Entries in camera gear (18)


One (plus one) bag travel

As I head out to my conference in Australia, with a stop in New Zealand on the way, I've been planning for how to pack for the trek. Some caveats as a starting point:

  • Although part of my trip involves attending an academic conference, I tend to dress at the causal end of the spectrum for these sorts of things (maybe even outside the range of what is normative). No suits, ties, shiny leather shoes, etc.
  • There will be lots of walking and exploring in the cities, as well as some hiking in the countryside. Much more on the activewear side of things rather than anything formal.
  • I tend to be low maintenance when it comes to toiletries, and am perfectly fine using whatever is found in the hotel. And I don't mind being scruffy and going without shaving for a few weeks.
  • Admittedly, there's likely going to be more photography gear than most would bring. In particular, a second body is a total luxery. But I'd be crushed if I had a problem with my camera and didn't have a backup on a trip like this. And it's not like I'll be carrying two DSLRs...
  • I need to have a pack for day trips with my photo gear and small messenger bag for the conference and walking around Sydney and Melbourne.

I've been reading about "one bag travel," where the goal is to fit everything into a carry-on bag. Given that I'm an avid photographer, I know there's no way I can do this, unless half of the bag is camera gear. Even though I travel with the small(ish) Fuji X-sytem which is lighter than the Nikon DSLR I used to travel with, it's still more gear than most "one-baggers" would carry. Couple that with a (small) laptop and iPad, I know one bag isn't going to happen. But if I could get to "MLC" (maximum legal carry-on; ~40 liters) bag plus a small bag or backpack (i.e., "personal item" on the plane), I'd be going much lighter than the 90+ liter Gregory Whitney backpack I previously traveled with. So here's the plan...

Click to read more ...


What is a "professional camera"

A lot of concert (and other) venues note that no "professional cameras" are allowed, and by extension, that "non-professional" cameras are okay. This post isn't intended to cover whether one has the right, or not, to take pictures at a concert (or how to do so respectfully/discretely). Instead, I just wish that someone would define what a professional camera is...

  • Does "professional" mean that one is making money from their pictures; e.g., like a professional vs. amateur athlete? If so, then it's the use of the images, and not the type of camera that defines "professional."
  • Or does "professional" mean interchangeable lenses? This doesn't make much sense either, since by this logic the $2800 Sony RX1R and $1300 Fuji X100s are non-professional, while the $500 Nikon D3200 or 1-system are professional?
  • Does "professional" mean a zoom lens? Telephoto? A certain length?

Here's a list of camera regulations at each of the NBA arenas. Some of policies actually have a useful level of specificity! In addition to detachable lenses, the length of the lens seems to be a determining factor (6" seems to be the cutoff between non-professional and professional cameras).

The Fuji X-system (specifically thd X-E1 and similar) should be okay by most, but not all, definitions. It's not a DSLR, it has a relatively low-profile (i.e., no big viewfinder hump), and most of the lenses are under 6". The only sticking point is that it does have a detachable lens.

I've never been hassled with my X-Pro1 (or now X-E1, since it's even smaller) with the 60mm f/2.4 lens. I just received the 56mm f/1.2 which is bigger than the 60mm, but hopeful still won't garner much notice.

Update: I did recently get hassled by someone checking bags at a concert over my X-E1 wearing the 56mm lens. I mildly protested, and another person working the doors came over and after asking if it was a "zoom lens" (which it isn't), let me in. In the future, I should make sure the X-E1 is wearing a pancake lens when getting checked at the door so that it resembles a point and shoot, which they seem to be fine with.


Summer 2014 is looking fun

Unfortunately, Tahiti isn't in my itinerary.Summer travels #1 - My biannual conference is in Australia this summer, which will make for some excellent travel and photography opportunities. Before the conference I'll be exploring New Zealand for about 12 days with a friend (and photographer), and then will have ~4-5 days in Sydney before ending up in Melbourne for my meeting. I anticipate the kit will be the X-Pro1 and X-E1 bodies, and 10-24mm, 55-200mm, 27mm, and 35mm lenses. The 55-200mm will likely be attached primarily to the X-E1 (since it's not a good lens to use with the optical viewfinder on the X-Pro1), and the 10-24mm will be at home on the X-Pro1. The primes will be used on both, depending on if using the OVF (X-Pro1) or compactness (X-E1) is desired. My guess is that I'll pack this all in the F-Stop Kenti, but haven't totally settled on that yet.

Summer travels #2 - Although Jen isn't going to Australia and New Zealand with me, she deserves a nice vacation too, right? We'll be meeting up with some friends/colleagues for two weeks in northern Europe, starting in Belgium (Ghent, Antwerp), then to Amsterdam, and ending in Prague. The gear will likely be similar to the other trip, with the 18-55mm kit lens added into the mix (and the 55-200mm staying home?). Update: Trip canceled at the very last minute due to some stupidity on my part and a big dose of greediness on the part of American Airlines. Sigh.

Summer travels #3 - I'd like to do a trip out to see my family in Oregon at some point. Update: this is going to happen! 

Since I'm about to sign a contract for a new, long-term, business venture/consulting gig (hopefully), I'm going to have to work a couple hours a day during my trip to the southern hemisphere. And as much as I like travelling with just an iPad (which I managed for 3 weeks last time we were in Europe), to do any real work I'll need to bring a laptop, and there's no way I'm going to lug my 15" MacBook Pro with me. So one thing I'll need to get before my trip is an 11" MacBook Air. These always seem to refresh in the summer, but I might end up having to buy in May, right before new ones come out. That would be a bummer, but probably how it will work out. When we're in Europe, Jen will need a lightweight laptop since she'll be teaching online. Either she'll use that MBAir and I'll go with my iPad, or we might need two MBAirs. I guess that's the price to pay for having jobs that allow us to work from afar.

