equipment

Using the Canon W-E1 wifi adapter

When Canon announced the W-E1 wifi adapter for the EOS7D MkII and the EOS5S and 5SR I was decidedly underwhelmed for two reasons;

  • The first was that it was not backwards compatible with the two EOS5D MkIII bodies that I had at the time.
  • The second was that it took away the ability to record to two cards when it was in use.

At the time I couldn’t see any advantage over any of the SD based transmitters from Eye-Fi or Toshiba amongst others. I didn’t buy one and I couldn’t see myself buying one either.

Fast forward ten months and my need to use remote cameras controlled by an iOS devices has grown and I only had one – the wonderfully simple Canon EOS6D. I didn’t want to use either of the EOS5D MkIV bodies as a remote and so I bought the W-E1 adapter to use in my EOS7D MkII.

I know that having used all sorts of wireless devices with all sorts of Canons probably made this dead easy for me but from taking the SD card out of the packaging I was up and running in under five minutes. Put simply, this device is really easy to use. It doesn’t do very much – it just allows you to browse the images on the camera’s Compact Flash (CF) card or to control the camera from your phone, tablet or computer. I got it working, clamped the camera in place, walked away and started taking pictures. Easy. I don’t think that it will be in the camera every time I use it – my love of having the files written to both memory cards easily trumps the need to be able to use the W-E1’s wireless functions most of the time but it will live in the bag with the 7D MkII at all times.

Shot using Canon EOS7D MkII camera remotely controlled via a smartphone app and then downloaded to the phone before being edited using the FSN Pro app and uploaded to Dropbox direct from the phone. © Neil Turner, May 2017

The thing about owning and using all of the various wireless options is that I find myself doing more and more work where getting images away quickly as well as shooting remotely. Versatility has gone from being a useful day-to-day option to being an absolute necessity. Spending yet another £40.00 inc VAT to give me more options hurts but, less than two hours after buying the accessory, it has pretty much paid for itself.

Setting up FTP from a Canon EOS 5D MkIV

A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of days helping to teach other photographers to send pictures direct from their Canon EOS 5D MkIVs. Over the last couple of years I have taught dozens of people how to do this and set up a huge number of cameras; mostly Canons ranging from the 5D MkII, MkIII and MkIV to the various EOS1D series models as well as various Nikon D4, D4S and D5 models. It’s not rocket science but it is something that takes a lot of practice before it becomes part of your toolkit.

I use this technology all of the time myself and it was suggested to me that I might like to try my hand at making an instructional video. I have a face for radio and so my two thumbs are making a welcome return to the media (last seen holding a power tool in the 1985 Argos catalogue). You might like to check out this old blog post about why I need to get pictures away quickly too.

Here’s a link to the 1080p version on Vimeo
There’s also a 720p option on YouTube.

I’m always happy to answer questions and even happier to get feedback. This is my first real attempt at a “how to” video so be gentle with me!

For those who are interested it was all filmed using a Canon EOS7D MkII and a Canon 24-70 f4L IS lens before being edited in Apple iMovie with some help from Apple Keynote.

AA batteries

Eneloop AA 1.2v batteries and Think Tank 8 AA battery holder.

Back in September 2008 when I returned to the world of freelancing I tried every way that I could think of to cut my ‘cost of doing business’. One of the central ideas was to reduce the number of disposable batteries that I bought and used. I had a number of speed lights and a whole bag full of triggers, transmitters and gadgets almost all of which took AA sized batteries and so I went out and bought a lot of NiCd (nickel cadmium) rechargeables along with three decent quality chargers.

Every-once-in-a-while I would buy a few single use batteries if I was on a job which justified doing so but I kept to my plan and used the NiCd ones where I could. Over time they lost their power and after about four years they were relegated to being used in kids toys and my wireless keyboard. I bought some new NiCds but the way that I used them meant that the dreaded memory effect killed them off more quickly than I would have liked.

