Posts Tagged ‘action’

GoPro Hero 9 Review: Is It the Perfect Action Camera for You?

19 Dec

The post GoPro Hero 9 Review: Is It the Perfect Action Camera for You? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

GoPro Hero 9 review

Every fall, GoPro releases a brand new version of its popular and classic action camera, the GoPro Hero. Some years, it’s a significant release with big changes, and other years, it’s an incremental step forward.

Where does the brand new GoPro Hero 9 fall into place, and should you buy this camera?

Read our GoPro Hero 9 review to find out.

GoPro Hero 9: Overview

Since GoPro is practically the inventor of action cameras, you’re probably at least partially familiar with the GoPro Hero.

It’s always been a compact, rectangular camera that’s rugged – waterproof, crushproof, and made primarily for the outdoors. Listed below are a few significant GoPro Hero camera releases:

GoPro Hero 5

In terms of GoPro history, the GoPro Hero 5 was a significant camera for a couple of reasons.

It was the first GoPro that was waterproof, so you didn’t need to stick it in a waterproof housing for underwater shooting.

Plus, the Hero 5 was the first GoPro with a built-in LCD display screen on the back of the camera.

Every GoPro since the Hero 5 comes with both of these features.

GoPro Hero 9 Review

GoPro Hero 7

The next major GoPro release was the Hero 7.

This was the first GoPro camera with built-in HyperSmooth, which promised “gimbal-like stabilization.” Every GoPro with HyperSmooth has amazing video stabilization, even in the roughest conditions. In fact, depending on your personal video quality preferences, you may not even need to use a gimbal or external stabilizer with newer GoPro models.

The Hero 7 was also the first GoPro Hero to include custom shooting presets via the back-facing LCD touchscreen for easy camera operation.

GoPro Hero 9

The latest GoPro release is the first to include a built-in front-facing screen (more on this below). It’s great for vlogging, taking selfies, and composing your shots while standing in front of the camera.

Additionally, the Hero 9 boasts the highest resolution of any GoPro camera. At 23.6 megapixels, the resolution is roughly double that of its predecessors. This allows for shooting higher-resolution photos (20 megapixels) and videos (up to 5K).

From here on out, I’ll be talking solely about the GoPro Hero 9.

GoPro Hero 9 Review
Left to right: The GoPro Hero 7, Hero 8, and Hero 9.

Design and ergonomics

Aside from the inclusion of the front-facing screen and the relatively large size, the Hero 9 looks like many other modern GoPros. It has two physical buttons – one on top and one on the side – and a rear touchscreen LCD.

Accessing the camera’s many features is quite simple, thanks to the inclusion of shortcuts and presets that can be accessed via the rear LCD.

The Hero 9 is powered by a rechargeable battery. It can also be charged via the USB-C port, the only built-in port on the camera. If you desire additional ports such as a 3.5mm microphone jack and a micro HDMI port, you need to buy the GoPro Hero 9 Media Mod (more on this below). The Hero 9 uses a single micro SD card to record.

The Hero 9 is waterproof up to 33 feet (10 meters) without a waterproof housing, though dive housing can be used to further waterproof the camera.

Finally, the Hero 9 can be used without a cage, thanks to the built-in folding fingers on the bottom of the camera. That way, you have the mount directly on the camera base.

GoPro Hero 9 Review
The GoPro Hero 9 (left) can be mounted without a cage. The Hero 7 and all cameras prior require a cage to be mounted.

GoPro Hero 9 Pros

Now let’s take a look at some of the GoPro Hero 9’s best features, starting with:

Best photo and video quality ever

Thanks to the Hero 9’s impressive resolution, image quality is at an all-time high. You can now shoot 20-megapixel photos in both JPEG and RAW format, and videos can be shot at 5K/30p or 4K/60p.

Even if you don’t intend to export a 5K video, shooting at this resolution can be beneficial for post-production. When you shoot at 5K, you can crop your video later without sacrificing resolution. You can also take high-quality still shots from your 5K video footage.

Front-facing screen

While some may scoff and say that front-facing screens are only important for vloggers, don’t knock it until you try it. Being able to see your composition from the front of the camera will change the way you shoot. It’s especially helpful when you stick the camera in a tight corner.

But if you’re still not sold on the front-facing screen, there’s an option to disable it and simply display camera settings instead.

front-facing screen on the GoPro Hero 9
The GoPro Hero 9 with the front-facing screen.

HyperSmooth stabilization

Shaky video footage has been long gone since the Hero 7 first debuted with HyperSmooth. Somehow, GoPro keeps finding ways to improve HyperSmooth, and it’s in its third version with the Hero 9.

Besides eliminating video shake from sports footage, HyperSmooth helps with another GoPro feature: TimeWarp.

Essentially a moving time-lapse, TimeWarp is great for conveying the passage of time while on the move (think walking, hiking, or driving), and HyperSmooth keeps that footage stable.

Horizon Leveling and Scheduled Capture

A new feature on the Hero 9 is Horizon Leveling. When enabled, this automatically keeps your video’s horizon straight.

Since the camera tends to be mounted on a moving subject, keeping the horizon straight is something that many GoPro users often struggle with.

Scheduled Capture is another new feature that allows you to schedule ahead of time when the GoPro should start shooting. It’s especially helpful for creating time-lapses.

Improved internal microphones

Ever since the GoPro was designed to work without a cage, the sound quality has gradually improved. The Hero 9 has three built-in internal microphones, and they do a great job of picking up audio. The only time the audio seems muddled is after the camera has been submerged in water.

If you want to get the best possible audio out of the GoPro, you can do so by adding an external microphone. However, for that you’ll need to buy the Media Mod (discussed below).

GoPro Hero 9 in the Media Mod
The GoPro Hero 9 inside of the Media Mod.


Starting with the Hero 8, GoPro began releasing Mods to add features to its cameras.

The main Mod is the Media Mod, which is aimed at vloggers. This Mod includes cold shoe mounts for adding accessories, a micro HDMI port, a 3.5mm mic jack, and built-in microphones.

