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Photography Life

Loupedeck Lightroom Editing Console Review

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Loupedeck is a photo editing console for Adobe Lightroom. It is a keyboard-sized device that allows you to adjust most image settings in the develop module with a simple turn of a knob, scroll of a wheel, or push of a button. If you’ve ever wanted to ditch your mouse while editing photos and have direct access to each individual field in Lightroom, this might be a step in the right direction. In this review, I’ll give an overview of the Loupedeck Lightroom editing console, describe my experience with it and make some recommendations as to who might find it useful.

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-2

1) Loupedeck Overview

Loupedeck is an interesting concept. It’s a device that only works with newer versions of Adobe Lightroom (versions 6 or LR Classic CC) and allows you to directly make adjustments to an image without actually using Lightroom’s software interface. The Loupedeck website claims that it helps boost creativity, speeds up your workflow and offers better ergonomics than a traditional mouse and keyboard setup. Let’s take a closer look at the device itself.

The packaging gives an impression of a high quality product. Loupedeck comes in a sturdy, sleek black box with a simple, minimalist look. After removing the outer sleeve and opening the box, you’re greeted with the device itself. It is snugly secured inside the box and makes a great first impression. The attached USB cable is concealed inside a branded cardboard sleeve and the minimal amount of included paperwork is hidden underneath the device.

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-1

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-4

Looking at the Loupedeck device, you’ll see a bunch of keys, knobs and wheels. At first glance it looks a little overwhelming, but you’ll soon see the logic in the controls and realize that they are no more overwhelming than the different sub-modules in the Lightroom Develop module. The scroll wheels that run across the top of the device correspond to the Hue/Saturation/Luminance sub-module. The knobs correspond to the Basic sub-module. Many of the keys on the left side of the device are only used in image sorting and culling. Once you realize how the controls are grouped, the devices starts to look a lot more manageable.

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-3

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-5

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-6

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-7

Loupedeck runs off of software that must be installed before it can be used. The download and installation process is fast and easy. Once installed, you can immediately start using the device. If you want, the software allows you to customize all of the “C” and “P” controls (the C1 knob and the C2/C3 as well as all of the P1-8 buttons), as well as the “Export” key. This means you can create up to 24 custom controls that you can use within Lightroom. You can also adjust the sensitivity of the dials and scroll-wheels if you find that you want them to be more or less responsive. Finally, the software has an option to launch on system startup that you can turn on or off.

2) Initial Impressions

I first received the Loupedeck when I was at Nasim’s house working on our Landscape Photography video with him and Spencer. All of us are hardcore Lightroom users. We took it out and were all impressed with the packaging and the device itself. We did a quick software install and played with it for a bit. I think it made a pretty good first impression on all of us!

Once I got home and started using it on my own computer for regular photo editing, I started to see a few limitations. When I went into the software to customize some of the buttons, I was disappointed to find that the it limits which actions can be performed by each control. I wanted to map some custom keyboard controls that I frequently use to each button (much like I could do with the Palette Gear device I reviewed earlier this year), but this isn’t allowed. Instead, I was presented with these options.

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-9

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-10

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-11

I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but I found it a little disappointing, as it meant I would still have to involve a mouse or keyboard in my editing workflow. The rest of the software was easy to use. Really, the only other option is to set the sensitivity and speed of the knobs and wheels and decide if you want the software to launch automatically.

Loupedeck Photo Editing Console-12

All of the controls on the device feel very solid. The knobs don’t feel flimsy and offer just a bit of resistance, making it easy to make precise image adjustments. The wheels have a bit of a hollow sound when they’re used, which to me makes them seem a bit clunky, but they work just fine. Both the wheels and knobs, in addition to turning, act as buttons. Pressing on them resets whatever field they control, meaning if you start to adjust white balance and decide you want to start over, pressing the “White Balance” knob will take it back to the “As Shot” value. The keys feel like keyboard keys.

The overall layout of the controls is fairly intuitive. The basic image adjustment controls are located in the center of the device for easy access. All of the controls are clearly labeled, although it is up to you to remember what you assigned each of the custom buttons (C1, P1, etc…) to do.

3) Photo Editing With Loupedeck

To test how Loupedeck works for editing photos (the entire reason for it’s existence), I decided to start with a fresh batch of photos that I had just imported and see how it works for my entire post-import process. I should note that I already have very established habits and routines for everything that I do in Lightroom, so any adjustment takes a little getting used to. I try to be as open as possible to any new gear and see how and where it can fit into my workflow. With that being said, here’s what I experienced while using Loupedeck.

3.1) Culling and Organizing

I started out needing to cull and organize the images I had just imported into Lightroom (an indoor event shot with a variety of lenses and with a mix of window light, overhead lighting and flash). Loupedeck has almost everything you would need for this task, including arrow keys to navigate images, dedicated star/color keys, and a “Pick” key for flagging images. I flag images that I want to consider for editing, so I started going through images, hitting the “Pick” key for any that I wanted to flag. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was no key to reject images, and unfortunately this isn’t one of the options you can assign to a custom button. This meant that for every image I wanted to reject I was reaching back to my keyboard.

I ran into other issues with culling images as well. There is no option to go from Grid to Loupe view. There are buttons for “Zoom” and “Full Screen”, but these go to 100% magnification and full screen, respectively. I also realized that the arrow/navigation buttons aren’t nearly as responsive as I would like them to be, which meant I had to press harder than normal to navigate between images (my hand quickly fatigued just from pressing harder than I’m used to).

Before discussing how it works for editing, I want to say that I personally think that Loupedeck is horrible for image culling. I felt like it was a chore navigating through the images and randomly jumping back to my keyboard every time I wanted to reject an image, compare two images, or switch between Grid and Loupe view. I don’t use stars or colors, so it might be amazing for those of you who do, but I don’t think I will ever use it again for culling and organizing images.

3.2) Photo Editing

Now let’s talk about how Loupedeck works for editing images. As I mentioned earlier, the layout and use of the knobs is fairly intuitive, so I just dove in and started editing. I’m a big fan of batch editing images, so I like to edit one image, copy the edits and then paste them onto similar images. After getting the first image edited, I hit the “Copy” button, went to the next image and hit “Paste”. Success! I did this for a few more until I hit a snag and realized something… the “Copy” button copies all of the image adjustments. I’m used to using the Copy Settings option, which allows me to choose which adjustments to copy. In this case, the “Copy” button also copied my lens corrections (which get applied on import) from one lens and pasted them onto an image taken with a different lens. This caused me to quickly change my editing strategy to sort and edit images based on which lens was used.

Once I got that sorted out, it was fairly easy to make rough edits to a few images and then copy/paste the settings onto similar images. Still, I think I personally prefer my normal method of using the Copy Settings method so that I can exclude certain settings (such as lens corrections) and freely paste adjustments to any image I want, regardless of what lens it was taken with or any other adjustments that were made to the image (cropping, spot-healing, brushes, etc…).

As you’ve probably experienced, even when you batch-process images, there are always small adjustments that need to be made to individual images. I found that this is where Loupedeck truly shines. It was very convenient to quickly turn a few knobs and move on to the next image, especially compared to my usual move the mouse, make an adjustment, move the mouse, make an adjustment, etc… for each image. I know it sounds like there wouldn’t be much difference between the two methods, but it just felt so much easier and faster using Loupedeck.

I don’t typically make many HSL adjustments to my images, but I can say with a decent amount of confidence that the wheels would make these adjustments very easy. I did a few sample image adjustments and found that the color coding on the wheels and the LED light next to which field was being adjusted (Hue, Saturation or Luminance) made it very easy and intuitive to quickly and easily adjust these values.

I have mixed feelings about the “Rotate/Crop” dial. Again, it’s very intuitive to use. Simply turn it and the image rotates. If you want finer control over how much it rotates, hold down the “Fn” key to slow things down a bit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually crop images, which makes sense. How could a dial crop an image? Still, it would probably be a bit more accurate if it simply said “Rotate”. I also wish it could be used within other tools, like adjusting the size of the adjustment brush for example.

While editing, there were also a few hiccups with the software. On one occasion, I was adjusting the white balance of an image and it jumped all the way from 5500 to 50,000. One click of the dial had it back to where it started, but it was still an unexpected glitch. I also experienced two random Lightroom crashes while using the software. I know that Adobe software is not perfect, but I rarely experience crashes, so although it might have been a coincidence that I was using Loupedeck when they happened, it also might not be a coincidence.

Keep in mind, there are many things that you can not do with Loupedeck. For example, if it’s not found in the Basic or HSL sub-module, you probably can’t adjust it with Loupedeck. Take a look at the screenshots above in Section 2 to see some of the customizations that you can make to the buttons.

4) Conclusion

Loupedeck is an interesting piece of hardware. It is very specialized, as it can only be used to edit photos in Adobe Lightroom. It’s not exactly cheap (current retail pricing is $299). It takes up a significant amount of space on a desktop, especially considering it simply can not completely replace a keyboard and mouse. The upside is that it’s supposed to speed up your workflow and have better ergonomics than only using a keyboard and mouse.

In my experience, Loupedeck’s strength is that it makes it very easy to quickly make a bunch of random adjustments to individual images. I didn’t really like using it for batch editing and really didn’t like using it for image culling, but found it very useful for making adjustments after my initial batch edits were done. In fact, after the first time I used it, going back and making image adjustments without it felt a little more tedious than I remembered. I could easily see it becoming part of my normal workflow.

The question is, how big of a part? Is it worth almost $300 dollars and a significant portion of my work space to more easily be able to make small adjustments to images? For me, I have to say that it’s not. There are two reasons for this. The main reason being that I have a very established workflow. I love using keyboard shortcuts and know exactly what I need to press to do something. Introducing another piece of hardware like Loupedeck puts a kink in things and, as interesting and as useful as it is, ends up slowing me down a lot more than it speeds me up. Another reason is that I use a laptop for editing images, so I can’t simply move my keyboard out of the way or off to the side while I’m using Loupedeck. I have to physically move my laptop, which means my screen, keyboard and trackpad are all further away from me.

Of course, not everyone will feel this way. There are people who will think that Loupedeck is the best thing to happen to them in a long time, and they’ll be right. Maybe they have plenty of space for it on their desktop. Maybe they have wrist pain from using a mouse. Maybe they hate using keyboard shortcuts in Lightroom. Maybe they like cool gadgets. Whatever the case, many people will find this to be a very useful tool.

For me, it does almost everything that I would want it to do while editing photos in Lightroom. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to see a few changes. On the hardware side, the only real complaint I have is the arrow keys. They are not responsive enough to quickly and easily navigate between images. On the software side, I would love to have the ability to assign any keystroke (or combination of keystrokes) to the customizable buttons. I feel like this alone would address many of the shortcomings that I experienced while using Loupedeck and make it more of an all-in-one piece of hardware.

Ultimately, the price will probably be the deciding factor for many people as to whether they purchase a Loupedeck or not. While I can’t decide if it’s going to be worth it for any individual, I would say that it has the potential to streamline and speed up your workflow, so if you’re a professional photographer it could quickly pay for itself. Even if you’re not a professional, if anything else that I mentioned appeals to you and you spend a lot of time editing photos in Lightroom, there are definitely worse ways you could spend your money.

5) Where To Buy

You can find the Loupedeck editing console at B&H Photo Video.

