Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stuff I'm Thinking of Buying

Here are some things I've recently been thinking of buying.

Presslite Vertex - a hotshoe flash accessory that has positionable mirrors to direct the light into two or three places at once.  Price has been reduced at Amazon to less than $35 (used to be $50). 
What I hope it will do for me: allow me to let one flash function as two or even three flashes.  Although I do have a second flash, I can only hold one flash.  With this, it's like I have another flash I can use handheld, and it's even possible to put use my flash on-camera while still retaining a lot of control over its direction.
What's stopping me: it will only be useful indoors where there are suitable bouncing surfaces.  These days I don't often take photos indoors.  That will likely change when our second baby comes.  I'm also deterred by the complexity of the use of the device.

SaxonPC grids - these are economical alternatives to the Honlphoto grids.

What I hope it will do for me: grids are more restrictive than snoots.  This will allow me to do more experiments with restricted light.   
What's stopping me: it seems easy enough to make a DIY grid from black straws (but it won't be as good looking).  [ I haven't found black straws either... :-/ ]
Coco Ring Flash  - a cheaper (~$50) ring flash alternative to the Ray Flash (which I like but which I find overpriced). Other cheap ring flash adapters have had terrible reviews but this one looks ok.
What I hope it will do for me: I like the photos that David Hobby made using the ring flash as soft on-axis fill to control the highlight-shadow ratio.

What's stopping me: in theory, an umbrella can provide soft fill as well though it wouldn't be as on-axis as a ring flash unless it's directly behind me, which is quite hard to do handheld :).  I'm also wondering how easy it will be to use manual flash for my key (either using the SB-800 with the ring flash on-camera, and the YN-560 as key; or YN-560 with ring flash on-camera and SB-800 on SU-4 mode as key).

Cowboystudio Multi-Disc Kit ($48) - a reflector holder and a large 5-in-1 reflector.

What I hope it will do for me: I don't often get to experiment with reflectors because I find it hard to position them.  This will solve that problem.

What's stopping me: this will be useful only for setup shots, and I don't do many of those.

Cowboystudio 24" Softbox ($41) - this is a cheaper alternative to the popular Lastolite Ezybox.

What I hope it will do for me: I know that a softbox has more controlled light than an umbrella, and I have never had a softbox before (closest I have is a brollybox).  I am interested in experimenting with softboxes, and this one is affordable enough.

What's stopping me: I don't think it will be easy to use this handheld, even with a monopod.

A fast prime (35 1.8, 50 1.8, or 85 1.8)
What I hope it will do for me: get a really shallow DOF, take low-light photos without flash (I anticipate I can't use flash when our second baby is born).

What's stopping me: 1.8 is only 1 1/3 stop wider than my 2.8, and in return I lose the versatility of the zoom.  I'm also torn between the utility of the 35mm but the shallow DOF of the 50mm and 85mm.  I'm also wondering whether or not the money is better saved toward my next object of desire:

Sigma 50-150 2.8 or Tokina 50-135 2.8 (discontinued)
I am drooling for a 70-200 2.8 for the range and the shallow DOF, but it's extremely expensive and it's impractically bulky for me.  Both of the above lenses are 1.5x-crop lenses with a range similar to the 70-200 on a full frame camera, are far more compact, and far more affordable -- in short, a much more practical alternative to the 70-200.
What I hope it will do for me: get a really shallow DOF, get candid photos of our kid from afar.

What's stopping me: it's definitely much more affordable than a 70-200 but it isn't cheap (at least not for me).  I'm also wondering how easy it will be to use it without optical stabilization.  The last time I had a lens with a similar reach, I was using a camera with built-in stabilization, the Pentax K100D.

AlienBees B1600.
What I hope it will do for me: best bang for the buck for sheer power.  Can be used to get soft light (with a modifier) while overpowering the sun.

What's stopping me: it's only useful for setup shots.  No way I'm going to haul it around on vacations, even with a Vagabond II power supply.

For now, I think the bottleneck in the quality of my images is my technique, not my equipment.  I'm therefore going to force myself to learn my equipment better before adding equipment.


  1. Hi Mic,

    I have found your blog a while ago (don't remember what I was searching for) and have subscribed since then, I really like "consumer" advice and DIY blogs like yours.

    If you would allow me, I have some advice to offer here.

    I have started lighting exactly like you ( and watched his lighting DVD and this really opened my eyes to the off-camera lighting, I invested in two flashes (Canon 580EX & 430EX), two studio flashes, several umbrellas, a soft box, a light stand and several other DIY modifiers.

    And I have to say I got some really pleasing results for SETUP/STUDIO TYPE/PRODUCT shots, all thanks mainly to David Hobby. However whenever I tried to shoot my 2 year old daughter, she was too fast for having a setup umbrella or fixed power settings on the strobes, you had to be really fast and dynamic, that meant using TTL flash, so I started bouncing off the ceiling and got pretty ok results, not dramatic but ok.

    A while ago, I found another real eye opener, the amazing wedding photographer Neil VN
    He is a wedding photographer who has to work fast and doesn't have the benefit of setting up lights and power and stuff, he works on his feet and gets some extremely fine photos, I started reading the posts on his blog, and let me tell you, right now I can get my camera with the flash on top of it and very quickly have some professional quality looking shots of my daughter.

    Here are a couple of links from his blog, I advice you to read as much of his posts as you can before you try, and don't forget to read ALL of the comments since they are very useful.

    Of course this doesn't render the strobist dead, on the contrary, there are situations where a studio setup is required, so good luck with that. You can also check this blog, probably you know him as the one light guy, I really like his photos much more than David's.

