RoboSHOOT+ TTL (Fuji specific wireless triggers) Observations

I will state up front, I like this little company called Serene Automation, maker of these TTL triggers. I have had the chance to talk with John Poremba, the brains behind this effort, about his triggers and his knowledge of flash protocol seems endless. That he is more than willing to share it and never tires of my questions speaks volumes. In short, the product, which is really the only one out there like it for Fuji cameras, is well designed and well made but the kicker is it really works. That may seem to be an odd statement but in the TTL wireless triggering game where you need to trigger your flash lighting wirelessly from the camera over a distance and around corners or simply across a studio with lots and lots of signal interfering fluorescent lighting, doing this reliably is rare. Like Jurassic Park animal rare. TTL is shorthand for through-the-lens exposure calculation. With TTL a camera meters the scene at the sensor through the camera lens then provides exposure, and other data via a native protocol, so if you use multiple cameras, as I do, it is pretty complicated as each camera is different; even among the same manufacturer. The master trigger atop your camera has to be able to interpret it all and send those data to each receiving unit and flash in the system's native protocol. The metering, translation, sending, receiving and decoding of instructions also has to be done in a very small window of only a few milliseconds. Did I mention how these master and receiver units need to be sync'ed too via an electronic handshake and it has to be durable, lasting the life of the shoot or at least the period its being used. Thats separate from TTL. Different animal. There is a lot going on. 

I've tried a number of TTL triggering products from big and small names across the industry and reliable, repeatable consistent results are hard to come by. All sorts of things conspire to mess with the signal. Other electronics, earth elements, poor design, just to name a few. Any wireless triggering unit worth a cent can trigger manually using the almost standard single pin configuration on most cameras and flash units. Thats pretty simple. Now. TTL though  uses all those other pins built into the hot shoe. It tells the flash how much light is needed, what the distance to the subject is, what the camera settings are, etc. Pretty sweet during a wedding or press event. As cool as that sounds, TTL is not the pinnacle of flash exposure.  It has a few nuances that are painful, one being its really not repeatable since it re-meters a scene every time. New data each and every time. While that can be good for instance when outdoors and the light changes, it hurts if you are after a certain effect or doing multiple shots for a photo shoot and need them to all be lit the same. Manual control will always be the preferred way for most of us and TTL support can actually help there. A programmer can insert new commands in the TTL data stream telling the flash to go to manual and what power levels are needed. So if you have a TTL capable flash unit, you can set power adjustment remotely. From the camera. And in the case of Fuji cameras, using the in camera control and display on the LCD. 

The RoboSHOOT+ products further differ from other TTL triggers because they not only translate Fuji TTL but Nikon TTL as well. Yeah, you can use a Nikon flash with your Fuji camera and Fuji TTL. Thats really what caught my attention when I decided to go all Fujifilm, switching from Nikon and still owning Nikon TTL flash units - which I like. It works really well too but only for the latest i-TTL Nikon instructions. Older Nikon TTL is different. The firmware and hardware are different. John is working on it and can offer solid manual control of older units (SB-800 and it's ilk) but full TTL and the SB-800 is a work in progress. With the newer SB-900/910 family and beyond, it works VERY well. It even works well with third party SB-900/910 knockoffs! RoboSHOOT has a beta firmware release which works with Profoto TTL( Nikon) capable lights, has support for Godox Nikon based flash units with hot shoes (AD360, V860ii-N, etc) AND if you mount the Godox X1-N controller on the hot shoe of the master (MX) unit, it will work with the built in receivers in those units. Thats the way he offers Profoto support. I slid the Profoto TTL-N Air Remote into the hot shoe, fired up a Profoto B1 and can shoot in TTL or manual mode and I can do high speed sync in manual with the B1! Using my Fuji camera! High speed sync support is supported across the board  with all the speed lights. I can do HSS on the SB-800 in manual mode. I can stay in TTL when using the Nikon or Fuji speedlights. Just like its on camera. 

