LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II – Shedding some light on things

4 May 2020

To begin, I’m going to reaffirm that I’m largely a ‘natural light photographer’ as I open this blog entry. I don’t really use strobes all that much, but I do have use for them sometimes, mostly in situations where filling in shadows is essential (like portraiture).

I own a Cactus transceiver system that I use with my Pentax flash units and I also have the extremely versatile Cactus RF60 flash that works well with them. I’ve also got a bunch of older generic flash units that I’ve collected over the years. All of these have their uses, especially for off-camera applications, but they’re a pain to lug around unless I absolutely know I’m going to use them.

When I bought my Sony A7 which doesn’t include a built-in flash, I wanted a compact flash that could take with me anywhere and just leave in the bag all of the time. Just by chance, I read an entry on DPReview’s forum that included reference to the LightPix Labs Q20II. Further investigation led me to Eduardo Pavez-Goye and his most-interesting use of the little LightPix unit with an old Minolta SRT 35 mm film camera. Mattias Burling uses the Q20II on his Ricoh GRIII and seems to like it very much, too.

The LightPix Q20II lighting its own way off-camera

To me, the most intriguing attribute of the Q20II flash was that it appeared to work so well as an off-camera light source; that’s not a trick most of the tiny flashes available at the moment can do without adding a separate trigger mechanism. I ordered the Q20II from an online retailer for about US $90 plus shipping based largely on the reviews I had seen to date.

Not much bigger than a pack of playing cards but still equipped with a pivoting flash head that accepts gel filters, the Q20II is truly compact. It has a nice feature set for a non-TTL unit including step-wise power selection from full down to 1/64 power. It can be used as an optical slave and also is equipped with a genuinely-useful LED video/modeling light which can also be tuned between full and 1/64 output. But, by far the coolest feature is the detachable shoe trigger that even has the ability to change the flash output intensity remotely with the simple push of a button. The removable flash trigger has its own Li-ion battery that can be recharged via USB. The flash unit itself can also be charged by USB if one uses 2x AA rechargeables (like Eneloops) in it.

I’ve put the little LightPix to work in a variety of situations over the past 6 months. So far, I’m extremely pleased with it. The Q20II is surprisingly powerful for its size. Is it perfect? Absolutely not (more on that in a minute), but it’s pretty damned useful. I’ve used it alone indoors as an on and off-camera flash with a variety cameras and it has rarely failed to fire on command. I’ve used it outdoors as a macro flash and for spot-fill. Cycling times at less than ½ power are impressive for a 2-cell strobe. Even full power cycling isn’t so slow as to be frustrating.

Shed some light on it – the Q20II at 1/16 power held directly above the subject

Where the Q20II falls down on the job is at a distance. Firing reliability suffers rapidly as the flash is moved further from the little trigger. Outside, I am only able to get about 10 feet of range before triggering becomes sporadic. As an optical slave, the Q20II is only so-so indoors and it’s just about worthless outside, even in the dark. That can probably be attributed to the tiny optical sensor window on the front of the flash. It’s just too small and has very limited angles of exposure.

Overall, I can still enthusiastically recommend the Q20II. If the flash continues to be reliable and ages well, I think it represents uncommon value. Just because it can do so many things effectively and is so easy to take along on any photographic outing I don’t ever want to leave it behind.


The Hardest Hit – Memories of Spain and Italy in much better times

4 April 2020

As I watched the events unfold over the past month, I anticipated the movement of SARS-CoV-2 through Europe and to where I live at the moment and also across the US to the southwestern United States where I grew up and where I still have family. It brought with it a feeling of dread which has been brutally validated by the death and disorder we have seen thus far. With more than 28,000 fatalities across Italy and Spain alone and the ever-larger number of fatalities around the rest of the globe, I am completely deflated.

The Irony - from a beach in Falconara Marittima, Marche, Italy

I have had the opportunity to travel across continental Europe to satisfy my own curiosity and also for work. In my travels, Spain has probably been my favorite place to visit, largely because the culture and language resonates deeply within me due to the many complex influences brought to my home region from Spain beginning nearly half a millennium ago. There is also the amazing beauty of Spain’s open areas and mountains which has its own magnetic appeal. There are places in Spain which, despite my near-inability to communicate in Castilian Spanish, feel remarkably like home.

Granada and its People - Granada, Andalusia, Spain

Italy is a bit more removed in my psyche than Spain, probably because I can’t speak a word of Italian, but it has elements of culture, history, and geography that also strike the home cords in me. When I am there, I wish I could speak Italian because I believe it would help to open up a door to Italy that I have yet to find. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed my time traveling in Italy and with the many people I have met and worked with who come from Italy originally. One of the highlights of my time in Italy has been Camerino and the Marche region that surrounds it.

Camerino - Marche region, Italy

The news today is, indeed, horrible and it does not appear to be set for any quick improvement at any place across the globe. I can only hope that we, as an inextricably-linked group of animals with similar needs and desires, can get through this with as minimal harm as possible. I look forward to the day I can return to Spain and to Italy. Let us hope it isn’t too far in the future.


Locking Down - Time to self-isolate and wait for the storm to pass

16 March 2020

It's only been two weeks since I uploaded my previous entry to this blog. In the short time that has passed, COVID-19 cases have expanded across the globe forcing countries seal off borders and people everywhere to take drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus.

I get a lot of questions from others because I am a molecular and cellular biologist by training. I remind them that 1) I'm not a medical doctor, 2) I'm not an epidemiologist, and 3) I'm not a virologist. But, I do try to answer questions about the mechanics of viral transmission and infection when I do have the knowledge to provide.

