Magmod Magbox initial review - Grant Beachy Photo

About 7 months ago, Magmod launched a Kickstarter that had some pretty lofty goals. They had redesigned a softbox with… magnets. More than that though, it had no internal diffusion or structure to interfere with light, had a unique modular setup, and offered a way to use gels (which is a huge deal for me). Additionally, they designed a sort focusing screen as an optional front diffusor, which serves the dual purpose of controlling light similar to a grid, while at the same time magnifying its power. Wild! Since i’m already in the Magmod system, I very much appreciated their attempts at innovation, and supported the campaign. Well guess what? After a few small delays (with good communication) I finally got the box on my doorstep! I immediately set up a quick shoot, tried it out, and though I’d share my results here.

Nice packaging. There’s a tear off at the bottom that allows it to open like this. Was half-surprised they didn’t have magnets to close it up again.

Nice packaging. There’s a tear off at the bottom that allows it to open like this. Was half-surprised they didn’t have magnets to close it up again.

After a quick unpack. The pro kit includes almost everything you need to get started (except mag grips for your flashes).

After a quick unpack. The pro kit includes almost everything you need to get started (except mag grips for your flashes).

Good: Everything is very well-built. They obviously put some love into this. The light pattern is impossibly smooth across the face, and I don't know how they did it, considering there's no internal diffusion. Very, very efficient regarding power output. Gels fit in well. I like the mag shoe a lot. The cold shoe is very well built, and I'm probably gonna use these on all my stands for speedlights. All the magnets grab securely and release silently.

Bad: Very conflicted on the case. It’s huge. I understand why it exists, mostly because of focus diffusor and it’s inability to be crushed, but it adds an entire piece to my kit. If you want drama, and controlled light, the focusing diffusor makes it hard to go low enough with power. It's stupid efficient. No worries, cause they included an ND gel, but wait. What if you are making drama in a low light tungsten room? Now you need two gels, and it's not gonna hold that. Considering doing a little velcro mounting system so one gel can clip in, and one gel can velcro to the face, so i can double up. It's a workaround though. Finally, good job on the magnets for every dang thing, but it's actually a little tricky to get the diffusors on the face of the thing with the magnets (already getting faster, so again less of a problem).

Anyhow, like i said, I did a shoot, so here are a few examples of how the light looks. I’ll let you decide. Note, that if you have a model with good skin, bone structure, and posing, you could probably throw about any kind of light at them and get something acceptable, so factor that into the equation :-).

First up, just a basic headshot with an 85mm. The magbox has the softer fabric diffusor on the front and there is a small white reflector below to help lift the shadows. Not bad, not bad.

First up, just a basic headshot with an 85mm. The magbox has the softer fabric diffusor on the front and there is a small white reflector below to help lift the shadows. Not bad, not bad.

Second up, I was pretty excited about the gels, so I put a full plus green on the magbox and positioned it above and to the right to simulate a bit of fluorescent light, then bounced some pink light around to fill in like a neon sign. Again, not bad…

Second up, I was pretty excited about the gels, so I put a full plus green on the magbox and positioned it above and to the right to simulate a bit of fluorescent light, then bounced some pink light around to fill in like a neon sign. Again, not bad…

Finally, I wanted to test efficiency, so I put one Flashpoint ad200 in the MagBox and the focus diffusor on the front to shoot against the sun. This is f/22 at with the ad200 at 1/2 power. Very very efficient. For shooting in bright circumstances with small flashes, this is amazing. The downside is getting it low enough in very dark circumstances, but that’s life.

Finally, I wanted to test efficiency, so I put one Flashpoint ad200 in the MagBox and the focus diffusor on the front to shoot against the sun. This is f/22 at with the ad200 at 1/2 power. Very very efficient. For shooting in bright circumstances with small flashes, this is amazing. The downside is getting it low enough in very dark circumstances, but that’s life.

So in general: This is not a large softbox. That means you will have to be very precise with angles if you want harder lighting ratios, and it will reward you getting the light very close. The focusing diffusor is a beast. I shot with one ad200 at half power and it was a strong f/22. Easily competed with the sun.

Is it worth it? Minus the kickstarter early bird advantages, the kit is right at $500 . It has the cold shoe, the mag ring mounting bracket, the mag box itself, the fabric diffusor (softer light), the focusing diffusor (acts as a magnifier and a grid somehow) and a set of corrective gels (which was honestly one of the biggest reasons I wanted it). That's a lot of money. is it 493 dollars better than a crappy shoot through? No, but it is better if you need what it does, which is controlled light precisely placed, and you are already in the magmod ecosystem, or you plan on being. It's almost over-engineered, so it's a bit heavier than I was expecting, and I'm still figuring out how to get it places easily. Currently, I'm leaning toward the idea that it is worth it, but will see how I feel after a few months of banging it around. Will update this blog when I have more to say. Thanks for reading along!

