Vanguard makes good tripods. That makes this easy. They fill a particular niche in the entry-level to intermediate-priced tripod class.
Their latest effort is the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB 100 Tripod
*BH-100 Ball Head - 360° panning, friction control, 2 bubble levels, and quick release Arca-type system
*Unique Perspective - MACC (Multi-Angle Center Column) for limitless shooting angles and Never waver - firm hexagonal center column
*3 section legs with 4 position angles - 20°, 40°, 60°, 80° and Rock solid positioning - unique “locked” to “unlocked” twist-lock system
*canopy suspension loop for counterbalance weight and Alta Link - 3/8 thread bonus connection for any accessory: reflector, articulated or flexible arms, etc.
*26mm, 3 section aluminum legs. Folded height: 29". Extended height: 68.2", Weight: 5 pounds. Max. load capacity: 15.4 pounds
At $229.99 this is a bargain-priced tripod (yes I know - many of you think that’s expensive but in today’s world where $1200+ tripods abound - not really) that delivers good value for the money. Note that it is aluminum. That means it is heavier than most of the carbon-fibre tripods in this class and presumably the aluminum structure is what keeps the price down. (Good carbon fiber is expensive.)
This tripod uses simple and intuitive “twist and lock” positioning at any angle of 15° steps. The quarter-turn twist locks seem very well made and while this can be a failure point in some tripods, I don’t think that will be the case here. And inn case you're wondering, the moving center column feature is not a gimmick. It allows this tripod to be used for macro, product, low-angle work as well as traditional tripod work. I do have some concerns that the tripod could very easily be overloaded when this feature is employed so for that reason my recommendation to buy it will come with one big caveat. Do not believe the 15.4 pound carrying capacity. My general rule of thumb is to halve that figure (from any tripod maker) and you’ll be in the ballpark. Here I am going to say cut that figure by 60% if you plan to use the center column for off axis work.
Mirrorless shooters should be fine with this setup. If I were using a DSLR I might be tempted to go up one step in the Vanguard product line to stay affordable, yet a tad more sturdy.
As with all the Vanguard products I have tested, this one offers superb build quality and great design. It has some nice features that round out its usefulness and these are the fitted bubble level and dedicated suspension loop to ensure perfect position and additional stability by hanging counterweight or bags; non-slip, all-weather TPU grips on 2 legs; angled rubber feet (You can buy the ALTA SF spiked feet if you need them), and a tripod carrying bag bag. The ALTA BH-100 bullhead isn’t going to compete with something from Really Right Stuff or Indoro, but at this price point it too offers nice features like durable aircraft aluminum housing, easy-to-grip large lever lock, ergonomic friction control, precision lock, independent panning lock, two bubble levels for precise 90° angle in just one second & accurate 360° panoramic photography or videography adjustments, and universal Arca-type quick release system.
You can never have too many tripods. For those of you starting out and looking at your first tripod (or maybe a backup tripod) and who use lighter-weight gear (mirrorless, Micro-Four-Thirds, etc.) this is a very solid choice. I especially like the features you get for this price and think you could easily spend more for less. Remember my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED conclusion comes with the caveat that this tripod shouldn’t be counted on to bear much more than six or seven pounds when you extend the center column off axis.
My Review Of The Olympus Pro Advantage Clean & Check Program
DISCLAIMER: I am an Olympus Visionary however I do want you to know I sent my gear in before that was made public and I think no special consideration was given to me in that regard.
For decades I have operated with the following rule. I always send each camera and lens to the manufacturer for a clean and check at least yearly, and sometimes semi-annually if I am working in rough conditions. Meters go out of balance. AF needs to be adjusted. Some lubricants start to fail. Technically, a camera can operate with large tolerances for such problems but why push it? I have never had a field failure because I keep to this regimen. It’s like changing the oil on your car. Do it regularly and you’ll probably have your car as long as you want it. Same goes for cameras. This is one of the reasons I joined Olympus Pro Advantage. I wanted to take advantage of the clean and check program.
Recently, I returned from helping my friend Gary Hamburgh lead a photo workshop on the Palouse - in eastern Washington. It’s dirty and dusty and I’d been using my two main Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera bodies pretty regularly - I figured it was time to get them to the doctor for a physical.
I had two clean and check coupons that came with my Pro Advantage kit and I decided to use them. NOTE: It really wasn’t clear to me when I signed up what those coupons covered and you should know each coupon covers a one item - i.e., one lens or one camera body, etc. So if you have two camera bodies you can use the two coupons for the free clean and check, but if you want your lenses cleaned you’ll need to pay separately for those.
