Brent Lestage: Blog https://www.brentlestage.com/blog en-us (C) 2021 Brent Lestage Photography (Brent Lestage) Thu, 15 Apr 2021 11:20:00 GMT Thu, 15 Apr 2021 11:20:00 GMT https://www.brentlestage.com/img/s/v-12/u743488497-o364028065-50.jpg Brent Lestage: Blog https://www.brentlestage.com/blog 120 90 Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens Review https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2021/4/canon-ef-400mm-f/2-8l-is-usm-lens-review
As a portrait/headshot photographer, it’s not often that I get to use lenses greater than 200mm, so when I had an opportunity to use (and eventually own) the venerable Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Super Telephoto lens, I was awestruck.

This lens is a BEAST! It has a front element that measures nearly 6.5-in diameter, weighs just shy of 12-lbs, is built like a tank and is fully weather-sealed. This is a lens designed for sports and wildlife photography and the associated rigors of professional use.

Since it’s release, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM has undergone two revisions... a version II and III —both improving on size and weight reduction, as well as improved lens coatings and sharpness. However, of the three incarnations, this original version is my favorite —mainly due to its no-compromise construction. It’s the kind of iconic exotic lens that says, “no matter what you are attempting to photograph, under virtually any environmental condition, I will not fail you.”

Yes, you can handhold this lens (if you have bodybuilder arms like Arnold Swarzenegger’s in his prime) and it fares well on a sturdy monopod but, for ultimate control and stability, you will certainly welcome a tripod —preferably with a large load rating and a gimbal head (WIMBERLEY or equivalent). And, since the front element is so large, the use of 52mm drop-in filters are a must.

You should also exercise caution using this lens in direct sunlight in order not to; A.) permanently blind yourself, B.) melt your camera’s mirror and/or imaging sensor and internal components and C.) cause a fire due to the magnification and focusing of the sun’s rays on nearby combustible objects. So, ALWAYS REMEMBER TO USE THE LENS CAP when not in use.

The images you can get with this fast, tack-sharp (edge-to-edge) lens are nothing short of amazing. The background separation and 3D image quality makes virtually every subject pop. Autofocus is very fast for a lens this size and with such a massive amount of glass to move. Rounding out its many useful and desirable features, Canon’s Internal Stabilization makes this fast lens even more versatile in low-light conditions.

If 400mm comes up short for your needs, I suggest adding the Canon EF 1.4x Extender II, increasing this len’s focal length to 560mm (full frame) @f/4. I do not recommend the 2x extender, as image softness is more noticeable and you will lose another stop of light.

For use in portrait photography —specifically environmental portrait photography, this lens would be considered “special purpose”, cumbersome and somewhat cost-prohibitive, but I feel that it yields a quality like no other —with amazing background compression and separation.

I highly-recommend giving this incredible lens a shot! (pun intended)

~ Brent

 

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(Brent Lestage) Brent Lestage Blog Canon 5DS R Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens Canon Lens Review Canon Super Telephoto https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2021/4/canon-ef-400mm-f/2-8l-is-usm-lens-review Sun, 11 Apr 2021 20:44:56 GMT
Mini Review: Canon EOS 5DS R https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2020/10/review-canon-eos-5ds-r
My camera of choice for portrait photography and professional headshots is the 50.6 megapixel monster —Canon 5DS R.

Offering what amounts to medium-format quality in a DSLR body is a truly remarkable accomplishment. For those seeking extra “pop” or who like to crop, this camera delivers. The full-frame sensor captures massive amounts of detail due to its pixel density and low-pass filter rendered neutral.

With all those pixels crammed together, the trade off is that the camera does suffer a bit with low-light sensitivity and noise at high ISO’s but, there are few situations (if any) requiring me to venture above 1600 ISO (the 5DS R maxes out at 12800 ISO). Because I shoot mainly in the studio at low ISO (100-400) and have complete control over lighting and exposure, working at high ISO with its associated noise is pretty much a non-issue.

On the subject of DSLRs vs. the increasingly-popular mirrorless designs, I am not shy about admitting that I prefer the former when it comes to shooting stills —especially in high-pressure situations. I like looking through glass. The 5DS R’s optical reflex viewfinder is big and bright, and I appreciate seeing all the glorious detail while enjoying zero lag, superior battery life and a camera body that doesn’t heat up like a kiln-fired brick.

Despite its massive file sizes (max. image resolution is 8688 x 5792), the 5DS R still cranks out shots at 5fps continuous and offers a quiet, responsive, vibration-free shutter and a robust, weather-sealed, magnesium-alloy body. Married to Canon’s top-of-the-line L-Series glass, you have a perfect Hi-Rez combo.

