Recently I was shooting photos for a model who wanted several different looks for her portfolio. The quickest way to get so many different location looks was to actually shoot in the studio. Rather than driving all over the city all I had to do was pop open a few of my Lastolite Urban Collapsible Backgrounds. This isn’t a review of these backgrounds, it’s just to show you some additional photos of actually using them and the results you can get. The backgrounds that I have used here are: Derelict Wall, Wooden Fence, Shutter Door, Tarnished Metal.
Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category
Years ago, many years ago, I used canvas and muslin backgrounds in my studio and also when shooting on location in offices and homes. A huge advantage with them is their portability, their main drawback are the folds and wrinkles in the material that is nearly impossible to get rid of. Well, physically it is impossible to get of them, the only way to do it, is by shooting with an shallow depth of field like f2.8 – 4 and throwing it out of focus. However, my biggest complaint with them though, is that they scream out dated studio photography. I would much rather use white or thunder grey seamless paper or preferably shoot at an outdoor location.
Fast forward to this week, when I received three of the new Lastolite Urban Backgrounds. They are the next best thing to shooting at an outdoor location but they also offer the versatility of shooting in the studio and being able to rapidly change the backgrounds. Seeing these in person is one thing and then seeing them in photos is quite the other – they are amazing! So far, I have used them for 2 photos and in both the models and MUA have been totally amazed and impressed how the pictures looked. “They look so realistic and three dimensional.” The backgrounds are reversible, there is a different design on each side, they are easy to set up and wrinkles are non existent. When I first started to use them I hung them up from a Manfrotto U-Hook, but I quickly realized that wasn’t necessary as they can stand alone leaning up against the wall. They are fold and open up just like the reflectors and come with their own circular carrying case. They take up very little storage space are easy to carry around. I have to say that I am really impressed with these backgrounds!!!!
In the current issue – Feb/Mar of Photo Life magazine this ad for Sigma F1.4 lenses is running. It’s my photo that is in the ad, and as a result of that I’m now receiving messages and emails from people wanting to know which one of the three lenses I would recommend. They are all great lenses and depending on your shooting style that would probably influence the lens that I would recommend for you. I took this photo with the Sigma 85mm F1.4 which is probably my favourite of the 1.4 lenses, my next preference would be the 50mm and then the 35mm. But these choices are for my personal style of shooting, if you like the way I shoot then go for the lenses in that order. If your shooting style is different then maybe the 35mm or 50mm might be best for you.
As a result of the ad, I am also getting lots requests from people asking who the model is – her name is Gina. And this was one of the photos from an outdoor location photo shoot workshop in Ottawa last September.
This is the third of the new Sigma “Global Vision” lenses that I have used and tested in the past year. The other two were the 35mm F1.4 DG ART (review here) and the 120-300 F2.8 DG SPORTS lens which I took on my trip to Namibia, Africa in September. To say that these lenses are unbelievably good, would be a huge understatement. And now after testing the 24-105mm, I truly impressed with the quality of the >Sigma Global Vision Lenses.
In testing the Sigma 24-105mm lens, I used it on both a full-frame Canon 5D MKIII and Canon 7D APS-C sensor cameras. The 7D with the APS-C sensor which has crop factor of 1.6x effectively makes this lens the equivalent of a FF 38.4mm to 168mm.
I do own the Canon 24-105mm F4L lens, the zoom range makes it a very versatile and useful all purpose or walk around lens. However I was disappointed with it’s performance from the start. It is not as sharp as other Canon L-series lenses, the distortion at 24mm is huge, the AF sometimes “searches”, it doesn’t lock in right away – this could be a result of the lens being an F4 and I am use to shooting with fast lenses with apertures of F2.8 and faster. Aperture really does make a big difference in the speed and accuracy of focusing as does the auto-focus motor and the camera itself.
The criteria that I use in evaluating any lens is based on the following factors. Yours might be similar, but maybe in a different order.
- Distortion, Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting, if these can be easily corrected in post-processing it’s not really an issue.
- Construction, Lens Design and Ergonomics.
In testing the Sigma 24-105mm I was fortunate enough to be able to use it for several weeks, before having to return it to Sigma Canada. That gave me the opportunity to use it on many of my photo shoots. In fact, after reviewing the results from the first test shoot with it, I was confident enough in the image quality to use it on all of my commercial shoots.
For me the most important factor to consider is the lens’ performance, is the picture quality high enough to meet the demands of the publishing industry. What I found with the Sigma 24-105mm is that it is an extremely sharp lens and definitely far surpasses the high standards for publishing. On the Canon 5D MKIII the sharpness is excellent in center, and while corner sharpness was not quite as sharp, it was still very good. When comparing it against the Canon 24-105mm f4L, the Sigma outperforms it in every aspect. Overall it is sharper at every focal length and aperture setting, including corner sharpness and wide open at F4.