Despite the added cost, the Media Mod delivers on its promises and turns the GoPro into a viable vlogging camera.

Other available Mods include the GoPro Light Mod (a glorified flashlight), a front-facing Display Mod, and the ultra-wide Max Lens Mod.

(Most of these Mods are intended for newer GoPros, so if you own an older GoPro, be sure to check its compatibility before purchasing Mods.)

the Media Mod
The Media Mod (available for Hero 8 and Hero 9 only) includes cold shoe mounts, built-in mics, a micro HDMI port, a USB-C port, and a 3.5mm microphone jack.

Lots of third-party accessory options

Since GoPro has been around for so long, there are tons of third-party accessory makers selling all kinds of things to expand the functionality of GoPro cameras.

Some accessories are specific to GoPro models (i.e., form-fitting cages), but many accessories, such as mounts, lights, and microphones, can be used with every GoPro out there.


No camera is perfect, and the GoPro Hero 9 is no exception. Let’s take a look at the drawbacks of this action camera:

Larger size

To accommodate a larger battery and the front-facing LCD, the Hero 9 is the biggest GoPro ever. It’s still a small camera, but its slightly larger size means that any previous form-fitting cages you might own will no longer fit.

You’ll also have to buy Hero 9 batteries and a battery charger.

Poor low-light shooting

While the GoPro Hero 9 has a larger megapixel count than previous GoPro Heros, it performs miserably in low-light conditions. If you want to shoot photos or videos after the sun goes down or indoors, use the Light Mod or consider a different camera.

Buggy software

In my experience, most modern GoPros are prone to freezing bugs, and the Hero 9 is no exception.

The good news is that there’s a fast way to reset the camera should it freeze:

Simply hold down the Record and Power buttons for a few seconds, and the camera will reboot.

GoPro Hero 9  with the Max Lens Mod
An HDR SuperPhoto taken with the GoPro Hero 9 and the Max Lens Mod.

Firmware updates

Almost immediately after the Hero 9 came out, GoPro released a statement saying that two firmware updates would be on the way before the end of 2020.

These firmware updates promised fixes such as:

  • Increased touchscreen sensitivity
  • Image quality improvements for 4K shooting
  • GPS accuracy
  • Scheduled Capture bug improvements
  • External microphone compatibility with the GoPro mic adapter
  • More possible fixes on the way

One firmware update was released in October 2020, and the second was delayed from November to December 2020. In GoPro’s own words, “The more we test HERO9 Black in the field and the more feedback we receive from users, the more we identify little upgrades that will have huge impacts on the user experience.”

Not everyone will find the issues listed above to be a problem, but if you’re suffering from any, just know that a fix is on the way.

Should you buy the GoPro Hero 9?

Now that I’ve gone through the bulk of this GoPro Hero 9 review, it’s time to ask:

Who should think about purchasing the Hero 9?

If you have an older GoPro…

If you have a model older than the GoPro Hero 7, the Hero 9 will seem like a huge upgrade.

Not only is the image quality better, but you’ll also have a touchscreen with presets for easier control, buttery-smooth video, and better sound quality.

If you have the Hero 7 or 8, there’s no need to upgrade unless any of the key features, such as the front-facing screen or 5K video, have appeal.

If this is your first action camera…

For those new to the action camera market, you’re in luck – because there are a lot of good options. There’s the cheaper DJI Osmo Action or the modular Insta360 One R, both of which are excellent picks. It’s worth researching both of those cameras to see if they better fit your needs.

However, if you want a tried and true action camera that has the best image quality, stability, and sound on the market, then the GoPro Hero 9 is the best that money can buy. You can grab it here.

What do you think? Are you interested in purchasing the GoPro Hero 9? Let me know in the comments below!

The post GoPro Hero 9 Review: Is It the Perfect Action Camera for You? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

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Insta360 One R Review: An Action Camera With a Twist

13 Nov

The post Insta360 One R Review: An Action Camera With a Twist appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

The Insta360 One R debuted in February 2020 and was touted as an all-in-one modular action camera that can transform from a 4K wide-angle camera into a 360 camera – or even into a one-inch camera with an ultra-wide Leica lens.

Insta360 One R review with mods
From left to right: The Insta360 Core Module attached to the 4K Mod, the 360 Mod, and the One-Inch Leica Mod.

The Insta360 One R is supposed to be the ultimate action camera alternative to GoPro models and the DJI Osmo Action. But how does this camera hold up in practice, and does it deliver on its promise of being the ultimate all-in-one action camera?

Read this Insta360 One R review to find out!

Recent firmware updates

When the Insta360 One R first came out, some initial reviewers reported technical problems with the camera, such as bugs and low external microphone sound quality. Fortunately, Insta360 responded very quickly to these problems by issuing several firmware updates. A recent firmware update (version 1.2.13) came out in September 2020 and fixed many of these issues.

So if you read a previous negative review of the Insta360 One R, it’s worth revisiting the camera, since improvements have been made over the past few months.

How the Insta360 One R works

Unlike other action cameras, the Insta360 One R is made of 3 pieces: the Core Module with a touchscreen live view display, the camera module, and an 1190 mAh lithium-ion battery base that holds the two Mods together.

The Camera Module can be swapped out for one of three different options: the 5.7K 360 Mod (7.2mm focal length, f/2.0), a 4K wide-angle Mod (16.4mm focal length, f/2.8), or a One-Inch Mod (14.4mm focal length, f/3.2). The touchscreen block can also be attached to the screen facing forward or backward, which is useful for vlogging situations.

The camera’s battery base can be charged via a USB-C cable. It takes roughly 65 minutes to charge fully. You can also get an optional double battery base hub for faster charging. Battery life is rated at about 70 minutes while shooting at 4K/60p. There’s a single micro-USB card slot, and the camera accepts memory cards up to 256 GB.

Which Mods should you get?

There are several different ways to purchase the Insta360 One R.

