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Holiday gift guide: Outdoors photographer

Colin
November 20, 2017

It’s an affliction that every photographer suffers from, we love gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera lens or a headlamp, we’re like bees to honey when it comes to gadgets.

For me and a ton of other photographers, it’s not just camera gear we lust after, it’s the other stuff we use out shooting. Whether it be the 20-mile hike to that epic sunset location, or killing time during a long airport layover there is always something that can make you more comfortable. For me, considering most of what I do takes me far from civilization here’s a few things I’d be stoked to unwrap this year.

Cotopaxi Tikal Active Shell

If you spend any amount of time outside, you’re going to get wet it’s just a fact of life and a good rain jacket is essential. Cotopaxi’s Tikal Active Shell is made from fully taped, 2.5-layer water-resistant shell fabric with four-way stretch that will keep the water out.

It’s got a spacious hood and the jacket packs down to just about nothing, and there’s also full YKK Zippers, perforated underarm panels so you won’t overheat that are less bulky than pit zips and it weighs just 283g.

Cotopaxi Tikal Active Shell US$139 / AU$184

Goal Zero Venture 30

With phones, cameras, headlamps and even headphones needing batteries these days having a portable power pack is becoming essential. Goal Zero is arguably the biggest name in this market and the Venture 30 is one of its most popular power banks.

It’s waterproof, has an emergency light and a built-in micro USB cable. There are even little adaptors for camera charges and laptops and it can be charged using the brands Nomad Solar panels or from a power outlet.

Goal Zero Venture 30 US$139.99 / AU$178.98

JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth Speaker

Sometimes a campsite or a day at the beach needs some tunes, and the JBL Flip 4 is a compact reachable Bluetooth speaker. It’s water resistant (IPX7) and sees and features like voice assistant integration so you can use Siri through the speaker. What’s better, it also allows you to connect multiple devices and alternate which device it’s playing from so that everybody can pick a song.

JBL Flip 4 Speaker US$99.99 / AU$128

Garmin Fenix 5

Garmin’s Fenix 3 is the ultimate Ron Swanson approved manly smartwatch. It does everything a watch does, but with built-in GPS, and ABC (alto, barro, compass)  it can record your hike, help you navigate both directionally and topographically and let you know if there’s a storm coming.

The watch is also Bluetooth enabled meaning you can export your activities to Strava wirelessly and download apps from the Connect IQ store, there’s everything from detailed weather forecasts to sunrise and sunset times and it’s got wrist-based heart rate too. It’s like a swiss army knife for your wrist.

Garmin Fenix 5 US$599 / AU$789

Petzl – REACTIK+ 300 Lumens Headlamp

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp, along with a space blanket and pocket knife are all things that never leave my camera bag.

Being outside you never know when you’re going to get stuck in the dark, and having a decent light source on hand has saved me more than once. This little light packs a 300-lumen punch and can be set to change its brightness based on the ambient light to maximize battery life. You can also connect it to your phone to see remaining battery life and change the light mode in real time.

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp US$109.95 / AU$200

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers

Bear with me when I say merino wool undies are one of the greatest things on earth. Not only does the soft material cradle your undercarriage nicely, they don’t chafe or smell. An especially nice feature after three or four days camping or a long haul flight from Dallas to Brisbane. They’re a little pricey but worth every penny!

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers US$49 / AU$60

SOG Aegis Assisted Folding Knife

 

A high-quality pocket knife is something everyone should have. Once you get an EDC knife, you’ll be amazed how often you actually use it and wonder how you got by without it! You also don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great knife. The Sog Aegis Assisted open folding knife has a 3.5in straight edge blade and sees the brands assisted open technology.

The blade itself is made from high-quality AUS-8 steel and gets a black TiNi finish.

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag

Patagonia’s Black Hole duffels are nearly military grade. Whether it be remiss baggage handlers, or dogs who’re confused what’s a chew toy and what’s a bag, this duffel will keep your belongings safe, dry, and organized. I’ve got one and after a rough life, it still looks brand new!!

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag US$129 / AU$169

AeroPress Coffee Maker

There are few things better in this world than crawling out of a tent and brewing a hot cup’o Joe. The AeroPress system is like a french press but way more portable and makes fantastic coffee in a couple of minutes. What’s better it’s super portable and easy to clean.

