12.04.2016

A Decent LED Light, with lots of power, for less than $40? Yes.

Most photographers probably have a fixture like this sitting around the studio. 
It's probably in a corner and the last time you used it was with a photo flood bulb
that turned smokey black on the inside after a couple hours of use. The 
fixture probably burned your hand and you haven't used it since. 
I found a new use for mine. It's called, "LED bulb." 

Yesterday afternoon I was at Precision Camera, looking for a short, coiled XLR, male to female cable. I wanted a one foot, coiled cable that I could use to connect a microphone on top camera to the little mixer box bolted below the camera. Yes. They have one in stock. So I made that purchase and then, since the weather was bad and I'd driven such a long way, I decided to do a quick loop around the store to see what might be new. I played for a while with one of the new, Hasselblad, mirrorless medium format cameras, and I spent some quality time with a dedicated video camera I'm considering buying for an upcoming project. I played (for the fifth time...) with a Fuji X-Pro-2 but just couldn't summon up the right buying impulse. Too much cash to be spending on myself just before the holidays.

But I did come across something very interesting on one of the less visited shelves, hidden in the valley of shelves which is the in-store district of camera bags, soft boxes, pop-up reflectors, Pelican cases and all the other stuff that isn't cameras and lenses. What I found was a bunch of boxes from Pro/master that were labeled "LED Lamp." There were several sizes and, of course, I was interested in the max output. I asked my favorite sales associate his thoughts about the product. 

"It's a high output LED bulb that fits into a standard household socket. It's really bright! But I'm not sure how color correct it is..." He said. He had me at "really bright." I bought one for the princely sum of $39.95. 

A few things to know about this product. If you want a bright LED source to shoot stills with and you're buying your coffee at McDonalds because the $1 price special is very, very meaningful to you, then this might be the best product out there to give you a lot of relatively clean light for a cheap price. You'll have to add the fixture but you can always buy a clamp light fixture at a hardware store for less than $10. The LED bulb is a 50 watt unit and it puts out at least as much power at the RPS CooLED 50 watt SMD unit I've been using for the last year. The big, white part behind the bulb itself is the self contained ballast and it IS fan cooled. The fan is louder than the fans in my RPS lights so I wouldn't recommend using it to record video with sound in a small, quiet room. But if your usage is for regular photography then you're set. The bulb sits very forward in most fixtures because of the length of the ballast and fan assembly but the dome on the front does a good job of diffusing the light and spreading it around. For critical containment of light spill I'll just grab some Black Wrap(tm) and fashion my own flexible barn doors for it.

The unit gets warm to the touch on the front of the bulb and hot to touch on the ballast as it operates. Wait a few minutes for it to cool down before removing. 

The business end of the bulb. See the vents for the forced cooling?

Here's one angle of the project.

Here's another....

I did a quick color test using the VSL "Camera of the year!!!!!" the Sony RX10iii. I set the camera to the daylight setting on the color presets and shot a raw file of the product box on a white piece of bristol board. You can see that it's about 7 points green, overall. Not a huge green spike but big enough to require correction, if you are interested in neutral color...

Preset WB to Sunny symbol.

Eye dropper light balance in levels in Photoshop CC. 

These LED lamps are pretty interesting. Five years ago we'd have paid a lot more to get a lot less. What am I saying? We did that...  Now were able to get the equivalent of a 250-300 watt tungsten bulb in a form that's much cooler and more energy efficient, comes it at 5400K and is highly color correctable. For the price of a cheap fixture and the lamp. I put mine in the Smith Victor fixture that's lived in my equipment closet for 20 years and now I have another LED light to use around the studio. Right now I'm using it through a 3 x 6 foot, Lastolite aluminum frame with a 1.25 stop diffusion scrim. It looks beautiful. I like it.  I bought mine at Precision-Camera.com but you can also get them from Amazon.com. Budget lighting at its best!

Portrait sessions follow their own pathways. If you are doing it right everyone is happy.

©2016 Kirk Tuck. "Alaina."

Some photographers I know get really, really anxious when they are called upon to do portraits. They fret about the camera gear they might use. They obsess about what lights to use, how to modify them, where to put them and how to make them all work. When actually in session they become weighed down by the hoary traditions of "posing" and the conventions of "head tilt" and hand placement. With all these subroutines rolling around in their brains one wonders where the joy is in doing a session.

