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Brown Booby in flight, Cayman Brac
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 90mm
ISO 500, f6.3 @ 1/5000 sec.

Originally released in August of 2010 the Nikon 28-300mm VR lens has to be one the most versatile lenses available. Often you can find this lens in the used gear department for approximately $700 CDN. Like most folks, before I purchased this lens for my own gear bag I read several on-line reviews. I did not believe that the lens could really be as bad as folks were leading on. Here is a selection of some items that I noted during my internet readings:

  • softness in the center, sharpening up out towards the corners, and the some more corner softness
  • stopped-down results are downright blurry at the telephoto end of 300mm @ ƒ/36)
  • the 28-300 isn’t a really sharp lens and the corners are mush
  • zoom range exhibited shockingly poor off-axis image quality
  • is not a pro level lens nor one I’d use for critical shoots
  • I’m assuming this lens was defective as I couldn’t get a sharp picture no matter how hard I tried

I determined that in order to find out for myself I would need to add this lens to my gear bag. Right before I boarded the plane for my Cayman Brac Photo Tour in February I did just that. It is now one of my most favorite lenses. The lens does have one annoying habit, or at least my copy does. When the lens is pointed downward the zoom creep is very evident. Nonetheless, my honest opinion is that this lens does produce stellar results when good technique and creative vision is applied. Often I can be found in-the-field with my 28-300mm lens attached to one of my Nikons ready to capture those fleeting moments where changing lenses is not an option. The 28-300mm range is perfect for such circumstances.

I have never been one to trust the so-called internet experts. I much prefer to take gear out into the field and put it to the test. A real world review illustrating the quality of the lens with photographic examples.

Having the ability to zoom from 28mm to 300mm is a definite plus. On Cayman Brac I was able to photograph nesting Brown Boobies at close range and then quickly zoom out to 300mm to capture Brown Boobies in flight as they approached the cliff edge on their return to their nests.

Brown Booby pair at the nest, Cayman Brac
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 55mm
ISO 800, f8 @ 1/400 sec.

I also find the lens to be a powerful tool for my landscape work as illustrated in the below image of a winter wheat field at sunset near my rural home in Thornton, Ontario. A Singh Ray 3-stop reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter was also used in the capture of the sunset scene below.

Winter Wheat at Sunset, Thornton, Ontario
Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 82mm
ISO 100, f16 @ 3 seconds.

Having a minimum focusing distance of a mere 1.6 feet throughout the entire zoom range is also a huge bonus to my frog photography. In the past I would have to switch lenses to create my signature frog-scapes and close-up portraits. With the Nikon 28-300 I can simply zoom the lens from wide to telephoto and create both scenarios in mere seconds, as illustrated in the two Bullfrog images below.

Bullfrog, Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 48mm
ISO 500, f8 @ 1/800 sec.

 

Bullfrog, Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 300mm
ISO 500, f8 @ 1/640 sec.

While photographing Wood Ducks in Toronto, Ontario I am also able to create stunning portraits and close-up feather details due to the short, minimum focusing distance. While I was photographing feather details of a Wood Duck hen that had chose to sit beside me on a particular outing I had noticed that a lovely drake Wood Duck had also come into close proximity allowing me to zoom out and create a tight head shot of him. The versatility of the Nikon 28-300mm lens allowed me the opportunity to create both these images without the need to switch lenses , which would likely had caused one of the two birds, or both, to move further away.

Drake Wood Duck, Toronto, Ontario
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 300mm
ISO 2000, f5.6 @ 1/250 sec.

 

Hen Wood Duck Feather Details, Toronto, Ontario
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 300mm
ISO 1000, f11 @ 1/80 sec.

While walking along the shoreline of the Caribbean Ocean in Cayman Brac I came upon a dead crab. The shell of the dea crab was beautifully colored with interesting details too. To create the below macro shot of the crab shell details I used my Canon 500D Close-up Filter on the Nikon 28-300mm lens and stopped down to f22. There is some minor softness in the extreme corners of the image but this is due to the curvature of the shell. Ideally I should have used the focus stacking method to gain perfect sharpness in the corners.

Crab Shell Details, Cayman Brac
Nikon D500, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 300mm
Canon 500D Close-up Filter
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/40 sec.

For those of us longing for some cooler temperatures in this heat wave, I have included a winter river detail image from my Muskoka Winter Waterfall Spectacular Workshop this past January 🙂

Winter River Details, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens @ 300mm
ISO 100, f16 @ 1.6 sec.

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Manfrotto Pro Light Redbee-210 Camera Backpack

For the last few months I have been using a new camera backpack for my nature excursions as well as my commercial photography assignments. Enter the Manfrotto Pro Light Redbee-210 Camera Backpack. When I head out on a commercial shoot or into the wilderness it is of the utmost importance to me to have two camera bodies and a wide assortment of lenses on hand and ready at a moments notice. The Manfrotto Pro Light Redbee-210 camera backpack allows me to do just that.

