NITSAN SIMANTOV. PHOTOGRAPHER. FILMMAKER.

East Grinstead photographer and filmmaker Nitsan Simantov. Wedding photography and commercial video production in London and West Sussex.

Aputure DEC Lens Regain focal reducer and wireless follow focus released

Aputure have released a new dual-purpose lens adapter for Micro Four Thirds cameras and Canon EF lenses.

It's a wireless follow focus, similar to the one I reviewed recently, that focuses the lens using the lenses' own AF motors, while also being a focal reducer, meaning you get an additional stop of light and wider field of view, jumping up from the normal MFT x2 crop to just a tiny bit smaller than the super35 size of sensor.

This means you should be able to use both full frame and crop sensor photography lenses, as well as super35 cinema lenses. It will still give you a super35 look with both crop sensor and full frame EF lenses.

Here is my video about the older version which does not include a focal reducer. I like how they've changed the shape on the new Regain model to make it easier to fit with various plates other camera accessories.

How I avoid panning stutter and make camera movement feel natural

This is a common question I get so I'd like to write a little post about it. The question is, "I get stuttering in my video when I pan - What do I do to fix/avoid it?"

It's possible there is a technical method in camera settings or editing that fixes this. Usually people ask me this question after they've spent a lot of time on forums without finding a solution.

I think the reason I've never had that issue in my own videos is that I almost never do traditional "pans", especially not on a tripod where the consistent speed probably makes stuttering visible or more prominent. I don't find flat panning to feel very natural, even without stuttering. I haven't spent a lot of time analyzing Hollywood films for how much they pan or how often, but usually what I see is that flat left/right pans are not very common, and when they are there they are usually pretty slow. Probably not because of stuttering issues, but because slow panning usually looks/feels more natural.

Here are two examples of my filming style. As you can see, any panning is either really slow and not moving very much, or it's just following the subject while the camera is moving.

So here are some things to try:

  • Slower pans done on a shoulder rig rather than a tripod, because the less consistent speed might help reduce stuttering somewhat
  • Following the subject when using a slider/glidecam. Basically the opposite of a normal pan. Move the camera and keep the subject in the middle of the frame.
  • For wide/establishing shots, move the camera rather than "pan",
  • Pan very very slowly, although this likely will still show some stutter.
  • Reduce camera's sharpness setting to zero.
  • Shoot in 50p/60p slow motion for those panning shots. 
  • Try viewing the raw files on another computer, or viewing the raw footage uploaded to Youtube without editing. This might help figure out if the issue is coming from the video editor or computer.
  • Any more suggestions, please comment below.

Here are tutorials about how the videos above were filmed:

More info about how the cat video was filmed: Konova K2 slider and Flywheel and Glidecam HD1000 + Aputure wireless follow focus.

Suggestions from readers:

  • Not really the same stuttering issue that I'm discussing above, but maybe turn off your camera's image stabilizer and see if that helps.

Laing S3 - Best budget slider so far

Wow. Second best slider I've seen. I've had about 20 different ones.
At £100 this thing is great! Cheaper than the Konova K2, which was my previous budget favorite for several years.

A full video review is coming soon, but for now here's a written review and a quick look at it in the middle of my latest tripod review.

Pros:
As smooth as the best.
Feels tough and solid.
Absolutely zero play in the carriage.
Nice bag.
Very lightweight. About 1.4kg.

Cons:
No flywheel (rotating weight) system. Which means controlling the speed is done by you. It's much harder to get a perfect consistent slow speed without a flywheel, but it's doable.

Conclusion:
The only one that beats it is the ifootage shark, and the only reason the shark beats it is the flywheel, but that costs about £500 and is much heavier too, surprising because the ifootage is partially carbon fiber, but it has so much metal on it that it's not actually as light as you'd think. About 3.8kg (with flywheel) vs about 1.4kg.

LINK to Amazon:

Aputure ArrayTrans - Wireless 1080p monitoring system

Aputure have just announced a new transmitter for wireless monitoring up 80m away.

This will likely be great for using together with drones, crash cams, live events, and even live focusing together with Aputure's wireless follow focus, and actually pretty much anything that requires accurate monitoring without a cable.

They advertise zero latency (no lag), which of course is important in almost every situation.

Here's a link to Amazon:

Setting up a complete Youtube studio/on-location filming kit

I have been asked to help with setting up a small studio for creating content for the web. I figured the best way to do that is with a detailed article. I'll go over the parts needed, as well as a basic guide on how to use your kit. This is the kit and methods I use for my own youtube channel.

What we are aiming for is:

  • Keeping to an affordable professional budget. I will also list lower-budget alternatives, sometimes they can be good too.
  • Portability and compactness when put away. Two bags maximum.
  • Ability to be used in fairly small spaces.
  • Fast to set up and fold down.
  • Fast to shoot with. For example, no walking back and forth to the camera to press record.
  • As few distractions as possible. For example, no changing batteries, when possible.
  • Does not require a cameraman. Having a friend behind the camera is helpful, but not a must.
  • Avoiding as many issues as possible - Out of focus shots, bad audio, over/under exposure, etc.
  • Professionalism. No DIY stuff here.

Okay, lets get started.

Pro Camera

We'll need a camera with good automatic exposure (brightness), reliable auto focus and an audio input plug. The one thing we will leave manual is the audio, but luckily this is not difficult when working with high quality microphones that are set up properly. More on that lower down in the article.

