An oldie but a goodie...Tom Bihn Co-Pilot

I have collected a lot of bags over the years.  Ask any photographer and they will tell you they have yet to find the perfect bag.  I do have a lot of camera bags, but I also have quite a few all purpose shoulder bags and backpacks.  One of my favorite brands is Tom Bihn.  I have reviewed their pouches and the Synapse 19 backpack previously. You'll even see one of the Tom Bihn padded pouches in the video below, although I forgot to call it out as one of theirs.  

One of the downsides of collecting a lot of bags is I'll use one for a long time and then when I find something new that might fit my needs just a little better, the old bag sits on a shelf.  One thing I like to do from time to time is dig an old bag out of the closet and put it to use again.  This is what happened to the Co-Pilot.  Several weeks back I decided to start using it again and just after a day I remembered why I loved this bag so much.  It's extremely versatile and checks off a lot of the boxes for why I choose a bag in the first place.  It's compartmentalized, it can store a lot, and it's durable.  I've been caught in the rain with this bag, it's been shoved under airplane seats and even after tons of use, it still looks good.

I posted a video of the bag on YouTube and linked it below for your convenience.  It's a bit long and I use the word "durable" a lot. :)  If you use any of Tom Bihn's products, I think the same word will come to your mind as well.  In the video I say that the Olympus PEN-F would not fit when I was demonstrating the large back pocket of the bag.  What I meant is it wouldn't fit well in the large sewn in pocket, but it fits fine as I go on to say, in the back of the bag.

As of this writing the co-pilot is still available on the Tom Bihn website and retails for $140.  Click here if you want to check it out. 

The hoax that wasn't. The Olympus Super Fan Experiential

One night in December after a long day at work, I decided to catch up on some personal email.  I began to read an email that claimed I was chosen to join Olympus for their Super Fan Experiential in San Francisco.  With all the fake emails out there, I was skeptical.  It's was almost 10pm and I was tired...I must be reading this wrong.  After verifying with a few people, this too good to be true opportunity was actually legit! 

To say I was excited would be an understatement.  I've been an Olympus shooter since I purchased the E-P3 several years ago. I hadn't given up my Nikon gear at that point.  I liked the E-P3, but I've never been one for shooting exclusively by the LCD and the optional viewfinder just wasn't up to par for me.  It wasn't until I was hearing about the OM-D series listening to Frederick Van Johnson of TWIP and Derrick Story talking about it on their podcasts.  It didn't take long before I headed over to my favorite camera store Allen's Camera and I purchased a used OM-D E-M5.  That was it, I was in love.  Never have I felt so connected to a camera.  It reignited my passion for photography.  I've been hooked on Olympus ever since and I shoot the brand exclusively.

It's not just the incredible technology...the cameras are just fun to use.  From built-in filters that provide endless creative opportunities, to amazing features like live composite.  These are not gimmicks, they work and it's wonderful.  This is also a brand that innovates, not just to get you to buy the newest gear, as they provide firmware upgrades to make your older gear feel like new again.  When silent shutter came out, I was ready to upgrade, but they released a firmware upgrade for my existing body! Oh, and did I mention the Olympus community? It's like none other.  I belong to several Facebook groups filled with passionate photographers who are ready to help and provide inspiration.  It's amazing what belonging to a community can do for your photography.

Ok, enough about the background, let's talk about the trip!

Olympus chose 10 super fans for the event.  We were chosen for several reasons either because we are active in the Olympus gallery, attend Olympus sponsored events, spread the word about the brand through our social media channels in a positive manner, or visit Olympus trade show booths, etc.  This is only the second event of it's kind by Olympus and it was truly an honor to be selected.

The Food

Dessert at Barrel House Tavern

Dessert at Barrel House Tavern

We were able to experience a few really good restaurants during the trip.  All were excellent, but Barrel House Tavern had my favorite dessert (I cannot pass up a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich) and Bistro Boudin had the best sourdough bread ever!  At Aliment, I learned what smoked snow is (it's like tapioca powder). Here's a list of the restaurants with links.  If you are ever in the San Francisco area, these will not disappoint.

Hops & Hominy
Barrel House Tavern
Bistro Boudin

The Locations

The hotel was located in the financial district right next to Chinatown.  There was a lot to shoot right around the hotel but on our first full day, we were whisked away to Battery Spencer which overlooks the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. Along for the ride was Derrick Story, whom I first met in 2014 at one of his workshops, ironically held in San Francisco.  Check out his write up on our event here.  We then spent a few hours at Muir Woods...a truly magical place with magnificent redwoods all around.  

After Muir Woods and lunch in Sausalito, we had some free time, so I took an Uber over to the the Peak Design store in Hayes Valley.  I love all Peak Design products so it was a special treat to have time to check out their new flagship store.  Take a look at my post from earlier this month with more details.  Click here.

On our final full day of shooting, we met up with the Visionaries and headed over to Alcatraz.  After lunch, we stopped at Baker Beach.  The beach was filled with children, dogs and surfers and the weather was perfect. We had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  There is nothing like crisp air, sunny skies and the sound of the waves hitting the shore. 

The Gear

Another benefit of this trip is that Olympus provided us with gear to use, which meant less gear to take on the plane!  They provided the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens and any of the new primes we wanted to use:  17mm f/1.2, 25mm f/1.2 or the 45mm f/1.2.  They also had the necessary chargers and batteries and they even had a Wandrd backpack for us to use. I stuck with my Peak Design Everyday backpack, but others were saying that the Wandrd was very comfortable and functional.

I already own the E-M1 Mark II as well as the 12-100mm Pro lens and let me tell you they are a joy to use.  I used this combo the entire time.  With this focal range, I hardly had a desire to change lenses at all. In fact I didn't.  Occasionally I used my PEN-F with the 17mm f/1.8 and the only reason is that I had it on the mono setting and used it for some candid shots when we were walking around.  If you are looking for a travel lens and don't want to be bothered carrying lots of gear, the 12-100mm has you covered.  It's super sharp throughout the focal length and at f/4, you shouldn't need anything else for most situations.  It's even great at close ups - take a look at my tiny bubbles shot in the gallery below. 

All in all, this was a fantastic, once in a lifetime trip for me.  I enjoyed hanging out with some really awesome people, had great conversation, enjoyed all the places we visited, made some new friends, and learned some new things about the gear I love. 

If you are interested in seeing photos from this event from everyone that participated, search the hashtag: #CapturingSanFrancisco

If you are interested in learning more about the Olympus Visionaries, check out their profiles here.

Thank You's

A heartfelt thank you to everyone at Olympus and MullenLowe for organizing this event and for their support throughout the trip.  Thank you to the Olympus Visionaries who spent time with us at each location and sharing their passion with us.  To my fellow super are all awesome and I hope our paths cross again some day.

Check out the links below if you are interested in learning more about Olympus. 

All photos in the gallery below were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the 12-100mm f/4 Pro Lens, except for one which was taken with the PEN-F, 17mm f/1.8.  The in-camera dramatic tone filter was used for a few of the fog photos, otherwise the photos have not been processed. Some are using the in-camera digital zoom for extra reach when I needed it.

