3rd Party Camera Accessories……Are They Worth It?

3rd party accessories for our camera’s, they’re everywhere, and I’m guessing they are big business. Why wouldn’t they be, photography is incredibly popular and can be very expensive, so when the chance to get a flashgun, batterygrip at half the price of  Nikon/Canon/Sony one appears then its got to be considered, hasn’t it?

For me when it comes to the lens side of things, I’ve had no bad experiences. Tamron and Sigma seem to hold there own very well in against the Nikkor’s, Canon’s etc where image quality is concerned and in many cases the build quality of the lens’ themselves are just as good to.

However, there are some accessories that don’t quite match up build-wise, which in many respects you would expect being that they are cheaper, yet would you be happy if they didn’t perform on a functional level, or even interfere with the camera’s own functions, just to be able to save a few pounds.

I personally have had two separate incidences in the past 12 months where I have gone with the cheaper option, only to find faults and then go for the main brand version instead. A year ago I bought a Nissin Flashgun, that initially I thought was ok for the money, until I put it through some hard work on a wedding and found it lacking, when it failed to flash on a number occasions and at points went into a sleep that was only woken by removing the batteries. I wrote a blog about that particular episode which can be found here.

My latest experience comes directly from a visit to The Photography Show, a trade event that is now pretty much just a retail show, a veritable high street of photography companies all under one roof. In years gone by you could get a real bargain up at the NEC but this year I found all the prices, on the items that had my interest,  were the same at the retailers websites and shops. So what was the point in me spending £40 or so on fuel and a further £10 on parking only to find I could have sat at home and ordered what I wanted online for the same price, saving me time and travel costs…….but that’s a whole other blog post.

Anyway, what I did buy was a new Nikon D610, and the other item I did wanted to get with it was a batterygrip. I am a big fan of using grips, the additional battery capacity is a major bonus as is having the ability to hold the camera in such a comfortable way when shooting in portrait orientation.

I wanted to stretch my my budget as far as I could, hoping to get a few lighting accessories as well, but that was all dependent on how much would be spent on the camera and grip. So when I got talking to a Hahnel agent at the Camerworld stand I was given a full on speech about how good their version of the D600/610 grip was. I was shown the grip, and it looked the real deal, though holding it confirmed it to be of plastic construction, though it was a heavy-ish plastic. All the buttons and dials felt correct and the grip itself felt ok, so at the thought of saving £80-£100 compared to the Nikon version I went for it and bought it.

It’s the first time I have gone for a 3rd party grip, all my other ones have always been the main brand version and I have never had a problem with any of them. This Hahnel one though, has given me issues.

Firstly it would never pinch up tight to the camera body. You would turn the wheel to attach it to the body and just as it’s getting to the point of being nearly tight, the gearing inside the mechanism would just slip and go “Click, Click”. Because it wouldn’t pinch up perfectly tight there was just a bit to much movement between the body and the grip. Along the back, where the grip met the body there would be pretty much no signs of movement, but along the front it could be very easily prised open by about 4 to 5mm with minimal effort. I know it doesn’t sound much, but when it supposed to sit together perfectly it didn’t really fill me with confidence.

I realise most people will take extra care with their gear, specially if it’s costly, and generally I’m no different, but when it comes to working situations like weddings, every now and then something from my gear might take a bit of a whack, just like my SB-800 flashgun did when I dropped it from head height onto a wooden floor. Luckily it bounced without damage and it carried on working regardless, but I just worry that, as I use a Black Rapid strap attached to a loop screwed into the batterygrip tripod mount, if I ever accidentally whack or catch the camera/lens that hard that it might potentially snap away from the grip with that kind of movement. It probably wouldn’t, but I’d rather not risk it.

One other rather annoying thing, with the Hahnel grip attached the top info screen would then fail to report the battery status, it would just flash BP instead. I have read that using a non Nikon battery can cause this fault, and I have read that cleaning the contacts between the grip and the camera with an alcohol solution can solve the issue as there can be dirt/grease n them. Neither of these were the issue or the cure, in fact simply pulling the front of the grip away from the body of the camera, changing the angle at which the contacts connected made it report the battery status, so in other words it just simply didn’t line up correctly.

So I sent it back to Cameraworld, and without fuss they refunded the full amount and I ordered a Nikon MB-D14 instead, which I now have in my hands today (22/03/14). Attaching it to the camera, then pinching up very tight has made the connection perfect, it really does feel like one item, and not two screwed together. Because of that there is virtually no movement between it and the camera, and I’m happy to report that it now shows the battery life properly.

Happy days. Trouble is it just begs the questions. Have I been very unlucky, am I expecting to much from cheaper items, and are 3rd party versions really worth it if the cheaper cost means compromise on functionality?

