Posts Tagged ‘REVIEW’

Software review: Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 gives the look of black and white film without the fuss

18 Oct

Nik Silver Efex Pro 3
$ 149 as part of Nik Collection 4

A few months ago we found a lot to like in the latest iteration of the Nik Collection, a suite of eight image processing tools initially developed by Nik Software and these days owned by French software company DxO. At the time, we looked at the overall suite with a focus on what was new. For this review, though, we’d like to take a closer look at just one of the suite’s most useful components, Silver Efex Pro 3.


Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 is a black-and-white conversion tool that goes far further than the grayscale or black-and-white tools built into Adobe Photoshop. It allows users to simulate the look of specific real-world film types, manually tuning their color sensitivity and grain with an incredible amount of flexibility and precision. For less experienced users, a generous selection of presets are provided to get you started with minimal effort.

Silver Efex allows you to make a wide range of adjustments to brightness, contrast, structure and tonality, either globally or locally using control points. You can also apply color filters, reduce haze and finish your creations with toning, vignetting, borders and more.

Even at its default ‘neutral’ setting, Silver Efex Pro’s rendering is noticeably different to that of a simple grayscale conversion in Photoshop.
Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image, here for Photoshop grayscale or here for full color.

Available immediately as part of the Nik Collection 4 bundle, Silver Efex Pro 3 can function either standalone or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and other compatible apps on both Windows 8.1+ or macOS 10.14+. (And as of the recently-released Nik Collection 4 version 4.2, this includes support for Adobe Photoshop running natively on Apple M1 devices.)

The overall Nik Collection 4 is priced at $ 149 for new customers, with upgrades available to existing customers for $ 79. That actually makes it around $ 50 less for the full suite than Silver Efex Pro 1 or 2 used to cost standalone.

What’s New?

Let’s take a quick look at what’s new in Silver Efex Pro 3. The biggest change is to the user interface, which has been completely redesigned with a far more modern look. Gone are the busy 3D-effect buttons, bevels and drop shadows of the Silver Efex Pro 2 UI, with the new version aiming to reduce distraction with a flatter, cleaner and more modern interface.

Compared to that of version 2, Silver Efex Pro 3’s interface is much cleaner and more modern.

DxO has also updated its U-Point control point technology to reduce visual clutter, significantly increase versatility and in the latest v4.2 release, bring a modest boost to performance as well. Control points can be grouped or renamed, saved for reuse in presets, and in Lightroom Classic can also be copied and pasted between images. Their individual sliders now appear in the right panel rather than directly on the image, and the luminance/chrominance values to which they respond can be tuned.

The company has also borrowed two features from its other apps to further extend Silver Efex Pro. It now boasts both the haze-busting ClearView slider from DxO PhotoLab, as well as the ability to add one of 39 black and white film grain types from DxO FilmPack. Both of these additions can only be applied globally, rather than via U-Point controls.

User interface and controls

Just like the other apps in the Nik Collection, Silver Efex Pro 3 can be used completely standalone and without the need for third-party applications.

Works standalone but it’s best used as a plugin

As a standalone app, Silver Efex can only open images in JPEG or TIFF formats, which rather limits its utility. Since it doesn’t support Raw files standalone, many photographers will instead want to pair it with other apps.

Standalone mode is very similar to plugin mode but without the bottom-of-screen status bar you’d use to apply changes as a plugin. Instead, you must use save command in the file menu.

As well as DxO’s own PhotoLab series, it can officially be used only with Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements 2020+, Lightroom Classic 2019+, Affinity Photo 1.8+ or, as of its v4.2 release, Capture One 21. Other applications may work to varying degrees, but aren’t officially supported.

For example, Exposure X6 works even for Raw files, first converting them to TIFF format, but functions as if Silver Efex had been opened standalone. You aren’t shown the status bar at the bottom of the screen, and instead must use the file menu to save your results. And prior to v4.2, Capture One didn’t work at all, appearing fine but failing to apply its adjustments in the final step.

The good news is that a free 30-day unlimited trial is available, so if you’re using an application that’s not officially supported with the Nik Collection, you can try them together first to see if everything works before paying.

A fair few presets keep things simple for beginners

The quickest way to get results from Silver Efex Pro 3 is to use one of its presets, of which there are a reasonably generous 58 in all. They’re separated somewhat haphazardly into five groups with not-so-informative names: Classic, En Vogue, Modern, Vintage and 25th Anniversary. You can also view all five groups together, filtering them to show only your favorites or the ten most recently-used presets.

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The presets are all shown atop the left-hand pane, along with your editing history for the current image. For each preset you’re shown a small preview based upon the image you’re currently editing. These are rendered very quickly, making it easy to simply scroll through the list and find the look you’re after, or a preset that will make a good jumping off point for your own creation.

You can’t permanently modify the 58 base presets, but you can create new custom presets which can be exported and imported to allow sharing with other photographers or across multiple workstations. Your custom and imported presets are each grouped separately from the base presets, so there’s no way to quickly access favorites from all three categories or to see them all as one scrollable list.

A vast selection of controls to tune results to your tastes

Of course, while presets are great for beginners who want quick results, more experienced photographers will prefer to capture their own artistic vision, not simply borrow someone else’s.

Silver Efex Pro 3’s control list is so vast that, even with just one control point active and on a 1080p display, the right pane is still almost 3500 pixels tall. The cropped screenshots above link to the top and bottom halves of the right pane, respectively.

Thankfully, Silver Efex Pro 3 offers a huge amount of control over your images courtesy of a whopping 50+ controls in its right-hand pane. And that’s just counting the controls which affect the entire image globally. If you add one or more of DxO’s U-Point control points to the image, you’ll unlock another dozen-plus sliders per point or group of points.

Not only global adjustments, but local ones too

Each control point you add to the image is indicated with a small donut-shaped mark at its center, and while it is selected, an outer circle appears showing the extent beyond which the effect will gradually be feathered away to nothing. This outer limit can be resized to cover the portion of the image you need.

For each point, there are also both luminance and chrominance sliders, and these help you to target specific areas of the image based on their brightness and color before the black and white conversion. If you dial both sliders down to zero, the control point will effectively become a graduated radial selection, instead.

The ability to group and rename control points is very handy. In this mask view, I’ve selected the taxi’s body with one group of control points, and the road markings with another group.

Once placed, multiple control points can be grouped together. You can also rename both individual points and groups of them, and when saving new presets you can choose whether or not control points should be included. Of course, once the preset is subsequently applied to a different image, you can adjust the point positions if they don’t quite match what’s needed from shot to shot.

A closer look at the global controls

The bulk of Silver Efex Pro 3’s controls are grouped under its global adjustments header, with subgroups including brightness, contrast or structure adjustment headers, as well as tonality protection.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

Brightness can be adjusted globally, or for the highlights, midtones and shadows. There’s also a dynamic brightness slider which tries to hold onto local contrast in the highlights and shadows will brightening or darkening the image globally.

For contrast, you have a choice of either the basic contrast slider or a soft contrast slider which aims for a less harsh effect with more diffuse transitions. There are also sliders to amplify whites or blacks alone.

Under the structure header, you get both the basic structure control and one for fine structure, as well as individual controls for structure in the highlight, midtone and shadow areas. And finally, the tonality protection section contains sliders to recover lost detail in just the highlight and shadow areas of the image.

Local adjustments get a subset of these global controls

The selective colorization slider lets you bring back a specific color range to your otherwise-black and white image using U-Point selections. Image uses Full Dynamic (Smooth) preset.
Click here for the Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

Each individual control point or group of them also offers a subset of the controls from the previous section. Confusingly, they’re grouped rather differently to those for global adjustments, though. All but the dynamic brightness, soft contrast, tonality protection and high/mid/shadow/black structure sliders have equivalents for control points.

There’s also one extra control which is specific to the control points – selective colorization. This allows you to bring some of the color back into specific parts of your otherwise black and white image, and since you can have multiple control points, you can also bring back multiple colors if you wish.

Vanquish haze with the ClearView slider

The ClearView filter in Silver Efex Pro is quite effective, but can’t be targeted only at specific areas of the image, so can cause overly-contrasty foregrounds if pushed too far.
Click here for the full-sized default image, here for the ClearView image or here for full color.

One of the new features in Silver Efex Pro 3, inherited from DxO’s flagship PhotoLab application, is its new ClearView slider. Just like its PhotoLab equivalent, it’s very effective at recovering detail and increasing contrast in hazy backgrounds and other lower-contrast areas of your image.

I sometimes found it hard to push far enough though, simply because the areas of moderate contrast in my images would start to show too much contrast before the hazy background was fully recovered. I’d really like to see DxO allow ClearView to be paired with U-Point or some other form of localized selection in a future release to help in these situations.

Color filtering without the physical filters

With traditional black and white film, if you wanted to tune the response to individual colors of light you’d do so with filters attached to the front of the lens. For example, you might attach a yellow, orange or perhaps even a red filter to make a blue sky more dramatic, or a green filter to lighten foliage.

With Silver Efex Pro, that’s all achieved post-capture with no need to fumble for physical filters, however. Red, orange, yellow, green and blue filter presets are all provided, but if you prefer you can also dial in a specific hue in one-degree increments, and you can also control the strength of the filter from 0 to 200%.

Color filters can be simulated after the fact in Silver Efex Pro 3, so you can do things like darkening a blue sky with a yellow filter to help give the clouds more definition.
Click here for the full-sized unfiltered image, here for the filtered image or here for full color.

Simulate the look of real B&W film in two somewhat-contradictory ways

Silver Efex Pro 3 now offers two different tools to simulate the look of black and white film grain. The two can be used in concert together, but the division between the two tools is unnecessarily confusing.

Firstly, the film types tool lets you select one of 28 different film types and dial in your desired level of grain size and hardness. You can also control the film’s sensitivity in red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and violet channels, and adjust levels/curves. All of this is carried over from earlier version and is based on code from Nik Software, the original creator of the Nik Collection.

Through the new film grain tool, DxO now also lets you simulate the look of specific, real film grains based on the same algorithms it used to create its FilmPack plugin. In all, there are 38 film grain types on offer, including almost every black and white film type from FilmPack. For each you can adjust the intensity from 0 to 200%, and the grain size from 1.0 to 10.0.

The new film grain tool’s grain patterns have a very authentic feel, but unlike the earlier film types tool, it only handles grain simulation and forgoes any attempt to tune the film’s responsiveness to different wavelengths of light. You can, however, use both tools at once, in which case the new tool overrides only the grain pattern of the earlier one. (And you can, if you want, choose different film types in each section to, say, create a fictitious film with the light response of one film but the grain of another.)

Full-size, no-grain-added image.

A wide range of authentic-looking film grains are available in Silver Efex Pro 3. In order, these are 100% crops of the above image with no added grain, Fuji Neopan 1600, Kodak T-Max 3200, Ilford Delta 3200 and filtered Kodak HIE. All share the same Neutral profile and differ only in their grain selections.

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Finish your images with toning, vignetting, burnt edges and borders

Finally, Silver Efex provides four different categories of finishing adjustments: Toning, vignetting, burnt edges and borders. By default, these are one-click adjustments involving no more than making a selection from a list, but far more control is available if you want it.

For toning, you can not only select a color but also control strength, hue and toning for both silver and paper, and the balance between the two. For vignetting, you can adjust the strength of the vignette (which can either darken or lighten), as well as its size, roundness and center point.

For burnt edges, you control the size, transition softness and strength of the effect on all four edges individually. And finally, image borders allows you not only to choose one of 14 predefined border types, but also how thick the border is and how far it extends into the image. You can also adjust the roughness of the border, and provide a ‘seed’ number that the program should use when generating the random details in border textures.

The compare tools allow you to quickly toggle between before and after views, view the image with an adjustable side-by-side or under/over split, or see both before and after images together.

Before-and-after comparisons are quick and easy

View controls can be found at the top of the screen, and I found the comparison controls in particular to be rather handy. The leftmost of these toggles between the results of your current settings or the default black and white conversion, and holding the P key down achieves the same thing.

The central button splits the image in two either vertically or horizontally, and allows you to move the dividing line across the image to allow a careful before-and-after comparison anywhere within the image. And finally, the rightmost button gives you either side-by-side or under/over views of the full image.

