iPhone 7 Plus shallow depth of field “Portrait Mode” first impression

I recently purchased the iPhone 7 Plus and today installed the beta for the 10.1 iOS software.  This beta gives you access to the forthcoming feature of the camera app called Portrait Mode.  As explained in the September 2016 Apple Keynote, the dual cameras on the new iPhone are used at the same time, the wide angle capturing the background and the telephoto capturing the subject and through software are combined into one image that looks like a DSLR with a wide aperture lens took the image.

I must say, I’m fairly impressed, especially with the camera doing this in real time, even as you are taking the photo it’s showing you what it’s going to look like.

Here’s a link to some sample images I took today.  These aren’t fancy awesome photos, I was just testing this depth of field feature.  What’s interesting is Apple saves the image twice in your photo library, once as the normal photo and once with this depth of field applied.

photo-sep-26-5-13-09-pm photo-sep-26-5-13-09-pm-1

photo-sep-26-6-14-02-pm photo-sep-26-6-14-02-pm-1


Custom Flash Drive Pens

I was recently contacted by the USB Memory Direct company about trying some samples of their flash drives.  After choosing from one of their many styles available, and working with them on my logo, I was very quickly (11 days from ordering) greeted by a package of these pens at my door.

I decided to go with pens as I could load images for clients or a slideshow for future clients on the drive, and then they could use this for more than just a usb stick.

I found the pens to be of high quality.  I was very pleased with the logo and website printing on the sides and the overall feel of the pens was excellent.

Pens come wrapped

The pens were individually wrapped in plastic which will help protect them in shipping and storage.


I felt the logo was very nicely printed on the pen.

IMG_3412 IMG_3413

The model I chose reveals the USB port by unscrewing the pen.  This came to me in a 8GB model which will work great for delivering the average amount of images from a typical photoshoot.  I would definitely need a larger type to deliver something like a wedding.  They offer these in up to 64 GB sizes and that size would work great for any possible delivery I’d need to do typically.


I did some testing with the pen and noted that the interface was USB 2.0.  That would be adequate for the typical usage.  Even better would be to have it be a USB 3.0.  Most computers these days have a USB 3.0 and having the faster interface would make this more useful.

Untitled 2 In my testing, the write speed was perfectly adequate for the usage I would give these pens.

I wrote a 192 MB file to the stick in 30 seconds.

I then wrote a 440 MB file to the stick in 1 minute and 7 seconds.

Read speeds were also fine, it took 29.4 seconds to read that 440 MB file back to the SSD on my macbook pro.  That kind of read speed gives me confidence that I’ll be able to share video files with clients and they will be able to watch them directly from the stick with out an issue.

This is also a ball point pen and I thought it wrote very nicely.  Overall, I’m quite happy with these USB pens and would recommend them to you.  If you have a photoshoot with me soon, you might end up getting your photos delivered to you on one of these!

Godox V850 / Neewer TT850 in a Westcott Apollo Softbox

I had a comment on my previous blog post about the Godox V850 / Neewer TT850 flash and the ability to use High Speed Sync. It was suggested that maybe I could use two of them and that might add some additional light. That seemed reasonable, so I tried that today. I used the Westcott Apollo Softbox and a 3 flash bracket. I shot some video footage as well of the session and I’ve put together a little behind the scenes video to show the setup and what I did.


So I had two of the Neewer TT850 flashes in a 28″ Westcott Apollo Softbox, Triggered with the Cells-IIC Trigger

Engagement Photos Engagement Photos Engagement Photos Engagement Photos Engagement Photos

Godox V850/Neewer TT850 Speedlights with HSS vs Alienbee Strobes with ND Filters – Real world results

For my most recent wedding, I had an interesting problem.  This was a destination wedding in Washington, D.C. and I was put up in a hotel not anywhere near the venue. For wedding receptions, I typically light the dance floor with some cross-lit strobes.  My go-to setup is 2 Alienbee B1600’s at 1/16th power on C-Stands.  I typically just roll the truck up to the venue, unload that gear and setup.  For this wedding, however, I was having to plan for not having the truck at the venue, and having to schlep whatever I had back to the hotel via walking and the Metro train system.  Certainly, for planning purposes, my typical setup was out.

I had read an article about these Godox V850 / Neewer TT850 units when they were announced, so I did some additional research and ended up buying 2 of the Neewer TT850’s for this reception.  I bought these because of the Lithium battery packs and the promise of 600+ shots at full power on a charge.  I did end up using these at the wedding and sure enough, they worked great for that setup.  I shot them at 1/8 power and many many hundreds of shots throughout the entire reception later I took them down and they both still read 3/3 battery bars.  Awesome!  I did have one overheat at one point, so that was the only issue.  I was during a really rapid fire session where i had a camera going, I had given my lighting assistant a camera and I also lent a pocket wizard to a guest to give them a go and we were all firing like mad.

