Qu. Need a small camera to take with you everywhere!?
First thoughts Yi4K Plus review! – The cheap GoPro alternative action camera for photos and videos. Yi4K vs Yi4K+, Yi4K Plus vs GoPro Hero 6 & 7, Yi4k essential accessories, sample photos and sample videos. My new toy!
Yi4K Plus action camera
If you are a regular reader you probably know I enjoy model photography but also cycling and running (triathlon training). When I’ve been exploring in new places before I’ve always wished I had a small camera to capture some of the amazing experiences. I have taken film cameras on various cycling trips abroad – Voigtlander R3A in Fuerteventura, Leica M3 in Fuerteventura and Mamiya 6 in Mallorca (blog to follow). They were great but were too big to use while running and required me to cycle with a backpack. The smart phone is the obvious camera choice for such situations but I use an iPhone 6 Plus and even that is a faff to carry handheld (and I find it awkward to use for photos).
Inspired to get an action camera
I had been watching lots of ultra marathon running videos on YouTube and the camera footage with small action cameras really inspired me to try doing some of the same. It lets me combine both my passion for photography and for exploring on 2 wheels or 2 feet. In the past I would visit a new country and perhaps have some model headshots against a plain hotel white wall to show for it (as an extreme example but it’s true!). To date I usually have very little to share of the sights and experiences that make up my overseas trips.
GoPro Hero 7 / GoPro 6 vs Yi4K+
At first I looked at GoPro cameras as I knew nothing about the subject of action cameras. GoPro is the brand everyone has heard of and perhaps think of. I looked at GoPro Hero 5, 6, and 7 and GoPro Black vs Silver vs White. It was all very confusing for a newbie. From watching YouTube GoPro review videos I discovered Yi4K action cameras. I’d never heard of this camera brand but it seemed widely regarded as a cheap GoPro alternative and has been nicknamed by some as the “GoPro killer”. The main advantage of the GoPro Hero 6 is the camera is fully waterproof without needing an additional waterproof camera case. This is true for the GoPro 5, 6 and 7.
GoPro Hero 7
The latest GoPro Hero 7 camera has the best built in electronic anti shake of all the cameras I looked at. The correct term is “EIS” (electronic image stabilization) but I didn’t want to pay almost double the price of the Yi4K Plus for this nice feature. I think a lot of my work will be photos more than videos as I can share them easier via the usual social media channels, Flickr, Instagram etc. I have a YouTube account but have not used it since experimenting with video years ago (Nikon D800 video mostly).
Yi4K vs Yi4K Plus
The Yi4K older model is cheaper (roughly half the cost on Amazon) than the newer Yi4K Plus version. That said I wanted to find a balance between camera spec and camera price. The newer YiK4+ is comparable to the GoPro Hero 6 in some regards offering 4K video at 60 FPS. Both Yi cameras are 12MP sensors but the Plus model shoots 4K 60FPS vs 4K 30 FPS for the older model. The main advantage to me is the Yi4K+ has image stabilization for 4K video (30 FPS) vs only for the 1080P video on the older Yi camera.
Yi4K vs GoPro – Accessories
The great thing about the Yi4K action cameras is they are fully compatible with the GoPro camera accessories. The Yi4K cameras also have the advantage of a standard 1/4 thread tripod socket so will fit any standard studio tripods / accessories. GoPro cameras require an adapter. The Yi4K+ camera also has a standard USB-C socket to use for charging, data transfer and to use with an external microphone.
Yi 4K+ Micro SD card
The Yi4K plus camera takes micro SD memory cards rather than the larger SD cards I use in the Leica cameras. I already had a San Disk 16GB class 1 micro SD card but the Yi4K website recommends faster memory cards. To be specific the micro SD card needs to be minimum UHS speed class 3 (U3) to be able to utilize all the functions of the camera. I ordered a San Disk Extreme Plus 64GB Micro SDXC card but it wouldn’t arrive immediately.
Yi 4K Plus review – First thoughts
I bought the Yi4K+ camera on Amazon just before my latest trip to Poland earlier this month. A big thank you to Amazon Prime for their unbelievably quick next day delivery (<18hrs door to door)(I used a free Amazon Prime 30 day trial!). I didn’t have time to buy any GoPro accessories so my first experience with the Yi4K+ is the bare minimum, camera only. I used my old 16GB memory card which was fine for photos but for 2.7K and 4K video the clips stopped and buffered after around 15 seconds. I was just thankful I could use the camera at all while waiting for the new faster Micro SD card to arrive!