AeroPress Coffee Maker US$29 / AU$49

MSR Pocket Rocket 2


When climbing out of said tent and brewing that cup’o Joe, you’re going to need to heat up some water. MSR’s Pocket Rocket is pretty much the smallest lightest stove you can buy and is claimed to boil a liter of water in 3.5min.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 US$44 / AU$107.95

Yeti Rambler Lowball

Now you’ve got your coffee brewed and the scenery is sorted you’re going to need a receptacle to drink from. Yeti is known for making hard-wearing functional gear and the Rambler is no exception. It’s vacuum sealed and will keep your coffee warm (or another beverage cold) for hours, and of course, because it’s not made of plastic there’s no risk of BPA or other nasties.

Yeti Rambler Lowball US$19.99 / 24.94

Don’t forget to check out my 12 Gift ideas for photographers

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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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How to protect your camera from the cold

Colin
October 11, 2017

If you want to shoot outdoors, it a safe bet you’re going to have to deal with some adverse conditions – it’s not all bluebird sun rises and magic golden light.

Shooting in the mountains during the winter can really push gear to the limits of durability, and dealing with 100kph winds and blowing snow and ice is just another day at the office. When you’ve got thousands of dollars of camera gear in adverse conditions, keeping your camera safe and dry can be a losing battle.

Let’s also not forget that along with your gear, you’re out there as well and it’s equally as important to keep yourself warm and dry.

Protecting your camera from the cold

In the field

Most high-end camera gear is weather sealed, but to what level is debatable, and no camera company will actually come out and say what its weather certification is. Hence the necessity of rain covers.

A friend of mine, Rachel Bock uses her hair as a gauge as to when it’s time to wrap up your gear. Basically, if there is enough precipitation to make your hair wet, it’s time to take some precautions to keep moisture off your camera.

I always keep a set of Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Covers  in my bag, they are essentially a tube of ripstop nylon you put your camera inside, pretty basic. They do have their limits, which I unfortunately discovered at a cyclocross race in Brisbane, if you’re headed out in truly gnarly weather you’re best to reach for something like Think Tanks Hydrophobia covers.

Something else to note, many weather sealed lenses require a filter to be truly sealed because the front element moves when you zoom.

If it is snowing or raining, I like to keep a small camp towel similar to this in my bag to quickly wipe any precipitation off my gear before it goes back in the bag. I have a cheapo I bought from a local camp store, but look for one of the super absorbent microfiber towels that are made for backpacking, they are lightweight and pack down to nothing. Once you have wiped your gear down make sure to store this towel in one of the exterior pockets in your backpack if you store it in the main compartment you’re just introducing moisture and humidity into the camera compartment.

On that same note, always always always zip up your camera bag when you’re shooting in the snow. Whether it be snow falling from the sky or spray from a riders skis, the inside of your bag is a magnet for snow.

Silica saves cameras

You know those annoying little gel silica packets that come in just about everything, from clothing to camera boxes? These are filled with gel silica crystals, which are super absorbent and designed to prevent moisture from getting into things when they are shipped.

I never throw these out and always chuck a few in my backpack because they do a great job of absorbing moisture and humidity from the inside of your bag. The padded inserts on the inside of your camera pack soak up moisture like a sponge, even if it’s only a few snowflakes or a bit of rain. Having a few of these silica packets in your bag will help to reduce this.

You can also buy these online, and even get reusable tins full of the stuff.

What if your camera gets too wet?

There are few things as disheartening as when your camera gets a bit too waterlogged and you see the ‘please remove battery’ notification on the screen. While cameras these days are tough, they’re not waterproof.

Unfortunately, I had this happen to me in the rain, although I was able to save my camera with a plastic box and a bag of crystal kitty litter.

On the recommendation of my good friend Dan Carr, I filled the box part of the way up with kitty litter, sealed all the openings with duct tape and left it to sit for a few days. Crystal kitty litter is in fact made from gel silica, and draws moisture of an environment really well. After a few days my in the box, my camera came back to life, no camera insurance claim needed!

Cold kills batteries

It’s no secret that cold kills batteries, in fact, whenever I go out skiing my iPhone battery reads 1% all day. While the batteries for larger DSLR seem to fair pretty well, smaller cameras and other electronics can really suffer.

Cold temps don’t hurt batteries in the long term, but they do reduce their capacity while you’re out in the cold, and there are times when keeping batteries warm can be the difference between getting the shot and having a non-functioning camera.

