MrLeica.com started in March 2013 after Flickr followers asked for my thoughts
Founder / Story
I’m a self taught photographer with around 10 years experience of photographing portraits, models and weddings. After my first 3 years I was teaching photography to fellow professionals in the UK and overseas and after 4 years I bought my first Leica camera. As a child my Grandfather inspired me to draw and taught me to paint with watercolours. As a teenager I taught myself very fine detail acrylic painting but went on to study science (and later finance) rather than the arts.
Photography came to me later after an ex girlfriend kindly bought me a camera one Christmas. I was immediately hooked and 3 months later a bought a better camera and then another. My inquisitive data driven mindset and tendancy to document things inspired me to start this blog as a personal project. When reading about photography and researching new cameras I find it is the perfect place to record everything I learn and I can share it with others.
Mr Leica Photographer Blog
Coventry UK studio based portrait and wedding photographer using digital Leica cameras and a wide range of film cameras. Analogue cameras include 35mm, medium format and large format and film developing is done in house. Cameras, lenses and films are tested during model photography photo shoots both in the UK and overseas. Blog reviews include a combination of technical detail, example images and side by side comparisons.
Before starting MrLeica.com I used to write technical articles for UK photography magazines. As I continue to collect and test cameras and photography equipment I now share the information here. I hope you find the content as enjoyable to read as it is to document.
Where to find MrLeicaCom!
If you want to follow me on social media just search for MrLeicaCom or Matt Osborne. It’s always great to hear from like minded people so feel free to get in touch! You can find me on Instagram and I share images on Flickr and Pinterest too.
Voigtlander Bessa L Review (Best 35mm Wide Angle Film Camera, for me!)
Voigtlander Bessa L review, photos and YouTube video. Comparing the Bessa L to the Bessa T, Bessa R and Leica iii film cameras. Looking for the best 35mm wide angle lens film camera? (Excluding the Xpan!) You may appreciate the Bessa L. I love it!
Review of the Voigtlander Bessa L film camera
I love it! Get one! The end.
The ‘Modern’ Voigtlander Bessa L camera ?
The Voigtlander Bessa L camera is my most modern film camera.. I think. (Actually my Fuji GF670 is my newest film camera, released in 2008 and made until 2014). The Bessa L camera was slightly earlier and was introduced in 1999 and produced until 2003. That makes this camera 60 years newer than the Leica iiia camera I use! Funnily enough it was the Leica iiia camera that lead me to buying the Voigtlander Bessa L!
Buying the Bessa L camera
As with most of my camera purchases the Voigtlander Bessa L camera buy was completely unplanned. It wasn’t until the end of the buying decision when I was deciding between different Voigtlander film camera models that I went for the Bessa L model. I was not on the market to buy another 35mm film camera but when I discovered the Bessa L there was no going back!
Voigtlander Bessa L vs T (or R and variants)
One decision you may have if you look to buy a Voigtlander Bessa film camera is which model to buy. There is the Voigtlander Bessa L, T, R, R2, R3, R4.. I wont list all the camera specs of each version of the Bessa as you can find this information online already. What I will do is just list some of the key features to be aware of – see below. (This is what appeared important to me but your camera specs wish list might be different).
Comparison of Voigtlander Bessa L,T,R, R2,R3
Bessa L – LTM mount + No rangefinder + No viewfinder
Bessa T – Leica M mount + Coupled rangefinder + No viewfinder
Bessa R – LTM mount + Combined coupled rangefinder + Viewfinder
Bessa R2 – Leica M mount + Combined coupled rangefinder + Viewfinder
Bessa R3 versions – Leica M mount + Combined coupled rangefinder/ VF
Bessa R4 versions – Leica M mount + Combined coupled rangefinder/ VF
Key Specs of Voigtlander Bessa L (vs Leica M6!)
The Voigtlander Bessa L has the following features. I compare the Bessa L to my Leica M6 as that is a camera many rangefinder camera fans probably know of.
3 Reasons why I bought the Bessa L camera
(1) Camera Weight
My ‘need’ that related to buying the Voigtlander Bessa L is could I find a lighter version of my beloved Leica iiia camera. The camera had to weigh less than the 410g Leica iiia (which is already around 100g lighter than a Leica M camera).
(2) LTM Mount (Leica thread mount)
The camera also needed to be LTM mount as my smallest lightest lenses are LTM lenses (Leica thread mount). (Review and YouTube video of my LTM lenses soon!). When searching the web for such a camera I somehow stumbled across the Bessa L camera. At first I was tempted by the Leica T camera which has a Leica M mount. Why. Because I have more Leica M mount lenses so it seemed to make better sense. I then realised my sole purpose of this camera purchase was to get the lightest setup. The Voigtlander Bessa L is only 320g(!!!!) making it the lightest Cosina Voigtlander camera as far as I know. The Bessa L is also LTM mount. Tick box.
(3) No built-in rangefinder
The final reason that sold the camera to me was the fact that the Voigtlander Bessa L has no rangefinder. Why is that good? It is good as my Voigtlander Bessa R3A camera rangefinder has nearly always been out of alignment (even after having it repaired at least twice). Cosina Voigtlander rangefinders are not built as well as a Leica rangefinder. Repair guys have said to me “just buy a Leica”, in the days before I had a Leica!
One reason why you don’t need the Bessa L!
The obvious argument against buying the Bessa L is I could just use the Bessa R3A camera and zone focusing. Wallah! I have the same setup as the Bessa L and I save some money. Yes except the Bessa L is smaller and lighter so that was my argument to buy.