The histogram tool allows you to highlight which image areas are within ten different luminance levels at your current settings, even in the loupe view. Note also the history panel at screen left.

The histogram tool is surprisingly handy, too

One last function I found to be particularly handy was Silver Efex Pro 3’s histogram tool, which sits beneath the loupe at the top of the right pane. It not only gives you access to RGB, red, green, blue or luminance graphs of your image, but also splits it into ten different luminance ranges.

For any of the ten, you can enable an overlaid pattern on the image, with the pattern color varying by the range selected. This makes it really easy to see which parts of the image share the same luminance, and I found it even more useful than the more-common technique of just highlighting the brightest and darkest image areas.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.


It’s been more than a decade since Silver Efex Pro’s last major update and until just this year, it hadn’t been significantly changed since the suite’s original creator, Nik Software, was sold first to Google and then DxO.

A lot has changed in all that time, not only for Silver Efex itself but also in the imaging software market. Gone are the days when a plugin of its ilk could command the heady price of $ 200. These days you can purchase the entire eight-plugin Nik Collection for a much more reasonable $ 150, but sadly you can’t pick and choose which of those plugins you want to save even more.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

In its overhauled form Silver Efex Pro 3 is much easier on the eye than its predecessor, making it much easier to focus on your images. And while some of its new features sit a little awkwardly alongside earlier ones, once we got used to the differences between film types vs. film grain and global vs. local adjustment sliders, we found it to be pretty easy to use considering the level of control on offer.

Performance, while not mindblowing, is sufficient to prevent frustration. On my 2018-vintage Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop running Windows 10 version 20H2 and Nik Collection v4.2, most sliders update within a half-second or less of being tweaked, even those using U-Point controls to limit their effect to certain area of the image. Final renders can take perhaps 20-30 seconds, which again doesn’t feel unduly slow.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

And it’s hard to argue with Silver Efex Pro’s results. If you’re a fan of black and white photography and are willing to put in a bit more effort than simply clicking on a preset, you can get much more authentic-looking images than you would from the black and white tools in your camera or most all-in-one apps like Photoshop.

If you’re still using the previous release of Silver Efex Pro, its successor represents a no-brainer upgrade. As well as a nicer interface and more film grain types, you’ll also find the new ClearView tool and improved U-Point technology to be big improvements. And if you’re not already a Nik Collection user but want a solid plugin that can deliver realistically film-like black and white images, we’d definitely recommend giving the trial version a spin.

What we like:

  • Yields convincingly film-like results
  • Presets get beginners up and running quickly
  • Making and sharing custom presets is simple
  • Both global and local adjustments
  • Loads of controls to fine-tune the look you’re after
  • ClearView tool is quite effective at correcting haze
  • New user interface is cleaner and less distracting
  • More affordable as a suite component than its predecessors were sold separately

What we don’t:

  • Can no longer be purchased separately
  • No Raw support when used standalone
  • Presets feel rather disorganized
  • Film types vs. film grain tools are unnecessarily confusing
  • Ditto the differing global and local adjustment slider arrangements

Who’s it for:

More experienced photographers who want fine-grained control over their black and white creations, and who desire a convincingly film-like final result.

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DPReview TV: iPhone 13 Pro review – shot on the iPhone 13 Pro!

09 Oct

We shot this entire review on the iPhone 13 Pro. See real world examples of Cinematic Mode, Portrait Mode, Night Mode and more. Also, find out the one thing that made Jordan declare, ‘It’s like having a fork dragged across my eyeballs.’

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get new episodes of DPReview TV every week.

  • Introduction
  • 'Wide' lens
  • 'Ultrawide' lens
  • 'Telephoto' lens
  • Portrait Mode
  • Night mode
  • What is Cinematic Mode?
  • Jordan's thoughts on Cinematic Mode
  • Cinematic Mode quality
  • Cinematic Mode vs. 4K
  • 4K quality
  • Low light video performance
  • Image stabilization
  • The wrap

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Video: a Retro Review of Sony’s 24-year-old Mavica FD5 camera, which used floppy discs for storage

04 Oct

Gordon Laing has shared another episode of Retro Reviews, this time reviewing the 24-year-old Sony Mavica FD5, one of Sony’s earliest digital cameras that recorded cameras directly to 3.5” floppy discs.

The Mavica FD5 was released in 1997 and retailed for around $ 600. While not the first Mavica camera, it was the first digital Mavica camera. As Gordon explains in the 13-minute video, the selling point of the FD5 was its use of the ubiquitous 3.5” floppy disc as a storage medium. Whereas most other digital cameras in the mid-to-late 1990s either used built-in storage or more expensive (and sometimes proprietary) storage solutions, Sony opted to go for a solution that didn’t require most consumers to go out and purchase additional hardware.

Naturally, this solution made for a rather large, square-shaped camera. But, aside from its brick-like ergonomics [insert Sony ergonomics joke here], Gordon suggests the camera is fairly intuitive and straightforward due to its almost entirely auto nature (the only adjustable setting was exposure compensation +/- 1.5EV in .5EV increments). However, there are a few user experience quirks, such as the camera displaying only the numbers of images captured, not how many remain until your 1.4MB of storage is used up.

Below is a collection of sample photographs captured by Gordon with the Mavica FD5, used with his permission:

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At the heart of the FD5 was a CCD sensor that was carried over from Sony’s line of digital video cameras and offered a whopping .3MP (640 x 480 pixels) of resolution. Gordon notes the camera applies rather aggressive JPEG compression to the images in order to fit 20–40 60KB photographs onto a single 3.5” 1.4MP floppy disc. The fixed focal length lens on the FD5 is a 47mm equivalent with a slider on the front of the camera for activating a macro lens that popped in front of the main lens.

The FD5 uses Sony’s FP-530 batteries, which were rated for up to 500 shots per charge. However, reviewing images and keeping the rear LCD display on for extended periods of time dramatically cuts into that shot count.

As always, Gordon’s video coincides with a written Retro Review of the camera, which you can read over on CameraLabs. You can find more of his Retro Reviews on Gordon’s DinoBytes YouTube channel and find his other photography work on his camera review website, CameraLabs.

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Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Review: A Wildlife Photographer’s Dream Lens?

06 Sep

The post Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Review: A Wildlife Photographer’s Dream Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 review: a wildlife photographer's dream lens

Tamron just released the 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD lens for Sony E-mount cameras – but while it seems impressive, is it the right lens for you?

In a hands-on Tamron 150-500mm review, we’ll go over the specs, first impressions, and sample photos taken with this zoom lens. It’s Tamron’s first Sony full-frame E-mount lens with Vibration Compensation (VC), and thanks to the built-in image stabilization and the impressive zoom range, it sounds like a wildlife photographer’s dream. But how does it actually perform?

Let’s find out.

Tamron 150-500mm: overview

The Tamron 150-500mm telephoto zoom lens is designed for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras, but it also works with APS-C cameras (for an effective 225-750mm focal length). The lens features a variable aperture of f/5-6.7 to f/22-32 and a front filter size of 82mm.


Solid design and build

Considering its extreme zoom range, the Tamron 150-500mm is relatively compact. It weighs in at 60.8 ounces (1725 grams) and is 8.3 inches (21 centimeters) long. Like many other telephoto lenses, it extends when zooming. There are several physical switches on the lens, including a focus range limiter, AF/MF switch, VC switch, and VC mode switch. The lens comes with a removable hood and a tripod mount.

Built-in tripod mount

The tripod collar was one of my favorite features, thanks to its Arca-Swiss compatible tripod mount. You can quickly and easily mount the lens to a tripod without fiddling around with the usual tripod plate. Also incorporated into the tripod collar are strap attachment loops. And for those who want to save on some weight, the tripod collar is removable.

Tamron 150-500mm tripod collar


The Tamron 150-500mm offers moisture-resistant construction for shooting in inclement weather conditions. There are leak-resistant seals on the mount and throughout the edges of the lens. And the front lens element includes a fluorine coating to deter dirt, dust, and fingerprints.

Vibration compensation

Historically, the biggest drawback to buying a Tamron lens has been the lack of image stabilization (i.e., Vibration Compensation). Thus, Tamron’s decision to add VC to the 150-500mm is a big deal and goes a long way toward reducing blur caused by camera shake. There are three VC modes on the lens, including Standard (Mode 1), Panning (Mode 2), and Framing Priority (Mode 3). In fact, the inclusion of VC makes this lens more viable not only for still photography but also for video.

Good macro capabilities

Despite being a super-telephoto lens, the Tamron 150-500mm can shoot at impressively high magnifications. It features a minimum object distance (MOD) of 23.6 inches (59.9 centimeters) at the 150mm end and 70.9 inches (180 centimeters) at 500mm. The lens also offers a magnification ratio of 1:3.1 at 150mm. In other words, you can maintain a reasonable shooting distance when capturing macro and close-up images with this lens.

close-up of a sand dollar
194mm | f/6.3 | 1/640s | ISO 400

Compatible with Sony in-camera features

Though it’s a third-party lens, the Tamron 150-500mm plays well with Sony cameras, especially when it comes to autofocus. Not only is the focusing snappy and accurate, but eye autofocus is available on relevant Sony cameras. All in all, the Tamron offers a very similar shooting experience to native Sony lenses.

Good price

The Tamron 150-500mm costs $ 1399 USD, and while this might seem steep, it’s actually a fair price considering the competition (more on that below).

Tamron 150-500mm review moon
500mm | f/6.7 | 1/250s | ISO 320


Variable aperture

The Tamron 150-500mm uses a variable aperture, which means that the maximum aperture changes based on the focal length. This can be a dealbreaker for those seeking a constant aperture throughout the zoom range – namely, those shooting in low light. However, a constant aperture telephoto lens would cost significantly more and be much larger in size.

Zoom lock

The Tamron 150-500mm has a flex zoom lock that holds the zoom at any focal length by simply pushing the zoom ring forward. Some users might appreciate the convenience, but I found it too easy to activate the flex zoom lock by mistake. My preference is to keep the zoom switch instead, which does the same thing, but is much harder to trigger on accident.

Cannot be used with teleconverters

Many who shoot with telephoto lenses like to add teleconverters for additional focal length reach. Unfortunately, teleconverters are not currently available for use with the Tamron 150-500mm.

Tamron 150-500mm review deer in a field
478mm | f/6.3 | 1/500s | ISO 640

Image quality

Overall, the photos produced with this lens are crisp and sharp (with peak sharpness at f/8). Shooting at such a slow aperture does require ample lighting, and this can potentially affect image quality if you need to raise the ISO in dark shooting conditions.

Because the lens is long and heavy, it is best to use it with a monopod or tripod for maximum sharpness. Vibration Compensation does help when shooting handheld, but the lens is still hard to stabilize without additional assistance.

Great Blue Heron on a post
500mm | f/6.7 | 1/250s | ISO 100

Tamron 150-500mm alternatives

The closest competitors to this lens are the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3. Of these lenses, the Sony is the most expensive (at $ 2,398 USD), and the Sigma is the cheapest (at $ 949 USD).

Both the Sony and the Sigma offer a slightly wider focal length compared to the Tamron but lose out by 100mm on the long end. The Sony 100-400mm’s higher price tag is likely due to lens build, performance, and overall optics. The Sony is also compatible with teleconverters.

Who should purchase the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7?

The Tamron 150-500mm lens is ideal for wildlife, nature, and sports photographers. You’ll need ample light and a monopod or tripod to get the best performance and image quality – but its flexible focal length range and reasonable price tag make this a no-brainer zoom lens for Sony E-mount shooters.

The post Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Review: A Wildlife Photographer’s Dream Lens? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

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In-depth tripod review: Leofoto ‘Summit’ LM-364C

30 Aug
The fully extended Leofoto LM-364C with a compact (non-Leofoto) gimbal, full-frame camera, and 500mm prime lens.

Leofoto LM-364C | $ 580

Leofoto is a brand of Laitu Photographic, a manufacturer that has been making tripods, heads and accessories since 2014, both under their own name and for other brands. The early products from the Leofoto brand were clearly ‘inspired’ by the designs and appearances of successful products from other companies. However, they have recently developed some of their own innovative gear, as well as a broad catalog of photographic accessories; from plates and clamps to straps and camera cages. The quality of this new gear is intended to compete at the same level as some of the best in the market, as well, and that is what we’re here to evaluate.

