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Canon EOS 80D to EOS 6D Mark II: in the light of the review, should I upgrade?

14 Aug

Is it worth upgrading my EOS 80D to the EOS 6D Mark II?

We already had a simple look at how good an upgrade the EOS 6D II makes for 80D owners, based on our early impressions of the camera. Now we’ve had a chance to spend more time with it (and to go back and shoot with the 80D again), we thought we’d look at the differences and benefits in more detail.

We’re going to try not to make too many assumptions about what you shoot with your 80D and what you value in a camera, beyond assuming that you kinda like your current camera, that you enjoy using a camera that works broadly as well in live view mode as it does through the viewfinder and that you’d like something fairly similar but, you know, better. Will the 6D II do that for you?

Image quality improvements

The 6D II’s larger sensor means it receives more total light than the 80D, when shot with the same exposure settings (the same light per unit area, but with more capture area). This generally means the 6D II will offer better image quality than the 80D. As much as anything else, this tends to be what prompts most people to move to larger sensor formats.

However, you don’t get the full advantage that you’d get if the 6D II simply used a scaled-up version of the 80D’s sensor, so how much of a step up does the 6D end up being?

The sensor size difference means you can get shallower depth-of-field more readily than you could on the 80D. Indeed, shoot the same scene from the same position and at the same f-number and you’ll get shallower depth of field. For certain types of photos, shallow depth of field is interpreted as better.

The 6D II’s larger sensor also means you get better performance in low light. If you regularly shoot above about ISO 1600, the 6D II will give you an immediate improvement in image quality, simply because it gets more light.

Image quality concerns

The more sophisticated design of the 80D’s sensor means it adds less noise to its images than its big brother. This means that, at low ISO settings, the 80D will produce more flexible Raw files, that make it easier to represent the detail in high-contrast scenes, before you hit the noise floor. If you’ve become used to exploiting the 80D’s pretty impressive dynamic range, it may be a bit of a shock to find you end up with more prominent noise if you try to manipulate an image shot in high-DR circumstances, such as sunsets or backlit subjects.

That said, we’re aware that a great many people primarily shoot JPEG. Since the differences in performance between the two cameras’ sensors tends to occur in very dark tones within the image, so may well be either too dark to perceive or clipped entirely to black if you’re only looking at JPEG images. Even engaging Auto Lighting Optimizer or Highlight Tone Priority – the camera’s two DR compression modes that risk pulling noise into the image – isn’t a problem (though it’s interesting you can’t use the two in conjunction). However, you don’t get the noise improvement at low ISO you might reasonably expect from the move to full-frame.

Viewfinder differences

The 6D II has a viewfinder with 98% coverage and 0.71x magnification, while the 80D has 100% coverage and 0.94x magnification. Yet that’s not the clear win to the 80D that it might seem.

Since both magnification figures are measured using a 50mm lens, the 80D’s figure benefits from its 1.6x crop factor. Compare them on a normalized basis and the 6D II’s 0.71x magnification looks pretty good compared with 0.59x. And, sure enough, in use the 6D II’s viewfinder is appreciably bigger. It’s one of the benefits that a full frame DSLR offers over a cropped sensor that is often overlooked, especially by anyone too young to have regularly shot film and become accustomed to a large finder. It’s lovely to shoot through a nice, big viewfinder and the 6D II’s is a significant step up from the 80D’s.

It’s not all good news, though. The 80D’s 100% finder means its easier to construct precise compositions. Knowing exactly where the corners are is hugely valuable for ensuring lead-in lines run directly from the corner of the frame, for instance (the 6D II’s 98% coverage should be enough that you don’t have to worry too much about stray objects intruding in your shots).

Autofocus

The camera uses essentially the same AF module as the 80D. This means the spread of AF points is considerably less extensive on the larger camera. This means that, unlike the 80D, you don’t get AF points on the ‘thirds’ lines of your image: the outer columns of points reach a little beyond the thirds horizontally, but they don’t quite reach the vertical thirds lines. This isn’t an unworkable situation, of course: the parallax error of focus-and-recompose isn’t going to be significant over such a small distance, but it’ll take some getting used to, after the 80D’s wider spread.

In terms of autofocus performance, we doubt you’ll notice any great difference. Both cameras performed fairly similarly in our testing. The EOS 6D II isn’t terrible at tracking a subject but it’s not great, either. If you’ve found settings or a way of working that suits the kind of shooting you like to do, you can carry this over to the 6D II.

Like the 80D, the 6D II’s tracking in live view mode is pretty good, especially if you’re shooting single images at a time. It’s in continuous (servo) mode that the performance drops significantly compared with the 80D, in terms of accuracy (in Continuous H mode) or a much slower frame rate (in Continuous L). So not really an upgrade, but broadly consistent with the system you’ve already learned and adapted to.

Difference in features

The EOS 6D II has Canon’s latest, Digic 7 processor, but the differences between this and the older chip used in the 80D are subtle. There don’t appear to be any additional functions associated with the newer processor but Canon has talked about using the additional processing power to run more sophisticated algorithms that prevent the camera’s AF tracking from being distracted by other potential targets.

Another underlying hardware difference is in the two camera’s Wi-Fi connectivity. The 80D has a fairly conventional Wi-Fi setup, with the option to use NFC to speed-up pairing to your smartphone, if its manufacturer allows such frivolity. The updated implementation in the 6D II is a step forward, in that it allows a constant Bluetooth connection to be maintained between your phone and the camera. Again, the degree to which this simplifies life depends at least in part on what brand of phone you’re using, but it does make image transfer very straightforward.

The EOS 6D II also offers GPS, which the 80D doesn’t. This may not sound like something you’ll need but, even if you’re not an especially frequent traveler but, if you switch it on, it means every one of your images gains a useful additional piece of metadata that can be valuable in terms of organizing and retrieving your files, after you’ve shot them. Battery life does take a hit when using the GPS, however.

Other feature aspects

While the similarity of body shape and button layouts make it clear they’re aimed at similar photographers, there are a few differences that reflect the 80D’s position higher up the APS-C lineup than the 6D II’s position, relative to Canon’s other full-frame options.

The 80D gets a shutter mechanism that can fire as fast as 1/8000th of a second and can sync with flashes as fast as 1/250th of a second. With a larger distance to travel and perhaps some money being saved, the 6D II can only shoot at up to 1/4000th of a second and flash sync at 1/180th. These may sound like small differences but you may well notice them if you use fill flash or wide aperture lenses outdoors.

Other differences include the 80D having a headphone socket for audio monitoring during video shooting: something 6D II users will have to live without. It’s not quite clear why Canon chose not to include it or the less-compressed ‘All-I’ video option, both of which might be a frustration if you’ve been enjoying the 80D’s easy-to-shoot video.

But what about lenses?

The usefulness of lenses, vs simple compatibility is a subject I can be something of a stuck record about, but I do believe it’s something worth thinking about very hard before you upgrade. Don’t think about how many of your existing lenses will be usable, think about how many of them will perform roles that you actually need. At least take stock of how committed you really are to a system before concluding that you can only look within your current system.

Before I started at DPReview, I owned an APS-C DSLR, a mid-level kit zoom, a 50mm F1.8, and a third-party 70-200mm F2.8 (bought secondhand from a DPR forum member). How committed to ‘my’ brand was I?

The kit zoom is a write-off straight away, so I may as well try to sell that along with my old APS-C body. Having got used to using it as a 75mm equiv lens, do I suddenly need the 50mm field-of-view? Maybe, but it’s a cheap-enough lens that it’s not a deciding factor. The 70-200mm F2.8 was secondhand anyway, so I can probably recoup much of what I’ve paid for it if I sold it.

If it’d come down to it, it was a couple of spare batteries and the time I’d spent learning the quirks of my camera’s interface and behavior that was really holding me to that brand, not my ‘investment’ in lenses.

Should I upgrade?

Ultimately, that’s something only you can decide, we’re just trying to lay out what we see as the key factors you might want to consider.

We should be clear: the EOD 6D II isn’t a bad camera. In many respects, it’s a perfectly good one: certainly one that’s pretty enjoyable to shoot with. Although Dual Pixel AF really shines when shooting video, it’s still useful for stills shooters, providing what’s still the best and most usable live view experience of any of the DSLR makers.

If you enjoy your 80D, then you’ll probably like the 6D II for many of the same reasons (with the added bonus of more control over depth of field, better low light image quality and a bigger viewfinder).

The only real reason we’ve devoted so much space to addressing the question is because, with the 6D II, Canon has made the decision slightly less clear-cut than it’d normally be. You don’t get a significant improvement in AF performance, nor do you get the all-round improvement in image quality that the cost of moving to full-frame usually brings. But there certainly are advantages, and ones that you might find beneficial.

If you’re and 80D owner who’s decided to move to the 6D II or have decided not to, let us know what swung the decision for you.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Xiaomi Mi Max 2 quick review

12 Aug

The Mi Max 2 is the latest incarnation of Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi’s large-format ‘phablet.’ It combines a very large 6.44″ Full-HD screen that allows for split-screen applications with Qualcomm’s upper mid-range chipset Snapdragon 625, 4GB of RAM and storage options up to 128GB. At 174 x 89mm the Mi Max 2 is definitely not small but, apart from the large display, the dimensions also allow for the use of a gigantic 5300 mAh battery that, according to Xiaomi, gives you 57 hours of call-time and also supports quick-charging via a USB Type-C port.

In the camera department the Mi Max 2 offers a 1/2.9″ Sony IMX 386 12MP image sensor that is coupled with a F2.2 aperture and on-sensor phase detection AF. In video mode you can shoot footage in 4K resolution or 120 fps slow-motion clips in 720p. All components are wrapped up in a sleek-looking full-metal unibody with a fingerprint reader on the back.

Thanks to Gearbest.com, a retailer shipping Xiaomi devices worldwide, we’ve had the chance to try the Mi Max 2 and its camera, shoot a wide range of samples and see how it generally performs as a device for mobile photography.

