastic. It comes in a simple plastic packaging and includes a booklet outlining the installation process. The eyecup indeed looks like it should be more ergonomic, being at least twice as large as the original with an elongated lip that is meant to fit the eye better. Once installed, you can rotate the front part of the cup for portrait mode or depending on your dominant eye, turning it 180° to the left or right.

The installation procedure itself is quite straightforward. First, you’ll need to remove your original eyepiece by squeezing both sides together and lifting up. You’ll notice that you’re able to lift the old eyepiece out of the bracket quite easily. Then it’s just a case of sliding the replacement JJX ES-A7 eyecup into place.
JJC ES-A7 eyecup in use
The JJC ES-A7 eyecup might look like a nice enhancement for your A7 series on paper, but in real life, it’s not nearly as comfortable as the original Sony FDA-EP16. Sony has made a lot of improvements in the A7 series overall, and when using the JJC equivalent, it felt more like going back to the old A7 eyecup.

The TPU rubber used is quite hard and hence doesn’t fit snugly around the eye. I can also image it could be quite uncomfortable pressing this hard plastic on your eye socket for longer durations, and because it doesn’t fit snugly, you get a lot of stray light entering the viewfinder optics.
Purchase and availability
If you’d like to try the JJC ES-A7 yourself, it’s available on Amazon worldwide.

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Dot.Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger review

Dot.Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger review
Introduction
Any Sony mirrorless camera owner will know the pain of continuously having to charge batteries for your A7 or A6000 series cameras. Small sized bodies use smaller batteries than a larger DSLR, but these batteries have a lower capacity than their bigger counterparts. So we’ve all gotten used to carrying around a few spare NP-FW50’s so we can make it through a full day of shooting. No biggie. For me, the biggest headache is having to recharge several batteries overnight when you’re abroad over have a new job the next day.
I’ve been looking for a cheap yet portable solution for this, and since Sony mirrorless has become more popular over the last few years, third party suppliers have started filling these gaps in Sony ILCE camera peripherals.

We’ll have a look at one of these, the Dot Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger, typically sold for around ten bucks.
Dot Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger
The Dot Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger comes with just a USB cable. It can charge two batteries at the same time and uses two red or green LEDs to indicate either charging or fully charged. Input is specified at DC5V/2A max and this small device can either charge one battery at 800mA or two at 600mA. It measures 20x55x75mm and weighs only 66 grams.

As mentioned earlier, this charger does not come with an AC adapter so you’ll need to plug it into your Laptop, a car charger or use a power bank. Charging time will depend much on the power output of your USB device, but I’ve been using the AC adapter of my XPERIA Z phone and can get two batteries charged from empty in under two hours.
The power cells behave normally in the camera and do indeed indicate a full charge.
Conclusion
The Dot Foto Sony NP-FW50 Fast Dual USB Battery Charger is a must-have for anyone who uses Sony ILCE cameras with more than one battery. It’s a very compact charger, and with the USB cable that is included, it’s easy just to plug it into your device (with a USB port) of choice overnight. At around 10 dollars, it won’t break the bank, and it can be a lifesaver at times.

Purchase and Availability
The Dot.Foto dual Sony NP-FW50 battery charger is currently available on Amazon UK (here) and France, but you can find it worldwide Newmoma or Doradus. Prices vary but you should be able to get one for around 10 dollars.

 
 
 
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Anthropics LandscapePro review

Anthropics LandscapePro review
Introduction
UK based software developer Anthropics Technology has a new plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom called LandscapePro. Aimed at Landscape photographers, it brings some interesting features like landscape relighting, sky replacement, 3D depth estimation, a depth of field simulator, distance controls, intelligent selection tools, and photo-adaptive controls. Furthermore, you don’t need any prior knowledge or technical skills to create unique and dramatic images quickly.

These are pretty big claims, but when I tell you that this software was developed by the makers of the award-winning retouching software PortraitPro and PortraitPro Studio, you might think twice and give the demo a try.
Key Features

Quickly enhance landscape photos. LandscapePro contains a host of unique tools to enable anyone to create beautiful scenic photographs.
Intelligent selection tools.
Unique editing controls that adapt to the photo.
Easy-to-use slider interface.
No technical skills required.
LandscapePro Studio handles RAW files and can be run as Photoshop, Lightroom, and Elements plug-in.

