Canon 1Dx note.

A note for fellow owners of the Canon 1Dx — but in general, for all others too: it always pays to learn your camera inside out.

You use your camera by looking through the viewfinder only, as you are shooting. That is the way to do it quickly and, if you will, professionally. Never take your eye off.

The problem is that you can change aperture and shutter and instantly see the meter move, without taking your eye from the viewfinder. But ISO? You need to find a button, and while you adjust the ISO value, the meter display goes away. So finding the right exposure by adjusting ISO is an iterative process: trial and error. Takes time. Not professional.

Until you know the camera!

The solution:

  1. Go to the Quick menu (“Q”)
  2. In that, navigate to the bottom right option, “Custom Controls“.
  3. In that screen, go to the SET Button.
  4. Adjust it to Set ISO Speed (hold btn, turn wheel).

Now to set ISO while looking through the viewfinder, you simply press the SET button and turn the front wheel. ISO adjusts and the meter still displays throughout the process. Problem solved!

Owners of a 5D MkIII: is it the same? Other cameras: same?


Solve your Xmas shopping needs right now, this minute: buy a gift certificate and/or the e-books. Scroll down to yesterday’s post.

Manual or TTL?

When making flash pictures, your camera will be on manual mode—I hope so, anyway. It’s the way to go. This means you set ISO, aperture and shutter yourself.

But your flash does not need to be on manual. That is to say, flash power can still be metered and be adjusted by the camera, automatically. We call this “TTL” (Through The Lens metering). And TTL can work even when the camera itself is on manual.

When your flash is in TTL mode, the back looks something like this:

You see TTL, ETTL, TTL-BL, i.e. something containing the letters TTL. This means the flash power is adjusted automatically by the camera. If you are close to something, the flash will fire at low power; if you are far away, a high power flash will be emitted. Magic!

The alternative is that you set the flash power. Manual flash, in other words. Press the MODE button on the back of the flash and set it to Manual:

In the photo above, the flash is set to half power (1/2). It could also be set to full power (100%, or 1/1), or to quarter power (1/4), or one eight power (1/8), one sixteenth (1/16), and so on; or to some level in between.

Try this now. Set your camera to manual mode, 1/40 second, 400 ISO, f/4. Now turn on your flash and set it to manual, and set it to 1/64 power. Using the viewfinder, take a photo. Check the photo: You will probably be hard pressed to see the flash, especially if your subject is far away.

Now set it to full power (1/1, or 100%). Do the same again. Whew, probably a grossly overexposed picture!

But you probably noticed something else. You did not see the flash through the viewfinder. “Did it work?”, you may well have asked. That is because when the flash is on manual, it fires just once, at the power level you set. You do not get the metering pre-flash that it uses when set to TTL mode (a flash at 1/32 power that is used to determine the needed power level). And that preflash is the one you can see through the viewfinder. The actual flash you cannot see!

Now, an exercise.

  1. Find an object to photograph. With the camera set as before, and the flash on MANUAL, find the correct power level for a good picture. Aim the flash straight ahead for this exercise.
  2. Now move 40% farther from the object. E.g. if your original distance was one metre, make it 1.4 metres. Or if you were 4 feet away, make it 5 feet 7 inches (that is 40% farther than 4 feet).
  3. Now find the correct power level for this picture. How much more power did you need? And (an advanced question for mathematicians): why? (Hint: it’s actually 41.4% farther).

Have fun.


Connecting Your Flash

When you use an off-camera flash, you somehow have to connect that flash to your camera.


You could use an old-fashioned cable, of course. But cables are a bit of a pain: they have people fall, or drag cameras to the floor, their connector reliability is less than stellar, and they are hard to get. But fortunately, there is good news: there are a few other practical ways to connect your flash or flashes to your camera.

Let’s look at all possible ways to connect:

  1. Using a cable from camera to flash. As said, not a terribly good idea.
  2. Using optical remote operation; using the “TTL”-system built into the flash. This works well, but only if there is line of sight, or a reflected light path, between camera and all remote flashes.
  3. The same, but using radio; the system is built into the flash (currently, Canon 600EX only).
  4. Operation using “TTL” (full function) radio triggers (e.g. Pocketwizard Flex, Yongnuo 622).
  5. Operation using “Simple” (restricted function) radio triggers (e.g. the “old” Pocketwizards, Yongnuo 603) and a special cable from Pocketwizard to flash.

This short article is about the question “4 or 5?”. i.e. you have decided to use wireless triggers, like Pocketwizards, and now the question is :”which ones: triggers that give you full TTL control or just simple ones that do not support TTL, i.e. that need you to set flash power manually.”

In this case, I argue for 5.

Why? Why not use TTL control?

  1. When doing pro shoots with Off-Camera Flash (OCF) you are more likely to use manual flash settings than TTL anyway, so the additional benefit of TTL is minor, and needs to be offset against the following drawbacks.
  2. Triggers that support TTL (Through The Lens metering) need to be reverse engineered, since the protocols are proprietary. Reverse engineering always carries the risk that it will not always work properly under all circumstances, now or in the future. (The history of the TTL Pocketwizards proves this.)
  3. TTL triggers need to use all the contacts on the flash, as opposed to the single contact a simple manual system needs (ground plus one signal lead). And again, extra stuff means extra complexity, which carries with it the risk of malfunction.
  4. TTL triggers need to send actual data. Non-TTL triggers merely turn a switch, as it were; a signal lead without binary data. As before: complexity…
  5. TTL triggers are brand-specific (you cannot use a Nikon Flex on a Canon camera, for instance). So if you have a problem you cannot just reach out and borrow one from a colleague. You need to stick with Nikon- or Canon-versions of your triggers.
  6. Because of their complexity, TTL triggers need firmware updates. One more thing to worry about: life is complicated enough already, in my opinion.
  7. TTL triggers need you to use a flash made by your camera maker. Non-TTL systems have a huge advantage here, namely that your flashes can be any make, any age, any brand: as long as you can set the power level, the flash will work.
  8. Many TTL triggers use small batteries, while Pocketwizard non-TTL triggers use two AA batteries. If there is anything sure in life it is death, taxes, and AA batteries.

And that is why I prefer non-TTL triggers.

It is rare that a post has me falling asleep while I am writing it. But it is 2:46AM: time to get some sleep. More tomorrow.


Bokeh, anyone?

I have mentioned before that the quality of the background blur is an important indicator of a lens’s quality.

The lens I used for this photo (the 35mm f/1.4 lens)  has very good bokeh (wonderful creamy background blur):

(1/50 sec, 1600 ISO, f/2.2

A cheap lens lacks the wonderful “creamy” bokeh you see above; its blur is more “mottled”, “chunky”. I can easily tell whether a good lens was used, or not.

High ISO on a Canon 7D

You know, forget using a Canon 7D (original) above 800 ISO: it’s just too noisy.

Oh? So how did I take the picture above at 3200 ISO?

Simple. By exposing right. I.e. by exposing bright.

Bright is right.

Bright pixels are sharp pixels.

If you expose on the bright side, noise is not nearly as bad as you may think. Just avoid muddy, murky, noisy pictures. “3200 ISO and bright” is much better than “800 ISO and dark”. Cockroaches hide in the dark. As do millipedes, politicians and noise and grain.Bright is good; “extra bright and then pulling the picture back in post” is even better.

The moral of this story: Do not be afraid to go to high ISO values if you have to. Just do it right: and expose brightly.