Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

Cross-compatibility of Godox TT685-series flashes

November 20, 2019

The following quick-and-dirty video is a demonstration of the cross-compatibily among Godox TT685-series external flash units, including a Godox TT685F, TT685o/p, and TT685C (shown from left-to-right). All three flash units were test-fired using Godox X2TF and X2To/p radio flash triggers.

Notice the brand of flash trigger used to fire the flashes appears in the lower-left corner of the LCD on each flash. The beginning of the video shows all three flash units had been fired by a Godox X2TF (for Fujifilm) set for TTL mode. Think about that — now the TT685o/p (center) and TT685C (right) “think” and operate like the Fujifilm-compatible flash (left). Incredible!

Next I switched to a Godox X2To/p (for Olympus and Panasonic), changed the mode to Manual (M), and test-fired the flashes.

Take-aways

The cross-compability of Godox TT685-series flashes makes these relatively inexpensive, well-made flashes an even better value. By buying wisely it’s possible to assemble an array of flashes that provides maximum flexibility. Bravo, Godox!

Editor’s Commentary

You know, I actually had a vision of how I wanted this video to turn out before I started shooting. Let’s just say my vision wasn’t realized. I like to think I’m a fairly good photographer; videographer, not so much. Perhaps I’ll re-do the video when I’m not as pressed for time as I was for this iteration.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Pass-through hot shoe

November 15, 2019

The Godox X2To/p radio flash trigger has a slightly lower price point than the Godox XProO/P, smaller footprint, and a pass-through hot-shoe. Perhaps you’re wondering, “Who needs a pass-through hot shoe?” You do. Well, you might, for some applications.

The following photos show a Godox X2To/p mounted on my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 24x superzoom bridge camera; the Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite is mounted on the pass-through hot shoe on top of the X2To/p. The same set-up works with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 24x superzoom bridge camera.

Macro flash kit for Panasonic Lumix 24x superzoom digital cameras.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the Canon macro flash is compatible with Panasonic bridge cameras with one caveat: TTL is incompatible, so it’s manual mode flash only.

Macro flash kit for Panasonic Lumix 24x superzoom digital cameras.

The beauty of adding the Godox X2To/p to the rig is it can wirelessly trigger multiple off-camera flash units via a radio signal. During limited testing, I discovered the X2To/p can be set for either TTL- or Manual modes; for consistency, I use Manual mode for all the flashes including the Canon macro flash.

Take-aways

Although this rig is well-suited for studio applications, I’m guessing it isn’t as good for field work. That being said, I have never used a multi-flash setup in the field.

Full disclosure

The radio flash trigger shown in the preceding photos is actually a Godox X2TF for Fujifilm cameras. The two brands of Godox radio flash triggers are virtually identical except for the label on top of each unit.

I needed the Godox X2To/p for use with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 24x superzoom bridge camera in order to control two off-camera Godox flashes that were used to light the scene in both photos shown above. Both external flash units were set for Radio Slave mode.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Macro flash for Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150/300

November 13, 2019

You might be familiar with the old proverb that begins “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.” Updating the poem, I might say “For want of a step-up ring, the macro flash was lost.” Until recently, that is, when a $7 part solved a long-standing problem.

Both of my “go-to” cameras for photowalking — including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 24x superzoom bridge camera, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 24x superzoom bridge camera — feature excellent capability for macro photography. Set for “Wide Macro,” both cameras have a focus range from 1 cm (0.39 in) to infinity.

Problem is, at a working distance of 1 cm from the subject, “lens shadow” is a problem using the built-in pop-up flash. What’s the solution? Add an external macro flash unit such as the Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite.

Front of macro flash rig

The lens on the DMC-FZ150 and DMC-FZ300 has the same size filter thread (52mm), so both cameras can use many of the same accessories. I used a new Sensei PRO 52-58mm Aluminum Step-Up Ring to adapt an old Canon Macrolite Adapter 58C (58mm) to the camera lens.

The Flash Unit Mount Ring (round holder for the twin flashes) clips onto a flange around the Canon Macrolite Adapter 58C; the Contol Unit is mounted on the camera hot shoe.

It’s worth noting there is a Canon Macrolite Adapter 52C (52mm) available for ~$14 MSRP. Since I already had a 58C for one of my Fujinon lenses, I decided to buy a step-up ring and save $7.

Macro flash kit for Panasonic Lumix 24x superzoom digital cameras.

For more magnification, a Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter can be mounted to the 58mm filter thread on the front of the Canon MT-26EX-RT Flash Unit Mount Ring using two adapter rings: a Sensei 58-52mm step-down ring; and a Sensei 52-43mm step-down ring.