Loupedeck Lightroom Editing Console
  • Features
  • Build Quality
  • Value
  • Packaging and Manual
  • Ease of Use

Photography Life Overall Rating

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Synology DS1817+ Review

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For a number of years now, I have been a big fan of network attached storage (NAS) in order to keep all of my data in one place and simplify my photography workflow. Having access to the same fast storage from multiple machines, as well as the Internet, is important for my needs, so I have been utilizing NAS heavily at my home office. Ever since I got a hold of the Synology DS1815+, I have been a big fan of Synology products. However, there has been one main limitation that I have been struggling with when processing large files or accessing storage from multiple computers, and that is network throughput limitations. With the DS1815+ model only featuring 1 Gbit Ethernet ports, I have been limited to a maximum total of 100-120 MB/sec transfers, which is simply insufficient in today’s high-resolution photo and video environments. So as soon as Synology announced its DS1817+ unit with the capability to add a 10 Gbit network card, I knew I had to move up to it. In this review, I will provide detailed information on the Synology DS1817+ NAS and provide detailed information on what one can expect from it in terms of performance and network throughput.

Synology DS1817+

Let’s go over the base specifications of the Synology DS1817+ first.

1) Synology DS1817+ Overview

Synology has a large array of different storage solutions that it offers to individuals and small businesses, as well as larger enterprises and the DS1817+ is a NAS device that is aimed specifically at small to medium size businesses. With its ability to accommodate up to eight 3.5″ drives and a very robust and scalable architecture that can handle up 96 GB of total storage (with 8x 12 TB drives and even more with expansion units) and up to 10 Gbit of network throughput with an add-on card, the DS1817+ is a powerful NAS that can address a lot of storage needs. Similar to its predecessor, it runs the same Quad Core 2.4 Ghz Intel Atom C2538 processor, which Synology chose for reduced power consumption and long-term efficiency, but its RAM can now be upgraded all the way to 16 GB (while the DS1815+ was limited to 6 GB total). Ability to expand RAM up to 16 GB is important, because one can run more apps in the background on the new unit. Speaking of apps, that’s the beauty of Synology NAS devices – we are not just talking about a pure storage device, but a pretty robust server that can host a number of web server applications for backup, file hosting, scripting and much more. You can host your own WordPress site and even use the Synology DS1817+ as your home iTunes server. In addition to these, the new DS1817+ has all 8 internal SATA ports at 3 Gbps, whereas the DS1815+ was limited to 1.5 Gbps on ports 7 and 8 (chipset limitation). This means that you can run the DS1817+ at full speed with all 8 drives, something you could not do on the previous generation NAS.

But the biggest and the most important change is the ability to add an extra PCIe card, something one could not do on the DS1815+. The extra slot can be used for either a dedicated 10GbE card, or an adapter that can take dual M.2 SSD drives for cache. This is a very important and welcome change, since it is now possible to take a full advantage of the combined speed of hard drives over 10 Gbit/sec – the DS1817+ is capable of pushing up to 1,179 MB/s read and 542 MB/s write speeds, which is just under the maximum throughput of 1,250 MB/sec of 10 Gbit network. See the next section on what I purchased for my network to get the best out of the unit.

Take a look at the back of the DS1817+:

Synology DS1817+ Back

As you can see, the right side of the unit has a slot for a PCIe card. In order to make room for this, Synology moved all interface ports such as Gigabit LAN, USB and eSATA to the bottom of the unit. This slightly changed the dimensions of the unit and made it a bit larger compared to its predecessor (166 x 343 x 243mm vs 157 x 340 x 233mm), but the difference is quite minimal and not very noticeable when the two are put side by side.

Just like all other popular NAS storage solutions, you can utilize pretty much any kind of RAID for storage: from Synology’s proprietary “Hybrid RAID” all the way to RAID 10. The device will also allow expanding your storage with additional or larger drives with Hybrid RAID and other RAID protocols like RAID 5 and 6, so it is a pretty flexible system.

The Synology OS supports many different types of file systems like EXT4, FAT, NTFS and HFS+ and many network protocols are available to provide the best security and compatibility between different operating systems. I have been using both DS1815+ and DS1817+ from both Windows and MacOS computers and I have also connected a number of other network devices to them to stream HD content through the network. And that’s the whole point of owning a Synology NAS device – you can put everything you have on the network and centralize your data for shared access between devices. In contrast, a direct-attached storage (DAS) device does not have such capabilities and would require a connected computer to be able to share its data with other devices – see the DAS vs NAS section of the Storage for Photography article for more details.

When it comes to interfaces, they are pretty similar to what was already there on the DS1815+. There are 4 total 1 Gbit RJ-45 LAN ports for network connectivity, which you can use if you are not planning to use 10 Gbit network and aggregate, if needed. There are a total of 4x USB 3.0 ports (3x on the back, 1x in the front) to connect other devices and external hard drives. And if you have storage devices that connect via eSATA, there are two of those ports available on the back as well. In addition to being able to connect external hard drives, you can also connect a wireless adapter to allow connecting to the device wirelessly.

Size-wise, the DS1817+ is fairly large, but pretty compact for an 8-bay unit. It weighs 6.0 kg without hard drives and has two large 120mm fans on the back of the unit for cooling and quieter operation. Additional notes on how quiet the unit is are provided further down in the review under the “Noise” section.

Just like its predecessor, the DS1817+ comes with a 3 year manufacturer-backed hardware warranty.

Below are the technical specifications of the Synology DS1817+:

Description Specification
* exFAT Access is purchased separately
CPU Intel Atom C2538
System Memory 2 GB or 8 GB, expandable up to 16 GB (2x memory slots)
Drive Bays 8
Maximum Drive Bays with Expansion Unit 18
Drive Interface SATA 6Gbps/3Gbps; Hot-swappable
Maximum Internal Raw Capacity 96 TB (8x 12 TB drives)
Maximum Raw Capacity with Expansion Units 216 TB (18x 12 TB drives)
Maximum Single Volume Size 108 TB
Ports / Interfaces 4x RJ-45 1GbE LAN, 4x USB 3.0, 2x eSATA
Buttons System Power Button (front)
Dimensions 166 (H) x 343 (W) x 243 (D) mm
Weight Net (NAS only): 6.0 kg
Noise Level 22.2 dB(A)
Temperature and Relative Humidity 5°C to 40°C / 5% to 95% RH
Power Supply Input: 100-240V~, 50/60Hz, Single Phase; Output: 250W
PCIe Expansion 1 x Gen2 x8 slot (x4 link)
Add-in-card Support M2D17 – Dual M.2 SSD adapter card for SSD cache
PCIe Network Interface Card (Learn more)
Power Consumption 61.5 W (Access), 31.6 W (HDD Hibernation)
BTU 156.55 BTU/hr (Access), 86.09 BTU/hr (HDD Hibernation)
Fan 2x 120 x 120mm fans
Operating System DSM 6.1
Supported Client OS Windows 7 and 10, Mac OS X 10.11 onward
Supported Browsers Chrome, Firefox, IE 10+, Safari 10+
File System Btrfs, EXT4, EXT3, FAT, NTFS, HFS+, exFAT*

The full list of specifications can be found on Synology’s website.

2) 10 Gbit Network Card Setup

The Synology DS1817+ does not come with a 10 Gbit setup ready to go, so you will need to get the right network card for it. Synology sells two network cards that are compatible with the DS1817+ (models E10G15-F1 and E10G17-F2), but those only give you SFP+ connectivity. Unless you want to mess with getting SFP adapters and fiber cables, I would not mess with that option and instead go straight with RJ45, which is simpler and cheaper to implement. Grab a dual port X540-T2 and you are all set on the Synology side. For your computer, get the cheaper single port X540-T1 or any other 10 Gbit RJ45 card that you can find, plus a CAT-6 crossover cable and you are good to go! This is the cheapest way to get 10 Gbit network without having to buy an expensive 10 Gbit switch. If you have another computer that needs 10 Gbit access, then use the other 10 Gbit port on the network card. What about access to the network and the Internet? Since the Synology DS1817+ comes with 4 extra Gigabit ports, you can connect any of those ports to your local network and your router, so that you can access the device from your LAN or the Internet. Now if you want to have a full 10 Gbit network with a proper switch, then take a look at my 10 Gbit for Photography Needs article, which covers everything you need to know about such a setup.

3) Hard Drive Installation

Installing hard drives is very easy. All you have to do is push the lower part of a drive bay, then pull out the drive tray. You would have to remove the fastening panels on the sides, then put the 3.5″ drive with its connections facing the other way, then finally attach the panels and use four screws to secure the drive. You can install all 8 drives in 5-10 minutes easily. The drive trays work with both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives. If you have 2.5″ regular or SSD drives, you will have to mount those from the bottom of the tray. The last step is to insert the tray back into the unit – push it all the way in so that the power and data ports connect properly and securely. Obviously do all this while the device is powered off! If you want to prevent accidental removal of drives, you can use the provided tray key to lock each drive tray.

You can find all this information in the installation manual, with images to assist you in the process:

Installing Drives

4) Hard Drive and RAID Recommendations

While you can certainly use any drive type and you can also mix and match any size drives, I would recommend to thoroughly plan your storage space in advance. If you are only starting up with a few drives, start out with larger capacity ones so that you can simply add similar drives in the future. If you utilize RAID (and you should), it is always best to use the same drives with the same capacity. For the DS1817+, I would start out with a minimum of 4 drives for a RAID 6 array. Although Synology’s Hybrid RAID sounds appealing, I would only consider it for an environment with different capacity drives. Since modern hard drives have a lot of capacity today (up to 12 TB), I would not recommend RAID 5 for a large capacity SAN or a DAS unit – go for RAID 6 or RAID 10 instead. RAID 6 is a bit slower than RAID 5, but the extra parity scheme will ensure that your data is still retained in case another drive fails during the rebuild process.

As for drive recommendations, there are lots of options out there and it really depends on your budget and your needs. For most people, I would recommend to go with drives specifically created for NAS environments, such as HGST’s 8 TB NAS drives. If you have a larger budget, the HGST 10 TB NAS drives are very nice and if you want to max out the capacity of each drive, Seagate’s 12 TB IronWolf drives are the way to go. Personally, I have always had good luck with HGST drives and I have yet to see one fail, so it is definitely the brand I would recommend for long term NAS use.

5) Getting Started

Synology really worked hard on making its graphical user interface (GUI) very easy to use and you do not need to have any advanced storage or programming skills to get it up and running. Once you connect the DS1817+ to your network and attach the power cable, simply press the power on button on the front of the device and it will start booting. You will hear a beep once it boots up. You can then fire up your browser and type “find.synology.com” or “diskstation:5000” in the URL and you should see a screen that says “Web Assistant”:

Synology Web Assistant

Just click the “Connect” button in the center and you can start the setup. If nothing shows up when you type the above in your web browser, my recommendation would be to download the “Synology Assistant” utility from Synology’s web site. As long as your network is operational and you have a running DNS server (which should be your router), it should work.

The installation process from there is very simple. First, install Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM), which is Synology’s operating system, which you will be guided to do during the setup process:

Synology Install DSM

The system will warn you that all data will be wiped out from the hard drives that are installed, which is fine, considering that you have brand new drives mounted in the unit. It will take about 10 minutes to install and reboot the unit, with the latest version of DSM up and running. From there, it will ask you for things like server name, username and password, so make sure you specify those. You will then specify when to check and install the latest version of DSM as it becomes available – I chose to install the latest versions automatically very early on Tuesday and Saturday of the week:

Synology DSM Update Schedule

As you can see, I also enabled SMART checks and bad sector warnings in case drives start to fail.

