Reviews on gear and software

Microsoft surfacebook 2 review Part I

Ok before we start.
This is a long intro and review Part I, don’t expect the other parts to be this long, but I like to do reviews slightly different from others.

First off.
The Laptop I have here is NOT mine.
Microsoft send it to me for review, I’ve been playing with the idea for some time now but never took the plunge for the simple reason I was happy with my Dell, but times change and also my demands and at the moment there is too much on the Surface Book 2 that I think would greatly benefit me and people like me so I borrowed this laptop for an extended period of time to really test it out.

This however doesn’t mean that I’m biased, actually far from.
EVERY review I do I do from my own personal perspective, if a company doesn’t like what I type or think that’s their problem, I will never ever lie, or color a review because I get something for review.

At the moment there is no cooperation between “learning with Frank” and “Microsoft” There is no contract or ambassadorship, so this review is written 100% with in mind that when I buy this laptop I will probably pay full retail (or slightly less… let’s hope that last one). That being said, over the last 2-3 years I’ve become very fond of Microsoft and fully support Windows 10 as an operating system for creatives.

Creativity strikes everywhere.
It’s not that you go to the office at 8:00AM and start working and go home at 5:00PM and call it a day. You could literally be in the middle of a walk and get an idea that you have to write down…. People that are working in the creative branch know all about this, creativity strikes whenever.

Over the years the market for creatives has grown explosively and the options are endless. I myself love to be creative with Photography and video but also with music. When I compare today with my youth there is a huge difference.

When I was 17 I played the guitar (a lot) I had to be home to record something on a tape deck (4 track) where you could only hear track 1-2 but could record 1-2-3-4. It was awesome and opened up so many options, no need for a studio anymore… well if 4 tracks was enough. Today I carry around a Boss BR80 which is much smaller than my old 4 track, runs for ever on a battery and doubles as a location recorder and when you connect a guitar you have a band to play along with and a gazillion different sounds, amps, effects etc. It’s insane. And if your demands are a bit lower you can even use your phone with apps to record and even to play guitar, one could say the options are endless.

So one would expect that with photography, which in essence is a lot easier than recording music one would also have limitless options. And in a fact you have….. if your demands are not that high. On most tablets and phones you can run Lightroom CC (which I love) but in all honesty… it’s pretty limiting when you want more and…. well….. you can’t really use it professionally. You’re still editing on a non calibrated (and far from accurate) display and delivering an image to a client for a portrait session is pretty problematic or takes a lot of time. It’s doable don’t get me wrong but it’s just so much faster when you export to Photoshop and do all the work there and save it for delivery in sRGB and for storage in TIFF 16 bits ARGB. for this we really need a calibrated display and a full blown version of Photoshop.

Same goes for video.
Editing a fun video is no problem at all, look at the new Adobe video editor on iOS/Mac/Windows (Rush) it’s absolutely a step towards being able to do a lot on the road. But…… it doesn’t do everything you need for a more elaborate project. For that you need…. well you guessed it… the full blown version and maybe some plugins (depending on what you need).

So it all boils down to being able to run the full versions of Photoshop/Premiere (or any other software you run) to really maximize your options. Now let me be 100% frank (got the joke?) this is of course HIGHLY depending on what you need and want. I can have loads of fun with Lightroom CC on the road and editing with snapseed it just a blast and for social media this is already probably overkill. So we do have to make the distinction between creatives and professional creatives. I’m in that second part.

The real problem
The real problem for a lot of professional creatives is that we often travel, or don’t really have something one could label as a fixed workspace. If I take myself for example. I have a studio with a workspace but I don’t want to spend all the time in the studio so I also have a workspace at home, this is also where I create my music and actually edit almost 99% of the videos you see.

I can of course use one desktop in the studio and one at home, and now a days that’s not really a problem, you can use dropbox to sync between computers for settings like presets in Alien Skin, Capture One etc. and now that we have fiber (YEAH) I can also finally use Lightroom CC to it’s fullest potential. I still need however several licenses for Capture One, Alien Skin, Topaz, Imagenomic etc. and when something new comes out I have to update two machines. One huge advantage, when something goes wrong on one machine….. I can continue working almost straight away on the laptop (or visa versa). So I’m not a big fan of skipping my machine in the studio for one machine for everything but… let’s say you don’t have a lot of budget and you can invest in a cheaper PC and a cheaper Laptop I would advise to actually look at a very fast and specked out laptop and use that with a USB-C dock for both home/studio and location work. It’s a blast to have a machine that’s always the same.

So let’s say the studio is a fixed machine, like in my case.
It’s a specked out super fast PC with a 27″ Wacom Cintiq, 3 monitor setup and enough storage to last me a few years.

So what do I use on location?
Well my location demands are actually much higher (believe it or not), as mentioned before most video I edit on my laptop, when I teach I shoot tethered to a laptop, when I teach I edit on my laptop and when I travel I have to be able to continue my work just like I’m able to be at home.

Tethering
Now tethering is a huge thing.
If it’s just for examples you can use an Adroid/iOs tablet or phone with most cameras to shoot images for “preview” think about solutions like the Case Air from Tethertools or for example the build in WiFi/BT options on cameras like the Sony.

But in my case, just showing images is not enough in at least 80% of the cases, I also have to be able to retouch them, plus I need a device that can run for hours on the brightest setting and that can handle extreme cold and extreme heat, but also will function in high and low humidity. Now don’t think I mean the arctic and the middle of death valley kind of stuff, but I’ve taught in the field in pretty hot places but also in very cold places and I expect my device to not crash or break down.

So for years my solution was an almost specked out MacBook Pro and an external battery solution plus a Wacom Intous small for editing. Overall a pretty standard setup for people like me.

The Apple story
Now don’t worry Apple fans, I’m not going to bash Apple, heck I still love the company although I don’t own any Apple products anymore. Fact is however that for years Apple was THE brand for creatives, if you visited tradeshows all instructors, booths etc. were using Apple and MacBooks, if you wanted to use certain software for music in the past…. well use Apple because there simply wasn’t a solid alternative. Apple for me was always linked to creativity. However things change.

