Video Review for the Godox AD300 Pro / Flashpoint XPLOR 300 Pro
A SLING BAG THAT DELIVERS
There are a lot of reviews out there where the writer is giving you their opinion after 24 hours of use. Very rarely have I fell in or out of love with a piece of equipment within a day. I like to put a few cycles on my fear before I give it the thumbs up or down. That’s what I did with this new camera toting thing – the CADeN Camera Bag Sling Backpack. First off, don’t ask me why the “e” in CADeN is lowercase, I’ve got no idea. Also, don’t ask me who CADeN even is, cause as far as camera accessory brand names go, this is a new one to me. What I can tell you is that I love a deal, especially when that deal also fills a need.
True story: Recently I was looking for my old sling bag. I searched every nook and cranny of my house and studio. After a few days would pass, I would find myself searching again. Sadly, I never did find that bag. That is until I went on a photo-walk with a friend of mine, saw him using said bag, and then suddenly remembering that I had given it to him. Long story short, I was now officially in the market for a new sling bag! So I headed to my local camera store which goes by the name of AMAZON.COM and did some asking about. What I found was a camera sling bag with 4.5ish stars that came in around $32 dollars. That’s cheap, I think I’ll take it! Oh, hey, bonus, I also have some rewards on my credit card so now this thing is basically free!
What could go wrong with a free camera bag? Well, if you’ve ever bought a camera that comes with one of those free-added-bonus-everything-you’ll-ever-need-as-a-new-photographer deals, then you’ve probably ended up with at least one free bag (and some memory cards, and lens wipes, tripod, filters, etc…) And, to be honest, those free bags are kinda meh…
Sure, they are often made by big names like Case Logic, but they are the some of the least exciting, unusable, camera bags anyone could ever ask for. I have 4 of them, all of them free, all part of promotions, and to this day they’ve never been used to carry a camera. Instead, they are relegated to holding cords, filters, lights. They are useful in some regards, just not as a bag that holds a camera.
This sling bag from CADeN however is, well, surprisingly good. Shockingly good, actually. I mean, I actually kinda love this bag. I think I enjoy it so much cause it does one thing and it does it really well; it holds my camera. Well, yeah, duh, but trust me, as I mentioned before, not all bags are created equal. The CADeN lets me tuck my EOS R with a 24-70mm and another lens into it’s triagular-ish shape. My camera lives under one zippered hatch, and your lens, or a flash or whatever else, lives on the side under another zipped hatch. The zippers have pull loops so you can open them easily with a tug, but you can also use the snap-clip on the top of the case to lock those loops in place, ensuring nothing opens and falls out while you’re hiking. I know this because I’ve spent the last two weeks in a lot of wildery places – hiking and climbing up rocks, cliffs and ledges and this bag has kept everything in place.
The bag also stays in place while you walk. If you’ve ever had a sling bag before then you’ll know that they tend to creep around your hips as you move. The CADeN will wander around your side a little, but no where near as much as similar bags that I’ve owned. Oh, and there are even straps on the bottom so you can lash a medium-light weight travel tripod to the bottom! Seriously, this is kind of a big deal as some large backpack camera bags don’t even have places to store your tripod!
What I want to stress again, though, is that I’ve used this thing almost every day for two weeks and it’s been a piece of gear that has made my work easier and thus better. I have huge bags and backpacks that I use when I have to take everything with me, but most of the time I don’t need the entire photo-closet on location. This little bag from CADeN has proven itself to me. If you’re in the market for a cheap bag, then maybe it’ll prove itself to you as well!
Benjamin Lehman is a professional Commercial, Advertising and Portrait Photographer located in North Eastern Ohio.
Photography used to be inhabited by some stodgy old fuddy duds...
You know the kind, the photographer with a stogie hangin’ from their mouths, toiling over whatever it is they are toiling over. Old curmudgeons, believing themselves to be keepers of some crazy old mystical art form. I know you’ve seen a few of these types – I know of at least a few within my own town who still fit this stereotype.
The thing is, I don’t get why photographers, even of an older ilk, aren’t more flexible when it comes to new developments in technology. I am not even talking about the 20-something, “Film is wayyyyyy better than digital”, crowd – I’ll save my thoughts on that subject for later – but rather I am talking about the folks who truly believe that advancements in tech pose a great threat to the tried-and-true ways of their method.
