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Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM – Detail, Image Quality and Sharpness Test. Sample Images Included.

The Sigma 70-200 is an amazing lens, but just how amazing?

Just recently I read a lens review where the person writing the review said, “Sharpness is not something I normally notice on a lens.” To this point all I can say is, wait, what?

How can any photographer, specifically one who is writing a review of a lens, not notice how sharp a lens is? Maybe I’m wrong, but when shopping for a new lens, isn’t the sharpness of a lens just as important as it’s focal length?

For this review, I am talking specifically about the sharpness. Even more specifically, the sharpness at it’s widest aperture setting of f/2.8. I am also testing it’s sharpness with OS (optical stabilization) both on and off.

First, let’s take a look at a real world application for a lens like the 70-200 — A wedding. Weddings are a great test bed because you need a lens that can give you a sharp, great looking image in conditions you often can’t plan for. A common rule when shooting with a telephoto lens is to have your shutter speed match, if not exceed the focal length of your lens. So, if shooting at 200mm, you’d ideally have a shutter speed around 1/250. A rule like this is easy to follow if you can plan for the situation you’re shooting in, but when working a fast paced job, like a wedding, you may not always be able to comply with a rule like this. That’s why a lens with optical stabilization (also known as IS, or VC) can be so important.

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Here are two sample images illustrating the sharpness of the Sigma 70-200 with OS on.  This first sample is an uncropped photo, straight from the camera. Even at this size, not zoomed in, it’s apparent how clean the details are. It’s even more amazing when you consider this image was shot at 1/80th of a second, zoomed in at 200mm. That’s way below the threshold for steady, clean shooting. Shooting a lens at this speed, at this focal length would normally mean your photos would suffer from a bad case of the jitters.

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Now let’s zoom in and look at some detail from this photo with stabilization turned on. You can easily see just how amazing this lens is. The details, like the lines around the eyes, and the eyelashes, are damn near perfectly sharp. And don’t forget, this is wide open at f/2.8. Historically a lens’ widest aperture setting is not where it performs at its best in terms of sharpness, but here we can see the Sigma performing astonishingly well.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

So, we’ve shown that the Sigma’s sharpness with OS enabled is amazing, but does that mean it’ll function equally well when you have enough light to shoot without OS? Let’s find out!

In this first image, we can see that our subject (the bird) is acceptably sharp at f/2.8.  For reference, the focus point was placed over the bird’s eye, just as it was for our subject in the wedding photo above.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

Here I’ve cropped the image in the way I would do it if I were sharing this photo on social media, or a photo-sharing site.

This may not be an extreme crop, but even at this modest size we can see the details are being maintained in stunning fashion.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

This is an extreme crop. In fact, I am zooming in around 25% further than the photo’s max native resolution.

It’s here, at this extreme zoom, that we see just how awesome the Sigma’s sharpness really is. The fidelity of the Sigma 70-200mm lens means you can scale your photos a bit beyond 100% and still retain respectable sharpness. In practical terms, this means higher quality prints at larger sizes, and the ability to really dig into your photos to create a better composition in post.

One last thought on image quality concerns color fringing. I’ve read elsewhere that Canon lenses tend to fringe with a magenta tint, and Sigmas tend to fringe with a greenish tint. That green fringe is evident here. I can also say through experience that the amount of color fringing on the Sigma is less than it is on my Canon lenses. This only applies to the Canon lenses I own, and the amount of difference in fringing varies from lens to lens.

So, here’s where I, the reviewer, try to summarize my thoughts on the subject. Before I do that, however, let me just address one argument that many photographers have made since the beginning of time. That is, simply, that you should never waste money on a non-brand lens.

When I first used this lens 2 weeks ago, it only took a few hours before someone said, “That’s not a Canon lens, but hey, it’s cheaper, right?”

“Cheaper, and perhaps better.”, I replied. The guy who made the comment looked shocked. I’m sure he either felt I was a first year newb photographer, or that I was just crazy. But, when I turned the camera around and showed him some of the photos I was taking he simply nodded, shut his mouth and sat down in his chair. Why? Because the proof is in the pudding; you can’t dispute results.

I’ve owned a 70-200 Canon lens for over 6 years and I’ve loved it every time I’ve used it. The cold, hard truth however, is that this Sigma is better. Oh yea, it’s cheaper too.