The Insta360 One R Twin Edition is the most popular option, as it comes with both the 5.7K 360 Mod and the 4K wide-angle Mod. If you want to add the One-Inch Mod, you can purchase it separately to add to your Twin Edition set.

Alternatively, you can buy the Insta360 One R 1-inch edition if you don’t want the extra two Mods. In practice, I found the 360 Mod and the One-Inch Mod to be the most used of the three.

Photo and video capabilities

Like most action cameras on the market, the Insta360 One R can shoot both videos and photos (JPEG and DNG format). The recent September firmware update introduced PureShot, a new AI-powered shooting mode for creating HDR-like photos when editing images via the Insta360 smartphone app.

But while the photo modes on the Insta360 One R are good, the camera excels at video.

Insta360 One R review
Image taken with the Insta360 One R and the 4K Mod before Pure Shot was added.
Insta360 One R sample image
Image taken with the Insta360 One R and the 4K mod after Pure Shot was added.

Note that image quality and resolution depend on which Mod you use. The 4K wide-angle Mod is equivalent to 16.4mm at f/2.8. It produces 12-megapixel photos, as well as videos at up to 4K/60p, plus high-definition slow motion at 1080p and 200fps.

The Dual-Lens 360 Mod is equivalent to 7.2mm at f/2.0. It produces 18.4-megapixel photos, as well as videos at up to 5.7K/30p, though it can also shoot 100fps at 3K.

The One-Inch Leica Mod uses a 14.4mm equivalent wide-angle lens. It can shoot at up to 5K/30p, as well as 4K/60p.

Insta360 One R sample photo
Taken with the Insta360 One R using the Leica One-Inch Mod.

Compact size, but…

Despite there being many pieces to this camera, it is very compact when it is assembled. The size and weight of the Insta360 One R is comparable to your average action camera.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks to the modular nature of this camera.

First, it takes time to take the camera apart if you ever need to swap out the lens or rearrange the position of the touchscreen.

Second, although there is a nice rubber protective sleeve for the 360 Mod, no carrying case for the camera Mods is included, so you’ll have to come up with your own solution.


Since the Insta360 One R is an action camera, it is waterproof up to five meters and can withstand most rugged conditions, though you’ll want to make sure that your Mods are tightly snapped together and assembled in the included mounting bracket before throwing it in the water.

For those wanting to dive even deeper, there’s an optional Dive Case that lets you submerge the camera at up to 60 meters.

Speaking of the bracket:

You’ll have to use it if you want to add a GoPro-like connection point for sticking the camera on a handle or tripod. No tripod or GoPro mount is built into the camera itself.

Insta360 One R sample photo
Sample image taken with the Insta360 One R and the 4K Mod.


The Insta360 One R can be controlled via the Core Mod’s touchscreen display, or by connecting to the Insta360 smartphone app via Bluetooth. I found the touchscreen display to be the fastest and easiest way to control the camera.

Touchscreen responsiveness is excellent, but the menu differs from that of other action cameras and is not the most intuitive. That said, it’s easy to use once you learn where all of the features are.

Digital lenses for “zooming”

One of the best features of the Insta360 One R is the ability to use built-in digital lenses. You can choose from ultra-wide, wide, linear, and a narrow field of view when shooting both photos and videos. This adds some flexibility to the otherwise fixed lens on the Camera Mod.

Ability to add an external mic

The internal microphones on the Insta360 One R are okay, but there is a lot of noise when you are moving with the camera. If you plan to vlog with this camera and/or want the very best sound, using an external microphone is your best option.

Like other action cameras on the market, the Insta360 One R does not have a built-in mic jack, but you can add one by purchasing a mic jack adapter. This tiny adapter does not add much bulk or weight to the camera, though it can be easy to misplace. Using an adapter lets you add an external microphone such as a shotgun mic or a wireless mic to enhance sound.

When using an external mic, there’s a handy icon that appears on the camera’s display to verify that the mic is connected. Early reviews reported that external mic levels were too low, but that problem has been corrected as of the September 2020 firmware update.

Insta360 One R review
The Insta360 One R with the optional 3.5mm mic adapter and Joby Wavo Mobile microphone.

Image quality and color

Considering that this is a first-generation camera, the image quality for both videos and photos is impressive.

However, as mentioned previously, the Insta360 One R is a video camera first, and that’s where its strengths are concentrated. You can shoot in a flat video mode and apply your own LUT or color grading in post-production. Or you can choose from a color profile built into the camera. New in the recent firmware update is a Vivid color profile, as well as AquaVision, which uses AI to color-correct video shot underwater.

Related to video quality, the Insta360 One R now records video as a .MP4 file as a default. This makes it easier to edit the videos in your video editing software of choice. Prior to the September firmware update, the camera only recorded in a proprietary .INSV video file, which could only be read by the Insta360 Studio app.

Video stabilization

The Insta360 One R provides silky-smooth video footage via FlowState Stabilization, meaning you don’t need to use a gimbal with this camera.

Just note that the stabilization is added in post-production. This means that you must import the video footage into the Insta360 Studio app to enable stabilization, and then export it into your video editing software of choice. This extra step can be a workflow hurdle if you prefer using a single application to edit your videos.

On the plus side, Insta360 has released updates that allow you to add stabilization via Adobe Premiere or Final Cut X. In my experience with Final Cut X, this integration is laggy and not quite usable, but that will likely be fixed in a future firmware update.

Insta360 One R
Sample photo taken with the Insta360 One R and the 360 Mod.

Use it as a webcam

Also new as of the September firmware update:

The Insta360 One R can be used as a webcam when connected to a Mac or PC. In this work-from-home age of Zoom calls and FaceTime, this is a pretty cool feature, especially since the webcam can be used with the 360 Mod to show a split-screen effect of your surroundings.

When using the 4K wide-angle Mod, the webcam also has an automatic face-tracking effect that can follow you as you move around a room. These features are best demonstrated in video format, but they add an extra layer of fun to otherwise monotonous webcam experiences.

