Monday, February 28, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Tilt-Shift vs Software Geometry Correction

The Canon TS-E 17mm F/4L.
Complex design allows for several configurations
in multiple directions, and orientations.
In today's comparison I pit a Tilt-Shift Canon TS-E 17mm F4L lens against the Samyang 14mm F/2.8 prime with DxO Optics 6.5.4 geometry correction function in a quest to see just what advantages a $2500 lens has over a much simpler budget solution.

Big fat front element and
2 lbs of lens. One heavy
The first question to address is what is a tilt-shift lens really good for? Essentially the key to a tilt-shift lens is to bring much of the advantages of a large format view camera to the compact 135 format SLR. The primary advantages are to correct for perspective distortion and to increase the depth of field although one of the more popular uses for Tilt-Shift lenses is to create selective depth of field which wedding photographers utilize in their tool kit of effects. Some of this can be created with a far more affordable Lensbaby, but the image quality is certainly no where near a proper tilt-sgift lens by any stretch of the imagination. Also some of this can be done by software programs like Adobe Photoshop. A popular website does a reasonably good job of simulating the effect at

One of the main things I shoot in photography is interiors, and many of my clients like to have perspective correction in their images. To do this, you can either use a tilt-shift lens, or to use software solutions found in software like DxO Optics or Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom. I was curious for some time, just how much of a benefit using a tilt-shift over software solutions. Aside from the major learning curve in using a tilt-shift lens properly, it does produces some spectacular results. If you want to learn a little more about how tilt-shift lenses work, this link and this other link to learn about controlling the depth of field.
Parallel perpendicular lines with the Canon TS-E 17mm 

So why compare the 14mm against the 17mm tilt-shift? Well simply put, with 11 degrees of range of adjustment, is precisely the amount of difference between the angle of view between a 14mm and a 17mm (104° vs 93°). In theory, from the same shooting location the shot should look similar to each other when correction has been applied.

Samyang 14mm with no correction
The Samyang 14mm certainly captures more of the image than the 17mm at the same shooting location, and when working with the idea of correcting later, you do need to be conscious of the fact that your subject must be well isolated from the borders. A simple 1/8th of the narrowest part of the frame is the amount of room you need to give your subjects from the border.

Correction is best done in something like DxO Optic as it gives some of the best geometric correction simulations, comparable to the Tilt-Shifts. I found that Lightroom and Photoshop's attempts at geometric correction is too linear, and in most cases, those images are unusable.

Between the standard options to set-up perspective correction, there are additional tools that help simplify and speed up the process by giving control points you draw to determine how to correct the perspective–much like morphing software in animation programs of the past. A quick adjust with the UP/Down function corrects like the shift function on the tilt-shift.
Samyang 14mm with Up/Down correction
Although the scale is smaller on the Samyang (The 11 degrees affects both directions on the tilt-shift), the differences between the tilt-shift and the software version are very subtle. One might even argue that the software correction is closer to accurate and what my eye had seen, but even the stock 14mm image represents the subject much truer, even though the perspective was pretty extreme.

Samyang 14mm with Up/Down and X/Y Ratio Correction
By using the X/Y Ratio, we can now correct the image further. This brings it more in line what I would expect to see (essentially compressing the perspective to only being two point perspective rather than 3 point perspective).

So what does the tilt shift do that can't be done with software? The biggest benefit is the tilt-function of the lens. This increases the depth of field so close and far objects are more in focus with a larger aperture. This is extremely handy when doing product photography when you want all of your object in focus, rather than doing focus stacking. Frankly even in my field tests, I found that my Samyang 14mm was still easier to use both to correct for shift functions and to compensate for depth of field by stopping down. I didn't particularly find the TS-E friendly to use (mostly due to the fact that in a viewfinder it's too small to see anything, and scanning all over hell's acre in liveview to nail everything right). In fact, I found large format view cameras much easier to do tilt-shift work because of the very large ground glass to compose with. It almost seems that this lens combination needs a tethered laptop to really be helpful.

Where the Tilt-shift lens really shines is in deep depth of field landscape shooting.
You need patience and need to check all corners of your image to ensure perfect focus.
In conclusion, do I think a TS-E lens is worth it? Honestly for my kind of work, I'd say no. I can control my image far better through software, than trying to fiddle with the knobs and dials on a TS-E. Even many experts on tilt-shift lenses say it's a bit of a guessing game to getting it right, and sometimes it can take years to master. I'm not really all that interested in investing that much time when I can frankly make most of my adjustments during processing.

