Aurora Camera Care - Sensor Cleaning Kit Review


The Focus Pyramid

Back in 2014, about 3 years after purchasing my first DSLR (Nikon D60), I purchased my first full-frame camera, the Nikon D700. This was right around the time that the bokeh bug bit me. All I wanted to shoot were f/1.4 primes and the aperture rarely left that wide open position. Most of you know what I’m talking about, a good amount of portrait photographers go through the same phase. Some are going through it right now.

Luckily, I broke that habit and learned how to use my lenses more creatively. However, going through that phase taught me a very valuable lesson. It taught me the importance of making sure my lenses are calibrated to each of my cameras. Shooting wide open does look great, I still do it a lot today. The problem is, if you aren't nailing the focus, no amount of bokeh can save the shot. When shooting with such a shallow DOF and using auto-focus, it can become pretty frustrating if your images aren't sharp. I quickly learned how to calibrate my lenses.

I still find it surprising how many photographers don't calibrate their lenses. Whether they don't even know there's even such a thing, or they simply are too nervous to attempt it on their own, fearing they will mess something up. It's honestly impossible to make a mistake and mess anything up that can't be fixed with a little help from a call to another photographer who knows what they're doing. The tools you need are also very cheap. Back in 2015, I wrote an article for SLR Lounge that laid out the very easy to follow step by step instructions on how to go about calibrating your lenses to each of your DSLR cameras. I also gave a cheap alternative to the pricier calibration kits that were on the market at the time and worked great: The Focus Pyramid, which can be found here: FOCUS PYRAMID.

Click on the image of the focus pyramid above to read the SLR Lounge article on how to calibrate your lenses on your DSLR. If you aren’t already doing so, it’s a must and there’s simply no way around it. It doesn’t matter if you just bought a brand new lens or not, that DOES NOT mean that it’s calibrated. Most aren’t, and that’s because each and every camera is different. I wouldn’t shoot with brand new lens on any job without taking 10-15 minutes to calibrate it first. It’s very rare that a lens is spot on, so when you’re shooting wide open at f/1.4 your images are more than likely not as sharp as they should be.

Aurora Camera Care Sensor Cleaning Kit

Shortly after posting that article on SLR Lounge, the designer and owner of the Focus Pyramid, Joseph Cristina, reached out to say how much he appreciated me using his product and even more so writing the article. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with him and just about a couple months ago, he reached out to tell me about a new product. A product that typically scares photographers even more so than a calibrating kit. Even some of the most experienced photographers I know wouldn’t want anything to do with this product and for one simple reason, it involved touching your camera’s sensor.

Just the slightest whisper of this procedure can leave photographers feeling lightheaded and nauseous. For some odd reason. I’ve been cleaning my own sensors for as far back as I can remember. Why? Well, once I started shooting at higher apertures, I was able to see all the little dust spots that were from my dirty sensor. Once I found out the cost and wait time to get a sensor cleaned I decided to learn how to do it myself. It was either that or get a lot quicker with the spot healing tool in Lightroom.


The most popular product at the time was made by the company VisibleDust. They made a number of different tools to clean camera sensors. One of which was a spinning paint brush looking tool called the ARCTIC BUTTERFLY. The Arctic Butterfly? With a name like that what could go wrong?

Well, when I used the Arctic Spinning Bat Mobile, it touched the side of the sensor compartment and picked up some grease. Grease that would then be transferred onto my D700’s sensor. YES, Perfect! Exactly what I wanted to see. Not only did my sensor still have the dirt and dust, but it now had a grease smudge across it.

After tossing the spinning paint brush (which I have listed below) into the trash, I ordered the next product from Visible Dust, the “EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit". It says EZ right in the product name, how tough could this be right? This kit came with a few dry swabs on sticks and some small vials of liquid cleaning to apply to the swabs. The kit also came with swabs that were for drying. This was a huge pain in the ass. I had to be careful not to put too much cleaning liquid on the swabs and no matter how many times I used the drying swabs, there always seamed to be streaks left on the sensor that I couldn’t quite get off. I called Visible Dust and was told that I may have gotten oil on the sensor and would need to order a different solution. After placing a new order and waiting for it to arrive, I gave it a try and was able to finally get the sensor clean. Great, that would be the last time I used that product.

The next day, I threw all of the swabs and liquids into the trash. It was too much of a headache, let alone the added bonus of a brand new grease smudge that I had to figure out how to clean off. I would rather send my cameras out to get serviced then deal with this kind of nightmare again.


If you’re looking for the easiest way to quickly rid your sensor of any dust that may be sitting on it, the Rocket Blaster does an excellent job. Especially, if it’s just dust on the sensor, which in most cases, that’s really all it is. The Rocket Blaster can easily blow the dust right off the sensor and you’re good to go. I use it at least once every couple weeks, just to make sure there’s nothing just sitting on top of my sensor that will leave spots on my photos when my aperture is stopped down to anything over f/8.

Giotto Rocket Blaster



When Joseph Cristina reached out to me about his newly designed sensor swabs, I told him straight up that I’ve tried a number of different ones and none were easy to use. He basically asked me to please give his product a shot and sent me a free pack to test out. As a disclaimer, I’ve been using a sensor cleaning gel stick over the past couple years. While it’s not perfect, it does do a much better job than any wet/dry swab I’ve ever tried and I told Joseph this. I received the packets in the mail and right before I left for my Savannah Workshop I decided to give them a try. I could have tried them on my wife’s Canon 5D MarkIV cameras but instead used my $6k Leica SL to test out the new sensor cleaning kit.

Once I opened the individual swab packs, I immediately knew these were a great design. Not only are they sized to match the sensor, but there’s no vial of liquid to make a mess with. These swabs were lubricated with just the right amount of liquid. No more than necessary, no less. I was a little hesitant being that it was the first time using this product, but I knew Joseph long enough to know that he wouldn’t be shipping me a bad product. I was right, he didn’t.


