The May/June issue of Photoshop User (with Lightroom) Magazine is out now. In my monthly Column, Maximum Workflow, I do a walkthrough of Nik’s Analog EFEX Pro app. It’s part of the Google Nik Collection, which was recently made free of charge by Google. Analog EFEX is a great program with loads of retro looks available.
I started photography printing and developing my own black and white photos. I still have the gear in storage, but I don’t do much of it any more-to my shame. A few years ago I saw Ian Ruthers ‘Silver and Light’ film and was hooked on the idea of doing collodion based photography. I read extensively, watched tonnes of videos and even got as far as pricing chemicals and other paraphernalia (expensive) for this antique photographic craft. I checked online for classes and saw I’d just missed one. There was no further date available, so I contacted the tutor. She would give 1:1 or 1:2 classes, so I tried to get someone else on board to no avail. I let the opportunity slip and just lived with the regret.
Since then I’ve seen videos where Ian was shooting just using a Holga and I still hoped to do it….one day. Something happened in March, that prompted me to go and look for courses on Wet Plate Collodion. The Gallery of Photography in Dublin had one on the 8th May, so I emailed in assuming the class would be booked up already again. It wasn’t. There were 2 spaces left, so I booked straight away.
So yesterday, after a short nights sleep, I got the Gobus to Dublin. There were 6 attending the class, along with 2 assistants. There was a great regional representation, with Galway, Cork, Limerick, Mayo, Westmeath and of course, Dublin. The tutor was Monika Fabijanczyk, and it became really obvious throughout the class just how knowledgeable she was in the field of wet plate photography with Ambrotypes being her preferred method.
The class began with notes handed out to the students, but unlike other classes, we didn’t spend the start of the class reading through the notes. These were more like homework. Instead, this was a fully practical class. Hands on from the start. I volunteered to have my portrait taken for the initial demo. There’s two parts to the class really. Firstly most of us were using Large Format cameras for the first time. There are similarities to using older Medium Format cameras, like need to cock the shutter etc. The image is also upside down and reversed left to right-which is what the image will look like. The 2nd is the creation and processing of the wet plates.
The studio and class (The Lightroom as it’s called) is on the 3rd floor. The Darkroom is in the basement. There were more people than could fit in the lift, so there was a lot of stairs use, so maybe there was a 3rd part to the class: exercise! We went down to the basement and Monika showed us how to pour collodion onto clean glass plates. Gloves, aprons and goggles are used for this as collodion is dangerous, and when the silver nitrate is added will stain skin (it’s actually burning the skin). There’s a technique to the pour, and you do see it in the Silver and Light videos, but seeing it in person being described is definitely more valueable. Not to mention that a tonne of head knowledge only amount to a gram of experience. When the collodion dried enough to be tacky, it was smoothly placed in a silver bath for about 3 minutes with a little occasional agitation. Next Monika cleaned the back and then places it into a converted sheet film holder and added the dark slide. The plate looked milky at this point, and was placed face down in the holder. Up at that camera, the opposite side is opened for the exposure. With the plate ready, we went back up to the studio.
I sat and Monika prepped and took the shot. As the effect ISO of wet plate collodion is ISO 1 or 2, it means a lot of light and long exposures. First Monika checked focus on the ground glass, with the shutter held open. Once focused, she closed and cocked the shutter for firing. The holder was put in behind the ground glass and the dark slide removed. With the camera set to T, she fired the shutter with a remote cable. After a 10 count, she fired the release again to close the shutter. The dark slide was put back in and we all went down to the darkroom again. The plate was taken out and developer pored onto it. After about 10-15 secs, when the detail began to appear, the plate was put into a batch to stop the developer. Once the developer was washed off, it went into the fixer try. This is where the magic happened. Even though you can see the image after the developer, it goes through a milky looking phase in the fixer, but then appears properly. It’s really exciting to see-even more than with paper processing. Once ready, the plate in put in a running water tray to clean off. I’ll say this again: there’s nothing that matched being there in person watching this.
