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A LOOK BACK AT THINGS I’VE LIKED – AND A LOOK AT TODAY – AND WHAT FULFILLS MY NEED AS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND AN EDUCATOR
Over the past few years Brian and I have written about a lot of different products that fulfill our needs as photographers. Some products have gone by the wayside but some have endeared themselves to us in such a way that we would not trade them for anything. That does not mean we would not add to them, but more than likely we will never get rid of them because they are so good and so functional.
Photographer’s interests vary. Some like hiking through the woods, others urban photographers, some tabletop photographers, etc. While all of these activities are different there does remain a several constants. They are the need to make sure an image is as sharp as possible and that can only be achieved through the use of a tripod, and traveling light and that can only work if you carry less. Lastly, one will always want to access their equipment quickly so the sudden image that jumps out in front of you stands a better chance of getting photographed. Backpacks are slow and heavy and shoulder bags are not comfortable for a day out.
What I have learned over the years is to keep things as simple as I can when going out to shoot. There is always the urge to keep that one extra piece of gear which becomes another and another until it becomes a bag or a back pack full of things I think I could not possibly do with out. But now that I am older the urge for that one extra piece of gear has diminished and I have become a much smarter photographer in regards to making sure I am not exhausted if at all until after I get my personal shoot done.
My Cameras & Lenses and extras
Fuji X-e1 digital mirrorless camera. Fujinon 35mm 1.4 lens. Fujinon14mm 2.8 lens. Fujinon18-55 2.8 to 3.5 zoom lens. 2 extra charged Fuji batteries. 4 Sandisk 95mbs 16gb SD memory cards. 5 Lens Cleaner packs.
Quite often out of the above equipment I leave the 14mm and the 35mm behind. If I am going to shoot macro that day I shall only take the Body, zoom and a 100mm 2.0 Carl Zeiss manual focus lens.
A Gopro Hero 3 black activity video camera, which is quite small. In a shirt pocket small. 2 extra charged Gopro batteries, 2 Sandisk 16gb micro SD cards. A Zoom HN4 recorder / microphone to capture sounds and to record dialogue.
My Fuji X-e1, fits on a belt holster with my GoPro right next to it. Brian introduced me to the Spider Holster Company and to the Black Widow sold by SPIDER HOLSTER. The Black Widow is designed for lighter weight cameras like my Fuji and GoPro while the Spider Pro System is made for cameras like a Nikon D4 or D800 or a Canon 5d series or 1d Mark IV series. I have had belt systems in the past but nothing that fits as good as my Black Widow. Nothing has ever been this comfortable and this quick to work with. The Spider has a zipper compartment that holds my memory cards and batteries.
Take a look at the links above to see what system works for you.
Finally, tripods. I can sum it up in one word. INDURO.
Blue Ridge Workshops loans out a lot of tripods at our workshops and field trips. We have even loaned them out for students going on trips. They have all been Induro Tripods and heads that the company owns. We have their entire series of tripods from the heaviest duty carbon fiber C414 and 413’s, C314 and C313’s to the C214 and C213’s.
My favorite is the lightweight, easy to carry, easy to pack Induro C214 in combination with the Induro BHL-2 head. Fully opened without the use of the column it stands 4.3” high. With the ball head you can add about another 2 inches. For me this height is perfect. If you don’t mind using the column extended (which I do not recommend), you will get to 5 ft. 1” with the column not extended. The fully adjustable leg angles allow you to shoot solidly on all types of terrain. You can remove the column and use a short column, which will put you about 5.1 inches from ground level. Check out the Induro link above to check out what works best for you.
I carry the Induro with an Optech Tripod Strap, which really is comfortable and easy to work with.
One thing is certain. You will not find a better tripods and heads than the Induro. I know because I also own Gitzo, Really Right Stuff, which are very expensive and not close to the Induro quality and versatility.
I am guaranteed fantastic stability whether I use the Induro tripods for stills or video. The video head I use is the Benro S6.
So here is what it all boils down to.
1-Spider products for carrying a camera and lens and more, with quick access.
2-Light weight tripod and head by Induro. I do not go anywhere without my Induro
3- Video head by Benro – A must for videography
4-Optech tripod strap
5-Think Tank bags and backpacks for stowing gear in the back of my car or putting on an airplane. This is for gear I may want on an extended shooting trip but not what goes on my body. Think Tank for me is work out of storage.