Over the years I was looking at alternatives, especially tablets that you can draw on, in fact I bought a windows tablet a few years ago while visiting the states and brought it back 2 days later because it was literally laughable, no pen response, terribly slow, crashed a lot and the battery died after 2 hours… yeah that was bad, but somehow that design just stuck with me. I don’t actually remember the brand but you could take the screen and twist it around (you couldn’t take it off)

So I stuck with Apple.
But the more we traveled the more I started to be frustrated by having to bring a laptop, a tablet, a wacom etc. But the alternatives weren’t that good. Microsoft released the Surface which I loved and tested but send back for the simple reason it was too limiting with ports and I felt the screen was just a bit too small for a full laptop replacement, and editing video…. well ok it was not meant for that.

When Apple started to go “crazy” by removing all the legacy ports, adding a weird keyboard and taking away the card reader I knew this was going to end for me. When I teach I had to bring a MBP, Wacom tablet, dongles to connect my wacom and HDMI projector/screen, a dongle to shoot tethered (at that time there were no USB-c tethering solutions that worked stable) plus the pricing….. well ok I think you know what I mean.

Now I have to say… don’t get me wrong I have absolutely no problem with paying a premium price for a premium product, I do have a huge problem by being forced to pay a high premium price and be stuck with a laptop that is slightly lighter but a whole bag with accessories and dongles to make it work.

The Dell story
So exit Apple, enter Dell.
I choose the XPS series from Dell, gorgeous laptops with an amazing screen, HDMI, Legacy ports, USBc, cardreader etc.
PLUS…. on site service (which I needed twice in 2 years and both times was a delight), my Apple was repaired under warranty three times and all those times I was without a laptop for 1-2 weeks, which is a disaster over here.

The Dell was a delight to work with, it edited 4K video pretty good, although final cut proX is still the king in my opinion, but with the latest updates to Premiere and the free Resolve it’s now not really that I miss FCPx anymore (but still it is a great piece of software).

The thing I didn’t really like about the Dell was the screen…. ok I loved the screen but it’s a touch screen and in all honesty…. well I did use it for browsing and zooming in on images etc. but….. well it didn’t have a digitizer so editing on the screen was a no go. And after years and years with Apple I did miss the touchpad sometimes, the Dell is ok, but it’s not a macbook pro touchpad. And finally…. opening the lid with one hand is still very nice.

But I was very satisfied and bought the new Dell 9570. Now some people will think “why buy a new laptop when the old one is still great”… yeah I understand that question, but realize that I use a laptop several hours on daily basis, and when travelling it’s my workhorse, if I can shave off a total of 30 minutes a day due to slightly faster rendering, editing, etc. it means I can actually sleep 30 minutes longer, during travel I never ever have the time to just relax in front of a tv or outside, I have to edit the images, do my social media, edit video, upload it etc. so every minute saved is welcome, plus a 1 year old laptop is always worth more than a 2 year old when selling it, so I always upgrade.

The Microsoft story
After almost 2 years with Dell laptops there are a few things I love and a few things I would love to see.

I’ve always told people when the iPad pro was released that I would love to see apple creating a powerbase running MacOs, a solid keyboard where you click in the iPad pro and it would function as a display and take it off and function as a tablet. Now this has many disadvantages but for me while travelling it would mean I could just leave my laptop at home and only bring an iPad pro and powerbase.

Well……
I wasn’t that far off it seemed with my ideas, however Microsoft actually created my dream machine.

A very powerful base machine with keyboard and touchpad and powerful 1060 GPU, and a very powerful tablet with an onboard videocard. And the cool thing…. they belong together. Not like the previous surface products where you have a keyboard that connects to a tablet (like the iPad pro, only than running full windows) no…. this is in essence a 100% laptop powerhouse, but… you can detach the screen and when disconnected it just continues to run what you’re doing on it’s own battery and GPU. And you can even put the display back on the base reversed to have a solid stand for consuming video or giving presentations etc. But hey you know the concept, the device has been out for a while, so let’s dive in to my personal opion.

It all falls down with keyboards and touch pads
Let’s be honest you can have the best laptop in the world but if the keyboard and touch-pad is bad you can literally throw it out. When I travel I type a LOT, and I edit a lot with the touch pad, so both have to be preferably the best on the market.

Let’s start with the keyboard.
The keyboard is very nice, I like the travel, and have typed on it now for a few hours and still feel it’s very solid and just types great, on the Dell I sometimes miss type on the Surface book 2 it hardly happens. Compare this to the NEW macbook pro keyboard and it’s a night and day difference (I just hate that keyboard).

The touch-pad is a little bit reverse.
I still feel absolutely nothing on the market can beats the multi-touch touch-pads on the NEW mac book pros, but that being said, the Surface book 2 touch pad is without a doubt the next best thing, the touch pad is simply amazing, it’s very responsive, an where with the Dell I sometimes by accident (yes even after two years) deselect text instead of just letting go, on the surface book 2 after the first minutes I felt right back at “home” with the Mac Book pro. Multi-gestures I still feel Apple wins, but for everyday normal use (and heavy use for that) the Surface book 2 and NEW MacBookPro are very close.

But there is more
Another really vital thing is of course weight.
No-one wants to be carrying around a piece of wall in a large bag. Now I’m always a bit different from other reviewers. I don’t really care if a laptop is 100 grams lighter or more heavy, but I do care if it fits in my bag, the bag is already heavy so having 100 grams more or less…… pffff doesn’t matter. I love the MacBook and Dell for the simple reason it fits my bag, and also the Surface Book 2 fits the bag but that being said….. the Dell has a 15.6″ screen with almost no bezels, the Surface book 2 has a 15″ screen with normal bezels but still the Dell is smaller than the Surface book 2, but as said before they all fit my bag so I’m fine with that.

Also battery life is vital.
I don’t trust specs at all, working in the field is totally different, I can run down a Dell XPS9570 in less than 60 minutes while according to the specs I can run it for at least 15 hours under load…. yeah sure and Santa is inside the box ok?

Now in most cases we of course have power you might thing… but in reality this is not the case. When we travel with the RV for workshop tours we do have power on some locations, but on most locations we don’t have 230 only 12 V and that 12 V is more than enough to watch TV, and run the whole RV for 1-2 days without sun (we do have solar), but when you run a laptop that’s rendering…. well forget about watching TV after 2-3 hours. So that’s not an option, so the laptop has to be able to at least make it possible for me to edit the vlog, that has to be uploaded daily when we travel. And both the Surface book 2 and Dell (and also the Macbook) can do that, but all three are out of breath after that. Watching videos and playing patience… well nice on paper but with me the machines work.