A Visit to Peak Design's Flagship Store!

I was recently in San Francisco with Olympus for their Super Fan Experiential.  More on that later in another post. While I was there, I had a chance to visit the Peak Design Flagship store in Hayes Valley.  The store is on the small side, but all of their products are on display.  The staff is very friendly and eager to show you all of the features of their products.  
I was mostly interested in the new Everyday Sling 5L to see if my Olympus PEN-F would fit in it comfortably.  Boy did it ever!  It fits nicely in the center compartment with room on either side of the dividers for small primes like the 45mm 1.8 or the 25mm 1.8.  You can even fit some of the larger lenses like the 7-14mm 2.8 Pro lens. 
If you find yourself in the area, it's worth a stop in.  I'll have more on the sling bag in a post later this month.  Check out the video below for a quick peek inside the store.  

Fotopro C5C vs Manfrotto BeFree Tripod

Tripods, I love them and I hate them.  I love them for the stability they provide.  Crisp, tack sharp images can be obtained if you do everything right. I hate them because I don't like the added weight of carrying them around, not to mention they are awkward to carry.  I hate bringing them so much that I often just leave them behind.  Thank goodness for Olympus 5-axis stabilization!!

For long exposure shots tripods are a must.  Whether you have in-body or lens stabilization there is no way you can hold a camera steady for more than a few seconds. So if I must carry one around, it needs to be small and relatively light.  Finding the right one for me is a little bit like finding the right camera bag...there is always something I wish were different about the one I pick.  Just like camera bags, stores can only carry a limited amount of gear, so often they don't carry the one I'm interested in and then I have to take a leap of faith and order it online and hope I like it.  Even if it comes highly recommended by friends, there is no guarantee it will match my needs.  

I've had many tripods over the years. When I was just starting out, I knew little about photography never mind what makes a good tripod and so spending $40 on a tripod at a big box store seemed like a good buy.  As I became more educated, I traded up to better tripods.  I even foolishly bought a very expensive tripod because a workshop instructor recommended one. It sat in the closet for years until I traded it in.  It was just too large and unwieldy.  I certainly couldn't travel with it and so the only time it was put to use was for local trips and short walks.

My search for the perfect tripod led me to the Manfrotto BeFree.  It was small, compact and it fit perfectly in my luggage.  But I soon began to discover it's faults. The quick release tripod plate mechanism while easy to use, I learned was not for me.   Having used Arca-Swiss plates previously, I discovered that I preferred it, so before long, I swapped out the head for a Joby. The clamps to release the legs were ok and seemed quicker than the twist style, but it's not much more convenient for me and I also tend to get things caught in them.  Ok, maybe it's just me that gets things caught in them. :)

The most hated feature of the BeFree is by far the leg extension mechanism.  Take a look at the photo to the right or better yet at the video below for a look at how they work. It's the first tripod I've ever had with this type of mechanism.  I find it awkward and I've pinched my fingers one too many times.  Again, this may just be me, but if it stops me from using it, then it's the wrong tool for me.  Why did I buy it if there are so many things wrong with it? Well, first of all, I was drawn in by the marketing and no camera store near me was carrying it.  Also, you learn some of these things by using it over time.  There are plenty of things I've purchased in a store and tried out that I thought were great, but over time you discover their shortcomings. 

So enter the Fotopro C5C.  Alex McClure, an Olympus Trailblazer I met last year at the Olympus InVision Photo Festival had been posting on Facebook how much he loved this tripod.  Soon after seeing his posts, my friend Mike Boening, also an Olympus Trailblazer, bought one and gave it a good review.  I trust these guys, but again, I was cautious.  So I looked at the specs and the things I disliked about the BeFree were not present on the Fotopro.  But still, I was not convinced, so I looked at other tripods and kept coming back to this one again.  Linked below you will see my video comparing the Manfrotto BeFee to the Fotopro.  Some may say it's not a fair comparison as the BeFree is aluminum and the Fotopro is carbon fiber.  The BeFree is also a fraction of the cost.  At my time of purchase, the BeFree was $119 on Amazon, it has since gone up some.  The Fotopro was $339.  My comparison video is not scientific, it's just my impressions of this new tripod, so take it for what it's worth.   

I told you what's bad about the BeFree, so let me tell you what I like so far about the C5C.  For starters, it's orange!  I love the bright, metallic color.   It will be easy to spot and will be easily identifiable when in workshops.  However, so many companies are making multi-color tripods now.  The carbon fiber legs are nice and smooth and not as cold to the touch as aluminum and the leg release mechanism on this tripod allows you to get a good grip for the twist to release the leg.  One of the legs will unscrew and when joined with the upper center column section becomes a monopod.  This feature was not available on the BeFree.  To extend the legs to the different positions, Fotopro has provided clips that you press on to advance to allow you to pull out or retract the legs into various positions with one press (see the video below on how this works).  Other tripods I've worked with you need to pull out a clip and then push it back in or in the case of the BeFree there are the awkward levers (can you tell I really don't like those?).  Fotopro provided a great, padded tripod case with an external zippered case for your tools to adjust your tripod.  The only thing I have found lacking so far on this kit is the instruction sheet.  One one side it is in Chinese (I could be wrong, but that's what it looked like to me) and on the revers, English.  It's evident that the Chinese was written first and the English side a direct translation.  There are sentences that are incomplete.  A tripod is not tough to figure out, but I would have preferred a bit more explanation on how the tripod leg comes off to become a monopod.  I unscrewed the collar with the leg thinking it needed to come off as well and it did not.  That's the only gripe so far.  Something to note is that in the video I mentioned that I thought the BeFree extended to the same size as the C5C and it is not.  The C5C is taller.  Here are some comparison specs below:

Manfrotto BeFree

  • Load Capacity: 5.5 lb
  • Max Height: 51.2"
  • Min Height: 19.3"
  • Folded Length: 12.6"
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Weight: 2.9 lb
  • Aluminum Construction
  • Flip Locks
  • Single Action Ball Head
  • 200PL Quick Release Plate Included

Fotopro C5C

  • Carbon Fiber
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Diameter: 25mm (.98in)
  • Max Height: 1500mm (59.06in)
  • Folded: 430mm (16.93in)
  • Weight: 1.2kg (2.65lbs)
  • Max Load of tripod: 15kg (33lbs)
  • Max load of the included FPH-52Q ball head: 8kg

Overall I'm very pleased with the Fotopro C5C in my limited use thus far.  I'll put it through it's paces and report back if my impression changes. Please watch the video below for a visual overview of the tripods.  I included some photos below of the Fotopro as well. 



Fotopro C5C Tripod/Monopod - First Impression

I was in the market for a new tripod when I heard some friends raving about the Fotopro C5C carbon fiber tripod/monopod.  I reviewed the spec online and decided to order it.  I ordered orange, which is one of my favorite colors.  Within a couple of days I heard from the company that it was no longer available and asked if I would be interested in blue.  I was not, so I decided to wait for orange to come back in stock.  The company was terrific about keeping me up to date on the order and in 3 weeks, I had my tripod. 