You have to call Olympus to get a work order if you want to schedule the service. It’s a relatively painless process. (The number is 800-260-1625, Prompt 4) You will need to have the coupons and you will also need to know your Pro Advantage Membership Number.
They will send you an email with a work order. I placed that in the box I shipped them along with the camera bodies and the coupons.
Olympus did a very good job of communicating with me during the process. I shipped the two camera bodies at my expense (per the Pro Advantage agreement) via FedEx ground. They received the bodies on June 12, 2017. On June 13, 2017 one day later, I received a tracking number saying the camera bodies were on their way back to me via FedEx overnight services at Olympus’ expense. On June 14, 2017 as promised, both bodies arrived. There was a note in the package describing the fact that the clean and checks were completed and the gear was fine.
I checked both cameras and there seems to be no issue. It sounds like both bodies were good to go but I know they needed at least the clean up part.
Based on this interaction (especially compared with my service experiences with some other brands) I would say Olympus has done a great job with Pro Advantage. For $99.99 it is a steal. If my gear ever needs repair I am confident I won’t have to wait to get it back.
Okay that was a loaded headline - but because it was a headline, it had to be relatively short. I meant to say, In MY opinion, the world’s best camera bag for mirrorless shooters who have a minimal amount of gear and want to be able to work fast without using a neck strap is…
The Camslinger Streetomatic+ from Cosyspeed…
This bag has a one-of-a-kind design that I think is brilliant. It’s best suited to people who are shooting mirrorless or compact camera systems and who don’t need to carry lots of gear. It can hold a smaller DSLR and a small lens and a few minor accessories. And it’s just PERFECT - if you need/want what it does. It is a camera bag that you can wear on your hip or over your shoulder. It offers blindingly quick access via a very cool magnetic system that allows very rapid opening and closing of the bag. That system is called FIDLOCK and was developed in Germany. It provides reliable (and safe) one-handed access to the camera inside the bag. Slide the buckle to the right and open the flap. Snap the thing back in place a magnet holds it tight. (There is also a safety loop strap you can use to double lock the bag for safer transit.)
Years ago I don’t think many of us thought about our camera bag’s appearance. Most camera bags were black and that was that. The look of a camera bag has become more important as people have begun to be more fashion conscious while out and about with their cameras. Additionally, camera bags that do not look like camera bags offer more security because thieves are less likely to spot the bag as a giveaway that you are carrying a valuable camera. It comes in brown or gray and looks very stylish.
This isn’t a large bag so it’s designed for people who have one body and a small lens plus flash or two small lenses. It would also be ideal to hold a second camera body (or larger lens - maybe even a flash or a recorder for those of you who do video and need pro audio.) It’s really quite versatile.
The whole idea of the Streetomatic+ is that it is very fast. (Hence the company name Cosyspeed.) You can get to your gear quickly and secure it quickly.
I am using the bag to house my Olympus Pen-F and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO Lens along with memory card, iPhone, spare battery, battery charger and USB cable.
IN THE BOX
4 compartment deviders
There are times when this style of bag works better than a backpack. In warm weather, you won’t have to deal with something causing sweat under the straps that might go across your shoulders or chest.
It looks good, is light weight but strong (it’s very well made,) it’s extremely well-designed and very functional. Like all camera bags these days, it’s expensive at $129 but I think it’s worth it.
6/9/2017 0 Comments
The thing that really hooked me into photography was the absolute, undeniable thrill of “taking a photo” and then “hoping it came out.” What was even better was the process by which I could see the photo come to life, either in a darkroom, or thanks to Polaroid, thanks to an “instant” printer called the SX-70.
At today’s inflation rate, the SX-70 cost more than $1000 and a pack of film - adjusted for inflation cost $40 or $4 a photograph. It was very expensive for a high school senior but I had to have one and I was lucky enough to be able to afford one.
While Polaroid has been around since the 1940s, the SX-70 was a really ground-breaking camera. You could push a button and in a matter of seconds take several photos that would “develop themselves” in a matter of minutes.
The SX-70 camera is long gone (although a few years ago it became hip to try to get an old one to recreate that look of a true Polaroid image.)
I also used Polaroid film backs on my old Hasselblad system. Since we couldn’t check the histogram on important shots, we’d take off the regular film back and replace it with a Polaroid back. We’d “pull a Polaroid” test shot (or two) to make sure everything was copacetic and then we’d switch backs again and go back to regular film. (I’m getting tired just writing about it.)
Then - along came digital cameras and of course Photoshop actions that could make a digital picture LOOK like it came from a Polaroid.
So the SX-70 is gone but NOT the excitement and thrill that surrounds carrying a camera that is capable of making a print in under a minute - on the spot - as soon as you press the shutter button.