Cheap Gear: Light Modifiers from Neewer.

More great, cheap gear

Today’s cheap gear update is on two light modifiers from a company called Neewer. Neweer is a company similar to CowBoy Studios in that they make cheap, knock-off photography equipment. Because it’s cheap, not everything you buy from them is going to be worth it in the long run, but there are some gems hiding in their catalog that are worth picking up.

The first is a strip box with grid: NEEWER® Softbox with Grid Mount 35X160 cm / 13.8″ X 63″ Beehive for Flash, Speedlight (NOTE: The photo on the amazon page is very deceptive – It’s not a wide softbox, as depicted in the image, but rather a very long and narrow strip box.)

I bought this strip light so I could have a light weight solution for when I am using my speedlites. Again, you never know what you’re going to get for about $40 but I figured it was worth the gamble. As it turns out, it was. Actually, I have been pleasantly surprised by the build quality of this strip light. It’s built just about as solid as my much more expensive studio soft boxes and has a couple cool extra features that I wasn’t expecting. First, it has a secondary, interior light diffuser. Most cheap softboxes do NOT have an interior diffuser. Secondly, it has two little port holes that Velcro shut on either side of the strip light so you can reach in and apply things like gels to your light quickly without having to disassemble half of your rigging.

The only tricky part is that you’ll need to buy a special bowens mount to get this thing to work with your speedlite. I bought the Neewer S-Type Bracket Holder with Bowens Mount for Speedlites. Again, I wasn’t expecting much, but in all honesty, this is a pretty bad ass mount. It has one feature that I think is really cool – the speedlite clamps into the mount, rather than cold shoeing in. That may sound silly, but trust me, it’s awesome. Because you clamp the head of your speedlite in, that means the base of your speedlite is free to rotate around and face any direction. If you use optical TTL like I do, then you’ll immediately recognize the benefit of being about to twist your speedlite’s sensor around to face you. For the record, I ordered 2 of these.

The last item is another softbox, the NEEWER® Softbox with Grid Bowens Mount 70X100 cm / 27.5″ X 39.4″ with grid. When I do two light setups (which I love doing) I like to have a striplight for dramatic lighting and a larger, equirectangular softbox for more traditional light coverage. Either one of these lights can play the part of either key or fill light, it’s just up to you to figure out what’s needed for your shot. At $40 for this softbox, there’s no reason to pass it up.

All told, if you buy these two soft boxes and two mounts, you’re looking at a total of $120 and that’s dirt cheap. Especially when you consider how good these products are for the price you’re paying – You’re photog friends with poor budgeting skills will have paid several hundreds, if not a thousand dollars, for similar set ups.

 

 

My Favorite Light Modifier – the Westcott 7′ Umbrella

 

In my search for great, cheap gear, this is one is a must-have

Modifiers let photographers take their light and mess around, get creative. Small modifiers can give you a sharp, zappy light with strong contrast. Large modifiers can even out shadows, spilling light across a surface. Huge modifiers do the same, only they take that principle to the extreme! At 7 feet, this Westcott umbrella is about as big as you can get while still being manageable in the field.

Because it’s an umbrella, albeit a very large one, it folds up quickly and easily into a relatively small volume. That means you can throw it into the back of your small car, or take it with you into the field without having to deal with something more cumbersome like a metal framed light panel. Like most studio umbrellas, nearly all studio light or speedlite brackets will accommodate it nicely.

One thing that really surprised me with the Westcott is how well it works with a single speedlite. You’d expect something 7 feet across to eat up the light from a tiny flash unit, but that’s not the case. A single 430ex II speedlite is more than capable of working with this gigantic modifier with great results. I’d suggest using at least two speedlites to help preserve battery life, but in a pinch 1 speedlite will work flawlessly.

I used this light this past weekend while photographing my step-daughter’s wedding. I only had 5 minutes to get the shot and that included light step up, composition, and posing. Because I only had one light I used a technique where you take several photos of the scene, moving the light around between each shutter release. Once you’re done you stitch the photos together, creating a photo that looks as though it was light with 4 or more giant modifiers.

