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Friday, June 24, 2016

It's time to say goodbye

I started Foto Gizmo Plus a little over three years ago as the successor to a blog I had on Wordpress. The idea behind the blog was to offer information on equipment I used in my work, that I bought with my own money. I had nothing loaned or given to me, I wanted no questions about bias.

Now as you would imagine, I couldn't keep buying gear just to write postings, so in the past year the number of postings decreased. I've also been busier in my assignments and working on my book project so those things considered, I think it is time to wrap this project up. I am going to leave the blog online for awhile. I noticed a number of the earlier posts are still being read, that's nice, I like that.

Now get out there and make some photos. 

- Aboud Dweck

Travel Tripod by Benro

Photographers beware! There is a conspiracy afoot to empty your wallet.  Photo retailers have been running “Deal Zone” specials to further exacerbate the dreaded disease - G.A.S. - gear acquisition syndrome. I have fallen victim to this nefarious scheme several times. I’ve saved a ton of money on things I will never use in my work.  The good news is that every now and again I find an item I can use, making me feel smart. Most recently it was the Benro Travel Flat carbon fiber tripod. 

I like to take a tripod when I travel and it often isn’t convenient. My primary tripod is a Gitzo  carbon fiber with the Arca Swiss D4 geared head on it. It is great on my architectural assignments but ungainly walking round. When I’ve traveled with it I have had to disassemble it, removing the head and column to fit in my suitcase. The design of the fold-flat feature reduces its mass, it has no center brace and is less than 22” long folded. Instead of a traditional column positioned between the legs it has an add-on column giving 12 “ of rise when needed. The tripod extends to 57” without the column, 69” with it in place. The add-on column is a bit inconvenient. To use it the ball head has to be removed, the column screwed into place and the ball head replaced. The column collapsed is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. One of the tripod legs can be removed and repurposed as a monopod, a useful feature at times, the weight of the kit is about 4 lbs. with the included ball head. I forgot to mention that a nice carrying case comes with the tripod.

The fold-flat tripod comes with a Benro IB1 Triple Action head. It is Arca-Swiss compatible and can handle a 17 lb. load, which is quite impressive given its small profile. It has a bubble level, separate knobs for ball movement and 360 degree panning and a friction control knob. Enough with the specs, on to performance. 

When I first picked up the tripod I wondered how stable it would be. It felt a lot lighter than my Gitzo, dare I write flimsy. I was also concerned with the ball head, again it felt lighter in build than other ball heads I have owned. Would this rig be safe for my full size DSLR and a 3 lb. lens? All of this apprehension disappeared when I extended the legs, locked them in place and leaned on the tripod. The legs held position. I then put my favorite camera, the Leica S with the 70MM lens in place … and held on for dear life. For the first few minutes I kept the strap around my wrist and was tethered to the camera and tripod. As I started to use the ball head I grew more confident and let go. The tripod is stable. 

This photo of the Golden Gate Bridge was taken at 7/10ths of a second, F8, ISO 400. There is no movement at all. 

As you might expect, this Benro does not have the fit, finish and feel of a Gitzo, it also does not have the hefty price. The leg locking collars do feel a bit lighter making me wonder about their longevity, but so far they have worked well. I’m not crazy about the included ball head, I find the range of the friction control a too small. It seems to go from tight to loose quickly, a bit troublesome when a hefty camera and long lens is in place. All that said, this was an incredible value when B&H put this tripod in the Deal Zone for under $200. This time I’m glad I clicked on “Buy Now” 

Recommended 93 points

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wild Wide Angle - the Rokinon 12MM 2.8 Fisheye

When it comes to lenses I typically stick with OEM. The exception to that being optics that are better than OEM like the Schneider Tilt/Shift lenses I have for my Canon. That said, B&H ran one of those, "hey, you can't turn this down" Deal Zone specials on the Korean made Rokinon 12MM 2.8 Fisheye. I've played with the idea of a bent perspective lens every now and then, but the thought of spending two grand  for a lens that would get little use put me off. I figured for 400 bucks or so, it was quite a deal and there would be a strong fun factor. 

This is a fully manual, unchipped lens. It is slower to work with and a bit more involved, it does not have focus confirmation or transfer EXIF data. I am a stickler for fit and finish, so off the bat, I can tell you the lens shade is a bit of a sloppy fit. That was the only apparent weakness I found on first inspection. The focus ring is smooth with the proper amount of drag, the aperture clicks nicely into each 1/2 f/stop position. Note, it jumps from 2.8 to 4 with no mid-point, there are half way clicks between each f/stop thereafter. The metal lens mount looks good and the rear cap fits nicely. It isn't a Zeiss lens, but the build quality is quite good. 

When I got the lens I set up a shot in my apartment, that, on first inspection, looked good. When I viewed it at 100% on my laptop, I found the left side of the frame soft. Everywhere else, things looked good. I immediately got a return authorization from B&H and asked for an exchange. A few days later the second lens arrived and it displays even resolution side to side. OK, so Rokinon has quality control issues, but this one looks like a keeper.

I'm finishing up a book on Washington, D.C. It is architectural in its nature, with many shots done with tilt/shift lenses. I thought this lens could bring a different perspective to the narrative, so I took it out with the idea of creating alternate shots of locations shot with other super-wide lenses.

The following two shots of the Neptune fountain at the Library of Congress were taken a day apart. I took the shot below with the Canon 11-24MM set at 12MM as the sun lowered in the sky, lighting the top of the structure with soft sunlight and diffused light filling the foreground along with the fountain's lights. 

This second shot was made a day later, late in the afternoon using the Rokinon 12MM.  I do like the drama of the shot, so I figured it was worth a bit more exploration. 

The Washington National Cathedral is a great venue for architectural photographers. Here is an alcove shot with the fisheye, followed by shot with the Canon 17MM TS-E. 

Finally, there is a shot of the Pacific arcade and fountain at the World War II Memorial on the Mall. The first done with the fisheye, the second with the Canon 17MM TS-E. 

This last shot of the WWII fountain was cropped and some perspective correction applied eliminating the fish eye look. It would be better shot with the 11-24MM zoom. 

For this post I shot architectural alternatives. Of the three images, I would use the shot of the Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress, and possibly the Pacific arcade and fountain. I look forward to experimenting with landscapes and some street shots. I think there are a number of possibilities. 

My impression of the lens overall is positive. The sharpness holds well, the resolution - keep in mind that I am not a pixel-peeper - seems quite good and holds up in shots near and far. The color rendering is not Leica's or Canon's but it does seem good with minor tweaks in CS or Lightroom. Drawbacks are lack of EXIF data and focus confirmation. Chromatic aberration is also an issue in some higher  contrast images, but is well controlled with post-processing in LR or CS. All in all, it is what I would expect of a 12MM 2.8mm for such a low price.  A chipped version of the Rokinon 14MM is available. I would have liked this option on the 12MM as well.

Speaking of dimensions, the lens is fairly light for a 12MM F2.8F at only 18 ounces, with a small footprint. The petal lens shade is permanently fixed but it is not filter friendly. 

With caveats for quality control and lack of a chipped model, I would give this lens - 

Recommended, 89 points