How LandscapePro works
You’ll firstly need to find the LandscapePro plug-in in the plug-in window. Apparently, there is an issue with the latest version of Lightroom CC, but I did manage to find it in Photoshop.

Once LandscapePro has launched, you’ll see your image and an ‘Add and Edit Areas’ window on the right side. The idea is the drag the labels on your picture so that the software more or less knows what is what before automatically making the masking selections. Adding these ‘tags’ is important because you’ll later be able to edit each of the areas differently once the masking is done.

You’ll end up with something like this image above. Landscape Pro’s auto masking isn’t the best masking software currently on the market, but it’s not the worst either. Once the auto mask is made, you can simply add areas to each different mask by dragging the arrow over your image. It takes some getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it after a while. You have several tools to refine the auto selections, and the ‘tree and sky’ command is one of the best ways I’ve found to separate branches and leaves quickly from the sky. Also, the ‘object in Sky’ is perfect for masking birds and such.
You have several tools to refine the auto selections, and the ‘tree and sky’ command is one of the best ways I’ve found to separate branches and leaves quickly from the air. Also, the ‘object in Sky’ is ideal for masking birds and such. Check out this next image, where I managed to keep the birds in the sky while replacing the rest.

As I mentioned before, each of your named masking selections will have a separate section where you can change the appearance (colour, saturation, white balance,…) of that particular mask.
This means that it is quite important to get your masks right from the beginning, as it will have a major effect on the final image. It is always possible to go back to the ‘Add and Edit areas’ section to refine your selections further if you notice that you’ve made a mistake.

Sky replacement is always the most striking change in images, and LandscapePro has some beautiful skies available, ranging from simple cirrostratus clouds to stars and the moon. All the sky presets also have a slider where you can set the amount of colour, depth and exposure change the rest of your image will get in relation to the new sky.

Obviously, most of the more heavily processed images will fall into the category of ‘creative images’ and won’t always be photorealistic. But finding the best match for your sky in relation to the foreground can help you get a realistic image if that is what you’re after.

Another functionality I want to touch on is the Lighting Tab. It’s possible to change the direction of light in your images so you can light up a facade of a building or a mountain to get a more realistic or dramatic final result.

This is done by adding a sun icon to a part of your image and then dragging sun rays to illuminate desired parts. This kind of technology is obviously relatively new, but it will be interesting to see where this goes in future updates of LandscapePro. I used this technique in most of the images here to get an as realistic as possible result.
Conclusion
 
LandscapePro is a fascinating Photoshop and Lightroom plug-in for landscape photographers. Anthropics have already proven in the past that they know how to make industry standard image manipulation software with PortraitPro, and LandscapePro also brings a few innovations I’ve never seen before. Automatic masking, sky replacement with color matching of the foreground, adding depth and lighting effects, it can all be done with never before seen ease.

It is quite important that you find a good ‘match’ for the specific image that you’re editing. After all, changing a landscape shot in bright sunlight to a sunset will be difficult to pull off convincingly.At times, you do feel that the software is still young, as functionalities like auto masking and colour grading could do with some improvement. It takes some experimenting to get the best out of this software, and results are often more on the creative side than on the photo realistic. Not that this is always a problem, it just depends on your perspective as a photographer.

All in all, I was quite impressed with this new offering from Anthropics. It’s a lot of fun to use, and if you combine the right image with appropriate settings, I’m sure you’d be very pleased too.
Trial, Availability, and Pricing
LandscapePro is available to purchase for a special launch price at the moment:

LandscapePro $39.95 £29.95 €39.95
LandscapePro Studio $59.95 £49.95 €69.95
Edition upgrade (Standard to Studio) $19.95 £19.95 €29.95

If you want to delve more into the capabilities of the world’s first intelligent landscape editor, you can find all tutorial videos here: http://www.landscapepro.pics/tutorials/
System Requirements
PC running Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista, or XP
Mac from OSX 10.7 or later
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RNI ALL FILMS 4.0 brings custom camera profiles

RNI ALL FILMS 4.0 brings custom camera profiles
Introduction
Since my RNI v3.0 review from last year (find the full review here), Really Nice Images have been working on a complete overhaul of their film presets.

