One bag to rule them all

search for the holy grail.

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Hey there, well its been a while since my last post, I have struggled recently with the work life balance in so much its been more work than life! Over the past month I have found it difficult to get out in the great outdoors with the camera other than a couple of extended dog walks. During these times I don’t stop thinking about photography so I turned my attention to my gear and to considered if there was anything I needed (need and want are entirely interchangeable here) to change or add.

At some stage I will post a staple “whats in my bag” update, but until then in brief I shoot Fujifilm (X-T2, X-T1, X70) and can’t be happier with my current camera set-up. I have lenses to cover most eventualities except macro, but I don’t do much in that genre, and they deliver exactly the quality I expect from Fujifilm. Any loss is quality is purely user error not equipment! As a primarily landscape photographer I also carry a host of filters, cable releases and various other accessories. All of which do the job, although I would like to trade up some of my filters in the coming months from Formatt Hitech to Lee, they are just better!

I can’t imagine I am the first photographer to suffer with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and certainly not the first to have acquired more camera bags than anyone could ever need over the past couple of years. I have managed to contain my desire for new kit to just acquiring bag which I thought would be the answer to all my prayers. I find it a familiar topic of conversation on workshops and photowalks, “What’s the best camera bag for …….?” Well here’s the cold hard truth, there isn’t one!

In all honestly theres is not one bag which answers everyone’s prayers in one package, in the past 2 years I have tried and got on with 6 or 7 bags but all had compromises, so recently I started looking again for the holy grail. I took the plunge and sold all my old bags which were worth anything and invested in a what I think my be the best bag on the market for my needs. Although I haven’t been out with it yet!! The bag I went for was the Lowepro Whilster 350AW and here’s why.

Before I took the plunge there was a list of 4 requirements which my ideal bag would have, not a long list but they are the bare essentials of the ideal bag and I wasn’t prepared to compromise. so the list is as follows;

  1. Back panel opening – this is a must for any landscape photographer who values a clean dry back on the long hike back to the car after a shoot.
  2. Enough space for camera, lenses & filters – this is surely a given, and with me using a mirrorless system any rucksack really should tick this box
  3. Space for hiking stuff – landscape photography can be tough to pack for, you can go from vigorous exercise to standing still in the wind and rain at any moment so you need to pack for all eventualities, waterproof jacket, insulated gillet, hat, gloves etc are a must.
  4. Tripod mount – less important than the other 3 as I don’t mind carrying my tripod but as I get more adventurous I’ll need my hands free more!

initial searches threw up a few results which looked promising, the Whistler (here), Lowepro’s Flipside Trek series, Mindshift’s Backlight (here) and of course F-stop’s offerings, the Rolls Royce of bags. Straight away the F-stops were discounted for a number of reasons, first price was much more than I wanted to pay, availability and I wasn’t sure F-stop was the kind of company I wanted to give my money to. If you haven’t already read this it makes interesting reading, story. I then got rid of the Flipside Trek, having seen it in person it just wasn’t big enough for me, it wouldn’t fit all my gear in and certainly not all the hiking stuff too. Don’t get me wrong its a good bag and will be great for many but for me its only good as a day bag for a short hike in predictable conditions, not what I look for!

Now down to a shortlist of 2 I then begrudgingly removed the Mindshift, a great bag, light, compact, ticked all the boxes, endorsed by a photographer I respect and admire, Paul Sanders. However availability was inconsistent and once I set my mind to something I want it straight away!! In all seriousness I would really like this bag but compare it to the Whistler and the Whistler pips it in all areas in my view.

So what has the Whistler got that the others I mentioned above and my previous bags haven’t? Well, it will easily fit all my gear in the camera section, 2 bodies, 6 lenses, filter holder, filter rings, filters in my Lee field pouch and my Fujifilm X70. thats a lot of kit, I’m not saying I’ll always have it all in but on some shoots I’ll want it all. It also fits everything else I would ever carry, Gore-Tex jacket & trousers, insulated gillet/jacket, hat, gloves, buff, spare socks and everything else I need to carry. I’m truly astounded about how much i can fit in this bag without it being bulky and cumbersome to carry.

It’s not all smooth sailing though there are some drawbacks, but they aren’t in the big 4 so I can live with them. firstly its heavy, not terribly so but heavier than you’d expect from an outdoor bag. secondly there is no space for water, either a bottle pocket of pace for a bladder, not a show stopper either as Lowepro do a bottle holder attachment which isn’t expensive.