After that, you will be able to login to your new DSM install. Once in, go ahead and go to the Control Panel and head on to “Update & Restore” to update the operating system to the latest version. After the update process is complete, the system will reboot and you will hear another beep that indicates system readiness. From there, head on to configure the storage by clicking the icon on the top left side of the screen and selecting “Storage Manager”:

DSM Controls

For my setup, I clicked on “Volume” and created a new RAID 6 volume that spans all 8 drives and picked “Btrfs” as the file system (recommended by Synology):

Synology RAID 6 Storage Manager

The process of building the RAID 6 array is quite long – the parity consistency check is going to run for a couple of days, depending on how big the drives are. Although you can access the volume while that is taking place, I would recommend to let it run and complete fully, just in case. This way, if any errors take place, you will be able to catch them early on.

6) Setting Up the NAS and Shared Folders

After you have the array going, the next step is to create a network share. Go to Control Panel, click “Shared Folder” and you will see a list of current shared folders. I went ahead and created two separate folders: “Storage” for my main storage where I put all work-related files, photos, videos, etc.:

Synology Create Shared Drive

The nice thing about Shared Folders, is that you can create as many of those as you would like and they keep files and folder separate, while sharing the total disk space. You don’t have to worry about things like partitioning your volume into sub-volumes.

The next step is to create users and assign permission to shared folders. Simply click the “User” icon in Control Panel and create your users. I created a couple of users for me to use on the network:

Synology Users

Then went back to the created Shared Folders and modified the permissions for those users to allow Read and Write operations.

Another area to check is “File Services”. If you want to access the network share from different operating systems, you need to make sure that particular services such as SMB, AFP and NFS are enabled (depending on what you are planning to use):

Synology File Services

The next step was to visit the “Network” icon and set things like Server Name and IP address, so that I could easily access the device on my network and not worry about changes when I reboot the device or my router.

That’s really it!

7) PC and Mac Access

All you have to do from there is type “\\Server Name” in “My Computer” within Windows OS and you will see a list of shared volumes:

Windows File Shares

If you have a Mac, you should see the Synology DS1817+ device under “Shared” within your Finder. For easier access, you can drag and drop the shortcut to your Desktop.

8) Connecting External Devices

The Synology DSM OS will automatically recognize practically any connected storage and automatically share the device. Once you change permissions, you will be able to access the connected device just like you can connect to the other network shares, as seen below.

Synology External Devices

Next, make sure that you set the appropriate permissions under “User” to the connected device. You are done, now you can access everything in that external drive:

Windows File Share External Drive

This is particularly useful for backup purposes. Don’t forget that your Synology device should NEVER be the only source of your files. You should always keep a backup of everything, particularly your critical files somewhere else. So my recommendation would be to get separate external drives that you could use for local and off-site backups. You can manually copy files, or you can use Synology’s “Backup & Replication” tool, or the “Cloud Station” app to backup your files from the device to external drives or to the cloud.

9) Performance

Performance-wise, the Synology DS1817+ is pretty incredible when accessed via 10 Gbit network. I have already pointed out that it can do as much as 1,179 MB/s read and 542 MB/s write speeds, but those are the numbers provided by Synology in their own lab. I wanted to see how far I could get with the 7200 RPM performance NAS drives I hooked up to my DS1817+. I performed two different kinds of tests – one was to see how fast RAW image file transfers would be when compared to the older DS1815+ unit, then the second test was to do pure performance benchmarks using CrystalDiskMark and compare the results with the QNAP TVS-882T that I have been using simultaneously in my 10 Gbit network environment.

Here is what the result looks like when copying a total of 688 images. First, with the Synology DS1815+ that is limited to 1 Gbit/sec throughput:

Synology DS1815+ File Copy

As expected, the bottleneck on the DS1815+ is its gigabit interface that slowed things down drastically. On average, I got about 104 MB/sec speeds and it took 2 minutes and 20 seconds to copy the files. Next, I tested the DS1817+ over the 10 Gbit interface:

Synology DS1817+ File Copy

That’s a whole lot better at 427 MB/sec – it only took 34 seconds to complete the whole operation, which is pretty impressive. Those are the kinds of speed improvements you can expect from a fast NAS device!

The same thing can be expected when performing tests over CrystalDiskMark:

Read and Write Performance 1GbE
Synology DS1815+ Read and Write Performance Over 1 GbE
Synology DS1817+ Performance
Synology DS1817+ Read and Write Performance Over 10 GbE

It is very clear that the Synology DS1817+ is the way to go for any environment where storage performance is important. As you can see, one can get over 10x read performance and close to 5x write performance when using the DS1817+ over the DS1815+. Sequential read and write performance is also impressive – over 6x read and over 4x write performance advantage.

10) Synology DS1817+ vs QNAP TVS-882T

When it comes to comparing the Synology DS1817+ to the QNAP TVS-882T, the latter has a lot more features in comparison, thanks to its PC-like architecture. The QNAP is a robust storage solution with built-in storage tiering, something that is rarely ever found on non-enterprise devices. It has the ability to host up to 2x M.2 drives (SATA only, no NVMe) right on the motherboard, while if you go with M.2 drives on the Synology DS1817+, you will need to use the single available PCIe slot, compromising the 10 Gbit connectivity option. The QNAP TVS-882T can be expandable up to 64 GB of DDR4 RAM, thanks to its 4x RAM slots, whereas the Synology DS1817+ is limited to 16 GB. Lastly, the QNAP can be directly connected to a monitor or a TV for output (3x HDMI ports) and can be used as both NAS and DAS (2x Thunderbolt 2 ports), whereas the DS1817+ lacks such connectivity options – it is simply a NAS storage device and it is only designed for this one task.

At the same time, the two storage units are designed completely differently in terms of architecture. Since the QNAP TVS-882T is basically a powerful PC with a full-size CPU, it eats up quite a bit of power, whereas the Synology DS1817+ is extremely power efficient, consuming as little as 32 Watts when hard drives are in hibernation mode and only double that at full speed. There is also a big difference in pricing between the two – the Synology DS1817+ costs only at $850 for the 2 GB RAM version and $950 for the 8 GB RAM version (plus the cost of 10 GbE network card), whereas the QNAP TVS-882T goes for $2,500 (10 GbE included). Therefore, for someone who wants an affordable storage solution, the DS1817+ is relatively inexpensive both in terms of upfront and future energy costs.

What about performance differences between the two? Let’s take a look:

Synology DS1817+ Performance
Synology DS1817+ Read and Write Performance Over 10 GbE
QNAP TVS-882T Performance
QNAP TVS-882T Read and Write Performance Over 10 GbE

As you can see, the Synology DS1817+ is able to match the sequential read speed of the QNAP TVS-882T and it is not all that far off in sequential writes either, which is pretty impressive for a low-powered NAS device. However, when it comes to random reads and writes, the story is a bit different and that’s where things like storage tiering with faster SSD drives can make a difference for the QNAP. As shown in the above chart, the QNAP was able to achieve 2.5x faster read and 2.4x faster write performance, which is certainly a significant difference. So depending on your workload and requirements, you might want to evaluate both and see which one is the preferred solution.

11) Noise

Although the DS1817+ is designed to be a very quiet NAS, once you load it up with fast 7200 RPM NAS drives, it will surely add quite a bit more noise to the unit. I would recommend against putting the DS1817+ on your desk, because micro-vibrations might create extra unwelcomed noise. Putting it on the floor with straight and firm surface would be a better choice, but ideally, it is best to keep it in a separate server or storage room to make it less irritating. That’s the general problem with all NAS and DAS units though, as they can add a bit too much noise to the environment. Just make sure that you are providing adequate cooling and monitoring the device through the network, so that you get alerted if one of the drives fails. Noise levels on the DS1817+ are a bit better than on the QNAP TVS-882T, thanks to its larger and quieter fans. When QNAP gets hot and its fans speed up, it gets noisier in comparison, since it has a total of 3 smaller fans (2x 80mm and 1x 90mm for the CPU). Synology measured the noise levels at 22.2 dB with the device loaded with 8x 1 TB Western Digital 5400 RPM drives. So expect the unit to be a bit louder with 7200 RPM NAS drives.

12) Sharing Lightroom Photos

Since getting a hold of the DS1817+, I have completely migrated all of my photos to the unit and have it actively back-up all the data to another smaller SAN – I no longer store any photos on my computer. Here is my current workflow:

  • The “Photos” folder, along with each year subfolders are located on the DS1817+:
    NAS Folders
  • All Catalog files (without subfolders) are backed up in a “Lightroom” folder on the DS1817+:
    Lightroom Catalog Files
    I create catalogs for each year, as explained in my “How to organize photos in Lightroom” article.
  • I store all Lightroom catalogs on each device separately, in the fastest drive available (usually SSD or M.2 NVMe Flash drive).
  • When accessing photographs from catalogs, all files are mapped to the DS1817+, as seen below:
    Lightroom Library Network
  • The above process works the same for every device that needs to access photos. The only thing I need to do is copy Lightroom catalogs locally to each computer and keep them up-to-date, since Lightroom does not allow opening catalogs from network shares and it does not support multi-user access.

Since all photographs reside on the NAS, I no longer have to worry about backups either, as explained below.

13) Automated Backups to Another Synology Array

In addition to the Synology DS1817+, I own the fire-proof and water-proof ioSafe 214, which I now utilize purely for backup purposes. If you own a Synology or an ioSafe device that relies on Synology DSM, you can use the free Cloud Station app on both devices to keep all of your critical files in sync. This app works beautifully, because all changes to your primary storage will automatically replicate everything into the backup storage over the network. And if you keep your secondary backup storage in a different physical location (which is a great idea), you can configure the two devices to sync over the Internet. Since the app would be native to both units, unless your network goes down, you do not have to worry about synchronization issues.

Synology Cloud Station

Looking at both the Cloud Station app on my DS1817+ and the Cloud Station Client, I can see that all the files are being synchronized without any issues and the latest data is available on both. It is good to know when your data is safe in case anything happens! And if you work in a workgroup environment and want to recover changed files, there is even built-in version control, which is very nice.

14) Summary

Having been using the Synology DS1817+ for the past 6 months, I have to say that I am very pleased with its overall performance. While the previous generation DS1815+ served me well for several years, its biggest limitation was its network throughput – with only 1 Gbit network ports, there was only so much I could do over the network, which forced me to only use it for backup and secondary storage purposes. With the DS1817+ upgrade and the new ability to run 10 Gbit network, I was able to fully take advantage of the NAS, which enabled me to transfer files at incredibly fast speeds that even surpass my local SSD drives in terms of read and write performance. Because of this, I ended up migrating all of my images to the NAS and use photo editing tools like Lightroom and Photoshop to open files directly from the network share. With the DS1817+, I was able to simply my workflow even more and take advantage of automatic backups that replicate my data across several other storage devices.

With its sub-$1K price-tag, the Synology DS1817+ delivers a lot of value for the money, so it is an excellent network attached storage and backup choice for both photographers and videographers alike. With hard drives increasing in capacity and costs decreasing year by year, purchasing a solid device like the DS1817+ will cost less than buying a high-end professional camera like the Nikon D850. With the setup I proposed above, you can get a fully loaded system that gives you up to 48 TB of usable space at $2,000 for 8x 8 TB drives and $850 for the DS1817+, totaling roughly $2,850. And if you want to get started with less drives, you can decrease that cost even further. The point of NAS devices like the DS1817+ is to consolidate all of your data in one place, which it does beautifully. I can access all of my data from every device at home and even from remote locations, which is amazing. Synology’s DSM is the easiest operating system I have used to date and it gives so many options to expand the functionality of the device directly from the GUI without messing with any command prompts. If you are a working professional or an enthusiast with high storage needs and you are looking for a storage solution you can depend on, you should take a serious look at the Synology DS1817+.

