Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

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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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.

Testing: Panasonic “Post Focus”

January 25, 2019

My new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 features some significant upgrades over my 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, and 4K video, to name a few. Perhaps the most intriguing new feature is what Panasonic calls “Post Focus.”

“Post Focus” can be used to change the focus point after a photograph is taken, in camera. OK, that’s astounding! But wait, there’s more.

With “Post Focus” enabled, the camera is used in the same way as when you’re shooting still photos. In reality, the camera records a small movie clip in 4K video at 30 fps (4:3 aspect ratio) every time you press the shutter button.

The 4K movie recording function is used to record roughly one second of MP4 video at 30 frames/second. During this recording, the camera’s autofocusing system scans the lens around the subject, moving from the foreground to the background to cover the entire scene. … It’s like a sophisticated form of focus bracketing and produces a movie clip containing about 30 frames. Source Credit: How the Panasonic Post Focus function works.

One reviewer of photography gear opined the process is too slow to be useful in real-world situations; in contrast, my first impression is the process works surprisingly quickly.

An MP4 file can be opened in Adobe Photoshop in order to export individual frames from the 4K video clip; the files can be saved in either JPG or TIF format. In turn those files can be imported into Photoshop to create a focus-stacked composite image, such as the one shown below.

A plastic toy Pterodactyl, 6.5″ in width.

A toy Pterodactyl was “photographed” at BoG Photo Studio using Panasonic “Post Focus.” One Sunpak LED-160 Video Light was 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 preceding focus-stacked composite image.

I think Panasonic “Post Focus” shows great potential for enabling the production of high quality focus-stacked composite images when photowalking, without carrying a lot of photography gear into the field.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More power!

January 18, 2019

Like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I like/need more power. (Grunt, grunt.) Regular readers of my photo blog know that I have purchased several new external flash units and related accessories, all of which use batteries as their power source.

Panasonic eneloop pro rechargeable batteries and Ansmann Battery Boxes are my current favorite brands.

Panasonic eneloop pro rechargeable batteries | Ansmann Battery Box

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding photo. Notice that the month and year I bought the batteries is written on the side of each battery using a Sanford’s Sharpie permanent marker. I do this for two reasons. First, it’s easier to group/use batteries of the same vintage. Second, it’s easier know when it’s time to replace a set of batteries that doesn’t hold a charge as long as it used to.

The little things matter in photography. Little things like batteries, especially when you’re photowalking in the field. I always carry at least two boxes of four batteries per box.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Five-flash studio macro photography rig

January 4, 2019

This blog post is a follow-on to a previous post entitled Studio macro photography rig. As you can see, my four-flash rig has been updated to include a fifth flash: a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Although it isn’t shown clearly in the following quick-and-dirty photo taken with my iPad 3, both the Godox TT685C and a Canon 580EX II Speedlite are mounted on the crossbar of my Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Aluminum Alloy Tripod. Look closely — the tiny subject (a Stylogomphus albistylus exuvia) is positioned in the far-left corner of the white posing platform, in front of the Lastolite flash modifier.

The Lastolite flash modifier features a two-layer system of diffusers that provides beautiful soft light: the white square you can see on the outside of the collapsible box and another white square that you can’t see, located halfway between the flash head and the front of the box.

Another addition to the rig is my new 3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-Bracket. (Note: The camera body blocks your view of the L-bracket.) The L-bracket enabled me to mount the camera in portrait mode quickly and securely. Although the Manfrotto 405 Pro Digital Geared Head can be adjusted to position my camera rig in portrait mode, the heavy camera-lens-flash combo is unstable and can tip over easily.

New gear used for studio macro photography.

By the way, in case you looked at the preceding photo and wondered “What’s up with the crazy crop?” I used Photoshop to conceal some of the clutter in my kitchen. I set up my macro photo rig in the kitchen because it’s the largest uncarpeted area in my tiny apartment. Padded carpet is a poor surface for macro photography — the field of view from a tripod-mounted camera-lens-flash combo shifts noticeably (and unacceptably) as one moves around the rig.

More Tech Tips: A complete description of all of the equipment used in my studio macro photography rig is provided in a previous blog post entitled Studio macro photography rig.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-Bracket

December 14, 2018

This post is a quick review of the “3 Legged Thing QR11-LC 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.

Many L-brackets, including the 3 Legged Thing 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.

Pros and cons

The following photo shows a 3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-Bracket (Orange) mounted on my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera. A Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Clamp (black) is connected to the QR11-LC, and a Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate (gray) is connected to the DAC-X1. The blue thing shown in the lower-left corner of the photo is a handy tool that is bundled with the QR11-LC.