Polaroid has brought back that same thrill with the Snap Touch camera. It even has an LCD touchscreen display, video and Bluetooth and an app. If old Edwin H. Land (the company’s founder) could see what we have now I am sure he’d be impressed. You can use the Snap Touch to share photos digitally via its app, but you can also make a print. I mean a real print. (It relies on a MicroSD card (128GB max) for some of the digital functions. 13MP Photos / 1080p/720p Video - with various capture modes.)
You can make these prints in less than 60 seconds thanks to the printer's ZINK zero ink printing that produces photo-quality, full-color output without using ink cartridges, ribbons, or toner. It’s that last part that is the secret sauce.
Before you get too excited note the prints are just 2”x3” but that is large enough to be enjoyable. I found them to be reasonably high-quality. They are NOT lab quality but this technology has improved over the years and I found the final product to be quite enjoyable.
Other than the print size, and the lack of ink, etc., what sets this camera apart is that it has a 3.5” viewfinder. You can charge it with a USB to Micro USB charging cable (no removable battery) and it even has filters and borders you can select just for fun.
Unlike the old SX-70, you can review each image and decide if you want to print it or not. Also unlike the SX-70, you get 20 images to a “film” pack and they cost even less ($24,88 for a 50 pack) on Amazon. Note that you can only insert 10 sheets of film at a time.
I spent the day just walking around with this little guy. It fits in my shirt pocket and I found it oddly freeing to just (like I did when I was a kid) snap away at anything that caught my eye.
It does have some practical applications. I can imagine any wedding or portrait photographer using one of these to either entertain (or occupy) wedding/portrait subjects while the “real” camera was doing its thing. It’s also just plain fun. And as I get older, I realize that the Internet has managed to take the fun out of photography - well if you let it do so anyway.
The camera will NOT replace your Canon 5D. But it does have a pop-up flash, comes in several colors and can do just about anything most digital cameras can do (there’s even a burst mode) but it can ALSO make prints. And THAT is the only reason to buy this camera. If you want a fun point and shoot you already have one in your cell phone. But if you want to dazzle your party guests by photographing them in the middle of all the fun and then hand them a paper record of it all, this is your camera.
Don’t confuse this with the original Polaroid Snap. That camera is cheaper but, it had no monitor and the new version is a definite improvement. At $180 in today’s money the new version costs less than 20% of what an original SX-70 would have set you back in the 1970s and it does a whole lot more cool stuff than the SX-70 could do, and it's smaller.
While I haven’t subjected the Snap Touch to a long-term test, I can tell you that the prints actually come out in under the promised minute. The prints seem to be smudge-proof and Polaroid says that they will last.
As long as you have reasonable expectations, for $180 it’s a whole lot of fun and you never know when it will end up having some utility for certain photographers, even pros.
Because of all the features, the small size, the reasonable price, the improvements over the original model and especially the touch screen LCD, I rate the Snap Touch as highly recommended.
6/6/2017 17 Comments
DISCLAIMER: I will refer to crop factors in this post. It’s important to know that crop factor and the associated focal length multiplier only affects field of view. I prefer to reference this as effective focal length (EFL) but others use FOV. Feel free to use whichever term you like.
Olympus and I go way back. I got my first OM series film camera in the mid-1970s. While I started in 35mm with Nikon, I ended up using mostly Minolta and Olympus back in those days. I even carried my gear around in a silver Zero Halliburton camera case. (Those of you who are like me, on the wrong side of 60 will remember those fondly I am sure.) Then as it is now, the Olympus glass was both spectacular and reasonably affordable and the OM series had the first reliable in-camera light meter. It was a match-needle affair that I thought was the coolest thing ever. That pushed me into the Olympus gear for shooting motor sports.
Over the years I eventually migrated to Canon (and even back to Nikon for a while) because of advances in autofocus and stabilization that the old Olympus film cameras just couldn't quite match.
Fast forward to October 17, 2009, when I bought my first Olympus digital camera. It was the Olympus E-P1 and I remember the date because I wrote a post for Photofocus.com mentioning the camera.
In 2010 I picked up an Olympus E-P2, in 2011 I bought an Olympus PEN E-P3 and I enjoyed all of those cameras. Every time I used one of them the word “fun” came to mind. I got some great images from all of them, but was still shooting mostly Canon for my “serious” photography. Then something happened that really got my attention. In October of 2011 Olympus launched some lenses that really changed everything for me (and many others.)
