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Skyroam Solis Global WiFi Hotspot review

Colin
November 26, 2018

Having been on the road for roughly 10-months one of the most significant issues I came across was the need for data. Whether it be maps, emails, catching up on work, or entertainment; through Europe, North America, and New Zealand staying connected was more difficult (read: expensive) than expected.

Before I left Australia back in February, the folks at Skyroam sent over their latest unit, the Solis, for me to put through its paces.

On paper, the service that Skyroam is offering sounds like the perfect solution to buying sim cards, navigating prepaid wireless/data plans around the world, or searching out free wifi. In practice, however, the Solis comes up a bit short

Highlights

What is it?

Sky Roam Solis

The Solis was able to pick up a signal on the ferry trip from Iceland to the Faroe Islands

With the Solis, SkyRoam advertises unlimited 4G LTE data 24-hour day passes which cost US$9 or US$9per GB credit which lasts up to one month — the unit itself will set you back US$149.99. There are no contracts to sign up for, and you only pay for what you use which is convenient.

Using what SkyRoam calls ‘vSim technology,’ there isn’t an actual sim card you need to install, simply fire up the orange hockey puck and it will connect to a wireless network in a claimed 130 countries and provide wifi for up to five devices at a time.

The Solis is, in fact, a tad larger than a hockey puck measuring 90mm across and weighs 186g. There are only two buttons on the device, an on-off button on the side and the wifi button on the top to be honest; I’m not totally sure what the second button does.

It’s here where the SkyRoam’s cracks begin to show, for starters the power button does not work every time. At least one out of every five times I went to turn the device on or off, I would hold the button down, and nothing would happen. When it does work, you’re going to have to hold it anywhere from three to ten seconds to make anything happen. On a few occasions, the device would turn off and on every five seconds for a period of about 15-minutes after only one button push.

The Solis utilizes a USB-C connection port and takes eight hours to charge fully the battery life is in line with the claimed 20-hours. With such a large battery, the Solis can be used as a powerbank to charge your other devices too.

The Interface

SkyRoam Solis

Unless you download maps ahead of time, you’re going to need data to get around. This is where the Solis shines

To get started, you either need to download the Solis app or go to a.skyroam.com. Here you find a mobile-optimized dashboard where you’ll register the device and can go on to buy day passes. The Solis gives you 20-minutes of free wifi to for registration only.

To be frank, the interface could use a bit of work. Quite often the web portal comes up with a popup written in Mandarin, and the device would regularly disconnect from devices with a prompt saying the password was incorrect, even though I’d already been connected to the Solis seconds prior. In the months of using the unit, I never discovered a workaround to this, other than turning it off for an hour and trying again.

There were also many times where the unit would get stuck halfway through its boot up process, and no amount of turning it off and on again would make any difference.

SkyRoam has recently released a Solis app, which is an improvement, but in my experience some of the same issues still present.

The big problem

Even light social media usage between two people leads to your connection being throttled

I’ve used the SkyRoam all over Europe, North America and even in New Zealand and Australia. Provided there was cell service, the device would connect to the network once properly booted up.

SkyRoam explicitly advertises the Solis as ‘offering unlimited high-speed internet around the world,’ however, this is not exactly what’s on offer. With each 24-hour day pass, you get roughly 1gb of high speed 4G LTE and then your connection is throttled to 2G.

Pulled directly from the SkyRoam website. The claim about unlimited fast data is misleading

I asked SkyRoam directly about the drop in speed and Laura Sebastinelli from the brand’s marketing team had this to say.

“As for speeds/data, please note that there are a variety of different factors that can contribute to connection and speed such as crowded places, the buildings surrounding you, structures that don’t give you direct access to antennas, etc. With that said, our day pass model is optimized for average data use. Our fair usage policy states that in order to deliver on our promise to provide the best high-speed connectivity experience to our community, we may need to reduce data speeds after a certain amount. With each new day pass, the data limits reset.”

This is fine if you’re the only one using the hotspot for checking email and scrolling through social media for a short period of time. However, if more than one person is connected, or you’re trying to use the hotspot for work you will FLY through this data, and be stuck with dialup speed internet.

Final thoughts

SkyRoam Solis

The Solis will connect to a mobile network in a claimed 130 countries

Ultimately for intermittent use, the SkyRoam Solis is a convenient solution for the need for data while traveling. Being able to hit the power button to and within a few minutes have portable secure wifi is handy.

But, I would not rely on the SkyRoam as your sole source of data. The brand’s claims of unlimited high speed 4G LTE data are a bit dishonest, and the recent launch of the pay per Gb program  where 1Gb costs the same as a day pass  is quite telling.