Anytime I clean my sensor, I pull up this YouTube channel which plays a white screen:

I set the lens to manual focus and focus to infinity, set the aperture to f22 and take a photo. This will allow me to see whatever sensor dust is on the sensor. Now I know what the “before” photo of the sensor looks like so I can start the cleaning process.

My Thoughts

The ACC Sensor Cleaning Kit was very easy to use, and I was able to open the packs without any trouble. After applying the wet swab and swiping across the entire sensor to clean off any artifacts, I immediately applied the dry swab to soak up any remaining residue. The dry swab didn’t quite dry the sensor completely. It came close, but if you watch the video carefully you’ll be able to see the streaks that are still there after making two passes. I gave it a few more minutes in the hopes that the residue would dry and it did on its own. I re-attached the lens to take a quick test shot of the white screen and everything looked great. No streaks, no dirt or dust, and any artifacts there from the first shot were completely cleaned and off the sensor.

The Images below shows the dust/dirt that was there on the sensor before I cleaned it. Not too bad actually considering how much I’ve shot with this body over the past few months. I’ve seen them a hell of a lot worse than this, so this was good news! The third shot on the bottom is the one that I took after cleaning the sensor with the ACC sensor cleaning kit.

Once I took the test shot above, it was clear to see that the sensor was pretty clean and all the spots had been removed. Nice and clean again! While I do still like the gel stick, especially for my Leica camera bodies being that Leica recommends the gel stick as a sensor cleaning tool, these ACC sensor cleaning swabs do an overall better job of actually cleaning the sensor. These were the first wet/dry swabs that I felt actually worked really good and didn’t make a mess or when comparing them to my previous attempts with similar products, make things worse. Going forward, I’ll be using both. The gel stick for a quick clean and the ACC swabs once every couple months to get things really clean and back to looking brand new.

  • My one and only critique has to do with the wet and dry swabs looking exactly the same once they are out of their pouches. They are labeled with different colors on the individual packages, but as you can see below, once they are opened they look identical. As I was cleaning my sensor, I made two swipes with the wet swab, followed by two passes with with the dry swab. I gave it a few minutes to see if it would dry on it’s own and since there were still slight streaks I wanted to very gently run the dry swab over the sensor one or two more times. As I reached for the dry swab, I had to really look closely to see which was which. I would really like to see them make the wet and dry swab handles a different color, the dry having a tan handle to match its packaging and the wet swab to match its blue packaging.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.

Whether you have a full-frame sensor, cropped sensor (APS-C), or Micro Four Thirds, there is a separate kit designed specifically for each sensor size. To visit the store and purchase one of the sensor cleaning kits, please click HERE!

All the other products I’ve that have ended up in the garbage!

Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly Sensor Brush

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The iForway PowerElf - Review



Five years ago, I started reviewing camera gear for SLR Lounge. A couple of years later, they decided to focus more on education so I began writing them here. Since my real and honest approach to reviewing products/gear seemed to click with photographers, I've done my best to keep up with them as best I could. The problem with running a multi-photographer studio that photographs upwards of 150 weddings per year, plus teaching/speaking for Leica as an ambassador, my time is spread pretty thin. I've never wanted to just throw a review together for the sake of getting something fresh up on my site. They can be very time consuming when you take into account all the time needed to properly test anything that I review. Testing takes time, especially when I do my best to test products on real shoots and in real life scenarios. It's the only way to make sure I'm providing accurate information. Otherwise, what's the point? There's plenty of other reviews out there that are done half assed. 



I typically only review products/gear that I'm personally interested in using myself, with a few one-offs here and there. Over the past couple of years as traffic to this site has grown, so have the requests from companies asking me to review their new products. While some of them are tempting, it takes a lot to make it worth my time. 

A couple months ago, I randomly checked my spam folder and found a review request email from a company named MP MeltMall. The product was described as the safest outdoor mini power station called the Iforway PowerElf. Nope, I'm good.

I have a small portable power pack that I use for travel and charging my iphone/iPad already and it does a decent job. A month went past and while going through my email decided to give it another look before hitting delete. This time it had my attention. I actually read the product description this time and was blown away by what it allegedly could do. Now, I was all about testing this beast of a power pack out and quickly replied back asking if they were still interested in sending me one.


What is the PowerElf?

Basically, if you've seen the 2017 move the Justice League, you can picture the PowerElf as one of the Mother Boxes. If you haven't seen the movie, these boxes individually hold enough power to bring Superman back from the dead. Not only that, but afterwards, still maintaining enough juice to charge your iPhone so you don't miss a single selfie with him. The PowerElf even has a LED light on it, beat that DC Comics.


The PowerElf is pretty damn impressive, comic book references aside. It really is the ultimate, supercharged, portable power supply. At least as far as what I have seen out there, and I've purchased a couple of them that can't do a quarter of what the PowerElf is capable of. While you won't be able to carry it around in your pocket, it's still one sleek looking lightweight product weighing less than 3lbs. For the techies out there, just seeing 173Wh / 46800mAh should be enough to impress you. Especially, when you consider the $129 you can get it for during the remainder of the campaign. If you want something to carry in your purse or pocket to charge your iPhone in an emergency, that's not what this is. This is made to charge your iPhone, your laptop, your tablet while not even having to worry about recharging it. It will still be have plenty of juice left over.


While I primarily tested this from a photographer's perspective, I've been pretty much bringing it everywhere with me. Even though it doesn't fit in my pocket, I fits perfectly in my camera bag. Plus, even though it's larger, it's not much heavier than the smaller RavPower supply that I've been using for the past year. 

