Review: RoundFlash, a Portable Softbox for Portraits

roundflash-1Several years ago, ring flashes appeared out of the need to provide a uniform light on the subject’s face, as a diffused light solution that did not create strong or unpleasant shadows. Of course, you could do this using several skilfully positioned lights and using various modifiers (light diffusing accessories, for example). However, sometimes you do not have room for all the lights or you need a quick solution contained in a single device. That is how ring flashes first appeared, which in addition to the uniform light they generate, also create a charming ring of light in the eyes of the subject.

Ring flashes have evolved over time, and recently a new variant that’s more portable and accessible was launched: the RoundFlash ring flash diffuser. In short, the RoundFlash that I’ve tested is a light diffuser that is used with an external Flash on a D-SLR. Its purpose is to provide a more pleasant light on the face of the subject, and to help you when you need to do portraits under unfavorable lighting conditions.

So let’s see how well the RoundFlash we tested peformed. The RoundFlash is available at $79.

RoundFlash: what is it and how to use it?

As I already mentioned, it is a light modifier that is mounted on the lens and connects to the external Flash on the device via a very simple system. To explain better how it works, I have prepared a series of questions and answers that present the accessory in all its aspects:

  • How portable is it? (weight, size)

The RoundFlash is foldable and tucks into a pouch the size of 10-CD spindle. Folded and in a pouch, it looks like in the photo below. When unfolded it has 18in/45cm in diameter, while folded it has nearly 6.5in/16-17cm. The weight is 10.5 ounces/300 grams.

  • How do I fold it?

As in the videoclip below.

  • What lenses can I put it on?

We’ve used it on a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. Although it’s a zoom lens, I’ve never had problems turning the zoom ring. Fixed lenses are ideal, as to no longer be forced to control the focal length. A 35 mm, 50 mm or 85 mm would do the job just fine. But you can use pretty much any lens, as long as it lets you take a photo from 1 to 2 yards away. At larger distances the effect of the RoundFlash gets lost (the round reflection in the eye), but can still be used for light filling.

  • What types of photos can I use it for?

I’ve used it for portraits, event photography, product shots and close-up shots. Of course, it is intended for portraits, but you can get beautiful results while photographing other subjects. The RoundFlash offers great mobility and lets you be creative.

  • How can I control the flash power: manually or by TTL?

Because it’s an accessory that is not directly connected to the Flash, the exposure system has no way to know how much light gets retained by the RoundFlash, which is why the TTL mode might not work properly, at least without some solid overexposure. We used the manual mode in all photos.

RoundFlash is available at $79.

Test: portrait photography

Undoubtedly, that was the first test that I performed. If you are careful and have a good grip on the camera, the flash and the distance to the subject, you can obtain extremely successful portrait pictures. Here are a few things that I’ve noticed and some tips that might be useful to you if you purchased a RoundFlash:

  • If you follow the round circular reflection in the subject’s eyes it is recommended to shoot from distances of up to 2 feet/70 cm between you and the subject;
  • The light can sometimes be hard compared to the ambient light, which is why you can increase your ISO or exposure time to obtain a good exposure on the background, and then you can lower the flash intensity so light is uniform;
  • I noticed that if I leave the zoom Flash at the lowest (24 mm), the diffusion is better made than if I let the flash select its zoom automatically;

I liked how the RoundFlash performed, especially when I used it during the day, as a light filler. During the day there are shadows under the eyes or nose or chin. Using the RoundFlash, I got rid of these shadows and I got a pleasant light on the face. Have a look at some examples.

And a few crops at 100% with the reflection in the eyes of the subjects.

On top of this I did a group photo test. The light diffuses well over the subjects, only you have to be careful to not include the dark edge of the adapter in the frame. That happened to me when I hastily took photos at 24mm and did not pay attention to the upper part of the photo.

Test: Product Photography

Product photograph was the next test. Out of curiosity I wanted to see how the modifier performs when it comes to photographs of products taken against a white background. In the absence of a setup with multiple lights, the roundFlash is a good alternative at an affordable price. Of course, if you really want a higher-end setup, you’ll be able to control the light in a much better way. But if you need photos for your blog, for example, to illustrate something specific, it is more than appropriate.