The Sony A7s (£1400) fits the bill perfectly. Superb 1080p image quality and almost effortless to use as long as you have it in the correct settings. You will also need a lens, the Sony 28-70 is a nice zoom lens under £200.

Budget Cameras

  • The Sony A7 (£650) is almost as good and costs much less. The A7S has a lot of improvements like low light capabilities, but most of these don't really apply for the uses needed here. This would be my second choice.
  • The NEX-6 (£350) is nice but lacks an audio input, which extremely important for the fast workflow we are aiming for. But this is fine if you're also going for the budget audio option below (which is not what I would recommend).
  • There are other nice cameras like the GH1/2/3, but these wouldn't be my choice.

Pro Audio

You will need one Rodelink wireless microphone kit (£270) for each person you want audio from. If working with just one person this is easy, just plug the receiver into the camera and you're good to go. The RodeLink has fantastic audio quality and it's easy as pie to work with. Just turn it on, attach the receiver to the camera, clip on the microphone and you're good to go for the entire day. A little Lowepro case is recommended for keeping the small parts safe and organized.

If working with multiple microphones you will also need to add a Zoom H6 recorder (£270) which will record up to 6 microphones individually and also mix all of them together so you can output that into the camera. This way you have the camera audio ready to use, plus the individual microphones' recordings as a backup. A large audio kit like this is a bit too big to put on top of the camera, so the simplest way to organize it is to keep the recorder and Rodelink receivers in the camera bag with a cable going out to the camera. Or you can also get a dedicated audio bag if you prefer, but I don't think that's needed.

You will also need AA batteries (£15 for 8). Get four minimum for each Rodelink kit, per day of filming needed before chargeing. Get four extras for the Zoom H6 which already has four included. And a charger (£16) or two. (For example, if using x3 Rodelink kits with a Zoom H6 recorder, get 32 AAs. This gives you two full sets of batteries, which means either two days of shooting without charging, or a continuous rotation of batteries where one set charges while you're using the second set.) And if working with the Zoom recorder you will need one of these adapters (£6) for each microphone.

Budget audio

A Zoom H1 audio recorder with an AspenMics lavaliere microphone (£85 + $44) for each person you want to record. This is just as high quality as the wireless option above, and it is sort of "wireless" since each person just wears their own audio recorder, but there is no practical way to monitor the audio which leaves a huge potential for mistakes, empty batteries, volumes set too high or too low, etc. Then when you are done filming, offloading, organizing and syncing the audio in post production is a pain. You will also need one AA battery per 3 hours of filming, per recorder. Ideally get lots of spares, you will need them. 


Large Pro lighting

If it's within budget and suitable in size, get yourself a set of Pixapro 100D LED lights. (Those of you in the USA can now get them too! Rebranded as Neewer. Here are eBay and Amazon links.)
They are by far the best lights I have used. A set of two will be nice, three will be great, and five will be amazing if you want to create some advanced lighting styles or light up a large green screen, etc.
They are about £350 each including a large "easy-open" softbox for each light. These softboxes are not optional, they complete the light. Without the softboxes you might as well go for the Aputure lights below.
To some degree they are a little bit overkill, but in a good way. The results from them are just fantastic and they are easy to work with. They are a little on the large side and also require a bit more room due to the large softboxes, but they set up and fold down in seconds and if you get a large lighting bag you will love working with them. Large strong light stands (£33 each) are a must. A large boom stand (£60) is recommended as one of your stands.

Budget/compact pro lighting

A set of Aputure H160 lights are a great budget alternative at about £50 each including a mains power adapter.
You are not losing any light quality with these lights, but because of their lower brightness they are not ideal for using together with softboxes to create a softer light. (A soft light means light with smoother transitions between bright and shadow, which usually makes people look better on-screen.) They can still create soft light, just not as well as the lovely Pixapro softboxes above.
A set of three will do the trick for some nice basic lighting, but a set of 5-8 is much better.
They are extremely compact and easy to set up, and they are almost indestructible so you can connect them to almost anything using with Gorillapod tripods or use them with the lovely ultra-portable light stands from Faith or Lollipod without worrying about them dropping. Or get some regular light stands (£10 each) if you don't need everything to fit into a single camera bag. These ball heads are very useful, I recommend one per large stand (they are not needed for the Gorillapods) and I recommend a softbox that will hold two of these lights inside it and be your main light.

The power supplies for these lights need to be bought separately. For each light unit you will need one battery adapter (£5 each. Unfortunately the only item in this article that needs to be ordered from China) and one power supply (£15) which also doubles as a backup power supply for your camera if needed. Suitable power supplies can be bought for £5 or so from China but they are a pain to find and their cable is very short.

You can spend a little more for the Aputure 198 but you're mainly just getting some nicer accessories with it.

This is a screenshot from a video lit with one large (LS-1S) Aputure light and one small (H160) Aputure light. The same can be done with several of the small ones.