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The specs on the PowerElf are beyond impressive, so right out of the box I wanted to put it through its paces and test it as best I could. My main complaint with the majority of portable power supplies are that they have just about enough juice to fully recharge my Macbook Pro. If they can, they've completely blown their load with nothing left over to charge anything else. The PowerElf claimed to have the ability to fully power an iPhone 16 times, a Macbook 3 times, an iPad 4 times, and they list a few others. After fully charging up the PowerElf, I plugged in my dead IphoneX via one of the two USB ports, my Leica M10 battery via the 12v DC cigarette port, and my completely dead Macbook Pro via the USB-C port. I let it get to work and went about my day. Not keeping track of how long it took, I was surprised to see that everything was fully charged. Even more surprised to see that there was still juice left over. 

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It's waterproof, has an LED light on the front that has already come in handy a few times, and has a very reliable and quick way of checking how much power it still has. I love that it has a USB-C port since I have a 2017 MBP along with a few other devices that use type-C. One thing that I've noticed can tend to happen with a lot of portable power supplies is that if you let them sit around, they slowly lose power and need to be charged. I let the PowerElf sit for over a week and it still had a full charge when I checked. So far, I've honestly found no flaws to even bring up. 

LED Light

LED Light

Quick press of the power button reveals how much power is left using 4 blue LED lights

Quick press of the power button reveals how much power is left using 4 blue LED lights


I can honestly say that there really isn't much that I have to say here. I've tried to beat it up pretty good, and it's still looking pretty much brand new. I have seen other reviews that report the rubber cap breaking off, but to be honest, it might be a better design if it wasn't attached. Then again, I would more than likely lose it in a week and have to buy a 10-pack to keep at the studio. The only real downside I see right now is with the 12v cigarette lighter port. While I do have a couple Leica battery chargers that are capable of charging via that port, most need a two prong AC plug. Because of this, straight out of the box, you may not be able to charge your camera batteries, or your MBP if it isn't 2016 or newer which uses the USB-C port. I would like to see them implement this somehow in the next model, but until then, the fix is quite easy and not expensive. There are several adapters on the market, this is one that I already have and it works great - Foval 150W Power Adapter. Just $17 from Amazon. 



The bottom line here is that I wouldn't have taken the time to test and review this product if I wasn't impressed by what it had to offer. I'll fully admit that I was skeptical that it would be able to live up to the marketing hype and specs it boasted in its portfolio. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Outside of photography gear, it's rare that I suggest a product as highly as I am with this one, but for $150 it's a no brainer. The amount of trouble this little black box can potentially get you out of when you least expect it is worth far more than $150 in my book. 

There's 5 days left in the INDIEGOGO iForway campaign where you can get one shipped out to you by backing them at the even lower price of $129, back the campaign for $249 and get two of them. Use this link to check it out:


As always thanks for reading, please leave a comment with any questions or feedback below. If you're interested in seeing my wedding work, please head on over to TWISTED OAKS STUDIO. Next up will hopefully be the Leica 50mm Summilux comparison which I'm still working on. 




This article has been a long time coming, along with a few others that I'm finally getting time to finish up. We're in the process of moving into a new studio which we stripped completely down and are remodeling it from scratch. Doing most of the work myself always sounds like a great idea, until I'm waking up at 7am the day after a 12 hour wedding to jump right back into laying hardwood floor and covering several walls in pallet boards. I'll save the construction talk for another article, you're welcome. Instead, I have something much more exciting to talk about... STORAGE.

With the recent introduction of mirrorless cameras by both Nikon and Canon there’s been a lot of online chatter about the need for dual card slots in a pro camera. Neither camera offers the security of dual slots like that of the Leica SL and Sony A series cameras. What I find interesting and sadly quite comical, is that a good amount of photographers stating that they would never shoot a camera with a single card slot are also the same ones that have a single point of failure in their storage/backup system. You can shoot with a quad port camera if there was one but that isn’t going to help you when your external hard drive fails and you lose everything. This article is meant to educate and help you get a better grasp on building a solid backup solution while also showing you exactly what I have in place at our new studio.



Along with the complete remodel of the new studio space, I also installed a completely new network with upgraded storage equipment. The key piece of the new setup is the Synology DS1817+ 8-Bay NAS with the optional 10Gbe Ethernet card installed. I just finished working out all of the kinks (there were definitely a few along the way) and finally have it to running exactly how it should be. If any of that confused you, don't quit on me yet. I promise to break things down a little better for those who aren't quite as fluid with network/storage jargon. For those of you who are, these are the speeds I'm getting while transferring files from two different workstations in the new studio. If this doesn't peek your interest, I don't know what will. 



Basically, and without too much of a backstory, I needed to invest in a larger storage/backup solution with Twisted Oaks Studio continuing to grow like it has. This new setup not only provides a lot more storage and speed but will also allow for a lot more growth over the next few years. I've spent the past year or more researching and preparing for this upgrade knowing that it was inevitably coming.  My current setup wasn't going to cut it that much longer.

The trouble is that there's a shit ton of options and decisions to make when upgrading to a larger storage setup like this one. The amount of time spent researching this move was a must in order to get the best setup possible.  Even though the majority of photographers/videographers reading this would be perfectly fine with the setup that I had previous to this, there are a lot of you out there who could benefit from investing in a NAS like the one I installed. I wish that I had made the investment and had this setup running long before now. Especially when it comes to the 10Gbe speeds I'm getting now, which I'll get into with this article. Not only how to get it, but why I personally need it now. It isn't just to stroke the ego, I promise. 




My previous storage setup, the one I wrote about for SLR Lounge in 2016, was absolutely perfect for storing and backing up the 35-40 weddings that my wife and I shot in 2015-16. If you don't quite understand what makes up a solid backup solution and are currently storing all of your work on a single hard drive, PLEASE read that article first. That's a setup that I've helped many photographers implement over the past couple years making it possible for them to sleep much better at night.