The best solution to this problem I have found is to use hand warmers and a rubber band. Oxygen-activated hand warmers are readily available, cost almost nothing, and are doubly useful if your hands get cold.

It’s also beneficial to keep batteries in an inside pocket next to your body, to help keep them warm. Having said that, don’t store them against your body as when you inevitably sweat some of that moisture will end up on the batter which is not ideal.

When you get home

When you’re shooting in cold environments, condensation is your biggest enemy. You’ve probably noticed when you go skiing and head into a lodge on a particularly cold and miserable day, your goggles fog up immediately. This is because of the rapid change in temperature and humidity.

The same thing happens to your camera, and to minimize the risk to your gear it’s important to make these temperature changes as gradual as possible. It’s also super important to make sure that your gear is fully dried out, otherwise, mildew will form on the inside of the lens.

The best way to combat condensation is to put your gear in zip lock bags before you come inside. Provided the bag is sealed, the condensation will form on the outside of the bag, not on your camera, and help it slowly transition to room temperature.

While quite a lot of pro-level gear won’t fit in a freezer bad they do make comically large ziplocks which I have used in the past, though they aren’t particularly easy to find.

The methods I’ve found to be the best are to a) leave my gear in the bag for a couple hours to let it gradually come up to room temperature, or b) lay it all out on a towel.

It’s important to note for the first method, only do this if you’ve been out shooting on a bluebird day, the last thing you want is wet gear sitting inside a wet bag.

Also, don’t forget to take your memory cards out before you go inside! I usually throw them into a pocket when I get back to the car.

If you have been out shooting in the snow, lay a towel out on the table, pull all your gear out, and take the lens caps off and let them warm up. For your body, pull the body cap off the put it faces down on the towel, that way nothing can get at the sensor.

Cold and extreme weather shopping list

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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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Lens Coat Review

Colin
May 31, 2017

It’s no secret that camera gear is not light on your wallet, and for me personally, it gets knocked around a fair bit. Whether it be rain, sleet, snow, hail, dents, scratches, drops and everything else, it’s all part of being an outdoor photographer. Unfortunately, when your camera gear swings around your shoulder and bangs into something it sends your heart into your throat and might empty your bank account.

With this in mind, any little bit of extra protection you can get, without sacrificing functionality is important. Enter the Lens Coat Lens cover.

Basically, the Lens Coat Cover is a closed cell neoprene tube cut specifically to the shape and size of your lens. They’re available for pretty much any lens you can come up with, including rare finds like the Canon EF 1200, and come in a wide variety of colours.

I’ve got one of these sets for my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, and considering the price of this lens, it was a no-brainer for me.

Not only does the neoprene cover help to protect the lens from cosmetic damage, it offers a small degree of impact protection too. No, it’s not going to save your lens from a fall off your desk, but when your camera inevitable swings around your body as you lean over it will soften the blow.

Because Neoprene isn’t a great temperature conductor it makes your setup easier to handle in weather extremes. Canon’s L series telephoto lenses are largely constructed of metal, and it’s not uncommon for them to be almost too hot or too cold to touch depending on where you’re shooting. On more than one occasion the metal parts on my Canon 100-400 have been uncomfortably hot or cold to touch with a bare hand, but the Lens Coat provides some insulation from that punishment.

Because any lens on the outside is a series of rings, the cover itself is cut into pieces sized perfectly for the sections on your lens. To make the neoprene into a tube, flat pieces are  stitched together and given how tight they fit on the lens it’s a wonder I haven’t blown a seam yet. The upside to this tight fit is that they’re not going to be slipping and sliding around on the lens as you’re using the zoom or focus rings. As to not cover up the autofocus and IS switching there is a PVC window that lines up perfectly with the panel and allows them to be moved without moving the cover out of the way.

A small oversight is the lack of a cutout on the lens hood section for this particular lens. The ET-83D lens hood that comes with the 100-400ii has a sliding door so that you can easily rotate polarising filters, but the lens coat covers this section up. While it does cause a minor annoyance,  I’m not sure how lens coat would solve this as to put a cutout here would definitely hurt the structural integrity of the cover. To get around this I just roll the neoprene up a little bit.

Given that Neoprene is made from rubber, the Lens Coat also offers a bit of water protection too. You’re still going to want a proper rain cover if the weather really turns sour given there are gaps in the cover and you’re still going to waterlog your lens, but in light snow or rain, it will keep most of the moisture off your lens.