For about six months I was lazy and kept buying Duracells (and other brands) but the box I kept the dead ones in filled up far too quickly and I went back to buying and using rechargeable batteries. By this time the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) revolution had pretty much taken place and I started to buy those. It took me a few months to realise that the old NiCd chargers weren’t the best option for the newer generation batteries and so I invested in a couple of new chargers a year or so ago. Slowly but surely and over the course of 18 months I went from NiCd to a mix of NiCd and single use batteries and then to NiMH. The big battery swap-over has now been completed.

The general consensus amongst my peers was that the Eneloop branded batteries (by Panasonic) were the best and so I built up a stock of thirty or so white Eneloops. Very happy with them, they work really well and hold their charge splendidly. One of my colleagues mentioned Eneloop Pro batteries and that upset me – I am always keen to get the best – and so I bought a few of those to see if they were worth the 60% price hike over the standard ones. Well, they are anecdotally about a third better in that they last that much longer under heavy use in Canon flash units. I cannot see any difference in the recycle times for the speed lights and so I had to ask myself whether it was worth paying more in order to have to change batteries a little less frequently. On balance, the answer is “no” but I now have eight of the Pro batteries and so I use them in amongst the set. The big downside of the Pros is that they have a shorter life. They can handle about 500 charge cycles before they lose their potency whereas the standard Eneloop can do around 2000 charges. That makes the Pro quite a bit more expensive than the ordinary one but there will be colleagues out there who are more than happy to pay that extra to get what they need – it’s a personal decision.

Carrying so many batteries around is heavy and cumbersome. I really like the Think Tank nylon case that holds eight AAs and I have a couple of those in my bag in the same pocket as the Think Tank 4x DSLR (Canon LP-E6) battery holder. I hate the idea of running out of power on a job and I have the two DSLR battery holder in my pocket most of the time too.

I saw a couple of reviews of high quality ‘smart chargers’ the other day and so I’ve now invested in new chargers too. That’s made quite a difference and I’m back to being up to date with the technology. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and my flash units are cycling faster. All good!

The third kit fetish

The Phottix 70cm collapsible beauty dish, adapted to fit an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head.

Everyone knows about the fetish for camera bags shared by most photographers and anyone who has read this blog will know about my own personal one for card readers but there is a third one that has been exercising me of late. I have mentioned it quite a few times over the years and a particular need to have a repeatable set up has led me down this particular equipment rabbit hole once again.

I’m talking about lighting. I’m talking specifically about light modifiers. Those umbrellas, snoots, dishes, soft boxes and hybrid gadgets that you place on the fronts of your flash units in order to control and improve the light.

On our first day in the studio at college back in 1984 we were banned from fixing anything to the lights. Instead we had to place screens and diffusers in the optimum position independently from the light source so that we learned that there was no such thing as the perfect soft box, swimming pool or snoot. By inching a diffuser backwards or forwards by a small margin you could change the quality of the light considerably and you could use all sorts of flags and reflectors to stop the stray light from going where you didn’t want or need it. That was in the studio and that was a very long time ago. As soon as the restrictions about not using ready-made light modifiers was lifted we all sprinted for the big fabric soft boxes and rigid swimming pools and most never looked back.

Unfortunately I was left with a feeling that every time I used a light modifier I am making some really important and potentially detrimental mistakes. I blame the knowledge that I gained about the subtlety of light modification that I acquired in term one, year one of my formal photographic education for the dissatisfaction that I feel with every convenient and portable accessory that I own – and I own a lot of them. A brief headcount yesterday produced the following:

  • Four translucent or shoot through umbrellas
  • Two convertible umbrellas
  • Three reflective or bounce off umbrellas
  • One umbrella box
  • Two rigid beauty dishes
  • One folding beauty dish
  • Two square soft boxes
  • Two rectangular soft boxes
  • Three hexagonal soft boxes
  • Two strip soft boxes
  • Seven reflectors
  • One snoot
  • Three sets of grids
  • Two sets of barn doors
  • Nine reflectors

I have probably forgotten about some others but you get the idea; too many options, no clear direction and no way to always ensure that I have the right one with me at all times. Therefore the compromise is almost always to bring the two or three most versatile with me and have another three or four in the car before making the best of what I have.

