Light story, 2019 edition.

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I recently took a long hard look at my lighting gear and decided that it was...well, a mess. Years of accumulated stuff, mismatched brands and products, most of it still perfectly fine but overall one huge confused melting pot. I felt the time had come to 1) consolidate and 2) simplify. I should’ve done this eons ago, but the flip side to being comfortable with lighting tech is that we can much too easily settle for whatever solution is available, regardless of how efficient it may be...

So an A1, an SB-800 and an AD600 walk into a bar. the A1 says to the other two:
“Boys, I’m drivin’ tonight!”
“Whoa! Wait a minute, I’m way bigger!” replies the AD600, “I should totally lead!”
“You know damn well I can’t see in the dark Mr. big Godox man! And I don’t talk your talk!”
“I’m ok either way...” says the SB-800, “you young folks just need to stop yellin’ and decide already...”.

Or something to that effect.

When I thought about what I needed and examined the current landscape, the choices eventually came down to either Profoto or Godox—which is surprising, given where we were not so long ago. Now, I like Profoto. I like the company and the people who work there and their energy and vision. Stockholm’s a cool city. I’ve also written in the past about my uneasiness when it comes to manufacturers playing fast and loose with copyright infringement and treading a damn fine line. But there’s still an economic reality to contend with. At the end of the day my bottom line matters, and this leads to two crucial questions: can the products do the job well? How much do they cost?

I spent months looking at specs and reviews, comparing offerings from both companies but also their ecosystems: triggers, light shaping tools, replacement parts etc. And after much hand-wringing I finally chose to go with Godox. It came down to price vs performance of the strobes themselves obviously, but if I’m being totally honest, accessories played a huge part as well. Here's the thing: I don’t want to sound cheap, but a Profoto trigger costs $599 CAD. The equivalent trigger from Godox (and I underline equivalent) is $87 CAD. We’re talking about radio triggers in 2019 here, not some secret ultra-advanced technology from the future. So as far as I’m concerned $599 is bonkers cocoa puffs crazy town. I could accept the insane price differential for an insanely better product...but the Profoto is a plastic remote that does the exact same job as its plastic Godox counterpart. It doesn’t do it better or more elegantly. In fact I’d even argue it’s not as versatile, and at this point it lags (gasp) behind Godox in terms of UX (I think the UI zoom function on the XPRO-F is brilliant). In an even more surprising twist, in terms of build quality I’d again give the edge to Godox: the Profoto trigger connection is so tight I’m always scared I’ll either damage the hot shoe on the camera or break off the connector itself—which would of course set me back another $599, or worse. It uses AAA batteries that drain quite a bit faster than the XPRO’s AA and frankly, its buttons and controls feel noticeably flimsier as well.

I will unequivocally accept a premium for the design and development of unique, superior products—this however, is totally unjustified IMHO. Completely and utterly. And unfortunately I’m forced to admit that it’s such a huge, gratuitous disparity, that it simply turns me off everything else, despite my affection for the company.

That said, I was also swayed by the fact that I already owned and appreciated the AD600BM strobe—the manual, Bowens mount version of the Godox AD600—as well as the minuscule TT350-F. It’s the duo I used to shoot the images for this Capture One 12 article for example and it works very well. So it became a logical starting point. But I also wanted a setup that would allow me to go full TTL if needed, which is new territory for me: I‘ve always been Mr. Manual, but TTL has grown on me—and the credit for this goes to using the Profoto A1 (a bit of irony there). Manual control will always remain the most accurate way of lighting a scene but the shooting flexibility of TTL is something I now often use and appreciate. Long story short, here are the new additions to the kit:

  • AD400 Pro. This is the smaller and lighter 400W version of the AD600 Pro.

  • AD200.

  • H200R. A round flash head attachment for the AD200—more on this in a sec.

  • A few Bowens-based modifiers—octabox, grid etc.

I added two XPRO-F triggers (because why not) to supplement the older, functional but much less intuitive X1T-F I already owned. This means I can now have three cameras on set ready to shoot.

AD400 Pro with a third-party Bowens reflector.

AD400 Pro with a third-party Bowens reflector.