Lastly, if you find 8 bays to be too much for your needs today, Synology offers smaller solutions as well, like the 5-bay DS1517+, which is also an excellent choice for photography and videography needs, sporting very similar features as its bigger brother.

15) Where to Buy

You can purchase the Synology DS1817+ from our trusted partner B&H Photo Video:

Synology DS1817+
  • Features
  • Build Quality
  • Value
  • Size and Weight
  • Ease of Use
  • Speed and Performance
  • Stability

Photography Life Overall Rating

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What is Gray Market Camera Gear?

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Purchasing camera gear can be a frustrating experience. Camera companies and big outlets highlight the importance of buying from authorized channels due to service, support and warranty issues, whereas many Internet-based websites and some small photography shops offer gray market products at very appealing prices, sometimes with significant enough discounts to make photographers seriously consider them. And then there are regional pricing differences. When a product is launched, manufacturers point out product’s MSRP, which can vary greatly between different markets. In this article, I want to bring out the issues I see with gray market products, as well as issues related to inconsistent product pricing, which can make the shopping experience rather frustrating.

Nikon Gray Market Product
Gray market warning from NikonUSA.com

What is a Gray Market Product?

Simply put, a gray market product is a product that is imported and sold by any party other than the manufacturer. Most of the time, gray market products are no different compared to their retail counterparts – they are genuine products made by the same manufacturer, only packaged and intended for other markets. Therefore, they might contain product manuals in other languages, or perhaps have chargers and accessories that only work in a specific country. However, there are also cases where gray market products are completely fake, where refurbished products are resold as “new”, or even used / returned products are repackaged and resold as new at a lower gray market price. There is no way for the manufacturer to be able to fully control the import of its products to the markets where it already has direct distribution channels, so there are certainly risks associated with buying gray market products.

Manufacturers do not like gray market products competing with properly imported retail versions of the same product for a number of reasons. First, gray market products are often cheaper than their retail counterparts, sometimes by a huge margin. This is a big problem for the manufacturer, because its own product sold by unauthorized parties competes in terms of price with the properly imported retail version that is sold at the same MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) across all resellers. Whereas the MSRP can be tightly controlled by the manufacturer through its channels, the price of gray market products fluctuates all the time for different reasons, one of which is currency exchange rates. Basically, when exchange rates are favorable, gray market products are sold for less. In comparison, manufacturers often compensate for favorable differences in exchange rates by providing limited time bundles, promotions and rebates. Other than that, the price of properly imported retail product typically stays the same. Second, as I have already stated, the manufacturer cannot guarantee that the gray market product works as intended, because the product or its accessories (such as chargers and batteries) could have been modified, replaced or adapted to be compatible, so the importer could be opening up boxes and replacing adapters, batteries, product manuals, warranty cards, etc. And lastly, the product itself could have been modified or sold in a condition other than new and there is no way for the manufacturer to guarantee that it is a genuine product. That’s why there is a “gray market” label attached to these products, as you might not know for sure what you are getting. It is not quite black market, but it is not a manufacturer-backed retail product either – it is somewhere in between.

Nikon D810 Gray Market Price
The gray market price of the Nikon D810 on eBay – $2,159.95 vs the current price of $2,996.95.

Why Gray Market Products are Cheaper

You might be wondering why the MSRP of a properly imported product by the manufacturer is higher compared to gray market pricing. Keep in mind that the price of a product is comprised of a number of different costs such as the cost of manufacturing, transportation, distribution, marketing efforts and import fees. In addition, there are many other costs and risks that have to be taken into account as well when pricing out a product, such as product support, returns / exchanges, recalls and warranty repair work through authorized service centers. These can be very costly for the manufacturer due to high labor costs, training, extra parts, etc. and these costs can vary greatly by region / country. Even warranties can differ, with some countries offering longer extended warranties, while limiting others to much shorter warranty periods. Because of all this, some countries might have lower costs compared to others, making them favorable for the purpose of buying and reselling in different countries.

For example, a lot of gray market Nikon and Canon cameras imported into the United States by third parties typically come from Asia. Since cameras are priced lower in that region due to lower transportation, distribution, support and warranty costs, buying and importing expensive camera gear can be a profitable business. When a gray market product is priced significantly lower than its properly imported counterpart, it creates a strong market demand in countries such as the USA. And with the rise of popularity of Internet-based shops and auction sites, selling such products has become easier than ever, which is why the gray market has only been flourishing in the recent years. As a result, companies such as Nikon and Canon end up dumping a large number of camera gear to the Asian market, understanding that perhaps a large portion of camera gear gets exported by non-authorized parties. It is a double-edged sword for camera manufacturers – on one hand, they sell a boatload of cameras in those markets, often exceeding their sales forecast goals, and on the other hand, they end up with a lot of gray market products directly competing with their own.

Now if you are wondering how big of a difference there is in price between a gray market and a properly imported product by the manufacturer, let’s take a look at a couple of examples. The Nikon D750 is priced at $1,996.95 at B&H Photo Video (authorized Nikon seller) – that’s the current MSRP of the camera. If one were to look at places such as eBay.com where it is possible to buy a gray version of the same camera, it is easy to come across much more appealing prices. For example, one of the highly rated sellers of the camera on eBay offers the D750 at just $1,359.99 – that’s a whopping 32% discount, or $637 difference in pricing between the two. Currently, Nikon USA is running an end of the year promotion on this particular camera model, giving an instant rebate of $200, so the price difference is much smaller at $437, but still, even then it is still 25% lower – a large enough incentive for a potential customer to go for a gray market deal. The same can be seen on products from other manufacturers. The Canon 5D Mark IV normally retails for $3,599 at B&H Photo Video (currently on a $200 rebate), but one can easily find a gray market version for around $2900 – a nice $400 to $600 difference.

Gray Market vs Manufacturer Import Differences

Interestingly, camera manufacturers also sometimes sell their products to third parties while being fully aware of the fact that they will most likely end up in foreign markets. That’s understandable, because they can dump a large number of cameras to gray market buyers, move inventory and meet sales forecasts. At the same time, manufacturers surely do not want any of their dealers to be angry about other sellers undercutting them either, which is why prices are dictated at MSRP level, and gray market products are treated completely differently when it comes to support, warranty and service. In fact, manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon clearly state that they will provide zero support and warranty on any gray market products. That’s because a rather significant part of the product price (arguably the difference between gray market price and the properly imported product price) in fact lies in providing such support and warranty services through various service centers, as well as salaries of all marketing and sales efforts in that region.

Now when it comes to the product itself, there is no difference between a gray market camera and a manufacturer-imported camera. Both are made in the same factory, both went through the same manufacturer QA processes and tolerances. The only difference is the targeted market. Because of this, there can be differences in included manuals and accessories, as previously stated. However, since there is no direct involvement of the manufacturer or its distribution partners in the gray market product sales, nothing could technically stop a seller from selling a fake product as a “gray market” in the same price category.

Below are some of the reasons why Nikon USA strongly advocates against buying gray market products:

  • No Warranty: Gray Market products may contain a limited warranty from the seller, but they are not covered by a Nikon USA warranty.
  • Non-genuine accessories: May include counterfeit or third party accessories that could damage Nikon equipment.
  • Fake software: The software included often is either copied or counterfeit.
  • Wrong power cord: May include an incorrect power cord or adapter not designated for use in the USA.
  • Not eligible for repair service: Not eligible for Nikon USA repair service, even if you want to pay for it.
  • Missing user manuals: User manuals are often missing, incomplete or photocopied, and they may even be in a foreign language.
  • May not be as expected: Since Gray Market products were not designed for sale in the USA, they may not meet your expectations.
  • Not eligible for rebates: Gray Market products are not eligible for Nikon USA promotions or instant rebates.

Canon has similar wording on their gray market warning page.
While a lot of the above is certainly true, there are a few statements here that rarely ever happen. Accessories are typically a non-issue, since there are practically no differences there across various regions. Fake software should not be an issue either. Not only because most of the provided software can be obtained for free anyway, but also because the same basic viewing and conversion software would most likely be distributed in all markets (there are exceptions, such as when a product is bundled with a third party commercial software license). The same goes for missing manuals – one can easily download a full manual in PDF format from the same manufacturer for free.

Gray Market Product Buyer Confusion

One of the biggest issues with gray market vs authorized products is that it confuses a lot of potential buyers. People are used to shopping for the best deal and when they see pictures of cameras and lenses that look genuine and there are descriptions such as “Brand New”, “USA Seller Warranty”, etc., they do not feel they are doing anything wrong by buying it from a small camera shop or from an online auction. They don’t understand that the product is priced lower for a good reason being a gray market import – they think they just found themselves a sweet deal. Gray market products also created upselling opportunities, where a poorly educated customer is tricked by pushy salesmen into believing that the product they bought was incomplete and that they need to pay extra to get its full functionality, or pay extra for accessories such as batteries and chargers. Those who are unaware of gray market vs properly imported product differences learn the hard way that they have no place to go in case their expensive camera gear needs to be serviced. If they are lucky, they might be able to find qualified technicians in third party camera repair shops that might be able to service their equipment.

Gray Market Products and Their Impact on Service Centers

One main reason why it is a good idea to buy the properly imported version of the product instead of gray market is the potential for poor customer experience when dealing with service centers. If everyone buys gray market and the manufacturer has a hard time selling imported gear through its distribution channels, there is going to be little to no financial support for the existence of national and regional service centers that can handle issues when they arise. Service centers handle a lot of work – everything from warranty repair and customer support all the way to product recalls and exchanges. By buying or encouraging others to buy gray market products, we literally cut service center budgets, which in turn could end up in staff reductions or insufficiently trained personnel, resulting in poor service experience.

Should You Buy Gray Market Products?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a gray market product. It is not illegal and if it saves you a lot of your hard earned money and you are fully aware of all the risks and lack of warranty and service options, then by all means go for it. However, as stated above, keep in mind that by buying gray market products you are also cutting financial support of the manufacturer-provided service centers. Once resources are cut and support is reduced, it is hard to bring those back. And if the manufacturer ever chooses to outsource its support and service to a third party, that’s pretty much the end of good customer experience. Consider some of the newer players on the market who started out by outsourcing their service centers to a third party and listen to some of the customer experiences to see why it is important to have proper and fully functional service centers. In short, if you want to have a peace of mind when it comes to service and warranty work, and if you want to support your camera manufacturer, you should not buy gray market products.

Personally, I have purchased gray market products only twice. The first was an inexpensive Nikon 1.7x teleconverter that I purchased to pair up with my telephoto lens for birding. Unlike lenses and cameras, teleconverters are simple by design, so I assessed the likelihood of the teleconverter needing to be serviced in the future before buying the product. The only chance of needing service would be if I were to drop it, which I would have to pay to get repaired anyway. I chose to go gray market, because if anything happened to the teleconverter, I would most likely replace it with a new one. The second gray market product that I purchased was a Nikon D750, which I bought to pair up with my other D750 (purchased via authorized seller) for recording video projects. I had a limited budget for the second video camera, so when I saw that a gray market version was available for $800 less than the retail version, I went for it. For me, it was too big of a price gap between the two to justify spending so much money on warranty and service that I did not need or care about for occasional video work. Other than these two, I have never gone the gray market route.

