equipment review

Fuji X100s – best manual focus camera

As mentioned in my review of the Fuji X100s, they really did improve the AF compared to the X100. Paradoxically enough, just as the AF speed and accuracy of the Fuji X100s gets glowing mention everywhere – it’s just as exciting to discover that the changes they made to the manual focus mode, turns the Fuji X100s (B&H) into possibly the best manual focus camera there is.

Now some will say this camera’s AF is so good that you don’t need manual focus. I’m not convinced of that. The AF is pretty good, but there are times (such as with strong back-lighting), where even my Nikon D4 struggles. Then manual focus can be a huge help. And it makes sense to be familiar with the manual focus options on your camera.

Anyway, here is why I think the way that they implemented manual focus on the Fuji X100s, is so good …

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review: Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Light - (model: Ulorin Vex)

The dramatic look that video lights lend to photographs, is a regularly explored topic on Tangents. I also cover the use of video light in my book Direction and Quality of Light.

The video lights that I have been favoring, are the Lowel ID-Light (B&H), but like other halogen video lights, it tends to run hot. Of the LED lights, I have used the Litepanels MicroPro LED video light (review) and now the Litepanels Croma – variable color temperature LED video light (review). The LED lights tend to be under-powered for some uses. Also, video lights tend to be  small light sources, and hence quite contrasty. So there are some limitations.

So when Litepanels contacted me to ask me if I’d like to try out the Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights (B&H), I was quite keen. Especially because the arrival of these lights coincided with one of my favorite models, Ulorin Vex, visiting the East Coast for a few weeks. Ulorin Vex’s dramatic style and clothing would be very well suited to this kind of lighting.

Also check out the behind the scenes (but hopefully quite instructional) video clip about this 3-part photo session.

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re-appraising the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

I know this is going to amuse many of you. Since my less-than-excited review of the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II, I did end up buying the the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H) for myself after all.

My daughter has developed an interest in photography, and fell in love with my 5D mark II (and Canon 24-105mm f/4) that I lent to her. So I ended up giving her the camera and lens to keep as her own. However, this left me with just the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II, and no camera body. And no mid-range zoom.

Even though I use Nikon as my primary system, I do feel it is important that I remain au fait with the Canon system – specifically their flash system. This is necessary for the various articles on the Tangents blog, and for the workshops that I teach. It looks less convincing if I ramble on about the Canon flash system and have a Nikon in my hands. That’s how I rationalize reasons to have a lot of toys.

So I followed my own advice in that review, and tested my copy immediately on purchase … and I’m happy with it. The sharpness wide open is stunning. Even better, that mushiness that I see in other Canon wide-angle zooms when used at widest aperture, isn’t there. This lens has remarkable sharpness and contrast at wide aperture when looking at the edges. The two photos here were taken at f/2.8 and I am very happy with the sharpness at that aperture.  I can happily live with this lens.

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review: Profoto BatPac portable battery pack

For on-location work, I’ve been using the Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS/R Power Pack (B&H), and it works like a charm:
shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
wedding photography – lighting large groups with a large light

The only downsides to the AcuteB2 600R is that it only has one output. For many situations where you use a simple lighting setup (ie, just one large light source), it is perfect. The battery of the AcuteB is rated to give 200 bursts at maximum power, Again, for most uses, that is plenty.

But I’ve been considering future shoots where I would like to use two lights. For that the Profoto BatPac portable battery (B&H) would be ideal, offering two AC outputs – enough juice to run two Profoto D1 500 Ws monolights for quite some time.

I’ve tried the BatPac out in the studio just to see how it works, and that it does indeed work. But that’s nowhere near as satisfying as using it on an actual photo session. For this part of an individual workshop at my studio, we didn’t really need more than just one light … but still, it felt good to take this puppy out and try it on an actual shoot.

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review: Fuji X100s

April 1, 2013

review: Fuji X100s

One of the most compelling cameras in recent years, was the Fuji X100. It had a slick retro look, solid build, and some interesting features such as the hybrid optical viewfinder. The camera looked quite sexy slung over your shoulder, and felt great in your hands. But it had a few flaws. Sluggish handling at times, and more crucially, erratic auto-focus. It tended to grab the background when focusing in low-contrast light. I loved my Fuji X100, but eventually sold it.

Well, the Fuji X100 was just updated with the Fuji X100s (B&H).
To sum it up: the Fuji X100s is what the original Fuji X100 should’ve been!

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review: Litepanels Croma LED video light

For one of the mini-workshops in Las Vegas, I used a Litepanels Croma LED video light (B&H). This photo of our model, Gwen, shows the typically dramatic light from a video light. The pronounced light fall off can work to our advantage.

