Thursday, May 22, 2008

Answers To Questions From Readers, May 2008

I've been away from the blog for a while. I wanted to answer a couple of comments,and unfortunately,I'm not all that handy with tracking down where comments have been left,so I'll try and address a few things that I've been asked about. In answer to the first question a reader asked me, I will simply say I'd favor the Nikon D40 over a good,clean-condition used Fuji S2 Pro. In terms of weight,compactness,and battery performance, the D40 blows away the S2 Pro. Just last week,I took the S2 Pro out,put in a fresh set of lithiums, and four freshly-charged 2500 milliampere hour AA batteries and shot the S2 Pro for part of a day. The battery situation of the S2 Pro is a real weakness of the camera,and a pain in the ass under most conditions. The batteries run out on the S2 in some odd ways,and you need good lithiums in order to keep your AA's endurance up enough to even shoot a portrait session. With a pair of 123A lithium batteries installed in the S2, I can get 350 to 400 shots from a set of four AA batteries, but with the lithiums removed, the camera can be run on the four AA batteries for only 35-60 RAW frames before the AA's are totally exhausted. The S2 Pro is a finicky camera,power-wise,and aftermarket battery grips are a bit tricky to find for the S2 Pro,although most "pro" shooters did modify a grip to their S2 Pros,or bought China-manufactured ones from eBay,and ran their cameras on multiple AA's which added a lot of weight,and size, to the S2 body.

The Nikon D40 on the other hand, has an incredible battery that lasts and lasts and stays charged when not in use,and which can power the camera for 1,000 frames or more, easily,over days and days of use. The D40 is smaller,lighter,and newer than the S2 Pro. I prefer the S2 Pro's dual-button control ethos and lovely color palette, but honestly, the D40 is the camera I would choose to replace the S2 Pro if I wanted a small,compact 6MP d-slr. The one weakness the D40 has is its inability to give autofocus unless the lens on the camera is an AF-S lens. For some people, the D40's inability to focus with screwdriver focus Nikkors and 3rd party lenses is a deal-breaker. After shooting the S2 Pro very recently, I would honestly say that I would rather have the Nikon D40 at $499 than a used S2 Pro,regardless of price. The D40 writes smaller raw files,is smaller and lighter,has a better pop-up flash,and has that wonderful 1/500 top flash speed,and in bright sunlight,the D40 is the better flash camera. While the S2 Pro was groundbreaking in its day, the D40's overall image quality is better,and the file size advantage of the D40's raw files is the main selling point. The S2's DR is no better than the D40's,and the D40 is a very fun little camera,and feels better made than the S2,and is actually easier to grip. My vote goes to the D40 over the Fuji S2 Pro as a generalist camera. For people work,the Fuji still delivers nice images, but with a lot more hoops than the D40 brings with it.

The second article which has received a couple comments is from August,2006 and is at

The poster who uses multi-speedlight setups for lighting locations and interiors might have missed my emphasis on lighting in a studio concept. In studio lighting,of either people or products, modeling lights are critical to success. Lighting locations using multiple,small,easily concealed speedlights makes perfect sense. Interiors are fairly predictable,and multiple SMALL lights,all battery-operated are great for lighting up real estate interiors and creating results which the poster wrote were "not Architectural Digest quality" but which were far better than what hacks get when they shoot with one,single flash,on-camera. My point really is that speedlights like the Nikon SB-800 cost almost four hundred dollars,but give you a far less flash output than 100 watt-seconds fired thru any Speedotron head,of any model,in either Brown or Black Line. AND, the Speedo heads will have modeling lights,which will allow better placement of the lights than when one is winging it with speedlights set into umbrellas. As such, speedlight flashes offer less value for studio lighting than even the cheesiest monolights,let alone Speedotron or Alien Bee or Dyna Lite or White Lightning or any other modeling light-equipped studio flash. Studios are not locations or interiors,and trying to achieve "studio lighting" results using speedlights is best left to very experienced shooters.

One point that might not be clear: I believe learning to use lights requires modeling lights for the best learning. Beginners often shoot like crap without modeling lights,and many lighting beginners make absolutely horrible mistakes when using speedlights in an effort to light things. Beginners benefit the MOST from modeling lights. Experienced shooters can do pretty well without modeling lights,but for the less-experienced, trying to effectively position even one,let alone three flash units,is dicey. Or worse than dicey. I personally do not see the need for automatic exposure calculation of multi-speedlight flash setups as being a necessary feature in a pro-level d-slr,and I think that I would rather determine how much output each flash ought to have....I cannot for the life of me figure out how a camera will be able to make decisions on key,fill,separation,and background flash power levels in a four-light setup. Using a four-outlet power pack with modeling lights,a beginner can visually place and balance the lights to his own eye's satisfaction,using the modeling lights which bring a what-you-see-is-what-you-get benefit when exactly placing one's lights under STUDIO lighting conditions.

As to flash units....monolights are nice,but seem kind of top-heavy when on light stands compared with Speedotron M11 or 102 or 103 light heads. I own only ONE monolight,a JTL 300 watt-second model,and while it's "okay", it's not my favorite type of flash unit.To be fair, the JTL is a new economy-oriented monolight,and is NOT a class-leading product,and my experience with monolights is rather limited. I do think however that the inexpensive, roughly GN 100-150 (100 to 200 watt-second models) monolight flashes of the type that are now popping up all over are a wonderful development, but I've recently had a major change in the way I think about electronic flash. I know Alien Bees are popular beyond all belief. I know a lot of people like the "Bees". But my preference is still for box and cable systems in the 400,600,and 800 watt-second range,using lightweight heads. Still, I see a lot of small monolights that look very,very useful and some of them appear to be excellent values.

A flash meter is a wonderful tool,and I think almost anybody could learn a lot by using the meter to check the ambient to flash amounts,and to se exactly WHAT f/stop outputs the main and fill and hairlight are supplying. One of the reasons I prefer box and cable systems is the repeatability of the ratio of light outputs between three and four light units, and in the case of the brand I am used to, I feel that Speedotron's smaller power supplies like the D402 Brown Line are very,very close to ideal for what I'm using now,which is a Canon EOS 5D at around f/5.6 to f/7.1 with flash. I often make use of an assymetrical power distribution and a 3-or 4-light setup,and for that, splitting 400 or even 200 watt seconds through two channels with assymetrical distribution is exactly the way I want to work,so the two-channel packs work quite well for me,and offer pretty predictable output. The D402 is available brand new from for $361.95,with very fair shipping. Helix Camera and Speedotron are located in the same building in Chicago,Illinois.

1 comment:

Tesseract said...

Some good points, you should really blog more often, you got some good advice going on here.