If you are a normal person (and are not trying to save one or two grams like me!) you can use any Leica M or Cosina Voigtlander camera. Get the 15mm Voigtlander lens and zone focus and you have basically the same setup as I am enjoying.
For my ultra running training miles and cycling adventures (previous called Ironman training!) I just prefer to have this lighter camera setup.
Voigtlander Bessa L Portrait
As a portrait photographer I wanted to try the Bessa L for portraits even with the Voigtlander 15mm lens attached. Here was my first attempt! (Cropped as a square).
35mm Panorama Cameras / 35mm Panoramic
Do you remember the APS film cameras of the 1990s? I do. I had one myself (as a non-photographer/ starting to realise I maybe like photos person). It was years later before I got into photography so i’m not even sure what camera I had. Some cheap point and shoot I think. I just remember being able to capture these ‘amazing long photos’ (panoramas / panoramic images).
It wasn’t until very recently that I gave this topic any thought. Did you know that the long impressive APS film images are just a narrow crop of a standard 35mm film negative!? I feel stupid for not realising this sooner but the point I am very slowly trying to get to is I can now do panorama images with my wide lens Voigtlander Bessa L camera setup!
(I may cover this in more detail in a future post if it is something I get into but in very simple terms it gives me a cheap lightweight compact Hasselblad XPan to play with!). (The XPan is of course better but for fun photos I want to experiment with the Bessa L).
Voigtlander Bessa L Panorama Photo
Here is my first attempt of a 35mm panorama photo with the Bessa L
More Voigtlander Bessa L Photos
If you see the Kentmere 400 film review or Ilford Pan 400 film review you will find more example images using the Bessa L camera. (I will link these reviews once they are written!)
Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm lens – LTM
As mentioned the Voigtlander Bessa L comes with a 15mm lens attached and it’s own hotshoe mount Voigtlander 15mm viewfinder. The standard lens on the Bessa L camera is the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5 lens which is the LTM mount version. The LTM mount lens is different to the Leica M mount Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm as it is smaller and can focus to 0.3m vs. 0.5m. A great feature that I will use/ am already using. The LTM lens can be used on a Leica M camera via the Leica M – LTM adapter.
Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm – Leica M
For Leica M film cameras and Leica M digital cameras I already use the Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide Heliar M mount lens. Optically I believe both versions of the lens are the same so you probably don’t need both. I only bought the LTM mount lens (which came on the Bessa L) to use specifically on LTM mount cameras (to get the smaller possible setup).
Voigtlander 15mm purple edges issue (on digital)
If you plan to buy the Voigtlander Bessa L camera partly just for the 15mm Heliar lens you should be aware of the following. The Voigtlander 15mm Heliar Super Wide lens is fine on a film camera body (LTM version or M mount version of the lens), whether a Leica M6, Voigtlander Bessa R3A or a Leica iii camera, as examples. Where you see ‘issues’ is if you use the 15mm lens on a full frame digital camera.
Purple edge Voigtlander 15mm photo
Voigtlander 15mm lens on Leica digital cameras
On my digital Leica M240 and Leica M9 cameras I experience purple edges from the Voigtlander 15mm lens. This is not an issue if you shoot in black and white or on a crop sensor camera body but it’s worth noting. The lens should be fine on the Leica CL or Leica M8 for example.. or even a Lumix GH5.
Voigtlander Bessa L Review – Summary
If this article hasn’t given you an idea of how much I am liking the Bessa L camera then my YouTube video might (below). If you are looking for a lightweight LTM camera body or a cheaper alternative to a Leica you may like the Bessa L. If you enjoy the Leica i, ii or iii but want a camera that you can use faster (faster film loading, film advance, film rewind) and/ or you want a built in lightmeter then the Voigtlander Bessa L is a camera you may want to consider.
YouTube Voigtlander Bessa L Review (+ vs Leica iii)
Here I share some Hasselblad 645 photos using the less common A16 Hasselblad 645 back. (This provides a more economical alternative to the classic 6×6 Hasselblad A12 film back). I also discuss the option of Hasselblad V vs H system for Hasselblad 6×4.5 film images.
Hasselblad 645 Photos (A16 Hasselblad 645 Back)(V vs H System 6×4.5 Film)
Here I share some Hasselblad 645 photos using the less common A16 Hasselblad 645 back. (This provides a more economical alternative to the classic 6×6 Hasselblad A12 film back). I also discuss the option of Hasselblad V vs H system for Hasselblad 6×4.5 film images.
Hasselblad classic 6×6 film back (A12 back)
The standard film back for Hasselblad V series or Hasselblad 500 series cameras is the 6×6 format Hasselblad A12 film back. The classic Hasselblad square format gives 12 photos per roll of 120 film. As much as I love the Hassy square format occasionally a subject or scene is better suited to a rectangular composition. Rather than just crop a square film negative scan to the desired more narrow final dimensions I rather see and compose the final image in camera.
A16 Hasselblad 645 film back
To be able to shoot rectangular format with the Hasselblad cameras I bought myself some A16 Hasselblad film backs. These are 6×4.5 format film backs that give an extra 4 photos per roll of 120 film. 16 photos not the usual 12. Not only does this make it more economical to shoot film but it means I can compose the final images in camera. The 645 film format often suits my portrait images better than a square (for my taste)(unless a Hasselblad headshot). The 6×4.5 crop also works nicely for some horizontal compositions.
