Monoprice Graphic Drawing Tablet Review

So first off this is my first graphic tablet so I won’t try to compare it to others on the market.  I will however compare some of the specs and give you my overall opinion on the build, performance, and features.

I’ve been very interested in picking up a tablet for quite some time to edit my photos.  I’ve heard good things about them but I’ve always backed off due to the hefty price tags.  I saw a post on twitter a few weeks ago for the monoprice graphics tablet that was claiming it to be every bit as good as the Wacom line for roughly $50 plus shipping.  I was very curious if this could really be true; so I did some research and decided to take a shot.  After all to buy a Wacom Intuos in a comparable size it would cost $300+ and Monoprice offers a full 30 day money back guarantee with no restocking fee.  How can you go wrong with that?

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I received it about 3 weeks ago and I wanted to really play with it before I wrote this since it is my first experience with a graphic tablet.  It came in simple but good packaging.  In the box was the tablet, pen, pen holder, replacement tips for the pen, AAA battery and the driver disc.  The tablet is light weight but built well. It doesn’t seem like you’ll ever have any issues with its durability as long as you treat it like any other electronic device.  The pen however seems pretty cheap.  You pull it apart to put the battery in and the battery holder is pretty flimsy.  I was careful not to bend or break it and slid the pen back together.  Monoprice does offer an upgrade pen for $10 if you feel like grabbing one.  Other then the build the pen works completely fine and I have had no performance issues with it.  The pen holder is very light and the pen doesn’t really go all the way into it so it tips over pretty easily.  I just lay the pen down so it’s not a huge deal for me.  Installing was extremely simple and fast!  I put the disc in my Mac, installed, plugged in the tablet via USB and started using it in less than 3 min.  The drivers support Windows XP and later and Mac OS X 10.4.11 and later.

Features

This tablet has a 10 x 6.25 active drawing area which is a good size for photo editing.  It’s a comfortable size and doesn’t feel cramped for space at all.  It has 8 hot keys and 16 function tabs which come preprogrammed but they do allow you to customize all of them to what you want.  They are prelabeled so changing them could be confusing.  The hot keys run down along the side of the tablet and do things like cut, paste, zoom in/out, etc.  The function tabs run along the top of the tablet just above the drawing area and give you 1 touch access to your mail, web browser, folders,  and print to name a few.  The pen has a 10mm reading height which means your cursor will show up as you move your pen slightly above the tablets surface.  The pen has 1024 pressure sensitivity levels.  That is only half of what the more expensive tablets offer but for me it’s not an issue.  I am able to draw pretty fine lines and increase the size nicely with added pressure.

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Maybe a designer would prefer more levels for greater detail but that’s not me.  The pen also has 2 buttons on the side for left click, right-click, double-click, and you can choose what you want them to do too.

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Performance

After 3 weeks this tablet has blown away my expectations!  I have used it to edit a variety of photo styles to get a good feel for the possibilities.  The cursor moves seamlessly with the movement of the pen.  I haven’t experienced any lag or jumping with it.  It is a very comfortable and fluid way to work.  The accuracy is simply amazing!  I have cut several people out from backgrounds using it and it is much easier and faster than working with a mouse.  The time and headaches it saves is priceless!

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Summary

The Monoprice graphic drawing tablet is an amazing tool for amateurs and professional photographers.  It offers a lot of features and operates very smoothly.  It’s not an item that is good for the price, it’s an absolute steal for the price.  In an industry where almost every piece of equipment has a high price tag; this is a refreshing change.  If you have been thinking about buying or trying a graphic tablet I recommend that you give the Monoprice a try.  If you want to check it out use the link below.

http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=108&cp_id=10841&cs_id=1084102&p_id=6814&seq=1&format=2

Until next time,

Mark

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How to Edit Smoke Photographs

    First of all sorry for the delay between posts.  I got sidetracked by life but as promised here is my tutorial on editing smoke photos. I by no means am a photoshop pro so there may be better methods but this is the basics of how I process my photos.  I use lightroom 4 and photoshop CS6 for all of my smoke editing. 

