Gear Review: Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera Kit

The post Gear Review: Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

1 - Gear Review Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera Kit

The Canon EOS M50 is a compact interchangeable lens camera for aspiring photographers looking for an easy way to boost the quality of their photos and videos. Sporting 4k video capabilities to capture your favorite memories, 24-megapixel vibrant photographs, and Dual Pixel Autofocus system, the Canon EOS M50 is a masterful piece of technology.

Social media mavens can benefit from the camera’s Wifi function that allows users to connect to the Canon Camera Connect app to transfer images to their smart device. From there, you can share and upload from your device directly to various social media sites.

Canon’s newest addition is an excellent introduction to mirrorless cameras. Complete with a lens, its ready to go right out of the box – making it a fantastic holiday season gift for any photography enthusiast. Following is why this camera is so spectacular!

What is a Mirrorless Camera?

Before we get into it, let’s have a quick look at what a mirrorless camera is and how this new technology compares to digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs).

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The way that a digital SLR camera works is that a mirror inside the camera reflects the light up to the optical viewfinder (which is also how you see the image before you take it). When you release the shutter, the mirror lifts, allowing the light to hit the sensor and capture the image.

In a mirrorless camera, there is no mirror or optical viewfinder. Instead, the imaging sensor gets exposed to light at all times. This method gives you a digital preview of your image either on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder (EVF).  As such, a mirrorless camera is one that doesn’t require a reflex mirror – a key component of DSLR cameras.

Due to the lack of mirror, the camera is significantly smaller and lighter weight than a DSLR, a very distinct difference between the two. However, DSLRs are well-trusted because of their true-to-life through-the-lens optical viewfinder system, which uses a series of mirrors to reflect light to your eye.

Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, require an electronic viewfinder or LCD screen for image monitoring. Both are equally spectacular. Each model has their own pros and cons and it comes down to personal choice.

Canon EOS M50 features and specifications

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The Canon EOS M50 mirrorless camera sports some very impressive features that would make even the smuggest photographer blush. The EOS M50 delivers improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF for fast, accurate autofocus that helps you get the photo you want right at the moment it happens.

The 24.1 Megapixel (APS-C) sensor is capable of capturing high-resolution image and video. The files grant the user images suitable for enlargements with sufficient resolution for significant cropping. The video capability of this hardy little camera is even more impressive. It has the ability to record in 4K UHD at 24 frames per second. The high-speed 120p mode is possible in HD.

According to the manufacturer, the built-in high-resolution electronic viewfinder features approximately 2,360,000 dots. So, you can see high amounts of detail in whatever you’re capturing.

The vari-angle Touchscreen LCD, which has a flexible tilt range. The tilt range is ideal for high-angle and low-angle shooting so you can get the composition you want without breaking your back. The Canon EOS M50 camera features the new DIGIC 8 Image Processor, which helps improve autofocus performance, enables you to shoot 4K UHD 24p video and aids with many other advanced features.

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  • Improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Eye Detection AF.
  • 24.1 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor with ISO 100-25600 (H: 51200).
  • 4K UHD* 24p and HD 120p** for Slow Motion.
  • Built-in OLED EVF*** with Touch and Drag AF.
  • Vari-angle Touchscreen LCD.
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth Technology.
  • Automatic Image Transfer to Compatible Devices while Shooting.
  • New DIGIC 8 Image Processor with Improved Auto Lighting Optimizer.
  • Silent Mode for Quiet Operation.

This is only the second EOS M model to have a built-in Electronic View Finder (with the first being the EOS M5). It is also the first EOS M model to offer 4k video, which puts it one step ahead of the EOS M5. The camera also uses a DIGIC 8 processor, rather than the older DIGIC 7 processor.

Physical build

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This camera’s size is brilliant! It is smaller than my cell phone (Google Pixel). Easy to throw into any bag, purse, or pocket. The body construction consists of polycarbonate rather than a metal body shell, but it still feels robust enough in your hand. The camera features a very comfortable and well-designed grip containing  ‘hooks’ for your second finger and thumb. As a result, the M50 feels surprisingly secure, even when used with one hand.

Much like Canon’s pro-level DSLRs, the controls are well laid-out. The buttons are a decent size and easily located by touch while using the viewfinder. However, the size may be an issue for those with larger hands. My hands are petite, and I find the controls just fine (haha)!

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The tilt, vari-angle touch screen is brilliant. This nifty feature has infinite uses. Additionally, the screen can be stowed backward against the camera body to avoid any potential scratches (for those that don’t purchase screen protectors). The built-in viewfinder is very helpful when shooting during the noon sun or other bright conditions. There’s an auto activation when your eye approaches the viewfinder, ensuring that the LCD doesn’t blind you.

Canon has a knack for making its small models handle well and feel professional. The M50 is proof of this.


Canon’s autofocus is what has kept me loyal to the brand for over ten years now. Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS sensor that the M50 sports mean every sensor pixel is capable of being used for phase detection. Allowing fast autofocus almost wherever the subject gets situated within the frame. The AF system is sensitive down to -2 EV, which means the camera continues to focus in extremely low light.

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A new autofocus feature of this model is the eye-detection autofocus. The camera can find eyes on your subject and lock focus on them with the push of a button. It is photographic witchcraft, and I love it. This feature is activated when face detection is turned on, to focus specifically on your subject’s eye.

Do make note that this fun feature is only available in single-AF mode, which means you can’t use it track focus during burst shooting. As can be seen above, the eyes of my dog are nicely in focus (and this was easy to achieve, even when she moved a bit).

I have always preferred the AI Servo | Continuous Focus mode due to the majority of my subjects moving around a lot. Thanks to the ability to use phase-detection anywhere in the frame, this feature is fast and reliable.

Low light capability

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As the years’ progress, so does low-light capability. In higher ISO levels, image quality stands up very well at ISO 800. It’s only at ISO 3200 noise, and noise reduction starts to blur away detail. However, the color gets retained well. The higher numbers are passable for smaller reproductions, but you’ll generally find yourself not wanting to move beyond 12,500 max! The autofocus continues to shine even at low-light levels.

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Battery life

I have always been a tremendous fan of Canon’s batteries. They always continue to impress me with their longevity. This camera is no exception, despite having an always-on LCD screen! As always, I do suggest purchasing more than one battery, but you can remain confident in this camera lasting you through your entire photo session and photography adventures.

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The lens: EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM

The M50 kit comes complete with the EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM, a compact and stylized zoom lens for the mirrorless camera. The lens is very compact and features a side switch to flatten the lens when stored. This feature makes traveling with the M50 kit an absolute breeze.

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With the 15-45mm kit lens with its STM focus motor, autofocus is great. It is super-fast, silent, accurate, and excellent for any photography style. The 35mm-equivalent 24-72mm range combines a wide-angle for landscapes and big group photos, with a telephoto zoom for close-ups and detailed headshots.

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I found the lens to be reliable, fast, and sharp – no complaints whatsoever!

Final thoughts

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The Canon EOS M50 is an excellent entry-level camera for aspiring, beginner, and hobbyist photographers alike. From its variety of features to its portable size and ease-of-use, unraveling this camera under the Christmas tree would excite even the most controlled picture-takers. Plus, having a kit that comes with a lens is just a brilliant bonus!

The post Gear Review: Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review

The post The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Focus is one of the most important concepts for a photographer. It can make or break an image. Whether you’re a pixel peeper like me who always looks for technical critical focus or an image maker who uses specific focus points to tell a story,  how the camera focuses is everything.