I'm sure that no small part of their concern is their perceived need to appear as an expert to the subject. Another large fraction of their worry might be their fear that they won't be able to remember, or juggle correctly, all the technical issues that are part of the process of taking any lit photograph. Exposure, focus, color, framing, etc. But I would say that the biggest impediment to making good portraits is

12.02.2016

A portrait from the studio this afternoon. (Revisedx2).

©2016 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

My intention all along, as a photographer, was to take more portraits in styles that I like. I've been working on it lately by asking the people I work with, and see in day-to-day life, if they will drop by my studio and collaborate with me on making portraits. Today I had a young, talented actor named Alaina come by. I'd set up the studio to do classic "actor headshot" lighting and we did a number of portraits in the prevailing "headshot" style. Then I set up a 4x6 foot, 1.25 stop diffusion panel to Alaina's left (camera right) and put one LED light on the other side of the diffusion to create a much more (to me) interesting light.

The panel is very close to my subject and runs perpendicular to the camera plane, extending back into the studio but starting about three feet in front of Alaina. I used a very weak, passive fill on the opposite side. 

The image was taken with one of my favorite camera and lens combinations: The Sony A7ii and the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. The lens was used at f4.0 (wide open) and the shutter of the camera was set to 1/50th of a second. ISO: 800. Of course the camera was held in place with a nice tripod and the focus sensor was set to her right eye. 

We took about 400 images this afternoon but this is the very first one to catch my eye. I could make some fixes but I'm trying not to overproduce or over enhance the stuff I shoot for myself. 

This "one light" set up is one of my very favorites. I'd teach it in my workshops if I had workshops. It's always a nice look. 

11.30.2016

In everyone's rush to own their camera company's 70-200mm f2.8 many people might be overlooking a better (and cheaper) alternative.

"Greater Tuna" star, Jaston Williams, as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."

Ask most photographers which zoom lenses are best and most of them will reflexively answer, "The Holy Trinity of f2.8 zoom lenses!" and, for my money, they could not be more wrong. If we're looking at 70-200mm lenses from the major camera makers you'll find that the 2.8 lenses are brutally heavy and ruinously expensive. You might also find, if you actually take the time to shoot them in a direct comparison, that the same company's 70-200mm f4.0 is much sharper over a wider range of focal lengths. 

I've owned both variants in the Canon and Nikon lines as well as the Sony Alpha 70-200mm f2.8 and now the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 and I'm here to tell you that the f4.0 versions are much more fun to use, better optically corrected than their faster counterparts and a heck of a lot easier to use during a long day of shooting. 

I know a lot of you don't put much stock in DXO's lens rankings but in the Sony family the f4.0 G version of the venerable zoom is their top choice for sharpness, resolution and all around goodness in the Sony FE zoom lens catalog. I've been shooting one since the first quarter of 2016 and I find it boring because it's so reliable and flawless. No flare, no unsharp edges, no complaints.

I've pointed out before that every increase of one stop in lens manufacturing requires something like 5X the precision and machining in order to output the same quality results. And what are you really gaining?

I you are shooting a modern camera with a Sony sensors you'll find that choosing the slower lens and then increasing the ISO to cover the one stop difference will probably get you better image quality than trying to shoot a faster lens wide open. Not to mention that the sheer weight might have a stabilizing effect (inertia, mass, etc.) for the first five minutes of handholding the faster lens, the next hour or more will show up the hubris of trying to handhold a four pound dead weight. 

When I shoot stage shows at Zach Theatre with the Sony A7Rii my lens of choice is always the 70/200mm f4.0 G lens and I'm always shooting it handheld. The combination of good image stabilization and great optical performance means I can shoot all evening long at f4.0 and not compromise image quality. An added benefit is that my left arm (the one supporting the weight of camera and lens) isn't sore the next day. 

I suspect that the much denigrated Sony 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens is actually better than the newer, and much lauded f2.8 G master lens of the same focal lengths. I haven't tried them but I've got this sneaky feeling that f2.8 is just a Pavlovian dodge, dangled at photographers who are old enough to remember needing faster apertures to help with manual focusing. And it's faulty knowledge that's been transmitted to following generations. 

If you are following the "teachings" of a more experienced generation you probably need to be careful,;sometimes the old rules don't apply to new technology.