Friday, 28 April 2017

A Question of Perception. (Part One)

Equipment Acquisition Syndrome and The Cure.

Lock any group of photographers into a room, sooner or later...........

Today's event photographer carries alot of kit and from day one, we have to make many choices. Nikon vs Canon. Full Frame vs  Crop Sensor. OEM vs Third Party and now Mirror vs Mirrorless.  The list goes on and on and the spending NEVER STOPS! We are in a constant state of perpetual motion when it comes to equipment and keeping up with the rapid development of technology is no easy feat. Alas I think the time has come when we have to take a step back and view the whole picture because the state of photography NOW is, worrying to say the least......The days of keeping a camera for 14 years have long gone.

I'm don't BETA TEST

Now this has been bugging me for a quite while and I thought that it was high time I dealt with it, having received several questions questioning some of the  personal choices I've made (in terms of the equipment that I currently use) but before I begin to delve into the contents of my various kit bags, let me reiterate something, a cardinal rule that I have lived by all of my professional life.  I DON"T DO BETA TESTING. I have never been in a position where my equipment has been brought for me. I've always had to cough up the money myself. Bitter experience has taught me that jumping feet first into a new and untested technology can be both emotionally draining and financially crippling. I now can't think of my time with either the Nikon D1 or the Canon 5Dmk2 without feeling sick. I've made other less notable mistakes (the early Sigma lenses and the Bowens Pulsar  Wireless Transmitters to name but a few) which were inspired more by my desire to  save money, than to be the first in the queue but these too came with a sting in the tail. The fact also remains that too many products come to market without first being given a proper good old fashioned "shake down" and the customer is the one left with the task of discovering and ironing out the bugs. Nikon and Canon are the major culprits, unlike Fuji who have taken real time/real world ongoing developments of their products to a whole new level of customer service (but more on this later).

The Nikon D1. The singular worse experience that I've ever had with a brand new camera..

This means that in most cases I don't buy brand new, newly released equipment. I watch and wait for others with more money that sense to first jump into those shark infested waters and only after they have emerged intact, do I venture to dip my pinky toe. It's spineless, I know but it's also rock solid safe. My aim is clear, I only use equipment that WORKS. Everything else is surplus to requirements, so if it doesn't work or can't work, it goes. This is precisely why I've kept and used my ancient Lumedyne equipment for so long (almost 14 years) because it took that long for the competition to catch up. Only now with the new generation of standalone wireless studio heads from the likes of Profoto, Godox, iLux and Interfit, do I  feel comfortable and secure in thinking about trading up to something new but tested.  In short, my clients demand two things from me and the equipment that I use. The "best" and "that the best works". This is why I try and purchase the best quality glass that money can buy because that's essentially where the quality comes from. Alas, if only that was TRUE because of late, something else has crept into the mix, that of client perception.

This is my sport kit bag and it weights a tonne. 

For many years, photographers the world over have turned up at jobs  weighted down by the big heavy pro bodies and lenses of either  Nikon or Canon and it seems that this has left both an indelible impression upon not only our backs but also on the psyche of a far few of the general public who now equate a professional photographer almost exclusively to these two big brands.  Worse, it seems that without either our permission or knowledge the pro photographer  has become part of the entertainment industry, who turns up at events merely to play a role and the camera's and lenses have become nothing more than the props. This wasn't a problem when Canon and Nikon ruled the roost but today this is no longer the case, especially with the rise of the Mirrorless Digital Camera. Woe betide the photographer who doesn't look the part on a paying gig and THAT"S MY PROBLEM because in many ways I already don't look the part, being a big black male with a large personality.

Currently I use two systems, Canon and Fuji. I've been with Canon for all of my professional life and for the most part, they have served me well (with the exception of low light work, where even today they lag behind Nikon). Only in the last two years have I dabbled with the Fuji X system, especially with the X-Pro1. My Canon kit (excluding the kit that I will be shipping to South Africa) consists of four bodies (all with grips), seven lenses (ranging from 17mm all the way to 300mm and longer if I include my two  1.5 converters) and three flashguns. All this is then divided between two kit bags, one to cover sport and the other for events, corporate and editorial work. Both weight a tonne. Now unfortunately time waits for no man, especially a 53 year old who's body has seen better days. Most of the times I can just let me Land Cruiser do the heavy lifting, but there are occasions when it's just easier (and cheaper, parking in London has become a nightmare) for me to just jump on the tube if I've got a job in town. This works great except for the part where I have to do ALL the leg work and the whole business of manually hauling my equipment from A2B becomes a back breaking chore.  Alas I have NEVER been questioned by any client about my Canon's. Not once! The subject has never come up! Once I'm properly attired and turned into a walking billboard for all things Canon, that's it and I'm left alone to get on with the job and suitably meet my clients perceptions of what a professional photographer, should be..........