Accessories:

  • Power supply for the camera (£15).
  • Batteries (£14 each). Get one battery for every 1.5 hours you need to use the camera away from a mains supply.
  • Two 64GB SD cards (£24 each) will give you around 10 hours recording.
  • I recommend a Lowepro Flipside camera bag (£120), which allows the wearer full access to the bag without putting it on the ground. This is fantastic on some locations. Of course there are countless budget options from £15 or so. 
  • A Gorillapod SLR-zoom (£38) is thoroughly recommended. There are hundreds of uses for these around the studio and on-location. I have about 7 Gorillapods in various sizes and they get used daily. The large ones also double as a shoulder support for when you have a camera operator who needs to move around a little while filming.
  • Pretty much any tripod will do, here's a nice affordable one from Benro. Or if you're on an even lower budget, literally any £15 tripod will do, or stick the camera on a Gorillapod.
  • Pop-up reflector/background (£55) for green screen or plain backgrounds. It's portable and opens/closes in seconds. Clamp it (£16) or lean it (free) on a light stand and you're good to go. This is large enough for one person, maybe two in a pinch. Larger pop-up reflectors can be found, but are very pricey, or you could get a huge paper roll in almost any colour needed for around £80 including stands or wall mounts, but this not portable and it's slower to set up unless it's a permanent installation.
  • These little screw adapters are a must. Three is a minimum, six recommended.

Using the kit

Now what about a monitor? If working with a friend or camera operator this is not needed. If filming yourself this is very important. It makes filming much easier. The best way I have found is to simply connect my mobile phone to the camera using Sony's own wireless app. I find it so much faster and easier than working with a "real" monitor that requires cables to run to the camera. I clip my phone to a Gorillapod or Lollipod stand using a Joby GripTight phone mount and open app on both the camera and phone. From here they connect automatically and give me a nice wireless monitor with a record button and exposure controls. If filming for a long time I'll plug my phone's charger in too.

Camera settings

Here are the settings I use most often when filming in my home-studio with the A7S. They will be almost identical on most other cameras.

  • Autofocus: ON.
  • Focus area: Wide.
  • Face tracking: ON. (Very important, and the A7S does a fantastic job at keeping focus with this turned on.)
  • Exposure mode: Manual
  • Shutter speed: 1/50
  • Aperture: Whatever you want. If in doubt, set to f5.6, that should be good for most uses.
  • ISO: Raise or lower as needed to control brightness. Or just leave it on auto and control the brightness using the c.
  • Metering mode: Wide. This reduces unwanted changes in brightness if using an automatic exposure setting like auto ISO.

 

 

Sony A7S review + Things you didn't know + Tips!

The Sony A7S mirrorless camera [B&H link] is probably the best small video camera ever made. It's not perfect, but man it's good. it's also a fantastic camera for photography.

The Sony A7S with the Voightlander 35mm f1.4 [LINK] and remote control [LINK]. Click image to view larger.

It has the best low light capabilities of any current camera and it is one of the best in the dynamic range category too, even though it has a lower resolution than many others today at only 12.2 megapixels. That isn't as low as it sounds though. It has an image size of 4240 x 2832, compared to the Canon 5D Mark III's 22.3mp images at 5760 x 3840.

A photo from the Sony A7S and FE 55mm f1.8 lens. Click for larger.

Lets take a look at a video shot on the A7s in 1080p, mostly in 60p slow motion.

Most of the shots here are from the Zeiss 55mm f1.8 FE, which is said to be the best autofocus lens in the world.

Pros

  • It has a full frame sensor, which means bokeh, and lots of it!
  • Very high quality HD video. One of the best around.
  • Amazing high ISO performance. The best you can currently get from any DSLR or mirrorless camera at high ISO settings. It will get usable footage all the way up to about 102,400 ISO (depending on how picky you are about noise) and it will go all the way to an incredible 409,600 ISO. Keep in mind that some cameras have better ISO performance at lower ISO settings compared to the A7S.

The A7S with my internal ND filter [LINK]. Next to it are the Sony 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 and the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4. .


  • Around 14 stops of dynamic range in video (and about 15 stops in raw photos). Higher-end stills cameras get this much DR when shooting RAW still images, but in video this sort of dynamic range is only found on pretty expensive cameras, and even at high prices only a few cameras get above 11 stops or so. (Each extra stop is double the amount of light, so that's a pretty big difference compared to the 10 stops or so that your average DSLR does.) Keep in mind that when shooting in this color profile you will be limited to a minimum of 3200 ISO, so you will likely need some ND filters, otherwise you'd have to close your aperture or raise your shutter speed, which is often not something you want to do when shooting video. You can use internal ND filters like I often do [LINK], screw-on variable ND filters which is also something I use [LINK], Square ND filters (in a matte box or filter holder) or even ND filters inside an adapter [LINK].
  • Decent screen and decent viewfinder, although there's room for improvement. Both are a little too small. The viewfinder allows you to have the camera much closer to you which is far more comfortable With this camera, large rigs are optional, not necessary. I love how nice it is to shoot on this camera compared to my 5DIII.
  • Fantastic audio quality in-camera, without using any additional external preamps, volume boosters or audio recorders. This is a big step up over any other small camera I have used.
  • Video autofocus! Incredibly useful in many situations. I have bought Sony lenses for this, because it allows me to shoot incredibly quickly. The two videos above were both mostly shot using the A7S autofocus.
  • Face tracking and object tracking, basically your own personal focus puller, which mostly leaves you free to do other things and get shots you otherwise wouldn't be able to do easily. Obviously you should use manual focus for a lot of things too, but this is an incredible tool to have. The face tracking is automatic, and you can also register people's faces if you want. And the object tracking has to be done once per shot, but it's very easy when you set it to the function menu or custom button.
  • The low light autofocus is incredible for both stills and video. It can autofocus in a room lit by a couple of candles.
  • The crop mode works very well (unlike the Sony A7 camera which had a crop mode that looked like you were shooting with a £20 mobile phone.) You can use it as digital zoom when shooting video while still getting great image quality. There is also a digital "Clear Image Zoom" option, which allows you to double your zoom, even on top of the crop mode, although the image does get softer in this mode. The standard "Digital Zoom" mode isn't any better than cropping in post.
  • Battery life is okay, about 1 hour and 45 minutes if using a good quality battery. Most mirrorless cameras are similar but some do have better performance. Most DSLRs will be about the same when shooting video but they will last far longer for photography because the screen isn't constantly turned on.
  • A standalone battery charger is included, unlike many other NEX/A7 cameras which require you to buy your own charger, or use the camera itself as a charger via the USB port.
  • Lots of dials and buttons on the camera's body. Very customizable, although not completely perfect.
  • There's a function button which brings up your own little menu of your favorite settings/options, although not all menu settings can be assigned to this function menu.