Anyway, that’s just background on how I ended up with these flashes – it was pretty much just for the Lithium Ion battery and the portability of the units.  I did not even realize until later that these units did something equally as awesome – High Speed Sync.  You have to have the Cells IIC trigger to do it, but these units will trigger remotely up to the 1/8000s depending on camera model.  Once I found this out, I immediately obtained the required triggers and receivers to give it a test.

I ended up doing two different senior portrait / graduation sessions in the span of a week and analyzing those results is the purpose of this post.  These two sessions were at about the same time of day, similar subjects, similar or exactly the same locations.

For the first session, I used my go to setup to do outdoor portraits in the direct sun/daylight:  The Alienbee ABR800 / 30″ Moon Unit / Vagabond Mini / Triggered with Pocket Wizards.  Not the lightest setup, but it could be worse.  I had the light mounted in this case on a paint pole and Kacey Pole adapter.  This is my typical setup if I have a lighting assistant, or I can mount this to a C-Stand and lug it around.  In this case, I had 2 seniors getting shots, so I asked them to take turns being the voice activated light stand.

Alienbee ABR800 with moon unit

For the second session 8 days later, I had planned on repeating the exact same setup.  I realized, however, that I had forgotten the vagabond mini, having left it on the charger.  I did have time to go back and get it, but I decided to try out the new item in my bag of tricks, the Neewer TT850 flashes with the Cells IIC triggers using High Speed Sync.  The reason why this is interesting to me, is that I use the other setup with the Alienbee with ND filters on my lens to combat the X-Sync Speed of my Canon 5D mark III.  This camera and pretty much all of your other available DSLR bodies have a maximum sync speed of something like 1/200s.  I like to use wide aperture lenses at wide apertures and combine that with the strobes.  Doing that in bright conditions gives a problem – there’s too much light for the wide aperture I want and the maximum shutter speed of 1/200s.  I also use a powerful strobe like the ABR800 because at 1/200s and trying to match (or even beat) the ambient light, you need a good amount of kick.  The ABR800 absolutely gives you that.  This setup, while not very heavy, is a tad cumbersome.  You’ve got the vagabond mini to carry around (which I won’t complain about, try the vagabond II sometime) and a studio strobe which is top heavy.

Long story short, a speed light and a shoot through umbrella is a much more compact and light weight alterative, and I won’t have to do ND filters!  At fast shutter speeds to knock dwn the ambient, the theory goes that the flash should be able to start to match the ambient, even just a little speed light.  The problem is, doing high speed sync, you lose a lot of the potential power of the speed light.  I’m going to compare the results of both setups here.  I didn’t shoot these sessions with this article in mind, but once I started looking at the images, it struck me that a little comparison might be possible.  Therefore, the images aren’t shot at the exact same conditions and this isn’t a very scientific test.

Untitled-1For my first comparison, I’ve got the usual setup on the left, the Alienbee ABR800 with the Moon unit, the lens with a 3 F-Stop filter and the shutter speed at 1/200s.    On the right is the new setup, the Neewer TT850 with a shoot through umbrella and no ND filter, a high shutter speed with HSS provided by the Cells-IIC trigger.

Things I’ll note, we’ve got a wider coverage of the subject with the ABR800.  The ABR800 was positioned about 6 feet away.  The Umbrella had to be just out of the frame, something like 3 feet from the subject.  The TT850 was at full power the entire day, the ABR800 was moved up and down, typically pretty low like 1/4 power or less.  Sorry, I didn’t record the power settings, I wasn’t planning on making this review when I shot the photos.

So, definitely the ABR800 puts out a lot more light.  It really lit up my subject on the left.  On the right with the TT850, I got the face and upper body well.  Overall,  I do like the TT850’s image.  It probably really helps that the light was closer and that gave some softer light.  So, this is definitely not a 1:1 comparison, but had I put the TT850 at the same distance, I would not have gotten good fill.

Untitled-2For our second comparison, it’s more of a similar shot.  On the left, you can see that more of the body and the legs got light on them, much more even of coverage.  Again, the Alienbee setup was several additional feet away from the subject.  The TT850 with the umbrella had to be right out of the frame.  This also made it so I could not get the entire old well in the shot with the speed light.

I do like the results of both shots though.  Getting closer to the subject with that wide aperture really threw that background into flowery bokeh heaven.