Hasselblad 645 Back + Hasselblad 500CM/501C
Here I show my usual Hasselblad 500 setup whether it is a Hasselblad 500CM or 501C camera. I usually prefer to use the 45 degree prism viewfinder as I find it easier to focus my images. In an ideal situation I would use a carbon monopod and a cable release as shown here. Often I don’t do this but it does help to keep the camera steady if using slower shutter speeds. On cloudy days in Europe I often shoot with a shutter speed of 1/60 with the lens at it’s widest aperture. Again, where possible I use a lens hood but if I have to travel with minimal kit I will use the Hasselblad without it and with a waist lens finder instead. (For the smallest lightest setup).
645 Hasselblad SWC /M setup
Here I show my Hasselblad SWC/M camera setup. The SWC is a fixed lens Hasselblad so it looks the same most the time. What you see here is probably the same as most photos you will see of the Hasselblad Super Wide.
Hasselblad 645 Portraits
More Hasselblad 645 Photos (Hasselblad 501C/500CM)
645 Hasselblad SWC Photos
In addition to using the A16 645 film back on the Hasselblad 500 cameras I also use it on my Hasselblad Super Wide (aka. Hasselblad SWC/M). With the SWC camera the composition is often a guestimate, as is the focusing. There is no mirror or coupled rangefinder for precision focusing. This makes the 645 format good for me as I just aim at the horizon for a horizontal image.
Hasselblad SWC Portrait Photos
Hasselblad SWC Landscapes – 645 Format
Close up images with the Hasselblad SWC/M
You may wonder how it is possible to focus so accurately when you can’t focus the SWC camera via a mirror or rangefinder? The answer is you can get a Hasselblad SWC/M adapter to clip on the rear of the camera to provide a ground glass. The camera then becomes a mini 4×5 camera where you focus on the back of the camera. (See the full Hasselblad SWC/M review to see this in practice).
645 Hasselblad Photo – Camera Options
The two common options to shoot 645 Hasselblad photos are –
Hasselblad V series camera + Hasselblad A16 film back
Hasselblad H series camera + Hasselblad H film back
Option 1 is covered above in this review where I use my Hasselblad 500CM, Hasselblad 501C and Hasselblad SWC / M cameras.
What is the best Hasselblad 645 camera setup if your love Hasselblad and want to shoot 645 film rather than the standard Hasselblad 6×6 format? You should check out the mentioned Hasselblad H3D film back article (Digital Camera That Shoots Film!? (Hasselblad H Film Back) to draw you own conclusions but for me the H3D camera gives better photos.
This might be purely down to the autofocus lens of the Hasselblad H3D or the fact that I use the 80mm f2.8 lens on the H system. On the V series cameras I tend to use other focal lengths whether shorter (say 60mm) or longer (100m, 120mm, 150mm..). There should be enough example images from both cameras shared to let you decide what camera setup would suit your taste best. If you are in the market for a Hasselblad 645 system that is.
Hasselblad H vs V system – What is better?
So what does better mean? Hasselblad H vs V system. In my conclusion I am looking only at the final photos. I am not considering all the pros and cons of each camera. To me it is usually the image that is the most important aspect of a camera. You can have a cheap simple camera that takes amazing photos and likewise a beautiful expensive camera that takes average photos. (I will perhaps write a Hasselblad H vs V system camera comparison in a future article).
My preferred Hasselblad H3D camera setup
Hasselblad H3D camera body + 645 film back + Hasselblad HC 80mm f/2.8 kit lens.
Hasselblad 500 vs Hasselblad SWC – In more details
How To – Fake Window Light with Flash (Speedlight Portraits)(YouTube Tutorial)
Do you ever wish you had more light for window portraits? Do you live in a country with limited daylight during the winter months? In the UK there can be insufficient light for my portrait photography on grey overcast days. For this reason I boost the available light with flash (or additional light sources). See below for how I do it.
Single speedlight portraits (fake window light)
In this post I will show you how to fake window light with very simple setup. The YouTube video linked below includes lighting diagrams and behind the scenes video during a model portrait session together with example photos.
Digital cameras with high ISO – No need for flash?
It is worth mentioning that with many modern digital cameras you can use ISO 3200, ISO 6400 and higher (on some cameras such as Sony). With such a high ISO you will probably never need to use flash photography. That said, it is a good skill to have to be able to make light anywhere on demand.
Film photography vs Digital (Lighting)
When it comes to using film cameras light is much more important than it is for digital. It’s a necessity. The most popular film stocks are ISO 100 or ISO 400. There are then films like Kodak Portra 800, CinesStill 800T for if you need more light (than ISO 100-400). Above ISO 800 you have Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak TMax 3200 as some very low light film options.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of these high ISO films. The extra film grain created when working in low light can be too much for my portraiture. For this reason I usually shoot at ISO 100-400 and create the light as needed. (Grain can look awesome but I prefer for other styles of photography, when the grain is that apparent.
Unlike 35mm film cameras medium format cameras tend to have slower lenses. There are a few rare fast lenses such as the Mamiya 645 80mm f1.9 lens and the Contax 645 80mm f2 lens. Both are great portrait lenses and let me work in less light. For most other medium format film camera systems the fastest lens is usually f2.8 and many lenses being f4. The Hasselblad 501C is an good example of this. An f4 lens on a cloudy winter days is not going to work for window portraits unless you push the film to perhaps ISO 1600. For that reason I use flash to mimic daylight. Some old film cameras can work with flash triggers, some with PC sync cables, and with some there is no option to use flash at all.
Window Light Portraits
Below are unedited images from the Leica CL camera SD card preview. Which of the following sets of portrait images are made with flash? A,B,C,D,E,F as marked below.