This, surely, begs the question about which is my favourite. The answer is as simple as it is shocking. None of the above. My favourite way to work is often to use lights in a way that doesn’t give the signature look of a soft box or an umbrella. I like to bounce. Walls, ceilings, walls and ceilings or any one of a dozen other types of surface will almost always get my vote if I’m shooting a one-off creative image. I have written about my love of large pale surfaces and of using pretty much anything around as a bounce surface and it has become so important to me that creating a ‘look’ has become something I’ve had to work at. I know that something like 33% of photographers rock up and set up their lights complete with their favourite modifier and get on with the pictures and that another 33% turn up and shoot with available light. Many of the rest base their shooting options on what they find and choose between flash with their main modifiers or no flash at all. I like to think that I’m in a small group who will look around for ‘bounceable’ surfaces and go down that route as a matter of preference.

From my list of available light modifiers you can see that I never give up on my quest for ‘the one’ – the light modifier that will make sense of them all. I bought a new one this week and I’m off to use it today. Let’s hope that it both surprises and delights me and that the surprise and delight lead to being able to ignore some of those 1984 college year one, term one lessons

Canon’s flash evolution

When I switched to Canon cameras from Nikon in 1995 the one thing that I missed from my old F4S cameras and my old SB25 flash units was the accuracy and reliability of the Nikon TTL flash. Canon, with all of their promises for the EOS1N and Speedlite 540EZ combination just couldn’t quite match what I had left behind. I have no idea how Nikon managed to get their off-the-film-plane metering to be so good but it was very good indeed.

Coincidentally, it was about this time that I started to use high quality battery powered lights. The Lumedynes that I took delivery of in 1996 changed my professional life and TTL flash became something that I used when I absolutely had to.

Fast forward to 1998 and the arrival of the first decent digital cameras we had (the Kodak DCS520/Canon D2000) and flash took a big backward step. There was no ‘film plane’ for the cameras to meter from and we had to dig out old Vivitar and Metz flash units with old fashioned auto settings just to get somewhere near where we needed to be with our exposures. Canon introduced the 380EX flash which helped but it was basic and relatively low powered with no swivel head and working with them wasn’t a patch on shooting with the pre-digital Canons, let alone the film based Nikons.

Time passed and with every new camera and every new flash unit things got a tiny bit better but I have never felt as comfortable or as confident with TTL flash on digital Canons as I did with film Nikons. There were work-arounds – I used flash exposure compensation at the same time as reviewing the LCD screen and using some pretty good guesswork which, when used with RAW files, meant that we were always able to do the job but it was never without effort in the way that you used to be able to shoot flash with the far less forgiving transparency film.

That was until now. Strike up the band. Hang out the bunting. Canon have, in my opinion, finally done it. They have a camera and flash combination that handles TTL as well as anything that I’ve ever used professionally. A few weeks and a few jobs with the new Speedlite 600EX II RT on my EOS5D MkIV cameras have convinced me that twenty plus years of being unsure with on-camera flash are over. Congratulations to everyone at Canon involved in this evolutionary process – well done.

Footnote: I have owned and used 220EX, 380EX, 420EX, 430 EX II, 430 EX III RT, 540EZ, 550EX, 580EX II, 600 EX RT Speedlites before arriving at the 600 EX II RT. I’ve had the ST-E2 and ST-E3 RT transmitters and any number of external flash packs and light modifiers. The joys of being a photographer – no wonder so many of colleagues swear by ambient light.

Manfrotto umbrella bracket challenge

Photo: Neil Turner

The old Lite-tite on the left and the Snap Tilthead on the right both with Canon 600EX II-RT Speedlites.