Which brings me to the next part.
What if we really run out of steam?
For the Macbook we used an external battery which worked great, for the Dell we used an external Dell battery which worked….. well nah it’s ok but it gave me only about 60% more headroom. For the Surface book 2 I’m going to test some batteries we have here and see how long they will keep the machine running, this is for a later review. But in all honesty, most machines now charge via USBc so I don’t expect any problems.

Long story shorter
Thanks if you’re still reading, I know it’s a long piece but I like to be precise in my reviews. I don’t really like the reviews that just talk about specs for the simple reason that a machine can have killer specs but if the CPU and GPU are throttling all the time you can better use a machine with less specs and you’re faster.

And this actually proofed to be the case yesterday.
It was the first vlog I edited on the surface book 2. At first it went totally wrong, video even on 1/4th resolution was not fluid, it was doable but…. well not really for speed. The problem was very quickly discovered… just install the original Nvidia drivers for the 1060 and it went off….

My Dell is an i9 6 core CPU with a 1050GPU.
One would expect that an i7 4 core would not be as fast…. well there is one more thing… (yeah I know inside joke)…. the GPU on the Surface book 2 is the much more powerful 1060GPU, I was very curious to see what that difference would be, and in all honesty I was a bit surprised and maybe even dissapointed…. the Surface book 2 during editing on the time line was on par with the Dell 9570 i9, sometimes I had the feeling the Dell was slightly faster, but on other things the Surface Book 2 was faster so I think that was just my mind playing tricks. Where I really was surprised was the rendering time. Yesterdays vlog was shot on 4K50 with the DJI Osmo Pocket, I used several color corrections on scenes, a few speedups and the total length of the vlog was just over 20 minutes…. rendering time….. just under 30 minutes. This is freaking fast and much faster than I expected from an i7, and it proofs the point that the GPU is very vital for this. Now I did know this but seeing it in a laptop (where a lot of people claim that the 1060 is not being used to it’s full potential) it’s pretty cool.

Now one could say, did you do both projects on both machines?
No. And that doesn’t have to be done.
Look that’s nice for a youtube video or review to draw people in that will discuss if every setting and driver version was also the same. Not really my thing, I just want to know if the machine does what I do on a daily basis.

But Frank…. before in the review you stated that every minute saved was a minute that’s important… you lost me…

Yeah I expected that one.

Speed is not everything, but it is
Confusing title right?
Well not really
The speed of a machine can be measured in many different ways. One could say that machine 1 renders a video in 20 minutes and machine 2 renders the same project in only 19. Yeah go for machine 2.

However… for me there are some more reasons I’m actually seriously considering the Surface Book 2 for myself.
And this is actually I think the most important part of the review.

There are a few points I absolutely love about the Surface Book 2 over the Dell.

First there is the pen.
For some people a gadget, for others vital.
I fall somewhere in the middle. Yes I can edit almost everything with a GOOD touch-pad, most of my street and travel photography images are edited with the touch pad on the Dell. But… with the Pen I’m much faster, this saves me a lot of time. On the Dell this would mean that I have to attach my Wacom tablet, and in some cases I simply don’t have the room for that. The RV is large enough but a laptop with a tablet does take up some space on the table. And this means that often you just don’t even connect it and just decide to do it quickly with the touch pad.

Same for video editing.
On the Dell I always brought a mouse for the simple reason that working in premiere is very slow with the touch pad, it’s not bad as in BAD, but it is just much faster with a mouse. Which means…. well I have to sit at the table. The touch ped and pen combination on the Surface book 2 makes editing without mouse much easier so that also saves me some time and I take up less space.

Secondly the detachable screen.
I love to work on the coach in the RV, or on the bed in a hotel. Using a laptop with touch-pad is double but it’s far from ergonomic or even comfortable, using a 15″ detachable screen with a proper touch interface combined with a pen…. well time will tell but what I tried now it’s very nice, although still not super comfortable…. it’s more than doable.

And finally time is also saved by setting up.
With the Dell (or MacBook) it’s a matter of getting the lapop, connecting the Wacom, taking out the mousepad and mouse and done. With the Surface book 2 it’s… well taking out the laptop or screen.

Now this might not seem like a big deal, but trust me when the speaker in front of you is running 10 minutes over time and you have to be setting up in less than 5 minutes in a space that can barely hold a bottle of water and a laptop you’re very happy you only have to set up your laptop.

Plus it happened to me countless times that I was not planning on teaching retouching but ended up doing a full session on retouching. And with the surface book 2 you’re always able to do so because you have the pen and screen with you (unless you forget the pen).


So those seconds or minutes lost by slightly faster rendering are won back with ease of use and mostly the pen and touch interface on the detachable screen.

Ok lets go through the negatives
Screen format is one of them. The Dell has a slightly wider and less high screen. For Photoshop I actually still have to test but I think I would give half a point more for the slightly wider screen, you have the menus just a bit more to the side leaving more real estate for landscape shot images, if you mostly shoot portraits it’s the Surface book 2’s screenformat.

For video editing I can be short.
I LOVE the more height, it makes it all a bit more easy to manage.

In essence however it’s mostly taste, both laptops are very close to each other in resolution and if you work with them next to each other like I do now you feel and see the difference, but if you don’t you probably wonder what I’m talking about.

The one REAL negative thing for me personally is however that I miss the HDMI port. I teach a lot on location and I always have to connect to projectors or screens and having on board HDMI is just so easy, now I have to carry around at least 2 dongles to make sure I always have a working solution (over the years we found out that sometimes there can one dongle that works, and one that doesn’t on SOME screens, do realize I connect to a LOT of screens)

Than finally one that does have me worried A LOT.
Warranty.
Now don’t get me wrong, warranty is warranty, if something happens you are by law covered. But when I look at Dell with their onsite service that really is something that has a huge appeal on me. When I use my laptop occasionally or as a hobby/semi pro device I would not really be worried, if you can be without your laptop for a week, don’t even consider this an option, but if you work 24/7 on your laptop and really can’t be without it…. well …. let’s hope Microsoft will offer something similar to Dell with for example a 2 day return warranty or whatever.

Can the Surface book 2 be improved?
yeah of course, it would be ridiculous if I said it was perfect.
I would love to see a Surface book 2 with the new CPUs (which will undoubtedly be released this or next year).

For a real workhorse approach I would love to see a real TB3 port instead of just USB-C, this makes it possible to attach external GPUs and that’s really where the market is going to. Laptops on the road that are fast, connect them in the studio to an external GPU and they are insanely fast.