See the YouTube video for the answer (linked further down in this post).
YouTube Lighting Tutorial
In this YouTube video I also include diagrams of the different lighting setups I use. You can then hopefully replicate the setup to get a similar look.
YouTube Video – Window light portraits with a speedlight
Speedlight Related Blog Posts
Here are some more photo shoots as examples using speedlights for portraits
Leica iiia Review + Buying old Cameras/ Lenses on eBay (+ Leica iiia vs Leica M3)
Do you know what a Leica iii camera is? Me neither until one week ago! This Leica iiia review will explain some of the basics and I will share what I now know. It also accompanies my new Leica M3 vs Leica iiia review video on YouTube (linked below)
Why did I buy another Leica camera!?
If you have seen my YouTube channel or follow this blog you will know I don’t need any more cameras. I was happy with what I had. I didn’t even really know what a Leica iii was other than an ‘old Leica’.
So what happened? Well I blame the Leica Thambar 90mm lens! (Review still to follow!) Why? After using the Thambar lens and appreciating the vintage look rendered by this glass I decided to get on eBay. I didn’t go online to buy a £5000+ Thambar lens though. Instead I thought it would be smarter and much cheaper to just pick up a very early Leica lens. Early Leica lenses often have no lens coating so can create that vintage look straight out the box. A vintage look may commonly be thought of as low contrast, soft corners to the image, risk of lens flare and often more interesting bokeh and with less clinical rendering.
I already own some of the early Leica M mount glass such as the Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 lens and Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 lens. My plan was to therefore look for even older lenses with the early 1930s lens design. Lenses of this period are the Leica screw mount or Leica thread mount (LTM) design. These early Leica lenses screw into the camera body rather than the standard Leica M mount bayonet fit. You can then use a cheap eBay adapter to mount Leica LTM lenses to Leica M cameras (Leica M – Leica LTM adapter).
Leica lens or vintage Leica camera + lens?
After scrolling through pages of vintage Leica lenses listed on eBay I noticed that in some cases the lens was being sold with the same period 1930s-1950s Leica camera. What surprised me more so was the additional cost to buy the same lens with a camera included was minimal. Why buy just a lens when I could have a lens and a new camera to play with!? “MrLeica should own at least one vintage Leica camera” I told myself! With that I put a bid on and it was happily accepted. Woohoo!
Risks with buying vintage Leica equipment on eBay
Buying vintage Leica cameras on eBay
If like me you become inspired to check out the old Leica gear on eBay in search of a bargain you need to be a little bit careful. If a camera is 80 years old there is a chance it may be in need of a full service or CLA before it will work as originally intended. The shutter speeds may be slow and not accurate for example. Some eBay sellers state that the camera will work/ “may not work”/ “just for parts”. My seller shared a YouTube video showing the camera working so I felt safe to make my purchase.
If you look at multiple listings for the same camera this will give you an idea of the price range from cheapest to most expensive. My observation was that often for the best deal you should look to purchase a camera with a lens attached rather than buy a camera and lens individually.
Buying vintage Leica lenses on eBay
For vintage Leica lenses the uncoated front elements were very prone to scratches. With an 80 year old lens from this era it is also common to find haze, fungus or dust inside. A 1930s – 1950s Leica lens can be a gamble but you may get lucky. Often the cheaper lenses listed will be in the least mint condition but you may find a gem amongst them. Equally the more you pay the better condition the lens should be in but this isn’t always guaranteed. You may just pay over the going rate for a bad copy of the lens. It is worth checking the eBay seller’s photo and description carefully to try to determine if the lens has clear optics before buying.
Leica screw mount cameras or LTM mount
Before the days of the very popular Leica M cameras there was the original Leica cameras. Oscar Barnack designed the first Leica screw mount camera and these were produced from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the mid-1950s the Leica M3 was released (the first Leica M film camera) and that soon replaced the earlier Barnack-design Leicas. There was some overlap with the Leica iiiG being released after the Leica M3.
Leica iiia vs Leica M3 – Build quality
With my background being Leica M cameras I’ve always said the Leica M3 is the best M camera. One reason is it is beautifully made with seemingly no expense spared. If anyone asked me I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the best made Leica is the Leica M3. Then I bought my 1939 Leica iiia. That changed my opinion instantly! I don’t buy cameras to polish and put in a cabinet and for me a Leica is a tool. Saying that I was still blown away by the beauty and elegance of the Leica iiia camera. It is the closest camera I have seen to an over engineered finely crafted swiss time piece. I think I would be happy just to photograph it as a subject and use it as a prop!
Leica M3 vs Leica iiia – Ease of use
Yes the Leica iiia camera is beautiful but it is slower to use so will not suit everyone. Unlike the Leica M3 with it’s big bright combined viewfinder/ rangefinder window the Leica iiia has two separate tiny windows. Looking at the back of the camera the left window is the rangefinder, so you can focus you image. The right window is the viewfinder to compose you image. You need to move you eye from the left window to the right window before taking the photo. The Leica iiia reminds me of my vintage 6×9 Soviet Moskva-5 camera in that regard (See here for sample images – Moskva-5).
The Leica iiia viewfinder/ rangefinder design together with the film advance nob rather than a lever makes the camera slower to take photos. The Leica iiia is also slower to load film into as the back plate of the camera does not open. This makes it a little bit more fiddly to ensure that the film is engaged into the sprockets correctly.
How to load film into a Leica iiia (YouTube)
I have recorded a YouTube video to demonstrate how to load film into a Leica iiia camera (or any Leica iii camera). I will link it here once posted.