I am going to standardize on the RoboSHOOT units for now. And as support for my lighting systems grows, I may keep it that way. Right now, Profoto is working on supporting Fuji TTL for  the B1/B2 and D2 TTL lights. Godox is working on a controller for Fuji TTL just like they offer for Nikon, Canon and Sony products. But the Godox is only useful for their flash units, just like Nissan offers. There are a few closed systems with Fuji TTL support but Serene Automation offers the only support for Fuji TTL wireless triggering which works with many lights from many manufacturers. Thats why they have my support. I know that in studio, I will stick with the Profoto Air Remote and run my lights manually. I like manual in studio. On location its good to be able to mix things up but I figure to still work manually when its possible or needed. Right now, I'm so impressed with the results of speedlights and TTL metering I may just use it that way. The RoboSHOOT+ triggers let me use the in camera flash functions too, so changes in exposure comp or features such as HSS (Auto FP) can be set on the camera. There is a price for all this wonder. These are not the cheapest triggers out there, but they are the only ones right now. You will fork over $379 for a MX-20/RX-20+ set. A cheaper option is the MX-15/RX20 set. Oh yeah, there is a RoboSHOOT app for your mobile device. You can fully control things from there but that only works with the MX-20 master trigger. Updates to firmware are also available using the app so you need a MX-20. I will buy a MX-15 for a backup. The RX receiving units are updated with firmware automatically when they sync with a MX-20 unit. Yeah, even more wonder and goodness but again, you do pay for it. 

I'm really only scratching the surface on functions of these triggers. Go to the site and look at the feature set. Ports are built on the MX unit to offer upcoming alternate triggering methods for instance. TTL exposure lock is another cool feature. Check out the web site but if you are own a Fuji camera and are in need of a wireless trigger - especially if you switched from Nikon and have a few SB-910's laying around - you can't really go wrong. Support is first rate, product is ultra reliable, it just the price thats tough to swallow. Still, this product get 5 stars from me. 

The end of an era, the start of another

This week marks the last week in my near vacant studio and the demise of The Studio at 46 West brand. Both the studio and brand have served me well, although admittedly many people told me that even with my window display and sign above the door, they never knew it was a photography studio. Live, learn and grow via experience. So now my business will become either Wally Kilburg Photography or Kilburg Photography but regardless, my website will always be from now on. My new studio is set right now, barring any issues, to be in downtown still but up the hill on Lasalle St., east of Broadway (Rt. 25) and a few blocks south right at Benton St. Major upgrade folks! I have a parking area and the street parking is good for 3 hrs. Larger shooting space. Yay! Look for a grand opening and open house in June. I do have new, improved business cards and a new web site will follow. I'm plotting pushes on instagram and possibly Facebook but thats still in analysis. To say I have learned a lot is an understatement. I'm very proud that I established and grew my business without having to delve into work I didn't want to do, just to keep the doors open. 

UPDATE: So it is that I WILL not be moving into a new studio as planned. I received word shortly after posting this that the negotiations between the seller and buyer fell through. My studio equipment is in effect in storage while I continue my search. I do have a large complement of equipment on hand at my home office to satisfy any location work. 

- WK

With the move, and ever so slight branding change, I also changed up my equipment. I switched from being a majority Nikon shooter with my Fujifilm cameras backing me up to being ALL Fujifilm. A very tough call for me, especially with their new, sight unseen (at the time), medium format camera being a part of the plan. So my Nikon equipment was sold, and Fuji fully engaged. Why, some will ask? Well, Fuji has been innovating the market, they are producing cameras you use and not devices designed because technology lets you. Sure, they incorporate a lot of new tech, their film simulations, and color lead the pack. They continue to update their cameras with new firmware ALL THE TIME, which in some cases provide features and functions other manufacturers would call an upgrade. And then charge you for another camera. Fuji does this for free. Yeah, it makes me all mirrorless too, and THAT is scary but mirrorless provides goodness too. Being able to see what you get in terms of lighting, color balance and exposure while having a tilt screen for work matters to my tired eyes. This really came to light when I needed emergency surgery on my left eye and found using a viewfinder really difficult during recovery. So with the EVF and mirrorless, I have both. I will take the trade off and deal with the issues. Plus I have been using my Fuji X system for awhile anyway and my customers never noticed, I think the images are every bit as good as any other APS-C or full frame camera out there. 