Pricing
Now the first thing people tell me….
“Man that thing is expensive, the XXXX is much cheaper and has the same or better specs”

Yep you are right, the Surface Book 2 is not cheap.
On the other hand……
Add to your laptop the price of a Wacom Intous small, and if you want to do it fair a 15″ cintiq or an alternative, the cheapest touch display pen displays add 399.00 to your price. Now I know this is not really fair because you can do proper retouching with a 70.00 pen tablet but still you have to add this, and this also adds bulk and weight when travelling.

Pricing however is also fair I think for the fact that you get two machines in one, a tablet PC and a full blown laptop. PLUS of course the design, it’s build like a rock and the machine just breathes quality. From the touchpad to the keyboard and the case it all feels like it withstand anything a MacBookPro or Dell could withstand, in fact I think it’s a class above the build quality of the Dell. Let alone most other PC laptops.

Conclusion one
The Surface book 2 is NOT a machine for the hobbyist, although feel free to get it, you’ll love it.
The Surface book 2 is a dream machine for people like me. Educators that travel a lot, but also love to be able to work in any location without sacrificing quality or speed. Add to this the versatility of the pen, touch and detachable screen and you can quickly see that although it’s not a steal, Microsoft actually has a very solid solution for a very reasonable price.

Quality is something you pay for.
Being able to do anything with just one machine is absolutely priceless for me, and with the progress being made with Windows 10 (ok the last release was kind of a disaster, that’s why you never upgrade a production machine) the market for creatives will find more and more solutions that simply work better on the Windows platform than on the competitors.

The future
Microsoft is working very hard to integrate phone communication into the OS and in all honesty with the last upgrade it works pretty awesome with my Android phone, I actually do more than I can do with an iPhone (although Apples solutions still look sleeker, they are much more limited)

Seeing the progress made with Android phones for video and Photography and the fact that Microsoft actually calls their operating system “Creators update” and are heavily investing in making that seamless connection between phones and their OS work better every single release, gives me great hope for the future.

Add to this their own releases of the Surface series and the absolutely breathtaking Studio computers makes it more and more clear that Microsoft is going for the creators, because let’s be honest… being able to create when YOU want is the final piece in the creative process. You don’t want to be limited in any way.

The Surface book 2 in my opinion is the best companion someone like me could have.

Hensel views and thoughts on a new system

If you’ve been following my social media stream and youtube channel you probably already know that after many years being active as an ambassador for Elinchrom I’ve made the switch to Hensel. Let me first explain why this is.

In short, not a bad word about Elinchrom, they’ve been amazing and helped my career without any doubt and I still consider all of the dealers and head-office as close personal friends, and this will not change. Over the past year I’ve been in talks with Hensel USA and I feel that at the moment they are more in sync with what I want and need for both giving you guys a platform to learn and also the gear I use to create my work. But as you guys know I’m incredibly brand loyal and leaving a brand I’ve been in so close contact with from the start is very hard so it took us over a year to make the final decision but both Annewiek and I decided that Hensel is the company that first and foremost has the gear that I strongly believe will open up loads of creativity for photographers in almost every genre of photography, plus I’ve seen what’s coming and that made the switch A LOT easier to say it gently. Add to this the drive at Hensel to push education, help out with events and you immediately see why I’m so enthusiastic.

Photography is creating art, but also inspiration and education.
Hensel is a company that is willing to help me reach more people to help out with their photography, inspire and work with, in the end that’s the most important part for me as an educator, and I also believe it’s one of the most key elements in a brand, education and inspiration is key.

But that’s from my standpoint as an educator…. now why should YOU buy/switch or even look at Hensel. That’s of course the million dollar question. So I decided to make this blog post as a start in series of articles/reviews in both print and video. And don’t worry… it’s not an advertisement thingy, you guys know I never talk about gear that way because in essence there’s only one thing that counts…. how does the gear makes it easier for you to create your art and push new boundaries.

So here we go.
In this blog post I will give you some pointers on the system.
Do remember I’ve been shooting with Hensel for quite some time, one of my friends owns a studio that is 100% Hensel and I’ve taught some workshops there also the weeks before the switch I’ve worked with their gear, so it’s not something I write down after 2 workshops (heck I wouldn’t switch if I didn’t know the system well enough).

First off the mount
The mount is the best ever.
How often do you struggle with getting your heavy softbox on your strobe, or how often do you find out that it was not securely fastened with all the dangers connected (or not connected, pun intended). In the past I’ve worked a lot with Profoto gear and always loved the simplicity of their mount, but the Hensel mount ranks right up there. It’s a very simple and fast mount, you just pull a lever, put the modifier in and release the lever and well that’s it. And added VERY big advantage is that you can rotate every single modifier with ease. Especially great with striplights.

Here you can see the mount on an Integra, you can see the clamps and the lever on top, it’s really an incredibly easy and fast system. Especially when you change modifiers a lot (like me) this is a major strong point.

The reflectors
Reflectors are often regarded as the most basic modifiers but in essence they are very sophisticated. Did you know for example that choosing the right reflector outside can literally mean that you can twice as long on a battery pack?

Reflectors bundle the light and throw it on your subject.
If you look at my work you already know I love the high contrast look. You can achieve this with for example Fresnels, small softboxes with grids, but the best modifier for this look is for me personally the reflector (with or without grid). The cool thing about Hensel is that their reflectors are very prone to focussing the light right on the subject and are rather deep, meaning you get an amazing quality of light from them. Add to this the 14″ reflector which will give you a very focused beam of light outside plus a lot of extra power from your strobe and you see the reason why I actually ordered a selection of reflectors to play with.

The disadvantage of reflectors is that they are often, as people expect, a bit too harsh, too wide etc. The ones I got are actually the opposite and I think I’ll be using more reflectors than in the past for the simple reason they have an amazing focus and throw. It really fits my style perfectly. Add to this a nice selection of grids that is available for all of them and you can do whatever you want. (added bonus…. reflectors are actually often the cheapest modifiers, and therefore often overlooked by both the user and the manufacturer).

 

Grids
I love to have total light control and of the key elements for this is being able to steer the light. The best aid for this is called a grid or as some people like to call it a Honey Comb grid. Now in all honesty for most softboxes and reflectors you can get grids, but in a lot of cases these grids are not made for these modifiers and can cost you an arm and a leg plus extra work. For all the modifiers that I use Hensel actually already had grids so I could order them all from one location and they all fit the modifiers like a glove. Especially for softboxes and striplights this is a huge deal, but also for the 14″ reflector this was a delight.

