Wedding Photographer’s Shopping List, 2014
As the weather warms and the days grow longer, the first thing that pops into many people's minds is that summer is drawing near. And with each summer season comes its respective wedding season. Making use of the advantageous weather and abundant good spirits, wedding season brings out the greatest joy in everyone involved. However, as summertime and wedding season annually coincide and traditions live on through generations, the means for documenting these events continuously evolve into the latest technology available to photographers and videographers. No longer confined to simply still imagery and static setups, image makers are now embracing the latest in digital cameras, support systems, lighting options, and more.
Beginning with camera options, many photographers recently have begun to make a transition from SLR cameras to more compact mirrorless options. Beside the obvious benefit of being smaller and lighter weight, mirrorless cameras are quickly encroaching on the turf of many of the technologies that have, until recently, been unique to DSLRs. At the forefront of mirrorless technology is Micro Four Thirds, and one of the current star cameras in this standard is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7. As one of the most versatile offerings currently available, this all-arounder revolves around a 16MP Digital Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine image processor to produce both high-resolution still images and full HD video. The combination of these two technologies also affords a top sensitivity of ISO 25600 and a continuous shooting rate of 4.3 fps with full-time AF, both of which are well suited to working in difficult lighting conditions and with kinetic subjects. For additional help in low-light situations, MEGA O.I.S in-camera image stabilization anchors all mounted lenses for extended handheld shooting opportunities. Taking a familiar page from camcorder designs, one of the most unique-to-still-camera assets of the GX7 is its 90º tilting 2,764k-dot electronic viewfinder that permits critical monitoring from both eye-level and low working angles. A 3.0" 1,040k-dot touchscreen LCD is also incorporated into the camera, and features tilting functionality, too. Its touchscreen interface affords quick, on-the-fly control over focus and exposure, and also serves as an intuitive means for utilizing the built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for instant image sharing and remote camera control.
While the GX7 is ideal for a wide array of shooting situations and also sports a trim silhouette, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH4 ups the overall imaging capabilities to realize a no-holds-barred multimedia camera capable of both professional-quality video recording, as well as still-imaging performance. Similar to the GX7, the GH4 resides in the Micro Four Thirds Standard and features a 16.05MP Digital Live MOS sensor. From here, an enhanced four-core Venus Engine image processor enables UHD 4K 3840 x 2160 30p/24p and DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 24p video recording, as well as full HD 1920 x 1080 60p, in 4:2:0 8-bit to memory cards or 4:2:2 8- or 10-bit to an external recorder. Among the wide variety of features, some of the most applicable to the GH4’s use during weddings are the ability to use SMPTE-compliant time codes for multi-camera setups, a silent mode to suppress sounds, the AF assist beam for greater inconspicuousness while shooting, 7.5 fps continuous shooting with full-time AF, and a 1/250 second flash sync speed. Rounding out the GH4’s video recording abilities is the dedicated accessory Lumix DMW-YAGH Interface Unit, which serves to provide the necessary connections needed for a well-rounded video workflow. Two monaural XLR inputs enable the use of either line or condenser microphones, with independent level control over both right and left channels. A four-pin XLR 12VDC input is also available for external power. In regard to video, four BNC connectors—two 3G-SDI capable and two HD-SI capable—permit recording in a variety of formats and frame rates, up to SDI 4K in 4:2:2 10-bit, all with time code. Where the GH4 excels, in light of many other cameras, is its sheer versatility and ability to function as both a top-quality video camera as well as an apt still camera. When photographing during a wedding, this multi-tasker can help to increase overall shooting efficiency, regardless of the medium.
Beyond the dedicated photography and video-related attributes of mirrorless cameras, one of their greatest assets is their ability to accept nearly any lens via an optional lens adapter. While typically resulting in a loss of autofocus control, this flexibility permits the use of many existing lenses one might already own, as well as a plethora of old, rare, and unique legacy lenses. However, even with the ability to delve into a nearly limitless pool of optics, there are still solid lenses designed for the Micro Four Thirds mount that reap the benefits of autofocus, and modern lens designs for crisp, clear image quality. The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens provides a 35mm equivalent focal-length range of 24-70mm, making it one of the most versatile zoom lens lengths available. Covering wide-angle to short telephoto and featuring a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, this lens is often thought of as the go-to choice for many wedding photographers due to the frequent changing of perspectives required, as well as the need to maintain image quality and low-light performance throughout the zoom range. Both UED and UHR elements have been incorporated into the lens to minimize chromatic aberrations and distortions to produce sharp, contrast-rich imagery. A Nano Surface Coating has also been applied to further lessen ghosting and lens flare for maintained clarity and color neutrality. When working with a camera without in-body IS, this lens features POWER O.I.S. image stabilization, too.