RNI All Films 4.0 is the latest version of RNI’s flagship film-simulating package for Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. This new release is aimed at giving serious photographers a powerful and versatile tool for bringing the artistic flair and sophistication of film into their digital workflow.
What’s New in RNI All Films 4.0
You’ll find the RNI all films in the Lightroom Develop section on your left under presets.
RNI are now offering customized camera profiles for a wide range of supported cameras to expand the available tonal range of your photos and provide more convincing film simulation than ever. Besides a makor overhaul of existing presets, many new emulsions, including Fuji Natura 1600 and Kodak Tri-X 400 are now included in the PRO bundle. Also, film grain settings have been refined across the package and you’ll find a new RNI Toolkit 4 added to the package for quick control over analog softness, film grain, fading and other parameters of film simulation.
RNI versus VSCO

Now that version 4 of RNI All films also offers customized camera profiles, I believe that RNI is now a real competetor for VSCO. The full RNI bundle includes all their film emulations for a mere $121 whilst getting all these emulations from VSCO would cost you around four times as much. Having said that, both companies do offer different flavors and much comes down to personnal preference and your workflow.
Conclusion
The RNI custom camera profiles can be found on the bottom right hand section in the Lightroom Develop tab.
Generally, the processing in RNI All Films 4 feels more delicate and sophisticated than earlier versions and the addition of customized camera profiles allows you to get even more realistic film emulations. I hear RNI is also working on porting the look of their presets to a library of real-film LUTs tailored to the needs of professionals and I’m sure many videographers are looking forward to that. Mac users now have added a handy .pkg installer where you just launch it and it will install all the required product components for you automatically.
Purchase and availability

RNI All Films is now available for $121 and yes this incudes every single film emulation they have. Head on over to the RNI website to learn more.
http://reallyniceimages.com/index.php/rni-all-films-v-3-0/?mc_cid=3a0aade00d&mc_eid=[UNIQID]
 
 
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Athentech Perfectly Clear, Perfect Eyes and Perfect Skin review

Athentech Perfect Eyes and Perfect Skin review
Introduction
Athentech Imaging makes retouching software for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Over the past 12 years, their Perfectly Clear plug-in has become one of the most advanced and easiest to use skin- and eye retouching software suites on the market. I’ve been using Perfectly Clear since 2014 and have found it one of the most realistic portrait retouch plug-ins currently available. Besides updating their algorithms and user interface in the last year, Athentech has also released separate plug-ins for eye and skin retouching. These two modules are also available in the new Perfectly Clear bundle and are called Perfect Skin and Perfect Eyes. You can now get them for a discount of $99 until July 15th, scroll down to the bottom of this page for a link to take you to their website.
Athentech Perfect Skin
Perfect Skin overview

From either Lightroom or Photoshop, you can access Perfect Skin from the plug-in tab. I would advise you to start from a RAW file and not to use JPEG images, as the results with the former will be superior. Once a TIFF copy of your original file has been made, Perfect Skin will open in a new window.
On the left side of your screen, you’ll see a preview of your image with the Perfect Skin corrections applied. On the right hand, you’ll find a Preset and Adjust tab.
Perfect Skin Presets
 