That’s why the newest addition to the Sony Alpha series is so conversation-worthy. With the 399 focus points on the Sony a7R III, and its ability to track focus like no other, the company touts it’s hard to get a shot that’s out of focus. This camera is like an artificially intelligent robot – it can predict and figure out exactly what you want in focus on.

With the thumb joystick on the back of the camera, you can quickly and easily change your focus point. And its AI Servo is out of this world. It could figure out the entire outline of a subject and hold on to it for dear life.

I take varying images – shooting animal action sports, live concerts, and everything in between. So I took all the boasting I’ve heard about this camera and put it to the ultimate test.

About the Sony a7R III

The a7R III is one of Sony’s newest and flashiest addition to its impressive mirrorless line of cameras. According to its website, the Sony a7R III sports the following drool-worthy perks:

  • 42.4 MP 35mm full-frame Exmor R™ CMOS and enhanced processing system
  • Standard ISO 100-32000 range (upper limit expandable to 1024005, with a lower limit of 50)
  • Fast Hybrid AF with 399-point focal-plane phase-detection AF and 425-point contrast-detection AF. The focus modes include:
    • AF-A (Automatic AF)
    • AF-S (Single-shot AF)
    • AF-C ( Continuous AF)
    • DMF (Direct Manual Focus)
    • Manual Focus
  • Face detection, with Modes:
    • Face Priority in AF (On/Off)
    • Face Priority in Multi Metering (On/Off)
    • Regist. Faces Priority (On/Off)
    • Face registration (max. number detectable: 8)
  • High-speed continuous shooting of up to 10fps (12fps with AF/AE tracking)
  • 5-axis image stabilization with 5.5-stop exposure advantage
  • 4K video recording
  • Dual card slots with simultaneous or consecutive recording
  • Silent Shooting Mode

The camera is compatible solely with Sony E-mount lenses, including G-Master and Zeiss lenses (sought after in the Sony world). The aspect ratio is 3:2, and the camera can record still images in JPEG, (DCF Ver. 2.0, Exif Ver.2.31, MPF Baseline compliant) and RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format). The images are quite large: a 35mm full-frame image is 42MP (7,952 x 5,304 pixels), which in uncompressed RAW format takes up about 80MB of storage.

The camera also has built-in noise reduction software you can turn on or off as needed.

But what really set this camera apart (and why I fell in love with it) is the autofocus.

The Sony a7R III Autofocus Features

The a7R III allows for silent shooting at up to 10fps with AF/AE tracking – great for those who do wildlife photography. Shooting at 10 FPS yields up to 76 images at a time (when shooting JPEG).

Its phase-detect points cover around 47% of the sensor area. When you combine that with the contrast-detect sensor areas, the total AF coverage is nearly 68% of the frame.

Advanced algorithms provide high AF precision down to light levels as low as -3 EV for more reliable autofocus in dark scenes. The enhanced Fast Hybrid AF speeds up AF approximately two times faster under dim lighting conditions. The camera’s infrared technology allows it to autofocus even in extremely low or difficult lighting situations.

The camera also has an ‘eye autofocus’ setting. You read that right: it can find eyes on your subject and lock focus on them with the push of a button. This is photographic witchcraft and I love it. The a7R III’s Eye AF evolves with twice the effective eye detection and tracking, even when shooting a moving portrait subject. It’s touted by the company to work when:

  • the subject’s face is partially hidden
  • the subject is looking down or wearing glasses
  • the subject is backlit
  • the lighting is dim or low
  • the subject is far away.

The a7R III includes a touchscreen that provides touch AF, focus point dragging and focus racking features. The AF-C (continuous autofocus) option feature is extraordinary. The camera can keep tracking the subject even if it’s changing direction erratically or an object gets in the way.

Tip: The ‘Expand Flexible Spot’ mode is a good one to start from, and works well with the AF joystick for quick adjustments to the preferred focus area.

Real Life Use

This camera is fast and accurate. With my DSLRs, I usually have to refocus multiple times. But I didn’t have to do it once on the Sony a7R III. I think mirrorless cameras really outshine most DSLRs in the autofocus department.

Here’s how it did in various scenarios:

Action and Sports

I photograph a lot of action, and when I first bought this camera I took it to a Frisbee dog competition to test it out. I was absolutely blown away by the autofocus. The camera even recognized a dog’s face with its facial tracking autofocus and maintained focus on the dog’s face throughout its trick-induced performance. When the dog moved further away the focus changed to the animal’s entire body, which I appreciated.

Regardless of how spontaneously the dog moved, the focus remained locked.

I typically use my Canon 7D Mark II for animal sports photography due to its speed and the fact the body is intended for action. But I now prefer the a7R III due to its superb tracking. The 7D tends to get lost when there isn’t much contrast between the subject and the other objects in the frame, such as photographing in the fog. (Many of these dog sporting events happen around 7am when the fog rolls onto the field.)

The Sony mirrorless clearly identified the subject despite the lack of contrast. It can even refocus on dogs running at me without needing any prompting or additional technique.


Portraits are an absolute breeze with this camera. From face tracking to eye tracking, it’s almost impossible to take an out-of-focus image unless you have your settings wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the eye tracking feature is said to work in problematic scenarios (the face is partially hidden, the subject is looking down, etc.)

Well, I can confirm that what Sony promises is true. It works in all of those scenarios. Even when I shot a model wearing unnatural contacts and bright glittery makeup, the camera had no issue.

Dimly-Lit and Golden Hour Portraits

Much like the camera’s success with well-lit portraits, the Sony a7R III can focus on portraits in dim light as if they were lit to perfection. I’m happy to say there was absolutely no difference between the two. Night portraits were a breeze.

The golden hour portraits were just as easy (not to mention exquisite). My other cameras have focusing issues when the sun is low and hitting the lens at an angle. But the a7R III breezed through and held focus on the subject no matter how the sun was hitting the lens glass.

Live Concerts

Dogs may wake me up in the mornings, but it’s the rock stars who keep me awake at night. In the evenings you’ll probably find me shooting a live concert with an arsenal of camera equipment to get me through the job.

Live concerts are extremely difficult focusing situations. In fact, they’re like a low-light sports situation. For the most part, you’ll have limited lighting, and have to deal with colored bulbs that can paint the subject with a very saturated color (such as the dreaded red hue).

Live concerts are also high-energy and filled with action as the guitarists swing their guitars and the drummer pounds away. You may not always have enough contrast to work with, and plenty of annoying obstacles to get in the way of whatever musicians you’re photographing.

Much like I found success in dog sports photography, the Sony a7R III does mighty well at maintaining focus on the subject despite erratic movement or instruments getting in the way. If the light is low but even, the camera does a splendid job of finding the subject thanks to its Advanced AF algorithms.

Unfortunately, live concerts are also where we hit a bit of a snag. As venue goers know, most music venues (especially small indie ones) don’t have consistent lighting on the stage. It can be uneven, sporadic, and wild. Some genres of music (e.g. metal and rock) really love using strobe lights on the stage as well.

And this is where the Sony a7R III flops terribly.

The moment strobes are used, the camera completely loses its ability to focus or find the subject. It’s a negative I haven’t seen covered in other reviews and one that keeps me from bringing this camera to a live concert (after having a particularly bad experience at a recent show).

When strobes were involved, none of the autofocus settings or adjustments worked. The camera began to hunt and then failed to focus at all. This happened with other native and non-native lenses. My guess is the infrared technology is affected by the strobing effects, but that’s just an assumption.