I did a quick unboxing video which you can check out below.  Overall I'm pleased with it.  It's not cheap at $339.95 US, but most carbon fiber tripods come at a much higher price than their aluminum counterparts.  The instruction sheets (2) were a little lacking.  Looks like they were Chinese first and translated into English.  There are some incomplete and cutoff sentences.  Not that I need a manual to figure out how to operate a tripod, but nonetheless, I like to review them.

Check the blog tomorrow for a closer look and a comparison to my old tripod, the Manfrotto BeFree.

Artifact Uprising - Wood Block + Prints Review

While chatting with a friend at work recently, something on his desk caught my eye.  A very simple wood block with a stack of prints protruding from a slit in the wood.  I immediately inquired and wanted to know how I could get one of my own.  This was my introduction to Artifact Uprising.  

The product I was admiring is their Wood Block + Prints.  I love it for it's simple design, but when I read the story of how this product was conceived, I love it even more. Read about it here.  

The block and prints can be seen in this photo to the right.  This one was a gift for my nephew.  That's my adorable great nephew in the middle there.  A block plus a set of 12 textured paper prints will set you back $23.99 as of this writing.  

According to their website, "The wood block is handcrafted in Colorado using mountain beetle pine reclaimed from our forests."  

The prints are 5 x 5.75" in size with a bottom weighted border.  The paper is a hefty, 120lb card stock.

The ordering process is super easy.  All you need to do is upload 12 photos and adjust them to fit in the sizing box provided.  Make sure all of your photos are appear in the frame otherwise you might get some blank prints. I ordered 3 sets and had them in a little over a week's time.  

If 12 prints are not enough for you, refill packs are available for $9.99 plus S&H. The refill pack includes 12 prints on the textured paper. 

Despite the thick textured stock, the photos are sharp and the colors beautifully rendered. It makes a great gift and you may even want one for yourself.  Click here for more information.  

Initial Thoughts - Olympus PEN-F

Image courtesy of the Olympus website

Image courtesy of the Olympus website

Every time Olympus announces a new product, I have to hide my wallet.  My Facebook and Twitter feed light up with reviews and comments from my friends.  The announcement of the Olympus PEN-F was no different.  

As soon as I laid eyes on this camera, I knew it was going to be hard for me to resist a pre-order. It's totally retro looking and I love it.  On announcement day I started reading all of the articles. My friends Mike Boening and Jamie MacDonald, Olympus Trailblazers, created a video that showed the camera up close and gave an overview of the features with actual images.  Check out the article and video here.  

If you are interested in hearing more about it, Mike and Jamie will host a live Google+ hangout all about this new camera tomorrow night.  Tune in to the Mirrorless Minutes show at 8:00pm ET on 2/1:

The most appealing aspects of the PEN-F for me are the retro design, the location of the viewfinder and the new profile controls.  The new sensor and 20 megapixels are nice, but that's not what wowed me about the camera.  

The one big deterrent and reason for not clicking the buy button is the price.  It's a whopping $1,199.99!  It's not weather sealed, does not have 4k video and there aren't enough new features to warrant that high of a price in my opinion.  I already own the OM-D E-M1 and the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, both of which cost less than this new camera.  If they priced it around $799, I think I would be more inclined to consider adding it to my collection.

Here are some more early looks and reviews of the PEN-F.  

Camera Labs:  

Steve Huff Photo:


The Nimble Photographer:

It is a compelling camera and maybe I'll get over the sticker shock and purchase it, but for now, my credit card is safe in my wallet.  


Podcast Recommendation - TWiP Family with Jenny Stein

I've been on hiatus for a while.  I didn't intend to be gone this long, but the holidays came, things got crazy, and before you knew it, it was 2016!  The first anniversary of this blog is almost upon me.  What better time to start writing again.  So for this first post of the new year, I have a recommendation...a podcast that I absolutely love...TWiP Family

I love podcasts.  Several years ago my podcatcher was full of productivity and Mac podcasts with a few photography podcasts thrown in here and there.  Today it's dominated by photography.  I have been a TWiP listener for a very long time and over the past year or so, they have expanded their network to include a variety of topics:  Street Photography, Gear, Weddings, Travel and my favorite, Family.

The TWiP Family show is hosted by Jenny Stein.  A mom of four that loves talking about photography.  She's warm and engaging, and loves to laugh with her guests as they talk about funny family stories and capturing your family's best moments.  If you're looking for a purely technical show with lots of talk about gear and f/stops and shutter speeds, this show is not for you.  You will, however, learn a lot about a broad range of areas as Jenny takes a deep dive with her guests on topics such as making prints, how to start a 365 day project, backing up your photos, organizing your photos in Lightroom and more. 

The focus is on family and so you'll hear a lot of talk about capturing the special moments in thelives of you, your children and your extended family.  I don't have children myself but I do have a family and am always looking for unique ways to document my life and theirs.  Through this show I have learned of so many photographers whose work I now follow.  I learned about Clickin Moms, a wonderful member oriented site where you can browse forums, post photos and get critiques.  They also have a wonderful magazine called "Click".  I'll write more about this wonderful site another time, but my point is through Jenny's interviews, you'll be exposed to many photographers that have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to offer, including Jenny herself. 

In addition to interviewing a variety of guests, Jenny occasionally does Q&A episodes.  Episode 30 is one of my favorites.  Take a listen here.  Listen to Episode 21 to hear why Sarah Wilkerson uses a 45mm tilt-shift lens to photograph her family.  A tilt-shift lens?  Wait, what?!  You just have to listen to the episode to find out more.  You can even send Jenny a question that she might chooseto air on the show.  I did and you'll here my question on an upcoming episode.  Check out the show notes for more information on how to submit a question.

Give the podcast a's like sitting in your living room chatting with a good friend about photography.

Follow the TWiP Family 365 day project on Flickr
Check out the TWiP Family Facebook page
Subscribe to the podcast:

PhotoPlus Expo 2015

One of my fall highlights is attending the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City.  Last year was the first time I had attended in many years and had so much fun I wanted to make it an annual event again.  Last year I had a chance to chat with Derrick Story , Frederick Van Johnson, Nicole S. Young and Brian Matiash. I'm fans of all of their work and it was a great treat to chat with them in person.  

This year, in addition to hoping I would run into some people I admire, I was also looking forward to checking out two new offerings from Peak Design, the new Think Tank Photo bag designed for women by women and the lens flipper by GoWing.  

We were fortunate enough to catch Saturday's keynote speaker, Jimmy Chin, who discussed his award-winning documentary, MERU.  He talked about how he got into photography, climbing stories and showed clips from the movie.  His stories whet my appetite for seeing the movie and I look forward to its release on DVD in November.

One of our first stops was the Olympus booth as I knew they were offering free camera checks including: exterior cleaning, image stabilizer check, firmware upgrade, full function check, auto focus accuracy check, and sensor & optical check. I dropped off my camera and was told to come back in an hour. Love that they offer this service for their customer base.

Olympus also had speakers throughout the day.  You can see a demonstration going on in the right corner of this photo.   

