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A Review of the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Lens

A Review of the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Lens

A good 35mm lens with a wide maximum aperture is one of the most versatile optics a photographer can carry, but these lenses can often reach well above $1,000 in cost. However, there are some great third-party options out there at much more affordable prices, and this great video review takes a look at one such lens, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE lens for Sony E mount cameras.

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What Is the Best 50mm Lens for Canon Shooters?

What Is the Best 50mm Lens for Canon Shooters?

Canon shooters are not without options when it comes to 50mm lenses, with a huge range of different optics at varying price points and image quality. This excellent video review takes a look at three of the best options out there, the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

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Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit

Here is my review of the new large diaphragm ZDM-1 dynamic microphone from Zoom with a supercardioid pickup pattern. This new microphone is available standalone (with an included mount and an attached windscreen) for ≈US$80 or as part of a kit which includes a pair of closed headphones (and a few more things), where the total costs ≈US$120. When properly positioned, the ZDM-1 microphone sounds very good for human voice recordings at its ≈US$80 price point, but just as the saying says that a still photo is worth 1000 words, a 48-kHz audio recording is worth 48 thousand samples per second. Ahead you’ll hear my voice recorded with this microphone and my other comments about it.

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 28

There is always a lot less to write about analog-only, XLR-only dynamic microphones, especially those which don’t have any built-in switches, buttons or headphone jacks. However, their simplicity doesn’t mean that these pure microphones are uninteresting or not good. They are just more simple to describe. I actually favor microphones which lack an On/Off switch (since those that do have them tend to be Off by mistake when we really need them to be On). For human voice recordings, is also practical to have a microphone whose natural frequency curve already has a low cut (aka high pass) filter always active. This is the case with the ZDM-1 microphone, which lacks any switches… and its natural frequency response is 50 Hz to 18 kHz, so it naturally cuts rumble (undesired low frequency noise).

Another nice thing about the ZDM-1 microphone is that it has a higher output level than many other popular dynamic microphones. The ZDI-1 has a rated sensitivity of -54 dBV/Pa so whichever preamp is attached will have less work do to, whether it be a standalone preamp, an interface with built-in A-to-D (analog-to-digital) converter, an audio mixer, recorder or even a camera with an XLR audio input.

Although to my knowledge, Zoom doesn’t publish any illustration of the frequency response or supercardioid pattern, I like the way it sounds with my voice (and the voices of colleagues who have also tested it), when addressing the end —quite closely— at a 45-degree angle. When addressing it straight on, the included windscreen was not completely immune to plosives the way the Shure A81WS windscreen (covered in many past articles) is. However, addressing the ZDM-1 with its windscreen at a 45-degree angle fortunately resolves it.

The included mount with thread adapter allows you to attach the ZDM-1 to your favorite mic stand or boom arm, whether it uses 3/8″-16 or the larger 5/8″-2, like my PL-2T from Heil.

Regarding the supercardioid pickup pattern

Unlike most other microphones I review (which have standard cardioid or heart-shaped pickup pattern), the ZDM-1 has a supercardioid pickup pattern. This means that its pattern is tighter in the front (top), which means it can reject background sounds more specifically when the individual speaking is properly in front of it (although at a 45-degree angle to avoid those plosives that slip by the included thick windscreen). However, because of its supercardioid pattern, its spot of greatest rejection is not 180 degrees from the top but at about 127 degrees. As a result, if there is another person speaking or other sound you are trying to avoid, you should aim the ZDM-1 so that the 127 degree part is aimed toward that source and then adjust the person speaking accordingly.

Test recordings

Below you’ll be able to hear three versions of the same recording. The original recording was made at 48-kHz sampling frequency (see 48kHzAlliance.com) and at 24-bit into an uncompressed WAV file. However the published versions have been trimmed, normalized and exported at 48 kHz 16-bit WAV. Please listen with unmetered data.


Above, flat version.

 

Above, with Hindenburg Journalist Pro’s mild noise reduction.

 

Above, with Hindenburg Journalist Pro’s mild noise reduction and mild dynamic compression.

