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Four Ways to Light On Location And Still Stay Mobile

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I love using lighting while on location, but I’ve certainly experienced the downfalls. While bringing lighting gear outdoors is great for light control, bringing off camera lighting with you while shooting outdoors makes the process cumbersome, and really limits your mobility. However, I’ve found a few different tools that can help with lighting your scene while outside, and giving you full mobility to get up and move with ease.

One of the biggest problems you’ll run into when shooting on location is providing power for your lights. While speed lights are a solution to this, they often fall short in terms of wattage when shooting on bright and sunny days. So for that reason, all of my recommendations will be with the Profoto B1 and B2 systems. I understand that there are more affordable options available (such as an AlienBee B800 and a Vagabond Mini), but I’ve found the Profoto systems to be the easiest solution, and without any cables or extra gear needed to lug around. Furthermore, because of reliability issues, we do not rent the Vagabond Mini system from PCB, so we’re just going to make it easy and use the gear we have in our inventory.

The Bounce + Assistant Technique

Among the most obvious and common ways to control light on location is to get an assistant to help you, and bring along a bounce system to help control and shape the light when working with a subject. Often, I’m able to find a friend or an aspiring photographer who is happy to help me when shooting on location in exchange for lunch, giving me the versatility of light control, while still keeping it affordable.

For me personally, I prefer the California Sunbounce as my preferred bounce system. Sure it’s expensive, but with its rigid design, it’s able to stay lightweight, and give you really nice control of the light. The mini Sunbounce (which is hardly mini) allows for plenty of control of light, and the handles make it easy for an assistant to control the light and make fine tune adjustments, even in windy environments.

Rent the California Sunbounce Mini

The Monopod Lighting Solution

One of the most common ways I light on location while staying mobile is using a monopod instead of a light stand. With the help of an assistant, a monopod keeps the light mobile and lightweight, while giving you, even more, control than a standard light stand, provided that your assistant is able to adjust the light as needed.

Profoto-B1-Monopod-System-3

Setting up a system like this is easy. First, you’ll need a monopod. I prefer to use one without a tripod head attached, as the head can make the system more cumbersome than it needs to be. I then screw a spigot (or also commonly called a brass monkey) to the top of the monopod, giving me a mounting plate for the light. While we don’t rent spigots, they can be found for a couple dollars at most camera stores and online dealers. When attaching the spigot to the monopod, you now have an effective mounting pin for standard lights.

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Personally, I choose to use the Profoto B1 system for this lighting technique. With the battery attached and High-Speed Sync, the Profoto B1 makes shooting on location easy, while still keeping it light enough for an assistant to easily carry around and manipulate. Using this on location with the Profoto foldable beauty dish, or even a medium softbox, you’re able to get nice, soft and controllable light, in an incredibly mobile package.

Rent the Profoto Monopod Rig for Canon | Rent the Profoto Monopod Rig for Nikon

Westcott Icelight

A couple years ago, a new product came onto the photography scene, and completely changed the way we were able to light subjects in lower light environments. This product, call the IceLight by Westcott, is a lightsaber-esque tool loaded with LEDs, and allows for nice and soft light, in an all in one package. While this isn’t a great lighting solution for a bright environment, it does work incredibly well when shooting at dusk or even at night. If I’m doing a darker, moodier shot, I’ll bring an assistant along, and have them hold and control the Westcott Icelight as my main light. The system is surprisingly controllable and provides a really soft light on your subjects.

IceLight-BTS-Photo

Boomerang Flash Bracket

Up until now, all of these recommendations come with the need for an assistant in some capacity. While friends and family are often able and happy to help out, you’re not always given the luxury of having someone standing around to help hold and control your gear, so I wanted to leave you with one option that doesn’t require an assistant at all. A product I recently discovered and quickly fell in love with is the Boomerang Bracket by ProMediaGear. I love it so much, that a few weeks ago, I even reviewed the product over at Resource Magazine. What the Boomerang Bracket is, is a bracket system that allows you to mount a Profoto B2 flash unit to the top of your camera, and still give you enough control to move the light around as needed, and enough clearance to actually use a modifier with the unit. While the design is cumbersome for some, it actually works a whole lot better than most options and is light enough to carry around for extended periods of time.

