Digital photography opened the door to millions of new hobbyists who had never considered the craft when there was a need to learn metering, composition, aperture, or shutter speed before you could take a decent photo in the “old” film days.

Today, just like in photography, Kickstarter has given tens of thousands of people a peek into the world of R&D, prototyping, and manufacturing.

What used to be a simple click of the mouse or a visit to a retail location to pick up a new, cool gadget, Kickstarter has allowed these same consumers to get in on the ground floor of a gadget’s introduction to the market.

It is funny to read all the notes and comments that are being left by “investors” who provided seed money for a new project.  Okay, maybe not funny from the consumer perspective, but quite funny from a manufacturer’s or designer’s perspective.

No gadget, car, pillow, deodorant, plastic spoon, or you name it comes to market without the engineering, tooling, and most importantly retooling of molds, dies, etc. that always precedes the final “perfect” item shipping to a store near you.  The only difference is the consumer was never made aware of this timeline until now.

In many cases, the next irritation is already in the design stages when the preceding version is shipping to their distribution points for the very first time. And, no, most companies will not divulge this to their own salespeople. So, don’t bother asking when the next big thing is shipping; the salesperson is usually the last to find out! That is why we now have rumor sites that try to get this data from (likely unethical) vendors, designers, or partners.

I got in on two gadgets that I think will make my photographic life much more fun. There was no actual need for any of these, but there was a “want”.  So, as long as there is no dire need, there is no rush.

This cool gadget, ought to make landscape panoramas a lot easier, but that is all.  Looks like a neat toy to add to the camera bag, but it is not a lifesaver.  I am looking forward to receiving my all-black version sometime next year.  Is there a rush? Heck no, I want it to work. And work well.

What photographer does not have a gazillion camera bags that never get used, all in the name of finding the perfect bag!  Although two come close, this belt is a brilliant idea. The heck with bags, just carry the lens on a mount attached to a belt. How cool. Again, it is not a life changer but a cool gadget. Let’s be patient and get it right before it is shipped. I am sure neither the creator nor I want a $4,000+ lens to drop to the ground.

What are my 2 near-perfect bags?  One is the Kiboko 30L that handles all my gear on a safari or birding trip.  Yep, it will take the 500mm, 300mm, 24-70mm, two camera bodies and much more AND still fit in the overhead of a small regional jet. The other is a small bag that doesn’t weigh a thing and still holds enough for any photo shoot or short trip – plus a 17” Macbook Pro.  It is the ThinkThank Shape Shifter. Both bags have straps for my tripod.

So, just as digital technology has done an incredible job for relatively small camera manufacturers, Kickstarter will do the same for many small companies trying to launch the next big thing. But, unlike using your camera in “P” mode*, getting in on the ground floor of a great idea doesn’t mean all will be easy or smooth sailing! Kickstarter will make many thousands of investors a much better consumer by finally learning the ins and outs of launching a product.

*  The “P” stands for Program. I like to think it stands for Pray your image will be what you intended it to be!



Testing the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

I fell in love with an extremely light (weight) lighting system at a camera show back in December.

In early March, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and acquire this Ranger Quadra kit. Although pricy, having the equivalent of four (4) Nikon SB910 firing at my subject for the cost of only three SB 910s made sense to me. No, don’t ask because I will never know why it made sense; it just did! One has to have a reason to buy a new toy, right? Besides, it is so much lighter than 3 SB910s!

The flash head itself is extremely light, weighing in at 8.8 ounces (0.25kg). The battery pack does weigh a bit, but is an extremely comfortable 3 pounds (1.4kg) over the shoulders. I did carry it for almost five hours last Sunday.

The kit comes with a 5.3” reflector and a diffuser / protective lens over the diffuser. I also purchased the Reflector Adaptor that will accept all other Elinchrom reflectors plus a snoot and a 10-1/4” 50 degrees sports reflector (on e-Bay).

Last week in the Dallas Zoo I carried the gear with the snoot plus grid to photograph some not-so-wildlife. The photos did have something unique…. A bit of a sparkle in most of the animals’ eyes, just what I wanted.

The photos in this link show the performance of the flash with different accessories in front of the bare light. The tree is 55’5” (approx.. 17 meters) from where I set up the tripod, the wall is only 8” further back. Never mind focus, I am looking for light patterns here. All flashes were at the same 100% power setting, 1/250 sec. and f/3.3 on the AI AF DC Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D.

What was immediately visible was the strength of the flash with the 50-degree reflector. By far the most even and powerful light.
I will buy a 7” (17.8cm) 60 degrees Reflector to see what kind of difference this makes and report back once I have it in hand. It might just make the preferred package a lot lighter and allow for on-camera hot shoe operation.

The main thrust for the idea was wildlife in general, safari in particular, and just as a walkabout. I think I nailed it with this setup. I will need to see how it does on the fast setting with birds in flight. I will report back.

NIKON NIKKOR MF 800mm f/5.6s ED-IF

An oldie, but a great lens.

I recently bought a MF 800mm f/5.6s ED-IF lens for my Nikons. (D3, D300s, and still on order but not yet in hand D4 and D800e) and was able to give it a tremendous workout last week.

I stand corrected; it gave me a great workout last week! Carrying this as carry-on through several airport terminals and on long hikes is a workout indeed!

This is certainly an old lens without any of today’s incredible automated features. But experience in the field had taught me one thing. I never used VR and hardly ever depended on autofocus at extreme distances due to air turbulence.

Results: I highly recommend you go out and find one of these monsters for your collection of GREAT camera gear.
At relatively low cost you can create some magic out there.

The lens is extremely sharp, even wide open. With high ISO capabilities of today’s digital cameras, I recommend you ratchet up the ISO and stop down to f/8 or even f/11 if light conditions allow if only to give you that much more depth of field and some leeway in your hyper focal depth.

One advantage of having a totally manual lens is the weight advantage over its modern younger sibling.
Here are some images. All shot in aperture mode at 1/1,000 – all you need to do is program the lens minimum f/stop in your menu and assign it a number. ISO-800 or ISO-1200.

Will I give up my quest for the 600mm VR lens at a good deal? NO, not yet! But at less than 1/3 the price this is a tremendous tool in the kit.

Here is a link to some detailed information about the 800mm lenses.

As soon as the D800e and D4 are in my fat hands, I will give this lens a spin on those bodies as well.

The Everglades and Wakodahatchee

It was a glorious weekend in the Everglades.
Ealry AM departure from the hotel assured a good spot for sunrise bird flights and nest building.

The 800mm f/5.6 and 300mm f/2.8 proved to be perfect lenses for this trip.