Wednesday, October 28, 2009

REVIEW: Canon G11 – Finally near DSLR quality in a point and shoot package for under $500

 
The LCD image above is NOT simulated – it’s a real capture from my G11 pasted onto this exposure (not possible with one exposure)

For a very long time I have searched for a reasonably priced (meaning hundreds, not thousands) point and shoot camera that could be good enough for me to leave my big DSLR setup at home.  When I am out with the wife and kids for a family night out or entertaining out-of-town guests, I always get the evil eye when I toss the backpack in the car so an alternative solution was definitely in order!

While I was very happy with the Canon G9 at Disneyland, my conclusion was that it was crap at anything greater than ISO 100 (200 max). The G10 was even worse because it had more megapixels but the same small sensor. Sure it was fine in bright daylight, but once the light goes dim so did the results, leading me to think that P&S should really be referred to as POS.

I had really hoped that the Sigma DP1 or DP2 would get the job done, but they failed to live up to the specs which indicated they would be fantastic. Sure I’ve seen a few great shots from them here and there, but a hands on test revealed that the usability wasn’t there so it wasn’t the camera for me (or more importantly – my wife). The Panasonic DMC-LX3 was highly regarded but seemed no better than the G9 to me. Its replacement the Panasonic DMC-GF1 is indeed a strong competitor but cost $900, and truth be told it is just a smaller DSLR since you lens purchases are extra.

Introducing My Favorite Point and Shoot Camera

Canon G11 f/3.5 1/125 sec @ ISO 800 in Av Mode

I am pleased to announce that I've found the perfect Point and Shoot camera for me because it retains a solid performance from ISO 80 to ISO 1600, and it has all the features I want. It is also very well priced for what you get. I am very disappointed that the build quality of the G11 and feel it is inferior to its predecessors, but it is better than the average point and shoot build quality.

I’m totally comfortable with the size of the G11, but I realize for some it still isn’t really considered to be “pocketable”. For those looking for a more sleek and compact model but near identical image performance, Canon has the nice s90 waiting for you (the camera my wife wishes I would have bought instead). However, I wanted the extra physical (as opposed to digital) controls that the G11 offers and in practice I am not disappointed with my decision.

Let’s Start With Some Images

f/4.5 1/100 sec @ ISO 800 with negative exposure compensation in Av Mode

I’ve been super busy at my day job lately (working until 2 – 4:00 AM most days), so I’ve had little time to play with my new toy. However, I managed to find a couple short 10 minute breaks to snap off some shots. The results had me giggling like a school girl with joy because I love the quality and features of this camera. This thing is FUN and a true joy to use, and even advanced concepts (for most point and shoot users) like dialing in some negative exposure compensation to keep the purple flowers in the image above from being overblown is a piece of cake.

f/4.5 1/100 sec @ ISO 800 in Av Mode

The other cool thing is that getting a great isolated subject with a sweet bokeh is totally possible as seen in the picture of the ugly tree branch above. Not bad for ISO 800, huh?

A word about the images in this article

f/3.5 1/160 sec @ ISO 320 in Av Mode

Many of the images you see inline in this blog are what I call Enhanced where I’ve taken JPEG or RAW originals and performed my standard imaging workflow on them. I’ve done my own crop, alignment, noise reduction using Dfine (some, not all), curves, lab color, Color Efex skylight and/or foliage filters, and sharpening with Sharpener Pro. With one exception, there’s no other processing done to these shots so ugly leaves, distractions, etc… haven’t been removed or addressed. This is my typical workflow for blog images (excluding fashion where I invest much more time), so that is why these images are inline instead of their unprocessed versions.