B2-Boomarang-Holder-1`

While the system works great for the majority of users, it does comes with some downfalls. For one, it certainly is heavier than other options. While the bracket is lighter than one would suspect, it does have some weight to it. Secondly, it also limits where you can place your light. Often, I’ll just shoot it overhead, giving me the option to flash my subject and create nice and even light on them where they’d otherwise be in the shade. You do have a limited range of motion with the joint on the bracket, you’re still not going to be able to expertly feather the light on your subject with this tool.

Rent the Profoto Boomerang Rig for Canon | Rent the Profoto Boomerang Rig for Nikon

Hopefully throughout this article, you’ve found that there are practical ways to light while on location, and still keeping your mobility about you. Using some of the gear listed above, you’re able to travel from location to location, much like a natural light photographer, and not have to deal with the constraints that natural light often will give you. If you’ve used any of these techniques, feel free to share your results and BTS photos in the comments below.

 

How Lens Focal Lengths Will Affect Background Compression

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Lens-Focal-Length-Distortion-Explained

When I decided to write about the “perfect” portrait lens, I really thought I had a grasp on what I was going to talk about. As a Canon shooter, I imagined that I would spend all the time talking about the sharpness of the Canon 135mm f/2.0, or the amazing bokeh of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

But only a few days into working on this project did I realize how much we talk about models of lenses, but omit an understanding of lens optics themselves. Like many photographers, I have lost track of the time I have spent reading, and watching lens reviews. Then saving up money to buy a certain lens, but not asking the most important question, will this focal length help me in my photography.

And I am not alone in this problem. At Shooting the West, a photo workshop and symposium in Nevada, I spoke about and demonstrated different focal lengths for a room full of photographers. In this lecture, I found that many photographers, regardless of experience, really didn’t understand why they are reaching into their camera bag for one focal length over another. Selecting a lens just more than getting closer or further away from your subject, or how soft the bokeh of a lens can be.

So I am not going to waste your time with pixel peeping, or bokeh comparisons. I am going to introduce the concepts of lens focal length and how it relates to compression, distortion and why this should be the first thing you think about when reaching into the camera bag, or purchasing a lens.

The first thing I think about when selecting a lens is compression, or how much of the background I am going to see behind my subject. To test lens compression, in the case of portrait photography, I asked my good friend, and go to model, Travis Stewart to stand in the same place as I took several pictures of him. For each shot, I would change the focal length while keeping him composed in the same space of the frame.

16mm-Distortion-Test-Small 24mm-Distortion-Test-Small 35mm-Distortion-Test-Small

I started with wider-angle lenses first and then moved up to more telephoto. While the 16mm, 24mm, and 35mm focal lengths are not thought of as portrait lenses, look at how much of the background is displayed at these ranges. Travis is still present in the frame, but if the portrait was also about the area or place the subject lived or worked in, these focal lengths really show off the location and the subject at the same time. Of course, there is distortion at these focal lengths, which we will get to later, but even at 24mm, the distortion is not so radical that you couldn’t live with it, or just make a better composition, say full length.

50mm-Lens-Distortion-Test-Small 70mm-Lens-Distortion-Test-Small

At 50mm and 70mm there is a very nice balance of showing off a large part of the landscape, but making Travis really stand out in the frame. Still good focal lengths to use when you need to showcase that background.

100mm-Lens-Distortion-Test-Small 135mm-Lens-Distortion-Test-Small 200mm-Lens-Distortion-Test-Small

After 100mm two things start to happen, first, the compression of the background is so great, that we have lost the mountain range, and now we are just seeing the hills directly behind Travis. And at 135mm and 200mm not only do only see the hills, but also those hills have moved right behind Travis. As my focal length become more telephoto, it looks like those hills are just over Travis’ shoulder, when in fact they were at least a half a mile away, if not more.

Another thing to look at in these shots is image distortion. With the 16 and 24mm, we see serious distortion in Travis’ face. I took another set of images for more of a headshot composition, which really shows off this distortion. It is interesting that Travis’ nose does get larger because of the distortion while his body and face are narrower. As we get to 50 and 70mm that distortion starts to go away, and the nose is back to a normal size, and all those hours in the gym are showing off.

