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Firstly, let me begin with saying I follow Nick Fancher’s Instagram. It started with Nick’s post on Scott Kelby’s blog. I loved the work, and put in into practice immediately. It became part of my arsenal and I’ve used variations on it as time has passed. Working up towards publication, Nick’s Instagram feed has been the trailer for the book. Does it mean I’m a fan? Kinda. At the same time, disappointed fans can be harsher than those who may be more neutral in persuasion. So have I been disappointed? Only one way to find out!

The Book

Studio Anywhere 2: Hard Light is the movie version of Nick’s Instagram trailer. While there are BTS shots on Instagram as well, there isn’t the level of detail that Nick goes into with the book. This book is all about recipes for success with hard light. It also has a few scene quizzes along with way to make sure you’re keeping up.

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Split into 9 chapters, with an educational Introduction, and a forward thinking Epilog, this book (which I’ve read as the ebook version) provides a great basis for working with hard light on location. Nick delves into his kit to reveal a tightly curated gear bag, perfect for travelling light, without feeling like you’re leaving something important behind. As I’ve given talks on shooting as Ryanair photo traveller, I’m totally down with that.

Lighting wise, I’m quite experienced, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from the book. Quite the opposite in fact. Even in the intro, Nick discusses the difference between speedlight and monolight shadows. It’s something I’d know unconsciously, but having it spelled out on paper brings it into sharp focus. It boils down to having different experiences and Nick is imparting his experience, quite successfully, in the book.

I’m not going to do a blow by blow account of what’s in the book. It’s full of practical setups to get interesting light in a variety of situations. Often these include little hacks to make better use of your gear, with things like homemade snoots and barndoors, or hacks to make your reflector do even more work for you.

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Soup to Nuts

As well as the background detail on the shoot, each setup generally contains a scene shot, a shot of the gear, the unedited Raw file, the Lightroom settings and the final edited image. You get to see everything that went into making the image. Where Photoshop played a part in the image, this information is included as well. Changes made to perfect the lighting also get a mention, so it’s a full soup to nuts approach to imparting knowledge.

The big thing that drew me to the book was the gel work from that Scott Kelby guest blog. This book includes both the original black and white inspiration work, and the resulting colour work, but takes it a step further. Because Nick has had time to work and refine the technique, a more mature version of it appears in the book. Coupled with colour theory, and the other gel related tips, this made for my favourite part of the book.

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Getting Personal

There’s a lot in the book about Nick’s photography background, from his education right through to where he is now. He’s candid about his approach to clients, and gives out advice in relation to it. There’s also some pro tips, again based on his experience, to fill the book out even more. This means you’re getting business advice on top of the lighting techniques. Seeing Nick’s progress will definitely be a help to those working their way into a crowded market, or even those looking to add some extra cash from part time photo work.

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Conclusion

The book is a great read. Like anything, you need to put the information into practice before it makes proper sense. Without that practice, you’ll never absorb the information. Is this book worth getting? Well, it’s a step up from introduction to lighting books, and there’s a certain amount of prior knowledge expected. It’s like you’ve joined in after a conversation has started-you have to pick up what’s already been said. As I haven’t read the original Studio Anywhere book, I can’t say if this information is in that book-it may well be. It’s not a problem, merely an observation. Despite the information being more intermediate than beginner, it’s still quite accessible. On the other hand, if you’ve been in the game a while, Nick provides plenty of new tricks in the book to satisfy your lust for light.

I’m struggling to pick holes in the book. The only thing I’d love to have seen is more final photos. As in a greater range of finished images showing slight variations in each technique-like a mini portfolio. What’s there is great, and really does serve as wonderful inspiration, but I’d love to have seen more. Weighing in at 226 pages including covers and index etc, more images would’ve made the book longer and even better-especially in a print version. But it’s truly just a nitpick.

Rating

As I’m not stuck with Amazon terms, I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5. If you enjoy using lighting at all, this book deserves to be in your library and will expand your options on all future shoots. The ebook version is available right now for $27.99, with the print version coming in January. Right now, the coupon code NEWNOVEMBER will take 35% off the eBook price!