With that said, I don’t want anyone feeling like I’m using smoke and mirrors and that the real images suck – they don’t. In fact they are so good, I’ve not only included the in-camera JPEG’s on my personal web site, but I’ve even included JPEG’s created with no processing from the RAW images (for the ones I shot dual format). Be sure to read the gallery and image captions at http://ronmart.smugmug.com/blog/G11 to learn more about the images (like the fact that they are nearly all hand-held shots).

f/4 1/1250 @ ISO 80 in Full Auto – © Moonhee Kim

I shot some photos in auto everything (aka full auto) and others in RAW+JPEG. The photos in those galleries are straight out of camera with zero processing (no cropping, straighten, align, or anything) so they show my poor photography skills, but you can use them to evaluate the image quality fairly well. Naturally I don’t have CR2’s up on smugmug, so the RAW is actually just an import into LR 2.5 and then an immediate export to JPEG 100% with no other non-default changes (well metadata embedded).

f/4.5 1/400 @ ISO 80 - FULL AUTO – © Moonhee Kim

Naturally the RAW images don’t have all of the noise reduction, sharpening, etc… that the in-camera JPEG’s have so the results are less interesting. However, detail is preserved so if you have better noise reduction and sharpening tools (read Nik Software) then you will get much better results doing your own intelligent noise reduction and sharpening as I’ve done with most of my images here – except the one below which only has minor Lightroom 2.5 enhancements plus a few extra leaves thrown around the edges courtesy of copy and paste in Photoshop.

f/4.0 1/20 @ ISO 800 Av Mode

The shot below was a lot of fun because I was able to play with most of the manual features of this camera. I put the camera in manual mode, rested it on a rock, and then set the timer for a 4 second exposure at f/8 and retained the quality offered by ISO 80. This image was taken at near dark conditions, so the bright sharp result was what I would expect from a DSLR, but have rarely seen pulled off successfully from the point and shoots I’ve owned.


4 seconds exposure f/8.0 @ ISO 80 Full Manual

A few full auto images

The way I want my wife to be able to use my G11 is to put it in full auto, or one of its “scene” modes and have it just do the right thing to get the shot. If I’m out with my kids playing and I want to get a quick snap of them doing something funny, I don’t want to have to think. I just want to point, and shoot – hence the name. Here’s an example shot (with zero processing) that I took of a sunset using the sunset mode:


f/8.0 1/2000 sec @ ISO 80 - Sunset Mode (no post processing)

While that shot won’t make Art Wolfe shiver in his boots, it is good enough to bring home to the wife and say “hey, check out the cool sunset we had at the park today”. Mission accomplished!

The shot below is a hypothetical situation where your teenager might have just cleaned his car and wants to take a picture of it at the park to show off his/her hard work. Well here’s a full auto snap at ISO 1000 that with a little minor processing looks fantastic in my opinion. I think any teen would be happy with this shot, and I can tell you this adult is pretty satisfied with it from a technical perspective (yeah, I know it sucks compositionally).

  f/4 1/20 sec @ ISO 1000 in Full Auto

In the image below, I was at the park with my son and we saw a bird resting on the wall to the camera right below. We got a nice close shot of it, but when it flew off I also snagged a shot if it flying away with a nice reflection on the water and a pretty fall background. No thinking required – just point, shoot, and move on. 


f/3.5 1/400 sec @ ISO 80 Full Auto (no post processing)

The shutter lag is still noticeable, and you won’t want this for little Johnny’s soccer game, but even shots of the wiggly baby in low light at 7:06 PM with no flash came out with only very minimal blur on the camera left hand. 


f/2.8 1/40 sec @ ISO 800 P Mode (no post processing)

What’s cool about the G11 though (and all G-series) is that you can put a real flash like the 580EX II on the hot shoe as I’ve done in the shot below. This sure beats using the nasty built-in flash which ruins images in my opinion and usually results in red-eye. While the results aren’t anything to write home about, it works. I think I’ll probably buy the more manageable 270EX flash for use with this camera, but fortunately most of the time I can take advantage of its high ISO performance and just leave the flash off as shown above.


f/2.8 1/40 sec @ ISO 800 Av Mode with 580 EX II flash

This last shot is why I want a point and shoot that can take a decent image.