Zero bugs

During my month of vigorously using the Insta360 One R, I was pleased to experience no bugs or glitches when using the camera. It was very responsive and did exactly what I asked it to with no delays or problems. While I might’ve just gotten lucky, this was a welcome seamless experience, given the bugs that tend to be present in other action cameras (e.g., GoPro).

High quality and affordable optional hardware

In addition to the camera Mods, there are lots of useful Insta360 One R accessories that may be worth buying, depending on how you plan to use the camera. The fast-charging hub or boosted battery is a good add-on to ensure that you have enough power for a full day of shooting. Also, the Invisible Selfie Stick is handy, not only for shooting 360 videos, but also for regular use as a handgrip or selfie stick.

There are also dive cases for the 4K Mod and the 360 Mod to dive even deeper (up to 60 meters), rugged lens protectors for the 360 Mod lenses, and an aerial Mod to add the Insta360 One R to a drone.

Insta360 One R review
The Insta360 One R with the Invisible Selfie Stick and Bullet Time tripod.

A few drawbacks

Like any other camera, the Insta360 One R comes with a few drawbacks to consider:

If you need a mount, you must use the Insta360 One R in a case

The Insta360 One R must be placed in a mounting bracket to use it with a tripod. This can be cumbersome when trying to place the One-Inch Mod in the bracket and doing a lens Mod change.

(Here’s a quick tip for working with the One-Inch Mod: Unscrew the lens to get it to fit!)

Certain features are only unlocked when editing in the app

The Insta360 One R can shoot time lapses, star lapses, and can even use a cool feature called Bullet Time that produces a drone-like circling effect on a subject. There are also some creative video editing effects that can be applied to videos in post-production. However, the resulting videos cannot be previewed on the camera. You must use either the Insta360 phone app or the Insta360 Studio app to get the desired effects.

This can be a drawback if you would rather use your own editing software of choice and not deal with an intermediary step.

Insta360 One R desktop editing program
Insta360 Studio desktop editing program

An uncertain future

Even though the Insta360 One R isn’t even a year old, it’s still fair to question its future. Will this first-generation camera get an update? If so, what’s the timeline, and will the update take full advantage of the modular camera setup?

Ideally, you could reuse certain Mods and not have to buy them again when a newer version comes out. But since this is a first-gen camera, it’s hard to say what direction the company will go in.

Insta360 One R Review: Conclusion

Future speculation aside, the Insta360 One R delivers on its promise of being a unique, all-in-one action camera.

The ability to go from a wide-angle lens to a 360 lens using the same camera is extremely convenient, and other action camera companies should take note.

You can purchase the Insta360 One R here for just under $ 500 USD.

The post Insta360 One R Review: An Action Camera With a Twist appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

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GoPro announces new HERO9 Black action cam with 5K30p video, Hypersmooth 3.0 and more

17 Sep

The GoPro HERO9 Black is here, with a tweaked design and improved specifications for getting more out of your action photos and video.

The new device retains an overall design similar to its HERO8 predecessor, but has a few new tricks up its sleeve. First off, the HERO9 Black is slightly wider — 4.7mm to be precise — than its HERO8 Black predecessor, likely due to the new front-facing live-view screen on the front of the action cam.

The HERO9 Black also features a removable wider-angle lens that can be swapped out for the new ‘Max Lens Mod’ that makes the field-of-view even wider for photos and videos (155º). When attached, the Max Lens Mod also offers GoPro’s Max Hypersmooth stabilization (limited to 2.7K60p), Max SuperView and Max Timewarp, which appear to be tweaked versions of the more standard versions, designed specifically with the wider-angle lens in mind.

Moving to the inside of the action cam, the HERO9 Black features a 20MP sensor that can video at 5K30p and 4K60p. GoPro is using its third-generation Hypersmooth 3.0 technology as well as improved versions of its Superphoto and HDR technology. Raw photo capture is still possible, as well as 1080p livestreaming, inclusion of data overlays in footage and plenty of slow-motion modes (1080p at 240 frames per second).

GoPro says the HERO9 Black will have 30% better battery life than the HERO8 Black and is waterproof down to 10m (33ft). The HERO9 Black is also compatible with over 40 of GoPro’s mods and accessories for decking out the camera to fit your photo and video needs.

The GoPro HERO9 Black is available today for $ 450 as a standalone purchase. If you purchase a year’s subscription to GoPro though — a subscription from GoPro that offers total camera replacement, unlimited cloud storage and discounts on gear — you can snag a HERO9 Black for $ 350.

The Max Lens Mod isn’t yet available for purchase, but the GoPro website says it will retail for $ 100 and offers an option to submit your email on the product page for more information when it becomes available.

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Best Action Cameras for Every Budget: Are Cheap Action Cameras Any Good?

11 Sep

Action cameras have become more common in the past few years, and for a good reason. Originally created by GoPro, many big brands have also jumped in the action camera space. As the action camera space grew, there came along a lot of cheap copycats. With multiple brands and tens of models to choose from, it has become difficult to Continue Reading

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How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync

12 Jun

The post How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Blur or Freeze motion?  How about both?!!
In still photography, we can choose to blur or freeze motion. Or… we can do both! Read on to learn how.

All the excitement surrounding the latest cameras seems to center around their video capabilities. Fine, I guess. But, maybe you’re like me, a dedicated still photo shooter with no desire to make videos? I don’t need to make things move in my photos, but I do want to illustrate movement.

My options?

1) Use a long exposure/slow shutter speed causing moving things to blur creating the suggestion of movement, or

How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync
Panning with the subject, and using a slower shutter speed blurs the background, giving a sense of motion. Canon D30 with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. 1/60th sec. f/4 ISO 400.

2) Use a short shutter duration to freeze the action, capturing a moment of motion that could not have been seen with the human eye, or

A fast shutter speed will freeze the action.  1/8000 sec.  No flash.
A very short shutter speed will freeze action in many cases. This was lit with bright sunlight only, no flash. Canon 50D with Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. 1/8000th sec. f/3.5 ISO 400.

3) Use the very short duration of a flash to capture an even thinner slice of time freezing very fast-moving objects.

