photography: gelling flash for late afternoon sun (& deep blue skies)

The warm light from the nearly-setting sun, accentuated with gelled flash. Towards the end of the recent photography workshop, we were shooting on the rooftop – the warm tone of the sunlight contrasting beautifully with the blue sky.

To punch it even more, we added gelled flash via an off-camera speedlight in a softbox. We had to gel the speedlight of course, to make sure the blue color balance of the flash didn’t kill the natural light. We used a 1/2 CTS gel here which brought the flash’s WB down to around 3700K. (This photo of our model, Melanie, was taken by Rosario.)



gelling flash & post-processing for deep blue skies

Working in the shadow side of this structure, the only light on Anelisa is from the (gelled) off-camera flash. The blue sky was enhanced a bit in editing the RAW file.

  • camera settings: 1/250 @ f/4 @ 200 ISO


For a punchier image, I pulled the Blacks down a bit, and nudged the Contrast up.

The blue sky, which is already enhanced because of the warm color from the flash, was then made more intense with adjustments to the Blue tones in the HSL tab. I pulled up the Saturation for Blue, and then pulled the Luminance down a touch. This didn’t affect anything other than the blue sky, since nothing else in the frame had blue colors.

In the final image above, I also used the local adjustments to to selectively pull down the exposure around the edges of the frame. This created a more vignetted effect to the side of the building.

Here is the SOOC test shot as comparison:


gelling your flash


related articles



off-camera flash gear used (and equivalents)

The soft boxes used here was the Profoto 1.3′ x 2′ softbox (vendor), which I specifically got for the workshops - gear updated: flash photography workshops. The softbox was mounded on a Profoto RFi Speedrings for dual speedlights (vendor), to enable two speed lights in a single softbox. But any of the soft boxes listed below would’ve worked just as well.


The post photography: gelling flash & post-processing for deep blue skies appeared first on Tangents.

website update – equipment reviews

To make the navigation of the Tangents website easier, I’ve pulled the reviews of Canon, Nikon and Fuji gear together under specific category topics. These can be found in the Menu at the top, and the right-hand column.

The post website update – equipment reviews appeared first on Tangents.

Beautiful Person. Camera: Hasselblad. Lens: 150mm Zeiss Sonar.
Lighting by Kirk.

There's been a roaring debate on one of the popular professional forums about what kind of gear is "professional."  As I'm sure you know this kind of hysterical defense of whatever is most popularly aspirational in the gear catalog has been going of for the better part of a decade in the digital space and for the better part of 70 years in the film space. The argument goes in two directions. There are two traditional and strongly held beliefs on the bigger and more advanced is always better side. One says that a 'true' professional must always bring the highest quality equipment that is capable of the highest metrics of performance in order to fair and appropriate for clients.

Recently the advocates of this position found themselves arguing that even if one were only to be hired and paid to make images for the web they are duty bound to use something like a Nikon D800 so that their client will be future-proofed by the resultant images. The idea being that while this year your client may think they only need (and want to pay for) low resolution images to put on a website they may increase their marketing reach next year or ten years down the road and we, as true professional photographers, are duty bound to protect these poor client from their own lack of foresight and provide images that will best stand the test of time and the ever increasing resolution of all media. In other words, you'd better make sure you shoot huge raw files when you shoot for that one time, work for hire, giveaway job because that same client who spec'd the web job is almost certainly going to come back to you and have you making 40 by 60 inch posters of the same images a year down the road. Right.

If you've been working in the industry for any amount of time I think you have a good handle on what has historical legs and what doesn't and I'm here to tell you that the headshot of Vicki in accounting is never going to be a photo that will be used bigger than 640 by 480 no matter how hard you dream otherwise.

The second leg of the argument is that every client deserves a photographer with the best gear imaginable because it confirms the photographer's commitment to excellence and his commitment to craft. Hiding behind this argument is the fear that if the photographer making the argument shows up with anything that the client's mail room clerk or girlfriend can afford to shoot said client will realize that only gear matters and will give all future photo duties to the girlfriend of the mail room clerk.

If you are relatively young you'll think that this irrational worship of gear is an affectation of the digital age but nothing could be further from the truth. In the "oldest days" only a view camera with a bellows was considered pro. Then it was slowly displaced by medium format camera and then again those were displaced by 35mm film cameras. There has always been a progression in which the two conflicting parameters of image size and film quality shift and one medium can displace the other by dint of supplying a quality level commensurate with current industry standards.

When I first started shooting integrated circuit dies at high magnification my clients at Motorola insisted that the images be made on 4x5 inch transparencies. As the geometries of the dies got smaller and smaller the process required more specialized lenses and much greater bellows extensions. At some point I reached the point where we were trying to image 4 x 4 mm die squares onto 4x5 inch transparency film with two or more feet of bellow extension and so little space between the lens front element and the die that we had to invent new ways to pipe light to the surface of the die. Yikes.

The shoe dropped when we were confronted with a new line of integrated circuits whose geometry was 20% smaller. Our choice was to totally retool, with tens of thousands of dollars of spending to fulfill a handful of jobs per year. In desperation I called the president of our local ASMP chapter, Reagan Bradshaw and asked him if he had any secrets he could share.

