Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Tale of Two Portraits

Also in this issue:

  • The Nissin Flash Review I'm Not Going to Write
  • An Ideal Platform for Those Learning Photography
  • Free issue of f2 Cameracraft!
  • E-m1 Firmware v4 update is out
  • 13 Rubik's Cubes in 15 Minutes (video)

A Tale of Two Portraits

Neither one of these portraits at the top of this blog was done in a studio. The first used natural light (something I'm always on the lookout for), and the other used The 5 Dollar Studio which I blogged about a few years ago.

Below you can see the setup for the first shot - there's a large room with large windows.  My subject was sitting right there working at her computer.  After taking this behind-the-scenes shot, I moved in front of her, zoomed in to about 200mm, and took the portrait.  Everything was on Auto.

Behind-the-scenes for the first portrait, which used natural light only.

First I recognized the good light, then I used the classic headshot composition: Eyes in the upper third; no distracting background.

Next was a portrait of a Rubik's Cube enthusiast. (And before you ask, yes, that's a real 7x7 cube.)  Here I had some volunteers hold a wireless flash and a diffusing cloth to the right of the subject, just out of frame.

A Rubik's Cube enthusiast.

If you don't have a budget for a softbox, it's amazing the results you can get with one flash and a few volunteers. :-)
(Check out the video at the bottom of this page for an impressive demonstration of this kid solving 13 Rubik's Cubes of various dimensions in a mere 15 minutes.)

Project Announcements

Free Update for the Olympus E-M1 firmware version 4 -  Olympus added a ton of new features with this update - features that usually require upgraded hardware, so I was duly impressed with their engineering team.  If you purchased the ebook from my website you should have received the free update automatically.  If not, email me your purchase receipt and I'll send you a download link.

And don't forget last month's major accomplishments:

Sony A6000 Spanish ebook is out!
Sony RX1R II ebook is out!
Sony A6300 ebook will begin just as soon as I get one in my hands.  Let me know if you'd like to be on the notification list when it's out.

No new seminars are being planned right now, as we are anticipating another major family event.  If you're still interested in a refreshingly different way to approach great photography using whatever camera you have that doesn't rely on equipment envy, check out the streaming version of The Friedman Archives Seminars which you can view in the comfort of your home.  Much cheaper than buying a new lens, and your approach to photography will never be the same again!

Free Issue of f2 Cameracraft!

Many of you have been hearing me talk about f2 Cameracraft magazine ever since its inception more than 3 years ago.  And although you may have heard many good things about it from other subsubscribers, you may still be on the fence regarding subscribing.

For you, editor David Kilpatrick and I are giving away a free (FREE!) downloadable .pdf of the January / February 2016 issue!  (Trust me, this took a lot of convincing. :-) )

Here you go:

So if you've been on the fence all this time, be fence-ridden no more!   Take a break from all the incessant talk recently about overpriced lenses and dip into the real meaning of photography.  I still consider this to be some of the most important work I do.

The Nissin Di700a Review I'm Not Going to Write

Late last year Nissin made every Sony flash shooter happy by coming out with a radio-controlled TTL flash that was designed to work with Sony's infamous MiS hot shoe.  And the demand was so great that I had to put my name on a waiting list just to get my hands on a pair.  Imagine - more capability and half the price of Sony's best flash!

I was going to write up a review of the flash after using it for several months.  I was going to mention how when in Australia the flash exposures were very inconsistent when shooting Koalas in trees (and other family members not in trees).  I was going to mention how the flash performed perfectly in the confines of a studio, making it impossible to tell whether the exposure errors were due to the flash or due to Sony's poor commands.  I was going to tell you how one in every 10 shots with the radio transmitter misfired, making me uncomfortable with its reliability.  I was going to mention how the flash in HSS mode produced a tiny bit of banding at high shutter speeds, and how for some reason the camera had to be in wireless protocol mode in order for the Air 1 radio remote to work (why couldn't it just make the camera think there was a flash attached?  It would have greatly reduced the wireless flash delay, especially on the A99 which I still use in the studio).

Yes, I was going to tell you about all of that... then I took this picture with that flash during a studio session:

After that, the flash wouldn't fire in radio mode at all.  It just stopped communicating with the transmitter, and nothing I tried could fix it.  Fortunately I am familiar with Friedman's Law of Technology, which states that all technology will fail, and when it does it will fail catastrophically.  Your only hope is redundancy.  (Especially out in the field.)  And so I relied upon other flashes to finish the session.