First, I bought an Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 Lens. It cost more than $400 back then and I thought that was pretty expensive for a M43 lens. But after using it I didn’t mind the price. Frankly, I was shocked at how good it was. With a field of view of 90mm, and a super fast f/1.8 aperture, I thought it might make the perfect portrait lens given how small and light weight it was compared to my big, fast, heavy, and expensive Canon 85mm lens.
And to make a long story short, for that time period, I was right. The lens is sharp, contrasty, fast to focus and unobtrusive. It fits in your shirt pocket and when you pull it out and put it on any Olympus digital camera body you have a great portrait lens.
Next up was another important lens for me. Olympus shipped the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens. When it comes to landscape, architecture, street photography, documentary photography, Americana photography, etc., this lens was just what I’d been waiting for. With an EFL of 24mm at f/2.0 it is useful in many situations. It’s a full metal lens and super well-built. It’s one of the sharpest lenses I’ve used and it’s not even in the Olympus “pro” line.
Time went by and Olympus continued to innovate. As good as the 45 f/1.8 lens was/is, the Olympus M.Zukio 75mm f/1.8 ED lens is even better. While at 150mm EFL, it’s not a typical “portrait lens” that is how I used it and I consistently had some of the sharpest pictures I’ve ever taken from this lens and still had a lovely bokeh. I can’t stress enough how sharp this lens is. At the time it shipped, it was the sharpest lens I had ever used on ANY 35mm SLR or DSLR, Mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds system. It’s still available today, and while not mentioned all that often because it isn’t one of Olympus’ “pro” lenses, it’s a sleeper lens that I use every chance I get. Did I mention it's sharp?
These three lenses got me thinking about Olympus as a full-time camera system. But because I have been migrating to full-time bird photography (pun intended) the one thing that I really needed was a fast, prime, stabilized, super telephoto lens. I also need fast and reliable tracking autofocus and a high frame rate. These are just requirements for the kind of work I do.
As Olympus began to develop (what I consider to be) one of the best line-ups of professional camera lenses in the business, they didn’t stop innovating when it came to camera bodies either.
In 2013 I purchased an Olympus OM-D EM-5 - (Now the MKII version is available.) This was a ground-breaking camera in my opinion. It offered several advantages over other systems…
2. Small size
3. Low weight
4. Easy to pack and carry
5. Amazing image quality
6. Lower overall cost
7. Options not available to DSLR users
I was so impressed with the Olympus cameras by this time that I authored a lynda.com title with my pal Rich Harrington featuring Olympus cameras called “Learning to Shoot With Micro Four Thirds Cameras.” I wanted everyone to know how good these little cameras could be.
By this time in my life, I wanted to switch to Olympus as my only system so bad I could taste it. My health was sliding in the wrong direction and as I approached my sixth decade on this planet, my tired, old bones were beginning to protest when I picked up a big, heavy DSLR/lens combo. And while the Olympus cameras offered amazing image quality, and amazing glass, the limitations on Micro Four Thirds sensors (related to their size) just couldn’t quite deliver for me when it came to the big prints I make. This is partly physics and partly technology.
While I have owned and used the Olympus gear on and off since the 1970s, occasionally shot with it professionally, written about Olympus gear, taught photographers how to use it, I still had a few problems that held me back from a full-throated endorsement.
As a bird photographer I needed a very sharp, fast, quick-focusing, stabilized, super telephoto lens. I also needed a camera capable of shooting with tracking autofocus and high frame rates. I also needed very good image quality because I often make 40” prints. Lastly, I needed a professional service and loaner program like Nikon’s NPS or Canon’s CPS to back me up.
When I started looking for mirrorless cameras to lighten my load and before I made the switch to Olympus, I spent a year shooting Fuji. Frankly, I had some of the worst service experience of my career with them and at least back then, they had no reliable system for pros to gain access to the quick turn around times and loaner gear necessary for us to know we could count on having gear when we needed it for a paid shoot. That caused me to look elsewhere.
Then the stars in the universe aligned for me because all the aforementioned problems were solved.
The advent of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens with an EFL of 600mm, and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera changed everything for me. And I mean everything.
I was literally at the very point in my life where I thought my time as a photographer had come to an end. My doctors were telling me they couldn’t do any more work on my shoulder and knees because there was nothing left to work with. These days, I simply cannot carry, transport, lift and accurately use large DSLRs and big telephoto lenses for more than a few minutes at best. I really needed something smaller, lighter and more manageable if I was going to keep shooting.
But having had the luxury of at least testing if not owning and regularly using the very best cameras and lenses in the world, my need for something light and small just couldn’t be allowed to trump my need for very high-quality gear that produced professional results. Unfortunately, the type of photography I do requires the top-of-the-line cameras and lenses. In other words, I need the best gear that money can buy because frankly, even with the right gear, bird photography is just stupid hard! Without the right gear it's just stupid :).