Most portrait photographers avoid wide-angle lenses when doing portraits, because of this very distortion, but as a fun test, I had Travis hold out his water bottle to show how distortion could aid you with certain subjects. At 16mm, the water bottle is huge, and is the subject of the photo, but when I took the exact same picture at 200mm, the water bottle is now much smaller and lacks punch. What if you are hired by a sports team or athletic apparel company, and they want a portrait of a pitcher or quarterback holding a ball out towards camera? Shooting the wrong focal length could put emphasis on the wrong subject. A wide, or at least wider-angle lens would make that ball larger and make it stand out from the subject. A telephoto lens would make the image more about the athlete holding the ball.

Lens-Test-Compression-Tests-Bottle-Small

And of course, there is the relationship of the depth of field to focal lengths. Notice in all of these photos, as the focal range increases, the depth of field gets shallower. All of the shots were taken at f/10. I do want to point out how close Travis was to the camera, which has a significant impact on the depth of field as well. Even at 16mm, the background is out of focus because of the distance of subject to the camera.

While much of this information was not news to me, it was interesting to put a subject in one location and see how the focal lengths not only impacted distortion, and depth of field, but also the environment I am working in. Right now my go-to lenses for portrait work are 35mm and 100mm primes lenses for this very reason.

It is these concepts you need to think about when purchasing and using lenses. If you are working in a small studio, or your location is not great, then a telephoto lens will not only reduce distortion, and give you a shallow depth of field, but it will also compress that background, so less of it is present. But if your location is on the assembly line of a factory and your subject is the CEO, you probably want to find a focal range, like 35-70mm, that will both showcase your subject and their location.

Lens data charts are great, and comparing the bokeh of one lens to another makes for great information, but when it comes to your work, make sure you are telling your story in the right voice.

 

M.d. Welch

Guest Contributor

Shooting the Nashville Predators with the New Canon 1DX Mark II

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Back in early February, Canon announced the Canon 1DX Mark II, the flagship sports camera, with added 4K video functionality and all of the premium bells and whistles you’d expect to come in Canon’s new top of the line camera system. As you can imagine, since the announcement, we’ve been getting countless phone calls and emails asking when we’d have them in stock, and available for rental. About a week ago, our order came in, and we’ve been sending out the system to photographers all over the country and getting their opinions on the new model.

Nashville-Predators-Playoff-1DXII-Photo-1-Sm

Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission

 

Among those who have had the opportunity to use the new Canon 1DX Mark II is Nashville Predators’ team photographer John Russell and Tennesse Titans’ photographer Donn Jones. Russell and Jones were able to invite some of our Nashville office staff to come along and help capture the hockey game as the Nashville Predators took on the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference Semi-Finals. While there, we were able to work alongside Russell and Jones, documenting them as they shot what is likely known as one of the most exciting games in the playoffs so far this year. While shooting, Russell and Jones were able to give us some real life feedback on what they thought of the new Canon 1DX Mark II, while working in a stadium packed with 20,000 screaming hockey fans.

1DX-MarkII-vs-1DX-1

 

Generally, Russell and Jones had nothing but good things to say about the new system, noticing significantly better tracking and focusing than the previous model in the Canon 1DX. Watch the video above to get their real life thoughts on the new camera, and stay tuned for a full review on the new camera sometime in the next week or so. As for the game, the Predators were able to capitalize on the Sharks and score the game-winning goal in the 3rd Overtime.

Nashville-Predators-Playoff-1DXII-Photo-3-Sm

Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission

Nashville-Predators-Playoff-1DXII-Photo-2-Sm

Copyright Donn Jones | Used With Permission

 

Special thanks to John Russell, Donn Jones and the Nashville Predators for allowing us access to film during the game.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 MTF and Consistency

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Sony has cranked out a bunch of new lenses lately, and one of their latest got my attention: the FE 50mm f/1.8.  It did so for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t expecting it, since they already have the really good FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens in their lineup. Second, I’ll admit I expected them to suffer from the inevitable comparisons with Canon’s ‘nifty fifty’ the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.

