There are two things that make the photo business fun for me; one is actually doing the work (which is like technical problem solving at a full run while keeping up your end of the conversation socially) and the other is playing with the right gear. But most photographers don't necessarily match gear to jobs so much as just shoe-horning one system into making do on any sort of photo project. I get that some folks shoot one style and one subject matter all the time and that using the same camera is comforting to them. It sounds great to be that specialized. As my brother, a Latin and Greek professor for 30+ years is fond of saying, "Find your rut and stay in it." I tried specializing in a photographic niche and got bored. So I still accept and do projects that differ greatly from each other a lot. My client base is all over the map.
While we'd like to think that there's one "golden" camera out in the wild that can do everything better than any other system of cameras I've found, over the years, that it's just not true.
I currently own and use three different camera systems so when a client called and asked me to shoot a charity gala event this week, with 400 well to do guests, I walked out to the studio and pulled together the best from all three systems and began the process of narrowing down to the best gear solution.
Most of the images we'll be taking will be classic "grip-and-grins." Images of couples, foursomes, and small groups pulled together during a bustling pre-dinner reception in one of the banquet spaces at the local Four Seasons Hotel. The ceilings in the reception space (mercifully) have been painted white and that's great because I intend to use a lot of bounce flash during this part of the assignment.
I am not unfamiliar with the space as I've done this same event, in the same space, during the same week in November, for the last 19 years. During that time I've gone from shooting with Leica M series rangefinder cameras and "automatic" Vivitar flashes to every permutation of digital camera with their attendant, dedicated flashes. I learn something new every time I work this job.
The same camera outfitted for some quick field work.
The lens is just the right range for close quarters couples/groups photos.
The flash is fun and accurate and uses one of those proprietary
Li-on batteries that lasts forever.
And the whole system seems to nail exposures like few
systems I've used in the past.
I'm photographing tomorrow evening and I hate surprises so I started testing cameras with their flashes yesterday and I'm continuing to do so today. I could use manual, Godox speedlights with any of the three camera systems (Panasonic S1, Fuji X-H1, Pentax K-1) and fire up some brain cells to continually figure out guide numbers and apertures based on distance (and a bit of on-the-job experimentation) but I'd actually like to find a combination that's consistent and good in its TTL performance so I can concentrate more on getting people grouped together for my shots and less on operating levers and gears on the cameras.
I have a dedicated flash for the Fuji cameras but I find that this is one kind of photography that mirrorless cameras in general don't handle that well. For some reason my TTL bounce flashes with any of the Fuji cameras tend to give me exposures that are all over the map. The last time I shot this event I did it with the mirrorless Panasonic G9s and they weren't any better or worse with flash than the Fujis. In fact, the most recent time I had a more or less carefree evening using flash in this kind of environment I was shooting with a couple of Nikon D800es and Nikon dedicated flashes. I spent some time walking around the house yesterday with a Fuji X-H1+16-55mm+Godox TT685F taking photographs of random stuff and bothering my family with test shots of them. The results were mostly okay but I spent more time than I wanted to dialing in flash compensation. And the "always on" nature of endless shooting at events is a killer for Fuji batteries.
Also, with mirrorless cameras blessed with EVFs, you have to turn off "constant preview" to see what you are focusing on when you do use flash. It's always better to have an EVF at a high enough brightness to see who is in front of you and whether they are smiling or not. When you need to switch over to available light photography (say...a speaker at a well lit podium) you need to turn "constant preview" back on. This is pretty much the same no matter which brand of mirrorless camera you are using. The one advantage I always liked with the Panasonic G9 was the switch in the hot shoe that sensed the attachment of a flash and switched off "constant preview" for you. If you forget and leave it switched on with other cameras you'll have a darker finder with a blurry, slow motion image with which to compose and assess focus...
I bought one of the same model flashes for the new Lumix cameras (but the Olympus/Panasonic version) and my first problem was just getting the flash on the hotshoe of an S1. The little contacts on the bottom of the flash shoe were a bit too long and a bit too stiff to fit easily. I grabbed a ballpeen hammer out of the tool kit, made some adjustments and finally got it on. I've got a chisel in my camera bag in case I have trouble getting the flash back off...
