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. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Memorial Day On The Peninsula

1/250, F 13.0, ISO 200, on camera flash
Planting The  Flags: Every Memorial Day weekend, peninsula scout troops come to plant thousands of small flags at the nearly 140,000 graves in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. In years past, the volunteers were nearly always young Boy Scouts. This year, I thought that  I would submit two images: The first would be one with a young Girl Scout planting a flag at the base of a tombstone, while the second would show a more traditional Memorial Day scene.

There was one major problem with this image of the young girl scout: There is no visual clue as to why she was placing the flag in this particular spot. I had included the headstone in some earlier attempts, but after examining the images, I saw that the edges of the polished marble were overexposed beyond correction, which is why I decided to frame the image without it. I might have avoided this by rotating the flash head slightly to camera left, effectively feathering the light away from the headstone. Hindsight is always 50/50, and I'll try to remember this trick when a similar situation is presented.

I will go on record as having spoken with both this young scout and her mother, a violation of the "Thou Shalt Not Interact With Your Subject" commandment that must be strictly followed in cases of unbiased, objective photo documentation. However, a photo like this isn't in the "must publish for the public welfare" category, and with today's emphasis on individual privacy, it is reassuring that my subjects know who I am and what I intend to use the photo for. The San Mateo Daily Journal has a sterling reputation on the peninsula, and after introducing myself, nearly all of my subjects have been extremely cooperative. Since the instructions I gave to my young subject were confined to having her face me and work slowly, the photo is a "managed candid", a depiction of something that really happened. Looking back, the nearly universal subject identification seen in most newspapers may be a way of implying consent to being photographed, and evidence that contact between photographer and subject was probably made.

1/1700 second, F 5.6, ISO 400, no supplementary flash
This second image would be a more conventional image, one that would address the patriotic aspect of the event. The essential visual elements are the bag piper in the foreground and the flags in the background. This was obviously a low-angle shot, a necessity if the flags were to be properly aligned with the piper's head. I made nearly a dozen shots, each one trying to capture the exact moment when the flags were carried aloft by the intermittent wind. I selected this image because it had a little bit of sky to separate the piper's head from the American flag.

Nikon D700 full-framed body, lens focal length 360 mm. Exposure: 1/250 second, F 5.6, ISO 800.  Not submitted.
My Newest Nikkor Lens: In addition to my Fuji kit, I carried a third camera, a Nikon D700 with my new 200-500 mm F 5.6 Nikkor zoom lens. Up until then, I carried a Sigma variable aperture zoom lens which performed reasonably well. This Nikkor received stellar reviews for a lens in its price range,  and was also subject to a Nikon rebate at the time of purchase. It proved heavier and bulkier than the Sigma, but everything about its performance was a definite step up. Did I mention that it is heavy? Very heavy?

This sharpness of this tight crop surprised me, especially with the relatively long exposure of 1/250 second. The NIkkor's Vibration Reduction feature definitely helped, and I'm sure that if I boosted the ISO to 1600 and used a shorter exposure time, the sharpness would have improved. Perhaps that old Sigma lowered my sharpness expectations for long telephoto zoom lenses. At any rate, any doubts I might have had about this purchase disappeared right then and there.

Meanwhile, In Hillsborough: I found out that city of Hillsborough has an annual Memorial Day Parade, and decided to add this event to my weekend agenda.  For the most part, it was a small town parade with an excess of politicians riding in luxurious vintage cars. Between the politicians and the marching bands, the crowd was introduced to a procession of veterans. Captain Jackson Schultz, a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, led the way. In his dress uniform, he was the most colorful veteran, and when I called, "Captain, could you look this way?" he happily obliged.

I was pleased that the paper ran both of these images. It made for an interesting juxtaposition between the young and the old, along with remembrance and recognition.

Between the Saturday flag planting in San Bruno and the Monday parade in Hillsborough, it was an interesting weekend.  I carried the two big Fuji zooms and two backup flashes for both assignments, along with the flash controllers to do some off camera lighting if time permitted. But when it came time to make THE exposure, it was a hot-shoe mounted flash, set to manual, that secured the image.