    Good luck and tell me how it went.

  2. Regarding this post which I actually forgot to comment on, here are my recommendations (of course that is my humble opinion):

    - Presslite Vertex
    For indoor use, it can be substituted by the black foamie thing I sent in my previous comment, believe me, you can't imagine how good photos can look when you take the advices of a "flash using" successful wedding photographer.

    - SaxonPC grids
    You can get them for setup shots, or you can make them using black straws which I also didn't find, but got normal straws and painted them black, it works a treat.

    - Cowboystudio 24" Softbox
    For me (since I'm not a paid photographer), having both a reflective and a shoot-through umbrella is much more flexible, and even the umbrella can be hand held without a monopod.

    - A fast prime (35 1.8, 50 1.8, or 85 1.8)
    By all means get the cheapest one (for Canon, that's the 50mm f/1.8), I assume it's the same for Nikon, it's really light weight, fast (1.8) and 1 and 1/3 stops is much, you can simply blow a background 50 cm behind your subject out of focus, but the bokeh on this lens in not really nice.
    I also think the 50mm is the optimum length since it translates to around 80mm on crop sensors, which is a good portrait length and just enough for indoor use.

    - Sigma 50-150 2.8 or Tokina 50-135 2.8
    Nothing special here other than you should get an image stabilised lens, it makes a lot of difference, if you're going from a 5.6 lens to a 2.8 that's a couple of stops faster, while IS or VR gives between 3 and 4 stops of stability (true in my case), thus I don't see enough of a reason to get the expensive and heavy 2.8 zoom lenses.
    As for the shallow DoF, my cheap Canon EF-S 55-250 IS 4/5.6 lens DoF @ 200mm is a mere 5cm, or 3cm @ 250mm, and it also produces a much nicer bokeh than the 50mm f/1.8.

  3. Hi mshafik! Thank you for your generous and very helpful advice. It's funny you should mention David Hobby and Neil van Niekerk - those are exactly the two photographers from whom I've learned the most. I'm a big fan of both of them for the precise reasons you've pointed out.

    Like you I found Strobist first when I started to learn about lighting. However my first impression of Strobist was that it was highly technical, and I found the lighting jargon difficult to understand. The first Strobist blog post I read was this one about a knight's armor:, and wondering what the heck is this guy worried about shooting this armor? :))

    I then learned about Neil's flash tutorials and his blog. Like you, I found his advice very useful for family photos, and I credit him for the first leap in my shots. You can chuckle at how I stumbled my way (and continue to do so):

    Later on, I wanted to try something different from the soft look of Neil's bounce techniques, and re-discovered Strobist. Since then, I still haven't yet honed my skills in setup shots (and by the looks of it, perhaps my photography in general! :)) ) but I've been using a mix of David Hobby's and Neil van Neikerk's techniques - I use the flash off-camera almost 100% of the time, sometimes bouncing it, sometimes using it with a handheld umbrella (just like you suggested), and sometimes using it bare. I've got a looong way to go though.

    And yes, I'm a fan of Zack Arias too. IIRC, he used to have a forum (maybe still does?), but in my view it seemed to be focused on participants of his workshops, so I didn't follow it. But then I recently found out that he has been blogging just like David and Neil, and I have since followed his blog very closely.

    Thanks for sharing those immensely helpful resources!

    Thank you also for your advice on each of the things I mentioned in my wish list. I had been wondering whether I could get the 55-200 VR or 70-300 VR, because I had heard good things about the quality of their bokeh compared to the 50 1.8. However, bokeh quality is something I still have to learn about - discerning what's considered 'good' and 'bad.' It's easy enough in extreme cases like a reflex lens vs. something like the Pentax 50 1.4 I used to have, but in the middle I have more difficulty comparing them.

    Thanks again, mshafik.

  4. Hello
    About AB 1600 , they are great to over power the sun ….unfortunately you’ll have problems if you wan to use the indor…too powerful….so you may need to buy ND filters and dial your ISO at 100
    I did the mistake to buy fist strobes ,and soft boxes ….they are great but why not use use umbrellas and flashes ? Portability is a great advantage
    You didn’t mention another YN 560…why not?
    Do you have triggers: RF 602 by example ?

    I love the idea about the ring flash …in the same time have you tried this technique ?!

  5. Thanks Robert_Pat, for those great suggestions. If I were to get an AB1600 it would be for setup shots outdoors. That's my fantasy at least :) Umbrellas and flashes are ok for me. I have been able to use a handheld umbrella outdoors. However, I feel a hotshoe flash doesn't have the power for very large modifiers (drooling at 84" PLM) outdoors. Maybe I'm wrong... I don't have a large modifier to know for sure :))

    Another YN-560 would be great. I still like my unit. Another YN-560 would be on my list too, but I think right now with 2 flashes, I have more than enough to keep me busy. When I get more sophisticated with setups, I'll probably need more and I'll either use that (for manual setups) or get an SB-600 (for CLS AWL convenience).

    The RF-602 is a great idea. Until today I found optical triggering to be good enough for me. But I was really pushing optical triggering to the limits today (I'll post about it soon). A radio trigger would have been useful, so I think an RF-602 may be a good purchase in the near future as well.

    Thanks for reminding me about the cheap on-axis fill Strobist article. For me, the popup flash is close enough to the axis, and powerful enough for fill. However, I do want to experiment with that technique - haven't done so yet. :p

  6. Hmm the new 55-300 vr looks tempting.


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