Regional Pricing Differences

One of the biggest frustrations of potential buyers is the big variances in pricing between different regions. When a product is announced, we get complaints all the time from our readers and I can fully understand their frustration with such pricing disparities. Let’s take a look at a real example. The recently announced Nikon D850 is priced at $3,299 MSRP in the USA. The same camera is priced at €3,749 in some of the European countries like Italy, which is roughly equivalent to $4,380 in USD. In the UK, the same camera is sold for £3,499 MSRP, which is about $4,590 in USD. In Australia, the Nikon D850 is priced at $5,299 AUD, which translates to about $4,045 USD. In almost every case, the price difference is very significant – from $750 to $1300.

If you are wondering why the same product is priced so differently in different markets, you should take into account a few important points. First, there are major differences in import fees and taxes between different countries. Second, the size of the market and its relative upkeep for service centers and employee salaries also add up quickly. Third, some countries require higher levels of warranty coverage than others, which also raises the long term costs for the manufacturer. And lastly, other government-enforced regulations and employee benefits also add to the mix, increasing the cost of camera distribution partners in those markets. That’s why there are such large pricing differences between different markets.

While it might be tempting to travel to another country in order to purchase cheaper camera gear, whatever you bring with you could automatically be considered gray market import by the manufacturer’s service centers in your country and they could refuse to perform service on it. That’s understandable, as you would be bypassing the upkeep of all those infrastructures put in place by the manufacturer and its regional distribution partners. Why would they help someone who is refusing to pay their salaries? Check out Robert Andersen’s excellent article on why you should buy from authorized dealers for more information on this (and don’t forget to read the comments section as well).

At the same time, considering that we live in a global economy today, the idea of a gray market product sounds ridiculous to many, including myself. Why can’t I go on a vacation to another country, buy camera gear there and then come back and be able to get support and warranty for it? Why shouldn’t I be able to get support and warranty if my camera breaks down in a different country, or perhaps I move to another country to live? Why should it matter which country the camera was purchased in the first place, provided that it is genuine and it was bought from an authorized seller? Perhaps it is time for manufacturers to reconsider their regional pricing strategies, gray market imports and service centers and come up with a way to make it simpler and easier for their customers to buy their products, on a global level.

Do you buy gray market camera gear? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Why Leveling the Horizon Isn’t Easy

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It might seem like one of the simplest parts of photography: leveling your horizon. Most photographers want their horizons to be straight, of course, but this isn’t an area of photography that gets too much attention. And why would it? Leveling the horizon is a very easy task — right? In practice, though, it requires more care than many people think. You can’t just rely on your camera’s “virtual horizon,” or your post-processing software’s “auto straighten” tool. Our perception of a level horizon is more complicated than that.

1) The Easy Cases

Sometimes, leveling the horizon isn’t tricky at all.

In situations where the horizon is completely flat, and there are no obvious distractions around it — seascapes, for example, or large fields — it really isn’t tough to level the horizon precisely.

A level horizon still matters in these cases, of course. It’s just much easier to achieve, and it doesn’t require any steps aside from minor adjustments one direction or another in post-processing (including potential distortion correction).

Easy to level horizon
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 20 seconds, f/11.0

Easy cases, though, are rarer than you might think. More often than not, something in your scene will cause the horizon to appear uneven or curved. In other cases, there may not even be a distinct horizon in the first place. Those situations make the issue significantly trickier.

2) The Perceptual Horizon

Every photo has a perceptual horizon — an angle at which your photo looks level.

The perceptual horizon doesn’t always agree with the actual horizon in a scene. In other words, perhaps you’re using a bubble level on top of your camera, and it says the image is completely level, but your photos still appear strongly tilted. The same goes for your in-camera “virtual horizon,” which can lead you to capture strongly off-kilter photos (even if it’s working perfectly fine).

The reason? If distant objects in your photo are tilted, such as a long slope running across the frame, that should function as your new horizon. If it isn’t straight, your photo won’t look level, no matter how well you matched the scene’s “real” horizon.

Perceptual versus actual horizon
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/16.0
Hopefully, this photo looks fairly level to you. However, the “horizon” in the distance had a gradual slope, and I actually needed to straighten the final image significantly in order for it to appear level. (In other words, the perceptual horizon here didn’t match the “technically correct” horizon.)

3) Even Trickier Cases

Most people would agree — in the case of an uneven hill — that you’d need to tilt your framing in order to capture a level-seeming photo. But many situations will be noticeably trickier than that.

Sometimes, indeed, other visual cues can make a photo look tilted even when it’s not. For example, the horizon in the photo below is completely flat, yet, to many people, the image will appear to have a strong tilt (upwards on the left, downwards on the right):

Difficult horizon to level
NIKON D5100 + 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 32mm, ISO 100, 6 seconds, f/22.0

Here’s the same photo with a flat line superimposed. I put the line slightly below the horizon to make things as clear as possible:

Same image with flat line added
The horizon here is quite level.

So, if you did see a clear tilt in the initial image, what’s going on?

In this case, the answer lies with all the other lines in the photo — the waves washing ashore. Due to the sloped nature of the beach, these lines all appear tilted. So, essentially, every visual cue in the photo tells you that it’s tilting too far down to the right. The only line that seems flat is the horizon itself, which isn’t strong enough to outweigh all the counterexamples in the foreground.

This isn’t the only case, either, where level horizons can seem off-kilter. Our visual system is easy to fool if you do it properly. Take a look at the figure below, for example, which is clearly tilted (up on the left, down on the right):

Tilted optical illusion

Except that it isn’t. This figure is completely level. But the vast majority of people will see it as indisputably tilted, since — at a local level — our brain sees each individual segment as tilted, and it constructs a tilted impression for the overall figure as a result. By turning the white lines black and adding a leveling guide, though, it should be easier to tell that it doesn’t actually have a global tilt:

There actually isn't any tilt

It’s no different with photos, either. Even if the horizon in your photo is technically flat according to a line in post-processing, that doesn’t mean it looks flat. It’s very easy for visual cues to make it look off-kilter one way or another. Once again, my recommendation is to adjust for the perceptual horizon, since that’s the best way to make your photo appear level to your viewers.

4) What Can You Do?

Several elements make it difficult to capture a perfectly level photo:

  • An uneven slope in the scene
  • Noticeable lens distortion
  • The simple lack of a horizon in some images
  • Other deceptive perceptual cues

What can you do in cases like this — meaning, most cases?

My recommendation is to aim for the perceptual horizon rather than anything else. Most of the time, you’ll want your photos to look level even if, technically, they’re not.

To do this, be aware of any perceptual cues occurring in the photo. Is there a tree in your composition that appears to be tilted? Or, are lines in the foreground affecting the apparent straightness of an image?

Don’t blindly follow the “auto straightening” option in your post-processing software. Same goes for the bubble level or in-camera virtual horizon. Even drawing a flat line across your horizon to align your image isn’t foolproof. Although these techniques work in certain situations, they definitely won’t always match the perceptual horizon.

The other tip I’d like to mention is something we’ve covered before: Flip your image horizontally in post-production. By looking at the mirrored version, you’ll see the photo in a new way — including potential issues with the horizon that you didn’t notice initially.

Flip your photo horizontally
(Adapted from a Creative Commons image of the Mona Lisa.)

Aside from that, I recommend revisiting your old photos from time to time and making sure that they still seem to have a level horizon. That way, you see your work with a fresh eye, rather than getting so used to an image’s appearance that you start overlooking its flaws.

5) Conclusion

Are these tips enough to ensure that all your photos look level? In all likelihood, no — aligning your photo to the perceptual horizon requires some time and practice to master. In fact, I would argue that no one can master it completely, since each person sees the world differently. (What looks totally level to me might appear tilted to someone else.)

Still, it’s worth trying. A non-level horizon will, in many cases, give the appearance of unprofessionalism, or of a rushed composition. Sometimes, that’s intentional — in which case, disregard this article! But, for many photographers, a flat horizon is what you’re after. If that sounds like your goal, my hope is that you found the tips in this article to be useful.

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Photographing Birds and Insects Presentation

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On Wednesday November 29th I’ll be doing a short presentation for the Grimsby Camera Group. My topic is photographing birds and insects from a beginner’s perspective.

PL grimbsy club 2
NIKON 1 J5 + 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 51.2mm, ISO 3200, 1/100, f/8.0, extension tubes

The session will be held upstairs at the Station 1 Coffeehouse in Grimsby Ontario, located at 28 Main Street East. Presentation doors open at 6:45 PM and my presentation will run from 7:00PM to about 8:15PM.

PL grimsby club 3
NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 177.9mm, ISO 3200, 1/100, f/5.6

The presentation is open to everyone and is not restricted to members of the Grimsby Photography Group. A very modest donation is requested by the group to help to offset their facility costs for the event. I will be donating my time.

PL grimsby club 6
NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 208mm, ISO 3200, 1/640, f/5.6

The session is planned to be an interactive one with questions fielded as we go along.

PL grimsby club 5
NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 211.6mm, ISO 3200, 1/250, f/5.6

Content is designed to appeal to photographers who are looking for some beginner tips. For example, considering backgrounds in bird photography compositions.

PL grimsby club 4
NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 1600, 1/25, f/5.6

We’ll be discussing bird photography, both birds-in-flight and static subjects.

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NIKON 1 V3 + 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291.4mm, ISO 500, 1/2500, f/5.6

Butterfly, bee and other insect images will also be shared, along with some composition tips for these types of subjects.

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NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 219.6mm, ISO 1600, 1/100, f/5.6

The presentation will not be focused on gear, but will include some basic considerations when choosing cameras, lenses and other gear.

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NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 900, 1/2000, f/5.6

Technical note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. To calculate the equivalent field-of-view multiply the focal lengths by 2.7. All images in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard approach of DxO OpticsPro 11/PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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NIKON 1 V3 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 224mm, ISO 640, 1/2000, f/5.6

Article and all images are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr, all rights reserved. No use, adaptation or duplication of any kind are allowed without written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out websites that steal intellectual property by posting comments on offending websites are always appreciated!

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Why It is a Good Idea to Revisit Locations

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There are only so many locations around me that I have deemed worthy of visiting, of spending time to find a composition. With this in mind, I am left with a choice: travel multiple hours away, or simply revisit locations multiple times a year. Quitting is never an option. Even though I do travel hours away at times – such as when I went camping in Western Pennsylvania or when I went out to Wyoming – I am more often inclined to travel short distances, spending the entire day exploring the same location. Why would a person do this, besides saving for gas?

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NIKON D7200 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 140/1, f/9.0

You May Not Have Explored the Entire Location

Even if you go to the smallest park in the world, I promise you that in a single day, it cannot be explored in its entirety. There is always something more to see when you are outside, whether you are looking at the bigger scenes or those miniscule details on the ground. Often, I will walk around my own back yard with my camera and tripod, looking all around, trying to find a new composition. Every time I do that, I find a new composition. It never fails.

How do I do this, you ask? It’s simple: I look.

I look at the tiny details in the trees; I look down at the ground, admiring the formations of the grass, the rocks, and the leaves. The insects around me, the bugs, the small wildlife: they all make for wonderful subjects. And each time you go back to that same location, you begin to see things you had not noticed before. You form a better knowledge of the area, beginning to notice the intimate parts of it that you never would have seen, had you not come back.