While the white balance sucks, I really enjoyed the shot my wife took of me and my kids on a lazy Saturday morning. In the past she never would have picked up the huge DSLR, and even if she did, the shot wouldn’t have come out as she’s unsure of all of the settings. However, the G11 was handy so she just grabbed it and snapped a few shots and caught my shaving cream clad newborn smiling while my older kids looked on. This wasn’t staged and my son in the background is actually looking at the baby, even though it seems like he might be looking at the camera. 


f/2.8 1/100 @ ISO 320 Full Auto - © Moonhee Kim

Once again, I am glad I had the G11 so my wife could get the shot and I could clean it up a bit. Now if it could just do something about my bed head we’d be in business – perhaps we’ll get that in the G12!

What’s Not To Love


As bad as it gets – f/4.5 1/50 sec at ISO 3200

While you’ve probably figured by now that I really like this camera, there are definitely a few things not to love about it. Here’s my gripe list:

  • Auto White Balance sucks – I think one of Canon’s great strengths in its DSLR like is a fantastic auto white balance system, but in the case of the G11 that magic hasn’t been passed down. Granted, it isn’t totally horrible, but when you are used to DSLR’s you find yourself frustrated quickly. Fortunately it’s adjustable white balance modes work fairly well, and you can custom white balance so in theory this shouldn’t be a show-stopper.
  • Build Quality – While some might find the build quality of the G11 to be great when comparing it to other P&S models on the market, relative to its predecessors I feel the G11 is a step backwards. There is a very cheap plastic feel to it and the hollow arm of the rear LCD flip hinge makes me cringe because I know at some point I’m going to break that little thing like a twig.
  • Video – The lack of HD is unforgivable in this day and age, especially from Canon given their reputation for great HD video. This was the one thing that almost made me cancel my order. My experiment using the video resulted in modest performance that I’d call usable beyond what you might get from a iPhone 3Gs, but it’s nothing to write home about.
  • Optical Viewfinder – Simply put, its a joke. Of course, this is true of most point and shoots. Unless your battery is low and you are desperate, this thing shouldn’t be used.
  • Rear Wheel too overloaded – While it is cool that there is a lot of functionality that can be controlled from the same place, I frequently found myself in a hurry to change a setting (via pressing the center Func Set button), only to be annoyed when making changes that I accidentally activated the manual focus, macro or timer modes. This happens A LOT, so clearly there’s too much going on in this space. I think the s90 might actually have a good idea that could be useful here – another rotating wheel on the front by the lens.
  • RAW images show the truth – While I’m thrilled with the results of my G11, the reality is that it is still a tiny sensor camera and you can’t hide that in the RAW images. This means you’ll see noise in as little as ISO 200 and it will escalate from there, but the JPEG’s are processed to virtually noise free up to ISO 1250. What this means is that you’ll need noise reduction software if you are going to tinker with the RAW images. In addition, tiny sensors can’t resolve the detail of the huge sensors, so at 100% image quality isn’t going to compete with its larger sensor brethren. Canon’s done a fine job of in-camera processing to create a fairly usable image from the JPEG’s it creates, so for the majority of point and shooters this is a non-issue.
  • Dynamic Range is improved, but … – The colors are very good, but they aren’t big boy SLR quality. You’ll find yourself disappointed sometimes that the colors and shadows will crush a bit compared to what you’d get from a larger sensor. For most images, this will be a non-issue but there will be the occasional shot where you’ll think – dammit – i should have used the DSLR!

Do any of these change my opinion? NO! THIS IS A GOOD POINT AND SHOOT!

It isn’t a DSLR and that’s a good thing! I can carry it in my big pockets if I want to, but realistically a carrying case  is going to be more appropriate. You won’t be shooting images for iStockPhoto or Getty with it, but you will be able to get that picture of your anniversary dinner without having your wife give you the evil eye for hauling the DSLR into Chez Expensiviso.

What about the s90?