After this we took a 40 minute lunch break-no eating near the chemicals allowed! After lunch we all got our first go. Straight up- Monika made it look easy. But it’s not quite as easy as that really. You need to gauge the pour and then get the spare collodion back in the jar. I didn’t quite pour enough the first time, with Monika telling me to keeping pouring. Prepping in the bath was easy and then a quick clean of the back and into the holder. Back up to the studio to shoot my first portrait. I had Jason, one of the other class members sit for me. Then it was back down to the darkroom to develop. I really made a mess of the developer pour, with not enough spread around the plate. Pouring more only meant that I didn’t get an even pour of the developer on the plate. So after fixing and cleaning, it was noticeably streaked. However, I love it. I preferred the distressed look on these images, so messing it up was achieving rather than outright failing. That’s not to say I don’t want to do it right.
My second go had a far better collodion pour. I was really proud of it right until the moment where I dropped it, emulsion side down, onto the paper towelling. Doh! Monika said to try it anyway, and like I’ve said, I like the distressed look anyway. So back up to the studio where I shot Niamh, one of the assistants. I was still getting used to the camera-it was my 2nd only ever large format shot after all, so I unfortunately missed focus on this. Ground glass takes some getting used to, so I’m not surprised that people use loupes with them. I did a better job with the developer on this one. Very distressed from the fall, and some fogging, but I love it.
For my third shot, I changed from a black glass plate to clear glass. I gave the plate a good brushing and did a great pour. I was really happy with it. I shot another student, Toma, an artist from west Cork. She was super nice and I loved seeing this appear in the developer. Then, disaster struck. The collodion started to lift from the plate in the wash. We gently finished the wash and put it in fixer. The whole emulsion started to peel off. To save ot. Monika put it in a separate tray, and dried with a hard dryer later on. She felt the glass may not have been cleaned enough prior to the class, and that was why it lifted. The save was only partial and she recommended I scan it sooner rather than later. The drying processing didn’t quite removed the bubbles, but I’m still pleased with it. I scanned against black card, so it’s not as rich as the others. The blue white bits are excess collodion that the fixer didn’t have time to wash away.
My final shot was also on clear glass, this time of Justin. In terms of the process I felt far more comfortable with this one. Everything went smoothly. Pour, batch, focus, developer, fixer. No peeling either!
As the class was going on, we were moving plates out of the running water bath into trays, to avoid them scratching each other in the bath. The other assistant dried the plates with a hair dryer, and then Monika should how to varnish them with traditional varnish. Next she showed how to use Renaissance wax for a more modern and faster finish.
So how did I feel about all this? Well I was elated actually. It was far more fun that I could have imagined. There really is nothing to beat hands on experience, and that’s where I need to go next with it. I may try the Holga route initially, but a large format camera is a must for the really. I highly recommend this course. Even if you never want to do it yourself after, the experience is great. It also gives you an understanding of what photography was like in the early days of the craft. Monika is an excellent tutor, and her skill and knowledge was evident throughout the class, with her help when things were going wrong for me, or for the other class members.
I’m already searching for gear for this, and planning how to make it happen! I love the practical side of this craft so this is a great way to get back to it. Changing to Fuji and using retro looking cameras is great, but this? This is real retro!
Shooting fashion photography in Galway, it’s always a delight to get published in the magazine of choice for the sophisticated ladies of the city: Galway Now.
This editorial was shot in the g hotel with Samantha from Roza Model agency with clothes from incredible designer Natalie B. Coleman. I’ve loved her work for ages, so this was a joy to shoot.
Photography: Sean McCormack
Art Direction: Gabriela Patterson
Model: Samantha @ Roza
Makeup: Colette Manning @ Lash & Brow Studio
Hair: Ronan Patterson @ The Face
Video: David Cooley
BTS Photos: Piotr Lyszkiewicz
Warning: Due to the nature of Burlesque performance, this post is slightly NSFW, so I’ve posted the photos after the fold.
