ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Posts Tagged ‘Canon’

International Business Machines or just IBM for short.

The phone rang one Friday summer afternoon. Brrrring, brrrrring “Hello Studio”.
“Hello Rob, we were wondering if you would be interested in doing some photography for IBM”
Um geee, let me think about that. . . uh ya, of course.

I was to photograph a couple of tech guys in Dublin who use one of IBM’s IT systems. It would also provide a good shakedown shoot for a new camera I had just bought back in the summer but hadn’t really used on a larger shoot. The camera is the Pentax 645z and for anyone who follows things in the imaging world, its sort of a break through medium format camera in the sense of price, tech and quality; it comes in at a fraction of the competition, Hasselblad and Phase. It uses a 50mp CMOS sensor, which in layman’s terms, means it is about double the resolution of most 35mm cameras and can give excellent results in very low light. As a couple of added bonuses, the camera uses a legacy mount so you can use almost all the medium format lenses Pentax has ever released and because of the size of the medium format sensor it gives you a relative shallower depth of field (less things in focus), giving you greater control over your image.
I was very curious to see how it stacked up against my faithful Canon 5D mk3, which is no slouch and has served me very well since I got it back in 2012. I love the Canon for ease of use, the excellent, tunable AF system and low light CMOS sensor.

The Pentax 645z
I had been following the progress of medium format cameras over the years, teasing myself that I would sometime test the waters and dive into a Phase system and mortgage my right and left kidneys. A camera like the Phase in 2013 would have set you back $30-40k depending on the options, bells and whistles. Add on a couple of lenses and you’d be up around 50k. In the fall of 2013, Phase announced they would be releasing a new camera back using the new Sony CMOS sensor; it would be a real break though for medium format low light capabilities. The down side was the price, $35,000 just for the back.
Then Sony did something cool, they sold the sensor to Hasselblad and Pentax. The Hasselblad came in at just under $30k with a body and the Pentax is a third of that.
When I first heard about the imminent release of the Pentax, I started scouring for lenses. I knew it was going to be a legacy mount so I could mount the older 645 and 6×7 lenses on the new body but I didn’t want to go too far back in lineage, just to keep any unwanted aberrations to a minimum. I found an older manual focus 35mm, a 45-85 AF and a 150mm f2.8 AF. Those lenses along with a brand new 55mm f2.8 are what I’m using for most of my work these days. It seems the only time I’m going back to my Canon is for the extreme wide angle view from the 17mm, the superior auto focus system or the lighter weight. Other than that, the Pentax has the Canon “pinned to the ropes”.
That being said, this is not a pixel to pixel comparison but more of a user’s conclusion after his first shoot, using them side by side.
Overall I would say that the Pentax files have a very similar feel to the Canon’s. They have good sharpness out of the camera. The Canon seems to be a little more sensitive, exposure wise, by maybe a stop and a third to a stop and a half. On the Pentax side of things though, at equivalent exposures, you’ll see a stop more in the highlights and at least a stop more in the shadows, a huge improvement. The Pentax is totally usable up to 6400 and 12,800 ISO and beyond. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at the upper reaches of the ISO range (without going into the 6 digits), especially if it meant gaining a stop or two of depth of field.