I’m really looking forward to getting out in the mountains with this bag and will do a full review when I have a been using it for a while.

cheers for reading, let me know what bag you use and does it do everything you need.

Jon

L Brackets are the work of the Devil!

Ok this may be a little extreme but bear with me I will try to explain. I love L-brackets, they are extremely useful and make working on a tripod in portrait orientation a breeze. there is nothing more awkward than using the ball head in portrait, you are so restricted with composition. The main reason for having on is for use in taking panorama’s, for a relative novice in taking multiple shots and stitching them together in Lightroom my L-bracket is a must to reduce the distortion and prevent warping of the image.

I love L-brackets and find the extremely useful, then why are they the work of the devil I hear you ask? Well in my purely cinematic head the devil has worked his (or her, probably her!!) magic on me. He has played on my desire to make life easier and lulled me into a false sense of security. I have been promised the dream and shown it in so many videos on YouTube. I have been convinced to part with money to obtain this secret tool which was the answer to all my troubles (photographically speaking). Only to realise once I had bought one that everything wasn’t as it first appeared.

I am a Fuji user, I currently have an X-T2 and X-T1 both with L-brackets which I have bought from Amazon (hold on I’ll get to that!). The problem I have with both setups is how the bracket fits the camera. however good the Fuji cameras are I, and I do love their cameras I can’t help but think they haven’t thought things through. on all the fuji cameras that I’m aware of the connector ports where we plug-in the cable release is on the side opposite the grip. But why’s this a problem? because this is where the L-bracket sits. Therefore whenever I want to flip the camera into portrait mode and do some long exposures, life becomes a whole lot more complicated. Due to the way the bracket the connector cover and the plug for the cable release all sit I can’t have the camera in portrait with the cable release attached.

I’ll concede I have bought an after market, 3rd party L-bracket and I can’t expect the earth for what I paid. in fact the X-T2 bracket is a lot better than the X-T1 version from the same seller and very nearly works, but just not quite. Now the Scrooge McDuck’s out there will say just buy a Really Right Stuff one, but I’m not rich and £180+ for an L-bracket is stupid money no matter how good they are.

So what do a want? I want the moon on a stick of course. in all seriousness I do wish that Fuji would make their own L-bracket which works so we don’t have to buy 3rd party, the 3rd party ones which work were affordable or the plug for the 3 cable releases I own we a different shape which worked. Failing that, Fuji just swap the memory card slots with the connectors and leave me to sort the other 98 problems on the list.

And breathe!!!!

Cheers Again

Jon

Travel Plans

Exploring and taking pictures along the way

As you may have read in my earlier post reviewing 2016, one of my objectives for 2017 is to make sure I travel a lot more and explore some new areas. Well I have managed to plan a few trips for the next few months, no mean feat for me as I do struggle with making plans. I’m more of a react to whats going on kind of person!

Due to my lack of planning ability in 2016 I managed to carry a few days leave into this year which I need to use, which is a great excuse to take a few days away. so this month I am off to the lake district for a couple of days of taking pictures and climbing some hills. I plan to base myself in Penrith which gives me great access to a number of areas which I want to explore. although I only live an hour or so away from the lakes I don’t get up half as much as I should, but that will change this year. when I do make the drive to the lakes I tend to stick to a couple of places I know well and really enjoy, but this time I want to go to some new places and find some new shots. I have some planning to do yet before I go,  but I will definitely be writing a post on it when I get back.

Following my trip to the lake district in January I have nothing planned in for February but I am hoping to do a street photography workshop with Matt Hart. I really enjoy street, not so much the doing but the results definitely, and I would like to do it a bit more going forward. hopefully this will aid my creative thought processes which will translate into my landscape works, well that’s the theory.

For the past 2 years in March I have attended the Photography show in Birmingham which I plan to do again this year. I really enjoy the event, as a gear addict I love to look at all the shiny kit and each year challenge myself to not go bankrupt. This year I might win, fingers crossed! the photography tends to be geared more towards the portrait, commercial or wedding photographer with most of the talks and demonstrations centred around lighting and posing however you can find some really good presentations which are well worth seeing. It goes without saying you can always learn something on the Adobe stage but these presentations are usually in very high demand so get tickets early. although I try each year not to spend too much, I have failed twice, you can always pick some good bargains. this year for me my first port of call will be the “Disabled Photography Society” stand, a great charity who get loads of old gear donated to sell at the event. the last 2 years I have spied a film camera which I’d really like then talked myself out of it only to return 5 minutes later and its gone, but not this year!