Electromagnetic interference in the ZDM-1

A built-in humbucking circuit in the ZDM-1 rejects electromagnetic interference caused by power lines, computer monitors, mobile phones and other devices.

Does the ZDM-1 need an external shockmount?

Although Zoom says that the ZDM-1 has a built-in internal shockmount, for best results it would be good to use an external one, which would substitute for the ZDM-1’s included mount.

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 29

 

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 30

Although I didn’t test it myself, my colleague Darrel Darnell used the ZRAMO TH106 shockmount (shown above), which currently costs about US$12. Later Jim C. made the same recommendation. Even though the ZRAMO TH106’s range of capable size is a bit beyond the diameter of the ZDM-1, the TH106 can apparently stretch enough to hold the ZDM-1.

Buy the kit or the standalone microphone?

The ≈US$120 kit includes a table stand, an XLR cable and a pair of Zoom headphones. The standalone ZDM-1 is now available for ≈US$80. Although I really like the sound quality of the ZDM-1 for its ≈US$80 price, I dislike the table stand included with the kit since it is so short (even at maximum height) and I dislike the XLR cable included in the kit because from an esthetic (“aesthetic”) perspective, if I have a fully black microphone like the ZDM-1, I like not only the cable to be black but also the XLR connectors to be black. Sadly, the XLR cable that Zoom is currently including with the ZDM-1 kit is black but has silver-colored XLR connectors.

 

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 31

Having said that, if you would like a decent pair of closed-back headphones and really don’t want to spend more than ≈US$40 for it, the included one is good in the package price of ≈US$120 even if you never use the included XLR cable (or use it only to extend a different, purely black one) and never use the included table stand. On the other hand, if you already own headphones or prefer a different model, then the standalone ZDM-1 microphone can be yours for ≈US$80.

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 32
In the above photo provided by Zoom’s website, the ZDM-1 is used with an XLR cable with a silver colored connector, as comes with the kit.
Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 33
I prefer using a black-colored connector on the mic cable when the microphone is black, as shown in this other photo from Zoom’s website. This purely black cable is not the one currently included in the ZDM-1 kit. Note that the guy in the foreground is leaning back and listening, and should be much closer to the mic like the guy in the background whenever he wants to speak on air.

RATINGS

Looks and build quality

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 34

Sound quality for human voice, with proper positioning, in its ≈US$80 price

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 34

Plosive resistance with included windscreen

Review: Zoom ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone or kit 36

Follow my instructions to avoid plosives, earlier in this article.

Conclusions

In its ≈US$80 price range standalone, the ZDM-1 large-diaphragm dynamic microphone sounds very good for the human voice and looks great too. It is a good fit if you plan to connect it to an XLR interface, mixer, recorder or camera and therefore don’t need a direct USB connection. You may even consider the ≈US$120 kit (FilmTools link) if you also happen to need inexpensive headphones. Please read the full article for all of my opinions and to hear the test recording.

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FTC disclosure

Zoom sent the ZDM-1 to Allan Tépper for review. No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcasting CapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.

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The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalitionmagazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!

Great Reads in Photography: November 22, 2020

Every Sunday, we bring together a collection of easy reading articles from analytical to how-to to photo-features in no particular order that did not make our regular daily coverage. Enjoy!

A Promised Land, back and front cover, showing the BACK-COVER PHOTO THAT ALMOST DID NOT MAKE IT © Phil Mistry

How the Photo on Barack Obama’s New Memoir Almost Didn’t Happen: A Wife’s Special Request Went Awry ­- People

Shooting at the White House on August 25, 2016, for New York magazine, Dan Winters was given five minutes of President Obama’s time for a cover story. He spent at least five hours carefully pre-setting each shot: “Each setup had its own camera and tripod, [was lit and dialed in] so I could just jump from setup to setup quickly, 45 seconds on one setup.”

Winters got to the final shot (back cover photo above) — where the president was instructed to gaze out the Blue Room window. There, Winters discovered in a panic: that his wife Kathryn had separately called his first assistant and asked him to take some souvenir shots of Winters at work with Obama. The assistant had changed all the camera settings when he dashed off the shots that Winters’ wife wanted and “casually put the camera back without restoring my settings.”