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For IBM though I wouldn’t be needing any of those higher numbers since we were shooting in a modern office building with good available light as well as our own Profoto 600B’s. I did shoot up at 1250 ISO just for the convenience of being able to hand hold the Pentax while I wandered the space capturing still life images.
The 45-85mm Pentax zoom was great in this location; very flexible focal lengths. When I first heard about the Phase Schneider 40-80mm zoom I laughed. I thought was a ridiculous focal range, how could that be usable. It’s the equivalent of a 26-50mm on a 35mm camera. Although the Pentax is 5mm longer on both ends of the range, effectively its the same range and it totally works. I don’t know why but with this project and pretty much every one after it, this has been the lens of choice. It is quite hefty and it uses an older AF drive system that is much louder than the newer 55mm in the camera bag. It also has on of the worst designs for turning the AF on the lens on and off. You do this by sliding the focusing ring either away or towards you; therefore engaging or disengaging the locking mechanism on the AF drive. The reason it is silly to me, is that there are often times I want to grab focus using the AF system, then turn it off and then either leave it or do some focus bracketing while the subject moves. With this focus ring system, when you disengage it by sliding it, you inevitably turn the ring ever so slightly, therefore making that next image out of focus; painfully ill designed.
Its been a long time since we shot a serious work project on medium format. Outside of a couple of small simple shoots in the past couple of years, previously it would have been 2000 or 2001 when we really put on our thinking caps and used the size and benefits of the format to their fullest. Aspects like a diminished depth of field, razor thin focus and effective manual focusing on mid ground subjects, all started to come back to me again. Where you would have been shooting a portrait at f4 or f5.6 for a nice shallow focus but still holding it from the nose to the back of the head, now you’re dialling it up a stop on the power and giving yourself f8 or even f11 on the lens in medium format. It might not seem like much but it is the difference between all things being sharp and only some.
On this shoot we were dealing with a couple of computer guys, Niall and Krzysztof. They were really nice and gave us all the time we needed, all in all just over an hour. My assistant Richard and I scouted the location, an modern office building, amongst many other modern office buildings. They was nothing special nor anything ugly about it, the building was just vanilla plain. Some of the offices were vacant and there were random pieces of furniture in some of them. The brief called for 4 scenarios of portraits and a selection of still life and office images around the building. Sure it doesn’t sound hard but trying to make a banana split out of vanilla ice cream and only a bowl takes some creativity.
We tried a shot in the above room with the two lonely chairs, it was okay but we could do better. A couple of other scenarios we shot right in their work environments, behind the monitors, clicking away on the keyboards.

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Here is the set up for that image, along with my chatty assistant keeping the subject in stitches with his bad jokes, you can see the Pentax peeking in the bottom of the frame. We used one Profoto 600B with a silver Softlight.

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The Pentax lenses are nice, they are sharp (when focused correctly), decently contrasty but back lit, they remind me of a Hasselblad CF lens; just ever so softly flaring out at the edges against white. Still the king for backlit even after ceasing continuing to develop them, has to be the Mamiya RZ glass. It was near impossible to get edges to flare in the studio, when shooting on a white background, blown out a stop or two over the main. All in all though the Pentax optics are a solid 8/10, Only Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica would have anything over them.
From the office scenario we needed a larger space, something to really let your eye wander around in and then pull it back to our main subjects. Remembering that this was a relatively new build office building, with no real “cool” aspects to the architecture, we searched the few floors we had access to. The kitchen area was large. It had an interesting countertop running mid height along one wall of windows. I thought maybe we could do something with it and the outside world.
As seen by the accompanying image, the location needed a little extra fill and a slight overexposure to clean things up a bit (nothing really could clean up these two ugly mugs)

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Moving on to our two subjects, I opted to go fairly wide, a little wider than the Pentax could do at 35mm. I shot with the Canon 5D mk3 and a 17-40mm set at 28mm. I’d love to get the Pentax 28-45mm F4.5 but it will need to wait a while until a few other necessities are purchased.
I love the cool, work environment tone of the portrait; cool green without muddying the skin tones.

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For the last image of the brief, I really wanted to get outside. It was a bright overcast day and I wanted something away from the office scenes. We had originally tried to go off site to the main server station but unfortunately we ran out of time to get the proper clearance (Clarence). So the next best thing, a street shot with one of the branded vehicles.
This is tough, creatively, trying to get an interesting image of two guys in button down shirts, posing with a heavily branded company car, in what can only be called an office building jungle. Whatever hope we had, holding out for some rays of direct or bounced sunlight would probably never happen. The thin, narrow corridor between the glass towers was facing the wrong direction to the shrouded sun. We would have to make do with the cool overcast light we had and I would supplement it with the Profoto 600B and the RFi 3′ Octalight. In tight with the grid installed its a really nice little light. In this case we were using it just as a little rim light, skimming across Niall’s right shoulder. I shot this on the Pentax with the 45-85mm at 45mm. It is set to f11 to make sure we have both Niall and Krzysztof sharp. The shutter speed was at 1/15th of a second to get a good blur out of the slow moving local traffic and ISO was set to 640.
I feel the subjects’ white shirts bring a focus point to the image; the strong repeating vertical lines of the background windows and the motion blur of the passing car are just eye candy.

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Here is the finished story using the last two images.