For a head-to-head comparison of s90 versus G11 features, visit this link on Canon USA. As of the time of this article, I haven’t tried one yet but I will be.

You can find excellent info on the s90 at DPReview, as well as the G11 but this review will focus primarily on the high ISO performance of photos from the Canon G11. I have a few friends who have offered to let me play with their s90’s, so I hope to do that and report to you with my findings in a future article. Stay tuned!

Conclusion

This camera will not replace your DSLR, but it will supplement it quite nicely when a smaller form factor is in order. It will take great memento shots which at the lower ISO’s probably will print quite nicely at 11x14 with zero distortion and up to twice that with no problem using products like BlowUp or Genuine Fractals (either of which will likely be used by your favorite online print company).

Go through your house right now and count the number of printed images of your own work that are greater than 16x24. If you have more than 3, then you might have some issues with the G11. If you have less, then odds are you’ll never really see any issues with this fine point and shoot camera.

I’ve printed nearly all of the images in this article on 4x6 prints using my sweet Canon PIXMA MP560 Wireless Inkjet All-In-One Photo Printer and even the nasty ISO 3200 image is totally acceptable. I could definitely send Mom pictures of the grandbaby and the Earth would continue to spin. As a result, I highly recommend the Canon G11 for those who have been waiting for a point and shoot that can perform very well at higher ISO’s.

Usage Recommendations

I recommend you turn on the creation of RAW images, and shoot in the Av mode with auto ISO as much as possible so you can have both nicely processed JPEG images and a RAW as a backup should you be unhappy with the default processing. Full auto mode will not create RAW’s, so I would limit the use of it (P can be used instead with less heavily processed results). I also recommend you avoid using the flash as much as possible. In fact, if you can swing it I would suggest getting a 270EX from B&H but stay away from the older 220EX as it cost almost the same and can’t be controlled via the camera menu system.

When shooting indoors, switch to Tungsten mode so that your JPEG’s white balance will be close to accurate as you can’t change it very easily after the fact (where again RAW’s come in handy). The Auto White Balance (AWB) isn’t that great, so using a preset or doing a custom white balance is worth your time.

This camera will go to ISO 800 pretty frequently, so check the image data after the shot. If you think you can pull off a lower ISO, then dial that in and try again.

Experiment with the many settings on this camera including the SCN mode. It works very well!

When shooting video, make 100% sure you’ve set your white balance properly for the environment or you’ll regret it later. Don’t forget to return to AWB after you are done with the video too so as not to ruin other shots later (don’t ask).

When using the great flip LCD to take a picture of you and your significant other, make sure to look at the lens and not the LCD or else you’ll look like an idiot as I do in the shot here (at an amazing ISO 1250).

Disclaimer

I purchased my G11 from Adorama at full price. I have not been solicited by anyone to do this review, but did it out of my sheer love of this cool new purchase I’ve made. I will receive a commission if you use the links in this article, so I ask that if you have found this information to be useful that you please support future articles by using my links.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Canon announces the 1D Mark IV

In a move that is sure to upset many of Canon’s 1D Mark III owners (of which I am one), today they have announced the release of the 1D Mark IV. The Canon faithful who endured the autofocus issues of the 1D Mark III series just got a proper Autofocus Manual a few short months ago, only to find their cameras now replaced. 

More Information

Read more about it at Rob Galbraith’s web site, Canon USA (full specs) and DPReview.com. Order yours now from B&H.

Canon also has launched a mini-site for the 1D Mark IV on the Digital Learning Center.

New Autofocus and Image Quality Info and Videos

Samples

You can find Canon’s own sample photos and videos here.

Lights Out, Camera, Action by Vincent Laforet

Should you pre-order?

