February 26, 2015

A few weeks ago I set out to buy the Fstoppers Flash Disc but it was out of stock on Amazon. While looking for something similar I ran across the Coco Ring Flash which looks like ExpoImaging's Ray Flash but can be had for $150 cheaper. Both are flash modifiers that take the output from a speedlight attached to your camera and distribute it to the shape of a circle or ring. Traditionally the ring fits around the lens attached to your camera which gives the subject being lit a characteristic shadow-less look (since the light is not coming from a particular direction, but directly ahead). I had seen that the Ray Flash received a good review from The Phoblographer however nothing had been published about it's cheaper counterpart. I was not even sure if it would fit my mirrorless cameras or Yongnuo flashes because it was made for a DSLR and Canon's 580EX II flash. In the end I decided to risk the small investment and purchased the unit. 

When it arrived I was surprised that my Yongnuo 560 III slid on easily and stayed snugly in place. It was basically a perfect fit. On the downside the ring flash is pretty big compared to my OMD EM5 and Panasonic GX7 and I found that it could only be used with the EM5. The hump that many complained about when this camera was released ended up being the saving grace here. When the ring flash is mounted to the speedlight on the GX7, its top half interferes with the field of view of any mounted lens. Another thing to mention is that even when using it with the EM5, none of the lenses that I tried actually "clear" the front of the ring flash. Subsequently, wider lenses are not compatible because the ring flash ends up in their field of view. The Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Sigma's 60mm f/2.8, and OM Zuiko 50mm and OM Zuiko 35mm + generic focal reducer (35mm and 25mm equivalents, respectively) all worked. In addition, the 12-50mm kit lens was also compatible at a focal length of 20mm or greater.

Performance wise, I found the ring flash did wonders for macro work. This form of photography is difficult because you generally need to stop the lens down to at least f/8 (for enough DOF). Without the use of flash you need to compensate for this by increasing the iso and decreasing the shutter speed. Motion blur then presents a problem (which means you need a tripod and ideal weather conditions) and this is further complicated if you are trying to shoot a moving subject. The ring flash essentially eliminates all of these problems. I was able to shoot stopped down (f/8-f/16) and maintain a high shutter speed (1/160 - 1/200) and low iso (200). Plus, I never had to increase my flash power above 1/64 which equaled fast recycling times and happy battery usage. Since there are no shadows cast from a uni-directional light source the output from the ring flash was very flattering for shooting anything up close. [On a side note, all of the macro photos in this post were taken with an OM Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 attached to a generic focal reducer (reviewed here) and Meike macro extension tubes (reviewed here) - for some reason this combination was magic.]

Unfortunately I did not have time to seek out a model to test the ring flash for portraiture before being called offshore for work. I shot a few self portraits but was feeling under the weather with a cold and most of the resultant photos came out pretty miserable. The self portrait session did however show me that you need to be really close to the ringflash in order for the circular catch-lights to show up (compare photo below to the one at the beginning of this post). I also noticed that a small section of the ring flash (at the top) is darker than the rest in some of the photos (see cockatiel's eye) and comes out as more of a "u" shape. Overall, I think the flash ring does work as advertised for portraits but A. I need to spend more time with it on this front to form a solid opinion and B. I have not used any other ring flash to compare the Coco version to.

Extra Macro Image Samples

In conclusion, for $50 the Coco ring flash expanded my macro horizons and has the potential to add another "look" to my portrait work (which is still in its infancy). My only gripe is that it is so large and not compatible with the GX7. I was super sad to have to leave it home after shooting with it for a week because I had a lot of fun exploring macro once again. I wish I would have thought to take pictures of the ring flash attached to the EM5 vs the GX7 to give an idea of what other mirrorless cameras may be compatible with it. I will ammend the post when I get back from offshore and hopefully will give more examples of portraits taken with the ring flash. I hope this post has at least inspired readers to go out and shoot some macro, no matter the light source : ) The micro-world is truly an amazing one.


If you live in, or are traveling to Florida and would like to schedule a photo-shoot, I am currently offering portrait services in and around Central Fl. Check out more of my work at www.samgoldphotography.com

February 10, 2015

This post comes at an interesting time as the newest (and highly anticipated) camera to grace the micro four thirds platform - OMD EM5 Mark II - was announced last week. Some may consider the Panasonic GX7 old news at this point: it was released over a year and a half ago, its ergonomics, image quality, and applications have been covered by many others, and a very good three part review comparing the GX7 to OMD EM5 has been published by Tyson Robichaud. Here, my goal is to not be redundant but provide some examples of what I like about this camera and describe how it has changed the way I shoot and share images. 

When looked at alone, the GX7 is all the camera an enthusiast photographer could ask for and besides sensor size, it gives entry level and mid range DSLRs a run for their money. It is capable of producing great images and the camera itself is highly customize-able. What attracted me to the camera initially were a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000, the ability to shoot in silent mode and remote shooting/sharing via WiFi. A feature that I found useful after the fact was it's articulating built in flash. It has allowed me to take some product shots which would have required me to use an off camera flash if I wanted the same results using the EM5. The articulating kit flash has also proved useful to me in social settings where I am able to photograph people by bouncing the kit flash off of the ceiling.