Winters took his final frame, checked the camera’s monitor, and found the image over-exposed — almost completely white — from the light through the window.

“While I was lamenting the predicament and trying to guess the exposure, the president was like, ‘I don’t hear any clicking. Dan, I don’t hear any clicking.’ He said it twice. And everybody was on me, his handlers were giving me the stinkeye,” the Austin, Texas-based Dan Winters recalls. “But I think I nailed that shot on my second frame.”

Five years later, Obama himself selected the photo to be a prominent part of the historical record that A Promised Land will portray, which has already sold a record 890,000 copies on its first day. Winters’ portrait, which was printed in black and white for the October 3, 2016, issue of New York, appears in full color for the first time on Obama’s memoir on the back cover. This will eventually end up being his first photo to be printed over 10 million copies for Winters!

Notable:  The magazine’s [New York] photo director actually called my wife while the shoot was going on and said, “Your husband is bossing around the president of the United States!”

Treat every assignment as if it’s your first one. I think there is a misconception, especially that students have, and I really make a point when I speak at schools to talk about the fact that you never really arrive. You are always working towards something, but you never stop. I think there is this crazy idea that you get somewhere, and then everything is cool. – Dan Winters

An orphaned reticulated giraffe nuzzles Sarara Camp wildlife keeper Lekupania. This giraffe was rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Current estimates are that giraffe populations across Africa have dropped 40 percent in three decades, plummeting from approximately 155,000 in the late 1980s to under 100,000 today. The decline is thought to be caused to habitat loss and fragmentation and poaching, but because there haven’t been long-term conservation efforts in the past, it’s hard to know exactly what is happening. Reticulated giraffe themselves number fewer than 16,000 individuals.  © Ami Vitale/Prints for Nature
Rajan an Asian elephant that was brought to the Andaman Islands in the 1950s to help extract timber from the jungles. Along with a small group of 10 elephants, he was forced to learn how to swim in the ocean to bring logged trees to nearby boats. When logging became banned in 2002, Rajan was out of a job. He was the last of the group to survive and enjoyed his retirement by swimming in the ocean and foraging in the jungle he once used to log. He died at the age of 66 in 2016. © Jody MacDonald/Prints for Nature

Print Sale to Support Conservation Efforts Conservation International

The pandemic overwhelmed National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale, and she knew she had to do something. COVID-19 was devastating conservation efforts globally as tourism and economies have collapsed, creating increasing pressure on nature. Driven by desperation, poaching and deforestation were on the rise.

Vitale tells PetaPixel, “I reached out to photographers that I deeply admire to ask for their support. I was surprised by how enthusiastic the photographers have been. They are checking in with me, asking how the sale is going, and sharing it with their own audiences.”

Vitale created Prints for Nature as a fine art photographic print sale offering collectors the chance to own work from some of the most impactful names in the photography industry and contribute to conservation. It includes eighty-five fine art and nature photographers who have generously donated prints for this cause.

The collection includes images from a diverse group of artists, many of whom are National Geographic photographers, like Joel Sartore who contributed an image from his National Geographic Photo Ark collection, Academy award-winning ‘Free Solo’ director Jimmy Chin, Emmy Award-winning artist Beverly Joubert, Ami Vitale, Anand Varma, Bertie Gregory, Brent Stirton, Charlie Hamilton James, David Doubilet, David Guttenfelder, Danielle Zalcman, David Liittschwager, Jasper Doest, Keith Ladzinski, Michael Yamashita, Steve Winder, Vince Musi and many more inspiring photographers.

Images are crafted by Paper & Ink and will be printed at 11×16 inches and sell for $250. The price per print will increase to $275 after Black Friday, November 27, 2020. The sale ends December 10, 2020.

Graciela Iturbide’s Photos Show the Beauty and Dreams of Mexico And Its People – NPR

Graciela Iturbide, who was born in Mexico City in 1942, set out to be a film director, enrolling at the Film Studies Center at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México at the age of 27. But while traveling with her mentor, the Mexican modernist Manuel Alvarez Bravo, she realized how drawn she was to photography and travel.

