Sunday, September 8, 2019

Installing CTO Gels On A Godox V1

Profoto A1: Buy yours here.
In an earlier post I made some observations about the Godox V1 round-headed flash, aka Adorama's Flashpoint Zoom Li-on x R2 TTL Round Flash Speedlight. They are one and the same. This installment is to address the issue of color correction gels. It was introduced in early 2019, and it made quite a splash because until that point, those wishing the convenience of TTL metering combined with the even lighting pattern of a parabolic reflector had only one choice: The Profoto A1 Studio Light.  At $800.00, the flash, though very versatile, was expensive for what you were getting. In spite of the hype, it is NOT a replacement for a studio flash, but can serve a photographer well if s/he knows its limitations. For the cost of a single A1, you could buy three Godox V1 flashes, which if you're not a hard on your equipment, would provide years of service. I purchased two V1s: One is dedicated for Nikon and the other for Fuji. And in a pinch, both can be simultaneously adjusted using a single dedicated, on-camera Flashpoint or Godox controller. Honestly, there's a lot of value in the Godox.

Adorama Round Head Flash Kit
The flash's round head is a double-edged sword. The parabolic reflector gives a very even light pattern without any obvious hot spots. However, the head shape makes it incompatible with many popular on-camera light modifiers. Neither the Gary Fong Light Sphere nor any of the Mag Mod accessories can be used with the V1, which for me is a definite drawback. A variety of add-on accessories are included with the Round Head Flash Kit (about $60), which includes a set of barn doors, a snoot, a bounce card, and a grid that are held to the flash head with magnets. Also included are some accessories for changing the flash color, including three warming filters, one florescent green color correction filter, and two clear filters along with a magnetic filter holder. You can buy CTO gel sheets and cut out properly sized disks and could them between the two clear filters. You will now have yourself an easily installed and removed color correction filter that coincides with the incandescent white balance preset on your camera. 

C.T.A. S. Get yours here.
If you are interested in more precise color adjustment or don't want to do the cutting yourself, you'll need to add the Color Temperature Adjustment Set (about $15) provides 16 pairs of pre-cut color correction gels (CTOs, the CTBs, and the Plus Green gels). One photo of the product on the Adorama website shows how a round, blue gel is sandwiched between the two clear gel holders that came with the Flash Kit.

In the mean time, I find my stash of gel sheets and cut myself a full and quarter CTO gel disk to balance incandescent ambient lighting or to warm up a subject. 

Leader Wallet: Order yours here.
To install one of the pre-cut gels, you lock one of the clear retaining disks into the slots inside the holder. Next, drop in the gel of your choice. Finally, attach the filter holder to the flash head. The gel will be held in place between the clear gel holder and the flash. This is the simplest method, although storing the relatively fragile gels may become a problem. I'm thinking about using a fly-fisher's leader wallet, which I found on Amazon. It's certainly large enough to accommodate these gel and keep them safe and organized. 

This closeup photo makes it easier to see the retaining tabs, along with a magenta gel sandwiched between the two retaining disks.

I am looking forward to the speed and convenience of mounting a magnetically attached CTO gel to the Godox flash. Although I purchased the full Mag Mod kit, I never really liked the gel attachment system. This approach for the V1 is just as fast and much more compact. 

Finally, a warning: The flashtubes generate a fair amount of heat, and if you attempt to machine-gun your flash exposures, you might fuse the gel to one of the filter retaining disks. So slow down.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Nikon SB-800 Battery Door Replacement

My last attempt to clean the contacts wasn't successful in removing all of the corrosion.

Rust Never Sleeps. Neither Does Battery Corrosion: Familiarity breeds contempt, and absence makes the heart go wander. Since my world has essentially been appropriated by all things Fuji, my Nikon speedlights have been getting less attention than they should. As a consequence, my speedlights are occasional stored with their batteries still in place, and if the gremlins have their way, the batteries contained therein will leak, causing the contacts to corrode. An explanation can be found at this Wikipedia link, a portion of which I have duplicated.

...Alkaline batteries are prone to leaking potassium hydroxide, a caustic agent that can cause respiratory, eye and skin irritation.[note 1] Risk of this can be reduced by not attempting to recharge disposable alkaline cells, not mixing different battery types in the same device, replacing all of the batteries at the same time, storing in a dry place and at room temperature, and removing batteries for storage of devices...

In many cases, the surface corrosion can be removed with some #0000 steel wool or a pencil eraser. In my last corrosion event, the damage was confined to the battery door, and this simple treatment worked, that is until the corrosion returned. But if this was to be a reoccurring event, I thought I should give some thought to replacing the battery door completely. It appears I'm not the first to confront this problem, as eBay had several vendors who would sell me a non-OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) replacement for about $10.00. Meh. Not Nikon.
For more information click here
SD-800 To The Rescue: If you purchased your SB-800 new, you also received an SD-800 Battery Holder along with the other boxed goodies. I never paid much attention to this add-on because of its bulk. I determined that if I needed an power boost, I would attach a Nikon SD-8a 6-AA battery pack, which would improve my flash recycling time  significantly. 

Incidentally, this add-on was created to bring the battery output of five rechargeable NiMH batteries to the same 6-volt output of four alkaline batteries. I never gave this much thought, as I found that four NiMH batteries were sufficient for my needs, and when I needed more, added an aforementioned SD-8a battery pack. Life is good enough. 