(update) Summer travels #4 - A jaunt to L.A. for a few days to work on the business venture mentioned above. Wow, I'll be racking up the miles this summer...


(Almost) All in with Fuji

With the school year coming to a close and summer travels just around the corner, I've been doing some reevaluation of my camera gear. I haven't shot with my Nikon D90 in about 10 months, while my X-Pro1 has become my favorite travel and concert companion (everything in my 2013 albums and 2014 albums, to date, other than the Philly Cycling Classic and most of the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival photos, was with the X-Pro1).

With the new 10-24mm lens, and last year's 55-200mm zoom, Fuji now covers a great range for travel. My favorite travel lens for Europe on my D90 was the excellent Tokina 11-16mm super-wide lens. The Fuji 10-24mm is a stop slower, but has a more useful range. I'd been waffling on whether I should get the 10-24mm, mostly because I was worried it would be too large/heavy and defeat the purpose of traveling with a smaller system. But after getting my hands on one, it's manageble. Ditto on the 55-200mm; Fuji now has a credible telephoto zoom. Those two lenses and a couple of normal/fast primes makes for a nice travel kit.

On the flip side, in the last year my Nikon hasn't seen much action with the Tokina 11-16mm and 35mm f/1.8 DX; that's the range where the Fuji system excels (especially now the that 10-24mm has been released). So those, and Jen's D3100 and 18-105mm DX (since she's moving to a Fuji X-E1), found new homes to raise funds for the 10-24mm. Plus I just got a nice paycheck from some extra work I recently completed (the academic version of "consulting"), so the new 56mm f/1.2 arrived. This will be a great lens for concerts; I've been using the 60mm f/2.4 and it's okay for this, but being two stops faster and (hopefully) quicker to focus will make it a perfect concert photography lens.

It appears that I've officially moved over to the mirrorless camp, except for specific situations where the Nikon system still has Fuji beat (e.g., shooting cycling and macro). I did keep a handful of Nikon lenses; at some point I may step up to FX/full-frame and so I kept a few of my favorite lenses for that: the 105mm macro, 85mm f/1.4D, and 135 f/2 DC. The 135mm and 85mm may make for good lenses to use with a converter with the Fuji system (I shot the Aimee Mann concert with the 135mm on the X-Pro1 last spring). I also kept the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; I wouldn't say that this is one of my favorite lenses, but I've found it to be okay for shooting cycling (at least since I don't have the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8). The only DX Nikon lens I kept was the 10.5mm fisheye. With a converter, this is a fun lens on the Fuji (and the only fisheyes available for the Fuji system are manual focus, so there's not a better option than my Nikon 10.5mm).


What's Old is What's New

It's been over a month since I've had time to post anything here. Work has been busy, the weather has sucked, and I've been sick so I haven't had time to get out to take any pictures. But there is some news on the photography (gear) front. With summer travel plans starting to come together, the opportunity to pick up a new camera body and lens couldn't be passed up!

Given my increasing infatuation with the Fujifilm X-series system, you're probably thinking I sprung for the new X-T1 or X-E2 (both of which look like an excellent cameras) or the forthcoming 10-24mm f/4 or 56mm f/1.2 lenses (both are on my wishlist). But no, I'm going old school. And by "old" I mean the one-year old X-E1, which has be replaced by the X-E2 i nthe Fuji lineup. Why would I spend money on a camera that has been discontinued? Because they are giving them away for $30.

The X-E1 originally sold for $1400 with the 18-55mm "kit" lens (which gets great ratings). A year after its release it has been replaced in the Fuji lineup with the X-E2 (which sells for $1300, with lens) and the remaining X-E1 stock is being discounted. I just found it for $729, including the lens. The lens goes for $699 when sold alone. So, if you were going to buy that lens, you can get the X-E1 for an additional $30 by buying the kit. Buying just a spare battery for my X-Pro1 (which uses the same battery as the X-E1) would cost more that $30!

Why do I need an X-E1 body. First, it will make a good backup body. When I'm traveling (alone) this summer, it will be nice to have a second, lightweight body to throw in my bag, and I can use it when I don't want to change lenses. Second, when Jen and I are traveling together, it will make a great camera for her. Although the Nikon D3100 she's been using takes nice pictures, it is comparatively bulky. And if I'm shooting with my X-Pro1, when we'd be carrying batteries, lenses, etc for two systems. The X-E1 is smaller and will fit her well, and can share all of the other gear I'd be taking anyways.


Travel photography gear, 2013 edition

With the end of the school year, it's time to think about summer vacation. We'll be spending some time in the pacific northwest and also going through some of the parks in the northern Rockies (possibly Glacier, but haven't fully decided yet). There should be great opportunities for shooting, although packing relatively light would be prudent, so I can't take the photographic kitchen sink. Here's the plan:

  • No brainer: Fuji X-Pro1 with a kit of prime lenses. Small, unobtrusive, awesome image quailty. I have the the 55-200mm zoom coming too, so in terms of focal length, this hits about everything.
  • D3100 w/ 18-105mm lensDebate: Nikon D90. I recently fell back in love with my D90, shooting at a bluegrass festival and bike race. But the X-Pro1 should cover most of my needs, especially with the telephoto zoom on the long end and 14mm prime on the wide side. It would be nice to have the ability to go even longer and there might be some excellent opportunities to shoot flowers/macro, so my 70-300mm zoom and 105mm micro would be the lenses I'd want in a Nikon kit for this trip. But rather than taking both my D90 and Jen's D3100 (with 18-105mm kit lens that originally came with my D90), to save space I think we'll just take her Nikon and I'll liberally borrow it to use with the 70-300mm and 105mm lenses. Although the controls and general performance (i.e., speed) of the D3100 doesn't quite match the D90, in terms of the image quality, it's probably as good, if not better. So we'll share her D3100.
  • A luxury: My tripod isn't small, but I could see it being really useful for landscapes.
  • Didn't make the cut: Although it's one of my favorite lenses, I'm going to leave the Tokina 11-16mm behind and have my wide shooting be covered by the Fuji 14mm prime. We'll see if I miss it! But since the Tokina won't focus with the D3100 (I have the older version of the lens), a commitment to bringing this lens sends me down to the path of also lugging the D90.