The other small issue I’ve had with the Lens Coat is it adds a bit of bulk to your lens, and if you store lens hoods upsidedown on the lens it doesn’t prevent the lens from retracting fully, which means it takes up a bit more room in your bag. You can force it, but it put a but too much pressure on the hood mount for my liking.

They also are not cheap, priced at US$80, but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay for a bit of added protection for on a $2000+ lens. Overall they are not an accessory I would buy for every lens I own, but for some of the larger ones, I think they are a smart purchase.

Where to buy:

LensCoat lc1004002m4 Lens Cover for Canon 100-400 IS II (Real Tree Max4)

 

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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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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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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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Fstoppers Flash Disc review

Colin
May 6, 2016

It seems everytime I leave the house my camera bag is heavier and I am always grabbing extra lights, triggers, and batteries. But, when it comes to flash modifiers it can be a tough decision.

Everybody loves softboxes but they’re difficult to transport, especially if you’re shooting somewhere hours away from the car. Umbrella’s are easier to pack but still need to be lashed to the outside of your bag, and don’t play well with gorillapods. For me, the ultimate modifier is something that can be stuffed down the side my camera bag, is lightweight, and doesn’t require much faffing around.

Obviously struggling with the same issues as me, Patrick Hall and Lee Norris from Fstoppers created the Flash Disc.

What is it?

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Packaged in a little black zippered bag, the flash disc is a compact 12-inch pop up softbox – think those tents you pull out of the bag and throw into the air to set up.

In its compact state, the Fstoppers Flash Disc can easily be stuffed into small gaps in your camera bag, a pocket or even lashed to the outside thanks to a small loop.

It worth noting the Flash Disc deserves due respect, and nearly gave one of my assistants a black eye. If you’re not paying attention it can slip away from you and ‘pop’ you right in the face.

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The back of the Flash Disc sees a grey card and the front is as you would expect white diffusing material. Designed to be universal with speedlights the Flash Disc uses a glorified elastic band to secure the flash head. I’ve yet to find a speedlight that it doesn’t work with but there’s definitely some that fit better than others.

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It seems Canon flashes fit the best, their rounded profile slips into the band nicely. Boxy square flashes however do not, and it’s quite fiddly to get square flashes into the disc. I had a fair bit of trouble wrangling the FlashDisc onto my LumoPro LP180 flashes and an ancient Sunbeam Manual Flash.

With that said, once they’re on your light stand will fly away and take a sandbag with it before the Flash Disc leaves your speedlight.

Okay, but do they work?

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It’s worth noting again this is a 12-inch softbox and not a huge 40-incher, so they’re not going to produce the same light. Because of it’s size the FlashDisc needs to be quite close to the subject, but it does produce nice soft light.

For portraits and products they’re pretty useful as you can place the FlashDisc just out of the frame but still close enough to reap the benefits of a small modifier.

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Photo: Phil Gray

It does take some fiddling around to get the flash discs in the right position when they’re mounted on a static light stand, but if you’ve got an assistant they are awesome. Because they’re small and lightweight it’s no trouble at all to get your assistant to dangle the light with the FlashDisc very close to the subject.

Also due to their feathery nature they pair nicely with Gorillapods, and my favorite thing is to wrap them around a tree branch or pole in a spot you wouldn’t be able to put a standard light stand.

Do you actually use it?

Absolutely! The Flash Disc is extremely versatile and is great for a variety of looks. Check out the gallery below to see how I’ve used the FStoppers FlashDisc. Even when it’s not close enough to for that creamy soft light it still diffuses the flash head nicely for something a bit more dramatic.

[envira-gallery id=”1551″]

The biggest reason that I like to use the FlashDisc’s is they’re so packable. It’s a rare occasion I’m shooting within 5-miles of where I parked my car, and it’s just not practical for me to pack in (and back out) large soft boxes, they just wouldn’t survive. Weighing just 113g adding the FlashDiscs won’t add much to your already heavy pack

As it is I get funny looks riding single track on my mountain bike with my big camera pack and light stands, can you image what people would do if you had soft boxes strapped to my pack?

Final Thoughts

For such a small modifier, the Fstoppers FlashDisc’s pack some serious punch. Whenever I take speedlights with me I always stuff them in my bag. They’ve definitely got their limitations and and $49.95USD they’re also not cheap, but the FlashDisc’s have become an essential part of my kit.

Do you use the FlashDisc’s? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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