On the other side of the lens coin, there are times when a fast prime lens is the ideal choice: its fixed perspective and bright aperture force you to pay attention to and interact with the subject. A prime example of this (pun intended) is the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens, which captures the same perspective as a 50mm lens on full-frame sensors. This normal perspective and fast f/1.4 aperture are well suited to portraiture and still-life photography, as well as general scenes and lifestyle imagery. Like the 12-35mm lens, this lens also features a UHR element and a glass molded aspherical element in its construction, to maintain notable image quality devoid of chromatic aberrations and distortion.
"Moving beyond the pure imaging tools, much of the photography and videography during a wedding is equally reliant on the necessary accessories..."
Moving beyond the pure imaging tools, much of the photography and videography during a wedding is equally reliant on the necessary accessories used to offset the photographic challenges presented by a ceremony. Benefitting those who prefer to work in live view, the Hoodman Custom Finder Kit contains a Professional LCD Screen Loupe, available for both 3.0" and 3.2" screen sizes, along with a magnifying eyecup and a mounting plate for secure attachment to a wide variety of DSLR cameras. Invaluable to videographers, this loupe effectively converts a camera’s rear screen into a large, bright viewfinder for more critical monitoring and greater stability while shooting.
For even greater stability without sacrificing mobility, the Manfrotto Fluid Monopod with 500 Series Head is a lightweight four-section aluminum monopod that incorporates a fluid-head design for smooth tilting movements. It rises to a height of 6.6' and also integrates three mini feet into its base for greater traction.
To shoot in an even more flexible manner, the Comodo Orbit Handheld Stabilization Rig is an effective gimbal stabilization rig designed for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and medium-sized camcorders weighing up to 11lb. The gimbal design, along with dual handles, permits smooth handling capabilities, as if the camera were floating through space, and also facilitates smooth transferring of the camera from operator to operator while shooting.
Speaking of floating through space in an even more literal way, one of the latest trends in videography and photography of late is the use of remote controlled quadcopters to gain aerial perspectives in localized environments. These bird’s-eye viewpoints can provide a unique perspective when filming in open settings or for larger wedding receptions. One of the most intuitive-to-use quadcopters is the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter with Integrated FPV Camera, which as the name suggests, features a built-in 14MP wireless camera for remote exposure and camera-setting control from the ground, as well as real-time monitoring over Wi-Fi. The helicopter itself is designed for fly times up to 25 minutes within an operating range of approximately 1,000 feet, making it more than suitable for even the most adventurous weddings. GPS-based autopilot settings serve to maintain an upright position during flight and also ensure smooth recording quality and safe return of the quadcopter to home after recording.
If you prefer to work with your own GoPro HERO3/HERO3+ cameras, the DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter with Phantom 2 Gimbal is a viable option that incorporates a two-axis motorized gimbal for precise camera positioning and smooth, natural tilts during recording. While the flight time for this quadcopter is a few minutes shorter, at approximately 22 minutes, it does gain an extended flight range of up to 3,280 feet for expansive coverage of broad locales. Another similarity between the two models is that this helicopter utilizes built-in GPS navigation to remain upright during flight and return safely back to the user after filming.
Down on Earth, and in addition to the impressive imagery afforded by these solutions, the second key component to dynamic videos and movies is an equally well-paired and well-matched sound recording. The Tascam DR-60D is a linear PCM recorder that permits up to four channels of audio to be recorded at once, which are then saved directly to SD memory cards. Utilizing two XLR/TLS combo jacks and two 3.5mm stereo inputs, the DR-60D is capable of recording up to 24-bit, 96kHz PCM recordings, which can be synced with movie files during the editing stages. Additionally, this recorder is built to be attached directly to the base of a DSLR camera and can also be mounted directly on a tripod.
For more location-based sound recording, the Zoom H6 Handy portable recorder features an interchangeable microphone system that allows it to be specifically tailored to different situations in order to garner the clearest sound. Up to six channels of audio can be recorded at once, via the four XLR/TRS combo inputs for external microphones, and audio can be saved directly to SD memory cards. One of the main draws of the Zoom H6 is its compact form factor, especially when compared to the audio quality it is capable of attaining. The small size makes this recorder a viable option for placing off-camera to record localized sound of a specific event while filming from a great distance.