People are scared. There's plenty of reason for them (us) to be scared, but there is also considerable reason for hope and to look to the future. We, as humans, have experienced this sort of epidemic/pandemic behavior throughout our evolution. We have experienced it when we had no idea or understanding of what the cause was and when we had no way to try and fight it or mitigate against it. Today, we can at least understand the mechanisms of transmission and also provide real means of controlling the spread and assisting those who are infected. Globally, this is what is happening right now.

To be sure, there is going to be more sickness and death before things get better. But it's important to look for the glimmers of hope that may be just around the corner. It will help us as we cope with the challenge at hand and it may help to speed the recovery.

As I write this, the first human vaccine trials are being conducted in Seattle to see if the mRNA-based strategy of antigen delivery and presentation will provide substantial resistance against SARS-CoV-2 infection. We can only hope that it works as planned and, if so, there will be immediate mobilization to produce the vaccine for general distribution. It will be months, perhaps, before a vaccine candidate can be put into full production, but that's still much faster and more systematic than any response in our history.

I wish all of my readers the very best and hope that each of you and your loved ones remain healthy in the trying days and months that lie ahead.

Leap Year 2020 – Ramblings from the kitchen when the weather just plain sucks

29 February 2020

As I write this on Leap Day in the middle of storm Jorge’s visit to Ireland, we have 45 mph winds driving horizontal rain. This period (largely November through March) is the most miserable time of year to be living here on the west coast of Ireland. Somewhere on the horizon of time, probably about April, we will get decent weather again. Until that happens, all I can do is hope the these days of brutal winds and rain will lessen as we approach (actual) spring.

Today's Worry – the headline around the world on this Leap Day 2020

Many photographers embrace the bad weather and it’s true that ugly weather can make for dramatic images. I’ve gotten very good at keeping my camera equipment reasonably dry even in completely shit weather. I only own one lens with weather sealing (a Pentax 55-300 zoom) and a couple of weatherized camera bodies, but I’ve still managed to get out and about in the lousy weather without killing any cameras or lenses. That doesn’t mean it’s always an enjoyable or fruitful experience, however. Days like today are over-the-top and I don’t even think about venturing out.

Old City Blues – NEX-6 and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 ART

I spend more time with monochrome photography in bad weather than in good. I try to let the gray, flat light help me to see interesting black & white compositions and also to help me concentrate on details rather than bold scenes.

Alley Brides, Dublin – NEX-6 and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 ART

Recently, I decided to experiment with ND gels in behind my Sigma 12-24mm for some long exposures. It turns out that the Irix ND gel filters available for their Firefly and Blackstone lenses will work quite well in the older-style rear filter holder that’s included on many of Sigma’s wide angle zooms. They require just a little bit of trimming, but otherwise, the Irix gels are right at home in the Sigma filter holder. By stacking a couple of gels in the holder, I can achieve a 10-stop reduction in light transmission with ease and I don’t have to mess with trying to fit a giant filter holder in front of the bulbous element and permanent lens hood of this particular lens.

Winter, Barna Pier – A7 and Sigma 12-24 with two ND4 gels

I’m really looking forward to spring. Let the days of sun not be too far in the distance.


Motorola One and Android One - A One-derful Pairing

8 February 2020

After experiencing infinite frustrations brought on as a result of the non-removable bloatware that came with my Samsung phone (mostly courtesy of AT&T who doubled the bloat), I decided that my next phone would have to be different.

Android One was immediately intriguing because of its promise of a “pure Android experience” and an absolute minimum of bloatware on products sporting this version of the OS. Plus, it comes with a guarantee of extended updates and compatibility that will help ensure a longer service life. I do not buy new phones unless I really have to and Android One goes a long way to ensure I could feasibly not have to replace my phone for several years.

I looked at mid-range offerings from Nokia sporting Android One, but none of them really got a lot of high marks in the performance department. Motorola, now owned and operated fully by Lenovo, had a few Android One phones on the market which had gotten generally good reviews. I decided, with the help of one of my favorite local, independent mobile phone retailers, to buy the original Motorola One (aka, the Moto One).

At left: The Moto One – reflecting in the day’s rain


My particular version of the Moto One has only 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage (a 4+64 version is also available in most markets). However, I am totally amazed at the speed and efficiency of the beast, undoubtedly a result of the lack of extraneous crap running on the phone at any given time. I have already added a very conservative 32 GB SD card to boost storage capacity, but I have the option of adding much, much more (at least 128 GB) if I need to.

The rear camera is a dual lens/sensor setup (2 Mp + 13 Mp) designed to work with Google Lens. My main interest in this camera combo is the ability to add Open Camera and use the 13 Mp sensor to capture DNG files. The main camera and sensor sports a 26 mm-ish equivalent field of view and an f2.2 aperture which is, unfortunately, fixed at that large aperture. Overall, it does a decent job of capturing sharp images, but I have noted that it is slightly decentered; the left side of the frame is definitely softer than the right.

Running either Open Camera or the OEM Motorola built-in camera app works extremely well, but RAW capture isn't possible with the latter. I’m still adapting to the focus habits of the Open Camera app, but I get great results going full-manual with it. I have added Snapseed 2.0 and Polarr to the suite of on-board editing tools and these are quite useful on the go – even if I use them to quickly adjust images from my mirrorless cameras downsized to ~6 MP. Not bad!

The Devil Made Me Do It – 1243 ISO (!), 1/14 sec, f2.2, developed from a DNG file

I got this phone for €135. In general, this phone and it’s bloat-free Android One setup are quite impressive for the price. Now we’ll just have to see if I ever will get used to the ergonomics of using a phone for photography. (As of February 2020, the phone still feels like it’s alien when I use it for photography!)

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