Key specifications:

  • 1/2.9″ Sony IMX 386 12MP image sensor, 1.25 µm pixel size
  • F2.2 aperture
  • PDAF
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 5MP / F2.0 front camera
  • 4K video, 720p/120 fps slow-motion
  • 6.44″ 1080p IPS LCD display
  • Android 7.1.1
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64/128 GB storage, microSD support
  • 5300 mAh battery
  • Fingerprint sensor

Camera app

The camera app features a manual mode but no DNG Raw file format.

The camera app has been kept simple, with point-and-shoot operation in mind. Focus point and exposure can be set by tapping on the preview image and a mode screen offers a number of special options, including panorama, beautify and manual mode. The latter offers manual shutter speeds of up to 32 seconds but unfortunately capture in DNG Raw format is not part of the package.

The mode screen also gives you access to the settings menu where you can activate tap-to-capture, change contrast, saturation and sharpness or display grid lines in the preview image. A few effect filters are on board as well, and overall the app is simple to use and intuitive.

Image Quality

In bright light the Mi Max 2 camera captures contrasty images with punchy colors and does a good job at keeping highlight clipping at bay. During our testing we had a few exposures that were a touch brighter than we’d like, but overall the exposure system does a decent job and white balance is fairly neutral as well.

Detail is decent for this class of device but at a 100% view some oversharpening artifacts are visible and low-contrast areas can show some compression. The sharpness of the lens of our test unit is good, with just some minor softness towards the edges. Overall, in terms of image detail and noise, the Xiaomi cannot keep up with high-end smartphones but does a good job in bright light for a mid-ranger.

ISO 124, 1/806 sec

Skin tones tend to be pleasantly neutral and face detection ensures good subject exposure in most situations.

ISO 125, 1/121 sec

By default HDR is set to auto and in many bright scenes the camera makes use of the function. As a result, highlights are well preserved in bright elements of the scene.

ISO 125, 1/502 sec, HDR

Using the tap-to-focus function allows you to set focus and exposure point manually. This can help a lot when taking close-up images like the sample below where the flower was more extremely overexposed when shooting in standard mode.

ISO 125, 1/1328 sec

While detail is good, luminance noise is clearly visible in areas of plain color, such as the blue sky below. On some high-contrast edges you can also see a halo-effect, which is a sign of oversharpening.

ISO 100, 1/1881 sec

In lower light the Mi Max uses ISO settings up to 6400 and at very low light levels applies a multi-frame night mode. The ISO 320 shot below was taken indoors. Compared to the bright light shots above fine detail is noticeably reduced and luminance noise becomes quite intrusive. In the shadow areas some blurred chroma noise is creeping in as well.

ISO 320, 1/50 sec

The ISO 640 shot below was captured in a fairly dimly lit interior. When viewing at a 100% magnification blurred noise is very noticeable but the Xiaomi camera maintains decent edge definition and color in these conditions.

ISO 640, 1/33 sec

For the indoor portrait below the camera activated its low light mode which results in very soft detail. The white balance system also struggles with the mixed light temperatures inside this restaurant. The image is usable at typical social-media size but arguably not suitable for printing or viewing on larger displays.

In these conditions face detection also has trouble locking on and the difference between the Xiaomi and top-end smartphone cameras, such as the Google Pixel or HTC U11 is much more obvious than in bright light.

ISO 2000, 1/17 sec

The image below was taken in very low light and is quite soft and noisy. However, it’s a positive that the Mi Max is capable of capturing a decent exposure at such low light levels.

ISO 6400, 1/17 sec

HDR mode

As mentioned above, HDR mode is set to auto by default. As you can see in the samples below it is definitely not a bad a idea to leave this setting as it is. In high-contrast scenes HDR mode is capable of capturing noticeably better highlight detail then standard mode. Still, the HDR looks quite natural and not overprocessed.

ISO 125, 1/602 sec, HDR off
ISO 125, 1/602 sec, HDR on

Panorama mode

On the Mi Max 2 camera panoramic images are captured while holding the phone in portrait orientation. You can record an angle of up to 180 degrees but stop any time by hitting the shutter button.

Exposure is biased towards the first frame which can result in some underexposure like in the first sample below. Under closer inspection you’ll also find some stitching errors but the panorama mode deals very well with moving subjects in the scene and overall does a decent job.

Panorama, 7552 x 3712 pixels
Panorama, 13148 x 3648 pixels

Video

The 1080p video below shows a similar color and tonal response to the still images. Detail is only average, but the video mode’s main problem is a tendency to continuously refocus when panning, making most clips virtually unusable. This is something that needs fixing via a firmware update ASAP, otherwise the Mi Max 2 is simply not suitable for video recording.

At 120 frames per second the slow-motion mode can slow motion down nicely and the 720p resolution still offers enough detail for the occasional slow-motion scene. Unfortunately the mode suffers from the same refocusing issues as the standard video mode, but AF is more stable when holding the camera still.

Conclusion

The Mi Max 2 camera can produce good images in bright light and is capable of capturing good exposures and color even in very dim conditions. However, pixel-level image quality deteriorates quickly as light levels go down and video mode is next to unusable as the camera tends to refocus very frequently while panning.

Still, there is a lot to like about the Xiaomi. Its battery life allows for at least two days of shooting and general use without any recharging and the large 6.44″ display is great for viewing and editing images. The microSD slot makes image transfer from other devices easy if you are not a fan of the cloud and for a mid-ranger the Mi Max 2 also comes with a nice metal unibody and good build quality. The Mi Max 2 with 64GB of storage is now available at Gearbest for $ 270. The coupon code “MAX2C” gives you a $ 10 discount.

What we like:

  • Decent detail in bright light and good sharpness across the frame
  • Intuitive camera camera app
  • Efficient HDR mode
  • Decent panorama output
  • Premium build quality
  • Excellent battery life
  • Screen size is great for image display and editing
  • Responsive general operation
  • Value

What we don’t like:

  • Noticeable luminance noise at base ISO
  • Smeared noise and strong softness in low light
  • Constant refocusing when panning in video mode
  • No Raw file format
  • Too large for most pockets

Sample Gallery

There are 20 images in our Xiaomi Mi Max 2 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don’t abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.

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Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Nikon 8-15mm F3.5-4.5E ED fisheye lens impresses in underwater review

04 Aug
Photo © Robin Dodd

Our friends at Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo—the world’s leading supplier for underwater imaging equipment, the same folks behind this impressive underwater review of the Canon 1DX Mark II—recently took the new Nikon 8-15mm F3.5-4.5E ED fisheye zoom lens for a spin beneath the waves. As usual, they came back with some stunning photographs, along with a few thoughts about Nikon’s new fisheye zoom lens.

Backscatter CEO Jim Decker and Producer Robin Dodd were able to ‘MacGyver’ a makeshift zoom gear from some stuff they had lying around the shop, slapped the lens onto a Nikon D810, and went diving. Immediately they were impressed.

“The lens is a fisheye zoom lens that is a full frame diagonal fisheye lens at the 15mm side of the zoom, and a circular fisheye at the 8mm side,” explains Decker in their review. “It’s great to have the versatility of being able to shoot a circular fisheye, without having to dedicate your whole dive to it.” The photo up top was shot at 8mm, the one below at 15mm.

Photo © Robin Dodd

But it’s not just the versatility of having both a diagonal fisheye and a circular fisheye in one lens—a first for Nikon—that impressed Backscatter. The photos turned out great, too.

“We were super impressed with the image quality of this lens along with the versatility,” writes Decker, “and will now recommend this lens as the primary lens for wide angle use with full frame Nikon cameras.”

That’s some high praise. To read Backscatter’s full review and see several more underwater sample shots captured with the Nikon 8-15mm F3.5-4.5E ED fisheye, head over to their website by clicking here. And if you want to see some above-ground sample photos, you can see our sample gallery here.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Blackmagic Video Assist 4K review

28 Jul

If you find yourself wondering ‘why would I even want an external monitor/recorder’ then I’d suggest you spend a few moments reading our article on the topic. The short answer is that it’s a great way to expand the tools for, and maximize the quality of, video capture on your current camera.

The Video Assist 4K is the larger of Blackmagic Design’s current monitor/recorders. It features a 7″, 1920 x 1200 pixel display and the ability to capture up to UHD/30p video in 10-bit 4:2:2 quality. It can accept video across HDMI or 6G-SDI inputs and offers outputs for when you want to include it in a more complex setup.

It’s been on the market since April 2016 so it doesn’t match the spec of the latest 4K/60p capable competitors, nor can it cope with the wider-screen DCI flavor of 4K but, through a series of firmware updates, Blackmagic has been adding features to this sub-$ 1000 monitor/recorder.

And, since it’s likely to be a while before a majority of brands offer cameras capable of 4K/60p, its age doesn’t weigh too heavily against it, unless you want to shoot the more cinema-like 1.85:1 DCI aspect ratio.

The Video Assist 4K can record in a variety of popular codecs, so that the files are immediately ready for use in Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro or AVID Media Composer. All the Apple codecs and the 220 and HQX versions DNx are captured in up to 10-bit detail.

Apple codecs
  • ProRes Proxy
  • ProRes 422 LT
  • ProRes 422
  • ProRes 422 HQ

AVID codecs
(in either Quicktime or MXF wrapper)

HD Codecs

  • DNxHD 45
  • DNxHD 145
  • DNxHD 220x
4K Codecs

  • DNxHR LB
  • DNxHR SQ
  • DNxHR HQX

It’s also a fairly well-connected little beast, though, which makes it easy to hook up to most cameras.

Inputs Outputs
Video
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x 6G SDI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x 6G SDI
Audio
  • 2 x Mini XLR (balanced)
    with phantom power
  • Over HDMI
  • 3.5mm headphone socket

Batteries and storage

Unlike the Atomos recorders, which tend to use Sony L-series-style batteries and write to SSD drives, the Blackmagic uses Canon LP-E6 batteries and writes to SD cards. This use of more photographer-friendly formats has both advantages and disadvantages.

The obvious advantages are that, especially if you already shoot Canon, you may well already have the equipment you need to start shooting. No messing around with cradles to mount the SSD on your computer, you just use the same SD reader you use for stills photography.

The downside is that, until V60 and V90-rated SD cards become more common, even the most expensive U3 cards, for all their promises of transfer rates in the hundreds of MB/s, only guarantee to sustainably write at up to 30MB/s (240Mbps). If you’re capturing video, it’s this sustained write rate that you need to worry about and 4K can easily exceed this figure.