EDIT (March 7th, 2011):
Just wanted to add an additional point. The TS-E is very sharp, but very difficult to master. My opinion on getting one or not is strictly based on the concept of using this specifically for maximum DoF. This is more specific to the 135 format 5D and up bodies where you can use apertures of F/11 or more with marginal consequences. On a crop format, you can technically get deeper depth of field on a lower aperture because of the crop factor, however, diffractive limits do keep you from going too high at the cost of image quality. Of course crop cameras cannot shoot as wide as these shots with the same lens. The TS-E is sharper than the Samyang with software correction, but and there is a but. In the time it takes me to get the TS-E perfect, I can set-up my Samyang, shoot and move off to maybe half a dozen other shots before the TS-E is right. You have to be patient with it, and I do like the results of it, but the limitations of not seeing your entire image as you make corrections through-out is very annoying when I know that I can set my Samyang at even F/5.6 and everything will be in focus.

MC TS-PC Harblei 45mm Super Rotator (requires an adapter)
This is a very patient specialists lens, and needs to be treated as such. There are a multitude of other options to pick from and this lens is difficult to fit well in a person's bag. I certainly see it difficult to find it a convenient lens to bring on a trip somewhere unless you know your vantage points well. It's not practical and you'd be better suited for something a little less wide like a 24mm F/1.4 that has autofocus and metering that works with you. Even the TS-E 24 would be a far more practical choice than this ultra wide beast. However if you are looking for the effect of a view camera in a small compact body that is digital, this is about the only option out there for under $6000. After that, I'd recommend the Pentax 645D with something like a Hartblei lens.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Canon EF 100-400mm vs Canon EF 70-200 F/2.8 II + Canon EF 2x III Extender

600D with 100-400
Photo by C. Mcdonald.
600D with 70-200+2X III
Photo by C. Mcdonald. 
A little more time today with the new Canon EOS Rebel T3i (Canon EOS 600D) today. A fellow photographer and I decided to do some tests comparing the recently released Canon EF 2x III Extender with a Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM II vs the Canon 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS USM.

The Canon EOS 600D is now officially available in Canada with the new 18-55 kit lens for $999 CAD

These were all shot on the
600D at ISO 400, manual mode.
Some more thoughts on the new Canon EOS Rebel T3i. It might be more the fact that this is a newer camera than all my others, but the mount is very positive and tight. I was shooting in some pretty cold weather today, but the mount still has a tight fit and with a big lens is pretty important. I must say, that choosing to use this camera to do this test wasn't disappointing. 

I was impressed with build quality and although it took me a few minutes to get used to the interface. I found it relatively intuitive and pretty quick to use. The fact that all the controls are in one hand is something to be said about the simplicity of design. I'm used to using both hands to change settings or press buttons on my 5Dmk2 and the 7D with the left hand, but frankly, this camera just in one hand is very well suited for quick setting and shooting without the need of the spare hand.

So on to our comparisons:
So here's the great news. Both lenses showed very little difference if at all. The new mark III extender is very sharp and manages to keep issues found in the older versions of the Extender down to a minimum. Now granted the the Canon EF 70-200 F/2.8L IS USM II is a fantastic lens, it certainly shows that the image quality loss is pretty minimal.

These crops show just how little difference there is between the two lenses.

There is some difference, in fact the 70-200 with the extender might be arguably so slightly better. I really don't see much difference between the two at all, which means the great news is you can have a great 70-200 with the speed of the F/2.8 aperture and IS and switch to a 140-400mm F/5.6 lens by putting on the 2X Extender. The bad news is that AF speed is reduced by 25% as I understand, and the biggest drawback to this combination is that the 70-200 with 2X extender is going to be twice the price.

The next comparison that we did was to see how the 100mm range of both lenses compared. This time we took off the extender off the 70-200.

Here we start to see some more noticeable differences. The first thing observed was the background blur was actually smoother on the 100-400. Not sure what that was the case, but the 70-200 is a little more distracting.

Slight bit of fringing was found on the 100-400L lens. It did validate to me that the 100-400 lens is very sharp
One thing I did notice in the background is that the 70-200 does do a better job of controlling Longitudinal Chromatic Aberrations (LoCA).  There was also some CA along the edges on the 100-400 samples at F5.6 but as soon as both lenses were stopped down to F8, sharpness was the most obvious difference.