On both the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 7D, I found that the focusing was very quick, accurate and is unbelievably quiet. And although I didn’t use it very often, you can also use manual focus at any time to over ride the auto focus. The lens also has a very effective four-stop image stabilization, as opposed to three-stops in the older technology of Canon’s.
A design feature that I think is a very good idea was placing the zoom ring, which is very large at the front of the lens as opposed to the Canon 24-105mm which is quite small and located closer to the camera body and it’s focusing ring is towards the front of the lens. I definitely prefer using Sigma’s configuration, it is better balanced making it easier to hold the camera/lens and also easier to operate. It has an 82mm front filter compared to 77mm on the Canon, although after using for a day I didn’t notice any difference physically between the two. Adjusting the focus and zoom does not change the length of the lens, as well the front element does not move or rotate, so using a filter holder or polarizing filter isn’t any problem. The minimum focusing distance is 45 cm (17.7″) I had to look that up, Canon and Nikon’s 24-120mm is similar.
The combination of rugged construction and the high quality of materials give the overall build of the lens is a and high precision. The lens mount is made from brass and when it is attached it to the camera goes on smoothly and fits tightly. The lens does not have a rubber weatherstripping seal, so don’t stand in the poring rain with your camera and this lens. If fact most people use a raincoat for their cameras/lenses since most cameras are not weather resistant either. A new accessory for the Global Vision Lenses is the Sigma USB dock which allows you to calibrate the lens and update the lens’ firmware.
There are many technical reviews, charts and scores about this lens on the internet, however I find that reading them is like reading an an instruction manual. I don’t read instructional manuals from cover to cover very often. What I’ve heard about these other reviews, is that basically they have come up with the same results that I have discovered by using this lens in my day to day work. And that is, Sigma has once again designed and manufactured another lens which is producing outstanding results. A lot of thought has gone into designing this new series of Sigma lenses. I have been using the EX series of lenses for the past 2 -1/2 years and my opinion of them is that they very good, now with the new series of Global Vision lenses, all I can say about them is they are incredible and an excellent value.
I had almost completely given up using the Canon 24-105mm and had forgotten how useful that zoom range was. Now given the superior image quality from the Sigma 24-105mm I am hooked on that zoom range again. After using the Sigma 24-105mm F4 I will buying one and will be selling my Canon lens, although I’m probably shooting myself in the foot by writing this review.
Today, Manfrotto Canada officially launched the Manfrotto Pro Photographers and Videographers Program. I am pleased to be one of the top professional photographers in Canada who have been chosen to be part of this program. It was over 30 years when I bought my first “real” tripod, a Manfrotto #055, before that I had a flimsy poor excuse for a tripod. Over the years I bought other Manfrotto tripods, the #190 and the HUGE/HEAVY #075 that I used for a Pentax 6×7 medium format camera. Today the tripod that I use is Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 Carbon Fibre Tripod which is so much lighter!!! And if you have seen any of the behind-the-scene photos taken in my studio, you know that it is jam-packed full of Manfrotto light stands, poles, clamps, arms and brackets. I’m looking forward to testing and reviewing more Manfrotto equipment in the future, I’ll keep you updated.
In fact it’s been a LONG time since I have posted anything here. I have been extremely busy with work – photo shoots, workshops and editing/processing photos. So unfortunately I haven’t had a spare minute to post anything here. I do however do post many of my pictures on my Facebook Page and Garry Black Photography Facebook Page, please add me or “Like” my page if you haven’t already.
Here are two images from recent shoots, one in Ottawa and the other in Namibia, Africa. Somehow they seem rather similar to me.
For the Africa trip I used the new SIGMA Sport 120-300 mm F2.8 DG HSM OS lens. I used it with a Canon 7D which has a 1.6x cropped sensor, which made the lens effectively a 192-480 mm which was incredible. I had bought the 7D especially for this trip and to use with this lens. Once I have the opportunity to process some more of the images from this trip (and some time) I will post more images taken with the lens and a review of it. But I can tell you right now – I loved using this lens!
For the past several weeks I’ve have been using and testing Sigma’s new 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens and every time I mention it or post one of the photos, everyone asks “what do you think of it?” The short answer is…..Stellar results and performance!
So what makes this lens so great?