5 Likes of the Yi4K Plus
1. Tiny camera size! (65mm x 30mm x 42mm)
It’s amazing how small this camera is! It is truly a portable camera and is much smaller and lighter than my iPhone 6+. The Yi4K Plus 65mm x 30mm x 42mm dimensions are comparable to a GoPro Hero action camera but i’ve never really taken any interest in a GoPro before. The light weight (96g/ 3.4oz) and small size means I can carry it with me literally everywhere. Running with the Yi4K camera in my hand was no chore at all.
2. GoPro accessories for Yi4K
There are endless GoPro accessories on the market so I love the fact I can use all of them with the Yi4K+ camera. For running I plan to use the GoPro head mount, chest mount, selfie stick and backpack strap clip as potential ideas. For cycling I will use the GoPro handlebar mount to make the camera hands free.
3. Yi4K+ voice activation
The Yi4K camera can be voice activated so I can take a photo with the camera mounted on the bike or my head for example without needing to touch the camera. A pretty cool feature!
4. Yi4K Plus app
The Yi4K camera can be easily operated from a smart phone device. The mobile phone can display the view the camera is seeing so I can compose a photo without looking at the Yi4K+ camera LCD. I can take the photo or start recording video straight from the mobile device. The Yi4K phone app connects to the camera via WiFi and then photos can be exported from the camera, edited if needed on your phone and shared straight to social media. A seamless application that works brilliantly for my simple needs. (*I would say after using the Yi4K phone app more that it is better to transfer photos than video. With video clips sometimes the WiFi connection fails and you have to start again).
5. Yi4K Plus photo quality (and video!)
I’m no expert when it comes to video quality but the Yi4K plus 4K video footage looks pretty crisp and the slow motion footage can look really cool if shot at 60FPS/ 120FPS (and then slowed down). The true test for photo quality (for me only perhaps!) is to post a photo on my Flickr feed and see the reaction. Yi4K Plus photos were posted next to those shot with the modern digital Leica CL camera and film photos taken with the 4×5 Intrepid (blog to follow!) and other well regarded cameras. I didn’t mention the camera used on purpose as I am guilty in that I judge a photo partly by the equipment used.
For example if there were 2 near identical photos, 1 film, 1 digital I would be much more impressed with the film photo (for me)(as I know what is involved in “making” film images). Likewise if a photo said “taken with cheap GoPro camera” I would try to pick fault at it somehow (with my thought process being well it’s nice for a P&S photo). If I see a nice photo on someones Flickr film feed I would think woo I wonder what lens/ equipment was used. If I then see that it was shot with an iPhone (for example) i’m somehow disappointed even though it was a great image. (I just appreciate the people that master the craft of using old cameras in the modern day as anyone can pick up and use a digital camera). From the reaction on Flickr to the Yi4K Plus photos most people are luckily not as narrow minded as me (smiley face) and just appreciate the end photo regardless of what camera was used. I guess I should remember that i’m an extreme gearhead but most people really don’t care what camera was used!
More Yi4K+ sample photos
After Poland – Yi4K Plus
Since Poland I have been planning ahead for my next photogenic trip to take the Yi4K+ camera on. I’ve played around with trying different video settings and used it for a few clips i’ve shared on my Instagram account (@MrLeicaCom). I think the Yi4K+ is best suited to the GoPro style advert amazing locations – skiing with blue skies, surfing with the clear blue water and action sports (as the name suggests!) For me I think I will use the Yi4K camera the most when abroad but it is great to have for when I need it.
Pimp your Yi4K – Essentials (+ Nice extras!)
If you buy a Yi4K plus action camera you may ask what are the top 5 essentials to get you started. Here are some of the items i’ve now purchased on Amazon for my Yi4K camera. It took countless hours of research (my usual before buying anything) but i’ve been happy with my setup and nothing is crazy expensive. (A GoPro setup would cost a lot more as you have to pay extra for GoPro branded products).
