Category Archives: Camera Gear

Outer Banks: Kickin’ It Old School With 35mm Film, Pentax K1000

Many months ago I decided I wanted a photographic challenge, and so I picked up an old Pentax K1000 manual SLR camera off eBay. The plan was to start shooting with some Kodak TRI-X 400 black and white 35mm film. However, the film and the camera sat around for months unused. Then came a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for a Thanksgiving vacation, and along came the big Nikon D7100, small Sony RX-100 II, and yes, the Pentax K1000. I was determined to finally use the film camera. I haven’t shot with film since the early 1990s, and even then I shot with automatic cameras. The Pentax K1000 is fully manual. However, there is one handy feature in the K1000, and that’s a built-in light meter in the form of a simple needle that appears on the right side of the viewfinder. Put the needle in the middle using a combination of aperture and shutter speed, and your photo “should” be properly exposed, notwithstanding the look you are going for in a particular scene.

Since film costs money, and since good developing isn’t exactly what I would call cheap (I recommend The Darkroom), I was determined to change my mindset when shooting with film. I can’t just snap away hoping to get a good shot. I really needed to put some thought into each shot. And with that, I actually only shot two rolls of film the entire week.

Here’s one of my favorites.

Whalehead Club decorated for Christmas. Corolla, North Carolina - Outer Banks

Whalehead Club decorated for Christmas. Corolla, North Carolina – Outer Banks

And here’s another angle of this impressive structure.

Whalehead Club decorated for Christmas. Corolla, North Carolina - Outer Banks

Whalehead Club decorated for Christmas. Corolla, North Carolina – Outer Banks

Whalehead is a historic home located in Corolla, North Carolina and was built by Edward C. Knight back in the 1920s. It was his “duck hunting” home away from home. Now completely restored, it is open to the public for tours and other events, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Sometimes when you shoot with film, you get happy accidents that create neat effects, something you’d never get with a pristine digital photo unless you decided to add it in “post.” Take for example the photo below of Bodie Island Lighthouse, with film flaws and a curious but beautifully placed light leak.

Bodie (pronounced "body") Island Lighthouse - Outer Banks, North Carolina

Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island Lighthouse – Outer Banks, North Carolina

I’m always looking for lines and shadows, and as I was walking the boardwalk in Manteo, North Carolina, I spotted this neat intersection of lines and shadows created by the boardwalk and a bench not quite enjoying the shade of a tree

A bench on the boardwalk in Manteo, North Carolina

A bench on the boardwalk in Manteo, North Carolina

And finally, I look for juxtapositions, sometimes blatantly obvious, like the Full Moon Cafe basking in the bright sun.

Full Moon Cafe & Brewery - Manteo, North Carolina

Full Moon Cafe & Brewery – Manteo, North Carolina

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with many of the 70 black and white film photographs I captured during my week in the Outer Banks.

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Review: Custom SLR M-Plate Pro Universal Tripod Plate

Let’s not mince words here, the M-Plate Pro by Custom SLR is an unbelievably expensive item given it’s essentially a hunk of metal with some holes. I realize that’s not acknowledging the true quality of the product (and it is indeed a quality item), but the $70 price tag attached to this piece of gear is still hard to swallow. This damn thing is more expensive than the BlackRapid RS-7 camera strap attached to it, and that TOO is an expensive piece of gear.

custom-slr-m-plate-pro-tripod-mount

But even with this unbelievably expensive price for a piece of metal, it turns out this item’s usefulness outweighs its price. And let’s face it, when you consider the forces and stresses this product will have to endure, you don’t want it to be made cheaply.

Oh, so you want to know what the M-Plate Pro does? Well, I just assumed if you were reading this review, you already knew. But the quick and dirty explanation is that this tripod plate attaches to the tripod mount on your camera, with the idea being that it never gets removed. From this plate you then attach your various goodies like your proprietary tripod mounting plate and your sling-style camera strap. And it’s the latter that really is the reason a plate like this exists in the first place.