This is one of the newly designed lenses from Sigma’s new Art line, one of the three new lines that also includes Contemporary and Sports categories. When I first saw this lens several months ago at a trade show I was quite impressed with the solid feel and mechanical quality/construction. As soon as you see and start handling it you realize the quality of this lens, it has a feel to it of being a superior professional lens – which it is. There are many well thought out and designed features, one which I really thought was very well done is the large and well placed manual focusing ring, which is a full-time manual override. Since the depth of field at F1.4 (as it is with any F1.4 lens) is only a very thin plane of focus, I sometimes find myself fine tuning the focus manually. I’m old school and this approach works for me. That being said, the majority of the time I use the auto focus and with this lens I found it to be quick, accurate and there it almost completely silent. Just take care where you place your focus point(s), as you would with any F1.4 lens. The minimum focusing distance is about 12 inches, which allows you to get in really close to your subject, an added bonus.
So what about image quality? The sharpness and colours are amazing. The resolution/sharpness wide open is excellent, and shooting at F1.4 – F2 is one of the main reasons why you are buying this lens. The in-focus details are razor-sharp and the bokeh, background blur, is very soft and diffused. For low light photography this lens is 2 stops faster compared to my 24-70 F2.8 and with my Canon 5D MKIII it focuses incredibly quickly and accurately. Plus there is the additional advantage of the 1.4 aperture for bokeh, which is way better bokeh than f2.8. There is practically no chromatic aberration, fringing and distortion. On a cropped sensor camera it would be a fantastic normal field of view lens, as it would be approximately the equivalent of a 50mm lens. Before getting this lens, I already had the Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM a lens that truly impresses me with it’s image quality. The new Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM actually surpasses the build and image quality of the 85mm.
Below are some of the photos that I have taken using a Canon 5D MKIII and the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens.
Given the high optical quality and the excellent build of this lens, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it. The lens sells for a very reasonable price, which is also substantially less than the camera manufacturers’ equivalents. It also comes with a 7 year warranty from Sigma Canada. Bottom line – I would definitely recommend this lens, it is probably the highest quality lens that I have ever shot with!
My go to lens is the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, this lens is incredible! When I first got it, I did a serious comparison test with the Canon EF 70-200 F2.8L IS USM lens that I owned at that time….which I have since sold. Which should tell you which lens I thought was better.
Canon 5D MKIII – Sigma 70-200 F2.8 EX
(Click to see large version)
Here is a 100% close up of Natasha’s eye from the photo below
On Monday I received the newly redesigned Sigma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM Lens , it is one of Sigma’s new ART Series lenses part of the Contemporary line of lenses. It was last November when I first saw this lens at the Henry’s Exposure Show, but I didn’t have an opportunity to take any photos with it at that time other than of the trade show area. What I did notice and was extremely impressed with, is the design and the high quality of construction of the lens.
Yesterday I took a few test photos around the house, we had a huge snowstorm in Ottawa, so I stayed inside. So far I’m impressed! The auto focus is quick and very smooth and there is also a full-time manual focus override using the large and easy the reach focusing ring. Over the next couple of weeks I will try to put this lens through various shooting situations and will write a review giving you my honest and objective thoughts about this lens. Here are a few of the images from yesterday.
Our poinsettia is still flowering, 3 months after Christmas!
This is one of the images from last weekend’s Studio Portrait Photography Workshop. When I posted it on my Facebook page I assumed that all of the comments would be about the lighting, colour, composition and oh yes, probably a few about Taryn, our model for the photo shoot.
Well, it did receive all of those comments, but there were a couple of other comments that I didn’t expect. Those were about how crisp the image is. Until somebody mentions it, lens quality isn’t something that I normally think about when I am shooting, I do know that the quality of the lenses I use are excellent and that they are tack sharp. And since I earn my income as a photographer – making and creating pictures for magazines and commercial clients, lens and image quality is something that I must and do have.
If you follow my posts you know that my favourite lens by far is the SIGMA APO 70-200 F2.8 EX DG HSM, followed closely by the SIGMA 24-70MM F2.8 IF EX DG HSM. I probably use these two lenses for over 90% of my work. The image quality of these lenses is superb! Now there are all sorts of equipment reviews and tests out there, comparing “This thing is better than that thing”…..well, I really am not a huge fan of these types of reviews. They do serve a purpose and are a good starting point in helping you decide what you should consider in purchasing, but what I think is much more useful are “Real World Tests”. Actually using the equipment or getting that advice from someone who will give you a subjective evaluation.
Well, what I can tell you is that I have been using the 4 Sigma lenses listed below for over a year now….and that they are indispensable to my work. In some of my future posts I will give you some Real World examples showing how and when I use these lenses.
SIGMA APO 70-200MM F2.8 EX DG HSM
SIGMA 24-70MM F2.8 IF EX DG HSM
SIGMA 120-400MM F4.5-5.6 APO DG HSM
SIGMA 85MM F1.4 EX DG HSM