Iturbide photographs everyday life, almost entirely in black-and-white, following her curiosity and photographing when she sees what she likes. Iturbide’s Photos of Mexico Make “Visible What, to Many, Is Invisible,” said the New York Times in quoting Kristen Gresh, curator of photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, who has worked closely with Ms. Iturbide. Iturbide eschews labels and calls herself complicit with her subjects. She became interested in the daily life of Mexico’s indigenous cultures and people (the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Seri) and has photographed life in Mexican cities and on the Mexican/American border (La Frontera). She uses photography as a way of understanding Mexico, combining indigenous customs, assimilated Catholic practices and foreign economic trade under one scope.

I never use a telephoto lens. I need to be close to people. I need their complicity; I need them to be aware that I am there taking their picture. – Graciela Iturbide

“Rhein II” by German photographer Andreas Gursky, which sold for $4.3 million at auction in 2011 (a record that still stands).

A Decade Ago, Supersize Images by German Photographers Were Selling for Millions. Now, Prices Have Fallen Off a Cliff  – Artnet News

Photographs by members of the Düsseldorf School—a group of German photographers that studied under influential photography duo Bernd and Hilla Becher, including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, and Thomas Ruff—were snapped up by collectors like actor Leonardo DiCaprio for millions. One London hedge fund reported The New York Times purchased five of Gursky’s stock-exchange photos to decorate its trading floor.

These days demand for the extra-large works has diminished. In 2011, work by contemporary German photographers generated a combined $21 million at auction. Last year, that total fell by almost 50 percent, to $10.6 million, according to the Artnet Price Database. In the first half of this year, sales shrank further to just $3.9 million at auction.

How can three artists with impeccable collectors, museum presence, and curatorial attention fall into such a rut on the auction block? Experts attribute the dynamic to a combination of factors, starting with oversupply. Another is that these huge mounted photos are difficult to move and relocate as they are not as forgiving as canvas.

… for me [Rhein II], it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are.Andreas Gursky

Notable: Gursky carefully digitally removed [from Rhein II] any intrusive features – dog walkers, cyclists, a factory building – until it was bleak enough to satisfy him. The 73×143 (image size) chromogenic color print face-mounted to Plexiglas sold at Christie’s in 2011 for a record $ 4,338,500.

Images on the Apple iPhone 12 Pro display good exposure and color rendering in most conditions. Photo courtesy DXOMARK.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Camera Review: Great Smartphone Video – DxO

With a DXOMARK camera overall score of 128, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro makes it into the top five of their ranking, improving on last year’s 11 Pro Max by four points and replacing it as the best Apple device in their database. The overall score is founded on a high Photo score of 135 and a very good Video score of 112. With a score of 66, Zoom is the area where the iPhone 12 Pro loses some points against the best in class, mainly due to its tele-lens offering only a 2x optical magnification.

In Photo mode, DxO found the autofocus system to be one of the highlights, offering fast and accurate performance in most situations. “Exposure is mostly good, but our testers found the dynamic range to be a little limited, with both highlight and shadow clipping occurring in difficult conditions. Color rendering is accurate under indoor lighting, but color casts can be noticeable in outdoor images, and while the camera also offers good detail retention, if you don’t shoot in very dim conditions, you can often find image noise in indoor and low-light shots.”

Note: This review is of the iPhone 12 Pro and NOT the top-end iPhone 12 Pro Max, which also comes with a triple-camera setup, but uses a larger sensor in the standard-wide and a slightly longer tele-lens compared to the 12 Pro.

Mount Stetinden, Norway; 2-26 September 2016, around 10 PM; 3-10 seconds for the aurora and 90 seconds for the landscape with an exposure blend. It was Kp6 (moderate storm) aurora and recorded the 10th strongest aurora in 2016 © Dr. Kah-Wai Lin.