The AD400 Pro is great, works perfectly; just like my AD600 but much lighter and it includes a handle (!). The only caveat is that it uses a smaller proprietary mount: the strobe comes with a Bowens adapter (and there are others available as well) but this needs to be screwed onto the head, so it’s not something you can quickly switch in or out. I’ve defaulted to leaving this on for now, rendering the included native reflector useless, which is a shame*. Godox has promised a line of compatible accessories but I haven’t seen them anywhere yet. Fortunately the strobe still fits perfectly in the included semi-hard case with the mount attached. And that case is a nice bonus too (the AD600BM didn't include one).

The native reflector WITH the Bowens mount.

The native reflector WITH the Bowens mount.

*UPDATE: As it was pointed out in the comments it IS possible to still use the reflector. The trick is to remove a spacer ring…that doesn’t look at all like something that can be removed. The two pieces are simply wedged into one another so I used a screwdriver to gently widen the gap until I could pull the two apart. Once this is done, the reflector snaps to the Bowens adapter AND the entire kit still fits in the case (with the reflector’s protective cover). It looks slightly odd as you can see but it works. Huge thx to Logan for the tip!

A few words about the AD200 pictured above. I’m not going to review this flash—it’s been out for quite awhile and there's tons of info out there—but I do need to mention how impressed I am with its design. It’s not remotely pretty: we’re talking about a rectangular block here. But from a purely utilitarian point of view, I think it’s brilliant as heck. It includes two tripod sockets (on the back and the side) and with the fresnel head attached the entire unit happens to be perfectly flat—easy to lay down on a table, a chair or any similar surface. It's just a light emitting box. And that flash head is modular, which means it can be swapped between the included fresnel or bare bulb attachments, but also to an LED array (haven’t tried it) or that H200R round head I mentioned. Yes, if you’ve seen it, it’s eerily similar to the Profoto A1. So similar in fact that it uses the same magnetic system for attaching accessories (though MagMod still gets first dibs on this). And so similar that, I kid you not: those accessories included with the A1? The Dome Diffuser, Wide Angle Lens and Bounce/Flag card? They happen to fit the H200R like a frickin glove.

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Houston, we have a match.



Ouch. Does this make me uncomfortable? You bet it does. It takes that fine line I spoke of earlier and turns it into one big, ugly splatter of black paint. Smudges everywhere. But owning both...when I realized they were swappable, curiosity immediately got the best of me—I just HAD to compare the two.

The images below were shot with the A1’s Dome Diffuser, first on the actual Profoto A1 and then on the AD200. I had to tweak the placement of each unit to match them as closely as possible (their design is different so they didn’t sit in precisely the same spot on the light stand). If you look at the shadows I think they’ve ended up fairly identical.

There IS a difference; but I truly didn’t expect results to be this close. The A1’s falloff is slightly softer, its light is a bit more diffused (the AD200 is a tad more specular) and there’s a variation in terms of colour temperature and exposure between both images (camera WB was fixed at 5000k)...but this is still comparable. Especially considering both falloff and specularity could easily be manipulated through distance, aiming and contrast adjustments in post. And there’s another issue that surprised me: with an aperture of f2 and both triggers set to TTL, the Godox was able to expose the image properly but the A1 would systematically overexpose the scene. I was only able to match the AD200’s exposure by switching it to manual and dropping to minimum power. Which means the A1 DID have the available range, but lowering TTL all the way down on the trigger still wouldn’t get me the exposure I was looking for (as a reference, TTL on the Godox was set to -1.7). To be fair, TTL is finicky and there’s always a million factors that can sway its output...but in a controlled situation such as this one, using the same position and subject, I’m not sure why this happened. (1)

Of course the A1 is a very different beast: it can be mounted on-camera for instance and it’s also a commander unit for other Profoto strobes. But I’ll personally never use it that way, so it only made sense for me to see how these compared visually. Now I know. And by the way: Godox has a set of accessories for the AD200 that all but replicates everything available for the A1, including the new grids I believe. Ethics aside, I’ll be curious to see how these compare.

So far, this new kit has mostly been a joy to use. I say mostly because I did experience some misfires with the AD200—nothing crazy but enough to make me puzzled. But I was using multiple triggers at the time, mixing manual with TTL and switching settings around constantly, which may have caused some signal confusion. I’ll have to see if this happens more frequently than it should. Overall however, the whole setup fits perfectly with my no-friction 2019 mantra. Everything is coherent, compatible and I even get some redundancy in there without having to sell off the kids.

And not to harp on the subject but the contrast is striking:

Dollars for possibilities? Clear choice in my book.
Now let’s see how this holds up over time.

