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Am I Equipped Right?

30th September 2014

Like many other dedicated photographers, I’ve somehow accumulated a sizable stash of photo equipment over the years. I’ve also gained a lot of experience knowing what equipment I’ll need for a particular type of shooting.

My last two assignments were a combination of travel and outdoor shoots. My aging back and wobbly knees beg me to travel as lightly as possible for two reasons: a) to minimize the size and weight of the load that I carry and b) to reduce the amount of time I need to get ready for any given shot.

Since I don’t like carrying camera bags or backpacks, I rarely carry extra lenses. On hikes, it’s a chore for me to search for the right lens and change it on the fly, especially if wildlife is the subject matter. It’s far faster for me to slide the desired camera/lens setup on its shoulder strap up to my eye and be ready to shoot in a few seconds.

After these two recent assignments, I’ve zeroed in on a reasonable set of cameras and lenses to use when traveling long and far. I based my choice on the range of the lenses that I typically use: a very wide angle, a medium range telephoto zoom and a long range telephoto zoom.

For several years, I’ve come to rely on Sony’s NEX series of mirrorless cameras. Not only are they compact and lightweight, but they have several features that I appreciate such as the electronic viewfinder which instantly previews your exposure adjustments and a mode that captures in-camera panoramas. One drawback of these mirrorless cameras is that there isn’t a long telephoto lens available. For this I have to stick with a full-frame Nikon DSLR.



Here’s the short list that I’ve found works well for me:

For very wideangle, I use a Sony NEX7 with a manual focus Rokinon 8mm fisheye.

For the medium telephoto, I use a Sony A6000 with a Sony 18-200mm lens.

For the long telelphoto, I use a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-400mm lens.

As you can see, the Nikon DLSR setup is monstrous next to other two cameras. But lugging this heavyweight around is the price I have to pay for the lens’ long reach.



The NEX7 is a very a very capable camera. I like its large 24mp APC-C sensor, excellent electronic viewfinder and brightly lit tilting LCD.

The 8mm Rokinon lens is about 1/4th as large as my expensive fisheye lens for Canon DLSRs. Using the Rokinon lens I have to manually focus and set the exposure so it’s less convenient than the Canon setup. But the savings in bulk is a major plus for me.

Below are a few photos using this setup. The extra wide angle lets me record everything in front of me. I especially like how the fisheye exaggeratingly bends the horizon.



The A6000, Sony’s successor to the NEX7 is also mirrorless. Feature wise it is very similar to the NEX7 except that it has a superior autofocusing mechanism. This enables high speed captures at frames rates up to 11fps.

When not traveling, the A6000/18-200mm setup is my everyday camera. With a large zoom range I have a wide angle to medium telephoto in a single lens.

When traveling, it becomes my primary camera with the other two cameras reserved for special points of view. Below are a few examples that illustrate the versatility of the 18-200mm lenss.



The Nikon D600 is a full-frame DLSR with a 24mp sensor. It weighs in at two pounds which is twice as much as the A6000.

The Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens weighs just under three pounds making this setup a combined five pounds. Although this is hefty to carry, the lens lock (prevents the zoom from unintentionally sliding) keeps it secure while carrying it with a shoulder strap.

This long telephoto comes off of my shoulder mostly for the long distance shots such as these below.



So there you have it, my equipment of choice for outdoor photography. Of course, not everyone has the same preferences or requirements in the field as myself so this set up may not work universally. But for me being properly equipped has proved to be an ideal way for me to work comfortably, quickly and efficiently.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 
 
 


What a View

27th August 2014

Wide Angle to the Extreme

It’s eye-catching when I see a photo that “bends” the horizon.

This bend comes from the camera’s lens. Use a very wide angle lens and you’ll see the curved “barrel” distortion on the images. One well-known type of wide angle lenses is the fisheye. These lenses typically have a field of view approaching 180 degrees – allowing you to capture the entire scene in front of the camera.