I am happy to report that I didn’t have to lower my standards a bit to switch to Olympus.
Fortunately the new system offers more than enough image quality for me to get marketable images. I have printed 30x40” prints that look great and already licensed several images from the OM-D E-M1 Mark II system.
I am also extremely happy to report to you that Olympus does indeed have a new program called Pro Advantage which is similar to NPS and CPS. I immediately joined. For under $100 a year it’s an amazing bargain and while I have not needed to call on Olympus for help, knowing I can get the fast turnaround I need in case of repairs or other issues is great peace of mind. The program comes with two free clean and checks and once I returned from my Palouse workshop with Gary Hamburgh I sent my gear in for those free checkups.
Like any new camera system it took me a while to fully understand how to coax the best images out of it. But now I am confident that I can do that. I’ve now spent six months with the new flagship Olympus gear. I’ve traveled more than 15,000 miles with these new cameras and lenses. I’ve used them to photograph eagles in Alaska, cormorants and pelicans in La Jolla, ducks and migratory birds in Arizona and shorebirds in Washington. I’ve used this gear in extremely cold conditions (-9 degrees wind chill in Alaska) and in extremely warm conditions (92 degrees) in southern Arizona. I’ve shot in bad weather from a boat in five foot seas near Kachemak Bay and along the Pacific coast in the fine sea spray on La Jolla cliffs in California.
I’ve flown on large jets, regional jetliners and even a helicopter carrying Olympus cameras. I’ve driven on roads only passable via four-wheel drive vehicles. I’ve even hiked (okay not very far but I did hike) with the gear on my back.
No matter what I’ve thrown at the new Olympus system it has performed like the pro cameras I’ve been used to.
All the glass is sharp. All the camera bodies operate as expected. Battery life is amazing for a M43 system. I’ve never experienced any freezes or lockups in the camera bodies. I’ve also never noticed any dust spots on my sensor (something I constantly struggled with as a Canon shooter.) Olympus has already updated the cameras and lenses I purchased with new firmware making them even better. Tracking autofocus with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera actually works and all the autofocus modes are both fast and accurate.
The cameras are infinitely customizable and I have practiced enough with the new OM-D E-M1 Mark II to get a working setup for bird photography that produces reliable results when the camera is in the hands of a capable operator.
Also of note for me is the amazing stabilization of both the new camera body and some of the lenses. When I pair the IBIS in the Mark II together with a lens that is also stabilized, I am handholding shots at unheard of shutter speeds with incredible results. The fact that I am handholding at all is a miracle. When I put the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter on the 300 f/4 lens, I have an EFL of 840mm. I have never handheld an 800mm lens in my life before this. But thanks to the stabilization (that really, really works) I can do it for extended periods of time.
So that I can offer a balanced report I want to address two issues that I see talked about in the forums regarding M43 cameras in general. First there is the noise issue. It's simple physics. A smaller sensor will not be able to deliver files that are as "clean" as a larger sensor. But it's not an issue and here's why. On the Mark II, the noise is well-controlled by the camera's on-board computer system and at very high ISOs, the noise is easily fixed in post with any of the various one-click noise reduction programs on the market like MacPhun's Noiseless. (USE CODE PHOTOPLUGINS to get 10% off.)
Next I want to talk about the depth-of-field issue. There is a great deal of misinformation on the Internet about the way M43 cameras handle DOF. Yes it is true that when it comes to DOF, an f/4 lens on a M43 camera delivers the same DOF as an f/8 lens on a full-frame camera (given the same focal length, and the same subject-to-camera distance,) BUT what’s not true is that less light reaches the sensor. When one purchases a fast lens, say an f/2.8 lens; One often does so because of the need to shoot in low-light conditions not just because of the need for a nice bokeh. When using M43 cameras there is absolutely no penalty in this respect. It’s a simple rule. In every case, without exception, f/2.8 is f/2.8 is f/2.8 on a M43 camera, an APS-C camera and a full-frame camera. The same amount of light passes through the aperture no matter what. The DOF is indeed impacted. For some, in a negative way. But not for me. For me it’s just the opposite. There are lots of times when I need more DOF. The increased depth-of-field over larger sensors suits my needs perfectly. And when I do need a smooth creamy, bokeh, I just get closer to my subject. As I’ve said before on many forums and in many articles, it’s easy to prove to yourself with a simple test that as subject to camera distance decreases, so does DOF. If I need a smoother bokeh, I just get closer. In any event I have never been disappointed with the bokeh of any Olympus lens and that includes the combination of the 300 with the 1.4 TC.