A quick call to Minox USA (the local distributor for Nissin) revealed the following insight: "Oh, we have new firmware for that unit.  Send it in to us and we'll update it for you."  No word at all regarding what previously identified problems the firmware fix fixes - companies never tell you that since you might discover the product was worse than you initially thought.  So I sent it in and am waiting for it to come back.  But now I have to start evaluating it all over again.  (Sheesh!)  I think the next time I'll talk about this is when the Phottix Odin TTL II flash triggers for Sony officially ship sometime this spring.  I'll buy a pair of those too and do a report on both.

An Ideal Platform for Those Learning Photography

It boggles the mind that there are really only 4 variables in photography: shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and focal length.  That's all you ever had to worry about with manual cameras from the 1950's.  Yet modern cameras with all their technology have made things infinitely more complex instead of simpler.

I was reminded of this fact when I heard a local high school was looking for donations for classic manual cameras for their beginning photography classes: Nikon FM (1/2/10), Pentax K1000, Minolta SRT-x0x, Canon FTb, Olympus OM-1, and others from that era.  Modern cameras were not welcome.  Is that wise?

Rightly or wrongly, there is a hipster factor in learning photography by using film.  But if your goal is to teach in a meaningful and intuitive way, I feel they're going about it wrongly.  Digital is the way to go for its instant feedback - learning happens faster that way, especially with the ability to preview how your shot will come out via Live View as you change your variables.  Old-school ideas like Film and darkrooms should be relegated to graduate school.  Do we teach driving by having students learn to ride a horse first?

There are precious few digital cameras that lend themselves to teaching the basics in this way. An ideal camera in my mind was the now-discontinued Epson R-D1, which was essentially a digital Leica M body.  Modern cameras such as the Fujifilm X100s and the digital Leica M typ 262 cameras come close.  (And ironically the Leicas are pretty much out of reach for most beginners.)

So my first thought was to start a Kickstarter project to get something like a modern version of the R-D1 in production again.  But that's difficult to do, and M-mount lenses can still be expensive.

"Dude, most cameras have a manual exposure mode.  Why not just tell students to use that?"

If you've ever been a complete novice you'll know the answer right away: There is too much to learn just so you can know what to ignore or disable.  It's an impure experience.

Then I thought of utilizing the fact that some modern and affordable cameras (I'm thinking of the Sony A6000 here) can run apps that you can download to provide new features.  Why not create an app that turns a modern, affordable camera into a basic camera with basic controls and an extremely streamlined menu system?  You'll be essentially removing all the non-essential bells and whistles so the user can concentrate just on the fundamentals.

Sounds like a simple idea until you start thinking about the implementation details:
  • Should live view show the user how the image will come out before you shoot?  Or should it be "dumb" like an optical viewfinder?
  • Should there be a white balance control, or should it be daylight white balance only and you have to use filters in artificial light?
  • What about modern tools such as Focus Magnification or Peaking Color?
  • Should it provide a match needle user interface?  
  • Should it produce .jpgs only with the lowest possible level of compression?  (This will make it akin to shooting transparencies.  Teach students to get as much of things right in the camera instead of on the computer.)
  • Should there be a B&W mode?  (Everyone knows that B&W images are more "artistic". :-) )
  • Should flash have TTL exposure?  Or fixed output so you have to adjust your f/stop according to the flash-subject distance and the guide number of the flash, just like the old days?
Anyone who says "Make them all menu-selectable options" is adding to the complexity which is exactly the opposite of this platform's goals.  Anyway, there's a lot to consider.

I think Sony would sell a ton of cameras to a new serious beginner demographic if such an app were to become available.  Better yet, build that functionality into a body like the A3000 (which sold well at big-box stores) and extend that model's sales life by 20 years.  There are always students learning.  This can be your Pentax K1000.

Unfortunately there's no development platform / API / inclusion program I know of that would allow me as a 3rd party to develop and sell such an app.  And so I put the idea out there so hopefully others can run with it.

Parting Shot

I talked about this a little earlier.  Once I saw how amazing this Rubik's Cube kid was I had to take his portrait.  But that doesn't do justice to his skill, and so here's a very amateur-looking video showing how he solves 13 Rubik's Cubes of various sizes (including that 7x7 one in the portrait) in only 15 minutes - all done in one continuous shot:

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Great edition, Gary.

    Among many things, I loved this line: Do we teach driving by having students learn to ride a horse first?

    Dave Kieffer
    San Francisco

  2. No we should teach driving with a stick shift. One learns about torque and transmissions that way. Incidentally a good, though expensive, camera for the manual experience is the Fujifilm XT-1.

  3. The point of using film is that every "shot" has to be considered as part of a limited total number of tries. This encourages thinking and making considered decisions about framing and composition and exposure. And BTW teaching driving by having students learn to ride a bicycle in traffic would likely be useful exercise indeed. It would tend to produce much more watchful and attentive drivers.