He thought about it for about twenty seconds and then he advised me like this: "Get a micro lens for your 35mm camera that will fill the frame with the chip die. You might need a bellows. Fill the frame with the dies and shoot it on Kodachrome 25 film. Take the film to such and such a lab and have them dupe the image up to 4x5. Deliver the 4x5 and keep your mouth shut."

I did as advised and discovered that it was a much better way to shoot the tiny dies. There was more depth of field which was critical at those magnifications. The parallel planes were more accurate. It was easier to view and focus the images. We could cost effectively bracket and not have to worry about the focus drifting. And, because there was additional control in the duping process, we could deliver an image that was more technically perfect. The upshot? The clients loved the new and improved imaging.

The whole debate today seems to center around whether or not a professional must have and shoot with full frame cameras in order to be certifiably professional or whether one of the "lesser" formats can provide a workable solution.

We've been doing our research lately as regards various camera formats. The bottom line is that full frame 35mm style cameras with the latest sensors are marginally better than the next smaller sensors when all cameras are used under some sort of duress. By this I mean in situations where the camera must deliver the highest quality with no supplemental lighting in dark situations. Or, jobs that require massive enlargements of printed material that can be examined at unusually close viewing distances.

Most professional photographers, the vast, vast majority, are shooting with flashes in their studios and flashes on location. Part of their jobs is creating beautiful light. Good photographers are not just strict industrial documentarians who show up, meter wretchedly ugly light, set the correct settings on their cameras and then blaze away. Also, an amazing number of people are shooting in glorious, bright daylight.

The people who "can't imagine living without my 36 megapixel D800" are the same ones who once defended their APS-C, Nikon D2X cameras as "the best camera I will ever need." And the funny thing is that the final use targets for the images haven't really changed at all, it's just that the same photographers have spent the better part of a decade doing what their clients and audiences will likely never do: examining each digital frame at 100 or 200% on desktop computer monitors. If 150 mph capability is good in a car then 200 mph capability must be even better even though the speed limit is invariably 65 mph. This is probably why rational drivers buy Hondas and Buicks and Volkswagens and why generally only dissipated former rock stars, Justin Bieber and incredibly sociopathic hedge fund managers commute around town in Bugatti Veyrons.

So, in my research and in my forum reading the real conflict seems to be between people for whom good enough really is more than good enough and the people who must have the absolute best even if they are never in a position to use even half the capability of the best camera and even when the budgets for photographic assignments are static or declining.

The crux of the ongoing push and shove is the pervasive idea that professional metrics are all about things like weather proofing, size, indestructibility and impressive exteriors but the leading conflict is always about the size and the density or resolution of the sensors. The biggest contrast is between the folks who've jumped into small mirror less cameras versus those who hold steadfastly to the faux standard of the late 1990's, the 35mm "full framers."

Both camps are totally wrong. Absolutely, totally wrong. Once we crested the 12 megapixel mark I strongly suggest that just about everyone hit a sweet spot for resolution that works of most rational practitioners. I'll agree that people who routinely print and sell prints bigger than 20 by 30 inches have benefited from higher resolution cameras. But I'm also willing to bet that among all my professional friends and all of my advanced amateur friends I could count perhaps 5 who print larger than that on a regular basis.

I know that I've not printed anything bigger than 12 by 18 inches for a long time and I know that my clients aren't asking for large prints either (I shoot for commercial clients so if you shoot weddings or babies or big families you have different needs). Almost all of my clients are using the materials we generate to make ads on the web. Or they use the stills in television commercials. Large prints are largely an unfulfilled afterthought.

The real obvious but silent elephant in the room is the look of the photograph. People praise full frame because they can put stuff out of focus in the backgrounds more easily and at a slightly steeper ramp than can people using APS-C sensored cameras and those APS-C guys can do the same in comparison to m4:3 shooters who can now brag that they have less depth of field than the new 1 inch shooters. But of course it's all unadulterated bullshit because anyone who knows the history of photography can plainly see that if the gold standard metric is narrow depth of field and a quicker ramp from sharp to lusciously blurred then that visual effect can be much, much better achieved by shooting with a full 6x6 cm or 6x7 cm camera. And ultimately can be achieved at the very, very edge of diminishing returns with an 8x10 camera and a long lens (which matches the angles of view of the smaller formats).

If it's the look that is vital and not the technical gobble-dee-goop then all these people jockeying for ultimate pro status would logically reject then small format cameras (including FF) and make a bee line for the big stuff. Yes, big digital (as in medium format) is expensive but I just saw dozens of Hasselblad film cameras advertised on for around $1000 each. A medium format image is just a scan away....  And I know my local dealer still carries bricks of medium format Tri-X so I know someone is still uncompromising with their aesthetics.

So to all the web experts who rise up and excoriate their professional brethren for shooting less than the holy grail of full ass 24x36mm I say "suck it up and get a bigger camera if your goals are imaging the way it was meant to be." And at the same time, by embracing the larger cameras they will ensure that their volatile clients will always have the actual, highest quality, future proofed formats at their disposals.

When I posted a blog two days ago about full frame cameras I was very clear about my particular expectations, I clearly stated that resolution or dynamic range were not a real consideration for me and that if I bought another full frame camera it would largely be to enjoy the "LOOK" of the format when compared to the smaller formats. There is no race here in my studio to see who can blow stuff up the biggest, the goal here is the LOOK. How does the focus slide off in the distance? How are the tonalities affected by the focal length AND the angle of view of the lenses we use? How do imagers respond to the out of focus areas.