The Video Assist 4K uses common, Canon-style batteries and fast SD card, both of which you may already own and which are very widely available.

As a result, Blackmagic has to publish a list of SD cards it recommends for its higher frame rates and codecs. For most of the better ones, you’ll need a UHS II, U3 card. Given the company’s history of adding features to the Video Assist via firmware, the hope has to be that it’s possible to offer proper support for V60 and V90 cards, but they wouldn’t comment, when asked.

The downside of using the common LP-E6 batteries is that, although pretty powerful in comparison with other DSLR batteries, they’re tiny compared to some of the huge L-series blocks you can get. Consequently, you’ll need a handful of them if you’re planning an extended shoot away from a power supply. I found I was getting 20-30 minutes of capture out of two fully charged batteries. The batteries can be hot-swapped while recording, in the unlikely event of you needing a single clip to last longer than that.

What’s it like to use?

The first thing to get used to is how much size and weight shooting with any external recorder adds. The use of such a big screen immediately limits your ability to ‘run and gun.’ If you’re just trying to grab some quick, on-the-move, on-the-fly footage, the Video Assist will slow you down. However, if you have the few extra moments to consider each shot, it increases the chances of you getting it right as well as increasing the quality of your footage.

if you have the few extra moments to consider each shot, it increases the chances of you getting it right

Its weight means that it’s not easily mounted on your camera. There are plenty of hotshoe-to-tripod mount adapters available and, given the Video Assist’s 928g (2lb) mass (with batteries), we’d recommend the use of the most sturdy ballhead-type adapter you can find. It’s much happier if you have some kind of arm to attach it to your tripod or have your camera mounted in a rig, to which you can then add the Video Assist.

However, one of the benefits you gain for this weight is pretty rugged construction. The Video Assist’s metal and rubber build doesn’t promise any level of shockproofing, but our review unit survived an accidental fall onto pavement and has worked flawlessly since, suggesting it’ll stand up to the rough-and-tumble of shooting in the real world.

Touchscreen interface

In terms of actual use, everything on the Video Assist is operated by touchscreen. It’s pretty responsive, with only the slightest hint of lag and there are few enough options that you very quickly find your way around and learn it in no time at all.

The Video Assist gives you access to adjustable zebra highlight warnings as well as focus peaking, regardless of whether your camera offers these features.

However, the more you think about the way the interface works, the less sense it makes: three of the six button arrayed along the top of the main screen take you to the same menu, some options have left/right arrows with the Off option at the far left, others just have On and Off buttons, with Off on the right. The monitor and audio setup menu is accessed by pressing the ‘Card’ button. Even by the standard of camera menus, it feels like more and more has been added onto the system without any thought given to what a blank-sheet design would look like.

You can select what triggers recording from the main screen but toggling false color, peaking or zebras is an extra button-press away

Some of this may be down to my inexperience, of course. Perhaps more experienced users constantly need to change which input triggers recording or change codec mid shoot, but I find myself needing to toggle False Color on and off far more frequently, and I have to visit a separate menu page each time I want to do so. Revising this design would speed up operation of the Video Assist considerably.

It’s also a little disappointing to see that you can only magnify the central portion of the scene: there’s no way of moving the focused region around, which is awkward if your composition requires an off-center point of interest.

The Video Assist 4K can capture Log footage but apply a LUT to the image it displays. This GIF approximates the effect of applying the F-Log/F-Gamut -> WDR/BT 709 LUT available from Fujifilm.

Overall, though, the Video Assist is really easy to use, even for a novice like me. It was easy enough to upload a LUT using the desktop-based software, meaning I can shoot Log but with a comprehensible preview. Equally, once you get used to shooting with False Colors, it’s awkward to live without them. Which brings us to…

Scopes

In keeping with its history of adding features via firmware, Blackmagic Designs recently released the long-promised update that brings ‘scopes to the Video Assist. This is a big deal, since scopes are a very powerful way of interpreting the tonal and color distribution in the footage you’re capturing.

The Vectorscope shows you how the color in your image is distributed.

The latest update brings a luminance waveform, an RGB waveform/parade (though only represented in white, so a little hard to interpret) and a vectorscope.

The implementation is not great, however. All scopes are accessed by tapping the histogram at the lower left of the panel and they all take up the whole screen. Two tiny, tiny buttons inconsistent with the rest of the interface let you control over how the waveforms and video appear. The right-hand button brings up two sliders that adjust how bright the video feed is shown in the background and how bright the waves are displayed.

Waveform Waveform overlaid Video PiP

The second acts as a toggle to show the video feed as a small picture-in-picture window, but no way of showing the scopes themselves on anything but the full width of the screen, so you may find you have to toggle them on and off, rather than leaving them open to monitor as you shoot.

Despite this slightly rough-round-the-edges implementation, the addition of scopes is a significant addition to the Video Assist, especially as they’re tools that are generally lacking from the cameras we tend to review. They’re also a free upgrade to any existing owners and coincide with Blackmagic Designs offering a significant temporary price cut on the device, so we’re not going to be too critical of the slightly imperfect integration.

Conclusion

For many people it won’t be obvious why they should go out and spend $ 900 on an accessory that does something their camera tries to do already: preview and capture movies. However, for a certain kind of videography, the Video Assist makes life a lot easier (and the peace of mind it brings, in terms of knowing that your footage is going to be correctly shot is immense).

With a simple L-shaped bracket, you can make a relatively hand-holdable combination with some small cameras (though you’ll need to think pretty hard about stabilization).

And, despite a couple of gripes about its operation, the Video Assist 4K is still a very easy-to-use, well specified device. It means that, for less than the cost of a new camera, you can maximize the quality of the footage you’re capturing from your current one while also gaining access to a host of useful tools it almost certainly hasn’t got.

In addition, shooting in formats such as ProRes and DNx means your footage is in and edit-friendly format, straight out of the recorder, potentially removing a time-consuming transcoding step from your workflow.

$ 900 isn’t a trivial amount of money but, for a great many photographers, it’s an amount they’d be happy to spend on a new lens. And, like a lens, it’s a purchase that will probably outlive your current camera and work happily with whatever you’re shooting in a few years time. Only the lack of 4K/60p or DCI 4K capture and the uncertainty over fast SD card support casts a doubt over its future-proof-ness.

What we like:

  • Captures the best of your camera’s output
  • Adds hugely useful tools to support video capture
  • Durable build

What we don’t:

  • Question mark over future SD card support
  • Increasingly convoluted interface

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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VSGO Camera Sensor Cleaning Kit Review

08 Jul

Cleaning your camera sensor for the first time can be a scary thing! But the fact of the matter is that it’s not as scary as many people make it out to be. Indeed if you get the chance to watch a professional sensor your camera, they’re pretty stress-free and just get on with the job, and while there is a (mostly!) good level of care, they’re not carrying on as if they’re performing open-heart surgery.

Yes, our cameras are our babies. But they’re also tools and despite what we may think, they can handle a little bit of hard work and a good cleaning, too. In this article, I’m going to tell you about my experience cleaning my own sensors and using the VSGO sensor cleaning kit.

VSGO sensor cleaning kit

See below for the video demonstration.

VSGO Sensor Cleaning Kit

The first time I ever tried cleaning my own sensor was on my new Canon 5D MarkII. I remember being super nervous and thinking that I was going to cause some irreversible damage!

Well, as it happens, I managed to put a big streak of cleaning fluid on the sensor and when I took a test shot I was horrified. I thought I’d scratched the sensor right down the middle! So I did a little bit of Googling to find that almost all modern sensors have some sort of protective layer in front of them to protect them from fools like me! I added a tiny dot of cleaning fluid, did it again and my sensor was sparkly and clean!

It is scary, but it’s not hard to effectively clean your own sensor.

I’ve used other sensor cleaning kits before. They worked fine, but they were just bigger and bulkier than this simple VSGO kit so I left them at home. With the VSGO sensor cleaning kit, I chuck a couple of swabs and a little bottle of cleaning fluid in my camera bag and I’m always ready should the need arise.

Sensor cleaning demo

I’ve put together this quick video to show you the exact procedure I use with these VSGO cleaning swabs, take a look!

As you can see in the video above, it’s easy to see the bigger dust spots, they’re sitting there waiting to be wiped away. Many people like the idea of blowing those right off, but I prefer not to do that. I don’t like the idea of blowing the bigger bits of dust off of my sensor and straight into the shutter box or sensor cavity to blow around at a later date and make your sensor clean mostly invalid! Kinda like driving through a car wash that’s just had its washy bits coated in dirt, no thanks.

In my few months of testing the VSGO cleaning system, I’ve found that with most camera sensors, you will only need one VSGO brush with a wipe from left to right. Then one more back from right to left using the opposite side of the brush and you’re done. But there have been one or two sensors that have required a couple of extra wipes!

How do you know when to clean your sensor?

When you’re out taking photographs and you close down your aperture (bigger f-number, for those of you that are newer to photography) for a deeper depth-of-field, you may notice little dark smudges, particularly around the edge of your photographs. Those cheeky little things are dust spots on the sensor (unless you had a pack of rabid pigeons flying around you looking for chips!)

They’re not very obvious when you’re taking a photograph with a shallow depth of field, and many photographers are prone to using our lenses as wide as they will go for the most part, so it’s not an issue. But from time to time, given the right situation, you will notice them.

In the photo below, I’ve bumped up the Contrast and Clarity in Lightroom to make the little smudge stand out a bit – pretty sure you’ll spot them!

 

My experience with the VSGO sensor cleaning kit was a very positive one and I have a couple of swabs and a bottle of cleaning fluid in both of my camera bags. (Thanks to Jeff at ProTog in Melbourne for telling me about these kits!) There is no downside to buying and having the VSGO cleaning kit with you, so I award it five out of five stars!

The post VSGO Camera Sensor Cleaning Kit Review by Sime appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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Domke F-803 and F-5XB review

05 Jul

Domke F-803 & F-5XB Shoulder Bags
$ 80-150/£63-118 | www.tiffen.com | Buy Now

The small camera bag has long had a place in the hearts of serious photographers. Yes, most of us all have giant backpacks, bags and even hard rolling cases that get used for the ‘big’ jobs. But many of us also appreciate the ease of a small, unobtrusive shoulder bag and the simplicity it represents. Could it be the long memory of the classic National Geographic photographers and their Leica rangefinders? Or is it just that we’re tired of breaking our backs with big F2.8 zoom kits all the time?