12 Outstanding Astrophotographers Worth Following –DIYPhotography

Here are twelve gifted astrophotographers who create stunning images of the heavens above. Most of these images include night landscapes with the Milky Way in the background. Capturing star trails is also another great subject. Night photography has many things to consider. On top of your usual composition and exposure, you have to deal with noise, shadow detail, preserving highlights, and special gear considerations for night lovers. This is also night landscape photography with an emphasis on the sky. Most of the time, you may be trying to avoid star trails by using the 500 rule (see below), as they can be distracting. Yet, emphasizing them can also make for a stunning image.

Ed. Note: Also check out Dr. Kah-Wai Lin’s  How to Calculate Exposure Time with a 10-Stop ND Filter

Quiz:
(1.) Who was the first astrophotographer?
Louis Daguerre (who invented the first practical process of photography) himself is believed to be the first person to photograph the moon, using his daguerreotype process, on January 2, 1839. Unfortunately, in March of that same year, his entire laboratory burnt to the ground, destroying all his written records and much of his early experimental work–and that historical image of the moon (which, according to a contemporary, was out of focus). Louis?? This does not look good on your resume!

A year later on March 26, 1840, John William Draper, an American doctor and chemist, took from his rooftop observatory at New York University his own daguerreotype of the moon using a device called a heliostat to keep light from the moon focused on the plate during a long 20-minute exposure. E&OE

(2.) What is the 500 rule in astrophotography?
500 Divided by the Focal Length of Your Lens = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) Before Stars Start to “Trail.” For example, let’s say you’re taking a shot with a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera. 500/24 = 21 seconds, which you can round to 20 seconds.

Magnum Photographer Bruno Barbey Dies at 79  – Blind

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer for the Magnum Photos agency who produced powerful, empathetic work in war zones as well as in peacetime, died November 9. Although he captured conflicts in Nigeria, Vietnam, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Kuwait, Barbey rejected the title “war photographer,” perhaps recognizing the fight for freedom was an integral part of life. Barbey, along with photographers Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier-Bresson, worked without flash to preserve the atmosphere of Paris’s streets in their night photographs during the civil unrest of 1968.

Barbey traveled all over the five continents for half a century and published more than 30 books documenting the beauty of places and the people he encountered. Always open to new techniques and styles, Barbey pioneered the use of color film in photojournalism while on assignment for Vogue in Brazil in 1966. Throughout his career, Barbey photographed Morocco, often returning to make pictures in the place where he was born in 1941. “It is very difficult to photograph there because in Islam, photography is supposed to bring the evil eye,” he told Magnum Photos. “You have to be cunning as a fox, well organized, and respect some customs. The photographer must learn to merge into the walls. Photos must either be taken swiftly, with all the attendant risks or only after long periods of infinite patience.”

Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world. – Bruno Barbey

Portrait Photographer’s Unethical Pricing Generates 800 Comments – Reddit

  • Family enters photoshoot giveaway on Facebook.
  • Family wins a photoshoot.
  • Mother and daughter get professional hair and makeup done and do a 3-hour photoshoot with multiple dress changes.
  • Then comes the price list: 4×6 print $350; 8×10 print $500; 10 prints plus a photo album $4500; Digital rights, 15 prints, and photo album $6500!
  • To offer free shoots in the hope of making money on the backend is not uncommon marketing. But shouldn’t one ask, “What does the average customer spend or how much are prints going to be?” etc., when there is no indication provided?
LAPD South Central, 1995 © Ken Light

My Thoughts on This Photo – Ken Light

I made this photo in Los Angeles, California, in 1995 while on a three-day assignment for Newsweek magazine to document the LA Police after the Rodney King riots and the OJ Simpson debacle. The photos were never published by the magazine. An assignment like this always raises issues of access and how a photographer should prepare. I arrived at the South-Central LA precinct wearing a bulletproof vest, silently pronouncing to the cops that I took what they did seriously, and this helped gain their trust. Photographing with Kodak Tri-X, I used two Nikon N90s, which at the time were noted for their fast autofocus speed, a recent accomplishment of photo technology.

I sat in the front seat of the patrol car, my cameras ready, with a 20mm and 28mm lens. As we drove in South-Central, he spotted a possible stolen car driving on the street. The Sergeant pulled his gun and held it below the window, and I started photographing, partly in denial, wondering if he thought they had guns, wondering would we be shot at, would my exposure be right, how many un-exposed frames did I have left in my camera.