 

Thanks for stopping by…………Dom :-)

Using Lightroom To Make The Sky Blue

There are many ways to edit images, but obviously what is in the image dictates what that editing will actually be. One area that pretty much always receives some attention from me is where the sky is present, whether that’s adding some punch to the clouds by adding some clarity or just simply restoring a bit of blue back into a slightly washed out sky.

So I thought I would show you a quick way I would go about tackling this in Lightroom. The image I am using here was taken just a couple of weeks back at a wedding I shot down in Chatham, Kent. I have placed the bride and groom in the shade beside a bandstand up on an bit of open parkland, which as you can see gets a great unrestricted view of the sky, specially from the angle that I shot it. It’s an image where I have exposed correctly for the scenery and then introduced off camera lighting to light up the bride and groom. The image itself has had some minor clone/heal work to tidy up the floor around the bandstand, but other than that this is how the image came out of the camera.

So why the need to make the sky bluer if I could control the exposure in the first place by underexposing the scenery a tad to make the sky darker, and therefore more colourful. Well, I simply didn’t want the rest of the image darker. I knew I could easily deal with the sky after and so I slightly over exposed the sky making sure the ground level background was perfectly exposed. So, how’s it done.

Well this tutorial below can be used for skies that are almost perfect right the way through to those that are almost blown out (Heavily overexposed) Firstly, this is a simple method but it’s universal, so it will affect the whole image in one hit and not just one area like the sky.

On the right hand side in the Develop Panel open the Basic tab and find the highlights slider and just drag that down into the negative numbers and just watch the brightness in your sky drain away slowly, and simply stop at a number where you feel your image is better.

Next open the HSL tab and make sure the word Luminance in highlighted by clicking on it. Now you need to select the TAT. The TAT is the little icon just beneath the word Hue, and TAT, if you don’t know, stands for Targeted Area Tool. This in basic is a click and drag tool. You drag upwards to increase or downwards to decrease, and what you are going to select is any colour within the picture in front of you. So here I will select an area in the sky, so click, hold, and drag down and this will make all the blues in the picture darker the further down you go.

Then change the selection from Luminance to Saturation by clicking on the word Saturation and then click and hold on the sky again, but this time drag up to increase the saturation of the blues until the image looks how you want it to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This method, as I said at the start, affects the whole image, and if it is heavy in blues in won’t be just the sky you have just manipulated, it’ll be everything else in the image that is blue as well. There is a solution to it, and that’s to work Locally on the sky with the adjustment brush, and I’ll do another tutorial soon to tell you how I’d go about doing that to.

For now though the final thing to show is how the sky finished after this very simple editing technique. I admit its a subtle change, as it depends very much on how far you want to push the sliders, but in this one I feel it brings the sky back to how it was and gives it a realistic result. If you want to push the boundaries of reality you can run a clarity brush over the sky and clouds it’ll really make the sky stand out and give it some pop.

Well thanks for stopping by, and I hope this is of some help.

Catch you all again soon

Dom :-)

Stick Or Twist : A Story Of Change

Ever done something you later end up changing completely because for whatever reason you feel you’ve reached the end of the road with it, or it’s no longer fit for purpose. Well that’s what this blog is all about.

So what things changed, and why? As some of you will know, though many won’t, I had the option to Stick or Twist a few months back, and given the deal in front of me and the overwhelming evidence that my images would be better off for it, I chose to twist.

 Nikon D700

I was a Sony shooter for the past 5 years but that changed when I decided a move to Nikon or Canon was the best way forward. The thing is, my initial choice to become a Sony user didn’t come through informed decisions, I merely stumbled my way into that system through a lack of DSLR knowledge. So I have written a side piece to this blog that explains how I became a Sony shooter, why it no longer matched my needs, how the change came about and what I moved onto. If you wish to read the long story please click here and then come back here afterwards to read what I thought about the whole change process. However, if long stories aren’t for you then please just read on here.

My 5 year affair with Sony started to come to an end a month into 2013 and soon after that it ended completely. I initially acquired a Nikon D700 and a 24-70 f/2.8G, along with a flashgun and seeing the results for real it persuaded me my initial plan to make the change a gradual one wasn’t the best idea.

 Nikon D700

I shot a wedding about two weeks after getting the D700 and as I only had the single Nikon lens it wasn’t really enough to shoot this wedding with, so I had to shoot it with both Nikon and Sony systems. Let me tell you it wasn’t ideal. I spent the best part of that two weeks leading up to the wedding constantly messing around with the Nikon just trying to get to know it. I’d started to understand it enough by time that wedding arrived, but having to work the two different menu systems, sets of buttons & switches made shooting that wedding harder work than it need be. I wouldn’t recommend it and so thats why I made the decision to complete the change quickly.