For me, tech has always been something to revered. Sure, it’s dangerous to get into a game of keeping-up-with-the-Jones, and it’s also easy to fall into common pitfalls such as, “Oh, if I buy this brand new, more expensive, camera my photos will instantly look better!” But if you are careful, and pace yourself, you can find some truly amazing pieces of hardware and software that can really elevate your photo-game.
One such piece of software is AuroraHDR 2018 by Skylum software. Not in the mood to read a long review? My one sentence synopsis for this software would be as follows; An HDR capable version of Lightroom without any of the catalog features.
Actually, I could probably just end this review there – that’s just how accurate I feel that statement is. Of course there are some finer nuances between to two programs, but just boot up Aurora and you can see that it borrows heavily from Lightroom’s Develop module.
Here you can see just how similar the two programs are. Well, it makes sense when you think about it. Lightroom didn’t invent the whole slider/adjust based interface, it just made it ubiquitous. Aurora is simply capitalizing on a design and layout we’re familiar with, and I am ok with that. So then, is Aurora a Lightroom clone under the hood as well? Definitely not. First off, it’s not replacing Lightroom for organizing your photos. AuroraHDR does none of that. In fact, the work flow for just opening and saving an image when using Aurora as a stand alone program is a little archaic. Luckily, Aurora integrates with Lightroom. So, instead, what you’ll be doing is opening the file in Lightroom, as always, and then exporting the file (or files – this is an HDR program after all) into Aurora. Once you are done merging and making adjustments you then can press the “apply” button, which actually saves this new file back into the Lightroom catalog – similar to how it works when you export a photo to edit in Photoshop and save it.
HDR FOR ALL
So, then, again… the question is, why buy? Well, it’s cheap – like 99 bucks. And for that barely sub-100 price tag you actually get some amazing tools within Aurora. First off, I should mention that I am not a big HDR shooter, (which seems weird for this review, but it’s cool, trust me), so I don’t spend a lot of time with bracketed images. But the few occasions where I have taken the time to take HDR photos I have found it hard to get reliable results from the programs I’ve used previously. Photoshop and Lightroom’s built in HDR plug-ins are, well, laughable. And the other big programs, like Photomatix, feel like they were designed by the same engineers that programmed them. Aurora feels so much like Lightroom’s develop module, however, that it’s intuitive to get in there and make some easy, but very in-depth, changes with barely a nudge of the slider. And subtlety is important here – as a friend once pointed out, there’s a fine line in HDR between amazing and clown-vomit. Aurora’s sliders work wonders even when you’re only pushing it at 5 ticks out of 100. If you’re feeling brave and start pushing those sliders further you’ll be happy to know the potential is still there to make some cataract inducing contrast explosions.
Before I get too long winded, my point here is this:
- Step 1: Load in your brackets
- Step 2: Use an interface full of tools and names you’re already familiar with
- Step 3: Profit – Case in Point, see below image:
WORKING WITH SINGLE IMAGES
What if you’re like me and you’re focus isn’t HDR photography? Well, as it turns out, Aurora has some great uses there as well. The most obvious reason may not actually be the most obvious. HDR programs are built to pull details out of shadows and highlights. AuroraHDR isn’t a miracle worker, it can’t pull clouds out of a sky that’s been over exposed beyond redemption, but it can tease out details from shadows and highlights in a more reliable manner than Lightroom can. For whatever reason, Aurora’s shadow and highlight compression algorithms seem to work really well for me. Maybe it’s the way I shoot, or whatever, but I get great results from it.
There has even been a few cases where I’ve gone back and re-developed older photos previously output with Lightroom. It’s hard for me to explain it, but I like to think of my photos in terms of stories and moods, and it’s almost like Lightroom and Aurora each have their own moods which they perform more optimally. Maybe it’s because of it’s nature as an HDR editing tool, but I find that Aurora is very good at helping me get the mood I am looking for in photos that were shot at sunset, or indoors in darker-than-normal conditions.
When I edit my photos, I am very much an entire tool kinda guy. I use sliders (all of the sliders), curves, buttons, masks, gradients – everything, and Aurora let’s me explore my inner slider-pusher while yielding great results. It also renders these results fast, although there are times where you feel like the image looks awfully pixelated, only to find out that you aren’t just seeing things, and that the render has, in fact, decided to blockify your view. This is easy to fix, as scrolling in and out will refresh the image, but it’s still a weird occurrence which reminds you that you are using a 2nd tier piece of software.
With that being said, I can promise you that I will be upgrading Aurora for the foreseeable future as I can’t imagine not having it in my arsenal of tools. Actually, I’ve rather fallen in love with this program and can’t wait to see what sort of new innovations may be in store for us!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Cleveland, Northeast Ohio area.
