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Posts Tagged ‘gear reviews’

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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Winter Wheat_487Winter Wheat Field near Thornton, Ontario

As mentioned in my previous post I recently spent a week photographing with the Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Fisheye Lens that was on loan to me from Gentec International, the Canadian distributor of Sigma Lenses. I had a ton of fun using this lens and the creative possibilities that it offered me were virtually endless. I enjoyed using the lens to capture bullfrogs, landscapes, water lilies, rusty old wrecks, and waterfalls too. In fact, I photographed roughly 1,500 images with this lens during the week in which I used it. The main subject I sought to photograph with the lens was the bullfrogs on Horseshoe Lake, in the Parry Sound region of Ontario. I will share many more of these with you in future posts.

The Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Fisheye Lens is a diagonal fisheye lens in that the scene is shown full frame within the field of view. Circular fisheye lenses are shown as a circular image within the field of view. Fisheye lenses are noted for their extreme wide angles with significant visual distortion. Yes, distortion can be your friend when used creatively. When a fisheye lens is pointed downwards the field of view will have a convex appearance and when pointed upwards a concave look. This aspect of the fisheye lens creates unique perspectives and intriguing effects on a wide variety of subjects. I personally love the rounded look that can be achieved as it resembles our planet, which is round.

Bullfrog_8922Male Bullfrog on Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario

This lens was an outstanding performer for the bullfrogs that I sought as it has a close focusing distance of 5.9 inches. Nikon’s version will only focus down to a tad over 10 inches, while the Canon equivalent will focus to slightly more than 8 inches. That’s a huge variance when you are photographing smaller subjects.The lens was used on my Nikon D800 where I was able to play around with the sensor crop features of the camera to capture both full frame and 1.5 sensor crop images. The latter was useful for images such as the one above, while the former captured the bigger picture seen below.

Bullfrog_9257Male Bullfrog on Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario

And with the Fragrant White Water Lilies in full bloom I could not pass up the opportunity to capture such beautiful blossoms with the fisheye perspective.

White Water Lily_227Fragrant White Water Lily Blossom

One evening after supper I decided to give the lens a work out with some low light conditions over at Lower Rosseau Falls. I created numerous compositions at this location with the camera firmly mounted to my tripod to capture the flowing motion of the river. Due to the extreme wide angle it is often tricky to compose images with a downward pointed fisheye lens as the tripod’s legs will be poking into the frame however, with a little practice and patience you will get the hang of it. For the B&W image of Lower Rosseau Falls I could not compose the scene without one leg in the frame, so back home in photoshop I cloned out the leg, which was in the lower right area of the frame.

Rosseau River_8530Rosseau River in Ontario’s Muskoka Region

Rosseau River_8568-B&WRosseau River in Black & White

My next excursion with the Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Fisheye Lens was on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario’s Killbear Provincial Park. The rugged shoreline here is note for its wind swept pines and beautiful pink granite. I really enjoyed the creative possibilities that the lens offered me here. The significant distortion qualities of the lens were used for artistic purposes which can be seen in the Killbear Provincial Park images below.

Killbear Provincial Park_9839Killbear Provincial Park, Ontario

Killbear Provincial Park_9720Killbear Provincial Park, Ontario

Towards the end of my photography trip, a family function led me to the Peterborough area of Ontario. I decided at the last minute to take along the fisheye lens one last time before returning it to Gentec International. I was glad I did as I was staying near Millennium Park and the design of the park lends itself well to the distortion qualities of fisheye lenses. Due to the over-cast, white sky conditions I chose to convert the image to black and white.

Millenium Park_Peterborough_Ontario_358-B&WPeterborough Ontario’s Millennium Park

The fisheye perspective is my new favorite way to create imagery. When the distortion qualities are used to accentuate curves in the landscape they can often have a very pleasing effect. The majority of the photos I captured using the lens were done so handheld. All of the bullfrog-scapes were done using the Live View function of the D800 with the camera held millimeters above the surface of the lake. To maximize my depth-of-field I tended to stay in the f11 – f16 range of the lens. Each and every frame I captured the auto-focus was accurate, any blurred images were a result of errors on my part or by pushing the hand-holding limits too far and shooting at shutter speed that were just too slow. If you don’t push these limits you will not know what you can accomplish in given situations. While reviewing the images on the computer at home I did notice some chromatic abberation in the extreme corners but for me this is no biggie as it can easily be corrected in photoshop.