Update: Upon returning, here's a report on what my minimal kit will be in the future, based on my experiences on this trip. I continue to love the X-Pro1, and over the last month I shot almost exclusively with my two newest lenses for it (14mm and 55-200mm....see some pictures here and here); those two, along with the 35mm prime, would make an excellent lightweight kit for a trip to Europe :-)


F-Stop Loka: What's in there?

I previously wrote about receiving my F-Stop Loka unexpectedly, just in time for a trip to the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. Here's a shot of what fits in the small pro ICU. Note that it's just deep enough that a small lens in a case (here a 10.5mm fisheye) can fit on top of the 70-300mm lens attached to the camera body.


F-Stop GateKeepers: Alternatives

An interesting feature of the F-Stop backpack system is that GateKeeper straps can be added at various positions on their bags to enhance the functionality. I ordered a few of these to go with my Kenti and Loka packs, however they are chronically backordered and I'm not sure when they will arrive (see update at the end of this post).

I ran across this strap from Tom Bihn (below) that looks to have very similar clips as the GateKeeper straps; it likely would work, although the webbing seems significantly longer than necessary and would probably require some modifications to get the length right (i.e., so that there's not too much excess strap).

Update (June 26, 2013): here's another alternative from MindShift:

Then recently I was at my local REI and found these Gear Aid Quick-Attach Tri-Glide Buckles (also available at EMS), which looked like they would fit nicely into the GateKeeper attachment points on F-Stop packs.

Paired with some 1" webbing straps, I figured they would work as an alternative to F-Stop's own GateKeepers straps. The webbing straps at REI were by Redpoint and come in different lengths (24", 40", and 60") and colors.

Here's a shot of the clips attached to the Kenti...Not sure that green was the best color choice, but it illustrates this alternative system pretty well. The total cost was about $15 for these two straps (two 2-packs of clips and one 2-pack of straps). 

Update #1 (July 29, 2013): The F-Stop website has shown Gatekeepers as "in stock" for a while now. I was on vacation and assumed that my backorder would ship and be waiting for me when I returned. However, they weren't, and an email on July 22 from F-Stop support confirmed that they handn't shipped. Somehow my backorder got lost in the shuffle and didn't ship; I wouldn't have known this if I wasn't periodically checking their page to know that they were in stock. The nice person at customer service said they would ship ASAP...But they didn't. A week later and still no Gatekeepers. With a follow-up email I learned that they bungled the shipping again. Hopefully they shipped today; I'll update if/when they arrive.

The interwebs are filled with similar comments, but I'll restate what others have observed: F-Stop makes an awesome product, but their availability, (back-)ordering, and shipping reliability leaves much to be desired...

Update #2 (August 2, 2013): Although the person I emailed with on Monday (in Update 1) said "they will ship today," just now (Friday) I got an email with shipping details. According to UPS a "shipping label has been created" and (maybe?) the are actually shipping today...five days after F-Stop said they had shipped. Well at least hopefully this is out of F-Stops hands and I only need to rely on UPS now...

Update #3 (August 7, 2013): The Gatekeepers have finally arrived, and they are slick. I seem to have ordered two more sets than I need (my guess is that when ordering, I didn't realize they came in pairs), so I have an extra set of both the long and short straps. Next time they go out of stock at F-Stop, they'll be like gold.


Nikon DSLR system: My rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated

Last week I noted how I hadn't used my Nikon D90 and lenses in many moons, in favor of the Fuji X-Pro1 and three excellent prime lenses (18mm, 35mm, and 60mm). Is the Nikon system on it's way out? Not so fast! (April 2014: see update here)

Larry Sparks (70-300mm VR @300mm, f/5.6)Having just returned from a weekend of music and photography at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, the D90 was awesome, capturing most of the images in my album from the gathering. While I've primarily been shooting with the X-Pro1 at concerts recently, in many ways that's a function of the discreteness of the Fuji when paired with one of the prime lenses in the system. At the festival I was able to wander around shooting with whatever camera I wanted without attracting my attention since there were tons of other photographers there. My D90 with 70-300mm VR lens was relatively small compared to gripped bodies with 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses I saw and I fit in with all the casual shooters with prosumer bodies and kit zooms.


For daytime shooting, the 70-300mm VR lens worked like a champ. Sometimes the images it produces seem a bit washed out, but that's usually fixable in post-processing. But the range it offers for outdoor shooting was just about perfect. Once the sun went down I switched to my 135mm f/2 DC, which is becoming one of my favorites on both the D90 and adapted on the X-Pro1. It's nice and compact and produces awesome images. One of these days when I when the lottery I'll pick up a 70-200mm f/2.8, but for now I like my kit.