Given the greater pixel density on a 1.3x sensor (only 5.7µm versus the 1D Mark III’s 7.2µm and D3s 8.45µm), the absence of some nice 7D features, and my painful experience as a 1D Mark III owner, I will still stick to the recommendation I’ve held for well over a year in my Which DSLR should I buy? article and recommend that you consider Nikon’s D3 series (especially the recently announced Nikon D3s). Legions of pro sports photographers have switched to the D3 series as it has proven to deliver great results. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong if given a chance to evaluate the new 1D Mark IV, but to say that I am skeptical right now is an understatement.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nikon Announces the D3s – Available for Preorder

Pre-Order Now

Articles

For more info, check out these articles:

Video

Here's some sample videos linked to Nikon's site (download for the best performance):

Images

UPDATED: Here’s some additional jaw dropping new D3s images.

The following images were taken with a D3s at 12,800 ISO and come directly from Nikon USA:

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

FTC Disclosure

It has just been brought to my attention that the FTC has issued a new requirement for bloggers to disclose the financial relationships of partners I deal with as part of running this blog. This blog started as a way for me to archive frequently written e-mails to my colleagues in my photography group where I work during business hours (Microsoft Corporation).

This blog started with my own accounts, from my own experiences from purchases I had made out of my own pocket. As the blog started to grow in popularity, I started to get approached by third parties asking if they could send me a complementary copy of their product for review. I like free stuff just as much as the next guy, so sure I’ll take something free if you send it to me. It doesn’t mean that I’ll review it, and it doesn’t mean that I’ll like it and say good things about it. It just means I get it for free and can play with it and it is up to me to take it from there.

None of the free products I have received have come with any strings attached (i.e., you must review it, you must say nice things, etc…). Instead, an item is typically sent and that’s the last I hear from that “sponsor”. Naturally, if I use the product (which I admit, some haven’t even been opened), then I’ll write a review about it with my thoughts (many times good – because there’s some cool stuff out there, but sometimes bad too). When I write a review, I share the link with the contact person that sent me the free item.

To the best of my knowledge, the following companies have contributed free products or services for articles I have published on this blog:

  • Alien Skin Software
  • Amherst Media (all books where they are the publisher beginning with this book review – which isn’t a positive review)
  • Bryan Morgan
  • Canvas on Demand
  • Cradoc Software
  • Dane Creek (Neil Enns)
  • folioSnap
  • Focus Magic (no affiliate or commissioned relationship)
  • HDRSoft
  • Imagenomic
  • liveBooks
  • MPix.com
  • Nik Software (but I paid full price for my copy of Color Efex Pro and didn’t get the discount that I share with my readers)
  • onOne Software
  • PeachPit Press (all books where they are the publisher beginning in
  • PictureCode
  • Sitewelder
  • Smugmug (except for ronmart.smugmug.com and my original review)
  • Think Tank Photo (except for ALL of the items in my first TTP review)
  • Topaz Labs

I am also an affiliate with Amazon and many others (actually I’ve lost count), so if you click a link and it takes you to an external site then odds are I will get a commission if you make a purchase. This is the business model of this for profit blog where I am sharing my time* and experiences with you in exchange for you supporting the blog by purchasing using the links I’ve provided. I also accept donations (which I had hope would generate funds to purchase items), but to date only two people have donated. It is therefore necessary to retain successful affiliate relationships so that I can continue to purchase new items (like my 5D Mark II and pre-ordered Canon G11) so that I can review them for you here.

I am not sponsored by Canon or any other camera manufacturer in any way.

Anytime I purchase or review a product (sponsored or not) I try to contact the company to see if I can secure a discount for my readers and hope that in return I can also get a commission for referrals. Sometimes I get a commissioned discount (shown on the discount coupon code page), and sometimes I only get the discount for my readers without a commission.

I typically spend a minimum of 8 hours and sometime as many as 40 hours reviewing and writing the articles for this blog, all in my spare time that I should really be spending with my wife and new son. In fact, the “round-up” type series I do generally involve hundreds of hours in preparation plus a week or more of effort to write the articles, and this time is generally during my free time from 8PM to 1AM weekdays and about 16 hours+ each weekend. However, I enjoy photography and can use the extra income to supplement the income lost by my wife choosing to become a stay at home mom, so I appreciate your financial support in exchange for the energy and investments I make into this blog to share my knowledge with you.