The long battery life and the device doubling as a power bank set the Solis apart from similar hotspots on the market. However, the data slowdowns make me hesitant to rely on the device as a solution to keep connected while on the road.

Where to buy

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MindShift Gear BackLight 26L review

Colin
November 5, 2018

MindShift Gear is the sister brand to ThinkThank Photo and is the brand behind the Rotation 180 series of bags. With a focus on outdoor and adventure photographers and the BackLight series of bags is the latest addition to their line up, also the brands first back panel access pack.

Highlights

There are three main ways camera backpacks are set up (well actually four if you include Mindshift’s Rotation system); front panel access, side panel access, and rear panel access. Each has its pros and cons, but the main advantage of back panel access bags is that when you need to put your pack down to pull out your camera, the straps don’t touch the ground. This especially important if you’re shooting in a location where the ground is wet or muddy, ie outside.

Also, because the camera access is on the rear of the bag it leaves the front open for storage laptops, tablets, extra layers, food, hydration bladders, etc.

Unfortunately, there are negatives to this system the main one being that given there is a hole on the rear of the bag, it makes it pretty difficult for adjustable harness systems so if the bag doesn’t fit you well you’re out of luck.

Rear panel access also makes it impractical for suspended mesh venting systems, and their carry capacity is a touch smaller than front access packs because the zipper needs to pass under the shoulder straps.

Backlight 26L

With 26L of carrying capacity, there is a surprising amount of room for gear inside the BackLight, and it happily engulfs my Canon 5DMKiii with a 100-400 MKii lens attached, five additional short lenses and various other gear. It’s not designed for pro-level bodies like the 1DX or Nikon D5 and might just be deep enough for a 5D or 7D with a battery grip.

My goto shooting kit is the 5D MK iii, Canon 28-40 2.8L, Canon  100-400 MKii, and Canon 8-15 Fisheye. With this inside the bag, there is still room a filter wallet, cleaning gear, a small organizer filled with spare memory cards and batteries as well as for two speedlights and triggers with spare batteries or and drone and remote.

There is also a cavernous front pocket with dedicated sleeves for a 15in laptop and tablet. This pocket is seriously huge and will fit heaps of layers, food, and even big a bivy if you pack carefully.

There’s also an additional smaller pocket on the front which is great for wet layers and a very tight zippered pocket on the top of the bag which isn’t particularly useful.

I have traveled quite a bit with this bag and it is fantastic, as it holds a ton of gear with a small form factor. This pack easily fits underneath an airline seat and does not grab the attention of flight attendants who’d like to weigh your carryon the way bigger camera packs often do.

Its got compression straps on the sides, daisy chains on the front, attachment points ice axes or trekking poles and water bottle pockets on either side too.

The insert is fixed with customizable padded dividers, and empty the bag tipped my scales a 1.74kg / 3.84lbs.

As with all MindShift, bags the BackLight 26L has the hidden tripod cup, which sees a small pocket for the legs and a top strap which tucks into a small pocket in the top of the bag. You can also utilize one of the water bottle sleeves and the compression straps on the side of the bag too. I’m not a fan of the rear tripod mount, as it puts the center of gravity out behind the bag, and in turn puts more weight on the shoulder straps rather than the waist belt — were possible I always put the tripod on the side of the bag.

Mindshift has opted for a great waistbelt on this pack, with the pads long enough to reach past the tops of your hip bones, which allows for the majority of the weight to be supported here, not on your shoulders.

The Backlight 26L also features an elastic strap on the inside of the back panel, the idea behind is so you can hang the bag off your waist and get to your gear without having to actually put the bag down, and put the strap around your neck so you can use both your hands inside the bag. I’m not sure Mindshift thought this through completely, as you can do this with any rear access backpack with a waist belt, but nobody does for a reason — it’s quite an awkward motion, and the bag isn’t all the stable hanging off your waist. 

Whenever I zipped or unzipped the rear panel, the cord, or webbing which attaches the cord to the bag would get caught in the zipper and I cut it off after a week of using the bag.

I took the Mindshift Firstlight 26L on a two-week trip to New Zealand. It’s just about the perfect day pack

Over all the Backlight 26L is a fantastic pack for getting out and shooting outside. It’s perfect for day hiking and a pretty good size for shooting from the bike too. For a bag with such a small form factor, it really holds a ton of gear and supports the load quite well. The only place I can really mark this bag down is for the weird neck strap, as it really only gets in the way when you need to get in and out of your back quickly.

Where to Buy

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MindShift Gear rotation180° Horizon 34L – long term review

Colin
October 13, 2017

The MindShift Gear rotation180° Horizon 34L camera pack has been in rotation among my stable of packs for 8-months now and it has seen use everywhere from the mountain bike trails of Nerang to the Main Range Backcountry near Thredbo.