The Canon lens is small, inexpensive, quite sharp, and has some of the lowest copy-to-copy variation we’ve ever tested. Copy-to-copy variation has been a weakness in the FE lineup. While Sony was clearly making progress with that I wasn’t sure they were ready to take on the reigning variance champion. The sony lens is a little larger and more expensive, but then again, if you shoot Sony FE you’re kind of used to ‘a bit more expensive’ lenses and at $250 this is a really affordable lens.

As always, I remind you that this isn’t a review of the lens, simply a lab test of multiple copies on our optical bench to assess MTF and variation.

MTF

Well, we’ll go with the logical comparison first, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 vs the Sony 50mm f/1.8. The Sony actually does better at the lower frequencies, indicating it’s probably a more ‘contrasty’ lens, while the Canon is better at higher frequencies, so it may have superior fine detail resolution. Both are really quite good, though, and I should really use ‘different’ rather than ‘better or worse’ to compare them.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

Of course, a lot of Sony shooters want to see the FE 50mm vs 55mm comparison. There’s quite a price difference and while there’s a lot more to a lens than MTF curves, people probably want to see what the MTF differences are.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

 

The 50mm is a very good lens and quite a bargain at the price. But there are reasons the 55mm costs more. It’s clearly better across the field than either of the ‘nifty-fifty’ lenses. But the usual rule of ‘increasing resolution is increasingly expensive’ does apply. You get a better lens, but you pay a lot more.

Sample Variation

This is the portion of the test where I just expected Sony to not compare very well. But guess what? The copy-to-copy variation on the FE 50mm f/1.8 is superbly low. Remember, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is the standard against which all other lenses are measured. It’s amazingly consistent. The Sony is very close to that. In some ways (center sharpness variation) it’s actually a bit better. So hat’s off to Sony, they’ve made an FE lens that from a copy-to-copy variation standpoint is as good as anything on the market.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

 

Let’s show you how good by comparing the variation of the new 50mm with the 55mm, which has a lot of sample variation. (I’ll go ahead and add, because desperate fanboys continue to ask, the variation for 55mm lenses is the same now as it was then.)

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

Olaf Optical Testing, 2016

 

To summarize, then, if you buy a 50mm f/1.8, chances are it’s going to be just about like every other 50mm f/1.8. Sure, there will be a few bad copies, there always are. But they’re very consistent.

We’ll probably tear one of these down soon and take a look inside to see if we can determine just why sample variation is so low. The Sony is a ‘unit focus’ lens with no separate focusing element, if I read their release information correctly, which may have something to do with the lower sample variation.

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

May, 2016

Review of the New Fuji X-Pro2

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The Fuji X-Pro2 is the long awaited successor to the beloved Fuji X-Pro1. The retro look, functional external dials and comfortable medium size that I love about the Fuji X-Pro1 has been updated for the Fuji X-Pro2. And among the many updates that have been added, the one I’m most excited to try is the new and much-improved autofocus.

AB9B0351

What Else is New?

  • A huge bump in megapixels, going from 16.3mp to 24.3mp
  • New X-Trans CMOS III sensor
  • Faster processor
  • Better ISO from 200-12800 with extended ISO of 100, 25600, and 51200
  • Faster continuous shooting at 8fps with a continuous high buffer of 83 frames
  • 273 autofocus points (compared to 77 in the X Pro-1)
  • AF tracking, and eye detection

AB9B0368

Build

The magnesium-alloy body is still very solid, with some upgrades. For one, the weight has been bumped up a little, while adding additional weather resisting to the camera. The rubber grip protrudes a bit more for a grippier feel in the hands, but still feels lightweight and fine strapped across the chest while walking around for long periods of time. For tripod users, the threading is now in the center of the base plate instead of awkwardly off center. A notable update is the addition of a joystick, which takes the headache out of navigating the focus points and menu. High-five, Fuji.

AB9B0360

The external dials are great once you get used to them. Took me awhile to get adjusted to the film speed reminiscent dial, and a few more minutes to get over the embarrassment of not being able to change the ISO. (Duh! Pull the dial up and turn!) Honestly, it’s not my favorite and there were a few times when I accidentally changed the shutter speed while trying to change the ISO and vice versa.

I also found the viewfinder to be a little finicky, with a slight delay to come on when pressed to the eye. A few times I switched out of the electronic viewfinder on accident, and in combination with using a long lens, it was frustrating. But it’s still better than the X Pro-1 in usability, and it looks great.