I also estimate that roughly 1/3rd of my readers actually support this blog by purchasing using links on this site, whereas the 2/3rd’s majority of my readers use this information and then purchase elsewhere (i.e., cashback programs, larger discount codes elsewhere, supporting local stores, etc…). This isn’t a paid newsletter or web site, so that’s the price I pay for keeping this blog free.

At this point in time no one is paying for advertising on this blog (i.e., company logo / deals are placed at my discretion) beyond what Google Adsense does through their program.

If this doesn’t clear things up and you have any questions related to any of my past articles, please add a comment to the article in question with a request for additional disclosure and I would be happy to add any additional feedback in a comment response. Moving forward, I’ll disclose at the bottom of my articles if any products or services have been provided at no charge.

I hope this clears things up and it is my understanding that I am now in full compliance with the FTC requirement. I appreciate your support as well as my sponsors, and I look forward to this letter raising awareness as to the business model of this blog so that readers like you will support me by making sure you use the links provided moving forward.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

REVIEW: On-Camera Flash – Techniques for Digital Wedding & Portrait Photography

Let me just cut to this chase – this book by Neil van Niekerk is simply fantastic! This is the book you’ve been waiting for, and it should be considered an instant classic! Why? Because everyone knows how hard it is to get good results out of their on-camera flash, so we spend hundreds of dollars on light modifiers to try to get Joe McNally caliber results, yet no matter how hard we try our flash shots still end up sucking! Well my friends, the solution to your problems are here and no rocket science degree or expensive gear is required to get top caliber results. Read on to understand why I like this book so much!

Chapter by Chapter Walkthrough

When writing books the publisher frequently works with the author on an outline first, and they have ideas on what content you should have in your book. However, authors generally have the stuff that they are excited about and then the other stuff they must write about. In this book, it is clear to me that Neil enjoyed writing Sections 2 & 3, and the information in them is FANTASTIC! However, Sections 1 & 4 are “buns” of someone’s “must haves”, but Neil kinda glosses them over with no real depth. It’s a knock on this book, but you can safely ignore it (as well as those sections) because the “meat” of the book (Sections 2 & 3) make it worth every penny!

SECTION 1 – WHERE DO WE START

This is a really short 4 page section that just goes over some basic material. The chapter titles give you some insight as to what this section is about, but there’s not much depth here to worry about.

  • Chapter 1 – What We Want To Achieve
  • Chapter 2 – Looking At The Available Light
  • Chapter 3 - A Few Essential Concepts
  • Chapter 4 – Choosing Equipment
SECTION 2 – THE TECHNICAL STUFF

This is the good section that provides just enough of the “how’s” and “why’s” behind what comes later. It will give you some basic understanding on what you need to know so that Section 3 becomes more meaningful.

Chapter 5 – Exposure Metering

This is a great chapter for those who want something more technical than what Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson offered in his book. It provides a very brief mention of the Zone System and does a more in-depth discussion of the histogram for both Nikon and Canon systems. It also includes a good discussion of the different in-camera metering modes as well as exposure compensation. Overall it’s a great chapter for the beginner, and useful to the more advanced for a more in-depth understand of the “why'” behind the results that we get from our in-camera exposure meters.

Chapter 6 – Flash Modes and Exposure

This is a quick discussion of flash exposure compensation, which is something most people seem to fail to understand when they get a flash. There’s also some interesting points about how the Canon and Nikon systems behave differently and their own little quirks.

Chapter 7 – Flash-Sync Speed

When I first took the picture above in May 2007 (shortly after getting my first Digital SLR), it puzzled me as to why the bottom of the frame was black. I had this problem on several frames, and couldn’t understand what was going on. However, the answer was very simple – my shutter speed (1/320 sec) was too fast for my rented studio strobes so the shutter blocked some of the light from the sensor.