Last year I stopped at the Think Tank Photo booth to check out the Perception Series, of which I own two now.  This year I wanted to check out the new Lily Deanne series of bags designed by women for women. Premium quality bags in 3 sizes, the Lucido ($199.75), Mezzo ($249.75) and Tutto ($299.75).  The bags ship in a cardboard box with tissue paper held together by a sticker seal.  Not really sure what the deal is on the box and tissue paper.  Are they trying to convey that it's a designer series and therefore needs to be presented this way?  Do they think it would it appeal more to women if it were shipped this way?  I personally think it's a waste of packaging.  

The bag is nice overall with leather accents and magnetic closure.  Inside the bag it's lined with nylon material in a robin's nest color.  I like the brightly colored interior as it makes it easier to find small items that may drop to the bottom of the bag.  The main compartment also zippers shut for additional security, which is nice.  I don't think I'll be purchasing one, but would enjoy reviewing one if Think Tank wants to send one to me. :)

Another vendor that I look forward to visiting is PeakDesign.  I'm a big fan of their products. I own the Leash, Cuff and Clutch.  They had a big Kickstarter campaign this year for their Everyday Messenger bag.  I didn't back it as the price held me back.  I do not want to put out a lot of money for a product that I can't evaluate in person.  They had the bag out on display and after inspection, I knew that my intuition was right, this is not the bag for me.  I'm not a fan of the material and it just didn't "wow" me.  I do like the smart dividers and the ability to use the capture plate to mount your camera on the side of the bag, but none of the features stood out enough to make me want to add this bag to my collection.

On the other hand, I do like their Field Pouch ($39.95) and since I already own some of their straps, I can see how I might find this bag useful to carry about while street shooting.  

They also offer another product called the LENS Kit ($49.95) which is a neat little device that allows you to attach a lens to either end so you can carry two lenses and quickly and easily swap lenses without fumbling around with lens caps and such.  I thought when I asked at the booth that they had it available for micro four-thirds lenses, but I see on their site that they only have Canon EF, Nikon F or Sony E/FE mounts.  I'll be writing them to see if they will have any for my Olympus.  You can also get this adapter with the capture clip with the Capture Lens product for $89.95.  This kit uses their camera clip so you can securely attach it to a camera strap, backpack strap or a belt and change lenses one handed!  If you purchase the LENS Kit and you already own one of their straps, you can attach the devise to the anchors and carry it by the strap.

All of the Peak Design products mentioned above are available by pre-order.  I did walk away with one product that they did have in stock and that is the Slide Lite ($49.95), although on their website it's still showing that it's only available for pre-order.  It's a cross between the Leash and the Slide.  It's a wider strap than the Leash and it's easily adjustable with a little slider allowing you to change the length of the strap very easily.  

Similar to the LENS Kit mentioned above, a company named GoWing offers the Lens Flipper.  This kit comes with a strap.  It's currently on sale for $74.95 down from $89.95 for the micro four-thirds mount.  Click here to check it out. Canon, Sony, Fuji and Nikon mounts are also available.  

After evaluating both the GoWing and Peak Design lens switching models, I have to give a slight edge to Peak Design's model as it seems better made, but the only way to know for sure is to test it thoroughly in the field.  If I get one, I'll be sure to review it on this blog. 

The final product I'll talk about is a wrist strap by Barber Shop Bags (see photo to the right).  First of all, their booth was exquisitely designed.  I felt like I was stepping into a high end store. This is an Italian company and the booth staffers were extremely helpful.  I was attracted to their wrist straps, but they offer bags, straps and a few  other products.  I was eyeing the black leather strap, but decided to wait until later on in the day after I had toured the entire expo before making a buying decision.  When I finally made my way back, they were sold out of the black. They had a camel colored strap, but at the $60 price tag, I didn't want to settle.  I walked away, but kept thinking about the strap when I got home.  They had told me that B&H was a distributor and sure enough I was able to order from them for $63.95 (limited time price).  The price tag is slightly higher now.  It arrived yesterday.  Beautiful packaging for a beautifully designed product.  I look forward to using it.  I love my Peak Design Cuff and this one is definitely a step up, but does not detach as easily.  I think I'll get over it. :)

So there you have it. Just a small glimpse of what the PhotoPlus Expo has to offer.  I can't wait until next year!



Tom Bihn Synapse 19 Backpack Review

To say I love this bag would be an understatement.  Then again, I love just about anything that Tom Bihn makes. The Synapse 19 is my go-to travel backpack. This bag comes in either an Ultralight 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop exterior or 1000 denier Cordura® although I'm not seeing the Dyneema exterior currently as an option on their site.  The interior lining is 200 denier Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric.  This stuff is tough!  I chose the Dyneema for the exterior for my bag which is pictured below.

The backpack is a perfect size for my frame of 5’5”.  There is a larger Synapse 25 for the taller folks or if you just want more room.  It comes in an assortment of colors both inside and out.  There are six zippered compartments and there are plenty of o-rings to attach key straps and whatnot.  There is a large exterior zippered pocket large enough to store a 1 liter water bottle.

My luggage for my 7 day trip to Chicago.  Medium suitcase, Tom Bihn Synapse backpack and the Tenba Switch 8.  The backpack and Tenba fit snuggly underneath the airplane seat in front of me. Note this won't be possible on all airlines.

My luggage for my 7 day trip to Chicago.  Medium suitcase, Tom Bihn Synapse backpack and the Tenba Switch 8.  The backpack and Tenba fit snuggly underneath the airplane seat in front of me. Note this won't be possible on all airlines.

Whenever I’m traveling I try and pack as intelligently as I can and I’m always thinking of dual uses for what I carry with me.  In the case of my recent trip to Chicago, I needed to pack for two workshops.  I do not check my camera gear at the airport, therefore everything I need except my tripod needed to come with me on the plane.  I wanted some flexibility in how I could carry my gear when I got to my destination.  Check out the video below for exactly what I carried, but this this configuration allowed me to choose three options to carry my camera gear:  1) Synapse with camera gear inside and laptop when needed; 2) the Tenba packlite with BYOB 9 which was stowed in the backpack, (reviewed here); or just the Tenba Switch 8, which was the other carry-on bag. Having these three options afforded me the flexibility to be really light and nimble when I needed to be and allowed me to carry more gear when it was appropriate.

Also in my Synapse were a few Tom Bihn pouches (reviewed back in February) to keep my wires and cords in check and the Guardian Dual Function Light tethered in the bag by a keystrap.  This is a great light to keep clipped to your bag in case you need a little extra light to see into your bag at night.  It's waterproof and provides a steady beam or can be set to flash.  

I won’t go on and on here, the best way to get to know the bag is to see it, so enjoy the video below which will provide an in-depth look at this highly functional backpack.  As of this writing it goes for $170 and is available at the Tom Bihn website.


Tenba Packlite & BYOB 9 Review

I love photography, but carrying around a lot of gear can be a chore.  Readers of my blog know I love bags and there is no one size fits all as far as I'm concerned.  Some outings call for backpacks, others a shoulder style bag.  My choice of bags is always dictated by where I'm going, how long I'll be out, what type of photography I'll be doing, weather conditions, etc.  For street photography, the lighter the better and I want to be inconspicuous.  

Packlite in it's smallest form. Image courtesy of the Tenba website.