Easy battery replacements
This might sound like a “Yeah… well what do you mean” kind of thing.
But try to replace a battery in the freezing cold or blistering heat, some battery systems are far from perfect. Now I won’t say that something is perfect but the Hensel comes pretty darn close. Take a look at the picture of the Porty for example. You just click and pull and it’s out and you can charge it in little over 2 hours. That sounds not that impressive but…. this a 1200W strobe which actually packs 300-350 pops on full power.

 

 

Remote
The remote is simple but works.
You can select 3 groups and with a small but easy to use switch you can select 1-2-3 or all.
Via the remote you can change the output of each strobe and turn the modelling light on or off plus trigger the strobe for a test. As far as I can see now the performance is very good but let’s be honest now a days a remote should indeed just work, the time of line of sight or shoot 10 and miss 2 should be way behind us.

This is probably the only thing I’m really gonna miss from the Elinchrom system, the new Skyport system is incredibly handy in the way that you can see all the strobes (if compatible) and you can easily change outputs. But changes are coming I’ve heard.

The thing that I do really like is the alternative remote control called the “wifi remote”.
This is very cool and would be great for people that do a lot of fixed setups where they have multiple strobes and want to be able to just switch between sets, let’s say only the back, only the front, a mix with sides etc. etc. you can store presets and call them back incredibly easily.

We actually mounted a small android tablet on a Tethertools holder and have the software running you can see all the strobes and changing settings is fast and easy. The cool thing is that due to two way communication if you change something on the remote you can see it also on the wifi remote. For my kind of work it’s cool but it’s not a necessity, I’ll have to see if I still use it after a few months, but again for other setups that use more fixed setups this is absolutely awesome.

Speed, speed, and did I already say speed…..
At the moment we have 3 expert 500D strobes in the studio and those are crazy fast, and I mean crazy fast. Yesterday we shot with some cameras that handle 14 frames per second and they didn’t even blink or missed shots and trust me that was not on a lower power setting. I’ve done similar tests on other systems and although for example the ELCs are real speed demons too they don’t have the short flash duration of the expert 500D.

Now of course you have the flash duration that the manufacturer tells you, but in all honesty you can just forget about those. The faster the flash duration the more stopping/freezing power and the crispier your shot so it’s important to really “hype” that speed.

In all honesty if your strobes are above 1/2500 of a second you’re fine. You can use it for freezing motion with hairs and jumps, but just don’t expect to have perfect frozen “everything” but you’re fine. I always held 1/2500 as the bare minimum for what I wanted. It gets really interesting when you break that 1/5000 barrier. Images get a certain crisp or micro contrast whatever you want to call it but it just looks different. And when you let a model move the motion is frozen perfectly.

Now comes the “not so fun” part.
Often manufacturers will claim insanely high flash durations but they don’t tell you that it only works at the lowest power setting… which well is absolutely useless because you can’t make a model jump and shoot her on f2.8 ISO400 there simply isn’t enough depth of field to have focus correctly. For a portrait it will work but a jump or movement will never be spot on when you don’t have some field of focus where the model can move in. So you need that stopping power on at least half and preferably even on full power. The last two workshops I’ve used my Sekonic 858 in the “metering speed mode” and I’ve actually never seen the Experts drop below 1/4000 of a second, but I’ve metered a top speed on 1/12000 (that’s insane) and that was not on the lowest setting but I believe somewhere at slightly above midpoint. Next week I’ll do a small test with the Sekonic and make a video on this.

Now you might say that this is only important when you freeze motion, but please read the first part again. It’s very hard to explain but you really see a difference between a really fast strobe and a slower one. The images just come out a bit more crisp. For me this is perhaps one of the points where I’m most enthusiastic about.

Build quality
For most people not that important, for some very important so I’m just gonna say it.
They’re build like fricking tanks. Same goes for the Porty and it’s heads, you just know it will be with you for years and if you drop it…. well don’t but if it happens… you can probably just continue shooting like nothing happens (no I’m not gonna try it). And to be fair in all these years I only dropped an Elinchrom a few times and they always continued working I only broke off a handle once. But I’ve seen some other brands that literally scattered in a million pieces after a very low drop.

But it’s not only the strobes. The softboxes, reflectors, grids etc. they all look like they will last years and years.
Giving the pricepoint of the modifiers I think this is a great selling point. It’s not cheap, but compared to the build quality of only slightly lowered priced alternatives there is a huge difference that would be well worth the investment.

Soft-boxes
I’ve mostly ordered the soft-boxes in the grand series because I just LOVE deep octas. And I think that with the 85 for location, 90 and 120 you can do almost anything when you combine them with grids. If you need bigger there’s also a 190 Grande, but I think I would hardly use that one myself, but if you’re into more softer and broad light that one would be absolutely awesome. Oh and there is one thing I do have to add concerning the soft-boxes. You probably know that most deep octas have a diffusion panel on the inside and outside right? Well these also have that of course but the inner diffusion panel is actually a translucent reflector which can actually help you out on location when you want to shoot with ambient light… just take out the diffuser and use it like you would normally use a reflector…. awesome idea.

I also ordered two 30-120 strips with grids by the way, just in case you wanted to know.

Beauty dish
One of the modifiers I use most is the beauty dish, it’s a sort of “it will always work” modifier.
I’ve always used the Elinchrom beautydish for a lot of my work and really liked it, but it was not one of the most “refined” modifiers. In essence it’s just a dish with a deflector and a one sized grid. I tried the larger beautydish a few times but never liked it and always returned to the smaller silver one.

The beauty dish from Hensel is something you really should check out. I was deeply impressed the first time I saw it.
It’s not just a dish with a deflector but it actually has some really well thought out light modifiers inside and the deflector part also has a holder for a gel which will come in incredibly handy because I love to use gels. Where some modifiers don’t differ that much the Beauty dish really is a HUGE step up for me.

I love modifiers that are versatile and this is a really well though out modifier.
But I can talk about it… let’s just see some images.
I actually ordered the silver one. There is also a grid that covers the complete dish by the way.
Want a lot of looks from one modifier?
Well here you go.