Most sling-style camera straps attach to the tripod mounting plate. When it comes time to use your tripod, you must unscrew the strap’s connection point and then screw it back in when you want to switch back to carrying the camera. The M-Plate Pro allows you to leave both your tripod mounting plate, and your camera strap’s connection point attached at all times. And if your tripod connection is Manfrotto RC2 or Arca-Swiss, the M-Plate Pro works out of the box, no extra tripod mounting plate necessary. But with holes drilled right into the M-Plate Pro, you should be able to use it with most tripod mounting plates without issue.

It was quite annoying to unscrew the BlackRapid “FastenR” every time I wanted to use my tripod. In fact, it was one of the reasons I avoided shooting with tripod altogether. But now the FastenR stays screwed into the M-Plate Pro full-time, as does my tripod’s mounting plate. I can leave the RS-7 strap attached or I can remove it, my choice. And almost as good as the convenience this product affords, it also moves the mount point for my BlackRapid RS-7 strap forward, creating a better balance between camera and lens. And on top of all that, and if this matters at all to you, this thing looks something fierce attached to the bottom of a DSLR.

So yes, if you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend this item.

I was not paid for this review and I’m not affiliated with Custom SLR.

M-Plate-Pro-on-Nikon-D7100-with-BlackRapid-RS-7

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Why I Use The BlackRapid Curve (RS-7) Sling Camera Strap

This is not a paid endorsement and I’m not affiliated with BlackRapid.

The reason I use the BlackRapid Curve (RS-7) camera strap is simple, it’s more comfortable for my back. In case you aren’t aware, the Curve (RS-7) is a sling-style camera strap. The RS-7 is worn just as you would wear a messenger bag, slung over one shoulder and across your upper torso. The camera hangs upside down (attached to the tripod mount) at hip level.

blackrapid-curve-rs7-brad

I found with a regular neck strap, my neck, shoulders and upper back would ache after a couple of hours. While I cannot claim pain-free multi-hour photography sessions now that I’m using the RS-7, it has nonetheless helped tremendously to reduce the strain on my neck and especially my upper back. You might be surprised how much lighter your camera feels hanging from this strap compared to a neck strap, and it has the added benefit of keeping the camera at your side (even slightly behind you), which keeps it out-of-the-way during times when that is desirable. And I always found it irritating how the camera would bounce and bob while walking when using a neck strap. With the camera hanging at my side, it generally stays in place, at most rocking back and forth, but not bouncing. And when the time comes to take the shot, I find it no less convenient to grab the camera from my side. Maybe it takes a fraction of a second longer than lifting it from a neck strap, but if I find myself in a hectic and fast-paced situation where I need to get a shot, I probably should already have the camera in my hands. For my purposes, any sling-style strap probably would have worked, I chose the RS-7 because it appeared to meet my needs at a price I could accept (just over $60).

I’ve owned the RS-7 for a few years now, but only recently started accessorizing, adding the BlackRapid “Brad” accessory (can be seen attached to the RS-7 in the picture above) which is an underarm stabilizing strap. This accessory is designed to prevent the RS-7 (and other BlackRapid straps) from sliding up and down. While I didn’t have much of a problem with this, from time to time the RS-7 would slide up and down and I would need to adjust it. I haven’t used it in the field yet, but the Brad accessory looks like it will completely eliminate that “problem.”

I also added the “Joey 3” storage pouch accessory that attaches to the lower front part of the shoulder pad section of the strap. This puts the storage pouch at chest level and is good for storing extra batteries, memory cards, a smart phone (although it may not be large enough for some phones), and even a small point and shoot camera. I plan to use it to hold my Sony RX100 II compact camera. This will be a great way to have a second camera offering focal length flexibility on photography outings where I only take my Nikon D7100 with a prime lens like my 35mm or 24mm. If you want built-in storage in your camera strap without the need for an additional accessory, for $10 more than the RS-7 you can get the BlackRapid Cargo (RS-5) strap. But for my purposes, I think the RS-7 paired with the Joey 3 is a better option because it offers enough storage capacity for a small point and shoot camera, something that does not appear to be possible with the RS-5 (without accessorizing).