Below is the final photo, beautifully lit thanks to the Westcott 7′ White Umbrella

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Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM Image Samples, Quick review

 

the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 from lensrentals has arrived. Here are some sample images

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8

I was very excited to have this lens arrive. I am renting it specifically for a job I have coming up over the next week that requires a lot of hand-held photography and the Optical Stabilization offered by the Sigma is the chief reason why I choose to rent this particular lens.

Image Quality was also important and all of the reviews I read online indicated that this lens would be a great choice. Below are a few sample images I took with the Sigma while walking through the yard. All photos were taken with the aperture wide open at f/2.8.


 

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial portrait and advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area

Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens

Here are some images using the $150 Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 lens. It’s not the world’s best lens by far, but it has some very cool niche uses — specifically, if you don’t want to spent more than $150.

These images are all shot at 300mm, f/5.6, on a 5d Mark II. All images were processed in Lightroom with a sharpness of 50.

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Old Favorites and Cheap Gear

Image from Canon's website

The f/4.0 has never done me wrong.
Image from Canon’s website

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a die-hard fan of the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0. Why? Well, it’s image quality is superb and it’s dirt cheap by comparison. As for the f/4.0’s speed, it’s not that big of a deal if you’re shooting in the studio or using lights of any sort. Sure, it’s not the best action lens out there, an f/2.8 would be better suited for that, but even that’s debatable. If you look up “action shot” on flickr, you’ll quickly notice that almost none of the best photos are taken anywhere near f/2.8 – they are often in the realm f/8 and above. So, again, why spend more for an f/2.8 when you can probably do 99.5% of the photos you want to take at f/4?

Well the time has come for me to try something new. No, I am not going to relinquish my love for the f/4 and trade-up to the 2.8, but I did have an opportunity come in that will allow me to try a 70-200mm f/2.8 from LensRentals for a week. More specifically, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM.

That’s a lot of abbreviations in that product name, but there is one in particular I am really interested in. The “OS”, which stands for Optical Stabilization. The reason for all this is because I’ll be spending a lot of time zoomed all the way out to 200mm and I’ll be hand holding the camera the whole time. I don’t plan to be shooting much at f/2.8, but since I’ll have the chance to do so, you can bet that I’ll do some comparison shots between the Sigma at 2.8 and my trusty Canon at 4.0. Be on the look out for that review!

Secondly, I promised a month or so ago to share some information about being a professional photographer with cheap gear. I’ve always argued that your camera will be the most expensive piece of gear that you’ll own, but does the rest of your gear need to be expensive too?

Well, here is a look at some purchases I’ve made over the past few months and a quick grade on their quality.

Product
(Name of Product)
BlackRapid RSD-1BB Double
Aputure Trigmaster Plus II
Neewer S-Type Flash Bracket
Leaper Multi-functional Canvas Camera Backpack
CowboyStudio Umbrella Mount Bracket with Swivel/Tilt Bracket
ePhoto H6704 Triple Hotshoe Mount
Fotodiox 5 Feetx7 Feet Collapsible Soft Diffuser
XCSource Complete Square Filter Kit
Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens
Price
(How Much it Costs)
$139
$60
$20
$60
$14
$29
$58
$24
$150
Grade
(Is it good?)
A+
A
B-
A-
A
B-
A+
B+
C+

And, uh, just disregard those buttons here at the bottom of the table – I am using a free table plug in and apparently, it has buttons.

The grades are based on one simple principle; Does the product work as I’d expect it to? As you can see, most of these ‘cheap’ alternatives are scoring a B or above, with a couple A+ grades in there. The one exception is the Tamron AF 70-300mm which I bought to use for some experimental photographs. For $150 bux, you get exactly what you’d expect. It’s a good lens for starters, and works pretty well in a very tight studio environment, but other than that it’s not a lens that should be anywhere on your Must Buy list.

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Benjamin Lehman Takes Daily Top Honors on Flickr

The best photos happen in the worst weather

Or so famous wildlife and landscape photographer, Moose Peterson, says. And ya know what? I think he’s right. It’s certainly be kind to me. Some of my best photos have been taken under adverse weather conditions.

When the weather got bad this past week, I headed out my front door with camera in hand and took a few pictures and it paid off again. One of the photos I took received Flickr’s Explore (their version of Editor’s Choice) recognition. It’s always an honor to be highlighted on a major photography site, humbling as well.

