Can the $60 IDX SL-F50 L-Series Battery Compete Against the $120 Sony NP-F970?

If in the market for Sony L-Series batteries, there are a half dozen brands from which to choose. Sony sells their premium NP-F970 for a premium price of $120 while Anton Bauer, GVM, and, of course, Watson* undercut that price with their own budget models. How they achieve the same capacity at a third the price is a mystery. Are they using lower quality cells and cheaper plastic? How does the quality control compare to that of Sony? When buying budget, the unease from these questions is part of the payment.

And then there is IDX System Technology, a brand that I only just heard about from rave reviews on a Facebook group for Z Cam users. On there, they praised the price, performance, and ports of the brand’s SL-F50 and SL-F70 Sony L-Series batteries.

*But in the camera world, Sherlock’s sidekick wears a moth-eaten tweed jacket and shows two out of the four times you call him to the scene.

Specs

Spec wise, the IDX System Technology SL-F50 matches the form factor of the Sony NP-F970 while including USB and X-Tap ports and packing increased energy capacity at half the cost. The battery also weighs 18% less than the Sony and does what no L-Series from Sony has yet to do: indicate the battery level on the front.

For all the extra features, IDX’s new battery does not just exist as another budget option. There are legitimate benefits, such as powering a motorized follow focus with the USB port while running a monitor.

Sony NP-F970IDX SL-F50
Price$120$60
Capacity45 Wh48 Wh
Amp-Hours6300 mAh6600 mAh
Weight304g250 g

But are these extra features too good to be true? Wanting to find out, I bought one and began testing it.

On first sight of the SL-F50, I had a little suspicion about its actual energy capacity given the way the deep USB port on the top prevents the inclusion of a third row of 18650 battery cells. Rather than six cells, it can hold up to four cells.

IDX must be using four newer, more efficient, and higher capacity cells to accomplish the job of Sony’s six older cells. The reduced weight and greater energy capacity of this battery are strong indicators of fewer and newer cells.*

The totally unscientific test I ran during a pandemic level of patience certainly strengthens this thought.

*Later when checking out the IDX site, I found them mentioning exactly this: “IDX excels in combining high watt-hour capacity with low physical weight.”

Sony vs IDX Battery Life

Over two days, I ran a SmallHD 702 Touch monitor at 100% brightness on both an IDX SL-F50 and Sony NP-F970. At roughly the same room temperature and starting monitor temperature, I ran both batteries from off-the-charger full to empty. For each battery, I recorded a time-lapse of the voltage indicator on the monitor. The monitor was hooked up via HDMI to a powered Z Cam S6 for the whole test.

Photos for the time-lapse were taken in 10-second intervals. I determined the total time duration of each battery by relying on the number of photos taken before the monitor went black.

BatteryTotal photosTotal time
Sony NP-F970949 photos2 hours 38 minutes
IDX SL-F50969 photos2 hours 41 minutes

The NP-F970 lasted for two hours and thirty-eight minutes. The IDX battery squeaked by the Sony with three extra minutes of run time for a total of two hours and forty-one minutes before the monitor went black.

IDX is clearly not lying about the energy capacity in this battery. The cells inside the SL-F50 have more energy than the cells in the NP-F970, and by doing so they require fewer batteries to achieve the same runtime. Fewer batteries also means more room for those USB and X-Tap ports and the battery indicator.

Discharge Profile

For the technical minded, I used the photos from the time-lapse to determine the discharge profile of each battery.

The SmallHD 702 Touch indicates the voltage of the battery with a resolution of 0.1 volts, though unsteadily in that it begins to switch erratically between the lower and higher voltage, such as 7.9v and 7.8v, when near the lower one. The timing of when the voltage decreased by 0.1 was chosen based on the first instance of the reduced voltage on the monitor.

Unfortunately, the monitor switches the indicator to “LOW” once a battery drops below 6.8 volts. Both batteries lasted about forty-five minutes after the indicator had gone to “LOW,” and it was in those forty-five minutes that the IDX battery rose up and beat the Sony battery.

From what could be seen, the discharge profile of the Sony NP-F970 is not linear. The voltage decreased at twice the rate of the IDX SL-F50 for the first ten minutes before leveling off to a steading drip. The SL-F50 remained nearly linear for the visible duration.