Shot on the Sony A7S and Sony 55mm f1.8 FE lens.

The A7S with the Movcam Cage [Click to see this item at B&H] and Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 lens [LINK].

The A7S with the Movcam Cage [Click to see this item at B&H] and Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 lens [LINK].

  • The size of the camera is absolutely lovely to shoot with.
  • It's a world camera, meaning you can switch between region settings to get beautiful 1080p at 24p and 60p in NTSC mode or 30p, 25p and 50p in PAL mode. (It's possible that the USA and Japan versions are not switchable, but the important thing is that all versions offer 24p and 60p, as far as I know.)
  • Almost unlimited manual focus lens options using adapters.
  • There are a few really nice Sony lenses that are worth their asking price if you want video autofocus.
    The 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 FE OSS which is a nice stabilized lens for around £200.
    The 10-18mm f4 OSS E-mount lens, which works as a super wide stabilized lens in crop mode just like it would on a crop-sensor Sony, and also works as an insanely wide 13-16mm lens in full frame mode.
    The 28mm f2.0 FE which is a decent fast wide lens for £300.
    And the 55mm f1.8 FE (£500) which is five times more expensive than the Canon equivalent, but is one of the best performing lenses in the world of photography, and the difference really shows in some situations, even in 1080p video where the fantastic contrast of the lens makes for some exceptionally beautiful images, because it's not as easy to add contrast to a video in editing (without ruining your shadows and highlights) compared to a raw still image.
    (Note that the above are rough prices on eBay UK, the official Sony prices are usually higher.)

Selfie shot on the Sony A7S and Voigtlander 35mm f1.4.

  • The list of Sony full frame FE-mount lenses is fairly limited, but Sony seem to be releasing more pretty quickly, in a mix of prices ranging from affordable all the way to super-expensive. If tons bokeh isn't really important to you then you have a much larger selection of autofocus and stabilized lenses with Sony's crop-sensor E mount options, but keep in mind that for photography, while the full frame 12 megapixel gives decent images, in crop mode the 8mp resolution is just too low.
  • Beautiful 4K using an external recorder.
  • It works very well as a small-studio camera, but best done with an AC power adapter [LINK] and an external monitor [LINK]. Here's a video shot in my home studio.

As an example of using the A7S as a small-studio camera, here is a video that was not edited at all, and was not shot using the S-log2 color profile. This is an example of getting a nice image direct from the camera without any fancy color grading involved. Sorry about the audio quality, I was testing out the Sony ECM-AW4 wireless microphone which is not very good.

Cons

This camera has many issues, most of which would annoy professional stills photographers more than filmmakers.

Shot on the Sony A7S and Samyang 35mm f1.4. Click for larger.

  • No internal 4K. You could add an additional 4K camera to your bag like the affordable Panasonic LX100 or DMC-G7, which is anyways a good idea because it's pretty important to have a backup camera, but that won't give you a combination of 4K and 14 stops of dynamic range like you would get from the Sony A7S with a 4K recorder.
  • Sony's lenses have an utterly abysmal manual focus. It's all electronic, and it focuses forward or back more or less depending on how fast you move the focus ring, not how much you move it, like any other lens would. Manual focus on the E / FE lenses is absolute garbage for both photography and video, so I recommend choosing no more than 1=3 Sony lenses if you want autofocus, and then get get manual focus lenses like Samyang, Nikon, Voightlander, etc.
  • You need to jump over to Manual mode to set custom white balance, then back to video mode. You can also just stay in manual mode and shoot video from there. That isn't ideal but some A7S shooters actually prefer that due to the better zoom-in for fine focus adjustments.

Sony A7S and Helios 50mm f1.8 77M-4 MC.

  • The main rear dial is pretty terrible. It clicks inwards when you try to turn it, so you often end up changing settings you don't want to. Most of the buttons and dials are too easy to press on this camera, so in some situations you may end up with settings accidentally changing.
  • There are some incredibly dumb software issues. I'm not sure if the people making the software were incredibly stupid or did these things on purpose. There are just so many annoying things in the firmware of this camera. Some of them only minor annoyances that happen very often (like the constant warning messages) and some of them serious, like a risk of wiping your card and erasing all your work. There are so many things wrong with this camera's software that the subject requires its own page. Read about that here (LINK).