Fuji X. The New Kid on the Block......

Small, light and very discreet. Everything my Canons are NOT!

Thing is, I can't pull the same trick with my Fuji X-Pro 1 (or any Fuji for that matter). Fuji bodies and lenses are smaller and lighter compared to their bigger Nikon and Canon counterparts and when I mean smaller and lighter, I'm not kidding, your back will immediately know the difference and thank you for it. Currently my Fuji kit consist of two bodies (one borrowed), three lenses and two flashguns and basically mirrors my Canon kit bag that I bring along to cover events and all of it can be carried in a small messenger style bag and slung across my shoulder for all day working in comfort instead of pain.

I could walk into any venue and nobody would know that I was a photographer.

Initially I only brought it to replace my old and trusty Canon G7 compact camera to cover personal as opposed to professional assignments but quickly found I was using it more and more to shoot everything.  My X-Pro 1 became my "goto" camera, until it started drawing some very unwelcome attention from the very people who were signing off on my invoices. In short, the moment I pulled out my Fuji, they thought I was taking the piss. They simply could not equate my Fuji camera as playing any part in my perceived "role" as a professional photographer, irrespective of the fact that the files coming out of the camera were in many cases equal to and better than those coming out of my Canon 5Dmk3. On one notable occasion the PR lady involved wanted me to go home and get changed. Lucky for me,  my Canon kit was in the car, parked in the company car park but it was a lesson learned. Until the people who hire me, educate themselves on precisely what a professional photographer does and how we do it then this kind of foolishness will never end. And this is why I won't be parting company with my Canons anytime soon.

The other "problem" that I have with some PR people is when they ask me to be discreet, while it is obvious for ALL to see that I'm loaded down the four tonnes on iron around my neck. Canon and Nikon Pro Bodies and lenses are by their very nature NOT meant to be  discreet. And yet when I turn up at a job with a camera which is nigh on invisible, I still get it in the neck. Truth be told, I just plain hate PR people.  

This is typical of the quality that you can get out of a Fuji X-Pro1.......

In short I love working with ALL of the camera's that I use and I should do because I've spent a lot of time and money acquiring it and making sure it's fit for purpose but between my Canon and Fuji, I love my Fuji more for the simple reason that I don't have to visit a chiropractor each and every time I pick up the camera. That and FujiFilm's  constant development of their products via firmware updates even after years on the market, something they call their

Philosophy of Kaizen

is something that money can't buy.


Monday, 6 February 2017

Waste Not, Want Not!

About year ago I decided to simplify my off camera flash setup with my X-Pro1 and just go ole skool manual and do away with TTL remote control of my Shanny SN600c speedlights, after realizing that I couldn't hot swap them between Fuji and Canon systems. To save money I decided to see what I could cobble together from the recycle bin of old (and not so old) manual flashguns, which included a pair of Yongnuo YN560mk2 speedlights that I had purchased by mistake but couldn't be bothered to return and had sat unloved in the office, gathering dust, along with an old Jessop's  Canon ETTL flashgun I had inherited from a friend. These were to join my one and only dedicated Fuji X flashgun in my kitbag, the small and under powered Nissin i40. (More about the i40 later). This is all part of my push to do more on-site corporate head shots using less bulky equipment but maintaining the same high production values that I was getting with my Canon 5Dmark3 and 580ex mk2 flashguns.

The Holy Trinity of Off Camera Flash

Ghost of Yongnuo's Past

My original plan was to buy a set of Yongnuo RF 605c radio slaves, after I had seen them being used by Matt Widgery in his studio but then I came across a great deal on Ebay of someone selling a pair Yongnuo RF 603rx (for Canon) receivers and a single RF600tx transmitter for the bargain price of £20.00 all in. This meant that I could remotely radio trigger both of my flashguns instead of just one and before I knew it a small package was delivered to my door. Everything was going according to plan until, I set everything up and nothing worked. I ended up spending the best part of a weekend, changing (and charging) batteries and messing around with the channel switches but nothing worked. A quick e-mail to the seller resulted in a full refund but when I said I'd return the gear, the seller said that I might as well bin them and save everyone the trouble. Now, having been raised on a council estate, I'm reluctant to throw anything away and so I just threw the remotes in the back of my office draw and (kind of) forgot about them. A couple days later a brand new pair of Yongnuo RF 605c turns up at the door and moments after their delivery I was in OCF heaven with my radio slaves seamlessly triggering my flash. Alas this setup meant that I could only trigger ONE of four strobes, via a radio slave with the remaining lights being triggered optically or via the RF605's hotshoe sat on top of the camera. This worked great indoors but the moment I stepped outside it just fell apart (especially if I was shooting against the sun) where the optical slaves wouldn't trigger even they were in line of sight of the master flash and this inevitably brought me back to the two RF603's languishing in the draw. What could be done?