Step 1 Raw adjustments

If you shoot in Jpeg skip to step 2

I always shoot RAW so I begin in lightroom to adjust exposure,contrast,whites,blacks, and clarity.  There is no magic adjustment figures for this.  I tweak as needed based on each individual photo.  My goal here is to get the background as close to solid back as possible (in case any light spilled onto to it while shooting) and to lighten the smoke to get good contrast between them.  After I’m finished here I move over to photoshop.  You can also make these adjustments in PS  Camera Raw but I just prefer lightroom.Image

 

Step 2 Create a background copy

Now that we are into photoshop you should create a back up copy.  This way we can start over if we make any mistakes (you’re editing a copy not the original)

To create a duplicate layer…

From the menu bar select Layer>Duplicate Layer

You can name the new layer, I just leave it as Background Copy

Once you have the duplicate layer you will want to hide the original.  You do this by clicking on the original image layer labeled background and then going to Layer>Hide layers (the eye symbol should be gone after you do this)

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Now select the duplicate layer and you are ready to start editing

Step 3 Clean up blemishes

This is where we clean up any areas that may not be completely BLACK. From the menu bar select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels (leave name as Levels1)

Make sure the levels layer is above the background copy,if it is not click and drag it above.

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Move the white levels slider from the right all the way over to the leftImage

This will highlight any light colors in your image so you can clean them up.

Step 4 Remove Blemishes

On the layer tab select the Baackground copy. Then go to your tool bar and select the black square so it is on top and white square is under (black in foreground position) Then select the Brush tool. Make sure your opacity and flow are both at 100% in the options bar above.

Now brush over any blemishes (light spots) but be careful not to brush over the edges of the main smoke. Zoom in if needed and adjust the size of your brush to edge carefully.  Now that you are finished cleaning up move the slider back to the right and delete the Levels layer.

Step 5 Adding Flavor (Color)

Now there are a few ways to do this and even be more creative but for today we are going to keep it basic.

First go to the menu bar and select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation

Go to the adjustment palette and use the Hue and Saturation sliders to change the color.

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Once you get a color you like you are all set. Go to the menu bar Layer>Flatten Image and then save it. You should end up with a finished product like this

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I hope you enjoyed this 2 part tutorial and have fun trying it out. If you have any questions leave them below and I will be sure to respond. 

 

Until next time

Mark

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Smoke Photography Tutorial

I’ve had a few people ask how I do these shots so I thought it might be nice to do a tutorial. Now this is nothing new and by no means am I an expert on it but I will share with you how I set up and obtain the shots that I get. Other then a camera and external flash all the supplies I use where bought at a local grocery store.

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Setup

You will need a DSLR and an external flash with a way to trigger the flash. Your flash may work optically with your DSLR or you can buy radio triggers or a sync cable. I use a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon SB910 flash. They work together optically. Nikon’s CLS (creative lighting system) works unbelievably well and I highly recommend it to anyone in the market for a DSLR system. Now everything I use from here on came from the grocery store. You will need a reflector (white poster board) a pure black non reflective background (black poster board) some incense, holder and matches. Now you will need to be in a pretty dark room so no windows or wait till night. Obviously once ready turn out the lights. You won’t want any fans or windows open because the slightest draft can cause the smoke to move which will make photographing it more difficult. If you have a tripod that can be helpful as well but not necessary. I have shot with and without and had good results with both. Now that we have the supplies and a place to work you will want to set up like the diagram below. The incense will go in the center on a table. Should be between the flash and white reflector. The backdrop should be about 3 to 4 feet behind the incense and the flash and reflector should be 2 to 3 feet away.

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Camera Settings

First you will want to be in manual mode and manual focus. You will want a fairly large depth of field to keep the smoke in focus so I usually shoot at f 7.1 For shutter speed you will want to be at your flashes highest sync speed. Usually going to be 1/200th or 1/ 250th. Focal length can vary. I usually shoot at 50mm or up. You should focus on the tip of the incense. You can play around with your flash to set the power. I usually set mine at 1/4 Take some test shot to be sure the flash is not spilling onto the backdrop. If it is just tweak your angles of the reflector and flash until it goes away. The snoot should keep the light very directional. Once you have a BLACK background and nice white smoke you are all set.