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ASDA – Favourites

Hi all, we were called back in the spring to shoot a series for ASDA (major UK supermarket owned by Walmart).
They were looking for a light and airy view of the farming behind sausage making. I know its not exactly a light subject these days but we needed to try to keep it light, bright and not too serious, showing a little more of the farmer and the family business behind it. A local producer for ASDA was chosen and without any scouting we just dropped by for the day.
All of the images from the day were either shot on the Canon 85mm f1.8 or the Canon 24mm f1.4 using available light and a California Sunbouncer.
Interior factory images were made using Profoto ProAcute 600B battery units mounted with Magnum and Softlight Silver reflectors


A quick little shoot for Hewlett-Packard

I received a call a few months ago from an agency back in the US. They were looking to produce some photography for an upcoming “book” for Hewlett-Packard.
I’ve always liked HP; I thought their ads and marketing was bang on for most of the past 20 years and can still remember some of the campaigns. I always wanted to have the chance to do something with them. Granted it wasn’t showgirls, explosions and car chases but I think we produced some really nice images for the cover of the “book”. I keep saying the “book” because the agency called it that. I’m guessing it is a corporate piece meant for HP IT Systems dealers or something along those lines.
The idea was to photograph a local “hero” who will be singled out in the publication as well as being on the cover.
Seeing as how with 99% of these jobs I don’t get to scout the location, this one was no different. I was to go to the location/office and set up a clean white background (meaning easy for close cutting) and get some interactive portraits of our hero. Hmmmmmmm, just a small challenge.
Not really knowing how large of a room you will be given, we usually pack a 9′ white seamless paper that we can cut down to whatever size will fit in the room. Along with that we have a couple of lights for the background and a couple for the foreground/subject.
This is what all that looks like, less cameras.

Lighting and grip

Lighting and grip

In amongst those bags are two Profoto Acute 1200’s, four Acute heads, Magnum and softlight reflectors as well as a variety of stands and booms and clips and clamps.

Here is the set up roughed in.

Lighting set up

Lighting set up

And with Richard, my assistant, holding a colour checker, its just the wee one.

Richard and the colour checker

Richard and the colour checker

After this I do a little flagging and a little of some of this and that and this is what we end up with.

Great shoot and great guy, had a blast,
Thanks HP


What the Heck is in that Thing?

Besides my assistants, every now and then, someone random will pick up my camera bag. . . or should I say, try to.
I’ve had my LowePro Vertex 300AW backpack for a few years now and even after heavy heavy all weather use, it is only now showing some wear. The pack and all the gear inside comes in at a svelte 14kgs (30 pounds), add with it a Manfrotto 190XPROB lightweight tripod and an old style big knob ball head for counter balance and the whole kit isn’t too bad for hiking up the side of Slieve Donard.

Here is a photo of most of the gear.

an exploded view of my LowePro Vertex 300AW Back Pack.

an exploded view of my LowePro Vertex 300AW Back Pack.

Starting at the top left is a pack of AAA batteries, as well as those I also carry large supplies of AA’s, usually Duracells just for consistency sake but once in a while when I can’t find them I have to go to an off brand like these blue things. Luckily they are just AAA’s but I keep a plentiful supply since my crazy Chinese made radio slaves just eat them up. I have three sets of radio slaves; the “Chinese” brand that work pretty well and have male and female hot shoe mounts, a Pocket Wizard system for camera remote firing and a Profoto Air system for my Profoto gear.

Next up, to the right are the cables for the Pocket Wizard for camera, phono/Profoto sync and PC sync. The bottom cable is a Canon TTL cable for my Canon 580EX flash. . . . that someone borrowed from me almost, hmmm, two years ago . . Cef, you listening?

Beside the cables to the right are my media cards. I have a number of CF cards of different sizes and makes but lately I’ve been liking the Transcend. They are great for stills and fast enough to shoot video on the Canon 5D mk3.

Then we have a USB memory stick, business cards and a set of Lee ND grads. The grads along with the holder, under and to the right a bit, allow me to dodge an area of the frame from getting more light than another; its great for taking down overexposed skies to a closer ratio to the foreground.