And last, I added the BlackRapid Tether Kit, giving me some peace of mind that my expensive camera and lens won’t end up falling to the ground. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the design of the RS-7 and how it attaches to the tripod mount, I’m simply paranoid. If you too are paranoid, and you decide to purchase the RS-7, you might want to consider the Tether Kit, which uses one of the neck strap posts as a second connection point back to the main strap. It will save your camera in the unlikely event the tripod connection comes loose. If you don’t like the cost of the Tether Kit ($23), I can offer you a cheaper alternative, just buy the OP/TECH USA System Connector Uni-Loop ($7), connect one end to the neck strap post (opposite the grip), connect the other one to the metal rectangle that slides up and down the RS-7 main strap (don’t connect to the loop that is part of the tripod mount because that will partially defeat the purpose of connection point redundancy). Then connect both ends together. Now you have a cheaper alternative (which I have personally used) to the BlackRapid Tether Kit.

With the BlackRapid Curve (RS-7) camera strap I’m able to relieve the strain on my back, while still lugging around my Nikon D7100 and fairly heavy Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 lens, and I have the added flexibility of bringing along a high quality compact camera and storing it in the Joey storage pouch. What this means is on most photography outings, I can leave my bulky camera bag at home, which also helps the ailing back! And that was precisely why I bought the BlackRapid Curve (RS-7).

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The Obligatory ‘My Camera Gear’ Blog Post

Okay, let’s get this one out-of-the-way. Here’s the obligatory “my camera gear” blog post that I know you’ve all been waiting for! Well, it’s not exactly compulsory, and well, I’m sure most visitors really don’t care. But for the aspiring photographers visiting my blog (I thank you), who might be interested in finding out what gear I use, this post is for you.

CAMERAS
Nikon D40 – DSLR body
Nikon D7100 – DSLR body
Sony DSC-RX100 Mark II – compact
Pentax K1000 – SLR 35mm film body

LENSES
Wide Zoom
AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
Good general use wide-angle zoom lens offering 15mm to 36mm equivalent field of view. While not the sharpest glass, I have captured some of my best photos using this lens. So I’m not sure why I don’t use it more often.

Prime
AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
On a DX (crop sensor) camera body, this is an excellent street photography lens suitable for both day and night shooting, offering a 36mm equivalent field of view. This piece of glass is a bit on the large side, but workable. On the other hand, the cost of this lens might be completely unworkable. Where this lens really proves its worth is for low light, or landscape (urban or nature). You can shoot wide open (f/1.4) with this lens and still have much of the field of view in focus, particularly when paired with a DX camera body, as long as the main subjects are a good 8-10 feet away (or further). That makes this lens ideal for nighttime street photography. Combine this lens with a camera that allows usable ISO up to 6400, and you should never have an issue keeping your shutter speed fast.
AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
Another great low-light street photography lens, offering 52mm equivalent field of view. If you shoot with a DX camera, for the price, this lens cannot be beat, and would be my recommendation for your first prime lens.
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G SIC SW
SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

Normal Zoom
AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Just a good all-around lens that gives you 27mm to 450mm equivalent field of view. Sure, there are optical sacrifices with this glass, but if you only want to carry one lens while having the flexibility of shooting reasonably wide or very long, this lens is hard to beat for DX cameras. Just keep in mind this lens is big and heavy and when fully zoomed, it’s almost comically long in length.

Macro
AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
Good reach that also allows you to shoot macro sans tripod for many situations, as long as you are stopped down a good amount. This lens can also be used as a long portrait lens with a 128mm equivalent field of view.