Packlite in it's smallest form. Image courtesy of the Tenba website.

I recently reviewed the Tenba Switch 8.  Tenba was not a company that was on my radar, but I came across the bag and decided to give it a go.  I was very pleased with the design of the bag and the features. Shortly after purchasing this bag, Tenba released the Packlite series.  A friend of mine picked one up and gave it a good review so I decided to invest in one.  

The Packlite comes in 4 different sizes:  7, 9, 10 & 13.  I purchased the Packlite 9 for $22.95. On it's own, it's a simple nylon bag that folds into it's mesh pocket and weighs under a half of a pound (see the photo to the right). It folds up so small, it can be stowed easily inside your camera.  Without pairing it with Tenba's BYOB inserts, it's uses are limited. The nylon is far too thin to carry my gear without further protection.  It could be useful to carry other items, but not my cameras or lenses.  If you purchase one of Tenba's inserts, which are paired by number, then the bag becomes much more useful.  I purchased the BYOB 9 ($39.95) and it fits all the gear I need for street shooting.  It's not a snug fit, so you are able to add some additional items to the bag if you like.  The Packlite also has a mesh pocket on the outside that is perfect for carrying a water bottle.

Even with the insert, the bag is very light and portable.  I walked around the streets of Chicago for many hours and was not bogged down by this bag at all.  Having the extra room inside enabled me to pack some snacks for the day as well. 

The BYOB also fits in many of the other bags I have and can literally transform any bag into a camera bag. It's very well made and has pockets all around the outside of the bag.  It zippers shut for security and has a handle on the top which is convenient if you bury the insert in a larger camera bag, it's easy to reach in and yank it out.  The lining is super soft and it comes with a bunch of dividers that are configurable. 

Paired together it's an awesome lightweight duo, but they have many uses as stand-alone bags in their own right.  Pictured below is the BYOB7, which is the smallest insert.  The BYOB 9 is slightly larger and has two dividers instead of one as pictured below.  The BYOB is very small, but can easily hold a body with lens attached or two lenses.  The Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens is pictured below both in and next to it to give you a sense of scale.  

Check out the video review below.

And now for something completely different...

I've repurposed many different style bags to use as a camera bag, but using a military ammo bag is a first!  I was reading my twitter feed when I came across a photo of someone's everyday carry bag and the contents--camera gear!.  The bag was a little unusual looking and I was intrigued.  I tweeted back to inquire what type of bag it was.  I was told it was a British Army Grab Bag.  A few tweets back and forth and I was a bit hooked and I felt compelled to try and find one.  

My search led me to eBay where I found a retailer in the US that was selling a new one for a very reasonable $34.99.  I paused for a little while, but my addiction to bags being as strong as it is, I went ahead and made the purchase. I had this curious bag in my hands within a few days.

I love my current commuter shooter bag, the Lowepro Passport Sling III, but I had to try out the field bag.  This is a real military bag and the intended purpose is to carry ammunition.  The front pockets you see in this photo to the right are meant to hold magazine rounds, but they are perfect for water bottles, flashes, flashlights, lenses or mini tripods.  

The bag is made out of very durable cordura fabric and the inside is lined with nylon.  There are no zippers on this bag.  The main compartment is secured by a very wide strip of velcro. The front pockets are secured in the same manner.  The side pockets are secured by small buckles.  The shoulder strap can be extended quite a bit and is made out of a seat belt-like material with an adjustable shoulder strap pad. 

One nice feature of the bag is the access panel on the top flap.  It's concealed by a panel of fabric and has a velcro strip that allows you to secure the panel out of the way.  You can now reach into your bag and grab the contents without opening up the top flap.  This is great for quickly grabbing your camera.  This is a feature I wish more camera manufacturer's would latch on to. The Tenba Switch 8 that I reviewed in July has this feature. 

There are no pockets in the interior of the bag.  I added an insert from one of my other bags and it fit perfectly and allows me to carry my Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the 14-150mm lens attached in the main compartment along with my iPad mini, notebook, wallet, and clear organizer pouch with my iPhone cords, headphones, etc.  The exterior pockets are perfect for eyeglass cases, water bottles, lenses (these are not flexible pockets and a chunky lens won't fit). Check out the video below for a complete view of what I was able to pack inside the bag.  I've been carrying it for a about a week now and it's working out to be great commuter bag.  

If you have repurposed a bag to use as a camera bag, let's hear about it!  Leave a note in the comments section below.

For those of you that watch the video, my apologies for the poor audio quality.  The wind was mild, but it was exaggerated by the camera's mic.

Think Tank Photo Perception Pro Backpack Review

I just got back from another photography workshop in Detroit, Michigan.  In my last post I talked all about prepping for a photography conference/workshop.  On this trip, I wanted to see if I could reduce the number of bags I was carrying even further. I love my Synapse backpack but decided to put the Think Tank Photo Perception Pro to work and try to limit my carry-on to one instead of two. Due to the fact that the Perception Pro has collapsable drawstring pockets and a sleeve for my iPad as well as my 13" MacBook Pro, I was able to do just that.  I had one medium size suitcase which I checked at the gate and the Perception Pro and that was it!

One of the things I love about the Perception Series is that they are designed with drawstring pouches sewn upright in the bag so that you can easily access the gear by reaching down into the bag from the top.  Most traditional backpacks have divided sections that are best accessed by laying the bag down and unzipping the top completely to get at your gear. The other feature that came in handy at the airport was the mesh pockets on either side of the bag.  I hate navigating the airport with my hands full of various things.  I was able to stash my boarding pass in the roomy front pocket and I had a soda bottle in one mesh pocket and a few snacks in the other mesh pocket.

The Pro is the largest in the Perception series.  The exterior dimensions are 11.4” W x 18.9” H x 7.9” D (29 x 48 x 20 cm).  The photo to the right shows the Tablet, 15 and Pro models. I reviewed the Tablet previously. You can read that review here.  The 15 and Tablet models only have the drawstring pouches in one row at the top of the bag and the bottom half of the bag is empty.  You can use an insert to store more gear, carry extra gear loose in the bottom or use it to pack personal items, snacks, light jacket, etc.  All of the bags have organizer pockets sewn to the inside bag lining.  There is a zippered pouch as well as some pen holders and other pockets.  All bags have zippered pockets on the exterior, hidden tripod strap and they all come with a rain cover.  The padded shoulder straps on each are very comfortable and they all have excellent foam padding and lumbar support.  The Pro has a waist strap that is removable. Only the Pro model has the mesh water bottle holders.  The bag retails for $149.75 at this writing on the Think Tank site.

The Perception Pro backpack in Taupe. I'm 5'5". When full it  rested against my butt.

The Perception Pro backpack in Taupe. I'm 5'5". When full it  rested against my butt.

On this trip I needed a variety of gear as I would be doing street shooting as well as some landscape and macro work.  I packed my tripod in my suitcase, but the rest of the gear had to fit into the backpack.  Due to the fact that I shoot with Olympus micro four-thirds gear, fitting a lot of gear in a relatively small package is not that difficult.  Inside the backpack I packed my Tenba Packlite Travel Bag, my Tenba BYOB9 and a Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag.   When I wanted to travel light and do street shooting, I took the Tenba combo.  For countryside shooting, I took the Perception Pro so that I could carry the variety of lenses I wanted and when I wasn't shooting and I needed to carry my wallet, glasses and my iPad mini, I had the packing cube shoulder bag.  I could have also used the Packlite for this purpose if I wanted to as well.