When, like me, you have been using a single product successfully for over twenty years it is normally out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity that you have to try out the next “new idea” when you see it. That happened to me a few weeks ago. Having owned and used several of the venerable Manfrotto 029 Lite-tite brackets for so many years I thought that I’d give their new Snap Tilthead with hotshoe a go. For my purposes they will do pretty much the same job: hold a Canon Speedlite flash on a stand with a folding umbrella on those jobs where using other lights isn’t so much of an option. I know that there are dozens of other brands out there but I’m a sucker for certain makes – ones that have served me very well for such a long time.

The more that I have used the new bracket, the more that I have realised that it is very different. Before you take it out of the box you realise that there’s no lever sticking out, no large plastic knob to tighten it onto the stand and that it has a coldshoe built-in. They both have a hole through them to slot an umbrella or other light modifier. In order to compare the two I’m going to start with that built-in shoe.

One of the major gripes with the old Lite-tite is that you had to but a separate shoe that attached using the brass post that was supplied. When I bought my first one I was using Metz flashes which didn’t attach with a shoe and therefore it was fine. From there I moved to using them with Lumedyne flash heads which, again, didn’t attach via a shoe. It was only when I started to work with speedlights that I really noticed. The idea of a shoe attaching via a brass thread and relying on being tightened to stop it spinning has annoyed me for years and the built-in shoe that doesn’t spin on the new bracket appeals to me – and so far, so good. It is easy to use and very secure so that’s a thumbs-up. The metal-to-metal contact is less exciting but it hasn’t caused any issues… yet. A point to the new bracket.

Moving down there is the umbrella slot. On the old bracket this is angled so that the flash points more accurately into the centre of the umbrella (if you attach everything the right way around). On the new one it appears to be straight which means that it never helps with the angling of the flash and so you need to use the dip on the speedlight (if it has one) to better target the light into the modifier. Of course this means that you can’t get it wrong but, for me, this is a point to the original.

Altering the tilt has always been a question of loosening the substantial handle and making sure that the whole thing doesn’t tip (easily done with a big flash and a big umbrella). The build quality of the Lite-tite has meant that they have lasted for a long time – even if you tighten the handle a lot. There is a small round knob on the new one and there is some sort of tensioning mechanism that stops the whole thing tipping. It doesn’t feel as if you could over-tighten this one and the only issue that I have is that it may not have the longevity of its older sibling. A tentative point to the newcomer.

The next point is where it attaches to the stand. There is a simple metal clip that tightens down onto the top of the stand on the new one which initially feels like a big improvement over the substantial threaded knob on the old one. That knob could always be loosened and used as a twist for the light which isn’t really that easy to do with the new one so, once again, you have to play off a bit of functionality against slimline design. The point here just goes to the added functionality of the older model.

Two points each so far. The slimline design of the newer model is very welcome but Manfrotto have, yet again, added a pointless large red logo onto one of their products to annoy me. The victory by the tiniest of margins goes to the new bracket because there’s no way that the flash can twist, because the mechanism that stops it tipping so easily is a welcome plus and because it is smaller and slimmer. That having been said the old one is tougher, better built and far more versatile if you use accessories that don’t use a shoe. I’ve got both now so let’s see if my opinion changes after the now obligatory 32 months.

Photo: Neil Turner

Not a bad Christmas present…

EOS5D Mark IV Update

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A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about the wifi potential of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and I have been using three of its functions pretty heavily on jobs over the intervening period. It wasn’t hard to learn all about the system having used a number of different wireless systems over the last three or four years and my first impressions were very favourable. There are definitely one or two changes that I’d like to see Canon make (preferably in a firmware update) but the system has been remarkably stable and reliable. It’s wireless which means that there will be glitches but I’d stick my neck out here and say that this is the best wifi that I’ve used given that 1) it is built-in and 2) doesn’t require any extra gadgets or adapters.

