On The Ball

Having acquired a stellar small tripod last fall (Mo’ Gitzo) I subsequently needed to outfit these legs with a small-ish ball head.  What is small-ish?  It should weigh no more than 1 lb and should support a camera (with lens) of 20 lbs.

Because I equip my cameras with a quick-release system that called “Arca-Swiss compatible”, I immediately eliminate any possible choices that will not support Arca-Swiss quick-release.   (So, for example, I rule-out some tripod heads by Manfrotto, Giotto, Benro, etc.)

Markins Q3T ball head is designed with a diameter that is perfect match for a Gitzo GT1541T tripod.   However, while the Q3T is ideally suited for the GT1541T, it offers no particular advantage when paired with the GT1542T, which I have.  (If you are taller than 5’7, the GT1542T is a better choice than the shorter GT1541T

Some other possible choices include Really Right Stuff BH-30, Fiesol BC-40D, and Induro BHL1.  But, in the end, I chose the PhotoClam PC-36NS.  The size is perfectly suited for the GT1542T and it only weighs just a bit more than 12 oz (350g).  The variable friction is extremely smooth and requires no break-in period.  Includes a built-in bubble level.   $209 from reallybigcameras.com.

Three terrific ball-heads

Shown in the photo above:   Linhof Profi III  (big, very expensive, smooth like butta) with a Kirk Enterprises clamp, Arca-Swiss Z1 (the standard in professional ball heads), PhotoClam PC-36NS.


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Wildflower Book Project

Last year, I shared the beginnings of a project with you,  a book documenting the wilflowers that grow at a local buisiness park.  Since I there is not much opportunity to create new wildflower images between November and March, I had planned to begin the book layout in December.  Now February, I am finally piecing together the book layout.

In the past, I have used book layout software provided by the book printer (Mpix, Blurb, PhotoBook America).  This time, I am using Adobe InDesign.  This being the first project of any significant size for which I have used InDesign, I have found that the learning curve was not particularly difficult.  I quite like InDesign.


Here are a couple images that I am including in the book.

The first is a relatively common weed, but I find it very interesting because it looks like small green peppers.  I really like this image because it shows two slightly different stages and because the background is very soft, not distracting from the foregound subject.

Common Verbena

Click on either image for a larger view.
The second image is Common Verbena (which is not particularly common in my experience).  The flowers begin at the bottom of the flower spike and progressively bloom toward the top of the flower spike.  I really like this image because of the somewhat unusual background, which I think is not readily obvious.  There is a pool of water, with trees reflecting in it, and a grassy embankment.
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River Reflection

When snow covers the landscape like a white crystal blanket, it is an undeniable visual transformation.  But when the deciduous forests are not blanketed in white, they are dominated by greys and faded browns; it can be photgraphically challenging.

Lumix G3 - ISO 400 - f 7.1

The warm light of sunrise and sunset adds a burst of color to an otherwise bleak pallette.  And reflections in the river add an ever-changing texture that is unpredictable and full of surprises.

Somedays, I happen by the river and see something interesting.  On other days, I anticipate a visual image, with the sun low on the horizon or the changes in the ice.

Lumix G3 - ISO 1600 - f 7.1

(Click on either image for a larger view.)
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Backyard Bird Photography

In 2011,  wildlife photographer Jeff Wendoff told me that I must add wildlife to my photography portfolio.  Got some tips on basic backyard bird photography from Jeff and photographer David Middleton.  The wheels of my progress may move slowly, but they do move.

( Click on any image to see a larger view )

By end of 2011, I had prepared a place to hang bird feeders within clear view of my home windows and I hung my first bird feeder. Within two weeks, the birds began to find the new feeders.  However, having created natural perches for the birds in precise locations where I wanted them to land,  they were not perching here.

A few days ago, I saw the birds begin to perch in the places I had prepared.  When I awoke this morning, there were many birds and they were perching in the right locations.  So I photographed backyard birds for the first time.  It just so happened that snow was falling, which added an extra special touch of beauty.