 

Compositing
Not really my thing “yet” for the simple reason I simply don’t take the time to spend hours extracting hairs. But if that would be easier…. well I would really like to play with it some times like for example with our cos-players, or what if you’re shooting children or working as a school or event photographer. Wouldn’t it be cool to just take a shot and not think about it and get a “perfect” cut out in Photoshop ready to placed on a backdrop (or even better, in the case of events, just do it automatically)?

Well enter… freemask
You do need strobes that are compatible, and you do need a special remote (and optional software, although you can also do it in Photoshop yourself). But when you invest in the remote and you already have compatible strobes (most Hensel gear is freemask compatible) it’s incredibly simple.

In short you use two groups.
One you just light your subject the way that you want.
The second one lights the backdrop.
Now when you shoot you shoot 2 frames (set camera on continues)
First the front will fire, and secondly the backdrop.
Now you have your model and a silhouette.
Do some magic and voila you have a perfect cut out.
Yep it’s that easy.

Again this is not a selling point for me, but I can imagine that if you’re indeed into shooting events, cos-players, schools, families etc. this is a HUGE money maker, but also for commercial photographers of course, no more money spend on extraction just shoot it and you’re done, well ok that sounds too easy of course, you still have to make sure the backdrop and subject fit together like shadows, lighting, composition, angle etc. but the extraction part went from “complicated and timely” to literally one shot.

Final thoughts
pffffff, I was planning on writing down just some thoughts and I ended up with a huge story, so sorry for this guys but I just wanted to be complete and while writing more and more ideas popped up, and I think that’s the incredibly cool thing about this, a brand that moves you, that literally pushes your buttons and gives you more ideas to get more creative that’s what in the end we all want. Take for example that freemask option, I started writing that it was not really for me, but while writing all these ideas popped up and now I also ordered a freemask remote… so let’s see what happens with that.

Now if this was the first time you heard about Hensel…. ok well…. I forgive you.
It’s a brand that has been on the market since 1963 and was the choice for many professional photographers for decades and watch my words you’ll hear a lot about them in the coming months, they have a very exciting strobe that is about to be released in the form of the Foris 400/800 which would be the perfect strobe for shooters that work both on location and in the studio and want to make absolutely no compromise on quality and easy of use or speed or…. well just check out the Foris here and that’s just the start, so keep your eyes out for updates.

Want to know more?
Of course you want.

I started a facebook group on https://www.facebook.com/groups/273169130099901/ for English
Or a Dutch page that is actually run by the Dutch distributor https://www.facebook.com/groups/442891952854692/

Find Hensel at : https://hensel.eu/en/
And the official Dutch distributor at : https://www.hensel-studiotechniek.nl/

If you have any questions… feel free to ask.
If you want me to test certain things just let me know.

Here are two BTS videos we shot from the first two workshops with Hensel
https://youtu.be/hgKUeWc4klM
https://youtu.be/R9nfyNBoKU4

And a small selection of the first series of photos shot with Hensel.

The passion for photography itself

We all know that photography is cool.
We all know that taking images is one of the best things.
And we all know that downloading that card and looking at the great shots you took (after selecting) is incredibly satisfying…. but…. what if you do that day in and day out… does it still motivate you? does it still make you go WOW?

Well if I can answer that for myself… yes it does.
But what is it that really pushes me forward, what is that thing that makes me enjoy photography even more.

Let’s start at the beginning.
Good gear is great, I shoot with the Sony A7RIII and mostly Sony lenses in the Gmaster series, and I can tell you those lenses are absolutely awesome, razor sharp, “perfect” colors and it’s just…. well almost perfection, the AF is amazingly fast, and you hardly miss a shot. And because the zooms are that good you don’t really need primes anymore… remember it’s all about the shot. So we have the “perfect” gear, but is that enough?

Believe it or not… it’s not
This might come as a shock for you guys, but having the “perfect” gear makes it easy to get the shot… you could almost say… “it’s boring”. Now don’t get me wrong, when I don’t have to think about my gear and I know everything will do what I want it to do I can focus for the full 100% on making the shot. This is what I do commercially, take the shot and take the best possible, without having to say “well ok… you know… this one is perfect… but…. well it’s out of focus, but this one is almost as good and that one is in focus” NO you don’t want that right?

However when it comes to free work, I change… a lot.

RZ67ProII
Man oh man…
I always told people that if I had to select one camera in the world to give the label “the PERFECT” studio camera it’s without a doubt the RZ67ProII. I sometimes make the joke that when I’m depressed I go to the studio, grab the RZ and just cock the shutter and let it go, cock the shutter and let it go…. do this 5 times and your day will be bright again….. and trust me it’s true. This camera is a beast. Focusing is done via a bellows focus (so make sure you check this when buying) and the 6×7 medium format frame size is breathtaking, same goes for when you look through the viewfinder… pfffff one minute I have to grab it again

Ok back to reality.
You can get these cameras pretty cheap on ebay but don’t expect anything below let’s say $700.00 that you can actually use.
Preferred way of shooting is with 120 color positive film or high ASA black and white, it’s a dream. The lenses are so sharp and 3D that even with a digital back (I use the Credo60) the images stand up next to the most modern cameras with the best lenses. If you want to go crazy try to get a polaroid back for it, you will be hooked (yes it’s that good). For portraits I would not know of a better camera. For the studio… these cameras are not for the people without muscles to take outside or even handheld shooting (even I use a tripod).

Leica R4
This is my camera for outside work.
When I travel it’s this camera, or the Yashica Mat (later more).
What can I say, it’s a workhorse, the meter is very accurate, loading film is a breeze, it’s rock solid and the viewfinder is awesome, although I would prefer a softer eyecup (still trying to find one….. help?). Now Leica of course is well known for their lenses (and the fabulous M series, which I can’t afford, but would love to shoot one day), and the R lenses are great. I own the 50mm, 28mm, 135mm and recently bought a 100mm macro f4 (not the F2.8), these lenses render great wide open and have a great color rendition, which is awesome when you shoot film that loves reds and oranges, I recently shot some film in China Town in NY and absolutely loved the outcome (will post some next week, when the BW is also done).

You can get these cameras relatively cheap, think about $500.00 for a complete starter kit with the R4 and 50mm f2.0 which would be the one I would start with. But beware…. some people ask ridiculous prices for Leica glass, so make sure you do your home work, for the R4 for example you don’t need the latest version of the lenses, but you can actually get the much cheaper older versions (cam versions they are called).

