Thursday, 25 October 2012

Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Camera Bag

What is it with photographers and camera bags? Much like some women with shoes, we seem to have a wardrobe full of them, to suit any occasion and gear configuration.

I'm as guilty as the next guy, so when I got my Nikon D90 and changed my lenses, naturally I also decided it was time for a new bag to fit it all in :-)

But this time, rather than simply adding yet another bag to the pile, I sold several of my other, less frequently used bags (some of them basically brand new), and really put some serious research into what I might replace them all with.

I have kept my trusty and faithful Lowepro Mini Trekker backpack - a bag I've had and used extensively for about ten years, and it's still going strong. I use it on all the weddings I go to, but it's the sort of bag that gets very heavy once full of all the gear I take, and needs an assistant to lug around for me all day. I've also used it on landscape shoots, but I find a backpack style bag awkward to use at a beach or forest when I want access to other lenses etc. You really need to take the pack of and put it down - sometimes not really ideal in harsh environments.

What I decided to go for was a 'messenger' style shoulder bag. Something that could still carry a reasonable amount of gear, but allow for easier access to changing lenses out in the field. I had previously owned a 'slingshot' style backpack which was supposed to do the same thing, but I hated it (your experiences may of course vary) and wanted a more traditional messenger bag instead.

I visited lots of camera bag websites, read the interweb reviews, and watched the youtube videos, to find out what others had experienced with their bags. In doing so, I kept coming bag to one brand and style in particular - the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home.

From what everyone was saying who had experience with the Crumpler it seemed to be the 'Goldilocks' of messenger bags - not too big and not too small... just right. Big enough to fir a DSLR body with grip, a couple of extra lenses, flash, batteries, cards etc... Basically, the ideal bag. So, without any further ado, I bought one.

They come in lots of funky colours, but the auction I won was for the basic black model (although as you can see, it has a pretty cool fluro green interior).  The interior has a large central space for the camera and two side areas that are sectioned off to make four extra spaces. In these slots go the flash and other lenses you want to carry around for the day.

A mesh pocket in the top flap is enough to carry spare cards in, while a velcro front opening holds spare batteries and a card reader. At least that's how I've set my 6 Million Dollar Home up.

All the internal dividers are removable, so you can set it up in other ways if you prefer, but the way I have described above is how the bag comes set up initially - and how it seems to make the most sense.

As you can see, you can fit a lot of stuff in the 6 Million Dollar Home - although of course the more stuff you get in, the heavier it becomes. Shown above is a Nikon D90 with grip, with the Sigma 10-20mm attached. An SB600 flash, 18-105mm VR, 50mm f1.8D, 35mm f1.8G, two spare batteries, SD card holder, and Kingston card reader - that all fit comfortably into the Crumpler. That's pretty much all my gear, and I certainly wouldn't take it all with me on a day shoot. Although I could.

I'm very please with the size, ruggedness and usability of Crumpler's 6 Million Dollar Home. DigitalRev TV have just done a camera bag review in which the Crumpler came out on top in most of the categories. If your looking for a messenger style bag, that can hold a decent amount of gear comfortably over the course of a day, then I highly recommend you consider the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home. I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM Ultra Wide angle

I'm determined to get out and about as much as I can this summer with the D90 and I'm looking forward to the many fantastic shots we'll take together. Weddings aside, it's the landscape images I'm most excited about taking, and a large part of this is having the Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 ultra-wide angle lens in my kit.

The weather has been miserable lately, but we finally got a fine day on Sunday, so I went out late afternoon to one of my favorite coastal beaches to try the 10-20mm out.

9 Mile Beach - Nikon D90 with Sigma 10-20mm @ f8
I must confess I've never really been an ultra-wide fan, although I have previously owned a Sigma 15-30mm (the one with bulbous front element and built-in hood) that I really enjoyed using. It was a sharp and fun lens to use, and restored my faith in Sigma lenses after having a couple of disappointing prior experiences.

The Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX lens is a solid, compact lens with a fast and quiet HSM focusing motor, which allows for full-time manual 'tweaking' of the focus, even when you remain in autofocus mode. Not that you really need to tweak the focus on an ultra-wide. Set it to f8 and just about everything from front to back will be in sharp focus (see above).