With the range of people work I do, it’s always a pleasure to work with performers of all kinds. Be they actors, models, personalities, or in this case Burlesque performers. I’ve seen Harley perform as part of The Dirty Circus, so it was fantastic to get a chance to do a shoot with her-especially one that incorporates a lot of coloured lights. As you may have noticed, I’ve been adding colour to my work of late.
Being used to the stage, it made sense to add colour with Harley. Generally stages feature a mix of coloured lights to heighten the performance, so what better way to enhance a shoot than emulate that environment?
I went to The Photography Show the first year after Focus on Imaging finished, and really enjoyed it. It was a great show, but for various reasons I haven’t been since. Sometimes it was work related, last year it was because I was writing ‘The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC’ under deadline pressure.
This year, I’d no such commitments and was really itching to go. I loved speaking at The Societies Convention in January. It a great chance to network and see new gear, but the trade show is smaller than with The Photography. I’m not giving out about the Convention- I love going to it! It really is a wonderful few days at the start of the year, and I always come away buzzing with new ideas and fresh insight. I highly recommend it to any photographers.
The timing wasn’t great still, so I finished at job at 2am and drove to Dublin for a 6:25 flight. I met loads of Malahide Camera Club members in the airport. Big shout out to Joe Doyle, Michelle la Grue and the crew. The flight was painless though there was a bit of a wait the other end!
Being so big, The Photography Show is a great place to catchup with people, meet people you only know from on
line and see new gear (of course). So this post is about that, and probably will bore the pants off non photographers. You have been warned. I will be talking about the great people I got to meet. If you think it’s name dropping, umm, sorry, it’s not meant to be.
Fujifilm were one of the main sponsors and the stand was right inside the entrance. I spent a bit of time there chatting to the fabulous Nathan Wake as well as grabbing coffee with him and the equally wonderful Gary Astill (formerly of Lastolite). This is a big part of why I go to trade shows. Meet great people, play with new gear. I got to play with a few cameras on the stand, like the X70. Tempted as a pocket and BTS camera, but at the price, I would seriously consider a 2nd X-T10. There was a mockup of the EF-X500, but I didn’t get a play with it. Next year I need to make a list and have a better plan of attack. As with the SWPP show, Fujifilm were doing free cleaning, so I got my X-Pro1 cleaned. Yay for free cleaning. Of course this meant that I didn’t take many photos.
The Photographer Academy were helping on the Flaghead stand, so I got to talk to Jay and Sam for a bit, and of course had to take part in Mark Cleghorn’s 101 beards at the show. I was somewhere in the mid 40s of that section. That was done on The Flash Centre stand, using Elinchrom, my lighting of choice in the studio and for more powerful lights on location. I chatted to Simon Burfoot there, and tried to convince him to let me talk there next year (hey, I can only ask!). John Moors was there as well, helping away.
I met plenty of Buxtonites (a special group of people-we really did form a bond at these training weeks run by Paul RG Haley), and hung with them after the first evening. That may not have been a wise choice from the wine point of view, but it was a lot of fun. So hi again to Mac McBride, Paul Brown, Michelle Heseltine, Jennie Miles, Claire Elliot, Julie Oswin, Iona Long and all the others I bumped into. It’s like an extended photographer family really. Many of the attendees have gone on to become trainers in their own right. I really love going to these and am looking forward to the next event in May.
I spent a little time at the Lensbaby stand and there’s a Sweet Optic in my near future. I haven’t decided on the 35 or 50 yet, as the 35 is my main lens on the Fuji, but I’m thinking of it for portraits. I just love how they look. Both Jake Hicks and Adam Robertson, two photographers I know and admire, use them from time to time. I do have the 24mm & 90mm TSE tilt shift lenses for Canon, and I can use teleconverters and adaptors for these on Fuji, but they’re really cumbersome. The Composer Pro is really light and easy to use. I’ve loved this look for years and first saw it with the editorial portraits of Mark Tucker– with his infamous Plunger Cam. This was long before Lensbaby of course.