Finally, the 5DS R provides USB 3.0 compatibility for fast performance when tethering, and a reinforced tripod plate to provide for secure attachments to all professional support systems.

Your subject awaits!

~ Brent

 

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(Brent Lestage) Brent Lestage Blog Canon Canon 5DS R Canon EOS 5DS R Review Portrait Photography https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2020/10/review-canon-eos-5ds-r Thu, 08 Oct 2020 03:25:55 GMT
7Artisans 35mm f/2 Lens Review and Comparison https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2019/10/7artisans-35mm-f/2-lens-review-and-comparison

Recently, I had the opportunity to compare the Chinese-made 7Artisans 35mm f/2 to the Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 lens.

Based on the Zeiss Sonnar design and affectionately dubbed the ‘Chinacron’ (after favorable comparisons to the Leica 35mm Summicron), the first thing about the 7Artisans that struck me was its solid build-quality and heft. Weighing in at approximately 230 grams, it is made primarily of brass and aluminum and comes in a nice matte black finish.

With its Leica M-mount designation and mechanical linkage, it meshes seamlessly with all Leica M rangefinder focusing systems. All reference marks are engraved and paint-filled. The detents on the aperture ring are firm and click lively into place. The focus ring is well-damped with good throw, and is permanently-mated to a metal thumb lever. Lastly, the lens front accepts threaded 43mm filters and offers 6-digit Leica encoding on the rear lens mount (more on this later).

An immediate observation I had with this lens is that it actually sees more 40mm than it’s stated 35mm focal length spec —which I actually prefer using on my M8, as it gives me a 50mm standard prime FOV via its 1.33x cropped sensor —Great for walk-around shooting or environmental portraiture.

Edge-sharpness wide-open at f/2 may suffer a tad, but I believe it is what gives this lens a vintage feel. At smaller apertures, edge-sharpness becomes insignificant. In fact, when stopped-down to f/4 and beyond, it performs nearly identically to Leica’s world-class 35mm Summicron —hence its ‘Chinacron’ moniker. I strongly feel that the 7Artisans exhibits more 3D pop and better bokeh than the Leica Summarit. Overall, this lens has character!

When files are imported into Capture One, the EXIF lens data displays ‘Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH’ —an ID/correction feature which can be menu-enabled or disabled via my M8 prior to shooting. I recently learned that 7Artisans has discontinued 6-bit encoded versions of this lens, explaining that the Summicron-applied correction is inaccurate. While this may be true, I actually believe it has more to do with the 7Artisans lens being falsely identified as a Leica product. Personally, I prefer the 6-bit copy over the newer non-coded version, if for nothing more than having the option of applying auto lens correction (accurate or not).

As for the Leica... I found the 35mm Summarit-M, well... clinically boring. Sure, it is a beautifully-made lens. It is more economically-priced than its Summicron sibling. It is sharper overall. It’s engraved markings are easier to read and slightly more useful than the 7Artisans. It is also slightly smaller (it takes 39mm filters) and lighter (220g) —but, image-wise, I feel it offers nothing remarkable over the 7Artisans for all practical purposes.

In fact, when choosing between these two great lenses, it really made no sense for me to pair this particular Leica lens with my M8. Any gains in edge-sharpness are negated by the 1.33x sensor crop, its maximum aperture is a third of a stop slower @f/2.5, and it costs 4x more (used) than the 7Artisans! So, for my purposes, I chose the 7Artisans as a fast, versatile, affordable prime (see comparison shots and sample photos below).

~ Brent

Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5

7Artisans 35mm f/2 w/Leica 6-bit encoding
Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 (Leica M8)
7Artisans 35mm f/2 (Leica M8)
Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 (Leica M8)
7Artisans 35mm f/2 (Leica M8)
Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 (Leica M8) 7Artisans 35mm f/2 (Leica M8) Bartender (Leica M8, 7Artisans 35mm f/2) Morning Window (Leica M8, 7Artisans 35mm f/2)
Leica M8 w/Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2 lens, rectangular hood and UV/IR cut filter Leica M8 w/7Artisans 35mm f/2 lens and generic vented hood

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(Brent Lestage) 7artisans 35mm f/2 brent lestage blog leica m8 leica summarit-m 35mm f/2.5 lens review and comparison https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2019/10/7artisans-35mm-f/2-lens-review-and-comparison Mon, 14 Oct 2019 20:37:52 GMT
Leica M8: Less Can Be More https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2019/9/leica-m8-less-can-be-more For me, great photography is a communion between the subject and the photographer. You have to give something in order to receive. You have to be present in the moment —open, thoughtful, reactive. Some of the best photos I have ever seen are representative of this process. They are like great paintings.