To install the SD-800, you can refer to pages 64 and 65 of the manual for installation instructions. I reproduced those two pages here. Once done, you'll have clean electrical contacts for your batteries, but you'll always need to take along that fifth.
Pages 64 and 65 from the Nikon SB-800 manual. To view the entire PDF, click here
What You Didn't Know: It turns out that the battery cover for the SD-800 is identical to the one covering the battery compartment of the SB-800. If all you want is a new, corrosion-free cover, just remove the cover from the SD-800 and install it on the SB-800. This gives you the OEM cover you desperately want. But don't throw the uncovered SD-800 body away. Some day you may want to add that fifth battery!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

My Fuji X-Pro1 And The Leica Mystique

Shawn and Tom at Buck's Restaurant, December 1996
August 6, 2019 - Lunch With My Mentor: When my friend Shawn and I taught together in the last century (1979-81), we often discussed photography. Both of us developed and processed our own black and white prints, and while other interests would come to consume my time, he was first and foremost a photographer. For him, Leica rangefinder cameras were the only way to go. Many other professional photographers agreed.

Shawn is a serious student of all aspects of photography. He is both a walking Leica historian and an artist driven to document the aspects of his life that make it unique . He carries his M3 with a Sumicron lens with the ease with which I carry my car keys, and when doing so, makes me long for the time when I was equally committed to the craft so long ago.

It was Shawn's preference for the Leica that made me believe that owning and using a Fuji X-Pro1 might give me insights into the rangefinder mystique. That it did, along with momentarily re-connecting me with some of my hero photographers who continued to use rangefinders, resisting the tide of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras like the legendary Nikon F.

In the 1970's, my own rangefinder experience was in some ways similar to Shawn's, but my camera of choice, made relevant by both my finances and my level of expertise, was a sexy black  Olympus 35 SP, and fixed lens 35mm rangefinder. In the early 70's, I carried it everywhere, hoping to somehow channel the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Pierce, Gene Smith, or Gary Winogrand. That little camera helped me gain some insights into street photography, a documentary style that some hipsters seem to believe they invented. Among other things, the Olympus taught me to crop in the viewfinder to make use of every square millimeter of the film format, primarily because the lens wasn't the sharpest and the negatives it produced couldn't stand enlargements past 8" x 10".

Source posting can be seen here.
Jim Marshall, the chronicler of the 1960's music and culture scene, relied on rangefinder cameras, specifically Leicas, for his iconic rock-star images. The reason was clear: The Leicas didn't employ the mirror mechanism typical of the Nikon and Canon SLR cameras of the time. In addition, Leicas were compact and supremely quiet, essential qualities when photographing live performances in close quarters. The build quality was second to none, and the Leitz lenses designed specifically for them became the optical and mechanical standards for performance that the world would seldom equal, let alone surpass.

Photographer John Naughton. Read about him here.
The Whisper Of Intimate Things*: I think the appeal of the rangefinder is the result of some design limitations. Even the most die-hard Leicaphile will readily admit that the limits of the optical viewfinder (essentially a small peephole-sized window) make working with telephoto lens a little tricky. The rangefinder really shines when using wide angle through short telephoto lenses. You will also notice the asymmetric design of the camera puts the eyepiece off to one side. This allows the photographer to maintain make eye contact with the subject, which encourages them to establish rapport, potentially leading to images of an animated, engaged subject. The photo then become a record of an interaction, a animated moment in time frozen at 1/125th of a second. You cannot be an anonymous voice hidden behind a camera. Instead, your subject will see you clearly, and any of your facial gestures of interest, indifference, or discomfort, will be in full view. This is frightening, and challenging, at the same time.

Another happy byproduct of the digital experience, one shared by all mirrorless cameras, is the ability to review images in the viewfinder. By not having to shift my attention from my subject to the back of the camera, I can maintain my workflow without diverting my attention from the subject. This removes the distraction of the irresistible chimping, reviewing the LCD  and exclaiming "Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!", after each shot.

Life In Real Time: This luxury of time is something I don't always have. My schedule for a normal photo is 15 minutes of setup, followed by 5 minutes of actual shooting. My desire to capture meaningful spontaneity is often abandoned in favor of some quick posture adjustments, some happy talk, and a count-down to shutter-press. Heck, my subjects are busy, and so am I. But should I be allowed sufficient time to be more involved with my subject, I am certain that this Leica-like X-Pro1  will provide new challenges, and hopefully, some emotionally rewarding images.

"Whispers Of Intimate Things" was a book of photographs and poems taken and written by Gordon Parks.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

National Night Out: Why I Chose My X-T2

1/250 second, F 16, ISO 320
National Night Out: This annual event, held at the Martin Luther King Center in San Mateo, gives the community the community a chance to to meet and speak with San Mateo's First Responders in a a block party environment.

This photo was made using a Fujifilm X-T2 and a 10-24 F 4.0 zoom lens. Camera cognoscenti who read my last post might have assumed that I'd be using my new (to me) X-Pro1 and a prime lens. In fact, it was packed in my camera bag, ready to use. But choosing my tried and true X-T2 was the logical choice if you consider the factors involved in make such a shot.

