Archive for the ‘News and Gear’ Category

There are just so many options when it comes to photography lighting that if you’re new to the world of photography or just venturing into the realm of flash photography it can be totally overwhelming to decide what to get. As with so many things, when it comes to lighting and lighting equipment, until you are experienced enough to know exactly what you need, it’s best to keep it simple…and understand that you do get what you pay for.

There are a myriad of cheap light kits available on auction and resale sites. While these may be fine to start learning the basics, you will likely quickly outgrow them, or end up destroying the modifiers or lights themselves because they are simply not built to withstand much abuse. Professional lighting equipment, although more expensive, will end up saving you money in the long run because you won’t need to replace it nearly as often. You’ll also have fewer frustrations because of lack of power output or off-color light.

That said there are some excellent options available that bridge the gap between beginner and professional gear, and don’t cost a year’s salary. Here’s my list of items I’d look for just starting out with lighting, as well as a few options for upgrading:

  1. Yongnuo YN560 IV Flash – This is a surprisingly solid little flash for the money. It has a built in transceiver that lets you control other remote flash units with a compatible receiver (see below). A flash of this type is also commonly called a speedlight.
  2. Yongnuo YN560 III – This is the receiver only compatible flash unit to pair with the one listed above, or the transmitter below.
  3. Yongnuo YN560-TX – As another option, this is the transmitter controller that mounts to the top of your camera in lieu of a flash unit like the YN560 IV. This is generally my preferred method because I honestly don’t care much for flash that is mounted on-camera. A number of reasons for this, but really I prefer the look that you get from an off-camera flash aimed strategically to highlight the contours of a subject’s face.
  4. Godox S-type flash bracket – You’ll need something to mount your flash onto a light stand and attach modifiers. This is a good choice because the S-type mount (also called Bowens) is one of a few widely available standards for attaching softboxes, beauty dishes and other light modifiers.
  5. Fotodiox EZ-Pro 32×48 Softbox – Softboxes are a great standard light modifier. They create a big, soft light source and control light spill relatively well (light spill in basically extra light bouncing around that doesn’t directly light up your subject.) The included grid with this one helps control spill even further. The main drawback to softboxes is assembly – it can be a real challenge to get the support rods inserted into the speedring mount and you’ll probably be afraid you’re breaking them the first time you try it.
  6. Neewer 37″ Octagon Softbox with Grid – This is an octagonal version of a softbox (also called an Octobox). Largely, the differences between an Octobox and rectangular softbox come down to personal preference. The Octo will wrap the light around your subject a little more evenly and produce more natural looking highlights in their eyes.
  7. PCB 13′ heavy duty light stand – I have destroyed more light stands than I care to mention. There are so many out there that are cheaply made and just can’t take the repeated set-up and tear down of a mobile photographer. These stands from Paul C. Buff are really well made and sturdy, and the extra height they offer can really be useful. That said, any stand will break if you over tighten the clamps one them. Also consider the air cushioned version. That prevents the extended tubes from slamming down accidentally which can not only damage your lights but possible injure your hands (yes, I’ve had that happen…) If you don’t want to spend quite as much they do have a few lighter duty options that would work well with speedlights.
  8. PCB Einstein – If you’re really wanting to go beyond the power of a speedlight, the Einstein units from Paul C. Buff are outstanding. Keep in mind – they use a different speedring mount for attaching modifiers so you’ll either need to look for versions with Alien Bees speedrings or get an adapter. These will also require a different trigger if you want to use them wireless. They can operate as slaves – which means that they will fire when they sense another flash firing. Keep in mind that studio strobes like this are usually daylight balanced, so they will have a warmer light than the speedlights above. If you mix them look for gels for the speedlights such as the Rosco Strobist collection. You use a 1/4 CTO gel to match a speedlight to daylight white balance (Also useful for using flash to fill in shadows when shooting outdoors).
  9. Phottix Odin II, Indra & Mitros – If you’re just wanting to go all in and get some top-notch gear that will be expandable and serve you in almost any photographic lighting need, consider going with something like the Phottix system. Their range of triggers, flashes and strobes is all integrated, and their strobes are capable of high-speed sync, which is an advanced flash system that allows shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second and still get good flash results (typically, most flash systems won’t work well beyond 1/200th second or so depending on your camera). They have also adapted the S-mount style speedring so the options for modifiers I listed above work with them without need for an adapter.

Those are just the basics. Again, if you’re just starting out, keep it simple and learn how to use what you can afford to get before going all out on more expensive gear. I’ll be posting more about how to set up and use different light modifiers and light arrangements in the coming weeks.

Note – I know many professionals will strongly recommend getting the name brand flashes  that match your camera gear. In general I do agree, but for about a third of the cost, these Yongnuo units are hard to beat. You can look for additional features such as TTL functionality but I prefer to stress learning to control the light output manually rather than relying on the electronics to adjust settings for you.  I personally have 3 Canon 430 EX II speedlights that have served me well for many years, but I also have two of the Yongnuo units and use them quite frequently. The Canon flashes are definitely well made, but the Yongnuo’s are definitely worth every penny.