My book was for sale on K52, so I popped along to meet Jane and Pippa from CBL Distribution. Scott Kelby was signing books there, so I chatted to him for a bit. I write for the Kelbyone magazine ‘Photoshop User’, so it’s nice to bump into the boss at these shows. Scott also had me do a quick chat to camera so hopefully that will air at some stage! The camera was run by Dave from 3 Legged Thing and helped along by Dave and Peter from Hybrid Photography.
Remember I did that post showing my speedlight modifiers? Well the ring flash softbox was on sale at the show.. for £120. I kid you not. Save your money and get it for $30 instead. Maybe I should start rebranding and selling them myself!
The highlight of the show for me was meeting Julian Calverley. He’s a commercial and landscape photographer and I’ve genuinely been in love with his work for years. They say never meet your heros, but he was a total gent. Great to finally meet you in person Julian (despite my hangover!). He did a talk at the Linhof Studio stand, under the On Landscape magazine banner. Julian’s personal work is shot on an Alpa, but he also uses the iPhone as well. It’s a full spectrum difference, yet one has come to inform the other for him. The #iPhoneonly book is a delight and a worthy purchase for any landscape photographer. It’s also come full circle and is available as an iBook! If you’re getting it, go for the print version. The print and paper make it worth it. I really wanted to ask loads of questions, but didn’t want to keep interrupting!
I didn’t get to catch up with Ben Brian, editor of Digital Camera World, this time. I did however get to meet Richard Hill for the first time. He’s the Operations Editor on the magazine and is the person I deal with most. Total gent and it was a delight to meet him, albeit unexpectedly! I also met Chris George, the man in charge, and he too was a gent. Don’t forget to catch my monthly column in the magazine!
Scott Wiggins has been doing a Follow Friday with me in it on Twitter for quite a few months, so it was great to meet Tigz Rice, one of the other that’s regularly in that same tweet. Her work is fantastic, and so is she. She was doing demos on the Wacom stand, showing a mix of stuff from Lightroom and Photoshop using the tablets. Follow her.
I also got to chat to Lara Jade about being an author at a networking event for pros run by 3XM. She was lovely and very social, as was Sinbad that joined us a bit into conversation. This was the event where the wine issue came in (mentioned earlier). I hadn’t intended on having anything, but decided to have one glass of white wine, despite being really tired. Then the replacements glasses arrived, and next thing I was signing happy birthday over the PA to 3XM boss Ronan Ryle. Sorry Ronan, I may be able to do sound, but I’m not much of a singer!
I mentioned Scott Kelby, so I definitely need to talk about Dave Clayton! Dave was running the Live Stage, and what a busy affair that was. You’ve heard me talk about total gents, well Dave is another one. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing photographers don’t like to do more than bitch about other photographers, but there are plenty of people in the business that like to see people succeed, and Dave is one of them. Dave is the man that gave me the connection to Rocky Nook in the first place.
Final mention should go to the Adobe peeps: Gavin Hoey, Richard Curtis, Dave Mallows and Eric Renno. Eric was showing off his Surface Pro 4. Now if only Apple would run OS X on an iPad Pro.. Can’t someone write an emulator app for that?
It’s a week later now, and it almost seems like a lifetime ago already. I’ll have to go for longer the next time. Too much to see, and too much fun to have!
The GTI Fashion Fiesta show took place in the ‘g’ Hotel function room. The room itself is gorgeous, but underlit for catwalk shooting. The length of the catwalk rules out manual flash so I used remote TTL flash via RoboSHOOT triggers. Like I’ve mentioned in the RoboSHOOT review, TTL is typically hit and miss, and this was true for this show. Bigger shows are generally lit, so you just use that light too shoot with. Here’s a selection from the show.
For 8 years now, Galway Technical Institute’s fashion and beauty classes have put on a fashion as part of their coursework. This allows collaboration to exists between the level 5 & 6 FETAC classes, and allows designers, stylists, hair and makeup students to work as teams, the same as you get out in the real world. A lot of graduates are successful designers in their own right.