For almost 40 years now, Domke has been in the business of making no-nonsense hard-wearing bags for photojournalists and working photographers. Unsurprisingly, many of their bags quickly found favor with enthusiast photographers as well. This has been particularly true of some of their smaller bags. The satchel style F-803 and the compact shoulder bag F-X5B are two examples of smaller Domke bags that have been popular with many photographers. In fact, a black canvas F-803 was one of the first camera bags I owned and it has seen many miles of use with rangefinder, and nowadays, Micro Four Thirds gear.

Specifications

F-803

  • Exterior: 34.29 x 8.89 x 24.5 cm / 13.5 x 3.5 x 10.0″
  • Interior: 30.48 x 7.62 x 22.86 cm / 12.0 x 3.0 x 9.0″
  • Weight: .89 kg (1.9 lb)

F-5XB

  • Exterior: 25.4 x 11.4 x 18.4 cm / 10.0 x 4.5 x 7.25″
  • Interior: 24.1 x 10.2 x 15.2 cm / 9.5 x 4.0 x 6.0″
  • Weight: 0.56 kg (1.2 lb)

Both bags come in most of the combos of classic Domke canvas (sand, black, olive) as well as their newer RuggedWear waxed canvas (brown, military green). Some special editions such as those for Fujifilm or Best Buy (the green RuggedWear bags pictured here) may have leather trim/accents.

In use

F-803

The F-803 has a single main compartment with light padding. It is most typically sold with a single padded insert, the FA-280. There are two pockets on the front of the bag with velcro closures sized for small accessories such as batteries or a cell phone.

There is also a document pocket along the back however, this pocket has no closure and as such, you may not want to put anything of value or that could be damaged if it fell out. That said, I typically find it useful for maps, papers and a pen or two.

The main section is covered by a flap closure with a single metal buckle and a stiffening bar with a handle along the top. I find the single buckle simple to operate with one hand and this makes access quick and easy. The handle is very useful, but due to the fact that it attached to the flap itself, it doesn’t work as well if the buckle isn’t clipped.

Photo courtesy Tiffen

The stiffening bar is a little unfortunate as it does not allow the bag to conform to your body as well as it might otherwise, but it is a minor issue and if it really bugs you can be removed with a minor bit of ‘bag surgery’. To be honest, while I’ve thought about it from time to time, I’ve never gotten around to bothering to remove the one in my bag.

The F-803 is very lightly padded on the sides and bottom, with no padding on the front or back. The pockets on the front provide a measure of protection as does anything you have stuffed into the back document pocket. But it cannot be stressed that this bag, like many of Domke’s bags, is not for those who require complete protection for their gear.

As you might expect, storage in a bag this slim is going to be tight. The F-803 is sized well for just about any mirrorless system. A DSLR will work, I’ve even used a 6D in there. But it gets a bit tight for my taste, particularly with zoom lenses, and I would encourage you to try before you buy if this is your intended use. The FA-280 doesn’t help matters. Because of its narrow and full-height design, it can really only reasonably fit a mirrorless body with a slim to medium sized prime lens.

Storage in a bag this slim is going to be tight

My solution was to attach the insert over to the left or the right and then put my body/lens into the open space and an extra lens into the insert. One thing I particularly liked about this layout is that my body lays on its side and I felt like this made it quicker to grab the grip and start shooting.

Another solution that is popular, but I myself have not tried, is to purchase the Domke FA-230 insert.The FA-230 is a three compartment design with dividers that are not full-height. This allows you to insert many body + lens combos in a lens-down orientation. The FA-230 will run you an extra $ 23, however. It is also more padded than the F-803 itself and while this does give you additional protection, it also takes up internal space and makes the bag feel bulkier.

The F-803’s biggest asset is its slimness and light padding. On a crowded subway or slipping through a crowd at a sold-out concert, you won’t feel like you’re at risk of smacking people with your camera bag at every turn. This can also be a drawback as the F-803 will not stand up on its own in most situations; if you try to set it down, it will topple right over. Couple this with the fact that the light padding doesn’t give all that much protection, and you have to understand that you can’t go tossing it around like you might with a bulkier bag.

It also doesn’t look much like a camera bag at all, If anything, it looks like a small messenger or laptop bag. Now, is a laptop less enticing to thieves than a camera bag? Who knows. But for those who don’t want to look like they are carrying a camera bag, the F-803 has you covered.

F-5XB

First off, it must be pointed out that the F-5XB is quite a small bag. While it may be possible to use the F-5XB for a small DSLR, this bag is really a better bet for mirrorless system users. An Olympus Pen and a few lenses fit perfectly. The front back and bottom of the bag are lightly padded with sewn-in foam, the sides are unpadded. The strap is Domke’s standard canvas-with-rubber-threads ‘gripper’ style that you will either love because it stays on your shoulder or hate because it won’t slide around your body.

Photo courtesy Tiffen

Two dividers are included and realistically, I’m not sure you need more in a bag this size. Access is via a velcro flap cover with an additional zipper that can be closed or left open. The zipper is big and easy to use with quality YKK teeth/pulls. Honestly, I rarely use the zipper –only when I’m not going to be using the camera for a bit and want an added measure of protection against anything falling out.

There is also a belt-strap pass-through on the back in case one wants to make the F-5XB into a waist/hip bag instead of a shoulder bag. I can’t imagine using this myself, but others may feel differently. I would have preferred to see that area used for another small pocket or two. On that note, organizational pockets are at a premium on the F-5XB, with just one on the front of the bag that can’t hold much more than a couple pens or a spare battery.

I’ve rarely used bags this small in the past. They seemed too little and purse-like for me to fit into either my gear organization or shooting style. Even when I was using tiny Leica rangefinders back in my film days, I preferred something like the F-803 over a little box like the F-5XB. But now, a few years (and camera systems) down the road, I find myself surprised as just how useful the F-5XB is in some situations. It’s a handy ‘grab and go’ size for taking to a picnic, birthday party, or wedding where you aren’t worried about ergonomics or stealth and just want a way to carry a body and lens or two.

I find myself surprised as just how useful the F-5XB is in some situations

What was even more of a surprise to me was how useful it was for stashing in my luggage for a business trip. I frequently take a camera and a couple small lenses on even the most boring of trips. But I typically have them in my overloaded laptop messenger or backpack carry-on. Bringing the F-5XB along meant that I could lighten my load and just use it for a morning or evening photo adventure. It’s a use I wouldn’t have thought to specifically get a bag for otherwise, and the F-5XB worked perfectly for the task.

The strong velcro on the flap is the most common ‘dislike’ mentioned by photographers about the F-5XB, and I’d have to agree. The amount of velcro is overkill for the size and use of the flap.

This is an instance where it would have been nice to see the velcro ‘silencers’ used on some of Domke’s newer bags. Or, even better, the ‘silent’ velcro that Tenba uses on some of its bags.

Perhaps more strangely, for some reason, the velcro on the flap and bag doesn’t line up when the flap is folded over. I’m not sure if this is a design feature or a bug, but it is odd. I suppose one advantage is that less of the velcro is engaged, making for less of a rrrrrriiippp sound when you open it?

It’s also a bit of a shame that a bag of this size and design doesn’t have a grab handle of some sort. If my use is any guide, there are going to be a lot of times when you aren’t using this bag on your shoulder and are just grabbing it to pick up or set down. I think if I were going to use this bag a lot, I would fashion one of the basic webbing-style handles like those on the Domke J2/F2/etc that clip onto the strap rings.

There is no avoiding the fact that the style of this bag won’t appeal to some

Finally, there is no avoiding the fact that the style of this bag won’t appeal to some, as it looks very much like a ‘camera bag’. A nondescript camera bag, to be sure, but a camera bag nonetheless. In fact, the only other thing you could perhaps convince someone that it was, is a small purse. Either way, it’s not going to suit some photographers for this reason alone. Us camera nerds can be a picky bunch.

What’s the bottom line?

First things first, as I’ve repeated a couple of times, these are small basic bags that feel more at home with mirrorless systems than even compact DSLRs. They do not have expanding water bottle pockets or laptop sleeves or weight distributing straps. Anyone looking for all-day comfort or highly customizable organizational options will be disappointed. They are for unobtrusively carrying a small camera kit and little else, in a tough non-descript package. But what they do, they do quite well, and if my experience is any guide, will keep doing so after years of hard use.

Anyone looking for all-day comfort or highly customizable organizational options will be disappointed

While the two bags aren’t exactly similar, I will say that the F-803 is the clear winner here for me as far as a small bag for a mirrorless system. This is not surprising when you consider the fact that I’ve owned and used an F-803 for the better part of two decades now. While the F-5XB was handier than I thought it would be, I can’t say that it fits my needs as well and I find its design in need of some updating. That said, it is a quite popular bag and I’m likely to hear about how wrong I am in the comments. So, read both sets of opinions and come to your own conclusion based on what your requirements are.

F-803

What we like:

  • Slim
  • Very nondescript
  • Easy access with a single buckle closure
  • Proven simple tough design
  • Made in the USA

What we don’t like:

  • Can’t stand up on its own
  • Not much padding
  • Few organizing pockets

F-5XB

What we like:

  • Compact size
  • Zipper close is easy to use, single flap is easy to open
  • Can use as an insert inside luggage when traveling
  • Made in the USA

What we don’t like:

  • Too much velcro on flap, yet doesn’t line up properly
  • Appearance will not suit some
  • Not for large cameras/lenses
  • Only a single small pocket
  • No top handle

F-803

F-5XB

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Peak Design Everyday Backpack Review

25 Jun

Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L/30L
$ 260-290/£204-227 | www.peakdesign.com | Buy Now

I can’t imagine that there has ever been a time when photographers had more camera bag options than we do today. There are more manufacturers, styles and price points than one can count. From generic knockoffs to designer leather, there is a bag out there to carry your camera, lenses and accessories.