In this Chapter Neil does a great job of explaining this issue as well as the pros and cons of Second Curtain Sync (which many in the Scott Kelby circle of friends are advising). He also has the best visual description of high speed sync that I’ve ever seen. Overall I loved this chapter and it was the first chapter that made really appreciate Neil’s style of educating his reader.

Chapter 8 – Adding Flash to Ambient Light

This is a short chapter, but he uses a bunch of images to get the point across quickly. A picture is worth a thousand words, and Neil uses plenty to get his points across quickly and concisely!

SECTION 3 – THE TECHNIQUES

This is where the rubber meets the road and Neil starts teaching you about the tricks he’s learned in his many years as a wedding photographer. I loved this section along with Section 2. If you only read two sections, these are the ones!

Chapter 9 – Using Simple Flash Modifiers

Most of us suck at using the flash so like golfers purchasing putters to improve their short game, we spend a fortune on flash modifiers to try to make our images not suck. The problem is that most of us are missing so many fundamentals that no flash modifier in the world can save us – until now. The best part here is that Neil show’s off his fancy flash modifier that allows him to get some fantastic shots, and it’s no more than a thick sheet of black paper with a rubber-band for what amounts to a half-snoot system. He also discusses a few of his gels and the way he (occasionally) uses a Sto-Fen Omnibounce. This is low-tech tips to create high-tech results – woohoo!

Chapter 10 – Bounce Flash

Before reading this chapter, do your best to take the best shot you can with your bounce flash given what you know today. I did, and the result was the image above on the left. Now, read the chapter and apply what you know. The result, the image on the right. Notice a difference? All I did was turn my flash head from the tried and true “bounce off the ceiling” method we all use (shown left above and below) to turning my flash head to get a sideways indirect bounce (shown right above and below). Using this very simple technique, I was able to create dramatically better results without having to spend a penny on yet another light modifier. How cool is that?!!!! This chapter is filled with that kind of goodness, which is why I love it so much.

Chapter 11 – Flash With Tungsten Ambient Lights

I like to call this chapter, “How to not get those ugly yellow flash pictures” as that’s pretty much what he’s teaching you. Most of us struggle with this one, but Neil breaks this problem down into simple concepts along with pictures to demonstrate the words to come up with a great chapter that demystifies this common problem.

Chapter 12 – Using Flash to Control Contrast

This is a good chapter to help you deal with backlighting problems (i.e., bright background and dark subject) you may be facing with your photography today. It’s short, but useful.

Chapter 13 – Controlling Light Falloff

See that crappy shot above? That’s light falloff – the subject is bright, but the background goes to dark (in this case pretty rapidly). These are the kind of flash shots that a lot of us get when we first get our cameras and it is both maddening and embarrassing (as in this case where an important moment wasn’t captured properly). If this is something you’ve dealt with, then this is the chapter you’ll want to read.

Chapter 14 – Flash Techniques Outdoors

Mouse over to see the NO FLASH version, mouse out to see FILL flash version

In photography there’s a lot of “rules” that people insist are true, but seasoned photographers will tell you that the rules are a guide – not an absolute. Outdoors is one of those cases where you forget the indoor rule of never pointing your flash directly at your subject. Here he explains how you can get away with a lot more outside because TTL does a much better job with fewer surfaces for the light to bounce off. In fact the shot above was a case where I had nothing to bounce off of, but was using a 200mm lens so I just pointed the flash directly at the model and the lighting was bang on. Hover over to see what the same results were without a fill flash. Big difference, right? Well Neil uses this chapter to show you some good examples of how to be very subtle and make great improvements to your outdoors shots using a fill flash.