Non-Native Lens with an Adapter

As an avid 16-year Canon user with an army of L lenses, I have no plans on switching brands anytime soon. When I added the Sony a7R III to my kit, I immediately looked for ways to adapt my L glass to the Sony camera. (That way I’d need to buy only buy one native lens for the Sony and use the rest of my existing kit.)

After testing out several adapters I found that the Metabones Smart Adapter worked best.

Now it was time to test the autofocus on a non-native lens.

Although some of the autofocus features (e.g. eye-tracking) are disabled on non-native lenses, the facial recognition and AF-C (continuous autofocus) features worked like a charm. Once I’d calibrated the adapter to my lenses I didn’t experience any lag, searching or loss of focus. And despite certain features being unavailable, the camera was just as fast with non-native lenses as it was with native ones – even in low light. (I took this set up out for a spin during a club event.)

But the strobing issue was still there, which is why I’m convinced it’s a camera issue rather than a lens issue.

Final Thoughts

I have no regrets investing top dollar in this mirrorless camera. I find myself using it as much as my DSLRs, and I have three of them. I’ll often pick the mirrorless for more complex shoots simply because of its exquisite face tracking with autofocus.

Have I got you salivating? Think the Sony a7R III might be your next camera? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

The post The (Almost) Perfect Autofocus of the Sony a7R III: a Hands-On Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Gear Review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens

Gear review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens 1


Sony has very quickly risen to be a photography power horse in the professional world. With their collection of impressive mirrorless cameras and fantastic cinema products, Sony has carved a name for themselves among the photography legends such as Canon, Nikon, and Leica. As such, it is of no wonder that the company has released a version of their own of the famous 85mm f/1.4 lens (Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens) – a fixed millimeter that features a beautifully creamy bokeh.

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I am a very versatile photographer. My work spans a variety of niches in the field, from live concerts to portraiture, action photography to animals. I have found a use for the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens in all of these situations, and the wide aperture is a fantastic bonus for the work that I do.

I use this lens in low light situations, aiding in isolating the subject in busy locations, and creating a precise depth-of-field-look for my clients.

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Lens build

My frame of reference is the Canon L lenses of which this is meant to be an equivalent. I find the build of those lenses to be very high quality and durable. Upon opening the box to unveil the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens, I was actually rather impressed at the build quality. The camera weighs about 825g – almost 2lbs – a significant weight.

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The outer casing of this lens is high-quality polycarbonate, and all markings are engraved and filled with paint. The physical feel of the lens in your hand is solid and sturdy. The rubberized focus ring was quite comfortable to the touch and was very smooth to turn.

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The lens features a rubberized focus ring, an aperture ring, an AF/MF switch, and on the left side of the lens, there is a programmable button that you can set to work as most anything. An excellent idea for a lens!

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The hood that comes with the camera is also high quality in build. The hood sports a rubberized front bumper and felt on the inside to counteract stray light. Furthermore, there is also a button which you have to press to remove the hood, which ensures the hood stays in place.

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Aperture ring

As an avid Canon DSLR and EF lens user who had recently added a Sony mirrorless to the collection, the aperture ring was something a bit new to me.

Intended to be very beneficial during cinema work, instead of adjusting the aperture on the camera body, you have the option of adjusting its width on the lens. This ring can be adjusted to either be silent or make little clicks to indicate it is turning – very useful for silent shooting.

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For those that prefer to adjust the aperture on the camera body itself, you can set the dial ring to ‘A’ for automatic. My one gripe would be the location of the ‘A’ option- it sits on the f/16 side rather than the f/1.4. It seems more logical to me to place this option on the side of the widest aperture. I found myself accidentally shifting the ring over to f/16 during shooting.

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The focus on this lens is very accurate if I do say so myself. Although in these types of camera combinations, much of the autofocus relies on the camera- but the speed is very much the lens. The close focusing distance is approximately 0.8m.

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I have read reviews of others who have had focus issues with this model, but I have not. I was able to record an entire sequence of a dog running directly at me from start to finish in perfect tack sharpness. The body I am pairing the lens with is the Sony a7r III, which can make a significant difference.

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Keep in mind that shooting at f/1.4 has its challenges- wide apertures tend to be difficult if you aren’t used to them. To quickly refresh you of the basics, when you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. To get your subject in focus, it has to be on the focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis.

Anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus. With wide apertures like f/1.4, your focal plane is quite narrow. Quick trick? Step further back to widen the plane!

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Talking about the focus naturally leads to sharpness. This lens is tremendously sharp. I was very impressed with the amount of detail that this lens can capture. There is absolutely no reason to add sharpening in post-processing.

One of the first sessions I did with the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens was action portraits at the beach, and the final result managed to pick up all of the detail including specks of sand flying up.

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I was also very impressed with the clarity and colors when using this lens- the glass was superb. Though I still find a significant advantage in Canon L glass (reminding that I am an avid Canon user), in regards to raw-off-of-the-camera quality. This lens is a close second best.

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Depth of field

The bokeh produced from this lens is where the difference is quite noticeable to the trained eye. The depth of field (DOF) at f/1.4 looks somewhat different from that of its competitors, such as Canon’s equivalent.

I find the depth of field looks more dreamy and a bit artificial from other similar lenses, but it has an authenticity and liveliness to it. The shallow DOF has quite a bit of a subtle, calmer rotation that creates a very natural look to the images (or in the least, as natural as this shallow of a field can be).

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That said, there is a vignetting that occurs at f/1.4. Some people like this, others don’t. I enjoy the natural vignetting that is contrary to popular opinion, but for those that find it a nuisance, keep in mind that this issue does occur with this lens.

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Flare resistance

A big bonus that sets this lens apart from others is its impressive flare resistance. Most of the time you can just shoot directly into the sun and you will neither have problems with a huge loss of contrast nor ghosting. This is brilliant for natural light photographers, especially during the beloved golden hour.

For me, as a concert photographer, I found this to be a significant perk as the stage lights didn’t flare too badly.

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Chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration, also known as ‘color fringing’ or ‘purple fringing,’ is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane.

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Unfortunately, where I lose a bit of love for this lens is the chromatic aberration issue it suffers. Though I have read reviews in which others claim that the chromatic aberration is minimal, I have experienced the contrary and consider the chromatic aberration to be rather severe.

I have used several high-quality fast lenses that have little to no aberration, and this is not one of them. I have experienced a slew of colors coming out in quite contrasted images, ranging from the purple fringe to aqua or bright green fringing. Although this can be removed in post-processing (especially in a program such as Lightroom), that is an extra step.

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Pros and cons of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens


  • Very fast lens – focusing is a breeze.
  • The build quality is quite solid and durable.
  • Very sharp and clear images.
  • The depth of field is more natural rather than dreamy, which I find to be positive.
  • This is a full-frame lens intended for full-frame cameras – always a massive perk.
  • Excellent flare resistance.


  • Very noticeable chromatic aberration in high contrast situations.
  • Visible vignetting at wide apertures.
  • The ‘A’ option on the aperture ring is located in an inconvenient spot (in my opinion).
  • The lens has a significant weight.
  • The price is a bit steep at around $1700 USD.

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For those rocking Sony E-mount cameras, this lens is dreamy. An excellent and high-quality choice as a native Sony mount. I find it to be rather worth it for those sporting this brand’s camera body.

Have you used the  Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens? What are your experiences with it? Let us know in the comments below.