Since I don't see myself abandoning the SLR platform and moving exlusively to the Fuji stytem, here's what I want in a future Nikon body: 

  • As much I'm tempted to upgrade to a full-frame body, I like the extra reach of a crop-sensor system. I could always go with a high-resolution camera like a D800 and crop when needed, but that seems like overkill, and generally I'm not so interested in the huge files that the D800 outputs. Plus I'm somewhat invested in DX lenses, primarily with my Tokina 11-16mm (my favorite!) and 10.5mm fisheye.
  • Speaking of lenses, any future Nikon I get needs to have an in-body motor, since three of my favorite lenses are the older-type that don't have in-lens focusing motors (just for review, those three are the Tokina 11-16mm, Nikon 10.5mm fisheye, and 135mm f/2 DC).
  • Improved high-ISO performance. I like shooting concerts and other low-light situations.
  • I don't care about video capabilities, but I know that this is probably something that all future DSLRs will include. Hopefully Nikon will at least keep the video functionality out of of the way and won't go overboard and make it a central feature of the camera.
  • This seems like the mythical D400 which has been hotly anticipated by Nikon shooters.

Surprise arrival: F-Stop Loka backpack

I recently received a few hundred dollars out of the blue for some work I did a a couple of years ago (the gift that keeps on giving!). Earlier this spring, when looking for a new camera backpack, I debated between the F-Stop Loka and Kenti, with the Kenti eventually winning out due to its smaller size (i.e., fitting under an airplane seat). Given that F-Stop bags and accessories are perpetually backordered for months on end, I decided to order a Loka and small professional ICU (more on the ICU system below) with my new found money, figuring that it wouldn't be here for many months. Much to my surprise, it shipped within a few days of my order, and was delivered from their warehouse in Hong Kong in under two weeks. While the Loka was in stock on their website, the ICU was out of stock, so I'm shocked that they were able to deliver so fast (i.e., their website and actual inventory seem out of sync). As awesome as their products are, there are chronic issues with availability and I seemed to have lucked out. (note: as a social psychologist, I know that scarcity impacts desirability!)

There are lots of reviews of the Loka online so I'm not intending to do that here. The key thing to note about the F-Stop system is the Internal Camera Unit (ICU). I got the small pro size, which holds my Nikon D90 and 3-4 lenses, or will easily accommodate my Fuji x100 and X-Pro1 system. If it ever is released and becomes available, the mythical large "LT" ICU is next on my list, for holding even more camera gear and a laptop. I like the idea of the large LT because should my Loka ever have to be gate-checked while flying, the ICU full of gear could be removed and I could keep my breakables under the seat in front of me.

The Loka arrived just in time for my 3-day campout at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. On the trip the small pro ICU held my Nikon D90 with attached 70-300mm lens, 10.5mm fisheye, 50mm f/1.4, 135mm DC, and Tokina 11-16mm lenses (with their respective hoods reversed), and there was still plenty of space in the bag (i.e., above the ICU) for my Fuji X-Pro1 with one lens attached and the other two lenses in small cases, iPad, sweatshirt, and a stack of exams in file folders, all with room to spare. Yes, I'm a geek and had to grade while I was away...

See a picture of the pack and full ICU here.


Love for the Fuji X system

Ever since getting my Fuji X-Pro1 last July (along with the x100 the previous fall), I've hardly touched my Nikon D90. Although I did use it extensively in Amsterdam, Germany and Austria, and Italy last June, since the arrival of the X-Pro1 my Nikon gear has been largely dormant. Why I've bonded with the X-Pro1: 

  • Size and weight. This is the obvious benefit. The X-Pro1 body is smaller and lighter, as are the lenses. It's awesome for travel.
  • Discreteness. Similar to the size and weight advantage, but having more to do with others' responses (or lack thereof) to me shooting with the X-Pro1. This is even a bigger deal for me than the actual size of the camera. In particular, I've taken it to a few concerts recently and have shot from my seat with excellent results (see here, here, and here). My guess is that an usher would have stopped me if it was my D90 because it looks "too professional." 
  • Manual controls. Selecting shutter speed with a dial? Check. Setting the aperture by turning a ring on the lens? Check. A dial for exposure compensation? Check. I love the old-school controls.
  • Adapted lenses. I dig that I can use my Nikon lenses with it. In particular, I figured that my 10.5mm fisheye would be really useful; the 135mm f/2 is surprisingly good too. I like manual focusing; if Fuji implements focus peaking or some other way of confirming focus, the X-system will be awesome.
  • The optical viewfinder. I love the OVF, especially with the 35mm lens, because you can see outside of the framelines to get a better sense of the scene. As much as I love the OVF, the electronic viewfinder is growing on me, having used it a lot recently with the 60mm lens and adapted Nikon 135mm.

Things the Nikon still does better:

  1. Long telephoto lenses. I have the Nikon 70-300mm lens; I don't use it much, but it's nice to have that flexibility when the situation calls for it. The forthcoming Fuji 55-200mm should cover this, so disadvantage #1 will been moot soon. And a ~135mm fast prime would have me opening my wallet in a heartbeat.
  2. A super-wide zoom. My favorite lens on my Nikon system (especially for travel) is the Tokina 11-16mm. With the Fuji platform, the only lens in that range is the lauded 14mm 2.8. It's apparently a spectacular lens, but is it wide enough? I do shoot the Tokina at 11mm quite a bit; but also at 16mm (about 75% of my shots with that lens are at one end or the other). There's also a 12mm lens coming from Zeiss soon; maybe that will suit me? Both the 12mm and 14mm lenses are pricy too. If it's optically excellent, the 10-24mm that's coming at the end of the year probably is the best fit for me (even though it's likely to be expensive too. But that means waiting! Basically, overcoming disadvantage #2 just requires a bit of patience or committing to either the Zeiss 12mm or Fuji 14mm. Update: Decided to go with the Fuji 14mm, and will think about the 10-24mm zoom when it comes out...
  3. Macro. Yes, the Fuji 60mm does allow close focusing, but it's not as long as other macro lenses (like my Nikon 105mm). And it's EVF only. Then again, see the argument about size and weight above. The Nikon 105mm micro is not a small lens. And if I want to manually focus, I can use the Nikon 105mm lens with the Fuji with an adapter.
  4. Speed. Quibbles #1 and #2 above are all well on their way towards being addressed with the growth in the number of lenses available. The one place (at least for me) where Fuji lags behind SLR systems if in shooting fast-action sports. I don't do a lot of this, but as a cycling fan, I like to shoot bike races when I can (see here and here).