Through that period of time, the fast camera access has been a boon, while at other times the whole rotation system complicates actually getting to your gear.

You spin me right round baby right round

First and foremost the rotation system is without a doubt one of the fastest and most secure ways to carry your gear. The only other option might be a touch faster is Peak Design’s Capture Pro, but for me personally having a body and lens flapping around on my chest as I descend single track on a MTB shoot, or skiing chasing athletes is unnerving.

The rotation system, on the other hand, offers some piece of mind that your gear is zipped safely into a padded insert on your back. The camera insert doesn’t hold a whole lot of gear, with only enough room for a Canon 5DMKiii with a lens attached, a spare short zoom or prime and maybe a small card or filter wallet if you’re particularly skilled at Tetris.

The whole idea of the rotation system is to allow you to access your gear without putting your bag on the ground, and I found this particularly useful location scouting and when shooting from the bike.

Particularly for location scouting, it allows you to roll up to a potential location and have a look around, take a few test photos with different lenses, zip everything up and head to your next spot much faster than with a standard rear entry bag. The other big advantage to the rotation system is if it’s wet or muddy, you don’t need to put your bag down to get to your gear.

However, when you do put your bag down, the rotation system becomes problematic. For example, if you’re using a tripod, you have to take the tripod off the bag, and finagle the insert completely out of the bag to get to your camera.

The insert itself is completely separate to the pack and beyond a small last resort tether, can be used as a hip pack. I’ve also used it travelling as a small carry on bag.

However, because the waist belt and camera insert are not actually connected to the rest of the bag if you are carrying a decent amount of weight no matter how tight you hip belt, your shoulders still end up carrying a good portion of the load. I do wish the shoulder straps were a bit thicker to better distribute the weight.

What about the rest of the bag?

The top of the bag is cavernous, with plenty of room for spare layers, tools, a bivy and whatever else you may need on an adventure. There is a small mesh pocket, which I would use to keep track of smaller items like food, a small first aid kit and power banks.

Should you want to to take a telephoto zoom lens or other gear that won’t fit in the waist belt, the top compartment is perfectly sized to fit one of MindShift’s Panorama insert. I don’t actually have one of these, but the removable insert from my Thule Perspektiv Daypack which is roughly the same size fits like a glove. 

The top pocket is perfect for things like your phone, GPS/Beacon, and has a key keeper too. I do wish there was a mesh pocket similar to the one in the main compartment in the lid so that things aren’t free to roam around inside the pocket.

On the front of the pack, there is a large pocket which is great for storing things like rain layers and there is a sturdy nylon daisy chain on the front of the bag for attaching other accessories.

The bag has compression straps on either side and a clever system for attaching a tripod. At the top, there is a quick release strap and a small cup that supports the legs to that it’s not swinging all over the place as you walk. Even better when not in use there are small velcro pockets that hide each component so they don’t catch on things.

Tripods can also be mounted to the side of the bag using the water bottle pocket to wrangle the legs.

Speaking of water, there are provisions to carry a bottle, something large like a Nalgene or Yeti Rambler 36oz, but there is also a pocket for a 3L hydration bladder complete with a velcro to hang the bladder as well as routing for the hose.

Final thoughts

This bag fell into an interesting space in my arsenal and was really useful on projects where I didn’t need to tote a whole lot of gear along with me. When I needed to haul a lot of gear I would still rely on something like my F-Stop Tilopa BC, but for travelling light, the Horizon suited me well.

Every time I went location scouting this was my go-to bag, and even a few commercial assignments for cycling brands where I could get away with only taking short lenses it was perfect.

Same with when I would go out to shoot personal stuff or wanted to have my camera handy on a day hike. Even with the ability to stow more gear in the top using a separate insert, it’s not a feature I really used as I felt like it complicated things.

Over the past eight months, I have abused this bag, dragging it through bushes, rain and snow and it’s even seen a few plane trips too and so far, it’s showing no signs of wear.

This pack offers ample room for gear, even on a professional level depending on the job. If you’re shooting on something from Canon’s 1D series, or need big glass this isn’t the bag for you, but for those shooting on smaller gear, and mirrorless systems I think Mindshift have hit a home run with this bag.

Priced at US$260, it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to always have quick access to your gear, but also have it well protected no matter what adventure you’re on!

Where to Buy

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Mail Drop: Miggo Agua Torso Pack 65 and Splat

Colin
June 8, 2017

I have a bad habit of taking way more gear than I need when I go out on a shoot. I am very much of the mindset, ‘I’d hate to need it and not have it,’ but as I’ve learned when I’m trying to ride of a steep climb with a 40lb camera pack, and my models are waiting at the top, all that gear I brought and didn’t use is nothing more then a pain in my neck.

