Miscellaneous Gear Review

My recent trip to Tassie has coincided with a glut of new gear photographically as well as necessities for the trail. I thought I might give some brief, to the point reviews on the items I’ve purchased and a shout out to my sources!

Mainline Photographics  (http://mainlinephoto.com.au/)

After our visit to Sydney last year for the FOCUS annual awards, I’ve been in regular contact with Scott from mainline. He has been great in giving advice regarding certain items that  I have acquired. Postage and handling has been perfect and there have been no issues with the quality of any of the items received.

Sirui N2204 tripod: I needed a tripod replacement for my old Benro tripod which was starting to corrode dangerously. I wanted stability, the ability to remove the centre column for both weight conservation and lower angles and durability. Without the centre column the N2204 still feels sturdy and at 1.2kg, wasn’t too bad for a hiking tripod (paired with a relatively heavy K30x sirui ball head). Its retractable spikes have also been very useful for differing environments – particularly rocky terrain and forest scenes. I’ve had no issues with cleaning to date and it still functions almost as new after a couple of months of shooting (including exposure to the bane of all tripods – sandy beaches). http://mainlinephoto.com.au/sirui-pro-tripod-n-2204x-carbon-fibre-tripod/

Sunway photo DD04 panorama head: I probably ought to use this more but for the last trip, I didn’t bring it along due to weight. I opted to use a levelling plate instead which served its purpose well but meant that I had to set the tripod level rather than just the ballhead. The times where I have used it have been productive. Beware that it does not lock entirely so you have to use it in a perfectly horizontal position only. http://mainlinephoto.com.au/sunwayfoto-ddh-04-heavy-duty-panning-clamp-with-removable-arca-swiss-compatible-bottom-plate/

Pixel one batteries: Having recently bought a sony A7R2, its poor battery life is an urban myth I can confirm. I wanted to try a generic battery alternative and until the recent trip, these had been working perfectly well. For what its worth, they are listed at 1300mA vs 1020mA for the genuine sony batteries.  During the last trip, after the metabones malfunctioned, I dared not use them in case they were in some way contributing to the malfunction though I have no evidence to suggest this was the case. http://mainlinephoto.com.au/pixel-one-replacement-sony-np-fw50-lithium-ion-battery/

Camera strap replacement: I much prefer the strap replacement to the original sony in terms of comfort and not advertising to the world what camera you’re shooting with. My only concern about this item is the price tag of $70+ AUD . http://mainlinephoto.com.au/artisan-artist-camera-strap-103n-woven-cloth-strap-black-red-khaki/

The Sirui tripod and ballhead were a solid setup even with soft flooring . Russell Falls from above

Outdoor gear, mainly from snowys.com.au

Meals: I’m going to put this simply. I don’t expect gourmet meals at the end of the day. I want something that will fill me up and get me warm. The double serve Back Country meals did just that and with a weight economy that was excellent. Spag Bol, Nasi Goreng, Roast Lamb & Veges were all fine. I love any meal that has that sachet of mash potatoes! Outdoor gourmet range were also excellent for their purpose but beware the bowels if you decided to have a Coq a Vin. (#coqpartygonewrong). http://www.snowys.com.au/Camp-Kitchen/Food.aspx?c=8&sc=59

Jetboil Flash: Again, this is coming from the point of view of living on freeze dried food during your trip. I had no complaints from the rapid boil times of the jetboil as well as the temperature indicator on the side of the mug. 1 x 100g gas cannister lasted a 3 night 4 day stay easily while boiling water for each meal and even a milo on the side. http://www.snowys.com.au/Hiking/Lightweight-Cooking-Gear/Flash-Hiking-Stove-Sapphire-Blue.aspx?c=10&sc=77&id=6410&utm_source=search&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=search