This photo caught a moment of tension on the street, the fear the suspects had of being stopped and questioned, the officer’s uneasiness, finger near the trigger, and my own concern that this moment could escalate to something deadlier.  I was worried about the ambient light outside, given we were inside the patrol car, and worried it might mess with my exposure, especially since the photo is nothing without showing the gun hidden on the cop’s lap. The moment I saw what was happening, I kept pressing the shutter button, my camera slightly tilted, the subject’s hands raised, the gun with a slight shine of light, and the officer looking towards the suspects.

I still like the composition of the photo, the patrol car window framing the two guys in their car, yet with the wide depth of field, you can see the donut shop and warehouse in the background creating a sense of place. The hands held high of the suspect add to the tension; a brief moment caught so important to the photo.  The 45-degree angle of the officer’s arm lets your eye follow the gun, and in your mind, you know what could happen. It was a moment that showed the danger for all, in the day in the life of South-Central Los Angeles.

Ken Light is the Reva & David Logan Professor of Photojournalism at UC Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. Light has worked as a freelance documentary photographer for over forty-five years, focusing on social issues facing America. His work has been published in 9 books, including the recent Picturing Resistance: Moments and Movements of Social Change from the 1950s to Today.

Quote of the Week (or a Previous Week):

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. — Susan Sontag, author of On Photography, first published in 1977.


To see an archive of past issues of Great Reads in Photography, click here.


We welcome comments as well as suggestions. As we cannot possibly cover each and every source, if you see something interesting in your reading or local newspaper anywhere in the world, kindly forward the link to us here. ALL messages will be personally acknowledged.


About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him via email here.


Image credits: All photographs as credited and used with permission from the photographers or agencies.

Is Canon’s Unique 800mm f/11 Lens Worthwhile?

Is Canon's Unique 800mm f/11 Lens Worthwhile?

When Canon announced their RF 600mm f/11 IS STM and RF 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses, they raised a lot of eyebrows. No doubt, the lenses are unusual, but they also offer ultra-long levels of reach at highly affordable prices, especially compared to other lenses that reach such focal lengths. How do they hold up in practice? This great video review takes a look at the 800mm f/11 and what you can expect from it.

[ Read More ]

XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 Review: Editing Photos on a 24-Inch Pen Display

There are two big leaps you can make in your photo editing workflow. The first is moving from a mouse-and-keyboard setup to a pen tablet like the Wacom Intuos Pro—almost everybody does that at some point. But if you really want to kick your experience up to another level, there’s one more step you can take: you can buy yourself a high-resolution pen display.

Today I’m looking at one of those displays, the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24: a 2K pen display that out-performs the $1,200 Wacom Cintiq 22 in just about every spec category, but costs only $675 (typically $900, on sale as of this writing).

This won’t be a highly technical side-by-side comparison with alternatives from Wacom or Huion. Instead, I want to share my hands-on experience with this full-featured-but-affordable graphics display and tell you why I think it’s worth upgrading to this kind of setup for photo editing.


Full disclosure: XP-Pen provided the unit used in this review. However, they had no input on the content of the review and are seeing it for the first time right now, just like everyone else.


What is a “Pen Display”

First, it’s important that you understand what I’m referring to when I say “graphics display” or “pen display.” In the most basic terms, a graphics display is a monitor you can draw on. You plug a graphics display into your existing computer just like you would any other monitor, but you get the added benefit of using the included pressure-sensitive pen as your mouse.

A large pen display like the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 (or the Wacom Cintiq 22, or the Huion Kamvas Pro 24) gives you all the benefits of a pen tablet and a high-end color-accurate monitor in a single package. The core functionality is no different from a pen tablet like the ones I wrote about here, except that you can edit directly on your photograph, making the entire experience much more engrossing and allowing for a higher level of precision.

And make no mistake: the main benefit of using a graphics display to edit your photos the experience, and how easy it is to get into an editing “flow.”