Conclusion

IDX System Technology’s SL-F50 is more than a budget battery the likes of Watson and GVM. With greater capacity, USB and X-Tap ports, lighter weight, and a battery indicator all wrapped up in a price that is exactly half that of Sony’s battery, The SL-F50 is definitely worth considering over the competitors when looking to buy new Sony L-Series batteries.

Tiltaing FF-T06 Mini Follow Focus Review

Tilta lures you in with a sleek matte-black finish and innovate single-rail rod clamp. Then they hook you with hard stops, a marking disk, and that $99 price tag. By the time you see the gear belt, the bonus rail rod, and the hard shell case, you are already long out of the cooler and in for the fry, the confirmation email from B&H sitting in your inbox.

Tilta’s newest product is the Tiltaing FF-T06 Mini Follow Focus, and it promises so much at such a slender price that is comes out the Yes Man — saying yes to everything, yet accomplishing little well. And this might be part of its design.

Pros

To start, the single arm aluminum rod clamp of the FF-T06 is significant. There is growing demand for micro camera rigs, and that demand favors single rail systems for lighter weight and smaller sizes. That demand has yet to be satisfied by a follow focus at a budget and level of design competence that tip the scales toward mass consumer adoption in the same vein as a Zoom H4N or set of Rokinon primes.

Tilta’s choice to make their follow focus a single arm system aims at that growing demand, putting the FF-T06 out into a market of just five single rail follow focus systems in the $100+ range. Sevenoak makes one for $99. Edelkrone makes one that is as Edelkrone as Edelkrone can be for an Edelkrone price of $299. And then there is Shape’s hard-to-find-potentially-discontinued design and then the $999 Cambo.

But does the single arm design work? Does it flex? Come loose? No, it does not flex or loosen at all. The arm is rock solid on the rail with zero flex thanks to the rigidity of machined aluminum and the thumb screws that will sooner bend the rail than let the focus slip.

Tilta’s targeting of that growing market is also apparent in the weight of the follow focus. At 210 grams, it is feather light. My LanParte follow focus comes in at 510 grams.

For a micro camera rig to be micro, it must be lightweight, and as bikers seek for ever more aero, and aero wallets, here too camera operators look for lighter and lighter gear. Wedding photographers getting PT after lugging heavy lenses find themselves with a Fujifilm in their hands or with some strange sense of schadenfreude at football photogs lugging 500mm tanks while they dab their Lumix lenses with Kimtek wipes.

To have a follow focus that almost vanishes once attached to the rig is a blessing and one of the smartest decisions from Tilta.

And while we are at it, yes, you get a lens gear belt for photo lenses, an extra 15mm rod, and a hard shell case to tuck everything in. Will you be using the case? The corner of my Pelican is where the focus currently sits, so I will not. And the rods? I have too many already.

These bonuses sweeten the $99 deal for sure, especially if you are just starting out (though I will get into this later). Yet, I wish they had skipped on these things and put the extra headroom into fixing the inevitable flaws of a follow focus made on a production budget stretched too thin.

Cons

Namely, slop. This follow focus has enough slop to hinder the confidence of the focus puller and potentially ruin the shot. Take a look at the comparison videos below.

The LanParte has almost no discernible slop. See how the lens shifts in position as soon as the wheel is nudged. The FF-T06’s wheel has a few millimeters of looseness before the drive gear kicks in to the turn.

This looseness must be compensated for during a focus pull action by priming the wheel with a slight turn in the direction of the focus to prevent a focus “pop” in the recorded shot. After some practice priming the focus wheel, the slop is manageable. However, the need to practice how to remove the slop puts you in the position of telling an AC or videographer that they need to take particular care over this follow focus because you skimped on your budget.

A follow focus should just work. This is not much of a limb to climb on here. Gear should just work. The worry that a monitor might show too many blue tones or that a lens has a loose mount, or that a follow focus requires careful attention to eliminate the jostling effect of a loose wheel lowers confidence and in the end inhibits creativity. A follow focus has one job, and if it cannot do it well, then why buy it?

The included white marking disk prompts a similar question. This disk, if you are unfamiliar with marking disks, functions as a dry erase board ring around the focus wheel for situations when focusing marks need to be recorded for repeatability in a shot. The disk attaches by magnets. Those magnets allow easy removal for cleaning or swapping (say if you have multiple shots that you are shuttling between).

The addition of this removable disk for a follow focus at this price range was a big pro. I say was, not is, because the magnets inside the marking disk fell out after a first use. I found myself asking why even the marking disk could not accomplish its singular job of being a piece of plastic attached to a wheel, asking why Tilta put more glue on the stickers of the useless hard shell case than on these here very necessary magnets. The answer came easily.