Here are some more photos taken that day under the stormy skies.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Northeast Ohio, Canton area.

Polar Bear Jump in Akron, Ohio. Photography in a Blizzard.

The weather forecast was calling for 3-6 inches of snow, the temp hovering around 33 degrees. If you’ve ever lived on the east coast, then you know it can snow even when the temp is above freezing and this can cause you a few problems.

How to Survive Bad Weather as a Photographer

Whether it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit , or -10 below, the problems dealing with the cold are pretty much the same; staying warm is your first-most priority. The second priority is staying dry if possible. Anything below 20 degrees and this is relatively easy. The colder the air temperature, the less likelihood the snow will melt upon landing on you and your equipment.

But when temperatures get above 20, especially above 32 degrees, snow can melt on contact and ultimately effect your clothes and equipment in the same way as if you were standing in a rain storm. For the event, we would be standing on the ice, over a frozen lake, right in the middle of the action and subsequently, the weather. I took this into account and set up several shoot-through umbrellas attached to light stands to act as actual umbrellas, keeping the snow off of my speedlites and giving me a dry place to stand. When I had to change location to get a better vantage point for a photo, I would take my photo and then retreat under the umbrella and dab-dry my camera with a soft towel. This meant my camera gear was never in any real danger from water damage.

Another issue with shooting in a blizzard is visibility. I had brought my speedlites so I could stop the action in midair, just as these poor folks were about to take the plunge, as well as to help equalize the exposure between the subject and the near-pure white background. Problem is, when the snow is coming down heavily and you shoot with a flash, all you’ll see is the reflected light bouncing off the snow in the air, ultimately overexposing your photo. Because of this I had to work in two modes. One mode was in shutter priority with no flash. I never use shutter priority, like never ever. But here, where I need around 1/600 of a second to get a crisp action shot, using Shutter Priority was the best bet. For this scenario I also had my ISO bumped up to 800 and my aperture around f/11 (+/- a few stops depending on the changing light).

When the snow would let up a little, I would turn back to using my speedlites. I was using multiple speedlites to help spread the load so as not to overtax the batteries.  The lights were TTL, unmodified, zoomed out to their max. When using the lights my camera was set at 1/200 of a second, around f/8 and an ISO of 100. 1/200 of a second works here because the flash is stopping the action, rather than raw shutter speed. You could also have used Highspeed Sync in this case, but the burden on your flashes would mean long recycle times and possible missed photo opportunities due to that recycle time.

The was coming down so thick at times it was hard to even stop and look at my LCD screen to see how we were doing with the photos. The snow and water made everything on the back of the LCD blurry and I just had to trust in my own knowledge and the TTL system.

I was very happy to see that the 5D Mark III’s auto focus system handled the heavy snow amazingly well. There were a few hiccups where it would focus on  an area of falling snow, rather than the intended subject, but for the most part it cut through the white stuff and found the target nearly all of the time.

We spent 4 hours on the ice, in the driving snow, in the freezing cold and, to be honest, I started to envy the jumpers who only had to spend 10 seconds in the 33 degree water before being whisked off to a heated tent. But the experience was fantastic. I actually like being in the snow, and there, in the middle of this expansive frozen lake, I found the setting very beautiful.

It should be mentioned that it was because of my great friends at the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank that I got the opportunity to come and take photos of this thrilling (chilling?) event. I strongly ask you to support ACRBD and other Food Banks by donating food, time, and money. It’s a great cause!

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait, Event and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Photographer Gear – Expensive versus Cheap, Good versus Bad

Don’t be fooled. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to be a good photographer. Every day, the world produces some amazing photographs. Some of them are made in studios, by people wielding tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and some of them are made by people with nothing more than a cheap, mid-ranged camera. Certain styles of photography call for varying amounts of gear. I mean, you can’t be a flash photographer without at least one flash, right? But does that flash need to cost $3,000 or more?

The Price Game: How much do you need to spend on photography?

My goal in the next year is to make a series of videos showing the gear I use. Some of it’s expensive, some of it’s cheap as dirt. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that expensive doesn’t always mean it’s good, and conversely, cheap doesn’t mean bad. There are times, however, where an extra few bucks among comparable products can mean a world of difference. So, which items are worth the money and which aren’t? Well, just stay tuned over the next few months and we’ll find out!

 

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