One of the most popular and best selling video cameras is the Gopro Hero 3 series of cameras with the “black” model being the top of the line. The new models as well as the older models are extremely popular amongst sports enthusiasts such as surfers, skate boarders, mountain bikers, etc.
With the introduction of the 3 series the company responsible for its development made some rather giant leaps in technology. They made a camera half the size of their original that fits in the palm of your hand and can shoot 1080p-60, 720p-120, WVGA-240, 960p-100 and 1440p-48 video and those desiring a cinematic look will appreciate the ultra-high resolution 2.7KP-30 fps and 4KP-15 fps (Protune only) video modes. It has a ultra-wide single lens, which can be set to medium-wide and normal, which narrow the field of view.
It can also shoot stills at 12mp, 30 frames per second. If you shoot at 4K or 2.7K you can pull one of your video frames as a still with incredible quality. Setting up the camera for taking the image for a time-lapse video’s is a snap.
So I have begun my journey. I never cared much for movie cameras or video cameras and somewhat embraced dSLR and mirrorless camera videos but none seemed to offer the amazing creative capabilities of the Gopro Hero 3 Black. It fits easily in a shirt pocket, comes with a waterproof housing, a wireless controller, and has a bevy of accessories for mounting on a car, yourself, your dog, boat, or whatever else you want to do.
So I have begun watching all the set up videos on YOUTUBE and on the GOPRO web site and have spent quite a bit of time studying. Now comes the time to get out and start shooting with this POV (POINT OF VIEW) camera.
What does it mean to shoot point of view images or video? Well, I think it’s a shot or video that shows the subject or actions of the subject exactly as if the photographer’s brain was recording the image or images. In other words, the viewer sees the scene exactly as the photographer saw it. A camera may be mounted on a back pack, your head or chest using easily obtainable accessories.It can also be mounted on the hood of a car so that you are experiencing what the driver of the car is experiencing.
But the camera is also so much more than that, and that is what my discovery journey is about to find out.
So stand by, as this will become an ongoing article with video and sound inserts as I pursue this new creative adventure.
The majority of people that will read this article are photographers. Photographers learn something new everyday about making a picture that will grab the observer of that picture and hold their attention in attempt to extract the story that the picture represents. Remember that word story, because you will see it again.
A single image, perhaps shot multiple times to get it correctly by your expectations is what most of us are familiar with. A single image should convey a story and if you think about it the story is about what made you create the single image in the first place. It is what struck you about the moment that made you want to record it.
Now there are single images that have been taken or made for the sole purpose of having it judged which held no true meaning for your except for the fact that it would be technically correct in a judges opinion and at the same time present likeable subject as opposed to a subject with a story.
If you have watched the news over the past couple of months, this being May 2013, photojournalists who capture life in single bits at a time have presented us quick but meaningful images about happiness, sadness, tragedy, heroics. With one image they have been able to convey a whole story. Two come to mind. The Boston Marathon and the Class Five Tornado in Oklahoma. Both tragic events with single images that said it all.
Of course you are by now wondering what all of this is leading up to. The answer is not a lot. Because we are photographers or aspiring to be photographers makes us visual people. We see and observe and quickly produce a single frame in our mind and in our viewfinder and with the click of the shutter release we have frozen a moment in time, a unique moment in time never to be duplicated in the same way. An artful and historical record that hopefully will tell a story.
Over time we have become accustomed to the single image telling a story. But in a great many cases most of us, including myself have not given the proper due to the filmmakers and the video makers. They too have been telling a story, recording history. And know I am not talking about film like the “Avengers” or the “Thing Vs. Godzilla.” I am referring to people like our selves who capture still images in the form of clips. Those clips when combined and edited produce a visual record of the same events still photographers are recording but are put to motion. How they are presented is considerably more diverse than still images because they can be viewed normally, in time lapse, slow motion, fast motion, as well a different screen formats. While there are a great many differences between still and motion images, they both are designed to convey the same story just with different media.
An old friend, who is a videographer, once told me that a person should never attempt to shoot both video and stills at the same time or at the same event because it really is a left-brain – right brain challenge. He said to concentrate on one media form at a time or the results could be very disappointing. Having tried to do both I have found that while he is correct, in can be done
Almost every camera out there today can shoot stills and video with the flip of a switch and in most cases the video quality is exceptional. If you are like me you have more than likely expressed very little interest in the video capabilities of these wonderful electronic multimedia computer / machines/ cameras / recorders of life and new history in the making. I have been known to say I am a still photographer and have no need for video imaging. Of course that is speak for I do not understand video and therefore do not want to be bothered with it. That’s a bad attitude.