But their medium format camera held major interest for me. Medium format always has. It's just been so expensive and not being a "name" photographer and able to charge super stratospheric rates, I could only drool on my keyboards while looking at the Hasselblad and Phase One systems. Then, Hasselblad started it with announcement of their X1D - a smaller medium format 50mp sensor in a "smaller than DSLR", mirrorless body. And 2 lenses for it. Starting point of $12k for entry. I was intrigued since before this, $60k or thereabouts was the starting point for medium format. Fujifilm had been rumored to be toying with a medium format camera though...and sure enough a few months after the Hasselblad announcement, they announced the GFX 50s. Yessir, 51.4mp sensor in a newly designed mirrorless body with lots of features and a huge processor for getting those images Fuji is famous for. About the size of a full frame DSLR. Initial offering of three lenses with three more coming by 2018. Entry fee of just over $8k. Plus a tilt viewfinder (I want), a grip if you want and are used to it and some other cool accessories. A system. Fully planned. In that the GFX would share menu layouts and be so similar to what I was already using, and Fuji's reputation for firmware upgrades, and overall pleasing imaging, I made my mind up. It was now or never and the sale of my Nikon equipment would cover my GFX system and planned expansion of it. 

So here it is. Fuji underestimated it's popularity and was way late in delivering orders. 

More functional than pretty. 

More functional than pretty. 

As it was, I wanted the GF 32mm-64mm f/4 zoom since it gave me a better range of focal lengths I would use with this camera. But Fuji really underestimated the zoom's popularity and it could be another month before its available and possibly not even then! So I went with the 63mm f/2.8 which is a 50mm-ish full frame equivalent. It doesn't look like almost $9k, does it? Cameras never do. 

I have very limited time shooting with it. I probably have more pictures of it than with it. But I have noted the images are very detailed and very clear. I can't think of a better way to describe it. Color is fantastic. Yet the post processing of GFX data are very different from processing X Trans sensor data. Big time. Here are some things I have noted already:

I'm less than thrilled with the black out of the viewfinder after a shot. I realize it takes a long time to write 51.4 megapixels of data to a SD card, but this does bug me. I think I will get used to it. I hope so. Auto focus is slow, not dramatically slow and about on par with earlier mirrorless AF systems. It really sucks in poor light but don't they all? The camera strap connection is important and the tried and true lug system in use since Lincoln posed for a portrait is missing. Instead Fuji developed a terrible protruding stud thingie you hook their strap (which sucks) on to. So, I had to do some McGyver'ing to get my Peak Design connectors on it securely. What a pain. In handling, the camera is actually light. About like a DSLR in size, its got a very angular shape and the grip while substantial, isn't that friendly to me. I personally have a tough time reaching and using the shutter button, especially for focusing with the half press. I plan to use back button focus so that will help but its still an odd feel to me. Buttons are all programmable, very very nice. They are well placed too. The camera looks and feels plastic like but thats the norm. It feels solid and its weather resistant. I think once I get past the black out thing, I'll be cruising. Expect to hear more about this camera as I get my new place up and running. I will be talking more about using it than tech stuff which makes it work. 

Right now, I know it works well with my Profoto lights and my selection of speedlights. I do miss not having a studio to test it at. I sure picked the wrong time to buy into a new system. Ah, but May will here before you know it. I'll be dreading moving into Lasalle St. and setting things up. Time has a way of going super fast lately. In between now and then, I will be using the GFX where possible. Its not like the Nikon in being able to do double duty if needed, its a way more specialized, purposeful camera. It won't lend itself to being an everything camera but I knew that. It should excel at what I do have planned for it. More to follow amigos! 