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1. I thought of something later: instead of dialing-in the TTL value on the remote, I used Fujifilm’s built-in flash interface. This allowed me to set the A1 to -3 and get a correct exposure. But it’s really no excuse: the remote should do the job on its own.

Hard February Light

I’ve never been crazy about winter—and the wild weather swings we’ve been experiencing these last few years haven't helped the situation. But every February, when the sun deigns to show up on late afternoons, our living room is—for lack of a better word—ignited: for about an hour the low-angle light rushes in through the front window and every object explodes with contrast. And every time I’m literally stunned by it. Sometimes I’ll shoot a few frames, sometimes I’ll just take it in. But I never fail to notice—even after all these years—and it never leaves me cold. Time and again I’ve found myself actively searching for this same mood, out there in the field.

The truth is, the more I look at light, the more I study its character and the way it shapes our world...the more I realize softness is rarely the element that grabs me. I like intersections, the play between extremes, broken shafts of luminescence and crisp edges; I like unexpected angles and dark pools and half-truths. Basically, I prefer hard light.

In our quest for the ultimate modifier it’s easy to forget how a single bare light source, on its own, can still be extremely interesting. There’s no outer or inner baffle, no white or silver coating to consider...The entire exercise becomes solely about distance, angle and placement; about allowing the light to bounce off its surroundings and hit obstacles, accepting interference and unevenness.

Last weekend we took a quick overnight trip to my in-laws—a location you’ve seen time and again on this blog. Except this time I brought a flash with me, just for kicks: the Godox AD200 (with the fresnel head). I didn’t bring a light stand or an assistant (!) but simply wandered around the house like some lunatic, holding the flash in one hand and the X-Pro2 in the other—old school. Sometimes I’d drop the flash on the floor or a table, mostly using TTL to keep manipulations at a minimum. I didn’t try to hide the nature of the light, didn’t try to blend it with the (barely-existent) ambient or use it as fill—I went all in. In my mind this was the February sun swirling around, or a table lamp or an oddly placed flood of some sort. It wouldn't be soft and it WOULD cast shadows. But life is full of shadows.

I don’t know how you feel about the results but personally, I like these a lot. They brought me elsewhere and they’re miles beyond what natural light would’ve given me in these circumstances. The next day however, the sun came out...and it was all gloriously just there for the taking.

One last detail for today. All these images have one thing in common: they were all processed in Capture One 12 on an iPad Pro. Wait...what?? Nope, I don’t have access to a super secret build of C1 on iOS (I wish). As part of my minimize friction/embrace mobile year I ordered Astrolab’s Luna Display—a Mac dongle that turns an iPad into a second display. It can be used to extend screen real estate...or to transform that iPad into a mobile wireless monitor in its own right. I’d tried software solutions in the past but they were always pretty terrible and useless. To be honest I’ve had a few disconnects here and there while using the Luna Display, but this is likely due to the iMac being in the basement of our house (I know for a fact the Wi-Fi signal isn’t great there); I’ll be adding mesh to our setup which should alleviate problems. But boy oh boy is this thing impressive: I can work on C1 remotely, from anywhere in our home, with zero lag. I even did remote typing tests to see how well it worked and I never missed a beat. Plus I’ve activated the Retina Display option so I’m working on the iPad Pro in full rez. This definitely fills one more piece of the puzzle. Kind of fun to be working in Capture One with the Apple Pencil too. Btw I blame/credit Macstories’ Federico Vittici for this one...that guy makes me spend way too much money but damn, he’s like an iPad workflow god (check out this post if you feel like geeking out on the subject).

Next up: a look at the new lighting kit.
Later.

Friday stuff: new Capture One, new GFX...

That’s our son modeling for me. Yes, the kiddo is getting older. 

It’s an exciting week, with the launch of two products I had the opportunity to test beforehand: the GFX 50R—which is now finally available in stores— and a brand new, shiny version of Capture One Pro with their release of version 12.

I’ll be sharing about Capture One more and more on the blog...because it’s my main workhorse now, but also because using it no longer implies any sort of dark arts maneuvers (i.e GFX support). But for the time being, I’ve written a first look that’s available on the Fujifilm-X website if you’re interested.