What's next: 

  • Zooms: I have the 55-200mm lens on preorder (update: now arrived); my fingers are crossed that it will arrive before we leave for vacation, although right now I have it shipping to my parents' house so I can get it while I'm there. And I really want the upcoming 10-24mm offering, but that's not due until the end of 2013 and sits behind a couple of other lenses in Fuji's "roadmap." As much as the 18-55 "kit" lens is appealing, I'll probably hold off on that one. Update: This last sentence turned out to be untrue.
  • I'm trying hard to resist the 14mm lens, even though it get rave reviews. Ditto with the promising Zeiss 12mm, although if the distortion is limited with this one, it would be tempting. Update: Resistance is futile. The 14mm is on its way...
  • The 56mm 1.2 is interesting. I've been using the 60mm macro for shooting a concerts, but the two extra stops of the yet-to-be-released 56mm lens is attractive. Update: It is great!
  • There are 23mm and 27mm lenses on the Fuji roadmap but at this point I'm less interested in those (at least while I have the x100). Update (12/7/13): Found a great deal on the 27mm pancake lens, so that's on the way...
  • I'm thankful that Apple is now supporting RAW files from the X-Pro1!

Aimee Mann @ The World Cafe Live at the Queen

I had my first opportunity to try out my Fuji X-Pro1 with a Nikon lens (using a Novoflex adapter) last night at the Aimee Mann show in Wilmington. I originally bought the adapter because I wanted to use my Nikon 10.5mm fisheye with the X-Pro1, but I haven't had the opportunity to do so yet. Given that we had balcony seats, I took my Nikon 135mm DC f/2 lens (rather than the Fuji 60mm that I used at the David Bromberg Quartet show last month) for the extra reach and large aperture. The downside to this lens, at least when attached to the Fuji, is that it's manual focus only. I was worried that it would be hard to get images that were in focus, but it ended up being okay. Sure, it's not as easy to manually focus as with my FM3A, but it's certainly more than useable. I hit focus about half the time, which doesn't seem to be so bad given the circumstances (i.e., long lens, large aperture, moving target, handheld from my seat). While it's certainly a bulkier lens than you'd usually want to use regularly on a small-bodied camera like the X-Pro1, it wasn't too unwieldy.

This has me thinking more about the just-announced 55-200mm Fuji zoom. I wonder how it would have autofocused in these conditions (especially in the low light)? At 200mm it's 2.5 stops slower than my 135mm, but with stabalization it should be fine in reducing camera shake, although there would still be motion blur. If Fuji released a telephoto prime (somewhere between 135mm and 200mm) at f/2 or f/2.8, I'd be all over it as an awesome lens for concert photography.


F-Stop Kenti: What's in there?

I posted a few weeks ago about the search for a new camera backpack and my first impressions upon receiving the F-Stop Kenti. Today I had a chance to load up the Kenti and take it for a short walk (~2 miles), and I thought it might be useful to list what fit in the Kenti. It's surprisingly big!

  • Left side compartment (divider set with this side slightly larger)
    • Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, lens hood reversed
    • Nikon D90 with a mounted 50mm f/1.4G, lens hood reversed
    • Nikon 105mm f/2.8G micro, lens hood reversed
  • Right side compartment
    • Fuji x100 in case
    • Nikon 85mm f/1.4D, no lens hood
    • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, lens hood reversed
  • Top compartment
    • Nothing in there now, but it could fit another lens, my Fuji X-Pro1, and/or a Clif Bar or two.

This is more gear than I'd typically carry on a hike (e.g., the 85mm wouldn't be in there; the 105mm or 70-300mm, but probably not both; maybe add my 10.5mm fisheye), but it's a good illustration of what fits. I'd also likely move one of these lenses to a lens case on the hipbelt for easy access. Speaking of the hipbelt, it does a great job transferring the load from your shoulders.


F-Stop Kenti: First impressions

My F-Stop Kenti arrived yesterday (see my post on deciding to order the Kenti here); here are some first impressions (sorry for the crappy iPhone photos, but my cameras were in the bag!): 

  • It's really well made, and I like that it comes with a storage bag to keep it clean when stuffed in a closet (although hopefully I'll be able to use it often enough that it doesn't get tossed into the closet).
  • The laptop sleeve is advertised to fit a 13" machine, and the 13" MacBook Air that I tried was a perfect fit. A 13" MacBook Pro would probably do okay, but it would be tighter. The slot is well-padded and a 13" laptop in its own sleeve would likely not fit.
  • The back slot that is intended for a hydration bladder fits an iPad nicely.