Overall I'm impressed with the combination, but at over $3200, you certainly will find it hard to swallow to pay double for that kind of reach. But if you're in the market, and can afford the 70-200 to begin with, be comforted in knowing that the new 2X extender wil give you excellent reach without huge image compromise.

One way you could look at this. Considering the 600D is a very nice camera, the amount of money you save purchasing this over a 7D or even a 5Dmk2, certainly easily pays for the difference with this lens over the 100-400L.

If you don't need the rapid 8fps, the weatherproofing or the weight, I'd say you'd be hard pressed to choose anything else but this odd ball combination.

Believe me if you will, you end up with fantastic image quality with a spectacular lens that covers most ranges for a fraction of the cost of the more semi-pro to pro set-ups.

Yours truly, freezing my butt off testing out equipment (such a tiny looking camera and I really look like I'm in some sort of pain trying to deal with the cold) - Photo by C. Mcdonald

If you're looking for the original 18MP images for your own comparisons, you may download them here:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Canon EOS Rebel T3i (Canon EOS 600D) & Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS Mark II

Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D/KISS X5 with
Canon EF-S 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IS II
Just a quick little Mini review.

This is a photo of the new Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS Mark II taken with a Canon Rebel EOS T3i (or known to the rest of the world as the Canon EOS 600D) & a Canon 50mm F/1.8 II.

Initial feed back is this camera looks to be a winner.

If you're looking for a budget option and not wanting to pay a lot for a digital SLR system, this might be a great option. Expected to hit the street tomorrow for $999 CAD with the new 18-55 IS lens.

More reviews will come out, but I'll share my quick perspective on a few things that stood out and my thoughts on them.
The new Canon EF-S 18-55 shot with the new Canon T3i
Shot at ISO 6400 - A huge improvement over
the previous models.

Owning several Rebels, the first thing I noticed was the larger grip design. This is definitely a refreshing change. I like the small size but this slight design change is well deserved. Ergonomically it's well built and the polycarbonate design is much nicer feeling than older models.

The flip out screen is also very crisp and with the wide screen, gives a much nicer impression of what you see in the viewfinder.

I took this shot at ISO 6400 and was very impressed with the high ISO to noise performance. Not shown here is another shot I took on ISO expanded (ISO 12,800) which was very usable. The big thing I'll say is the banding is very well controlled in higher ISO. Canon is making some great headway in improving their SNR.

Other impressions:

  • Nice interface design changes, some subtle things like Continuous timer shooting (think intervalometer lite), custom colour display, layouts similar to the 60D and 7D...
  • New lens is well built, the IS stabilizes nicely, smooth action on zoom and focus rings.
  • Auto ISO now has limiter, also works in manual mode to create a TvAv Priority mode.
  • Auto + green box mode is very very nice. Even with flash, the combination of the new metering makes fantastic well exposed images without needing huge expertise in SLR photography.
  • Cool creative filter effects (taken from the new 60D, some cool effects like Toy Camera, Fish Eye and Miniature are some cool effects for novice and even advanced users.
  • Articulate screen - if you like flip out screens, same as the 60D. Very nice crisp 1040K dot display. This will be great for doing video work
  • 18MP sensor. Nice high MP images with low noise, even at ISO 6400 the noise patterns were well managed and also banding is almost non-existent. If you're looking for a second body crop, this might be the choice.
  • Poly-carbonate design is very solid, and doesn't feel as cheap as the older Rebel models.
  • New commander mode flash options, wireless flash control at the budget level.
  • New Feature Guide in the LCD menu. Like Nikon, helps new users understand what each function can do.
  • Digital Zoom. Like on Powershot camera, now features a 3X digital zoom for video.
In summary, I'd say this will be a great starter camera and even for advanced users. It will make a great second body for those who already have a primary body like a 7D or 5DmkII. I like the size, although it's a little imbalanced with heavier lenses (I tried it with a 24-70 and it was definitely front heavy). Although my time with the camera was pretty short, I still give this camera some high recommendations for first time users. The image quality and features are impressive for a camera in this class.
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Snow Day in Victoria

A series of photos from our little mini snow storm we had. Weather is warming up today, and this little snap probably killed off some of our early spring flowers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF for Portrait with the Optix V5 AF Confirm Chip

Samyang/Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 Aspherical IF
A few weeks back I took the opportunity to use my Samyang/Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 Aspherical IF lens for an actor's headshot session. I'm not going to write this as a review of the lens as there's plenty of good reviews out there. This is going to be just an account of my experiences of using this in the field rather than testing it on charts and brick walls. For specifications on this lens, follow this link and a great review here.