5 Essentials for your Yi4K camera (that I bought on Amazon!)
San Disk Extreme PLUS 64 Micro SDXC memory card – UK / US
Yi4K waterproof protective case (Rhodesy) – UK / US
To see the Yi4K Plus specs in full visit the YiTechnology website Yi4K page
Yi4K Plus videos
Sorry I have not shared any Yi4K video footage here. There are some video clips on my Instagram feed (@MrLeicaCom) if you want a taster but the best bet is view others work on YouTube. Going forward I will try to get organised to share some videos via the blog.
Yi4K Plus YouTube Sample Video!
This Yi4K plus video impressed me enough to buy the camera. Pretty cool for such a tiny device!
Here is the Yi4K+ action camera I bought on Amazon (link below). I managed to get a great deal on mine so keep a look out for discounts. These small action cameras offer excellent value for money for the amount of fun they offer whether for action sports, vlogging, travel camera or just to capture family life.
Part 2: My Recommended / Essential Portrait Photography Equipment list
WHAT I USE
Following on from my Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting kit blog post where I talk about my favourite 3 speedlights and 3 wireless flash trigger options, in Part 2 I list more of my essential portrait photography gear that I recommend to others.
As written in part 1, when you buy a new camera the first thing you need to get is a decent memory card (and as a portrait / wedding photographer the next thing is a speedlight!). Once you have a flash you then need to mount it on something, then you will want to modify/ shape the light and as your photography equipment expands you will need a new camera bag. Talking 100% from experience!
So as summarised above, here is my top 5 portrait photography equipment essentials once you have bought a flash / wireless flash triggers (part 1).
1. BEST SD MEMORY CARDS – SANDISK EXTREME
SD Cards – SanDisk Extreme 32GB
For all my digital cameras I now use the same memory cards. When I started my photography I used lots of different memory card brands but the only ones that didn’t fail me were the SanDisk Extreme SD cards. From my experience the best SD memory cards are the SanDisk Extreme range, whatever the capacity you chose. I used to use the cheaper SanDisk cards also but after one corrupted I now only use the gold label “SanDisk Extreme SD cards”. All the SD memory cards I buy are 32GB SD cards as I think it is a good balance between not to low capacity yet not to big that you have a 10 photoshoots on one card (a lot to lose if you misplace the SD card!). Also in recent years the price of SD cards has come down so much. I remember paying nearly £100 for just one 32GB SanDisk Extreme memory card some years ago! Ouch!
I have used the SanDisk Extreme 32 GB SDHC cards in my Leica M8/M9/M240/CL cameras (for photos), Nikon D800 (photos and video), Lumix LX100 (photos and video). I generally buy the SD card size version as that is the size accepted by most digital cameras. I also have some SanDisk Micro-SD card versions that I used to transfer between my cameras and a tablet (Using a Micro-SD – SD card adapter in the camera).
In this section I talk about the best light stands for photography and 7 different stands I use. They include Manfrotto light stands (full height and small), cheap lightweight light stands, best portable light stand for easy use out of the studio, best travel light stand for overseas trips, ultra compact light stands when you only have limited space in your camera bag
2.1 Professional Heavy Duty C-Stands
If money is no object or if you use heavy weight light modifiers professional C-stands are the way to go. If you will use a light stand every day and want durability and reliability then this is the best option. The disadvantage of C stands is they cost more than the cheaper lightweight stands (see 2.2) and are relatively big and heavy if want to transport, say for location shoots. I think C stands are best suited to the studio. I don’t own any but have used them and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. If I was starting out fresh today I would have purchased a couple rather than trying to do everything on the cheap.
Lightweight light stands are the more common design with 3 diagonal black legs and a pole in the middle. They come in different sizes, load capacities and as a result costs. Perhaps like many people I started out with the cheap smaller ones from Amazon for about £15 and then as they broke I replaced them with larger higher capacity versions. These cheap lightweight light stands are more than adequate to mount a bare speedlight or with a small light modifier attached but they tend to bow and eventually break if using large light modifiers or heavier studio lights. If you don’t overload them they are probably the best portable light stand option without spending lots of money. I guess as with everything, you get what you pay for. There are so many light stands available that all do a similar job. Here is the most popular £15 style light stand which is perfect for beginners and pros alike. Just check the height and load capacity before buying baring in mind what you plan to use it for. (I think I have maybe 5 of these cheap lightweight stands then more heavy-duty ones too).