But what if you want to carry your camera and some other stuff you need through the day? Maybe you’re a traveler and you want to have a water bottle, a raincoat and some ibuprofen as you hike through Paris? Or what if you are a student who needs a computer, a few books and lunch for a day at school? Or what if you just want to carry your everyday things with you as well as your camera? Well, then your options are a little more limited.

Maybe you’re a traveler and you want to have a water bottle, a raincoat and some ibuprofen as you hike through Paris?

Pulling out dividers in a photo backpack to fit in books, wrapping the camera in a towel and stuffing it in a daypack, or strapping a small camera bag to your hiking pack are all DIY solutions that folks have tried and found unsatisfying. The few options on the market tended to be bulky, difficult to access and frequently under-delivered as far as understanding what non-photo gear someone would want to carry.

In 2015, Peak Design launched its Everyday Messenger on Kickstarter with the goal of creating a bag that would both carry camera gear and the everyday stuff that someone might need for a day of work, school, travel or just living life. Proving that there was a real need for a bag like this, the company hit its funding goal in a single day and would eventually be funded to the tune of $ 4.8 million from over 17,000 backers.

This led Peak Design to start a second Kickstarter in 2016 to fund a backpack design (along with a tote and sling) for those of us who understand that two straps carry weight better than one. Once again, the new designs were funded successfully and the Everyday Backpack in 20L and 30L sizes was released to the public.

Specifications

20L

  • 46 H x 30 W x 17 D cm (18” H x 12” W x 6.75” D)
  • 1350g (2.9 lbs.)
  • Holds up to a 15” laptop

30L

  • 51 H x 33 W x 20 D cm (20” H x 13” W x 7.75” D)
  • 1542g (3.4 lbs.)
  • Holds up to a 16” laptop

The ultralight waxed Kodra synthetic canvas is DWR coated for weatherproofness and comes in a Charcoal gray with red stitching accents or a lighter Ash gray with blue stitching accents and tan leather touchpoints (handles, zipper pulls, etc).

In Use

Many times manufacturers make claims about the design of their products that feel overstated when you are actually using them. I have to say that, for the most part, the design of the Everyday Backpack works just as it was intended to. I took the 20L on a trip to Europe recently and beat the heck out of it – crammed it under airplane seats, stuffed it with groceries, soaked it in epic rainstorms. All the while, I was accessing my gear hundreds of times to take photos at every opportunity. I came away pretty impressed.

Photo courtesy Peak Design

Unlike a majority of camera bags on the market, the Everyday Backpack doesn’t use a system of individual padded dividers to create compartments for your gear. Instead, it uses what Peak Design calls ‘FlexFold’ dividers. This is a system of full-width internal shelves that can be positioned in the bag. The shelves have the ability to fold out of the way to create larger spaces, they also have the ability to fold up and create subdivided spaces. The design is a little difficult to explain in words or photos and your best bet may to just watch this video.

I was surprised at how well these worked generally. I was able to shift from a mirrorless layout to an overnight bag for an unexpected trip and then back again in moments. There are limits, and if you have specific needs you’ll be re-velcroing the shelves as well as folding/unfolding them, but it’s really a clever design overall.

The three main drawbacks I noticed were that the folding subsections could ‘unfold’ if something heavy (such as a lens) was in an adjacent subsection. In addition, since the shelves and subsections are not ‘sealed’ in the way that a padded-divider backpack is, small items like lens caps tend to wander around the bag easily. Finally, this design is not one that will allow you to use every inch of the bag for gear in the way a traditional camera backpack would. The idea is to have your camera get in one part of the bag and other everyday items in another.

The Everyday Backpack has four access points. The top section uses a flap cover that is secured with Peak’s excellent MagLatch closure that allows easy blind one-handed operation. The MagLatch has multiple attachment points allowing the upper section to expand to carry bulky loads or tighten up to make the pack as small as possible.

Then there is a top access computer/tablet/flat-stuff section that sits against your back. The other two access points, the ones you will use most often to access your camera, are dual full-length zipper openings on either side of the bag. The idea is that you slip one shoulder strap off and swing the bag around in front of you horizontally to access your gear.

A very full 30L Everyday Backpack

Overall, access is very well done. I was impressed how the fullness of any one area of the bag doesn’t affect accessing of any other area. The top section can be stuffed with lunch and extra layers of clothing and you can still use the side access to grab your camera or change lenses. This is one of the most crucial aspects in making a successful ‘everyday’ design and it is where many bags fail. One thing to note, however, is that the drawback to this design is that one cannot lay the bag on the ground and flip it open to access every piece of equipment at once. If that is how you tend to work out of your backpacks, the Everyday Backpack may not be for you.

There are a lot of neat design aspects to the Everyday Backpack and it would make a long article much longer to list them all. So in no particular order, here are a few of my favorites. The weatherproof fabric and zippers held up to some truly torrential rainstorms. Built in external lashing straps allow for a surprising amount of useful external carry. I strapped everything from groceries to a jacket to sandy shoes to the outside of the pack. The external side pockets both hide the waistbelt and external lash straps and can hold a water bottle or tripod.

There are a ton of small pockets in the bag for batteries, pens, cords, passports and whatnot. This not only gives you a place for all the little things, but it keeps them from bouncing around the bag or getting crammed together in the bottom. Every strap and handle is done in ‘seatbelt’ material that is soft and strong.

Finally, and particularly important for some folks, there is little about this pack that looks like a camera bag. You may look like a tourist or a student with your daypack on, but nobody is going to peg you as walking around with thousands of dollars in camera gear on your back. At least not until you stop to take their picture.

What didn’t I like? As with any bag, even really good ones, I had a few nitpicks, but I stress that they were all pretty minor. The most significant one was that I thought the shoulder straps could have been better padded. While they are ergonomically curved and have a clever axial rotating attachment system, users may not be impressed if they are used to technical outdoor style pack straps.

While there is a waist belt, it isn’t padded and exists more for stability than for taking weight off of your shoulders.

That said, the straps weren’t uncomfortable, even on long days (and did seem to ‘break in’ after some use). I just feel like a bit more function instead of form could have served better in this area, especially for heavy loads and the 30L size. Likewise, while there is a waist belt, it isn’t padded and exists more for stability than for taking weight off of your shoulders. Good to have, but doesn’t carry much load.

Due to being somewhat narrow, a good thing when moving through crowds, and having a slightly rounded design, the Everyday Backpack doesn’t stand up on its bottom or side particularly well. This isn’t a serious fault, but it is worth remembering that it is likely to flop over when you set it down and that you shouldn’t leave any of the access points open lest things roll out (good advice for any bag, really).

The external side pockets are really useful for both water bottles and things like tripods. However, unless you have long arms, it may be difficult to reach that water bottle while the pack is on. It’s possible, but you end up feeling like a contortionist. Beyond that, anytime you have something in those side pockets, it becomes a lot more difficult to use the side access openings.

I’m a big believer in the idea that how we carry our gear is as important as the gear itself.

Finally, at $ 260, this is an expensive bag. While the market has expanded enough that there is nothing particularly unusual about a $ 260 bag these days, it can still be a difficult decision when a bag costs as much as a nice used prime lens. That said, I’m a big believer in the idea that how we carry our gear is as important as the gear itself. If you don’t enjoy using your bag, you won’t bring your camera. For me, this bag is worth the money.

20L vs 30L

The design of the 20L and the 30L backpacks are virtually identical. The 30L is just a bit, you know, bigger. How much bigger? Well, you can see the numbers published above, and you probably know that 30L is 50% larger by volume than 20L. But in the real world, I think I would put it like this…

The 20L is best for:

  • Mirrorless kits
  • Small DSLRs with compact zooms or primes
  • Squishing into a subway car or through a crowded bar
  • Being a daypack for traveling
  • Airplane travel as your “personal item”
  • Smaller framed people

The 30L is best for:

  • Pro DSLR kits
  • Fast zooms
  • Camera + a bunch of other stuff
  • School bag for textbooks
  • Being an overnight bag
  • Airplane travel as your only carry on
  • Bigger/taller people

These aren’t hard and fast rules, you can configure these bags in a lot of different ways to carry a lot of different things. But if someone was asking me which bag to get to use as an airline ‘personal item’, I’d have to say the 20L as it is right at (or very slightly over) the size limit for many airlines. If someone was telling me they just HAD to have their full-frame F2.8 zooms with them all day long, I’d point them to the 30L. The 30L is bigger on the back and makes squeezing through crowds tougher than the 20L. But if you thought you were going to grab a few groceries on the way home, you’d probably be happy that you had the 30L.

To be honest, if I had to recommend one, I would suggest the 20L. I believe that the smaller less conspicuous size fits more into the intended ‘everyday’ design. At 5’5 I’m shorter than average for a guy, and when I’ve got the 30L on there is no mistaking that I’m wearing a backpack. It’s not like the 20L disappears when I have it on, but it is less bulky and obvious and I find it easier to move through life because of its smaller volume.

You can, and perhaps should, chalk my 20L suggestion up to my body type, but it’s an opinion I have seen echoed by other photographers as well. If you can, try to see both packs side by side before you buy. If that’s not possible, there are some good YouTube videos that compare the two sizes.

What’s the bottom line?

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the Peak Design Everyday Backpack is the best ‘carry a camera and some other stuff’ pack I have ever used. The flexible storage space, ease of access, non-photo storage options, tough construction and overall form factor come together in a package that is completely usable. It is a solid feeling bag that does what it is designed to do.

Now, nothing on this earth is perfect and the Everyday Backpack is no different. But aside from wishing that the straps were designed differently and acknowledging that the price-point is going to be off-putting for some, most of the rest of my complaints are minor at best. I would happily use this pack across town for the day or across the world for a month. If you are looking for a backpack that you can carry your camera gear along with the rest of your daily life I’m not sure how you would find anything better than the Everyday Backpack.

What we liked:

  • Clever divider system
  • Easy to access some of the things without accessing all of the things
  • Having one area stuffed full doesn’t affect access to other areas.
  • Well thought out organizational system
  • External lash options allow more carry options

What we didn’t like:

  • Expensive
  • Shoulder straps are not the most padded
  • Heavy items can cause subdividers to unfold if nothing under them when pack is slung around sideways
  • May not stand up on its bottom. May not stand up on side.
  • Small things can slip through the dividers easily and move around the pack

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Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

22 Jun

In this quick review of the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art Lens, I will go over some of its features and give you my overall impression of this lens.