In 2017, Twisted Oaks Studio shot over 125 weddings. With 2018 in full swing and moving into a new studio space, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Not because I simply wanted to spend more money that I don't have, but because it was the smart thing to do right now. I made the move to a much larger setup that can store and backup all the files for the entire "studio". In other words, rather than just storing and backing up my personal Twisted Oaks files, I'm now doing the same for the entire studio made up of 7 lead photographers.

I already know what most of you are thinking, and it's a good question. How were the files being backed up prior to the new setup? I provided each of the lead photographers with a 12TB G-Studio running RAID1, which was also being backup up to cloud storage provided by Backblaze for a measly $5/month. The same setup that I wrote about for SLR Lounge, which they'll still be using going forward, but only until they are brought into the studio and transferred over to the new NAS. 

Rather than just sharing my new setup (which is a little overkill for what most of you need) I'm going to explain why the Synology NAS may still be an option worth investing in.  Not only that but also explain why I invested the amount of money and time that I did to get it up and running the way it is.

If you're still using a single hard drive, or even two, good luck with that. Luck is basically what you're relying heavily on. Those of you with a single dual hard drive RAID thinking that you're good to go, you're still at risk. A single RAID setup is only one layer of backup when you need at least three. You're playing with fire and to be completely honest, and blunt, you need to get your shit together before the inevitable happens. Not only for your clients, but for your own photos and memories. I know it can be confusing, but trust me, you are far from alone. If any of the terms to the right confuse you, that's completely fine. I would start by reading THIS first. Seriously, some of these are confusing to even those who claim to know this stuff. Luckily, prior to me going full-time with photography, I was a network engineer for almost 15 years and really do know this stuff. 

RAID VS. NAS (The Difference)


RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks)

Basically, this is the term used to describe the technology that combines multiple physical disk drives (hard drives) to act as one for the purpose of redundancy. Instead of having to manually copy something from one hard drive another to create a 2nd copy, RAID does it automatically. For example, you can have two disk drives running RAID and they will act as one. If you have an array with four internal disk drives, RAID will allow them to act as two, making an exact copy of each without you having to do a thing. They are easy to use and a lot cheaper than they used to be, but once you get to the point where you need more than 20TB (only 10TB running RAID1) things start to get pricey.

When you purchase a RAID array such as a G-Technology G-RAID 2-bay array, they typically come with the internal hard drives already installed. This is why I highly recommend these types of setups for those who are just getting started in building a reliable backup solution. There's nothing more to getting them up and running then plugging them in and choosing which RAID you want it to run. For those of you who haven't invested in any specific product brand yet, LaCie is an awesome alternative to the G-Tech RAID products. The LaCie 2-bay RAID arrays actually cost exactly the same and have the same great reliability and reviews. I personally don't know too much about the LaCie products, but I'm going to be getting THIS guy to test out soon. 

Now, there are many types of RAID, each offering a different way of handling the redundancy between the disk drives. The most simple and easiest way to get started with RAID is a dual drive system that has the ability to run RAID1. This will allow you to have two drives that act as one, making it so that if one were to fail, the other is an identical twin so that no data is lost. 


NAS (Network Attached Storage)

This is the term used to describe any type of storage, such as a RAID array of two or more disk drives, or even just a single drive that can be accessed over the network. Unlike a regular external hard drive that you plug into your workstation, a NAS can be accessed over the internet, or via a network switch so that it's accessible by multiple workstations at the same time. I purchased and installed the Synology DS1817, which is an 8-Bay NAS storage device that runs RAID. It can be accessed by myself, any other workstation at in the studio, and anyone with internet access that has been given permission.

The advantage of going with a NAS such as the Synology disk station is that you can install your own internal drives. Sure, for those of you who aren't very techy, that may sound overly complicated but it really isn't. If anything, it will allow you to save some money if you can catch a good deal on hard drives. The other popular choice for a NAS setup similar to mine, the DS1817+, is the Pegasus2 and Pegasus3 series made by Promise. The difference is that these come with their own internal proprietary hard drives already installed. Personally, I ultimately went with the Synology NAS over the Promise is because I wanted to have the ability to install my own drives. 


I needed something with a lot more storage, room to add more, access over the internet, faster speeds, and more reliability. I already had a solid system in place but the problem was I quickly grew out of it. Last year, we shot over 120 weddings. We're looking to shoot close to 150 this year and we added two more photographers who will start shooting next year. It was time for a change and with moving into a new studio, it was perfect timing to invest in a new setup. It was time to start housing all of the studio's files in one place, here at the studio. Being that I spent 12 years as a network engineer working on routers and switches, designing this new setup was a lot like two worlds colliding. My networking knowledge helped a good amount and probably saved me money in troubleshooting, but it still turned out to be a real pain in the ass setting it up. Mainly trying to get it up and running at the speed I wanted it to, and new that it could. 


Along with all the other expenses that went into completely remodeling a new studio from the ground up, building a much more complex storage network has been the one that's easily caused the most restless nights and loss of sleep. Whether you photograph 10 weddings per year or 150, losing a client's memories just one time is enough to cripple your business. I had seen and heard of too many horror stories to wait around for something to go wrong by running out of space or having one of my associate photographers run out of space. 


That quickly, I have created 4 copies of the RAW files - 6 if counting both RAID drives. 

I'll go through the steps of how the network is laid out from shoot to delivery, along with the equipment used. First, let's get one thing straight. I currently don't have any affiliation with any of the equipment manufacturers used to in my studio's new network. I'm no longer affiliated with G-Tech and haven't been for a couple years now. However, I still recommend G-Tech gear and still use it in my network. All of the gear that I invested in for this new setup was done so after a ton of research and simply because I felt it was the best for my needs. I'll also give you the other options I considered so you know what else is out there. 


The first thing I do "post-shoot" is to upload my cards as quickly as possible. I've made the mistake too many times of holding off until the next day and letting cards sit in the camera. I have a Lexar Professional card reader at home and at the studio, making it so I can upload four cards at the same time. I also have this little fella that comes in handy at home or when I'm on the road traveling - STARTECH Dual SD Card Reader.