Being that this is a completely manual lens, it does seem a little risky to use it for a commercial shoot, but I also came from an era of film where I never used autofocus. However not to take the chance of missing shots, I put an autofocus confirm chip onto the back of the lens.

The Optix V5 programmable chip
My copy is a canon mount, and ever since the digital age of cameras, the need for the old style focusing screens have pretty much gone extinct. However you can purchase various types of focusing screens from third party sources, plus some select brand name one. Focusing aids are very important with a lens that has a shallow depth of field like the 85 F/1.4 (at the widest aperture I have approximately 1 1/2 inch forward and 1 1/2 inch back) however the draw back to using a focusing aid is that it makes an already dark viewfinder, darker. It is not recommended to use lenses slower than F/2.8 with a focusing screen as it becomes very difficult to see through the viewfinder.

Another issue with using a focusing screen with the Samyang (or any manual focus lens) is that no matter how fast the aperture is, if you need to stop it down for more depth of field, your viewfinder will also get dark.

In my case, I decided to use an autofocus confirm chip called the Optix V5. These are generally easily available from ebay in china. I buy them from a seller by the name of shamino124 click on this link to find his products. The chip is programmable, so I can tell the camera I'm using an 85mm F/1.4 lens. It also gives me some ability to change the F stop so I can match what I'm using on the physical ring, but when I don't have the time to screw around, I leave it on the widest setting. What this chip does is it tricks the camera into thinking it still has a valid autofocusing lens on it. When I focus, my AF points light up when I'm in focus. Very handy when you don't have a split prism focusing aid. It's accuracy is still a little rough, but as long as you know that, take multiple shots to ensure you get critical focus.

In this session I used my Canon EOS 7D to shoot my models as my 5DmkII was out for servicing. Probably not the most ideal camera for this lens I'll admit, and part of the reason is the difference in depth of field flexibility and framing options. The difference between using my 5DmkII and the 7D is an inch of difference front and back which means focusing errors are going to be less likely to happen on the 5D than it will on the 7D. Something to consider for sure when you're using a manual lens this fast.

Another thing to consider with any fast primes is the fact that they can suffer from something called Longitudinal Chromatic Aberrations or LoCA for short. This is pretty normal with most fast primes and can be somewhat corrected with an APO element. But for the most part, most people won't identify it easily unless you have high contrast scenes and are slightly out of focus (most of these kinds of issues result from poor exposure). Regardless, it's always good to be aware of your background and to give some reasonable distance for your subject to give a nice smooth background.

During this session I also used a Lastolite Professional Ezbox softbox lit by a 580EX. I was mostly using natural lighting (overcast day), but brought in some extra light to fill in any harsh shadows on the faces.

Using flash with a manual lens was not problem either, even though the metering was off, it was easy to calculate real quick in my head what I needed to adjust. I did bring a light meter with me and took some reading, but all told, it was much faster to just take a shot, review and adjust.

All in all it wasn't a bad experience out in the field. The lens performed very well and upon review of my images, about 70-80% of my images were useable, with about 50% nailed perfectly. I will say that this combination is not for the inexperienced shooter if you hope to use it for commercial applications, it's not an easy lens to use. However, it doesn't mean I don't recommend it. Considering the alternatives are twice or four times as much, this lens produces spectacular images that frankly my 85 F/1.8 couldn't touch, or the extra expense of the 85 F/1.2 just doesn't seem like something to tote around if I don't use it enough.

Because this session involved 4 guys, I was really pressed for time. If I had a little more time I think my percentages would have been much better. Is it possible to do this without a focusing aid? Yes it is, but you better have eagle eyes and frankly my eyes aren't the worst, but having the aid really kept my numbers high.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. I learned some things to consider the next time and with the 5Dmk2 I will have a far wider margin for error. Do I recommend this? That's a tough question to answer absolutely.

The following week I shot the same models with a 135mm F/2 lens and my Canon 5Dmk2. I found that this was a far easier portrait session, with 100% of the shots in focus and approximately 90% that were useable. Based on these kinds of numbers it's very hard to say that it makes sense to use the 85 F/1.4 over the 135mm F/2. Certainly I would not use this lens combination for event shooting, but in a controlled studio situation, it's a great lens to use.