Same settings as above. Why change a winning formula :-)
The 'EX' designation means that this is one of Sigma's 'pro' series lenses, although it is specifically designed for the smaller APS-C sensored cameras like the D90. If I was ever to move up to full frame, I would have to sell the lens - but that's a long way off yet, and may never happen?

The lens is finished in the famous Sigma 'matt black crinkle' which also, famously, tends to wear off - although my lens shows no signs of that at the moment. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of this type of finish and I think in more recent models Sigma has moved away from this to a more traditional (harder wearing) finish.

Lots of detail and heaps of colour - that's what ultra-wides are made for!
Whether the finish eventually wears off or not is neither here nor there though - what really matters in a wide angle landscape lens is the colour, contrast and sharpness - and the Sigma has this in spades! The smallish petal type lens hood does a reasonable job of shading the 77mm glass frontage, although I would be careful (i.e. avoid) shooting directly into the sun. When zoomed all the way out to 10mm (the equivalent of 15mm in full frame!) you can still have the sun glaring into your view when it feels like it's behind you!

The huge field of view that this lens afford is what makes it such fun, but also what makes it rather tricky to use effectively. Tilt the lens down and horizons will start to bow, yet not alarmingly so. The lens is actually well designed to avoid any massive distortion - but you can make it happen if you really try (and if you like the effect). Focus was fast, snappy and silent on my D90 - and the large zoom ring turns smoothly and is a joy to use.

NOT taken with the Sigma 10-20mm. I just like the shot :-)
Sigma's 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM is a fantastic lens and a great inclusion to any landscape photographers arsenal. Some may disregard this lens for its 'faster' (and more expensive) brother, the 10-20mm f3.5 - but why? Seriously, if you're looking at an ultra-wide angle lens to isolate your subject and blur out the background with a wide open aperture, then you're looking at the wrong lenses my friend. Yes, you will most likely be using these lenses in low light - but you should also be using them at around f8 anyway, and your camera should be on a tripod! Even if I had the f3.5 version, I wouldn't shoot with it wide open, that's just not what these lenses are for. At f8 to f11, both lenses will be practically identical - so save yourself some money and opt for the 'slower' f4/5.6 version. This is landscape photography, not portraiture.

I'm very happy with the lens, and with the first images I've taken with it. Hopefully, over the course of this summer, there'll be plenty more where that came from.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Nikkor 35mm f1.8G is the keeper

My last few posts have been about lens selection for my D90 - and it is amazing to me how tied up in knots I still manage to get myself over lens selection after all these years.

I thought I would shoot only primes on the D90 - but I've come to realise with DX that this is somewhat unrealistic. Before coming to this realisation, however, I managed to buy a 24mm, 35mm and 50mm! This really only gives me a 35-70mm equivalent reach with all three lenses. Surely the 35mm could do the work of all three - couldn't it?

Back in the film days, I never would have thought of buying a 35-70mm lens - it was considered a 'lazy man's 50mm', since the 50 could pretty much cover this range if you 'zoomed' with your feet. Since the 35mm f1.8G is 'roughly' equivalent to the standard 50 of the film days, I set about to see if it really could replace the other two - and just how much 'feet zooming' would be involved.

Very unscientifically, I went outside, marked a line on the grass, and took a photo with my 35mm.

Nikkor 35mm f1.8G @ f8

This was my field of view (fov) with the 35mm lens - and represents my 'landscape' shot. It equates to a 'standard' 50mm fov when shooting with a cropped sensor DX body like the D90.

I then took a photo at the same spot with my 24mm lens.

Nikkor 24mm f2.8 @ f8. Shot at exactly the same spot as the 35mm
It is certainly wider - about a 35mm fov in traditional terms.

Then I used the 50mm as well...

Nikkor 50mm f1.8 @ f8. Shot at exactly the same spot as the 35mm
So we are certainly getting closer - and with the three images have the same images we would get by zooming in and out with a 35-70mm lens on a DX (or film) body on the same spot.