3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-Bracket (Orange).

The Canon 5D Mark II DSLR was released in September 2008. 10 years later, it seems to be impossible to buy a new L-bracket made specifically for the 5DM2. The only option is to buy a “universal L-bracket.”

In my opinion, the word “universal” suggests the bracket fits a lot of camera models but doesn’t fit any model perfectly. It required a big leap of faith for me to buy the QR11-LC, but I must say I’m pleasantly surprised by how well it fits my 5DM2!

Most importantly (to me), the L-bracket DOESN’T block the door to the camera battery compartment.

There are openings for attaching a camera strap to either end of the L-bracket; the opening on the shorter side of the L-bracket aligns perfectly with the camera strap connector on the left side of the camera body, thereby adding some stability to the camera-bracket connection.

With the L-bracket mounted on the camera body as shown in the preceding photograph, it’s nearly impossible to open the compartment doors on the left side of the camera by reaching through the larger opening on the shorter side of the L-bracket. That said, the tool that comes with the QR11-LC makes it easy to loosen the tripod socket screw. Then you can slide the bracket far enough to the left to open the side compartment doors, leave the doors open, slide the L-bracket back into place, and tighten the tripod socket screw.

What’s the take-away?

Although I readily concede it’s unlikely there are many owners of the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR who will find this product review helpful, 3 Legged Thing sells several models of universal L-brackets that are compatible with newer cameras sold by Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, and Sony.

Related Resource: L Brackets: Two Minute Tips with David Bergman, by Adorama (2:46).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash

November 12, 2018

I bought a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash from Roberts Camera recently. I placed the order around midday on Friday, 02 November 2018 and the parcel was delivered on Monday, 05 November. Impressive!

The Backstory

Godox flash photography gear, published on 09 October 2019, features my initial review of a Godox TT685F Thinklite TTL Flash that I bought from B&H Photo. In short, the flash doesn’t work as advertised by both Godox and B&H Photo, and B&H has failed repeatedly to “make it right.” (More about that in a follow-up blog post.)

Given my negative experience with the TT685F flash, regular readers of my blog might be wondering “Why would you buy another Godox flash from B&H Photo?” More about the first part of that question in a minute. As I already mentioned, I DIDN’T buy the new Godox TT685C flash from B&H Photo. Read between the lines.

Testing 1, 2, 3…

I have been testing the new TT685C flash since the day after it was received. Here’s what I know so far: In a nutshell, the flash works as advertised.

The Canon-compatible version of the Godox TT685 functions in five modes: a non-wireless, stand-alone mode (TTL, Manual, and Multi); and four wireless modes (optical master/slave modes, and radio master/slave modes). The Godox TT685C can do almost everything the comparable Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT does at a price point approximately six times less than Canon’s MSRP of $579.99.

All of that being said, there is one problem with the Godox TT685C and it’s a big problem in my opinion. More about this in a follow-up blog post.

A Canon-compatible flash that works like one made for Fujifilm

For my money, what makes the Godox TT685 product line of flashes special is they are cross-compatible. In other words, flashes made for different camera manufacturers (e.g., Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony) can work together.

The following photo shows the LCD of my new Godox TT685C flash. The flash is set for radio slave mode (Channel 1, Group A). Notice the word “FUJI” in the lower-left corner of the display that indicates the Canon-compatible flash is working like a Fujifilm-compatible flash.

In this case, the flash was controlled by a Godox XProF radio flash trigger mounted on the hotshoe of my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. A Godox TT685F external flash, fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier, was located off-camera; the TT685F was used to light the photo, shown below. Also notice the icon that indicates the flash is functioning in HSS mode; the HSS icon is located below 24mm (manual zoom) and the audio speaker icon (indicating sound is on).

Godox TT685C external flash LCD panel display (Slave mode).

Results from hands-on testing (so far, so good)

  • Off-camera radio slave mode works, including TTL and HSS, when the Godox TT685C is controlled by a Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for radio master.
  • Either Godox XProF or TT685F mounted on Fujifilm X-T1 hotshoe: Camera-mounted flash is Channel M; off-camera TT-685C (set for radio slave) is Channel A. Works as expected, including TTL and HSS.
  • Godox TT685C mounted on Fujifilm X-T1 hotshoe: Flash fires, Manual mode only (TTL, HSS don’t work); when the flash is set for optical master (in Manual mode), it can trigger an off-camera Nissan i40 external flash unit (set for SF Mode) confirming that optical master does in fact work.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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