Next up we have lens tissue, right beside the brightly coloured little colour checker (essential for quick and easy colour correction and calibration). Lens tissue always seems to be something I can’t do without considering I’m on location most of the time. However it never seems to fail that I just end up breathing on the glass and using the inside of my cotton t shirt to gently clean the surface. I then use a rocket blower (not pictured) to blow off any residuals and a little bottle of lens fluid, to say I have one.

The first of the camera bodies is a Canon 5D Mark III. I’ve had this body since September of 2012 and after about 60k images I really can’t fault it for too many things. Its a massive improvement over the Mark 2 (pictured below the Mark 3) with improved auto focus and low light capabilities. I do wish for more AF points but really I’d be just nitpicking. One nice feature is that it shares batteries with the Mark 2 (pictured to the right of both bodies), so I can keep one style of battery in my bag for both bodies. I use Canon and Energizer batteries; the Energizers being half the price of the Canon’s but sometimes being inconsistent with battery life. I therefore use them just as back ups after the Canon brand ones wear down.

The lens to the right of the batteries is a 50mm f 2.5 Macro lens that I use as a stop gap lens; when I need something in between my two main zooms and I can’t find my little nifty fifty 50mm f1.8 (Cef, I hope its still in one piece. . . ). The macro is a great little lens and I’ve had this lens since I bought it new in 1999 at Samys in Santa Barbara. I do wish Adobe had a lens profile for it in ACR but its not really a big thing and one day I’ll get around to doing up a custom profile myself for it.

To the right of the macro is a rectangular chunk of welder’s glass, framed up with think gaffers tape to avoid any cuts. I use this glass primarily on location shoots; I first use the glass myself, by looking up in the sky at the sun to determine cloud direction and coverage. This almost always garners interest from the client. At this point I show them what I’m doing and ask them if they want to be my “eyes on the sky”. Now I have a client who is more interested/concerned/obsessed with the local clouds than they are about what the back of my camera looks like. BINGO. Just keep that one between us would you.

Next is the Lee filter holder I mentioned earlier; a great little clip on/clip off system that allows for expansion; a must for anyone serious about controlling their final image in camera.

Next row under the lens tissue are a couple of fine and medium Sharpies. They are always good for marking things up, blacking out brand names etc. I usually buy them by the box and spread them around in different pockets and bags.

Then beside those is a Calumet brand 4x loupe/magnifier for clipping onto the back of the LCD screen on the camera. I use it mostly for fine LiveView focus and the small amount of BTS grab video I might do on a shoot. I have a few of these as they are made from very thin plastic and I never felt confident they would last; they have and I haven’t had any real issues bar one eyepiece element fell out just after purchase but the friendly folk at Calumet Belfast replaced it immediately.

To the right of the finder is ol’ faithful, a first series Canon 5D II that I purchased at Samys in September of 2008. Even though the camera was sold out and back ordered, I walked in off the street and managed to abscond with one (thanks Richard). This body has over 160k images taken with it and has never failed or given me an error code. That said the focus is horrible and the mode dial on the top left would always spin (non locking).

To the right of it is a little Lens Baby 35mm Composer, mostly for playing around with in video on the Mark 3.

Next is a Canon 12mm extension tube for decreasing the minimum focusing distance on most of my lenses.

Beside that, the white lens, is a trusty 70-200mm f4 Non IS lens. Why did you ever get this lens you might be asking? Well as photographer who doesn’t always end up in the best, cleanest, safest locations, I don’t see the sense in spending £1800 on a 2.8 IS lens when this will do me 90% of the time; the other times I do need a lens or two I always use LensPimp. Yes I have used the new 70-200 f2.8 IS II and it is an incredible lens but for me to tie up that kind of money in a lens, taking it into the locations I go, its just not worth it. On a tripod, at the same apertures, you would never be able to tell these two apart.

I carry an array of filters; start on the right and at the top, we have a step down ring 77-67mm, a 77mm skylight (for protecting the front element in very unsafe conditions only), a couple of close up filters, then right to left across the bottom area couple of polarizers and a couple of neutral density filters.

Starting on the next row are some simple tools, a screwdriver set and a couple of special ones.

Then we have a set of Pocket Wizard Transceivers that as I said previously I mostly use as camera remote triggers. They can also be used to trigger all my Profoto gear as well.