Leica iiia portraits / test photos!
Summary of the Leica iiia vs Leica M3 Specs
Cheap Leica film camera – is there such a thing!?
Actually yes! Yes there is such a thing as a cheap Leica camera. For the price of a second hand Nikon SLR film camera you can actually get yourself a beautiful vintage Leica camera! I know this fact as I have bought both these cameras in the last 12 months. Yes the Nikon F cameras are far more practical but if you really have you heart set on a Leica it is possible on a budget. The Leica iiia is approximately 1/3 of the cost of a Leica M3 camera. Prices vary widely but i’m basing this on paying £200 for a Leica iiia camera body and £600 for a Leica M3 camera body. You can pay more or less for both these cameras on the used market depending on the camera condition etc.
So what are my thoughts so far of the Leica iiia?
As summarised above, I love the lightweight compact yet elegant build of the Leica iiia camera. Perfect for fitting into a jacket pocket when going out for the day or in my case to fit into a jersey pocket if cycling/ hydration vest pocket if running! The Leica iiia is better suited for when you have time to take your photos. It would not suit a fast paced environment such as a Leica wedding shoot. (Too slow to operate and too slow film loading). I’m very glad to have discovered these older Leica cameras and I look forward to taking it on trips in 2020. (You will be able to see when I do as I will show my’ adventures’ on YouTube!)(I’ve booked a few cheap flights already to try to help keep things interesting!).
My Leica Portrait Lighting Kit (Godox for Leica)(YouTube)
Part 1: My Leica portrait lighting kit including Godox for Leica + Why I use, Recommended speedlights, Godox trigger for Leica, TTL vs non-TTL and more.. *For the rest of the gear I use see–Part 2: My Portrait Photography Gear Essentials
Summary of my Godox for Leica lighting kit
Godox Witstro AD-360 Flash Kit + PB960 Battery: Amazon UK / US
Godox XT-16 Wireless Flash Trigger /XTR16 Receiver: Amazon UK/ US
Summary of the lighting equipment I use
YouTube video explaining what lights and light modifiers I use (New!)
Topics covered in this article:
Part 1: My Leica Portrait Lighting Kit + Time to come clean! (What I use)
1. Time to come clean about my portrait photography lighting kit 2. Why I kept quiet 3. Is it bad if everyone uses the best camera kit? 4. Open and transparent 5. I only recommend photography equipment I own 6. Best Speedlights 2018? Latest lighting equipment 7. US and UK readers 8. Let’s begin!
• Ring Light – Great for Perfect Instagram Selfies!
Photography Lighting Equipment – Beginners Guide!
1. Why all photographers should use flash! 2. Using photography lighting is fun and effective! Off camera flash
3 Types of Photography Lighting for Beginners
1. Sunlight (Light originating from the sun) 2. Artificial continuous light 3. Flash lighting (with speedlight, stuido light or similar device)
• What portable & studio lights do I use? / Flash for Leica M cameras • Best Photography Lighting Kits (Godox vs Nikon vs Canon) • Follow the TTL / E-TTL flash trend or do lighting properly? • Benefits of non- TTL speedlights? (Godox V850II vs Nikon SB-910)
Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting Kit + Time to come clean! (What I use)
Time to come clean about my portrait photography lighting kit
Here I detail all the things I’ve never/ rarely spoke about in my 400+ previous blog posts. What do I use to make my portrait photographs excluding cameras and lenses. Specifically for this part 1 post – what portrait photography lighting gear I use.
Why I kept quiet
In the past you may have noticed I always wrote a vague description of my lighting equipment such as “speedlight” or “strobe”. I did this as whenever I mention a make and model of a product I use someone often wrote to me just hours later saying thanks Matt I’ve just bought one! While I love to help share what I have learnt with my self-taught photography I was worried that everyone’s photos would start to look the same as mine. The same camera, same lens and same lighting (if I detailed the specifics of the lighting gear I was using). After my post yesterday you can now even use the same MrLeica Lightroom presets!
Is it bad if everyone uses the best camera kit?
In reality if 10 photographers all had the same camera, same lens, same lighting kit and even same Lightroom preset and all took a photo of the same model there would still be 10 different photos. Every photographer sees the world differently and literally almost everyone has a camera of some sort now. Me telling a few readers the exact kit I use is hardly going to change anything. And so that is why I will detail exactly what photography kit I use. I already write in great detail about my Leica cameras and film cameras. I have also spoke about the lenses I use and recommend for the different cameras I have.
In this part 1 post I will cover my most used portrait photography lighting kit that I recommend to my students (people who come for photography tuition).
Open and transparent
I will be honest. One reason to write this post is to jump on the Amazon affiliates bandwagon. I upgraded the MrLeica blog platform a few months ago to make it easier to customise and hopefully read for viewers as I noticed most of the 400+ blog posts were impossible to find. Upgrading the blog now means it costs me around £400 a year to run it. I decided if I included a few Amazon Affiliate product links as part of a review it might be able to help cover some of the cost.
I guess the good thing for readers is it prompted me to write about sharing my favourite portrait photography lighting equipment that til now I had avoided. For anyone that has not heard of Amazon affiliates it basically means if you buy a product through clicking a link on this page it helps to support the MrLeica blog. (Amazon pay me a small commission for any referrals). To the buyer there is no extra cost, I am just providing a direct link to the standard Amazon website.
