gear

New Shotkit Feature

Click on the image below to be taken to my new updated Shotkit feature. I was one of the first featured photographers on the site back in 2015 so it was time for an update. Being that I’ve become good friends with Mark, the owner of Shotkit over the years, I’ll be writing a few new articles for him over the next month or two as well.

The Cecilia Mercator & Tharp - Camera Bag Review

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of testing, reviewing, and owning way more camera bags than I should. The equipment room in my studio at one point looked more like I imagine a Kardashian bag closet would look rather than a photographer’s gear room. I actually started selling off some of the ones that I either didn’t use anymore or have found others over time that I simply like better. It’s not so much that I have a thing for camera bags, it’s more of a problem that I have with saying no when companies reach out and ask if I want to test out and review their new products. Good companies, like Cecilia, that I know make quality products.

 
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A bit of a backstory, I was initially introduced to the Cecilia product line through a photographer friend before they even had any bag designs completed. In fact, I believe they had just started designing a few concept ideas but nothing more than that. I did some research on the company and then reached out to the owner to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to send me a few products to test and review. You can click HERE to read more about the products I tested and what I thought. If not, let’s just say I was more than impressed. Not only with the Alpaca Wool camera straps that had been their original product that caught my eye, but also a few of the others that I normally would have passed on. Products that both my wife and I are still using today.

I spoke to the owner and founder, Michael Fleisch, at the time and he had mentioned a few camera bag concepts he was currently working on. When he explained the concept and what he had in mind I had just started using backpacks again, something I had gotten away from for years. Hearing that a backpack and messenger bag were in the works I was really hoping to hear back from him once he had the bags ready to go. Well, luckily I did, and here we are.

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REVIEW PROCESS

So, as I started putting this review together, it dawned on me that I really should explain my process for bag reviews. If you were to go through all my gear reviews, where I also throw bag reviews, you won’t find me trashing any bags or writing negative reviews. I don’t just write up positive reviews for every camera bag or accessory that comes my way. I learned early on when I started doing these that I simply don’t want to waste my time testing out a bad product any longer once I know it’s one that I won’t ever use or that I’m disappointed in. If a product comes my way, outside of actual camera gear, that I don’t like or recommend I send it back and give the company my honest feedback directly in the hopes that they make the changes I suggest. You can see all of my gear reviews HERE.

Depending on the job, or project, I tend to switch things up a lot when it comes to the accessories I use with my camera gear. I tend to either use a messenger bag, backpack style camera bag, single camera strap, or one of my Holdfast Moneymakers. Besides the bags that I’ve been sent to test and review, I have plenty that I’ve bought as well for either myself or my wife. Some have stayed and some have been quickly sent back.

I basically carry a camera with me at all times, even when it’s just between home and the studio. I’ve been like that ever since I purchased my first camera and don’t see myself changing anytime soon. I use a couple of different backpack style bags as work bags, carrying my 15” MBP, iPad Pro, Leica M10P, along with a number of other items. I typically don’t use those for shooting, I like to keep them looking nice since I meet with clients at the studio. I have a few different bags that I like to use while shooting, messenger bags and backpacks, and some that I use just for carrying gear from one place to another such as airport rollers and Pelican cases.

Since a lot of my weddings can involve a lot of hiking in the mountains or on large farm properties, to jumping from Uber to Uber in a big city, having options to choose from before each job is definitely something I can appreciate. Believe it or not, I have about 3 different backpack style bags that I use and beat up pretty good, 3 or 4 different messenger bags, and different camera straps for each camera that I shoot with. So, even though I have way more bags than I should, it’s often surprising to other photographers when they see how beat up most of them are.

 
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One thing about having the unique opportunity to test products like camera bags is that I get to try out all the different styles, pocket configurations, and material that each company uses. This has definitely helped give me a good idea of what I personally like, don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tried some that have had stitching start to come loose within weeks, some that simply aren’t comfortable to wear whatsoever, and others that I thought were great products right out of the box that turned out to be poor quality and not be able to take a beating. I can honestly say that camera bags are probably one of the toughest products to review because it’s such an over-saturated market and it’s a lot like reviewing a pair of jeans. Personal taste and style play a big role in choosing a camera bag, but just like jeans, you don’t want them falling apart after you wash them a few times. Basically, I’m going to tell you what I like and dislike about the two Cecilia bags I have and let you know some of my thoughts. I’ll keep it short and sweet since you can see by the photos what they look like and if these style bags are something you would be interested in or not.