If you’re shooting landscapes, interiors or even wide environmental portraits on Fujifilm X Series cameras, you’re choices are limited. You’ve the Fujinon 10-24 or the 14mm. If you have the money and want a wide prime, there’s the Touit 12mm f2.8-the jury is out on the value of it. At 1/3 of the price and a full stop faster is the Samyang 12m f2.0. Samyang also goes by the Bower or Rokinon name, but they’re all the same lens. If I was giving advice to someone who want a versatile lens choice at a price, that would be a 17-40 and an 85 on full frame. That’s the 10-24 and 56 (or 60 at a push) on Fuji. I didn’t go that route myself as I started with the 18 and 35 Fujinon lenses. So for my wide I stayed prime and got the cheaper Samyang 12mm. By way of reference, that’s 18mm full frame equivalent field of view.

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Don’t let the price fool you. This isn’t a cheap imitator hoping to wile away your cash and leave you disappointed. Think great value rather than cheap. As with most Samyang lenses, this is a manual only lens. That’s less of a problem than you think, because for most of the things you’d use this for, manual is fine. Set at f16, focus before the infinity more (using Hyperfocal Distancing) and it’ll all be in focus. For Astro stuff, where you really would make use of the f2.0 aperture, it needs some testing to get it just right, but when it’s set, it stays there. The focus ring is quite stiff, which is exactly how you want a manual lens. Mark the lens across the ring and distance scale, that way you can get it bang on the next time with no fuss. Be warned that the distance scale isn’t accurate, so do test with it before committing to shoot. The ring is also a back focusing ring, so the front element stays fixed. If you use screw on filters, or filters holders, you’ll be thankful for this! Personally I’m using the new Hitech-Formatt 85mm system with new holder design, using a 67mm ring. The new design is far better than the old one by miles and miles-but I digress.

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Being a manual lens, you get a manual aperture ring. This goes from f2.0 to f22 with a defined click at half stop intervals. It’s reasonably tight, so not prone to moving. At f22 you are hitting the limits of the APS sensor and getting diffraction, but again on APS f11-f16 with hyperfocal distancing should be in focus from front to back, without diffraction. If you don’t know what diffraction is, it’s blurring due to light bending through the aperture hole and not quite getting into the sensor photosites straight on. Smaller sensors with narrow apertures are susceptible to it. Generally I avoid f22 where I can. On the other end, it’s pretty sharp at f2.0. Often you have to open up for better sharpness, but this lens is quite good for it.

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I have 2 copies of this lens. The first was second hand and has a scratch which the buyer failed to mention on the lens. It’s generally not an issue, and only shows as flare when facing the light source. Of course, I shot a lot of interiors, so after a while, it did become a problem for me. I was happy enough with the lens performance, so I bought a new copy. It’s equally as good as the first, if not better (excluding the scratch, of course). The fact that I was willing to do this should show I’m a firm believer in the lens.

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So far the pros are great value, great range of aperture, solid focus ring, internal focus, sharp at f2, still sharp at f16. There are some cons. There are six aperture blades so bokeh is hexagonal. It does flare a little, giving lovely hexagons on your image (I’m being facetious, it’s not lovely). This is part of what drives the price down of course and it’s a fair trade off. Just keep the lens clean and it’s not as bad. It not so much direct sunlight as windows blowing out in an interior that make it obvious.

One bonus that’s happened since my purchase, is that Lightroom now has Lens Profiles for all named versions of this lens, so the distortions can be fixed automatically.

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Verdict? If you want to go wide on a budget with Fuji, and don’t mind going manual, well, then this is a no brainer. If you need a zoom, then there’s only the 10-24 right now.. and it’s f4, so you’re losing 2 whole stops of light on this one. Amazon Amazon UK B&H Photo Video (Affiliate links)

Note, the silver version can be cheaper.

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.

Of course I volunteered for the test portrait.. #wetplate

A photo posted by Sean McCormack (@seanmcfoto) on

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.

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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.

Wet plate collodion portrait

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.

Wet plate collodion portrait

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!

Wet plate collodion portrait

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.

The #wetplate tally at the end of the class. Nothing was perfect but OMG was it so much fun. I'll scan mine during the week and put them on the site. Now to sort out doing it myself.

A photo posted by Sean McCormack (@seanmcfoto) on

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Flash control isn’t the thing that the triggers can do. Press the + button to bring up more options.