 

 

 

Hey everyone,

Just figured I’d share a little tip that had me just about ready to throw my 7D across the set a few months ago. I’m sure many of you already know about this hidden dark side of DSLR’s…they get kind of crazy sometimes, for no apparent reason. In my case – I can think of no better way to describe this than to say that my 7D was going rogue. The jog dial on the back of the camera would randomly not work, sometimes I would be inexplicably unable to change the ISO or shutter speeds, and then suddenly I started getting a crazy error message after about 20 minutes of shooting:

7D - Going Rogue

Needless to say after about the 20th time I opened up the main battery compartment and re-installed the battery as directed only to get the exact same error on the next shot, I was a bit peeved. I was about ready to drop the camera off at the shop when I decided to do a little research…and I found out about the “clock battery”.

It turns out that In addition to the main rechargeable battery that provides most of the power for your Camera, a second battery is hidden in the same compartment to provide enough power to retain your current settings and preferences, as well as the local date and time. It’s a coin-sized button type battery, in the case of a 7D a c1616 sized lithium 3 volt cell, that is nestled in a little slide-out carrier just inside the main battery door.  You most likely would never notice this little thing…I sure didn’t!!! It may very well last several years without needing replacement but if you start getting random battery error messages or have to reset the camera date frequently, you might look up where your camera’s clock battery resides and swap it out for a fresh cell. After changing this battery I’ve used the camera for a number of shoots with no more issues.

 Clock Battery

In this post I’ve been describing the Canon 7D, but it applies to most, if not all DSLR cameras – you’ll just have to do a bit of examining to find it.

Happy Shooting!

Speed Lighting

Posted: May 21, 2012 in News and Gear

2008 Yamaha Warrior. ISO 400, f13, 1/2500 sec.

Ok, it’s been a while since I’ve had a new post here, but life has been keeping me moving! It’s all very good things though.

When I came home from work this afternoon, my roommate was working on his car in the garage and had moved our motorcycles out into the driveway. I really like my bike, and It was just too tempting a subject to not do a little shooting!!! So after I had managed to settle in, eat dinner and get through a few hundred emails, the sun was setting and leaving me with boring light. I decided to kill it – the ambient light that is. Using Pocket Wizards High-speed synch capabilities to trigger my 430EXII flashes, I was able to shoot with a high enough shutter speed to nearly remove the ambient light. Just kind of awesome really. (Just a note – the main overhead light was actually clipped onto the raised trunk lid of my roommate’s car. Motto –  use what you can for a light stand!)

I really love shooting with the Wizards. They really do allow a ton of flexibility in off-camera flash. But they are pricey!!!  There are a number of cheaper alternatives that will let you get started in off-camera flash without destrying your budget. I’ve used models from Cactus as well as these fantastic triggers from Cowboy Studios with great results. Now…these are cheap triggers, but they’re fairly well made. I haven’t had any trouble with them at all. The only drawback is that they are just rock simple. There’s no TTL computing going on or anything like that. It just triggers your speedlight. Bam! That’s it. You have to set your flash settings manually.

I really think that’s the best way to learn off-camera flash anyway. I know some people refuse to buy anything but the name brand stuff and consider everything else junk – I do see some validity to that because the quality control of cheap-o stuff can be a little lacking. But to learn the techniques and start understanding how off-camera flash works, you can’t really beat a two light set-up for about $100. I got two of these Neewer flashes from Amazon along with the Cowboy Studio triggers and have been completely thrilled with their performance! I even used them to get this action shot at a recent Indianapolis Junior Roller Derby event – which won a First Place vote in a Roller Derby Photo Contest for April.

Indianapolis Junior Roller Derby All Star ‘Punky Bruiser’ in lead jammer position

Happy Shooting!!!-Indyshooter

Shot with Canon 5D mkII and 100mm f2.8 Macro lens at ISO 12800

I’ve been approached by a few different photographers asking about recommendations for upgrading their cameras. Most of these inquiries have been from talented amateur photographers looking to “go pro” and get better shots. Usually, my first reaction is that it isn’t the gear that gets you the great shots…although it does help. Your skill in understanding how to use what you have is most important. That said, there are many reasons why upgrading from an entry-level DSLR camera makes sense.

More often than not photographers at this level have done some research and know about the technical details of the cameras, but are looking for a bit of first-hand user feedback. With that in mind I’m going to take a look at two of Canon’s “pro-sumer” cameras that have been on the market now for a couple of years, the 5D mkII and the 7D. In a follow-up article I will have a photographer friend of mine relate his experiences in shooting with various Nikon brand cameras in this same level.