Here are some product photos that I’ve taken.

Test: close-up photos

Unfortunately I never got to do a lot of close-up photos. It would have been interesting to do a test with a macro lens. The size of the RoundFlash would scare the bugs away, I reckon, but for photographing flowers it might be a good solution.

However, when used from short distances, it generates a rather hard light, which is why you must lower the Flash power and reach a balance with the ambient light, otherwise you will get large differences in lighting.

Conclusions: Pros and Cons

RoundFlash is an accessory that I will buy in the near future. I find it useful for event photos taken in dim light – although it may draw the attention and suspicion of subjects – or for portraits where you need filler light and pleasant reflections in the subject’s eyes. Nevertheless, here are the pros and cons that I’ve discovered.

Pros:

  • compact;
  • cheaper than a ring flash;
  • portable;
  • provides a uniform light on the face of the subject and a nice reflection in the eyes;

Cons:

  • Sometimes it can inhibit the subject (it’s big and if you draw near at a certain speed, the person might not react very well);
  • Although it’s apparently light, you can get tired after 2-3 hours of use;

RoundFlash is available for $79.

How would I look like using the RoundFlash?

Something like that. Looks cute to me! :-)

Sigma DP2 Quattro Review – A Compact Camera That Catches The Eye

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The first time I heard of new cameras launched by Sigma I had my doubts. I didn’t know what to first look at: the design that’s totally different from what I had seen so far, or at the technical specifications. Of course, I was captivated by the appearance of the camera. The first in a series of three announced was the Sigma DP2 Quattro, a compact camera that’s an attention grabber as soon as you see it.

I admit that I started off with some preconceived thoughts on this camera, so as soon as I received it for tests, I set off to either confirm or dispel them. My main thinking was, this is a camera that sports good looks to the detriment of technical specs. As you will see throughout the review I was proven wrong in some respects. And I was glad that it was so. Let’s see what it was all about.

Sigma DP2 Quattro-technical specifications

  • The Foveon X3 Quattro sensor with an equivalent resolution of 39 megapixels:

The new sensor is structured on three planes, the pixels being distributed at a ratio of 1:1:4 between the top, middle and bottom layers. The first layer, the upper, captures both colors and brightness, while the bottom captures only the colors. Throughout the process the intensity of the light captured on the first layer is transferred automatically to the pixels of the other two planes.

Thanks to this new sensor model, the manufacturer claims that the images have better resolution, with more details and more natural colors, the nuances being true-to-reality.

  • TRUE III image processor:

The image processor is also structured on three levels. Information (both light intensity and colors) is processed separately for each level of the sensor. The result is a crisp image, with well rendered details, with a 3D feel to them.

  • 30mm f/2.8 lens:

That is the equivalent of 45mm on a full-frame D-SLR. I wondered at first why a fixed lens and not one with zoom. I realized later, seeking more information and discussing with Sigma representatives, that the main reason is the compatibility between lens and sensor. At this focal length, the lens is built in such a way as to deliver very good results on the new type of sensor. A zoom lens would have made the whole process more complex, would have increased the price (which is high anyway, but let’s keep in mind that this is a camera from the premium segment) and, most certainly, the overall size of the camera.

Why not make it with interchangeable lenses then? The answer is the same. With an eye to maintaining a certain standard in terms of image quality, it was difficult to implement a system of interchangeable lenses. The picture quality might have been damaged and there would have been huge compatibility issues between the lenses and the sensor that I just mentioned.

  • The body is cast of magnesium;
  • The QS button offers quick access to eight of the most used functions of the camera;
  • There is a wheel to control aperture and another for controlling exposure (can be switched between them);
  • The focus system has 9 points, covering a large area at the center of the frame;
  • The camera generates 14-bit RAW files (not common in compact cameras);
  • Continuous shooting at 7 frames per second;
  • ISO sensitivity reaches up to 6.400;
  • Works with SD/SDHC cards;
  • No optical viewfinder;
  • No video shooting;
  • Weight of the camera is 410 grams.