Being in limbo

As a year, 2017 is shaping up to be one of change. I'm moving my studio for one thing. This was actually decided on in 2016 but it was late in the year and I had a lot of work going on so I negotiated with my landlord to go month to month until I found a new place. Thats my first case of "limbo". Then, I brought forth a desire that has always been in the back of my mind and stayed there due to several things besides an empty wallet. I rented a medium format Pentax 645z from time to time and loved the images it produced. There is an instant connection between that format and it's properties and my creative mind's eye. I could afford the buy in for the Pentax but it just lacked quality glass, some that was available was marginal at best and the Pentax lenses made for the 645z cost about as much as the buy in. Then Fuji changed all that with their announcement of a format with the same sensor size, a lineup of lenses you could build on and at a price that while high, it wasn't in the same orbit as the Hasselblad H6 and Phase One XF systems. Yet it could compete. So it was said. I went for it; I mean if not now? When? Goodbye Nikon, hello Fujifilm in a much bigger way. Thats limbo #2. Moving to new equipment also has me looking at my lighting both on location and in studio. Lighting is critical and important to the new format I'm switching to as well. I'm actually circling back around to a more strobist like speedlight  based portable lighting setup when I can. I am not getting rid of the Profoto battery lights, I may thin down the stock some, but right now my plan is to just reduce the poundage I lug with when shooting mobile without help. Perhaps combine lighting with a mix of speedlight and strobes. I will be one camera manufacturer now, the same systems more or less, so I can do some things i could not before. Simple is better at this stage of my life and career. 

But I'm in limbo (limbos?) right now. I'm waiting for a medium format camera from Fuji. Seems everyone is unless you are in Australia or Europe. I'm in limbo waiting for my new studio. I will have to store for a month and rent space if needed, either another studio or a hotel room.  So I need a lighting solution that works without needing an assistant or breaking my back. Enter speedlights. Enter triggers. Hopefully. I use the excellent Fuji X system now that my Nikons are gone and it works well with Profoto and the manual air remote but that stuff is big to carry around. Speedlights can work in many cases. I do at times, need TTL, and when using speedlights, remote power adjustment is handy and thats really only available thru a TTL controlled speedlight. I also need high speed sync support which is usually only available via TTL commands. There has to be some language passed and the ground work is there in TTL lingo. Fuji finally delivered a TTL speed light AND high speed sync support via their firmware. But triggers supporting Fuji TTL are rare. Very rare. Enter Serene Automation and their RoboSHOOT Plus triggers. The ONLY game in town that supports Fuji TTL without an accompanying flash product. Nissan does Fuji TTL but only with Nissin flashes. I have Fuji and Nikon flashes and holy crap if Serene's triggers don't support Fuji and Nikon flashes! I know not how or why John at Serene decided to work with Nikon i-TTL but he did and friends, it works very well indeed. I plan to do a write up about that in a few weeks, once I get more use of the product under my belt as they say. So far, it looks very promising and in my discussion with Mr. RoboSHOOT, John Poremba, I can tell you this company, small as it is, is huge on quality and support. There is a lot going on under the covers with hardware talking to other hardware not of the same family. Not many manufacturers get it right. I think I found one that does. So my time in limbo is being put to use in finding a good, lighter, capable lighting package for both systems. 

Being in limbo also means work is VERY slow. I'm not booking large studio gigs right now. I frankly need to find more work and it needs to be mostly non-studio based for now. As if all described above isn't enough, I also need to make some business model changes to satisfy some things on the personal side and to keep those creative juices flowing. Those should be more transparent to my clients, at least I hope so. My move to rebrand my business name will be noticeable but I've tried to incorporate the old with the new. My new business name is looking like its "Kilburg Photography" (thats the DBA) with the use of Wally Kilburg Photography & Services surfacing on the web and Facebook, etc. I have my new cards, new text based logo, and soon a revamped web page. One thing that will also be evident is I will not be renting the studio much, if ever. Thats one change but I may have an answer for that too, as some things are under development and discussion. I may be able to point you to studio space if needed. Just not mine. I'm still going to be working on portraits, lifestyle, commercial product and marketing photography and exploring other areas more in-depth. But it will be done slightly different. I will know but you all shouldn't see the change. 

I am planning right now for a early May move into my new place. I hope to have an open house in June right after, Nothing fancy, but more a chance to see the new place and meet some new "partners" in my studio. No, not true partners per se, but lets say very good friends of the studio, the type that will have input into its use. I'm looking forward to 2017, but its hell being in limbo. Patience was never my strong feature. Luckily, I can geek out over flash triggers while waiting. :)