I try and get down when I can. This year I had a commercial job booked for the morning, so I didn’t do my usual lit setup. Instead I went down just before the ‘Model Walk’ and pulled out a few outfits to shoot in the crowded canteen. Using a 35mm prime (53mm equiv on full frame), I shot shallow with my ‘go to’ camera, the Fujifilm X-T10.
People are surprised to hear I use this despite having come from a Canon 5DIII. I just love it. The photos from the canteen have been posted to Instagram. The layouts were done automatically in Lightroom using my FREE Instagram Print Templates.
It isn’t often that a third party comes out with a product long before a brand, especially something that’s de riguer with most makers now. That’s exactly what Serene Automation have done with their RoboSHOOT TTL Triggers for Fuji.
The State of Fuji Flash
Flash is the weakest link in the X-Series System by a large margin. Their current flagship flash is the EF-42, a rebranded Sunpak flash. It’s more in keeping with the, larger, older S Pro cameras than the compact X-Series cameras (something the competing Nissan i40 can lay claim to). Power wise it matches the Canon 430EX or the Nikon SB600, rather than that of the Canon 580/600ex or Nikon SB910. This will all change with the brand new EF-X500 touted for a May landing. It swaps the measly GN 42 for GN50, almost that of the Canon’s at GN52. The X-Pro2 has already been delayed by a month, so hopefully that won’t affect the timeline for the EF-X500.
As well as the increased power, the EF-X500 will be the first Fuji flash to allow a master/slave control, via optical control, similar to Nikon’s CLS. Even Nikon are moving into radio TTL, so for a flagship flash, it’s already a generation behind. Even third partly products like the Yong Nuo 600 series, or Godox v860’s are already TTL radio based. So while the EF-X500 is a blessing for Fuji users, it’s still got catching up to do.
With the lack of any TTL remote control in camera, until recently the only way to get the flash off camera with TTL was to use a TTL cable. There is a limit to length of course, and the possibility of accident, either by tripping, or by pulling the light down. Neither are optimal.
Introducing the RoboSHOOT Triggers
This long introduction is leading up to the key feature of the RoboSHOOT triggers; that is, they provide TTL control of Fuji flashes via radio. Not only that, but they also allow most modern TTL Nikon flashes to be used in TTL mode, as if they were native flashes to Fuji. This is a huge boost to those that are changing, or supplementing their existing Nikon setup with Fujifilm X-series cameras.
The RoboSHOOT triggers come in a basic black box, with a transmitter and receiver in a moulded clear plastic tray. Included are a set of cables for remote camera triggering (another useful feature of the trigger), and a cloth bag with 2 internal pouches for safe keeping of the triggers. There’s a quick guide and a fuller manual included as well.
A cursory look at the triggers shows they’re similar to most other triggers on the market. The transmitter has a metal hotshoe foot with a screw down grip, rather than the lever based ones that appear on most newer flashes now. I’ve had issues with the version on my Godox V860c, so I do prefer the newer design. However the triggers are quite light, and I know my issue is related to the weight of the flash, so I wouldn’t expect it to be a problem with the trigger. There’s an on-off button on the side, one push button on top, some LEDS, and a Flash button. There’s a pass through hotshoe on top, so this system can be mixed with other trigger systems. A sync port is on the receiver. The transmitter has a shutter release output to camera and an external trigger port input from switch or sensor. There’s no screen-something that’s notable as most transmitters sport one these days-We’ll come back to that shortly though. The receiver has a plastic foot with a screw thread for fitting on a light stand. Besides this, it looks similar to the transmitter.
The RoboSHOOT App
The reason why the transmitter lacks a screen is because there’s ‘an app for that’. Control is via a free iOS or Android app. Most people have one or the other available in some form. iOS requires 8.3 or higher (so my lowly iPhone 4s was ruled out), whereas Android has lower requirements. I ran the app with no issues on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7 inch. The app connects to the triggers via Bluetooth and is a breeze to use.