The post Gear Review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it)

Concert photography is arguably one of the most adrenaline-filled niches you can engage in as an image maker. Musicians, magazines, fans, and record labels alike turn to skilled concert photographers to tell a story for the momentous performance. For most music photographers (due to venue constraints) there is less than ten minutes to capture enough great images to populate a full gallery. Partner this with tumultuous circumstances such as sporadic lighting and an excitable audience and you have effectively created a photographic situation that is unlike any other.

As such, shooting with a very wide open aperture might appear to be too daunting of a task! There are common misunderstandings of how to use and work with a wide open aperture! If your inner aesthete drools over soft, dreamy photographs and creamy bokeh, then you better get ready to play with some low, low, low numbers. We are here to tell you how to photograph concerts at f/1.2, f/1.4, and f/1.8!

Wide aperture concert photography tips

Why Use an Ultra Wide Aperture?

Here are 5 reasons you may want to consider shooting concert photography with a wide open aperture.

1. Aesthetic and Style

To preface, a lot of the quality and final image look is based on the type of lens used. In the past several years, photography fans are gravitating towards the shallow depth of field aesthetic. If you’re in the business of producing commercial music photography (like myself), you’re going to want to keep following the trends and adapting to what is sought after in the industry.

Aesthetic and Style with Wide Aperture Concert Photography

An added bonus is being able to niche yourself a bit in an industry that has a lot of competition, many photographers are wary of shooting fast paced events with a wide aperture due to potential focusing issues. If you can master this art, you have something that will separate you from others.


2. Low Light Capability

Low light concert photography with wide aperture

Unless you’re shooting a big name at an amphitheater, a lot of smaller venues will have very poor lighting. You’ll need to use equipment that will illuminate the frame with whatever limited lighting is available. In these low light scenarios you need a lens with a wide enough aperture to let in more light. Using a lens that goes down to f/1.2, for example, is a great way to let enough light in and make the frame bright. Remember, the aperture is the hole the light passes through in your lens. The wider the aperture, the more light that enters the camera.


3. Shallow Depth of Field

Shoot concert photography with shallow depth of field

The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. Shallow depth of field is great for live concerts because the stage can be rather cluttered compositionally. From instruments to cables, background props, and other band members, there can be a lot going on in the frame at once. Only having one subject in focus with the rest blending into a creamy bokeh makes for a much more visually pleasing and simplified image. With the depth-of-field being so shallow, whatever troubles you about the background can easily melt into a beautiful creamy bokeh.


4. Detail Shots

Capture detail in your concert photography with wide aperture

On the topic of shallow depth of field, if you are photographing for an instrument company, an aperture of f/1.8 will likely become your best friend. This is because photographs taken with a large aperture allow all of the focus to lie on the subject, and the background ceases to remain a distraction. Many instrument companies love to have their products captured in a natural usable setting, such as musicians at a live show.A shallow depth of field will keep the interest solely on your single subject.


5. Sharpness

How to achieve sharpness in your concert photography with wide aperture

Due to technological constraints, lenses that open their aperture below f/2.8 are fixed millimeter lenses (they do not zoom). As a general rule, fixed millimeter lenses tend to be sharper than lenses with a range.


Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room: Focusing with a Wide Open Aperture

Right where all of the benefits of an f-stop of 1.2 start to break down is the focusing. The wider the aperture and the shallower the depth of field, the more difficult it can be to focus on what you want. Pair that with a live show in which the lighting is a bit of a mess, and the subjects move spontaneously in various directions, and it sounds like the perfect recipe for a photographer migraine. However, focusing with a wider aperture doesn’t have to be so difficult- it’s just a different thought process.

The Concept of Sharpness

Sharp concert photography through composition

Really, the focus stems from a desire to have an image that is sharp. But what is sharpness? Sharpness is an interesting concept. How sharp a subject appears is a matter of two things: the focus the camera captures and the amount of contrast on your subject. The term “sharpness” is, in fact, an illusion. You see, for an image to be considered sharp, it needs to have contrast. If the there is little contrast in the image, the subject will not look three-dimensional regardless of whether the focus is perfect or not. Biologically, the way that our eyes work, our vision naturally detects edges to register sharpness, and shadows and highlights in order to record the depth in a subject. This is a very important concept to understand when answering the question of how to make images look sharp. When editing your concert photography images, be attentive to the shadows and highlights. And add contrast to define your subject.


Perfect Focus

Sharp concert photography through perfect focus and wide aperture

In terms of getting your image to actually be sharp (from being in perfect focus), here is the basic concept of how focus works in a camera. When you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. To get your subject in focus, it has to be on the focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis. This means anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus. The concern with a wide open aperture is that your focal plane is quite small. As you decrease your aperture number and make the opening wider, the invisible area in front and behind the plane of focus will get smaller and smaller, leaving you with much less wiggle-room. As such, distance from the subject plays a key role in your focus.

When shooting wide open, even the smallest diversion from either of the focal plane axes will cause your subject to be out-of-focus. You cannot take a step forward or back without the need to refocus when shooting at a wide aperture. But by keeping this in mind, you can adjust your photography technique to better accommodate the small focal plane.

Single Point Autofocus

Using single point focus and wide aperture in concert photography

A trick to help make sure that what you want in focus is indeed sharp, is to use single point autofocus. By default, your camera will probably select either the object that’s closest to the camera or what’s in the center of the frame. By using single point autofocus, you tell the camera exactly where to focus, which is extremely helpful with low aperture numbers. Refer to your camera model’s manual to find how to change the focus setting!

The Real Secret

The real secret to wide aperture concert photography

Keeping in mind how the focal plane works, this is the big trick to shooting wide open at a concert: The farther away you are from the subject, the easier it is to get the subject in focus. You can get the subject in focus and still maintain and extremely creamy depth of field.

Whether you’re in a photo pit or just in the main venue floor, your position to begin the concert shoot can significantly affect your success for the rest of the shoot. Keeping in mind that for most general photography passes your time is limited, you need to be ready to jump right into the shoot the very second the music hits your ears. My suggestion is to start on the outer edges of the pit or venue and work your way to the middle. Many concert photographers all flock to the center of the shooting zone, and begin shoving to claim their dead center spot. When you start from the edge, while the other photographers are all congregating and fighting for the center, you have much more room to move freely on the outer edge. This is where you will have an advantage to be able to move a bit further away from your subject in order to expand your plane and get that perfect focus.

Shooting concert photography in wide aperture

Now that you’ve been let in to the secret, go out there and capture some awesome concert shots!

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Concert Photography with a Wide Open Aperture (and the Secret to Perfecting it) appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Evecase Canvas DSLR Backpack

Awesome highlights of this wild career: taking photographs, hanging out with cool clients, and producing stunning imagery.

The not-so-fun part: transporting all the cameras, lenses and bits and bobs we need from point A to point B.

If you’re like me, you know that being able to carry all of our must-haves comfortably can make or break the work day. I’m always looking for better ways to lug my gear. So when I came across the Evecase Canvas DSLR Backpack I had to try it out.

The Evecase Canvas DSLR Backpack


Before we get into my opinion of this strappy carrying device, let’s take a moment to discuss what this backpack is about. According to Evecase it “features a customizable interior which can hold camera bod and 2-5 lenses, a laptop compartment that holds a 14-inch laptop, Chromebook or tablet, plenty of pockets, pouches and spaces for jackets, books, a tripod and other accessories. Rain or shine, wet or dry, the removable rain cover will give your backpack the best protection. Fashionable canvas design with discreet look that won’t stand out as camera backpack.