Specs and what’s included

  • Maximum height of 145 cm (57.1″)
  • Minimum height of 9 cm (3.5″)
  • Folds to 53 cm (20.8″) with 14 cm (5.5″) diameter
  • Weighs 1.92 kg (4.23 lbs) with flat platform
  • 30kg (66 lbs) load limit
  • Three leg angles (23° / 56° / 87°)
  • Four leg sections (36mm top leg diameter 32.5 / 28 / 25mm)
  • 70mm platform side-clamped with release button
  • Large weight hook under platform
  • Bubble level included on apex
  • Removable 42mm mushroom feet on standard 3/8″ thread
  • Includes padded bag, tools, instructions, 26mm spikes, 75mm video bowl

The Leofoto LM ‘Summit’ series are all modular apex, systematic tripods, like the older and larger ‘Mountain’ series, and come in 32, 36, and 40mm top tube sizes. Within the Summit series, there are three, four, and five-section leg options, as well as regular and long versions. Recently, Leofoto even added an entirely olive green version of the LM-364CL.

In addition to the LM range, Leofoto also makes the LS ‘Ranger’ series, which share the same leg options, but top them with a compact apex for a slimmer, lighter package. This series includes the CEX models, with a built-in leveling half ball on the slim apex. (Ranger shown on top, Summit below.)

The top platform on the LM-364C can be replaced with the generously included 75mm bowl insert to accept large video heads or appropriately-sized leveling half-balls. Leofoto also offers carbon-fiber quick columns, geared columns, and horizontal columns to fit this 70mm central opening. Whether these accessories are readily available in your part of the world can still be uncertain, though Leofoto is gaining distributors in many regions.

To get really low, and still be level, the Leofoto LB-75S leveler fits into the LM-series apex.

Compared to others

This tripod was tested and compared with its modular apex peers. Left to right; ProMediaGear TR344, Really Right Stuff TVC-34, Sirui SR-3204, FLM CP34-L4 II, Leofoto LM-364C, Gitzo GT3543LS.

The Leofoto LM-364C was tested and compared alongside tripods in the same class of ‘Series 3′ (33-36mm top leg tube diameter) “Systematic’ (modular apex with removable platform) type, in terms of size and utility, including products from Sirui, Really Right Stuff, ProMediaGear, Gitzo and FLM.

All of these tripods were used in four seasons of sand, snow, mud, rain, and salt water; set up in the bog-like Atlantic salt marshes and the wind-swept Appalachian mountains. They have been loaded with gimbal heads, ball heads, geared and pano-heads, and up to 4kg (8.8lb) lenses attached to cameras ranging from APS-C to medium-format, shooting anything from long-exposure landscapes to extreme telephoto birds-in-flight. The only test they did not go through was being rough-handled at the airport, thanks to pandemic travel restrictions.

Height comparison

Below is a relative height comparison between the Leofoto LM-364C and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.

High Mid Low

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First impressions

The Leofoto Summit LM-364C standing tall on thick legs with a leveling aid inserted into the 70mm opening of the modular apex.

The 36mm top tubes of the LM-364C are the second largest in this group, and the aluminum parts are impressively finished for the price, with a well machined apex and nice rubber grips on the leg locks. The wide range of Leofoto accessories available for these ‘systematic’ tripods increases their utility and appeal, and the fit and finish of these extras is equally good. In terms of materials and construction, the initial impression of Leofoto gear is quite good.

However, the proof is in the details. When fully extended but not yet locked, the leg tubes wiggle a bit more than expected, as if they aren’t a very tight fit inside each other, or the loosened locks allow too much play. Once the locks are tightened, of course, this flex disappears and the legs are rigid. This is still different from the feel of every other tripod in this group, and points to a less-precise mating of the tubes and locks.

The flat platform that comes initially installed is a thick and well-finished aluminum plug with deep sides, a large weight hook underneath, firm plastic disk on top, and a set screw to prevent a head from unscrewing off of it. This platform can be easily swapped out due to the clamping spider and repositionable locking lever, similar to the Gitzo method. However, unlike Gitzo, Leofoto put a pull-out safety button prominently on one side, so it’s possible that a loose platform could come out with an accidental knock of that button. That said, any responsible user should insure the platform is tightened down before moving or using any of these tripods.

On occasion, the flat Leofoto Summit platform was swapped for the LB-75S platform leveler, or the included 75mm video bowl and a Leofoto YB-75SP leveling half ball. Both of these extras are as well made as the tripod itself, and very smooth and easy to level. Due to their standard sizes of 75mm for the half ball, and 70mm for the insert diameter and interior ridges, these accessories can be used in the apexes of four of the other tripods in this group, and worked equally well on those legs.

The spring-loaded, ratcheting leg angle locks are easy to pull from the front or push from the back, and ratchet back in pretty well. However, when it gets really cold, the grease on the angle locks firms up and they don’t really snap back in like they do in the warmer months, or in the studio. Adjusting the angle of each leg is still easy and quick, but required a nudge sometimes.

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Use in the field

Packed up, the LM-364C is about average in weight, but stays nicely tucked into its padded, ‘horn-type’ bag for longer trips. While the overall packed size is on the larger end of the group, its leg tubes are also the second widest, so there is a lot of tripod being carried around. One minor annoyance is that, like the Gitzo, there is no hard stop under the apex when folding the legs inward, so without a center column, they can be pushed to extreme angles. This made repacking the legs a bit more cumbersome compared to some others.

In use with heavy loads of long lenses and gimbals, medium-format cameras and geared heads, or even complicated panoramic heads, the hefty Leofoto never felt insubstantial or not up to the task. The stabilizing effect of those wider-than-average leg tubes was apparent, and the LM-364C only exhibited a few minor hiccups of sliding leg locks or slow angle locks while supporting whatever was the gear of the day. Considering how large the heads and lenses on top usually were, it was rarely noticed that the Leofoto is the shortest, fully deployed, set of legs in the group (by 1cm).

The Leofoto leg locks are nicely wrapped in firm, grippy rubber, and are easy to grasp all at once and unlock. They require just a quarter turn to unlock, and the legs come out quite easily, but on more than a few occasions, the legs seemed locked after a quick turn, but then started a slow, sliding compression once weight or pressure was put on them.
The included rubber mushroom-style feet worked well on many different surfaces, and while the included spikes were easy enough to install, they seemed short and a little insubstantial. They still did their job on ice and some softer surfaces. Leofoto makes a range of other feet available, including titanium rock claws, which seem both excessive and fun to try out at the seashore.

One thing to note, the apex of the LM-364C only has a single 3/8” threaded hole for accessory attachment, similar to the Gitzo ‘Easy-Link,’ rather than the typical 1/4” seen on most accessories and other tripods (while the ProMediaGear has both sizes). This just means that a reducer bushing will be needed to attach that ‘magic arm’ or clamp to hold a phone, battery pack or other small device. Naturally, Leofoto offers 3/8” threaded accessories specifically designed to use the anti-twist holes next to this attachment point.


Cleaning the legs of the LM-364C requires pulling off the one-piece shim with a lot more force than any other tripod, and it felt like this thin, plastic part was going to break. It did not, but it is still a little unsettling to do this for each leg section. The lack of rubber seals in the locks is also apparent.

Availability of extra shims is unpredictable in different regions, and no mention of spare parts was found anywhere from Leofoto, Laitu, or their distributors.

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Test results

Vibrations can make even the sharpest lens turn out mushy, blurred photos, and can ruin long exposures. In the typical use cases for this class of tripod, reducing the effects of vibration is extremely important, since longer focal lengths and higher resolutions magnify the effects of any movement, and environmental vibrations like wind and water will have an increasing effect on larger legs and gear. Camera vibration can be mechanically minimized with mirror lockup, electronic shutters, and a remote shutter release, while adding weight to the bottom of the tripod (with the weight hook or a tripod stone bag) can help stabilize the whole setup. However, not all sources of vibration can be eliminated, so we tested whether the tripod will dampen them or transmit and reflect them to the camera.

The tripod legs were fully extended, and our vibration analyzer for heavy-duty tripods (an iPad on a 3.2 kg (7 lb) cantilevered weight) was mounted directly to the flat platform’s 3/8″ threaded bolt with a long lens plate. An industrial solenoid valve with a plastic hammer was used as a source of vibration (a knock to the bottom of one leg). The resulting graph of all three accelerometers shows both the resistance of the tripod to the initial shock, as well as the rate of decay for residual vibration within the tripod.

Leofoto LM-364C vibration resistance test results – click for larger graph

*Note that this graph is relative only to this class of tripods. The weight and test equipment was adjusted to provide a conclusive result for this size of tripod.

In the vibration testing, the Leofoto LM-364C showed the full advantage of its 36mm top tubes and solid construction, providing a good amount of resistance to the initial shock, and then a very quick dampening of any residual vibrations. This puts the ‘Summit series’ Leofoto in the upper half of this competitive group for direct vibration resistance, only edged out by the Gitzo and RRS. There is nothing to complain about here.

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With Leofoto gear in general, you get a lot for the price paid, but in some cases, that ‘value’ is coming from the innovations and designs of others. When it comes to their tripods, they are generic enough that it’s the performance that matters, and the LM-364C holds up quite well. This ‘Summit’ tripod provides a nice balance between size, weight and modularity, while remaining solidly in the middle of this demanding pack of competitors when it comes to performance.

The low price for this size and type of tripod is the real attraction, and after a thorough review and long testing period, there were only a few minor issues with the fit of all the parts. If you spend a lot of time using your tripod, this is a still a good choice and will be a satisfying companion in many instances. The wide range of options in the ‘Summit’ and related ‘Ranger’ series, with similar legs and materials, mean there is probably a good personal fit in the Leofoto tripod line for most needs.

One ongoing concern is after-sale support and availability of spare parts for a tripod of this type, which is intended to be maintained and used for a very long time to come. Admittedly, this can also be a concern for some other brands in this comparison if you are outside of North America.

What we like

  • Very affordable price for stout 36mm legs
  • Very good vibration resistance
  • Uses standard apex and foot sizes
  • Comes with video bowl, bag and spikes
  • Lots of related tripod choices and accessories

What we don’t like

  • Leg tubes and locks don’t fit precisely
  • No rubber seals inside leg locks
  • Hard to get replacement parts

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ASUS Zephyrus G14 (2021) Review: The M1 MacBook Pro killer

29 Aug
The ASUS Zephyrus G14 is a new breed of powerful, portable laptop made possible by the latest AMD Ryzen CPUs.

All product photography by DL Cade.

When it comes to lightweight laptops for creatives, Apple pretty much cornered the market with the release of the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro. The price-to-performance of these laptops is better than anything we’ve seen from Cupertino in a long time, and the Apple Silicon M1 punches well above its weight given its ‘entry-level’ designation.

But what if you’re not a Mac fan? What if 16GB of unified memory isn’t enough? And what if you want more graphics power than the maxed out 8-core GPU variant of the Apple Silicon M1 can deliver? Is there a PC out there that offers all of these things without sacrificing the portability and efficiency of laptops like the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro?

There is, and that PC is the ASUS Zephyrus G14: a small, lightweight ‘gaming laptop’ that features a powerful-but-efficient AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS, 32GB of RAM, a WQHD/2K display with 100% DCI-P3 coverage and an NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. All of it packed inside of a 14-inch laptop chassis that’s only a tiny bit thicker, and no larger, than your typical 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Key specifications:

The 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14 that we’re testing is the more expensive of the two main variants available in the US. Both options come with the same AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS processor and NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU (60W, 80W boost), but our model is equipped with 32GB of RAM and a WQHD display that claims 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut, while the more affordable model comes with only 16GB of RAM and a Full HD display that can only manage 100% of sRGB.

Zephyrus G14 – FHD Zephyrus G14 – QHD
CPU AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS





RAM 16GB DDR4-3200MHz 32GB DDR4-3200MHz


PCIe 3.0


PCIe 3.0


14-inch 144Hz FHD

100% sRGB

14-inch 120Hz WQHD

100% DCI-P3

Price $ 1,450 $ 2,000

Note that the RAM in the Full HD version is user-upgradable, but for creatives, we would still recommend the more expensive option simply because of the color-accurate display. The extra pixels aren’t totally necessary at this screen size, but we’ve found that many high-refresh-rate displays used in gaming laptops slightly under-perform their spec sheet when it comes to gamut coverage, so it’s always good to have some cushion above and beyond 100% sRGB.