But have you considered the fourth option? How might you make flash action photos that combine the motion blur of a long shutter speed with the freezing power of flash in the same shot? Let’s explore how that works.

Flash action photos - combining motion blur with frozen action.
Motion blur + Frozen action = Flash action photos. Combining slow shutter speeds with the freezing power of a flash. Canon D30 with Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens. 1/20th sec. f/4 ISO 400. Canon 500EX flash – Second-curtain sync.

An exposure within an exposure

When you make a flash photo, you are really making two exposures in one. Open the shutter and whatever available ambient light is there streams in through the camera iris onto the sensor. How much light is controlled by two things; the size of the aperture (measured using f/stop terminology), and the duration of the exposure (controlled by the shutter speed.)

When we use a flash, the burst of light happens during that same shutter duration. Flash duration is typically much shorter than the total shutter duration and happens “within” the total exposure. Thus, an “exposure within an exposure.”

Flash action photo - an exposure within an exposure.
There are two exposures in one here – The ambient light creates the blur using a longer shutter speed while the flash freezes the action at the end. Canon 50D with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. 1-second, f/13 ISO 100. Second curtain sync flash – Canon 500EX.

Open the curtain and let the show begin

Unless you’re using a camera with a leaf shutter (rather rare anymore), your camera probably uses a focal-plane shutter. There are two “curtains” (and that’s what they are called), between the rear of the lens and the sensor.

Watch this slow-motion video of what happens during an exposure.

When the shutter button is pressed: 1) With a DSLR, the mirror swings up out of the way. 2) The first curtain goes down, exposing the sensor to light. 3) The second curtain then comes down, again blocking light from the sensor.

The total exposure duration, the time between the opening of the first curtain and the closing of the second, that is the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light and is what we control with the shutter speed setting.

Back in the outside world

Outside the camera in the real world, life goes on. If the subject or the camera moves during the exposure, the relative distance it moves during the exposure duration will be recorded as a blur.

Subjects that don’t move at all won’t blur even during a long exposure.

Fast-moving objects could move quite a bit and thus blur more unless the shutter speed is fast, the exposure duration short, and the amount of motion imperceptible during that brief period.

Enter the flash

The above describes what happens when a photo is made using only ambient light. It doesn’t matter the light source; it could be the sun, the moon, candlelight, continuous man-made lighting sources like incandescent, fluorescent, LED, flashlights, whatever. For our purposes, ambient light is whatever light exists during the entire duration of the exposure.

The flash, however, will be comparably short and happen within the duration of the exposure. Depending on output power and the type of flash used, flash duration can be very short. Take a look at the chart below illustrating the flash duration of a typical Speedlight (here a Canon 580EX).

Flash power/duration chart for Canon 580EX.
The lower the power, the shorter the flash duration. However, less power also means less working distance.

At a 1/128th power setting, the flash duration can be as short as 1/20,000th of a second! Even fast-moving objects won’t move far during such a thin sliver of time, so they will be frozen by the flash.

Flash did the freezing here - The room was dark, so no ambient light and the shutter speed not that fast – 1/60th sec. f/25 ISO 100 (but the flash at 1/16th power had a duration of just 1/16,000 sec.
Flash did the freezing here – The room was dark, so no ambient light. The shutter speed not that fast – 1/60th sec. f/25 ISO 100 (but the flash at 1/16th power had a duration of just 1/16,000 sec. so everything is totally frozen with no motion blur.

Ambient + Flash = Flash action photos

Since a photo using flash is an exposure-in-an-exposure, what if we harness the power of both ambient light and the flash to use the advantages of each?

What might we get if we used a long exposure to capture the ambient light and thus blur the moving subject and then a burst of flash to freeze it? We could get a photo that combined both motion blur and a frozen subject! We could call that a flash action photo.

Flash action photos - Combine a long shutter speed for the blur with a 2nd curtain sync flash to freeze the action too.
Combine a long shutter speed for the blur with a 2nd-curtain sync flash to freeze the action. Canon 50D with Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens. 1 Second, f/5.6, ISO 100

First versus Second-Curtain Sync

The flash will be fired within the total duration of the exposure. If, say, the shutter speed is 1/125th second and the flash duration at 1/64th power is 1/14,000 second, when during that 1/125th second does the flash fire?

The default for most cameras and flashes is to have the flash fire as soon as the first curtain drops to expose the sensor. This is what is termed “first curtain” (aka front curtain) sync.” The timeline below illustrates how that works.

First Curtain Sync Timeline

In a standard flash photo with the flash in ETTL mode, this will be the sequence with the default first-curtain sync:

  • Shutter is pressed.
  • Pre-Flash fires (Omitted if Flash is in Manual Mode).
  • Camera calculates necessary flash output power needed (Only in ETTL Mode).
  • First curtain drops exposing the sensor to ambient light.
  • Flash fires.
  • Ambient light continues for the duration of the exposure.
  • Second (aka “rear”) curtain drops, covering the sensor and the exposure ends.

With most flash photos, especially things like portraits and such, the total exposure will be short enough there won’t be a noticeable difference between the portion of the exposure made with ambient light and that made with the flash. To best capture the moment, having the flash immediately fire is usually a good thing and probably one reason manufacturers make first-curtain sync the default.

So why use second-curtain sync?

We started out talking about photos that combine the blurred motion caused by a slow shutter speed with the freezing power of a flash. The problem with the default first-curtain sync that triggers the flash at the beginning of the exposure is that the frozen portion of the image happens immediately, and the blurred portion made with the remaining ambient light happens after. As the subject moves, the recorded blur will be in front of the frozen portion of the shot.

Flash action photos - Illustrating first and second curtain sync flash.
Assuming we want to make the car look like it’s traveling forward, the top shot done with second-curtain sync flash looks more natural. All settings were the same and the toy car was pushed from right to left in both cases. The top shot is second-curtain sync, the bottom shot the default, first-curtain sync.