If you are still measuring the success of a camera by how tightly the makers can pack pixels into a 24x36mm rectangle you may be missing the photographic art boat altogether.

In regard to pixel density and pixel size I've been reading some stuff from some more advanced photographers I follow who are interested in the visual effect and differentiated rendering of cameras with big sensors but small pixel counts. Cameras like the older Nikon D700 or the first Canon 1DS. They are seeing the imagers and lenses work together to create a different overall look than what they are able to achieve with the newer, denser cameras. The conversations started in response to some of Michael Reichmann's comments about the new Sony A7S camera with its "meager" 12 megapixels.

I don't know how to describe it all but I also read ATMTX's blog and I notice that he's picked up an ancient Olympus E-1 (not EM-1) camera and has been surprised and very pleased with it's very, very good color rendering. He notes that it does color and tone differently (and in some ways much more pleasingly) than current "state of the art" cameras. One famous fashion photographer recently wrote that he's buying a second copy of the original version of the Leica medium format digital camera because he sees such a profound difference in color rendering between the older CCD sensors in those cameras and the ubiquitous new CMOS chip that's infesting every new MF camera on the market.

To wrap this all up I'll end with two observations I've made many times. First is that until the advent of electronic viewfinders digital took away our choice of shooting formats (yes, I know you are a linear thinking, rational photo god who can crop in your head and you don't need guidelines or boundaries to see in a square or a 16:9 ratio......get over it). This robbed us, for at least ten years, of really easing back into the formats that worked for us individually and it was driven by the manufacturing need to homogenize the offerings and that, in turn worked hard to homogenize our collective use of formats as part of our art work.  Now the cameras with EVFs have given those back to us. Hopefully it will only be a matter of time until MF cameras and their signature looks are more widely available to photographers (financially).

The second observation is that faster lenses on smaller formats don't have the same focus fall off or reverse ramping that lenses with the same angle of view on different formats do and the leap between full frame 35mm style cameras and the beautiful 60 x 60mm cameras is a much more profound and visible leap than that between APS-C and full frame or that between m4:3 and APS-C. All three of those formats give you a rather constrained degree of variation. To get the real stuff requires making harder choices.

I'm happy to shoot with small cameras or large cameras but I do so (pun intended) with my eyes open. I know from experience what I gain and what I lose with each choice. If you've never used a medium format film or digital camera and you are busting someone's chops for choosing a one step smaller than full frame digital camera (APS-C) as being a profound difference in imaging I suggest that you: A.  Shut Up. B. Rent a bigger camera and shoot with it using lenses that match the ANGLE of VIEW of your favorite 35mm lenses and from the same distance to subject and then come back and tell us what you saw. It just might shift your visual sensibilities....

We tend to think these days, because of cost, that our only choices are between m4:3, APS-C and 24x36mm sensored cameras but that's just not true. The other variants are still out there. They exist in film cameras and they exist in ever less expensive medium format digital cameras. But the truth is that they take more sacrifice to buy and to use. And most of the self-proclaimed pros who "can't imagine not shooting with the best tools" and who don't take that plunge are being duplicitous. And perhaps duping themselves.

The bottom line is that the markets and the technology change all the time. The way I see the digital landscape today is that the m4:3 cameras ARE the 35mm cameras of our time. The APS-C cameras are the medium format cameras of today. The 35mm's are the bigger versions of the medium format cameras just as the Pentax 6x7 cm camera was the big daddy to the Pentax 645 cameras. And, finally, the best of the medium format cameras are the 4x5's and 8x10's of right now.

With the ever declining budgets and the ever diminishing use in print media you really have to ask yourself, as a business person, "do my clients really deserve THE BEST of all camera gear?" If we were in the pizza delivery business I think the analogy would be: Do my drivers need to be driving late model Porsches? The pizza could get there quicker and the customers would be most impressed.....


Love doing the research and looking at all the different permutations of what's available out in the market. While I was mulling over full frame bodies from Nikon, Sony and Canon yesterday I ventured over to look at the sensor scores for each camera at DXO tests sensors and while some people think that the test scores don't always correlate with visual reality I've found them to be pretty spot on in terms of what I'm seeing with various cameras.

While comparing different cameras I had the disquieting thought (occasioned by the list) that there might actually be something in the APS-C range that tested close to what some of the FF cameras deliver. I started looking at the descending order of wonderfulness as it related to sensors and I was pretty amazed to find one or two APS-C cameras that really stuck out. Of these the camera that seemed most correspondent to my needs was the Nikon D7100. Now, I know I started yesterday's column with the premise that the only reason to buy a full frame camera would be to use the 85mm to 105mm lens range as it was intended to be used when it came to depth of field, depth of focus decay and angle of view.