Verdict

Tilta does not expect you to use this follow focus forever. The plastic 0.8 MOD drive gear is one indicator. The BYOG (bring your own glue) white marking disk is another. This follow focus fills that awkward teen phase of video equipment acquisition when you have some gear, some budget, and some need for a follow focus but not enough budget or need to buy the one that will last you a decade. The planned obsolescence of the FF-T06 is informed by the work requirements in this awkward phase, which are a few solo gigs, some travel, and rarely if any large productions.

And so they lure in the videographer looking to get their first follow focus at a steal and they hook them with the bonus goodies that they likely do not yet have. Over the next few months, the videographer will end up using the follow focus so often they decide it necessary to get a more expensive one or using it so little it ends up in the cardboard box in the closet with the Neweer rig. In both cases, this focus finds itself sitting somewhere on a shelf.

What I really want out of Tilta is a more robust version. Say, make a $249 FF-T06 Mini Follow Focus “PRO” with all metal parts, a DIY-free marking disk, that same single arm clamp system and sub-250 gram weight, and none of the slop of this $99 model.


2/5


Who’s it for?

The budget videographer and the micro rig enthusiast.

Does it get used?

No. With a micro rig setup, I have more confidence pulling focus with the focus ring on my lenses than using this follow focus. With a full size setup, I use LanParte’s sturdy follow focus.

Does it increase your production value?

Yes. With glue to fix the magnets on the marker disk, this follow focus can be used to record repeatable shots. A whip can also be attached for more accurate pulling, specifically in compensating for the slop.

Would I buy it again?

No. I would either use my fingers until I have enough money saved up to buy a nice follow focus, borrow a friend’s follow focus to see if I need one, or rely on a hired camera operator to bring their own follow focus.

Tilta MB-T15 Mini Clamp-On Matte Box Review

The Tilta MB-T15 is a lightweight, portable mini clamp-on matte box with a French flag, adapters for up to 85mm diameter lenses, and rail mount accessories. The price is $99. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Lightweight at 134 grams
  • Compact at 6″ x 4.75″ x 1.5″ when closed up
  • Fits many “run-and-gun” style lenses under 85mm
  • French flag lock is convenient
  • No setup time or need for a rig with rails

To start, the matte box is light. At 134 grams, I barely notice that it’s on the camera. And it’s compact, with dimensions of 6 inches by 4 and three quarter inches by one and a half inches. Its size and weight make it hard to leave behind in a fit of one-tripism. It really can be wedged into pretty much any bag or case.

It’s mini, and I don’t mind not having the support for larger-than-85mm cine lenses. The 85mm maximum lens diameter suits many travel-friendly photography lenses, like the 24-70mm f/2.8 or the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, and many 77mm lens diameter cine lenses. Larger lenses would have needed a larger diameter and therefore larger overall, and less travel-friendly, matte box. This matte box is not for the studio or set. Save it for travel, for run-and-gun, for moments when you don’t have the time or have the ability to break out the rig and rails.

One last pro is that the French flag lock is convenient. It’s right there on top of the box and is easily adjustable with one hand.

Cons

  • Scratches easily
  • Plastic bends and has visible imperfections
  • Hinge for the French flag is questionable
  • Filter ring threading is awkward and generally doesn’t work. Round filters are unusable
  • Would not trust a 4×5.65″ filter in the plastic frame
  • Would not mount anything to the threads or hot shoes on top of the matte box because the position is awkward and I don’t want the weight of those accessories to be put on the lens and camera mount
  • Random Tilta-specific adapter useless for most people

After a day of use, the lens adapter rings left scratch marks on the matte box. Cheap anodizing? I’m no engineer, but it looks like the box won’t keep its black anodized finish clean forever.

Tilta also says that the inside of each lens adapter ring maintains the threading of the lens it is adapting. So, if you are adapting a 72mm lens, the interior ring inside the 85mm ring will have a 72mm threading. It’s a great idea, but tricky. My 77mm variable ND filter does not fit because the glass and frame are together larger than the interior diameter of the adapter ring. And my circular polarizer fits but is pretty much useless once screwed in place. A fix would be to load up a series of lens adapter rings in front of Tilta’s ring so that the threading is free from the bounds of it.