But that looks weird

Standard convention is to see the blurred portion of action behind, not in front of the moving object. Illustrators and cartoonists know this and use motion lines (also called “sphericasia”) to help depict motion. (They also use Quimps, Plewds, Grawlixes, and a bunch of other cartoonist marks. Check out this fun read).

How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync

Sometimes as photographers, we will pan with a moving object, use a longer shutter speed, and if we pace our pan correctly, get a photo with a blurred background and the subject relatively frozen. The blur will be behind the subject, and that looks natural. But use a long shutter speed combined with a default first-curtain sync flash and…nope…that just looks weird.

A fast jet can be made to look motionless with a 1/200th second shutter speed.
Though flying at hundreds of miles per hour, this U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jet can be made to look motionless with a very fast shutter speed. Canon 6D with Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens. 1/2000th sec. f/5.6 ISO 200.
Illustrating movement with motion lines.
This is how an illustrator or cartoonist might depict motion using “sphericasia” or motion lines.

Activate second-curtain sync

So let’s make it look right and create some flash action photos that look correct. You will need to activate second (rear) curtain sync. In some cases, this will be done on your camera. In others, you will do it on your flash. There are too many variables of camera/flash combinations for me to tell you just how to do it with your equipment, so you’ll need to get out your manuals. Look for second (sometimes called rear) curtain sync.

How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync
Left to right – This is the symbol that indicates second-curtain sync on my Canon 550EX flash. Center and right – Setting up second-curtain sync on my Canon 6D camera. Every camera/flash combination will differ, so you may need to consult your manual on how to get into second-curtain sync flash.

This is usually pretty easy. In the combo I used for this article, a Canon 6D camera with a Canon 550EX flash, it was done on the flash. Once set, I was good to go.

Flash action photos - First vs second curtain sync flash.
The same action, swinging the hatchet down into the log. was performed in both photos. All the settings were the same except, the left shot used first-curtain sync flash, while the one on the right used second-curtain sync flash.

Other considerations

You will need to experiment to determine exactly what your settings should be given the variables of amount of ambient light, distance to the subject, speed of the moving subject, and exactly the look you’re going for. There is no precise “recipe” here.

However, here are a few things that may help you get great flash action photos:

  • Going full-manual with both the camera and flash will give you the most control.
  • Going manual with the flash should prevent a pre-flash, which you don’t want.
  • Determine what ISO and aperture you need to expose for the given ambient lighting conditions.
  • Shutter speed will vary depending on the speed of your moving subject, how much blur you want, and whether you’ll be panning with the movement of the subject.
Which is which?  Flash Action photos with first / second flash curtain sync.
Which uses first and which second curtain sync flash? It’s hard to tell with objects like this ball. Here’s a clue – The ball was rolling away from the camera in both shots.
  • You will need sufficient light on your subject to properly expose the ambient portion of the exposure. Take some test shots without the flash to see how things look.
  • You will likely want to manually adjust the flash output power depending on how close you are to the subject and how much “freezing” power you want for that part of the photo. Use the aperture and ISO to control the ambient portion of the image, the shutter speed to control the amount of blur, and the flash power to control the frozen part of the image.
Flash Action Photos - First or second curtain sync?
Another test… In both shots the ball was rolling right to left. So which uses first and which second curtain sync flash?
How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync
If you will be controlling the motion of your subject and also the camera, a remote trigger is handy. Here, I used a Yongnuo RF602 radio trigger.
  • The blurred portion of your moving subject made with the ambient part of the exposure will have a translucent, “see-through” look. You will need some contrast between it and the background to help it show up. Shooting a brighter subject on a darker background helps a lot, especially as you learn the technique.
How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync
Canon 50D with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. 1/6th sec. f/ 4.5 ISO 100 w/ second-curtain sync flash.

The key – practice!

As with so much of photography, there is no substitute for practice. Getting your camera/flash into second-curtain sync mode is the easy part.

After that, do some simple experiments such as I show, rolling a bright ball across a dark floor. That should help you grasp the concepts.

You will find that timing can be the tricky part. Know that the flash will fire at the end of the exposure, so experiment to determine where the object will be when that happens as it won’t be when you first click the shutter.

Flash action photos - illustrating he fast and furious of cycle racing with second curtain sync flash.
Illustrate the fast and furious action of cycle racing but still get the expression on the rider’s face with a 1/8th second shutter speed combined with second-curtain sync flash. Canon 6D with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. 1/8th second, f/8 ISO 800.

Move up to something like the hatchet photos I show here, or maybe someone swinging a golf club or baseball bat. When you have the concepts down, head out to a sporting event or something where there’s some action, to depict like the bicycle races I show or recruit some dancers or other performers.

Blur and frozen action both - Flash action photos with second curtain sync flash.
Canon 50D with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. 2 seconds, f/5.6 ISO 100. Second-curtain sync flash with Canon 550EX flash.

Flash action photos that combine blur and a frozen subject all in one shot, will teach you the principals of ambient and flash lighting. Best of all, you can make some really cool and unique images! Gotta scoot now…have fun!

Flash action photo - Scale model of the author's 2003 Ford Sport Trac.  Second curtain sync flash.
Canon 6D with Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens. 1.7 seconds, f/8 ISO 100.

The post How to Make Exciting Flash Action Photos with Second-Curtain Sync appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

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Swift action from FAA, US Navy follows Detroit Blue Angels drone incident

17 May

Earlier this week, the Blue Angels flew over Detroit, Michigan, to honor frontline workers. There wasn’t a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in place but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) always issues a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) whenever a major event involving manned aircraft is planned. One remote pilot decided to fly his drone dangerously close to the fleet and is now in trouble with the FAA, U.S. Navy, and local authorities.

The drone community was outraged, as well. One individual who felt their wrath, for simply re-posting footage that wasn’t his, is Vic Moss of Moss Photography. ‘My take is that those people who are so vitriolic to me did so out of passion for the industry. While I most certainly did not appreciate it, and its caused no end up exasperation to me, it was all done out of passion for the industry,’ Moss tells DPReview of the thousands of threats and complaints he received over the past few days.