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Cycle through them to see the Timer, the Intervalometer, High Speed Capture and External Trigger screens.

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Getting Started

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.

First Impressions
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:

Brand Model Rating Power On/Off Recycle Time Best for
Fujifilm EF-42 *** Yes Fair General Use
Fujifilm EF-X20 * No Poor Macro/Travel
Nikon SB-910* ***** Yes Excellent Portrait
Nikon SB-900* ***** Yes Excellent Portrait
Nikon SB-700* *** Yes Good General Use
Nikon SB-600 *** Yes Good Macro/General Use
Nissin i40 (Fuji) *** Yes Good Macro/Travel

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.

Practical Testing
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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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This next one is bounced off the DJ table-which was black, but still had enough light to give soft under fill.

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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.

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Next, unscrew the 4 corner screws, then gently prize the case apart.

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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.

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Here’s the final look with the old foot off to the side.

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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.

Cost
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.

Conclusions
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.


5DayDeal CPBIII Dave Seeram 24 7 Photo Pro Launch Exclusive

Dave Seeram runs PhotographyBB and is the editor of Clarity magazine, where I have a column on Lightroom. As part of the 5daydeal, his 24/7 Photo Pro video tutorial see it’s official launch. This product is aimed at everyone that wants to make money from their photography from things other than their photographs.

I’ve been selling digital products for years now, and it’s a bit hit and miss for me because marketing is definitely one of my weaknesses. In this course Dave goes right through the hows and whys of setting up a blog, running an email list. The tutorial starts with buying a domain and hosting-you see David buying a site live, and then setting up a WordPress theme with one post and on gallery. In less than 5 minutes. It’s impressive to watch, but he does go back and do it in detail to let you get the hang of using WordPress.

The emphasis is not on business for business sake, but is very much about personality and authenticity. While a lot of what in the first part is stuff I know how to do now, it really is a resource I wish I had when I moved away from using Blogger back in the day. The material is well presented, with Dave being quite articulate in his presentation. Areas where Dave isn’t working with screen capture contain transcripts of what’s being said, so there is no fear of missing anything. In addition there’s also a PDF of the slides.

I’m not finished the whole course yet, but I did stay up 2 hours later than intended last night watching it. I simply got caught up in it. I did once have a good email newsletter going, but the pressure of getting 4-5 new articles ready each month got to me and I stopped. When I started again, I hard to start fresh. I’m finding this course to be really helpful with regards to building my email list. If you’re not on my mailing list, please feel free to join over on the left. I’ve loads of content and BTS stuff that doesn’t appear on the blog in the newsletter, which is roughly monthly. I will be giving away ebooks and presets in the future on it, open to all subscribers on the list (not just new ones when it goes live!).

The remaining parts of the course show how to get going with AdSense, how to set up Affiliate Marketing, getting Advertising, and creating your digital product. Once the product is created we get a look at a sales platform, and how to get affiliates for your own product. This course gives the aim of creating an ebook PDF for sale in 30 days, so is an excellent primer on getting you started making Passive Income. Hence the name of the course 24/7 Photo Pro. The aim is to get you making money from your photography even when you’re asleep.

The material in this course contains stuff I’ve learned the hard way, just like Dave has. Still, I’m learning things that I simply don’t know how to do. And being honest, I was talking with Piet Van den Eynde about needing this kind of a course recently, so having it as part of the 5 day deal is really a blessing in disguise for me!

The bundle is absolutely the best deal about. There have been others, but the quality of material in this is literally 2nd to none. This course is the second of the Launch Exclusives I’ve looked at (the first being Zack Arias ‘The Art of the Editorial’) and the two products are easily worth the price of the bundle. I’ll definitely be applying the stuff I’m learning immediately, so consider this highly recommended.

The links here are affiliate links. I’ve a 50% off coupon for my Textures as part of the deal, and am giving away copies of my book “The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC” in the Giveaway, and so am enrolled in the affiliate program. It adds nothing to the price, but allows me to concentrate on writing more content for you, and pulling out stuff I genuinely think is worth having.

Zack Arias is the everyman of photo world. He tells it like it is, and doesn’t paint it pretty or act like everything he touches turns to gold. And that is why people love him so. He reveals the same struggles we all feel, and never comes across as an untouchable rockstar photographer.

