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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Moving Mass Quantities of Gear? This is How to Roll.

As a working pro shooter for 35 years I have pretty much worn out my shoulder schlepping gear all over the place. In the early days gear was much lighter, most of my Nikon lenses had the same 52MM front end, but now we have all of these heavy lenses and battery gripped bodies. When I put all of this gear in one case the weight gets into the thirty pound range. This is why I heartily embrace  roller bags. I have them for almost all my gear except my light stands and large tripod.

This is the Think Tank Airport 4-wheel Roller Derby for a Canon 2 body kit with 6 to 8 lenses and a laptop/tablet compartment in the lid (accessible from the exterior) . I particularly like this version over the earlier Think Tank 4-sight as it is a bit deeper. It also has the grab handles in three spots, making it easier to fit this in the airplane overhead.

This is the Manfotto Pro Light Large Rolling Organizer for my lighting equipment. In it I carry a couple of Profoto B1 heads, light modifiers and a few other accessories. I also carry a couple of reflectors in the lid as shown below.

This compact roller, the Think Tank Airport Navigator, is perfect for my Medium Format gear. It is one of the few cases that gives me the breathing space for these large diameter lenses. It holds a body and four lenses plus spare battery, charger and tethering cable. The lid interior will hold a laptop. Access is granted through a zipper front or a top panel. There is a shoulder strap as well, but I rarely use it except to piggy back another case. 

My first quad-wheel case is the now discontinued Think Tank Airport 4-sight (reviewed here 4/11/13) which I outgrew and converted to use for my speed lights with battery packs.  There are two Cheetah CL-180 kits, a Canon Speedlite 600EX with Bolt battery pack, some cables and miscellaneous accessories in this one.

These cases show two styles of wheel configurations, the traditional double and the quad wheel - actually 8 wheels in 4 sets. The quad wheel set-up is my favorite as I do not have to bear any weight on my arm and shoulder dragging it and it can be turned sideways to glide through narrow aisles on an airplane. The disadvantage of the quad-wheel is that it is free range. Let go of it on the slightest incline and it will take a stroll on its own.  I've done this a few times myself. Watching me chase the roller down a parking ramp is not a pretty sight. Maybe the next generation will have some kind of brake set, but all of the quads I have seen so far don't. Think Tank warns against piggy-backing on the Airport 4-sight as it may tip over. Challenging their premise I ignored this instruction, put a shoulder bag on the quad and watched as it fainted and tipped over. I only did that once. Currently Think Tank makes only one case with the quad-wheel configuration, the Airport Roller Derby.

As you would expect, Think Tank and Manfrotto cases are very well built. Both brands have the requisite number of lid pockets and other places to squirrel away your stash, by which of course I mean miscellaneous cables and memory cards. Yeah, that's it.

Some specifications to make your eyes glaze over.

Manfotto Pro Light Lighting Gear Organizer (Large) $337.88   Cick here to buy
39 X 17 X 11, 13 lbs. top and side grip handles, rubber wheels
NOTE: The Manfrotto Pro Light is available in three sizes

Think Tank Airport Navigator $289.75   Click here to buy
16 X 15 X 10, 9 lbs. 41" retractable handle, shoulder strap, trolley sleeve, laptop compartment,
top grab handle and front and top access.

Think Tank Airport Roller Derby  $389.75   Click to buy
14 X 22 X 9, 11 lbs., top and side grab handles, retractable handle, 4-wheel sets of 2,
Laptop and tablet compartments.

The slightly smaller Think Tank Airport 4-sight was replaced by the Airport Roller Derby
14 X 8 X 21, 9 lbs.  three carry handles, retractable telescoping handle. If you can find one used in good shape, you should grab it.

I've been using these roller cases since they first came out, I consider myself, if not an expert, at least well-versed in what I would like to see in the next generation of rollers. For one, I would like to see an off road version with large rubber wheels to jump curbs and roll across grass or gravel. Perhaps they could fold out something like my Wesco folding luggage cart and lock into place.
I'd also like to see a set of straps with Optech connectors to secure the top. When I am working on location and getting in and out of the case to change lenses, I would like to able to secure the lid without zipping and unzipping it 50 times.

Working with these cases on local assignments with my assistant is easy, but you may be wondering how I do this on my travel assignments. I pack a Gura Gear or Domke bag with clothing and keep it in my suitcase. My gear gets transported in the roller case and I put what I need, and only what I need in the shoulder bag for walking around. It works for me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beer me.

One of the best things about being a location photographer is the variety of assignments I enjoy. I get to learn a bit about things that would never cross my mind. This time it is craft breweries. I am currently working on assignment for a Virginia tourism bureau and a part of the project is shooting some of the 14 craft breweries in Loudoun County.

The range of sophistication and driving philosophy in these brewers is fascinating. Some, like Lost Rhino, are full production facilities. The physical plant is high tech and impressive.  They serve 20 beers on tap in their tasting room, have live music in the barrel room and serve food as well. In 2013 they produced over 5,000 barrels of tasty brews.

On the end of the spectrum is a house called Adroit Theory. Located in a warehouse type structure, the taproom has the vibe of a 1960's auto garage. Brewing is done in plain sight in an enclosure in the tasting.  At first I wondered about the name and learned that they are a small batch brewer producing what they describe as esoteric beers. Mango IPA, Hibiscus Saison, Smoked Porter with Serrano Pepper are good examples. The production facility looks as handmade as the beer, this is truly a labor of love. 

