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Photoflex Lighting School

Friday, June 27, 2014

It’s Not About The Camera

Lighting Equipment

In this lesson, photographer Miguel Quiles demonstrates you how using quality lighting equipment can make your entry level camera gear compete with the big dogs.

Often times, photographers ask me what I think about upgrading their current lenses or camera bodies. I hear them say things like, “If I get this full frame camera or some expensive lens, it’ll take my work to the next level”. Is it possible that spending that same money elsewhere might give you a better end product at a much lower cost?
To find out, I did a comparison between the Canon 7D with a 50mm 1.8 lens and a 5DMK3 with an 85 1.2L lens. On the one side, we have a typical entry level setup in camera gear costing approximately $800, vs a Lebron James/Kobe Bryant-like setup that’ll set you back around $5,000.  I applied the same high quality lighting equipment and post processing techniques to both images to see if there was a clear winner in the end.
The lighting setup I used was simple, but effective. One diffused light (a FlexFlash 200W with a OctoDome: medium attached) and a foam core reflector. Here's a diagram of the setup and results from each of the cameras:

Can you tell which camera was used for which result?

Here's an even simpler setup. It's basically the same setup, but without the foam core reflector. You can do a,lot with one light source so long as it's large and diffused!

So there you have it. Pretty hard to tell the difference between the results of an $800 camera next to that of a $5,000 camera when you're working with good lighting equipment. In today's market, you have to be smart about how you develop your photography business. Focus on getting your lighting down first and the money for expensive camera gear will follow.

To see which image was taken with which camera, click on the links below:

Model in Suit
Model in Sweater

Photographed and produced by Miguel Quiles.

To see a high-speed video of the retouching for these shots, click here.
To see more of Miguel's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.




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Lighting Equipment


On July 11, 2014 at 12:14 PM, Robert Oliver said:

I can tell a difference in the photos, not in the quality of them though. The difference I can tell is due to the focal length of the lenses used. The 50mm photos are a bit stretched in the facial features. Even on a cropped sensor camera that yields an appearent focal lenght of ~80mm, a 50 mm lens is still a 50 mm lens and has a different lens compression than a 85mm lens. This comparisson may have been better if used the same lens on two different bodies versus two different lenses on two different bodies. It is like which tastes better pears with pomegranites or bannas with strawberries.

On July 14, 2014 at 03:06 PM, Anonymous fan said:

For the larger images, the top pics look more like him in reality.  The bottom pics are grainier/sharper, top ones softer, but his face seems slightly distorted to me in the bottom pics & he’s looking annoyed or just squinting his eyes, don’t know if that’s the lens or model.  I prefer the top photos as more representative.  And what the lens did to the fabric of his suit on the bottom one is pretty awful, imo.  I see you switched the order in the first, smaller side-by-side pics, you put the bottom (2nd) pic on the left instead of right (referring to the suit ones). In the black sweater, the sharper image is on the right.  I like the softer, more representative images versus the more dramatic, detailed ones.  Interested to know which lens is the cheaper one.  Thanks!

On July 14, 2014 at 04:55 PM, Steven Hlavac said:

Very well said, and if the reason one thinks they should spend much more on cameras and lenses are indeed what you state, then yes I agree.

But as a long time pro photographer with experience with both studio lighting as well as location shooting, I feel obligated to say the reasons **I** prefer more expensive cameras and lenses have almost NOTHING to do with image quality.

No, IMO the reasons most pros and serious amateurs want higher end (more expensive) camera bodies and lenses are:

1) they are much more rugged and durable and able to take the abuse and negligence of being used all the time, especially in extreme conditions outdoors on location. No question more expensive camera bodies are more dependable.

2) burst rate of frames-per-second is crucial to many of us, and pricier bodies generally have better specs.

3) the image processor and how fast it can write the data to your memory card, ie how long it can maintain that continuous shooting rate or maximum burst without pausing. This is hugely important to many shooters. Obviously more expensive cameras tend to have much better processors.

Again, I agree with you, **IF** the only reason one wants to spend more money on camera gear is they think their photos will look much better.