I only recommend photography equipment I own
For all the photography products I recommend I tried to include photos of the equipment being used and where possible the actual products in my hand. Many people write these sorts of posts and share a stock photo of an Amazon product that they might not even own. I only write about products I use, tried and tested and have proven themselves to me. (I have many many other lights and kit that were not as good so I guess I did the light testing for you!)
Best Speedlights 2018? Latest lighting equipment
The items I review may not all be the latest variants as the technology changes so fast. They might not be the newest / best speedlights in 2018 but have not seen anything better that has made me want to upgrade from my current lighting kit. Also the benefit of some slightly older models is they have a proven track record and older version are cheaper to buy vs the new model.
US and UK readers
If you don’t know from my previous ramblings I am a UK-based portrait photographer. I noticed however that most of my MrLeica blog readers live in the US followed by the UK then everywhere else in the world. I can’t setup product links for everyone I’m afraid but I will include UK and US links to the Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com website. For everyone else the camera gear I recommend is just the same but I can’t send you a direct link to buy it. Sorry.
When anyone buys a new camera the first thing to buy is a decent memory card. As a portrait photographer I thing the next thing I bought was a light (a speedlight). Photography lighting is a huge topic but I will talk about how I enjoy using a photography lighting system rather than one product for portrait photography.
Why I recommend Godox lights & top 3 Godox speedlights (2018)(for me). Are Godox the best third flash? + Godox are a Flash for Leica cameras! (Great!)
> 3 Godox speedlights I still recommend in 2018 (What I use)
Godox Portable studio light – Godox AD-360 (Profoto B1 alternative!)
I am in no way linked to Godox (also know as Cheetah, Witstro, Flashpoint and other names) but ever since my first Godox flash I have been hooked. Originally I was lusting after a Profoto B1 (don’t we all!) after seeing one of their adverts but I couldn’t bring myself to spend such a large amount of money on a light. The research then began to find a cheap Profoto B1 alternative. I wanted a portable high power light to photograph on location. I looked at Paul C Buff’s Alien Bees like the B400 but I couldn’t find a stockist for them in the UK. I looked at Elinchrom Ranger Quadra after seeing them in a photography magazine. I loved the small head units but again they were expensive. At the time I had a Nikon D700 not Leica cameras so my photography budget was a lot lower!
Eventually I discovered Godox when they were just hitting the UK market (see graph above – Godox is everywhere now but they weren’t 5+ yrs ago!) I might have even imported my Godox flash I can’t remember. I was just so keen to get a portable high power light to give me a similar tool to a Profoto B1 that I probably did import it I was that excited to find it!
Godox AD-180 & Godox AD-360 Flash (Cheaper than Profoto and better than a regular flash!)
I remember when I first used my Godox flash at a big Indian wedding. Rather than needing like 3 speedlights I could just light the whole room with one pop of the Godox flash! It recycles really fast too so for weddings it is amazing. Non-stop high power flash – living the dream! No more missed photos from little speedlights not recycling fast enough! I had studio power lighting on location and photographers often came and asked me what I was using so they could buy the same. My first Godox light was (still is) a Godox AD-180 and then I later bought the more powerful Godox AD-360 that I recommend here. I use the pair of them for my wedding photography and never worry about batteries needing replacing etc. For these Godox flash I needed triggers so I could fire the light off camera. I bought flash triggers from Godox so now I had lights and triggers to fire them. Great. (Triggers detailed below). My lighting system had begun!
Studio power flash with separate battery pack. Comes with USB port for FTR16 receiver (but will accept new XTR16 receiver also)(Great as I can then fire with FT-16/ XT-16/ X1T triggers!) I use it as a cheap Profoto B1 alternative but that is not an exact comparison.
Godox large flash – Godox V850II (The best speedlight for my needs) (A brief Godox V850II review!)
Then I wanted a large speedlight that was more portable than the Godox AD-360 but still powerful and still worked with my same triggers. I didn’t need a TTL flash so that would save me a lot of money. I bought a Godox V850 and then Godox V850 II (that I recommend here). The V850II is a 4x AA battery size flash similar to the size of main brand flash units that i used previously (Nikon SB-900 size or Canon equivalent) but with a lithium battery. The Godox V850II is the best speedlight for me as it works with my existing flash triggers. Now I had multiple off camera lights that I can fire from a single Godox remote trigger on my camera hotshoe. This was my photography lighting kit for models and weddings in the UK. When overseas I just took a smaller Godox V850 /V850 II and left the larger lights behind. The V850/V850II with “Li-ion” batteries normally last a full day on one charge and recycle quickly too. No more faffing around with piles of AA batteries! (I remember in my early weddings I was charging some AA batteries at the wedding as my 3 Yongnuo flashes were working hard and eating through the batteries!).
> Godox Ving V850II GN60 Flash Speedlight
Powerful flash, lithium battery, built-in XTR16 receiver (but will accept FTR16 receiver also via USB port)(Great as I can then fire with FT-16/ XT-16/ X1T triggers!)
Godox small speedlight – Godox TT350 (Best flash for Leica M camera / cheap Leica flash alternative!) (A mini Godox TT350 review!)