Another small brewer is Quattro Goombas's, an extension of the Quattro Goomba's Winery. Interestingly enough, you cannot take a beer into the wine area or vice versa. It has something to do with Virginia ABC rules, but you can bring food from the winery over to the brewery.  Housed in sort of a large metal barn with concrete floors, the venue does not have a lot of curb appeal, but it is only about 6 months old, so it is a work in progress. I believe they have about 9 beers on tap. I tried the IPA and loved it. 

Lastly, there is Dirt Farm Brewing in Bluemont Virginia. Think of this as sort of a beer lodge. With both indoor and terrace seating this venue offers a great view of the valley and hills. Brewing in 1/2 barrel lots the brewery only offers three beers on tap at a time and they are all terrific.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Open W-I-D-E ... Canon 11-24MM F4 L Field Test

Lens at 11MM 1/80 sec. @ F7.1 ISO 250
Click on the image to see a larger display

If you want a more dramatic effect - TILT!

Hi gang, I'm back. It was a long, dreary winter, but it is spring again in our Nation's Capital and I'm back out here with enthusiasm, at least until the hot humid weather hits at the end of June.

I believe I've made it clear in earlier posts that I am a prime lens shooter. I've owned zooms on and off throughout the years, but I always drift back to primes. My widest prime is the Canon 17MM TS-E, a fine manual focus lens with terrific rendering. For some time I have had the jones for something wider and was looking at the Canon 14MM 2.8 L II when Canon announced the 11-24 super zoom. 11MM with no barrel distortion? Talk to me honey!

Reading further I hit on two important negatives; a price tag of $2,999 making this Canon's most expensive wide zoom. Considering it's range and rectilinear design, I figured I can live with that.  For me, the  weight is the bigger issue, over 2 1/2 pounds, that's 11 ounces more than a Canon 5D Mk III body alone.  That adds up to a weight of 5 1/2 lbs. when mounted on a 5D III - without a grip! If you don't think that is much weight, try holding that combo with your arm outstretched parallel to the ground for a few minutes. So, the questions were, do I buy the lens? Will I get enough use out of it?  Who can I pay to carry it for me? The answers are yes, I hope so, and no one, so it goes in a roller case.

The Canon 11-24 is a visually amusing lens in some ways. It comes in a huge box to accommodate the snow globe front element, sorry- no filters on this one. Being top-heavy, 4 1/2" wide on top, just over 2 at the lens mount, it's shape reminds me a bit of a hot-air balloon and it is a bit ungainly in hand. Keeping the price tag in mind, I had a death grip on the lens as I mounted it on my 5D III. The mass of the camera acts as a good counter balance to the lens, but as I mentioned, it is quite heavy in hand.

Lens @ 11MM, 1/200 @ F11, ISO 250

Fit and finish is typical of almost any L lens, excellent. The rubber focus and zoom rings are well sized for my big hands. Drag on the zoom ring a bit tighter than the focus, as it should be. I don't expect to use manual focus on the lens except in rare circumstances. The built-on lens shade offers some protection to the front element. The well designed pinch-style lens cap, which could double as a planter for your Chia Pet, clicks securely in place. It is so easy to use I replace it between shots when I am repositioning my camera. You don't want to lose it, but surprisingly, the replacement cost of the cap is a reasonable $24.95.

As regular readers know, my primary field of interest is architecture. Getting out for the first time with this lens I was tempted to go straight to the 11 MM setting. I was taking photos at the World War II and the Jefferson memorials where tripods are verboten, which meant shooting handheld, something I try not to do when shooting structures. Lining up perpendicular and parallel handheld at 24MM is already difficult, at 11MM it is a real challenge. Fortunately, minor tweaks in Photoshop make it possible. Both Photoshop and Lightroom have custom profiles in the programs to make base corrections.

The images I am including in this article have had normal post work such as curve and white balance adjustments. The lens is tack sharp, so the minimal sharpening I do is to compensate for the anti-alias filter in the camera. I try to compose to use the full area of the sensor, but when working in horizontal perspectives this wide,  I find I need to crop some of the foreground and sometimes some of the sky as well. I have included the full width of the photos so you can see how straight the verticals lines are on the edge of the frame. As you can see, there is virtually no barrel distortion in the 11MM shots, I find this amazing.

Lens at 12mm, 1/125 @ F13, ISO 500

For me, this lens will have limited use. I prefer using it on a tripod. It will work well in tight spaces for some of my architectural work and it will be a great tool for dramatic editorial images. I don't see using this lens when I travel. Walking all day with the extra weight in my camera bag would kill my shoulder and back. My three travel lenses, the Canon 24MM 2.8 IS, the 40MM pancake and the 85MM 1.8 weigh a total of only 30 ounces, that's 12 ounces less than the 11-24 MM alone. 

For optical quality, this lens has no peer. How much you will use the lens, the cost and weight should be considered before you take the plunge and add the Canon 11-24MM F4L to your kit. 

Recommended 100 pts. for optical quality, 

90 points for everything else. 

Click here to buy the Canon 11-24MM F4 L lens