Speaking of getting closer, the close focusing distance of the Olympus lenses is nothing short of stupendous. I can work three times as close with my Olympus 300 (EFL 600) f/4 as I could my Canon 600 f/4. This offers many advantages including the heretofore mentioned ability to create a smooth, creamy bokeh in the background. It also allows near macro-like capability in some of the longer lenses. The ability to fill the frame with a bird’s eye for instance without cropping is amazing. I am like a kid in a candy store with a pocket full of quarters. I am not sure I will ever get used to how much fun this is.
And fun is the operative word. While sometimes the discussion on the camera forums varies from NOT fun to downright nasty, I think we should all remember that photography is indeed supposed to be fun. If it’s NOT fun for you, I’ve got news for you. You aren’t doing it right. Carrying this lightweight, but highly capable gear has made photography fun again for me, even when I am shooting for money.
I've always been willing to make changes in my gear as new, improved items become available I have been known to completely switch brands or to work with multiple sets of gear, most recently with both Canon and Nikon as well as Tamron, Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji. I have enjoyed many aspects of all this gear. I will always shoot with the best tools available to me. But this recent change is different. It's the kind of change I wouldn't/couldn't make or take lightly because of my current circumstances, i.e., primarily my health. For me, this is a required, but welcome sea change.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I am hooked. For the first time in many decades I only own one camera system. I sold all my other gear and Olympus is the only brand in my camera bag.
Nothing I have written here is meant to indicate that I don’t think there are plenty of fine camera brands out there. If you shoot with something else don't be offended or concerned. We live in an era when almost all cameras you can buy are very, very good. I am just saying that for me personally, based on my personal needs and use case, the Olympus is the right choice.
I am grateful to Olympus for taking the time to engineer and create this new gear. It gives me hope that I can still go on making the photographs that are important to me for many years to come. I also wanted to write this to assure anyone else who is thinking about making such a switch (whether to save money, (I sold two Canon lenses and purchased EVERYTHING I might need from Olympus) or to save size/weight, you can do it and everything will be fine.
I hope this article is helpful and encouraging, but if anyone still has concerns that I didn’t address, or needs more information feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading.
Two years ago I met a photographer named Larry Tiefenbrunn and his most of his family members. A nicer, friendlier bunch of people you’ll never meet. They run a little business that makes some of the most unusual, dynamic, and downright useful camera supports I have ever seen or used. When it comes to camera supports, we all know the problems associated with using a tripod; They are typically big, bulky, heavy and in some places they are just downright banned.
Larry’s Platypods have offered a unique (and brilliant) solution in the form of plates you can carry in your pocket or even the smallest camera bag and which can be used to secure your camera when you need a rock-solid shot.
The original Platypod was great but wasn’t quite stable enough when using long lenses on a DSLR. Then came the Platypod Max which can be used by virtually any photographer with heavy gear
Then Larry had one more idea. A new plate that was nearly as small as the original Platypod but as sturdy and solid as the Max. Enter the Ultra.
It’s claim to fame is that it is smaller than the Pro, and lighter than both of the other Platypods. The new unit will make it even easier to get very low-angle shots and shots from unusual angles.
The kit comes with a wallet for the four heavy-duty spike feet that add stability, a 20-inch strap to hold the Ultra in place and a carabiner to help you carry it all into the field.
This new model has more grip options. There are five threaded holes that you can use in any combination to secure the unit. They will work with any standard monopod, tripod or quick release plate. And the belt slots are my favorite thing about the new Ultra. While I had no trouble securing the original Platypod’s with zip ties, this is just a more elegant solution and pretty much any belt will work.
How could you use the Ultra? Well just about any place you’d use a tripod. But it also is a great solution for photographers who need a convenient, small, lightweight way to secure flash heads and other accessories on set.
It’s incredibly portable. Heck it might fit in your wallet. The accessory kit is truly valuable. The quality of all the components is off the charts. Anything Platypod makes is top-shelf.
Everyone from still photographers, to cinematographers will find this new Ultra to be a must-have acceessory.
I can’t believe that a tool which is roughly the size of a large iPhone can provide so many versatile methods of supporting my camera. And I forgot to mention, the thing weighs just 3.2 ounces! If you’re like me and been down-sizing your camera kit, something this small, light and versatile is a Godsend.
Like Larry’s other efforts, this product came to life on Kickstarter and also like Larry’s other products it blew past its goal in about a day. If you want to get in on the fun visit http://bit.ly/PodUltra.
How much do I like the new Ultra? If I could only have one camera support this would be the one. Highly recommended.