You can be creative and swirl the incense or add props to the shot. Let your imagination run with it! Anything is worth trying. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of good images. You’ll have to take a ton and some work some won’t. That’s why we have memory cards and not film ;)

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Once you have some shots you like it will be time to head into photoshop. This is where you will fine tune the image and add colors for some stunning photos! My next post will be how I do my editing so look for that in the next few days.

If you have any questions feel free to comment below

Until next time

Mark

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Eye Fi Connect X2 Memory card Review

Today I’m giving you my review of the Eye Fi Connect X2. I recently purchased this strictly for the purpose of uploading JPEGs to my ipad during photo shoots to get a better view then I can get from my camera’s 3 inch LCD. It has worked flawlessly! There are a handful of versions of the Eye Fi memory cards that offer different features so be sure to pick one that fits your personal needs. The connect X2 will only transfer JPEGs (No RAW support) but my camera holds 2 cards so I use a regular SD for RAW and the Eye Fi for JPEG.

Key features

The card has built-in WiFi called direct mode, so no need for a hotspot or network. The card transmits a small signal that will allow you to upload anywhere anytime. You can connect to hotspot’s and WiFi networks too.

As you take photos they are instantly uploaded from your camera to your PC, Mac, iOS, or Android device (when you are within range).

Photos are automatically organized by date

You can share via email or to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and more. They say you can share to more than 25 different social media outlets so I would think you’re covered.

Eye Fi offers endless memory which means once you have safely uploaded photos the card will automatically delete old photos to make room for more.

Set up is a breeze. When you first put the card into the computer it will ask if you want to install the software. You can use the web-based settings manager if you do not want to install any software. I chose to install and the software is very user friendly. You can use multiple cards on the same account. (you create a free Eye Fi account). You are able to configure your card(s) to each upload the photos wherever you’d like. You can send to certain folders on your PC or Mac. To use with your idevice or Android you will need to download a free app. I use my ipad and once you sign in with your Eye Fi account its pretty straight forward. Once you have some photos on your camera you will have to go into settings on your device to select the Eye Fi network. Go into the app and watch your photos start to pop up. For a “small” signal the photos actually upload fairly quickly. I’d say between 3 to 5 seconds for each photo. Not bad for free Wifi anywhere anytime! If you configure a home WiFi network it will use that as long as you are within range. Otherwise the card will create its own.

Cons

Fairly expensive ranging from $39.99 for a 4gig to $99.99 for a 16gig Shortens camera battery life

Overall I’d say it’s well worth it. 4 out of 5 stars. You always have your photos backed up to a computer without having to take your card out of the camera. Able to tether at photo shoots without cords. Sharing photos to social networks as you shoot. Eye Fi is a great piece of technology that can only get better in my opinion. I will be picking up one with RAW support very soon!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.

Until next time

Mark

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A little background

This is my first post so I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and what you can expect from my blog.

My name is Mark Miller and I’m from southern Michigan. I am a freelance photographer that loves to shoot nature and landscapes. I shoot portraits and weddings to fund my photography ;)

I’m fairly new to the world of photography having started in March 2012. I actually stumbled upon this due to Instagram and Iphoneography thanks to a cousin. I quickly fell in love with it and discovered my true passion in life. It didn’t take long and I found myself purchasing my first DSLR and all kinds of accessories. I wanted to learn as much as possible as quickly as I could. I took a few classes at a community college but the majority of my knowledge has been self taught with the help of google. It’s a great tool for anyone interested in photography. The one thing I’ve enjoyed most about the photog community is how friendly and willing to help everyone has been. I’ve made a lot of new friends and its great having people to bounce ideas off and being able to offer tips and advice to each other.
My goal is to be able to support my family solely from my photography one day and be able to say I truly love what I do. Until then I will work the day job and keep snapping to share the world as I see it in between.

What you can expect from my blog in the future….
I’ll be writing reviews on all things photo
I’ll post tips and tutorials
And lastly I’ll keep you up to date on what, where, and when I’m shooting.

Until next time,
Keep snapping!

Mark

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