 
The Perfect Skin Presets tab
Perfect Skin has a total of 16 presets. They are a great starting point for your portrait retouching needs and will often get you where you want to go without much tweaking.
If you would like to know what the presets do and how they differ from each other, you can check the following examples.
Intelligent Auto
Intelligent Auto Preset
Adds a gentle enhancement to all types of faces. Perfect mix for most skin types and group portraits.
Clear Skin
Clear Skin Preset
Reduces the appearance of acne and blemishes while still leaving skin pores visible. Use te strength slider in the Adjust panel to make the effect more or less conspicuous.
Healthy Glow
Healthy Glow Preset
Adds a healthy glow that creates a fresh and younger look to your portraits. Also, impacts the lighting of your image
Strong Glow
Strong Glow Preset
Reduces blemishes and shine while adding depth, detail, and color. Great preset for refining portraits, while also tweaking the lighting of your images.
Pore Softening
Pore Softening Preset
Reduces the intensity of pores to produce ultra-smooth skin. Be sure to use the strength slider or individual controls to refine the effect.
Light Powder
Light Powder Preset
Gently reduces blemishes and shine for all skin types.
Sheer Coverage
Sheer Coverage Preset
The Sheer coverage preset adds moderate coverage to blemishes and shine while smoothing the skin
Full Coverage
Full Coverage Preset
Stronger settings when sheer coverage is not enough.
Male school portrait
Male School Portrait Preset
Adds details brightens teeth and reduces blemishes and shine. Ideal for portraits shot under reduced lighting or in a studio setting.
Female School portrait
Female School Portrait Preset
Adds details brightens teeth and reduces blemishes and shine. Ideal for portraits shot under reduced lighting or in a studio setting.
Teenagers
Teenagers Preset
Reduces blemishes, shine and also gently softens the light by diffusion. Ideal for younger skin shot under natural light.
High Fashion
High Fashion Preset
Showcases enhancements preferred by fashion photographers. Face slimming, blemish and shine reduction. Gentle light diffusion and adds depth to images.
The Works
The Works Preset
Uses the beauty corrections with higher values to make significant adjustments to skin and features. Use the adjustment and strength sliders to refine the amount of retouching.
Supermodel
Supermodel Skin Preset
Adjusts skin so it looks smooth and flawless.
Middle age
Middle Age Preset
Removes blemishes and shine, brightens the smile and adds color and depth. Ideal for hiding the signs of aging.
Rugged Skin
Rugged Skin Preset
Brings essential details to male faces by applying moderate improvements. This preset also sharpens detailed information in the eyebrows and beards to make hair look thicker and rugged.
Perfect Skin Adjust Tab
The Perfect Skin Adjustments tab
The second Tab on the right hand of the screen allows you to access all the individual enhancements and tweak them to your liking. I mainly choose an appropriate preset and start from there, but you can of course also start from scratch here and even make your own presets.
Strength Slider
The Strenght slider allows you to adjust the overall amount of retouching applied to your image. The slider goes from zero to 100, and it’s always a good idea to lower this slider slightly to get a natural looking final image.
Skin retouching controls
Perfectly Smooth
This preset Smooths skin without losing important features or detail. You can either select to apply this smoothing to only the face or skin on the full body. You have three degrees of smoothing ranging from Subtle to Super Smooth. I mostly leave this on the Default value, but skin and blemishes do differ from person to person, so it is at times useful to switch values to get the most natural result.
Blemish removal
Blemish removal automatically finds facial blemishes and removes them without losing any important detail. The slider goes from zero (no effect) to 100 (full stain removal).
Infrared
Removes excess red from faces due to your camera sensor picking up infrared head from your subject and adding it to the red channel.
Skin Toning
Skin Toning adds a warming or cooling filter to skin tones for a warmer or smoother look. You can choose between warm, cold, pale, white or give your subject a tan or foundation.
Makeup controls
Shine Removal
Finds and removes glare from faces due to studio lighting or camera flashes.
Blush
Blush adds extra colour to the cheekbones.
Face Controls
Face contouring
Face contouring automatically detects faces in your image and slightly slims them.
Teeth Whitening
Automatically finds teeth and whitens them from zero to maximum effect.
Lip Sharpening
Detects and adds sharpness to the lip area. Fine, medium and coarse options available.
Lighting Controls
Exposure
Automatically corrects the exposure of your entire image. Low, medium and high corrections available
Depth