First Look: Mindshift rotation180 Horizon 34L

So when Miggo contacted me and asked if I wanted to test out its new Agua Torso Pack 65 I was intrigued at the opportunity. This messenger style pack has enough room for a pro body, spare lens and a Speedlight, built in holsters for a lens cap, spare card, and a little-hidden compartment at the back perfect for a notebook or tablet.

Highlights

Agua Torso Pack 65

What really caught my attention about this pack, as well as all of the bags from Miggo, is they are IPX3 waterproof/dustproof rated and the exterior of the bag is made from, Tarpaulin, a robust waterproof fabric. The inside is made from a mix of neoprene which adds a bit of padding, and of course a soft velcro to interface with your stock standard dividers.

The well padded shoulder strap is thermowelded to heavy duty webbing and sees a stabilising strap that goes across your body, to not only prevent the bag from swinging around but also bouncing. The strap can also be removed from the bag and used as a camera strap should it suit your fancy.

The bag can be worn on your back or chest, however on the bike with the bag on your front, your knees hit it on every pedal stroke. That said for something more upright like hiking or backpacking there is no such issue.

On the inside of the bag, Miggo has also included a pretty clever tether system to prevent accidental drops. Given the way the bag is worn, it’s not likely you’d be using your camera strap around your neck and between fumbling with zippers trying to get your gear out quick to capture some action, I can foresee myself as a bit of a butter fingers, dropping my camera without it. I’ve been using Peak Design straps for some time now and have their anchors on all of my gear, and with the Miggo tether attached to the Anchor link, the setup is long enough that I can raise the camera to my eye with it still attached. It can also be unclipped should you need to pull the camera further away.

Also included with the bag is a “utility pouch.” The 6.5 x 4.5in zippered pouch has internal pockets for spare batteries, cards and cords. This is something I foresee being extremely useful as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve torn camera bags apart looking for a cable or spare battery.

I should also mention that this bag in particular is a special edition camo version, and as many of you know, I LOVE camo.

The Splat

For anyone that has ever been out on a shoot with me they know I LOVE gorilla pods. They allow you to get a Speedlight up into a precarious position that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a light stand. Better, they’re lightweight and compact so they don’t offset the balance of your pack too much. The trouble is they loose some of their rigidity over time, and with the centre of gravity on a Speedlight being so far away from the mount, gorilla pods sometimes struggle to hold them sturdy.

Miggo’s Splat on the other hand, is a simple gorilla pod, that’s made from stainless steel coated in silicon rubber. The genius behind this is the stainless steel is surprisingly rigid and the silicon is sticky so it can be ‘stuck’ on just about any surface. There is also a hole in one of the feet so that it can be hung from a nail or similar.

It’s officially rated to hold 3lbs / 1500g and only weights 5oz / 138g, and can comfortably support a Canon 5D Mkiii with a short zoom lens attached.

It takes a fair bit of force to bend the legs which measure 16cm from the mounting bolt, and they don’t really want to twist. I’m interested to see how it will fare out in the field

Where to buy

 

 

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First Look: Mindshift rotation180 Horizon 34L

Colin
March 8, 2017

Camera backpacks can be a pain, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. They’re bulky, they don’t always fit very well, hence why photo megastar Chris Burkhard avoided using them (skip to 1:40 for the explanation) until Mountain Smith designed him one. Most of all, if your gear is in your bag, getting to it quickly is a problem. Bag brands are continually trying to find new ways for photographers to carry, and more importantly, access their gear, and there have been some innovations beyond the simple camera strap, like the Peak Design Capture Pro. But, for the most part quickly getting to your gear ain’t easy.

For quite some time, in my opinion, rear access packs have been the best option for my style of photography. Usually, they are big, sturdy and the packs themselves are designed around being outdoors and carrying lots of gear comfortably with load lifters, internal frames, hip straps, daisy chains and the like. The trouble is, you still have to take the bag off and set it down to access your camera. Worse, this means putting your bag down in potentially wet and/or muddy locations.

Mindshift is the outdoor division of camera bag brand Think Tank Photo, and they have created and interesting solution with their rotation180 range of bags. As the name suggests, the rotation180 series sees the camera insert attached to the hip belt which rotates around your waist, making your camera gear accessible quickly and without having to take your pack off.

Highlights

Mindshift-rotation180

Spin to win

Mindshift-rotation180

The rotation feature is completely unique to Mindshift’s bags and accessing your gear is as simple as unclipping a magnetic latch, pulling on the hip strap, opening the camera insert and shooting – it takes all of 15-seconds to do. The insert itself isn’t big, it only really fits a Canon 5DMKiii or similar with a lens attached and a spare short zoom lens or prime.