According to Evecase, the highlights include an easy-to-access camera compartment, discreet instant laptop access, and extended top storage. There are a slew of accessory pockets, tripod holder straps, stowaway side pockets and ergonomic shoulder straps.


I won’t lie. The appearance of this canvas backpack is what piqued my interest in the first place. I always gravitate towards cases that don’t scream “Expensive camera equipment stored in here”, and this backpack is certainly inconspicuous enough.

This product is 15 x 12.5 x 7 inches , with the camera compartment being 9.6 x 11 x 4 inches.

The canvas fabric material has a subtle texture to it and is a rather pretty grey. The material is waterproof and weatherproof. (Well, generally. But it also comes with a waterproof case.) It looks like something you’d take on a camping trip or backpacking across Europe. The details are all black, and the color scheme can easily match whatever your style is. Much of my carrying devices and storage units are grey. (I like having all of my products match one another.)

The front of the backpack features a multitude of pockets and flaps, with bottle or beverage pockets that can be stowed away discreetly when not in use. The inside is lined with a light, slate grey that has a bit of a blue tint to it.

The backpack has a bit of weight when empty, but not enough to concern me.

Build Quality

The build quality is where other people’s reviews on this product get a little shifty. I’ve read many claims of it ripping at the seams or being rather fragile. But having used this Evecase product rigorously for more than a month, I haven’t experienced it myself.

The photography I do involves a lot of wear and tear on whatever I have with me. I photograph canine sports, exotic animals and live concerts. My daily dose of damage can include anything from animals biting my bags to a rowdy crowd unintentionally tearing at my stuff. After being put through the wringer for more than 30 days, this bag has managed to survive with almost no visible damage.

Even when it’s fully packed, I haven’t experience any ripping, tearing, or deformity of the compartments due to the weight. I even took it for a spin at the beach (being from California and all), and neither sand nor salty water caused much of an issue. Based on my experiences alone, I’d consider the build quality on this backpack to be great.

That being said, as with any product you own a bit of TLC goes a very long way in ensuring its longevity. I have weekly cleaning where I perform cleaning and basic maintenance on of my work gear. And backpacks, cases and other carrying devices are no exception.


The main criteria for whether or not a backpack, sling, or any carrying device stays is comfort. After dueling against several alternatives, the Evecase Canvas DSLR Backpack is definitely staying.

I’ve worn this backpack fully stocked with supplies for around six hours, and suffered no significant discomfort or additional pain normally associated with carrying weight for such a long time. This being said, I feel the size of this backpack and where it suits my height (5’ 5”) brilliantly. Taller people may have an issue simply there’s no real way to adjust where this backpack sits. It would also be nice to have have more padding on the shoulder straps. I think I’ll  eventually mod the straps and add more padding, but if it came with some initially it would be even more rad. 

As for ease of access, I like the solid build of the camera compartment. I can easily balance the backpack on my knee as a table to help switch lenses or attach something to my rig. There’s a wonderful side pocket I can pull my laptop out of if I don’t feel like opening the top and reaching the computer from there. All of the small bits and bobs I might need are also easily accessible due to the various pockets on the front of the backpack, and the beverage pockets are also within a comfortable reach.


This backpack features plenty of storage for everything I could possibly need. Of my kit, at maximum, I can fit:

  • either:
    • three lenses (Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L USM II, Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM, and Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L USM II) and a camera body (Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)
    • two camera bodies (Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS 5D Mark II) and two lenses (Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM and Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L USM II)
  • my 13.5” laptop with its case on and a laptop charger
  • two variable ND filters
  • camera batteries
  • chargers
  • cards
  • lens cleaning kit
  • roll of tape
  • scissors
  • notebook
  • pens
  • contract / liability waivers / model release forms / non-disclosure documents
  • card reader
  • metal case of business cards
  • tripod
  • cellophane gel kit
  • my personal belongings (cell phone, portable cell battery, wallet, car keys, jacket, deodorant, makeup)
  • two water bottles
  • snacks.

That being said, a couple of the pockets in the front are a bit odd in the sense that I would have gone for something different. The size of the two small pockets in front of the camera compartment are a bit strange. The dividers inside them are a bit too large for some of the smaller electronics I’d put there, but too small for anything larger. I’d prefer them to mimic the one long pocket at the top of the backpack, as I currently have to dig deep into the dividers to pull out the small components I need to use. A couple of the flaps could make excellent pockets for paperwork or business cards, but instead they sit there as decorative elements.


The backpack features an acceptable amount of padding in both the camera and laptop sections. The camera section had significantly more padding than the laptop slot, and so I often store my laptop in its compartment with a secondary case already on it. Fortunately a secondary case fits just fine. The camera compartment includes your run-of-the-mill customizable dividers, so you can arrange that area to suit your needs.


  • Aesthetic and style
  • Not bulky
  • Comfortable straps
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Easy camera and laptop access
  • Waterproof case is a nice touch


  • Lack of confident padding in the laptop compartment
  • Some of the outer pockets are odd
  • Needs a better way of hiding tripod straps when not in use
  • Needs more buttons to the main compartment to customize size better
  • Forget about putting in a DSLR with the grip attached
  • Needs more padding on shoulder straps if you pack heavy

In conclusion, for between $40 and $60 on this backpack gives you a decent bang for your buck. I quite like it, and still get tremendous use out of it.

The post Review: Evecase Canvas DSLR Backpack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Musicians, magazines, fans, and record labels alike turn to skilled photographers to tell a story of a momentous performance and return unique concert photos.

Concert photographers are often on assignment for a publication that has sent them out to capture meaningful pictures that could very well go down in music history. Otherwise, music photographers are individually hired by the performing artists. Whatever brings you to the photo pit, your goal is to capture something wonderful.

That being said, the music photography industry has become surprisingly saturated in recent years. In order to stand out amongst the crowd, you have to take live music photographs that differ from others in your photo pit. Here are 11 tips on how to take more unique concert photographs.

#1 – Don’t Forget About the Detail Shots

still life concert image - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: Behemoth

Although you want to focus heavily on the musicians performing on the stage, the detail shots are just as important.

Many bands put in a significant amount of effort into their live show productions, from stage props to lighting schemes. A unique and effective statement to your live concert gallery are some close-ups of the epic stage props that the band uses.

At the very least, the artist who created the props or the instrument company will thank you!

#2 – Play with Art and Distortion Lenses

blue and pink concert lighting - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: MGT. Shot with the Lensbaby Burnside 35.

Though concert photography is often an assignment from a journalistic outlet, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a couple of minutes to yourself to do something vastly different. You do not have to be afraid of using artistic or distortion lenses at a live show. If anything, they make the frame exceptionally cool!

The fish-eye lens became very famous by well-known concert photographers by being used at live shows. I, myself, love using the Lensbaby lenses at live concerts. The manual focus can oftentimes be much more effective than relying on autofocus.

Try using a copper tube to create very cool swirls around your subject.

art lenses - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: A Mirror Hollow. Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens.

You can submit the standard shots to the outlet, and the unique ones to the band. I am telling you, the musicians will love a new take on their live performances.

#3 – Tons of Flying Hair is Great

hair whipping - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: Cradle of Filth

Naturally, try to capture the facial expressions of the performers. However, you are dealing with rockstars here, and part of the cool factor of these rock gods is their wild style.

Take advantage of the flying hair and fun headbanging, they can sometimes make cooler shots than your standard singing portraits.

#4 – Perspective is Everything

band between legs - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: HIM

Although concert photography can be very limited, between shooting time restrictions and limitations on your shooting location, you can still play with perspective.