Grant Beachy Photo - Best of 2018

2018, like all years, was full of opinions, triumphs, tragedies, loneliness, and thankfulness. I’ve spent 20 minutes sitting here, thinking about the good things and the unexplainably unfair things that I have seen my friends and acquaintances experience this year. They seem to defy a neat moral, but they do reinforce a thing that I’ve been thinking about. Life is easier together. This year I’ve made baby steps to experience that in person. I’ve spent much time looking at others through a screen. It’s a safe way to see the world, but hardly a substitute. For 2019, I want to see more of the world in person. I want to feel the real joys and the real sadness. The real cuts, and the real healing. I hope to hear opinions from real people this year, and express fewer opinions in the virtual world.

This year instead of trying to theme my Best Of too tightly, I picked things that represented more of the total experience. Some of these photos are for the joy of photography, some are for the necessary business side. Some photos, somehow bridge that magical divide between fulfilling and paying. Some are rejected ideas that may get another life someday. Some are as safe as can be. Some are my most risky concepts so far. They all combine to hopefully show the reality of all work. There can be basic routine and adrenaline-tingling decisions in the same week. I hope to embrace both more fully in 2019.

To all of you who have hired me or recommended me in 2018: Thank you. It’s hard to convey how much your faith has impacted me. As a small company, I don’t have much of an advertising budget, but I have discovered that your word carries more weight than all the money I could spend. When you refer my services to a friend, you are doing something that I truly can not accomplish by myself. Thank you again, and I wish you a wonderful 2019.

Grant Beachy

How I organize Lightroom classic CC catalogs

One of the most intimidating things about taking a lot of photos is the organization of all these photos. I have talked to so many people who have lost photos from sessions they haven’t delivered, who have no meaningful way of keeping track of photos from 3 years ago, or are confused about the basic function of Lightroom catalogs, so they import the photos, render JPEGs and remove them from LR again. This doesn’t have to happen. Lightroom is an incredibly powerful tool to help organize sessions and find the original RAW photos, even years from now. It’s searchable by folder name and metadata like camera used, lens used, rating, etc. Here is my method. First, a few basic principles I adhere to…

1. First off, a basic overview of how I store photos. This isn’t set in stone, but it works for me.
- I store my Lightroom catalog and finished JPEGs on my main computer drive. Basic maintenance tasks include deleting old catalog backups now and then, and that’s about it. That way, even if i have an external disconnected, i can still get my finished work in case I have a quick request for a photo, or need something for social media while I’m away from my archival drives.

- I store all current projects on an ssd external drive. This drive is only for current project RAW files. The reason I do it that way is because then I can see at a glance what I have left to edit, and I get the little thrill of moving a session to my archival drive when it’s done. It keeps my life visually organized. I use an SSD because it’s faster to work off of and there is no mechanical noise.

- I store all the finished session raw files on an archival hard drive system that is set up in RAID 1. It’s not as fast as the ssd, but it holds a lot and is easily searchable. I see no benefit in deleting keeper raws, since hard drive space is increasingly cheap, and being able to go back and search photos from the beginning of my career has saved my butt a few times.

Ok, moving on for now….

2. Once you’ve imported photos to LR, do not move them EXCEPT THROUGH LIGHTROOM. You can drag and drop folders between recognized hard drives and file structures. Make sure you always do that. If you need to make subfolders, you can also do that in Lightroom by right clicking and using the “create new folder” option. If you create your folder structure inside Lightroom, it will make your life easier.

3. I organize every one of my sessions in this file system and naming convention

YY.MM.DD-genre-specific shoot name

Why year first? Because then it will never get out of order, even if multiple years are in the same folder. I always list genre as well, since it’s an easily searchable term, but always starting with date allows me to narrow down a search easily.

For finished JPEG folders, I mirror this naming convention exactly. They are stored on the main drive, and under a JPEG folder, but if I want to find both the raw and the jpeg files, I can just search the whole system with that name and both folders will pop up.

4. Large catalogs are not the enemy. I currently have 229k photos in my main catalog. LR has come a long ways from the days where large catalogs would slow down systems. Other than catalog backups being a bit time consuming, there are no performance hits that I’m seeing and the ability to search through photos is nice. If I’ve been working on another computer, I export a small catalog and import it into the main catalog when I get it back.

Ok, a photo, so you can visually see what I’m talking about.

Screen%2BShot%2B2018-12-16%2Bat%2B8.21.46%2BPM.jpg

A few things to note…

- As you can see in my current projects drive, I’m caught up other than a few undated folders. That’s why I have the time to write this blog. My only exception to the strict “YY.MM.DD-genre-shoot specific” naming convention is for a few catch-all folders that i keep for test shots and goof around stuff. As you can see, in an entire year, it only accounts for 365 photos, but it’s handy to avoid making a new folder for every. single. import. Also, it’s nice for ongoing personal projects. I try to keep these very few.