Here's a list of what I carried in the Perception Pro:

  • Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag set on the very top of the bag with my wallet, reading classes, keys, gum, tissues, pen and a clear organizer pouch with various cables and headphones.
  • Tenba Packlite
  • Tenba BYOB9 which was holding my Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a 9mm body cap fisheye, 60mm macro lens, 17mm lens
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with grip,  tripod plate and 12-40mm Pro lens attached 
  • Olympus 40-150mm Pro lens
  • Rokinon 7.5mm fisheye
  • 13" MacBook Pro
  • iPad mini with keyboard case
  • camera emergency kit
  • pad
  • pouch with itinerary and boarding pass
  • pen
  • lens pen
  • lens cloth
  • lens wipes
  • tripod allen wrench
  • media card wallet
  • Field Notes pad
  • 4 camera batteries
  • iPhone with Mophie Juice Pack

The Perception Pro fit under the seat in front of me on the plane to my destination with ample room to extend my legs on one side.  On the return, the aircraft had recently installed seats that were smaller and had reduced under seat storage.  The Perception protruded about 3-4 inches and had to be stowed in the overhead bin.

This is a very well-made, highly functional bag.  On it's own the bag is not heavy and it easily accommodates a lot of gear.  I would easily recommend this bag to anyone in need of a well organized bag with lots of features.

Check out the video below for a visual of everything discussed in this review. I didn't realize how tired I was when I recorded the video until I watched it afterwards. The bags under my eyes have bags!

Preparing for a Photography Conference or Workshop

I recently returned from a seven day photography trip to Chicago.  I attended two back-to-back events. One was a photography conference, the other a two day workshop. In addition, I also allowed for a day and a half of free time for myself.  A trip like this requires a little planning.  I'd like to share some of my tips all of which are based on US  travel:

  • Research, research research! I took the time to check out the hotels in the area as well as the hotel where the conference had a block of rooms.  I opted to stay at a different hotel within the same walking distance from the conference center.  It had all of the amenities I wanted including a hotel restaurant. I didn't need a car and therefore the only other arrangements I needed were the flights. Google Flights made that a quick task. I also checked out local restaurants and points of interest and made a list of must sees.
  • If you are a AAA member, take advantage of free guidebooks and maps. You might even be eligible for discounts at the hotel.
  • Check to see if there are any guidebooks specific to the region you are visiting. In my case, the organizer of the conference has an ebook that was extremely useful:  The Photographer's Guide to Chicago: 100 of the Best Locations and How to Photograph Them, which is available on Amazon. Click here to check it out.
  • If you are on any type of medication, make sure you bring enough with you to last for the entire trip.  The last thing you want to do is search out a pharmacy and to need to contact your physician to get a prescription refill.  If you are in a remote location, this might be difficult and can take a chunk of your time you weren't planning on.
  • If there will be a lot of walking required for any part of the conference or workshop, you might want to start gearing up for this a month or two before the trip if you are not generally active on a regular basis.
  • If you are planning on buying a new pair of walking shoes/sneakers, break them in before your trip.  The last thing you want to find out is that your new shoes are not comfortable for long periods or worse yet, develop blisters during one of your walks.
  • Bring a hat,  sunglasses or sunscreen if you need them.  You will also want to carry water with you.  You could be out for several hours and may not have a way of purchasing water. If you are traveling in the summer months, getting heatstroke or heat exhaustion can ruin your trip.  
  • I always make two packing lists for any trip; one for gear and one for everything else.  I do this weeks in advance and every time something comes to mind, I add it to the list.  I use Evernote as it's always with me wherever I go.  I keep all of these lists filed in Evernote by trip name.  For this trip I started by copying a list from my last photography adventure and made the adjustments based on my new location and time of year.  My list is slightly different based on climate, trip duration, type of photography I will be doing, etc.  When it comes time to start packing, all I do is pull up the list and put everything in my suitcase and carry-on bags.  I barely have to think about it at all.
  • During the thought process of building my gear list, I think about what type of photography I will be doing and how I want to carry it.  This will dictate what type of bag(s) I will bring and what type of gear. I generally steer away from backbacks in the warm summer months. For Chicago, it was mostly street shooting, so I knew I would be light on lenses.  I did bring two bodies and the reason is that I had a camera fail on me for an important occasion and I did not have a back-up.  That will never happen again!  Here's the gear I brought with me and why:
    • Bodies: Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 Mark II. I used the Mark II as my primary as I was doing mostly street shooting and since the E-M5 Mark II has a completely silent shutter, it's a no brainer.
    • Lenses: 9mm body cap, 12-40mm Pro, 17mm,  25mm, 60mm macro.  I brought the 17 and 25 for street shooting, the 9mm body cap for some architecture shots, the 12-40 for general all around shooting and the macro as I expected to visit the botanical garden and I love taking flower shots with this lens.
    • Manfrotto BeFree aluminum tripod for night shooting
    • Extra batteries with a charger, SanDisk memory cards, lens pen, lens cloth, lens wipes, Peak Design Cuff wrist strap and Leash camera strap.  
    • Headlamp or flashlight for walking around at night.  You may need it to walk a path or to retrieve something in your bag.  Don't rely on the light from your phone.  If you've been out all day, you may be running low on battery and you don't want to have a dead phone when you are out at night.
    • Laptop with charging cord for those sessions that require image processing/sharing.  You can also do this with an iPad.
    • I also make sure to carry a bag of cords with my iPad and iPhone cables and chargers, headphones, camera connection kit, etc.
  • Know your gear! You don't want to be trying to learn a new camera when you are on a workshop.  You'll end up missing shots and the workshop leader might not be familiar with your camera brand.  
These are the bags  I brought along to Chicago.  The Synapse backpack and Tenba Switch 8 were my carry on bags and fit under the seat.

These are the bags  I brought along to Chicago.  The Synapse backpack and Tenba Switch 8 were my carry on bags and fit under the seat.

I try and bring as few bags as possible, especially when traveling alone.  I carried a Tom Bihn Synapse backback (video review is coming soon) with my personal items and some camera gear stowed inside as well as my laptop.  I also packed my Tenba Switch 8, which I reviewed in yesterday's post, and one medium suitcase with my tripod and clothes.  Stuffed inside the backpack was the Tenba BYOB9 and the Packlite.  This configuration allowed me to choose from the Switch 8, the Packlite and the Synapse as options for  carrying around my camera gear.  I also packed my Tom Bihn Side Effect in case I needed a light purse for going out to dinner. It's also useful to carry some small lenses if I need an extra bag.