Today I take a quick look at the Moshi Arcus Backpack. The usual photo bag companies like ThinkTank, Tenba, etc. make great bags but more and more often upstart adventure bag makers are intruding on the photo space.
This bag fits into the adventure space. It’s not just a camera bag and it’s unlikely most photographers have heard of this bag.
The Arcus is different in one important respect. It’s SUPER light weight compared to most of the bags I test. It’s versatile, and can be used just as easily to carry clothes for a weekend trip as it can for camera gear.
The case is well made and has a “crush-resistant” top and padded compartment for all your electronics and cameras. It’s primarily a top-loading bag, but the side compartment works best for photographers. The bag does also have two zippered pockets on the back to handle important items such as passport and wallet. The bag comes with a sternum strap that can be removed when you pack a lighter load.
If you want to use it as a camera bag note that you must buy the camera insert (sold separately.) It’s lined with microfiber and keeps your gear safe. There are three customizable dividers.
Like most of the bags in this new class of “stylish” bags this one looks very cool and isn’t immediately identifiable as a camera bag. The trade-off is that some space which photographers might want to use for gear is sacrificed. I always find that I have more gear than these sorts of bags hold. Maybe that is the point. Maybe I should stop carrying so much crap and just head out with the basics, i.e., a camera and a laptop or tablet.
It’s a bit too small for my personal use but it is attractive (comes in tan and black) and it’s effective if you are an adventurer. Since I am anything but I will simply say that if this is your cup of tea you will be impressed.
Top-Loading Main Compartment
Side-Loading Main Compartment Panel
Full-Length Device Compartment
Fits Laptops up to 15"
Adjustable Sternum Strap
Attachment Points on Shoulder Straps
Elasticized Side Pocket
Dual Rear Zippered Pockets
Copyright Scott Bourne – shot wide open at f/1.4 (Panasonic GX8 – ISO 200 – 1/320 sec – hand held) with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 lens
DISCLAIMER: Crop factor and the associated focal length multiplier only affects field of view. I prefer to reference this as effective focal length but others use FOV. Feel free to use whichever term you like.
If you love a smooth, creamy bokeh, and you own a Micro Four Thirds (M43) camera, pay attention. THIS is the lens you really want.
It comes from the very interesting pairing of Panasonic and Leica. There are several co-branded (and fantastic) lenses in the Panasonic lineup that are worth a look and Leica has a lot to do with that. Let’s face it – Panasonic was smart to team up with the Germans. Let’s also just get this out of the way. When Leica is involved, you can immediately assume that this is going to be something fantastic. I have owned a few Leica cameras and lenses during my lifetime and every single time I touch Leica glass I feel lucky. It’s just special. When I found out about the Panasonic/Leica lenses I got very excited because I knew these lenses would be very good but, also affordable (comparatively speaking.)
This super wide lens from Panasonic/Leica is luxurious – that is the only word I can think of to describe the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 ASPH Leica DG SUMMILUX lens for M43 cameras.
This is a very special lens indeed. With an equivalent focal length of 24mm, the Lumix 12mm is the widest angle lens in the Panasonic lineup (short of fisheye lenses.)
Like all lenses that contain the word Leica, it’s expensive. Great stuff usually is. At just under $1300 it’s one of the most expensive M43 lenses you can buy. Why so expensive? You can surmise all the usual reasons but let’s start with the basics. It’s a 12-ounce, small, well-built, piece of glass offering supreme optical performance with a fast f/1.4 aperture and that will get you a higher price tag every time. But compare that with native Leica glass and you can see it’s not THAT expensive.
In the end, the most important point to be made about price is this. If it’s worth it, and you can afford it, who cares? This lens is worth it. In my initial tests, (not using scientific machines but just my highly-trained eye) I can see almost no chromatic aberration, very minor vignetting and no noticeable distortion. Even wide open! That is remarkable in a lens of this focal length.
The lens is stupid sharp, even at f/1.4. You might (MIGHT) notice some minor softness in the corners if you zoom in to 200% and look for it but it is essentially a non-issue and even the most ardent pixel peeper won’t find the slightest bit of softness by somewhere between f/2 and f/2.8. Refraction starts around f/8. (Note the stitching on the Camaro shifter at f/1.4 – very sharp and detailed.)
On my test camera (a Panasonic GX8,) autofocus is blindingly fast and also very quiet. The quiet bit will be important to those who use their M43 camera for video.
While I am constantly told in the camera forums that M43 lenses can’t deliver a beautiful bokeh, I can tell you that is simply not the case here. The Summilux 12 offers a lovely bokeh and I can’t think of a way it could be better.