Hands On with the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24

Build and Ergonomics

Build quality is … plastic-y. Don’t get me wrong, the Artist Pro doesn’t seem at all fragile. I lugged the thing between the lab and my apartment a couple of times and I didn’t hold back when using it. There’s just no denying that it feels like a more “affordable” product than something very solid and premium feeling like the Wacom Cintiq Pro series.

The express keys are very clicky, both of the scroll wheels felt solid and gave a nice tactile response when using them, and the touch-sensitive buttons on top of the display, which are used to access things like the Menu and Power, never gave me any trouble. Overall build is good, just not “high-end.”

In terms of ergonomics, there is one big pro and one big con.

The pro is the fully adjustable stand that is included with the display and allows you to set the angle of your Artist Pro from almost fully flat to almost fully vertical without ever feeling unstable. You can really dial in your working angle for long editing sessions, which ends up being critical because of the one big con: ergonomics.

In most ways, using a graphics display is far more enjoyable than using a pen tablet: it’s faster, more intuitive, and there’s something really satisfying about drawing directly onto your image. However, putting in long sessions on a graphics display is either going to be a pain in the back or a pain in the shoulder because you’re either bent over the display (back pain) or you’re holding your arm up horizontally to maintain the best posture (shoulder pain).

This might seem like an odd thing to focus on, but it bears mentioning if you’re choosing between a pen tablet and a pen display. Something like the Wacom Intuos Pro or XP-Pen Deco Pro allows you to keep good ergonomic posture while editing for hours because you’re drawing on a flat surface on your desk while looking forward at your monitor. In contrast, even when it’s dialed in just right, there’s no way to keep perfect posture while using a drafting table-style graphics display like this.

Display

Right out of the box, the Artist Pro 24’s QHD/2K display looked great on my ASUS StudioBook 17 and needed only a small Gamma adjustment on my 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s not the most color-accurate display in the world—the much more expensive Cintiq Pro series or a photo editing monitor will out-perform it—but at 90% Adobe RGB coverage, it’s no slouch either.

The main feature of the display for drawing purposes is that it’s “laminated,” meaning that the display and the touch surface have been more tightly bonded together to minimize the distance between the two and decrease parallax. This is critical if you want your pen input to land exactly where you expect it to, and is usually reserved for more expensive options.

For example, Wacom’s more affordable Cintiq 22 does not feature a laminated display. In this size category, the feature is reserved for the $2,000 Cintiq Pro 24.

The only downside to the display is the brightness, which maxes out at 250 nits. This is typical of graphics displays, and in an appropriate studio setting this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s definitely noticeable. Set it next to a high-end HDR monitor like the Dell I’m using right now or most premium laptop displays and it will be noticeably dimmer.

Pen Performance

In terms of pen feel and performance Wacom is the gold standard, so the best compliment I can pay the XP-Pen Artist Pro is to say that there is no noticeable difference between my experience with XP-Pen and my experience with Wacom’s Pro Pen 2.

The two are identical on the spec sheet, but that’s not what I’m referring to. In years past, XP-Pen used battery-powered pens that suffered from problems like input lag and glitchy lines with a noticeable “wave” to then, even when using a ruler to draw perfectly straight. This is no longer a problem as far as I can tell.

Tens of hours of use later—including 6 uninterrupted hours hand-painting an electron micrograph, and a side-by-side pen-tool test with the Wacom Cintiq Pro 16—and I couldn’t notice an ounce of difference in performance.

Customization

In my opinion, the best-designed feature of the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 is the customization.

Both sides of the Artist Pro 24 include 10 customizable “express keys” and a very satisfying mechanical click wheel that can be toggled between four different functions.

My express keys were set to the most common macros and Photoshop tools that I find myself using, like Undo, Brush/Eraser toggle, Pen Tool, New Layer, Hand Tool, and a Click Wheel toggle. The click wheel was set to Brush Size by default, but a quick press on the toggle key would switch the function to Zoom, then Rotate, and then Layer select.

Taken together and properly customized to your particular workflow, this level of tactile customization allows you to ditch your keyboard entirely. And this applies whether you’re right- or left-handed since there are a click wheel and 10 express keys on both the left and right of the display.