Waist Level Perspective
The articulated LCD panel allowed me to accurately compose and shoot from a low angle. If memory serves, the shot was made with the camera about 8 inches off the ground. Why the low angle? This allows me to isolate my subjects by framing them against the blue sky. You'll notice that the horizon line is approximately 1/3 up from the lower edge of the frame, a concession to the "Rule of Thirds".

Wide Angle Lens
Working with a wide angle lens allows you (or forces you) to work at relatively short distances. The foreshortening of the subject (exaggeration of subjects closest to the camera) is held to a minimum by making shots where the the subjects are held in a shallow (fore and aft) plane.  By keeping the hands on the same plane as the face, the foreshortening effect (hand closer to the camera than the face) is minimized. Notice that the feet appear a little on the large size, but it isn't obvious. And yes, I could have fitted the lens, a 10-24 F 4.0, onto the X-Pro1, but without the reticulated LCD, my chin would certainly be on the ground. Ouch.

On this assignment, the X-T2 gave me a working edge over the X-Pro1. Because their shutters are quite similar, the use of flash gave neither camera a noticeable advantage. To this point, it was all about the camera helping me make the photo. Now, it's the flash's turn to carry the ball. Incidentally, I used a Godox V1 Round Head flash.

Flash Supplement To Existing Light
Working at short distances is necessary whenever speedlight-sized flashes are used. It's a power issue. There is one caveat when working with supplemental flash on standing subjects shot from a lower perspective: The flash-to-subject distance must be the same from nose to toes, or you'll see noticeable overexposure of the legs when compared to the face. If the flash were the key (main, or shadow creating) light source, try to elevate to light above your subject's face to produce a natural, below the nose shadow. When used as a fill (lighten the shadows) light, it is better to have it mounted in the hot shoe so it will be close to the lens axis.

Concentrating The Light
One trick is to narrow the flash beam angle so it only lights your main subject, and to rotate the flash head away from areas you don't want overly bright. If you look closely, you can see that the narrowed beam of light starts to fall off  half way across McGruff's body, but fills the young boy's body perfectly. And if you look more closely, you can barely make out an arm sticking out from camera left, conveniently concealed by rotating the head away from it.

Balancing Your Fill
Successful use of flash outdoors must address two issues. First, the flash must be powerful enough to bring the shadow areas to an acceptable exposure level.  Second, you must consider how that same light will affect the areas already lit by the sun (highlights). David Hobby emphasized that light is additive, and that the highlights will get an extra dollop of light when supplemented by the flash. In a nutshell, you will need to slightly under-expose by the ambient (sunlight) exposure and your flash output.

If you examine this tight crop of my subject, you will see two shadows. The first shadow on my subject's right shoulder is created by the sun. The thin second shadow under the chin was created by the shoe-mounted flash. I contend that when the flash is kept close to the lens axis, this shadow is barely noticeable, but the results will be much better than a shot made with sunlight alone. And that bit of blur? Subject motion, somewhat common with the slow, 1/250 flash synchronization speed. High speed sync? Forget about it!

Shoot Shoot Shoot!
Probably the most important rule is to keep shooting, even after you think you have the shot. Digital cameras excel here, since those additional shots are free, free, free. Very often I'll think I just made the money shot, only to find one that I already had one a wee bit sharper or with better expression.

Composites like this one remind me of the contact sheets I made in my film days. For those too young to know, processed negatives were placed on a sheet of enlarging paper and exposed to light, resulting in an entire roll of film rendered as tiny exposures on a single sheet of paper. Since interpreting how a negative (processed print film) would actually appear, it was an invaluable tool for photographers tasked with evaluating and choosing a single image from a day's worth of shooting.

Seen as a group, you can see variations in the brightness of my subjects while the sky remains fairly constant. This images were ROC (Right Out of Camera) with no exposure adjustments, but any would have been improved with a minimal amount of post production adjustment. I chose the fifteenth shot as the keeper, primarily because of the visual "hook" provided by my young subject's right arm which resembles the posture taken by McGruff. 

I'll return to the topic of the Leica/Rangefinder Mystique in a future post.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Is The Fujifilm X-Pro1 Still Relevant?

Read Ken Rockwell's Evaluation by clicking here.
Ever since I became a Fuji user, I wondered what I was missing by selecting the T series of Fuji cameras instead of buying an X-Pro body. I knew from using my E-1 bodies that mirrorless cameras offered some advantages over my Nikon DSLRs, but when it came to buying my first top-tier body, I went instead with the X-T1 because it had a reticulated display on the back. Since I do a lot of low-angle photography, this feature alone justified the cost of the upgrade to this new body. In addition, I had proven to myself that access to the hybrid (optical and digital) viewfinder options on my X100S proved my preference for the digital viewfinder. So if I had gone with the updated X-Pro2, I would be paying for an option I would never use. And with the X-Pro2's MSRP of $1,700.00, choosing a "T" would represent a significantly savings.

Longing From Afar: My entry level camera was an X-E1 with a kit lens, purchased new when the price dropped just before the introduction of the X-E2. As my interest grew, so did my collection of prime lenses, until I acquired a basic kit that ranged from a 12mm  2.8 Zeiss Tuit to a 60mm 1.2 Fuji X lens. Then came the X-T1 and XT-2 bodies, along with some big F 2.8 zoom lenses. I was no longer dating the Fuji system, I was married to it. Just don't tell my Nikons.