Whether I'm at home or in the studio when uploading cards, each client gets their own folder on the network which holds their LR catalog, RAW files, edited files, etc. You can click on the image below to see an overview of this way of file organization. Basically, I've found this to be the easiest and most efficient way of using LR. It's also the best method I've found for storing RAW files, edited files, and anything else for clients to make sure I don't misplace anything. I can lose my keys while still sitting in my truck. I've lost my camera in a church while still shooting a ceremony (someone moved it but you get the point). 


Images are uploaded from the cards using Lightroom. I don't use Photo Mechanic like a lot of other wedding photographers, and I know this will get them all fired up. If you know how to set up LR the right way and utilize Smart Previews, it's not saving you any time. I'm sorry to be "That Guy" but hey, someone has to be.

Using Lightroom, I COPY the RAW files from each card and have them placed directly into the client's RAW folder. I also have LR create standard and smart previews during the initial upload. Once all of the cards have been uploaded, they're physically placed into an envelope and placed in a fireproof safe until the client receives their fully edited online gallery. SD cards are cheap enough now that there's no reason you can't have enough of them to cover a handful of weddings to provide that extra layer of protection.

Once the client's folder is complete, with everything that you see above, a copy gets created and placed in the new NAS (Synology DS1817+). That quickly, I have created 4 copies of the RAW files - 6 if counting both RAID drives(1) SD cards, (2) G-RAID Studio, (3) Synology NAS, (4) Backblaze Cloud Storage. Two of the four copies are also running RAID, meaning that there is even more protection. There are mirrored drives on the G-RAID Studio as well as on the 8-Drive Synology. 


If I get home late at night from a shoot or wedding, I don't like letting my cards sit. I have a number of different reliable G-Tech and Lacie external drives at home and at the studio. When I'm at home, the initial process of creating a client folder and new Lightroom catalog is the same. This gives me a copy of the photos on the cards and on an external HD which are both placed into a fireproof safe before heading to bed. The next morning is when I head into the studio and move the client's folder onto the G-RAID Studio and Synology NAS.




With a brand new 8-bay NAS, what would the reasoning be for using the two 12TB G-RAID Studios from my previous setup? As most of you know, you can only run a Lightroom Classic CC catalog on a directly connected storage device. A NAS (Network Attached Storage) isn't recognized as a directly connected device. Sure, you can access it via an ethernet cable or router, but you can't open a Lightroom catalog being stored on one. Since I create a new catalog for each and every client, I keep a copy of the catalog on the Synology and a copy that I use to edit from on the directly connected 12TB G-RAID Studios. To get even more into detail, I keep a copy of the RAW files on both as well until the client receives their online gallery. The reason for keeping two folders of RAW files has more to do with having them backed up to the cloud for much cheaper. Confused? I'll explain why in more detail below. 

The other route, and probably the most popular way for photographers that use a NAS and still edit on Lightroom is to house the RAW files on it while mapping them to a LR Catalog stored on their workstation. This was something I considered, but I decided against it for two reasons. These two reasons I think are really worth putting some thought behind, and I think you'll see why I didn't go that more popular route.


The first reason is that it simply adds another layer of protection/back-up. Not only are each client's RAW files stored on the G-RAID, but also on the Synology NAS. The second reason, and biggest reason for me go with this setup, is cost. While G-Tech doesn't make these G-RAID Studio's that I purchased a few years ago anymore, THIS is what I would recommend buying today. It's also what I may upgrade mine to very soon since they are Thunderbolt 3 - The G-RAID 24TB 2 bay RAID Array. I just recently upgraded to the 2017 iMac Pro which has Thunderbolt 3 ports, the same as my MBP. So, how is this a more cost efficient setup? The answer is Cloud Storage. You can purchase unlimited cloud storage via Backblaze for any external devices that are directly connected to your workstation. It's a lot more expensive to back up my Synology. How much more? Skip down to the Cloud Storage section to read more. 



The two main storage devices in the new network are the G-RAID Studio and the Synology DS1817+ NAS. There are a few reasons I went with a NAS this time around for the new network instead of a regular RAID array made by G-Tech or LaCie. The first is that I needed a storage device that could be accessed by multiple workstations. Secondly, I wanted access to it from outside of the studio. The last reason for going with a NAS had to do with growth and implementing a system that could be upgraded internally without having to invest in a whole new setup again in another year or two. 


Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 8.24.28 PM.png

The DS1817+ is an 8-Bay disk array which has an incredibly simple web-based user interface. Click HERE to see what the Synology Diskstation Manager (DSM) looks like. It not only makes configuring it straight out of the box a lot more simple than I expected it to be but also makes it nice and easy maintaining and monitoring it. It also has its own operating system so it can also run apps.


The Synology Diskstations, like the DS1817+, doesn't come with internal hard drives installed unlike most of the others. Synology provides a list of compatible HDD's and SSD's allowing you to install a wide range of different internal drives. I personally went with Western Digital RED drives, THESE to be specific. These give me a total of 48Tbs of storage, 36TB of usable storage running the Synology RAID SHR. I was also considering the Seagate IronWolf drives but just went with my gut and the recommendation of a few others, but I honestly believe either would be fine. To see the stats on Hard drives published by Backblaze click HERE


There are currently two models of the 8-bay Synology Diskstation, the DS1817 and DS1817+. The first is slightly cheaper, has less RAM, a slightly less powerful processor, but has the benefit of two built-in 10Gbe ports. If network speed is your main concern, the cheaper DS1817 is the way to go. I was torn on which one to purchase, and since I'm running a few apps and considering adding surveillance, I wanted the extra RAM and a more powerful processor. I also wanted the speed though, so I went with the DS1817+ which comes with the ability to add a 10Gbe card.