New product reps and photo-tech influencers would like you to believe that they are advancing the craft of picture-taking by taking the “guesswork” out of the equation by offering photographers a million menu options, lightning-fast autofocus and ultra-sensitive ISO’s. I argue that the guesswork they are referring to is actually, in essence, the rewarding process of Photography itself.

In this brave new world of endless and unnecessary upgrades, you are constantly exposed to marketing hype which attempts to convince you that you need more when, in reality, you don’t. Planned obsolescence merely serves to line the pockets of corporations whose very existence now depends upon this paradigm.

Inspiration comes from understanding and overcoming limitations. What some would view or dismiss as irrelevant older camera technology simply don’t understand what Photography actually is about. Understanding limitations rewards creativity.

The Leica M8 is a 10+ year-old digital M-series camera (actually, Leica’s first) that, as I write this in late 2019, still manages to excite, inspire and reward users. It lacks just about all the bells and whistles inherent on virtually every digital camera made today. But, this little block of magnesium alloy and brass, uncluttered —with just a simple shutter speed dial and rangefinder, is a creative thinking person’s camera.

In the hand, it is a joy to behold simply because it is just about as uncomplicated as a digital camera can get —a testament to Leica’s minimalist design philosophy. And, to the eye, the images this camera produces, with its modest by today’s standards 10.5MP Kodak CCD sensor, are beautiful, film-like and organic.

The M8 has no live-view, gets noisy above 640 ISO, and its RAW buffer is abysmally slow. But, the beauty of the M8 is that it forces you to think more about the shot —to take it all in... and become a more contemplative photographer, rather than just a spray and pray documentarian.

Some of the best things in life are simple, and some of the best moments in life can be captured with less. The Leica M8 is proof of this.

~ Brent

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(Brent Lestage) Brent Lestage Blog Leica Leica M8 Review Leica M8: Less Can Be More M8 https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2019/9/leica-m8-less-can-be-more Sat, 21 Sep 2019 03:15:46 GMT
Now Hear This! https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/8/now-hear-this Never overlook the importance of sound in motion pictures - specifically, well-recorded dialogue and the impact it has on an audience. Consider some of the more memorable lines in classic movies alone. What would CASABLANCA have been like without “Here’s looking at you, kid”, JAWS without “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” or “You can’t handle the truth” from A FEW GOOD MEN? For every great moment of dialogue captured onscreen, there is a microphone on a boom pole being cued just offscreen by a skilled operator and a production sound mixer nearby ensuring that proper levels are being recorded.

Getting great sound on-location can be quite challenging - especially now with the proliferation of unscripted dramas, documentaries and reality shows. While today’s digital post-audio editorial tools certainly make it easier to fix mistakes and remove extraneous noise, it all still comes down to basic fundamental recording principles —Get the take as cleanly as possible. And, many times, you have only one chance to get it right. This is why hiring the right sound mixer with the right tools to do the job is so important.

I have recorded and mixed sound for film and television shows around the world in some of the most inhospitable and demanding environments (view my IMDb credits). In my 30+ years doing so, I have never had a major piece of equipment fail. The reason for this, I believe, is due to the quality, integrity and design of products from tried and true professional sound equipment manufacturers the likes of Sound Devices, Lectrosonics and Sennheiser.

Here is a list of the production sound equipment I currently use and why I use it:

  • Sound Devices 633 6-input, 10-track digital field mixer/recorder. The heart and soul of any location recording kit is the mixer, and I chose the 633 because of its size, I/O functionality and bullet-proof reputation. It delivers uncompromising, transparent sound and generous recording options. Additionally, it sports two incredible and proven auto-mixing systems built-in!
  • Sennheiser MKH-50 and Sanken CS-3e microphones. Impervious to RF and humidity, possessing low self-noise, great reach and uncolored sound, these mics are the staples of my interior and exterior dialogue recording choices.
  • Lectrosonics SMQV transmitters, SRc and UCR 411a wireless receivers. These digital hybrid diversity wireless units offer superior signal quality that rivals hard-wired microphones. They offer great range and interference-free rejection of competing RF signals. I pair the diminutive SMQV transmitters with the Sanken COS-11D lavaliere microphones with stellar results - even when hidden under layers of wardrobe.
  • Sennheiser AVX wireless mic system. Great for camera reference feeds, especially mirrorless and DSLRs.
  • Tentacle Sync E. These tiny lock-it boxes bring frame-accurate SMPTE time code synchronization to virtually any camera, and their free software solutions make for simple and automatic synchronization of multiple sound and picture sources.
  • Denecke TS-3 Time code slate. Accurate, robust and power-efficient.
  • Lectrosonics IFB R1a wireless IFB client monitors. These rugged, battery-operated headsets rival Comteks for more critical audio monitoring. Great for Producers, Directors, Script Supervisors and Clients.
  • Support equipment such as Rycote mounts and windscreens, K-Tek and VdB boom poles, Zuca all-terrain cart, Peter Engh and Canare audio cables round out my kit.