From the app, you can control up to 4 groups of flashes in either TTL (with flash exposure compensation) or in manual increments from 1/1 power down. To set the group on the receiver, press the top button down and the A B C D buttons will light up with the next channel. Repeat until you get the to the desired channel. The app also allows you to do firmware updates to the triggers. Taking a look at the app in more detail.
Before you begin, turn on Bluetooth and pair with the RoboSHOOT triggers. Run the app. From the launch screen, click the Connect Button to begin or use App Settings to make changes (check the manual for more details).
The main screen opens. I’ve the Zoom option on, so this screen shows the 4 Flash Groups (A,B,C & D), the zoom for each flash, and the Exposure compensation value. The Green ‘Light’ on the B channels shows that there’s a trigger on connected to B. Each Group can be turned off using the group switch. At the bottom you can test the flash using Check. Hold down the Flash icon to turn off all the flashes. You can also see the battery strength of the triggers as well as the camera’s status.
Flash control isn’t the thing that the triggers can do. Press the + button to bring up more options.
Cycle through them to see the Timer, the Intervalometer, High Speed Capture and External Trigger screens.
To get the whole setup working, the manual says to turn everything off. First attach the flash to the triggers and to the camera. Next turn on the flashes, finally the camera. It’s key that the pin in the trigger lines up correctly on the camera for a connection to be make. The manual mentions you may have to wiggle it into position. I had trouble with getting the camera to see the trigger initially. In the end, I left the camera on when I attached the transmitter and moved it until I saw the flash symbol appear on the center left of the rear screen. All was good then. When operational, both the transmitter and receiver have a green LED on the front. Other colours and flashing states have various meanings. Blue, for instance means that a bluetooth connection has been made. Unfortunately knowing the other combinations means memorizing the meanings or having the manual with you, a minor minus point in my opinion. Yes, you can access the manual via the app, but this isn’t as convenient as other systems. (Note that there’s been a hardware upgrade that improves the connection, more further down). Bear in mind that my triggers are pre-production versions, so the wiggle issue has been fixed.
That’s the technical, so let’s go practical instead. My first test was simple shots of my son via the traditional method of bribing with treats. Hence there aren’t any really usable photos. Nevertheless, I was well impressed. For the initial setup, I was using the EF-42 with no modifiers. Flash exposure was dead on with each shot in TTL mode. Surprisingly so as TTL can be hit or miss. By way of background, I shoot TTL in nightclubs at least twice a week, so I’m used to seeing how one person with a white shirt in a group can completely throw the flash exposure off.
For my second test, I put the flash into a small softbox, meaning no line of sight for the flash (not an issue for radio triggers obviously). Again each exposure was perfect. As I was using only one flash, I tested exposure compensation via camera settings rather than the app. Adding or reducing the flash exposure was mirrored exactly as expected. Honestly, I couldn’t fault the operation in this regard.
Flash Compatibility My other camera system is Canon, so I didn’t have the luxury of trying a Nikon TTL just then. I did have a Nikon SB-28dx available. I normally use this former top of the line flash (for their film cameras) in manual mode off camera. The RoboSHOOT had no issues triggering this flash, albeit as a dumb trigger with no remote power control.
Serene Automation do provide a list of compatible flashes:
Additional compatible flashes are listed on the Serene Automation Compatibility page. Nikon flashes with a * need to be in TTL mode to work, with manual control provided via the App.
The real test is of course getting out there and using the system. So armed with the RoboSHOOT triggers, an EF-42, my X-T10 and a few lenses, I went to an industrial area near the studio to shoot with local model/radio & TV personality Laura Fox. Based on my initial test, I decided to shoot with a softbox. You can see the general modifiers I use with Speedlites in this post. For this shoot I went with the Godox Elinchrom Bracket and the basic Elinchrom Portalite 65cm square softbox. The BTS shot is a little shaky-it was more of an afterthought really!