Conference Planning

  • Plan your itinerary carefully.  The conference I was attending offered many different classes and photo walks.  Do some research on the presenters if they are new to you. Leave ample time in-between classes, leave time for lunch and think about how much walking you want to do. 
  • Make a list of goals for your conference or workshop.  Is there someone in particular you want to meet? Is there something specific you want to learn? If you have a list prepared, your more likely to meet your goals than relying on memory for all of the things you want to achieve.
  • Check the weather before you venture out for the day - do you need an umbrella, will you need a rain cover for your gear, do you need a jacket? Dress in layers and carry water!
  • Bring business cards if you have them!  You will be meeting lots of people.  If you want to network, this is a great way to connect with people. If you are doing street photography, business cards come in handy if you want to offer to people to send them the photo you took of them. Hand them a card and tell them to contact you.

Well, there you have it, these are all the things I do when planning a trip.  I hope you found something useful in this post. If you have any trip planning tips, please share them in the comments section below.  I would love to hear from you!


Tenba Switch 8 Camera Bag Review

Camera bags...the never ending quest for the perfect one.  I recently purchased the Tenba Switch 8.  I've been using it for a little over a month and I've been loving it.  It has a few features that some of the other shoulder bags I own do not have and it doesn't necessarily look like a camera bag.  

The reason Tenba added the word "Switch" to the name is that this bag has a zippered cover that is removable therefore allowing you to "switch" to another color or fabric.  There are five colors in addition to the basic black that is standard. The bag has three zippered compartments in addition to the main camera compartment.  The rear zippered compartment fits my iPad mini in it's Logitech keyboard case.  The two zippered compartments in the front of the bag are perfect for carrying batteries, a lens cloth or wipes, your media card wallet among other things.  It has two mesh pockets on either side of the bag to hold a water bottle, mini umbrella, eye glass case, etc.  

Two features I love about this bag are the zipper opening on the top of the bag that allows easy access to your camera and the tripod holder on the bottom.  These two features are one of the reasons I purchased this bag.  The bag when empty is not heavy compared to some other bags I own, which makes it ideal for carrying for long stretches at a time.  Another benefit is that it doesn't necessarily look like a camera bag.

I've been using the bag as my main street bag for a little over a month and have really enjoyed using it.  I just got back from two workshops in Chicago and had only one gripe which is something I mention a few times (sorry, I was a little repetitive about this fact) on the video and that is I wish the shoulder strap were a little wider.  I did neglect to mention one feature on the video review and that is on the large front flap there are little flaps on either side that you can extend over both ends of the bag that act as a barrier when it rains. They will just prevent the droplets from entering the side of the bag, but are not much more protection than that.  Tenba does provide a full rain cover with the bag, however. 

The price is pretty reasonable at $99.95 at this writing on Amazon.  You can also purchase direct from Tenba on their site by clicking here.  

Check out the video review below.  It's a little lengthy, as I like to show all of the features of the bag with options for carrying gear.  I know it always helps me when I can see what a bag can hold.  I hope it helps you too.  

Commuter Shooter Update

So I've been carrying around my camera every day, everywhere I go for a week now.  I need to consider what I'm carrying because it is a little heavier than I would like.  I love my 12-40mm Pro and EM-5 Mark II combination, but it is a little weighty.  Maybe I'll switch to carrying the EM-10 and a different lens.  I'm also considering purchasing the 14-150 for more versatility, but the new weather sealed version is on backorder EVERYWHERE!!  I considered the Tamron, but it's not weather sealed.  I'll make some changes in the coming weeks and try different combinations.

I have been shooting more and some are just average snaps to document the evening, but at least I'm experimenting and using my gear more often.  Here are some random photos from this week.  

Commuter Shooter Wannabe

I have a fairly easy commute to work in Bucks County, PA.  I'm fortunate enough to not drive on an expressway but rather rural backroads with farms, barns and horses.  I recently was inspired by my friend and Olympus Trailblazer Jamie MacDonald, to be a commuter shooter. Check out his video here.  I take my camera to work on occasion, but I rarely stopped to photograph the beautiful scenery I pass every day.  Watching his video and hearing him talk at the Out of Chicago Conference last weekend really got me thinking about carrying my camera to work every day and making an effort to shoot along the way.  

Lowepro Passport Sling III

Lowepro Passport Sling III

At the conference Jamie spoke about what he carries in his commuter camera bag, a Think Tank Photo TurnStyle 10 sling bag.  It's small and light and fits everything he needs to shoot on the road.  When I'm at conferences or around a bunch of other photographers, one thing I love to do is check out the bags they use.  I like to inquire what they like about the bag they are carrying and what they dislike.  Sometimes I'm brave enough to ask for a look inside!  I did just that when on my second Chicago workshop. Co-leader of the workshop Alanna St. Laurent was sporting a Lowepro Passport Sling III.  I had seen the bag before at a Best Buy and passed it up.  The bag is now in it's third revision. I asked her for a peek inside her bag and she politely obliged. I liked that it had a mesh zippered pocket inside as well as a padded iPad sleeve.  It also has an expandable front compartment that gives you 30% more room.  While I liked the bag, I didn't think it would be a replacement for my current street bag.

On the way home from Chicago, I started thinking about Jamie's talk and the bag came to mind again.  This could be my commuter shooter bag.  At $46 on Amazon, the investment wasn't that significant. Currently when I take my camera to work, I'm carrying my purse, a camera bag and a laptop bag.  My thought process was that I could use the sling bag to carry the items I currently have in my purse in this bag instead and eliminate one bag. Now when I go to work I could carry my sling bag with my camera and all of my personal items and my laptop bag.  When I go out to lunch, I just need to carry one bag and I'm ready to stop and photograph anything I see along the way, including my food, which is a post for another day!  :)

So I ordered the bag and it arrived on Saturday. The bag is not overly padded, but the camera insert is sufficient to protect my gear and there is plenty of room with the expanded compartment for all of my personal items.  I can wear it as a shoulder bag or as a sling.  The camera insert does puzzle me a bit though as there is an open slot on the bottom and the padding on the bottom is folder over and can be stretched out (it's a little hard to explain). It's possibly constructed this way so you can fold it flat in case you want to take it out and compress it to pack it in a suitcase.  My other gripe is that the insert in the older models of this bag seemed to have been more well thought out with velcro on the side as well as the bottom.  The current edition has velcro only on the bottom to secure the insert to the bag.  The previous edition of the insert also had a side compartment or two for a media card, etc., while this one is just a plain foam insert.  That being said my Tenba BYOB 9 fits in the main compartment rather nicely, so I may swap the insert out at some point if this bag ends up being my daily carry. 

I'm all packed and ready to give it a go tomorrow.  We'll see how I like having everything in one bag and if I find any shortcomings with the bag itself.  I'm sure I camera bag is perfect after all.  I'm sure all of you can relate to that!  Thanks Jamie and Alanna for the inspiration!

Being prepared...

This past weekend I attended a family wedding. I was asked to take some photos of the bride getting ready.  I packed all the gear I thought I would need plus a little extra for good measure. 

Tucked inside the dress, over her heart, only she knew it was there...her grandmother's wedding band.

Tucked inside the dress, over her heart, only she knew it was there...her grandmother's wedding band.