Even in a studio or controlled shoot, you have to ask yourself do you need to spend more time with directing the models, or have plenty of time to compose. Because these actors are not trained models, it was a little more work to get them to pose right so there was more work required. Having not to worry about whether I'm in focus is something you need to carefully consider. One thing is certain, I would be very wary of choosing this lens if you didn't have some sort of focusing aid.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

infographique: Welcome

One of the latests assignments I gave to my students in my Marketing Communications class was to create a series of infographics and then to use social media to promote them. So far in the first week they have achieved good numbers and hopefully they will continue to see the importance of seeding and working the sources that will hopefully build a strong following.

Their blog contains each daily example and will run it's course for another couple weeks.

Please check their work out and give them feedback. If you feel so inclined, I encourage you to share it among your own sources.

Students of The Pacific Design Academy Graphic Design infographique.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

135mm F/2 & 100mm F/2.8 L (Subject Isolation)

Even at F/4.5, the isolation is very
easy to accomplish
I've been meaning to do this simple comparison for a while. A friend of mine loaned me his Canon EF 135mm F/2L to try out and I will admit, it's a spectacular lens to use. For portrait work it's sharp, but it does a great job of isolating the background.

I took the opportunity to use the lens for a shoot where I was photographing some headshots for actors. The worst part of using a lens like the 135mm is that you need some room to work with (at least 10 feet), but the best part of using a lens like this, is what I will call Subject Isolation Characteristics, or SIC for short (also known as selective focusing).

I hate using the popular term 'Bokeh', mostly because people overuse the term, but I try my best to reserve it to describe the properties of the background blur, and not about how well it isolates the background. Depth of field is also an equally overused term which can describe shallow or deep depth of field. But most people still fail to clarify what they mean when they use the term. I'm not going to define what bokeh means, but in this article I'm going to talk about only one specific property that affects bokeh, not what makes good bokeh.

I'm not going into too much detail on how depth of field charts work either and rather show a simple comparison between two specific lenses. One is the Canon EF 135mm F/2L USM and the other is the Canon EF 100mm F/2.8L IS USM Macro. Unfortunately I didn't have the 100mm with me during the actor head shots, so I resorted to my rather boring subject of my 7D on a 100-400mm lens.

135mm @ F/2
135mm @ F/2.8
100mm @ F/2.8

So as you can see in these three examples, the 1 stop of difference isn't a massive difference. Of course, the 100mm requires getting in closer to frame up the same shot, I found that the background blur properties are different from each other. On the 135mm F/2 and F/2.8 weren't all that different from each other, but between the 135mm and the 100mm @ F2.8 there is definitely a small difference between the two.

The 100mm is more defined in the background but can compare nicely against the legendary 135mm. Aside from the other two advantages of being a macro and having IS, at the same field of view, both focal lengths have identical working depth of fields.

Focal Length ƒ-stop Near Limits Far Limits Total Working Depth of Field Hyperfocal
135mm @ 10' 2 9.91' 10.1' 0.19' 997'
135mm @ 10' 2.8 9.87' 10.1' 0.27' 705.1'
135mm @ 10'  4 9.81' 10.1' 0.38' 498.7'
100mm @ 7.4' 2.8 7.27' 7.54' 0.27' 387'
100mm @ 7.4'  4 7.21' 7.6' 0.38' 273.7'
* All figures are based on a 5DmkII. Figures from

So why does the background blur differ in the 100mm if they have the same depth of field? The answer is partially found when you look at the difference in the hyperfocal column. Because of this difference, the background blur on the 135mm is going to be much softer and blurrier than the 100mm (because it requires more distance to resolve therefore closer objects will appear 'blurrier'). It's amazing how much difference 35mm can make.

Is the 135mm a lens to choose over the 100mm L macro? As you can see it's not all that different from each other and it comes down to how easy it is to isolate your subject from the background. The 135mm is much easier to do just that, but so is a 70-200 F/2.8 zoom. So it begs the question, what is the real purpose of the extra stop advantage. I don't have a F/2.8 zoom to compare at this time, but I do know that F/2 and F/2.8 can make a major difference in low light situations.

Another thing to note is the subject distance. Although it does mean you need more space to fit your subject into your frame, it is far easier to frame up something than to move your background further. When you're shooting with a 100mm focal length you still need to consider the subject distance. With a 135mm focal length, that situation is less of a concern.