In this almost 80 min video we follow Zack through 3 assignments. One for a beer company, one for a cafe, and the other for a motorcycle custom shop. As a bonus, we also get food photographer Andy Lee showing us how he approaches food work.

Each section has an intro from Zack explaining what’s about to happen. Throughout the video Zack switches between Phase One and Fuji cameras, depending on the needs of the shot, sometimes employing both. The first editorial is for 3 Taverns Craft Brewery, where Zack walks us through his process on site. As Bernard, his assistant, sets up the lights, we see Zack go through various parts of the location and explaining why he’s potentially chosen it for a shot. He also talks about why he uses assistants. With everything thing in place we see the subject brought in and the shots being taken, as well as the final result there and then. At the end we see a quick look at additional detail shots, which are really creative. For the whole of the shoot we hear Zack verbalizing his inner monolog, which really opens up the process.

The second editorial is for Cakes & Ales. Here we see the setup and then the shots of various staff members in different locations. What’s really valuable here is that we see Zack get a large variety of looks from a small space. He also uses setups with both natural light and strobe, which is a must for any jobbing photographer. Again we hear all of the thought process, including how he feels, and how he’s rolling when the plans change slightly. To finish this section, we see Andy Lee in action shooting food for the menus. Andy is very precise in what he hopes to achieve and explains in detail exactly what the results will be, and shows us how to get it. I quite enjoyed it and spend some time wandering Amazon after it!

The final section is more of a detailed BTS rather than the full monolog of the previous two. It’s an appropriate choice, and avoids the information becoming too repetitious. We still get to see everything that’s happening, as well as the photos from the shoot.

I’m doing a lot of this work as my photography becomes more business based, so it’s really great to see inside the head of someone else going through the process. Watching this has added creative arrows to my bow without doubt. The lighting part to me is second nature now, and if you’ve seen the One Light videos already, it will to you too. This is about learning to use the space and getting a range of images to suit the client. Often the brief is loose, and this video helps to get shots to fill it, without missing out.

When most videos seem to be rehashing the basics, this is a step further on for photographers and highly recommended for those looking to step into editorial photography.

The Art of The Editorial is available from DEDPXL.

Bamboopen

Anyone that’s done even minor amounts of skin retouching will tell you that using a mouse is a great way to get RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Ultimately a Pen and Tablet is a much better way. Generally the barrier to entry is price. Wacom are the king of this brand, with the Intuos Touch hitting almost €500.

That’s not an ideal starting price, but there are other options, and from the same company too. Wacom have a starter series called the ‘Bamboo’ range. I became familiar with them from their older Bamboo Fun. With a mix of speaking arrangements made, I felt that I really needed something for travel, rather than dealing with the frustration of using a trackpad on my older Macbook Pro.

The best option for price and size was the Bamboo Pen, which cost €65 from my local Mac store Galmac. The tablet is reasonably large, but the working area is smaller. The pen can be stored with it too, sliding into a luminous green cloth retainer on the side-perfect for travel. The USB cable is a slightly more obscure variety, so needs looking after though.

In use the Bamboo Pen feels right and is comfortable to use. Bearing in mind that I was doing 4 different talks at Focus on Imaging each day, and setting up and breaking down in 2 minutes, it performed flawlessly. It doesn’t weigh much either, so it doesn’t impact on travel weight, always a concern with low cost airlines.

The sensitivity is not as high as an Intuos, but is still more than enough to get going. You can overcome this a little by zooming in more though. Going from mouse/trackpad to tablet use takes practice. It’s key that you set the tablet to tablet mode in preferences or it can be a struggle to learn properly. In tablet mode the working area represents the whole screen (or multi screen) area. Moving to a point on the tablet corresponds to that part of the screen.

The Bamboo Pen comes with the ‘Bamboo Dock’ app, which has widgets to help you practice using the pen and getting proficient with it. Personally I rarely use a mouse these day and prefer the pen and tablet for everything. Would I recommend the Pen as a starter or travel product? Yes, without hesitation.