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The Mercator is the 16L backpack camera bag that comes in a black and brown leather as well as the cotton canvas that was sent to me. Cecilia also offers a slightly smaller 14L design called the Humboldt which comes in the same options. While the look and design on the outside is quite simple, the inside is quite perfect. The 16L that I have holds a 15” laptop with a leather strap that snaps in place to keep it from accidentally sliding out. There’s just enough pockets and room to hold all the gear that I’ve ever needed to put in any backpack camera bag.

PROS

  • Weight: It’s extremely lightweight

  • Comfortable. Even with its very basic shoulder strap design, it’s more comfortable than most that have tried to get fancy with the design.

  • Impressive pocket design. Some bags have way too many, others not enough, the inside design and pocket layout is done nicely.

  • Holds its form well.

  • Easy to access and hide rain cover.

  • Well made tripod or light stand pocket and strap.

CONS

  • Not the sexiest looking backpack design, it’s quite simple and plain looking.

  • Personally not a fan of the one and only cotton canvas color, but being that this is the first line introduction to a bag line from Cecilia I’m sure there will be more colors soon. Although, I don’t know for sure.

  • The provided strap to hold a tripod or light stand is located inside a pocket. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pocket needs to be open when using the strap.

  • Price is $398 for the canvas and $498 for the leather.


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The Tharp is the 8L Cecilia messenger style bag, which also comes in a 12L named the Lambert, in the same two leather colors and cotton canvas color. The Tharp and Lambert are like most messenger bags with a few unique characteristics. While ONA messenger bags use straps and buckles to close the top flap and ThinkTank uses velcro, Cecilia went with magnets strong enough to hold it closed. The EVA foam padding is also a nice feature, not only as extra protection for the gear inside, but also comfort.

PROS

  • Weight: Light weight just like the backpack.

  • Comfortable with a well padded strap.

  • Sturdy and holds form really good compared to other messenger bags.

  • Seems to be quite durable.

  • Pocket design, just like the backpack is the best I’ve seen.

  • Price is $149 for the canvas and $249 for the leather. A good price for one of the best made messenger bags I’ve used.

CONS

  • No short strap for picking up, only the long shoulder strap.

  • Same as with the backpack models, I’m not a fan of canvas color.

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The New Leica Q2 - First Impressions Review

Meet The New Leica Q2

In true Leica fashion, their team of engineers took the already impressive innovation of the original Q and elevated it to new level. The new Q2 is easily the most impressive compact camera on the market, and to be honest, labeling it that will make most photographers shrug it off yet it has simply so much more to offer. There currently isn’t a camera on the market quite like it. Sure, Sony has a full frame sensor compact with a 35mm f/2, but the Q2 brings a whole new level of what you can do with a fixed lens camera. The Sony RX1RII comes in at a price of $3300 and is the closest competitor to the Q2, but with when comparing the specs head to head, the $1600 difference seems like a no brainer.

When rumors started circulating around months ago about a new Q on the horizon, I was pretty curious as to what Leica’s mad scientists had been cooking up in the their lab. I was oddly interested to see what they would add or upgrade, besides the sensor, since the SL would naturally be the next in line for a update. Well, I've been shooting with the new Q2 for the past month and can tell you that even though I was skeptical as to what they could pull off, I’m pretty impressed to say the least. Like I said, there really is nothing on the market quiet like the Q2. Not only will this update impress those who already own the Leica Q (I know a good handful of photogs that do), but also those who really don’t see the need for a compact camera (like myself).