On July 14, 2014 at 07:18 PM, Declan Murphy said:

Not sure I completely agree Steven. The 7d is very affordable now, built like a tank, and shoots and writes very fast indeed. The main advantage of Full Frame in my opinion is DOF control, and to a lesser degree, higher ISOs.  I’m not personally bothered too much about build quality anyway, but for some people, dual card slots is another huge benefit in some of the more expensive Canons. (as well as the 1ds ii, which is a super bargain now!)

There is a sort of threshold where anyone can access gear capable of “pro” results, but after that it’s all baby steps, lots of very expensive baby steps, towards a more robust system with better IQ.

On July 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM, Blacky said:

Thats maybe true for studio, but not for most of the other fields in Photography.
Like wide-open, high-ISO, fast AF, low DOF as in sports, nature, astro, wildlife and so on ...

On July 15, 2014 at 11:22 AM, Bruce said:

Which camera produced the moire on the jacket collar?

On July 16, 2014 at 01:42 AM, Jacob said:

The 5D Mark 3 has a much higher dynamic range and less orange on the skin. That is the most distinguishable feature between the two photos. Therefore give away is in the detail in the sweater which the model is wearing. The very bottom photo is from the mark 3.

On July 30, 2014 at 07:13 AM, Cesar said:

Yes, you really can use entry level cameras with entry level lenses. What you will miss though is isolating your subject and creating a nice soft background ... aka… DOF. In a studio setting with GOOD QUALITY LIGHT and a plain background, entry level equipment will work. Outdoors would be a different story.
Some difference in result I see due to model’s angle of head. IF both shots were shot at close to same angle of stoop then it would be tougher to tell the difference. Shots are softer though but fine really for portraits. I would just sharpen the eyes adjust models head to bring out some shadow from the nose.
I am bias towards Nikon gear though right now. I however started photography with a Canon A1 then moved to a Nikon F3HP ... both I still have. Currently though use all Nikon stuff.

On July 30, 2014 at 07:59 AM, Dave A said:

First of all, the 7D is a pretty darn good camera and cropped sensors do have some tangible advantages over full frames. Most notably is that you get more “reach” from your lenses. But, the biggest flaw in your exercise is the price you quote for the 7D.  Even though the it may be on its way out to make way for a new model, the street price tag on a body alone is still in the $1200 range - not the $800 that you reference, complete with a lens. When one of your basic “facts” is wrong to start with, it taints your entire exercise - at least in my opinion.

A better comparison would have been to use one of the Rebel models as your low-end camera. The Rebel is the most popular DSLR series in the world.  Although the differences would likely have been far more noticeable, the comparison would have been much more meaningful and to a whole lot more readers.

On July 30, 2014 at 09:19 AM, William Sommerwerck said:

Important Point: Lenses do not “compress” perspective. Perspective is controlled solely by the distance of the lens from the subject, and nothing else. This is explained in any good book on photography.

This is a botched demonstration. Not only does the left photo seem to have been taken from a closer distance, but it’s fatally marred by an obvious moiré pattern. Very unprofessional.

Please try again.

On July 30, 2014 at 02:58 PM, ramon hernandez said:

The example show a nice light environment and great equipment but for me the issue to buy a expensive full format cámara is when I don´t have the lighting conditions under control, specifically when the light is low.  Here is when a expensive camera using a high ASA and a poor light condition can avoid an excessive dust in the dark sides of the image.

On July 31, 2014 at 09:05 AM, David said:

Every one is busting the Photographer out… they have all missed the point of the Class.. A Consmer camera with a cropped sensor against a full frame camera.

The major thing every one forgets is .. .with a Nikon D90 cropped sensor the Picture comes out to a 6 X 9 Photo and also with a kit lens a 18 to 55 with a F stop of 3.5 to 5.6 makes a difference if you are not aware to the fact of zooming in you lose at least 1 F stop and have to correct in the computer.

Compared to a full frame camera which shoots close to a 8 X 12 picture with and using a fixed aperture lens like the 24 to 70 2.8 F which most professionals use…

That is where the Small differences every body is crying foul about…  The main thing I dislike about the cropped sensor cameras is having to shoot wider to crop to a 8 X 10 ...

That is why I am getting Crop lines etched into my mirror ...from one company, to give me the 8x10 with head and foot marks.. for full length pictures

On August 01, 2014 at 08:32 AM, LuiS RAMOS said:

I think the one on left side was taken whith expensive camera, detail is a little different and skin tone.