  • If you take out the interior dividers (two of them, held in place by velcro in a T-shape to create the top compartment and two side-accessed compartments), a 15" MacBook Pro in a sleeve fits in there. Of course, then you lose the well-designed area for camera gear, but in a pinch you can carry a larger laptop in the Kenti if you don't need to carry camera gear (or if you have a small amount of gear in its own padded cases). But it makes me think that the Kenti could have been designed to hold a 15" laptop without increasing the overall depth of the pack by more than an inch or so (at some point I'll post more on why I'm fixated on this point...it boils down to fact that I've got a 15" MacBook Pro although I'm trying to get to the point where I'm traveling with only an iPad and not bringing a laptop. My laptop is only a year old; if it was older I'd plan on replacing it with a 13" MBAir).
  • Although I don't have any trips planned, I wanted to test it out with some gear. In addition to my iPad in the back slot, I loaded it up with my Fuji X-Pro1 and three lenses (35mm attached, 18mm and 60mm in small LowePro lens cases) on one side (with room to spare), and Fuji x100 and Nikon 10.5mm fisheye (with attached Novoflex Nikon to Fuji adaptor, in a lens case) on the other side (with room to spare; nothing in the top compartment) and walked the few hundred yards to work with the pack on my back. The Fuji gear is admittedly very light, but basically it didn't feel like there was any gear in the pack. I can imagine that even with a heavier kit (my D90 and a few lenses like my Tokina 11-16mmNikon 105mm micro, 50mm prime, and the fisheye...what has become my standard travel kit), it would be very comfortable. Update: See my new post on fitting my Nikon gear in the Kenti here.


  • "Foliage green" = medium grey (with very slight green tint). I knew that when I ordered it (based on the pictures online, with are true-to-shade) and really like the color, but I don't think I'd ever say that this bag is green.
  • One thing I wish the that Kenti included was a place for a water bottle, although I don't really know how I'd change the design to accommodate one. I know it has the hydration bladder slot, but I don't have a hydration system (and don't plan on getting one...it seems more trouble than it's worth, at least for my uses). I suppose what I'll end up doing is strapping a pouch for a water bottle somewhere on the pack (either the hipbelt or on the back using F-Stop's Gatekeeper system).

F-Stop Kenti preview

(also see: F-Stop Kenti: First impressions | F-Stop Kenti: What's in there?)

In the lead-up to summer vacation, I figured it was time to look into a camera backpack. In the past I've used:

  • The F-Stop Brooklyn SlingF-Stop's Brooklyn Sling, a nice solution for walking around town with my Fuji X-Pro1, a couple of lenses, and iPad. On recent trips to California and New Orleans this worked really well. But for a bigger kit, laptop, and more substantial hiking (i.e., carrying a bit more non-photography gear; more flexibility and support), this isn't the right solution due its modest size. I should do a proper review of it at some point in the future, but for now see a video of it here.
  • An older 40 liter LoweAlpine daypack that I got in Alaska more than a decade ago. This worked okay, although it's a little bigger and bulkier than necessary, and my gear got a bit soggy when we were caught in a storm in Rome a few years back.
  • A light-weight backpack (the Mountain Hardware Scrambler 30) with a Crumpler Haven (large) camera insert when I was in Amsterdam, Bavaria, and Italy last year. This was mostly a function of wanting something light and packable that could be stuffed into my bigger backpacking pack for when I was traveling from city to city, and could be unpacked, filled with gear, and used as a daypack once I reached a destination city. This was an okay solution, although not the most comfortable pack when stuffed with lenses and access to gear was limited due to it being a top-loader.

Mountain Hardware Scrambler 30 and Crumpler Haven

Here's what I'm looking for in a pack (at least for this summer vacation, which doesn't include living out of a large backpack and could have some nice hiking opportunites; update: check out pictures from Silver Falls State Park in Oregon here): 

  • Room for and convenient access to a camera body and ~4 lenses (my bigger Nikon kit or smaller Fuji system), along with space for a bit of non-photography gear.
  • A slot for a laptop...Not because I plan on carrying a MacBook everywhere, but for the flight to/from the west coast I'd like to keep all my gear in one carry-on. This is assuming that I take my laptop. I've started to travel only with an iPad...not sure what I'll do on this trip yet. A place for my iPad is also a must.
  • Comfort and load-carrying functionality of a good hiking daypack, including a real hip belt and compression straps for keeping the load strapped down. A rain cover is a plus too, since we're headed to the Pacific northwest.
  • Flexibility to strap a lens case, water bottle, or jacket to the outside of the pack if necessary.
  • After having to gate-check my "carry on" due to overhead space running out on a couple of flights in the last few years (and thus having to scramble to keep my camera gear from going into the belly of the plane), I'd love a pack that's small enough to fit under an airplane seat if necessary.
  • It shouldn't look like an ugly camera bag; an understated hiking/backpacking vibe is preferable.

Given my positive experience with the Brooklyn Sling, I began looking at F-Stop's other offerings. I was very tempted by the Loka and Guru. The Loka meets every one of the above criteria other than fitting easily under an airplane seat (at least when it's fully packed). I love everything about it, but it's a bit more bag than I need (update: okay...maybe I do need it). The Guru seems like a great solution, very flexible and just about the right size. But, and I know it's shallow, I don't love the looks of the bag as much as the rest of F-Stop line and it's currently out of stock anyways. And although it's smaller (in volume) than the Loka, it is not as slim as the smallest bag in F-Stop's Mountain series: the Kenti.

The Kenti meets all of my stated criteria, with one minor exception: it does have a laptop compartment, but it's limited to 13" machines and I currently have a 15" MacBook Pro (but do have access to a 13" MB Air that I could use). But it is perfectly sized for my needs (I hope!), has side access, and is built like "pro" backpacking gear. So I've got one incoming in "foliage green" (the medium grey in the photos below). I'll try to do a review once the Kenti is here next week (or once I've taken it on a trip).

Update: F-Stop Kenti: First impressions | F-Stop Kenti: What's in there?


Travel photography gear, recap

We’ve been back from Europe for almost a week, and I’ve had time to reflect on how my photography and computing gear performed. Before the trip I mused about the gear I was planning on bringing here and here.