The plastic portion of the matte box bends. Easily. The 4×5.65″ filter holder on the front of the matte box has no metal components securing the filters to the box. The filter must rest inside this bendable plastic frame with a tiny rubber pull piece as the only stopgap from it slipping out. Filters are way more expensive than the cost of this matte box and they are ridiculously fragile. If you’re stationary, it seems like it’ll do fine, better than foil and lots of gaff tape. But if you’re mobile, I would not trust putting any filter on here.

The hinge joining the French flag to the matte box is questionable because it does not have some kind of breakaway safety mechanism. Other matte boxes are secured by twist down clamps that allow the flag to fly off when bumped, just like the MagSafe adapter on an old MacBook. Letting the flag fall off stops the force of whatever’s hitting it to go toward knocking the camera over. The hinge here is so secure that I’d be afraid of either slamming the camera into the ground or ripping the hinge from the plastic matte box frame. It’s a little thing, but still. A breakaway style hinge would have been nice.

On top of the matte box are two hot shoes and a series of threaded holes for varies accessories. I’m not sure what you would put on here. Mic and magic arms seem too heavy. Maybe a mini light? Unless supported by a rail, putting weight on the end of a lens puts stress on the lens and mount, and I wouldn’t risk it.

But, there is a rail included in the accessories. Sort of.

The included rail is Tilta-specific. If you have a Tilta cage, you’re golden. Mount it to the Tilta cage and give yourself some extra support, heck even throw a mic on that matte box. But, if you have anything other than a Tilta cage, you’ve got to break out the baseplate and rails and use the other adapter to secure the matte box, which they included in the box. So is this a con? Not really. It’s more of an upsell opportunity on their end. Get you to jump into the Tilta ecosystem.

Verdict

If all you are looking for is a portable way to reduce flare in your shots, and if you happen to have a camera with built in ND filters and lenses under 85mm, and if you expect you will not move to bigger lenses or will not have a need for diffusion filters, then this matte box at $99 is a great deal and will serve you well.


3/5


So who’s it for?

Videographers and YouTubers who do not need ND or diffusion filters and have lenses under 85mm in diameter.

Does it get used?

Yes. Before getting this matte box, I had only my heavy rail-based Chrosziel one. This matte box required a putting the camera on a rig with rails and carrying around an extra case. I didn’t always have the case with me or want to put in the 10 minutes to set it up. This meant I often would end up putting foil on the lens, making lighting adjustments at the expense of the intended shot, or just ignoring it altogether and running with it.

The Tilta matte box does not require rig, rails, a case, or setup time. It takes less time to put this matte box on then it does to wrap some foil over the lens, and it looks better.

Does it increase your production value?

Yes. The ease-of-use of the Tilta matte box is the reason I now use a matte box more often. In general, a matte box will reduce flare, which in turn retains contrast and color details that would otherwise get washed out. A matte box can also be the “it” thing that impresses some clients.

Would I buy it again?

No. Clip-on style matte boxes from Bright Tangerine, Wooden Camera, and Polar Pro appear to offer more reliable versions of the features of this Tilta matte box, such as the filter holder or the French flag hinge, though at four- to ten-times the cost. If you’re in the game of building up equipment, then this Tilta matte box will eventually get replaced by a more expensive matte box. If you’re in a place to do so, it may be a good idea to just stomach the upfront cost of the more expensive options.

How to Take Real Estate Photos During COVID-19 as a Real Estate Agent

Real estate photographers are not considered essential services during the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many real estate agents who rely on photographers for high quality home photography have been left to fend with just their mobile phones. Is all lost? No.

To clear the air, yes, the photographer’s off-camera flashes enhance colors and increase control over shadows and, yes, the photographer’s eyes have developed over years spent squatting in bathtubs and squeezing into corners. Photos from a professional photographer will always look better than photos taken on a phone, even if they are the ones taking the photos on their phone. But, where the real estate photo largely transforms from a standard snap that just about anyone can take into a proper shot that coaxes in buyers is in the edit. Proper editing can mitigate the quality difference between a mobile photo and a professional photo.

If you can arrange photo editing with your real estate photographer, then you are halfway there.

With an editing plan established with your photographer, then all you have to do is take the photos yourself, which, as easy as it is to say easier said than done, can be simplified by following these 10 steps. Save yourself the stress of listings lacking photos or looking haunted and keep the hair on your photographer’s head during this pandemic by adhering to these steps.