If you’re going to be doing creative work, the extra $ 550 for the top-tier model is worth the additional RAM, resolution and color accuracy.

Design, build and usability

For photo and video editors, the ASUS Zephyrus G14’s WQHD display delivers up to 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut.

The Zephyrus G14’s design is gamer-y, but not over the top. There’s no ostentatious RGB accents or glowing logos, and while the overall shape of the laptop features a few sharp angles, there isn’t even an RGB backlight on the keyboard – just a standard white light. The chassis is available in a ‘Moonlight White’ or ‘Eclipse Gray’ and, when closed, the only hint that this is an ASUS computer comes from the Republic of Gamers (ROG) logo stamped on a pearlescent metal plate that’s embedded in the lid.

Speaking of the lid, the most ostentatious and unique design element of the ASUS G14 is the so-called ‘AniMe Matrix’ lighting effect that covers a little more than half of the laptop’s lid on a diagonal.

The Zephyrus G14’s design is gamer-y, but not over the top.

Made up of mini-LEDs hidden behind a matrix of little dots, the matrix can be customized in ASUS’ Armoury Crate software to show any number of preset animations, display a static image, or loop through a custom set of images or GIFs that you upload yourself. For this review, I obviously couldn’t resist popping the DPR logo onto the back.

The so-called ‘AniMe Matrix’ on the G14’s lid can be customized to display a customized image or animation.

Unfortunately, that little bit of showing off is about all it’s good for. After taking the picture above, I turned it off and kept it off to avoid any additional battery drain, and the only purpose the little dots served from that point onward was the collection of dust and other particles that are practically impossible to remove once they’ve become embedded.

It is, in my opinion, the only thing on this laptop that is 100% gimmick and 0% function, and I kind of wish ASUS had left it off. Even the cheaper model, which won’t allow you to customize the AniMe Matrix, still comes with these little holes, they’re just set to display a static ‘holographic’ effect.

Moving back to the front of the computer, both the keyboard and trackpad qualify as good-but-not-great in my book. The keyboard features a little bit more travel and ‘mush’ than I’m used to from most low-profile laptop keyboards these days, but your preferences may vary, while the trackpad is sufficiently smooth and responsive, but a little bit undersized.

The Zephyrus G14’s trackpad is smooth and responsive, but smaller than most competitors.

Compare this to the massive glass-topped trackpads favored by Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Razer, and you’ll see what I mean. By pushing the keyboard down to make room for the audio controls, ROG button and power button/fingerprint reader, the trackpad has been squeezed to just 2.5 inches tall and 4.5 inches wide.

It’s precise, with a nice springboard click that’s usable from about halfway down the trackpad, but I wish it were a little bit taller.

In terms of ports, the Zephyrus G14 comes equipped with an HDMI, two USB Type-C ports, two USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack and standard barrel connector for power. One of those USB Type-C ports can also carry a DisplayPort 1.4 signal and charge your device if you leave the included 180W power brick at home, and both can transfer data at USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds (10Gbps), but neither supports Thunderbolt’s faster 40Gbps transfer rate because of the AMD processor.

The trackpad is precise, with a nice springboard click that’s usable from about halfway down the trackpad, but I wish it were a little bit taller.

In terms of ports, the Zephyrus G14 comes equipped with an HDMI, two USB Type-C ports, two USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack and standard barrel connector for power.

Thunderbolt is an Intel creation, and until it fully merges with the CPU-agnostic USB 4.0 standard and AMD releases Ryzen 6000 sometime in 2022, you won’t find any AMD Ryzen laptops that also feature Thunderbolt support.

Everything so far makes this a good gaming PC but not particularly special for photo and video work. That’s where the display comes in.

Following a trend we’ve seen from other gaming laptops, ASUS offers the Zephyrus G14 (and the bigger G15) with a couple of different display options. There’s an ultra-fast 144Hz Full HD display that can only hit 100% sRGB or a slightly slower 120Hz WQHD option that is ‘Pantone validated’ and claims 100% coverage of DCI-P3.

In my testing, it didn’t quite live up to that claim, managing only 95.3% coverage of DCI-P3 and 80.0% of AdobeRGB, but it did so at a respectable Delta E 2000 of less than 2. Other reviewers have profiled this display at up to 98% DCI-P3, but to my knowledge, nobody has seen it hit the advertised 100%.

In other words: the display is accurate enough for proper photo and video editing on the go, but I would not rely on it as my only screen. When it’s time for serious color grading, use the USB-C/DisplayPort to connect a larger, color-accurate 4K monitor, especially if you’re planning to print your work.

Finally, there are two more things left to mention – one positive and one negative.

The positive is battery life, which is excellent. AMD’s Zen 3 processors are already very power efficient, and ASUS is taking full advantage of that fact by putting a large 76Wh battery inside of the G14. For normal writing, research, and video consumption in ‘Silent’ mode, I could easily get 8+ hours of use out of this laptop. In ‘Performance’ mode while doing serious photo or video editing on battery, that drops to about 2 hours, but that’s to be expected given the NVIDIA 3060 GPU is pulling 60W all on its own.

The Zephyrus G14’s QHD display is color-accurate enough for proper photo and video editing on the go, but I would not rely on it as my only screen.

The negative is the total lack of webcam on this computer. While the Zephyrus G14 does have a built-in microphone array embedded in the top bezel, it does not have a webcam. None at all. Not even the crappy 720p option that’s included in most laptops today.

With so many photo and video professionals communicating with their clients over Zoom as much (if not more) than in-person, this is a huge miss. I suppose the idea is that gamers who stream will use a nicer camera anyway, and those who don’t won’t care about a webcam, but it’s a glaring omission that has the potential to really annoy you day-in and day-out.

Tehre is no webcam on the ASUS Zephyrus G14 – a frustrating omission given the increased popularity of video conferencing.

Overall, I quite like the design and build quality of the Zephyrus G14. Sure, I tend to prefer the rigid CNC-milled aluminum unibody designs favored by companies like Razer and Apple, but I never felt like I was dealing with a flimsy laptop and the design aesthetic is clean enough to use for both business and fun… assuming you turn off the AniMe Matrix.

For creative professionals, you can go in knowing that the I/O is solid, the trackpad is good (if a little bit small), and the screen is sufficiently color accurate so that you can get your work done on the go. If you can live without Thunderbolt and a webcam, the G14 checks just about every other ‘ultra-portable’ box, without sacrificing performance.

Speaking of which…

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Performance benchmarks

Despite its small size, the Zephyrus G14 is one of the fastest photo and video editing laptops on the market.

What really makes the ASUS Zephyrus G14 special is just how powerful it is given its size and weight. This is down to the magic of the AMD Ryzen processor inside, which is built on AMD’s Zen 3 architecture and practically sips wattage compared to most of Intel’s chips.

This is why ASUS chose AMD for this 14-inch laptop, why Razer chose AMD for their 14-inch Blade, and why we expect to see Ryzen PCs and M1 Macs practically take over the ‘powerful-but-portable’ category for at least the next year or two. Intel’s latest 11th-geneneration H-series laptop CPUs are more efficient than 10th-gen, but they still soak up a lot more wattage to generate those results.

For this round of performance benchmarks, we tested the M1 Mac mini, an Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro, the AMD Ryzen-based Razer Blade 14 and the ASUS Zephyrus G14. Full specs below:

Zephyrus G14 13-inch MBP M1 Mac mini Blade 14
CPU AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS Intel Core i7-1068NG7 Apple Silicon M1 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX



Intel Iris Plus Graphics

Apple Silicon M1 8-core








16GB Unified Memory



Storage 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD 4TB NVMe SSD 2TB NVMe SSD 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD

14-inch 120Hz WQHD IPS LCD

100% DCI-P3

13-inch Retina Display

100% Display P3


14-inch 165Hz QHD IPS LCD

100% DCI-P3


$ 2,000 $ 3,600 $ 1,700 $ 2,200
Price w/ 1TB of Storage $ 2,000 $ 2,600 $ 1,300 $ 2,200

Unfortunately we did not have an M1 MacBook Pro on hand to do a side-by-side comparison, but the internals of the M1 Mac mini and the internals of the M1 MacBook Pro are identical, so the results should be interchangeable. As usual, we tested Adobe Lightroom Classic, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Capture One 21 using the suite of tests described here.

All tests were run a minimum of three times in a row, with the laptops plugged in, fully charged, and set to their maximum Turbo/Performance settings.

Lightroom Classic

Import and preview generation in Lightroom Classic is based entirely on CPU performance, RAM amount and RAM speed. Each of these machines has a different combination of these factors, and the ASUS Zephyrus G14 and M1 Mac mini end up trading blows at the top of the import table thanks to the stellar performance of their respective CPUs and the Mac’s fast unified memory architecture.

Despite having an ever-so-slightly more powerful CPU than the ASUS, the Razer Blade 14 falls to last place because of its 16GB RAM limitation, while the Intel-based MacBook Pro sits somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Canon EOS R6 Import Nikon Z7 II Import Sony a7R IV Import Fuji GFX 100 Import
ASUS G14 1:38 2:59 3:30 7:35
Blade 14 2:07 4:16 4:58 12:30
M1 Mac mini 1:44 2:54 3:03 8:51
MacBook Pro 2:22 3:42 4:02 10:12

It’s a similar story when we try exporting heavily edited 100% JPEGs, but now that there are more pixels to move around, the ASUS G14 wins every single category.

As resolution increases and file sizes get larger, the Blade 14 and M1 Mac mini fall way behind the rest of the pack, held back by the maximum 16GB of RAM available to them. By the time we get to the 100MP Fuji GFX 100 files, the ASUS G14 is more than 15 minutes faster than both the M1 Mac mini and the Blade 14, but only about 3 minutes faster than the two-year-old MacBook Pro.

These results show you just how RAM dependent Lightroom Classic exporting really is. The more RAM, and the faster your RAM, the better your performance… even if you’re running an older processor and no discrete GPU:

Canon EOS R6 Export Nikon Z7 II Export Sony a7R IV Export Fuji GFX 100 Export
ASUS G14 3:58 8:55 11:41 23:40
Blade 14 5:30 14:40 20:46 40:02
M1 Mac mini 4:06 9:21 15:04 38:44
MacBook Pro 5:55 12:01 15:35 26:46

Capture One 21

Capture One 21 is a whole different animal. As we showed in our recent head-to-head comparison between Capture One and Lightroom Classic, C1 is less dependent on RAM speed and better optimized to take advantage of powerful GPUs through hardware acceleration.

At import, CPU performance is still the most important factor, and the ASUS G14, Blade 14, and M1 Mac mini are within spitting distance of each other, while the MacBook Pro and its weaker 10th-gen Intel processor falls further and further behind as file sizes increase.

Canon EOS R6 Import Nikon Z7 II Import Sony a7R IV Import Fuji GFX 100 Import
ASUS G14 00:40 00:59 1:12 1:50
Blade 14 00:40 00:59 1:14 1:50
M1 Mac mini 00:45 00:53 1:00 1:22
MacBook Pro 00:47 1:42 2:12 3:12

At export, the Zephyrus G14 uses its combination of a fast CPU, fast GPU, and 32GB of RAM to (once again) sweep every single category. None of the other computers could keep up.

The Razer Blade 14 only fell a little bit behind the ASUS, but by the time we get to the largest files the M1 Mac mini is more than 10 minutes slower than the Zephyrus G14, and the Intel-based MacBook Pro was another 10 minutes slower than that – a full 20 minutes and 45 seconds slower than the ASUS G14.

If you own an Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro (as I do) this is not a pretty graph.

Canon EOS R6 Export Nikon Z7 II Export Sony a7R IV Export Fuji GFX 100 Export
ASUS G14 1:35 3:12 3:50 6:53
Blade 14 1:48 3:47 4:47 7:46
M1 Mac mini 2:53 7:02 8:49 17:20
MacBook Pro 4:57 12:50 16:18 27:38


When we ran the Pugetbench benchmark for Photoshop, the ASUS G14 came incredibly close to beating the impressive overall score put up by the M1 Mac mini, and did manage to beat the Mac in both the GPU and Filter categories.