FIELD GEAR
Camera Bag
Lowepro LP36433-PWW Photo Hatchback 22L AW in “Pepper Red”

Lens Case
Lowepro Lens Case 9 x 13 cm

Camera Strap and Accessories
BlackRapid RS-7 Camera Strap – (Read my RS-7 review)
BlackRapid Joey 3 Storage Pocket
BlackRapid Brad Underarm Stabilizing Strap
BlackRapid Tether Kit
BlackRapid ProtectR (Long)
Custom SLR M-Plate Pro – (Read my M-Plate Pro review)

Tripods
Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod with Ball Head & Case in “Gunmetal” finish
Joby GP3 GorillaPod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod + BH1 Ball Head with Bubble Level

Flash
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash

Filters
B+W 77mm circular polarizer filter
Hoya 52mm circular polarizer filter
Tiffen 52mm 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 neutral density filters
Tiffen 77mm 0.6 neutral density filter

Hand Strap (used exclusively with Nikon D40)
Fotodiox Genuine Leather Hand Strap

Other Stuff
Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC Card
Transcend 32GB SDHC Card

STUDIO GEAR
Strobes
AlienBees B400 Strobe/Flash
Neewer 300W Strobe/Flash

There’s even more gear, and I’ll add it to this page over time, including a complete list of all photography books I own. And I will also add bits of information about how and when I use each piece of gear. So be sure to check out this blog post in the future for more information.

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Gear Lust: It Matters Not What’s In Your Hands, But What’s In Your Head

When you find yourself in the throes of a major case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), you need to walk out of the store, or move your mouse cursor away from the Buy button. Next you need remind yourself that it is your imagination and creativity that most contributes to your passion, not the gear. What matters is not what’s in your hands, but what’s in your head.

I’m not saying you should never buy new gear, and in fact, I offer you a twist later in this article (more on that in a moment). What I’m saying is, don’t purchase gear with the belief that it will improve your work on the merits of the specifications alone. Think of all the iconic photographs from decades past, many of which are not superior on a technical level, even when they work exceptionally well on a compositional and emotional level. That new Nikon or Canon DSLR or that new zoom lens aren’t going to offer you any greater ability to tell a story with your photographs. The only thing that can do that is your imagination.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Slow down.
  • Don’t take a lot of photos, concentrate instead on what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Beyond the anchor or subject, pay attention to what is in the frame, especially at the edges.
  • Think about your composition and how different elements in the frame are flowing and interacting with each other.
  • Are you trying to tell a story with this shot, and will the composition offer a message to the viewer?

If you are overcome with the urge to buy a new piece of gear, instead look for inspiration by browsing the works of your favorite photographers, or better yet, discover new ones. And if that doesn’t quiet the desire for more hardware, pick up the gear you already own and go out and shoot! Because at the end of the day, taking more photos is how you improve your art, not buying new gear.

But if you still can’t resist that temptation, I offer this suggestion (here’s that twist I mentioned earlier): Head to eBay and get yourself a cheap film camera, like the 35mm Pentax K1000 that I just bought. But wait a second, I thought you said, “it’s not what’s in your hands, but what’s in your head.” — Yes, indeed I did, but I’m also realistic about gear lust. Sometimes you just need to buy something. But instead of the typical lens or camera body upgrade, take a hard left into uncharted territory and buy something you never thought you’d ever buy. For me, I never thought I’d go back to film. Hell, I never really shot much film in the first place. I think the last time I used a film camera I was in my teens in the early 1990s.

I want to reiterate that your imagination is the most important thing, but if gear is ever going to have any impact at all on the creative process, it’s likely to happen when you choose a piece of gear that really shakes things up, and makes you look at your craft in a different way. And in the case of old 35mm film cameras, it’s an inexpensive way to satisfy that hardware craving. Well, at least the gear is cheap. If you really get hooked, the film and developing costs could start to add up! Oh no, what have I done! 🙂

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