Photographers like gear

I belong to several photography groups, both online as well as within my local area, and often times when we meet, we end up talking about our gear. Conversations typically revolve around the gear we have, what we would like to have, and what we want to sell off. On several occasions, I have heard my fellow photographers talk about the Sigma Art series of lenses. They always start the conversation with, “Oh, I absolutely love my Sigma Art lens. The bokeh is so dreamy!” Now, I am a Canon shooter – always have been and always will be. But that does not mean that every once in a while, I don’t like to test out gear from other companies to compare performance, specifications, and price.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens comes with a case and a lens hood.

So when I had the opportunity to test out the Sigma 135mm 1.8 DG HSM Art lens, I jumped at the chance. I spent about three weeks with this lens and used it for a variety of photography assignments – both indoors and outdoors. Here is my review based on my personal experiences with this lens.

Technical Specifications

As per Sigma’s website, the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art is a medium range telephoto prime lens designed for modern high-megapixel DSLRs. A new large Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) delivers ample torque to the focusing group for outstanding speed, ensuring exceptionally stable performance even at lower speeds. This state-of-the-art prime lens touts a dust and splash proof mount for guaranteed performance in any condition and its large 1.8 aperture allows for more creative control over imagery.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens attached to my Canon 1V film camera.

My telephoto lens of choice is my Canon EF 70-200L lens. It’s heavy and bulky but gives me some of the best picture quality in its class. Compared to that lens, the 135mm felt lightweight and comfortable to carry around all day. Being a fixed lens, there are no moving parts, unlike the zoom ring on the 70-200mm. While this meant that I had to move around to get shots at various distances, it was not an inconvenience. I just used pretended to have a zoom lens by moving my feet!

The lens looks very sharp and clean. The smooth matte black finish of the lens gives it a certain visual appeal. The build quality is very clean and it feels like a solid piece of glass. The lens is a little heavy (at about 2.56 pounds or 1.2 kg) but if you are used to walking around with other telephoto lenses, it’s not any different compared to using those.

Sharpness of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 Art Lens

The legendary quality of having the dreamiest bokeh is very true with this lens. It is super sharp even when shooting absolutely wide open. I typically shoot very wide opened with all my Canon L-lenses which fits my style of photography. The aperture of f/2.0 is my personal sweet spot – the one that I really trust to give me a shallow depth of field and dreamy bokeh (blurry background). This lens did not disappoint at my favorite f-stop.

But even at f/1.8 (the widest aperture on the Sigma 135mm), the lens was tack sharp with very shallow depth of field. Once it was stopped down to f/16, there was some softness on the edges of the frame but it’s not very prominent. With a lens of this quality, the best aperture would be between f/1.8 to f/4 (in my opinion) to get the best of the shallow depth of field and bokeh that we all love.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

Shot at ISO 200, f/1.8 – wide open – look at that dreamy bokeh.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

ISO 200 at f/2.0

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

ISO 200 at f/9 – more of the entire scene is clear and visible – with a wider (deeper) depth of field here.

Vignetting

The Sigma 135mm at f/1.8 Art Lens showed slight edge vignetting when shot wide open. But for my style of photography, it’s minimal and nothing I could not fix in post-processing. I was very impressed with the number of tack sharp images that I could keep even when I used the lens completely wide open at f/1.8.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

The image above left was shot at ISO 200, f/2.0 and on the right, the same scene was shot at ISO 200, f/9. There is no visible softness or vignetting at either aperture. The bokeh at f/2.0 is so dreamy (shallow depth of field) and at f/9 more of the background is visible.

Autofocus

The Sigma 135mm has an electronic hypersonic motor. This makes the autofocus very fast and smooth. I found that the lens locked focus easily and did not hunt while focusing. The AF motor was also relatively quiet and smooth as compared to other telephoto lenses like the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II USM that is really slow while hunting for focus in the AF mode.

Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

While hiking my two boys decided they would lead the pack. I really wanted to capture this independent streak and both images are shot less than 2 seconds apart. The Sigma 135mm had no problems tracking focus as they moved up the trail. Both images were shot at ISO 200, f/2.0 and both have the subjects tack sharp and in focus in spite of the movement.

Macro capabilities

While the Sigma 135mm is not described as a macro lens, it did offer 0.2x magnification with a minimum focusing distance of just under three feet. Since I have a dedicated macro lens that I use for my detail shots, I did not pay much attention to this feature. However, in a pinch, this lens could be used to provide some magnification.

Karthika Gupta Memorable Jaunts DPS Article - Sigma 135mm lens review-11

The 135mm zoom was a little tight when I had to take in-studio headshots but once I got the focus locked, it turned out beautifully. Both images were shot at f/2.0 ISO 640, 1/125th.

Summary

Overall I was really very impressed with the Sigma 135mm 1.8 DG HSM Art lens. It is a superbly built piece of gear that was incredibly fast, easy to carry, handle, and use.

The only thing I needed to get used to was the fact that it was a prime lens and not a zoom, unlike my favorite 70-200mm telephoto lens. This meant I had to move around to get shots at different angles and different focal lengths, but I don’t consider that a con. Instead, I feel that shooting with a prime lens makes you more careful and thoughtful about your compositions since you have to physically move around to get a diverse range of shots.

The Sigma 135mm lens is definitely something to look into if you are in the market for a good quality telephoto lens.

The post Quick Review of the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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Flash review: the Godox Ving V860 II is a great-value wireless solution

19 Jun
  • Godox Ving V860 ll flash – $ 199/£161
  • Godox Ving V860 ll flash kit with X1 transmitter – $ 245/£199
  • X1 transmitter – $ 40/£37
  • www.godox.com

I’ve been a big fan of independent flash brands since I was a teenager. Marquee brands’ hotshoe units were always disproportionately expensive, and for a young photographer on a stacking-shelves budget the appeal of cheaper and more powerful models from secondary manufacturers was obvious.

In those days of course flash unit controls were much less complicated, but working with flash was generally much harder than it is today – all we expected back then was a cable socket and a manually variable burst of illumination.

The Godox V860 ll is a very well made flash unit that comes equipped with an AF assist light on the front, a sync socket for cabled triggering and a USB port for firmware updates.

The head offers full tilt and swivel movements, manual and automatic zoom, a diffuser and a white card reflector for catchlights

Flash changed with the advent of aperture priority options, the coming of full TTL metering, optical off-camera communications and then, eventually, radio controls. While in the distant past the independent flash brands were very much following in the footsteps of the big names, now we often see the resourcefulness of some companies putting the sluggish progress of the main brands to shame.

While Nikon and Canon have held on to their intermittently effective optical flash control systems for far too long, innovative brands such as Godox, Phottix and others have been making real progress in the field of 2.4GHz radio controls. The big names have been catching up of course, but for those looking for something that doesn’t come with a significant premium for having radio wireless TTL control these companies offer an interesting set of alternatives.

Specification

Godox V860 ll
Compatible Canon, Nikon, Sony
Guide No 60m/190ft @ ISO 100
Flash coverage 20-200mm (14mm with diffuse)
Zoom control Auto and manual
Tilt/Swivel -7-90 degrees/180 degrees both L and R
Flash duration 1/300-1/20000sec
Exposure TTL and manual

Flash exp comp

+/- 3 stops
Sync mode

High speed (up to 1/8000sec)
First curtain and second curtain

Strobe-flash Up to 90 bursts at 100Hz
Wireless functions Master, Slave, Off
Slave groups

3 (A, B, C)

Transmission range

Optical indoors: 39-49ft
Optical outdoors: 26-33ft
2.4G Radio: 100m/328ft

Channels

Optical: 4
Radio: 32

Modelling flash Yes, via camera’s depth of field button
AF assist beam Yes. Range – Centre: 33ft, Edge: 16ft
Power 11.1V/2000mAh Li-ion polymer battery
Recycle time <1.5 seconds
Battery life Approx 650 full power flashes
Sync triggering Hotshoe, 2.5mm port, wireless
Color Temperature 5600 +/-200k
W x H x D 64x76x190mm/2.5x3x7.5in
Weight without battery 430g/15.2oz
Weight with battery 540g/19oz

In case you aren’t aware, the attraction of radio over optical controls in flash-to-flash communications is that the signal is more reliable outside on a sunny day and it can pass through walls and other physical barriers. Units don’t have to be the same room or very close together, and we don’t have problems of modifiers covering sensors if the flash unit needs to sit inside a softbox or similar. And that is what makes me excited about using these Godox Ving V860 ll units.

Features

The V860 II is the latest Godox offering for Canon, Nikon and Sony users, and it provides TTL metering and off-camera control via a wireless 2.4GHz radio system, as well as the usual optical control system. The unit can operate on the camera’s hotshoe as a commander unit for both other Godox flashguns and the marque brand’s own radio units, or it can join a network controlled by an ‘official’ flash unit – or indeed by a radio transmitter plugged into the camera.

The output is healthy enough, with an official guide number of 60m/190ft @ ISO 100 at 200mm, and we are offered full manual control from full to 1/128th power in 1/3rd EV increments. Flash duration figures range from 1/300sec at the more powerful settings to 1/20,000sec for the lighter bursts.

High speed sync allowed me to shoot with shutter speeds well above the standard sync speeds of the Nikon D810. The shot on the left was taken at 1/640sec and that on the right at 1/1000sec. Despite the short shutter speed and the reduced opportunity for the flash to get its illumination out, the V860 ll was easily able to compete with the bright sunlight – even when hindered by a mini softbox

The flash provides rear curtain sync even if your camera doesn’t, and high speed sync allows the flash units to be used on or off-camera at shutter speeds of up to 1/8000sec. The head has zoom positions to cover the angle of view of lenses from 20mm to 200mm, while a wide angle diffuser provides for focal lengths as short as 14mm. Comprehensive swivel and tilt positions help us direct that coverage in practically every direction except directly downwards.