I do not normally carry a laptop or tablet with me on single day commercial assignments, but the Redbee-210’s back panel is designed to accommodate both for extended assignment work whereby I would need to carry such devices.  Not only have I found the Redbee-210 to be very versatile but it also provides me with the peace of mind that my gear is protected during periods of inclement weather due to the water repellent nature of the specially coated fabric and included rain protector. The flexible dividers to separate and protect the gear are easily changeable to suit the needs of any assignment. The Redbee-210 is also designed to be compliant with standard carry-on luggage requirements (as airline restrictions change this may also change).

I am able to easily pack the following gear for a typical nature excursion inside the bag:

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D500
  • Nikkor 200-500mm Lens (attached to the Nikon D500)
  • Nikkor 18-35mm Lens
  • Nikkor 28-300mm Lens
  • Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
  • Laowa 12mm Zero D Lens
  • Filters, memory cards, cable release, camera batteries are stored inside the customized back panel

The main access to the gear bag is accomplished by unzipping the back panel, which in my honest opinion is a design I wish had been thought of sooner. I cannot recall how many I have had to set my bags down in wet, mucky soils. With this new design the back panel stays relatively clean and dry so that it is comfortable to put on again after setting it down. After unzipping the main back panel you will then see that your camera gear is protected by a second zippered mesh system. This is a very nice feature that I have found helps to protect gear from debris during blustery conditions.

Redbee-210 Showing Back Panel Opened and Zippered Mesh System

 

Redbee-210 Showing Both Back Panel and Zippered Mesh System Opened

The shoulder straps are large and well padded for superior comfort and offer a sternum strap which I find invaluable on long hikes for the added comfort it provides. There is also a waist strap that is wide enough to be comfortable.

Redbee-210 Shoulder Straps

When the need to access gear must be swift there are also three external openings that will allow you to grab your your camera and lens combo very quickly. I have optimized my Redbee-210 to allow me to grab my Nikon D500 with the attached Nikkor 200-500mm lens through the top access opening. When one of those fleeting moments in nature occur I can simply unzip the top opening and pull out the camera and lens combo and am ready for the action.

Redbee-210 Top Opening Zipped Shut

 

Redbee-210 Top Opening Unzipped

The other two quick access openings are located on each side of the bag, near the bottom. Depending on how you customize the interior of your pack it is possible to have two camera bodies with lenses attached and positioned at a quick access opening giving you speedy access to two separate cameras when the need may arise.

Redbee-210 Quick Access Side Opening

The side, quick access opening have both zipperes and quick connect snaps for added security. All zippers on the Redbee-210 also have a pull tab which makes closing the zippers very quick and efficient.

Redbee-210 Zipper Tab and Quick Connect Safety Clip

In my honest opinion the Manfrotto Pro Light Redbee-210 Camera Backpack is a prime example of quality, durability and efficiency being well thought out and implemented during the design phase of this pack. I am able to carry my gear in total comfort down remote wilderness trails knowing that I am ready for anything at the spur of the moment.

 

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Lower Rosseau Falls on the Rosseau River, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f11 @ 1/6 sec

 

In the summer of 2016 Venus Optics released the Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D lens, the world’s fastest 12mm lens available for full frame cameras. The Zero D designation stands for zero distortion. Recently I purchased one of these lenses for both commercial and landscape photography. The Laowa 12mm lens is a fully manual lens (exposure and focusing). The Exif data recorded for images created with this lens will show no value for f-stop used or focal length of the lens, but that is by no means a deterrent to using this lens. All metal construction give this lens a “built like a tank” feel. It is also a very small lens and light weight at only 609 grams!

Hatchery Falls on the Skeleton River, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f11 @ 1/6 sec

While this is not intended to be a lens review I will mention a few of things I like and dislike about the lens. First of all, light fall off is very acceotable and virtually disappears as the lens is stopped down. Chromatic aberration is also very well controlled and any that does become visible is easily fixed by simply checking the Remove Chromatic Aberration box in ACR. As mentioned the lens is an all metal build and this includes the two lens hoods. Yes I said two lens hoods. The lens has a small built-in lens hood that helps to protect the bulbous front element and there is also a removable petal-style lens hood as well. A disappointing note about the removable lens hood is that it causes slight vignetting. I simply choose to not use the removable lens hood when photographing with this lens, although at some point I will likely modify it so that it can be used with no vignetting.

Lower Rosseau Falls on the Rosseau River, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f11 @ 0.3 sec

The front element of this lens has what is called a “Frog Eye Coating” for repelling dust and water. What I have noticed with the coating is that water droplets will bead on the front element and can thus be easily wiped off the lens. I love this feature!