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There you are, sitting around with a stack of APS-C cameras and a bigger stack of micro four-thirds cameras with glorious, jewel-like lenses, and in the back of your mind, no matter how logical you are and no matter how many times you've proven to yourself that your selection of cameras does exactly what you want it to do, you start to think you just might really need a full frame camera. You know, mostly for those times when you'd really like that depth of field to be......tiny. For those portraits like the one above that was done with some sort of esoteric, ultra fast 85mm lens on some splendid, old 35mm film camera.  Maybe you were digging through boxes of prints and some random image just grabbed you by the short hairs and made you uber nostalgic for a look you thought you'd have gotten over by now.

We'll leave out whatever personal or psychological reasons might be driving you to even consider getting back into that full frame....situation and we'll consider the whole exercise to be entirely hypothetical, Okay? This isn't (necessarily) an admission that as soon as I finish typing that one of us might be jumping up, grabbing the credit card and the car keys and heading out to acquire one of the cameras under discussion.  Rather it's intended as a high minded discussion of the various attributes of three different cameras that might appeal to someone who might be considering adding a bit to the kit. 

Just above I mentioned that I was thinking of three different cameras. That's because, to my knowledge, there are just three that can be purchased brand new for under $2,000 each. The candidates I want to discuss are: The Sony A7, The Nikon D610 and the Canon 6D. All three feature full frame, 35mm area, sensors but all three of them are different enough so that a person with no allegiance and no ties to any particular brand might have a hard time choosing. 

When I look at them this is what I see:

The Sony A7 is the odd man out. This is because the camera is designed as a compact, mirror less design and uses contrast detection auto focus. The pros of the camera are (because of its shallower dimension between lens flange and sensor plane) its ability to use just about any full frame lens from any system and from just about any decade. At one point I fantasied about buying the camera along with a Nikon 20mm, a 55 Micro Nikkor lens and the much adored (but probably over romanticized) 105mm 2.5 ais lens and having a wild system that spanned the ages. And probably at the lowest cost of the three system choices. 

The sensor in the A7 most probably shares its DNA with the sensor in the Nikon D610 and both of those sensors are highly rated. The 24 megapixel sensors have AA filters in front of them so I suspect that the performance of both is much like the overall performance of the Sony a99 camera with each company changing the secret sauce of file processing to hit the tastes of their respective markets. I'm sure each sensor resolves plenty of detail and does so even at high ISOs. But I think the reason most cognoscenti are looking at full frame isn't necessarily for performance as much as it is the look of the lenses at particular angles of view. The selling point of any larger sensor camera (at least to me) is
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From a shoot on Monday. The GH4 hardwired to a big strobe box.

I have what I suspect is a nasty habit and I'm further convinced that most of the people I know have it too. It's the need to be constantly busy even when there's no need to be constantly busy. I've worked a bit in June and July and ample cash is flowing through the business. My body and my spirit want to take time to sit and contemplate and enjoy just being on the couch in the sun drenched living room, drifting in and out of sleep and tickling the Studio Dog's tummy with my bare toes. I don't even want to pick up the novel I've been trying to read through and "get some reading done." In fact, I don't really want to participate in anything that requires me to think about a process that ends with "done."

But my usual way of being is to keep my plate full of commitments. If I'm not writing I'm marketing. If I'm not marketing I'm shooting and when I'm finished shooting for clients my frenetic mind wants me to keep on moving like a perpetual motion machine and so when free time comes along I let my linear brain boss me around and send me out into the world with a camera and a lens and an agenda that's loosely predicated on "experimenting with new photography". Getting some practice in. Grabbing some images that I can use on the blog. But sometimes the forced photo leisure just flies apart and becomes a forced march through a landscape denuded of interest by my own lack of engagement. 

I think that certain strata of our culture feel useless if not wearing the yoke and plowing the fields of commerce. And yet, our underlying ideal; at least the one we give lip service to, is that one day our work in the vineyards of commerce will produce the wine of leisure and we'll enjoy it. 

But will we (collectively) ever know when to let go? I think it's all tied to worry. I'm sure I worry, on some level, that if I am not constantly available to my clients they'll find a path of less resistance and come across someone who can be available 120% of the time. I am certain on some level just below the surface of rational thought that if I buy something like an expensive lens or a computer all work will cease and all cash will stop flowing in some balancing action of nature that's meant to punish my hubris in buying these things in the first place. 

I worry that if I don't write a blog a day that my readership will slowly fall off and the community I've worked to build will relocate to a livelier location on the web. Someplace where they can be guaranteed constant action and adventure. I'll lose whatever audience I've earned and become isolated and bounded by physical geography. 

The thought has crossed my mind that if I don't learn how to disengage at times when it's appropriate I may never be able to enjoy doing nothing. I'll be unable to sit quietly and meditate and push out all the restless activity of my mind in a quiet quest to find some balance and harmony. 

In so many ways photography becomes an analogy for my life. When the jobs are flowing I see myself as successful. When the jobs stop I have failed. When I buy new gear I am bolstered and a bit more invincible. When I don't buy new gear and don't "keep up" I feel like I am diminished and vulnerable. When clients call I feel appreciated and valued. When the phone doesn't ring and the e-mail is empty I feel abandoned and sidelined. 