ISO160 f/1.7 1/50sec - Model: Katt Wilkens

[Entire Shoot For The Image Above]

Much like the M240 upgrade to the M10, they slightly tweaked an already minimalistic body design and made it even sleeker looking. Inside, they put a completely new sensor that is easily one of the most impressive full-frame sensors I've ever shot with. Taking it from 24mp to 47mp which not only provides amazing IQ, but the ability to digitally zoom in to 75mm. Paired with the same awesome 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, the image quality is hard to beat for any full-frame camera let alone a compact one. I photographed two entire shoots with only the Q2, taking portraits at 28mm, which you’ll see the results of throughout this review.

*Every photo below, besides the 75mm digital zoom sample was shot at 28mm.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

While the original Q was one that I got to shoot with a lot, I never quite fell in love with it. The Q2 is a different story. It's gonna be tough giving this one back and having to wait til mid-late April to purchase one for myself. The new sensor, along with the addition of weather sealing, a newly designed viewfinder, image stabilization, faster and more accurate AF, and a sleeker body design that makes it hard to put down had me wanting one for myself after the first shoot I took it on. 

 

Photo by John Kreidler, taken with Q2, with me holding a Q2.

 

NOTABLE UPGRADES

While the new sensor will be the most talked about and notable upgrade with the new Q, there are a few others that are definitely worth mentioning. The Q2 now has weather sealing against dust and water. I don’t think it’s the greatest weather sealing in the world, but it’s there and I did shoot with it in the rain without any issues. The other biggie for me is the battery. Being that the SL is my primary body which I often shoot alongside of the M10, giving me two different batteries and chargers to carry around. Leica went and gave the Q2 the same battery as the SL which now makes it even more enticing for SL owners like myself. I don’t ever travel without my M10, but when it came time to pack for my trip out to Vegas to teach at WPPI it got left behind. Having shot with the new Q alongside of the SL for an entire week prior, I really started to like the combo and decided to give the M10 a rest. Crazy, I know.


THE BODY

 
 

From a distance, it’s actually not that easy to differentiate the two. They’re pretty similar looking being that Leica didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with this upgrade, instead choosing to take the original and simply make it a little sleeker looking with less buttons. Just as Leica did with the upgrade from the M240 to the M10, they took an already minimalistic body and stripped it down even further. Personally, it’s the simplicity of the M and SL design that made me fall in love with shooting them. The Q2 is now just as sleek as the M10 and in that same category. It’s a camera that I can shoot without having it get in my way. I set it and go, not having to remembering which buttons or knobs do what.

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Compare the Q2, M10, or SL to the Sony A7 or A9 Series models and you’ll see very quickly what I mean. Having owned the Sony A7II at one point and then the newer A9 giving it another shot, I simply couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I was shooting with a mini computer that lacked soul. It was actually after shooting with the A9 for a few months that I decided to convert fully over to Leica with dual SL’s and the M10. Sorry Sony shooters, that’s just my opinion and my experience.

 
 

The new stripped down design of the Q only makes me enjoy shooting with it even more. Less buttons to get in my way, going from 5 to 3 on the back and scrapping the Record button on the top plate. Shooting with the new Q feels even more like shooting with my M than the original which made it tough to put down.

Leica Q2

Leica Q

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.


THE NEW SENSOR

(Click on image to see larger) Fully Edited - Shot at ISO50 f/1.7 1/250

Okay, so let’s talk about how Leica decided to just about double the megapixels with the Q2. Do you really need close to 50mp in a full-frame sensor? Well, that depends on the photographer. For myself, I would have said no prior to getting my hands on the Q2. Now, a few weeks later, I’m REALLY hoping that Leica throws this sensor in the new SL. The image quality and detail in these files continue to impress me the more I shoot with it.

 

Fully edited - ISO50 f/1.7 1/320sec - Model: Sasha Casares

 

I have no doubts that there will be a nice handful of photographers that will look at this upgrade from 24mp to 47 as unnecessary. While 24mp is more than enough to get just about most jobs done, I can honestly say that this sensor produces some of the most beautiful images that I’ve seen from a camera with impressive resolution and image quality being paired with the 28mm lens. While 24mp would be plenty, the amount of detail when digitally zoomed in to 75mm was pretty damn impressive. Let alone the ability to crop in post if needed for a better composition is more than welcome.