I do not test or review lenses by photographing charts and such to examine their sharpness from corner to corner. I much prefer to take the gear into the field and see how it will perform with my style of shooting, with the subjects I love to photograph, and to genuinely find out will it get the shot I want. I can honestly say that I loved using the Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Fisheye Lens and will certainly be adding it to my tool kit in the near future. It far exceeded my expectations and the lens literally spent the better part of my travels attached to the Nikon D800. I would highly recommend this lens to anyone wishing to explore the wonderful world of the fisheye and unleash their creativity.

Do remember to click on each of the images to see the larger, sharper versions and let us know which is your favorite and why.

Throughout my travels I did come across a new rusty old wreck, with bullet holes nonetheless, and another wreck near my home, which I decided to give a quasi-grunge look. See these images below.

Old Rusty Mercury_8604Rusty Mercury Truck with Bullet Holes

Rusty Old Chevy_420-alternateOld Cheverolet Truck with Quasi-Grunge Treatment

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Tamrac Expedition 8x

Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack

I tend to shy away from using backpacks to carry my photo gear into the field due to problems with my lower back. With my persistent back trouble I often prefer to go with a lighter type of carrying system such as the Tamrac Pro Digital Zoom 10 and the Modular Accessory System (M.A.S.). However, there are times when carrying a backpack into the field just makes more sense. On longer forays into the wilderness I like to have a good selection of gear with me so that I am prepared for pretty much anything I may find along the way. There is nothing worse than encountering that once in a lifetime opportunity and not having the gear at hand to get the job done.

For several years my standard photo backpack was a Lowepro Photo Trekker. This pack served me well until one day while photographing at the Torrance Barrens near Gravenhurst, Ontario when I lifted the pack and the zippered failed sending all my gear crashing onto the granite bedrock at this location. I contacted Lowepro about the failure of the zipper and they immediately replaced my Photo Trekker with a more durable Pro Trekker AW II. This is a great pack with lots of storage capabilities, but I disliked carrying it on long hikes as it seemed heavy and I found my shoulders bothered me by the end of the day.

Since becoming sponsored by Tamrac Canada  and Gentec International, the distributor of Tamrac products in Canada, I have had the opportunity to use the Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack. I can honestly say that I love the pack. It is very comfortable to wear on extended hikes and offers a great deal of storage capabilities for camera gear and other miscellaneous items that you may wish to carry into the field. One of the reasons I find this pack so comfortable is right from the get go this pack is much lighter than my Lowepro Pro Trekker AW II. I did not realize this until I picked up the old Lowepro pack the other day and thought that it seemed very heavy, even though the pack was empty. I decided to weigh the bags when they were empty and could not believe that the Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack only weighed a touch over 7lbs. while the Lowepro Pro Trekker was weighing in at a hefty 11.5 pounds. Wow, a 5lb. plus difference when empty. That alone is a huge relief while heading down the trail with your assortment of camera gear.

Aside from carrying the pack on longer hikes where I want to have my full compliment of camera gear and accessories at the ready, I also prefer to use backpacks during winter excursions and situations where I may be working from the car. I can easily lay the pack in the back of my Subaru and have easy access to all my gear as I need to. And during winter excursions I simply find it easier to work from backpacks as I can lay them on the snow and access my gear while using the main flap to shield my gear when changing lenses or attaching filters, especially if it may be snowing at the time.

What exactly does the Tamrac Expedition 8x feature:

  • two winged accessory pockets featuring Tamrac’s patented Memory and Battery Management System.
  • the inside of the front flap contains three, zippered, Windowpane Mesh pockets for various accessories.
  • adjustable foam padded dividers to custom fit all of your photo gear.
  • LockDown Rain Flap on the main zippered to help protect your gear during inclement weather.
  • BioCurve Dual Pivoting waist belt for greater comfort.
  • Dual-Foam Comfort Pads for your back with Air Flow Channels to help keep your back cool and dry.
  • Quick Clip Tripod attachment system, although I never carry my tripod on the pack I will often use the tripod foot pocket to carry additional items.
  • a foam padded front pocket to carry 17 inch laptops – I will often use this pocket to carry my home-made reflectors and diffusers.
  • fully compatible with Tamrac’s Modular Accessory System (M.A.S.) and the Strap Accessory System ( S.A.S.) allowing you to further customize the pack to your individual needs.
  • easily carries two or three camera bodies and a complete assortment of lenses.