That is all!

~ Brent

 

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(Brent Lestage) Ambient Recording Brent Lestage Blog Canare dialogue K-Tek Lectrosonics my sound kit Peter Engh production sound mixing Rycote Sennheiser Sound Devices Tentacle Sync Zuca https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/8/now-hear-this Tue, 14 Aug 2018 03:38:42 GMT
Abstract: The Art of Design (on Netflix) https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/7/abstract-the-art-of-design-on-netflix It’s not often that a documentary series about art and design can leave me wanting for more, but the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design did just that. The series explores more than just the great work of artists and designers the likes of Platon, Christoph Niemann and Paula Scher, among others. It masterfully exposes their talents, methodologies and motivations. This isn’t the kind of documentary that stands still. Expertly produced, photographed, sound recorded and edited, ABSTRACT inspires. Check out the Season One official trailer here.

~ Brent

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(Brent Lestage) Abstract: The Art of Design Art Brent Lestage Blog Christoph Niemann Design Documentary Netflix Paula Scher Photography Platon https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/7/abstract-the-art-of-design-on-netflix Fri, 27 Jul 2018 20:41:16 GMT
Why I Made the Switch to Fujifilm Mirrorless https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/7/why-i-made-the-switch-to-fujifilm-mirrorless I have a confession. I love cameras. And I have rented, owned and mastered plenty of them throughout my life. Problem is, nowadays it’s hard to find a standout. Everything seems so... vanilla.

As a longtime Canon user, I thought I had found my sweet spot. In my search for minimalistic bliss, I downsized by combining my stills/video shooting package to the venerable 5D Mark IV, a handful of fast L-Series lenses. All was fine until... I had an opportunity to try the tiny, yet formidable Fujifilm X-T2.

I was excited. For the first time since owning one of the first digital Leica models, I wanted to take this camera with me everywhere. There was so much to like - It’s diminutive size and weight, the intuitiveness of its control layout, retro styling, fast and compact lens choices, the organic film-like image quality... I could go on and on (and I do a bit more below). Needless to say, after spending a week shooting with it, I must say that I am duly impressed.

What I Like.

The color science. Fujifilm has always been a leading innovator and supplier of still and motion picture film. With tried and true film simulations like Provia, Velvia, Astia, among others, they have mastered the many different tonal “looks” photographers desire. I find it refreshing that, in an age of non-committal RAW imaging, my straight-out-of-camera JPG images need virtually no enhancement.

The intuitive X-T2 camera body. Featuring a bright, detailed and massive EVF, it makes composing/framing and confirming focus/settings a breeze. Dual card slots, physical dials and controls, programmable function buttons and custom menus round out its professional, weather sealed body.

The lenses. Fujifilm has apparently been hard at work perfecting their optics. The X-Series "R" designated lenses are fast, compact, built predominately of metal and have manual aperture rings that click sure and true in thirds of a stop. My favorite Fujifilm X-mount lenses are the 16mm f/1.4 R WR, 35mm Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster II f/0.95, XF 56mm f/1.2 R primes and the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR zoom lens. 

Digital Cinema. What applies to the JPG color science mentioned above also applies to video. The UHD 4K images are exceptional! Adding to its long list of motion picture functionality, and combined with exceptional Fujinon Cinema Zoom Lenses, variable frame rates, time-lapse and a Fujifilm LOG profile for increased dynamic range, I now have a capable and unobtrusive storytelling machine in miniature. Sure, there are Arri’s and Red’s... they have their well-earned places on larger productions but, for less demanding corporate interviews and b-roll, Fujifilm knocks it out of the park!

Firmware and Support.

Finally, Fujifilm has a demonstrated track record of standing behind their professional users, offering stellar product support and free firmware enhancements uncommon in this competitive industry. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

~ Brent

**Update** I am now shooting (video) with Fujifilm’s formidable hybrid photo/video flagship, the X-H1 along with the outstanding XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR Lens, XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens and MKX 50-135mm T2.9 Cinema Lens.

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(Brent Lestage) Brent Lestage Blog Fujifilm Fujifilm MKX 50-135mm T2.9 Fujifilm X-T2 Fujifilm X-T2 Review Mirrorless XH-1 X-T2 https://www.brentlestage.com/blog/2018/7/why-i-made-the-switch-to-fujifilm-mirrorless Fri, 27 Jul 2018 18:38:52 GMT