What sets this hand-held / on-camera LED video light apart from most, is that you can vary the color temperature. I have, and still use, the Litepanels MicroPro (B&H). I prefer the MicroPro over many of the cheaper LED lights that I have seen because the WB is daylight, without a nasty color cast.

Litepanels Croma LED video light (B&H), goes even better. You can vary the WB between 3200K and 5600K by dialing a knob. No more need for a gel to be clipped in and out. The gel (or lack of gel) would mean a specific WB with the LitePanels Pro. With the variable adjustment of the Litepanels Croma, you have every color balance setting inbetween. For this photo at the top, we were at 3200K, but I changed the WB to 3300K in post-processing.

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using the Canon EOS 6D in movie mode (model: Anastasia)

To test the Canon EOS 6D  camera (B&H) and the Canon 24-70mm f4.0L IS lens (B&H), I met up with Anastasia Z in New York. She had such presence and confidence, that while shooting stills of her earlier in the day, I had an idea of a video sequence we could do. And with that, here is an overview of how well the Canon 6D fares as a video camera.

So when the light levels starting falling this afternoon, we went to Times Square, which is always insanely lit up by the numerous billboards. An ever-changing flood of light from every direction.

This 30 second clip is an edit from about 12 clips I shot of her. We had to work fast since it was freezingly cold, especially with the wind blowing. We’d work out a sequence while she had her warm jacket on, and then she’d hand it over to my friend, Peter Salo, who assisted us. Then we’d shoot a sequence quickly, before she popped the thicker jacket on again, and tried to warm up a little bit again.

Even with having to shoot fast, and only being able to shoot limited sequences, I am very happy with the results. It definitely shows what an energetic and sensational model, Anastasia Z is. (If you’re a New York photographer, check her out on Model Mayhem.)

More techie info about the video clip, and about the Canon 6D …

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bokeh comparison: Sony RX1 vs Nikon 35mmm f/1.4G

Sony has been on fire recently with their new camera releases. The Sony RX100 (B&H) is arguably the best point&shoot on the market right now. The full-frame Sony A99 DSLR has been getting great reports … and then there is the new Sony RX1 (B&H) - full-frame goodness in a compact camera with a fixed 35mm f/2 lens.

And just in anyone has missed the crucial news – Sony cameras use Zeiss lenses. The word “legendary” is usually automatically associated with the word Zeiss.

A quick summary of what makes the Sony RX1 unique:

The full-frame sensor promises excellent high-ISO noise performance, and the Zeiss optic promises stellar performance from the lens. With that, there’s been a lot of buzz about this camera … and I have one in my hands.

So far, I am hugely impressed with this camera. The build quality is solid. It has a certain heft for such a small camera. The lens is incredibly sharp. (More about that later.) The 1/3rd stop indents on the lens smoothly click into position. This camera just speaks “quality!” Even the lens cap that clips on solidly, is made of metal!

Instead of a breakdown of the specs though, I thought it might be more interesting to look at one specific aspect of this camera & lens – the bokeh of the lens.

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review: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

It was with great excitement that I received a review copy of the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H) lens. There were several reasons that this highly-anticipated lens interested me.

My experience with Canon gear has been … let’s just say it’s been an uneven experience at times. There are specifically two lenses that got my ire – the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II and the (original) Canon 24-70mm f/2.8

The older Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 has a bit of a reputation. While some people love it, others hate it for being an inconsistent lens. It has a tendency to go out of calibration. Also, in my experience it tends towards softness when you zoom to 24mm, focusing at infinity. I dread it when a second shooter uses this lens, and by now I insist they use the much more reliable Canon 24-105mm f/4L zoom (B&H), instead. Then I know the images will be sharp, with much less chance of being back-focused. Yes, I’m not a fan of the older lens at all.

In contrast, I absolutely love the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS (B&H). It is sharp, even wide open. Along with the aggressive stabilization, this makes it a wonderful lens to use in low light.

But there really was a gap with Canon in a bread-and-butter pro-spec top-notch reliable and crisply-sharp mid-range f/2.8 zoom. (It has to be all of those things!) Especially if you look at the superb Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S (B&H).

But now the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II has entered the scene.

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photography: how good / sharp do your lenses need to be?

Olena, who I photographed during a recent individual workshop in New York.

camera settings:  1/320 @ f/3.5 @ 800 ISO  (available light)

I was trying out the new Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VC (B&H) for the images I shot during this workshop. (It comes in a Canon version too.)  It appears to be a fantastic lens. Build quality is good. The feel of it is good. The zoom ring has a nice throw. And it features stabilization! Nice touch.

However, shooting other images at wide open aperture, I wasn’t sure I was happy with the edge performance. Zooming in on the image on the back of the Nikon D4, I felt my Nikon was sharper.

So I decided to do a few comparison test shots between the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 (B&H) and the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VC (B&H) that I had for review purposes, as well as my trusted Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G (B&H)

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