The same combination of adapter rings can be used to mount the Raynox close-up filter on any lens to which the MT-26EX-RT Flash Unit Mount Ring is attached.

Back of macro flash rig

Macro flash kit for Panasonic Lumix 24x superzoom digital cameras.

Demystifying step-up and step-down rings

Here’s how to decode the numbers that appear around the rim of either a step-down or step-up ring. Let’s say we’d like to connect a Canon Macrolite Adapter 58C to the lens of a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300.

The Macrolite Adapter has a filter thread diameter of 58mm; the DMC-FZ300 lens has a filter thread diameter of 52mm. We need a 52-58mm step-up ring, because we’re going to step up from a smaller- to a larger filter thread diameter. Make sense? Hope so!

How/why a Canon flash works with a Panasonic camera

The following annotated image shows the pin configuration on the hot shoe for the Fujifilm EF-X500 external flash unit. Notice that the hot shoe has four-pins: the “center pin” is used for power; the other three pins are used for proprietary communication between the camera and flash unit, such as TTL.

Copyright © 2019 ReviewThree.com and B&H Photo. All rights reserved.

The pin configuration for other brands of external flash units varies by manufacturer, but most flashes use the center pin for power.

For example, all Canon external flash units (including the MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite) have a five-pin hot shoe; the center pin is used for power and it’s aligned perfectly with the power pin on Panasonic bridge cameras. Therefore any current model of Canon flash is compatible with Panasonic bridge cameras with one caveat: TTL is incompatible, so it’s manual mode flash only. That’s not a problem since I prefer manual exposure for macro photography.

High-speed sync is also incompatible, but that’s a non-issue since Panasonic superzoom bridge cameras feature a leaf shutter in the lens rather than a focal plane shutter in the camera body. As a result, there is no camera “sync speed” so the flash will work properly using any shutter speed supported by the camera.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Godox XProF – TCM Function

November 6, 2019

Godox makes two types of wireless flash triggers (radio) that are compatible with Fujifilm X Series digital cameras, listed from less expensive to more expensive: the Godox X2TF; and the Godox XProF. Both flash triggers have essentially the same functions. The X2TF has a slightly lower price point than the XProF, smaller footprint, and a pass-through hot-shoe; it lacks the TCM Function featured on the XProF.

TTL

“TTL” stands for “Through The Lens” metering. Some external flash units, such as the Godox TT685F Thinklite TTL Flash for Fujifilm Cameras, are TTL-compatible, meaning the camera will set the flash power ratio automatically for proper exposure. So what’s not to like about that?

A photographer has no way of knowing what the flash power setting is when using an external flash unit in TTL mode. Some photographers might be surprised to learn that TTL exposure can vary from one shot to another, often quite noticeably. That can be a problem. For example, repeatability is a big concern in macro photography, especially when creating focus stacks. So what’s the solution? TCM Function.

TCM Function

“TCM Function” is a proprietary feature of the Godox XProF that stands for “TTL Converted to Manual,” translated loosely. Here’s how it works.

The “Magnification/TCM Button” (shown below) is a toggle switch: a short-press switches the display on the LCD panel back-and-forth from the settings for all off-camera flash groups (A-E) to a magnified view of the settings for one group, e.g., Group A (that can include one or more external flash units); a long-press activates the TCM Function.

Godox XProF Instruction Manual.

Set the XProF for TTL mode. Take a test shot, then long-press the TCM button. You should see the display on the XProF switch from TTL mode to Manual mode, showing the equivalent manual settings for the TTL test shot.

Godox XProF Instruction Manual.

This feature can be useful for quickly determining a good starting point for setting external flash units in Manual mode. Try it. I think you’ll like it!

Take-aways

Which model Godox radio flash trigger should you buy, the X2TF or the XProF? That depends upon what’s more important to you — either the pass-through hot shoe or TCM Function. You can have one feature or the other but you can’t have both in a single flash trigger.

Related Resource: PIXAPRO ST-IV Functions and Features (Instructional Video), by PIXAPRO (6:59). Note: Godox is known as PIXAPRO in the United Kingdom.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Using Godox TT685F in Optical Slave mode

November 1, 2019

The Godox TT685F external flash can function as either a radio master or radio slave. True.

According to the B&H Photo Web page for the Godox TT685F, current as of 01 November 2019, the flash can function as either an optical master or optical slave as well. Partly false (as in false advertising); partly true.

Optical master/slave transmission is available for working with other standard flashes. Source Credit: See “Godox TT685F Overview,” B&H Photo.

The Godox TT685F cannot function as an optical master; it can function as an optical slave, in Manual mode only.