 Nikon D700

We financed the first few purchases out of what savings we had, and it’s not a decision we took lightly as we are not in a position where we can just splash out without knowing it would be a sound investment, the rest of the Nikon switch would have to be funded by the sale of my Sony stuff and here is where the first and biggest negative of changing systems becomes apparent.

Value. Your never going to get back what you paid in the first place though you can still make back a fair amount on your gear, if you have time on your side. I did investigate the part exchange route because the benefits of a quick, simple exchange, where dealing with a shop should give you some form of warranty back up. Trouble is, this is just a business deal to the shop and they obviously want to maximise their profit out of the deal so the value you will be offered will be way off the mark. The offer I received for my Sony A77 was just £300 which I declined instantly, and so I went on to sell it elsewhere for £600.

 Nikon D700

In avoiding part exchange it meant I faced having to sell my gear via potentially slower avenues yet I needed to sell it quickly as I couldn’t be left in a position where I didn’t have the correct gear available for any jobs I might have booked, and to do that the prices had to be attractive. Obviously if you have time holding out will get you better prices for your gear, but time wasn’t on my side. In basic I knocked off anywhere between £20-£50 from the usual secondhand prices of my items in order to get it all to sell. It was a tactic that meant I lost a bit more money than I wanted to but it did sell, and quickly. It all went in just over two weeks meaning I could then add a D7000, a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 and a further flashgun to my Nikon collection, and therefore complete a minimum set up I needed at that stage to continue on with the weddings.

In short, this has cost us a pretty penny but to say it ended up costing us less than £1750 after recouping the money from selling the Sony gear isn’t too bad when you consider the gear I now have, plus that versus the cost of simply upgrading to the Full Frame Sony A99 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM at a combined price of £2700.

 Nikon D700

I’ve now been using my Nikon gear for just over 5 months and I love the quality these cameras possess, the high ISO abilities are just as good as I’d hoped. There is one thing I have had to get used to though and it’s the result of doing a bit of a backward step in terms of going from what was brand new camera a year ago, to a camera that first appeared some 4 or 5 years ago. The screen on the back of the D700 doesn’t seem to display pictures quite as well as my A77 did, to the point I worried the some images were a tad soft, or indeed out of focus. Importing the images to my PC would show my fears were unfounded as the ones that looked a tad soft were in actual fact fine.

 Nikon D700

Would I recommend anyone else ever follows suit. It depends solely on your circumstances and your needs. Swapping systems just for the sake of change, then no not really, you lose too much money and what do you really gain without a true reason for change. Do you become better as a photographer just simply by changing systems, or does the change of system allow you to attempt new things or operate well in areas you previously struggled.

I know I sold quickly and probably let it all go about £350-£400 cheaper than it should have all gone for, but I had a good reason to do it and its been justified in the results I am now getting. I don’t think I as a photographer am doing anything vastly differently from what I was doing this time last year, or that I have become much better, my big improvement from last year really is in the high ISO quality of my images.

 Nikon D700

One thing I can vouch for is the fact that the process of selling your gear can be a right pain when doing it privately via the likes of ebay. Two of my ebay sales where hampered by fraudsters and time wasters, with dodgy links to Nigeria, which when handled correctly can be solved reasonably quickly, but it’s a nuisance and a hassle that can be done without.

I’m happy now that I can be confident in my gear to do the job properly no matter how dark a church may be, and that is the sole reason behind my change. Knowing I can give all my bride’s and groom’s top quality images no matter what light I have to work with gives me the final confidence boost I need to know I really am doing the job to the best of my and my equipments abilities, though new technologies and new techniques will keep me learning and eager for progression as time continues to march onwards.

 Nikon D700

Well, thats it, thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you managed to read through the full story then thats great, hope it was worthwhile.

Catch up again soon

 

Dom :-)

Portraits In The Bluebell Woods : Behind The Scenes

On Sunday just gone I was lucky enough to be given the privilege of shooting a wedding, well a blessing really, in a set of Bluebell Woods near Henley-On-Thames.

Carrie and Ken had actually legally been married at a registry office some days before the blessing, due to the fact the bluebell woods are not licensed for marriages, but as I understand it some of the guests weren’t aware of that and they themselves were treating the blessing as their proper wedding in the location they so desperately wanted.

The Bluebell woods were a perfect location for such a romantic event and they make for the perfect location for taking the bride/groom portraits after the ceremony has been done. You can go any which way with them, natural light that is perfectly exposed, add to that a bit of fill flash, or go slightly over exposed shooting towards the brighter areas of the woods getting a hazy effect, or you can under expose the woods getting a moodier effect that shows the patches of light that are actually reaching ground level but this usually means making the image to dark and therefore leaving the bride and groom in silhouette against the lighter patches of the background.