Until recently, fisheye lenses were expensive. I have one that cost well over $1500. But when I was looking for an ultra-wide angle for my Sony equipment, I found an inexpensive lens made by Rokinon. With its $300 price tag, I was a little skeptical of the quality of images from such a low cost lens but decided to try it regardless.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the scenes that I captured during my first outing with the lens a few weeks ago.
 
 



This is an 8mm f/2.8 fisheye. I wanted an ultra-wide angle for an extra Sony Nex7 mirrorless camera.

The Nex7 is very compact and lightweight. The Rokinon 8mm fisheye is also surprisingly compact.


The Sony Nex7/Rokinon 8mm setup is only about 1/3 the size of my Canon 6D with a Canon 8-15mm fisheye – a true space and weight saver.

One of the first images that I recorded with the new lens was in the Tetons. I especially like the curved horizon.



Here in Yellowstone you can see that the bridge rail curves upwards. The lens does not support the camera’s autofocus feature.

However an 8mm lens has a very wide depth of field which makes focusing less critical as you can see in this image taken at Mono Lake.



At Grand Canyon, the bend in the horizon is amazingly scenic. The lens does not support autoexposure so I set the camera shooting mode to manual, set the lens aperture to f/8 and adjusted to the proper shutter speed.


In both of these photos, you can see that the exposure for both a shaded and sunny scene were correct. Neither the manual focus nor the manual exposure requirements of this lens is a concern.



At Monument Valley I took advantage of the lens’ extreme wide view. Here I was able to take in a 180-degree view to photograph this huge monument within a single image.


The fisheye excels for those of you who like shooting portraits that include the vast surroundings.



At Mesa Verde, we encountered another “tight squeeze”. However, we were able to capture this with the lens’ wide view.


In Rocky Mountain National Park, the lens took in not only the winter’s left over snow but the billowing overhead July clouds.

What about the sharpness?

Here I’ve enlarged a small section of one of the above images. You can clearly see the detail in the face, the lettering of the cap and the tufa formations in the background.

I found the sharpness of this inexpensive lens to be very acceptable.


After my short time with this lens, I am no longer skeptical of it’s quality. The images are tack sharp with very good color reproduction. If you’re on the lookout for an ultra-wide, include this lens in your search.

The Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 fisheye is also available for other camera models as well: Fuji, Samsung and Canon M mount. Other similar versions with a maximum f/3.5 aperture are available for Canon, Nikon, Sony A mount, Pentax and Olympus 4/3.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 
 
 

We just returned home after spending the last several weeks on the road. This was our annual summer vacation and as is customary, this outing was another cross-country road trip.

From July 6 to August 3 (that’s 4 weeks), we traveled by auto from our home in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the west coast and southwest to explore many of the scenic areas and to attend several family events.

From our starting point in Michigan (latitude 42.9633° N longitude 85.6681° W), we drove in a wide loop around several of the western states (exactly 17 states).

We followed the Interstate highways (I-196, I-94, I-294, I-90, I-84, I-5, I-15, I-70, I-76, I-80) for about 75% of our route. Twenty percent of the route was over excellent US highways (US 2 and US 34) and only a small portion (5% or so) on horrible, unimproved roads (CA 58, for example).

Our vehicle was a Honda mini-van for three adults (my wife, her sister and myself) and two of our grandchildren (ages 7 and 8).

There was plenty of room for the five of us when we snapped this tongue-in-cheek photo of the rear luggage area (38 cu ft). The remaining front passenger area actually had lots of room (172 cu ft).

As an avid fan of our National Park system, I was armed with my Senior Pass. Those of us who are 62-years and older can purchase a lifetime pass for only $10. This is a substantial discount from the $75 annual or $20 per entry pass for younger visitors (61-years and below).

We visited six National Parks on this roadtrip and the two grandkids earned several Junior Ranger badges by completing the requirements during these stays.


