In your search for great full frame lenses just how weird and counter-intuitive can you get?

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

I picked up a used Sony A7ii today because it was too cheap to pass up. That's another story. I brought it home and gave it a good once over, was satisfied that everything worked as expected, and then proceeded to update the firmware from 1.20 to 3.30. That took a while... but it worked.

I may be the laziest photographer alive because after I upgraded the firmware I decided to shoot some quick shots and needed a lens for the camera. I could have stood up, walked across the room and grabbed one of the Sony/Zeiss beauties out of the cabinet drawer but instead I looked around on the top of the desk and found a totally inappropriate lens to try out. It was providence, since the lens already had a Sony E adapter on it. 

It was a lens made many, many years ago for a much different kind of system. In fact, it was made for system with a film size that was slightly less than half the area of a full frame sensor. Not even as big as an APS-C sensor. I was certain that the lens would have a very small circle of coverage and that anything I shot with the lens would have a center circle of image on the frame surrounded by a terrible and quite obvious vignette. But, of course, I was too lazy to get out of my chair and go off in search of something more optically appropriate. 

I clicked on the camera, adjusted the various settings and then pointed the camera and the misfit lens at general stuff in my studio and then clicked the shutter. Then I sat up a bit straighter in my chair as I reviewed what I had just shot. The image was sharp and as far as I could tell it covered the vast majority of the full 35mm frame with very little vignetting. Oh yes, the very corners of the frame showed vignetting but just the tiniest bit. I was stunned. Here was a forty something year old lens, designed for a manually focusing, half frame camera, and it was basically doing double duty as a full frame lens. 

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

The other thing that surprised me was how filmic and sharp the images created by the lens were. It was rendering banal images beautifully and, even close to wide open, whatever was in focus was sharp. Sharp in a (better?) different way than the Zeiss lenses I have been using. You know, the ones computed to cover full frame?

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

Since I saw so little vignetting in my interior shots I started wracking my brain to figure out what was going on here. Both of my initial shots were done near wide open which should have accentuated the vignetting. But, both of the initial shots were taken at distances of less than ten feet, and the closer you focus most lenses the more of a frame they tend to cover.  I decided to test the opposite extremes. How would the lens stand up to a shot at a small aperture like f11 while set at infinity? That should show me some clear vignetting. And yes, you can see it in the bottom left corner of the shot just above. 

But it's nothing dramatic. While not convincingly eradicable in the lens correction panel of PhotoShop it's also nearly invisible in the zone in which I typically work: portrait distance and nearly wide open.  A bonus is that shooting in an aspect ratio 16:9 or 1:1 shows no vignetting at all !!!  
In fact, hours later, it's the lens that's on the front of the new camera right now. 

Which one is it? One I have written about many times. It's the Olympus Pen F (half frame film camera) 60mm f1.5 lens. Smooth as silk in the focusing ring and some of the loveliest out of focus rendering I've seen in a normal focal length. 

It's not supposed to work this way, though. I'm supposed to have to spend big bucks on top glass for the full frame cameras. I don't want the more talented tier of photographers to look down on me for not have bespoke magic glass. It's bad enough that I don't personally own any Zeiss Otus products already....

But you know what? There seems to be a perverse charm in finding ways to use totally inappropriate, ancient lenses to do fun things on full frame, very modernistic cameras. Casual environmental portraits, here we come....

Narration is the name of my game on Monday. It's all about..."the Voice."

If you look at the typical videographer's set up on the web one of the first things you seem to always see is a microphone in a "zeppelin" at the end of a microphone boom arm; being held up by a guy with headphones on. Big headphones.

Judging from my friends who've been in the video production business for years and years, shooting for clients like Time Warner, Dell, Motorola, HBO, Purina, and many other big clients, the reality is that most production dialog is mic'd with neatly hidden, wireless, lavaliere microphones. And, these days a good amount of the programming and commercials you watch are probably being over-dubbed in post production.