Yashica Mat 124
Now we are going back in time.
I always call this camera my ice breaker.
It’s the Leica R4 or the Yashica I travel with, it’s a shame my light meter doesn’t work anymore otherwise I would have been using the Yashica a lot more on the street.

The Mat 124 is a twin reflex camera meaning you have two lenses, one you look through and one you take the shot with, it’s pretty simple but beware that is a slight change, so don’t crop to tight… yeah made that mistake sometimes myself. The outcome might surprise you. When scanned properly you end up with a USABLE resolution of anywhere between 40-50MP, if you have a good scanner and good film that is.

So why the icebreaker?
Well, when you want to shoot someone on the street and you aproach them with this camera, they will hardly ever say “no” in fact they will start the conversation and that’s a good start for a great photo.

Polaroid
I still have one of these.
You can fold it up and take it with you and shoot some cool polaroids…. if you’re into that.
In all honesty I still have a lot of film, but when I’m through with it… I won’t buy more, I love shooting film but polaroid somehow gives me a lot of headaches, the film I have often sticks together, I have to keep in my pocket to develop and well…. it’s just not worth it I think. Sorry if I offended some polaroid lovers, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s still cool but it’s also pretty expensive.

rrem

The Techart module
Ok… now this might sound weird in this list, but this one gave me SO much fun in my photography again.
I LOVE old lenses, Leica R, M42, Pentax, Minolta they all have unique looks, and don’t even start about how the lenses themselves look, it’s so cool. Now all these lenses are manual focus lenses, and let’s be honest modern cameras are not build for manual focus lenses, I remember how frustrated I was when I tried a lens baby for the first time on my Canon, using live view did help, but when the cameras with EVF appeared and got peaking this is when it got really handy and easy. Before that I had to change my focusscreen to a screen that was designed for manual focus, and that…. needed a correction in exposure… long story short… it worked but it was a bit of work.

With the Sony using manual focus is a breeze, you can zoom in, you have peaking, it’s pretty awesome… but it’s still manual focus. Enter the Techart (btw thanks to cameraland.nl for lending me one) with this module you can make almost any manual focus able lens—-auto focus. It’s actually quite simple, they just use the adapter to move the lens forward and backward, creating a perfectly focus able lens. Up to 50mm you don’t have to do anything, above 50 you have to pre focus a little bit and than just leave it there. Now you can use those cool lenses on your new camera, and it doesn’t only look cool (I love the Zebra lenses) but the images are stunning to say the least, especially if you like lens-flares and light-fall off and wonky colors and weird bokeh (or gorgeous bokeh, depending on the lens)

I did a whole video on the Techart, which you can find here.

 

Conclusion
Photography is incredibly cool and loads of fun, but sometimes it can be incredibly handy to stop, take a step back and ask yourself “what do you REALLY like about photography?” is it just taking the images? or is it also the fun of working with the gear, for me it always has been about a combination, as far back as I can remember I always wanted to try new things, sometimes people ask me how I keep myself motivated… well that’s it, I always try new things. When tethering was hardly done….. I just the video out of my camera to hook it up to a monitor, and when we got tethering solutions I tried the wifi grip (which I returned because it was SOOOO slow).

I don’t care if it’s new software, hardware, lenses or whatever I just love to experiment with things. And most of the time by experimenting with new gear it will give you new ideas. And let’s be honest if you’ve shot manual or primes for a week and you go back to full AF with super fast modern glass….. it becomes so easy to be faster than before. I sometimes compare it to an athlete, train under heavy circumstances and when the day is there you will have it much easier because you are used to much worse. So if you have to run 10K, train for 15K, if you run on sea level, train on above sea level. I never got faster times on my bike than when I returned from Mexico, I was so tired the first two days over there, we live below sea level and this was WAY above sea level, but man I was fast when I came back, any way… you get the general idea.

It’s not only fun and creative but you also train your skills. What more to wish for?

 

Scanning
Now when you shoot film you of course have to get the stuff into the computer.
In the past (1-2 years ago) I developed everything myself, C41, E6 and BW, but to be honest I’ve lost interest, chemicals have to be replaced and are pretty hard to get rid off and to get and when I compare the work to bringing the roll to the local “hema” which developes it for $2.50 well…. I will wait for a few days and know it’s done for me.

Scanner wise I can advise the following two solutions.

Epson V800
An amazing scanner, it’s fast and it does a pretty good job with negatives.
However this is a pretty expensive scanner, so also check out the V600 which does a good job too for little under $300.00 this is I think the best scanner to start with because it does everything and does a great job.

Reflecta MF5000
A real beast of a scanner, takes negatives and slides and also MF film. In all honesty if you want top notch quality without really breaking the bank this is the one. Now online the MF5000 is a bit hard to find, it’s an older scanner but it still works like a charm, there are some alternatives which are supposed to be just as good (or slightly better) from Plustek, so make sure to check them out.

 

 

 

Software
As with everything a scanner is “just” a scanner, although that’s not 100% true.
The software packaged with your scanner is often good enough, but if you want to really push the limits of what’s possible make sure to check out our friends from Silverfast. This is without a doubt the software I always go back to when I have to scan something, it’s incredibly flexible, it has a little bit of a learning curve, but when you take the time you will be stunned what it can bring out of your film.

Get Silverfast here and get a cool discount of 20% when you use SFdoorhof as coupon.
Get the Epson V600 here
Get the Epson V800 here
I can’t find the Reflecta MF5000 at Amazon, but this could be a good alternative 

 

Final thoughts
WOW you made it to the end, thanks man. (nothing on Netflix tonight) just kidding.
Challenging yourself is the best way to improve, so let me challenge you.
Send me your best images you shot on film, polaroid or whatever and in the next digital classroom I’ll do a whole section on film….. you know what…. I’ll dedicate a smaller episode all to film. Use the email address info@frankdoorhof.com for your images. Feel free to leave comments below.

Dell XPS 9570 Part II

Welcome to part II of my small overview of the Dell XPS 9570. (find part I here)
If you know my reviews you know I don’t like to give you a whole review about specs you can already read online and explain stuff you already know, we are all busy right, so I like to focus on the things that matter and be quick about it so you guys can continue your everyday work…. and that’s just what this is about.