There is also a padded pocket for a small tablet as well as a velcro mesh pocket in the lid, perfect for spare batteries and cards.

Mindshift-rotation180

Mindshift-rotation180

The insert itself is burly with hard sides and you can remove it from the bag for use without the pack.

To prevent the insert from sliding out of the pack, there is a flap and the patented magnetic clasp affectionately called the Fidlock. The flap has a hard plastic rib which once unclasped opens on its own, and as a fail-safe, the insert also tethered to bag with a length of webbing.

Lugging the load

Mindshift-rotation180

While a lot of bags have interchangeable camera inserts, most take up the majority of the bag, however, with the Mindshift rotation180 Horizon you still have plenty of room for extra layers, water, food and other essentials. At the top of the pack, there is quite a large space to keep gear, as well as a laptop sleeve.

As I mentioned before the camera insert isn’t huge, and if you plan to take more than a body with a lens and a spare short lens, or need to bring a telephoto like the Canon 70-200 2.8 or Canon 100-400 MKii,  Mindshift’s Panorama insert is designed to fit perfectly in the top compartment. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of these but the insert from a Thule Perspektiv Daypack is roughly the same size and illustrates the point. 

Mindshift-rotation180

Mindshift-rotation180

On the front of the bag there is a decent sized pocket great for rain layers or other items you may not want to intermingle with the rest of your gear, as well as a top zippered pocket that is ideal for snacks, and smaller items.

The bag also sees a dedicated hydration bladder pocket on the side, which Mindshift says is designed around 3L reservoirs and is complete with a port for tubing. If you prefer to use water bottles over bladders there is also a bottle sleeve that comfortable fits a Nalgene.

If you plan to tote a tripod with you on your adventure, the bag features a clever suspension system that sees the tripod mounted on the back of the bag.

The pack also sees an internal frame, load lifters on the shoulder straps and sturdy webbing all around.

I’m looking forward to putting this bag through its paces over the next couple of months, be sure to check back for a full review once I’ve had the chance to get a bit of mud on it.

Where to buy

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How I Got the Shot: Crash Bang Boom Lightning Strom

Colin
January 23, 2017

Lightning is a frustrating beast, mostly because capturing a decent photo almost complete luck. Not only do you need to have the shutter open at the right time, but also have the camera pointed in the right direction. On top of that, if your including any foreground features you have to hope that the lighting will work with your composition.

Further, quite often when there is lightning it’s raining and a wet camera is no good to anyone. Also, getting struck by lighting would be a pretty terrible way to end a shoot.

How I got the shot

20161203-6p6a2735-untitled-edit

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some pretty fantastic storms here on the Gold Coast. For this shot, I was actually able to set up a camp chair on my balcony and sit with my camera completely protected from the storm, and it was pouring let me tell you.

There were actually two storms and as it always seems to go, when I would set up facing one, the other would offer a wild electrical display, and when I would move it would swap.

So, the planets and stars aligned and I managed to catch the perfect bolt. Here’s the details

Gear:

You may be wondering why I’m using wireless flash triggers for a shot that clearly does not use any off camera lights, nor artificial lights for that matter. A while back I worked out how to hack my Phottix Odin Triggers to serve as a shutter release. It’s proved to be super reliable and a great way to eliminate camera shake on long exposures, without having to actually purchase a shutter release.

Exposure:

20161203-6p6a2735-untitled-edit-3

Post Processing:

20161203-6p6a2735-markupt

I’m not one to over engineer or manipulate photos, and the overall edit for this was pretty simple. As with every image, the first think I did was a few basic contrast corrections.

There is a bit of junk at the bottom of the frame, that I had planned to remove. I wanted the lower cloud shelf to create a ‘floor’ for the image, so rather than taking the time to remove all of that I just darkened the whole bottom of the frame with the graduated filter. Not only does it draw your eye up, it gets rid of all the distractions and cleans up the image.

After that, I used the radial filter to darken the corners a bit to emphasize the brightness and contrast of the lightning bolts.

Back to the cloud floor, there is some fantastic texture in the clouds, so with the adjustment brush, I painted in a bit of Dehaze to bring out some of the detail.

Update:

Another fantastic lighting storm came through, and I snagged another banger. This time is was mostly heat lightning, with only a few bolts striking the ground.

Heat lightning definitely makes the process easier because the clouds are always alight. Check out the result!

20161221-6P6A3554-untitled-Edit

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Peak Design CapturePro Review

Colin
December 5, 2016

Your camera is no good to you if it’s buried deep in your backpack. Photography is all about capturing a fleeting moment, whether it be a skier just as he/she grabs their ski or the look of focus in a climbers eyes as they survey a problem.