But there is a widely encountered situation in film and video in which you will need the strong, clear voice of the Narrator to slide into your program and move it along. There's no law that says you can't record your narrator with a lav mic or a shotgun mic (in or out of a zeppelin...) but there might be a better way to go about it. You might consider a side address, large diaphragm, studio microphone like the one in the image above.

These generally feature very clean and clear voice reproduction with a very, very low noise base. Which means more dynamic range and less hiss.

The microphone I'll be using Monday is the AKG 2035 which it not a very expensive microphone but is very good at its narrow specialty. The larger diaphragm gives a very pleasing sound to voice with just a hint of more bass, probably induced by being able to use the device closer to the speaker and getting a proximity effect.  The round object to the right is a spit screen which actually subdues sibilants and puffs and other audible artifacts created when normal people talk.

Most of these microphones are condenser units that require phantom power to work. I'll be doing my recording with a Tascam DR-60ii recorder which is also not too expensive but has proven to have very quiet microphone pre-amplifiers and provide 24V or 48V phantom power to XLR microphones that need it.

Ben and I will probably be working with our talent in a small conference room at a client location. We'll prep the room by adding padded furniture, putting sound blankets on hard surfaces and putting up a three sided wall of noise abatement foam to help kill reflections bouncing back to the microphone from bare walls.

The talent already has our script and we'll all work together to make sure we read it in chunks. Several sentences at a time, in a way that makes sense for a script that is divided between a narrator and on location interview audio. If there is space between the narrator paragraphs well be able to work them into the final video edit more easily.

Ben will be taking note of the timing for each take and matching those times to reference times we used to create a "scratch narration" back in our own rough cut editing. We're going to be trying to match the real V.O. with our scratch version so words fall right on the images for effect.

I'm crazy for redundancy so we'll be recording simultaneously with a Sennheiser MK600 shotgun microphone running into a Zoom H4n. We'll sort out which system we like best when we really sit down and focus on comparing the two. One way or the other we'll have nice back-up because....you know.... Murphy's Law.

So many moving parts in video. It was actually much easier to be a carefree studio photographer in the film days. Back then we'd just pull ourselves a good Polaroid, bracket the crap out of some film and then hand over all responsibility to the lab. Now we're paying attention every step of the way.

Great for control freaks but a little intimidating for inveterate slackers....

Just a preview of our battle plan for Monday.  And another version of: Right tools for the job.

By Request: A very short description of how I use off camera flash with my mirrorless cameras. In particular, my "bridge" cameras.

Sony RX10iii with Cactus RF 60 flash and V6 trigger.

Maybe it's because I can be a control freak when it comes to lighting but I never really warmed up to TTL automatic flash exposure with flash. I like to set exact power settings because once I lock into a "look" or exposure I like I want the flash to put out exactly the same power, over and over again, until I move on to the next subject. Please don't assume that I don't understand the benefits of automation when it comes to flash, and even off camera flash, after all, I wrote a best selling book on the subject back in 2008 for Amherst Media. 

No, I want my light to be consistent from flash to flash and that's something you give up when you allow the camera to control the flash, based on TTL readings. Moving the camera so it sees a different part of the subject, or moving into the path of a reflection, will change the exposure. At best it means you won't be able to easily batch photos; you'll have to fine tune exposures that change. At worst it can mean that your ratio between existing light and flash light is all screwed up, as is the color balance, etc. 

So, in this very short blog post I am going to tell you how I typically work with off camera flash and mirrorless cameras like the RX10 series. 

First things first. There are no disadvantages to using a mirrorless camera set up with flash. In fact, there is one big advantage. Mirrorless cameras have two settings that allow you to view images before shooting in two different ways. You can see exactly what the camera will eventually give you based on your exposure settings. If the setting make the image too dark you will see a dark frame. If the settings make the image too bright you will see and overexposed frame. You get this effect when you have "setting effects on" in a Sony. That means the camera is overlaying all of your settings when it shows you the frame you are considering snapping. It's a wonderful way to work when not using flash because you have a much better chance of estimating exactly what you future image will look like once you've shot it. 