Shot on the Sony A7s and Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 lens.

Shot on the Sony A7s and Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 lens.

  • The screen tilts a little, but does not flip out to the side. This means that filming yourself or shooting from strange angles isn't as easy as some other cameras. And the screen does not tilt downwards when you have the camera connected to a tripod or quick release plate. 
  • If using the S-log2 color profile, you have to expose the image "to the right", which means bring your histogram exposure reading further right (brighter). This is not always easy to do when shooting quickly...
  • In video mode you are limited to a +2 to -2 exposure compensation, which means shutter and aperture priority modes often underexpose your image in S-log2 mode, as does the automatic ISO. This can be an issue if you're shooting in fast paced environments and still want the high dynamic range this camera can produce, so always keep an eye on the histogram when shooting in S-Log2.

Another shot using the Sony 55mm f1.8 FE lens. Click for larger.

This lovely 16-50mm pancake lens does not work well with the A7S. The stabilizer does not work and the autofocus sometimes jitters very badly.

  • The image stabilizer (which Sony call "Optical Steady Shot") doesn't work with some crop-sensor Sony lenses like the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6.  
  • Video autofocus can have some jittering in the edges of the image when focused close with some lenses.
  • Photography autofocus is a bit hit-and-miss.
  • Menu a little messy, but usable.
  • Lots of messages on the screen. Read about that here (LINK).
  • The information on the screen and viewfinder could be more organized and more customizable, but it's not as bad as the 5D Mark III which places your histogram almost over the entire image.
  • Speaking of histograms, the one on the A7S does not display the RGB values, and overall isn't very accurate.

Sony A7S and Samyang 35mm f1.4

  • The viewfinder sensor is far too sensitive and there's no adjustment for it, so every time you want to do a low shot and you're too close to the camera, the screen turns off. Incredibly annoying.
  • Rolling shutter (jello skewing of the image when moving fast) is pretty bad in full frame mode, which isn't a problem if you're keeping the camera stable. You will want to jump into crop mode to reduce rolling shutter when fast camera motion is needed.
  • The 120fps 720p mode isn't great. It's limited to crop mode only, and in certain combinations of flat color profiles and high ISO can have some terrible banding in the shadows of the image. It's still a nice addition though, much better than not having 120fps at all.
  • The focus peaking isn't great.
  • The viewfinder is too small and the eyecup isn't very comfortable.
  • For photography the battery life is very bad, since there's no option to use the screen only for viewing images, or to have the viewfinder off until you bring your eye to it. You do have the option to always see everything in the viewfinder, but it's very far from ideal because then you can't use the screen at all, at least not without digging through the menu to turn it back on first. A normal DSLR will often last an entire day of photography with one battery, but with the Sony you get the same usage time as video, only about 1 hour 45 minutes. What you end up doing is either turning it on and off constantly, or setting it to turn off after a minute or two without use, but that's not ideal because there's a few seconds of delay to turn the camera on.
  • The automatic switch-off doesn't always work.

This is two images stitched together. Both shot on the Sony A7s and Samyang 35mm f1.4 lens.

Conclusion

For amateur filmmakers: If this is within your budget, go for it. You will love it. If the cost here is too much then I think you would also be very happy with Sony's a6000.

For professional filmmakers: If you care about dynamic range like I do, this is it. Sure it has room for improvement but it gives me amazing video in a small package that is also extremely fast and enjoyable to work with.

For amateur photographers: If you have the budget and you want a camera with lots of manual focus lens options that will give you tons of bokeh, dynamic range and low light sensitivity then you will love this. But you will likely also be happy with many other cameras.

For professional photographers: It makes a superb second camera because it's so different from your DSLR. For example, you suddenly have the ability to shoot handheld with nothing but moonlight or candlelight. - BUT, if this will be your main camera, there's a good chance you will come across some things that slow you down or annoy you.

A pro "tog" needs something that is fast to work with, has long battery life, has menus that make sense, etc. Most professional DSLRs would be a better stills option compared to this. The many software issues (read about that here), pointless limitations, slow usability, bad controls, messy menus, mediocre photography autofocus and constant warning messages might annoy you as a pro. However, I've spoken to quite a few photographers who use an A7 series camera without noticing the issues too much, so maybe I'm just a little spoiled by DSLRs.

There are a few other limitations that make it less than ideal for professional photographers. A lack of dual card slots means I could never use this as the main camera for wedding photography (dual card slots allow for an immediate backup, which is a must for weddings). The same thing applies to the A7, A7 Mark II and A7R cameras.

Almost all the other issues are software-based and could be fixed in a firmware update, but Sony don't seem to want to do that. There are small improvements in new camera releases (for example, slightly less software issues in the A7S compared to the A7) but there have been no big firmware updates to any of the cameras to address these issues.

Sony A7S and Voigtlander 35mm f1.4


Links to buy your Sony A7S:

A photo of the Sony 55mm f1.8 FE on my A7. -  This photo was taken using the Sony A7S camera with the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 lens.

A photo of the Sony 55mm f1.8 FE on my A7. -  This photo was taken using the Sony A7S camera with the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 lens.

You can help support this blog by purchasing through these links. The cost remains the same for you but I get a small commission.