On August 01, 2014 at 09:24 AM, Dave A said:

DAVID:  6x9 and 8x12 are the same format ratios, and the format is the same regardless of whether it’s a cropped sensor or a full frame sensor. The ratio is based on 35mm film, which actually measured 24x36mm, or the same as a full frame sensor. (Mathematically, 24x36 equals 8x12, 6x9, 4x6, etc.)

No matter which DSLR camera you are using, you will have to crop the long sides to make an 8x10. It’s just something you have to get used to thinking about when taking a picture, but having the lines etched onto your focusing screen (not the mirror) can help you with that. High-end cameras actually have interchangeable screens and you can get ones with the lines.

Now, if you’re using a 100mm lens (as an example), it effectively becomes about a 150mm on a Nikon cropped sensor (1.5x magnification), or about a 160mm (1.6x) on a Canon. So, the main thing that changes is the “reach” of the lens.  The effective aperture also changes, but that’s another story.

On August 01, 2014 at 10:08 AM, William Sommerwerck said:

“Now, if you’re using a 100mm lens (as an example), it effectively becomes
about a 150mm on a Nikon cropped sensor (1.5x magnification), or about a
160mm (1.6x) on a Canon. So, the main thing that changes is the “reach” of
the lens. The effective aperture also changes, but that’s another story.”

No, it doesn’t. It’s exactly the same aperture—f/stop.

A lens’s optical behavior has nothing to do with the format of the camera it’s attached to.

On August 01, 2014 at 10:42 AM, Dave A said:

WILLIAM: You are right, and I didn’t say that very well. Exposure and optical characteristics don’t change. The only thing that changes with different size sensors is your angle of view.

I meant that the depth of field will change if you fill the frame with the same subject at the same size. That’s simply because you have to move further away from the subject with a cropped sensor to get the same size subject with the same lens. But, that only confuses the issue and I shouldn’t have even mentioned that in the first place.

On August 01, 2014 at 11:10 AM, William Sommerwerck said:

DAVE A: Thanks for your response.

This discussion has gotten me thinking. I grew up with 35mm photography, so I tend to think of image size in terms of 35mm-lens focal length. If I’m using a 55mm lens on a camera with a 1.6 crop factor, then I expect the image >>to fill about as much of the frame<< as an 85mm lens would in 35mm format.

There’s nothing at all wrong in thinking about lenses this way, >>as long as you limit the comparison to coverage<<.

I suspect people who don’t have a good grasp of photographic technology have been confused by the loose use of the word “equivalent”. A 55mm lens on a 1.6 crop factor sensor is not in all ways equivalent to an 85mm lens on a “full frame” sensor. In particular, the same f-stop does not produce the same DOF.

When you add to this the fact that a smaller format requires a faster lens to get a shallower depth of field, you start getting misapprehensions, such as the belief that there’s been a loss of lens speed somewhere along the way.

On August 01, 2014 at 11:30 AM, Dave A said:

Good points William. The term “fast”  when it comes to lenses confuses people anyway. I’m not even sure where the term came from, but I try to explain it to people in my classes as if a lens were a water faucet. If the valve is open wider, water flows through faster. If you have a wider lens aperture, it takes less time for light to expose the camera sensor (faster). I guess we’re completely off the topic of this article now!

On August 01, 2014 at 12:40 PM, Rafy Ruiz said:

I think we are missing the boat. This is not about the camera; it’s about the light. Controlling the light gives you the quality of photograph that suits your taste and style. It does not matter if it is natural or artificial, direct or reflected, block or filtered.

Remember… is not the arrow—is the Indian. smile

On August 01, 2014 at 12:44 PM, William Sommerwerck said:

DAVE A: Early photography required long exposure time—Daguerreotypes, in particularly. Lenses with small f-numbers took less time—hence, they were faster.

I don’t like getting OT, either, but as long as we’re spreading facts (or useful information), it doesn’t matter (much).

On September 18, 2014 at 07:47 AM, Mike G said:

“Remember… is not the arrow—is the Indian” - Watch out, you’ll have the Race Police after you.

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