Sitting next to a window and photographing from the comfort of my home, these birds are perhaps 35-ft away. I found that my telephoto lens did not have quite enough reach.  The birds appear quite small in the original images; so the photos attached here are cropped about 50% from original size.

I used a class of camera known as Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) with a 45-200mm lens at maximum telephoto (200mm).  If I had used my Full-Frame DSLR, I would have needed a 400mm lens to capture the same field of view.  That’s because the image sensor on any MFT camera is 1/2 the size of Full-Frame  (for you Nikonians out there, that means “FX” format).  To get a tighter shot, I will need big glass.


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Winter Boots

If your photography travels this winter will take you down a trail or up a mountain, here’s a short summary of winter footwear for both warmth and safety.

Winter boots are also known as snow boots or pac boots. These are designed for walking, snowmobile, hunting, snowshoeing, etc.  The fit is typically loose and comfortable.

Mountaineering boots are very stiff and the soles have little or no flex.  The biggest reason for this is to allow the use of crampons. Truthfully, most mountaineering boots are designed with emphasis on ice climbing, to the detriment of walking comfort. Most feel rather big and clunky (like the shoes of television character Herman Munster). Some have a plastic shell much like ski boots. Perhaps the most important thing to know is that not all “winter” mountaineering boots have insulation for warmth.

Some insulated boots can have insulation that is removable; some don’t. If you intend to do any winter camping, choose boots with removable insulating liner. Overnight, keep the liners close to your body so they don’t freeze up.

Insulated mountaineering boots range in price from $250 to $850. However, it is not impossible to score a pair of boots on sale for under $200. You can also get used boots at stores that accept trade-ins.

Crampons (pointy metal teeth that attach to the bottom of your boots) are most often designed for ice climbing, but some are designed for trekking (hiking/walking). Crampons for climbing typically have 12 points (teeth), though some have 14. Trekking crampons typically have only 10 points.

Not all crampons fit any boot. Crampons attach to your boots either via straps or a metal bar at the front and rear. Straps can be attached to just about any winter boot or mountaineering boot. However, it is important to note that some crampons have more flex than others. If you plan to use crampons on non-rigid winter boots, look for strap-on crampons that have a good deal of flex in the middle.

“Step-in” crampons clamp onto your boots with a metal bar or clamp at the toe and heel, requiring mountaineering boots designed for this.  See the photo attached to this post. 

Some “hybrid” crampons (also called semi-step) have a metal bar/clamp at the heel and a strap at the toe.  But as with full-step-in crampons, your boot must have the proper design to accept this type of crampon.


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Mo’ Gitzo

This week I took advantage of a trade-in program offered by Manfrotto and Gitzo, to replace my small tripod with smaller “traveller” model, small enough to pack in a suitcase.

I tend not to be brand-loyal about anything, though I have owned three Gitzo tripods. I looked at Giotto when they began offering carbon fiber tripods a couple years ago, but I did not like the fact that the leg locks require more turning compared to Gitzo. This week I looked at tripods by Fiesol (www.feisol.net); solid lightweight carbon fiber construction and 30% less expensive than Gitzo. However, with a trade-in and a rebate, the cost of a Gitzo was reduced to a price akin to Feisol. Price no longer a differentiator … I bought my fourth Gitzo. (www.gitzo.com)

In the trio of tripods shown here, notice that two do not have a center column. I personally like this configuration because the tripod can lower all the way to the ground without the center column getting in the way. The big model 410 shown here is quite heavy and is overkill for most applications. The mid-size tripod is carbon fiber, to replace the big heavy 410. The small one with center column was just replaced, but I could not justify the large price tag without trading-in the one shown here. The old tripod was more than 20 years old, made in France before Gitzo was purchased by Vitec Group.

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River Video using a DSLR and CineMover

Recently travelling through northern New Hampshire, I was driving along the Ammonoosuc River shortly before sunset.  This short video is a compilation of shots all filmed that evening along the river.  The key scene is a dolly move along a metal bridge. 