For the most part, pro-DLSR’s are heavy and a little awkward to carry around, especially if you’re walking, climbing, or scrambling over obstacles and up steep inclines using your feet and hands. A camera around your neck or slung over your shoulder will move and swing around and smack into something.

Peak Design has come up with a clever solution to for keeping your camera at hand, the Capture. Basically, the Capture is a tripod plate that connects to the ‘clip’ which can be attached to pretty much any backpack strap, or belt.

The simple dual bolt design allows for your camera to be accessible at all times but mounted sturdy keeping your hands free.

Mounting

There’re a few models of the Capture, rated for different weights and designed to carry different camera systems. I tested the Capture Pro with my Canon 5d MKiii with various lens combos. Rated for up to 200lbs, the Capture Pro should be able to handle any camera and lens combo you’ve got, and 3/8th-inch tripod bolt will probably rip off out of the bottom of your camera body before it disconnects from the clip.

Attaching the clip itself is pretty simple too, undo the bolts, put the clip on your backpack strap or belt, and tighten the bolts. The bolt heads are textured around the edges large enough for you to get a good grip, the trouble is they’re not particularly long.

My main photo backpack is the F-Stop Tilopia BC, a 40-litre pack designed to carry heavy loads. With this comes thick shoulder straps, which proved to be too fat for the bolts included with the Capture Pro. Initially, I ended up mounting the clip on the load adjuster webbing, and to my pleasant surprise provided a sturdy mounting point.

Peak Design does make a long bolt kit, which as you’d imagine are two long bolts. The standard bolts measure 15mm and the long ones 23mm which did allow the Capture to engulf the strap on my bag Tilopa BC.

Utilizing the tripod bolt on your camera or lens shoe, the Capture Pro plate comes with a small alley key ensuring the plate is securely fastened to your camera.

Open Carry

I was hesitant at first to hang thousands of dollars worth of gear from something that costs less than US$100, but as time went on the Capture Pro proved its strength – the interface between the camera and the Capture Pro is unflappable. In fact, it takes some practice to smoothly clip and unclip the camera, in the first couple of weeks in use, I actually had to take my pack off to pull my camera out.

Once you’ve got the hang of it the camera to clip connection is strong, the trouble is what every the clip is attached to may not be. The inherent problem with this mounting system is whatever you’re attaching it to be it a backpack strap, belt or webbing is designed to conform around you in some way, and this flexibility with the right combination of forces pulls the clip out of whack.

I also found the Capture best suited to short zoom lenses. With something longer like my Canon 100-400 ii, there is just a bit too much weight a size to sit sturdy on a soft strap.

When you’re using the Capture Pro it’s also important to think about the weight distribution of your pack. For example, my Canon 5DMKiii with a Canon 24-104 f/4 lens attached weights 1.74kg. If I’ve had the Capture pro mounted on my left backpack strap, to somewhat balance the pack I’m going to want my tripod mounted on the right side of my pack, otherwise, your shoulders and neck will be super sore.

The Capture Pro’s mounting plate also interfaces with a fair few tripods as well, and even though it’s not actually designed to interface with the Pro Master Ball head it still works ans is stable enough for long exposures.

Final thoughts

The Capture Pro is an awesome camera carry option for being outdoors. It holds your camera study leaving your hands free but doesn’t allow for the swing like a standard camera strap. It has its limitations as for longer lenses it challenges the integrity of the mounting surface, but the plate holds strong

This is something I genuinely use almost every time I leave the house and is well worth the money.

Since I am a fan of this product I’ve set up a deal for my readers, use my coupon code ‘clevphoto’ and take 10% off any Peak Design Product.

Click here to buy from Peak Design

Click here to buy from Amazon

 

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Super skunked by the super moon

Colin
November 16, 2016

The Supermoon has been all over the news this week and it seems everyone on earth was excited for it, except Neil Degras Tyson.

As a photographer, the opportunity to capture something that may not happen again for another decade is what I live for, and so I went the whole nine yards. I came prepared and spent almost an entire day scouting  to find the perfect location.

The Moon

The moon is a tough one to shoot because this time of year (in Australia) it doesn’t actually cross the entire sky, it rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. The other difficulty with shooting the moon is you need to capture it near the horizon to create a sense of scale, rather than just a blurry spotlight in the sky.

So my plan was to find a spot where it looked like the moon was going to graze the top of Mt Warning. In trying to find this perfect location I drove almost a full lap around the mountain to find a spot where everything lined up perfectly and I could make the image I had in my head.
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After I’d done all of the scouting in passing I’d joke, “I bet it will be cloudy” – I would end up eating those words. The entire day the sky was clear on the Gold Coast, but about an hour before the moon rise clouds rolled over the horizon, and of course they blocked the moon.