Now, how much zooming with my feet do i have to do to replicate the 24mm and 50mm shots with the 35mm lens?

I stepped back 5 of my paces (I'm 5"10', so probably went back roughly 5 meters) and took this shot with the 35mm...

Nikkor 35mm back 5 large paces
Compare it with the shot taken with the 24mm and the fov is pretty close. The 24mm is giving a little more exaggerated foreground perspective, but the images are very similar.

OK. So then, back from my starting position, I moved forward two large paces (about 2 meters) and took this shot...

Nikkor 35mm forward 2 large paces
I'm a little off on the framing, and maybe could have taken half a step more forward, but basically I'm there or there abouts with only 2 steps forward.

So to all intents and purposes, taking two steps forward, or 5 steps backwards, is all the 'zooming' I need to do with the 35mm to cover the fov of a 35-70mm lens, and get rid of the 24mm and 50mm primes from my bag in one fowl swoop.

And it turns out it's even easier for portraiture.

35mm @f2.8 - 3 meters away
Here's a quick shot of my son Joshua taken with the 35mm about 3 large paces away. He's 11yrs old, and fills the frame easily.

50mm @f2.8 - 3 meters away
Same spot, this time with the 50mm attached (acting like a 75mm on the D90).

Step forward so I am only 2 meters away, and took another shot with the 35mm...

Nikkor 35mm @f2.8 - 2 meters away
So only one step forward with the 35mm gets me into 50mm territory when shooting portraits.

Nikkor 50mm @ f2.8 - 2 meters away
Switching back to the 50mm and taking a shot obviously gets me even closer still. Now we're talking 'classic' head and shoulders (although Josh is only 11 and not fully grown yet :-).

Move 1 step closer with the 35mm - so there's only about 1 meter between you and your subject (probably as close as you want to get to without invading someone's personal space - unless you know then really well), and you match the 50mm for head and shoulders portraiture...

Nikkor 35mm @ f2.8 - 1 meter away
As I said at the beginning, this isn't particularly scientific. But it was clear enough to convince me that 'zooming with the feet' with a 35mm could effectively cover all three lenses within the 35-70mm range - comfortably enough so that I am now selling both the 50mm and the 24mm primes.

Yes, there will be times when it's not possible to back up 5 meters, or maybe even go forward 2 meters - but then there's always cropping of the standard 35mm image if you really are desperate.

And besides, the 35mm f1.8G is just a drop dead gorgeous lens to use! I really love the look of Nikon's newer 'G' lenses, so I'm happier to part with the other two for now. I'll test the 'bokeh' another time - this seems to be the down-side of the 35mm 'G', but I wan't to test this out for myself. Will post my thoughts when I do.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sigma 10-20mm on its way.

What was I thinking!

Why would you try to make a DX prime lens kit? Three lenses was only going to give me the equivalent of a 35 to 70mm in traditional film photography terms - and I would never buy a 35-70mm lens in my wildest dreams! I repeat - "What was I thinking!?"

Well, I've come to my senses now, and have embraced all that is good and right and true about the humble zoom lens. Forget all this 24mm prime rubbish - I've gone and got myself a real wide angle lens for DX shooters - the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX DC HSM!

Finally - a 'real' ultra-wide lens
On a D90 with the x1.5 crop factor, this 10-20mm lens will give the equivalent of a 15 to 30mm lens - that's seriously wide.

And being an EX lens means that it's well built, uses 3 aspherical lens elements and 3 SLD (special low dispersion) elements to correct for lens aberrations. The HSM (high speed motor) gives it quick and quiet auto focusing, and the front element doesn't rotate, making the use of filters easy.

See... this is the kind of stuff you need to have in today's lenses - the kind of whiz-bang techno stuff that helps you create sharp, colourful, contrasty images. Why fight it, when you can embrace it and use it to create the kind of images you only dreamed were possible in the 'good old days' of 24mm primes  :-)

Bother! I havn't even got the 24mm yet and I'm already thinking of selling it!

Well, as I said last post - it's all a learning curve. And even after 25 years in this game, I'm still learning.