● eBay UK link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-534...
● eBay USA link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-532...
● Amazon UK link: http://amzn.to/1qtY6G3
● Amazon USA link: http://amzn.to/1qCmdkx
● B&H Link: http://bhpho.to/1rf9Zfg
● Adorama link: http://bit.ly/1lFs8GL

HUGE & CHEAP octadome softboxes for video & photography

These are SUPER cheap sofboxes [LINK] from China that work well with pretty much any light. I've been using them with My Pixapro 100D lights [LINK], Aputure 160 LEDs [LINK], Triopo flash and trigger kit [LINK] and Godox flash and trigger kit [LINK], and they've been almost perfect.

I bought three of them. They are so cheap that I will buy more. I've always wanted a lighting setup with five or six HUGE softboxes. I also have an 80cm one, which is great but I only bought it because the 120cm ones weren't available at the time. There are a couple of different versions of these. I tried two and I like the Selens brand a little more, I don't remember what the other one was, but it was also fine.

 

Three Pixapro 100D's, two back lights with the cheapo octodomes and one front light with the 150cm Pixapro octodome. I actually lit most of this shoot with the Godox flash and trigger kit [LINK], video coming soon.

I've not edited the photos from this shoot yet, here's a random one from the set.

What I love about them:

  • So cheap they are almost disposable compared to other quick-opening softboxes.
  • Great light diffusion.
  • Available with grids for £10 extra.
  • Low light spill, even less with the optional grids.
  • Available in different sizes. I have three 120cm and one 80cm. For these prices I'd highly recommend the 120's, they are lovely.
  • Almost indestructible. I've been dropping them, squishing them, throwing them, and so far they have taken every little bit of abuse without even flinching. They are bendy enough to prevent breaking
  • They open in about 1 second. I leave the white diffusion material attached, I don't see any need to remove it when putting them away.
  • They fold up far smaller than my Pixapro umbrellas, so they don't take up much space in my Samsonite case and allow me to take many more things to a shoot.
  • They move all the way back to the wall, so I have TONS more shooting space compare to many other lighting diffusers that attach to the front of the light rather than right around it.
  • They sit around the light, so give some much needed protection to your lighting. It provides fantastic protection from rain, dust and drops. Obviously I can't guarantee this will definitely protect the light in every situation, but in my opinion this is a a hundred times better than no protection at all.
  • The weight is centered on the light stand. It means you can use light stands that are cheaper and much lighter in weight.

The lovely Triopo flash with a wireless trigger that came with it in this kit. Both inside the cheapo octodome. Used as a back light and mixed with ambient lighting. The big stand you see is the awesome Rocwing boom [LINK]

What can be improved, mostly with simple DIY fixes:

  • They are slightly brighter in the center, not a big issue but I'm gonna add some extra material. Either inside or on the outside cover. White ripstop nylon fabric is £5 for a huge sheet on eBay, enough to add additional diffusers to all my softboxes.
  • They take slightly longer to set up compared to the Pixapros, which clip to the front of the light.
  • I cut small vertical slits in my sofboxes so I can easily reach my lights to change brightness. As you can see in the photos above I set it up with the Pixapros sticking out of the back of the light. This hasn't reduced the quality of the light I get, but allows me very easy access to the light and a way to very easily grab the light to move it around. You don't have to do this, you can just open the velcro at the side a little bit and stick your hand in from there.
  • There is less tiltability than with some front mounted diffusers, but this is not at all a problem. I rarely need to tilt my sofboxes more than these can do. The only times I did need this much tilt, I anyways needed to use the boom stand because otherwise the stand would be in the shot. If you want more tilt angles using a regular stand, just cut the opening (where the stand comes out) to make it wider.

Another one with the same setup as above. As you can see the cut I made in the fabric closes by itself so it's not at all problematic, actually it's very helpful.

Of course every new piece of equipment must be approved by Kitty. These softboxes have passed with a rating of five meows.

Links to buy them:
GET THEM ON EBAY UK [LINK]
GET THEM ON EBAY USA [LINK]

Also, here's a random shot taken with the 80cm version with its grid.


UPDATE: Here's the first video:

Travel: Cheap ultra-slim safety wallet - Go 887 review

[DISCLAIMER: It should be pretty obvious, but I'll say it anyways. You are responsible for the safety of your wallet, not me.]

Something that should be useful for traveling creatives, although I actually got this for use as a daily wallet, as I really love thin wallets and good ones with pocket clips aren't easy to find.

Why a slim clip-on wallet?

I'm a big fan of perfecting my "EDC" (Every Day Carry, which just means the stuff you carry with you daily) and a part of that is having a comfortable and safe wallet.

I don't carry much, just a card or two, a mini-sized Waitrose card (free coffee when I go food shopping) a few cash notes and some plasters ("band-aids" for you Americans reading this). This allows me to comfortably use an ultra-compact wallet, which is barely larger than the size of a bank card.

For my daily use around my small English town, I would clip this onto the inside of my pocket, plus a paracord string going to my belt loop. This is more comfortable for me than having it loose in the pocket, and also makes it easy to reach, if I'm wearing gloves for example.
But if I'm traveling, I'd be carrying it clipped under my jeans, and of course I would still have the string attached to my belt loop.

The Go 887 travel wallet. I added a couple of strings, one for securing to my belt loop and another as a replacement to the metal zip pull-tab thing. And I removed the "Go" logo tag.