The key to being different is viewing life through a lens that is more diverse than those around you, no pun intended. Get low, low, low to the ground and shoot up or move yourself to the very far side of the photo pit and shoot from there! Photograph in between the heads of fans or get up on the balcony.

Whatever you do, find new angles, views, and compositions to take advantage of to create more unique concert photos.

#5 – The Musician Doesn’t  Always Have to Look at You

musician on stage - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: Nightwish

It is true that the viewer connects best when the subject is looking at or engaging with the camera.

However, you don’t always have to fight for that type of shot during a live concert setting. It’s okay for the musicians not to interact with you as a photographer. Shots of them looking away or down can be just as eye-catching.

#6 – Embrace the Light, Don’t Avoid it

stage lighting - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: IAMX

Having a good grip on lighting will aid you in your concert photography journey. Stage lighting can differ tremendously between shows, venues, and even what lighting is available for that evening. The lighting can range from bright white strobes to deep reds.

Understanding how lighting is photographed by your camera, how it reflects on the instruments and equipment, and how the bulbs affect the performer’s skin tones will change how you take the photograph.

Most incredibly safe and tame images come from the photographer being wary of taking advantage of the lighting situation at concerts. Don’t be afraid to jump right in there and take advantage of whatever bizarre lighting scheme the performers have cooked up for you.

At the end of the day, the lighting is a part of the concert experience, and your job is to capture that.

#7 – Lens Flares are Rad

lens flare musician performing - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: Epica

On the topic of lighting, lens flares can be very cool!

This is, of course, an aesthetic choice, but I personally find them to be quite fun. You can cause a flare in a similar fashion to photographing during sunset or golden hour. When the light hits the front glass element of your lens at a specific angle, a flare will appear.

#8 – Overexposing and Underexposing Can Work

moody concert lighting - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: The Misfits

To help accurately capture the emotion and feel of the show, it is alright to overexpose or underexpose your frame. This can also create a rather unique and uncommon type of photograph.

Use your best judgment and common sense here to determine when such exposures are appropriate.

#9 – Don’t Be Afraid to Get Close

close up of a band member on stage - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: Jyrki69

Guitarists don’t bite (not hard anyway)! Don’t be afraid to get close to the performers on the stage. Take a wide-angle lens, such as a 16-35mm lens, and get right up in there. The perspective distortion can make for a very cool shot.

However, that being said, be aware of your surroundings. I cannot reiterate this point enough. Absolutely be aware of your surroundings!

It is easy to get lost in the moment and fall into a creative bliss when shooting, but a live music event is not the place to lose yourself.

If you’re not growing eyes in the back of your head, you’ll most likely get clonked right in the temple by a crowd surfer, tangled in a microphone cord, or smacked by a flying guitar. This will help you avoid injury to yourself and others.

#10 – In-Between Moments Tell a Story

singer between songs - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: HIM

The band may have put their instruments down for a moment, but that doesn’t mean that the job of the photographer ends there.

Some in-between moments can become incredible iconic images through their powerful storytelling ability.

#11 – The Moment is More Important than Technical Accuracy

red concert lighting - 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos

Band: IAMX

Let’s face the facts, we all pixel peep. I believe that over time, passionate photographers get a bit anxious about technical perfection in their images (I know I sure do sometimes). However, some niches such as event photography are not as fussed over technical mistakes as long as the moment captured is important.

There is be a fine balance between taking a good photograph by technique and taking a good photograph by design (aka a great and powerful moment). However, if you have to choose between capturing a fantastic story and ensuring equipment perfection, pick the story.

Many wonderful images are overlooked because the focus is too set on ensuring that an image is tack sharp rather than what the subject portrays.

Of course, this isn’t meant to be interpreted as disregarding technical proficiency. You should aim to take exceptional photographs, but don’t get lost in your pursuit and forget your purpose for photographing the event.

Your turn

Now that you have these tips in your photography toolbelt, go out there and take some wicked shots!

Band: Epica

The post 11 Ideas for More Unique Concert Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits

We’ve all seen the usual studio set up –  beautifully crisp white light, maybe some strobes, diffusers, and other things of the sort. However, what can you do beyond that to make your portraits stand out? Add some color! In this article, learn how to use colored gels to add some spice to your images.

musician portrait with pink background - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Colored gels are filters that go on your light in order to change the output color. They are usually sold at photography stores and clamped onto your lights. They range in size, thickness, color cast, and most importantly, price. Be very mindful of how hot your lights are because we’ve had gels melt on the set before during long sessions (such as music videos). 

However, you can also make your own colored gels using cellophane and tape. Just take some really saturated cellophane from a local party or art store and wrap them around your softbox or LED light (so long as the LED runs cold and won’t melt the plastic paper) and fasten with tape.

This may not look like the most professional setup, but I suppose that matters little so long as the final outcome is fantastic!

spooky photo with double exposures - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

There are limitless possibilities with gels. In regard to color combinations, I suggest making sure all of your gels are saturated the same in order to match with one another (and not become a headache in the editing room later).

Here are some of my favorite gel lighting arrangements to create some new and unique imagery. As a personal preference, I use continuous light, but the same can be achieved with studio strobes or speedlights.

One Color Gel Setup

The simplest and most traditional gel lighting look. There isn’t any fancy setup for this look, you can photograph your model in any fashion and just replace the white light with a color. Make sure your colored gel is really vibrant or the image may fall flat. 

portrait of a girl with amber gel - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Play with distance, shutter speed, and some light post-processing to see how far you can get the light to spread. That can add a unique and unexpected twist to your one-light setup!

A good use of the one color set up is backlighting! Take your light and place it behind the subject.

backlighting with gels - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Double Colored Gel Setup

My personal favorite is the double colored gel setup. All this requires is two lights, each gelled with different colors. Set them to the side of your model and watch the magic happen!

The division can be very eye-catching and intriguing.

model with red and green lights - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Be mindful of your model’s physical structure. You want to make sure that the color division hits the proper place. Aim for the lighting to (generally) divide right at the center of the nose (split lighting).

Tri-Color Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

You can go as intense with colors as you like, but when I do three color looks, I like one of those colors to be white. The white softens the whole look and doesn’t make it overly exaggerated.

However, if you prefer a color, I suggest placing a lighter color in the center of your arrangement and the darker colors on the sides.

portrait with 3 colors of light - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

For three color looks, my favorite arrangement is the traditional triangle light setup. This includes one light in front of the subject and two lights at the sides.

Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can set up the two side lights behind the model and just turn them towards the model. That keeps the light from being too harsh. For a more intense look, place the lights directly at the model’s sides.

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Rim Light Colored Gel Setup

girl with rim lighting - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Always a very dramatic and edgy look, using gels for rim lights can bring a bit of flair to your portraits. It does depend on your model’s structure as to where you place the lights. What I do is set up a white light in front of the model and two colored gels on lights to the side pointed forward.

The best colors I’ve found for the rim light look are purples, blues, reds, and greens – oranges tend to get a bit lost with the white light.

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Background Light Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

The quickest way to liven up any location is to aim some lights with colored gels attached toward the background wall.

You can photograph your subject in any traditional studio light manner, and just shoot two gelled lights to the back wall. This allows your subject to be really well separated from the background (something we always strive for in studio photography).

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Now go out there and play with colors!

The post How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

The portrait and headshot industry in photography is likely the craft’s most popular niche. As such, it isn’t a stretch to say that there is a multitude of headshot and portrait photographers in every state and country. So, you need to find a way to stand out from the herd. The Westcott Eyelighter is one such way to differentiate from the masses, a unique reflector unlike any other I’ve seen before.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter 2 - studio portrait of a model

What is the Westcott Eyelighter?