I used a pad to keep track of the fuel usage. Here’s some of the travel statistics –

Duration: 28 days
Lodging: Madison, WI; Bismarck, ND; Shelby, MT; Kalispell, MT; Oregon City, OR; Reno, NV; Sonora, CA; Coarsegold, CA; San Luis Obispo, CA; Las Vegas, NV; Moab, UT; Glenwood Springs, CO; Sterling, CO;
Distance traveled: 7040 miles
Fuel consumed: 285 gallons
Fuel efficiency: 24.6 mpg
Ave price of fuel: $3.75/gal
Highest price of fuel: $4.19/gal
Lowest price of fuel: $3.34/gal
Total cost of fuel: $1070.00
National Parks visited: 6 – Theodore Roosevelt NP; Glacier NP; Crater Lake NP; Yosemite NP; Arches NP; Rocky Mountain NP


 
 
 

Another statistic pertains to photography. With six National Parks under our belts and the many other places that we visited along the way, I kept busy shooting pictures. In all I recorded more than 1500 keepers.

I used two cameras – a Sony NEX7 with 18-200mm lens and a Canon 6D with 8-15mm fisheye and 100-400mm telephoto lenses.

The Sony NEX7 has a built-in panorama feature which I used frequently. I also enjoyed working with an Eye-Fi SD card in the Sony NEX7. The Eye-Fi card transmits images from the Sony NEX7 directly to my iPhone automatically. This let me review the photos at my convenience. And while the Canon 6D has built-in Wi-Fi capability, I did not use it on this roadtrip.

Below are my picks from each one of the National Parks.



Theodore Roosevelt NP

Glacier NP

Crater Lake NP


Yosemite NP

Arches NP

Rocky Mountain NP

 

Of course, these boring statistics hide the real roadtrip.

Our vacation was not only about spending time together in the vehicle (we clocked roughly 140 hours driving) as we visited with family in Oregon City and Reno (which are 530 miles apart). Reno is nearby our favorite Lake Tahoe (an easy 50 mile drive) where we spent 2 days swimming its crystal clear waters (albeit a little chilly at 65 degrees). Also in Reno we invested a cool $120 at the arcade in Circus Circus to bring home 27 stuffed animals – what a deal! In Yosemite we hiked the Merced Grove trail to pay our respect to the 2000+ year old Sequoias that reach more than 250 ft towards the heavens. A two-day jaunt to Moro Bay on the Pacific coast gave the grandkids the opportunity to collect rocks and sea shells (120 of them weighing twelve pounds). Then onto a family reunion (would you believe 90+ relatives) in Las Vegas. Believe me when I say that July is not most opportune time to be in Las Vegas (the temperature was 106 degrees). As if the heat there wasn’t enough, we stopped at a hot springs in Colorado to bask in its healthy but soothing waters (104-degree pool). And in a moment of driving indecision we backtracked (more than 200 miles) to visit our last National Park. There we climbed the tundra at the top of Trail Ridge Pass which is 11,800 ft above sea level. Anxious to get home, we made the final leg home from Sterling, CO to Grand Rapids (1050 miles in 17 hours).

While I’d like to share the other 1494 photos with you, these will have to wait for another article.

Roadtrip! There’s still several more weeks to enjoy the summer vacations. I hope you can get out there to enjoy our fabulous country. Did I hear roadtrip?
 
 
Written by Arnie Lee
 
 
 


 
 
 

Fun Tip # 1

15th September 2010

This is the first “Fun Tip” that I’ve written. It has no purpose whatsoever except that it’s a fun thing to do.

What does a fish see?

A fish views the world differently than we do. A fisheye lens attempts to duplicate that view, but the cost of one can set you back $600 to $1000. Some cameras including the Nikon D3100 and D5000 let you reproduce this fisheye effect for FREE.

This is the “before” photo. To get the most from this effect, you should compose the photo so that it is centered. Also leave empty space around the main subject (not too close to the edges)


Using the Retouch Menu on the Nikon D3100 and D5000, I’ve turned this shot into a pseudo-fisheye photo. Experiment and you may encounter just plain fun!