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2 years, 8 months ago 7

My last two blog entries have started a panic!!!!  I’ve gotten several emails asking if I’m dumping my FX gear for good!!!!  The short answer is no, the long answer follows!


As my readers know, from painfully watching me gnash my teeth about what gear to choose for retirement that I’ve been obsessing, there I’ve said it, yes I have been obsessing about what I’ll use in the years to come.  On the way back from St. Maarten I took my iPad and looked at all my favorite images I store  there to share from the past 6 to 7 years of shooting digital.  I hoped it would give me a clue about that decision.  I came up with several surprising personal revelations;


1.  Some of my favorite images which I think are technically very well done, were done with cameras I wouldn’t even consider using today, D70, D100, D2x.  It’s amazing how often the teacher tells us that the gear doesn’t matter as much as the photographer, and then forgets it himself when it applies to him!!  The truth is, I’ve made images that I’m very pleased with, with cameras that don’t hold a candle to what we have available today, which has me thinking, does all the advancement matter????  Yes it does, but probably not as much as we sometimes think.


2.  It’s more about light, subject, conditions, and composition, than megapixels!  Is a D800 higher resolving than a D700?  Sure, but it may or may not matter much depending on what you are going to do with the resulting images!  Truthfully for what I do, and 800 may be overkill.  I made a lot of images I love with the trusty old D700!


3.  Weight matters.  Since I have been using compact cameras and DX cameras more, I’m having more fun, and that fun is leading to better images.  It may just be that, I’m in the first class of the Baby Boomers, but lots of my friends are also making the same transition I’m making to lighter gear!!!!  If you are weary, so is your vision!!


So am I dumping FX?  No!  I will keep a FX body and several key lenses, plus a bag full of old manual glass I still love and will play with it a lot in the years to come, but you will not likely see me carrying it for long walks and hikes!  No, I suspect I’m headed toward much lighter smaller systems in the future.


Which DX body?  I’m really loving the D7100.  I think it is a great mix of features, build and speed.  Along with lighter DX lenses I see it as a very useful tool for many kinds of work.  I think the system I featured yesterday will get a lot of work from me in the years to come.


Which mirror-less camera?  Still working on that, the field is packed with great candidates, I’ll let you know when I know!!  One thing is for sure when I see some of the images Sam Garcia takes with our Coolpix cameras, and what Zak Arias does with his mirror-less cameras, and a number of others are producing, I think we can start taking the smaller cameras, a lot more seriously!!!


The picture above?  My iPhone 4s, point made, and I hope, point taken!!!!!!




the pilgrim

2 years, 8 months ago 19

I started this series yesterday with my doctors orders to reduce the weight of my gear.  We dealt with the tripod yesterday now how to cut back on camera gear or at least reduce the weight!!  First I’m a big believer in a system I call the trunk bag!! I own a medium size SUV, a Toyota FJ Cruiser and it has a lot of storage space in the back, and is easy to work out of, but when you have to walk things change! If I have to walk more than the length of a football field a new system is needed.  Reducing the weight of your bag or backpack can be done several ways!   The first is get a bag that rolls!!!  I own several and love them for airports, checking into hotels and on short walks over smooth surfaces, they don;t work so well on a trail in the woods!!!!  So for a carry system, wheels are out.  That leaves shoulder bags, back packs, and belt systems.  I’m going to deal with belt systems in a different entry, so lets look at shoulder bags and backpacks.  You can carry a lot more weight comfortably with a back pack than with a shoulder bag, but remember this isn’t about how to carry more, but how to carry less weight!!!


You have to start with your gear. How much is enough for general photography?  For the purpose of illustration, let’s plan an imaginary trip, actually lets take a trip I’m planning to go on next year; Italy.  Sherelene and I have always wanted to visit Tuscany and the Italian coast (seen Scott Kelby’s images from there, gotta go!!!)  I expect to be walking around enjoying time with Sherlene and don’t want to look like I’m on assignment for National Geographic.  So what do I have to have to not miss those once in a life time shots????  To keep weight down I want one body to carry, it has to be as small as possible, say a Nikon D7100 which being a DX sensor camera is pretty small compared to the bigger beefier FX models.  I need a lens that gets me from at least pretty wide, to midrange, and then a telelphoto zoom to reach out and some way to do close-ups!