This can't be a good way to look at life. There have to be moments of recharge and rest. It's good to step away and come back with new energy. I took a step forward today. After lunch I put away all the cameras and turned of the studio phone and the cell phone. I put the computer to sleep. I took a nap. I hung out with no agenda on the couch. I made it through the afternoon without doing one traditionally "constructive" or "productive" activity. Nothing that moves anyone's ball forward and nothing that will "move needles" or "create new synergies."  The postman came by late in the day with various notices, letters and bills. One was a bill for the new computer. I went out into the studio, wrote a check and then left and locked the door. I headed back to the couch where I am planning to do something I so rarely do......I am going to "waste time" and watch something mindless on TV. 

Being busy and productive can be highly overrated. 

The big strobe box hardwired to a Panasonic GH4.

It was a warm and muggy afternoon. I'd spent most of the day working on accounting and then choosing images for a hardback book I'd promised to make for a client. Frank called to see if I wanted to take a break from the drudgery of work and have a cup of coffee and a nice conversation. Who could say no to that? We agreed to meet at my neighborhood Starbucks. Just before the appointed time I stood up from the desk, grabbed an Olympus OMD EM-5 with a Panasonic/Leica 25mm lens on the front and hustled out to the VSL ultra-performance Honda CR-V.

Since it's a stock car I had to use my imagination to hear the throaty growl of the tuned exhaust. I also had to imagine that I was shifting at the perfect moment in the power curve since, of course, the car has automatic transmission. I also imagined the smoke coming off the tires as I accelerated and  pulled out onto Bee Caves Rd. because I was actually following an older person from the neighborhood who was pushing their Volvo wagon right up to around 15 miles per hour....

I arrived at the agreed time, uncharacteristically I ordered a coffee frappucino, and then joined Frank at a table. I placed my camera over to the side and Frank reached into his camera bag and pulled out the 42.5 mm, f 1:1.2 Nocticron lens. It's a beast. It's dense because it is built with a certain amount of rare metal called, unobtainium. It appears to be completely constructed from metal and glass and, on the camera, it feels like the lenses I used to own for the Leica R system. How does that feel? It feels like you are using the best lenses made anywhere for any money.

Frank allowed me to put the lens on an Olympus OMD EM-5 and play with it to my heart's content. I turned 30 degrees to one side and snapped the image above. While it may not come across on the web (especially if you are reading this on your phone...) the image is crisply sharp and the out of focus areas are subdued and calm.

Frank offered to let me borrow the lens for a week or so for an extended evaluation but I'm afraid I will have to decline. Just having it in my hands created such desire that I know a week of use will make any resistance to buying it as futile as resisting being assimilated by the Borg.

If you are using the Olympus or Panasonic systems and you have buckets of cash sitting around on the floor which you don't have pressing need for you might consider evaluating this lens. It's an ultra fast (an eminently usable wide open) 85mm equivalent, has a real aperture ring (operating on the Panasonic cameras only) and has Panasonic's image stabilization built in. The image quality wide open is, to my eyes, stunningly good.

I am not putting a link to the lens from a camera store because I would feel too guilty pushing you over the edge. If you don't have the budget to spring for one right now and you are weak when it comes to luscious gear then do not handle this lens. If you do, and you are partial to short telephoto lenses, the probability that you will be drawn into its gravitational field is high. You've been warned.

The 27 inch iMac arrived on schedule last Thurs. All programs migrated successfully from previous machine with the exception of Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop Application. This is the little program that serves as the gate keeper for updating and loading new software. It's also a key piece of Adobe's security for managing authorized and unauthorized users. When we finally got everything loaded up there was a little red triangle on the tool bar icon that caught my eye.

I was able to open and use all my Adobe software but I figured I needed to take care of this. I spent over an hour with a very impatient support person from Adobe trying to figure out why the program wouldn't load correctly. We finally escalated and the problem was resolved by going through the hard drive and removing every single piece of Adobe software, running Adobe Installer Cleaner, booting up in safe mode, running disk permissions, re-booting, and then re-installing all of the Adobe software. I am happy to report that everything is up and running well.

The machine is much faster than the one it replaces. The screen is four inches bigger and has not seen the ravages of time that my old, faithful cinema screen survived. The new screen is much sharper and is much easier to calibrate. I timed the two computers running a folder of DXO raw file conversions and the new machine is at least twice as fast. I am also now able to open and work on 4K files without hesitation in Final Cut Pro X. This is a nice thing.

The one issue I have with the new computer and the new, jumbo sized screen is that watching movies from Netflix has become so much more fun that I may quit working and just catch up on all the movies I have missed.

Unlike cameras, now that I've done the replacement and gotten everything squared away, all desire for anything computer appliance-y has faded back into its usual, very low level stasis.  To all those who wrote to tell me that I could have gotten the same performance for about $50 if I had built my own windows based machine I can only say that, while I may be very eccentric, I am happy to pay the extra $1750 for the beautiful design. After all, if history is a guide, I'll be looking at it every day for the next four or five years....

review: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS – Canon redeems itself

The title there is quite an exclamation - Canon redeems itself. And you may well wonder what Canon had to redeem itself for. Well, my experience with Canon over the years has been a clouded one. A number of years back I moved back to Nikon again when I couldn’t handle the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L going out of calibration every so often. Then, there was the untrustworthy AF performance of the Canon 1D mark III. In fact, I’m still waiting for Canon to send me an apology note for that camera. In fact, for all three bodies that I owned.