Increasing the shadows of a picture helps reveal the textures and shapes in a scene. This helps provide visual clues of the 3D world in a 2D scene. This algorithm optimizes contrast in each pixel, choosing the right amount of shadow to provide those 3D clues without any loss of detail in the shadows for an eye-pleasing image with lots of punch. You can steer the algorithm toward a more contrasty image or high definition by selecting one of the two options.
Skin and Depth Bias
Gives a photo more depth and whiter skin tones. Use normal or bright depending on the brightness of your image.
Light Diffusion
This preset creates a softer, slightly warmer overall appearance in portraits.
Clarity Controls
Sharpening
If you’d like to add some sharpening to your final image, Athentech provides their proprietary artefact-free sharpening algorithm.
Noise
If you found that your image has become too noisy, you can reduce color and luminance noise. Select one of the appropriate presets like Portrait, Night Scene or Camera Phone. The plug-in will also tell you if any noise is detected.
Athentech Perfect Eyes
Perfect Eyes Overview
The Perfect Eyes plug-in window
Athentech Perfect Eyes plug-in focusses mainly on eye enhancement. Eye sharpening, reducing red-eye, removing dark circles and eye enlargement are all available.
You have eight presets to choose from as a starting point. You can check what each preset does by looking over the examples below. If you want to edit this further, or start from scratch, go to the second panel on the right called adjustments.
Perfect Eyes Presets
Intelligent Auto
Intelligent Auto Preset
Intelligent Auto analyzes the image and achieves an overall balanced adjustment to the eyes. This preset is ideal for making a natural looking enhancement.
Morning Coffee
Morning Coffee Preset
Enhances the eyes and creates a small enlargement to add a sense of alertness. Also sharpens the Eyes and removes dark circles below.
Raccoon Eyes
Raccoon Eyes Preset
Removes dark circles under the eyes, adds general enhancements with slight sharpening.
High Fashion
High Fashion Preset
Strongly enhances the eyes and gives a gentle nudge in exposure. Ideal for fashion like images that require a dramatic lift in the eyes.
Good Night’s Sleep
Good Night’s sleep Preset
Removes dark circles and slightly sharpens the eyes, a gentle approach to enhancing.
Gentle Children
Gentle Children Preset
Removes dark circles and slightly sharpens the eyes while slightly enlarging them to counter any squinting during the shot.
Natural Catchlight
Natural Catchlight Preset
Applies a soft natural light by diffusion. This preset also applies general standard enhancements and adds a catchlight. Explore controls to adjust to your specific image.
Eagle Eyes
Eagle Eye Preset
Removes dark circles and applies strong sharpening. Great for older and male eyes.
Perfect Eyes Adjust Tab
Perfect Eyes Adjust Tab
You’ll find all the possible adjustments in the Perfect Eyes Adjust Tab. It’s always easiest to start from a preset for an overall look and make a few changes later to get an as realistic as possible final image.
Corrections
Exposure
Automatically corrects the exposure of your entire image. Low, medium and high corrections available
Depth
Increasing the shadows of a picture helps reveal the textures and shapes in a scene. This helps provide visual clues of the 3D world in a 2D scene. This algorithm optimizes contrast in each pixel, choosing the right amount of shadow to provide those 3D clues without any loss of detail in the shadows for an eye-pleasing image with lots of punch. You can steer the algorithm toward a more contrasty image or high definition by selecting one of the two options.
Light Diffusion
This slider creates a softer, slightly warmer overall appearance in portraits.
Sharpening
If you’d like to add some sharpening to your final image, Athentech provides their proprietary artefact-free sharpening algorithm.
Eye Enhancements
Auto Red-Eye
Automatically remove red-eye problem if the software can detect them. Works on different faces in group shots too.
Eye Enhance
Automatically detects and enhances eyes to bring out more detail and color.
Eye Enlarge
Makes eyes larger to counter the effects of squinting in bright light.
Dark Circles
Detects and removes dark circles and shadows from under the eyes.
Catchlight
Adds a catchlight or reflected image of a light source in pupils.
Conclusion
Although there are a few other, more invasive ways of retouching portraits in Photoshop and through other plug-ins like Portrait Pro, Perfectly Clear is one of the easiest and fastest ways of achieving a great result. Both Perfect Skin and Perfect Eyes are combined in the full Perfectly clear plug-in, but I do find it useful to have them separately available in case you don’t need one or the other.
What I like most about the Athentech technology for retouching portraits is the fact that their presets are all very useable and that their automatic detection of eyes and faces is by far the best out there. It’s also easy to still make people look realistic in portraits, something that can not be said of all portrait-enhancing software.
Purchase and Availability
Head over to Athentech’s website (click to go) to enjoy a discount on all Perfectly clear bundles:

Perfectly Clear Complete for only $99 (a savings of $50)
Portrait Photographer’s Bundle: Perfect Skin + Perfect Eyes for only $79 (a savings of $30)

These discounts are valid until the end of July!
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DXO Optics Pro 11 review: interesting new features

DXO Optics Pro 11 review: exciting new features
Introduction
DXO is a French company that makes software tools for both consumers and professionals to enhance digital images automatically. DXO Optics Pro is the name of their RAW file developer, and this software comes in two editions: Essential and Elite. The Elite version has some added functionality like Prime Noise reduction, a dehazing function called Clearview, an anti moiré tool and color rendering profiles to match different cameras used in a shoot. Both versions include their acclaimed and large lens correction database for optical corrections and the usual variety of tools you’d find in an RAW editor.

New Features in DXO Optics Pro 11
The latest version of DXO Optics Pro handles files up to four times faster than previous versions. Their acclaimed PRIME noise reduction has also received an update with improved bokeh protection and better detail retention, particularly in shadows.

Another favorite tool of mine is DXO’s Smart Lighting tool that now includes face detection and spot weighted metering for a better preservation of overall contrast.
Are the improvements worth the upgrade from previous versions?
I’ve been a long time DXO Optics Pro user, and I can tell you that if your camera and lens are supported, there is no better RAW developer than this. DXO’s Prime noise reduction was already one of the best on the market and with faster processing times and a more intelligent algorithm, it’s even better now.

The Smart Lighting module was already very handy to pull perceived exposure of a batch of images to the same level, but in the past, you quickly ended up with a washed-out look when used at higher values. With the inclusion of spot metering together with face detection, this feature works incredibly well now on portraits.
Pricing & Availability
The ESSENTIAL and ELITE editions of DxO OpticsPro 11 for Mac and Windows are available in the DxO online store for a discounted price until June 30th, 2016.
DxO OpticsPro 11 ESSENTIAL will set you back 83 Euro (instead of 108) and DxO OpticsPro 11 ELITE Edition 125 Euro ( instead of 166).
If you’ve purchased a license on or after April 1, 2016, you are entitled to a free upgrade to version 11. The regular upgrade price is 53 EurO.

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Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 review

Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 review
 
Introduction
I had a funny conversation with a Zeiss rep at Photokina a few years back. The conversation was about why Zeiss had not released any autofocus lenses for the Sony A7 system, and the tagline back then was that “manual focus was fun”. There are many advantages I can think of when discussing manual lenses, like a smaller and lighter form factor, more precise focusing (in the sense that you’ll likely be more aware of what you’re focussing on), but “fun” isn’t really on that list.
1-640 sec at f – 3,5
Since then, the Zeiss Batis range has appeared on the market, providing access to the full A7 series autofocus capabilities but the Loxia range is still going strong too. With a small yet enthusiastic following that sees the merit of high-quality manual focus prime lenses. The latest release is the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2,8. This lens immediately drew my attention, as it would be an ideal travel companion, so small that you could just carry around with you anywhere while still not compromising on image quality.
1-640 sec at f – 8,0
Manual focus with a wide angle isn’t difficult at all, especially with functions like focus peaking and magnification, it’s nearly impossible to get an out-of-focus shot. There are a few other features of the Loxia that I found very appealing when reading the specs. In particular, the close focusing ability of just 25cm (9.84") can make for some interesting wide angle shots with shallow depth of field and a small 52mm filter thread, ideal for a very portable long exposure setup.
1-640 sec at f – 2,8
Optical design
The Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 is based on the tried and trusted Distagon optical concept which is renowned for low distortion and corner to corner sharpness. The eleven elements in nine groups design have been adapted for the shorter flange distance in mirrorless cameras (due to the omission of the mirror box).
1-1250 sec at f – 2,8
The optical design also features four anomalous partial dispersion elements and one aspherical element to reduce chromatic aberrations and increase overall clarity and colour rendering. As usual, Zeiss has also used their widely used T* anti-reflective coating to reduce ghosting and lens flare.
Build and Handling
As you’d expect from a prime in this price range, the Loxia 21mm feels very well made. The all-metal lens barrel has engraved focusing, and depth of field scales, and a weather-resistant gasket at the lens mount to protect it from dust and moisture. If you want to use it for video, there is a de-click option for the aperture ring that allows for smooth aperture transition. Both aperture and focus ring feel very comfortable to use when paired with the Sony A7rII, although I can image it would be more troublesome if you have large hands.
1,6 sec at f – 8,0
Since this is a manual focus only lens with electronic contacts, it sends all relevant information like aperture and focal length to the camera. Although it’s easy to adapt many MF lenses made for DSLR’s to the Sony A7 cameras, but it is always a hassle to be in the dark when importing images afterwards in Lightroom, and wanting to apply lens profiles. What lens was this again? What aperture did I use? No worries here, as everything is neatly stored in the EXIF data. Both focus magnification and focus peaking are automatically engaged when the Loxia is attached, and this electronic integration also means that Sony’s sensor stabilisation system can be fully used. And it just so happens that IBIS works particularly well with wide angle lenses (not so much when you go beyond 50mm), another bonus.
 