As of today, my absolute minimum system would be:


D7100 camera body

16-85 AF-S VR f 3.5-4.5 lens (24-120 equivalent range)

70-300 AF-S VR f 4.5-5.6 zoom lens  (105-450 equivalent range)

A diopter to put on the lenses for close-ups and polarizers on both lenses, and lens hoods.

That is the bare minimum, if I weighed the bag and thought I could carry anymore, I would opt for the Nikon 10-24 AF-S f 3.5-4.5   (15-36 equivalent range)


Total Weight?



7 pounds!  With a mirror-less system it might be 5 pounds!  Now we are making some progress.  So how are we going to carry this new lighter system, here are some ideas!


Before we start let me share with you that I am not sponsored by any single camera bag company.  I couldn’t do that because I’m a proud member of the “Bag of The Month Club”  I love a number of bags as you will see in this entry.  I do have a long history with Lowepro, Think Tank, and Domke, and all of these folks make great bags and I have put them to the test, in-the-field, and they are all on my highly recommended list!  You can’t go wrong with any of these fine brands….



Let me start with one I love for the Mirror-less systems, the Lowepro Flipside Sports Series AW, they look like a hikers travel backpack, are extremely well made and very comfortable to wear, with great ventilation in the back and shoulder straps



The next is the popular Messenger type bag, from Lowepro.  This one is called the Lowepro Messenger 160 and it holds the DX system perfectly, with lots of extra space for accessories, but be careful, you can be load it up very easy and increase that weight!  It’s a very handsome bag, almost dressy!


Next the great folks at Think Tank have two wonderful messenger type bags as well, they have a great in the field, rougher look and as everything they make are top notch build as well,  they are the Retrospective 5 and 10.   The 5 is great for a very small mirror-less camera and a couple of lenses and the 10 can handle a bigger mirror-less system or the DX system we assemble above.  I got them in Pinestone, a color I love!



Well there are some ideas to chew on as you try to reduce the weight and burden of your camera system in-the-field!   I’ve been working lighter for a few months since that doctors appointment, and to be honest, the simpler system is helping me make better images!  A great bonus along with that is less shoulder,  and back pain!  Can’t beat that!




the pilgrim



FLASH – I already have gotten an email from a friend saying,  ”Surely you’re not dumping all your FX gear, D800/D600 etc, etc, and all those juicy FX lenses!!!???”  Take a deep breath, nope, but I simply can’t lug them around in the field on my shoulder, or on my back anymore.  Just can’t do it. So I plan to own a FX body, still working on which one,  the 16-35, 24-120, and 70-300 still  have a special place in a Domke shoulder bag which will now become a trunk bag.  When my assignments, both self or otherwise, requires FX type equipment it will be close-by ready to go to work.  The truth is I’m finding the new D7100 and mirror-less cameras to be so good that I don’t think I’ll be reaching for the FX gear as much in the future, but it will stay around until that is fully confirmed in practice.  Please keep in mind this is a medical and joy decision.   I’m feeling less pain with a smaller bag, and getting better images when I feel great, late in the day!  Now before I get any alarmed responses, I’m not having a bout with any life threatening disease, and have not been diagnosed with anything other than too many birthdays pilling  up!!  I feel great,  I just need to take better care of myself so I will continue to feel like getting out and shooting up a storm!!!!