However, this result requires a bit of context.

Presumably due to their ultra-fast unified memory, M1 Macs are able to merge panoramas much faster than any PC we’ve tested (at least in Photoshop), but the high overall score is disproportionately affected by that one factor. It’s like an Olympian winning the decathlon by coming in the middle of the pack in 9 events, and then pole vaulting twice as high as anybody else.

In most of the individual tasks that the benchmark performs, the ASUS G14 is as fast or faster than the Mac, which is reflected in the high General, GPU, and Filter score. I only really loses the ‘overall’ battle because of its lower PhotoMerge score.

Overall General GPU Filter PhotoMerge
ASUS G14 973.6 99.0 97.3 86.9 115.0
Blade 14 835.6 85.6 88.8 67.3 111.9
M1 Mac mini 1017.8 99.4 81.2 82.9 144.2
MacBook Pro 597.7 65.4 32.6 52.8 62.6

Premiere Pro

Our final tests involve Adobe Premiere Pro. Unlike most other Adobe CC apps, Premiere is well optimized to take advantage of the NVIDIA GPUs in both the Razer Blade 14 and the ASUS Zephyrus G14 through ‘CUDA’ hardware acceleration. It’s also able to take advantage of ‘Metal’ hardware acceleration on the M1 Mac mini.

This fact alone puts these three computers in a league of their own, and leaves my poor little Intel-based MacBook Pro trailing way behind the rest of the pack in every video encoding task we tried.

The Zephyrus G14 steals the show here, putting up the fastest times in all but one category despite stiff competition from both the Razer Blade 14 and M1 Mac mini. Using our Sony a1 test video, the G14 rendered and exported the full Premier Pro project 1 to 2 minutes faster than either the Blade or the Mac mini, and a whopping 18 to 20 minutes faster than the MacBook Pro.

This result, more than any others, shows the potential of GPU hardware acceleration. Properly implemented, it can produce massive performance gains.

Render All Export Master File Export H.264 Export H.265/HEVC Warp Stabilize
ASUS G14 6:40 00:15 6:06 5:59 2:33
Blade 14 8:50 00:41 8:12 8:06 3:13
M1 Mac mini 7:32 00:18 7:30 7:19 2:13
MacBook Pro 25:53 00:37 26:12 25:09 2:36

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Normally, this is the part of the review where I would list a few interesting takeaways based on the strengths and weaknesses that I noticed while running our benchmarks. But the ASUS does so well across the board that I don’t really have much to say other than: wow.

The ASUS Zephyrus G14 is an extremely capable photo and video editing machine – far more capable than you would guess given its small size. Thanks in large part to the power-efficient AMD CPU, ASUS has created a little monster that packs more punch than any other ‘ultra-portable’ PC laptop on the market, including the similarly specced Razer Blade 14 and, presumably, the M1 MacBook Pro (based on our M1 Mac mini results).

ASUS has created a little monster that packs more punch than any other ‘ultra-portable’ PC laptop on the market.

From a performance standpoint, ASUS basically didn’t have to cut any corners; as a result, we get a $ 2,000 14-inch laptop that easily outperforms $ 3,000+ Intel-based PCs from less than a year ago and gives the Apple Silicon M1 some honest to goodness competition in this size and price bracket.

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What We Like What We Don’t Like
  • Exceptional performance
  • Color-accurate WQHD display
  • Small and portable
  • Good variety of ports
  • Great battery life
  • Affordable
  • No Thunderbolt Support
  • No SD card slot
  • No webcam
  • Small trackpad
  • The AniMe Matrix is a neat-but-useless gimmick

It’s hard to find fault with the 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14. It already offers most of what ‘creators’ are hoping to see from the rumored 14-inch MacBook Pro: it’s a small, portable, efficient laptop that delivers professional-grade performance in creative applications, including GPU accelerated tasks.

All of this for an extremely reasonable price and without some of the Apple-specific downsides that we’ve gotten used to: the lack of user-upgradable storage, the lack of ports, and occasional compatibility issues (especially with ARM-based M1 Macs).

The 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14 a small, portable, efficient laptop that delivers professional-grade performance in creative applications.

The only real downside for creatives is the lack of Thunderbolt support – a must for some specialized equipment – and the computer’s focus on certain gaming-specific specs and design elements. Personally, I’d rather have a more power-efficient WQHD display that’s limited to 60Hz or a more affordable Full HD option that covers 100% DCI-P3, and the ‘AniMe Matrix’ feature is nothing more than a party trick that sucks up battery if you forget to turn it off.

Sure, this little gaming laptop can’t match the top-shelf build quality and clean design of brands like Apple, Razer, Microsoft, and even Dell – which is basically the only reason I can’t give the computer a full 5 stars – but if you’re looking for the ultimate ultra-portable PC laptop with the fewest trade-offs and the best performance, the ASUS Zephyrus G14 is the way to go.

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In-depth tripod review: Gitzo Systematic Series 3 (GT3543LS)

25 Jul
The Gitzo GT3543LS at the beach, with the Gitzo GFHG1 Fluid Gimbal Head on top, holding a 500mm lens and full-frame camera.

Gitzo Systematic Series 3 (GT3543LS) | $ 1000

Gitzo was founded in France as a tripod and camera company by Arsène Gitzhoven in 1917 and has been producing advanced tripods with interchangeable platforms, columns and leveling devices for more than 40 years. Their naming convention of designating sizes by numbered ‘series,’ and modular platforms as ‘systematic’ tripods, has been around so long that many other manufacturers use these as a reference point when describing their own wares.

Long ago, Gitzo merged with the Italian tripod maker Manfrotto, and both are now a part of the Vitec Imaging Group of companies. Today, the combined Manfrotto/Gitzo factory in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, produces more tripods than almost every other manufacturer in the world, using a combination of automation and streamlined assembly honed over many decades. The sheer scale of output makes their continued quality all the more impressive.

Key specs and what’s included

  • Max. height 146 cm (57.5″), or 148 cm (58.2″) with 50mm ‘big feet’
  • Minimum height of 9 cm (3.5″)
  • Folds to 55 cm (21.6″) with 14 cm (5.5″) diameter
  • Weighs 1.94 kg (4.27 lbs) with flat platform
  • 25kg (55.1 lbs) load limit
  • Three leg angles (23° / 53° / 86° )
  • Four leg sections (33mm top leg diameter / 29 / 25.3 / 21.8mm)
  • 70mm platform side-clamped with release button
  • Large weight hook under platform
  • Bubble level included on apex
  • Removable 33mm feet on standard 3/8″ thread
  • Includes dust bag, tools, instructions and 50mm big feet

Gitzo updated their ‘Systematic’ tripod line in 2016, with new materials and designs, and still offers many systematic options for their tripods; from video bowls and leveling balls, to sliding carbon-fiber center columns and geared columns. Beyond these, there are a bevy of various feet, ranging from snowshoes to various lengths of spike and mushroom-style rubber feet, all using a common 3/8”-16 threading, so even rock claws or feet from other manufacturers can be used. Given the prevalence and longevity of Gitzo Systematics in the marketplace, original Gitzo accessories are easy to find new at various retailers, as well as on the used market.

Compared to others

This tripod was tested and compared with its modular apex peers. Left to right; ProMediaGear TR344, Really Right Stuff TVC-34, Sirui SR-3204, FLM CP34-L4 II, Leofoto LM-364C, Gitzo GT3543LS.

The Gitzo GT3543LS was tested and compared alongside tripods in the same class of ‘Series 3’ (33-36mm top leg tube diameter) ‘Systematic’ (modular apex with removable platform) type, in terms of size and utility, including products from Sirui, Really Right Stuff, ProMediaGear, Leofoto and FLM. We’ll be publishing full reviews of those models in the coming days and weeks.

All of these tripods were used in four seasons of sand, snow, mud, rain and saltwater; set up in the bog-like Atlantic salt marshes and the wind-swept Appalachian mountains. They have been loaded with gimbal heads, ball heads, geared and pano-heads, and up to 4kg (8.8lb) lenses attached to cameras ranging from APS-C to medium-format, shooting anything from long-exposure landscapes to extreme telephoto birds-in-flight. The only test they did not go through was being rough-handled at the airport, thanks to pandemic travel restrictions.

Height comparison

Below is a relative height comparison between the Gitzo GT3543LS and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.

High Mid Low

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First impressions

The wide, but shallow apex with the Gitzo/Manfrotto 3/8″ threaded ‘Easy Link’ accessory port.

At the top of the GT3543LS is the large, cast magnesium systematic apex, finished in the durable ‘noir décor’ speckle finish common to all Gitzos. Each leg clevis is similarly built and finished, with a spring-loaded, ratcheting leg angle stop. The standard Gitzo ‘Safe-Lock’ platform is secured in the side-clamping apex with a re-positionable locking lever and a safety release tucked underneath. A generous weight hook is below the platform.

The four-section legs are labeled as using ‘Carbon eXact,’ which, according to Gitzo, ‘optimizes the fiber composition for each tube size, using HM (High Modulus) carbon fiber in the narrower tubes to make them stiffer.’ This is a good thing, as the GT3543LS has the thinnest relative leg tubes in this class of 3-series tripods. In addition to this, the leg locks are the ‘G-Lock Ultra’ type, which means they get tighter as more pressure is applied, and are well sealed against dirt and moisture. Many other manufacturers use similar leg locks, but may not have catchy names for them.

The 50mm ‘big feet’ that come pre-installed are robust and great for studio work, but require careful positioning for extreme angles and tend to collect debris when used in the field. The included standard 33mm bullet-shaped feet are small compared to the mushroom-head feet on other tripods in this group. Their narrow width means the leg locks can hit the ground before the feet do when the legs are fully splayed out.

The 3/8″ threaded ‘Easy Link’ attachment port for accessories is rather large and atypical, compared to the 1/4” threading seen on most accessories and other tripods. This just requires a reducer bushing (included with most heads these days) to attach that ‘magic arm’ or clamp to hold a phone, battery pack or other small device. Honestly, the number of ‘Easy Link’ accessories even offered by Gitzo or Manfrotto seems very slim, so the choice to use this is somewhat baffling.

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Use in the field

The Gitzo GT3543LS is a large item to pack into the field, both in apex diameter and the various parts that stick out, and we noticed this a bit more than with the other tripods in this class, despite the Gitzo having the smallest leg thickness. In the studio, the top-heavy size is not a problem, and those ‘big feet’ can stay installed for impressive stability, but the carbon fiber and robust build ask to be taken out to the wider world. The very wide apex creates a thick-on-one-end package that is not easy to pack away, so it begs for the (optional) strap or padded bag to carry it. For short walks, extending one leg and using the whole thing as a big hiking pole worked pretty well, but again, it was a noticeable difference to the competition.

The leg angle locks are easy to pull out from the front, but hard to push from behind due to their slim internals. The ratcheting action is positive when pulling the leg down, and it is easy to set the angles of each leg. Unfortunately, the legs can be pushed under the apex and just keep going since there is no center column to stop them, resulting in a strange angle that sometimes makes packing up all three legs of the tripod a bit harder than it needs to be. Many other columnless tripods in this class have a hard stop at the stowed position.

The well-tested Gitzo G-locks, which lock and unlock with a reassuring tactile feel, make extending and securing each leg of the tripod a pleasure. Grasping all three locks at once is easy with the rubber grips, even with gloves on, but they do require more rotation than the other leg locks in this group.

The tubes themselves are very precisely mated and need a bit of a pull to fully extend, which means the Gitzo legs will not ‘cascade out’ on their own when unlocked. However, adjusting each leg length once extended is still fairly easy and controlled, despite this precise fit.

The well-proven Gitzo Safe-Lock platform is the best in its class, with a durable, textured plastic disk over a machined aluminum platform. This provides a better grip and some vibration isolation when compared to an all-metal platform, and the inclusion of a tiny set-screw can insure that any head will stay attached. Removing and replacing it with a video bowl or center column accessory with a 70mm diameter is both easy and secure, thanks to the Safe-Lock recessed safety catch under the apex.