Today is Armistice Day – the anniversary of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when the guns finally fell silent at the end of the Great War in 1918. I had no jobs on and so I took myself down to the War Memorial in the centre of the town where I was born to pay my respects and to give the wireless on the Mark IV a real world test that I could actually share with you. I have a server set up at my house ready to receive images transmitted via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) – which is the preferred image transmission system of most newspapers and agencies. For the purposes of this test I was sending to myself but it could equally have been to any third party with an FTP set up. I decided to use my Apple iPhone 7 with the Personal Hotspot function enabled as my network and I timed how long it took to set up each camera to transmit using the phone back to my server. The first camera (thanks largely to the Mark IV touchscreen) took just under two minutes and the second camera about ten seconds less.

This is where I would like Canon to make a firmware change: on the EOS1DX and EOS1DX Mark II you can set up one camera, save the settings to a memory card and load them into other cameras. There is no facility (yet?) on the 5D series cameras to do this. I’m sure that it is to help distinguish between the top-of-the-range 1 series and the much cheaper 5 series but I’m pretty sure that nobody will make a purchasing decision based on this. And whilst we are at it, only being able to store three sets of settings is a bit mean. The original 1DX had five, as do the 5D Mark III, 5DR, 5DRS and 7D Mark II when used with the WFT-E7 transmitter whilst the 1DX Mark II has twenty – as do various Nikon cameras.

This was never going to be a full-on coverage of this low-key event. I wasn’t on commission and I didn’t want to be intrusive and so I just took a few pictures with two cameras and two lenses and uploaded eight as I shot and selected them from the back of the camera. I have the 5D Mark IVs set up to write RAW files to the CF card in slot one and medium sized JPEG files to the SD card in slot two. I selected from the SD card and transmitted the pictures as I went and each picture went in about ten seconds. I had Photo Mechanic running on the server and it added a basic pre-prepared caption to the files before saving them to another folder which in turn synched them to Dropbox. I could have set the system up to do any one of a thousand tasks – ranging from renaming files to distribution which are amongst the options that I use a lot of the time on paid jobs.

I used the Transmit app on the phone to check that the images had arrived and could then have shared them with anyone via FTP or via a Dropbox link generated in the iPhone’s Dropbox app but this was just a trial. Having the images on Dropbox also means that I can grab them onto the phone to use for social media but on this occasion I swapped the wifi function to send one picture to my phone from the camera. It takes less than a minute to swap to this function and, having rated the picture I wanted as a one star, I quickly added the selected image to the phone using Canon’s own Camera Connect app. A lot of people use Shuttersnitch to do this and I am trying my best to learn how to best use that app but for now I use the Canon app to transfer the file and Photogene 4 to edit and caption it. All done in under two minutes and uploaded to Twitter in another thirty seconds. Easy.

The annoying part of this process using the iPhone (or iPad) is Apple’s insistance on renaming files with an “img_” prefix when the cameras are set up to use a personalised prefix. Please Apple, if you see this, give us the option to NOT rename files.

One of these days I am going to make a short video about how to set up one of these cameras quickly and another about how the iPhone workflow works for me. For now I am very happy with this  improved set-up and would love Canon to make the firmware changes that I suggested above.

Just a couple of other points that I’d like to add:

  • The Mark IV appears to require less sharpening than the Mark III. No idea why yet but I seem to be on about 60% of the amount and getting great results.
  • The Anti-flicker on the Mark IV is superb. I will blog about this one day soon when I have some samples that I’m allowed to share on here. It made me look again at the anti-flicker on my 7D Mark II which is also pretty good.
  • The new button on the back of the camera which I’ve customised to allow me to adjust metering patterns on the fly is a really welcome addition. They have used a different switch to the one on the 7D Mark II which does much the same job and I marginally prefer the one on the 5D Mark IV.
  • The touchscreen is so much better than I had expected and I have become so accustomed to it that using a Mark III the other day felt old-fashioned.
  • It’s a shame that there’s still no lock on the diopter correction wheel though.

So all-in-all I am delighted with the Mark IVs. I’d be grateful if Canon could just make those small tweaks that I have mentioned above and I’d be really grateful if they could make the latest version of their EOS Utility software compatible with Mac OSX Sierra too.