Monday, January 24, 2005

Christmas Toys - Part 2

So, after all of the troubles I wrote about yesterday in my quest to get an updated version of my Sigma 500 DG Super EO-ETTL flash, I finally can get to the details of that and the rest of my presents.

The Sigma flash is actually quite a nice unit. For only $200, it holds up quite nicely next to the Canon 550EX flash (which runs about $100 more). It has nice range, supports ETTL (and I discussed yesterday), second curtain synch, and a bunch of other stuff. One feature which it supports (which the Canon doesn't, at least as far as I could tell) is that it can serve as an optical slave. That means that you can have the Sigma detached from the camera, and it watches for another flash to go off and then triggers itself. This is nice for getting 2 angle flash coverage. It doesn't seem possible to trigger the Canon 550EX remotely using the Digital Rebel's built in flash. The downside to using the optical slave is that the Digital Rebel does a pre-flash for determining ETTL exposure. That pre-flash is done just BEFORE the exposure begins, and unfortunately it also triggers the Sigma so that it goes off before the exposure. The work around for that (at least for now) is to hold the flash exposure lock button (FEL) on the Digital Rebel. That gives off a pre-flash when you press the button but (as long as you keep the button held down) doesn't do one before opening the shutter for exposure.

One downside I've noticed so far with the Sigma vs. the Canon is that the Canon has auto focus assist for most (all?) of the auto focus point, whereas the Sigma only has center focus point assist.

In addition to receiving the Sigma flash from my wife, she also got me a Sto-fen Omni Bounce for the flash. The omni bounce is just a translucent piece of white plastic that fits over the head of the flash and diffuses the light from the flash (at the expense of a few stops of light). I haven't had the chance yet to experiment with this and see just how worthwhile it is (or if it was just a waste of money). I'm considering getting some other bounce attachments for the flash. Possibly an 80-20 bounce unit. The purpose of such a unit is that you configure the flash head to bounce off of the ceiling, but then you put this attachment on and it lets 80% of the light bounce off the ceiling like it normally would, but it immediately bounces 20% of the light back forward. It gives you some stronger direct lighting while still providing plenty of light to bounce around filling in shadows.

The last gift my wife got me was a set of Pro-Optics extension tubes. These tubes allow you to focus with an ordinary lens at a much closer distance, giving you extra magnification and essentially turning it into a makeshift macro lens. The extension tube set comes with 3 tubes: 13MM, 21mm, and 31mm. You can use the tubes individually, or combine them in any combination for up to 65mm of extension. A lot of people have been raving about the Kenko extension tubes, but these tubes are a much better deal. They are about $40 less expensive, and unlike th Kenko tubes, they actually support EF-S lenses right out of the box, without making any cutting modifications (and voiding the warranty) like the Kenko requires. The only advantage I can see of the Kenko's is that they are 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm for a total of up to 68mm of extension...ever so slightly more the the Pro Optics, but that's so slight it's not worth the extra cost and lack of EF-S support (at least in my book). I've done a little but of work with these so far, but I'm just now getting around to it (since I really needed to have my flash exchange resolved first to use it to work with these things). I'll post some updates and samples later this week.

Lastly, on my Christmas list I also had several other things I didn't get. It seemed everyone would rather buy me video games from the store rather than order stuff online. However, there were some books there that I really wanted, so the week after Christmas I went and bought them as a gift to myself. I picked up "Understanding Exposure" and "Learning to Set Creatively", both by Bryan Peterson, as well as "Night Photography" by Andrew Sanderson. I've already finished the first book and am just now getting started into the second on. I'll post some of my thoughts on those in the coming week or so.

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