- You may notice the color rating beside the folders. That was a failed experiment. I didn’t find it helpful once LR introduced the search bar.

-I have no need for sub folders other than by year. Search is easy.

-On months or days that are in the single digits, it’s important to insert the 0 before the number. That keeps everything in order.

- You can see there are two drives listed. When I’m done with a project in the “current projects” drive, I simply drag it down to “Imports 2018” under “photos!”. Lightroom moves the files and updates its database so that no links are broken.

- You can also see that I’m not super dogmatic on my genre-specific name part. It’s been suggested that I generate a google doc or something with a defined list of genres and conform shoots to that. I think that’s a good idea over the long haul, and it would allow for reference later.

- Finally, if the folder sizes seem fairly small, it’s because I do a first cull before importing (usually in Photo Mechanic, but you could rate in LR as well and delete the photos not picked). I see no reason to have a pile of photos to agonize over, so my first cull involves picking only photos that I think have a chance of being included in the final, either because of technical merit or the content (i.e. grandpa, etc). I operate on gut for the first cull, so I move very quickly, but sometimes it means I can cut a third of my total photos before I get started on the real cull. If there is a question on first cull, I include it. I get much tougher on second when I decide on what photos to deliver, but I keep all files after first cull.

This is obviously a very quick overview, but I’ll do my best to update it if you have questions. Basically, getting this plan together near the beginning of my career, has been incredibly helpful. It’s kept me from feeling overwhelmed and made sure that every photo is accounted for. If you develop a solid plan, it will make photography a much more approachable activity, both for now and for the future.

P.S. Notice there is no real mention of back up strategies other than the RAID system for archival. That’s for another time. This is just so the initial organization makes sense. Thanks for reading! Hope it’s helpful.

Fujifilm XF10 - first impressions and sample photos

  In many ways, this camera makes no sense for me to be excited about.  I have a full kit of Canon gear with brilliant lenses, and lighting options.  I have an iPhone 8+ with a portrait mode, and the advantage of always being on me.  There's been a gap though.  Plenty of times, there are moments I would like to capture in everyday life that deserve better than a cell phone, but would be detracted from by carrying or bringing out a 5d MkIV and fast prime lens or zoom.   In addition, I would love to downsize my iphone and not worry about the camera, so I'm not carrying a slab in my pocket.  I would love the largest sensor I can get in the smallest package I can get, to be a daily carry that works well with a phone, but isn't dependent on it.  
  Additionally, there are many times I would like to explore for an instagram meetup or just an adventure where I don't want to bring out the big guns for free.  The Canons are work cameras.  The lenses are huge, and using them for every free thing I do, kills the value and enjoyment of using them for the paid assignments I get.  The Fuji XF10 seemed like a nice way to achieve that balance. 

I'm not a big guy, and I can palm this camera.  

I'm not a big guy, and I can palm this camera.  

compared to an iPhone 8+.  The Fuji xf10 is definitely thicker, but fits easily into a jacket pocket, and fairly easily into a jean pocket if you prefer a looser fit.  

compared to an iPhone 8+.  The Fuji xf10 is definitely thicker, but fits easily into a jacket pocket, and fairly easily into a jean pocket if you prefer a looser fit.  

 The XF10 packs an APS-C sensor into a surprisingly small camera, combined with an 18.5mm f/2.8 lens that seems to be carried over from the x70.  The full-frame equiv of 28mm is close to a standard cell phone camera, but more importantly for me, it's one of my favorite all-around fields of view.  
Unpacking was a simple process.  I had the camera up and running in min.  The first thing it will do is ask to pair with a smartphone which I did immediately, and downloaded the Fujifilm Cam Remote app.  Syncing and setup was simple.  Here are a few initial photos, processed in Lightroom using mostly a slightly modified Classic Chrome profile (RAW support already exists, which was a nice surprise).  I'll give my thoughts on the experience as well as missing features and competitors at the end.  

  Setup was fairly straightforward on this camera. I liked the ability to customize buttons and the ring around the lens to what I wanted.  Startup is quick enough, the battery lasts for a reasonable amount of time (always carry an extra though), and the bluetooth connection makes transfer of images a bit quicker.  I found that setting up image orders was more cumbersome than just browsing in the app, so now I just connect using the app, but it's nice that the bluetooth connection makes firing up the wi-fi easier to enable the transfer (I shoot in RAW+JPEG, so I can import RAWs for the photos I love, but also shoot a quick shot over to my phone for social media posts). I also love the ability for all manual controls, and I frequently use them, including manual focus which has options for zooming as focus assist, as well as focus peaking.  Another great thing is that you don't need a dedicated macro mode to get close, and the lens doesn't lose sharpness close up, like the x100.  Bravo. 
 