RESOLUTION SAMPLE

RAW Image - Click image to see full size

Cropped in - Click image to see closer

The sensor was the number one reason that I was excited to get my hands on this camera early to test out. Why? The SL is my primary camera body for all of my professional work. Based off of the original Q and SL having the same sensor, I knew that this could give me an early look at the image quality that the new SL will bring to the table. While I haven’t heard anything about the SL2 at this point, or whether it will share the same sensor as the Q2, I would be one happy camper if it did. After shooting with the Q2 for a few weeks I can tell you that this sensor produces some of the best image quality that I’ve seen from a full-frame sensor.

 
 

THE 28mm f/1.7 Summilux

Leica kept with the 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens as the original, no changes there. However, the image quality produced by the Q2 with the higher resolution really makes this lens shine. Being that the Q is a compact camera with a fixed lens, the combination of the sensor and lens are what ultimately make this camera so special. Shooting wide open at f/1.7 is a thing of beauty, especially for portraits. The out of focus rendering and sharpness when shot wide open, along with the new sensor, are what really show off the precision engineering and design behind this camera. I shot with the original Q a good amount, but never quite fell in love with it enough to buy one. The Q2 is a different story. It’s gonna be tough giving this back and having to wait til mid-April to pick one up.

 
 

DIGITAL ZOOM FEATURE

Just like the original Q, you have the ability to digitally zoom in to 35, 50, and now 75mm which you see above. Both the RAW and edited version to show that it’s a usable image. While you can just as easily crop in post, this feature is actually pretty slick and helps when composing your shot. Sure, you don’t get the compression of a true 75mm lens, but being that this is a fixed lens camera, the digital zoom is a pretty nice feature.

The original Q had the ability to zoom in to 35 and 50mm. The extra resolution of the new sensor now allows for a 75mm zoom. I’ll be honest, I was pretty skeptical about how good the image quality would be cropped in that far so it was one of the first features I tested once I got out to Red Rock Canyon last week. How usable is an image cropped in that far? Take a look for yourself at the RAW file sample above, and the zoomed in image below. I also included an example of how the digitally zoomed in images look when opened in Lightroom. Zooming in doesn’t lock you into that crop, you still have access to the full file which is pretty nice.

 

75mm Zoom - Cropped in even further to show detail

 

The digital zoom isn’t a feature that I used a whole lot with the original Q, but I can easily see myself using it now with the Q2. I think a lot of photographers will really like this feature. Personally, I love shooting at the 28mm focal length which is why I loved shooting with the original, but I know there were a lot of photographers who expressed that a 35mm lens would have been a better way to go for Leica. Shooting the Q2 at the 35mm digital zoom won’t disappoint, I found myself using it a lot this past week.

Opened in Lightroom - Full size image


DYNAMIC RANGE SAMPLE (Raw Images)

By now dynamic range samples in a review shouldn’t even be needed, but I included them anyways just for those that may be interested. There had been a few photographers who reported banding issues with under exposed files were pushed. I saw no banding whatsoever when I pushed files like the one below 5 stops in Lightroom. Honestly, seeing how clean the files are when pushed 5 stops did impress me. While I didn’t have the original Q to compare them head to head, I can see the difference by going back and looking at the original Q Review that I wrote up. You can see below how much detail is preserved when pushed 5 stops, with little to no noise. Had I made a mistake with my settings on a real shoot and underexposed an image by that much, you can see that it’s still a very usable file.

NOTE: The Next 2 Sample Images were each pushed 5 stops of exposure (the max) in Lightroom to test the Dynamic Range. No other changes. Shot with Auto WB, which is why it’s so warm.

 
Click on image to see even closer

Click on image to see even closer

 
 

Click on image to see even closer

 

Micro-contrast

Pushed 2.5 stops - ISO50 f/4 1/20sec

Closer Look (click on image for full size)

Dynamic Range

Exposure +3.5 - ISO400 f/1.7 1/640sec

 

Click on image to see even closer

 

MACRO Option

You can easily switch the lens to macro mode and capture images at a much closer minimum focus distance. This is a really nice feature to have at your fingertips for when you need it, but even more so now with the additional megapixels giving you the ability to crop in even further.