With a gimbal and large lens on top, or a panoramic head and leveling gear, the Gitzo GT3543LS never feels overburdened or unstable. The slightly steeper leg angles, at 23°, provide the required height to be competitive with similar tripods of this size, but theoretically could reduce stability. However, that theory is never validated, and in the field and studio, this tripod handles weight and movement with aplomb. Truly, Gitzo’s refinement across generations of this type and size of tripod seems evident in how it all just quietly gets out of the way and lets the camera and scene be the focus.


Cleaning the GT3543LS is fairly straightforward, and leg disassembly is briefly described in the included instructions booklet. The leg locks have obvious gaskets sealing them from the elements, and the one-piece shim makes the whole process easy. However, as with all Gitzo products, spare parts are easy to find if needed (even long into the future).

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Test results

Vibrations can make even the sharpest lens turn out mushy, blurred photos, and can ruin long exposures. In the typical use cases for this class of tripod, reducing the effects of vibration becomes extremely important, since longer focal lengths and higher resolutions magnify the effects of any movement, and environmental vibrations like wind and water will have an increasing effect on larger legs and gear. Camera vibration can be mechanically minimized with mirror lockup, electronic shutters, and a remote shutter release, while adding weight to the bottom of the tripod (with the weight hook or a tripod stone bag) can help stabilize the whole setup. However, not all sources of vibration can be eliminated, so we tested whether the tripod will dampen them or transmit and reflect them to the camera.

The tripod legs were fully extended, and our vibration analyzer for heavy-duty tripods (an iPad on a 3.2 kg (7 lb) cantilevered weight) was mounted directly to the flat platform’s 3/8″ threaded bolt with a long lens plate. An industrial solenoid valve with a plastic hammer was used as a source of vibration (a knock to the bottom of one leg). The resulting graph of all three accelerometers shows both the resistance of the tripod to the initial shock, as well as the rate of decay for residual vibration within the tripod.

Gitzo GT3543LS vibration resistance test results – click for a larger graph

*Note that this graph is relative only to this class of tripods. The weight and test equipment was adjusted to provide a conclusive result for this size of tripod.

The Gitzo GT3543LS performed extremely well in the vibration test. The initial shock was somewhat transmitted to the camera position, but the carbon fiber legs and magnesium components dampened the vibration quickly and admirably. This performance is among the best of this class of tripods, particularly when factoring in the relatively thinner legs of this Series 3 tripod.

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Gitzo has been the first (and sometimes last) word in high-end and heavy-duty tripods for many decades, and their innovations and influence are clearly seen in every other tripod of this type on the market. The folks in Italy have refined their offerings to such a degree that the whole system this ‘systematic’ tripod falls under has become a standard in terms of big tripod expectations, and even nomenclature.

It may not be the tallest, lightest, or most compact, but it has very few flaws and
performs admirably

The GT3543LS, or ‘Gitzo tripod Systematic, series 3 long, 4 sections’, remains competitive within this type of tripod thanks to its performance over many tests and rugged locations. Among similar tripods from ProMediaGear, RRS, FLM, and others, it may not be the tallest, lightest, or most compact, but it has very few flaws and performs admirably in every situation and test. Plus, any Gitzo is usually the most accessible and widely supported tripod of this type worldwide, which makes it a safe bet as a stalwart companion for many years.

What we like

  • Dependable build quality
  • Exceptional vibration resistance
  • Sets the standard for apex insert and foot sizes
  • Worldwide sales and support network
  • Spare parts and repairs easy to obtain

What we don’t like

  • Not compact or easily packable
  • Systematic accessories are expensive
  • Fiddly leg angle locks
  • Premium list price

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Video: A ‘Retro Review’ of the 20-year-old Canon Pro90 IS, Canon’s first digital camera with optical image stabilization

12 Jun

Gordon Laing, Editor of Camera Labs, is back again with another episode of ‘Retro Review.’ In this video, he puts the Canon Pro90 to the test to see how well it holds up two decades after it was released.

At the time of its release, the Canon Pro90 IS was Canon’s flagship PowerShot camera. It retailed for $ 1,300, used a 3.3MP sensor and had a design similar to its Pro70 predecessor, but featured a 10x zoom lens compared to the 2.5x zoom lens on the Pro70. It was also Canon’s first camera with optical image stabilization.

As impressive as the optics were though, the camera had an interesting design quirk—the image circle of the lens didn’t fully cover the 1/1.8″ sensor, so the resulting images were digitally cropped down to just 2.6MP. Incredibly, the camera featured a Raw capture mode though, in addition to JPEG support (with various compression ratios) as well as QVGA (329 x 240 pixel) video recording.

To find out more, set some time aside to watch the entire 12 minute video. To see more Retro Review content and other interesting insights on vintage tech, head over and subscribe to Laing’s Dino Bytes YouTube Channel.

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Nikon NX Studio Review: How Good Is This Free Photo Editor?

06 May

The post Nikon NX Studio Review: How Good Is This Free Photo Editor? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Nikon NX Studio review

In order to write a good Nikon NX Studio review, it’s important to step back to see who this program is for and how it fits into the image editing landscape.

In 2006, Nikon released a software tool called Capture NX, which was designed for its fledgling line of digital cameras. Over the years, Nikon slowly added new features, but Capture NX was never a serious competitor to Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, or other popular image editing and management software. That all changed in early 2021; Nikon retired Capture NX (and its companion, ViewNX) and replaced them with Nikon NX Studio.

But is Nikon’s software ready for prime time, and can it hold its own against a growing list of competitors? What exactly does NX Studio do and who is it for? The answers might surprise you.

Nikon NX Studio Review Flower
RAW file processed with Nikon NX Studio.
Nikon D7100 | Nikon 50mm f/1.8G | f/2.8 | 1/3000s | ISO 100

Nikon NX Studio overview

In a very basic sense, Nikon NX Studio is like Lightroom – but designed specifically for Nikon shooters. It’s not really a fair comparison, though, because Nikon NX Studio isn’t supposed to be a replacement for Lightroom. The two have a lot of overlap, but when doing a one-to-one feature comparison, Nikon NX Studio comes up woefully short. However, NX Studio does have a workflow that appeals to a lot of photographers, as well as some advanced tools absent from Lightroom.

Nikon NX Studio is great for photographers who want to do more with their photos than what basic programs like Apple Photos can offer. It has tools for common edits such as white balance, brightness, color, noise reduction, cropping, and sharpness. Nikon NX Studio also goes one step beyond Lightroom by letting you perform basic edits on videos, such as trimming and stitching.

It also has one very important advantage over Lightroom and most other programs: It’s free, so you lose nothing by trying it out.

Nikon NX Studio Review Overview
Nikon NX Studio goes way beyond basic image editing, and it has some powerful tools that appeal to amateurs and professionals alike.

For enthusiasts and even professionals, there’s a lot to like about Nikon NX Studio as long as you keep your expectations in check and don’t mind some frustrating bugs and shortcomings. It’s not a full-featured digital asset management tool like Lightroom, though it does offer some basic file management and storage.

But where Nikon NX Studio really shines is in the sheer depth of its tools. The Lightness, Chroma, and Hue adjustments give you incredible control over editing colors, and the Color Point tool gives you fine-grained control that takes several steps to replicate in Lightroom.

Finally, Nikon NX Studio has a trick up its sleeve that no other image editor can match: it works with Nikon RAW files without needing to reverse-engineer the RAW algorithm or convert everything to DNG.

Nikon NX Studio pros

  • The price is great. It’s a free program and should be updated by Nikon regularly for years to come.
  • Lots of features that appeal to amateurs, hobbyists, and professionals
  • Basic movie editing tools are simple and practical
  • Everything takes place in a single interface without the need to switch between Library and Develop modules like in Lightroom

Nikon NX Studio cons

  • Very basic import process compared to Lightroom: no keyword management, applying presets, or metadata adjustments
  • Lacks Brush and Graduated adjustment tools, along with other editing options offered by competing programs
  • Lack of a simple Undo feature
  • Lots of bugs and glitches. Some would say this is expected with Version 1 of a program, but these issues happen more frequently than I would like
Nikon NX Studio Review Import
Nikon NX Studio utilizes a separate program called Nikon Transfer 2 to import images from a memory card or other source. It works fine, but it’s fairly simplistic in terms of functionality.

If you’re a Nikon shooter, you can’t go wrong with just downloading Nikon NX Studio to check it out. It’s free, and it won’t alter your current photos even if you use Lightroom, Luminar, or another program. You really have nothing to lose by trying it, and you might find that the results you get from your Nikon RAW files are much better than what you get in Lightroom. (Note that Nikon NX Studio only works with Nikon NEF RAW files. It will not load DNG files or RAW files from Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, and other manufacturers.)

While I do think Nikon NX Studio is worth trying out, let’s take a closer look at some of its characteristics to help determine whether it’s the right program for you.

Layout and ease of use

If you’ve ever used a program like Lightroom, Luminar, or Capture One, you’ll feel right at home in Nikon NX Studio.

The interface is pretty simple: the left side is where you access your photos in folders or albums. The middle is where you scroll through your photos or look at them more closely. Your tools are located on the right and clicking the title of a tool expands and collapses its options just like Lightroom.

Nikon NX Studio review Layout
The Nikon NX Studio layout is similar to other programs like Lightroom, Luminar, and Capture One. Photo storage on the left, editing tools on the right, and your image in the middle.

An Import button in the top-right corner will let you start loading images from a memory card. Additional icons at the top of the main window let you switch between views: thumbnail, map, 2 and 4 images at a time, before and after, and list, which users of Apple’s Aperture software will certainly appreciate. Along the bottom are more tools that let you show view overlays (such as a grid or a histogram), assign star ratings, and rotate photos.

All these buttons and options might seem overwhelming, but it’s very straightforward; you should be able to find your way around the interface after a few minutes of exploring.

One key difference between Nikon NX Studio and Lightroom is that the former stores your image edits in sidecar files, whereas the latter is based around a single massive database, called a catalog. Some prefer one type of storage over the other, but while there have been reports of corrupted Catalogs causing problems for some photographers, it’s not an issue I have experienced.

Still, if you want a powerful image editor but are wary of putting all your editing eggs in a single basket, Nikon NX Studio might be a good choice.


In terms of sheer speed and editing efficiency, Nikon NX Studio does leave something to be desired. On a 2020 27″ iMac with a 3.6 GHz, 10-core i9 processor, lots of RAM, and a large internal SSD, my edits were fairly smooth.

But running NX Studio on a machine just a few years old with a spinning hard drive felt positively sluggish by comparison. Adjusting any given slider, from White Balance to Highlights to Color Booster, resulted in a visible checkerboard pattern across the image while edits were applied. Each adjustment only took a second or two, but these little bits of time add up quickly when editing dozens or hundreds of images.

goose on the grass with checkerboard pattern
On slower computers, editing operations like changing the white balance can result in a tiny delay, during which time a checkerboard pattern is visible.

Other Nikon NX Studio features resulted in slow response times or outright crashes. Navigating through folders to locate images took much longer than I expected, and simple operations like cropping were slow and choppy. I generally zoom in to a photo to check for focus and sharpness and then zoom out for more editing, but even this relatively basic operation was slower and clunkier than I would have liked. After leaving NX Studio running for a few hours – not processing photos, but simply open in the background – it brought my Mac to its knees with a strange memory management error.

Memory Error
I left Nikon NX Studio running overnight; the next morning, I found that my computer had slowed to a crawl. It had some kind of memory leak that was using every spare scrap of RAM I had available.

I’m not saying that the program is unusable, just that users ought to approach it with a bit of caution. Programs such as Lightroom were just as buggy in their early incarnations and are much improved now, and I have no doubt the same will be true of Nikon NX Studio. It will get better over time, but right now you can expect to encounter some glitches.

However, it’s not all bad news in terms of performance. Loading Nikon NEF RAW files was snappy, navigating between editing panes was quick and easy, and import/export operations had no noticeable lag. When Nikon NX Studio works, which it usually does, it works quite well. But when it doesn’t work, it can be a bit frustrating.

Photo organization

It’s not uncommon for photographers to have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pictures to wade through. Nikon NX Studio isn’t going to win awards for groundbreaking AI-powered image management, but it does have some useful tools to help you organize your pictures.