As a Leica photographer I enjoy using small cameras for digital photography. I wanted to find the best flash for Leica M cameras (specifically the Leica M240, M8, M6 and M4P)(The Leica M3 and M2 have a cold shoe not a hot shoe). Leica flash are expensive but they are a nice small size. I wanted a cheap Leica flash alternative as didn’t want to pay crazy money for a Leica flash (like a Leica SF40). A Leica flash would also not be compatible with my existing light setup anyway. The Godox V850II is too big really to mount on a small Leica M camera so I did some research and settled on the new Godox TT350 flash. The Godox TT350 flash is a small 2xAA battery unit more similar in size to a Leica flash. The small unit can be used as a trigger to fire other flash units yet still emit flash itself too (like a normal flash). I had the situation as some weddings where I was using all off camera flash and had a trigger on my camera hotshoe. Someone would then want a photo or I needed to light something up right in front of me (away from my lights). I couldn’t use a standard speedlight on my hotshoe as then the other off camera lights would not fire (say to light a venue room). I needed light on camera that would also fire lights off camera. Hey presto! Godox answer my dreams with the Godox TT350. Perfect size as a Leica flash and does all I need. It actually does more than my needs as it is TTL but they don’t make a non-TTL version sadly. The price is slighty higher but it has a lot of functionality as part of a wider camera system. There is a small problem though. This latest Godox speedlight doesn’t work with my usual FT-16 Godox triggers. (see below).
> Godox TT350N TTL Flash Speedlight
Small TTL speedlight that can work as a flash, trigger same units and units compatible with the new XTR16 receiver (Note* Can’t fire Godox TT350 of camera with FT-16 trigger, only XT-16/ X1T/ another TT350 or similar modern flash)
Top 3 Best Wireless Flash Triggers 2018: Godox wireless triggers and receivers for flash photography
> 3 Godox wireless flash triggers I recommend for the Godox flash system
This bit gets a little complicated so try to hang with me! So my original Godox wireless flash triggers are called Godox FT-16 transmitters. They look a bit like pocket wizards (see photo below) and have an aerial on the top. FT-16 triggers use 2x AA batteries and are a perfect weight for small cameras such as a Leica. FT-16 triggers have their own receivers. Different flash units use different size receivers. The Godox AD-180, AD-360 and V850II have a USB receiver port so can be fired from new receivers (XTR-16) and old receivers (FTR-16) (you just plug the receiver into the side of the unit). The old receiver that pairs with the FT-16 wireless flash trigger is called a Godox FTR-16 receiver. The new receiver looks nearly identical but is called a XTR-16 receiver. (Godox have now released a new version of the FT-16 transmitter called the XT-16 wireless flash trigger)(with same aerial style). I don’t have the XT-16 transmitter but will recommend it next to the old FT-16 transmitter (below) as I only just discovered it while writing this post! I will be buying Godox XT-16 triggers soon! Why. Well this is the problem I faced. So the old FT-16 trigger will fire the bigger speedlights but wont talk to the latest Godox v350 flash. The Godox TT350 will fire the older speedlights now that I fitted these units with new XTR-16 receivers. But what if I want to fire the little Godox TT350 off camera? I need a new trigger to do this. For this I bought a new style of Godox trigger and receiver called Godox X1T trigger and X1R receiver. (See further down).
I still prefer the older Godox FT-16 wireless flash trigger to the new X1T trigger
Old version (Trigger/Receiver kit) for AD-180/AD-360/V850/V850II+more. Pocket wizard design and works great on small cameras. Trigger will fire any older Godox flash or older “F” receiver. Receiver will work with ANY Godox light with a USB port (new or old).
The Godox XT-16 wireless flash trigger has all the benefits of the FT-16 (+ more!)
New version (Trigger/Receiver kit) for AD-180/AD-360/V850II/TT350 +more. Same pocket wizard design and works great on small cameras. Trigger will fire any new Godox flash or new “X” receiver. Receiver will work with ANY Godox light with a USB port (new or old).
> NO IMAGE AS I’VE NOT BOUGHT THESE YET (SAME AS ABOVE GODOX FT-16 DESIGN)
> Godox X1T – Wireless Hot Shoe Flash Trigger Transmitter
New different style Trigger – for AD-180/AD-360/V850II/TT350 +more. Big advantage as when on hotshoe it can fire any new Godox flash or new “X” receiver off camera and will accept any brand speedlight to sit on top for a combination of on camera and off camera flash option. I find it too big for Leica cameras but use it with Nikon D800/ F4/ F5/ Hasselblad and others.
In addition to all the various Godox speedlights and triggers above I also use continuous lights. The beauty of these is you can see what you will get (ie. the effect on the subject) before you take the photo. Beauty lights or ring lights are very popular with makeup artists, vloggers and some studio photographers also. The main point to note as a photographer is continuous light is very low power compared to a speedlight / flash so they are of no use on a bright day or if you are a studio photographer that photos everything at f16. Great for low light and fast lenses like F1.4-f2-f2.8 etc.
> Neewer RING LIGHT – 75W (600W Equivalent) 5500K Camera Photo Dimmable Ring Fluorescent, Diameter 18 inches Outer 14 inches Inner
You can always see if a photo was taken with a ringlight as there will be polo shaped highlights in the eyes (see Stacey above in the studio).
Many new photographers shy away from using their camera with a flash. I know I did for a think the first 2-3 years. Even some professional photographers label themselves as an “available light photographer” which basically means they can’t use flash. I say this because if you could you would! I’m not picking at anyone but I know as a portrait and wedding photographer sometimes there just isn’t enough light to get the photo you want. That being with the quality of light you want. Why struggle at ISO 6400+ and produce a low quality noisy image when you can fake daylight with a flash and shoot it at ISO 100-400. Here is a good example from my recent trip to Poland. It was the last photo shoot of the day and almost dark outside. I could have probably shot it at ISo 12800 or something but instead I just faked the daylight with an off camera flash and shot it at ISo 400.