Pros:

  • If used properly, it should be way safer than the average wallet.
  • Easy to use and remove cards.  
  • Very comfy in pocket and very comfy clipped to the inside of my jeans. Either way I don't really feel the wallet there, which is exactly what I want.
  • Very flat, but can hold a lot if needed.
  • One of the thinnest (decent) budget wallets I have found. There are a few thinner ones on the internet which are often pretty expensive, up to about £50, which also look nicer, but I wouldn't pay that much for a wallet.
  • Can fit cash folded into three. I think you could fit about 30 notes folded in three into it, but the thinner you keep it the more comfortable it will be.
  • Nice pocket clip. Seems fairly strong without being too thick. It's covered in fabric, which is nice, but the fabric will likely wear away pretty quickly.
  • There is almost a second compartment, right where the pocket clip connects to the wallet, but it's pretty small and it doesn't close, so I wouldn't keep anything important there. I cut my Waitrose (free coffee) card a little smaller and it holds in that slot nicely. Of course I would never do that with a bank card. The little Leatherman Style PS (A finger-sized multi-tool) actually fits in that slot perfectly, but I'm not sure if that would put pressure on your bank cards.

Cons:

  • Only one compartment. At least two would be better, for example one for "daily use" and another to for things you want to keep a little more secure, maybe a few notes as "emergency money".
  • Pocket clip could be a little longer.

  • Not as compartmentalized as a normal wallet, so if you have lots of various things it might not be as easy to reach them.

  • Not very good looking, but fine. I guess it's good if you like the sporty neoprene look.

An example of my basic daily carry items, although this changes all the time. For example, in the evening I might also take a torch, etc. From left to right: Necklace with emergency house key, Leatherman Style PS and my old small wallet (self-made) with house key.

An example of my basic daily carry items, although this changes all the time. For example, in the evening I might also take a torch, etc.
From left to right: Necklace with emergency house key, Leatherman Style PS and my old small wallet (self-made) with house key.

Go 887 Travel Wallet Link:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1ChoCXt

 

Targus mouse for Mac - A really bad alternative to Apple's mouse

This mouse is so terrible that I can't even be bothered to take a photo of it. You can find photos in this link.

I needed a cheapo mouse for occasional web browsing, and I bought this one hoping it might also be good for editing because it has a four-way scroll like the lovely Apple Mighty Mouse, which are super expensive and almost guaranteed to break very quickly. I've gone through two or three and I'm sick of them. and Apple's Magic Mouse which are also way over my computer accessory budget.

Good:

  • Four-way scroll for cheap.
  • Wireless.
  • Plug and play with the included dongle (It's hidden under the battery door).
  • There's a middle click and two additional buttons on the side.
  • Good pointer movement speed. Some mice don't work well for me.

Bad:

  • It won't work properly on my desk or the leather armrest of my chair. Every other mouse I've used has worked on these.
  • It has two scrolling speeds, WAY too fast or literally not moving at all (even with my scroll speed setting at minimum on the mac).
  • It's way too big so actually reaching the scroll area is not easy if you're resting your wrist on the table.
  • A bit easy to accidentally right click, i think because of the size.
  • No wired version, which I would have preferred to avoid messing around with batteries.

Conclusion:
I got it for £5 shipped on eBay so I'm not complaining as it's only a backup to my Wacom tablet, which is actually an awesome alternative to the mac mouse for editing because it can scroll in all directions which is really important for me in editing so I can move along the timeline or move around while zoomed in on an image in Photoshop. Unfortunately while I love the Wacom for editing in FCPX and Photoshop, I really don't like it for web browsing which is why I keep a spare mouse on the desk. If I had paid the full price for this mouse I would have returned it right away.

You can get one from this link if you want, but you shouldn't.

Best autofocus lens in the world? - Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8 T* ZA with the A7s - First look review

This is the Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8 T* ZA. According to several big photography blogs this is the best autofocus lens in the world, based on DXO Mark test results. I wasn't able to find this information directly on DXO Mark though.

I don't really care about super-amazing sharpness which is why you won't find any test chart photos on this blog. But I do want a decent autofocus lens for my A7s which is why I bought this. I wanted to share my first thoughts about it, and I will have a more full review at some point after I've used it for a while. 

The good:

  • Great image quality, although I find the bokeh kind of boring.
  • Decently compact and lightweight. I personally would have chosen a smaller lens if one was available. For example I love the utterly tiny size of the Voightlander 35mm f1.4, and I chose that rather than the f1.2 version which is sharper but larger, even though both were within my price range. Lets hope Sony will release a cheaper 50mm at some point.
  • Stills autofocus is really nice on it, although just like any other autofocus system it doesn't always know the exact area you want it to focus on. It mostly does a good job of knowing where to focus. I do prefer manual focus when I can see a really detailed image to focus on, such as with some optical viewfinders, but with the Sony I find myself zooming in to manually focus important shots which is slow and annoying. I don't find the focus peaking reliable enough at large apertures.
  • Video autofocus with the A7s is a mix of good and bad. It can follow me moving forward and back in the frame surprisingly well, and most of the time does a fairly smooth focus move when something moves on screen or when you point the camera in a new direction. I think I will get some good use out of it for interviews or other similar shots and for filming myself in reviews. It seems to want to follow subjects as much as it can, which is good for filming people most of the time. Once it's found focus it won't want to move away from that subject even if something else is closer, even if that second thing is the center of the shot. Luckily so far this doesn't seem to be an issue like the A7 which just wants to focus on the background most of the time.
    However, there are sometimes tiny stutters in the footage, more when shooting close ups, I don't think they will be visible in most normal shots, such as when shooting people. You cannot override the autofocus with the focus ring while filming, you only have the option to press the shutter to search for focus again, but that isn't pretty. I'll need to shoot more with it to be sure of the performance. The option for dual AF/MF exists but Sony's genius software team (note the sarcasm) managed to disable it in video mode. Their lack of competence never fails to amaze me.
    Note: So far all my autofocus tests were at f1.8.
  • The 50cm minimum focus is fine for this kind of lens but I would have loved to have a little more, especially now that I'm so spoiled by my helicoid adapters which let me focus all the way from infinity to super-close without messing about with extension tubes or macro filters, but these adapters won't work with Sony FE or E mount lenses.