The flash performance is okay. The Lumix camera tends to be slower in response to all controls when in the flash mode. And the exposures aren't quite what I want. I'm right back to riding the exposure compensation control for the flash. It's probably just a matter of learning curve but I can't really accelerate the learning curve between now and tomorrow evening. I've got other things to do in between. Like swim practice. Taking a nap on the couch under the close supervision of Studio Dog. Packing up gear and remembering how to tie a tie again. I might even need to shine a pair of nice shoes.
And that brings me to the Goldilocks flash camera. Amongst my camera system treasures the Pentax is the simplest and best of my choices for old fashioned, fast moving, on camera flash oriented event/gala photography.
I got a Godox V-1 flash for the Pentax and so far, it's just right. I like using a white dome on top of the round flash head to get a combination of some direct light mixed mostly (if I point the head the right way) with ceiling bounce light. I've been playing with the combination of the Pentax K-1+28-105mm+Godox V1 for the better part of the afternoon and I've yet to have to hit the menu to adjust flash output. So far every automatic TTL flash photograph with the combo is flawless. And, it's the one user scenario where even I can make a good case for a big, bright, clear OVF. There's no lag and no need to turn on or off items like "constant preview."
The Pentax K-1 has the best battery life of the three cameras. The focusing speed difference is a toss up between the Lumix and the Pentax. My only disappointment is that I have a limited supply of lenses for the K-1 and I wish I could use the Lumix lenses instead. But compared to the first ten or twelve times I photographed this event the Pentax gear is light years more convenient and better quality than some of the loser cameras I used back then (looking at the Nikon D200 which absolutely sucked, the Olympus E-5 which could never lock focus accurately, the Sony A7R2 which didn't understand even its own dedicated Sony flash, etc. etc.). Looking back, the recent Nikons and the original film Leica M's seemed to have the edge over everything else I've shot with for interior, fast flash work with the flash on camera while in a hotel event space.
So far the Pentax seems to be dialing it all in very nicely. And the files are big and robust. Hell, if I wanted to shoot the whole event in Raw I could probably ignore the flash settings entirely and just fix everything in post production. I do wish the camera had a "smaller" raw file setting. Something like 18 megapixels instead of 36. The client will likely just make 5x7 inch prints to send to the V.I.P.s and then use a bunch of images on a web gallery. We could probably do with far fewer pixels... But having non-destructive color correction is always welcome, right?
So, what's the final kit look like? What am I going to drag over the Four Seasons and handle for three or four hours?
It's two Pentax K-1s with a couple extra batteries. I'll use one camera with the 28-105mm for all the flash stuff. I've got a tungsten conversion (CTO) filter stuck in under the dome on the flash and it'll go a long way toward matching the subdued and warm light at the venue. (Setting the WB for "lightbulb").
I'll use the second body for speaker shots at the podium in the grand ballroom. I've got a nice 100mm lens that will give me enough stand off distance to the podium, especially if I do some judicious cropping in post production. That makes the second camera and lens more like a combo with a 150mm f2.8 if I set it to APS-C crop.... But then again, maybe I'll go crazy and shoot that rig at a 1:1 ratio for a square frame.
So, two bodies; each can be a back up for the other. A new, Godox V1 as my main flash and then a manual Godox V-850 as a back-up to the primary flash. If everything fails at once I guess I'll just pull out my iPhone and get right back to work. Better charge that one up before I head out to the job...
Well, in situations like this you never rise to the occasion and achieve something you've never done before, you mostly fall back on what you've practiced all the time and hope that muscle memory and good brain wiring take over from your jumbled, conscious adrenaline charged thoughts. Set the shutter speed for 1/60th (dragging a little to get some ambient light into the frame) set the aperture somewhere between f5.6 and f8.0 to get those groups in focus from side to side, set the ISO to 800 (so you can have a chance at your flash batteries lasting the evening) put the camera in S-AF and pray the existing light is enough for your camera to achieve quick focus with, and you're set. Get your valet parking ticket validated before you head home and you'll do fine.
I love playing around with the small flashes but tomorrow is not the time to get fancy and experiment. Too many people crammed into too small a space and client expectations through the roof. But that's why I get paid the big bucks to put on the suit and tie and show up with a camera in my hands. And I love it.