(I can’t find a photo of me using my GorillaPod but it is mentioned in the details of how I took this photo! Flash lit bird photography – 2011!)
One of my earlier light stands / camera tripods was a Gorillapod when they were first released. At the time I used it for everything, both holding my Panasonic Lumix G1 and to mount a speedlight on. The Gorillapod is good as it can wrap around things so you can suspend your light from a tree branch or curtain rail. I moved away from the Gorillapod when I started using my Nikon cameras and huge 200mm lenses but I should probably start to use it again now I use mostly Leica cameras. I tried cheap Chinese copies of the Gorillapod brand but they break quite quickly. (The balls pull out of the sockets under load and or they just flop under any weight). If you buy a branded Joby Gorillapod tripod and ensure the load capacity is sufficient for your largest camera plus lens combination it should function without problems.
As you can see in my photo below, light stands come in various shapes and sizes. A light stand is what I use to hold my off camera flash units. The £15 light stands (2.2) are great to use if you don’t need to travel by air. These stands are too long to fit in a permitted carry-on bag which is how I travel. If you are travelling with checked in luggage you might be ok if have a bigger case (I used to carry these light stands diagonally in a large suitcase if was flying with checked luggage). I searched for the best light stand for travel and after much research bought the Manfrotto Nano light stand which was the smallest full height light stand I could find. The Manfrotto Nano stand is probably the best light stand for speedlights as it only has a load capacity of 1.5kg. This Manfroto light stand is not suited to use with a large softbox but a mini softbox or umbrella is fine (if using inside). I think an umbrella on the Manfrotto Nano light stand outside would only result in a bent or broken Manfrotto Nano! Good quality light stand as I would expect from Manfrotto.
If you are looking for the best travel light stand then the Manfrotto Nano stand is great to use when travelling with a large camera backpack but it can still be too long for smaller camera bags. To fit this requirement I bought a Zomei carbon tripod which was the result of reading lots of reviews and it seems to be the best travel tripod for my needs. Full height, lightweight and very compact and portable when packed down. There are lots of very similar Zomei tripods available, both carbon tripods and aluminium ones; the Z666, Z669, Z699 and many more. I have two Zomei carbon fibre tripods but the more compact version is my Zomei Z699C. I have heavy-duty Manfrotto tripods and a few other brands but my go to tripod for travel is the Zomei Z699C as it packs the smallest and is the lightest. The Zomei Z699C tripod comes with a ball head and has a clever design where one of the tripod legs unscrew to use it as a monopod. I use the Zomei tripod as a light stand by screwing a speedlight “foot” onto the ball head quick release plate. I also attach umbrella mounts and other studio accessories. I find the Zomei Z699C good to use with an umbrella as the wide legs gives more stability in a breeze. There is a hook below the Zomei tripod where you can hang your camera bag for extra stability too. When I was using my cameras on the tripod during my San Francisco trip this summer I found hanging the bag on the tripod helped keep it steady in the wind. For San Francisco I was hiking and cycling with my photography equipment so having a compact carbon lightweight tripod was a real help. I used this tripod with a Hasselblad XPan, Fuji GF670 and Nikon F4 + 180mm lens. I find Zomei tripods off great value for money but if you pay more you will find higher quality. That didn’t stop me buying two Zomei tripods (both still working*). They do all I ask of them.
> ZOMEI Z699C Carbon Fiber Portable Tripod with Ball Head
I discovered the Manfrotto Pixi EVO mini tripod when planning my cycling photography trips to Fuerteventura. I wanted an ultra compact light stand / tripod to use with my Hasselblad 500cm for landscape photography. As I was looking to do mostly cycling and some photography I needed just a small portable lightweight tripod to support the camera. The Manfrotto PIXI EVO is very solid and since buying it I use it as a table top tripod even on model shoots. The ultra compact design packs so small you can carry it with you all the time. Being a Manfrotto tripod it is super high quality and looks like it will last forever. I also use the Manfrotto PIXI EVO as a light stand as it has a ball head that I can use to angle a speedlight in a particular direction. The PIXI EVO version has extendable legs so I prefer it to the slightly cheaper model, the PIXI-B that doesn’t have this feature.
> Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2-Section Mini Tripod – Black
When first buying my Hasselblad 501C I wanted the best carbon fibre monopod I could find (for a reasonable price) to use as a camera support. I found the Sirui P-326 carbon monopod does the job perfectly. Super lightweight and sturdy too. I almost always use a monopod with my larger film cameras (Hasselblads and Mamiya RZ67 especially). The Sirui P-326 carbon monopod replaces my metal Heavy Manfrotto monopod which I used to use all the time for weddings when using my huge Nikkor 200mm f2 prime on the Nikon D800. The Sirui P-326 monopod also works great as a voice activated light stand. By this I mean have a flash mounted on the Sirui monopod and ask someone to hold the light for you. I tend to prefer to work alone for my photography but for occasions like this an assistant is handy. Some locations don’t permit tripods or light stands so having a friend hold the Sirui P-326 with a light on it is a great solution for off camera flash. I would say the Sirui P-326 is easily as good as products from Manfrotto and should last a long time. I have also used the Sirui monopod with a light attached when working alone and I just lean it against a wall or tree or even wrap my arm round it while holding the camera in my hands. For this reason I’ve included it within light stands though most people probably don’t use it for this purpose.
There are so many light modifiers available it is probably possible to start an entire blog just reviewing the latest light modifier releases! The best light modifiers for speedlights or even studio lights are the most common ones. I would say if just starting out the best light modifier to start off with is a simple and very affordable photography umbrella. Once you have mastered speedlight photography with an umbrella you might next want to look at getting softbox so I have reviewed those two products.
3.1 Photography Umbrellas
Photography umbrellas are commonly silver, gold or white colour on the inside and all produce a different quality of light. Silver, gold and white (“translucent”) umbrellas are used to bounce light off (flash is pointed at the inside of the umbrella surface and the light bounced back onto the subject. White or translucent umbrellas are multi-purpose as they can also be used as a “shoot through” umbrella where the flash is pointed into the umbrella but the subject this time stands on the opposite site of the umbrella. Umbrellas are so inexpensive on Amazon and eBay you can find umbrellas in every size and quality to suit your budget. Larger photography umbrellas create a softer light but are less manageable and cost more when they break! I find white translucent umbrellas are the most useful. Something like this –
> Neewer Professional 33″/84cm White Translucent Umbrella
(Old photo of me teaching portrait photography with the 60×60 softbox)
Once a photographer has mastered the umbrella the second most common light modifier is a photography softbox. Softboxes are good as they help control the spread of light whereas with an umbrella it just sprays light everywhere. As with umbrellas, softboxes come in every shape, size, quality, and cost. I find a Godox softbox offers good value and adequate quality for my needs. I’ve bought Godox softboxes in various sizes, 20×20, 40×40, 60×60. The mini version is good for overseas travel but the 60×60 offers the nicest quality of light (as the bigger the light modifier the softer the light). Godox softboxes come with 2 white diffusion panels and fold down for easy transportation. The Godox softbox also comes with a Bowen S-mount adapter meaning the softbox can be used with most studio lights as well as on a speedlight. I try to buy all Bowen S-mount light modifiers so that my light system is fully compatible with each other. If you need a softbox that does what it is designed for at a low-cost I recommend Godox but I’m sure other brands are similar (Neewer for example). I buy Godox modifiers mainly as I love the brackets. Well made and I use them all the time without concern. In the past I used to buy cheap umbrella mounts but I broke so many of them. The Godox softbox brackets can be used with studio umbrellas or other light modifiers (any Bowen S-mount modifier will fit). Great system.
> Godox 60x60cm Foldable Universal Softbox with S Style Speedlite Bracket for Flash Bowens
As a Leica photographer the camera bag I use the most is a Billingham Hadley Digital bag. It is designed really for 3 small camera lenses (Leica size) and a Leica size camera body. In reality I have fitted 3 Leica M bodies and 3 Leica M lenses or perhaps, 1 Leica camera, 3 lenses and a folding medium format camera like the Fuji GF670 which just fits nicely on top. Very well made and functions well. The Hadley Digital is my most used camera bag even though it is only small. This Billingham camera bag would work well for any small mirrorless camera brand or small 35mm film camera but they also make bags in many shapes and sizes if the Hadley Digital is not quite right for your setup. The Billingham Hadley Small is very popular but I have not tried it. The tan colour Billingham bag I have looks nice but the black version will probably stay looking clean for longer!