Note: A cloud storage service like iCloud, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or OneDrive is required.

Getting Ready

Step 1: Download Adobe Lightroom Mobile

Photographers need more data in their photos to make them look better. The app that takes the best photos with the most data is currently Adobe Lightroom.

Step 2: Create a free Adobe account

Adobe is a huge company offering a full creative suite of editing tools for creatives. A vast majority of photographers, probably your photographer, too, use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop programs to edit photos. When you first download this app, you will need to create a free Adobe account to access the features of the app.

IMG_6078.png
Step 3: Set up the interface for HDR

After creating an account, click on the camera icon (this will be in the bottom right on Apple and up toward the top on Android). The app may ask you for permissions. Allow those permissions so that it can use your camera. Once you can see your surroundings, click on the AUTO icon near the circular shutter button and select HDR from the dropdown.

Unlike your phone, this HDR feature takes 3 “raw” photos with your camera at varying levels of brightness. This is called bracketing, and it is a technique that many real estate photographers use when taking photos to keep the outside and the inside both exposed correctly.

Step 4: Clean your camera lens

All would be for nought without a clean lens. If you have a microfiber glasses cleaning cloth handy, use that. If you don’t, use a soft shirt. If all else fails, dab a paper towel under the sink and wipe it over the lens.

Capturing

Step 5: Make the corners of the room parallel to the sides of your screen

Once at light switch height, hold your phone in landscape orientation and make the corners of the walls in the shot roughly parallel to the sides of the screen. This is known as “aligning verticals,” and it is essential to making a home feel welcome. Angling the phone downward or tilting it gives the home a spooky vibe.

The red lines are added for clarity. Notice how the vertical elements marked with the red lines are parallel to the sides of the photo.
Step 6: Get as many corners in the shot as you can

Potential buyers want to get a sense of scale of the room. That scale can be felt more in a three-dimensional way by showing 2 wall corners rather than a single corner. So, if you are in a bedroom, angle the phone so that you see the wall corners on either side of the bed.

Step 7: Hold your phone just above the height of standard light switches

Find a nearby light switch and hold the phone next to it so that its bottom edge is touching the top of the light switch frame. This is the standard height for real estate photography. Keep the phone at this height throughout the house.

Step 8: Hold your phone steady for 2 seconds after pressing the shutter button

The HDR mode on Adobe Lightroom Mobile takes 3 photos back-to-back. Since the photos are not taken at the same time, you have to keep your hands steady so that each shot can be blended together. A good rule of thumb is to hold your phone still for 2 seconds after pressing the shutter button.

To recap: align the corners in the room and hold your phone just above light switch height for 2 seconds when you take the photo.

Exporting

Step 9: Export all the photos in the DNG format

Return to the non-camera screen by clicking on the X in the corner. There will be an icon resembling books next to the home icon. Click on this icon and then click to view all photos. Long press on one of the photos to bring up the selection tool. Choose the photos that you are going to send to the photographer. If some of the photos that you took are not in the gallery, that means they are still processing. Give your phone a few moments to process these higher quality photos.

When done selecting, click on the share icon (the icon is 3 connected dots in a < shape for Android and a box with an arrow for Apple). Tap “Export As…” and make the file type DNG if it is not already selected. Press the check button to start the export.

Step 10: Upload them to cloud storage and share the link with the photographer

If on iPhone, when done processing you will get a new screen asking where these photos will be sent. Click “Save [#] Images” to save the photos to your phone.

If on Android, you will not see a post-export screen asking where to send the photos. They will automatically be exported to an album called “AdobeLightroom.”

At this point, upload the photos to a new folder on your cloud service. This could be iCloud, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other cloud storage service. Create a link to that folder to send to your photographer.

Tip: Upload over WiFi to save on data and time.

Do not use any of your phone’s built in share services such as the “add to shared album” feature inside iPhone or the “create a link” feature in the Adobe Lightroom app. All of these services compress the photos from their original DNG formats to a small file size that is not suitable for editing.

The only way to retain the photo quality is to upload the photos to a cloud storage service and to then share a link to those photos through that service.


How to upload with Dropbox

Step 1: Create a new folder in the Dropbox app
Step 2: Upload the photos to the new folder
Step 3: Share the folder with the photographer

With Dropbox, tap the Share button. Skip over the “Send to” option and click “Create a link.” The link will be copied to your clipboard. Email or text the link to the photographer.


If you have questions, please contact me.