But traditionally an optical finder shows you the same basic scene through the finder no matter what you have set. You could have your shutter speed set for 30 seconds but you won't see overexposure when you look through the finder; just a pleasant image which your eye compensates for, making it look to you like real life. There's really no way, other than experience (or blind trust in the metering) to understand what the image will eventually look like.

Sounds stupid to pass up a good, accurate preview for a pretty image that lies but that's what all the defenders of last century's technology (the optical viewfinder) are doing when they rush to defend the non-preview of OVFs. There is one place where this system works as well as the EVF on a mirrorless camera and that is when using flash. Whether your ambient exposure settings are dark or light the OVF shows you a bright image most of the time. At least bright enough to focus on...

If you leave the mirrorless camera of your choice in the "setting effects on" setting you might get a really dark finder or a really bright finder depending on the conditions created by your exposure settings. The camera shows you what you WILL get and not an image disconnected from the holistic process. It's not an optimal way to shoot flash because you'll need enough brightness on the EVF to compose the subject. 

Easy-peasy. If you turn off the "setting effects on" feature you'll get the electronic mimic of the old optical viewfinder. The camera will create a balanced, automatic exposure level that makes your viewing less accurate but more practical for flash. 

Just for example. If you are in a dimly lit room,  shooting at ISO 100 and want f5.6 as a starting point for your flash exposure and you would like to set a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second to freeze any subject movement, those settings (with "setting effects on") will give you a very, very dark finder... nearly black. Hard to work and hard to compose upon. If you switch the "setting effects off" you get a bright, even and automatically compensating (for overall exposure) view. 

Onward. I like to use manual settings with my flashes. So I get a meter reading for the ambient light I'd like to have as part of my exposure mix and set the camera there. Then I experiment with various flash levels (in manual) until I get the balance between ambient and flash that seems correct to me. 
If nothing changes I can move the camera all around without changing anything about my principal exposure.

On the Sony RX series cameras (and on my other cameras as well) I use a flash trigger in the hot shoe and a radio trigger controlled flash on a light stand to get the light I want. Right now I am using Cactus V6 radio triggers with Cactus RF60 flashes. They are totally manual and totally reliable. They trigger whether I am in close proximity or across a big space. They also trigger without failure in soft boxes and other modifiers. The Cactus combination allows me to use up to four groups of lights and also allows me to control the flashes, in thirds of a stop, from minimum to maximum power, from the camera position, using two buttons on the shoe mounted flash trigger. 

Usually, when I am using off camera flashes I'll be using more than one flash and it's typically when I am doing a location portrait or a small group of people. 

With decades of experience I am usually able to guess the approximate exposure but, like everyone else, I take test shots to narrow down the slop and get to exposures that are just right. I could do the same thing with a meter but it's quicker and easier just to chimp it until I hit it.

The advantage in using the RX10 series cameras with flash lies in their ability to sync all the way up beyond 1/1000th of a second with no major trickery or machinery involved. Just set the power and the shutter speed where you want it and, voila, trouble free exterior fill flash at your fingertips.

A lot of the time though I am working with mono lights in the studio or on location. In these situations I use a generic flash trigger from Wein that, when triggered, sends out a pulse of infra-red light which triggers the internal slave eyes on all my flashes. It's a small trigger that also fits in the hot shoe and requires little, if any, technical skill. No channels to set, no groups to corral. Just a pulse of intra-red and the musical sound of big lights quickly recycling. 

By doing everything in manual I never get burned by not paying attention to something the cameras are doing without my permission. 

Wanna do flash just like we did in 1999? Or 2010? Or 2015? Put a flash or a trigger in the hot shoe of your mirrorless camera, set the manual power level where you think it should be and then test to taste. Just remember to turn your controls to: "setting effect off" for flash.  

That's it.