For the last year I have been idly checking eBay and KEH to see if either one had a clean, used X-Pro1 body at a suitable price. I happened upon a listing, similar to this one, at the Adorama website. I was immediately attracted to the "E-" rating, having seen many doggy, well-used bodies for sale at the same price point. Long story short, I bit.
When it arrived, I found it was indeed in "Excellent Minus" condition, having suffered a few superficial scratches on the LCD panel. A quick check of the sensor showed no signs of dust. The manuals and all of the accessories were neatly re-bagged and sealed. Had I not known better, I could have mistaken the camera for new.

Timeless In A Digital Way: The Fujis have developed a cult following, in part due to the manufacturer's efforts to provide firmware updates to improve the camera's performance. I checked the Fuji website and found that the latest update, Ver. 3.8, was available sometime in 2017, based on comments found on some of the user forums.  I visited the official Fuji website and I counted 20 firmware updates since the X-Pro1's introduction in April of 2012. My camera's  last firmware update (Ver. 3.6) was available in April of 2016, and I surmised that shortly thereafter, the former owner lost interest in the camera, or sold it. Fuji's level of support is seldom found from any manufacturer, and it has kept the X-Pro1 running at peak performance* over the first five years after its introduction. I don't know if there will be any upgrades newer than 3.8 (nobody but Fuji does). For now, I'm completely up to date.

Relevance? It seems that a new genre of blog posting has emerged, the "Is It Still Relevant" posting about whether an older piece of equipment is still worth purchasing several years after its introduction. It seems that the "newer is better" viewpoint runs rampant among real equipment fan-boys, but for those of us more interested in making photographs than owning the latest equipment will beg to differ. I have never been one to quote equipment specifications, preferring to base my choices on more subjective features like handling, control placement, and general feel. Does the camera merge with the user to make photography an effortless creative process? In the case of the X-Pro1, the answer is a firm "Yes". The size, weight, and "feel" is perceptibly better than my other cameras, so much so that I find myself constantly playing with it, something no other camera has thus far inspired. In its current configuration, focusing, exposure compensation, sensitivity (IS0), and image review can all be done without removing the camera from one's eye. Essentially, an educated thumb is all that is needed to properly drive the camera, a direct result of its straightforward design and layout, plus some user programmable function buttons. I dare say that as Fuji's first attempt at a full-sized camera, it appears to have come off the drawing board with the controls placed for the convenience of the user. It is that size that allows for less crowding of the control buttons, making it harder to alter your settings accidentally.**

I'm positive the camera's popularity and longevity were due to Fuji's efforts to make the the ultimate camera for photographers who adopt a Zen-like approach to their craft. If think the X-Pro1 helped remind me of who I used to be, a photographer roaming the streets with an Olympus 35 SP rangefinder camera similar in feel to the Fuji. This camera has been something of an inspiration to me, and it may be the muse that helps me become the photographer I wanted to be, rather than the one I became.

*Let's remember that firmware can only do so much when it comes to tweaking performance. In the end, it's hardware that determines the limitations.

** There are some issues about spectacles and the hybrid viewfinder. For some additional references, click here.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Godox V1 Roundheaded Flash: Field Trials

Fuji X100T w/ Wide Angel Adapter, 1/640, F 8.0, ISO 200  Godox V1 fired @ Full Power
The Fourth In Foster City:  has a very small town feel when it comes to community celebrations. Just north of Silicon Valley, Foster City  is a young city with an old town feel. The Fourth is an all-day event held at a local park at the edge of a man-made lagoon. I don't usually get great image opportunities, but this year I managed to get three that definitely had Community Page potential by concentrating on the Family and Pet Parade that initiates the event.

This is the first time I had a chance to use my Godox V1 in the field, and while my initial reaction to the unit was quite favorable, some design compromises in the controls gave me some grief. The event also reminded me that purchasing a specialty camera like the Fuji X70 does me no good if I don't bring it with me. More on that later.

The Particulars: I used the Nikon-compatible V1 even though I would be using Fuji cameras. I reasoned that the mixed sunlight/speedlight environment often rendered the TTL metering unpredictable, so I be shooting the flash in the manual mode. I felt confident that with my base aperture of F 8.0, I could set the V1 to 1/4 or 1/8 power to work at distances from 7 or 5 feet, and make reasonable exposures.

1/800th of a second, F 8.0, ISO 200, camera at ground level with flash held overhead.

The Specs Looked So Good On Paper:
In my last post, I listed the many V1 features I loved, liked, and some that I barely tolerated. This little assignment was an "in your face" confrontation of how my real world experiences don't necessarily match those anticipated by the engineers who designed the unit. The biggest problems stem from their attempts to replace multiple external buttons and rocker switches with multi-function, menu-driven interfaces.

Manual Control: My gripe involves my attempts to make manual adjustments to the flash output. The control sequence is not as straight-forward as my beloved Nikon SB-800s, nor is it as forgiving. For example, if I wanted to manually increase the output, I would first initiate the output adjustments by first pushing the knurled Select Dial at the 9 o'clock position, then either rotating the dial clockwise to increase the output in 1/10 stop increments. I might also press the Select Dial at the 12:00 o'clock position to increase the output by a full stop. Finally, I must remember to press the centrally positioned Set Button which serves to lock in the adjustment. By doing this, I would be reminded/forced to re-initiate the complete output adjustment sequence starting by pressing the Select Dial at the 9:00 o'clock "+/-" position.