SECTION 4 – TAKING IT BEYOND ON CAMERA FLASH

I think this section was one where Neil either ran out of steam or he just didn’t have the time / page count left to go in-depth. These are very shallow chapters on a topic that Strobist covers very well. You can basically skip this section as there’s little value in its two chapters below:

  • Chapter 15 – Off-Camera Wireless TTL Flash
  • Chapter 16 – Off-Camera Manual Flash

Conclusion

This is my #1 pick so far for Photography Book of the Year in 2009 and it earns a spot on my must own photography books in my Which books should I read? article. Thank you Neil van Niekerk for sharing your pearls of wisdom in a way that is easy to understand, without using 47 speedlights or $1000+ in light modifiers! Thank you for not going into geeky theory in an attempt to make yourself look smart. Thank you for showing us the HOW but also providing the WHY for those who need that. I look forward to seeing more books from you in the future.

Skill Level: All
Value: Priceless (especially for people with expensive flashes they don’t know how to operate properly)
Recommendation: Buy it, read it, apply it, and then read it again. Fantastic stuff that is sure to help your photography more than a new lens or camera body!

Neil ( & Amherst Media), if you are reading this I’d LOVE to see you write books on How to Master the Canon Flash System and How to Master the Nikon Flash System (although McNally already did that). If you do, I’m sure the demand would be huge as I’ve found no books to date that adequately cover the subject

After reading this book, you can continue to learn more by following Neil on his blog at Planet Neil where he has more tutorials and other great information from recent photo shoots.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Microsoft Employees create a great photo book for charity

PhotoBook_Small

I try not to mention my day job on this blog, but I work at Microsoft Corporation and am a co-leader of a Photography club that is 1500+ members strong worldwide. I am pleased to announce that the club has come together to create a photo book of some amazing images! These guys are good (in fact, Windows 7 will feature some of their work as wallpaper and they are regulars on Bing)!

Blurb has a great article about this exciting photo book filled with over 150 outstanding photographs! Don’t believe me? Just click this link and take a peek. If this book doesn’t impress you then your bar is pretty high! In just two days it has already raised over $16,000 for the United Way, so you know that this book as got to be something special!

Sadly, I did not have a photo featured in the book as I procrastinated too long and ended up having the deadline fall after a house move and arrival of a new baby, and I’m kicking myself now! However, I’m very proud of what my colleagues have accomplished and I’ve ordered a hardcover copy myself.

Order Yours Today

Microsoft and its employees have been very generous to the community in the past, and I encourage you to join us in this years giving campaign by purchasing a copy. ALL proceeds go to the United Way as the purchase price is the cost of printing, plus $25.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ronmart.blogspot.com crosses the 100,000 unique visitors mark

 
In just 19 months, over 100,000 unique visitors have come to this blog to learn more about Photography. Over 60,000 (corrected) just since January 15th, 2009, so this site is growing rapidly!

I’d like to thank all of you for your support and I look forward to growing even faster over the next 19 months! I hope I’ve been able to help you in your photography and save you some money with our Discount Coupon Code page. If you are new to the blog then be sure to check out this article to learn about what you can find here!

If you could be so kind as to share a story, link to a picture or just leave a note in the comments to this article (anonymous posts are allowed), I’d really appreciate it. Please include your location in your signature to your post so I can see where you are from. According to my site stats, this blog is read around the world except for Antarctica and some countries in central Africa.

Feel free to include comments about articles you’d like to see over the next year as well! In addition, if you haven’t discovered our group on Flickr yet, then now’s a great time to join and add your photos!

I’d also like to thank Smugmug, ThinkTankPhoto, Nik Software and HDRSoft for making this blog successful by their support via their long-term commitments to providing discounts to you. Finally, I’d like to thank the three people who have made a small donation to the blog to help finance my costs associated with bringing these articles to you. I hope we can double those numbers as well over the next year so I can get the finances to do cool more gear reviews for stuff like studio lighting and more!

Thanks,

Ron Martinsen (gear)
http://ronmartinsen.com (portfolio)
http://ronmartinsen.blogspot.com (photo blog

P.S. A piece of trivia for you – the picture at the top of the article is the first picture posted to this blog when it started in March 2008 – cheers!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.