Here are things that are missing or less great...

  First off, focus speed, especially in low light.  It's just mediocre.  I'm spoiled by 5d mkIVs and I understand that I need to be realistic, but you will miss shots if you rely on autofocus to work quickly.  I have a feeling that's why Fuji keeps emphasizing snap mode, which is fine, but not really as groundbreaking as anyone says.  Street shooters have been pre-focusing for years. 
  Here's every x70 shooter ever.. "but it doesn't have a hotshoe, or flippy screen, or filter threads, waaah!"  Yeah, I don't care.  If I'm bringing out speedlights, they would look and feel stupid on a camera this small. Even a remote would, and I have other cameras for that. Also, I don't need a viewfinder, and I don't want a hotshoe catching on my pocket.  I'm torn on the flippy screen.  They are nice.  They can break (admittedly rarely), and they add size and cost. I love the idea of a stripped down tiny image machine with fewer breakable things.  I haven't had trouble seeing the angles I need with the screen, but to each their own.  I also understand the filter threads thing, but it's not a concern for me.  If that is a concern, you have your answer here.   
  It also doesn't have an x-trans sensor, instead putting in a Bayer array.  I personally am thankful.  X-trans makes huge files that lightroom hates.  They have always been a minus, not a plus for me.  I sold my x100T in a large part because of that. 
  Other nitpicks:  The touch screen doesn't respond particularly quickly, but it's fast enough.  Since this is one of the lower priced APS-C cameras, Fuji didn't include a charger, instead opting for a cord to charge the battery in-camera.  That's barely functional, and I bought a few extra batteries and charger on Amazon before the camera even got here.  

To me, the closest competitors are the Ricoh GR II, and the x100 series of Fuji cameras.  Ricoh on paper is clearly what Fuji was gunning for.  I haven't shot one, so I'm not qualified to comment, but the consensus I'm seeing is that Fuji wins with updated sensor, and general interface, but loses on lens sharpness and lack of hotshoe.  I personally would not want a sharper lens than this one, so that's not a loss here, and I love the fuji colors.  Hotshoe was addressed above, which makes it an easy choice for me.  The Fuji x100 is a brilliant camera, but close focus softness, size difference, and the fact that it is nearing 3 times the cost, also made my choice an easy one, for the things that I wanted.  I also found myself frustrated with the 35mm field of view for general architecture and street scenes, which occupy a lot of my daily shooting.  I have portrait cameras if I need a more flattering reach.  

Overall, I'm a big fan of this camera.  Will it do everything? No.  Will it be my perfect daily carry? Yes.  The size is right.  The price is right.  The image quality is right.  It's a stripped down image maker, that I will never feel guilty about trusting my everyday memories to.  It's not intimidating to subjects. It won't ruin my month if it's stolen (although I hope it's not).  It can transfer quickly enough to make my social media posts.  I call it a win.  

Update.  Been shooting a bit more, and had some requests for close detail, so here you go.  This is a raw file processed in Lightroom, but my own favorite presets, not LR's profiles for fuji.  Next up is a zoom of the same photo.  

Update.  Been shooting a bit more, and had some requests for close detail, so here you go.  This is a raw file processed in Lightroom, but my own favorite presets, not LR's profiles for fuji.  Next up is a zoom of the same photo.  

at a significant zoom.  Settings are ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/75 shutter.  

at a significant zoom.  Settings are ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/75 shutter.  

Another one.  

Another one.  

And the zoom in.  Settings are ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/80th shutter.  

And the zoom in.  Settings are ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/80th shutter.  

Grant Beachy-1312.jpg
One more zoom in from an earlier photo.  ISO 200, f/4.5, 8 second exposure.  

One more zoom in from an earlier photo.  ISO 200, f/4.5, 8 second exposure.  

St. Mary's wedding - Tracey and Ryan are married!

Can you believe this wedding? Set at beautiful St. Joe Farm, and beautiful St. Mary's college, it was a visual feast.  We dodged rain showers and the day fell together perfectly when we needed it to.  I had such a fun time hanging out with Tracey and Ryan and getting to see how much they meant to so many people.  Congrats guys!  

P.S. check out the surprise bagpipe band after the ceremony! 

Mike and Cassidy are married!

Beautiful spaces! Wild fog!  Beaches! Sun!  This day had pretty much everything.  We started cool and foggy, and ended sunny and warm, which meant we got to take photos in every kind of light.  I loved how Mike was always watching out for Cassidy and how dedicated to family they both were.  It was a great day, filled with wonderful people. 

Andy and Angelica are married!

A beautiful (warm) day at Country Strong with Andy and Angelica.  One of the first things that came up when we met for the initial consultation was that they were both firefighters and I was pumped to be able to get photos of them with the trucks both in their engagement session and on the wedding day!  Congrats, you guys!  Was happy to be there celebrating with you.