I was using my dedicated Nikon V1 on a Fuji X100T camera with a generic compatible flash cable. By using the Fuji system, I had resigned myself to shooting the flash in the manual mode. When making these adjustments on the fly, one can forget to re-initiate the sequence for each adjustment. This is exactly what I didn't do, and as a result, attempts to decrease the output were instead changing the output mode to the Repeat/Stroboscopic mode, essentially disabling the flash. It took a little while to realize what was going on, and I was able to eventually get the shots I wanted.

1/500 second, F 8.0, ISO 200, flash manual let to 1/8 power
I just ordered a Fuji-dedicated V1 flash from Adorama, so I'll soon have the TTL option when I shoot. This may  reduce my reliance my manual output adjustments, providing the TTL system accurately assesses the mixed lighting environments I often find myself  shooting in. Like everything else, I'll need to see how capable the new flash is before I rely on the flash's native "smarts" to properly expose my images.

Assignment Notes: There are several Fourth of July celebrations here on the peninsula. Redwood City, the County Seat, gets the most coverage by the paper, and I "front paged" the event only once. These three images were submitted for publication, but none made it to the July 5 or the July 6 Weekend Edition. Something may appear in the Monday Community section. Since these three images are "in play", this post will be published after the Journal appears on the newsstands. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Godox V1 Roundheaded Flash

Read a March 7, 2019 teaser here.
Let's Cut To The Chase: I've been waiting for the official release of this flash for some time. Rumors of its existence, followed by prototype reviews, kept me in rapt anticipation until just this week when they were advertised in a Father's Day Sale supplement from Samy's Camera. Nikon, Canon, and Sony were the first ones out the gate, with the  Fuji version following in the near future.  I went down and snagged a Nikon version, and immediately got it ready to shoot a two-assignment Saturday.

The Hot Stuff

Let's list the things that I really find exciting, even though they may not necessarily be important to you.

R2 Wireless Comparability: The  flash is compatible with my existing R2 controllers, and is has both remote and a commander functions.

Lithium Battery: The V1 uses a battery that is different from those used in my Godox 860 flashes. I understand that the new battery gives the flash a shorter recycle time. The flash itself has a novel doorless compartment where the battery slides into, and out of, the flash body.

Fast Recycle Time: When set to full power manual output, the V1 recycles in 1.5 seconds, a feat unmatched by any other flash or speedlight that I currently own.

Zoom Head: The beam spread is adjustable from 28mm to 105 mm. There is an Auto setting that will automatically adjust the beam angle to the match the lens focal length.

V1: Head zoomed to 28mm                      V1: Head  zoomed to 28mm                     V1 Headzoomed to 35mm
Camera Lens at 20mm                              Camera Lens at 28mm                            Camera Lens at 35mm

Light Distribution: Check out these beam samples. The lighting is even, with no discernible hot spots in the center. This is typical for parabolic reflectors, and the main reason for the popularity of the Armatar conversions for Vivitar flashes.

To test the coverage, I mounted the flash on a D700 full-frame body and used a 20-35mm 2.8 Nikkor. Shooting distance was about two feet from a blank wall. The shoe-mounted V1 was set to Auto Zoom. The first frame shows the falloff when the lens focal length is shorter than the flash's minimum setting of 28mm. In the second frame both lens and flash are set to 28mm. The third from shows a 35mm/35mm pairing.

Standard Head zoomed to 20mm          Standard Head zoomed to 28mm          Standard Head zoomed to 35mm
Camera Lens at 20mm                          Camera Lens at 28mm                               Camera Lens at 35mm

Compare this to the beam distribution for a standard flash head (Adorama Flashpoint Zoom R2). You can see a definite hot spot in the center of the beam when set to 20mm and 28mm. It could be argued that this is an academic exercise, but in actual use, the smooth edges can be a real help if you need to feather your beam to adjust for variations in distance between the foreground and the background, or the left side of frame and the right.

The takeaway from this exercise is that you're likely to have some corner fall-off when shooting with lenses with fields of view that are wider than the V1's widest setting of 24mm. I also  suspect that the flash is favoring the top of the frame due to flash parallax* induced by distance between the lens axis and the flash tube shooting so close to the wall.  These test shots were made with a full frame D700 body, and I suspect that you'll get a much better distribution of light if you used an APS body like the D300. You have to agree that shadows created by the V1's are extremely soft, and while I don't make it a habit of photographing blank walls, it's comforting to know that the usual flash "hot spots" will be minimized.

Head Tilt: The V1 tilt head rotate from -7 degrees down for closeups, to 0 degrees (straight forward) for most shots, through 90 degrees (straight up), and to 120 degrees (past vertical) to allow bouncing the flash high and backwards when the camera is held horizontally. Rapid deployment is good.

Magnetic Accessories: A limited number of accessories are available for the flash, including a grid spot, a snoot, a filter holder, and a set of barn doors. The accessories also work with the accessory round head available for the AD200. I haven't purchased the accessory kit, but I will.