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NIKON D7200 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 60/1, f/9.0

You Are Always Improving Your Skills

With each snap of the shutter, your skills as a photographer grow. With each peak through the viewfinder, you learn of new ways to compose the same old scene. Slowly but surely your camera becomes an extension of your arm, your fingers wrapping around it gently, your skin melting into the rubber grip. (Imagine if this actually happened, like, that would be so cool!)

Think back to when you first picked up a camera, when you first looked through the viewfinder, and snapped that shutter, exposing your first image. Do you remember how bad it was? How it wasn’t composed properly, your exposure was way off. Now, think to the most recent image you took. I bet your exposure is damn near perfect and you nailed that composition. Yeah, you’ve got some work to do to get better – we all do, believe me – but the amount of improvement you have faced over just a few years, maybe even a few months, is simply unbelievable.

Cody Schultz_DSC0114-Pano
NIKON D7200 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/4, f/9.0

Nature is Always Changing

My absolute favorite thing about nature is that it is never, ever the same. You can setup your camera in the same spot every day, shoot the same exact scene with the same settings, and you will get a slightly different image every time. Yes, it may be the most minuscule of details that are changing but still, the scene has changed. One day you may go to a location and the sun will be shining, the wind will be calm, there won’t be a cloud in the sky; the next time you go, rain could be pouring from the skies and the light could be flat as the fields in Montana. That third time you visit could be in the fall, the trees full of vibrant colors; the fourth time, there could be snow on the ground and the trees could be bare. Truly you never know what you are going to get when you revisit a location, time and time again.

| In The Light |
NIKON D7200 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/6, f/9.0

You Can Create a Collection or Series

Something I am currently working on (shhh!) is creating a collection. What is a collection, you ask? Well, it is a series of images that tell a story, that go together in one way or another. This could be the same waterfall, composed the same exact way, but shot during each season to show the change it undergoes. Or it could be multiple images from the same location that tell a story of your travels. You get the point, I am sure. By going back to the same location, you are able to create collections like these. The biggest benefit to doing this, besides your work then looking much more consistent, would be for galleries. If you plan to submit your work to a gallery at some point, they are more often than not looking for collections because it simply looks better. Speaking of collections, the galleries I have on my website are configured in such a way that each image goes along with the other. I hope that makes sense…

Cody Schultz_DSC0138
NIKON D7200 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/2.8

Also, check out this excellent article by Vaclav Bacovsky, where he created a collection of beautiful images from the same location, photographed during different times of the day, different times of the year and from various viewpoints.

To Wrap Things Up

Just because you cannot drive many hours away to get to a new location does not mean that you should call it quits. Don’t give up on creating something new, something unique just because you are forced to revisit a location. Most of my images have been taken in the same few areas. It’s just that each time I come back to that area, I look for something new. I view the area as though I had never been there before.

Try it out and let me know how it goes!


This guest post was submitted by Cody Schultz. You can visit Cody’s website or check out his Instagram page to see more of his work.

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Postcards From Plitvice

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I was reluctant to post on this site again but I suppose it’s a way of bringing these places to more people. Anyone with an aversion to colour should probably look away. Somewhere I had wanted to visit for some time, the famous Plitvice Lakes in Croatia were awash with vibrant autumnal hues reflected in crystal clear emerald waters. My friend and fellow photographer, Parrish, and myself both had the idea to plan and execute this excursion and happily it proceeded flawlessly.

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The Hidden View, which, thanks to Parrish, we found.

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The Unesco site is comprised of a series of upper lakes connected to lower lakes through a succession of streams and waterfalls, no less than 90 all told.

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I’m not sure what it is about waterfalls that draw me to them so much. I have seen some of the largest and most beautiful that the planet has to offer, in places such as South America, Iceland, Canada and even Wales (still my favourite). Perhaps it’s the power of the flow or the sound of the rush, or perhaps it’s the simple beauty of seeing nature pour its water freely over an edge.

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Many of the waterfalls in Plitvice are, of course, small trickling affairs while others are have a more interesting aesthetic. The largest, known as The Big Slap, isn’t really that large at all and is merely a trap for tourists wishing to capture it as yet another digital friend on their selfie sticks (the number of times I’ve had to beat someone over the head with a stick that got in my way; I really should be incarcerated by now).

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But the entire national park is a pleasure in which to roam for a couple of days hiking through its woods or clapping ones boots along its many boardwalks. While overcast skies are probably better for accentuating seasonal colours and limiting blown highlights, the glaring sun, solitary in a cloudless blue sky, reached its fingers of light through the canopy above us and touched the leaves with radiant glows of red, yellow and orange. As we advanced along, tanned and ochre leaves pirouetted down around us, denuding their host branches to leave a ceiling of bare and black dendritic webs.

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Every corner turned would bring a new waterfall or stream, the view obscured by tall yellow reeds or wistful orange spots. As they gurgled into the waiting lakes lush highlights of crimson and gold would interrupt the green foliage at the banks and become twinned by the mirror of the still water beneath. Our steps crunched along the caramel carpet of leaves under us, stitched together with patches of rose and amber.

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Surprisingly, around water, we saw very little wildlife but for the abundant fish and ducks. Fearless coal tits and nuthatches would flutter around us hoping for a morsel and the island in the middle of the main lower lake hosted a few cormorants.

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Branches and tree trunks often crowded our views of the waterfalls but in retrospect this added an authenticity to the unspoiled environment.

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Gear wise you’ll simply have to read one of the other articles on this site to satisfy your lust. I used the usual trifecta of my head, eyes and legs, occasionally using a tripod until I realised that the image stabilisation was good enough to shoot sharp, one-second exposures handheld. Keeping the tripod folded in my bag also meant it wasn’t in anyone’s way as they shuffled past.

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I realise that my usual postcard style processing won’t be to most people’s tastes but happily I’ve never been beholden to the opinions of Internet strangers and the important thing is that they please me. Listening to Paul Engemann’s ‘Push It To The Limit’ with saturated neon lights flashing around me during my editing probably had some effect.

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En route to Plitvice Parrish and I stopped at Rastoke, a picturesque little town also populated by a series of impressive waterfalls flowing into a long canyon. It proved a terrific appetiser for our main course.

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Well, that’s a brief taster of this little journey. We finished our trip in Zagreb, a small but bustling city of trams and colourful cobbled streets. The Croatian people were generally helpful and friendly and we enjoyed driving through the country’s vivid, autumnal landscape. I thank Parrish for his excellent company and knowledge, and that’s two broken polarising filters that I now owe him; please don’t lend me anything else.

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As usual this article was reproduced from my blog where you can see more images. I’m off to my next destination. Bye.

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November Nikon, Fuji and Olympus Savings

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Although we are still a few weeks away from the big holiday sales in the USA, a number of camera manufacturers have already started their instant rebate programs. Nikon has started their popular instant lens rebate program, while Fuji has gone big on their GFX medium format sales, offering rebates up to $1,000 when bundling the GFX 50S with a lens, or up to $550 per lens when buying GF lenses individually. Fuji is also offering some X-series deals on lenses, but they are not as attractive as the ones we had previously seen in the past. Lastly, Olympus is offering a great rebate program as well, with instant rebates up to $200 on their gear such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and other popular lenses. Below are some of the best deals we recommend to our readers.

Nikon Lens Rebates

Nikon Instant Lens Rebates

The current Nikon instant lens rebate program is rather limited – there are only a total of 10 deals available, which includes both DX and FX lenses:

Personally, I would not recommend to get the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G from the above list – even Nikon itself does not seem to be impressed with its own nifty fifty, as it is not listed as a recommended lens for the Nikon D850. For anyone who uses DX cameras, the two lens kit with the 10-20mm + 40mm f/2.8 at $150 off are an amazing deal, but the 55-200mm in particular is a no-brainer at $147, considering that the lens typically goes for $350.

Fujifilm Instant Rebates

If you are interested in a medium format system from Fuji, the GFX 50S is currently heavily discounted by $1,000 if you bundle it with a GF lens. For example, if you get the GFX 50S with the new GF 45mm f/2.8 lens, you can get the kit for $7,199, which brings the price of the lens down to $699 (from $1,699 MSRP).

If you already own the GFX 50S, now is the time to buy GF lenses – they are discounted heavily, up to $550 per lens! Take a look at the full list below:

If one were to build a complete GF system today, the savings are too big to ignore – start off with the $7,199 kit that includes the GF 45mm f/2.8 lens, then add up desired lenses. If one were to get every lens, it would amount to savings of $2,400 total, which is on top of the $1,000 discount on the GFX 50S + GF 45mm f/2.8. Having used and tested most of the lenses above, I can say that they are all stellar, especially the primes.

Olympus Instant Rebates

Olympus instant rebates are much more extensive compared to both Nikon and Fuji, since there are many great cameras and lenses that are offered with an instant rebate. Below are some of our top picks that we recommend to our readers:

In addition to these, there are a number of great Micro Four Thirds lens rebates available. For a complete list of available Olympus rebates, please see this link.

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Photographing Jordan

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Having just spent almost two weeks conducting a workshop in Jordan, I wanted to share a few images that I was able to capture during this incredible trip. We spent a total of 11 days touring and photographing this stunning country and although I have not yet had a chance to properly edit most of my images, I was able to go through a number of them using my portable laptop that I have been carrying around when traveling. Right after the workshop, I decided to tour Turkey for a week and explore both Istanbul and Cappadocia for future photographic opportunities, which is why I have not been able to post anything on the website. I will be posting images from Turkey after I get back home and catch up with some work. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a photographic tour of Jordan!

Please note that I have previously published a detailed article on what to photograph in Jordan. I would highly recommend to check out that article first, as it shows much more information on what Jordan has to offer.

Amman

We started the workshop in the beautiful city of Amman, the capital of Jordan. I arrived a few days early and checked into the Rotana Hotel, the tallest hotel building in Amman. Seeing the city from the top of the hotel was an experience in itself, so I approached hotel management to see if they would let me shoot from the rooftop. After a few exchanges with the hotel management, they finally let me do it! I was escorted to the rooftop with an engineer, who was kind enough to show me around and put me in a safe location where I could shoot from. The day was somewhat cloudy, but I was still hoping for a beautiful sunset. Although I never got to see any colors, clouds did break through at one point and showed some of the sky, way after sunset. Armed with the Nikon D850 and the new Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art beast (what a lens!), I was able to capture the below image:

Amman Jordan (1)NIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 64, 6s, f/8.0

I also had a Fuji GFX 50S with me along with a few GF lenses on this trip, so I shot the below image of the highway crossing with the GF 32-64mm f/4:

Amman Jordan (6)GFX 50S + GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR @ 52.7mm, ISO 100, 8s, f/8.0

Photographing Amman is an amazing experience, as the city is full of all kinds of opportunities. The below image was captured on one of the busy roads, overlooking older buildings, contrasted by the modern tall rises in the background. The tallest building shown in this image is the same Rotana hotel where I photographed the first two images from. So much detail to look at!

Amman Jordan (2)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 58mm, ISO 64, 1/250, f/8.0

On the first day of the workshop, we had a chance to visit a number of locations around Amman. My favorite was the amphitheater – a vast and very historic location that offers a number of great views, including a smaller theater to enjoy.

Amman Jordan (3)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 64, 1/400, f/5.6

It was not a very busy day and it was rather empty there, but Mr Tareq Hadi, my good friend, mentor and workshop partner volunteered to fill in for us.