Much like the name implies, the Westcott Eyelighter is curved to mimic the shape of the human eye and illuminate the bottom part of the iris (something that many photographers tend to add in post-production). The eyes are the windows to the soul, and often the very first thing most viewers notice about an image. This highlight creates an eye-catching image (no pun intended).

As all working photographers understand, the more time you spend in front of a computer screen is less time out there shooting. So taking advantage of a tool that creates a commonly edited effect is grand. This product certainly diminishes the time spent at the computer.

portrait of a model in a black and white dress - Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s in the box?

The Westcott Eyelighter kit features the reflector itself and a carrying case, with additional accessories sold separately. The physical makeup of the Eyelighter includes a durable aluminum frame and a highly-reflective silver surface. Tension rods are utilized to pull this material taut, maximizing the light cast on the subject.

I was quite impressed by the durability and quality of the Eyelighter’s build, this is not an addition that will snap or break easily.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - b/w of a model in the studio


Assembling the Westcott Eyelighter is not much of a task on paper, but can be a bit of a handful in practice. Myself, as a 5’ 5” 98lb female, did struggle to put the Eyelighter together with no help, but it is most certainly possible.

Westcott released a very helpful YouTube instructional video (see below) on how to properly assemble this reflector for those that don’t find the instruction manual helpful. The real difficulty comes from the tension rods as I found it requires quite a bit of strength to put together.

Had there been a second pair of hands to help, the assembly would have been more of a breeze (so photographers that have studio assistants, there won’t be much concern there). On average, after practicing the assembly process several times, it finally took me 10-15 minutes to put together.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s included with the Westcott Eyelighter.

Transporting the Eyelighter and portability

The Eyelighter is a rather large piece of studio equipment and really is intended as a permanent addition to your studio. As I did not want to assemble and disassemble the kit every time, I wanted to test to see if I can transport the reflector in its fully assembled state.

From personal experience, I can attest that this product can fit into a car fully-assembled (minus the tripod). I drive an SUV, and I did not need to place the seats down to fit this reflector in horizontally across the backseat. Seats may need to be put down for smaller vehicles, but the height of the kit poses no issue fitting inside of a car.

The Eyelighter does come with a carry case and can be disassembled and assembled, but the assembly does take a bit of time. At least, for me it took a significant amount of time, so I would rather transport the reflector fully-assembled.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - studio setup showing it in use

Using the Westcott Eyelighter

Using the Eyelighter is rather simple and doesn’t require any advanced studio knowledge. Like any reflector, the Eyelighter works by bouncing light off of its reflective panel.

The Eyelighter is already tilted upon attachment to a tripod (which must be purchased separately). As such, all you need to do is take a large softbox (I personally use an octagonal one for this but a square or rectangular softbox is just as valid), place it directly above the Eyelighter, and aim downwards.

It may take a bit of maneuvering and brief trial-and-error test to find the correct placement of the reflector underneath your subject, but the general consensus is that it belongs below the chest area of your model. This piece of equipment will not affect your additional lighting setup, which allows you the freedom to light the rest of the subject in any which way.

Unique catchlights

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - dramatic b/w portrait

The Eyelighter reflects light toward your subject, leaving a catchlight that follows the natural curve of the eye. If the silver reflector is too bright or causes too stark of a reflection, Westcott has a white sheet available for purchase that will cover that whole panel and soften the effect.

My favorite aspect of this is how seamless the catch light is, there are no odd or unflattering gaps. As well as this, it really does soften the light on the neck and chin. Paired with your other studio lighting kits, this is a must-have for anyone looking to add something fantastic to their collection.

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that due to the necessary position to create the effect, this reflector really is for portrait and headshot use only – you won’t be able to catch a whole body image with this.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - white panel



In conclusion, the Westcott Eyelighter is a fun, eye-catching, and simple to use reflector that can really help you stand out from the competition.

With a retail price of $299, this isn’t the absolute most expensive item in your photographic arsenal but can make a huge difference to your portraits and headshots.

The post Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

In this review, I’d like to show you the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter and give you my thoughts on it.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - filter on a table

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - minimum setting

The markings on the edge indicate the strength being applied. Here it is set to MIN (minimum) or the lowest setting.

What is an ND or neutral density filter?

A neutral density filter is a piece of glass that goes in front of your lens in order to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera. One of its biggest purposes is to allow you to shoot at your desired aperture and shutter speed combination without worrying about it being too bright outside and your photos being overexposed.

This also grants you the capability to create beautiful motion blurs (using a long exposure) without worrying too heavily about lighting conditions. All of this being said, the main drawback of neutral density filters is needing to carry so many different ones of varying shades and densities.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - filter up to a bright window

Notice how the light from outside the window is overexposed, except for the part coming through the filter. The ND filter is blocking light and here you can clearly see the difference with the filter and without.

The Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

The Tiffen Variable ND Filter aims to change that fact. By simply rotating the outer part of the filter, you can adjust it from an approximate range of two (ND 0.6) to eight (ND 2.4) stops. The profile of the ring is 9mm, so it’s rather thin and easy to maneuver.

The Tiffen Variable ND filter operates on the same principle as a circular polarizer, granting full manual capabilities to adjust your frame however you see fit. As such, the stops marked on the filter itself are intended to be used as reference points and do not actually signify official stops.

Like other Tiffen filters, the variable ND filter is made in the USA and sports high-quality optical glass using Tiffen’s ColorCore® technology. The kit includes a padded case and built-in lens-cloth to aid in the portability of this filter.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - white dog in the sun

ISO: 100, shutter speed: 1/1600th, f/1.2 – the use of the filter here allowed me to shoot wide open even in bright sunlight.

How I use this filter with my photography

I will preface to say that although I should be using ND filters more in my work, I seldom do. I acquired this filter blind, having not used NDs often in my work. As someone who is consistently at the mercy of my client’s schedules, the Tiffen variable ND filter provided an apt solution to sessions booked around the infamous noon hour.

Motion blurs are not a common part of my photography – but I have now begun using the variable ND filter every single day to preserve my love of shallow-depths-of-field and wide apertures in unfavorable lighting conditions.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - man in a field

ISO: 100, shutter speed: 1/8000th, f/1.2 – this exposure combination would result in overexposure in the bright sun without the use of the Tiffen Variable ND filter.

In real-life use of this filter, it was great to be able to visually see how the adjustments affected the image and maintain the integrity of the shot I wanted to take. Many of my clients enjoy my stylistic aesthetic of consistently using very low aperture numbers and a shallow depth of field in my work. This filter allows me to maintain this effect even on the brightest of days.

girl with a guitar portrait outdoors - Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 1/8000, f/1.2

Using the filter

The test images here all featured my lively white dog, who previously was nearly impossible to properly expose with a wide aperture in the clear, bright noon sun. Each photograph features the same settings, with the ND ring being rotated to showcase how dark it can truly get.

These images were shot at high noon, in bright sun, with a 50mm f/1.2 lens wide open at 1.2. The ISO was set to 100, and the shutter speed to 1/1600th. The variable ND filter allowed me to darken the frame enough to ensure that the depth of field was kept intact.

It was very easy for me to figure out precisely what ND stop I needed due to being able to see the changes in real-time by rotating the cuff. The filter does have a slight blue cast and a severe blue tint when turned beyond the “maximum” markers on the filter.