USB Compatible Charger: A small thing, but a reflection of our USB oriented times. The charging cradle, USB cable, and the AC adapter create a  very compact charging unit. Could this be the reason for the different battery?

Control Layout: The V1 packs a lot of features into a compact layout, and depends heavily on the LCD panel to provide feedback on the selections you are making. Most on-board flash controls are accomplished by selecting one of four options, listed clockwise from the top: Zoom, Modeling Lamp (continuous LED lighting), Mode, and Exposure Compensation. Another important feature, the Wireless Selection Button, will be discussed later. It's identified by the sideways lightning bolt at the flash's far right.

Adjustments are then made by rotating or pressing the Select Dial, a knurled, rotating bezel ring that surrounds the four options. The Set Button at the center serves to lock the settings in place.

(1) Zoom: To adjust the beam angle, you will:
Press the Select Dial at the 12 o'clock position by the Zoom label.
Rotate the Select Dial through the available choices, from Auto (zooms in synchronization with your zoom lens), 28, 35, 50, 70, 80,  and 105.
Press the Set Button to lock in your settings.

(2) Modeling Lamp: Let's skip this one. The adjustments are decipherable, but convoluted and too easily forgotten. Hey, you're a photographer. You don't need no stinkin' modeling lights.

(3) Mode: Here is where you select the three on-camera flash modes by pressing the Mode Button:
iTTL: Conventional Through The Lens flash metering. See iTTL Exposure Compensation below.
Manual: In the manual mode, you can dial in the exact flash output in one-stop, for one-tenth stop increments. See Manual Output Adjustments below.
Repeat (stroboscopic): Far out. Groovy. So 1970s.

(4) Flash Exposure Compensation (+/-): This can be used in the three other on-board exposure flash controls available through the Mode setting. Find more details in Supplementary Instructions below.

The Wireless Selection Button: Pressing this button allows selection of one of the following three modes:

iTTL Mode: Wireless communication is off. The flash merely functions as an on-camera flash with access to all the relevant output adjustments.

Master Unit Setting: Here's where your V1 becomes a commander flash. You have the option of three output settings (TTL, Manual, and Off) for the Master Unit and up to 3 Groups.

Remote Unit Setting: Here the V1 becomes a controllable remote light source. Output is controlled by the on-camera controller.

Gripes and Quirks 

Lack of Nikon CLS Compabilitiy: The V1 cannot communicate with the native Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) optical triggering protocol. Admittedly, I'll get over it.

Battery Incompatibility:   The battery is different from those used in the other  Godox/Adorama flashes of similar output. Since I already have 8 Godox 860 compatible batteries, not having to purchase additional backup batteries just for the V1 would have been nice. Also, at the time of this posting, they were not yet available for sale.

Replacement Warrantee: Something new has been added on the repair and warrantee scene: The counter replacement. Samy's , a stocking Godox dealer, will replace, on the spot, a Godox flash that fails within the first year. After that, I suspect one would pay a flat "service fee" which could amount to a subsidized replacement for the ailing flash. I was informed that labor is simply too expensive when compared to replacement. I understand the logic, but it still seems strange that I must now consider my flashes as expenses, rather than investments.

Subjective Summary

All in all, a decent flash that gets high marks for its even lighting pattern. I probably won't miss the lack of Nikon CLS compatibility. The build quality is generally satisfactory, but the clicks on the aforementioned Select Dial are a little mushy, giving the impression that the unit was wearing out prematurely, which it hasn't. And finally, the flash has a lot of features and too few exterior (non-menu driven) controls. Dedicated exterior buttons would be nice. Given time, I'll get used to these minor shortcomings, but overall, the V1 is a very capable unit.

See a You Tube video on the V1 by clicking here. Advance to 4;20 to see the battery.

Supplementary Instructions
iTTL Exposure Compensation: Once you're in the  iTTL, you adjust the output as follows:
Press the Select  Dial at the 9:00 position by the +/- label.
Rotate the Select Dial clockwise to increase the output in 1/3 stop increments, counter-clockwise to decrease. Alternately, you can press the Select Dial at the 12:00 position to increase, or 6:00 position to decrease the output in 1/3 stop increments.
Press the Set Button to lock your settings in place.

Manual Output Adjustments: This is an interesting feature. In the Manual mode, you can adjust the output as follows:
Press the Select Dial at the 9:00 position next to the +/- label, and rotate the Select Dial clockwise or counter-clockwise for 1/10 stop increments , or
Press the Select Dial at the 9:00 position next to the +/- label, and press the Select Dial at the 12:00 or 6:00 positions to increase or decrease the output in 1 full stop increments. This is not covered in the instructions.

*In this case, parallax exists because the center of the flash head is a bit more the 7" above the axis of the lens. Since the test shots were made at a distance of less than 2 feet, there is a significant amount of vertical displacement.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bouquets To Art Pre-Event Photo

1/125 second, F 14.0, ISO 200, Focal Length 32mm (48mm in Full Frame Format)
Okay. This is how the photo was SUBMITTED. I was sent to publicize "Bouquets to Art", an event where local floral designers recreate 18th and 19th century paintings using real flowers. I wanted my photo to illustrate the challenge of combining real flowers, a vase, and the related props to create a three-dimensional tableau of a two-dimensional painting.  