We just recently picked up the new Analog Film pack from Rocket Rooster…
…and I was really anxious to try it out. I’ve been using the VSCO film packs (mostly #4) for a long time now and I was very interested in seeing how Rocket’s film pack would stand up.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there is a huge difference in price between the RR and VSCO packs. At the time of writing this review VSCO has 7 packs available for purchase, each one costing $120. By contrast RR has only one pack costing $35. If that seems like a bargain, then consider that you can by RR’s pack even cheaper for $26, as long as you send out a tweet about it before check out.
I love VSCO, and I use their presets often, mainly as a starting point, to give my photos the looks I want, but I’ve always thought they were woefully over priced. There is no way a pack of presets are worth $120. RR’s solution at $35 is much more in line with my sensibilities. At such a low price, that leaves a very important question hanging in the air – can Rocket Rooster deliver the goods?
I spent a few hours in lightroom yesterday, clicking between presets from both companies. I tried to find a few common film emulations between the two, but found that it was actually hard to do. First off, VSCO’s library is so huge that you’ll often find that each film type has many different variations. And with names like, “C – Polaroid 690 Warm ++”, it can be kind of hard to tell exactly what condition of film you are actually emulating.
I did finally find two presets that were named exactly the same between the two packs. What we’ve settled for is Color Fuji Film Provia 400x. Let’s look at them side by side.
Fuji 400x - Rocket Rooster
Fuji 400x - VSCO
The good news is, you can tell they are trying to emulate the same brand of film, but which one looks better? Rockets? VSCO? I certainly have a feeling which way I am leaning. Argh, can’t it be true? Can my love affair with VSCO be over? Maybe so, because I certainly like the treatment on Rocket’s version over VCSO’s.
RR’s shadows are smoother, the low end shadow detail is preserved better, the color and contrast looks better, the skin’s coloration is more even throughout the photo. RR’s version pretty much wins in every category here.
There is a caveat, however — we’re talking film emulation here. Small variations in color, contrast, shadows and highlights can all be tweaked after the fact to achieve the exact effect you’re looking for. Like I said before, presets are starting points, not finish lines.
Having said that, I felt like all of RR’s film presets gave me a better starting point for editing across the board. VSCO’s system is way too bloated, both in price and content. More doesn’t mean better, it just means more. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting rid of my VSCO collection any time soon, but I’ll be using Rocket Rooster’s presets first.
You can buy Rocket Rooster’s Analog Film Pack here.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising and Portrait Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.
We took PCB's Einstein out into the field and put it through it's paces.
Our Einstein mounted on a C-Stand, spilling light into a 7′ umbrella.
Einstein’s backfacing LCD Screen with more information than you can throw a stick at.
Let’s face it – flash photography is daunting. It’s so daunting that some people try it once, only to never return. Even if you have a good handle on the principles of flash photography there are still a myriad of issues that can crop up and turn a simple photo into a complicated affair.
Dials, lighting ratios, radio & wireless triggering, power range, compatibility with lighting modifiers are some of the issues that confront a photographer every time he takes his lights into the field.
So, how does the Einstein deal with all of these problems? Let’s start by saying that there is no magic button on the back of the Einstein that will tap into your imagination and render the exact lighting that you desire. But it does have a few great options that allow you to interact with the light so you can easily achieve the light you’re looking for.
I’m going to throw a dart at the board here and just start with a random topic: White balance.
I am not a huge curmudgeon when it comes to a flash’s color balance. I tweak the color in nearly every photo I take in post to suit my taste and therefor it’s never been a big issue for me if one frame has a slightly different temperature than the next. There are some people, however, who very much rely on their lighting system to produce the same quality and temperature of light consistently between each frame. You know the types, they color balance before each shoot, read every element of their set with a light meter and talk with precise and measured words, often in a German accent. That’s all fine, and if that’s you, good news, the Einstein totally caters to your needs.
On the back of the Einstein lives a small LCD screen, and this screen holds a deluge of information. So much more than the usual per-stop digital-number readout. This screen, which is actually a visual portal to all of the things that make the Einstein so great, allows you access some amazing sub-features. One such feature is the ability to switch between action and color mode. Action mode allows the light to have a dramatic power drop after it’s main light burst. This power drop allows you to capture action at speeds of 1/13,500! There’s a good chance that even your camera can’t capture action at those speeds.
I tried action mode out this week in the studio and it absolutely amazed me. This feature will freeze the action in a perfect stand-still. No motion bleed what-so-ever, only clear, clean, crisp edges no matter what action is happening in front of your lens.