Nikon NX Studio Review Folder Organization
Nikon NX Studio imports images to folders on your hard drive, not to a proprietary archive. To find your images, use the folders on the left-hand side.

In lieu of a Lightroom-style Catalog system, NX Studio shows you a hierarchical view of all the folders on your main drive and lets you navigate through them to locate your images. It’s not dissimilar from Luminar and others, and I prefer this method over the all-in-one archive system used by Apple Photos. When you import images from a memory card, you can create a new folder to store the pictures. You can create custom names for each import, as well.

When browsing through your pictures, you can assign star ratings, color labels, and keywords. There is a Filter bar that you can use to sort your photos according to these criteria as well as other information, but Nikon NX Studio does not have Smart Albums or other dynamic methods for automatically sorting your images. I use Lightroom’s Smart Collections to help me organize my images, but if you aren’t a fan of this method, then NX Studio will be fine.

Nikon NX Studio Review Filter
The Filter bar lets you sort by many different criteria.

Longtime users of Apple’s now-defunct Aperture software will find the Thumbnail List View to be particularly useful when managing photos. This shows a list-style view similar to what you see when browsing through your Mac OS Finder or Windows Explorer, with columns that display various parameters such as exposure information, file size, date modified, and more.

Nikon NX Studio Review List View
List View is a very useful way of viewing and sorting your images. It is very similar to List View in the Mac OS Finder and in Microsoft Windows Explorer.

While Nikon NX Studio’s photo management tools are not as robust as I would like, they’re certainly a good start. If you prefer a straightforward approach that does not rely on a proprietary catalog or database system, then there’s a lot to appreciate.

Photo-editing capabilities

This is where the rubber meets the road, and fortunately, Nikon NX Studio can hold its own against the competition in virtually all the areas that matter. While some NX Studio features are not as refined as other programs and some tools are missing in action, what it gets right, it really gets right.

There’s a long list of editing options at your disposal, including:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure Compensation
  • Active D-Lighting, which is unique to Nikon cameras and is a nice way to automatically brighten shadows and create a more even exposure
  • Brightness and Color
  • Levels and Curves
  • Lightness, Chroma, and Hue
  • Adjust Details, which includes Noise Reduction and Sharpness
  • Touch-Up, to remove spots and blemishes
  • Adjust Composition, which includes cropping, straightening, and perspective control
  • Camera and Lens Corrections

Once again, it’s worth remembering that Nikon NX Studio is a free program, and that fact alone makes the inclusion of all these options kind of amazing. While tools like a graduated filter, a radial filter, and an adjustment brush are missing, the options you do have should suffice for most photo editing. You can even create multiple custom sets of adjustment options that include only the tools you use in specific scenarios. This is quite useful if you prefer different tools when editing landscapes compared to editing portraits.

Nikon NX Studio Review Adjustments
You can create custom sets of editing adjustments, then switch to your custom sets with a simple click.

The Color Control Point editing tool is particularly useful, and one that I’d like to see in other applications. It allows you to click anywhere on your image and immediately have access to eight common editing sliders. Drag any of them to the right or left to increase or decrease that particular parameter. The top slider adjusts the size of the area to which the edits will be applied. It’s a highly useful tool for precise color editing, and the ability to adjust sliders right on the image instead of in an editing pane is something I have grown to appreciate a great deal.

Nikon NX Studio Review Color Control Point
The Color Control Point tool lets you click on any part of an image and use sliders to adjust colors on the spot.

The Lightness, Chroma, and Hue Adjustment takes an innovative and highly effective approach to manipulating color. While similar to the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance option in Lightroom, the Nikon NX Studio implementation offers useful options that professional and amateur photographers will appreciate.

You can use the eyedropper tool to select a color in your image, then click and drag up or down in the rainbow panel to adjust that color’s parameters. You can also change the angle of the rainbow, which means that your edits can be implemented more dramatically or more subtly. Finally, Width lets you target your edits to either a very narrow or very wide band of colors. It’s a powerful tool for global color adjustments.

Nikon NX Studio Review Lightness Chroma Hue Adjustment
Nikon NX Studio has a very useful tool for making global color edits to an image. Click and drag up or down on the horizontal line to adjust the parameters of a color, and adjust the Width to control the range of colors affected by a given peak or valley.

There are some important drawbacks to NX Studio’s photo-editing capabilities, and any Nikon NX Studio review would be remiss in not pointing them out.

First, there is no Undo option. Yes, you read that right; instead of an Undo, you can create a saved state for your edits then revert to that saved state at any point, but an actual Undo feature is missing.

Also, there is no History tool that shows you every edit and lets you step through them one by one. While Nikon NX Studio is nondestructive and all your edits can be changed or removed at any time, a History feature would help when doing lots of in-depth changes.

Other strange feature implementations are present, as well. After you apply a crop, you can’t actually make changes to it; you can start over with a new crop, but you can’t edit the crop once it has been applied. You also can’t darken shadows or lighten highlights – at least, not with the Shadows and Highlights sliders. The Retouch brush has no customization options at all other than its size. Finally, there is no way to make export presets, which could be a dealbreaker for those who rely on this feature in Lightroom and other programs.

Nikon NX Studio Review Export Dialog
The Export dialog in Nikon NX Studio has plenty of options, but its use is limited by the lack of export presets.

There’s a couple of ways to look at these drawbacks.

Compared to a program like Lightroom, NX Studio might seem limited. But on the other hand, you could argue that Nikon NX Studio is free, so there’s not much to complain about. It’s also currently on Version 1 and will no doubt be refined and upgraded over time. Many of the drawbacks have workarounds or alternative methods of accomplishing the same task, even if it does involve some extra steps. And finally, there is always a learning curve with new programs.

So are these missing features drawbacks, or is it more a matter of learning a new workflow? One could make a strong case for the latter over the former.

Who should get Nikon NX Studio?

While I can’t recommend Nikon NX Studio across the board, it’s a great option for many shooters. Certainly, Nikon users will appreciate all the tools NX Studio has to offer, especially for editing RAW files. If you are a hobbyist or working professional who needs a suite of powerful editing tools and you don’t mind some interface quirks, Nikon NX Studio could be right up your alley. Beginners might be intimidated by the plethora of buttons, options, and tools, especially compared to more basic image editors that are available for free on mobile phones and some computers. But Nikon NX Studio could be a good way for those individuals to start using a more advanced image editor without spending any money at all.

People who should definitely not use Nikon NX Studio are those who have a mobile-first workflow. There is no version of the program that works on phones or tablets, and it’s unlikely to be created anytime soon. If you primarily shoot and edit with a smartphone, you’re better off sticking with the tools you already have.

Nikon NX Studio Review 4-Up View

Nikon NX Studio review: final words

Nikon NX Studio is an outstanding program in many ways, and the fact that it’s free is certainly one of its most important advantages.

If you shoot in JPEG, you can use everything Nikon NX Studio has to offer, no matter your camera brand, while Nikon users will greatly appreciate its RAW editing capabilities. While there are certainly some important caveats to consider, as well as some messy bugs that will get ironed out over time, I certainly recommend you download it and give it a try.

Hopefully, this Nikon NX Studio review gave you some information to help you understand a bit more about the program and whether it will work for you!

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts:

Are you interested in Nikon NX Studio? Do you think you’ll use it? What do you like and dislike about the software? Share your views in the comments below!

Do I need to have a Nikon camera to use Nikon NX Studio?

Nikon NX Studio will only work with Nikon RAW files. RAW formats from Sony, Canon, Fujifilm, and others will not work, and neither will universal RAW formats like DNG. However, the program works just fine with JPEG images. So if you don’t use a Nikon camera but shoot in JPEG, you can easily use Nikon NX Studio for your editing and photo management.

Will Nikon NX Studio work on my mobile phone?

Nikon NX Studio is designed for desktop-based workflows; there is no mobile version. You can take photos on a mobile phone, transfer them to your computer, and edit them in Nikon NX Studio, but that workflow adds many more steps and probably takes too much time for most people to consider.

Is Nikon NX Studio better than Lightroom, Capture One, or Luminar?

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these programs, and it’s impossible to say which one is better. Nikon NX Studio is free, but most of the others have free trial periods for new users. If you’re unsure of which to use, I recommend downloading them, signing up for free trials (if available), and making use of dPS’s many articles to help you learn. That way, you can make an informed choice and find the program that suits your needs.

Will Nikon NX Studio run on my computer?

Most computers made in the past few years will work just fine with Nikon NX Studio. I personally found better results when I was working with an SSD instead of a spinning hard drive, but almost any modern desktop or laptop will run the program just fine.

Can I use Nikon NX Studio to edit video?

While Nikon NX Studio does have a built-in video editor, its capabilities are very limited. It works for basic trimming and combining clips but not much else.

The post Nikon NX Studio Review: How Good Is This Free Photo Editor? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

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Review: DJI’s Air 2S is the ultimate consumer drone

17 Apr


Arriving just one year after its predecessor, the Mavic Air 2, the Air 2S is DJI’s newest mid-range consumer drone. The new model sheds the familiar Mavic branding in favor of a shorter naming scheme, following the lead of DJI’s Mini 2 model, but receives some significant upgrades in return. Most notably, the Air 2S features a camera with a 1″-type sensor – something that was previously exclusive to DJI models costing over $ 1,500.

Whereas the Mavic Air 2 emphasized resolution over sensor size, with features like 48MP stills and 8K hyperlapse modes, the Air 2S pivots in the direction of image quality; its larger 20MP sensor easily outperforms the camera on the Mavic Air 2 and addresses one of the most frequent requests from users.

The downside is that the retail price of the Air 2S is $ 200 more than the Mavic Air 2, coming in at $ 999. The good news is that the Mavic Air 2 will continue to sell alongside the new Air 2S, so consumers can choose the option that best fits their needs – not to mention their budget.

There’s also a Fly More combo that includes two additional batteries, a charging hub, a set of three ND filters, and a shoulder bag for $ 1299. The addition of ND filters to the Fly More combo should please a lot of users as they’re a common add-on purchase.

Key Features

  • 20MP, 1″-type CMOS sensor
  • 22mm (equiv.) lens with 88º FOV and fixed F2.8 aperture
  • 5.4K/30p, 4K/60p, and 1080p/120p video
  • H.264 and H.265 recording at 150 Mbps
  • 10-bit D-Log and HDR video capture
  • Raw and JPEG image capture
  • OcuSync 3.0 (O3) image transmission (12 km range)
  • Four-way obstacle avoidance
  • APAS 4.0
  • ‘MasterShots’ cinematic capture mode
  • ‘RockSteady’ electronic image stabilization
  • 31-minute flight time
  • 595g (1.3 pounds) total weight

Compared to…

On paper, the Air 2S compares favorably to both the Mavic Air 2 as well as the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro.

DJI Air 2S Mavic Air 2 Mavic 2 Pro
Price $ 999 $ 799 $ 1599

20MP, 1″-type sensor

22mm equiv. F2.8 (fixed)

48MP, 1/2-inch sensor

24mm equiv. F2.8 (fixed)

20MP, 1″-type sensor

28mm equiv. F2.8-11

Video transmission OcuSync 3.0 (O3), 4 antennas, 12 km, 1080p OcuSync 2.0, dual antenna, 10 km, 1080p OcuSync 2.0, dual antenna, 10 km, 1080p

Video resolution 5.4K/30p, 4K/60fps 4K/60p 4K/30p
Video bit-rate 150 Mbps 120 Mbps 100 Mbps
Log video 10-bit D-Log, HDR video (10-bit) HDR video (8-bit) 10-bit D-Log, HDR video (10-bit)
APAS version (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) APAS 4.0 APAS 3.0 APAS 1.0
Obstacle avoidance Forward, Backward, Downward, Upward Forward, Backward, Downward Forward, Backward, Downward, Left, and Right
Flight time 31 minutes 34 minutes 31 minutes
Dimensions 180×97×80 mm 180x97x84 mm 214×91×84 mm
Weight 595g 570g 907g

There’s no question the improved camera alone warrants an upgrade. In fact, the Air 2S one-ups the Mavic 2 Pro in an important area. The Mavic 2 Pro could record 4K video using the full width of its sensor, but it did so using pixel binning. As a result, the best 4K footage was obtained by shooting from a native crop of the sensor, which also narrowed the camera’s field of view.