To view source, click here.
I searched the Internet and found a suitable oil painting that could be re-imagined with a few suitable props. I would need an ornate picture frame (to hold the reference painting), a white vase, a candelabra, and some flowers. I was confident that everything on my wish list could be found with little difficulty. 

When I was told that there would be three floral designers (two from Hillsborough, one from San Mateo) I initially decided that the photo would be made San Mateo's Central Park, a suitable location with adequate parking. I would pose them inside a gazebo that was located in the center of a rose garden. By posing my subjects inside, the lighting solution would be much simpler.

I created this mockup with help from the Jack In The Box spokes puppets and then asked for approval from all of the stakeholders. Now I had to find a way to make this happen.

The Framed Painting: I borrowed an ornate frame with a window that was slightly smaller than 11x17 inches, the maximum size for a normal color laser printer. I saved the file on a thumb drive and headed to Kinko's where I made a color copy large enough to fill the frame's window. If you have to create a similar graphic, make several variations, each one slightly larger, because laser copiers won't give you a borderless print option. I then  trimmed the print, sandwiched it between the glass the the foam core backing panel from the frame, and called it good.

The Vase: A quick trip to a charity re-sale store got me a $2.00 round vase similar to the one in painting. 

The Candelabra: I found a sterling silver candelabra in an antique and collectibles store in San Mateo, and asked if I could rent it. The marked price was $105.00, so I was asked to leave a 50% deposit which would be returned, minus $10.00, when I brought it back to the shop.

The Flowers: These I would purchase at Trader Joe's an hour before the shoot. Since I was going "on location", I thought it safer to bring all the necessary props. It never occurred to me that flower arrangers have flowers, and could probably be asked to some a variety of colors.

Ready On The Set: By Friday morning, neither of my Hillsborough subjects responded, and my San Mateo was only available for an afternoon shoot. Rather than drag my lone subject to the Park, I arranged to make the photo in her neighbor's back yard. If you examine the photo carefully, you can see that I'm under a covered back porch. I attempted to align my subject with the only portion of the garden that could serve as a suitable background while being careful to stay off the lawn.

1/250 second, F 14.0, ISO 200                 1/250 second, F 14.0, ISO 200                 1/125 second, F 11/0, ISO 200
In the first frame you get an idea of how dark the background would be rendered at 1/250 of a second. The second frame shows the key light (Godox AD200 with a bare bulb head in an E-Z Box), and the third shot with a lengthened exposure time with a shoot-through flash for fill, which you can see at Camera Left.

You will notice that a landscape composition wastes a lot of space when there is only a single subject.  I would eventually crop the image to a square format to give the editor a little latitude when it came time to fit the image on the page.

I had one flash left, and thought I could use it to brighten the shadows in the background to improve the visual separation. Since I didn't want to walk on the lawn, I couldn't get enough light on the background shrubbery, so I decided to instead create a "kicker" light by directing the light towards the back of my subject's head. Ideally, the light would be placed directly behind, and above, my subject. I settled on this shot where the light stand is visible (sadly) visible in the frame (see image at the top of this post). The light stand was positioned to prevent a highlight on the subject's nose. See below left.
Actual Photo: flash on light stand                                               Future Photo: flash on boom   
Ka Boom! My next task will be to find a way to include a short, lightweight boom in my rolling kit. If I had one, I could have placed the light by the subject's right shoulder, just out of frame, and have the kick light coming from above, and very slightly behind, the subject. This wouldn't require a long boom arm because it would only need to reach half-way across the frame. See above right.

Incidentally, I sent the photo with the lightstand intact. All of the images that I submit for Journal publication cannot be edited to remove visual content. The light stand was there, and (sigh) I must therefore include it. The few edits I will perform are to ensure proper rendition of both shadow and highlight areas.

Epilogue: It is unnatural to create a photo with excessive visually "dead space". As a lark, I re-cropped the image as an 8x10, cloned out the light stand and cleaned up the background a bit. When viewed this way, I believe my efforts to create a meaningful foreground were successful.

True to form, the paper did crop the image to a landscape format, and in doing so eliminated nearly all the details I tried so hard to preserve. 

Next time, I think I can use the Adorama Flashpoint Mini-Zoom that already lives in my camera bag as a kicker. The flash has a rotating/swiveling head, variable power, a choice of radio or optical triggering, and its compact sized. Now I just need a lightweight boom way to position it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Compose For The Background - The San Francisco Youth Symphony

Any violin teacher will cringe when they see this photo. I didn't have the vocabulary to explain exactly how I wanted the hands placed for this shot, but from a lighting perspective, I was extremely pleased with the results. I will be working on lighting the dark "below the chin" shadows, but other than that, I don't think I could have done a better job of balancing the interior and exterior lighting.

Davies Symphony Hall is the most modern of the Civic Center grand venues. The views from the first and second levels are spectacular, and I wanted to make a photo that featured the dome of City Hall in the background. Luckily, the shot would be made between rain showers. The atmospheric moisture helped soften the shadows, while errant clouds became natural reflectors that softened the shadows further.