I wore out quite a few camera backpack bags before deciding it was time to pay more for something of higher quality. I wanted to find the best carry on backpack I could get for photography. That being a large camera bag that was within the maximum dimensions allowed for UK low-cost airlines carry on luggage. I fly mostly with WizzAir and Ryanair and the Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II bag lets me carry both my camera gear and clothes for a long weekend overseas of model photography. The Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 backpack dimensions are 31.5cm x 14cm x 46cm and I carry a Zomei carbon tripod, speedlights, film, cameras and clothes in it. This large carry on backpack has heavy-duty comfortable straps so for wedding photography when I load the LoweproBP 350 to the max with cameras it can still function well under load. If I want to carry additional cameras when working overseas I travel with priority boarding and take the Billingham Hadley Digital bag and this larger Lowepro Pro Runner backpack. I put all the heavy items in the Billingham camera bad as this is not weight restricted. The LoweproBP 350 is made of very high quality materials like the Billingham bag and it should last me quite a while. A great all-purpose camera bag / backpack where the inside layout can be customised to fit you specific camera system. One trip I might be carrying a large high power light such as the Godox AD-360 together with say a Hasselblad camera then for the next shoot I might carry 2 small Godox TT350 speedlights and smaller Leica film cameras.
> Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II Bag Carry on Backpack
(Old photo from a magazine article I wrote but evidence of my reflector!)
When it comes to the question of the best reflectors for photography I would always reply a 5in1 reflector. Although I list the common 5-in-1 reflector 5th I would say this is the most important item here after a memory card. A photography reflector is a low-cost essential that has so many useful applications for portrait photography. I will have to do a post just on how many ways I use a 5-in-1 reflector when I get chance! I use quite a few different light reflectors of different shapes, sizes and cost but the 43-inch one recommended here offers by far the best bang for the buck, as they say. My original 5-in-1 reflector looks quite beat up these days but I still use it on shoots from time to time. (Some of my large light reflectors are often to big to take to a shoot if I am travelling light).
> Neewer 43-inch / 110cm 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector with Bag – Translucent, Silver, Gold, White and Black
I hope this was of some use to you. Feel free to comment below if you think I forgot something!? I was struggling with what to call this article but thought as 99% of my work with this equipment is portrait photography that would be the most suitable title. I do the occasional landscape too I guess!
THE BLOG IS CHANGING
I realised that this blog has always been all about me. For many of the diary style articles (especially my overseas trips) I just ramble on about what I get up to. It probably comes from years of writing a daily diary in my earlier years. I enjoy documenting things but it might not be a great read!
As I love to teach photography I thought I would try to write a few more general photography articles in addition to the very niche Leica lens / Leica camera / film camera specific posts so that the MrLeica site can be of more use to more people. It is very much work in progress and there is a lot of old low value “reviews” or articles I need to update or delete. I start with over 400 blog posts (that I have written since starting MrLeica.com in 2013) and I hope to cull them down to maybe 200-300 by Christmas. I will do my best anyway! Watch this space!
Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography 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!
3 Godox speedlights I still recommend in 2018 (What I use)
• 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.
Here are some photo shoots as examples of the abovementioned lighting
Qu. Is the Tokina 100/f2.8 Macro the Best Nikon Lens?
>> Here I explain why I use the Tokina 100mm Macro lens more than any other lens on my Nikon cameras (Portraits)
Best Nikon lenses
When I used a digital Nikon D800 DSLR I enjoyed using the typical dreamy lenses like everyone else, giving that super shallow depth of field. Some of my best Nikon lenses / favourites were the Nikkor 50mm f1.2, Nikkor 200mm f2 and Samyang 85mm f1.4 (I prefer it to the Nikkor 85mm f1.4 D that I also have). All these lenses were manual focus but that was fine as most of my Nikon D800 photography was done with manual focus only. I just preferred having full control.
Nikon film cameras
One of my earliest film cameras was a Nikon FM. I then bought a newer Nikon F4 camera and more recently a Nikon F5. 35mm film to my eyes renders much softer than the 36MP Nikon D800 digital files. As such lenses like the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 wide open was now too soft for my taste on film. Perhaps it was because I had got used to the sharp Leica lens look now that I had moved to Leica. Regardless, I needed “better” lenses for the Nikon SLR film cameras if I was to use them. Macro lenses are usually regarded as some of the sharpest in a lens lineup so that is where I looked first. My first Nikon camera macro lens was a Nikkor 60mm f2.8 Micro and I was really impressed.