Having spent so much time scouting for the first location, I didn’t put together a contingency plan to capture the moon set, facing the other direction. I drove around for a bit trying to find a somewhere to come back to in the morning, but location scouting in the dark usually doesn’t work so well. Lesson learned, don’t forget about plan B!

There is a bright side, I did get a nice sunset!

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The best camera is the one you’ve got with you, sort of – taking a step back

Colin
August 17, 2016

There is an old adage, the best camera is the one that’s with you. And it’s true, the most powerful photos are of that fleeting moment which will come and go before you can get your DSLR out of your backpack or swap lenses.

But, there’s something to be said for having the right tool for the right job, and in this case, that’s a pro level DSLR.

Some of you may recall that I recently drowned a camera body, specifically my Canon 5DMKiii. I went out to a local cyclocross race to play around with some lighting techniques and it started raining cats and dogs. I was prepared with rain covers for all of my gear, but unfortunately, the rain proved too much for the Vortex Media Storm Jacket I was using.

It’s wasn’t a complete write-off as a night in a sealed box filled with kitty litter did bring the camera back to life, but there was some apparent corrosion as the battery was draining at a rate of 10-percent an hour even when the camera was switched off.

So, I sent it away to get repaired, but as it always seems with this sort of thing the part needed to fix my camera was back-ordered and a job quoted to take eight days took over a month.

60D or 5Dmkiii can you tell which body I used for this image? The answer may suprise you

60D or 5Dmkiii can you tell which body I used for this image? The answer may surprise you

So while my 5DMKiii was away I decided to make a challenge for myself, instead of using one my backup bodies, I decided I would use a 60D I had lying around for every project until my 5D was fixed.

Don’t get me wrong the 60D is an absolute workhorse of a body, and features an 18.3mp APS-C CMOS sensor, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12,800), 5.3 fps continuous shooting, and 9 cross-type AF points. With that said, the 5D is also in a completely different league to the 60D which is what made this so interesting and the 60D doesn’t have near the same dynamic range, ISO performance, or processing power among other things.

Crop = reach

Being used to shooting on a full frame platform it took a bit of adjusting to not chop off too much with the 60D's 1.6x crop factor

Being used to shooting on a full frame platform it took a bit of adjusting to not chop off too much with the 60D’s 1.6x crop factor

Other than obvious cosmetic and weight difference between these two bodies is the APS-C crops sensor, which gives you a crop factor of 1.6x. This means that a 24mm lens is actually a focal length of 38mm (24 x 1.6 = 38). It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it’s surprising how easy it is to miss part of the action or chop something out when you’re used to shooting on a full frame sensor.

At the same time, on the other end of things, the 1.6x crop factor give your telephoto lens quite a bit of extra reach. The whale migration has been coming through the Gold Coast the past few weeks, and with the 60D body on my 400mm lens, the crop factor gives me an effective focal length of 640mm (400 x 1.6 = 640). Whales don’t really like to pose for the camera so I’m yet to get anything good, but extra length has given me a much better view of the action.

AF system

The 60D doesn't have great AF tracking, but there's a way around that

The 60D doesn’t have great AF tracking, but there’s a way around that

It’s safe to say the 60D’s AF system is a bit dated. The nine crosspoint system have thankfully been superseded by the current 61-point system which features on all the current pro-level Canon DSLRs.

To be honest this was probably my biggest gripe about using the 60D and it was only because the new AF system has me a bit spoiled. The 60D’s tracking is not nearly as good, and the placement of the points can make certain compositions tricky.

How do you get around this you ask? One-shot AF lock! It so easy so simple and requires you to rely more on your sense of timing that the spray-and-pray technique.

Using the back AF button and One Shot AF mode you pick the spot you want in focus compose the shot and rather than taking 10 photos, hold the button down for two or three as the subject passes through the frame.

With AF tracking being so good on the 5D and similar bodies I’ve become a bit too complacent and having to rely on an older slower AF system has been a fantastic skill building exercise.

ISO vs Sensor size

Because of it's smaller sensor the 60D's pixels are tightly packed, which is why it doesn't perform as well in low light conditions

Because of it’s smaller sensor the 60D’s pixels are tightly packed, which is why it doesn’t perform as well in low light conditions

The other thing the 5D series of bodies does sooooooo well is dealing with noise at high ISOs.

Generally speaking the more room a sensor has on it between pixels will process less noise than a sensor with pixels tightly packed together. So and images shot at 1600ISO a camera that shoots at 22mp on a full frame sensor will have less noise than 22mp images shot at 1600ISO on an APS-C sensor.

