Friday, November 30, 2007

Review: Solomon Shoes

I ran across the Solomon shoes on one of my many trips to REI and tried them on just for kicks because of the cool looking laces. From that moment I was hooked. I've always known Solomon as a winter ski equipment company. Who knew they could make a darn good shoe. The best part about them is the laces. The best part about any of the Solomon shoes with these snazzy laces is they just work and work perfectly every time. No more retying your laces to get them just snug enough two minutes into your run. With marketing terms like quickfit, asymmetrical lacing and sensifit how could you go wrong. I have to admit that ever since those velcro shoes came out in the 80's and then the self tying shoes in Back To The Future I've been hooked on easy to lace shoes, and these are the best I've come across yet. I own the cheapest pair of running shoes they make and the aquatic amphibian shoes and love both of them. From what I can tell after looking at the Solomon website the aquatic shoes are being discontinued. Solomon has a low end running shoe and some higher more pricey gor-tex models. I find that the gor-tex shoes don't fit my foot so I stick with the cheap ones.

Review: Patagonia Down Jacket

We have a Patagonia outlet here in Santa Cruz and every year they have some amazing sales. A few years back I picked up the Patagonia down jacket in yellow and I absolutely love it. I shopped around for the best down jacket and by far I liked the Patagonia the best. Not only is the color totally swanky (they don't make the yellow anymore which is a bummer), but the feel of the fabric is awesome. The stuff sack that comes with it fits nicely in an inside zippered pocket. Some down jackets have a reversible inside pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. The Missus has one like this. While it means you can't loose the stuff sack it sure makes it a lot more difficult to stuff. I've used mine in sub zero degree weather and it kept me nice and toasty. There isn't really anything else to say about a down jacket other than I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Epson Printer Compatibility with Leopard

A while back I talked about why I'm not upgrading to Leopard just yet and one of the big road blocks for me is the lack of printer support. Epson announced today via a FAQ that can be read here that they will be releasing a driver for most of the Epson professional printers including my Epson 4800. You can download a beta of the driver here. That's great news but I have a few friends that have the very expensive Epson 7600 that will not get an updated driver. I'm surprised at Epson considering how much one of these printers cost. I'll think twice the next time I recommend an Epson printer to anyone. Considering the fact that I've had two Epson 2200 printers die and my 4800 has firewire problems I'll think twice about buying another Epson myself. I continue hear great things about the latest generation of HP and Canon printers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review: Petzl Zipka LED Headlamp

I purchased the Petzl Zipka LED Headlamp earlier in the year and wish I had bought it sooner. My old headlamp is one of the first generation LED headlamps. It was great then, but it doesn't even compare to what is out there now.

Powered by three AAA batteries the Zipka is tiny. It fits in any pocket or pouch and it is really bright. I've been hesitant to replace my old headlamp because it takes only two AA batteries and I like all my gear, especially backpacking gear, to use AA batteries so I only need to carry one backup set. But now I've changed how I think about this. I've decided to just bring an extra Zipka headlamp for the group because I've had headlamps fail not just the batteries. I've been watching the headlamps for some time now and they all have gone to AAA batteries, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I thought the the retractable mini-band was silly at first. The Missus put it on and the first thing she commented on is it didn't pull her hair. So for people with long hair, this might just be the headlamp for you. I personally like how the retractable mini-band will fit around almost anything; put it on your head, helmet, arm, pack or wherever you need some light. I found it can hang from the inside of the tent providing enough light for the entire tent.

Petzl fixed two of the problems with the previous version; it is now water-resistant and has a button to choose between 4 different modes; high, medium, low, strobe. You can also buy a colored lens kit for star gazing where you require a red lens. I haven't tried swapping out lenses yet. They say it's easy but I don't want to break anything.

So for any outdoors person I highly recommend the Petzl Zipka LED Headlamp, and that you buy it from Amazon because they seem to have the best price.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Other Equipment

Often times I find the equipment that isn't photographic gear goes unrecognized so I figured I'd write a few posts over the next couple weeks reviewing the gear that I use that helps me take pictures but isn't picture taking equipment. Since Christmas is just around the corner this seems very fitting. Especially since photography equipment no matter how small can have a very high price tag. Many of these items are perfect gifts for any outdoor photographer.

Petzl Zipka LED Headlamp
Patagonia Down Jacket
Solomon Shoes
Kinesys Performance Sunscreen
Kleen Kanteen and SIGG Water Bottles

Monday, November 19, 2007

Field Guide 101: Graduated Neutral-Density Filter

Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite National Park, 2005

Graduated neutral-density filters allow you to control contrast between two elements of a photograph. Typically this is a forground and background like the photo above. There are a few choices of filter types. I find the one-stop filter to be pointless since there are typically two to three stops difference between foreground and background. For this reason I only carry the two-stop and three-stop soft-edged graduated filters.

When I first started using graduated filters I bought a filter holder and adapters for the different sized lenses I own. I now just hold the filter in front of the lens by the sides. This approach is faster to put the graduated filter in place, easier to adjust the filter and when the light is changing I can swap filters in a flash. Remember to use the graduated filter you need to remove the lens hood.