Besides illegal activity, the author of the original footage used copyrighted music in his clip from the classic film “Top Gun.”

Even with the title ‘REPOST! THIS IS NOT MY VIDEO…,’ Moss was compelled to remove the clip, that was viewed over 133,000 times, not only to stop harassment but also for a Copyright claim over the soundtrack the original author chose for the footage – ‘Danger Zone’ by Kenny Loggins from the movie Top Gun.

This is how close the drone got to a fleet of Blue Angels flying over Detroit. Some experts are speculating that is was as close as 100 feet away from the nearest aircraft.

The original minute-long clip, where a drone propeller can be seen buzzing in the corner frame, and in close proximity to the planes, featured credits including the social handle @GIOLUCIA that syncs up with the name Giovanni Lucia on Instagram. The account has since been removed and Lucia has denied taking the footage. He claims he uploaded it for a friend. Regardless of who played what role, posting the footage in a public forum was almost as unwise as taking it.

Dean Greenblatt, who recently secured a victory for the Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators in an unrelated case, commented to DPReview about this incident: ‘FAA regulations mandate operators of sUAS comply with right-of-way limitations. Social media provides an excellent opportunity for individuals to incriminate themselves.’

‘I’ve handled several FAA enforcement actions against sUAS operators. Typically, the FAA becomes aware of violations through electronic publication. Videos can establish flight in restricted airspace, flight over people, or in proximity to emergency service providers. Such documentary evidence makes it difficult to mount a defense to FAA enforcement actions,’ Greenblatt concludes.

An investigation is already underway. Sources claim that even though it may be someone else besides Lucia who captured the footage, both parties face significant legal repercussions for their actions.

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How (And Where) To Mount an Action Camera (On Anything!)

09 May

Pictures and video from an action camera can be awesome. But how do you get the best shots? It’s all about the mounting of the camera and we’re going to tell you how to do it. How and where do you mount an action camera? The most popular place to mount an action camera is on a helmet using a Continue Reading

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GoPro Hero8 Black review: Have action cameras finally hit a wall?

16 Mar
Have action cameras reached peak performance?

I remember GoPro in the early days. Back then the cameras could only offer sub-SD recording, had no Wi-Fi and more importantly no way to see the picture as they lacked a screen. They were a hard sell, but filled a gap for small disposable digital video cameras.

The launch of the Hero 8 Black brings some improvements over the previous generation, but is it enough? If you already have an action camera does the quality and feature set of the Hero 8 Black make you want to upgrade? And, if you don’t already have a camera like this, has GoPro launched a camera that will convince you to buy into this product category?

Key specifications

  • 12MP sensor
  • 4K/60p, 2.7K/120p and 1080/240p video (up to 100 Mbps bit rate)
  • H.264 and H.265 codecs
  • HyperSmooth 2.0 video stabilization
  • LiveBurst captures 1.5 seconds of photos or video before shot
  • Integrated mounting ‘fingers’ attach directly to GoPro mounts
  • Optional ‘Mods’ add features like 3.5mm mic jack, HDMI-out, selfie screen and LED light
  • Waterproof
  • Wi-Fi + Bluetooth connectivity

The list of features on the Hero 8 Black is extensive, but improvements in image quality year-over-year are hard to come by. After all, 4K/60p with limited noise on a sensor that is incredibly small is difficult to achieve, especially in low light. To paraphrase a well known line from Scotty, ‘you can’t change the laws of physics’. Pixel pitch, size and resolution play directly against each other in the triangle of visual fidelity. Without increasing the pixel size, or finding a way of gathering more photons per pixel, improving signal-to-noise ratio is difficult.

Image quality isn’t everything

Where do you see improvement when moving from the Hero 7 Black to the Hero 8? One feature that’s attracting attention is HyperSmooth 2.0, GoPro’s image stabilization technology, which claims to rival gimbal levels of image stabilization without the need for balancing, mounting or powering an external handle. But can it actually deliver, and is it a big enough improvement over the previous generation to convince people to part with their money and upgrade?

Before I started using this camera I was incredibly skeptical, but having tested this feature over the past few weeks it does deliver a very good result, even managing to smooth out some of the bumps associated with footfalls, which is very difficult to achieve on standard gimbals.

This video compares the four levels of HyperSmooth 2.0 stabilization: off, on, high, and boost modes. As expected, each level provides increased stabilization, however notice that there’s a small crop factor when using ‘on’ and ‘high’ modes, and an even greater crop factor in ‘boost’ mode.

I did notice one slightly odd characteristic when shooting below 4K, however. When mounted in certain situations, for example in or on a vehicle, it will actually pan the image to counter movement. If you’re driving and turning left the embedded software will pan the image to the right, then slowly return to the center once you’ve completed the turn. As a result, the image has an overall floating feel to it instead of providing a rock solid picture.

That said, overall the results are surprisingly effective, even when using the boost mode, although that’s not available at 4K/60p. Be aware that HyperSmooth crops the image about 10% (and somewhat more in the most stabilized boost mode).

I discovered one odd effect when using the HyperSmooth 2.0 boost mode at 1080 resolution: when mounted in certain situations, like a moving car (above) the image will pan to counter movement. This gives the image a floating feel instead of the sense that the camera is locked in place.

With that proviso, though, it rivals and now beats a lot of traditional optical image stabilization done in-lens or in-camera, even compared to models that use sensor shift.

Integrated ‘fingers’ eliminate the need for frames or cases to mount the camera on standard GoPro accessories.

Two steps forward and one step back?

Along with some useful additions, this new camera also changes some features – and not for the better. For example, it’s no longer possible for the user to change the front element of the lens if it becomes cracked or chipped. GoPro’s stance is ‘GoPro does not offer a repair service on our cameras as, due to their size and design, the cost of parts and labor for performing such a specific repair would be more expensive than replacing the camera outright if it’s covered by warranty.’

Instead, it offers the GoPro Plus service, which will replace your camera if something goes wrong (at a maximum of 2 cameras per year). However, this service comes at a cost: $ 4.99 per month or $ 50.04 per year, and includes unlimited cloud storage and 50% off mounts and some accessories. Yes, another service to subscribe to, although for serious users this may pay dividends.