Tokina 100mm Macro f2.8
The Nikkor 60mm is nice but I liked the idea of a longer focal length to use for portraits. I settled on a Tokina 100mm macro f2.8 AF lens. It has been one of my most used Nikon lenses ever since. I love it and I highly recommend it to any Nikon (& Canon) users. Rather than try to praise the Tokina 100mm macro lens in words I think it is easier to show it with real photos. See below.
Grab yourself one before the price goes up!
I guess what I can do with the Tokina 100mm Macro lens, being a current product (unlike nearly everything else I review!) is give you a direct link so you can go and treat yourself to one. An absolute bargain when you consider that this lens seems to out perform nearly every other Nikon mount lens I use and seems easily on a par with my best Leica lenses. Get one before they put the price up! Amazon UK / Amazon US 🙂
Tokina 100mm Portrait Photos
Sorry if you have seen some of the images before, perhaps in film reviews. I use the Tokina 100mm lens a lot! Click any photo to see more details.
– My Favourite Nikon Pancake Lensbe + 40mm Portraits
Nikon mount Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2
Qu. Looking for the ultimate small lens for your Nikon camera?
>> Here I recommend my Voiglander 40mm f/2 pancake lens & share some 40mm portraits
My Favourite Nikon Pancake Lens
As “Mr Leica” I use Leica cameras for my photography but I also enjoy other film camera brands too. For each camera I try to discover the best lenses I can and here I cover my favourite Nikon pancake lens. The Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II that I bought to use on my Nikon film cameras.
Small Lenses for Nikon Cameras
Are you looking for a small lens for your Nikon camera? Previously I used Nikon cameras before moving to Leica so I have collected quite a few nice Nikon F mount lenses, both Nikkor brand and other from other manufacturers. After getting used to the often very compact Leica M mount lenses, when I came to packing lightweight for a Nikon camera it was not so easy. My smallest Nikon F mount lens at the time was the Nikkor 50mm f1.4D. When I bought this Nikkor lens in my Nikon D800 period I liked the lens and used it a lot for wedding photography.
Leica M Mount Lens Effect
A few years later I bought my first Leica camera, a Leica M9. Having got accustomed to using various Leica M mount lenses and at the time none of the lenses were actually Leica brand I as couldn’t afford Leica glass! Instead I opted for Voigtlander and Zeiss Leica M lenses and loved the results. Coming from these lenses back to the Nikkor 50/1.4D lens, the 50mm Nikon lens on the D800 suddenly seemed too soft to use at f1.4.
The Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 Pancake Lens
After wanting to find a replacement for my 50mm f1.4 Nikkor I started my online research. I was looking for a small form decent optics Nikon mount lens in the ‘normal’ focal length range (usually around 50mm). After much reading I discovered the Nikon mount Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II prime lens. It is a pancake lens so makes a Nikon DSLR / SLR look very compact when compared to standard lenses. I had a Nikkor 35mm f1.4 G lens which I had bought for wedding photography but it was huge in comparison. From day one I loved the super sharp results of the Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 lens, even at f2. The poor 50mm f1.4D has never been used since! Please note that Voigtlander lenses like the Zeiss lenses for Nikon are manual focus. Don’t buy a Voigtlander 40f2 Ultron if you are hoping to use autofocus mode.
Nikon Film Cameras
Although I rarely use the digital Nikon D800 camera now I do enjoy the Nikon film cameras. My oldest is a Nikon FM SLR followed by the more automated Nikon F4. My most recent purchase is the later Nikon F5 model (see F5 review posted yesterday). Owning these cameras means I still get to enjoy the Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 pancake lens. It is great if I want to pack light or perhaps want that slightly wider 40mm focal length.
Voigtlander Ultron 40mm Portraits
Digital Photos – Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2
Film Photos – Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2
If you are a Nikon photographer happy with manual focus and are on the market for a compact sharp lens, look no further! I rate the Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II lens (and I use nice lenses from the likes of Leica APO/ ASPH, Zeiss, Fujion and others)