This can be easily overcome by the use of off camera lighting, and that is what I’m going to show you here. The bonus of course with off camera lighting means we can do more in terms of how we compose the shot, or more to the point where we take the shot from. With a flash fitted on top of the camera we have light that is just blasting straight forward and if we move to further away from the model it’ll become less effective. With off camera flash however we can work from quite a distance or up close, shoot from eye level or get down low because the light source isn’t moving away from our subjects.

So I thought I’d show you how I approach this kind of scenario, therefore the following is the basics behind how I shot this image below.

To start with all we are concerned about is the camera settings, so I put the ISO to it’s lowest being 200 and set the shutter speed to match the sync speed of my flashgun, in this case 1/250th of a second. I then set about taking some test shots. I started at f/8 and the ambient was a tad to dark for my liking. So I had two options. Open the aperture further to say f/5.6 or f/4 or whatever to make the ambient lighter, or I could increase the ISO. As it happens I wanted that little bit more depth of field that f/8 offers and so I stuck with f/8 and increased the ISO to 400. I now had the ambient where I wanted it, so from here on in, unless the ambient light itself increased or decreased there is pretty much no need to change camera settings.

So adding our model, or in this case willing bridesmaid whom I told I would be doing this blog and so happily took part in these test images, to this image above shows that she is indeed far to dark against the back ground and that some form of lighting is required.

So we bring in the off camera lighting. I tend to work wirelessly using the Nikon Creative Lighting System, ie using one flashgun as a commander to fire other flashguns as remotes, and this time was no different. My weapon of choice is a single flashgun through a softbox designed for used with flashguns and lightstands as opposed to those that are for use with studio lighting, they work the same but have different fittings plus it’s not too big and cumbersome to maneuver around and yet it’s not too small and that it’s ineffective.

So it’s now a case of getting the power of the flashgun correct. Here I work manually and will basically just take a guess at what the power should be. So lets start with half power. If it is to bright you have two options. Decrease the power to a quarter or simply move the lightstand further away from your model. If it is to dark, guess what, you have two options. Increase the power to full power or mover it closer to your model. The only limitation to this of course is if you move it too close to your subject that the lightstand ends up being within the image you are taking, then you will have to recompose your shot so that you can’t see it anymore.

So your final image should look the way you wanted, with the ambient being darker and moodier and yet your subject is perfectly lit. This works in woods, at sunset, sunrises, days where the rain is threatening and the skies are a moody black and it’s relatively quick and simple to do. Just expose your camera for the ambient light and let your flash power illuminate your subject, but always keep your shutter speed at your flash sync speed or less and try to keep your ISO low in order to have a nice, clean, noise free image.

Sure the main wedding image above has been worked on in Lightroom to give it that standout effect where I have accentuated the lighter areas and dumbed down the darker areas but the base of that image will have been the same as this one just above.

Anyway, hope this is of some help to anyone wishing to try off camera lighting, I had better get back to editing the rest of these images as I’ll have a bride wanting to know where her images are lol

 

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon

 

Dom :-)

Getting Some Shut Eye In The Group Shots!

It happens at every wedding, the group shots, and so they should do. It may feel a tad formal and old, but its traditional and serves its purpose in years to come when you look back through your wedding pics to be reminded of exactly who was present on your big day.

What also happens at every wedding is that someone somewhere within those group shots will have just shut their eyes at the very moment I hit the shutter, but this in itself is not much of a problem as I personally will get 2 or 3 shots of each group shot just in case that very thing happens, but also just in case someone momentarily looks away.

Now normally I’ll spot it on the back of the camera and make sure there is a good one among them but on the odd occasion, particularly on very bright days when its harder to see the LCD screen on the back of the camera the odd one or two will slip though, specially while you are trying to get through a lot of group shots as they do take up quite some time.

Cropped  To Show Eyes Shut

 

This again is rarely a problem, because of shooting 2 or 3 of each group shot, but what if one shot is perfect but the father of the groom has his eyes shut and yet in the back up pic someone is now looking away.

This is where good old photoshop comes to the rescue. Basically all I do is transplant the eyes from one pic into the other where the eyes are shut and hey presto the eyes are now open.

Cropped To Show Eyes Open Again

 

In all honesty it’s a tad more complicated than just that, and maybe I’ll do a tutorial on how it’s done one day soon, but once you know how it becomes quite simple and on average it takes me two or three mins to get the perfect result.

Anyway, I best get back to editing more of these images, catch up again soon.
Dom :-)