But I digress … we’re talking about Canon wide-angle zooms. The final straw for me with regards to Canon, was when I had worked through five copies of the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II and all five copies had issues and were soft to the edges. It’s all detailed in this post: Canon and Nikon. Then, I finally got to use the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S (vendor), and my struggles with soft Canon wide-angle zooms were over. I finally had a wide-angle lens that was razor sharp to the edges. And a zoom, to boot!

So with that, I was done. I had given up on Canon ever producing a wide-angle zoom that could perform. Sharp to the edges. No optical smearing. Just do what it is supposed to do – be a wide-angle zoom lens. Something the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G excelled at. And that is something the Canon 17-40mm f/4L and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.L II didn’t quite do as well.

Then the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (vendor) arrived, and I was curious. Could this finally be? And yes, Canon has redeemed itself. Finally, here is a Canon wide-angle zoom that is an excellent performer. You know, worthy of that red stripe.

specifications and features

  • The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (vendorfeatures a constant  f/4 maximum aperture for consistent performance throughout the zoom range. My test images would suggest that it is closer to an f/4.5 optic though.
  • Two UD elements and three aspherical elements, including one large-diameter aspherical element, have been incorporated into the optical design to minimize aberrations and distortion throughout the zoom range.
  • A fluorine coating has been applied to the front and rear lens surfaces to reduce ghosting for maintained image contrast and color fidelity.
  • Camera shake has been reduced by up to four stops with the built-in Optical Image Stabilizer, which is especially handy in low light.
  • Full-time manual focus permits critical focusing precision, even in AF mode.
  • With a 77mm filter, this lens is purported to be highly dust- and water-resistant. (Not something I could purposely test though.)
  • A nine-bladed diaphragm helps to render great out-of-focus backgrounds (i.e. excellent bokeh).

optical performance of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS

In photographing various cityscapes in New York, I was impressed with the image quality. There was some barrel distortion at the widest zoom setting, but nothing disturbing.

There was mild image softness to the left-hand side of the frame at f/4 when tested with my Canon 6D (vendor).

I’ve added three sets of RAW files, shot at f/4 and f/5.6 (and some at f/8) and at various zoom settings (16 / 24 / 35mm), and these can be downloaded from this link: raw-files - so that you can look at the files yourself. I think you’ll be impressed as well.

The next few frames were shot on a photographic outing arranged by Unique Photo, NJ’s largest photo retailer. Check out their program - they regularly arrange photo excursions and classes.

I just love this photo – sun reflecting off the Freedom Tower, and a police motorboat moving directly into the reflected light on the Hudson River. All neatly balanced by the sailboat on the other side of the frame.

While I didn’t get to test the 16-35mm lens’ stabilization in low light, it did make me more confident that any swaying of the boat would be minimized.



I love my  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (vendor), which is razor-sharp and a superb update to the problematic previous version of that lens. Similarly, the  Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (vendor) makes me happier than the first version of that lens could. (I was never satisfied by the wide-open sharpness of the mark 1 version of that lens.) But there had been a gap for me in my lens line-up. I didn’t have a Canon wide-angle zoom lens. Now I do, and Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (vendor) is one I can confidently use.

Some of you may well wonder why I have a complement of Canon lenses if I shoot with Nikon. With the Photography Workshops that I present; and with the Tangents blog; and having to answer questions about Canon, it is imperative that I remain au fait with this system as well.


purchase this lens


reviews of other Canon gear

The post review: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS appeared first on Tangents.

55mm Micro Nikkor lens. On two adapters.

I am uncomfortable calling older lenses "legacy lenses." I don't really know what that means but the common usage in photography circles is meant to convey that these are lenses left over from something---usually the film days. They are being re-purposed on cameras for which they were not originally designed. However uncomfortable I am with the nomenclature I am comfortable with the practice of using older lenses on newer cameras. That's one of the (fulfilled) promises of the new wave of mirror less cameras. The lens flange to sensor plane distance is so much shorter than the distance on cameras with mirrors that just about any lens can be easily adapted while maintaining infinity focus. 

As a portrait photographer there are a couple of focal lengths that I find comfortable and "just right." I like the angle of view that matches an 85mm lens on a 24 by 36 mm camera but sometimes I find it too short. That's why I'm hesitating in buying the Nocticron with its 42.5 mm focal length. It's right at the edge of almost too wide for me. I bought the Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens and I think it has very good performance but when I shoot on the 4:3 format I find myself wishing the lens gave me just a slightly narrower angle of view.  But by the time I get to 60 mm's, and especially 75mm, I feel like I'm getting a lens that's just a bit too long. Goldilocks and the Three Bears strikes again. 

So I've been playing around with something in the 50mm to 55mm focal length range. I did a job a while back in which I shot all the portraits with an older, manual 50mm f1.4 Nikkor lens and it was pretty good. A totally different feel that the modern lenses. The colors felt heavier. The images were technically sharp but something was off. 

Last weekend I was out and around and I found a 55mm Micro Nikkor (f2.8) lens, used, at Precision Camera. I remember that lens well because back in the film only days we got a lot of good use out of it. I remembered it as being very sharp. And one of the ideas in choosing lenses for smaller formats is that they need to be both sharp and of high resolution in order to fill the hunger of those little pixels.