Using graduated filters can be difficult with gloves so I wear a thin set of glove liners for colder conditions such as when I took the photo above at Tuolumne Meadows after the first snow. I have been toying around with creating the same effect as graduated filters in post processing but I haven't come to a conclusion which produces higher quality photos. There definitely are situations with tree lines where it isn't worth doing in post processing, so Photoshop hasn't completely replaced filters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Nikon Snap-On Lens Cap

A few years back I was shooting with some Nikon users and noticed that most of them had the slickest lens caps I'd ever seen. These are the Nikon Snap-On Lens Caps. I borrowed one for a few hours and when I got home immediately placed an order for one to test more.

Not only do they have the standard tabs on the edges to release the lens cap, but they also have a larger set right in the middle of the cap. This means that when you go to put on the lens cap or remove it you won’t bump your oily little fingers on the lens element (or filter if you use that sort of thing). The additional tabs also make it easier for larger hand folks to get in there with the lens hood on to remove or apply the lens cap. Also those larger additional tabs make it easier for when you are wearing gloves in cold weather.

I love these lens caps and over time have been replacing my lens caps on my most used lenses with these awesome little lens caps. I typically use B&H Photo to buy camera equipment but I found Amazon to be a little less expensive. So here are some quick links to the 58mm, 67mm, 72mm and 77mm Nikon Snap-On Lens Caps at Amazon.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Photoshelter Collection

Autumn Road
Eastern Sierra, 2005

Photoshelter Collection went live this morning. I submitted 200 photos of which about 181 were accepted 10 of which are editors choice. You can see my photos here. It should be an interesting experience. I wish Photoshelter the best of luck in a very interesting market.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Field Guide 101: Clos-ups with Extension Tubes

Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus
Natural Bridges State Park, 2007

Sometime in October of every year the Monarch Butterflies start arriving in Santa Cruz at Natural Bridges State Park, the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve, and feed upon the abundant Milkweed plants in the area. They don't start to cluster in the groups until later in the year at which point they will reproduce and die. This yearly cycle creates an endless source of photographic opportunities, the most obvious being macro photography.

I own the excellent Canon 100mm macro lens but it doesn't have the working distance often required for such skittish creatures. When working with butterflies you have two choices: Wait for one to land within your photographic reach or watch for one landing and sneak up on it. I use both approaches. When I'm waiting typically I'm using a tripod and a very large lens as was the case with the photo above. It was taken early in the season just as the Monarchs arrived in town. I used a 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender to get an effective focal length of 700mm on a Canon 5D. I then turned this 700mm lens into a super macro lens by adding a 20mm extension tube. The extension tube reduces the minimum focal distance so I can maintain a working nice working distance but get close enough to fill the frame with a butterfly.

Kenko Extension Tube Set

An extension tube is simply a tube with lens mounts on either side that mounts between the lens and camera and is designed to move the lens farther from the film or sensor. By moving the lens farther away from the film or sensor the focus distance is reduced effectively turning the lens into a macro lens. Actually the focus plane of the entire lens is moved closer so not only is the minimum focus distance less, but the lens can also no longer focus to infinity. The longer the extension tube the closer the minimum focus distance becomes. Extension tubes are just a tube with no optical elements so the quality of light is not degraded but the amount of light is reduced. Most extension tubes sold today have electronic contacts so the lens can auto focus but the loss of light may make auto focus difficult in low light conditions. Usually the light loss is a stop or two.

When I'm not patient enough to play the wait game I put a 20mm extension tube on my Canon 100-400mm or 70-200mm lens and use my Canon 1D Mark II for it's increased auto focus performance when at f/8.

I personally prefer to use extension tubes on a telephoto lens as opposed to a dedicated macro lens such as the Canon 100mm or 180mm for three reasons:

1. None of the macro lenses have Image Stabilization.
2. I prefer to have a general purpose lens in my bag that can be used for more than just macro work. This is really important when traveling or hiking when weight really matters.
3. The macro lenses are slow to auto focus and when working with small critters you need all the speed you can get.

When I was staring out I wanted to shoot small things and asked a friend what to get and he suggested extension tubes. I went out and bought the Canon 100mm macro lens because it seemed to be more of what I wanted. Looking back, I wished I had bought something like the Canon 70-200mm f/4 and some extension tubes. This would cost a bit more but there are many more photographic possibilities with this equipment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I'm not Upgrading to Leopard Just Yet

You'll never see me first in line to upgrade my OS. I only upgrade once all critical applications work. Within the first few days I got a call from a friend who bought a new MacPro and couldn't get his Epson 7600 printer working with Leopard. Epson has enough printer driver issues without having problems with the OS. But I know of a number of other people having printer problems so I'm pretty sure there is a problem with Leopard. I also use Aperture and people have been having a lot of small but annoying problems. There are also problems with Adobe products. I'll just wait until the kinks are ironed out. I'll let other people be the guinea pigs. I'm on the forefront of too many other things.

You can read more about Leopard compatibility issues here.

Honestly though, I'm surprised how well Leopard does work right out of the box. I'd say this is a about as bug free of an OS release that I've seen.