So I have set myself some new goals. I have decided that I am going to learn both video and sound because they really do go together. Do I want to become a video expert? No No! I do not want to be an expert. I want to be able to think in stories and produce small clips of events in combination with stills and edit them in such away to show life as I see it.
The camera gear I use for stills is Fuji X series bodies and lenses. They make incredible still images with my help. However they are not really great when it comes to video.
For video I have chosen GoPro Cameras. The Gopro Hero 3 BLACK in particular has become my go to video camera and while it is billed as a sports activity camera it can be so much more. It also fits in the palm of my hand and produces some of the best video around. In many cases it has become a go to camera for certain specialty shots in the movie industry.
For sound I have purchased several different microphones. I am not sure why but I guess I’ll find out. I have a Rode Stereo Pro, a Rode non-Stereo; Rode Lavaliere hooked up to wireless and an Hn3 Zoom recorder.
The one thing I have learned very quickly is that sound is as important as the video itself and can become even more complex.
For me I am going to dabble. I shall try to learn enough to make it artistically practical and hopefully will be posting video content as I progress with this new venture and goal.
I usually don’t obsess over camera straps and bags but I have always found using a backpack to hike was literally a pain in the neck. Backpacks are bulky and, because it is easier to take an extra lens or two rather than limit myself on the trail, usually extremely heavy. Moreover, backpacks cover my back so heat can’t escape and I sweat profusely. But most importantly, my equipment is stored on my back, not a very convenient location when I want access to my camera and, if I can’t easily access it, I don’t use it.
I tried all sorts of backpacks and nothing worked for me. So, for some time now, I have been looking for an alternative to backpacks. I tried carrying my camera in my hand and my hand went numb: I tried carry it over my shoulder using various neck straps and my shoulder hurt; I even tried carry my stuff in a little red wagon and it turned out to be not very practical. Then, last October at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City, I came across one piece of hardware-the Spider camera holster-that became the foundation of a belt system that has helped me reach hiking nirvana.
My basic hiking set-up consists of the following:
- A SpiderPro camera holster ($125 for the kit that mounts on the Steroid Speed Belt and includes the holster and SpiderPro pad to protect your hip) and Acra-Swiss Clamp ($95) from Shai Gear;
- A Steroid Speed Belt from Think Tank Photo (about $60);
- A CT214 tripod and a BH-1 ball head from Induro (about $400 for the tripod and $180 for the ball head); and
- A tripod strap (about $21 street) from Op/Tech USA.
The SpiderPro camera holster is similar to a holster for a six-shooter. My camera hangs securely from my waist and is easily removed to capture the unexpected image and replaced just as quickly. The SpiderPro consists of four parts: (1) the SpiderPro holster, (2) a belt, (3) a camera plate or, if you use Arca-Swiss plates on your camera, an Arca-Swiss clamp, and (4) a pin. When the pin, which is attached to the camera, is slid into the holster, it locks the camera securely in place but allows the camera to be easily removed by holding down a small switch.
While the SpiderPro attaches directly to the SpiderPro belt, I can’t recommend the belt. It is thin, has little padding, gets easily twisted, and doesn’t provide the support that I need when I am on a hike. It would be fine for event photographers or a walk around the neighborhood if you didn’t need to wear it too long. I prefer the Steroid Speed Belt by ThinkTank Photo. It is a very well made, adjustable belt that hugs your hips, which means your hips carry the weight and not your back or shoulders.
Shai Gear sells a SpiderPro kit that includes the holster and the mounting hardware for the Steroid Speed Belt and a kit that just contains the mounting hardware for the Steroid Speed Belt if you already have a holster. It also sells adaptor kits for the ProSpeed Belt from Think Tank Photo (a thinner, lighter version of the Steroid Speed Belt) and the LowePro Street and Field Belt.
After settling on a way to carry my camera, I still had two more problems: What tripod to carry and how to carry it? While my cameras are capable of high ISOs with minimal noise, I don’t think that high ISOs are a substitute for a tripod. A tripod not only provides a steady platform but also slows me down and forces me to carefully frame my image.