Of course it begs the question, why not just get a shorter focal length and even larger aperture? For example, one could use an 85mm F/1.2 and shoot wide open but you are faced with a far smaller working distance for subject isolation. What this means is you have a higher chance of your primary subject being out of focus.

Focal Length ƒ-stop Near Limits Far Limits Total Working Depth of Field Hyperfocal
135mm @ 10' 2.8 9.87' 10.1' 0.27' 705.1'
100mm @ 7.4' 2.8 7.27' 7.54' 0.27' 387'
85mm @ 6.3'  2.8 6.17' 6.44' 0.27' 279.6'
85mm @ 6.3'  1.2 6.24' 6.36' 0.11' 644.7'

Another thing not to ignore is the near limits of a particular lens. In this chart the near limit of the 85mm is less than an inch, which means for example if your autofocus is focusing at the distant eye on a 3/4 portrait, there's a good chance if shooting wide open, that your subject's face will be out of focus. With the 135mm lens, the distance is double which makes a huge difference when trying to isolate your background and working with your subject's face.

So what does this really all mean? It seems easy to convince yourself that the wider the aperture the better the lens. This isn't always the case. The real question to ask is, which lens is easier to isolate your subject without introducing potential focusing errors but still maintain a good level of background blur. The SIC of the 135mm is pretty hard to beat, and for why many professionals use this lens, it's about usability. Even at F/4 the 135mm gives me better working distance and better background blur (bokeh) than the 100mm wide open. It doesn't mean I can't achieve a pleasing or similar result with the 100mm, it just means I need to work harder or be more conscious of my subject distance and the background to get pleasing results.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Wedding Photography on a Pen Budget - Olympus Pen That is

In addition to his primary body, John is able to carry a
second body easily on his hip with his Cotton Carrier.
I don't claim to be an expert on wedding photography, but when I do come across an interesting story to follow, I think it's worthwhile to share with everyone.

My friend John Roberts from JR Photography was given the green light by one of his clients to shoot their entire wedding on the rangefinder like Olympus pen. An experienced wedding photographer, he convinced his clients that he would use his collection of legendary rangefinder lenses to shoot their wedding (Voigtlander and Carl Zeiss lenses). With additional support by the local Olympus rep, his equipment was topped up with additional bodies, lenses and wireless flash systems.
2 bodies, several lenses and
multiple flashes in one case.
Click to read specs

I popped down to catch some shots of him working. The immediate thing I noticed was how compact his entire set-up. Considering in the past when I've done other event shoots and weddings, I usually had a trunk load of bags full of lighting equipment and camera bodies. The fact that his entire set-up fit in his single roller case is a testament of shooting with this combination of gear.

Light weight imaging flexibility
Now I must also admit that using a compact non-SLR system seems a bit risky, but in the hands of an experienced shooter, why not. There have been many cases of professionals who have had to rely on their point and shoot back-ups because their primary or secondary camera SLR bodies failed for some reason or another. Of course it's all about the pictures and not about what system you use.

Getting shots at high angles, traditionally required step
ladders or alternate shooting techniques. Using the
LCD viewfinder eliminates that need
Ironically, one of the groomsman had his Canon 1Ds Mark III bodies with a 70-200 F/2.8 lens and Speedlite - a system that together is easily over $10,000. It kind of seemed odd to see a roll reversal where normally I see the wedding photographer with the most expensive kit, while guests and wedding party with point and shoots. What John had in his case was probably easily less than half of what that groomsman had in a single lens and camera body.

Part of John's experience is being a medium format shooter, so it helps with trying to use a live viewfinder to shoot at arms length. There's some advantages of shooting in this way as it's much easier to  get your camera in angles that aren't as easy to do with a traditional SLR system.

The Olympus Pen system also supports Olympus' wireless flash system which extends the creative flexibility and lighting options of this compact Micro Four Thirds system. These flashes are the same flashes that are found on their professional dSLR E3 and E5 cameras.

John's assistant holds a wireless softbox as he composes
his shot with the Olympus EPL2
I'm not going to say if this is the most ideal system to shoot weddings with, however John's vast experience in wedding photography is what makes this an ideal system for him. There are certain advantages that you'll still find in a traditional SLR system, but there's no denying that all the creative reasons to use a larger system are within this compact body–so why not?

One thing is certain, this shows that you don't have to have a complex system for wedding photography. Compact mirror-less systems like the Olympus Pen are certainly intriguing and simplifies things. For the cost of a couple of thousand dollars, it is easy to build a very nice system that can do events and weddings.