How to set the Godox TT685F for Optical Slave mode

Set the flash for Manual mode, one of three “stand-alone” modes (TTL, M, MULTI). Press Function Button 3 <S1/S2> once so the flash is set for S1. This enables an optic sensor so the TT685 will fire synchronously when another flash fires.

Godox TT685F owner’s manual.

Take-aways

Now I can use both my Godox TT685F and Godox TT685O/P with several non-radio external flashes, including: Fujifilm EF-X8, EF-42, and EF-X500; Nissin i40; and Canon Speedlite 580EX, Canon Speedlite 580EX II, and Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT (set for optical mode). In short, the Godox TT685F (and TT685O/P) can be triggered by any other flash, set for any mode, as long as the “master” flash emits, well, a flash of light. In this case, “master” is a relative term that simply means a flash that is triggered directly by the camera.

Related Resource: Setting Up the Godox TT685 Flash, by alex silva photography (12:54). Fast forward to ~5:25. Sincere thanks to Alex for clearly explaining how to set the flash for optical slave mode. I struggled for months to figure out how it works — couldn’t understand the Godox instruction manual!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Skimmertime, and the livin’ is easy.

May 24, 2019

Skimmers (Family Libellulidae) — like this female Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) — remind me of “Summertime,” a classic song from the opera Porgy and Bess.

One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing
And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky

This individual was spotted during a photowalk around a small pond with my good friend Mike Powell.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

The last two photos are similar takes on the same pose.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

Gear talk

All of the photos featured in this blog post are uncropped JPGs, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), published “as is” straight from the camera. I tweaked the settings for in-camera processing of JPG files and I must say I think the results look good!

It’s worth noting that I always shoot/save/edit RAW photo files. Period, full stop. I have been using JPG (Fine) plus RAW (actually, RW2) while field testing the FZ300.

Deeper dive

I recently expressed disappointment and frustration with the performance of my newer Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom digital camera versus my older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150. After making the switch to shooting in Manual Mode, I’m pleased to report I think I’ve found a new “set it and forget it” configuration for the FZ300.

In Manual Mode, my “walking around” settings are ISO 100, an aperture of f/4.5, and a shutter speed of 1/800 s. All of the photos in this post were shot at f/4.5.

The camera features three Custom Modes: C1; C2; and C3. C1 uses all of the “walking around” settings, except for changing the aperture to f/5.6; C2 uses an aperture of f/6.3; and C3 uses an aperture of 7.1. With the mode dial set for “C” it’s easy to switch from one custom mode to another by pressing the menu button and selecting one of the three custom settings, depending upon the desired depth of field.

An external flash unit is used in Manual mode;. The power ratio is adjusted for proper exposure, depending upon the aperture: more power is necessary with a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number); less power for a larger aperture (smaller f-stop number).

As I mentioned previously, I tweaked the settings for in-camera processing of JPG files: Photo Style = Standard; Contrast = +2; Sharpness = +2; Noise Reduction = 0; and Saturation = 0.

Noise reduction can be a good thing, but NR can soften image sharpness so it’s an adjustment I prefer to make in post-processing.

Related Resource: DMC-FZ150 versus DMC-FZ300, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket

May 17, 2019

This post is a quick review of the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket, Desmond DAC-X1 adaptor, and Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate.

The primary advantage of using an L-bracket is to be able to switch from landscape view to portrait view quickly when using a camera tripod.

Many L-brackets, including the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” bracket, feature an Arca-Swiss style tripod mount. Since most of my tripod heads use the Manfrotto RC2 system of quick release tripod plates, I needed to find a solution that would enable me to mount an Arca-Swiss tripod plate on my RC2 plates. After a little research on the Internet (Google is your friend), I decided to buy the Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Clamp. It’s well-designed, lightweight, and works as advertised.

“Ellie”

The following photo gallery shows a 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket mounted on a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera. That’s right, “Ellie” — such a clever name for an “L” bracket!

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

“Ellie” is cleverly designed too. It can be assembled in multiple configurations.

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

The best configuration for the DMC-FZ300 is to mount the L-bracket so that the vertical component is on the right side of the camera body, otherwise the bracket blocks the articulating LCD from its full range of motion.

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

“Ellie” blocks access to the battery/memory card compartment, as shown in the preceding photo. It’s worth noting that a simple tripod plate, such as the Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate, causes the same problem.

Accessories

“Ellie” is bundled with a drawstring pouch for storing the L-bracket and a small blue tool that is used to assemble and disassemble the component parts, as well as tighten/loosen the tripod screw. I prefer using a U.S. five-cent coin (nickel) for the tripod screw. A nickel fits the screwdriver slot on the tripod screw almost perfectly, and unlike some coins, its smooth edges won’t scratch the slot.