But, if you’re more concerned with color temperature, then switch over to Color mode and all your color balance woes disappear. Normally, as your average studio light repeatedly flashes it’ll slowly change color temperature over the course of a session. Same with changing it’s power. Dial in more or less power and you’re also changing the color range every so slightly. The Einstein has some really smart internal logic that combats this problem with astonishing results. From their website, “In Constant Color mode, the emitted color temperature is held constant at 5600ºK (+/- 50ºK at any power setting or input voltage).” That’s pretty impressive.
Some of the less glamorous but essential features every photographer relies on are also represented in the Einstein. Things like a modeling light and radio channel selection. While we’re on the subject of radio/wireless functionality, PCB offers a very cool wireless system known as the CyberSync system. The Cyber Commander is the main piece of hardware that attaches to your camera and allows you to control your lights remotely. The back of the Cyber Commander showcases an LCD screen that looks very reminiscent to the one on the back of the Einstein.
One thing missing from the Einstein unit that other flash units, like Elinchrom’s, have built in, is a wireless receiver. Instead, you’ll have to purchase a separate, “transceiver”, for the fairly reasonable price of $29.95. When you consider the cost of the more expensive studio light systems, this small extra price barely factors into the equation.
Now, let’s talk about some of the more the practical applications of this light and how it’s going to make life easier in the long run. I will attempt to describe these features in the context of some real world applications. To help me out in this endeavor I spent some time with the light in the studio and on location so I could relay some first hand accounts.
The ability to dial in your strobe is the most essential feature of all flash systems. Some systems use half, third, or quarter stop increments. Some systems use analog sliders or dials to choose between full or lowest power.
The Einstein allows you to dial in your power at 1/10 of a stop increments. This is really handy when you need to fine tune every aspect of your shot. And, with Einstein’s 9 f/stop power range, there’s plenty of room to either over power the sun, or add a touch of fill to a candle lit seen. At it’s lowest power range I was able to use my camera at f/2.8 and get a creamy quality of light while retaining a dreamy level of focus. Add in some more layers of diffusion and you’ll be able to pull your camera into the f/1.4 range.
The first shoot I used this light on was a gritty, high-contrast sports portrait. The light need to be punchy, with a lot of zap. I set the Einstein to exactly -6.0f power. How did I arrive at that number? Well, I played around a little. I don’t use light meters. Personally, I think light meteres are a piece of dinosaur-age equipment left over from the dinosaur age of photography. Your camera, it’s LCD screen and your eyes are the Light Meters of today. So, when I am lighting with the Einstein, I am using it’s fine incremental selector to dial in the light I want.
Doing this is as simple as pushing either the up or down buttons until you’re happy with the result. I also had the Einstein set to action mode to freeze-frame his hair as he swung his head around before each push of the shutter.
Getting Out of the Studio
The photo we just used as an example was a studio photo which we then composited into a matching background. Now we want to explore what happens when you take the Einstein into the world. For that, we headed straight into the wilderness – which just happens to be a small forest near the studio. Hey, it’s what we got, so it’ll just have to work.
We took one Einstein, one 2×3 Softbox and one mobile power source with us. In our case, the power is coming from a PCB Vagabond Mini. I’ve had this Vagabond for years and have used it with my older AlienBees on many occasions and it has always gotten the job done. Not surprisingly, the Vagabond powers the Einstein without issue.
Here in our wooded location, it’s already pretty dark, so we need to set the camera to take in some ambient light. The 9/f stop range of the Einstein lets me take the power way down, almost to the very bottom, to give me just enough light to make our subject appear out of the darkness. With the help of a grid on our softbox, you can see that the Einstein was able to paint just enough light on his face and hands to give him an almost ghostly, coming out of the shadows appearance. I am highlighting this because many studio flash systems, including some very expensive solutions, aren’t viable at low power — meaning sometimes their lowest setting isn’t low enough. Sure you can set your aperture to adjust for this, but what if you want to maintain a dark scene while retaining total control over depth of field? The Einstein’s power range lets that happen.
I haven’t come out and just said it outright, but hopefully you’ve been catching the hints — the Einstein 640 is just as good, if not better, than most of it’s more expensive counterparts. ProFoto and Elinchrom systems will always have their place in the studio, but so does the Einstein. It has the performance of the big name strobes and features that can only be found on the Einstein. I’m so confident and in love with this system that I am already preparing to have an all Einstein studio.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.