I had always remembered the 55mm as being very sharp, even wide open and I was intrigued by the focal length. The price was modest (under $200) and I already had an assortment of adapters back at the studio to test it with. If it passed I might invest in a dedicated Nikon lens to M4:3 adapter just to cut down on the number of parallel surfaces in the mount. 

I am happy to say that the lens does well on the body. I've been using it wide open on a few portraits and by f4 it's pretty amazing (but really, what good, modern lens isn't amazing when it's shot two stops down?). It has a different color rendering and a different tonal character than my more current lenses but I've started thinking that the lens character is something we often confuse with the difference between digital and film---wrongly. It may be that a good part of what makes images from film cameras look different from digital cameras is the way the two different sets of lenses are designed. 

A big problem in early digital imaging is that many of the lenses designed in the film days didn't have the right coatings on the rear element as it faced the sensor. This allowed the light coming through the lens to be bounced off the somewhat reflective sensor and return to the back element as flare or as a hot spot. But there may be other more subtle effects to different lens design that all add up to a different look. Most sensors now are coated with their own anti-reflection coatings and some of the initial problems have vanished. Some lenses have such a weak rear element coating that they still make trouble for sensors when strong light sources are near enough to the lens axis to have light rays touch the front elements. It's still a matter of trial and error. 

Even in digital designs there are differences between manufacturers. It's a known problem to use the Panasonic 7-14mm lens with some Olympus bodies, including the OMDs. The encroachment of any strong light can cause hot spots in the images. This doesn't happen with the Panasonic bodies. I'm sure then coatings tell the story but, of course, all the information is proprietary to each maker so we'll probably never know exactly what the disconnection is. 

So far the Micro Nikkor exceeds my expectations but be warned that I haven't walked around pointing it at the sun (yet). For studio work with soft and gracious lighting it provides exactly the focal length I was looking for along with a little "bite." Next up? Probably my fourth or fifth go around with a 105mm f2.5 Nikkor. They are plentiful and I remember every one I owned as being really nice. Too long for the m4:3 (at least the way I shoot them) but wonderful on a full frame Nikon body---should one catch my eye. 

Fame sits uncomfortably with Studio Dog.

Social Media. We hear about it all the time. People post links to their projects on Facebook and Twitter and write about their adventures on their blogs. Some are interesting. Others less so. I sometimes like to look at images from behind the scenes of other people's photo shoots just to see what we do differently from each other. But there is a new twist for me this year. Today I received my fourth request that I sign a model release so that my image could be used on my client's website and in their social media. 

We were on assignment yesterday at the headquarters of a large medical services client. We (me and the marketing team...) were making images of a group of four practice managers for an upcoming ad for Breast Cancer Awareness month (October). While I fine tuned the lighting a make-up person was putting the final touches on our models. During the set up and pre-production, as well as during the actual photography my client had her Canon Rebel out and was shooting all kinds of available light, behind the scenes images. 

I think this is a win-win for me and the client company. We were shooting "real people" and it shows how much work goes into lighting and cajoling great expressions out of four people simultaneously. The images show how much "gear" the make up person brings and how diligently they work on their clients. For the client it creates a sense of transparency between them and their customers and referrers. It also builds some buzz for their upcoming marketing efforts. 

Of course, I am hoping that I'll be discovered by one of Austin's wonderful film directors (Hello Robert Rodriguez, Hello Richard Linklater) and cast as an ongoing and endearing character actor in some of their upcoming movies. It could happen....

Another example of the constantly changing tides lapping at the flip-flop wearing toes of a working photographer and his long term clients. 

I like big umbrellas. 
I used two of them today. 
The one above is a Fotodiox 72 inch white/black model. 

The one below is an ancient Balcar
Zebra umbrella. It's 60 inches in diameter
and has alternating white and silver panels. 

Both are wonderful modifiers for flattering portraits. 
You know, the kind that sell.

On location this morning at Austin Radiological.

If you are going to go big you may as well put some power
behind those lights. 1100 watt second Elinchrom 
light producing machine. Lovely.

Just a few notes about the novel. It's selling well despite the fact that our first version had too many typos and some inconsistencies. The vast majority of the glaring faults have been corrected with help from VSL reader, Michael Matthews (good eye!) and design elbow grease from Belinda. If you buy the Kindle book from today you will be getting the latest version. But if you bought and downloaded the book a week ago you probably got the first version. But don't worry, it's a pretty easy fix.

The neat thing about Kindle books (app available free for all kinds of tablets, laptops, regular computers and even phones....) is that a book becomes upgradable. Like firmware its content can be updated by the author and re-downloaded by users. In order to get a fresh version here's what you need to do:

Go to your account on and click on: Manage Your Content & Devices. Once that page comes up you'll see three different headers. One says, "Your Content", one says, "Your Devices" and the tab on the right hand side says, "Settings." You want to go to "Settings."

Once you are in settings scroll down to a selection that says, Automatic Book Update. By default this is off. You should turn it on. It lets you upload the latest version of a title that you've bought but may have subsequently deleted from your device. The default to "off" is for people who have done detailed annotations of books and who do not want to lose those changes by getting a new version...

Once you've made those changes go back to your device and delete the current book. (DO NOT DELETE THE BOOK IN THE "YOUR CONTENT" SECTION OF YOUR ACCOUNT PAGE ON AMAZON OR YOU WILL LOSE THE BOOK UNTIL YOU PAY FOR IT AGAIN!!!!!). Then head back to the cloud on your device and download the book again. This will be the new version. 