In the two additional images of the Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack below you will see the thick padding that rests against your back while carrying the pack and the air-flow channels. You will also note the weather resistant zippers that protect items stored in the laptop pocket as well as items stashed in the two zippered wing pockets.

Tamrac Expedition 8x (1)

Tamrac Expedition 8x – the rearview (check out all the padding)

Tamrac Expedition 8x (3)

Tamrac Expedition 8x – weather resistant zippers

I can honestly say that the Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack is a joy to carry in the field, even with my persistent back problems, and it offers me all the storage possibilities that I need when I am about to hit the trail for an extended day of photographing our natural world.  It is absolutely the most comfortable, well thought-out and designed backpack camera bag I have ever used to carry my assortment of photography gear. If by chance you are sitting on the fence about whether to purchase a backpack camera bag or are looking for a replacement bag I would seriously consider the Tamrac Expedition 8x Photo / Laptop Backpack. It is a lightweight pack made of extremely durable fabrics, designed to protect your camera gear from the elements. If you are worried that the Expedition 8x may be too much pack for you, please view the complete assortment of Expedition series of backpacks available here.

Please remember to click on each of the photos to view a larger sharper version.

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Tamrac Adventure 7

Recently I became sponsored by Tamrac Canada and am pleased to be associated with their high quality, durable camera carrying systems. Long before I became sponsored by Tamrac I purchased one of their Adventure 7 backpacks, mostly for use on family vacations to the Caribbean where I would want to take more than just my photography gear as carry-on baggage. The Adventure 7 was a perfect fit for this need as it is uniquely design with two compartments; an upper section and a lower section. The lower section is for camera gear and will allow for two or three lenses and a camera body, while the upper section can be used for storing various items that you may wish to carry with you in the field and the upper section also has a small mesh pocket inside. I have found the upper section most useful for storing lunches / snacks, light weight jackets, hats, sunscreen and even diapers, when my daughter was of a much younger age. You will also find a large front pocket on the pack and two side mesh pockets. The harness system for carrying this backpack is comfortable, making the pack a joy to take on long excursions into the field where traveling lightly can often be a priority.

What  really attracted me to this pack in the first place was the rugged materials used in its construction ( my pack in the above photo is several years old and is still in great shape) and that it does not really resemble a traditional camera bag, which is a good thing when traveling to some foreign countries where crime can be of concern for photo enthusiasts. The Adventure 7 is a very well made pack with several nice features. The zippers have large pull tabs making them easy to open. A large weather flap provides additional protection around the zipper for the lower camera compartment and the large front pocket on the lower section will allow you to carry some filters, a cable release and Tamrac’s patented Memory and Battery Management System can also be found within this pocket.

Since I do enjoy hiking as lightly as possible, I now use this pack for much more than a family vacation to the sunny south. Often I will pack my Adventure 7 with my 18-70mm lens, 80-400mm lens and Nikon D200 for a long hike near my home. A polarizing filter, a couple of graduated neutral density filters and cable release go into the front pocket. A bottle of water goes into one of the side mesh pockets and in the upper compartment I store the lens hood for my 80-400mm lens and any other items that may be required depending on the type of excursion I have planned. My asthma inhaler is kept readily accessible in the small mesh pocket found inside this upper compartment as well. Being able to hike in comfort will improve your photo excursions immensely, I have found in the past that becoming bogged down with gear that is less than user friendly produces very poor results.

The Tamrac Adventure Series Backpacks currently come in four sizes to suit your individual needs. The two largest packs the Adventure 9 & 10 will also allow you to carry a laptop into the field and additional lenses. Having used the Adventure 7 pack for a number of years I can honestly recommend it as a versatile pack that is superbly designed to meet the needs of most photographers.

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