Seat to summit sleeping mat (Ultralite insulated : R value 3.2): I was initially directed toward the thermarest neo air series of mats but after a quick lie down on a few different types, I felt that the sea to summit mat suited my body shape better. It was slightly heavier at 440g vs 350g but also half the price. During the trip, I had no issue with it whatsoever. Having slept on various cheap mats before, this gave me a good night’s sleep.  http://www.snowys.com.au/product-page.aspx?two&c=10&sc=75&id=7815

Sea to summit sleeping bag (Talus TS1). The sleeping bag was something I definitely needed to replace. My old mountain designs bag was a -2 rating but weighed in at a hefty 2kg and was pretty large to pack. For this trip I was after a 3 season bag that was light and comfortable. This bag is reportedly a 1 degree Celsius comfort level with a lower limit of -5 and extreme of -22. I’m a cold sleeper and even though the nights would not have dropped far below 10 degrees, I was still wearing one layer of thermals in this bag to be comfortable and warm. I like its hooded design and despite initial damp conditions, I didn’t feel wet inside the bag. At 880g, it was also a great weight saver. Hiking out of any other season, I would probably have to rug up a little more to get a good night’s sleep. http://www.snowys.com.au/Talus-TSI-Regular-Sleeping-Bag-RZip-(-5%E2%81%B0).aspx?id=3830&cid=4737

Sea to summit quagmire gaiters : Nothing to say about these really. They were reliable, kept out foliage and kept the legs as clean as they could underneath. http://www.snowys.com.au/Hiking/Gaiters/Quagmire-Canvas-Gaiters-S.aspx?c=10&sc=82&id=2179&utm_source=search&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=search

Damp conditions can be challenging but the gear held up quite well. The Pool of Memories in the Labyrinth

Other photography related items:

Xiaomi 16000mA charger:  This is an item that gives you a lot of reassurance and convenience on a multiday hike. Even though we were only in the field for 4 days, I thought I’d put it through its paces to charge items rather than change batteries. All up, I charged a go pro hero 3 twice (from nearly empty) and the sony A7R2 with battery loaded 3 times from 20-30% capacity. By the end of the trip, the unit was indicating approximately half its charge left over. It does weight 340g on its own but I’d rather carry this unit than 7 additional batteries. I wondered if its ‘pass through’ charging function did cause the metabones to malfunction as its life ending malfunction occurred while I was browsing images with the charger in place. Fortunately Luke Tscharke has a spare metabones which worked well until a second occasion on the hike, when I started operating the camera while charging before realising that that could be the problem. Another argument to avoid chimping!!  http://www.mushtato.com.au/xiaomi-16000mah-portable-mi-power-bank-usb-battery-charger-275.html#.VrxUjPJ97mE

Aquapac stormproof : I needed a camera bag that I could use as a front pack while hiking so that I could take pictures on the fly as well as save room for the backpack. This did the job very well and with its waterproof design, I had absolutely no concerns while walking in the rain or through soaked scrub. Instead of using its default straps , I hooked carabiners through its strap holders onto the front of my backpack. This worked quite well for me. Its major downside is that the roll down waterproof design makes it less convenient to use if you want to rapidly pull out your camera for a quick shot. I found it tricky to take the A7R out and slot it easily back in  especially since it was mounted with a Hejnar L plate. http://www.carryitcases.com.au/buy/aq022-stormproof-slr-camera-pouch/AQ022

Hiking in rain was not a worry with the Aquapac case. Lake Elysia.

Sony A7R2 update:

The bottom line is that I am loving the images that this camera is able to produce but working with it in the field (with non native lenses) compared with working with a canon is comparable to dealing with my 2 year old vs 4.5 year old child. The two year old is much more temperamental, difficult to handle and prone to meltdowns. The two year old’s illustrations are also pretty random and hit and miss with colours. The 4 year old has a bit more consistency to colours relative to real life and is definitely more settled and reliable though not entirely without outbursts! Enough with analogies!