I shoot a lot of Butterfly Lighting, which is a straight on light look with a butterfly shaped shadow under the nose. It’s something that can be done with a TTL cable so for this I thought we’d go for a more dramatic look, and use a Short-lit Loop lighting pattern instead. This means placing the light off to the side of the subject to create shadow on the face. It has the effect of sliming the face. You can see a more extreme version of short lighting with my Hirsute project.
To begin, I metered the surrounding area with no flash, and then brought the shutter speed down to darken it. With manual flash, the flash power is tied to the lens aperture, so you need to change shutter speed to prevent the flash power changing. TTL flash will deal with whatever you send at it, so technically I could have darkened by changing either shutter speed or aperture.
Next I turned on the triggers, and the flash. Now this is a review, so I have to say that I had a lot of trouble getting the camera to talk to the flash. Pressing the button on the transmitter would trigger the flash, but it refused to trigger from the camera, even though the flash symbol was on the camera. I did’t have my tablet with me to connect to the triggers to check what was going on, so I had to use Laura’s phone to download the app to see what was going on. Still no joy. In the end I went and changed the mode of the flash to Red-eye on, and miraculously it all worked. It definitely worked before in the other mode, so I wasn’t sure what happened. John from Serene Automation emailed to say he had a new foot for the transmitter which should solve all the communication problems. Either I could send it back, or he could send me the part. Being techie anyway, I said to send the part on. More on this shortly.
Anyway, with the flash now firing, off we went. The light was fading and I was at a pretty low shutter speed, so we only went for a few quick looks. The first thing to note is that the exposure was really close. TTL itself is typically hit and miss (as distinct from the triggers which are merely relaying this information). Bearing in mind that I was underexposing the scene, and lighting an off center subject, I was pretty impressed.
For the next shot, we moved to one of the shutters in the background to use it as background. Again, I was going for a short lit look. Here’s how it looked.
I shot a 3/4 shot first, and then a full length. TTL tends to suffer when you switch from tighter to wider shots, but this performed really well.
The full length is probably about 1/3 stop brighter is appearance, but this is still really good for TTl. Now bear in mind that the trigger is only relaying the TTL information, but seeing these makes TTL look more useful than I’ve felt before. You can always use the App to change the Flash Exposure Compensation-either overall, or one each attached flash. It’s still possible to use the FEC option on the camera as well.
I’ve talked about the Nikon flash compatibility, so for the sake of testing, I borrowed an SB-700 from my good friend and photographer Julia Dunin. We only had a really short shoot window, and it was rather windy, so this ruled out a softbox. So some quick location scouting later, we shot in front of a local bingo hall.
Again the exposure was great. As you can see from the setting, I set my base exposure for the background. 1/8 sec isn’t great for camera shake, but it’s fine in this shot.
On another job, I had the triggers in the bag, so I pulled them out to give me some off camera effects with TTL. I was moving around a lot, so manual settings were out of the question. I varied between bouncing the flash and using direct flash, and the exposures were all very close.
This next one is bounced off the DJ table-which was black, but still had enough light to give soft under fill.
The Hardware Upgrade
I’ve said I’ll come to this twice, so here it is. John sent me the new foot for the transmitter. It was actually a really easy job. There are 4 screws to undo and then a little care is needed to line up pins to a block, but that’s it. Here’s how I did it.
This is the new foot (with white plastic), beside the MX-20 trigger. The old one has black plastic.
Next, unscrew the 4 corner screws, then gently prize the case apart.
Here’s the old and new foot side by side. See the black block in the centre part? The one on the new foot needs to mate with the pins visible on the top right of the left part in the shot. Line them up carefully then give the units a quick test before screwing the 4 screws back in. This is to make sure you’ve lined them up and that it’s working before finalising the job.
Here’s the final look with the old foot off to the side.