I had seen various "hacks" for the 603 on YouTube and a quick call to John "Mr Magic" Wright confirmed that my non functioning triggers could indeed be brought back to life, but it was all gonna take time and be rather messy in the making and given the time and trouble involved, the entire venture just didn't seemed to be worth it. So back in the draw they went......

Then something strange happened. While tidying up the main bedroom, ready for any Christmas visitors, I came across the original packaging for the Yongnuo 605's and decided to open up the box and READ THE MANUAL inside. It struck me straight away. Page one, opening line:

Read the manual

"RF-602/RF-603 communications mode RF605=RF602+RF603"

And immediately I thought, "OMG,  I've made a booboo!"

Five minutes later, the 603's were dug out of retirement and loaded up with fresh batteries and a RF605 set in "RF603 mode". Bingo, the Yongnuo YN560 strobe sat in the hotshoe of the 603rx fired without complaint. So just by reading the FIRST page of the manual I was able to turn one radio triggered flashgun into three (with a fourth gun in the hotshoe of the master 605tx sat on top of the camera) and all without  John having to perform open heart surgery on the 603's. So now I've successfully recycled all of my legacy speedlights and can radio trigger all of them Result!

The Nissin i40 and the little Magic Button.

Lord only knows why Nissin chose to hide the HSS function on their i40 speedlight but it is there....
At the time I picked up my Fuji X-Pro1 from Donal at Fixation, the Nissin i40 speedlight was the ONLY Fuji XF dedicated speedlight worth swat! It was also the perfect form factor for the X-series of mirrorless digital camera's, being small and nifty, with an almost industrial strength build quality. Alas all good things come at a price and in the case of the i40 that meant a major lack of power and a rather low Guide Number of 40 compared to my usual Canon/Yongnuo workhorses of 58. So what you've really got with this little Nissin is more of a fill-in  daylight speed-light than a main light. Using this flashgun as your sole source of illumination is a very bad idea, you either have to back it up with the sun or another speedlight, in my case the Yongnuo YN560mk2. Paired together this works really well in most circumstances but there is one hidden trick that the i40 has that make this flashgun a must-have for all Fuji  X lovers. You wouldn't know it but the tiny tweeny "Pilot/Test Button" located on the rear of the flashgun also doubles as the High Speed Sync button. Press and hold this button for more than four seconds and all of a sudden your flash sync speed moves from a pitiful 1/160th sec to a blistering 1/4000th sec. This then opens up a whole can of possibilities especially if you're looking (like me) to make nice head & shoulder portraits with flash balanced against the sun and your lens wide open for that tell tale narrow depth of field, out of focus background but to overpower the sun you need power and that's the one thing the i40 hasn't got! So what I needed to find out was could I get my non HSS manual Yongnuo YN560 speedlight to successfully sync with my hidden HSS Nissin i40 via the Yongnuo 603 and 605RF radio slaves. It took me and my neighbour Emin, less than 30 minutes to find the answer.

Fuji XF 60mm @F2.5,1/250th sec 100ASA
The above photo of my mate Emin was shot in his back garden and the resulting jpeg came out of the X-Pro 1 as is, untouched. A Nissin i40 set in HSS mode was fired on camera via a Yongnuo 605RF radio slave (in 603 mode). A secondary Yongnuo YN560mk2 was placed on a lighting stand and shot through a shoot through brolly via a Yongnuo 603 radio slave, subject left. The sun was the backlight, over the right shoulder. Both the 560 and the manual was in i40 was in manual mode.

I'm gonna do a bit more testing with this but I'm very encouraged with the results so far. For some unknown reason the more powerful but none HSS Yongnuo 560mk2 is syncing perfectly with the naturally aspirated HSS enabled Nissin i40 via the Yongnuo radio slaves (admittedly only at 1/250th). We repeated the same shot with the HSS turned off and it didn't sync. Also note, that the Fuji XF 60mm macro is pin sharp wide open........Come on Matt, when are you and your XF56mm gonna come out to play?