Atlas at the Archeological Museum in Naples (50mm lens on a Nikon D90; click to embiggen).Across the three weeks I took more than 2200 photos (about 30GB). My 64GB iPad had enough storage for all the pictures, but that’s with a minimal amount of movies/music loaded (although a lot of apps). For a longer trip, storage would be a problem. My planned strategy of uploading photos from the iPad to Dropbox worked okay when there was a good internet connection, but took a long time (i.e., had to let it upload overnight). Given the limited internet access in some of the smaller hotels and B&Bs, it would be a problem if I had to rely on this. But overall I didn’t miss having a laptop at all. Traveling with the iPad is great.

Processing photos on the iPad was better than I expected (all of the the photos posted in my albums from this trip were done on the iPad). I used the Snapseed app for the majority of the editing, although iPhoto was useful for some touch-ups since Snapseed doesn’t have a clone tool. My only complaint about Snapseed is a minor gripe about the black and white conversion tool, compared to Silver Efex (both Snapseed and Silver Efex are made by Nik): the filters in Snapseed aren’t adjustable like they are in Silver Efex. They are either on or off, and can’t be tweaked. But other than that, I’m really happy with the quality of the edits from Snapseed. 

The view from Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Austria (Tokina 11-16mm on a Nikon D90; click to embiggen).

In terms of lenses, the Tokina 11-16mm was used a lot on my D90. Other than the distortion and proneness to flaring, this is a perfect lens for the sort of travel photography I do. My guess is that 50-65% of my best pictures from the trip were with this lens. The second most used lens, at least in Amsterdam, was the 50mm f/1.4, although I ended up not using it wide open that much. But it was a good length for photographing the cyclists and architectural details around the city. I really only used the 105mm micro at the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens and Zoo, but it was great for that day. I’m wondering if a good combination/compromise would have been to pick up the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro and leave both the 50mm and 105mm lenses at home, but that $550 was probably better spent elsewhere. As anticipated, I only used the 10.5mm fisheye for a few shots. 

At the World Press Photo show at Oude Kerk in Amsterdam (Fuji x100; click to embiggen).The only time I really needed telephoto reach was on the Amalfi Coast leg of the trip; I was lucky to have access to the 18-105 lens that originally came with my D90, and is now on Jen’s camera. I ended up borrowing it from her a lot. It’s making me rethink not having a zoom lens to travel with. Maybe pairing the 11-16mm with a 24-70mm f/2.8 would be a good (but heavy) combination.

I used the Fuji x100 a good deal in Amsterdam, when I was traveling by myself and had plenty of time and flexibility to walk around to get the shots I wanted (especially since I was on my feet a lot, so it was refreshing to carry a minimal amount of gear from for a few hours a day). But in Italy I shot almost exclusively with my D90 given the range of the Tokina 11-16mm and Nikon 18-105mm combo.


Travel photography gear, part 2

I made a brief trip to Washington DC last week to give a talk, but it also gave me a chance to beta-test some of my camera gear plans for my upcoming trip to Europe (see here for previous musings on this topic). Some thoughts about the following stuff I had in tow along with observations about workflow (Fuji X100, Nikon WC-E68 adaptor, iPad): 

  • I spent some time playing with zone focusing on the X100. This seems like it will work pretty well for unobtrusive and candid street photography.
  • Click to enlarge; Fuji X100 In my previous sessions with the X100 I almost exclusively used the optical viewfinder, which I like very much. But since I had time to visit the US Botanic Garden, I figured it would be a good opportunity to test the macro mode and electronic viewfinder. I've been torn about whether I should bring the big/heavy 105mm macro lens for my Nikon to Europe, for taking pictures of flowers and other details, but maybe I can get by with the X100's macro mode instead. It's not bad.
  • Given that at f/2 the X100 maxes out at a 1/1000 second shutter speed, the built in neutral density filter is a lifesaver. Thanks to a recent firmware update, the RAW button can be reprogrammed, and I've set mine to toggle the ND filter.
  • A few days before the trip I received a Nikon WC-E68 wide angle adapter that screws on the X100 lens with a 49mm-46mm step down ring and the Fuji hood adapter/ring. The Fuji WCL-X100 adapter was just announced (although won't be available for a couple of months) and it's relatively pricey although I'd be tempted to get one if it was wider (relative to a fullframe sensor, the X100 has a field of view similar to a 35mm lens; with the WCL-X100 it would be similar to 28mm, and with the WC-E68 it's akin to the field of view from a 24mm lens). From the samples I've seen online, the Nikon adapter lens works pretty well if the X100 is stopped down to f/8 or smaller. Based on the handful of shots I took between f/8 and f/16, it seems fine for my purposes (and the $40 price on ebay); although I'm not a pixel peeper, I did notice that it flared a bit shooting into the. If it had better performance wide open, I'd be tempted to leave my Tokina 11-16mm home, but for low light the Tokina + Nikon D90 that I'm planning on bringing will probably serve me better even though it will be heavy.
  • If I had an unlimited budget my travel kit would be the X100 and a Fujil X-Pro1 with the three lenses that are currently available (18mm f/2, 35mm f1.4, 60mm f/2.4 macro). The 18mm lens isn't quite wide enough for my liking, but if Fuji comes out with the 14mm lens that is listed in their X-series lens roadmap it would be ideal, assuming it performs well. I'll start saving now...
Click to enlarge; Fuji X100, converted with Nik Silver Effex Pro.
  • What about keeping it simple and traveling with just the X100? It's tempting. Creatively, I think it would be great and not too limiting. I'd love to be able to shoot wider, especially in Europe, but the Nikon WC-E68 will get me into that range, assuming I can stop down to f/11 or so. And the sensor and image quality are good enough that I could crop in for details when necessary. My main worry is the reliability of the X100. I haven't had any problems with it, but the camera-geeks on the interwebs keep talking about "sticky aperture blade syndrome" where the lens gets stuck wide open so you can only shoot at f/2. I'm not sure how widespread the problem is, or if this is some form of internet hysteria, but I'd hate to be on vacation for a few weeks and have the lens on my X100 fail without a backup camera. Another reason the X100 + X-Pro1 combo would be ideal! But for now, I think I'll lug the D90 along so that I can choose between the full Nikon system and the X100, depending on that day's planned adventures.
  • Using the camera connection kit, I uploaded pictures to my iPad. Any (or all) originals (as RAW files) as well as edited images (in Snapseed, iPhoto, PhotoForge...I still don't have a preferred editor yet) can be uploaded to Dropbox via WiFi (or cellular connection, but I won't have that in Europe). My Dropbox doesn't have enough storage to copy every single image over (I have about 30GB free, so this would be okay for a shorter trip), but I'll backup the very best on the cloud, and then keep the originals on the memory cards. And I am planning on clearing as much room on my iPad as I can for storing photos (i.e., sorry...the movies will have to go!).
  • As an aside (but related to video on the iPad), streaming Netfilx over the cellular connection worked pretty well, as long as the connection was strong. When I was on the train it dropped a few times, but overall it was very functional.
  • Black and white conversion with Snapseed is pretty good, although it doesn't offer all the same options as Silver Effex Pro (even they are both Nik products). I need to play with the other programs I have (i.e., iPhoto etc) to see which have the best control when converting one's images (filters, contrast, structure).