Additional Features Worth Mentioning

There are two additional features worth mentioning, although they’re pretty minor

Firstly, the display features a USB hub with two USB-A ports for hooking up a mouse or hard drive or charging your phone while you edit. It’s a nice-to-have, but I didn’t find myself using it very much. Still, in this day and age where your laptop might only have one or two (or zero… looking at you Apple) USB Type-A ports, it comes in handy.

Secondly, the pen supports up to 60 degrees of tilt. This is useful for painting and drawing (think shading when sketching digitally) but it’s not particularly relevant for photographers/photo editing unless you come from an art background.

Missing Features

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what I see as three obvious omissions: touch-sensitivity, robust USB charging, and an SD card slot.

Touch Sensitivity: One of my favorite parts of using Wacom’s Cintiq Pro series is the touch sensitivity of the screen. You can turn it off if it’s causing problems, but when it’s on you can use your fingers to zoom and rotate the image just like on a smartphone or tablet.

Touchscreens are so ubiquitous in 2020 that I found myself repeatedly trying (and failing) to zoom or rotate my image using my hands while editing on the Artist Pro, and leaving smudges on the screen as a result. Eventually, I got used to this limitation and defaulted to the click-wheel, but it’s a noticeable omission.

Robust USB Charging: The Artist Pro 24’s USB hub does feature power delivery, but it’s really only enough to charge something like a smartphone. Despite the fact that you can use a single USB cable to connect most (but not all) USB-C equipped laptops to the display with full functionality, the paltry power output of the hub wasn’t even enough to keep my 13-inch MacBook Pro at baseline, much less charge it.

This basically eliminates the “one cable” benefit, since I had to plug my MacBook Pro into the wall to keep it from dying while I worked.

SD Card Slot: One feature I did find myself missing from the Cintiq Pro line is the built-in SD card slot. The XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 doesn’t have one, and I missed it any time I was using my MacBook since importing photos required yet another cable.

Now, all of the Windows laptops I own or am borrowing for review currently do have an SD card slot, so I don’t know if I should blame XP-Pen or Apple for my troubles, but it’s an easy feature to add and I hope the next generation Artist Pro series doesn’t leave it out.

Overall Editing Experience

All of the above comes together to create an editing experience that’s practically addicting. The best editing tools get out of your way and allow you to connect directly with the images you’re working on, and this is exactly what a large graphics display like the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 allows you to do.

It might sound like I’m gushing, but it’s made photo editing much more enjoyable for me. Never before could I put in a 6-hour editing session without getting worn out, and I found myself taking on more advanced edits than I would typically try.

Could certain things be improved? Sure! See the “Missing Features” section above or my gripes about ergonomics. But none of the cons outweighed the pros for me, and the biggest pro (as far as I’m concerned) was the ability to get into a state of “flow” while photo editing.

Conclusion

After several months of using the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 consistently, I find myself more and more inclined to recommend it to friends who are in the market for a new graphics tablet/display. At just $675 on sale, it’s really hard to recommend anything else.

If a secondary editing monitor is in your future, it’s definitely worth considering a full-blown graphics display: especially when companies like XP-Pen are undercutting Wacom so drastically on price, without skimping on core features.

In summary:

Pros

  • Laminated 2K display
  • USB Hub
  • Fully-adjustable stand
  • Highly customizable
  • Top-tier pen performance
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Plastic-y build
  • No touch functionality
  • Weak USB charging
  • 250 nits max brightness
  • Ergonomics (applies to all graphics displays)

Whether or not a large graphics display is a good fit for you has everything to do with your workflow, your home studio setup, and how much time/energy you dedicate to photo editing. But if it sounds like the kind of product that could take your editing, your at least your experience, to the next level, I hope I’ve included enough technical details to allay any fears you might have.


P.S. If you have any additional questions, feel free to drop them in the comments or reach out on Twitter.


About the author: DL Cade is an art, science and technology writer, and the former Editor in Chief of PetaPixel. When he’s not writing op-eds or reviewing the latest tech for creatives, you’ll find him working in Vision Sciences at the University of Washington, publishing the weekly Triple Point newsletter, or sharing personal essays on Medium.