The measurement for the space between pixels is called pixel pitch and it’s measured in microns – the larger the pixel pitch the less noise generated at high ISO. The 5DMKiii shoots at 22.3mp on a full frame 35mm sensor and has a pixel pitch of 6.25 microns, and the 60D shoots at 18mp on a 22.30mm x 14.90mm APS-C sensor with a pixel pitch of 4.30microns.

It’s right there in the numbers but in practice, there is a noticeable difference as well, especially in shooting at high shutter speeds. On the 5DMKiii to get that extra bit of shutter speed it’s no issue to bump the ISO and know the image is still going to be usable. Heck, I’ve shot images at max ISO (12,800) on my 5DMKiii and had no trouble getting them back to an acceptable level of noise.

With the 60D there is considerably more noise to deal with starting around 800ISO, and getting worse as you go up. The 5D can do double that before you start to see much noise that needs to be corrected out depending on the image of course.

Final Thoughts

It has really been interesting to take a step back and shoot with a camera body that’s less capable than what I’m used to. Not even addressing the slower frames per second and reduced buffer, these three factors are what I noticed most in my particular requirements for a camera body.

The 60D is an absolute workhorse of a camera body, that can produce fantastic images. However, when a client is paying for images of a certain, though you can definitely deliver with a body like the 60D, I think I’ll stick to the more capable bodies.

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Camera Hacks: Phottix Odin Wireless Shutter Release

Colin
June 15, 2016

A shutter release is something every photographer should have in their gear bag. Especially for long exposures, it is vital to eliminate camera shake because you don’t have to touch the camera at all.

While wired versions can be had quite cheap, purpose built wireless shutter releases are pretty pricey but they’re not the only option. For those who are using PocketWizards, they can be set up to fire the camera with the addition of shutter release cable (which varies depending on what brand you shoot with). With the PW on your camera set to receive and the one in your hand set to transmit, press the test button and the shutter will go.

With the Phottix Odin triggers it’s not quite as simple, and as far as I can tell may not have actually been designed to be used as a shutter release like the PW’s – luckily there’s a simple hack to make them do just that.

What you’ll need

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The tools for a remote camera

Obviously you’ll need a Phottix transmitter, and a receiver (note: these are the original Phottix Odin triggers, not the Odin II‘s, I haven’t gotten my hands on those yet). As your transmitting to your camera, put the receiver in the hot shoe of your camera, and keep the transmitter in your hand – this is where it gets tricky.

You’d think it would be as easy as buying the right cable and chucking the triggers onto your camera, not so much. It turns out that Phottix doesn’t actually sell the cable you need. The closest you can get is the C8 cable which has the Canon shutter release plug on one end and a 2.5mm stereo plug on the other.

On the Odin receivers themselves there’s only two plugs, a mini-USB port and a 3.5mm jack. So to connect the receiver to your camera you’ll need a camera brand specific shutter release plug and a 3.5mm stereo plug, which are actually pretty difficult to find. I couldn’t even find one on FlashZebra.com!

*Note: These cables may exist on FlashZebra, but for anyone who’s never used this site it’s near impossible to navigate. Even when you know exactly what you’re after it’s hard to find it.

However, 2.5mm stereo to 3.5mm stereo adaptors are readily available and cheap at that. So once you’ve got your adaptor and your cables plugged up you’re ready to go.

#selfie

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Selfie game is strong

Once you’ve got everything plugged up make sure your transmitter and receiver are on the same channel and press the test button on the transmitter. There will be about a three-second delay, and then the shutter will go.

It’s worth noting that you’ll lose autofocus control, once the circuit is completely between the receiver and the camera body the, and lens will focus on whatever the AF points are on. I found the best practice was to compose the shot, and manually focus using live view before plugging the cable into the camera.

You also lose the ability to add wireless off camera  flash. This is because it physically takes longer for a camera to release the shutter then it does to fire a flash. If you rig everything up with wireless triggers it will appear that everything fires at the same time, but when you look at the image there won’t be any visible flash.

There’s only a microscopic time difference between flash and shutter sync, but it’s more than long enough. You can get around this by using a really long flash sync cable, or a second transmitter in the hot shoe of the camera.

But why?

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You really need to think about your composition before you leave your tripod

Part of the reason why this is something you may want to do is if you’re trying to get the most out of the gear you already own. Some wireless triggers cost over $100, whereas this method cost $25 not including the Odin triggers which I already own.

Beyond taking long exposure landscape photos, the ability to take and star in the photo is actually a fun creative challenge. It forces you to think critically about the image you’re about to take before you ever push the shutter button. Messing around with this new technique I’ve realized how many last second instinctual changes I make in composition. Not actually being behind the camera you’ve got to think ahead and make these changes before you walk away from the tripod.

Check out a few photos from my experiment with remote cameras

 

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