Since the City Hall background was so prominent a feature in the photo, I wanted to be sure that it was addressed first. The three-step process was as follows:
  • Select the background. In this case, it consisted of finding a spot where the seams between the window panes were farthest apart.
  • Determine your shooting position. This is a good time to select your lens focal length, assuming that the relative positions of the camera, the background, and your subjects will have an effect on the photo's final appearance. This is done by walking towards, and away from, your background until it is properly framed.
  • Mark where you want you subjects to stand. In the end, it's easier to move your subjects nearer to, or farther from, the camera once you background has been established. Since I knew there would be six subjects, I placed two chairs in the foreground the "anchor" the composition. I decided that the arrangement would consist of two musicians sitting and four standing.
This shot shows the two chairs roughly centered in relation to City Hall. I would reposition them to accommodate the final composition, but that was easily done.

At this point, I set up my Lastolite E-Z Box and Adorama AD200 flash on a 12' light stand. To simplify shooting, the light was placed in a high overhead, on-axis position. Because the windows were not perpendicular to the flash-to-subject axis, there were no reflections on the windows.

Photo #1: 16-55 mm F 2.8 @ 16mm, 1/250 second, F 8.0, ISO 200
Photo #1: ROC. This shot is Right Out of Camera (ROC). There is a fair amount of wasted space, and the subjects are not perfectly framed. You can see that the window panes diverge towards the top of the frame. But I was pleased with the balance between my flash exposes subjects and the dome of City Hall in the background.  After checking for blinks, I was satisfied that this frame, coincidentally the last, was the best of the batch. 

Photo #2
Photo #2: Post Production:  Very little was done in post production to adjust the exposure. I did not like the way the two window seams appeared to diverge in the original image, so I did a minor perspective adjustment. I do not consider this a significant alteration, as it doesn't affect the visual content in any way. It is something I could have done in the wet-processing days, so the procedure gets a pass*.

The Final Print: The final print, shown at the top of the post, was cropped to an 8x10 format to tighten the composition further. After the perspective adjustment, no additional processing was needed.

The final photo resulted from a lot of pre-production preparation. The amount of time spent on location selection, camera position, and subject arrangement paid dividends in allowing the photo shoot to run as smoothly as it did.

*Strobist David Hobby's philosophy on "Photoshopping" allows the utilization of any technique that was available to the black and white film photographer who processed prints using a conventional enlarger. Perspective correction consisted of tipping the easel (the frame that held the printing paper) to correct the apparent diversion of parallel lines.  Trust me, it was a tedious process, but it worked.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Rona Figueroa At ACT

The Journal has started a series of profiles of entertainers who have roots on the Peninsula. Rona Figueroa was born in San Francisco and attended Mercy High School in Burlingame. American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco was presenting Rhinoceros, and Ms. Figueroa was cast as Daily, the movie's love interest. 

Arrangements were made to schedule a twenty-minute photoshoot at the A.C.T. offices in San Francisco. When I arrived, Kevin gave me a quick tour of possible backgrounds for the shoot, and in the end selected the open balcony on the seventh floor. The weather was crisp, and gusts of wind kept the air clear of haze. Having arrived 30 minutes before the scheduled shoot, I started to set up the shot.

The only shade I could find were the shadows cast by the support pillars that bordered the balcony. I found this picnic table, are decided to align the nearest edge a convenient picnic table with the shadow of the pillar,creating a narrow shadow where Ms. Figueroa could sit and be protected from direct sunlight.

Lighting would be provided by a bare tube Godox AD200 self-contained flash slipped inside a Lastolite E-Z Box softbox. The unit was then hoisted atop a 12-foot Manfrotto lightstand and anchored in place using the roller bag used to schlep all of the necessary lighting equipment, plus more than enough accessories to handle any catastrophe.

A quick selfie confirmed that at full power, the softbox produced enough light to balance the sunlit background. The softbox was positioned approximately eight feet from my face.

One nice thing about working with a lightstand: Since the distance from the light source to the subject remains constant, I can adjust my camera from my position, shoot, and re-adjust until the proper exposure is achieved.

This quick photo of Kevin confirmed that my exposures were where I wanted them. This particular image was altered slightly by burning in the edges to draw the viewer's attention towards my subject's face.

When Ms. Figueroa arrived, I  had her sit on the edge of the table in shadow of the pillar. We discussed two of Gene Wilder's movies, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein", and was surprised to learn that she didn't know that in 1974, Rhinoceros was made into a movie that starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. After a few minutes, I changed lenses and began to photograph Ms. Figueroa for a tight head shot.

Shifting to a 50-140 mm lens allowed me to increase my shooting distance  to about ten feet, and in so doing changed the relationship between the subject and the background. The background was now reduced to an abstract pattern of soft-focused, geometric shapes. I liked this image, and submitted it for inclusion in the upcoming article.

For a lark, I made this image with both Rona and Kevin. I had intended to send it to Kevin for his Facebook page, but my editor liked it so much she decided to choose it as the featured photo. I did not think the photo would be taken seriously, so I was a little less attentive to my subjects' positioning. I should have noticed that Ms. Figueroa was now standing in front of the table, and was lit by an edge of direct sunlight, as seen on her sweater. and on her face. 

Kevin is the vice president of public relations and marketing for the PR firm handling ACT.  As they both went to school in San Mateo, my editor thought that this would be a great local angle, so she selected this shot to run with the article.