Untitled-3Group shots is where the TT850 setup falls down.  I had more than enough light to light my subjects with the ABR800 and not really enough on the TT850.  Just not enough oomph.

Graduation PhotosHere’s one with the Neewer TT850 for a head shot.  Now this is where this setup works great!  ( 1/1000s, f/2.0, ISO 100, 85mm f/1.2 L II, High Speed Sync).

So, what’s my conclusion?  If I’m going to go and shoot one subject, and want to travel light and not mess with ND filters and use HSS, the Neewer TT850 with a light modifier like a shoot through umbrella will work great.  For groups or even in some instances full body shots, it just wasn’t up to what the other setup with an Alienbee ABR800 and a moon unit with ND filters can do.  I’m certainly going to experiment more with the TT850.  I’m also highly interested in what the Godox Wistro AD360 can do.  That unit is supposed to have a lot more power and can also do the HSS with the same triggers.  Either way, for a very compact, light weight setup that can start to compete with the sun in bright daylight, the TT850 and Cells IIC with High Speed Sync is a possible solution.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens available for Pre-order

Today is an exciting day for DSLR photographers!  The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has had its pricing announced and is now available for preorder.  This lens is one that I’ve been quite excited about since the announcement several months ago.

The 50mm space is a really interesting one that up until recently has not had an excellent choice to pick from.  I currently have the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
and I also have a circa 1960’s copy of the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 that I have used an Ed Mika conversion kit to make it work (manual focus only) on the EOS system.  Neither of these choices are awesome at all, especially wide open or even close to wide open.  They are not very sharp and just have a myriad of problems until at least f/2.8.

I also have not picked up a copy of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L  lens.  This lens has a lot of issues like the well documented Focus Shift problem as well as the sharpness.  For the price that Canon wants for this lens, I’d expect it to be of higher quality.

Last year, the good folks at Carl Zeiss made huge news with their uncompromising Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens.  This lens compromised on nothing including price.  It goes for north of $4000.00.  Ouch.  It’s a beast though, and I recommend this youtube video for your enjoyment.  There were two problems with this lens, one was price, the other was it is only available in the manual focus variety.  I do tend to “dial in” all of my wide open shots manually though, so that’s not a total deal breaker.  $4000 was the biggest problem, but I was at least seriously thinking about it nonetheless.  At the very least, here was a lens that had the quality going for it.

This all changed when Sigma made their press release this past January.  Sigma recently has retooled their lens lineup to different categories.  I’m specifically interested in their “Art” lenses, which so far have been nothing but awesome.  I also own the Sigma 35mm Art Lens  and have been nothing but happy with the results.  Today is the day that they announced the price and some outlets started pre-ordering for the 50 f/1.4 Art lens.  I have placed my order.

Just to show some visual, here’s some graphs from the SlrGear folks.  This is a great website to research lenses before you buy.

50mmcomparisonUpper left is the new Sigma f/1.4 Art (~$950).  Upper right is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L (~$1600)
, Lower left is the Zeiss 55 f/1.4 Otus (~$4000) and lower right is the Canon EOS 50 f/1.4. (~$400)  This set of graphs show sharpness.  I’ve put them all wide open at f/1.4, except fort the Canon f/1.2 which is stopped down to f/1.4 (which in theory should give the Canon a slight advantage here).  How to read these is that the lower the value, the sharper.  The graph represents the frame of the image taken, so the corners of the graph are the corners of the frame.  It’s amazing to me how bad the Canon offerings are.  The 50 f/1.4 is really terrible, and the L series Canon f/1.2,  for an L series (the highest quality lenses Canon makes), is just embarrassing.

To stress the point, here’s the graph, wide open at f/1.2, of the highly acclaimed Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II
(Which I own).


That’s what an L lens that commands high dollars should look like!

The Zeiss otus on the other hand, is just unbelievable, 1-2 blur units across the entire frame including corners.  At $4000, it had better be.

Now the new lens that I’m talking about is the upper left.  Is it as sharp as the Zeiss?  No, but it’s really close.  You’ve got under 2 blur units in the center and just up to 4 in the far corners, and this is wide open.  The full review of this lens at SLRGear does show some CA wide open in test shots.  It’s hard to make a case to justify the Zeiss over this Sigma, but possible.  I can’t really imagine making a case that the Canon 1.2 L is a better choice than the Sigma though, especially given that the Sigma is so much lower in cost!

Either way, this is the kind of performance I’ve been looking for in a 50mm lens!  I’m very excited to get this lens in my hands and make some photos with it.  I will certainly post some samples when I get this.