Full size image shot in Macro Mode.

Zoomed in to show detail up close

CONCLUSION

The Q is a compact, or fixed lens camera. There’s no changing lenses, you’re stuck with one lens mounted on a sleek looking Leica body. For some, that’s a deal breaker. Why spend money on a fixed lens camera and limit yourself? Well, I used to be one of those people who had no desire to purchase one, until the original Q. I decided against it however, I did shoot with one a lot.

What changed my mind? There are some really nice benefits to a compact camera, which I didn’t see until I shot with the Q. For hobbyist photographers, a crop sensor compact might do the trick for you. Maybe something like the Fuji X100 series, which I tried and realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to shoot anything professional with it. It was a lot like a wiffle ball bat. Sure, it’s great for playing in your backyard, but it’s not made for much more than that.

 
 

The Q is a camera that’s great for the backyard and someone like myself who has young kids, or kid, but also likes to know that it can also be used for professional work. With a body that’s very much similar to that of the M that I love so much, a kickass full-frame sensor, and a lens that seems to fit like a match made in heaven, the Q2 now becomes a compact camera that fits perfectly in my gear bag. I can shoot at a 35mm focal length if I want to, it just won’t be full-frame which is fine. I can shoot at 50mm, and now even 75 if I have to. BUT, here’s the thing, I can also shoot at 28mm with a 47.3mp full-frame sensor at a wide open aperture of f/1.7 and take beautifully rendered photos on just about any professional job if I want to. I love when I hear photographers say that 28mm isn’t good for portraits. Sure, it’s not the most ideal focal length, but if the headshot of me at the top of this review along with all of the portraits I’ve mixed in doesn’t prove differently, I don’t know what will.

 
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While the new Q2 is a camera that I admittedly didn’t see myself falling in love with as much as I did, I’m even more excited about the new SL that’s due to come out some time this year. Even though the M and the Q are similar, the new Q2 has now separated itself and I’m looking forward to getting my own. I’ll be following this up with a full detailed written review and video review next week. Below are more sample images that I took with it over the past few weeks. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have.

The price of the Q2 is $4995, and as far as I know, those who put pre-orders in have already started receiving them. When considering the fact that the M10 starting at $7295 without a lens, the Q2 is actually a great price for a body and lens combo that also has an awesome AF system, Image Stabilization, and a brand new full frame sensor. If you don’t own a Leica but have been thinking about wetting your feet a little, in my opinion, this now becomes your best option.

Full shoot with the Q2 - Katt Kilkons Shoot

Full Sample Gallery in addition to the photos below - Q2 Sample Gallery

Cheers!

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NEW STORAGE / BACKUP SOLUTION

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INTRO

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.

*SKIP TO THE BOTTOM FOR UPDATES*

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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. 

 
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WHY

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. 


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THE BASICS

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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)

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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. 

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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. 


THE NEW SETUP

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. 

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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. 


THE LAYOUT / DESIGN

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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. 

POST SHOOT / WEDDING

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). 

[ FILE ORGANIZATION OVERVIEW ]

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. 

UPLOADING FROM HOME

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.

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FIRST LAYER - WORKING DRIVES

DUAL G-RAID STUDIOS

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.

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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 SECOND LAYER - SYNOLOGY NAS

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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. 

USER INTERFACE

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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.

INTERNAL HARD DRIVES (36TB Usable Storage)

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

SPEED

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.

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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. 

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SPEED TESTS

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.

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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. 

COST 

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

 


CLOUD STORAGE - Backblaze

$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.


CONCLUSION

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. 


LIST OF EQUIPMENT

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

Cameras

Leica SL

Leica M10

Adaptors

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. 


UPDATES

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. 

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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. 

[BLOG POST - SOMEWHERE IN MEXICO]

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. 

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CONCLUSION

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. 

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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!

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