Wednesday, September 07, 2011
1. Because you can. The Coolpix P7000 hot shoe will take all Nikon speedlights.
2. To dress up the Coolpix. Add some paparazzi panache for your street photography. (Of course you lose the stealth factor, but you shouldn't be sneaking up on people anyhow.)
3. It's lighter than putting a Speedlight on a DSLR. Which, given the P7000's capabilities you might not need to lug around anyhow, especially when traveling.
4. Using fill flash with high-speed sync in bright daylight with something more substantial than the emergencies-only onboard flash.A real boon for fill flash in bright daylight at wide apertures is the P7000's ability to sync at 1/2000 -- much faster than most DSLRs, and that's with full power output, too. With the onboard flash, however, you have to be pratically in a subject's face. With an attached speedlight, you can shoot pleasing portraits with a soft background in bright sunlight -- or you can use it to tame the shadows on a sunny day at the farmers' market. Or any place where you need more firepower
5. Using bounce flash with a point-and-shoot. The biggest drawback of the built-in flash of most point-and-shoots is that it can't be used for bounce flash. Sure, you can rig up some sort of little reflector, but the flash simply isn't powerful enough to illuminate a room at a reasonable ISO. Previously you had to lug around a DSLR to get a reasonable bounce flash effect. Not anymore.
6. Extending the range of your built-in flash. Given it's tiny size, it's not surprising that the P7000's pop-up flash peters out pretty qucikly and is mostly unusable at greater distances than 10 feet or so, especially at the tele zoom setting. Trying wihout success to get some night shots of that shy raccoon in the backyard? Clip the big gun into the hot shoe, and your troubles are over.
7. Using off-camera flash. A speedlight on top of a camera is better than a pop-up flash, but it's still a compromise -- especially for portrait lighting. You'll get better results with a hot-shoe cable that lets you use the Speedlight off-camera, which provides much better modeling than straight-on flash.
8. Putting less of a drain on the camera's battery. The camera's lithium-ion battery holds a pretty good charge for a compact. If the internal flash is not used, you can usually shoot all day without draining the battery. But if you're going to take a lot of flash pictures, like at an event, it's better to shift the load to an external flash, or you'll burn through your battery all too fast.
Nikon Speedlights work with the camera's iTTL exposure system. It's a nice match. Similar capabilities are provided by the Canon G11 and G12, as well as other high-end compacts. When you first put one of the bigger Speedlights on the camera, it unbalances the camera and it tends to tilt forward (the smaller SB-400 is better matched to the camera but lacks a bounce head). But if you cradle the flash, instead of the camera, in your left hand, the shooting ergonomics are surprisingly comfortable. Give it a try.
Monday, September 05, 2011
Notice anything missing in the middle of the bench? This is a photo I shot 30 years ago in the window of Tiffany's on New York's 5th Avenue, and it seems more timely than ever. The middle class has been shrinking ever since.
It's simple, really -- if a small group of people in a society end up with most of the money, economic activity starts to grind to a halt. Most consumers don't have enough money to buy much of anything, and the spending of the wealthy is not enough to keep a modern economy running at full speed. The middle class starts to vanish, and with it, a healthy economy. (For awhile consumers try to postpone the inevitable by borrowing more than they should, and we know now where that leads.) Americans used to know this. It was a lesson borne of bitter experience, the Great Depression. For thirty years after World War II, Americans experienced unparalleled prosperity due to national policies that fostered a strong middle class. And then we started forgetting.
America really started splitting apart into two Americas during the Reagan years, and those were the years the middle class started disappearing. Reagan was marked by the Depression and took a lot of lessons from it, but master of useful forgetting that he was, he forgot the greatest lesson of all -- economic inequality eventually leads to economic disaster. The dice started to become loaded in favor of inequality. It was the age of junk bond kings, liberating "stockholder value," and Gordon Gecko's "greed is good." Short-term profits were important, jobs not so much. If the rich did well, it was assumed enough of their excess would trickle down to those less fortunate. It took a while to realize that wasn't happening. In fact, more and more of the trickling was going upward.
Robert Reich has a great piece in the New York Times summing up what has happened and what needs to be done:
Look back over the last hundred years and you’ll see the pattern. During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income — as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the nation as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.The statistics paint a bleak picture of "trickle up" economics and growing income inequality in the United States. During the same time, Germany has dramatically outperformed the US by following policies that favor income equality.
During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion — as between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the present day — growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered giant downturns. It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007 — the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.
Some say we couldn’t have reversed the consequences of globalization and technological change. Yet the experiences of other nations, like Germany, suggest otherwise. Germany has grown faster than the United States for the last 15 years, and the gains have been more widely spread. While Americans’ average hourly pay has risen only 6 percent since 1985, adjusted for inflation, German workers’ pay has risen almost 30 percent. At the same time, the top 1 percent of German households now take home about 11 percent of all income — about the same as in 1970. And although in the last months Germany has been hit by the debt crisis of its neighbors, its unemployment is still below where it was when the financial crisis started in 2007.As Reich points out, it's not as if there nothing to be done. There's a lot that could be done, and he gives some good examples. But the main problem isn't economic. It's political.
That's why, this Labor Day, the struggle that began in Wisconsin last spring is so important and must continue. We need to start asking more of our politicians, and if they don't deliver real solutions to the real needs of working people, we have to show them they can be replaced. This is our country, and we need to take it back.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Sunday night, the elements conspired in vain against Venetian Night on Lake Mendota. The third annual lighted boat parade from Maple Bluff along the south shore of the lake to the Memorial Union went off as planned(sans fireworks, save for a few rogue rockets that shot skyward during the middle of the show). The boats fought choppy waters, plunging temperatures and a wild, screaming wind out of the northwest. But led by this Google sponsored boat with a unique badger twist, the brave and twinkling flotilla pitched, heaved, yawed, rolled and bucked its way toward completion of the course, delighting thousands along the shore. The end was anticlimactic, however, as it was too windy to launch the fireworks that were scheduled to provide a dramatic finale.
I love to watch the US Open on television (especially since TV went HD and you can actually see -- rather than merely sense -- the ball). But after a while it starts to seem a bit passive. That's when I start playing with the TV, my iPhone and the ShockMyPic app.