For this shot I placed my EM5 on a table covered in black fabric and pushed the table up against a wall. I then used the GX7's articulating kit flash to bounce light off the wall onto the scene. 

I like that ISO, white balance, drive mode and AF area have dedicated buttons on the GX7 vs initially having to remember what each of the unlabeled buttons were assigned to on the EM5. Another great implementation on the GX7 is that you are able to directly toggle between AF and MF. However, I prefer the super control panel of the EM5 over the Q menu of the GX7. The Q menu is still good though and allows you to quickly change a host of  camera parameters without digging into the menu. The tilting EVF is nice but I rarely use EVFs in general unless I am shooting macro or fast moving subjects (usually birds) in which I need to steady the camera using my face. Here, I prefer the EM5 because I have found my nose and other parts of my face change the AF point when I use the EVF on the GX7. Another thing to note is that I like how the GX7 feels in my hand over the EM5 but that the EM5 has a better battery life. I do not see a difference between the two cameras when it comes to image quality, high ISO output or AF when using native lenses - both are great performers.

After using the GX7, one thing that I wish my EM5 had was focus peaking. I know there is a hack, but the real thing is SOOO much better. This feature is great when using legacy lenses and the only instance I found it interfered was when I was trying to manually focus on stars because it got in the way of critically focusing on the extremely tiny point sources.

In regards to astro-photography the GX7 has a one up over the EM5 due to its "constant preview" option (Custom menu 5/8 - switch to ON). Here you are able to "preview the aperture and shutter speed effects on the recorded image". The EM5 does this automatically in Manual exposure mode (M), but the GX7s live view also changes according to the ISO value you choose. I found this to be useful while capturing the heavens because I was able to compose for the shot before taking it. Here, I mount the camera to a tripod and ensure the shutter speed is relatively fast (~1/60) but change the ISO to its highest setting (26,500). This results in a very noise -but detailed enough- preview allowing me to compose using the ball head on the tripod. After composing, I tighten the ball head, lower the ISO back to 200-800, increase the shutter speed (<10 sec) and use remote shooting to capture the scene. I wasn't able to replicate this method with the EM5 and while shooting stars with it I had to "compose blindly".

One thing I found lacking with the GX7 compared to the EM5 is related to differences in magnification modes while shooting. Firstly, I like that I can assign magnification to one of the fn buttons on the EM5. This is not an option on the GX7 and instead magnification mode is automatically engaged when you change the AF area. While using the EM5 (and especially in conjunction with a legacy lens), I usually compose a frame, move the magnification box to the area I want to be in focus, enter magnification mode, engage IBIS by half-pressing the shutter button, focus, and then fully press the shutter button (while the image is still magnified). On the GX7, I have not found a way to replicate this process because once in magnification mode if you press any other button you automatically exit it. This is not a huge problem but I have had to re-train my brain to alter the way I shoot. Now when using the GX7 I skip magnification all together and just compose while relying on focus peaking to guide what I want to be in focus. This does not work all of the time however and when I end up with a slightly out of focus image, the control freak in me wishes I could replicate the EM5 method. 

Undoubtedly, the one feature that has made me fall in love with the GX7 is WiFi!!! It has completely changed the way I share images and streamlined my workflow. As you may have read about in the past on this blog, I use VSCOcam to edit a lot of my photos (reviews here and here). My workflow when using the EM5 involves importing RAW files from my memory card to Lightroom, applying a "pre-VSCO" preset (sometimes I'll edit further), exporting the files as JPEGs and then uploading them to VSCO using the their uploader. After uploading, they automatically sync to my devices (iPad mini and Android smartphone) and I usually share to social media from there. With the GX7, I just shoot, transfer the images to my phone or iPad and directly edit using VSCOcam (and sometimes Photogene - iPad only). The only problem I have encountered with this process is that sometimes the images I upload do not look as good on my computer vs how they look on the lower resolution screens.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that WiFi inspired me to practice portraiture and actually use all of the off camera flash equipment I had lying around (the photo introducing this post is a direct result). Taking self portraits using remote shooting is simple and I am now able to experiment with lighting set ups on myself before involving anyone else.  Practicing with strobes has given me the confidence to shoot other subjects which is invaluable and something that I was not able to do with the EM5. Interestingly, even though the GX7 inspired me to experiment with portraiture, I tried using it during a session with my partner and immediately switched it out for the EM5. This is because I am more familiar with the EM5's buttons and can fully control it using only touch. The EM5 feels more like an extension of my arm that the GX7 but that is only because I have spent a lot more time with it.

It would be awesome to marry what I like about the two cameras into one amazing device but overall, the GX7 is awesome and compliments the EM5 nicely. I enjoy both for different reasons and find myself reaching for the EM5 over the GX7 only because I started my photography journey with the EM5 and it holds a special place with me. Anyone looking to jump into the mirrorless world should definitely look at the GX7 and I would consider it an upgrade from the EM5. Cherry on top is that the GX7 is relatively inexpensive right now- especially considering its MSRP when it was released. For those already invested in the micro four thirds system getting a GX7 as a second body is a no brain-er.


If you live in, or are traveling to Florida and would like to schedule a photo-shoot, I am currently offering portrait services in and around Central Fl. Check out more of my work at www.samgoldphotography.com

Extra Image Samples


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