For more information on the progress of John and his Olympus journey, follow his blog postings here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

DIY Projects for Lastolite EzyBox Professional

DIY RQ Adapter Ring for Elinchrom Ranger Quadra
Jar specifications:
8 oz containers
Cross Section Circular
Plastic - PP
89mm Neck Size
Neck type is GCMI 400
I decided to make my own DIY adapter for this partially because it takes forever for orders from my vendor to get to me (4-6 weeks) and the other being the obvious DIY motivator, price. I decided for the cost of the RQ adapter, and the Lastolite Speed ring, that I could probably easily manufacture my own.

I had initially planned on making something out of sheet metal, but by luck I happened on some cosmetic storage jars that were a perfect fit.

After a few attempts, I ended up with my Mark II version of a DIY adapter ring for my modifiers. This allowed me to set my Quadras directly into the modifiers without any brackets. Both the Lastolite Ezybox and my Cameron Beauty Dish uses the nearly identical speed ring bracket.

DIY RQ Adapter Ring for Elinchrom Ranger Quadra
The bottles cost approximately $2 with lid (I bought half a dozen of them). I bought the lids thinking I would use it somehow to fit to the speed ring bracket. These jars are pretty standard type of containers that you should find at most plastic supply shops. They are generic 3 inch wide mouth mason plastic cosmetic jars. No brand name attached to them, but they often come in 8oz sizes.

Using a band saw, I carefully cut the bottom of the jars off, and then tracing and measuring against the Quadra heads. I cut out the bayonet notches using a Dremel™ zip cutter bit. Flame polished it with a propane torch to take off most of the fraying.

DIY RQ Adapter Ring for Elinchrom Ranger QuadraMy earlier version worked very well, but I was a little concerned about the plastic bayonet fittings not being strong enough to hold the heads secure enough. So in this version I put a safety lock onto it made from the excess bottle material and a quick set rivet. Definitely no issues with security now.

DIY RQ Adapter Ring for Elinchrom Ranger QuadraBy sheer chance, the bottle fit the speed ring bracket perfectly. In fact it also threaded in nicely, and the lid actually worked very well as a tension/retaining ring. I cut a hole out of the top of the lid and left the outer ring to act as a tension ring.

The quadra fits perfectly into the bracket without any major issues.

The retaining ring does surround the strobe bulb slightly, however it doesn't appear to affect it's performance. In fact when the flash head fires, the white plastic does light up nicely (maybe 2 stops loss). The light coming from the back is very minimal and does not cause any major spill or leak (I'm trying to find a black version of these jars now).

DIY RQ Adapter Ring for Elinchrom Ranger Quadra
The kit together. There's no stress on the bracket or
the adapter as all it holds is the Quadra in place.
All told, it took me approximately 30 minutes to make. One needs to be patient with the zip cutter as it tends to drift and potentially ruin the project (I did ruin a few before I got to this version). I recommend if you do try to do this yourself to get a few extra bottles to destroy. I do have a tool shop with a few things that makes this easier. You could do this with just a basic coping saw but it might not work as well. You could also use a drill and just buy the zip bit which should still work but just make sure you secure the drill in a bench vice or some clamps against a saw horse. Flame polishing is necessary to take off the fraying, but if you don't have a torch, then a stove element will also work, just be careful handling hot plast over a stove can be very dangerous.

I saved easily hundreds of dollars with this DIY so it's certainly one of the more worthwhile DIY projects I undertook and I'm very happy with the OEM look of it. If I come across black jars, I will replace these with those, but for now, this project worked out very well for my purposes.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Must Have Accessories for your Telephoto Zoom Lens (Canon EF 100-400 F/4.5-5.6L USM IS)

When hiking, I love owning a big zoom lens and part of my decision of the 4X zoom lens I chose was to go for quality over additional functions like close-up shooting or even more reach. The Canon 100-400L was what replaced my Sigma 150-500 a year ago.

However that said, occasionally I have found the need to get a little more reach or to be able to get some close up shots that the Canon 100-400L is not great at, but where the Sigma 150-500 was better.

At Peace...
Sigma 150-500 - View on Black
Is there a big difference between the quality of the two lenses. Not a huge amount. The image quality on the Sigma is very nice and there's hundreds of good reviews for it so I won't go into great details of my reasons.