Strobing can be arranged at a range of frequencies, intensities and over fixed periods, though the over-heating protection asks that we limit ourselves to 10 sequences before resting. To give you an idea of what the unit is capable of at ¼ power it is possible to choose options between 1 flash per second for 7 seconds and 2 flashes at a rate of 100 flashes per second. At minimum power that changes to 90 bursts at 1 per second, and 40 bursts at 100 per second. In normal shooting though Godox says 30 full power or 100 ¼ power flashes can be fired in quick succession before the over-heating protection kicks in and demands a 10 minute break.

One of the interesting elements of the flashgun is its power source. The V860 II is powered by the sort of rechargeable lithium ion block battery we might expect to see in a large camera. With a 2000mAh capacity the battery is claimed to be good for 650 full-power bursts and can be recharged in about two and a half hours. I’m not sure this constitutes a revolution, but it feels like one and is a good deal more convenient and civilized than carrying and burning endless AA cells.

What can be controlled wirelessly?

The V860 II is very flexible. It’s happy to to be used to command a group of connected flash units or to be controlled by another. As a commander it can fire to influence the exposure itself or be used as a pure trigger, with no flash output. Godox offers a separate commander/receiver called the X1 that makes a more cost-effective hotshoe commander when no light is required from the camera position.

The system allows three groups of flashes to be controlled at the same time, and users can pick between 32 channels to steer clear of other radio systems in the vicinity. The V860 II can still be controlled optically across four channels, but when in radio mode it has a range of 100m and works outside even in bright light, as well as when positioned in a different room with a wall between the flash and the controller.

This scene was lit with a pair of V860 ll units – one inside and one outside the house. The main flash unit was fitted into a Godox S-Type Speedlite Bracket with a SFUV softbox, and was positioned in the garden to fire through the window on the left of the frame. A second V860 ll was placed camera-right, to light the back of the subject’s head through a Rogue snoot. The camera’s metering was set to matrix, while both heads were set to +1EV via the X1 transmitter on the camera.

I found the flash’s color consistent, well balanced and in no need of correction. The cool-day/warm-day effects here were created in post-production.

Wireless control extends to manual and TTL control, as well as high speed working and strobotic operation, and a modelling burst is still possible with a press of the camera’s depth-of-field preview button.

Handling

The V860 II has a clear enough screen and lays out its wares in a pretty logical way. Once we are familiar with the mostly standard type icons it is easy to see what settings are prevailing at any one time. Changing the settings though is less straightforward so a good and thorough read of the instruction manual is recommended. The controls are really not intuitive enough that they can be used with a hazy memory or no previous experience.

With familiarity we can take advantage of a good range of control in the master and slave units. Exposure compensation runs only to +/-3EV for in-unit controls and for slaves across the three channels, which some may consider a little short for complex set-ups. On a similar note it isn’t possible to control the zoom position on slave units from the master control panel. To be fair this is not a standard feature on this sort of flash unit, but it would be useful.

A nice touch – when in commander mode the rear screen of the V860 ll turns green and when being used as a slave it turns orange. The button arrangement is simple enough – at least once you’re used to it and know what the icons mean.

Buttons and dials on the rear of the flash are nicely designed and make operation deliberate once you’ve worked out what each one does, but the controls on the X1 transceiver are a little more fiddly than they need to be and require quite small fingers. The display screen is adequate but a bit small, and on every occasion I used the rear wheel I turned it the wrong way.

The controls on the X1 are small and quite fiddly. They are fine in a relaxed studio environment, but less easy to operate on the go or with gloves on

Changing batteries in mid-shoot is fantastically easy and can be achieved in much less than a quarter of the time it takes to change four AA cells – which makes for much more relaxing weddings. And when fumbled these batteries don’t clatter and roll all the way down the church either. I am rather taken with this idea and wonder why we haven’t been using lithium blocks in our flash units for years. I’m told it makes export more difficult, but I’m not sure how much I believe that’s the whole reason.

Cheap flashguns are all very well but we need something well made and built to last, and these Godox units seem to satisfy both requirements. They feel nice to use and have a reassuring solidity about them without being too weighty. They are actually really well made and I can personally vouch for the fact that they can withstand being dropped from about waist height on to pretty hard ground.

Performance

I used a pair of these V860 ll units with the X1 transceiver on a Nikon D810, and across a couple of weddings and a few portrait shoots they did very well indeed. Nikon I suppose must be given credit for the accuracy of the metering, but the Godox units worked with the camera seamlessly.

Godox’s operating range claims seem well-founded and the radio communication does in fact work well through walls and around corners, though in a couple of instances at very close range I managed to find a blind spot when using the X1 hotshoe transmitter. I was quite surprised to encounter this on a number of occasions when holding the gun in my hand while shooting, and also while the gun was mounted on a bracket next to the camera. The blind spot seems to be at 45 degrees forward of the transmitter when the flash is placed directly alongside.

At greater distances, more normal perhaps for off-camera work, the system performed really very well, but the short range reliability became a bit of an issue for me until I got used to it – I often hold a unit in one hand and the camera in the other when working on my own at events.

Here is an overhead view of the set-up, with flash A in the softbox and flash B bouncing into the reflector. The Godox bag is being used to create a shadow around the base of the bowl. I used an X-Rite Color Checker Passport to white balance the rear flash, and found the shift in color from the camera’s flash white balance setting was hardly noticeable .
For this shot I used a single flash (A) in a softbox, set to 0EV compensation, positioned behind the subject. Here the only light is coming from flash B, positioned forward to the side and bouncing into a gold reflector.
This shot shows the effect of both flashes lighting the scene, with both set to 0EV compensation To create a little more of a three-dimensional feel I increased the power of flash A in the rear to +2EV, and reduced flash B at the front to -1.3EV

At one stage I found the X1 wouldn’t trigger the guns at all, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t make it work. This was extremely frustrating for a long time. I solved the issue by accident when I triggered one V860 ll from the other and then found that suddenly the X1 wanted to work again. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was, but suspect some sort of communication issue that was somehow unblocked when the second flash unit kicked in.

The limitations of the over-heating system will prohibit a few users from being able to make use of these units, but for the vast majority of photographers requiring more than 30 full blast bursts in quick succession is something of a rarity. I certainly can’t complain about recycle times as even at full power the lithium ion battery feeds the flash quickly enough that we can expect a burst every second.

With one flash in another room off the corridor and aimed towards the groom, and another in my hand positioned to bounce from the ceiling, I was able to create some nice lighting effects quickly with this system. The bounced flash was set to -1.3EV so it would just fill the shadows.
The robust metal threads on the supplied feet make the V860 ll units easy to mount on tripods or lighting stands. I used a pair of softboxes to light this shot, one either side of the couple. The small size of the softboxes and the flash heads contributes to the cut-out feeling and illustrates a limitation of hotshoe flashes.

I found the coverage to be even enough at most focal length settings and the output of manual burst to be consistent from shot to shot. The color shifts somewhat between the brightest and the weakest bursts, but not so much that it will be an issue for most non-technical applications.

The flash duration quoted by Godox seems to be the total flash duration rather than the effective duration (the time the maximum intensity drops by half) . Using a Sekonic L-858D meter I measured the total duration at full power to be approx. 1/450sec, and the effective duration to be more like 1/1600sec. The difference will probably not be noticed by most.

Shot in bright sunshine at f/5.6 and 1/400sec at ISO 100, and the zoom in the 70mm position. The flash was in the hotshoe and was more than powerful enough to reach the subjects in an effective way. I was glad of the long-lasting lithium ion batteries on such a day of full power bursts. The main light here is daylight from a window to camera-right. The walls behind the bride though were rather too dull and shaded, so I placed a single V860 ll behind her to light them up a bit. I left it at 0EV and it did the job nicely.

Translating the guide number into real world situations, I found that full power gave me a meter reading of f/8@ISO 100 with the flash 10 feet away and the zoom head set to 50mm. Changing the zoom position to 200mm increased the reading to f/11 ½ in the same situation.

Add-ons and accessories

Included in the two-flash kit I received were feet/stands with a brass tripod thread in the base, a pair of strap-on diffusers, a set of colored gels and a pouch for each flash.

Like many other flash brands, Godox offers a range of accessories that help to modify the light from their units. My favorite accessory though is the S-mount adapter that allows the flash to be clamped within an adapter ring for S-Mount (Bowens) accessories. I tried the V860 ll flashes with big and small softboxes and dishes, as well as the good-sized pop-up softbox that comes with the adapter. As you will know, some speedlight accessories are too big, floppy and cumbersome to use easily, but with its own clamp the S-adapter is excellent and the softbox genuinely useful.

The company also sells an external battery pack for these flash units. The ProPac Lithium Power Pack PB960 can deliver 1800 full power bursts after a three-hour charge, and can accommodate two flash units at the same time. Via adapter cables it can run Godox, Canon, Nikon and/or Sony guns.

It is worth noting too that the radio system of the V860 ll flash units is the same as that which controls some of the company’s studio flash heads, so you can use a mixture of speedlite and studio style sources together.

Conclusion

I have been really very impressed with this system. Firstly because these V860 II units make excellent hotshoe flashguns on their own, and secondly as they provide a comprehensive amount of control and a mostly-reliable wireless radio connection. They perform well when paired with other Godox flashes and are equally well behaved within a group of Nikon radio units, as well as within a collection of optically controlled flashguns.

I really appreciate the reliability and range of radio controlled flash units, not just in these flashes, and that they can be used in a much wider set of circumstances. I got thoroughly sick of trying to use optical systems outside some years ago, and was frustrated at the chances I was missing out on.

The light in this room was nice and even, but being able to balance a flash unit on a basin in the adjoining bathroom allowed me to quickly add an extra dimension to the bride’s face and body with a bit of a broad keyline. Knocking 0.7EV off the brightness of a single V860 ll placed wide camera-left was enough to get the balance right for this early evening shot. The flexibility of the system allowed me to work quickly to get a nice result without having to dash to the flash unit to change the power

I really enjoyed having a block battery and not carrying and disposing of AA cells – it just makes life that much more relaxing and enjoyable. And with the 650-burst capacity it makes me wonder why other brands don’t adopt the same idea.

The most surprising thing about these flashguns though is their price, and that when they turn up they don’t feel like or perform like low cost alternatives. They make an astonishingly good purchase, and I highly recommend them.

