Joe McNally Explains TTL

Joe McNally is not your average Joe. With a career spanning over 30 years and including assignments in more than 50 countries, Joe McNally has shot everything everywhere in every thinkable sort of way. In addition to being an exceptionally experienced photographer, Joe is also known for his remarkable ability to share that knowledge. In this video he explains what TTL is and how to use it to improve your photography. Here is how it works, in Joe’s own words.

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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


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