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - dark image showing effects of an ND filter

ISO: 100, Shutter speed: 1/1600th, f/1.2

First impressions

Right off the bat, what I was really fond of about this filter is the ease at which I could adjust the stops; the rotation is very smooth and fluid. The filter itself is lightweight and features pristine Tiffen glass. The actual filter rim is intended to expand past the parameter of the lens glass to avoid an unintentional vignette, a welcome addition.

My only complaint would be there is a bit of a learning curve on actually attaching the filter to my lens, it took longer time than I would have initially liked due to the chunky rotating mount being in the way. It initially felt a bit loose on the lens, only to find that it was strictly my misuse/improper attachment causing the minor mishap.

Once this was remedied with a bit of practice, all was well. Unfortunately, the filter scale is hidden under the lens, so it also took some finagling to realign the filter stops. These are all minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things, however.

portrait with blurred background - Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 1/8000, f/1.2

Bonus tip: I went and purchased a step-down and step-up ring to be able to attach the filter to several of my other lenses, and I found that the addition of the ring actually helped screw the variable ND filter to my lenses because there was an additional amount of space to grip while I spun.

Purchasing a filter: Buy the filter to fit your largest lens and add some step-down rings to attach it to smaller ones. Then you only need one filter, not one for each lens you own. 

 Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - dog with a blue ball

Notes on negative reviews

Many of the negative commentaries I have heard from this filter are due largely to misuse. Though it is possible to twist beyond the scopes or the maximum and minimum stop markers on the rotator mount, it isn’t useful nor practical from a photographic standpoint due to the distortion you can experience.

You should only range within the marked stops in order to use this filter effectively. I did experience chromatic aberration while using this filter but much of that is affected by the lens itself. This can easily be remedied in post-processing.

 Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter - happy border collie

Tiffen Variable ND Filter and moving water

As I mentioned before, I don’t shoot a lot of moving things or added motion in my images. So our dPS editor, Darlene, has kindly provided some of her images of a waterfall shot with a variable ND filter to demonstrate its effects on that type of subject.

ISO 100, f/22, 1/10th with ND filter set to minimum.

ISO 100, f/22, o.3 seconds with ND filter.

ISO 100, f/22, 1.3 seconds with ND filter.

ISO 100, f/22, 4 seconds with ND filter.

ISO 100, f/22, 30 seconds with ND filter.

Notice how as the filter strength was increased, she was able to slow the shutter speed to change the effect of the flowing water. Attempting this in bright sun without a variable ND filter would result in extremely overexposed images.

For reference, her exposure without the filter was ISO 100, f/22, 1/20th, so the last shot above would have been  9 stops too bright. So having such a filter in your toolkit gives you a lot more options than shooting without it.


Retailing between $78.00 to $113.00 depending on the filter size, the price is very reasonable for the amount of use you can get out of this nifty piece of glass. The Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter is available in 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm – plenty of diameters for all of your lenses. This filter is well-worth adding to any photographic collection.

The post Review of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

A Lensbaby lens is a dream come true for artistic, creative, and ground-breaking photographers. A company made famous by their innovative effect lenses and optics, Lensbaby has captivated the industry for nearly 14 years. This company’s newest pride and joy is the Lensbaby Burnside 35, an f/2.8 lens that is unlike any other in their arsenal.

Swirly Bokeh

The Burnside 35 features the iconic “swirly bokeh” that Lensbaby is famous for. This effect is seemingly influenced by the Petzval objective which causes a swirly bokeh and vignette, and it is created by pairing two doublet lenses with an aperture stop in between.

The first lens corrects spherical aberrations and the second lens corrects for astigmatism. However, the pairing creates the swirly distortion that we all love.

You can adjust the intensity of the swirly bokeh by changing the aperture: f/2.8 will be most intense, while something like an f/16 won’t have any swirl at all. The thing that I find most compelling about Lensbaby is the fact that all of the effects are in-camera/in-lens, hence saving you a lot of time on the editing front.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Built-in vignetting

I was very intrigued to stumble upon this lens, as it has a feature I have never before seen in any other – a built-in vignette slider. Instead of needing to darken the edges of your photograph in post-processing, you can do an in-camera effect and save yourself the editing trouble.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

It’s a manual lens

That being said, much like other lenses in the Lensbaby collection, this one is fully manual. The aperture is adjusted by rotating the aperture cuff at the very back of the lens rather than in the camera as is common for other lenses. The vignette slider is located near the cuff on the opposite side of the lens.

When rotating either the vignette slider or the aperture ring, you can feel each stop as there feels to be a minor indent that pops into place – a welcome feeling when wanting to make quick adjustments without looking up from the lens.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The focus is also manual, which may cause a bit of a learning curve for photographers that rely heavily on autofocus. However, I found that it was rather easy to see when the focus was captured or not and I was able to become proficient in a matter of a half hour.

Keeping the fully manual aspect of the lens in mind, this may not be the right piece of equipment for fast-paced action shooting. That being said, the artistic look of Lensbaby Burnside 35 can even make out of focus images look intentionally fuzzy (although any stylistic choice should look intentional, not as a mistake).

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens


The lens’s build feels incredibly sturdy (it’s made of metal) and it is visually striking. Though I’d consider the lens fairly light in comparison to other 35mm lenses, it is still a significant weight that adds to the impression of a very sturdy build.

The lens does not come with a case, and I’d highly recommend one. Despite a sturdy build, a good bump could crack something, and that’s not a risk worth taking.

The metal front lens cap is easy to slide on and off but holds very tight when it’s on; exactly how you’d want it to be. The rear mounting cap is equivalent to all the ones I’ve seen from other lenses. The box comes with a user guide with tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your lens, a welcome addition to any lens purchase.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider in action

The vignette slider makes a significant, visual difference in the image. It’s great to be able to see right-off-the-bat how the image will look at the various vignette stops. As well, from a purely aesthetic perspective, it can be rather fun to watch the vignette open and close on the glass itself – it’s a bit like a reptilian creature blinking.

Do keep in mind that the frame will darken significantly when the vignette slider is set at its most closed point. As such, I actually found myself using the vignette slider almost like a neutral density filter to bring out the colors of a very bright sky.

The versatility of this lens is also notable enough to bring up. You are certainly not obligated to photograph at a low aperture number and a shallow depth of field, when bumping the aperture up to f/16, architectural photographs are exceptional at the 35mm focal length. Add the vignette slider and you have a dramatic image worthy of any gallery.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider at the dark end of the scale.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider at the light end of the scale.


This 35mm lens is nice and wide and can focus up to 6 inches away from the glass itself, excellent for macro photography. There isn’t much distortion on the subject that is in focus in the center, which is much appreciated.

Compatible with both full-frame cameras and crop sensors, I tested the Burnside 35 on my Canon 5D Mark IV (full-frame) and Canon 7D Mark II (crop sensor) to see how well it performed. I was brilliantly satisfied with its abilities for both, though it was clear to see that the full-frame yielded even more fantastic results than the crop sensor.

It’s worth mentioning that I was exceptionally pleased with how fluid the manual focus was as well as the vignette slider, both moved with ease and can be adjusted with just one or two fingers! This lens is exceptionally sharp when the focus is right, making sure that whatever you want to be the subject is very clear.

The equipment is small and easy to carry, another welcome sight in lenses.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

At a retail price of $499.99 (available now), the Lensbaby Burnside 35 is worth every penny if I do say so myself. The Burnside 35 is available in the following mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Sony Alpha A, Fuji X, Micro 4/3, Pentax K, and Samsung NX.

The post Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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