Does the lens live up to the claim of zero distortion? Yes! If the camera is square with the world straight lines will be straight. When you point the camera up or down you will notice that trees will have a tendency to lean in or out depending on the angle at which the camera is pointed, but this common to all wide angle lenses so it is not really a downside to the lens.

Oxtongue River, Dwight, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f16 @ 1/8 sec

 

Hatchery Falls on the Skeleton River, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f11 @ 1/13 sec

As mentioned this lens is a manual focus lens. It also has an excellent hyperfocal scale engraved on the lens barrel that can be reliably used for focusing the lens. I simply compose the scene before, dial in my chosen f-stop, set the hyperfocal distance on the lens barrel, and click the shutter – everything from near to far is in sharp focus. To learn more about hyperfocal distance please click here for an excellent article that explains it in depth and how to apply it to your own photography.

Lower Rosseau Falls on the Rosseau River, Muskoka, Ontaro
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 50
f16 @ 1/10 sec

The Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D lens will not accept filters due to the bulbous front element, but there are specialized filter holders available that will permit the use of polarizers and 100mm square or rectangular Graduated ND Filters or ND filters. I am currently awaiting the arrival of the NISI filter holder and will post a review of the functionality of that filter after I have had a chance to  put it to use. Today’s images were all created without a polarizing filter. I would normall prefer to photograph waterfalls and rivers with a polarizing filter.

Lower Rosseau Falls on the Rosseau River, Muskoka, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f11 @ 1/5 sec

 

Oxtongue River, Dwight, Ontario
Nikon D800, Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D Lens
ISO 100
f16 @ 0.3 sec

If you are looking for an affordable, extreme wide angle lens for your full frame camera then look no further. The Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero D lens will produce razor sharp imagery at a fraction of the cost of the Canon 11-24mm or Sigma 12-24mm lenses and at a fraction of the weight.

Please do click on each of the images to view the larger, sharper versions.

 

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Ewa Marine U-B100 Underwater Housing

During previous trips to the Caribbean island of Cayman Brac, in the Cayman Islands I used a Sony RX100 in a dedicated underwater housing with very good success. On my most recent trip I decided that it was time to take my Nikon D800 & Nikon D500 into the ocean, however, I could not really justify the expense of a dedicated housing for these cameras at this point in time. Since I would only be using the cameras while snorkeling, I was planning to rely solely on ambient light for underwater photography. After a bit of research I decided that an Ewa Marine underwater housing would be my choice of housing for the recently concluded trip to Cayman Brac. I purchased the Ewa Marine U-B100 housing which is designed for use with professional cameras and for lenses with a filter diameter of 77mm or 82mm. The housing comes with the 77mm adapter (the 82mm adpater is optional) that allows you to firmly position the lens inside the lens port and flush against the optical glass element. The Ewa Marine housing is made from special, multi-layered, laminated PVC to ensure safety and durability and all seams are double welded. Two rails are fastened together by means of three thumb screws to securely close the opening to the housing. There is a sepcailly designed pocket molded into the design for your finger to reach the shutter release button on the camera. All other functions are accessed through the thick laminated PVC – a difficult but not impossible task.

Spotted Stonefish, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D500
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 32mm (48mm effective focal length)
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/125 sec

On my first snorkel trip with the Ewa Marine housing I quickly discovered that I had left too much air in the housing and was subsequently very hard to dive down with the housing. I opened the housing and using a straw sucked out as much air as I could and then re-sealed the housing, which worked perfectly.Ewa Marine does sell an optional lead weight that goes inside this housing and after using the housing for a couple of weeks I believe that the weight would be an added benefit to using this housing.

Southern Stingray, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D800
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 23mm
ISO 500
f16 @ 1250 sec

As I researched this particular housing via blogs and You Tube videos there was a common theme. One was that the lens adapter was very difficult to fit against the optical glass port and the other being virtually impossible to operate camera controls and zoom lenses. I had no difficulty whatsoever fitting the lens into the lens port and while camera functions are more difficult to adjust I was able to make exposure adjustments and zoom the lens as required while underwater.

Peacock Flounder, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D500
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 32mm (48mm effective focal length)
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/200 sec

I used both my Nikon D800 and Nikon D500 cameras with no issues at all. My lens of choice for use in the housing was the Nikkor AF-S 18-35mm lens which did vignette slightly, at 18mm, on the Nikon D800. When the lens was zoomed to about 20mm the vignetting disappeared. I chose to use the 18-35mm lens as it focuses down to 12 inches throughout it’s focal range. In underwater photography the closer you can get to your subjects the better the image quality will be. You must minimize the amount of water between you and your subject for better clarity.