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Clamp (black) connects to the “Ellie”; a Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate (gray) connects to the DAC-X1.

Accessories for the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

DMC-FZ150 versus DMC-FZ300

May 8, 2019

For years, my go-to camera kit for photowalking has been the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera and a Canon 580EX Speedlite. A formula of camera and flash settings that I call “set it and forget it” works most of the time, enabling me to focus on the subject rather than futzing around with camera/flash settings.

My new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 features some significant upgrades over the DMC-FZ150 such as a touch-screen LCD, built-in WiFi (enabling remote control of the camera using the “Panasonic Image App“), 49 focus points, 4K video, and an intriguing new feature that Panasonic calls “Post Focus.”

The two cameras are similar, but as I say often, similar is not the same. As appealing as the new features of the FZ300 are, the newer camera doesn’t perform like my older FZ150. After limited testing in both the studio and in the field, I have yet to find the new formula for “set it and forget it” using the FZ300. Disappointed and frustrated, I am!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) was spotted along Popes Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/5.2 | 1/800 s | -1 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode. My external flash unit is set for Manual mode at a power ratio of 1/16, plus or minus one stop. The other settings listed in the photo caption are typical of what I call “set it and forget it,” that is, these settings work for most subjects in most lighting conditions.

The preceding photo was included in my “Top 10 Photos of 2018.” Many, if not most, of the photos in this gallery were taken using the DMC-FZ150 and my “set it and forget it” formula.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300

A Brown Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster bilineata) was spotted at Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 1 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) was spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is a female.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 0 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

A Harlequin Darner dragonfly (Gomphaeschna furcillata) was spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is a female.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 0 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

What are the take-aways?

I prefer shooting in Shutter Priority mode at relatively fast shutter speeds (using the reciprocal rule) in order to reduce camera shake at longer focal lengths. If the ISO is set for 100 then the exposure triangle tells us that the only variable is aperture (f/stop). Using my “set it and forget it” formula of settings, the FZ150 typically opts for an f/stop of f/5.6 or higher (that is, a smaller lens opening); for some reason the FZ300 always seems to opt for f/2.8.

Problem is, there is too little depth of field at f/2.8! The only way I’m able to shoot serviceable photos using the FZ300 is to compose photos so the entire subject is nearly parallel to the focal plane and to sharpen the images using Adobe Photoshop.

I’m planning to start shooting in Manual mode so that I can set the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. During limited testing in the studio, it was necessary to use a higher flash power ratio in order to get good exposure. Otherwise, Manual mode is the ultimate in “set it and forget it!”

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Battery Economics 101

April 22, 2019

I bought a package of eight (8) Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries for $13.28 at Loew’s (hardware store) recently. Assuming that’s a typical price point — and it may not be since retail stores are well known for inflating the price of “impulse buy” items placed near the checkout stands — I wondered which type of battery is the better value, primary cells (like the Energizers) or secondary cells (i.e., rechargeable batteries)?

B&H Photo sells an 8-Pack of Panasonic eneloop pro AA Rechargeable NiMH Batteries (1.2V, 2550mAh) for $32.99.

At face value, rechargeable batteries cost ~2.5x more than primary cells. But the secondary cells are rechargeable up to 500 times! In other words, the consumer will recover the extra cost of secondary cells after recharging them only a few times.

External flash units can be real Energy Hogs, especially when shooting at higher flash ratios. So a word to the wise consumer, get a set of rechargeable batteries — they’re worth the extra cost.

Post Addendum

My good friend Mike Powell suggested this blog post should be updated to mention that rechargeable batteries require a charger. I recommend the following combo deal available from B&H Photo: Panasonic Eneloop Pro Rechargeable AA Ni-MH Batteries with Charger (2550mAh, Pack of Four) that sells for $26.30. Done!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More testing: Panasonic “Post Focus”

January 28, 2019

A toy dragonfly was “photographed” at BoG Photo Studio using my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 digital camera set for “Post Focus.” Two Sunpak LED-160 Video Lights were used to light the scene. 30 individual frames were extracted from the resulting MP4 video, and saved as TIF files; Adobe Photoshop was used to create the following focus-stacked composite image.

A plastic toy dragonfly.

The test shots featured in my last blog post, and this one, were taken in order to establish the proof of concept that Panasonic “Post Focus” can be used to quickly (well, everything is relative) create high quality focus-stacked composite images. After limited testing, I can say the process works fairly well.

The next test: Use a preserved specimen of a real adult dragonfly as the subject. Please stay tuned for my next blog post.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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