During the day, my “go to” gear choice was the Nikon D850 and the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC G2 lens, a great and versatile combination, although a bit heavy for travel needs. I will spare my detailed thoughts on camera gear for now, but overall, the lens seems to be of great value for those who shoot with a high resolution camera. Not particularly great wide open in the corners, but pretty decent when stopped down. For landscape photography, I personally favor the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR for its excellent overall sharpness though. For other types of photography, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 does quite well – it reminds me of the older Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G in terms of overall performance, which is superb in the center, but visibly weaker in the extreme corners.

Here is a shot of a young Jordanian lady using her phone in an open area of the amphitheater, where a number of columns were visible from the side:

Amman Jordan (4)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 66mm, ISO 64, 1/250, f/8.0

I waited for a while for an interesting and lone subject to walk by. To get this shot, I had to keep the D850 near the ground and look at the tilted screen. This is one of the reasons why every camera on the market should have a tilted LCD screen! Although I wish the Nikon D850 had a more versatile LCD screen to allow for vertical shooting, I am still happy that we have this feature on a pro-grade camera. I don’t know why it took Nikon so long to make it happen…

We also photographed a number of beautiful and historic mosques and churches around the city. My personal favorite is the image of the entrance to a Coptic Church, which I was able to fit in the frame with the Sigma 14mm f/1.4 Art. I love the combination of blue, black and red here. I waited outside for a few minutes until a bird took off:

Amman Jordan (5)NIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 64, 1/400, f/5.6

Photographing the Citadel was another great experience, since we were there before sunrise and the crowds – it was nice to have permissions from authorities, something Mr Tareq Hadi was able to organize for us. Although it was a very clear day, we were able to capture this historic location from a number of different vantage points. Below is my favorite composition from the back of the Temple of Hercules:

Amman Jordan (7)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/1, f/16.0

I was hoping to position the rising sun to the right of the frame, but the thick haze in the distance made it difficult to get a good sunburst.

Dead Sea

Although our initial plan was to discover some salt formations to photograph around the Dead Sea, the plan had to be changed after we discovered the dangers of walking on the soil around the Dead Sea. First of all, similar to some areas around the Badwater Basin in Death Valley (such as Devil’s Golf Course), salt formations can be quite dangerous to walk on. Hardened salt can cut through one’s flesh and leave a lot of damage behind, so if you step in a wrong spot or trip, you could easily fall, sometimes through some of the formations. Lastly, if one manages to drop camera gear into the salt water, it would be the end of it too – might as well just leave it there! Only a small team of us decided to hit the road and explore the surroundings.

The first area we stopped by was relatively easy to walk on, but still a bit tricky in a few spots. However, once we got to the shore, the experience was quite rewarding:

Dead Sea Jordan (2)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 400, 1/850, f/8.0

Those crazy lines in the water are different salt formations! Isn’t that something? I walked around and found a few beautiful compositions like this one:

Dead Sea Jordan (3)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/90, f/8.0

I loved this area and put it on my list of places to be at sunset, but we only had one sunset and one sunrise dedicated to the Dead Sea, so we had to make the choice of either moving on to another area, or staying there. We wanted to explore the location more and see if we can find beautiful salt formations, so we moved on further to the southern part of the Dead Sea. It did not take us very long to find salt formations, but boy, it was rough to get down to the water level. A lot of the ground was unstable and there were a bunch of potholes around us. It was not very dangerous, but pretty tricky and certainly not something I would be comfortable taking a group to. Only two of us decided to take up the challenge and find our way to the bottom – others stayed close to the car and photographed from a higher ground. It was a beautiful evening and the clouds were truly beautiful, something I did not want to miss shooting. Here is one of the views of the salt formations once we reached the water level:

Dead Sea Jordan (4)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/16.0

Finding a composition that works well is a challenge when you are surrounded by a bunch of rocks and salt formations. I did not want to move too far away from the car, because the driver told us that the area would be closed immediately after sunset – it turns out that the Jordanian military was very strict about the sunset rule. The issue is border crossing – anyone could easily swim over to the Israeli side and potentially cause issues, which is something both sides want to avoid. We were told that we could get into trouble if we did not leave before it started to get dark. The driver was on alert, constantly keeping his eyes on us, so we had to stay within the perimeter. After a few minutes of scouting, I managed to find a vertical composition I was pretty happy with. I set up the Fuji GFX 50S with the GF 23mm f/4 lens on a tripod and kicked off the intervalometer, while keeping the Nikon D850 with the new Nikkor 28mm f/1.4E lens on my hands for other hand-held compositions.

Dead Sea Jordan (5)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/5, f/18.0

I found a nice rock shaped up by salt fairly close to where I set up the tripod and shot it at a very wide aperture in order to give it some depth:

Dead Sea Jordan (1)NIKON D850 + 28mm f/1.4 @ 28mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/1.6

The sunset was beautiful and the sky started to light up, but unfortunately, it was time to leave the area. We did not want to get into trouble with the military, so we gathered our gear and took off early.

I thought about going back to the first spot the following morning, but it would not have worked anyway. Not only because the clouds were completely gone, but also because there was a tall hill right behind where the sun would rise from, so the sun rays would not make it to the shore until the sun was high enough in the sky. If I were on the Israeli side though, I would definitely go for a sunrise!

Photographing the salt formations was an incredible experience and something I would certainly do again. However, I am not sure if I would be willing to bring along a group of photographers, unless they were fit, well equipped and willing to take a risk – I would hate to see anyone fall or get injured there.

Jerash

Another location we had permission to access before sunrise was the historic city of Jerash. We arrived pretty early to capture sunrise and after seeing some clouds in the sky, I got excited about the potential sunrise opportunities. We set up on a high ground to photograph some ancient columns, with the city in the background, since this is where the first rays of the sun would hit. To fit the columns into the frame that close, everyone had to shoot as wide as possible. I once again went with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art, which worked out well for this composition:

Jerash Jordan (1)NIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 64, 30s, f/8.0

Unfortunately, the clouds quickly disappeared as we approached sunrise, so we did not get much cloud action that morning. Still, we got some beautiful golden light on those columns, which was great!

Jerash has a lot to offer photographically, especially if the light conditions are right. I mostly focused on photographing columns from different temples in the city:

Jerash Jordan (2)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 46mm, ISO 64, 1/160, f/8.0

And here is a straight up shot of four columns from the Temple of Artemis that look pretty symmetrical:

Jerash Jordan (3)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/8.0

Portraits

Along with cityscape and landscape photography, I was also fortunate to photograph some portraits of the locals. Jordanians are very friendly people and surprisingly, a number of Jordanians specifically asked me to photograph them, something I have never previously experienced before in other countries. Below is a selection of some of the portraits I captured in Jordan.

This young man requested his photograph to be taken while I had the Nikon D850 with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 in my hands. As soon as I heard the request, I switched to a more appropriate setup for portraiture – the GFX 50S with the GF 100mm f/2 lens. What a great combo! Extremely sharp wide open and capable of producing stunning portraits. I took a few shots, but this one is my favorite:

People of Jordan (2)GFX 50S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/800, f/2.0

Another photo request came while we were enjoying drinking fresh juice on a busy street of downtown Amman. I positioned this gentleman in front of closed shop and it worked out pretty well as a background:

People of Jordan (3)GFX 50S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/120, f/2.0

And here is another subject I photographed with the same combo:

People of Jordan (4)GFX 50S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/850, f/2.0

But who says that subjects should only be photographed with portrait lenses? While touring one of the castles around Amman, I came across a Bedouin boy, who happily posed for me while I had the Nikon D850 and the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2. I zoomed the lens to 70mm and shot his portrait wide open:

People of Jordan (1)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 64, 1/50, f/2.8

My next subject was Mr Tareq Hadi himself. I saw a spot of light inside a castle and I really wanted to place a subject in it, but everyone was gone and the castle was completely empty! Gladly, Mr Hadi was nearby and he volunteered to pose for me again:

People of Jordan (5)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 36mm, ISO 3200, 1/40, f/2.8

Great light on a great man. That’s all I have to say!

As we drove towards Petra, we came across a Bedouin who was riding a donkey. We stopped by and I asked if I could photograph him. He refused. I was not sure why, but after Mr Tareq translated, it turned out that he did not want to be photographed on a donkey – it was an issue of status for a Bedouin. He walked me towards his camels that were a hundred feet away, then happily posed in front of these mighty animals:

People of Jordan (6)GFX 50S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/2700, f/2.8

From there, it was time to move to some desert castles.

Wadi Rum Jordan (10)GFX 50S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/450, f/8.0

Desert Castles

We also had a chance to visit a number of desert castles. The most memorable of them was definitely the Azraq castle (Lawrence of Arabia stayed there), where the friends of Mr Tareq Hadi treated us with amazing Bedouin dishes prepared on wood and coal fire. It was a very delicious meal and I particularly enjoyed the spicy lamb cooked with onions. We arrived a bit late to the castle, so I had to go around and look for the last lights falling on its dark walls:

Al Azraq CastleGFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/140, f/5.6

We planned on doing some night shooting though and Azraq didn’t work due to its proximity to a town and lots of light pollution, so we had to go to another castle for night photography. The Al Kharanah castle was our next bet, which also did not work well due to its proximity to a highway. We first tried to shoot the Milky Way from within the castle, but the lights from the road made it impossible. So we decided to move out and photograph its exterior instead. Here, the road traffic came in handy, as it lit up the castle walls pretty evenly:

Al Kharanah CastleNIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 800, 20/1, f/1.8

October is not the best month to shoot the Milky Way, so it turned out to be a bit faint, which is something we expected to see.

Petra

If you have never been to Petra, you should definitely put it on your list of places that you must visit in your lifetime. It is absolutely stunning in so many ways. Ever since it became the new World Wonder, it has drawn quite a bit of tourism from all over the world, so Petra is surely busier than ever. However, that should not be a detriment for visiting this ancient city. Most people who visit Petra only make it a day trip, so they come and photograph the famous Treasury:

Petra Jordan (9)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 800, 1/80, f/5.6

Or Bedouin camels parked and ready to go for those who want to explore Petra above the ground:

Petra Jordan (1)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm, ISO 360, 1/40, f/8.0

Most visitors go back after seeing the Treasury, thinking that it is all Petra has to offer. But they are so wrong, as the Treasury is simply a gateway to the actual city. There is so much more to see and explore – everything from ancient ruins and amphitheaters all the way to colorfully covered walls and tombs:

Petra Jordan (10)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 400, 1/340, f/5.6

One could easily spend a week in Petra and still not see everything! While I have previously visited Petra twice, I never got very deep into the city, so my goal this time was to explore it more and make it to the Monastery. Everyone said it would be a tough hike, but it actually turned out to be fairly easy, especially for anyone in good shape. We made it to the top in roughly 30 minutes, taking pictures along the way. Here is a photograph of a lone mule that we saw on the side of the trail:

Petra Jordan (2)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/60, f/4.0

We made it to the Monastery a few hours before sunset, so I was able to explore the area a bit and photograph the surroundings. People on feet and on mules were passing by, so I waited until I got a chance to photograph a Bedouin boy riding a mule:

Petra Jordan (11)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/1250, f/9.0

From there, it was a matter of waiting for the late afternoon light. It was a clear, cloudless day, but not particularly hot, which was great. As the sun started to set, temperature started to drop rapidly, so we were glad that we listened to Mr Tareq Hadi’s advice to bring warm jackets. Once we got close to sunset, I walked around to photograph some of the details of the Monastery:

Petra Jordan (3)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 55mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/8.0