However, when working from closer distances, where audio can be controlled more easily, more attention can be given to controlling the lighting of a scene while filming. One of the more common accessories to add to a small video kit is an on-camera light, such as the Switronix TorchLED Bolt 220 On-Camera LED Light. Producing a 220W equivalent output of color-adjustable and fully dimmable light, this compact light can easily be attached to the top of a DSLR or other small camera for additional illumination when working with nearby subjects. A single dial changes color-temperature settings from 3200 to 5600K, while a second dial permits 0-100% dimming control with no perceivable color shift.
"If you're already working with an existing off-camera flash or system of flashes, a bit of creative refinement can be a truly refreshing way to interject some personality into your lighting."
If working with still imagery, where neither constant lighting nor audio recording is of worry, a set of high-quality strobes can be the single most invaluable piece of equipment after the camera and lens. One of the most exciting tools for location lighting is the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash system, which is effectively a battery-powered moonlight with TTL flash-metering capabilities. When paired with a dedicated transmitter, fully camera-based control over the light output avails a more seamless system for changing exposure settings on the fly. Beyond the connectivity afforded by the B1, it should also be noted that it has a recycle-time range between 0.1 to 1.9 seconds, but can also fire up to 20 flashes per second in Quick Burst Mode with lower power settings. A dedicated Freeze Mode is also available, which produces a flash duration of just 1/19,000 of a second. In any case, this strobe should be more than adequate for even the fastest-moving wedding ceremonies. Additionally, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack can be swapped out during shooting, with each two-hour charge providing up to 220 flashes.
If you're already working with an existing off-camera flash or system of flashes, a bit of creative refinement can be a truly refreshing way to interject some personality into your lighting. The Spinlight 360 Modular Systems are unique light modification tools designed for more control with traditional off-camera flashes. Both the EXTREME and EVENT systems comprise multiple light modifiers, as well as color gels and other shaping tools that are compatible with most flash styles. Using a proprietary ring system, different attachments and light-shaping tools can quickly and easily be swapped out or combined to suite a variety of situations.
Another common way to add a bit of creativity to imagery when working with off-camera flashes is to do as their name suggests and truly work with the flash off-camera. By positioning the flash, or flashes, away from the camera, much greater lighting potential is possible and nearly limitless creative options for how to light different subjects. The most versatile way to efficiently achieve an off-camera, wireless light setup is through the use of radio triggers, such as the Phottix Odin series or the Vello FreeWave Fusion Pro series. While the Vello series features TTL pass through, which will trigger flashes when a TTL-enabled flash is mounted atop the transmitter, the Phottix Odin series features TTL functionality for radio control over multiple flash units. Beyond this, both systems are a sound solution to working with lighting from a distance and being freed from interfering wires during shooting.
Finally, regardless if one is shooting still images or video, one still needs to consider the means for porting all that equipment to, during, and from the wedding. When shooting during the wedding, a versatile carrying system can be invaluable to both relieve some of the weight and to also provide easy access to all of your equipment. The HoldFast Gear Money Maker Camera Harness does just this, but considering the fact it is a wedding, the HoldFast harness also maintains a high level of style with its all-leather design so as not to detract from the sartorial splendor of the occasion. Supporting multiple cameras or a system of both cameras and lenses, a Speed Clutch system provides fast and easy access to all components tethered to the harness, for instinctive switching between shooting positions and equipment choices.
For bringing equipment to and from the weddings, a properly configured bag is a necessity that sets one’s mind at ease—you want to be able to find all the equipment you need quickly, as well as the insurance that all equipment will be delivered safe and sound. If you're traveling far, or simply working with larger amounts of equipment, rolling bags are a versatile option due to their larger, more open structure and easy-to-pack design. Examples include Think Tank’s Photo Airport Navigator Rolling Bag, as well as Lowepro’s Pro Roller AW series, with any choice being well suited to an extensive kit of professional DSLRs, multiple lenses, flashes, and other accessories. If working with a somewhat more minimal system, the Tamrac 5612 Pro 12 Camera Bag is a truly viable option for carrying up to two DSLRs with lenses, as well as additional lenses and accessories. One of the more unique features of this bag is its Memory & Battery Management System, which employs red indicator flags to quickly identify which memory cards and batteries in the bag are empty versus those that are full. Small things like this can truly help to increase efficiency while shooting, which, in turn, contributes to a better overall shoot.