The first thing I did upon opening the NAS was to install a 10Gbe dual RJ45 card. One port is directly connected via Cat7 cable to my main workstation and the other to a wall mount for a second workstation or laptop. My main workstation is the newer 2017 iMac Pro which comes with a 10Gbe ethernet card installed so there were no upgrades needed there. Older iMacs don't have built-in 10Gbe cards, so you'll need an adaptor. As for the wall mount, I purchased an adaptor, the Sonnet Twin 10G Thunderbolt 2 to 10Gbe ethernet adaptor which you see below. 



So, how fast is 10Gbe and why would I go through all the trouble that I did getting it to run correctly? It's fast, very fast. This upgrade will myself and the save hours, if not days, of time transferring entire folders of wedding RAW files. The first speed test is to the Gigabit ethernet ports, the ones I would be using without the upgraded 10Gbe card. The 2nd is via the 10Gbe connection from my iMac Pro. The 2nd 10Gbe port which is connected to the wall mount tested the same with a few different workstations.

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 1.19.01 PM.png

The DS1817, the Twisted-Hub, can be accessed by multiple workstations at the studio. It can also be accessed over the internet using an app or via FTP. This particular model allowed for a pretty nice upgrade at a very reasonable price, the addition of a 10Gbe NIC card. I installed a dual RJ45 port card which I have directly connected to my 2017 iMac Pro and the other to a wall outlet that can be accessed by anyone on the team via a 10Gbe Thunderbolt to RJ45 adapter. How fast is 10Gbe? Very fast, and quickly becoming the standard. 10 times faster than any other storage device that isn't 10Gbe capable. 


Here is the cost breakdown of the Synology DS1817+ exactly as I have it set up. The total comes to about $3300, $3800 with the Thunderbolt to RJ45 10Gbe adaptor. Yes, it's pricey, but this gives me more than 24TB of storage at 10Gbe speeds, plus the ability to upgrade the drives when I need to add more storage. One point that I need to make here is that you can get this setup for closer to $2500, even $2K if you don't need 48TBs worth of internal hard drives. You can install smaller hard drives, or only fill up half of the 8 bays at first. You don't have to install all 8 right away (one of the biggest benefits of installing your own hard drives). You can purchase 4TB drives and spend half the amount of what I did for drives. Installing four of the 8TB drives at first will save you over $1K up front and allow you to add more as you grow. I think you get the idea here, and even though the setup I went with cost close to $4k for this setup, you can get it for half of that if you save on drives. 

DS1817+ - $949

(8) 6TB WD Red Drives - $260 x 8 = $2080

10Gbe Dual RJ45 Card - $264

10Gbe RJ45 to Thunderbolt2 adaptor - $478



$350/year for all 7 Twisted Oaks Studio photographers - Unlimited storage for each

$350/year for all 7 Twisted Oaks Studio photographers - Unlimited storage for each

How does using a RAID array like the G-RAID save me money?

The answer is Cloud Storage, an absolute MUST for a solid and robust storage/backup solution. I use Backblaze, and rather than paying for their NAS Cloud Storage which they charge per TB of storage, I'm able to keep my current plan of $5/month for unlimited storage. Backblaze charges $5/month for unlimited storage of directly connected devices. So, any hard drives that you have directly connected to your workstation can be part of this $5/month plan. This includes RAID arrays such as the G-RAID Studios.

I also pay to have our associate photographers added to the plan (see above) so that there can be a layer of cloud storage at their home. This comes out to paying $350/year for myself and my five associate photographers. The charge for Backblaze's C2 NAS storage ends up being close to $3k per year for over 20TB's of storage. 

No longer talking about paying for unlimited storage, Cloud Storage for the NAS is per TB of storage.

No longer talking about paying for unlimited storage, Cloud Storage for the NAS is per TB of storage.


A lot of times photographers can forget how quickly disaster can strike. We like to believe that hard drives are fail-safe, little armored cars that will last forever. Until they don't. There are way too many of you reading this that don't have more than two copies of your files and are simply playing with fire. I posted the link to the Failure Rate Report by Backblaze above, below is a screenshot of their 1st QTR report that shows 288 failures. That is just in the 1st QTR alone! We save up our hard earned money for the newest camera gear but far too often forget about putting some of that money towards storage. I was the same way until I heard horror stories of what happens to a business when a client's photos are lost. I made the decision a few years ago that I wasn't going to risk that and invested in the setup I wrote about for SLR Lounge HERE. This new setup cost me close to $4k which is a lot more than most of you need to spend. It's also a lot cheaper than other larger studios have spent, especially for those offering video as well. With more than 120 weddings per year for Twisted Oaks Studio, $4k is a drop in the hat for peace of mind. Yes, I sleep a lot better knowing that I made this investment and am set up for the next few years.

The reality is that Hard drives fail and sadly, photographers typically don't invest in a more robust backup plan until they realize this fact the hard way. I see a lot of photographers who have two external hard drives and they manually back one up to the other. This works until you forget to back something up and a drive crashes. Your files are gone. There are others who think they are stepping things up by purchasing a RAID, like the G-Tech or LaCie RAID arrays mentioned above. That's a good start, but that only counts as one layer of protection. There's always the possibility of the entire RAID enclosure failing, causing both drives in the array to crash. This isn't common, but can it happen? Absolutely. 

I took the time to write this article to help those who, like myself, don't want to wait until disaster strikes to invest in a solid backup/storage solution. It's also to help anyone who was in my shoes a couple months ago and need a larger setup that allows for more growth. This breaks down my new design as detailed as possible while also attempting to help anyone who is confused on whether a NAS is an option they should entertain. Please don't hesitate to comment with questions or shoot me an email. 