And we were able to find a few interesting compositions, including this “window” composition, shooting from a cave:

Petra Jordan (4)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/8.0

I walked around and looked for other interesting subjects, which is how I came across this beautiful tree:

Petra Jordan (5)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm, ISO 64, 1/15, f/11.0

The last rays of light were particularly beautiful, as they were filtered by many layers of haze in the horizon, allowing us to photograph some rock details:

Petra Jordan (6)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 64, 1/15, f/8.0

But the most spectacular scene for me developed after sunset. I set up my tripod in one spot and photographed the Monastery at dusk, then waited a bit more until the stars appeared in the sky. It was a tough place to shoot at night for two reasons – there was a shop behind us that had some bright lights on, and the right part of the sky was getting some nasty glow from light pollution coming from the nearby town. It took me some time to edit this image in order to reduce the glow in the sky, but I think it worked out pretty well at the end:

Petra Jordan (7)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 29mm, ISO 3200, 10/1, f/2.8

We then headed back to the Treasury, since it was the day when we would experience Petra by Night. We arrived right at the time the workers were arranging lights on the ground. We had very little time before the crowds rolled in, so I set up my tripod with the Nikon D850 and Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art to photograph the Treasury that was getting lit by candlelight:

Petra Jordan (8)NIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 800, 1/1, f/8.0

Again, the glow in the sky due to light pollution was quite nasty to deal with. As soon as I took a few shots, the first group arrived with at least 100 people. Before I was able to put my gear into my camera bag, the place filled up all the way to the front of the treasury! If you want to photograph Petra at Night, you’d better be among the first to arrive, or you won’t be able to take a picture without people in it. The worst thing is not the crowd, but their phones, flashlights and cameras shooting flash. We were quick to get out from there…

Wadi Rum

If I were to pick only one place to photograph in Jordan, it would without a doubt be Wadi Rum – that’s how much I love this place! Wadi Rum is rich of photographic opportunities and if you are willing to explore, you can find many treasures. Wadi Rum is a vast place, so make sure to dedicate enough time to do some hiking, camel riding and driving to remote areas. Local Bedouin drivers are a must to get anywhere and you certainly do not want to drive yourself anywhere in Wadi Rum! You will quickly get lost or stuck, so it is best that you have someone knowledgeable tour you around.

There are many Bedouin-run camps in Wadi Rum where you can spend the night. While most people prefer to go with simple accommodations comprised of bare tents, we were fortunate to be able to book the best camp in Wadi Rum:

Wadi Rum Jordan (9)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 55mm, ISO 64, 1/640, f/5.6

These building structures called “The Martians” (yes, named after the movie, since it was filmed nearby) are pure luxury to be in. Just take a look at how nice they are from the inside:

Wadi Rum Jordan (9) RoomNIKON D850 + 14mm f/1.8 @ 14mm, ISO 64, 8/10, f/11.0

And the bathrooms are even nicer, nicely decorated with modern tiles and furniture.

But the most exciting part was obviously photography. We had a chance to shoot one sunset, where I climbed up one of the surrounding structures to capture the below shot:

Wadi Rum Jordan (11)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/5, f/16.0

As well as a sunrise from a hot air balloon. Although it was a hazy, sunny morning, the first light in the horizon was able to paint the Wadi Rum valley with some beautiful colors.

The balloon ride was rather short, because the winds drifted the balloon towards Israel, so we had to move at very low altitudes. Still, I was able to capture quite a few images with the Nikon D850 + Tamron 24-70mm and the GFX 50S + 23mm f/4. Having both wide angle and standard zoom allowed me to capture different angles and I am happy that I had both, although there wasn’t much room in the balloon to maneuver around with. Forget about taking a camera bag with you – unless it is tiny, there is simply no space for it! I had to leave mine in a transportation vehicle.

When shooting from a balloon, finding a good composition that works can be rather tricky. One is often tempted to shoot everything, but it is important to relax, slow down and look for good angles and framing that work. In the very short period of time of ascending over Wadi Rum (no more than 10 minutes), there wasn’t much to shoot, so I had to concentrate on what was available. I found a few interesting angles that worked out, but I kept wishing to see more of the landscape:

Wadi Rum Jordan (2)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/8.0

Because of this, I ended up using the Fuji 23mm f/4 lens more than I anticipated:

Wadi Rum Jordan (12)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/125, f/8.0

It worked out great in fitting more of the dramatic landscape into the scene. One of my last shots before we rapidly descended was a triangular composition with the same lens:

Wadi Rum Jordan (14)GFX 50S + GF23mmF4 R LM WR @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/5.6

I also looked for other angles to show the many layers of the vast Wadi Rum lanscape:

Wadi Rum Jordan (5)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 46mm, ISO 64, 1/200, f/5.6

From there, it was mostly cruising at lower altitudes to find a spot to land in. I looked down and found more interesting compositions of dunes and textures. In the below image, I used diagonal composition to show off the desert dune:

Wadi Rum Jordan (8)NIKON D850 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 64, 1/400, f/5.6

The last part of the journey was to relax and swim in the beautiful Red Sea, in the shore city of Aqaba. The following day we headed back to Amman to wrap up the workshop.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this photo essay. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know in the comments section below!

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DxO Now Owns Nik Software

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These past couple weeks have been a roller coaster for photography software. For some companies, the past couple years have been a roller coaster, too — Nik software in particular. In May of 2017, Google (which had owned Nik software since 2012) announced they were ceasing new developments on the program. No new features, bug fixes, or guaranteed support for updated operating systems. That happened just a couple months after making the software completely free. Justifiably, Google’s decision to end developments disappointed many photographers who relied on the software, and who happily would have paid for further updates. Today, though, there is some cautiously good news: DxO, the company behind DxO OpticsPro (which — also as of today — is now called DxO PhotoLab), announced that they bought Nik from Google. On top of that, they announced the development of a new version of the Nik Collection planned for mid-2018. If you use Nik software as part of your workflow, what does this mean for you?

1) The Good News

Here’s the most important line in DxO’s press release:

DxO plans to continue development of the Nik Collection. The current version will remain available for free on DxO’s dedicated website, while a new version is planned for mid-2018.

On balance, this seems like a very good development, although it’s worth having some caution before embracing the news all-out.

For most photographers, the main thing is that the Nik Collection will continue to exist with future updates, which, before today, very few people expected. Based upon the wording of the press release — a “new version” for mid-2018 — it also sounds as though we’re going to get some additional in-depth features in the coming months. Not bad.

Personally, I use the Nik Collection to edit some of my trickier landscape photos. It offers an extra set of sliders compared to what you’d find in software like Lightroom or Capture One, and the U-point technology (which lets you apply selective edits) is a great tool as well. Although it has some competitors on the market, such as Topaz, it’s no secret that a lot of photographers use Nik in their workflow.

Yellowstone sunriseNIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 4/10, f/11.0

Also: Less publicized in the photography community is that DxO changed the name of their flagship software from “DxO OpticsPro” to “DxO PhotoLab.” The big difference? U-Point technology. DxO now allows local adjustments in their software, and it’s a direct result of their acquisition of Nik.

(DxO sounded practically giddy about this new development in their short FAQ for DxO PhotoLab: “Today with the integration of local adjustments including a famous technology, and a big announcement to be official very soon, it was time for us to change the name into DxO PhotoLab.”)

  • The big takeaway: If Nik software is crucial or important for your photography, you should be very happy by this development. In some shape or form, it now has a safer future.

2) The Ambiguous News

There’s still a lot of uncertainty so far.

Uncertainty isn’t always bad — we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s best to exercise caution at first, because no one knows exactly what DxO is planning to do with the company they just acquired.

It’s possible that they’re planning to keep the standalone Nik Collection available for photographers to enjoy (and perhaps fixing some bugs over time), while spending more effort on the new DxO PhotoLab. The U-Point technology might just be the beginning, and the “new version” they advertise could be available only to DxO PhotoLab buyers.

It’s also possible that, several years down the road, they’ll scrap the standalone version of Nik completely after shifting its technologies to DxO PhotoLab. Or, they might do what Google did and stop updating it entirely. That would leave us back to square one (where your downloaded version of Nik software still works, but you can’t expect any updates or bug fixes over time).

On the other hand, they could release a revamped Nik Collection some time next year, but charge a price to buy it standalone. That’s not inherently a bad thing, either. They just bought a popular technology from Google for, presumably, a decent sum. Software development is expensive, and vast improvements to the Nik Collection are likely to (deservedly) have a price tag attached. But what sort of major update would we see? That remains an open question.

Nik-Color-Efex-ScreenshotThe layout of Nik Color Efex

If this seems like a lot of speculation, that’s because it is. All that DxO has said so far about future development is, essentially, that there will be future development. We don’t know what direction they’re going, except that they’ve already started using U-Point technology in their DxO PhotoLab software. I strongly doubt that’s the only thing they’ll do with this acquisition.

Most likely, whatever route they choose will work great for some photographers, and not as well for others. For all I know, they’re working on a fully-fledged Lightroom competitor with great organizational and cataloging features, and they want Nik’s technologies in their new program. That would be extremely interesting.

Or, they simply could have acquired it for the same reason Google did — to implement some of Nik’s proprietary technologies into their own software, and not really prioritize the standalone Nik collection or develop new features.

Most likely, the final result will be somewhere in the middle. And that’s still good news! Even if upgrades to the Nik Collection cost money, it’s still better than not having that option in the first place. The Nik software you already have on your computer (or that you can download for free from DxO) is likely to keep working for a long time. However, it might be a bit premature to celebrate wholeheartedly, since we really don’t yet know what the future of Nik will be.

DxO screenshot

3) How to Download Nik Software

Just like with Google, DxO currently is offering Nik software as a free download. However, I had a few issues with their website earlier.

In theory, you can go to the new DxO/Nik website, enter your email address, and receive links to download the software. I tried doing this on multiple computers with several different email addresses, and the links never arrived in my inbox. (I did check my spam mail, as well.) I don’t know if it’s just me somehow, or if it’s a temporary problem with the website. My expectation is that it will work like normal within the next few days, at least.

My hope is that inputting your email address doesn’t auto-subscribe you to DxO’s mailing list. I’m sure I’ll find out within the next week or so — I’ll either get a dozen identical newsletters to all my email addresses, or none at all. We’ll see.

I checked the original Google link to download the Nik Collection, and it’s no longer active, either. So, at the moment, you might not actually be able to download the Nik Collection anywhere. This is definitely temporary (or just an issue for me).

Download Nik screenshot

4) Conclusion

There are still plenty of unknowns here. We don’t yet know how DxO plans to continue with Nik’s technology, or even if they’ll continue offering a free standalone in the upcoming years. We also don’t know the pricing structure for future upgrades, or if you need to be using DxO OpticsPro in order to access any of these new developments. All we know is that there will be an update to the Nik Collection in mid-2018, and the U-Point technologies are already in the new DxO PhotoLab software.

Despite the uncertainty, there’s more good in this announcement than bad. Nik is back in the hands of the photography community, and it seems highly likely that new features will arrive some time next year (paid or not). At worse, if you end up disliking whatever direction DxO takes, this announcement means there’s no change for you. You still have access to the free, standalone Nik software, just like you did before this news.

So, on the whole, I’m happy about this development — and cautiously optimistic that DxO will take the Nik Collection back in the right direction for photographers. My strong assumption is that DxO acquired Nik for a good reason, more than just adding U-Points to DxO OpticsPro. We’ll just have to wait and see exactly what it is.

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