What to do when you are out in the field with amazing scenery to shoot, a handful of exhausted camera batteries, and no electric outlets in sight? Self-disembowlment comes to mind, but wait, there are better options. I was recently on an 18-day Grand Canyon rafting trip and faced with the above dilemma. One option I utilized was a small waterproof solar charging system from Voltaic. The unit I tested was a beta version as far as the waterproof housing went, but other than the housing, it used the components of Voltaic’s 17 Watt Solar Charger Kit ($265 MSRP).
I will start this giveaway announcement with a short story. Why? Because people working at LoveCases are brilliant. So here it goes. A few months ago, I was contacted by a chap named David on behalf of an UK-based camera bag and accessory store, LoveCases.co.uk. He made a proposal to me – their team would send me a bag of my choice, and I would review it for them. I had nothing against the idea, why would I? There was only one condition that I thought was important we established – no matter what it was that they sent me, my impressions would always be my own, honest and unaffected by anyone else. Just as they would be if I had purchased the product myself. And you know what? A little while later, I wrote this.
Like most photographers I have a few different gear bags and none of them seems to be the perfect solution to meet all of my needs. I further compound this problem by buying more gear, then kicking myself in the butt when my storage and transport issues get even more complicated.
Many people who own Nikon 1 camera gear have an interest in close up photography. Unfortunately at the time of writing of this article there was no 1 Nikon macro lens available. Photographers can use their DX or FX Nikkor macro lenses on their Nikon 1 bodies by using an FT-1 adapter. I’ve done this in the past with my Nikkor 105mm Micro f/2.8 and found that the resulting set-up felt unbalanced as the lens dwarfed my V2 body. The autofocus on my macro lens tended to hunt quite a bit when used with the FT-1 I for close up work. As a result I typically used it on a tripod and manually focused the lens.
When it comes to ultra wide-angle lenses, the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G is an outstanding choice, thanks to its top notch corner to corner sharpness, amazing colors and superb performance throughout the focal range. The lens has become a legend, outperforming most ultra wide-angle primes on the market in terms of resolution. As I have revealed in my in-depth Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G review, even Canon shooters have been using this lens with adapters since it is so good (and I have seen Sony A7/A7R users with this lens as well). The only downfall of the 14-24mm is its lack of a lens filter, which makes it impossible to use regular circular polarizers and filter holders. Thanks to the popularity of the lens, a number of manufacturers developed larger filter holder systems that allow mounting both polarizing and rectangular filters (such as neutral density and graduated neutral density filters). One such manufacturer is FotodioX, which developed the most popular filter system for the lens, the WonderPana FreeArc, which I am reviewing here. Although the review sample I received is for the Nikon 14-24mm lens, the FotodioX WonderPana is in fact available for a number of lenses from different manufacturers. For example, those that shoot with the Canon 14mm f/2.8L II lens can also use the same system using slightly different adapters.
The battery grip has to be the most overpriced accessory in photography. Think about it – it’s a plastic/composite case filled with batteries and a few switches – that’s it. How come a Nikon MB-D12 costs $399 and the batteries aren’t even included? The Nikon D3300 body costs a bit more and it comes with a battery (and a 24mp sensor + EXPEED 4 processor, etc. etc). Heck, for 50 bucks you can buy a similarly-sized plastic case filled with batteries and switches that has 16 programmable modes, multiple movable parts and will do a heck of a job massaging your back when you are in pain, post-processing those wedding photos from the couple that will probably get divorced before you are done. So why use a battery grip?
A fortunate event took place a couple of weeks ago – my wife Lola lost the eyecup from her Nikon Df camera (see our in-depth review of the Nikon Df). She wasn’t sure how, but it most likely just got unscrewed while she was busy photographing a wedding. Why fortunate? Because I started to look for a replacement, something I have never done before. Indeed, those eyecups usually stay attached securely on cameras and practically never come off, so this was the first. During my search, I came across the Nikon DK-17M magnifying eyepiece – something I have seen before, but never cared to use. As I was ordering the replacement eyecup for the Df (and I was getting the superior “Anti-Fog” version), I decided to also get the DK-17M and give it a try. Since I enjoy using the Nikon Df with older Nikkor prime lenses, I thought it would be a good idea to try it with those manual focus lenses. When the package arrived, I mounted it on the Nikon Df that already had Lola’s favorite Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens attached and I was immediately blown away! The 1.2x magnification made the viewfinder appear much larger and I could see everything so much clearer, that I wondered why I had never even tried one of these before. After a couple of days of using the DK-17M, I ordered a few more for each of our cameras and now I cannot imagine using my DSLRs without these handy little magnifiers!
As our readers know, we love Think Tank products. We have reviewed a number of their bags and cases and have highly praised them for their durability, quality and features (to see a list of our in-depth Think Tank product reviews, please check out this page), so when we found out that Think Tank is adding even more great additions to their existing line of strong products, we got very excited. Previously, the biggest rolling gear bag was the Logistics Manager 30, which can fit a lot of gear for a working pro. And now Think Tank added even a bigger bag, the Think Tank Production Manager 40, which is specifically designed for transporting professional lighting equipment. It is spacious enough to fit a large amount of lighting gear such as flash heads, power packs, monoblocks, softboxes and light stands. And just like other Think Tank rolling bags, we can expect the Production Manager 40 to be of superb quality.
Years ago after I purchased my first larger lens, a 300 f/2.8, I used it on a tripod with a ball head but it didn’t take me long to realize that this set up was less than ideal. If you shoot frequently with longer telephoto lenses, a gimbal head belongs in your kit. Shooting with a gimbal mount allows more freedom and mobility with the camera/lens than a ball head and it gives your arms a rest from hefting the load. On the other hand, for the price of all the gear you have purchased, you do at least get a free upper body workout. When using a ball head to support a large lens/camera combo, the weight sets on a pedestal on top of the ball head lending itself to having the ball loosen a bit and the lens flopping over. A gimbal allows you to move the gear right to left and up and down all while balanced so as to require minimal effort to maneuver the system as you track your subject. Gimbals can be either side mount or low swing arm/cradle type systems. The side mount gimbals tend to minimize materials and thus size and weight, while the low swing arm/cradle system tends to be larger and heavier with the advantage of being a bit easier to mount and balance. There are also full gimbal heads which will pan both vertically and horizontally and there are gimbal attachments that only tilt in the vertical dimension while relying on a ball head for horizontal panning.
While I do a fair amount of still photography, the majority of my client work is shooting video with my DSLR and mirrorless cameras. When buying tripods and heads I need to consider their functionality from both perspectives. As I recently added a camera jib to my video equipment arsenal, I started seriously considering a heavier capacity tripod and head. My current tripods, which are capacity rated to 17.6 lbs. (8.8 Kg), were falling a bit short in terms of providing the degree of stability that I need when shooting video. And, my existing fluid video head wasn’t quite able to provide the stability I needed when using my slider kit loaded with my D800 and a heavy FX lens. I also felt that a taller tripod would allow me to get the most out of my camera jib by capturing higher, more dramatic video scenes.