My reasons to go for the Canon over the Sigma wasn't so much image quality but was the fact that it was slower to focus, it didn't have focus limiters, larger than normal front filter ring (86mm), zoom creep (there's only one lock position while the 100-400 has a tension ring), it was noisier than the 100-400L and it was rather large and impossible to pack into any of my camera bags.

It does have some other advantages over the Canon which is the extra 100mm range, excellent close-up range, better image stabilizing, better tripod collar (that doubles as a carrying handle), less conspicuous black matte colouring, and better lens hood design.

Canon 100-400L with pocketable accessories
Regardless, this isn't a review, but rather how to overcome the minor shortcomings of the 100-400L design to match some of the pluses of the Sigma. This brings me to my recommendations of must have accessories.

These accessories don't have to be specific to the brand, but these are handy because they are very pocketable. For me, if I can reduce the amount of gear I carry at any given time the more enjoyable my hikes are. A 1.4x teleconverter and extension tubes are just the thing that works best.

Now word of warning about teleconverters. The Canon teleconverter doesn't work with all lenses because it has an element that sticks out the front of the converter but it also reports the proper aperture compensation to the camera which then disables autofocus on these slower lenses. To combat this there's a simple little mod that takes very little effort. But before you think of doing this, you do compromise some minor image quality and AF speed (a lot!). This works best on a non-canon teleconverter. For some reason when it's done with a Canon version it freaks out seeking and seeking until it fails more than half the time (this was tested with the mark II and not the forthcoming mark III).

Modified Tamron 1.4X Tele-converter

The modification is relatively simple. It's a matter of just taping the first three contacts on the lens side of the teleconverter (look at the example). There are some issues with this though. The pins are sprung, so be aware that you need to have some really strong tape to keep those pins down. Aside from that, you can tape the last three pins on the lens' contacts (the clockwise most side of the contacts). This fools the lens in thinking there's no tele-converter attached and enabling a limited auto focus function.

Why is this limited? Phase detect focus is designed to work best with F/5.6 lenses or faster. Because we added a tele-converter, the actual aperture is now F/8. This means you need a lot of light for the auto focus sensors to work. It's not ideal, but if you have a subject which isn't moving a lot and you want a little more reach, this is where this mod comes in handy. This is actually why the Sigma lens at 500mm is slower to focus because at it's full extension it's a F/6.3 which although close to the F/5.6 still requires a little more light to keep the AF working well.

Canon 100-400L with Modified Tamron T-Con

Because the T-con sits in my pocket, it's so easy to pop the lens off and stick this on and back onto my camera. I don't generally use it for action shooting, but it comes in very handy for very shy wildlife, especially if I want to keep my distance. With a 1.4x t-con, I'm able to convert my 400mm range to 560mm which is further than what the Sigma is able to get. Remembering that you lose a stop of light, I still recommend stopping down to make up for some of the very slight image quality loss.

I find this is a great emergency accessory and I try not to use it if necessary, but knowing that I can reach into my pocket for the t-con is always reassuring.

The next accessory is to carry a set of extension tubes. I recommend the Kenko ones with electronic contacts on them. Not only are they much cheaper than the Canon branded one, but it comes in a set of three. You won't really need to use all three of them, in fact I really only recommend the smallest 12mm one (as displayed on the earlier example). Just to clarify a point, this doesn't actually make it so you can use your zoom closer, it just makes it so you can multiply the size of your image thus getting a closer crop of your subject.

Canon 100-400L with 12mm Extension Tube
A little goes a long way. When I want to be able to get close to the action, but I don't actually need to bring my camera inches away, the extension tube is handy because I can just slip it out of my pocket and onto the lens. The great thing about using such an accessory is that I still maintain full function of my autofocus on the lens. The 12mm extension tube is also just enough to give me quite a bit of working distance vs magnifaction. Meaning I can shoot a subject from several feet to approximately 20 feet away. No image quality get's hit with this addition because there's no optical elements to change things. You can add the other tubes if you so desire but I do warn that although the magnification factor gets closer and closer to a macro, the working distance gets smaller and far more difficult to work with. I'd say it's okay to go to the 20mm extension tube, but for most purposes, just a 12 mm fits nicely in my pocket without extra bulk.

Although it does seem like a futile exercise to carry these two accessories and I'm sure some would question why I didn't just stay with the Sigma, this comes down to a personal choice. 99% of the time I use my Canon unmodified and I am very happy with the size, the range, and the functions, but in that 1% of the time when I wished I still had the Sigma, these accessories more than makes up for the lack of that without compromising for the reason's why I did change over to it.