Monthly Archives: November 2012

Splash Art Kit Review

Posted by Caz on Thursday, 29th November 2012
Joe's Splash Art demo setup

Joe’s Splash Art demo setup

I have recently acquired a new piece of equipment for my High Speed Liquid Splashes. It’s the Splash Art II Kit from Joe Dyer at High Speed Photography UK. I found the gear through a group on Flickr and noticed that Joe lived just a few miles form me – so went over for a demo.

He was very happy to show me what the kit could do, I was very impressed and bought one on the spot! Here’s what was included:

Splash Art II Kit Complete

Splash Art II Kit Complete

Valve Head and Mariotte syphon

Valve Head and Mariotte syphon

Control Unit

Control Unit

The kit comprises:

  • Dedicated Splash Art Controller with DC power in, 12v out (to drive the valve) and camera remote out (with 5m extension cable).
  • 12v plug-top power supply
  • 1 large retort stand and clamps
  • Bespoke ball-head mount for valve assembly
  • 12V brass valve with integral Mariotte syphon bottle attachment

My first impression was that everything was well built, although I was a little disappointed that the controller unit had no labels! However, it’s pretty obvious from the cables provided that they will only fit into their own hole – the leftmost cable is the 12V DC power from the plug top transformer; the middle cable (with the white stripe) is the 12V output to the valve and the right hand cable is the 2.5″ stereo jack for controlling the camera shutter (with suitable adaptor cable for driving which ever camera you have).

The control knobs are as follows:

  • Top left: size of first drop (duration)
  • Top middle: length of delay between drops
  • Top right: size of second drop (duration)
  • Bottom left: delay before firing camera
  • Bottom right: actuation button and LED indicator
Two ball-head flash mounts

Two ball-head flash mounts

While I was there, I also bought a couple of Joe’s bespoke ball-head flash mounts which fit onto any retort stand with universal clamps. These look to be invaluable for holding flash guns in precise position, something which I have struggled with in the past. Being able to mount one above the other also provides interesting possibilities for twin-coloured background graduations.

Joe also kindly threw in a bottle of Karo corn syrup (which he uses as a thickener for his liquid splashes) and a large black paint roller tray to serve as the dropping reservoir. I’d previously had difficulty finding anything big enough to let me capture the reflections cleanly without a horizontal line in the background. This seemed like an excellent, cheap solution.

I set the kit up in my studio and thought I would have a go at photographing some crowns – the precise timing of these is not quite as critical as for collisions, and I wanted to get used to the gear before getting too complicated.

Splash Art setup for Crowns

Splash Art setup for Crowns

As you can see, my setup is now very similar to Joe’s, but with only two flashes behind the perspex, with coloured gels on each. There is also one flash to the left of the valve stand (camera right) with a gridded snoot, pointing at the splash zone.

Holding the actuation button for 3 seconds puts the control unit into single-drop mode required for crowns. Once I had set the focus, exposure and flash gels, I was up and running in a few minutes:

First Crown Tests - Golden Crown

First Crown Tests – Golden Crown

First Crown Tests - Low Level Crown

First Crown Tests – Low Level Crown

A Splash But No Crash

A Splash But No Crash

I was pleased with these initial results and wanted to try some collisions next. So late one evening (probably a mistake) I set the gear up to try and capture a splash collision in a wine glass. It’s a bit cliché, I know, but I haven’t done it yet!

No matter what I did, nothing went right. Yes, I was getting some splashes out of it, but none of the drops were colliding, no matter which knob on the controller I twiddled (and I twiddled them all!).

Rather deflated, eventually I gave up and went to bed. But as with many problems, if you leave them alone for a while and stop worrying about them, the solution will often come to you out of the blue.

A few days later, I was on the verge of emailing Joe and asking what I might be doing wrong, when I had a hunch. In fact, there were several factors in play which had prevented me getting collisions. Firstly, the drop height wasn’t sufficient – by the time the second drop had come out, the first had long ago rebounded into the glass. So a minimum of 20-30cm seemed to be needed. It was only about 15cm from the top of the liquid in the glass to the valve nozzle.

Secondly – camera shutter lag. It hadn’t really been a problem for the crowns (mainly due to the height issue as well, I suspect) but the camera was firing to too late catch any collision which might have occurred.

And thirdly – I was just using unthickened water, the surface tension is quite low and the rebounds tend to be more lively (but less interesting).

So I tried my next session dropping into a very short glass vase (at least 30cm below the valve nozzle), using Mirror Lock-Up mode (meaning the lag between the shutter button being pressed and the exposure starting is at an absolute minimum), and using a water with 20% corn syrup solution. Suddenly, it all came together – virtually every frame was a keeper!