Living with the 7D

I’ve owned my 7D now for about 2 years. This camera has been my sidekick on numerous fashion shoots, a good number of roller derby sports events, weddings, family gatherings, pestering my cat and countless random forays into other photographic realms. I can honestly say that I have never ceased to be impressed with how well this camera functions. I can get good sharp images while tracking a fast moving skater in fairly low light. The crop-sensor format gives you a nice close-up range when shooting with a 70-200mm lens. The 7D is also quite at home in a studio cranking out fantastically detailed portraits or macro work. Once you’re familiar with the control layout the camera is a breeze to set up for any shooting scenario you get involved with.

The image below shows a relative comparison of the zoom factor with the 7D’s crop sensor vs. the 5D mkII’s full frame. I shot the opposing camera body from the same location with the same lens at 6400 ISO.

Shot with 24-105 f4L at 105mm

Experiences with the 5D mkII

For the purposes of comparison, I borrowed a 5d mkII from a photographer buddy of mine, Marc Lebryk. He gave me a quick synopsis of his likes and dislikes of the camera and after spending a few weeks putting the camera through its paces I’m pretty much in agreement with him. It’s a great camera…but. Some things about it weren’t really updated when it came out. The auto focus system is an older design, unchanged from the original 5D. It just feels a little sluggish in comparison to the 7D. It doesn’t track moving subjects as well and shoots fewer frames per second…although still more than a Rebel. On the plus side, it’s a full frame camera that delivers absolutely stunning 21 megapixel images vs. the 7D’s 18. When I loaded the first few test frames onto my computer I just kept repeating…”Wow.”

High-ISO shooting

When the 5D mkII came out its high-ISO capabilities were big news. Now that the buzz has died down a little bit and even better high-ISO cameras have been developed, I think it’s worth mentioning that you might not be completely thrilled with the pictures you get in low-light conditions. They are certainly much improved over earlier camera models like a 40D (which is my back-up body). But if you’re expecting to get a studio quality shots at high ISO settings, you’ll be disappointed. For reference – the cat’s eye image at the beginning of this post was shot with ISO set to 12800. It’s certainly a nice image, but still too grainy to maintain fine detail when printing large format prints. (Still, I think it’s fantastic that I’m reflected in Shaggy’s eye…Meow?)

7D @ 6400 ISO

The 5D mkII’s low-light capabilities are marginally better than the 7D, but the exposures are more consistent with the 7D. What do I mean by that? Well, I set each camera at ISO setting of 6400 in manual mode using my 24-105 f4L lens with an aperture of f4.0 and 1/400th shutter speed. I set the cameras to burst and fired off as many consecutive images as each would handle in a RAW file format. The 7D stopped shooting at 18. The 5D mkII  stopped at 14. Comparing each exposure, there was slight variation in the images from the 5D mkII, but virtually none from the 7D. The noise level was fairly equal, but the 7D had a higher occurrence of hot pixels. Not much, but a noticeable difference. Does that exposure variation with the 5D mkII matter? Probably not for 99.9% of photographers. It was not much variation at all and was only noticeable doing a test like this. If you were to shoot a series of high-speed images to combine into a single stop-motion style composite image, you might notice a difference, but it would be a very simple fix to adjust that back in to match.

5D mkII @ 6400 ISO

Shooting video

I’ll be honest – I’m not the best person to ask about shooting video with these cameras. I’ve done it, and they both do capture full High-definition video quite well, but I use a dedicated video camera for my video work. Why?? Because these DSLR’s weren’t designed to shoot for an hour continuously. The sensors start to overheat after about 7-8 minutes and the camera stops recording until it cools off. Additionally, the audio capabilities are lacking in comparison to a full-fledged video camera. That said, they can produce some phenomenal video (The season Finale of House was shot using only 5D mkII’s). So if it’s something you’re going to consider, either one of these cameras can get good results.

Conclusion

So, between the two, as a generally great all-around entry into the big-leagues camera body the 7D is a very solid performer. It produces great images with excellent saturation and contrast, sufficient resolution for all but the most insane enlargements and has a great autofocus system. If you are going to be primarily concerned with the best image quality you can get for the money, the 5D mkII will serve you well. Its bigger sensor with more pixels gives you photos that are just breathtaking…when they’re in focus. Which, they will be if you primarily do one-shot focusing and aren’t trying to chase around a gaggle of children at a wedding reception. For a studio or landscape photographer who wants the bigger images and isn’t interested in rapid fire shooting, the 5D is a winner. If you like to shoot sports, the 7D’s crop-sensor (which effectively gives you a longer telephoto), high-speed shooting and autofocus systems will delight you. When I first unleashed the burst mode on mine in a sports-photography class the look on everyone’s face was priceless. You’d think I had just opened up on the scene with a machine gun! Certainly, there are faster cameras out there. The newly announced 1DX can belt out about 14 frames a second…and you could get four 7D’s for the same price.