Using photography lighting is fun and effective! Off camera flash
Modern cameras spoil us now with even low-cost camera having like ISO 1-million! As a film photographer I usually need to shoot at ISo 100-400/800 (try too) so I use lights quite often if the available light levels are too low. As you can see then I’ve gone from an “available light photographer” to a “lights are amazing!” photographer. Once you start it’s addictive stuff! You can almost always better a scene with a light and there is unlimited creative ways to use a light. I talk from a people photography stand point whether posed models or run and gun wedding photography. Even some landscape photographers use lights now (light painting a landscape). The guys over at F Stoppers have been playing around with these techniques if you are more of a landscape photographer type and interested. I guess street photography is an exception to needing a flash though some famous street photographers flash light their “prey” in the street too to great effect.
3 Types of Photography Lighting for Beginners
In very basic terms there are 3 types of light –
1. Sunlight (Light originating from the sun)
Whether direct sun on a blue sky day, diffused sunlight through clouds, light at dusk and dawn, light reflecting off water, a building, the floor, it all originates from the sun. (I ignore moonlight but would group it here also). We can’t control how the sun is hitting the earth/ the objects around us. This is often referred to as continuous light but to be specific lets call it natural continuous light. (I exclude firelight from this).
2. Artificial continuous light
This is usual a light source as a result of mankind. Street lights, car lights, lighting in your house, light from you iPhone, light from a candle if you light it. Any light that can be seen for a longer duration of time than a fraction of a second. In the studio there are a now a few different types of continuous lights. Tradition hot lights (tungsten bulb studio lights) and cold lights like LED lighting and Fluorescent tube lighting. Each give a different quality of light. Generally speaking (there are some exception) continuous lighting normally requires more power so tends to be mains powered and is often found in the studio. (Some of the modern LED lights are portable and use battery packs).
3. Flash lighting (with speedlight, studio light or similar device)
Flash lights are commonly refered to as speedlights for photography. They are generally smaller and more portable than traditional artificial lights and battery-powered. Flash light is instant on/off where as daylight and artificial light is continuous. This make flash lighting much more difficult to use as you cannot see the effect until you fire the flash and take a photo. This means using speedlights to good effect can take practise but it’s worth it! (It took me many hours of experimenting and I never stop learning).
What portable and studio lights do I use in 2018? / Flash for Leica M cameras
I love lights so have bought so many over the years. I use traditional hot lights, modern fluorescent right lights, main powered studio lights, portable battery pack studio lights and speedlights of every size and power. In this recommended list I try to share details on the lights I use the most. I am a studio based photographer but much of my photography is on location (for weddings and photo shoots) or overseas (all the model trips I do outside the UK). Each time I travel I try to find ways of making my photography lighting kit smaller and smaller yet still have larger high power lights for when weight is less of an issue.
Best Photography Lighting Kits (Godox vs Nikon vs Canon)
As mentioned above I have bought many brands over the years but the brand that I have stayed with (and grown with) is Godox. When you buy photography lighting kits you soon realise you are investing in a lighting system. I guess it is similar to cameras. If you buy a Nikon DSLR you can’t then use a Canon lens as it doesn’t fit. The same with lighting to a degree. Once you start using off camera flash you need triggers or transmitters and receivers. With modern speedlights often some features are built into the flash units themselves so it’s really beneficial to use everything from the same brand.
Follow the TTL / E-TTL flash trend or do lighting properly?
TTL or E-TTL (for Canon users) seems to be all the rage these days. Most photography light (speedlight) manufacturers now offer a TTL flash. What is TTL? In very simple terms it is a computer inside the flash that gives a perfect exposure for every photo. This is great for people who use a camera in full auto mode and don’t know a F stop from an ISo. A full auto camera with a TTL full auto lens is now completely automated to give a perfect exposure every time without needing to know anything about photography. Great for wedding photographers in it to make a quick buck but boring as hell for anyone hoping to get some fulfilment from the art of photography and learning the craft. I can’t think of anything worse / more dull myself. Surely the kick from getting a good photo is when you put the effort in to achieve it? If it is offered on a plate to you as a finished article and you had no input in the result then where is the fun in that. When I teach students I always teach to use a manual flash and full manual camera settings. I think they know more after their first day than many of the wedding photographers! 🙂
Benefits of non- TTL speedlights? (Godox V850II vs Nikon SB-910)
Ans: The same light power but a less than a third of the cost!
If you (like me) don’t want a TTL flash then you can save a lot of money. For example a Nikon SB-910 TTL Speedlight is around £300 on Amazon whereas a Godox V850 without TTL is only £90! Both lights are a similar size and power output. Worth noting when you look to buy a speedlight. If a flash looks expensive check if it is TTL. If it is there might be a cheaper alternative without TTL you can buy (Like the Godox V850/V850II).
Part 1: Recommended Photography Lighting Equipment – Summary
Above I have detailed the main photography lighting I use for most of my photography, 3 sizes (and power outputs) of Godox speedlights to suit different occasions, new versions and old versions of Godox wireless flash triggers and receivers needed to use the flash off camera. I also listed my Ring flash as they are very popular for Instagramers trying to take the perfect selfies! I appreciate I went into quite a lot of detail but I hope it made some sense. It took me ages researching these products before buying to try to get the best product for the money and then practice and experimenting to understand what triggers and receivers can fire what speedlights. Luckily I enjoy experimenting with flash photography!
Part 2: To Follow
I had planned to list all my gear on one blog post but it was getting a bit to long and messy. In part two (when i get time!) I will list more of the photography equipment I use and it will be less light specific.
Speedlight Related Blog Posts
Here are some photo shoots as examples of the abovementioned lighting