G-Technology Setup 

G-Technology RAID (The current model) 

G-Technology G-DOCK Enclosure

G-Technology RUGGED 1TB External Drive

Synology Setup

Synology DS1817+ 8-Bay NAS Enclosure

10Gbe Network Card with RJ45 Connectors

6TB WD Red Pro 7200rpm HDD

Card Readers

Lexar Professional 4-Bay Thunderbolt 2 Card Reader

STARTECH Dual SD Card Reader

Ethernet Switch

10Gbe Ethernet Switch


Leica SL

Leica M10


RJ45 to USB2 & RJ45 to USB-C

DISCLAIMER: All links in this article are B&H Photo affiliate links, none are for the actual companies that manufacture any of the storage products that I use or mention in this article. There is absolutely no reason for me to suggest any piece of storage device over another for personal gain. 


10/25/2018: At the time of writing this article, I placed a disclaimer at the beginning stating that even though there was a 10G ethernet switch shown in the network diagram I hadn’t yet added one. Since the 10G network card in the Synology was dual port, I simply ran direct connections from two workstations. This is a recommended setup by Synology, but I ran into issues that simply weren’t making any sense while troubleshooting. Since two workstations were directly connected to the 10G port on the Synology, and I had a direct ethernet connection from my Comcast gateway/modem for external access via wifi, no matter how I set things up the wifi connection (which is slower than the 10G connection) was always preferred. The only way that I could get the full speeds available by the 10G card were to disconnect the wifi. Setting the service order on the Synology and workstations made no difference. I spent weeks working with Synology and other network techs that I am friends with since it made absolutely no sense to me, I decided to add in the ethernet switch thinking that it might resolve the issue. Well, it did. Luckily, for me, and for anyone else looking to invest in a similar setup there is a cheaper option now for a 10G switch made by Buffalo. Adding the new Buffalo BS-MP20 8-Port 10Gbe switch was the missing piece to making this setup run smoothly as it should have all along, and it only cost me $500.

Cecilia Leather Goods | Camera Strap Review

cecilia camera strap

Good Camera Straps

There are very few things that I hear photographers bitching about more than camera straps, or their struggle to find a good one. I may or may not have been one of those photographers at one point or another. I've tried a good amount of camera straps over the years and never found one that looked good but was also comfortable to wear. I know, I know, the ones with all the little pockets for memory cards and your license are nice and all, but... yes I'm kidding. But Jay, you wrote a review about how much you love your Moneymakers, what are you talking about? The Moneymaker isn't a camera strap, it's a holster, that can also double as part of my cowboy Halloween costume. 

While finding a good camera strap seems to be a popular topic of conversation on message boards and social media, there's far from a shortage of options out there. There's also plenty of photographers out there that I see sporting those fancy manufacturer straps that actually come with the camera. Besides wanting to show off the camera you're shooting with, there really isn't a worse camera strap you could be using. But, there are also no cheaper options out there, so... I get it. 


The Cecilia Camera Straps

I can truthfully say that I haven't had a camera strap stay on one of my cameras for more than a couple weeks since I started shooting 6 years ago. I've tried a good amount of them, just could never quite find one that I liked. Even though I don't really have a desire to use one on any of my DSLR's, my wife does. I typically only shoot my DSLR's at weddings, and my Moneymaker is my go-to for shooting those. My Leica gear is where a good strap would come in handy, and I've struggled to find a good one. I shoot with my Leica M a good amount at weddings and just about all of my personal work, so I've had a good number of camera straps come and go. 

Since I had a destination wedding coming up, I was ready to try again. I remembered reading a review on SLR Lounge by my good friends Andy and Amii Kauth, from Sunshine and Reign Photography, about the Cecilia camera straps that they use. So, with a few weeks before my trip, I decided to give them a try. 


Jay Cassario Leica

After a few weeks of using the Cecilia straps, one for my Leica M10, and another for my wife to use with her 5D MarkIV, I can finally say that I found a camera strap that I like. It not only looks good, but it's also comfortable to wear and durable. It's made of high-quality Argentinean cowhide leather with stitching that can take a beating without having to worry about it coming apart. The thin part of the strap is just the right size so that it doesn't get in my way, with a thicker neck support section that has a small amount of padding to make it comfortable yet not bulky. The opposite side of the leather, on the thicker neck support area also has a good looking wool like texture made from Peruvian alpaca fiber. How do I know all this? I liked the straps so much that I reached out to the owner and had him tell me about the company and how he came up with the design of the straps. Now that I know a little more about the company and know that most of the Cecilia products are handmade... I like them even more. 



The Cecilia Camera straps aren't going to be the most versatile straps on the market, but there are tons of options out there if that is what you're looking for. Black Rapid straps are probably the most popular for those looking for versatility. I personally haven't like those either, but that's just me. The Cecilia strap, however, is an awesome looking and durable leather camera strap that is actually comfortable to wear around your neck. There are many different styles to choose from and different options for different cameras, as you can see from the photos above. After 6 years, this is the longest both my wife and I have had camera straps on our cameras. Not only that, but it's rare that both of us like the same product, so that alone is saying something, ha.

After I fell in love with the their camera straps, I decided to see what else they had to offer. One of the products that the owner had mentioned during our conversation was the full-grain leather laptop skins. I've never put any kind of skin or cover on my Macbook Pro, I've honestly never seen any that I thought really looked all that good. A leather skin? That was more my style. So, I ordered the Montana Cocoa color leather skin and just like the camera straps, that hasn't come off either. It was easy to put on, and just because I was nervous about it coming off, I took it off a few days later. Underneath, there was nothing left behind from the skin, and surprisingly it went right back on with no trouble. 


One of the toughest products to write a review on is a camera strap, for the same reason that it's difficult to review a camera bag. Personal preference along with style and taste can be a big influence in whether or not the reviewer likes a product. I have always tried my best to review products as honestly as I possibly can, while also being sure to explain the reasons why I like or dislike a product. For me personally, the products that I choose to use also have a lot to do with the people that stand behind and represent them. Not only does the Cecilia company make high-quality products that I personally like, but the company is one that I have a good amount of respect for. A big reason for that is they are focused on the photography community and strive to promote the work of photographers while also building relationships with them. If you are looking for a good camera strap, definitely give the Cecilia straps a look.