Photo

I recently made an order with Bessel in the UK. I needed a few bits, and have been hankering for a boom arm to use for hairlights/overhead light. I do have an Enlichrom Polystand, which is pretty amazing. I use that for my main light though. As much as I love it, I couldn’t ever justify buying a 2nd one. Bessel do a boom they call the Incline Arm Stand. There’s no direct link, it’s in the middle of the stands page at a cheap £49.99 plus VAT. Over 1/4 of the price of the Polystand, albeit with no wheels. Continue reading ›

NewImage

It’s always a nice surprise when someone you’ve been following on Twitter launches an eBook. And even better when it’s with Craft and Vision. Martin Bailey (@martinbailey), who’s just got an all clear from surgery, is obviously getting on with his life. Today marks the launch of ‘Making The Print‘, his ebook on the print process. As one begins to read the book, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a beginner only book. Martin starts the book really easy, introducing the process of home printing to the new user. It doesn’t end there though and extends all the way into print calibration, large format printing, and even creating, laminating and mounting gallery wrap canvas prints.

NewImage

This 65 page book is beautifully laid out. Martin’s photographs don many of the page backgrounds as well as being visible in the photos of the printing process. They’re simply wonderful and prove Martin the master printer. He breaks the print process down in steps that you take, each one bringing you closer to a great print. From explaining how to preview prints vs monitors, monitor brightness, paper selection, to sharpening your prints, Martin covers the software process to getting good prints in Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop. Other software choices covered include Perfect Resize from onOne Software and Sharpener Pro from Nik.

Stepping it up, Martin takes use through both monitor and print calibration, and talks about the variety of tools to do it, in every price bracket. He also covers camera calibration, to give you entire control of the colour process right through from capture to print. Soft proofing gets explained in detail for Photoshop (Lightroom 4 Beta’s soft proof gets a mention in-blog posts will fill in the detail).

The final sections of the book cover large format printing, how to make your own gallery wraps, and printing for exhibition. With the gallery wraps, we get a detailed look at cleaning, laminating, stretching mounting canvas. The photos of the laminating process are worth the price of the book for those that have never done it. The final section on printing for exhibition is interesting. I like the advice and will try it myself next time I exhibit.

All in all, the book is well written and surprisingly comprehensive for its size. At less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee, it’s a no brainer for those interested in improving printing at home. In fact Martin even suggests at times that if you don’t want to go through the process, to seek out a lab to work with. That can be worth the price too!

As always with Craft and Vision books, there’s an intro promo. For the next five days only, use the promotional code PRINT4 when you checkout so you can have the PDF version of Making the Print for only $4 OR use the code PRINT20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ PDF eBooks from the Craft & Vision collection. These codes expire at 11:59pm PST January 21, 2012.

Everyone is on the Zacuto band wagon these days, with their finally crafted and almost jeweler like attention to detail and looks. Unfortunately that comes at a price, and for me, I simply couldn’t justify it. Fellow photographer Corin Bishop was raving about his new LCDVF, so I asked where he got it and ordered.

I’ve been familiar with the LCDVF since it was pie in the sky, with nice mockups and post on various forums. I’d put it to the back of my mind, but a recent, very low light, gig led me to reconsider my needing one. Most people get these viewfinders for video, to give a better view of the screen, and to act as an additional point of support. While the support is indeed a boon, I really wanted it so I can manually focus in entirely backlit gigs. Yes I shoot video too, but not seriously, so it wasn’t a prime motivator-but a factor nevertheless.
As part of the Galway Arts Festival, And So I Watch You From Afar played in the Roisin Dubh. Lighting was primarily from the LED parcans at the back and in the end I had to manually focus on moving people, as autofocus simply did not work. Nightmare. I’m sure there’ll be Nikon D3/s users saying it’d be a breeze for them, but I’ve a 5DII and that’s that.

I’ve been playing around with the LCDVF since it came, and I really like it. I’ve used it to do some video work and an ambeint light day shoot. It’s really bright and really clear. So bright that I have compensate in my head for what I’m seeing! Some of the images that looked okay on the screen are underexposed: Usually I can trust the screen without it. As the day was really bright, having the viewfinder made reviewing a breeze.

Verdict: I really like it. While it doesn’t have a diopter like the Zacuto, the magnification is perfect as is focus. Hard to beat for the money.