Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

My MYN technique studio macro photography rig

March 25, 2020

The following annotated photos show the current iteration of my “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique studio macro photography rig, set up at BoG Photo Studio, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This rig represents the culmination of continuous experimentation spanning several months — it works well most of the time but not always. Some of the gear shown in the photos is nice but not essential. Start small and add items as necessary.

An equipment list and legend follows the photo set.

My MYN macro photography rig, front view.

Notice the orientation of the clear plastic stage relative to the white plastic background, optimized for best exposure of both the white background and the subject.

My MYN macro photography rig, side view.

Most of the essential gear is shown in the following photo. However you set up the rig, all you really need is a translucent white background, some sort of clear plastic stage, one or more radio-controlled external flash units (with light diffusers), and a camera, of course. I’m guessing many photographers will have most of the necessary equipment on-hand already.

Close-up of clear plastic stage and white plastic background.

In this case, the subject is a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) exuvia collected by Mike Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy.

Equipment List (Legend)

  1. light stand (Promaster Deluxe Light Stand LS-2n)
  2. white plastic background
  3. clear plastic stage [part of a repurposed sandwich box from a delicatessen]
  4. Godox TT685F (fill flash, stage right)
  5. Canon 580EX II Speedlite (fill flash, stage left) fitted with a “Vello Bounce Dome (Diffuser) for Canon 580EX II Flash
  6. Godox X1R-C
  7. Lastolite Ezybox Speed-lite 2
  8. Tether Tools articulating arm [A large articulating arm is useful but DO NOT BUY Tether Tools articulating arms — they’re OVERPRICED and either work poorly (like this one) or not at all (like a smaller one shown in one of my YouTube videos)! Articulating arms and clamps made by Manfrotto are the best albeit expensive; arms and clamps made by SmallRig are a close second at a modest price point.]
  9. Westcott Reflector Arm Extreme
  10. Godox TT685C (backlight)

Everything is mounted on a Promaster Deluxe Light Stand LS-2n using the following Manfrotto articulating arms and clamps (and more).

A collection of articulating arms and clamps makes it easier to position everything exactly where it needs to be, enabling quick and easy set-up, repositioning, and break-down.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro (Canon mount)

March 23, 2020

Canon EF & RF, Nikon F & Z, Pentax K & Sony FE mounts are available. Source Credit: Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro, Venus Optics.

I bought the Canon mount plus the Canon EF lens to Fujifilm X mount camera adapter for use with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR and Fujifilm X-Series mirrorless digital cameras.

My Canon 5DM2 features a “full-frame” digital sensor; both my Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T3 cameras feature an APS-C digital sensor.

The following photo is an un-cropped, full size image from the full-frame digital sensor in my Canon 5DM2. Notice how much smaller the subject appears to be in this photo, in contrast with one of the un-cropped, full size images of the same specimen taken with my Fujifilm X-T1.

25mm (2.5x magnification) | ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/200 s | 0 ev

The Fujifilm X-T1 has a crop factor of 1.5x. In addition, the Canon-to-Fujifilm adapter (~1.25″ thick) increases magnification like the net effect of adding one or more extension tubes between the lens and focal plane of the digital image sensor.

The same photo was rotated slightly and cropped for better composition. Pretty good for a one-off shot at an aperture of f/8! Or was it f/5.6? I can’t remember and the EXIF info says f/0 because there aren’t any electronic contacts between the lens and camera body, so no help there.

25mm (2.5x magnification) | ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/200 s | 0 ev

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro

March 20, 2020

The Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens is challenging to focus in low light — commentary common to all of the videos I cited in my last blog post (see “Related Resources”) that is consistent with my limited experience using the lens.

As an aid to focusing the camera on the subject, I added a Sunpak LED-160 Video Light to my “Meet Your Neighbours” technique studio photography rig. The bright continuous LED light enabled me to see the red focus peaking displayed by my camera for the first time!

25mm (2.5x magnification) | ISO 200 | f/5.6 | 1/180 s | 0 ev

Both photos featured in this post are “one-offs,” that is, not composite images. Although the depth of field is so shallow that a lot of the subject is out of focus, one look at these photos and I can tell the Laowa lens will work well for creating focus stacks.

25mm (2.5x magnification) | ISO 200 | f/8 | 1/180 s | 0 ev

Both photos are uncropped, full size images from an APS-C digital camera sensor. An aperture of either f/5.6 or f/8 is the “sweet spot” for this lens, according to the video reviews I watched.

The Backstory

The subject is a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) exuvia collected by Mike Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy. Although the exact date and location are unknown, we know the specimen was collected sometime during 2019 somewhere in Northern Virginia.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro

March 18, 2020

The following photograph is among the first set of shots taken using my new Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro lens mounted on my Fujifilm X-T1 APS-C digital camera using the Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Canon EF – Fuji X).

25mm (2.5x magnification) | ISO 200 | f/5.6 | 1/15 s | 0 ev

The lens is all manual all the time, so it doesn’t really matter that the adapter features no electronic contacts for the lens to communicate with the camera. The lens doesn’t have a focus ring — the user sets the aperture and magnification on the lens and moves the camera/lens rig back-and-forth until focus is achieved.

Among my first impressions, the lens is a “light hog” meaning it requires light and a lot of it for good exposure! Depth of field is extremely shallow, as expected. “One-off” photos like this one are a little disappointing — for best results this lens should be used to create focus stacked composite images.

By now you may be wondering “Why did you buy this Laowa lens?” The two-part answer is simple and straightforward: 1) For the modest price-point of approximately $400 I have a lens that increases the magnification possible using my Fujifilm cameras by a factor of five. 2) I bought the Laowa lens with a Canon mount, so it can be used with either my Canon- or Fujifilm camera bodies. The Laowa Ultra Macro lens/X-T1 kit is significantly smaller and lighter than my Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens/Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

I’m looking forward to further testing of the Laowa lens in the studio as well as in the field.

Related Resources (subject)

Tech Tips

This subject was photographed against a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique.

The power ratios for an array of four external flash units were as follows: Group A = 1/2 +0.3 (primary backlight); Group B = off (secondary backlight); Group C = 1/32 (subject, stage right); Group D = 1/32 (subject, stage left).

Related Resources (Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.


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