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As to the GFX 50R: I previously published a few posts, back when it was announced in September. But because I was in Germany at the time and these had all been scheduled before the camera’s official launch date, I didn’t yet have a link to the promo video we had shot for the camera. And being who I am...I simply forgot to write about it. I’m actually quite proud of the results so I figured I’d remedy the situation today—given the camera’s real launch.

Shooting the promo was part of the overall GFX 50R project—along with capturing images that would potentially be used as promotional material by Fujifilm Japan. If you’ve seen the brochure you may have noticed a double spread in there with my name on it. Kinda stoked about that one. But the most thrilling part was the creative license we were given: we weren’t told what to do or how to do it. We knew the concept of the campaign was to revolve around the word precious...and we simply did our own take on this.

I worked very closely with Fujifilm Canada’s Francis Bellefeuille: he shot the images but also edited and graded the movie. Talented fella. I wrote the words and music, did the sound design and mixing. I shot a few stills here and there as well ;)

We filmed over two days—including splashing around in that not-so-warm swimming pool for way too long. Then it all pretty much came together over a weekend while the family was away: I was sending music mixes and images, Francis was sending back edits...we tweaked and prodded until we were both satisfied. The magic of the Internet.

Then I had a beer. Ok, ok...I had TWO.
Sheesh. Video below.
Have a great weekend.

A New Brush | GFX 50R 65:24

First off: what a privilege this has been over the past couple of months. When the GFX 50S was announced at Photokina in 2016, I never thought I’be one of the lucky few to test another medium format camera less than two years later. And yet, here we are.

I won’t be doing a technical review for several reasons: I was shooting a pre-production unit with beta firmware; my friends Kevin and Jonas will do a much better job than I ever could; I’m less and less interested in talking about specs. But I will say this: I’ve grown to love my GFX 50S, as I’ve previously written about. I’ve come to appreciate the insane attention to detail of its design, where every single button, port and door is exactly where it should be. Any new camera involves a period of adjustment, but my initial reaction to the GFX 50R was actually one of puzzlement; and for several days I found myself almost fighting against the camera. Some of this was due to bugs and not-yet-working features, but I eventually figured out the real problem: I was still shooting the GFX 50S. I was expecting a right-brain camera because in my mind, medium format was about work, first and foremost.

The GFX 50R isn’t about work. This is medium-format for poetry.
It’s not perfect—I probably would’ve done a few things differently, in terms of layout for instance. But we’re suddenly having a very different sort of philosophical conversation.

I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to finally be able to share some of these images. I’ve chosen to again share a series of visual stories/essays (as I’d done with a few other models), all shot with the pre-production camera I was provided with and various GF lenses.

I’m writing these words on the eve of leaving for Belgium, before we head to Photokina. Which means nothing has been announced yet and I have no links to share. It also means I’m about to give back the camera. All good things have to end. The shots below aren’t official product images btw: just quick, gratuitous visual gear porn for my own benefit. Figured some of you might enjoy them as well ;)

Huge thanks to everyone at Fujifilm for this incredible opportunity.


Shot with the GFX 50S and GF 120mm f4 OIS R WR


Are you F$#& kidding Adobe?

I posted this on Facebook a few minutes ago but then realized I absolutely needed to post it here as well. Call this a quick rant or a follow-up.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I had ditched my Adobe subscription and wrote a post about how they tried to bully me into keeping it (telling me I COULDN'T unsubscribe, of all things). But of course they had no choice and since then Lightroom had reverted to "reduced mode"—meaning I could access my libraries and export files but I couldn't edit or make changes. Which was fine.

A few moments ago I launched Lightroom because I needed to do just that. But guess what? I’m now locked out. I’m told the product cannot be activated and my only choice is apparently to...wait for it... subscribe again. So what's going on here? Was reduced mode on a timer? And If it ISN’T on a timer…WTF?

So again: thank you Adobe. I thought I’d keep you around, just in case, even with reduced functions. I thought if EVER I needed you again you’d be there. And maybe this is a bug of some sort…maybe I could get in touch and get this resolved. But you know what? To hell with you. I’m purging my Mac of ANY trace of your software. I’ll launch the terminal if I have to, until there isn’t a single file that begins with the name Adobe.

What an absolute sh%$ of a business you are.

/>end rant

P.S It's also a gorgeous day and stepped out to take a few pics this morning—with the X100F and Instax Wide. Haven't had time to process anything yet—tomorrow maybe.

P.PS Holy shit it gets better...here's what I get from the uninstaller—even though there are NO visible apps running anywhere

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