Sharpness, Vignetting, and CA
Vignetting
Vignetting is visible at all apertures, although it does clear up somewhat around f/8. You can turn on “Lens Comp: Shading” in-camera to fix this in-camera or rely on something like DXO’s excellent lens profiles in DXO Optics Pro. With a full frame sensor like the A7r2, there is no real problem in correcting vignetting regarding added noise towards the edge of the frame, unless you’re shooting at high ISO’s. Vignetting is one of the downsides to a small lens like this, but I can’t say as a RAW shooter that I’ve had any problems in correcting this in the few months that I’ve been using the Loxia 21mm.
1-160 sec at f – 8,0
Chromatic aberration
Axial Chromatic Aberration (blurred colors in front and behind the focus position) looks very much under control, and I have not encountered any issues here. There is a little Lateral Chromatic aberration (color fringing at the edges), which can be visible in high contrast areas near the corners at times.
Sharpness
center sharpness
The image center is already decently sharp at f/2.8. Usable for wide-angle portrait photography or impressive DOF effects. For landscape or architectural photography, best sharpness results are achieved at f/5.6-f/8. Diffraction starts setting in at f/11, with a loss of sharpness increasingly noticeable up to f/22. In a pinch, I do use the Loxia 21mm at f/22 for long exposures, as the ILCE-7RM2’s 42MP files sharpen up nicely in Lightroom or DXO.
1,6 sec at f – 8,0
 
corner sharpness
You’ll need to stop down to f/8 if you want to get the best results regarding sharpness in the corners. Although even at f/2.8 I would not call it unusable
Zeiss Contrast and colour rendition
Zeiss is known for making lenses that have an eye pleasing colour rendition and contrast. This due to the coating and of course influenced by the glass type. The Loxia 21mm f/2.8 does render beautiful and eye-catching images as you’d expect from a Zeiss lens.
1-640 sec at f – 8,0
Conclusion
When I purchased it, I was at first not convinced that the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 was a sound investment. Costing around $1500, it is, after all, a sizeable investment in a manual focus only lens. I also prefer a 16mm lens for landscapes and long exposures, but the size and example images convinced me to go for it. I like to travel a lot, and I’m not the kind of photographer that only does one type of photography, so I usually have a wide angle zoom (Tamron SP 15-30), a 24-70 and at least one tele-zoom in my bag (and usually this for two system cameras). So I figured on leaving the wide angle zoom at home and replacing it by two small wide angle primes (Loxia 21mm and FE35mm f/2.8). As it turns out, I’m very happy with the images I got from the Loxia 21mm and did not miss the wide angle zoom for a second.
1-160 sec at f – 2,8
Another advantage is that instead of the NiSi filter system for the Tamron, I could now just bring along a 52mm ND1000 filter for long exposures, allowing me to quickly setup my long exposure kit without the extra bulk in my hand luggage. There was just a bit more vignetting than with a larger filter system, but nothing that a good photo editor can’t handle.
25,0 sec at f – 8
I like that the Loxia-Sony A7r2 combination immediately gives you access to focus peaking and magnification when connected. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s not that difficult to focus manually with a wide angle. In fact, because you take a fraction more time to get your focus right where you want, I found that I had a lot more keepers when I used it as a walk-around lens.
1-800 sec at f – 2,8
I would highly recommend the Loxia 21mm to any landscape, seascape, architectural or long exposure photographer in need of a high-quality prime lens that will never disappoint.
1-320 sec at f – 8,0
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