The next big item is another Canon body, a EOS 5 (or EOS A2e in North America). Its a kind of odd ball Canon film body they made back in the ’90’s with an eye controlled auto focus (when I get the time to set it up and try it, I’ll let you know how it works). Its nice to blow off a few frames on a job every now and then.

Now up, the big lens with the red stripe on it. My trustworthy and faithful 17-40mm f4. Again you are probably muttering under your breath,”Rob, why would you buy that when you could get the 16-35mm f2.8 II?”. Well to be quite honest and besides the same reasons I have the f4 Non IS 70-200, I use the long end of the lens A LOT. I find a 50mm lens too long for most portraits and the 40 just feels right there. Also seeing as how I rarely use the lens wide open, I don’t need the f2.8 end of things either. I’m in love with the 17mm length for most of my “blue collar” themed portraits as it gives me a great sense of environment and surrounding; it also doesn’t hurt that is it really close to the feel of a 40mm on a Hasselblad when cropped 1:1. Some of my friends might tease me about this lens but for me, its a real workhorse and regularly gets a check up and cleanings at Canon.

Beside that is the last of my regular “carry along” lenses, the gold striped 85mm f1.8 US lens; nice sharp lens and very compact. I can see the veins in people’s eyes that I photograph with this.

Last but not least on the bottom, under the Pocket Wizard and Canon 5 body, sits my Sekonic 358 light meter. Now don’t get me wrong here, everyone should have a light meter and know how to properly use it. . . . just not this one. I’ve owned Minolta FM3 and 4’s, Gossens and even a little trusty Sekonic 328F but this meter is a true lemon right off the drawing board. I’m not sure who designed it but it definitely was NOT a photographer. Simple things like being able to use it with one hand while changing modes or iso settings, or even trying to read the impossibly illegible type on the face of the meter; I actually had to write all of the modes and buttons out in Sharpie so that I could use it. This isn’t just the case for using it in a darkened studio, even in bright sunlight the white on grey background text just cannot be read.

Well, there you have it, all the stuff in my regular camera bag that I use for my work. Stay tuned and check back for more in the series of “What the Heck is in that Thing?”

Thanks


Film vs. Digital . . . . good bye digital. . .

Well, I’m going back to film.

I’ve had enough of digital.

We had a good run together.

But it’s over.

I’m going back to tried and true film; both medium format and 5×4 or 4×5 depending on where you are.

I’ve run the tests and I can’t see any advantage anymore to digital beside speed and I don’t want to be know as a “speedy” photographer. As well, I feel both photographers and the creatives that work with them have become lazy, very lazy. Gone are the days when you might shoot 40 or 50 rolls of 120 in a day. Now it’s not uncommon for clients to be looking at thousands of images from a multiple day shoot.

Remember Polaroids? You would shot a couple maybe per set up to show the client and creatives, then they would let you play with it from there; cover that off and then let your own creativity go and paint your own scene. Now they want to see almost every frame you shoot, just so you don’t veer too far from “their” original brief. Hold on though, isn’t that why we were hired in the first place because we are creatives ourselves and bring something of our own to the table? Has digital given them and us too much information? Are we processing all these visuals and coming up with better ideas on the fly? NO, we’re looking at the backs of cameras so we know we have covered off the needed and the client doesn’t give us shit. That doesn’t really breed creativity in my books. Well now they get to see just the Polaroids with me.

So I’ve got myself a decent little 5×4 hand holdable camera and a 6×7 medium format and I will be using this from now on. All my digital equipment is going up for sale. I’m covering off most of my usual focal lengths in medium format and just a couple on the larger sheet film. Film is just giving that warmer glow; that internal glow and feeling that digital lacks. It becomes a smoothness, both leading from the transition in tones to the actual grain. The grain on film is long imitated but never replicated. And the tones just act smoother when going from the burnt out highlights to those deep endless black shadows that always prove to be the bane of digital photographers.

Here is a 6×7 image.

As you can see, the tones moving from the highlights, down down down into the deep shadows on the right hold their own. The colour is accurate without being cartoon like. The contrast is pleasing without being so crunchy that you start to block up in the shadows and blow the highlights to the moon. You can feel the texture in the flaking paint on the walls. The skin tone is bang on.

I just don’t see the use for digital anymore.

Please feel free to comment.

btw 😉 😉

wink wink