    1. People used to make similar arguments when it came to teaching slide rules - learning the old way had mental benefits. The calculators won out in that case.

    2. I totally agree about the limited number of tries on a roll of film. It is way too easy to keep shooting on a digital cameras, eventually getting something that is acceptable. This does not lead to careful thought about composition, exposure, depth-of-filed, etc. A sniper with a few bullets has to be much more analytical than an attacker with an Uzi.
      Maybe there should be a digital manual mode for learners that locks the camera after 36 shots are taken.

    3. How about memory cards so small they hold only 36 shots?

  4. Starting out a long time ago with B&W (sheet film) still helps me today.

  5. I like the idea of learning driving on a horse. What better way to learn Roadcraft? When they have mastered that (and only then) should they take on the intricacies of the motor car. (Of course a bicycle might be simpler).

  6. Gary, I can't say enough positive things about the Phottix Odin TTL trigger/receivers. I originally got one to use with my 5600HS(D) and omg... it just worked. I could control things manually AND I could engage HSS!

    I eventually ended up on a flash/trigger collection quest and have standardized on the Phottix Odin transmitter + 3 receivers and 3 5600HS(D) units I picked up off of Ebay. Those 5600HS(D) flash units are damn reliable.

    Not a fan of the "discount" flash options anymore. I've been burned before and life is too short to deal with that kind of noise.

    The only non-Sony flashes I would spend money on would be the LumoPro units. The LP180 is built like a tank. The only drawback is that it doesn't support Sony's TTL/HSS system. :(

    1. Yes, but it's important to point out (for other readers of this blog) that the Phottix Odin product you mentioned is designed to work with the OLD Minolta hotshhoe which appeared on the earlier Sony Alpha cameras. Adapters will be needed to use them on the new MiS hotshoe and the new flash foot.

    2. *facepalms* Thanks Gary!

      Yeah. I use Sony ADP-MAA adapter when using the Phottix Odin transmitter or any of the Minolta 5600HS(D) flash units with my A99 and A6000.

      Personally... I'm not a big fan of the MiS hotshoe's exposed pins. Nor am I a fan of the screw down method... The old Minolta hotshoe design was literally idiot proof: slide in... click.

      Biggest problem I have with the ADPMAA adapter is that it can slide off even if it's screwed down tight. :(

      Gary, when are you going to have your slimline always-on adapter in production? ;)

      I've been working on a shim that I could use with the ADPMAA so that once it was screwed down, there was no change it could slide off. But there isn't much clearance for making something strong enough. -_-;

  7. I once ran across a post describing the way to develop and install apps on Sony camera. But one thing is sure at the moment: there is no support from Sony nor official channel to distribute (think of AppStore).

  8. Gary, can you confirm that Nissins USA distributor is adamant your Di700s need bew firmware. I have problems with mine eating batteries, becoming unpaired with the controller, and one of the fragile plastic flash shoes on one broke whilst in a light stand. The UK distributor is no help at all as mine were purchased in Europe not the UK, so they refuse to help me, but have made no mention of firmware updates. I checked the Nissin website and it makes no mention of it for the Di700, whose support page has not been updated since the Sony mount versions were released in June 2015. I'm totally frustrated with the quality and unreliability of these flash guns, and disgusted by the unhelpful UK support. I would recommend anyone avoid Nissin and to buy marque brands ir cheap Chinese guns which will probably be the same quality as Nissin. Do gives us an update about what you get back. I have directly asked their UK distributor to confirm if a firmware update is available, what it fixes, and how to tell if a specific gun needs it. Awaiting a response, but not hopeful.

    1. Please email me privately about this. I can forward your situation to the Minox USA rep and see if he has any influence with the UK reps. I never learned what the firmware updates covered, and although I now have the flash back I haven't had time to try it for a non-mission-critical assignment yet.

    2. Hi Gary, thank you so much for your reply. I have been advised by the UK distributor that the only firmware update for the Di700 and Air 1 system is to the Air 1 controller to allow it to support Nissins new receiver for other flash guns (sorry can't remember the name of that new product). Therefore there doesn't appear to be any fix for the issues you (or I) have been experiencing. I wonder what the USA distributor has updated your flash guns with! Fortunately for me, the retailer (Amazon) has been extremely helpful and is sending a replacement for the gun with the broken foot. However, I still think the feet appear extremely fragile, and I'm still left with becoming un-paired with the controller and poor battery life / fussy about batteries. It will be interesting to hear your update when you try yours again. Adrian


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