Pros

  • Good wireless connection at normal distances
  • Very well made
  • Great block battery with good life
  • Plenty of control on and off the camera
  • Powerful enough for most users
  • Really good price

Cons

  • X1 transceiver could be easier to use
  • Radio signal not so reliable when the flash is close to the X1
  • Needs more than +/-3EV range of compensation

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Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15

15 Jun

mWhen it comes to portrait photography, there seem to be two predominant schools of thought. The first says that retouching is bad, that people should be presented as they are and retouching is a no-no. The second school of thought says that when people have their portrait taken, it should be an idealistic representation of the person, flattering the subject and minimizing any flaws.

The truth, however, probably lies somewhere in the middle. When people have their portrait taken, they want the photographer to make them look as good as possible. Most portraiture requires some level of retouching, and truth be told, retouching was in vogue long before the digital age. Digital photography, however, has brought with it some new tools. One of those tools is PortraitPro 15, from Anthropics Technology.

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15.

Overview of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is available as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. There are three different versions available; Standard, Studio, and Studio Max. PortraitPro Standard is the standalone version, which also has a few other limitations. PortraitPro Studio and Studio Max can both be used as plugins, and they also offer a variety of other options including RAW file support, color profile support, the ability to read and write TIFF and PNG files in 16-bit mode, and a batch dialog. The Studio Max version also offers a Full Batch Mode to greatly speed up your workflow. Compare all editions of PortraitPro 15 here.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using Portrait Professional 15

Getting started with PortraitPro 15

Getting started in PortraitPro 15 is simple. If you’re using the standalone application, simply open the file you wish to work on. From Photoshop (if you’re using the Studio or Studio Max version), go to the Filters menu and Select Anthropics > Portrait Professional.

Once your image is open, PortraitPro 15 will detect the facial outline of the subject. It will sometimes detect gender and age, or it may ask if the subject is male or female or a young girl or boy under 12. You will then be shown a side-by-side comparison, with the image on the left showing the outlines of the face that the software will use for its retouching. These outlines can be adjusted to provide better accuracy, but the software does a pretty good job of selecting facial features on its own. On the right is a preview of what the subject will look like after the retouching is applied.

On the far right, you will see a navigator window that allows you to move around the image easily. Beneath that is a list of presets so you can easily apply a particular look to your subject. Beneath the presets is a group of “Portrait Improving Sliders”. These sliders include;

  • Face Sculpt Controls
  • Skin Smoothing Controls
  • Skin Lighting Controls
  • Makeup Controls
  • Eye Controls
  • Mouth and Nose Controls
  • Hair Controls
  • Skin Coloring Controls
  • Picture Controls

Each of these groups of sliders affects different aspects of the image and provide an incredible amount of control over the retouching process.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using PortraitPro 15.

Some of these sliders, particularly Face Sculpting may seem a bit controversial. Like most digital photo editing tools, you can certainly go too far with its use. But, there are times when it has come in handy and improved the subject, such as when one eye may not be fully open. As with all things, moderation is the key to using these sliders.

The Basic Retouch

Gender Selection in PortraitPro 15

When you open an image using PortraitPro 15, the application will ask you to confirm the gender and age of your subject.

Whether you choose to use the plugin version or the standalone version, the workflow is the same. From Photoshop you’ll select Portrait Professional from the Filters menu, and from Lightroom, you’ll select “Edit In”, which will open the current image in PortraitPro 15. If using the standalone version, simply go to File > Open.

Facial features selection

PortraitPro 15 will try to automatically detect the age and gender of your subject and try to select their eyes, nose, and mouth. If it is unable to detect the gender and age, or any facial features, you will be prompted to do this. Selection, if needed, is easy. You’ll click the outer corner of the left eye, hit next, then click the outer corner of the right eye. Hit next again, and you’ll be prompted to click the tip of the nose. You’ll continue until the eyes, nose, and mouth are selected. PortraitPro will then find the top of the head and the jawline.

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

First editing steps

Once the selection is made, PortraitPro will automatically adjust your image using the Standard settings. From here, you are free to choose a different preset or start moving the sliders to better retouch your portrait.

The first slider I adjust is the Face Sculpt Controls. I will say that I’m not a huge fan of this adjustment so normally I just turn it off. There are times it can get too aggressive and will really alter the look of the subject’s face. You can minimize the amount of adjustment using the Master Fade slider to amend the overall look, or the individual sliders to only affect certain features. For instance, I will often set all the sliders to zero but then use the Eye Widening slider if the subject happens to have a sleepy eye. I do try and keep the digital plastic surgery to a minimum.

Skin Smoothing

The next slider group is the Skin Smoothing Control. This set of sliders does a nice job of minimizing wrinkles and removing blemishes. You do need to be careful when you have a subject with freckles or beauty marks that you want to retain. Again, adjusting the individual sliders will help you find the right amount of smoothing without making things look too plastic, and the Touch Up Brush will allow you to remove strong blemishes without affecting the overall skin texture.

Skin Selection PortraitPro 15

If you need to adjust the area affected by skin smoothing and lighting, you can manually paint in your selection.

PortraitPro offers some quick tips when you select the various sliders. In addition, you may notice that the application hasn’t quite selected all of the skin you want to be retouched, due to changes in tone. Or, conversely, that it has selected areas which you don’t want to be affected, such as clothing with colors close to the skin tone, or hair. You can adjust the skin selection by clicking View/Edit Skin Area and adding or subtracting from the skin selection using a brush, similar to applying a selection by using a layer mask in Photoshop.

Before skin smoothing

Medium skin smoothing applied.

Heavy skin smoothing applied.

Skin Lighting

The Skin Lighting slider controls can actually adjust the lighting on your subject. This is another set of sliders that are best used with care, but a judicious adjustment can help improve your image. Going too far with it, on the other hand, will result in images that have a definitive fake look to them. You have the ability to adjust shadows to the left or right, a kick light to the left or right, and even adjust the angle of your main light.

Before skin lighting effects applied.

Skin lighting medium applied.

Skin lighting heavy applied.

Makeup

The Makeup Controls sliders allow you to add digital makeup to your subject. Everything including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and eyeliner can be added or enhanced here. As with the Face Sculpting and Lighting Controls, you will want to be careful not to overdo things here. But again, I’ve had occasions where a little eyeliner or a change in lipstick color has helped the image.

By the same token, if you are taking a portrait as a starting point, you can create some incredibly different looks by changing the subject’s makeup. This makes it an excellent tool if you are creating a digital illustration from a photo.

Skin Smoothing Controls PortraitPro 15

The skin smoothing controls inside PortraitPro 15

Before make-up applied using PortraitPro 15.

Make-up added.

Make-up added heavily, this is over done.

Facial feature control sliders

The Eye Control sliders do a nice job of enhancing the subject’s eyes and bringing them out. Brightening the irises, sharpening the eyes, and whitening them are all done here. You can even change the eye color and add catch lights. The biggest mistake I’ve made (and seen others make) is going too far with the whitening, giving the eyes an unnatural glow. Eyes can be adjusted individually, so you have a lot of control over their look.

Before eye controls applied.

Eye controls medium applied.

Eye color change applied.

Mouth & Nose Controls are sliders to enhance the mouth and nose. Here you can adjust the saturation of the lips, their brightness, and contrast. You have the ability to make the same adjustments to the nose.

Hair and skin sliders

Hair Controls is a set of sliders that I like a lot. You have the ability to re-color hair, adjust the shine, reddening, and vibrance. In addition, as with the skin selection, you can adjust the hair selection. Especially cool is the Hair Tidying Mode, which allows you to smooth and soften the hair. It can give the hair an almost painted look, which is one I tend to like, but again, it is possible to go too far.

Skin Coloring Controls allow you to adjust skin color, add a glow, or a bit of a tan. In addition, you can add cheek coloring here and adjust the exposure on the face.

Before skin coloring

Tan skin coloring applied.

PortraitPro 15

On the right side of the application window, you’ll find a navigator, a list of presets, and the Portrait Enhancement Sliders.

Picture Controls

Finally, the Picture Controls slider allows overall adjustment of the color temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, and vibrancy. You can also crop here. If you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, these adjustments are better handled there, after retouching. But if you’re using the standalone version, this is an excellent way to finish off your image.

Once you’ve finished with the face you’re working on, you click the Next button at top right, and either click “Return from Plugin”, or “Enhance Another Face”, if you have more than one subject in your photo.

Pros of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is an excellent application for quick and easy retouching of portraits. Blemish retouching, eye enhancing, and cleanup of hair is simple and can PortraitPro 15 can provide a nice finished look to a portrait. In addition, the ability to adjust lighting can give added pop and make a flatly lit portrait much more interesting. The same goes for the ability to add or enhance makeup. It’s easy to see the effects of the changes you make usingPortraitPro and compare them to the unretouched photo, so you can judge the edits as you work.

Before and After

Before and After

Cons of PortraitPro 15

My biggest issue with PortraitPro 15 is that it’s easy to go too far with an adjustment and suddenly your image looks fake or digitized, almost like a 3D animation. Like most photo-enhancing filters, a little goes a long way and moderation is required. In the right hands, PortraitPro can be an awesome editing tool. In the wrong hands, it can return some ugly results. Additionally, PortraitPro appears to have some issues when one eye is covered by hair or a hat, or when the face is at a 3/4 angle to the camera. So in those situations, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your selections, and in the case where one eye is hidden, set all sliders for that eye to zero.

My other issue with PortraitPro is that it does seem to be a resource hog. As soon as I enter the plugin from Photoshop, the fan on my 2014 iMac (with the max amount of RAM) starts up and keeps going until I’m done. Some of the adjustments are slow, and on my machine, adjusting the outlines takes a moment as my computer catches up.

Before & After PortraitPro 15

Before & After

Bottom Line

Overall, I love PortraitPro 15 and the ability it has to retouch portraits quickly and easily. While I prefer not to use all of the features all of the time, such as face sculpting or skin lighting, things such as skin smoothing and eye retouching really help give my portraits a finished look. The learning curve is not terribly high and it is fairly easy to tell when you’ve gone too far. It’s become an essential part of my portrait workflow.

See the three editions available on Amazon. The Studio version is a great value.

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

The post Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15 by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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