As a personal preference, the ergonomics of a larger body suit my fat fingers and hands better. I have however set up the dials on the sony to mimic canon and one of those dials even automatically changes iso. With canon glass and metabones, I can’t seem to setup back button focus and I really miss the 5dmk3’s AF points. Over and above that the metabones malfunction prior to the start of the hike left me a little anxious whenever any slight malfunction occurred when I was using Luke’s. As a tip for anyone getting intermittent metabones malfunctions, the main way to resolve it for me was to half remove the lens while the camera was on, click it back in place , then turn the camera off and on. Yes , that’s pretty random…..

My other main gripe with the Sony is that its colour reproduction seems poorly suited to scenes with natural red and magenta lighting. It seems to want to reproduce these as a rather off putting lemon yellow! Thankfully this is recovered when viewing as a RAW file but it’s just so nice to know if you’ve nailed a shot in the field from what the LCD is telling you. The LCD images gave me doubts half the time! Some other nice touches I started using in the field were the ‘zebra’ markings which can be set to a certain threshold indicating blown highlights. Focus peaking was also useful when I was composing near/far compositions. There’s much to like about the sony and I figure I would like it even more if I was shooting native glass without the metabones hassles, but for now, I’m still secretly hoping that the rumours of 15 stop DR canon DSLRs are true.

Deep reds and magentas do not appear on the LCD! Lake Selene and Mount Geryon at dusk.

Nisi filters update: http://nisifilters.com.au/

I’ve been using Nisi filters now for nearly 6 months so if you missed my initial impressions, follow this link: https://everlookphotography.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/nisi-filters-am-i-sold-or-am-i-bought/

With time, many of those issues will not change such as the cast, the cost and the setup.  There really hasn’t been much to alter my initial impression. I have become accustomed to the circular polariser setup but beware to keep your holder clean as any grit entering the CPL mechanism can cause it to ‘stick’ and prevent you from changing your degree of polarisation.  The adapter rings provided by default have been very convenient since for this trip, I was using lenses with 82mm , 77m and 67mm front elements.  The filters themselves have stood the test of time well with barely a scratch on them. Anecdotally, they also seem to perform better (compared to my past experiences with Lee) in terms of less flare when shooting into direct light. The filter pouch , being as sturdy as it is, also allowed me to throw this in my backpack instead of my frontpack without a worry. I was prepared to lug the extra weight for the safety of my camera gear!

Taken with Nisi V5 holder, CPL, 6 stop ND. Hobart CBD

What’s next?

I’m working on a few post processing videos for individual clients (once I get my new hard drive since I’m running short on space!) . Then I’ll work on creating a video about how we use blend modes to enhance our images.  In terms of the blogsphere, I’m hoping to edit a few behind the scenes images to put together for a description of our trip. I wonder if we could sneak in for some fagus around April ! From what we saw, some of the fagus leaves were already a tinge of yellow so I’m hoping the fagus comes round early as that would coincide with leave possibilities !


5 thoughts on “Miscellaneous Gear Review

  1. Hi guys, I have just read your post on Tasmania and noticed that Dylan has a new Sirui tripod to replace the Benro, which got me wondering about he Gitzos you bought a few years back as mentioned in the link below the article. I am considering purchasing a new tripod and as I will be using it in similar or even the same conditions and environments as you seem frequent (ie sand and salt water) is it worth the expense of the top tier tripods? I had in mind the FLM Tripod range which are in a similar price bracket as the Gitzos. Do you think the extra cost was justified or are we paying extra for no real functional benefits or longevity?

    Best regards, Michael

    1. Hi Michael – my experiences with the three brands : Gitzo, Benro and Sirui would say that the midrange carbon fibre brands are just as durable as the more expensive gitzo. One attraction of the gitzo is the lifetime warranty but from where we are in Adelaide, the hassle of postage and associated cost has steered as away. Thus far the Sirui has been very solid in the first 6 months of its life and the Benro lasted 3 years of abuse! The Gitzos, no longer than that.

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