The Lensrentals Staff’s Favorite Upgrade –

Here at home base, we test every single camera, lens, and accessory twice before it ships out to you lovely folks. This means our dedicated camera techs are shoving batteries in and pulling them out of cameras all day long. Except for when they are testing certain Fuji cameras. In that case, they are shoving batteries in, closing the battery door, turning the camera on, turning it back off, pulling that battery out, and reinserting it in the proper orientation. So we are thrilled to report that this is no longer an issue in the Fuji X Pro-2 and the battery will only lock into place in the proper direction. In addition, the memory card slots (there are 2 now) have their own door that is convenient and opens easily. While this might not mean a lot to most people, it means a lot to us, as it’s a common problem some of our clients face.

Fuji-xpro2-test

ISO 400

Fuji-XPro-2-2

ISO 3200

In Action

I really wanted to see what this camera could do in terms of low light, autofocus, and autofocusing in low light. It held up surprisingly well for photographing a game of fetch with my speed demon German Shepherd, Ben. The tracking works really well following high speeds, but it does trip up a little when shooting in continuous mode. Waiting for the decisive moment to fire, though, isn’t ideal in many fast and unpredictable situations. I was left with quite a few shots where the focus was just behind Ben’s head but still got a few keepers. And keep in mind he is really, really fast and was running toward the camera most of the time. Focus kept up much easier when he was running from right to left of the frame.

Fuji-XPro-2-3

ISO 1600

Fuji-XPro-2-4

ISO 640

The low light looks great. Not amazingly different than the Fuji X-Pro 1, but very impressive considering the increase in megapixels. Autofocus in low light as expected takes a bit of a hit, but it’s still very decent. I was able to get quite a few spontaneous shots while walking through one of the popular Memphis tourist spots, Beale St. Most of the example photos were taken while either the photographer or subjects were moving.

Fuji-XPro-2-5

ISO 1600

Fuji-XPro-2-6

ISO 3200

Fuji-XPro-2-6

ISO 12800

This camera is far better and way faster than its predecessor in every way. From off position to a click of the shutter, the autofocus speed, the frame rate, and the buffer. Shooting with it was a lot of fun.

Price

This is an ideal camera for either renting or buying. It’s reasonably priced at $1600 which is what its predecessor was priced at new in 2012. The rental price is $79.00 for 4 days. No complaints here.

Comparison to the Fuji X-Pro1:

It’s not really fair to compare this camera to one that came out 4 years ago because photography years are like dog years and cameras have very short lives. You won’t spend over $500 on a Fuji X-Pro1, but technology has left it behind. I think the X-Pro2 is a beautiful update, changed in all the ways that are important while maintaining the charm and quality that attracted us to begin with.

Fuji-XPro-2-7

ISO 6400

What I Liked

  • Faster autofocus
  • Better low light and resolution than the previous model
  • Updated grip, memory card placement, and one orientation battery lock

What Could Be Improved

  • Awkward ISO dial
  • The button layout could be slightly more intuitive

Final Thoughts

The Fuji X-Pro2 is fun, fast, and easy. Lighter than carrying around a DSLR, looks pretty hip and has great image quality. It’s still not quite as user-friendly out of the box as I would like, but it has a lovable quirkiness. One other thing Fuji really has going for it is lens selection and quality. The lineup doesn’t have many holes and many of the lenses have beautiful image quality and optics, which is great considering the common gripe from Sony users of a lack of lens options, and the need for adapters.

This camera wouldn’t be my personal choice for professional work simply because of my attachment to the image quality of a full-frame camera and my comfort with a DSLR, but I do think it is a good option for those who don’t want to carry around a heavy camera and appreciate the wider selection of lenses that Fuji has over the Sony mirrorless system. The camera even has an edge for wildlife or sports shooters who prefer shooting with the cropped sensor, especially considering that Fuji offers a 100-400mm lens which gives quite a bit more length than the alternative for Sony, the FE 70-300mm. And while I wouldn’t reach for it for paid editorial work specifically, the performance of the camera combined with lens selection and film aesthetic makes it a camera I would love traveling with, photographing an event, or having in the bag as a backup.

 

Sarah McAlexander
May, 2016

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