Build quality, is as you would expect, very rugged and the lens has the added benefit of being splash/dustproof. The lens mount, the barrel and yes – the hood – are thankfully – all made of metal.
There is a traditional manual aperture ring on the lens barrel, which allows you to set the aperture in 1/3 steps. There are full aperture markings from f/1.4 to f/16 and the manual focus ring is easy to operate.
I have really enjoyed playing with this lens. I look forward to giving it a more detailed test later. Every time I mount it to my camera, a huge smile starts to creep across my face. It’s a true joy to use.
If you buy a fast, very wide-angle lens, you probably want to shoot it wide open as much as possible. I can’t think of any other lens in this class that allows you to do that any better than the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 ASPH Leica DG SUMMILUX. The new 12 (and the Panasonic LUMIX G Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH Power OIS Lens) are big parts of why I think people should consider switching to M43. This glass is THAT good.
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe this lens. It’s hands-down one of the best lenses in this focal range I’ve used. If you can afford it – buy it. Because it works on any M43 camera, it is a safe, long-term investment that will probably outlast you. Highly recommended.
Micro Four Thirds System
24mm (35mm Equivalent)
Aperture Range: f/1.4 to f/16
Two Aspherical Elements
One ED Element, Two UED Elements
Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
I just got my first drone. And that of course means I need my first dedicated drone camera bag. Enter my good friends at Think Tank Photo who make some of the finest camera bags in the world and their new updated Think Tank Photo Helipak Backpack V. 2.0 has just been upgraded to fit my drone which is the DJI Phantom 4.
Like all Think Tank backpacks this one is comfortable, well-designed and very sturdy. It’s been specifically redesigned to fit the Phantom 4 but based on my best estimate, it should fit any similarly sized drone just fine, DJI brand or not.
One of the first things I’ve learned about drones is that they have even MORE accessories than the average camera and thankfully, the Airport Helipak has room for all that stuff and even has a dedicated 15” laptop compartment.
The new design is carry-on compatible for both U.S. domestic or international airline travel. Its custom divider set allows maximum room for extra accessories and gear.
According to Doug Murdoch, who is Think Tank Photo’s CEO, “We updated the backpack to carry a DJI Phantom 4, a 15” laptop, controller, GoPros, chargers, spare rotors, extra batteries, jacket, tools, and more. The contoured adjustable harness with lumbar support, articulated air-channel, removable padded waistbelt, and height-adjustable sternum strap enable comfort for travel into remote areas.”
While I am personally unlikely to be traveling to many truly remote areas, the jungle known as today’s modern airport is just about the perfect proving ground for testing one of these bags. When you’re traversing an airport (or the open road) one thing that is very important is weight distribution and as usual, Think Tank has figured out how to do that just right with the new Helipak. After roaming SeaTac Airport all day with this bag on my back I wasn’t at all tired.
Like all of Think Tank’s camera bags, this one uses the best YKK RC Fuse zippers, 1680D Ballistic nylon bottom panel, metal hardware, and nylon webbing are the most durable, long-lasting materials on the market.
There is the usual side pocket for tripod attachment or water bottle and did I mention plenty of room for accessories inside?
Think Tank offers see-through mesh pockets for small accessories: rotor blades, screwdriver, cables, and just about anything else you can think of. NOTE: TSA was very invested in my supply of batteries and extra rotor blades so be prepared to make sure you are following all airline rules when you pack this thing up. Just because the bag can hold it doesn’t mean TSA wants you to bring it.
Another feature I like about ALL Think Tank bags is their handles. While this may be something that doesn’t seem that sexy to many of you, it’s one thing that matters a great deal to me. I have had bags fail at the handle. And even if they don’t fail some are so darned uncomfortable that they might as well fail. After all you will be grabbing these handles to pull the bag from overhead bins, car trunks, and gear closets. It needs to be solid AND comfortable and I can attest that the handles on the Airport Helipak V2.0 Backpack are both.
The bag is water repellant, has ultra-stretch pockets, Y-buckles and antique finish metal hardware, big hole air mesh, nylon webbing, and 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Exterior Dimensions: 13.6” W x 19.7” H x 9.3” D (34.5 x 50 x 23.5 cm)
Interior Dimensions: 13” W x 19” H x 8.3” D (33 x 47.8 x 21 cm)
Laptop Compartment: 12.6” W x 17.3” H x 1.4” D (32 x 44 x 3.5 cm)
Weight (with all accessories): 4.6 lbs. (2.1 kg)
I have never been disappointed by any bag made by Think Tank Photo and when I am torn between two brands, finding similarly situated bags, I almost always opt for the Think Tank brand because they just work.
You can order the Airport Helipak V2.0 Backpack from our partners at B&H.
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