The USB-C port interfaces with GoPro’s range of accessories

Why only incremental improvements?

Technology usually progresses at an evolutionary pace rather than a revolutionary one. The introduction of a brand new product can have the ‘wow’ factor, but usually subsequent versions don’t have the same effect.

A limiting factor here is processing power and its relationship to battery life and available power. Small cameras have small batteries and in turn these can only provide limited power to the processor. As a result, you can’t have all the best features enabled at the same time.

Think you might be able to use your older Hero 7 batteries? Think again. Hero 7 batteries can’t deliver as much peak power as Hero 8 batteries and are not compatible with the new camera.

There’s always a trade off with temperature as well. If you did have all the available features turned on the camera would most likely shut down before the battery was exhausted due to overheating, which could cause damage to the camera or battery. There’s a reason that the older Hero 7 batteries—even though they are physically the same—won’t work on the Hero 8 due to power delivery limitations. The newer Hero 8 batteries can deliver more peak power. What more can be added?

If image quality isn’t making great leaps, and with features like Hypersmooth 2.0, live streaming, 4K capture and slow motion already included, have we hit a wall? What more can possibly be added to future action cameras? Part of the answer for GoPro seems to be add-on hardware, like a vlogging flip-up LCD (Display Mod), or an add-on frame which gives you HDMI out, a 3.5mm in and an extra microphone (Media Mod). These go some way to disguise the limitations of the bare camera and add the possibility of appealing to the ever expanding vlogging market.

HyperSmooth 2.0 is impressive, and even does a good job of smoothing out the bouncing of footsteps, such as this child holding the camera running across a yard. Since it’s getting harder to improve image quality with each generation of action camera, manufacturers will need to get creative with features like this to entice users to upgrade.

What’s the competition?

The competition in the premium action camera space is actually fairly limited. There’s the Sony FDR-X3000, the DJI Osmo Action and the recently introduced Insta360 One R, and really that’s about it at the moment. The recently released Insta360 camera employs an interesting modular setup, but can it compete? After all, GoPro has been doing this for nearly 20 years.

There are lots of cameras available at the mid and lower end of the market, but this isn’t an area that GoPro competes in and it really is a case of getting what you pay for. GoPro’s installed user base and reputation are formidable to any new manufacturer coming to market, and it has proven difficult for established name brands to launch and maintain an action camera market segment, as Nikon found out.

The GoPro Hero 8 Black. A hero among action cameras?

What does it all mean?

Much as we’d like to see revolutions in technology, this isn’t the norm. Incremental improvements mean that year-over-year upgrades are less necessary for a lot of users. The niche factor of the high end action camera market also means that not many manufacturers operate in this space, which in turn limits competition.

The next major developments will probably center around a change in battery technology and an increase in power density that allows for more powerful processing. The gradual shrinking of the process node in the CPU will also bring key improvements and the ability to do more while maintaining lower temperatures or extending battery life.

An action camera is a great addition to a filmmaker’s tool kit, and if you need a new one the Hero 8 Black is a solid choice. However, while there’s a certain FOMO—a fear of missing out—and even peer pressure to have the latest and greatest, it probably doesn’t make financial sense to upgrade every year for only minor improvements.

That looks like it’s not going to change any time soon.

What we like

  • HyperSmooth 2.0 stabilization is impressive
  • Excellent 4K/60p video
  • GoPro accessory mount integrated into body

What we don’t

  • HyperSmooth results in strange panning effect in certain situations
  • Subscription service for repairs
  • Incompatible with Hero 7 batteries

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A Look at the Fujifilm X100V in Action for Street Photography (video)

14 Mar

The post A Look at the Fujifilm X100V in Action for Street Photography (video) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video from Moment, Taylor takes the puts the new Fujifilm X100V in action on the streets to see how well it performs.

For street photography, the camera is the perfect size and weight to carry with you anywhere you go. The flip screen allows you to shoot from the hip – which is a great advantage when shooting street photography less obtrusively.

The fixed 23mm lens on an APS-C sensor is the equivalent of a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Also, the famous Fujifilm film simulations are another great feature of this little camera.

So check out some of the images that come from this camera.

You may also like:

  • Your Guide to the Fujifilm JPG Film Simulations (with Sample Images)
  • 1 Year with the Fujifilm X-T3 – Was It Worth Buying?
  • Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits
  • The Fujifilm X-Pro 3: Marvellous or Mistake?
  • The Best Fujifilm X-Series Kits for Travel Photography
  • Fujifilm X-T3 versus Fujifilm X-H1: The Best Mirrorless Camera for You?
  • Street Portraits vs Street Photography: What is the Difference?
  • The dPS Top Street Photography Tips of 2018
  • How to Avoid Distracting Backgrounds in Street Photography

Have you got your hands on this camera yet? If so, share your thoughts with us in the comments.

The post A Look at the Fujifilm X100V in Action for Street Photography (video) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

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Insta360 teases a combined action, 360-degree, drone and 1-inch camera

03 Jan

Insta360, the company behind consumer 360-degree cameras, such as the Insta360 Go or One X, as well as professional models like the Pro 2, has posted a teaser video hinting at the launch of some kind of multi-purpose or modular camera on the 7th of January.

In the video footage of several electronics items being shredded in a blender is interspersed with various action-cam and drone-filmed scenes and viewers can read the sentence ‘our next camera combines an action-cam, a 360 cam, a drone, a 1-inch cam into one.’

It appears the company is close to launching a camera that is capable of providing the functionality of a GoPro-style action cam, presumably a consumer-level 360-cam like the One X, and a camera with 1″ sensor, like the Sony RX0. And presumably this camera or modular camera system can be used for aerial filming in conjunction with a drone.

This sounds like quite a unique concept that, depending on pricing, accessory compatibility and other factors, has the potential to appeal to a very wide range of customers. We’ll know more on the 7th of January when the new product is scheduled to launch.

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