In contrast, the Air 2S captures 5.4K video using the full width of the sensor – with no pixel binning – resulting in more detailed video capture. The upgraded sensor appears to put the Air 2S on par with the prosumer Mavic 2 Pro. Or does it? Let’s take a look at what the Air 2S has to offer and determine if it’s a must-have for hobbyists and professionals alike.

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Aircraft and controller

At 180x97x80 mm folded down, the DJI Air 2S has a frame that’s almost identical to the Mavic Air 2 and can fit in the palm of your hand. What’s noticeably different is that the 2S has obstacle avoidance sensors placed on top of the drone.

The Air 2S (L) and Mavic Air 2 (R) side-by-side. The Air 2S boasts a camera with a larger 1″-type sensor plus upward obstacle avoidance sensors.

In fact, DJI has equipped the Air 2S with four-way obstacle avoidance detection and APAS 4.0 – the latest iteration of an autopilot system that automatically avoids, and will fly around, obstacles it encounters, when recording up to 4K/30p footage. There is also an auxiliary light on the bottom of the aircraft to aid in takeoff and landing during low-light situations.

The Air 2S uses the same remote as the Mavic Air 2.

DJI has opted to use the same remote that powers the Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2. It doesn’t have external antennas, and it can still be a challenge to attach a smartphone. However, it’s comfortable to hold and includes everything you need to operate, including a gimbal wheel plus buttons to instantly start and stop taking photos and video. It’s easy to switch between Cine, Normal, and Sport Modes while the Return to Home feature is instantly accessible.

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Photos and video

The camera on the Air 2S has a 20MP, 1”-type CMOS sensor, mounted on a 3-axis gimbal stabilized with the ‘RockSteady’ EIS system introduced on DJI’s FPV drone. It has a 22mm (equiv.) fixed-aperture F2.8 lens with an 88º FOV.

Until now, getting a 1″-type sensor on a DJI drone required you to purchase a much more expensive model like the Mavic 2 Pro or Phantom 4 series. So the fact that it’s now available on a model costing under $ 1,000 is notable. Where the camera on the Air 2S differs from the Mavic 2 Pro is that the Hasselblad color profile is not included.

The camera on the Air 2S uses a 1″-type CMOS sensor capable of 20MP photos and up to 5.4K/30p video.

Like its predecessor, the Air 2S is powered by the DJI Fly app. The pared down, intuitive menu showcases all the photo modes on the same screen. Single, SmartPhoto, AEB (in brackets of 3 and 5 images), and Burst mode can be easily accessed. The shutter allows up to an 8-second exposure, and together with DJI’s RockSteady EIS, make’s low-light, night time, and motion blur photos possible.

The shutter allows up to an 8-second exposure, and together with DJI’s RockSteady EIS, make’s low-light, night time, and motion blur photos possible.

SmartPhoto mode, which uses computational photography technology similar to smartphones, automatically gives you an ideal image using one of the following methods, depending on lighting conditions:

  • HDR photos: The camera automatically captures seven different exposures and combines them for greater dynamic image.
  • Hyperlight: Images taken in low-light conditions tend to be grainy and contain noise. Hyperlight takes multiple photos and merges them for a clearer image.
  • Scene recognition: This mode allows the drone to recognize five major components of a photo – sunsets, blue skies, grass, snow, and trees. It will analyze these objects and maximize tone, clarity, and colors.

DJI’s RockSteady EIS makes it possible to capture night shots with long exposure and motion blur.
ISO 200 | 6 sec | F2.8

The Air 2S allows you to record video at resolutions up to 5.4K/30p, 4K/60p, and 1080p/120p at 150Mbps with either the H.264 or H.265 codec. You can also zoom up to 4X at 4K/30p, 6X at 2.7K/30p, 4X at 2.7K/60p, 6X at 1080p/60p and 8X at 1080p/30p. That’s an upgrade from the Mavic Air 2, which maxed out at 4K/60p and 120 Mbps (which is still impressive in its own right).

This video shows an example of 5K/30p video captured on the Air 2S.

One area where the there’s a big difference between the Air 2S and Mavic Air 2 is support for HDR and Log video. The Mavic Air 2 could capture HDR video but was limited to 8-bit, and it didn’t include a Log gamma profile. In contrast, the Air 2S includes 10-bit D-Log and 10-bit HLG capture in addition to the Normal (8-bit) color profile for video. That’s a substantial upgrade for serious video shooters.

Also, as noted above, the Air 2S captures 5.4K video using the full width of its sensor, with no pixel binning, for detailed video capture. That’s a step up from the Mavic 2 Pro which could record 4K video using the full width of its sensor, but did so using pixel binning. As a result, the best 4K footage on that model was obtained by shooting from a native crop of the sensor, which also narrowed the camera’s field of view.

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The DJI Fly app and flight modes

The Air 2S uses the DJI Fly app, which was first introduced with the Mavic Mini. Unlike the DJI GO 4 app, which is more fully-featured and suitable for prosumer drones, they Fly app was created with newer pilots in mind. It’s easy to navigate and basically every photo and video setting you need is right on the same screen.

When switching out of Auto mode and into Manual, or Pro mode, in this case, the bottom-right-hand corner gives you sliders that allow you to adjust white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and choose JPG or Raw+JPG imagery. Resolution can be adjusted on the video end.

DJI’s Fly app is pared down, simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

Three dots on the upper-right-hand corner of the app will allow you go deeper into the main settings. This is where you can select which video color profile you’d like, whether you wish to brake in front of or bypass obstacles, which codec you prefer, and how high an altitude or far a distance you’d prefer the drone to fly.

A new feature called MasterShots has been introduced as a way for pilots to generate professional-grade footage that’s ready to share on social by simply selecting a few parameters, such as proximity and portrait or landscape orientation. DJI has equipped the Air 2S with ActiveTrack 4.0 and Point of Interest 3.0 for increased accuracy in tracking subjects during automated flights. The usual QuickShots, including Dronie, Circle, Helix, Rocket Asteroid and Boomerang are included.

This is an example of a completed MasterShots sequence, complete with title and music, that was automatically edited together using the DJI Fly app.

I tried the MasterShots feature and have mixed feelings about it. Upon launching it, a notification to ‘watch out for obstacles’ immediately appears. The drone then autonomously launches into a series of pre-programmed shots including Dronie, Rocket, and Boomerang along with some other sweeping movements. It’s best to focus on a static object versus a moving one as the Air 2S will lose track of the latter.

I paused the flight two separate times while a MasterShot was in progress because I was afraid it was going to fly into the side of a mountain I was close to, and over moving traffic in another location. Anyone wanting to test out this feature should make sure they’re at a high enough altitude that the drone won’t encounter a tree or building as the Air 2S tends to pitch down at one point during the recording.

I aborted this MasterShots sequence to avoid having the drone fly over a highway with vehicles, but it it illustrates how MasterShots runs the drone through a series of pre-programmed shots.

MasterShots was made with the casual consumer and beginning pilot in mind. Select shots are stitched into a final clip and music is automatically added in for something that can be instantly shareable on social channels from the DJI Fly app. This is not likely to be something a professional with access to Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or similar software will be interested in using, but they’re also not the market DJI is targeting with this new feature. Finally, it only works in Auto mode which makes for some potentially awkward lighting switches.

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What’s it like to fly?

The first thing anyone will notice when operating the Air 2S is that the drone is incredibly quiet. It’s clear that DJI has updated the electronic speed controllers and continues to create more aerodynamic propellers for a noticeably more pleasant experience. It maneuvers well too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up in moderate to high winds. In low winds, however, it’s steady. RockSteady EIS image stabilization makes low-light imagery especially easy to capture.

What impressed me most was the improved APAS 4.0, the latest version of DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System, which maneuvers the drone above, below, or to the side of an obstacle. With the Mavic Air 2, I felt that APAS was a bit lacking. This version of the technology worked seamlessly. In the example below, it flew above a tree and then to the side, missing every branch. Keep in mind, this feature works on 4K/30p video and below.

This clip shows APAS 4.0, DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System, in action as the drone navigates around the tree. APAS 4.0 is noticeably improved over previous versions.

Overall, everything feels vastly improved and more more reliable. Hyperlapse, especially, looks much cleaner and more stable on a 1″-type sensor coupled with RockSteady EIS. I was impressed with how easy it was to get smooth footage on a mildly windy day.

Hyperlapse sequence captured on the Air 2S.

Odds and ends

Equipped with OcuSync 3.0 (O3) transmission technology, the Air 2S can fly at a distance up to 12 km (7.45 miles) when free of obstacles or interference. Like its predecessor, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz frequency bands. The maximum flight time clocks in at 31 minutes in ideal conditions, on par with the Mavic 2 Pro but less than the 34 minutes the Mavic Air 2 offers. It can travel up to 68.4 km/h (42.5 mph) in Sport mode.

The Air 2S supports memory cards up to 256GB and also has 8GB of onboard internal storage should you forget a card or run out of space. Equipped with ADS-B, pilots are warned when manned aircraft are nearby. One feature I appreciated was the fact that the Air 2S automatically returned to home after losing its connection, even as the remote screen remained dark.

The Air 2S Fly More combo includes a set of ND filters that help create better videos and hyperlapses. A simple twist attaches them to the camera.

I would also recommend considering the Fly More combo – particularly since it now includes ND filters, which are very helpful for shooting video and hyperlapses.

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Who’s it for?

DJI has created a top-of-the-line consumer-grade drone with the Air 2S. To have access to a camera with a 1″-type sensor that is capable of capturing 20MP imagery and video up to 5.4K/30p, for under $ 1,000, is truly remarkable. While the camera doesn’t include the vibrant Hasselblad color profile of the Mavic 2 Pro, it still produces decent color. Imagery feels cleaner and crisper compared to past models, overall.

The Mavic 2 Pro (right) is slightly larger and heavier than the Air 2S. It can fly in more turbulent conditions, and at higher altitudes, but costs significantly more as well.

With that context, what does it mean for the Mavic 2 Pro, DJI’s other foldable drone with a 1″-type sensor? Professionals shouldn’t write off the Mavic 2 Pro just yet. Slightly larger, heavier, and sturdier, it can withstand high winds like its larger peer, the Phantom 4 Pro. It also has obstacle avoidance sensors on each side making it more suitable for inspections and other high risk gigs that require maneuvering in tight or treacherous areas. Let’s not forget the adjustable aperture either.

The Air 2S would be a terrific drone for a professional to take to a wedding, for example, particularly with its quieter props. However I wouldn’t dream of taking it with me to shoot around a high rise building, where winds get stronger the higher you ascend, or to a boat race where it would be whipped around. The Air 2S is built for more casual situations.

The Air 2S would be a terrific drone for a professional to take to a wedding, for example, particularly with its quieter props.

With its fixed aperture and user-friendly features, the Air 2S is still targeted more towards everyday consumers and those who want a solid option to get into drone imaging. DJI isn’t going to cannibalize its professional and prosumer lines of drones by allowing it to operate in the same manner. MasterShots and some of the QuickShots features were created for travelers and content creators who want to capture impressive imagery and share it instantly. The Fly app has even been updated to make adding a soundtrack and subtitles easy for anyone.

Final thoughts

The release of the Air 2S is a strong indication that next Mavic Pro (or even Phantom or Inspire) will see significant bumps in features and capabilities. Also, with Remote ID finalized, DJI has a lot of incentive to start rolling out some new models that both hobbyists and professionals have been wanting for the past few years.

I tested DJI’s Fly More combo, which includes two additional batteries plus a set of ND filters, and was thrilled to be able to carry the entire set around in a bag the size of a small purse. I can imagine a professional commercial pilot wanting one of these for fun or impromptu shoots, especially now that it includes a 1″-type sensor. This really is an ideal solution for travel and on-the-go content creation.

What we like

  • 1″-type CMOS censor
  • 5.4K/30p video with 10-bit D-Log and HLG support
  • Quiet flight
  • Improved APAS 4.0 performance
  • Ability to shoot long exposures

What we don’t

  • Fixed aperture lens
  • Can be unsteady in windy conditions
  • 1080p recording in Quick and MasterShots modes

Sample gallery

Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page).

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