Green Chaos #2

Green Chaos #2

Purple Splash #2

Purple Splash #2

The Necklace

The Necklace

A few days later I tried some shots dropping into the paint roller tray, and was delighted to get the reflections in as well as the splash:

Setup for splashes and reflections

Setup for splashes and reflections

Frilly Goblet

Frilly Goblet

You might ask why I’ve bought this kit rather than using my Camera Axe system? One reason is the valves which came in the Camera Axe Valve sensor are very cheap – two out of three have now stopped working (having left them in a drawer unused for a few months). And although the drop size, delay and camera/flash timing is much more precise with the Camera Axe, it is much more susceptible to changes in the fluid reservoir, since it is only a small open syringe. That means, just as you get the parameters right, everything is thrown out again when the fluid level changes. Which is why I needed to sort out a Mariotte syphon for it. Having seen Joe’s ready made syphon bottle and better quality valve, I thought I would give this system a go.

Conclusion

I would certainly recommend the Splash Art Kit to people who are just wanting to start out with water splashes, as you will get results pretty quickly. The Camera Axe required a lot more set up time each time it was used. I took the Splash Art Kit to a local club a few weeks ago and used it for a live demonstration of water splash photography, and it was very rugged, took very little set up time and produced consistent results.

I guess my ideal setup would be using the Camera Axe electronics to control Joe’s valve and syphon. That would also allow for the possibility of controlling two valves, which is currently not an option with the Splash Art Kit. I plan to build an interface box which will let me connect the two systems together – I just need some time to design and make it!

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM – Long-Term Review

Posted by Caz on Thursday, 29th November 2012
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

I’ve had my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens since mid-2007. I bought a second hand model from the London Camera Exchange, treating myself to this fantastic piece of gear out of a  redundancy payment. They took my previous Sigma 135-400mm long zoom, and an old TTL Canon flash in part exchange. I think the final bill came to just under £1000 – which at the time was a bargain for this lens. It looks like you can still get one for about that now, so they’ve held their value extremely well.

At the time, I was attending lots of rugby matches, and taking photographs whenever I could.

Battering Ram

Battering Ram

During the winter, the matches would often finish under floodlights, so a lens with decent Image Stabilisation was essential. I was taking shots from the stands (not having access to the touchline), with the lens mounted on a small monopod, and supported on the edge of my seat. It worked reasonably well – the lens weighs in at a hefty 1.38Kg so holding that up by hand for 80 minutes would have been almost as brutal as playing a game of rugby myself!

By mid-2008, for various reasons, I was attending fewer rugby games and the lens was largely consigned to the back of a cupboard. Mainly due to its brutish weight. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. I love the quality of images I get when I bother to use it. But I hate the bulk and weight of it and use it much less frequently than I should.

Fast-forward to mid-2010 and it had another outing, this time to photograph the wonderful lavender fields, mid-harvest, in Eynesford, Kent:

Stripes Of Lavender

Stripes Of Lavender

Having reacquainted myself with its image quality, I was reminded to take it out on a shoot to the Salute For Heroes event at Glemham Hall a few weeks later. It was perfect for the flypast of the B17 during the afternoon:

B17 Flypast

B17 Flypast

And perfect for getting up close and personal with the characters, whilst remaining safely at more than a pike’s distance from the action:

Lovely Plumage

Lovely Plumage

Such a long reach means you can capture images of twitchy nervous wildlife without getting close enough to upset them. Below is a Blue Tit in may parent’s garden (taken through the kitchen window):

Blue Tit With Seeds

Blue Tit With Seeds

As you can see, it gives brilliant differential focus, isolating the subject from its background. I also found the lens very useful in a butterfly house during an outing at Tropical Wings – the butterflies would flit away as soon as I tried getting close with my 60mm macro lens – but were blissfully unaware of me stalking them from a distance with the 100-400mm:

Marbled Wings

Marbled Wings

On my crop-sensor EOS 7D the lens’ longest focal length is equivalent to a whopping 640mm – that’s nearly a telescope! Which gave me an idea… One clear cold autumnal evening I decided to have a go at photographing the moon. This is a crop from approximately 1/4 of the frame, but I was astonished at the details I managed to record (it was mounted on a sturdy tripod, using a cable release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibrations):

Once In A Blue Moon

Once In A Blue Moon

And so we come full circle back to sport and action shots. Firstly, some Point-to-Point jump racing at Mark’s Tey in February:

Rumbling Down The Hill

Rumbling Down The Hill

And white-water action at the GB Olympic Canoe Trials in Waltham Cross in April:

Stripey Canoe

Stripey Canoe

It was at this event that the lens started playing up – something felt like it was snagging when you pulled the zoom ring back towards the wide end – it would “ping” and come back easily if you just exerted a little bit of pressure. Clearly it needed looking at. But sadly I didn’t have the time to get it sorted out until a couple of weeks ago – so it sat in the cupboard sulking for 7 months!

But having paid a sizeable sum to get it repaired at Colchester Camera Repair, I vowed (yet again) to take it out and use it more! Immediately after I collected it, I took it for a sunset shoot in Brightlingsea and got some great atmospheric results:

Sunset Doggy Walkers

Sunset Doggy Walkers

As you can see, the results from the lens speak for themselves. It’s a fabulous piece of equipment for wildlife, sports and action if you have the muscles to carry it about, and a strong enough tripod to set it up on. This time, I refuse to put it back in the cupboard, for it will be out of sight, out of mind – and it could then be months before I use it again!