The bride had several special mementos for her once in a lifetime day. One in particular had to be fastened to the dress. "Does anyone have a safety pin?" she asked.  No one in the room had one.  It suddenly occurred to me that I had my emergency kit packed in my camera bag and sure enough, I had 3  safety pins!  I quickly fumbled to get the safety pins for her and she was able to fasten the ring to the inside of her dress. Crises averted!

In addition to having all of the gear you need, there are other things you need to consider when shooting an event that will span over several hours.  Listed below are just a few tips and I'm sure you can think of many others.  Feel free to share your best tips in the comments section.

  • stay hydrated - make sure you carry water with you
  • carry snacks, gum, etc., anything that can tide you over until you can get food
  • carry bandaids in case you or someone you are with might need one.  It can also act as tape in a pinch.
  • carry a pain reliever.  You never know if you will need one throughout the day.
  • make sure to eat something before the shoot as it may be hours before you get food.  If it's an all day shoot, take the time to have lunch or dinner. If you don't think food will be provided to you, pack some food to take with you. 
  • be prepared for inclement weather...umbrella or rain covers for your camera bags
  • make sure to smile and have fun.  Even if you're nervous, you don't want to pass on your anxiety to anyone else.

If you're interested in what's in the emergency kit that I carry in my camera bag, check out my previous post here.  

Adventures in Light Painting

Every once in a while it's good to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone and try something new.  This is exactly what I did last Friday.  A few weeks ago I was searching the websites of a few local camera stores and I found a light painting workshop offered by Dan's Camera City.  The workshop was being held in a town I was familiar with about an hour from my home and it was led by someone I know, so bonus!  I signed up immediately.

With all the YouTube videos, articles and tutorials available these days, one could ask, "why spend $99 and drive an hour to learn light painting?"  Well, for me the chance to talk with an instructor in person and to meet other like minded photographers is an invaluable experience and it will trump the web any day.   

The evening started with a slide show presentation by Olympus Visionary, Frank Smith.  To view some of Frank's wonderful work, check out his website here. A representative from Olympus was also there with a few live drive kits to loan out.  An Olympus shooter myself, I didn't need to borrow any gear, but it was nice to have some experts around in case I needed assistance.

Once we started to lose the light, we headed down to the park to shoot. Frank provided tips on positioning as well as setting guidelines.  For best results you'll need to shoot in manual mode.  If your camera has in-body stabilization, turn it off when using a tripod.  Most of my images were taken at between f/5.6 and f/11 at ISO 640-1000 with auto white balance. Note in most cases when shooting at night a low ISO is best to keep the noise down, however, with Live Composite, the higher ISO was recommended to us. You'll have to experiment with your camera settings to see what works best in your situation.  You will also want to turn off auto focus, otherwise your camera will have difficulty finding focus in the dark.  When in bulb mode a 20-30sec exposure should produce good results. You want to be careful with how long you exposure your images.  Too long and you could start to see star trails if the sky is in your exposure.  When using Live Composite I had the camera set to take an exposure every 2.5 seconds.  

Here are some things you will need to do light painting:  

  • flashlight (those that have multiple colors are handy too)
  • headlamp (optional)
  • glow stick (optional)
  • tripod
  • wide angle lens
  • camera capable of manual settings and bulb mode
  • remote shutter release is handy if you have one
  • your creativity

It's recommended to wear dark clothing if you are going to be in front of the camera painting with a flashlight or other light source.

If you own an Olympus OM-D E-M1, E-M5 Mark II or E-M10, the Live Composite mode is definitely an advantage.  I'm still blown away by the ability to see the picture developing before your eyes. When you see the image the way you want it on the LCD screen, you just press the shutter again and you're done!  This mode also allowed us to set up our base shot then hit the shutter and help the instructors create the light with flashlights while the other folks had to stay with their cameras.  When we were done playing with the flashlights, we walked back to our cameras and finished the exposure.  As long as no other light is added to the scene while you are walking back to the camera, you should be good.  

In this photo below, the same person was repositioned and light painted for the entire length of the building.  The trick was to cover your lens with the lens cap during your exposure while the subject was being repositioned. This was just a first try so there are a few issues with this image.  You'll see various light streaks across the body of the subject in several of the positions.  This was due to the flashlight being aimed directly at my camera instead of the subject.  It's easy to do this when you are first learning this technique.  

f/11, ISO 640, auto WB, manual focus,   Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

f/11, ISO 640, auto WB, manual focus, Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

f/8, ISO 1000, auto WB, manual focus,   Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

f/8, ISO 1000, auto WB, manual focus, Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

In addition to light painting with flashlights, Frank also allowed us to play with a Pixelstick.  This was a bit of a mind blowing experience.  It's basically a large wand with a small electronic device attached that allows you to alter the patterns of light and it also has a media card slot so you can load up images to display.  To the naked eye, you see just a strip of light passing by, however, the camera is recording all of the light it sees, therefore when you are done exposing your shot, you see something like the pattern in this photo.  This device also allows you to cast a still image (check out the gallery at the end of this post for an example).

Another cool technique we learned is spinning steel wool.  You basically take a household whisk and stuff it with steel wool.  Attach the whisk to a rope (a dog leash would work well), light the wool on fire and spin it.  The results are really cool as you see in the image below. You can search the web for  articles and videos on how to do this and the correct steel wool to buy, but please take all of the necessary precautions if you are going to try this.  You don't want to do this standing on grass or in a dry area where grass or brush could catch fire.  Make sure you are in a safe area and you have someone watching out for stray sparks, etc.

f/8, ISO 1000, auto WB, manual focus,   Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

f/8, ISO 1000, auto WB, manual focus, Live Composite set to take an exposure every 2.5s

If you are an Olympus user, this is a great article on live composite and star trails:

Check out the gallery below for some more photos from the workshop.  All of the images you see below are straight out of the camera with no post-processing.  The exposure and framing aren't perfect in these shots and I certainly need more practice to capture better images, but I had a lot of fun and I learned a ton! If you live in Eastern PA, check out Dan's Camera for other workshop offerings.  Their staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Check out MeetUps and local stores in your area for any offerings they might have as well.  

Think Tank Photo Perception Tablet for DSLRs

First, apologies to my readers for the long hiatus.  Things have been quite busy.  I need to get better about keeping up my posts when life gets really hectic.  Now on to today's post...

So why am I writing about the Perception Tablet for DSLRs when I'm a mirrorless shooter?  Well, I received a question on my YouTube Channel about exactly this topic.  Can a Nikon D750 fit into the Perception Tablet?  Well, I don't have that exact model, but I do own a Nikon D7000 and it does fit.  It's a little snug compared to my Olympus bodies, but you can do it!  Here are the pics to prove it. 


Here's the Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 35mm attached, face down in the top compartment. 

Here's the Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 35mm attached, face down in the top compartment. 

Here's the same body but sideways with the small velcro insert removed.   

Here's the same body but sideways with the small velcro insert removed.   

As you can see from the photos above, the D7000 fit nicely into the top compartiment with a 35mm prime attached.  Note that the lens hood was also attached, so you would have a little bit more room in the sideways configuration if you reversed or removed the hood.  You can also remove the remaining divider for even more room or for use with a longer lens. 

As I've said before this is a very versatile bag and I've been using it quite a lot since I first reviewed it and I love it!