So what’s the verdict on the upgrade? Well it’s perfect. No fiddling or wiggling required anymore. It’s worked every time since. Best of all this upgrade is free (bar the cost of shipping). John will do it for you for free as well if you don’t fancy going at it yourself, but it’s quite easy if you are good with techie stuff.
So down to the nitty gritty. The RoboSHOOT comes as the MX-20 and RX-20 for the best operation. A set of these is $379.95 There are lower cost options as well, but there are less features with these. These are the MX-15 transmitter and the RX-15 receiver. The kit version of these is $259.95. You can also get an RX-20/MX-15 kit for $299.95. The RX-20 is available for $159.95 standalone, while the RX-15 is $129.95. The MX transmitters are only available in a kit.
Price wise these are on the high end, but not dissimilar to other products that perform a similar task. The price is also dictated by the market as well. Production is done in 90 day intervals, and a 25% deposit secures your order.
As these were preproduction units, it was probably inevitable that I’d have minor issues with them. While frustrating at the time, they’ve been entirely solved with the hardware upgrade. At the time of writing, a new firmware upgrade was out to add flash firing in continuous mode on the X-T1, so features are being added, meaning you get additional value after purchase. John plans on adding HSS support when the EF-X500 comes out. Hopefully Fuji will add HSS to older bodies via firmware (currently only the X-Pro2 supports it).
So what’s my verdict? With the new upgrade, the units have performed well, with no need to resort to the app. If you have a compatible phone, the lack of a screen isn’t really an issue. The inclusion of the hot shoe pass through means that I can use my existing systems with them. If you want remote TTL via radio, there is nothing else out there-even when Fuji brings in wireless TTL in May, it’ll be optical and require line of sight. Fortunately, despite being the only option, these triggers work well and have future proofing built in off the bat. If remote TTL on Fuji is your thing, I highly recommend these trigger. While the may be the only game in town, it’s a good game.
One of the weak points of the Fuji X system is the flash. The EF-42 is the current flagship, but it overly large in comparison to the camera systems. The Nissin i40 is a far more pleasing flash in that regard, albeit even more basic than the EF-42 in terms of control. I do find that using the EF-42 in TTL and bouncing seems to work better than the Canon equivalents, which often need additional flash exposure compensation to get the light right.
The EF-42 Flash
There’s a whole lot missing in the system though. No off camera remote control for TTL-either optical or radio for example. But the big thing for me is the lack of an on flash AF Illuminator for club and event work. I’m shooting in places where I often can’t even see the people I’m shooting, so having the flash send out a beam to help focus is essential. Both the EF-42 and i40 have these in the camera (The EF-42 is actually a rebranded Sunpak flash), but they’re not turned on in the Fuji firmware.
The Nissin i40 Flash
In addition, both of these flashes are relatively low power- at 42 and 40 in Guide Number(GN), they’re shy of the power of most flagship flashes which have GN52 or above. Also, most other flashes can do High Speed Sync, allowing you to shoot with faster shutter speeds than the normal sync speed of the camera.
There is something on the horizon to help with some of these issues: The EF-X500 which was announced (and perhaps overshadowed by) with the launch of the X-Pro2. This flash has a GN of 50, meaning more power. There’s also optical TTL control of up to 3 flashes (though I assume they mean 3 groups, rather than literally 3 flashes). I tend to use manual flash off camera, but can see situations where mixing TTL and flash would work well (like a wedding with fixed background light level and TTL for table work). Someone at the SWPP mentioned they would have radio TTL as well, but the specs doesn’t back this up. Radio TTL is possible with the RoboSHOOT triggers from Serene Automation, which I’ll be reviewing shortly.
High Speed Sync is something I did use with Canon to get shallow depth of field outside on bright days with flash, so I am looking forward to seeing this in action on Fuji!
One thing that I’ve not been able to find out is if there is now AF Illumination on flash. This would be the nail in the coffin for my Canon system. It’s the only main thing that has stopped me moving completely. Well, that and Tilt Shift lenses. Hopefully Samyang will step up to the plate on that one!