Octopus, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D500
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 34mm
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/160 sec

I am looking forward to using the housing on Horseshoe Lake this summer where I will use it for frog photography and freshwater fish imagery too. If you are curious about trying your hand at underwater photography I would highly recommend an Ewa Marine housing to get you started. I purchased my Ewa Marine U-B100 housing from B&H Photo. Please note that I am in no way affiliated with Ewa Marine or B&H Photo. I simply wanted to provide you with an honest, real-world review after my experience with this housing.

I am often amazed by the ability of ocean fish to superbly camouflage themselves. This is especially evident in the highly venomous Spotted Stonefish, a member of the scorpionfish family. Fortunately Stonefish only use their venom as a means of self-defence, however, accidentally stepping on one does mean a trip to the nearest hospital!

Please do remember to click on each photo to see the larger, sharper version. Which one is your favorite?

Barracuda, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D800
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 28mm
ISO 500
f11 @ 1/320 sec

 

Spotted Stonefish, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D800
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 34mm
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/200 sec

 

Southern Stingray, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D500
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 34mm (51mm effective focal length)
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/320 sec

 

Octopus Inking, Cayman Brac
Nikon D800
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 24mm
ISO 500
f11 @ 1/400 sec

 

Spotted Stonefish, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D800
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 34mm
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/400 sec

 

Spotted Stonefish, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Nikon D500
Nikkor 18-35mm @ 24mm ( 36mm effective focal length)
ISO 500
f16 @ 1/160 sec

 

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I’d like to announce an awesome eBook entitled “ONE IMAGE” authored by good friend, fellow photographer, and colleague Kyle McDougall. ONE IMAGE is a 196 page eBook that is full of inspirational landscape photographs, all created using Kyle’s one image methodology with stellar results. As Kyle states within the early pages of the book: “In a nutshell, the One Image process is the act of setting out to create only a single photograph while on location, or at the very least, exhausting all of your options before moving on to the next.”

In this day and age where it seems photographs are judged by the number of likes they receive on Facebook or Instagram. ONE IMAGE is thought-provoking, adaptable and flexible concept that reminds us to slow down, become one with nature, and make deliberate decisions when crafting our landscape imagery, rather than run around a location creating a multitude of images only to select our favorite image at the home computer. Something we are all guilty of at one point or another during our photographical pursuits.

From the first chapter “Concept – Take Control of Your Art” to the last chapter “Moving Forward” Kyle reminds us of one of the most important and thought-provoking points that we must first and foremost be creating our photography for ourselves. After all did we not purchase our camera gear because we enjoy taking photographs?

The ONE IMAGE process will raise your awareness for creating meaningful landscape imagery by making deliberate and specific choices when crafting your photographs, by consciously deciding what to include or exclude, and by understanding light and how it plays a significant role in shaping the resulting photograph.

ONE IMAGE will help you develop a workflow that will guide you through the process of creating meaningful landscape imagery for YOU! Just as Kyle states on page 185 Take the time. Do the work. Be thoughtful. Be unique. Create for yourself”

To order your copy of ONE IMAGE please click here.

 

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Sunrise at Pollard Bay on Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, BWI
Nikon D800, Nikon 18-35mm lens @ 18mm
ISO 250
f16 @ 30 seconds
Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter

I returned from a two week stay on Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands on March 8th and have been busy processing the image files this week. I will share many more images here in the coming days, including a selection of underwater photos captured using my Nikon cameras in an Ewa Marine Housing. First I thought I would share my gear bag for this trip. My go-to pack for traveling light is the Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack which is distributed in Canada by Gentec International. I am always amazed at how much gear I can fit into this well designed pack that meets the current carry-on luggage requirements of airlines. Here is what I packed into this gear bag for the trip:

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D500
  • Nikkor 18-35mm Lens
  • Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
  • Nikkor 200-500mm Lens
  • Nikon SB400 Spedlight
  • Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
  • 77mm Polarizing Filter
  • 95mm Polarizing Filter
  • Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter
  • Cable Release
  • Gepe Card Holder
  • 2 extra batteries for the camera bodies and lithium AA batteries for for the SB400

Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack

The total weight of the gear bag fully packed was 19lbs, which was a tad over the weight requirement for the Twin Otter flight from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac but the good folks from Cayman Air were fine with me carrying my camera gear with me on the flight. Packed in my checked luggage was my MeFoto Travel Tripod, which was carried in the tripod pocket of the Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack once I arrived on Cayman Brac. The water repellent fabric of the pack and the included rain cover came in particularly useful towards the end of my trip as the winds became very strong with 8-10 foot waves crashing into the island’s iron shore causing significant salt spray. It was comforting to know that my gear was safe in the pack when not is use. To read my earlier, in-depth review of this great gear bag please click here.

Stay tuned for much more form this beautiful Caribbean island getaway. To view a larger and sharper version of today’s featured image from Pollard Bay on the island’s south easterly side please do click on the image.

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