Musings on travel photography gear

This summer's plans will include three weeks in Europe, with stops in Amsterdam, Munich/Bavaria, and the Amalfi Coast. I'll be on my own for the first week, traveling with a friend for the second week, then meeting up with Jen for the last week in Italy. The fundamental tension on this trip will be trying to travel light (i.e., backpacking) and wanting to make the most of the photographic opportunities.

I'm torn on what photography gear to take. On one hand, I'm tempted to go the minimalist route and bring only with my new (as in haven't shot with it much yet, although I've had it about 6 months) FujiFilm X100. It's a portable package with great image quality, and the 23mm lens (full-frame field of view similar to 35mm) would be a reasonable choice as a single focal length to carry around (okay, maybe it's a bit long).

On the other hand, this migh be a once in a lifetime photographic opportunity (hopefully not!), so it would be a shame not to use my Nikon system (D90 with a range of lenses), which includes lenses from 10.5mm up to 300mm (on DX). Of course, the idea of having my backpack filled with heavy gear isn't so appealing.

I've been ruminating on this a lot recently (more than any reasonable person should think about such things), and here's the gear I'm currently planning on bringing:

  • FujiFilm X100 (23mm f/2)
  • Nikon D90 with the three lenses below and maybe the small SB-400 flash. Not sure how much I'll need an external flash, but it's compact and won't take much room in my bag.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8...This seems like the "must have" lens for the trip. Going wide will be key in the narrow European streets, and this might be the favorite I have (here are some images with it, and also I used it a lot when we were in Hawaii last year). It's the obvious first choice to take.
  • The second lens choice is a bit odd: I'm definitely taking my Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. I just love the unique perspective this one gives, and I ended up using it a lot when we were in Rome a couple of years ago. It's a really compact lens, so even though it's a pretty specialized piece of glass, it's easy to justify bringing it. Given it's size, it's basically a freebie (in terms of size/weight).
  • Nikon 50mm F/1.4I've pretty much decided that I should only bring one other lens besides the stuff listed above, so it has to cover the "long" end. But how long is long enough? When we went to Hawaii I carried a 70-300mm lens, but really only used it for a few pictures of sea turtles (that you weren't supposed to approach too closely). I'm really glad I had it for those shots, but otherwise it pretty much went unused. As far as I can tell, I won't be encountering any sea turtles (or other wildlife), so it's probably not worth carrying that one. The 105mm macro is another possibility; there surely will be some close-up opportunities and it would be a good telephoto to take, but it's big/heavy and still would probably see limited use compared to the other options. It's coming down to either a 50mm or 85mm lens. My guess/hope is that 50mm (on DX) will be enough reach. If not, I can always crop later. Plus my 50mm f/1.4 is small, light, cheap enough that I won't be devistated if something happens to it (as opposed to my 85mm lens, which would be more costly to replace), and fast enough for some low-light shooting. I'll throw a close-up lens in my bag and attach it to the 50mm if I want to do any pseudo-macros.
  • One additional lens I'll have access to is the Nikon 18-105mm that came with my D90, which I used a lot when we were last in Rome. Jen now has that one on her D3100, which I assume she'll be bringing. Maybe she won't notice if I hide another lens or two in her bag...

D90 with fisheye lensSo, that's the plan/rationale, at least for now. If once I start packing my bag I find there's more room, something else might get slipped in there :-)

Interestingly, I've put all this thought into it, and now that I think about it, this is exactly the same lightweight kit I took when I last went to Oregon, sans the fisheye, and when we went to Seattle (again, no fisheye, and this was also before I got the X100).

On the computer/editing side, I'm only taking my iPad (no laptop). I previously mused about getting a Hyperdrive to back up all my pictures, but that's more weight and expense than I want to deal with. Instead, I'll make sure I'm stocked up on SD cards, import pictures onto the iPad for previewing and basic editing, and then upload the best shots to Dropbox to save them to the cloud. I was pleased to find that the iPad can import/export RAW files.