And now let’s see how well it did during the tests I made. The Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the price of $999.

Ergonomics – How useful is the camera’s design?

At first glance it doesn’t seem to allow for a comfy handling. But that’s not the case. The device fits well in hand, and the grip on the back (the majority of the cameras have it in front) makes it easy to use regardless of the position in which you hold your hand when you photograph. Its shape also makes it comfortable to hold on the shoulder and tuck it flat on the hip.

Details test – Day Photos – ISO 100-200

I must confess that I haven’t seen many compacts up to now to render details so well in day time. So sharp, so crisp and with colors extremely close to reality. I was pleasantly surprised when, transferring the images to the computer, I could observe how well the details were rendered. In my experience, it is hard to get pictures so sharp right out of the camera with a compact, albeit a premium one.

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But before observing the details, let’s ee the whole photos. The Foveon sensor has a wide dynamic range and retained a large number of details in both the bright and shaded areas. A wide dynamic range makes the subsequent processing of photos easier, and makes it easy to convert to HDR from a single frame. Have a look at these images on the beach.

And now let’s check out the details. The pictures you see below are crops between 75 and 100%. All the frames were made in JPEG format and are as they came out of the camera. You don’t really need the RAWs if you photograph under good light conditions. One more thing to mention: the frames were not made at the maximum resolution of 39 megapixels, but 25 megapixels instead. I think that’s more than enough for most cases. Let’s see the crops.

Photos at sunrise or what you can get by processing the photos taken with the Sigma DP2 Quattro

Some hours later (about 15 hours after I’ve taken the photos above, to be exact) I photographed the sunrise on the beach, in Mamaia, Romania. I witnessed one of my most beautiful sunrises yet. And I had the good fortune to find a beach that looked peculiar, just a few minutes before the Sun went high above the horizon.

The photos were done in Aperture priority mode, all being taken between f/2.8 and f/4, at an ISO sensitivity range between 100 and 400. The images were taken out of hand, in JPEG format, and then edited in Adobe Lightroom. In short I did the following: I reduced the brightness a little in the burned out areas, I added more light in the shaded areas, then I increased the contrast and brightness of the colors, and added a “fade” effect by raising in Curves the level of the dark areas.

At the end I added some sharpness, and you can see the results below. And keep in mind that I started from a JPEG. Of course, this is not something very complicated, but it’s enough to show that the JPEGs from the DP2 Quattro allow for an image processing without detail loss and artifact formation.

Nevertheless, I noticed two things:

  • There appears around the Sun (in the original photos also) a disk of a reddish/orange tint;
  • The lens generates a flare like I haven’t seen before, of red color. It has an unusual shape, but it’s easy to get rid of it if you frame carefully.

Continuous shooting mode at 7 frames per second

The Sigma DP2 Quattro can photograph at 7 frames per second (including in RAW format). The only thing that bothered me was the buffer being too small. Maybe it was because of the card. Although I don’t think it caused the problem. It’s a very fast SDHC card, which so far didn’t have a problem in various other cameras.

So I concluded that the internal memory buffer is quite small, and that makes you wait for a few seconds after you’ve taken the seven frames while they are copied to the card. It doesn’t take long, but you still have to wait those few seconds. The same happened with other memory cards that I tried. Have a look at the photos.

Photos in dim light – ISO 400-800-1,600

Unfortunately in the area of low light photography, I cannot say that the new Sigma compact is the best choice. Although the pictures look good, from ISO 800 up the hues of the colors are affected quite a lot (in particular those from the red/yellow range). If you are careful you can avoid these situations, but not always.

You can see the photos below. Those taken outdoors are at ISO 400, and those inside are at ISO 800. The last frame at the subway is taken at ISO 1,600. To the credit of the camera, I must tell that it behaves very well up to ISO 800. Above that, problems common to compact cameras start to affect the image and the colors at the same time.

Here are a few crops at 100% from the same pictures. As I said, with a little care you can get successful shots. Just that the chances that they might not come out exactly as you would expect grow significantly with the increase in ISO sensitivity from 800 to 1,600.