Thank you to all the hundreds of people who've purchased the Lisbon Porfolio and a special, extra thanks to the people who've gone to Amazon here in the states and in the U.K. to leave reviews. While most of the reviews are currently five stars even the three star reviews (generally nicking the typos) usually end with, "But all that aside the story is really fun and I'm already waiting for the next book."

For everyone who doesn't like reading on an electronic device we will have the paperback version up on Amazon shortly and it will have all the corrections of the current e-copy. The book comes in at around 480 pages. It should be fun. I am ordering a case. You know what I'll be giving out over the holidays.....

Thank you, Kirk

This is a follow up to the article on the 150mm f4 from earlier in the day. I wanted to shoot some images of objects that weren't moving. I like these buildings so I thought I'd use them as a good test of the sharpness of the old Olympus Pen FT lens on the EM5 sensor. When it comes to architectural photography I'm a pretty easy sell. I think the image is a lovely example of a long lens going for details. 

The city bird of Austin is the crane. I'm showing this because the skies in the images done with the 150mm are different in color and saturation than what I get from more modern lenses. Interesting (to me) that the rendering seems more natural in the older lens. It's almost as though we've developed a taste for saturation that is at odds with our endless declarations that we are just looking for the highest accuracy in our photos.

When I stopped down to f 8 the detail from this ancient lens was astounding. 

Bridge Compression. 

The State Capitol from nearly a mile away. The detail on the dome is still sharp. Might have been sharper but for the heat waves and atmospheric clutter....

This late afternoon shot was done from the pedestrian bridge under the Mopac Hwy. Nearly a mile and a half from the buildings in the image. An interesting test.

Austin can be a really fun town when things slow down in the Summer. There is a whole series of Lakes around Austin including one which runs right through the center of downtown and is part of the Colorado River system. I'd just gotten a second Olympus OMD EM5 camera last week and in a fit of eccentricity I decided to put an ancient lens on the front of it and go out in the hottest part of the day for a walk. The lens is one I have written about before, it's the 150mm f4 made for the Olympus half frame film cameras from four or five decades ago. 

The lens is slender and compact and fabricated totally from metal. There is nothing particularly impressive about its exterior design or finish. I had done some test shooting with the lens back when I owned a Panasonic GH2 and an Olympus EP-2 and either my technique at the time was flawed or the lens and the sensors of the day did not play well together. It seemed at the time to be lower contrast than modern lenses and less sharp. I don't know what I expected when I took it out last week but life is full of surprises. 

Sprinkled through this post are an assortment of shots from the lens and the EM5. As I was out walking for fun I did not bring along a tripod so all of these shots are handheld. Most are shot either wide open or one stop down. Several are two stops down from wide open. I set the camera for "vivid" and shot on automatic in the "A" mode. 

It's rare that I shoot with longer lenses but I am a fan of compression so I guess I should try it more often and work on my proficiency. Lady Bird Lake (formerly "Town Lake") was a "target rich" environment for a person with an agile camera and long lens. There are some niggles to working with the lens but for the most part I find it to be a good performer. As I began my walk I had not yet figured out how to magnify the preview image for fine focusing. I finally realized I could apply that feature to a function button. After than my keepers (at least for sharp focus) went up. 

One benefit of Olympus's implementation of IBIS is the ability to stabilize the preview image which really helps when the field of view narrows down. I used the IBIS for every shot. 

The lens is actually pretty sharp but wide open and near wide open it does suffer from some magenta or purple fringing and a bit of chromatic aberration. Fortunately these are both easy to fix in Lightroom. The lens was a much better performer on the EM5 than in previous generations of cameras. I also used this lens recently for a dress rehearsal of Tommy at the Zach Theatre recently and it was there that I first realized that it really was a good (with caveats) lens. 

It crested 100 degrees on this shooting day so everything was pretty much shot around water. The image just above, with the beautiful, red canoe is underneath the old Lamar Boulevard bridge. After a longish paddle from the boat docks people use the shadow of the bridge to cool down and take a break. They also crawl up on the arching pillars and jump into the water. Spotters help the jumpers navigate so they don't end up hitting a paddle boarder or canoe-ist. 

Jumpers on the Lamar Blvd. Bridge.

Jumping from a rope spring in the tributary that runs from Barton Springs into Lady Bird Lake. 

In the spillway just under Barton Springs Pool. 

The ubiquitous phone. Under the Barton Springs Rd. Bridge.

There was a big crowd at the Barton Creek Spillway. 

It's interesting to be self-employed in the Summer in Austin. There is so much inertia to just give up on commerce and join in the three month long vacation that so many people seem to be on. I try to skirt work as much as possible by limiting my marketing and just accepting work that comes in "over the transom." At some point the cash flow slows down to a trickle and I realize that I live in an expensive town and then economic self-preservation kicks in and I get back to business. 

But a little part of me always imagines how wonderful it would be if I could spend the whole Summer just swimming, walking, napping and eating Frontera Fundido tacos at TacoDeli. All with a little camera over one shoulder.  

When I wake up happy from a Summer nap I always have the idea that work is over rated.

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