2 years, 8 months ago 15

I’ve been on a tear to lighten my camera bag!  It all started a few months back when my doctor asked if I would like to have some more shoulder surgery!!!???   I said no way, and he said then stop carrying a 25 pound camera bag!  So I’ve been working on how to lower the weight, it’s an ongoing process!  My tripod, which is my constant companion was another thing all together!   Those of you that know me, know I live and breath by a tripod!  I’ve often said the only person that can hand hold a camera completely steady, rigor mortise has set in!  If you have a heart beat you’re moving…..  So how to get a really sturdy tripod that cuts the weight in half???  Thankfully in the last decade a lot of progress has been made in tripods!  My go to, everyday, tripod is an old Gitzo 1348 Carbon Fiber 3 series, it has served me faithfully for almost twenty years!!!!  I own other tripods and use them for special applications but they almost never travel with me, just too big and too heavy!  So recently I picked up two new smaller, but still very good quality tripods for my new lighter travel system.  First why not another Gitzo?  Well, frankly cost.  There is not questions that, at least in my opinion, Gitzo is still king of the hill, but they are not cheap.  I have several friends that were using a couple of other brands and spoke highly about them, so I bought two different ones, and like them so much I’m keeping both!!!  Ugh, more weight!!!!!


The first is the Induro CT-214.  the legs alone are around $400. and it is extremely well made and feels very substantial, yet has shaved several pounds off my normal Gitzo carry tripod.  I’m using the Really Right Stuff  BH-30 head and it works great and has really reduced the weight.  It’s also short enough collapsed to fit in most of my suitcases which is a big plus for travel.  I bought the shorter center post so I could take it almost to the ground, a must for me.  I do also own the Kirk Low Pod, which I find great for ground level close-up work and for close-ups in the studio!  My friend Vincent Versace loves his Induro and I’m glad I took his recommendation, this is a great and affordable tripod!


Another shooter and good friend, David Akoubian, showed me his Vanguard tripod which had a very unique feature which I’m finding very valuable, a tilting center post for extending the camera out over the subject.  When I first was shown the feature I didn’t think much of it, then a friend, Eric Wojtkun,  made a killer shot at the Southeast Train Museum with a tripod that had the same feature, when I saw him use it and saw the shot, below, I was hooked!  This tripod I picked up is the Vanguard Alta Pro 254 CT and it is another big time winner!  Just like the Induro it is made of high quality carbon Fiber, has great one twist leg locks, and the center column tilting feature works super easy.  For around $320 it is another steal!!  It is slightly smaller than the Induro which is not a bad thing, yet  it is very sturdy and well built.  It came with their BBH-100 ball head that accepts Arca Swiss plates, it is very well made, and functions solidly!

By being able to make the center post go out or down you can get a new angle on the subject as Eric did on the model train shot below!!  While I would not recommend hanging a D4 with a big lens out to the side a smaller camera like Eric’s Pentax K-5 can be supported very well indeed.  By placing the camera over a barrier and right over the subject Eric was able to make a shot I wanted but could not make with a conventional tripod I was using!!!


I think these kinds of devices can be more useful than I had imagined when using a smaller camera.  Thanks Eric for opening my eyes to another great way to approach and make a shot!!!


Here is Eric’s wonderful HDR image!



So the moral of the story is, if you can’t foot the bill for the most expensive tripods out there, we now have some very capable and affordable alternatives!  Now if I can just figure out what to leave out of my camera bag or reconfigure my carry system, maybe I won’t be doing any more surgery!!!!!




the pilgrim




Epilogue:  After publishing Eric’s image, he sent this one from our recent workshop, just too good not to be the ending shot! 



2 years, 8 months ago 6



Well, what a week!!!!  I’ve had a blast working with all these great shooters and being on this wonderful Island!  I had this last morning on the beach to prove to myself what I’ve learned.  The shot above is the money shot, the one that got a way all week, thankfully on the last day, I got it!!!! I shot from the beach just to the right of the active runway.  I shot 6 fps burst, up to 18 frames of each plane that came in, best shots below.   At the very end you can see the full 18 frame burst on the KLM 747 above.  Tonight we pack and fly out tomorrow, so this will be last post from St Maarten.  I sure hope someone from Nikon comes down next year to enjoy this great event!  The Latin American Nikon team, the Boolchand’s Camera crew, the St. Maarten’s Tourist Bureau, and Robby were all great!!  If you like airplanes, the Caribbean, and want a great vacation attend this event next March!!!


Well there you have it, practice pays off!  And to finish this trip right I went over to try the claimed “Best Burger on St Maarten!!!”  And I concur, in the states, it would have been a solid 4 pickle scale burger!




Blessings from St Maarten!


the pilgrim