Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

Adequate packing material for safe shipping?

May 13, 2020

I ordered a Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens from B&H Photo on 10 March 2020. The parcel was delivered a few days later on 14 March.

The first photo shows contents of the larger cardboard box in which the lens was shipped.

The last photo shows the larger cardboard box after I removed the smaller box containing the lens.

Notice there was NO PACKING MATERIAL on four of six sides of the smaller box for the lens. That can’t be good for shipping a camera lens safely!

During limited testing of the new lens, I haven’t been completely satisfied with its performance. I can’t help but think, was the lens damaged slightly during shipping? I’ll never know but I’ll always wonder.

What are the take-aways?

I remember opening the box of my first order from B&H Photo many years ago. My first impression was something like, “Wow! The items in my order were packed carefully to ensure they arrived in great condition.” Those days are long gone.

The fact of the matter is the problem of inadequate packing material seems to be the new normal at B&H Photo, and that doesn’t work for me — photo gear is too expensive to cut corners on shipping! C’mon B&H, you can and should do better.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Focus bracketing using Fujifilm X-T3

May 11, 2020

In-camera focus bracketing was used to shoot 35 photos automatically. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the focus-stacked composite image shown below.

Focus-stacked composite image

The toy is a Poliwrath, one of many Pokemon characters. The 7″ plastic ruler is from the Calvert Marine Museum. Do you know why the small ruler is 7″ long rather than the more common 6″ length? Please leave a comment if you know the correct answer.

Photo No. 1

The camera was focused manually on the closest point in the foreground, before pressing the shutter button.

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Select photos from the 35-photo set show the focus point advancing automatically from the foreground to background.

Photo No. 5

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Photo No. 20

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Photo No. 35

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Related Resources

Tech Tips

Minimal effort was invested in arranging the subjects and lighting the scene.

Some trial and error is required in order to determine the correct focus bracket settings for a given combination of camera and lens, in this case, my Fujifilm X-T3 and 80mm macro lens.

As it turns out, I shot six sets of test shots before I found settings that worked the way I wanted. The following settings were used to shoot the 35 photos for the focus-stacked composite image featured in this post: Frames = 35; Step = 10; Interval = 3 s.

The camera was set to save files as FINE+RAW. In the interest of expediency, the composite image was created using JPGs straight from the camera. Photo No. 1, 5, 20, and 35 are also unedited JPGs.

What are the take-aways?

The technique works as advertised and should help to save time by automating the most tedious part of the process of creating focus stacks. Further experimentation is planned.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

MYN – Clubtail exuvia (species unknown)

April 15, 2020

An Anisoptera exuvia was collected by Freda van den Broek on 10 June 2019 along the Red Cedar River in Barron County, Wisconsin USA.

This specimen is definitely a member of Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), possibly Midland Clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus).

10 JUN 2019 | Barron County, WI | Anisoptera exuvia (dorsallateral)

Tech Tips

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

During this photo shoot, I tested the Flash Diffuser Light Softbox by Altura Photo (6″ x 5″) for the first time. This relatively inexpensive softbox ($12.99) is highly recommended by Allan Walls, an excellent photographer who specializes in macro photography. I must admit I was more than a little skeptical but the diffuser seems to work as advertised and is a remarkable bargain, unlike my expensive Lastolite softbox flash modifiers (8.5” x 8.5” square).

The 1:1 rule-of-thumb is used to determine how close/far to position a flash unit from the subject. The diagonal distance across the face of a softbox should be the distance to the subject [or less] for soft wrap-around light. Actually, the distance should be as close as possible without the softbox showing in the photo frame. Greater distances will result in a contrasty look.

For example, my new Altura softbox is a 6” x 5” rectangle (7.8” diagonally) so it should be positioned ~8″ or less from the subject. Buyer beware: This distance is OK for macro photography but not OK for most other types of photography.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.


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.


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 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.

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