To add, I believe that the main reason for this is the camera’s sensor. It is much harder to control the results at high ISO sensitivities when you have a sensor with a resolution so high. It is for this very reason that the Hasselblad with 60MP sensor gives very good results at ISO 100-200, 400 max. Above these values, the results are not usable. The explanation is the same.

Creative modes – The Sunset Mode

The Sigma DP2 Quattro allows you to photograph in some 10 creative modes. You can isolate colors, shoot in black and white and in all the other ways found in most cameras of the same class. However, one caught my eye in particular. It is the Sunset mode, which behaves much better at sunset or sunrise and gives good results even at high ISOs (the following frames are made at ISO 800 and 1600). Thumbs up for this mode!

Conclusions – pros and cons

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a compact camera that behaves perfectly during the day. Maybe it’s one of the best compact cameras for day time photography. The image quality decreases, however, with the increase in ISO sensitivity close to the 1,600 mark. However, I don’t think it’s a solid reason to count out this camera from the list of premium compacts to purchase.

The sensor, the details and the colors displayed in day photos, its solid build and the fixed lens with wide aperture makes the Sigma DP2 Quattro a good choice for a large number of photography-taking situations.

Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the price of $999

Quick Test and Review: Sony HX400V, a Bridge Camera with 50x Optical Zoom

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Zooming power is one of the most important criteria taken into account in choosing a camera by consumers. Studies show that 84% of consumers consider the optical zoom to be second in importance after the number of megapixels. Despite this, not many large zoom cameras also produce good quality images. Most of the time, a large optical zoom hides a lens of poor quality, which lowers the price of the device, but also the quality of the resulting photos.

It’s the reason why we find cameras with a 30-40x optical zoom at prices as low as $175. Most likely the photos taken at maximum zoom are unusable. More than likely so.

However, there are manufacturers who take image quality at high zooms seriously, and Sony is one of them. The latest bridge camera that I tested is the Sony HX400V, which comes with a whopping 50x optical zoom. But let’s see the full technical specifications.

Technical specifications of the Sony HX400V

20.4-megapixel CMOS sensor;
Full HD video shooting at 50fps;
50x Optical Zoom with a focal length of 24-1200mm and f/2.8-6.3;
Image stabilization system;
Continuous shooting at 10 frames per second;
Wireless connectivity and GPS localization;
SD/SDHC Card;
ISO sensitivity up to 3,200;
Minimum exposure time of 1/4000s;
Integrated flash;
Weight: 660 grams/1.2 pounds.

The Sony HX400V can be purchased at the price of $ 478.

By far the lens is the camera’s strongest point. Starting from f/2.8 and 24mm, the lens turns out to be very useful in narrow and dimly lit spaces. At the tele end, Sony HX400V is able to deliver usable images even at 50x zoom. That is a focal length of 1200mm. You can take gorgeous pictures even at this magnification. Put the camera on a tripod and photograph the Moon on a clear night. You will be surprised by the result.

I noticed, however, after tests, that I’ve obtained the best results somewhere around 40x, with the exception of course of the wide end where the lens excels from all points of view, revealing the Carl Zeiss quality.

The wide end is great for capturing wide landscapes, and does this very well thanks to the sensor with a very large dynamic range compared to other cameras in the same segment. You can see this in the photos below. Most were taken in bright light in the middle of the day. The results are not bad at all.

Before we get to the bulk of the photos, let us observe two frames. One is taken at the wide end at 1x zoom, and the other at the tele end, zoom 50x.

And now let’s have a look at the pictures that we’ve taken with the new Sony HX400V.
Sony HX400V sample test images:

Testing the creative modes

In the camera menu there are, of course, a number of creative options to alter the images right when they’re taken. They won’t blow you away, as such filters are rarely truly helpful, but they can help in some situations. Have a look at a comparison between the creative modes of the HX400V.

Quick-test: Conclusions

Sony HX400V is a bridge camera that turns out to be useful in most situations. Nevertheless, I’d rather buy and use it for travel and vacation photography. The camera can cover a broad range of situations, from landscapes to wildlife or distant subjects. In a word, a good all-rounder.