Moving into April and I have planned a week-long excursion which I am really looking forward to. Not only will it give me a week of shooting, a chance to travel to some new areas but I am hiring a camper van for the week! for a long time now I have wanted a VW camper van to go camping and travelling the country but never had opportunity. having never spent time in one it would be stupid to buy one without first trying out the experience. I plan to hire the van from a place in Kilmarnock and travel to the Isle of Skye via Glencoe. I have been to Glencoe before on a workshop and want to explore some new views of the areas which aren’t always possible on a workshop. I really can’t wait to see the Isle of Skye a place I have wanted to visit for sometime and not had opportunity, largely because I thought it was further than it actually is! if all goes to plan I hope to get 2  sunsets and 2 sunrises in each destination which I hope will give me some great shots, weather permitting.

The plan will be document all my travels in the next 12 months with pictures and failures along the way. Hopefully more success than failure, but with every failure you can learn something new for the next time. Thanks for reading, check back soon for details of my latest interesting shoot by the sea.

Cheers

Jon

 

Things don’t always work as planned!

Fleetwood Marsh – know your tide times!

With a bit of time today and the weather expected to be fine, albeit a bit flat, I decided to head out and to a new location for me and explore. the spot I chose was inspired by a video I saw on You-Tube by Craig Roberts (Video). I have watched Craig’s videos for a while and was surprised to see him in my neck of the woods and shooting at a place I didn’t know existed!

Fleetwood Marshes are around an hour away from me, so I checked the tide times and decided I was best getting to the location for high tide. having never been to the location before I always feel its best to arrive for the tide retreating rather than coming in. you do not want to find yourself cut off by the tide whilst concentrating on a shot, and by arriving for the tide at its highest you scout the best spots, find the best routes in and most importantly best means of escape. This means when you return in the future you can arrive at any time and be confident you know how to get back when the tide comes in.

When I arrived I couldn’t believe how high the tide was, I walked down to the front and could barely get onto the marsh as the water was so high.  At the point I nearly threw in the towel and went home but thought why not hang about for half and hour and see how quickly it started to recede. So I got the camera out and just took a few shots of the ships which were my planned subject, a quick half hour passed and looked down at the how much the water level had changed. It had only got higher! Feeling a bit dejected I picked up my bag an trudged down the side of the river, thankfully at this moment a very kind man in a kayak floated over and started to talk to me about what I was shooting. I explained that I’d planned to get onto the marsh to get some shots of the Shipwrecks but I was going to have to come back. The Gentleman then explained to me the water was only about 2 feet deep and it would be clear in an hour and I could walk right out to ships easily! You can see below the scene which greeted me when I arrived.

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Who could have believed that within, half an hour I would be stood next to that piece of wood in front of the right hand ship. I certainly didn’t! I decided to retreat to the car wait it out and have some lunch. 40 mins later I grabbed the bag and set off back to the river bank expecting to be greeted with the same scene I left earlier. how wrong could i have been!

When I returned the water had all but gone, I had to work faster than I’d have liked and tried to figure out the way to the end of the water and set up a shot. The photo I had planned was using one of the gullies as a leading line into the ships and the setting a long exposure up to smooth out the water. However there wasn’t quite enough time so I quickly found a suitable alternative composition and got set up.

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With the lack of water flowing through the gully I focused on the structure of the nearest boat and looked to get some movement in the sky. This would only work in mono due to the lack of colour in the scene (largely different shades of brown!). It’s not the best shot I’ve ever taken and not what I planned but it turned out ok, I will definitely return with a better understanding of the location to get the shot I imagined.

I suppose the lesson learnt here is to not be disappointed if things don’t happen as planned, each time you go out and shoot you learn something. Whether that be about your equipment, the way the weather works or the location you are at. The key is to take note of what you learn on that day and build that into the next shoot. I definitely learnt a lot on this shoot, even though it was a quick trip out.

Thanks for reading, speak soon

Jon