Thank you!


The First Narrows Workshop


What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas...

Unless it happens to be a conversation between three friends late one night in a Vegas hotel room during WPPI. Three friends with a crazy idea that sounded more like a bad joke: An Aussie, a guy from Georgia, and a very handsome looking fella from New Jersey walk into a bar. The Aussie yells out, the three of us should team up for a workshop. The guy from Georgia said that sounds great, where should we do it? The very smart and handsome fella from Jersey responded with, how about Maine? All 3 agreed, shook hands, then changed the subject. None of them thinking it would ever actually happen.

Until it did. 

(LEFT) James Day (MIDDLE) Bud Johnson (RIGHT) Jay Cassario 

(LEFT) James Day (MIDDLE) Bud Johnson (RIGHT) Jay Cassario 

While it didn't go down quite like that, the Narrows Workshop idea did start late one night during WPPI. Myself, James Day, and Bud Johnson really wanted to team up and host a workshop together. Not only are we close friends from across the globe, we are each very successful in this tough industry. While each of us shoot a little differently, run our businesses a little differently, the heart and soul of our success has been putting our clients first.


We ultimately wanted to offer a unique experience, in a remote location, that wasn't already very popular and overdone for wedding workshops. So, how did we end up hosting it in Maine? Well, that idea also came about during that same Vegas trip. Actually, the very next morning.

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

I had been in Vegas to give a lecture for, on The Art of Wedding Photography during WPPI. Glenn Charles, a talented Leica photographer, had seen the lecture announcement and hopped on my personal site to read more about who I was. By doing a little digging on my site, he saw that I had grown up vacationing in Maine. Glenn just happens to not only live in Maine, but is also the owner of the popular Cohill's Inn. A restaurant/bar and Inn located in Lubec, ME. While sitting in the Vegas airport waiting to board my flight back home to Philly, I received an email from Glenn introducing himself along with an invite to stop in at the Cohill's next time I was in Maine. As I read it, a light bulb went off - we had our location for the workshop! Lubec, Maine it was. 

Photo: James Day

Photo: James Day

Fast-forward a few months, a ton of work, along with the help of some awesome sponsors, and the three of us found ourselves in Maine. There we were, sitting in the Cohill's Inn, looking out at an epic view of turquoise water, old lobster boats, bald headed eagles, seals, and islands that seemed to float about with the changing of the tide. Having never been to Lubec, which is much farther North than I had ever gone, I was taken back by just how beautiful it was. All of us were. Glenn was kind enough to let us take over the entire Cohill's Inn for three days, including the restaurant area where we held the lecture part of the workshop each day. He also had his crew serve us an awesome lunch and dinner each day while making us feel right at home with his hospitality. 

Photo: John Kreidler

Photo: John Kreidler

Photo: Glenn Charles

Photo: Glenn Charles

The workshop was 3 nights, and two full days of awesomeness. The first night started off with an adventurous hike out along the cliffs near the West Quoddy lighthouse, in the pitch black, to do some star photography. It just happened to be one of the nights that was best for seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower which amped up the cool factor while trying not get lost or slip and fall before the workshop even started. 

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

The next two days were filled with tears, laughter, learning, shooting, and making new friends. It was an awesome few days that far surpassed the expectations we had when first started tossing the idea around that night in Vegas. The three of us lectured each day until around 3pm, then went out to do some shooting. We spent time teaching how we shoot and interact with clients. One of the highlights of the workshop was having the talented Stacy Childers come out to style the shoots we did each day, along with three awesome models that we worked to the bone. A big thank you to Erika Hokkanen, Lindsey Whitacre, and Matt Whitacre!

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

We got to explore the coast of Maine, the most eastern point of the United States, as well as shoot at the top of the West Quoddy Lighthouse. We worked our butt's off and all left with the feeling that we had just been part of something special. Our original idea was to provide a unique experience, and we couldn't be happier with the one that was had. While there were many factors that helped create that experience, it simply wouldn't have been possible without the help of our sponsors. Each played a vital role in making this idea of ours reality, and we can't thank them enough. 

Photo: Kate Kernutt

Photo: Kate Kernutt

Photo: Austin Wheeler

Photo: Austin Wheeler

Our biggest shout out goes to Vision Art, the album company that both myself and James Day use for our albums. Not only did they help make it possible for James to fly out to Maine all the way from Australia but also provided a nice discount for everyone to use on their next album order. We had a nice collection of our sample albums on display for everyone to see in person.

Vision Art Albums

Vision Art Albums

Leica had a rep, John Kreidler, come out and join us for the entire workshop with a nice selection of gear for all of the attendees to try out and shoot. Tim Hussey, the owner of Pixifi, attended the entire workshop and provided a discount along with brief overview of the software. ONA Bags provided one of their awesome Prince Street leather bags as a giveaway. The one of kind print lab, Atkins Photo Lab, provided discount cards for everyone. Magmod provided a Wedding Starter kit as a giveaway. The album design software company Fundy also provided a nice discount to all those in attendance. 


Leica gear on hand 

Leica gear on hand 

John Kreidler (Leica) and Tim Hussey (Pixifi)

John Kreidler (Leica) and Tim Hussey (Pixifi)

Jean Bremner - Winner of the ONA bag

Jean Bremner - Winner of the ONA bag

Thanks to everyone who had a hand in making The Narrows Workshop such a success, especially Glenn and the Cohill's Inn. It simply wouldn't have been the same had we stayed anywhere else. Lubec is a unique and beautiful little town, especially for photographers or anyone looking to hit a place that isn't over-run with tourists. We will definitely be back, so now it's time to start thinking about how to make the next one even better!