Driving that evening, I was looking for photo opportunities along the river when I spied the new bridge next to the old bridge.  Then I noticed the long smooth railing and and remembered that I had the CineMover dolly with me. 

 The CineMover is an inexpensive dolly created by J.G. Pasterjak.  Take a look for yourself here:


The CineMover is designed with vertical wheels and horizontal wheels, ideal if you have a long flat rail with a square profile.  However this railing here did not entirely favor the CineMover as the railing shape is basically a half oval.  There is nothing here to insure that the wheels track straight.  Additional care was required because the rail had a significant dent that could easily cause the rig to jump a bit.  But after several attempts, I managed to keep the rig mostly level along the 12 or 15 feet of uninterrupted rail; this move is not flawless, but it is pretty nice shot!

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Panasonic Lumix G3

A picnic this week provided opportunity for my fIrst test drive of the Panasonic Lumix G3.
I am very pleased with the ease of use and the image quality. I was super impressed by the face-detection auto-focus and the LCD-touch-screen focus selection.

 Shown here is my favorite shot, Balasankar dishing up a nice overhand serve.  As you can probably guess, I am holding the G3 over my head for this shot.  An articulated/swivel display screen is very helpful for overhead shots and also down-on-the-ground shots.  I quickly learned to love this feature on the C-5060 (very few cameras had this feature back in 2004/5) and I absolutely required it for a replacement camera. The 3-inch swivel-touch-display on the G3 is a sweet upgrade.

ISO 800, f\6.3, 1/800 sec, auto white-balance
Shot as JPG  (not RAW)

(click the image for a larger view)


And here are a couple more shots with the same 14mm lens (equivilent to a 28mm on a full-frame DSLR).


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Camera Upgrade – Panasonic G3

Across two decades, I have owned/used three film cameras, two digital cameras, and one video camcorder.  Recently, I acquired a new camera to replace my old digital compact.  The new camera is a Panasonic Lumix G3. 

The G3 is a relatively compact camera with interchangeable lenses.  It is half the size of my Canon DSLR.  The G3 is a Micro Four-Thirds camera.   Because Four-Thirds and Micro Four-Thirds are both open standards (jointly developed by Olympus and Panasonic), the camera can accept lenses from different vendors, such as Olympus, Panasonic, and Leica.

The biggest reason I replaced the old compact camera is poor low-light performance.  The old camera had a maximum ISO of 400 and was prone to a good deal of chromatic noise.  The new G3 has a maximum ISO of 6400 and the noise is far less than the old camera at ISO 400.  

The ability to record images in low-light is largely a matter of the image sensor.  Most small cameras employ small image sensors, which perform poorly in low light.  In recent years, some small-to-medium size cameras have been employing larger image sensors.  The G3 features a Four-Thirds sensor, which is about six times larger than the sensor in the old C-5060 and is half the size of the image sensor in my DSLR.  G3 has three times more pixels than the C5060, while the image sensor size is six times larger. So the individual pixels are larger; and, theoretically, larger pixels can take in more light.   But this is theory; the proof is the actual image quality.


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Wedding (part 2)

As I did previously promise to post some images, here is the first one.  As *the* photographer, I can position myself in places other people cannot and this here is a good example.  However, I try not to stand in between the guests and their view of the ceremony.  (A friend told me of a recent Indian wedding where the videographer setup his tripod directly behind the bride and groom, blocking the guest view during the entire ceremony!)

It is also a good example why I do not want to use electronic flash during the ceremony; up close like this, it would be intrusive.  The lighting here is entirely ambient light.  Any problems such as faces in shadow, can be compensated in post-processing.

(click the image for a larger view)

Wide-angle zoom @ approximately 23mm.  f\4.5  1/80sec.

I should point out that a lens can present a different perspective depending upon the particular camera.  This camera has a “full-frame” sensor and provides a wider angle of view compared to the same lens on a crop-sensor camera.  To achieve the same perspective on with an APS-C crop, I would need a 14mm lens.

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