My requirements for a hiking tripod were simple: The tripod must first be sturdy and then be as light and tall as possible. However, the lightest tripods are generally not as sturdy or as tall as heavier tripods. (The tripod legs must be thick to be sturdy and thicker legs will be heavier and taller tripods must have longer legs which, of course, will be heavier.) For example, my Induro CT414 is a rock, extremely sturdy and tall, but it is simply too heavy (7.8 lbs with ball head) to carry on a five mile hike.
The answer is the Induro CT214 with a Induro BHL1 ball head. (Thank you Elliot and George for the recommendation.) While it isn’t big enough for my 600 mm, it is more than sufficient to hold any of my current cameras with a lens up to and including my 70-200mm zoom and it weighs only 3.3 lbs. (The tripod’s maximum load is 26.4 lbs and the ball head’s maximum load is 44 lbs.) The bonus is that the tripod closes to only 21 inches, i.e., air travel nirvana. The maximum height is 52.6 inches (about 4 ft 5 inches), shorter than I would like but a trade off that I am more than willing to for a total weight of 4.2 lbs and a closed length of 21 inches.
Finally, I needed a way to carry the tripod. This was easy. For a long time, I have used an OpTech tripod strap to carry my old tripod. The strap was comfortable. However, my previous strap was well worn and needed replacement. When the new strap arrived, I was in for a pleasant surprise. While the previous strap was good, the upgraded strap was great. The strap was better built and more comfortable.
So, now when I hike, my camera hangs from my belt and the tripod is slug over my shoulder. I attach a Think Tank Skin Body Bag to the belt (the side opposite of the camera to help balance the weight on my hips) and fill it with filters, potentially a wide-angle lens, remote, etc. This combination has served me very well for the past several months and, with summer coming, it means that I can combine my passion for photography with my passion for hiking.
While combination of the SpiderPro and Induro tripod isn’t perfect in every respect, I finally have a set-up that feels good, isn’t too expensive (relatively not too expensive), and provides me with all the functionality that I need when on the trail. It allows me to capture the beauty of my surroundings on a hike and yet still enjoy the hike. So, I am more likely to take my camera with me. This is, for me, hiking nirvana.
Postscript: I used “me” and “I” above because this is the combination of equipment that works best for me. Your body is different than mine and you may find another solution works better for you. You may want a taller tripod such as the Induro CT313 or CT314. As with any photo equipment, I recommend that you see and use whatever it is you are going to buy to avoid spending money on something that doesn’t work for you.
Assessing The Situation
Technology continues to rapidly change how we take pictures and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the changes. This is why it is so important to have unbiased and fair advice on new cameras, lenses, and software. My “go to” website for reviews and information has been Digital Photography Review (DPR) (www.dpreview.com). Unfortunately, due to recent events, I am looking at reviews on DPR with suspicion now.
When Amazon purchased DPR, we gasped and began fretting about how reliable their reviews would be and whether or not those reviews would reflect the ideals of Digital Photography Review or be slanted towards the corporate sales direction of Amazon.
Well those fears, in my opinion, have now been realized. DPR recently decided that, besides the reviews, forums, blogs, etc., they would also become retailers. No where does Amazon’s name appear in the DPR store or in the checkout process but I can’t imagine that anyone other than Amazon will be fulfilling the orders. The prices on the DPR GearShop look suspiciously similar to those on Amazon.
What is troubling is how honest the future reviews are going to be. Will they speak to the true pros and cons? Will the “Gold” award or “Silver” award be earned because the camera or lens or software deserves the higher score or will it be because it is a product that Dpreview wants to sell large numbers of?
Up until now, the reviews have been pretty concise and pretty honest. Up until now the forums have been anywhere from great to highly argumentative and dysfunctional.
As consumers we may benefit but I personally will have a trust issue lingering in the back of my mind. I shall always believe there may be an ulterior motive behind a high award from Dpreview.
You are the jury. Only you can decide.
I have already decided.
Keith has just returned from his trip to Cuba and the link below is to has fantastic images. One thing that strikes me, and I have made note of this before. Go anywhere else outside the western world and their is an explosion of color. Step off a plane in Europe or the USA and things look flat, monotone, lacking in color. Just an observation. Keith has truly captured a lot of the Cuban culture.
I came across this today thanks to a B&H news letter. I thought that many of you might find this an interesting set of products to look at. Click on the products menu and take a look through. We are not affiliated with Tether in anyway nor have I tried their products but they look interesting.