Here's an example of just how good the A7s autofocus system is with the 28-70mm:

Test shot with the A7s. it's only 12 megapixel so we're not getting the crazy amount of detail as you would when combining this with the A7r. Processed in Lightroom. Click for larger. 

The bad:

  • Sony's software/firmware team are at it again. They screwed up big time on the camera firmware (read more in this link) and this is now showing itself in the focusing system too. You can tell the camera what area of the frame you want it to try to focus on, but when you press record in video mode the camera ignores this completely and uses all the autofocus points. This is acceptable most of the time but may be problematic for some shots.
  • The electronic focus ring (often referred to as "fly-by-wire", which is a term coming from electronic control systems for airplane pilots) is very smooth, but it has one incredibly huge flaw which has been mentioned by many people online, it moves the focus based on how fast you turn the ring, not the amount of rotation. I can't even tell you how much this annoys me. It's such an awful system. This focus ring works in a studio situation for moving your focus to exactly where you want it but it will be pretty useless and annoying for pretty much anything that requires faster focusing. It's very difficult to bring your focus to where you want without going back and forth or going very slowly, let alone follow a moving subject or do any sort of reliable focusing when shooting a video.
  • It works pretty well with the A7s but if you own the A7 you still may end up with focus on the background instead of the subject a lot of the time. I have not had time to fully test the two together, so please don't take this as gospel. I'm not sure about the A7r.

Sharpness-to-price ratio:

For 99% of my work, most lenses are sharp enough. Sharpness itself doesn't give me more enjoyment, it doesn't get me more paid work, it doesn't win me any awards, etc. My images are more limited by the 12MP of my A7s than the resolution of most lenses, and in any case my clients and viewers see my images fairly small on their computer screens.
In some cases I do find sharpness helpful when I need to crop into an image, or when shooting a difficult subject such as jewellery. Printing large is also better with sharp images, but I've only done that once in the past few years.

I'm not saying sharp lenses are bad or that I want a terrible lens, I'm just saying that I would want the option to have a lower budget option. The Sony is £850 retail or £520 on eBay UK, which is a big step up in cost from Canon's 50mm f1.8 which costs just £75 retail or £60 on eBay and still has pretty decent image quality. Sure, the Sony is better, but it's overkill for my uses. The FE mount system is still pretty new so hopefully we'll get some more large aperture lenses for these cameras soon.

I could start adapting lenses from Sony's A-mount system but the adapter is large and expensive, and A-mount lenses aren't very cheap or very compact. Sony do have a cheaper E-mount 50mm f1.8 which will work in crop mode as an 85mm lens, but that is too long and on the A7s the crop mode is way too low resolution for photography. With the A7 the crop modes are disgusting and utterly useless in video, and of course if I buy a lens for bokeh then I want it to use my entire sensor, so the cheaper E-mount 50mm just isn't suitable for me.

Another test shot with the A7S. Processed in Lightroom. Click for larger. 

My conclusions, for now..

Super sharp photos with fast autofocus? - Sure, it's certainly going to be useful.
Fairly reliable video autofocus with lots of bokeh on the already incredible A7s? - Yes please!

Ignoring the "Oh dear god why the balls did I pay so much for a 55mm f1.8 lens" feeling, it's actually very enjoyable to shoot on and very useful for both video and photography with the A7s. I will still use manual focus lenses, but I find it very useful to have at least one decent autofocus lens.

I got mine used for £460, or you can get them new for about £520 in the UK. (I don't recommend buying expensive stuff from Hong Kong, it's a hassle and doesn't end up much cheaper after import costs.) To be fair, this price is pretty awesome if you want a crazy-sharp large aperture autofocus lens, it's just not a great price-to-bokeh ratio for people like me who prefer bokeh over sharpness.

PRODUCT LINKS:

eBay UK link   -   eBay USA link

Amazon UK link   -   Amazon USA link

Here are some alternatives if you want something with more bokeh. All of them are in a similar price range as the Sony (£350-£750) but are manual focus only.

  • Voightlander 35mm f1.2 or f1.4
  • Mitakon 50mm f0.95
  • SLR Magic 50mm f0.95
  • Nikon AI-s 50mm f1.2 or f1.4
  • Samyang: 24mm f1.4, 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4, 135mm f2.0.
  • Helios 85mm f1.5 (crazy lovely bokeh)
  • Honorable mention: Helios 44-2 (58mm). It's only f2 but cheap as hell with lovely unique bokeh.