 

The need for more speed… in perspective
I loved my MacBook Pro, in fact, I thought it was the best laptop ever… and it was.
But over time you start to wonder… is there more. I played a few times with the older Surface series from Microsoft and knew… “this is what I want” why carry a Wacom tablet with me if I can retouch on the laptop itself, it’s so much handier when travelling. But….. although I loved the Surface series I did encounter some problems at that time, including the fact that they didn’t make a 15.6″ one.

When Apple decided to seriously cripple their MacBook Pro and I ran into a problem which was solved by Apple but took my laptop away for a few days I knew it was time to change. Not having all my ports and a card reader really closed the door for me on Apple. I needed something else. Seeing that I already switched to a PC as a test in the studio and really didn’t find any “real” problems with the switch I decided it was time for a PC laptop and I decided that it needed to be 15.6″, touch screen, preferably with a digitizer, on-site service so I didn’t need to wait when something went wrong and of course ports and a card reader… enter my first Dell XPS 9560.

The machine performed like a champ. We travel a lot and I only needed onsite service twice, and both times they repaired everything in our studio on the spot so I could continue.

So why when the XPS 9560 was so good to switch to the XPS 9570?

The perspective of speed (here it comes)
In all honestly I love the fact if rendering goes a little bit faster, but I do have to say that the difference between rendering a video in 20 minutes or 15 minutes doesn’t really make me jump from joy and spend another 3 grand on a laptop, that would be the most expensive 5 minutes saved ever.

To be fair, if you just use your laptop for Lightroom, Photoshop, Premiere, Capture One etc. at home or in the studio the XPS 9560 will do just fine, it’s a beast. However I’m always pushing time. A workshop day means up at 8:00 AM, to the studio to open the Vlog and do some work, teach the workshop, 16:00-16:30 do the final retouch and backups, go home to edit the vlog, upload the vlog and brush up my social media and emails and hopefully done by 21:00 for a movie with Annewiek.

These are the “normal” days.
When travelling, add to this home at 20:00, editing all images from that day, editing the vlog, uploading, doing all the other work etc. Hopefully in bed at 0:00 but most of the times it’s much later… but at 08:00 we want to go out again. Yeah…. well, I love my job but sometimes it’s a long day 🙂

So that 5 minutes faster rendering doesn’t really do it for me although it does help.
However the faster editing on the timeline, the faster previews in Lightroom/Capture one, the MUCH faster performance of exporting from Lightroom/Capture One, the MUCH faster preview rendering from apps like Alien Skin Exposure, and again the MUCH faster exporting back to Lightroom from these plugins/apps….. Sorry, I said MUCH so many times with capitals, but…. it’s really a lot faster than the i7 1050 XPS 9560.

Now again… when you work at home and have time I honestly couldn’t really care less.
The XPS 9560 handles my 60MP and 42MP files without a problem, it edits 4K video on the timeline without hiccups, but….. the i9 XPS 9570 adds to this that even when I speed up clips, add some tinting and edits the timeline feels a lot smoother, again it’s not that the XPS 9560 stutters but you sometimes have to press space to stop and start again after you leave an edited clip, also when using auto-duck the leveling and key-frame generation is a lot faster on the i9.

 

Real life experience
This Saturday it was time to do the first real edit in Premiere Pro on the XPS 9570 and it was a good experience, what I hoped for and a bit expected. The XPS 9570 is buttery smooth with 4K material from the Sony A7RII/D6500 and even when I correct the files (tint) and sped up certain scenes it just kept going through them on the timeline without any hesitation.

I also worked on some images in Lightroom and Capture One, and also there the speed difference is more than noticeable, I don’t want to say the machine flies… but it actually does. Now again… it’s cool that an export is like 5 minutes faster (15 minutes instead of 20), but… it’s the combination of everything added together that makes this a no-brainer upgrade when you’re like me always juggling with time. Add all those little speed increases together and I won’t say you save an hour a day… but it does all feel a lot faster and smoother.

For example.
I love to record videos with Camtasia, it’s just a simple screen recording. Exporting from Camtasia seems to have sped up with 50%, seeing that these videos are often done for my Patreon site, students, YT videos, clients etc. every minute I save on those exports is awesome and very welcome. So when you add the whole workflow together it’s very simple to see why I’m so over the moon with the new XPS 9570, it does make a dent in my workflow time, and for that it’s a solid highly recommended label in my book.

 

Is it perfect?
Well is anything perfect…. well no.
The XPS 9570 is pretty darn close to being the perfect laptop.
What I really miss is that digitizer part, add this to the new XPS and I’m more than willing to call it the perfect laptop, the lower placed webcam… well I’m tall anyway so people are used to looking up to me (I got this joke from someone else).

At home, I plug the machine into a USB-C adaptor which gives me network, more USB and one extra USB-C. Dell also has a cool dock which is better I think but I got this one for less than $100.00 and it works so far, but if it breaks down I think I’m going to try the Dell solution. One thing I HIGHLY recommend with the XPS series is this little miracle…..https://amzn.to/2lhXc2t it’s the power companion and is, in essence, an external battery specially designed for the Dell laptops.
It keeps the laptop running in the field for at least 60-65% longer and that often is just the difference between shutting down just before the end of a shoot or ending with 30-35% left on the battery.

Conclusion for now
I still have to work with the laptop more to really find out how it keeps performing but for now I’m very happy with the increase in speed, and as mentioned before, it’s really hard sometimes for people to judge speed increase. On almost all reviews you see comparisons with the same project and rendering speeds. And although that does tell you a lot, it doesn’t really tell you how much easier and more comfortable it is to work on a faster machine, those 5 minutes rendering time saved doesn’t really compare to the minutes saved everywhere in your workflow, and the sheer smoothness gained from the XPS 9560 to XPS 9570.

For creators that are always under time stress…. run out and get one. Also when you shoot a lot outside (the new screen jumped from 300 to 400 nits)
For people that just want to edit 4K video without problems, work on images in Lightroom/Photoshop/Capture One etc. I would highly recommend to check out the Dell laptops, the form factor and sheer performance is VERY hard to beat I think.

Now if the idea of a 2 in 1 really appeals to you… you might check out the XPS 9575 which is a truly remarkable machine. I didn’t have the pleasure to work with one, but it was high on my list, until I decided that for video the XPS 9570 would be better for me… IF I would not be editing video I think the 9575 would be my weapon of choice, it looks absolutely gorgeous.

Get the Dell XPS here, and also support our work.
For the XPS 9575 check this link
Get the Power Companion here

 

I’m not connected to Dell and paid full retail on the XPS 9570.