Continued from my previous post, here are some more equipment reviews from Africa.
Kirk Window Mount & Wimberley Sidekick (or other gimbal head mounts) – ?
I’m reviewing this even though I never got the setup for my trip. Before I left, I seriously considered, putting together a window mount + ballhead + gimbal head rig that would have allowed me to attach my camera to the safari vehicle roof rails or side windows and have fluid motion around the camera/lens center of gravity. I researched all the parts and pieces and it would’ve been close to $1000 to purchase. Ouch. Good thing I decided to just use bean bags to support my cameras because that’s all we needed. We took our own bean bags but never used them because our excellent guide had bean bags already for us to use. I’m sure the gimbal head rig is very cool, but think about this…how will you switch from one side of the vehicle to the other? The animals are always moving and you certainly don’t want to reposition a complicated window mount rig when a lion crosses from one side of the road to the other. It was enough work moving bean bags with a big camera/lens in one hand. Forget the gimbal head for Tanzania (unless you get two for each side). Other African countries like Botswana will be a different story since they use open safari vehicles.
Better Beamer Flash X-Tender – B+
This device attaches to your flash to extend it’s range. It’s useful for filling in dark shadows on wildlife during harsh midday light. It works…a little too well in my experience. It definitely extends the flash’s reach and greatly magnifies the intensity at close distances. You have to be careful to set your Flash compensation correctly or your subject will have a paparazzi look (I had mine at -3 stops much of the time!) Also be careful not to leave the Better Beamer out in the sun unattended. It WILL burn a hole in whatever is in the path of it’s fresnel lens :)
Nikon TC-14EII (1.4x) Teleconverter – C-
This one confuses me. From all the reviews I’ve read, I should’ve been able to use this to extend the range of my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR lens without very much optical degradation. I got mixed results. Some shots, mostly the ones where the subject is closer to the camera, are fine…very sharp. But other shots are hazy and blurry to the point of making the photos totally unacceptable. I can’t seem to find any factor that may have caused this. Do any of you more experienced photographers out there know what the problem might have been? Half-way through the trip I removed the teleconverter and didn’t miss it. With the D300 and 200-400mm, I still had a maximum reach of 600mm which was fine for most things.
Tonight my hard drive that I was using to store all my photos from my recent trip to Africa failed. Totally bit the dust (thanks LaCie). Fortunately, I still have all my photos backed up on my Epson P-7000 and on all the original CF cards that I shot while on the trip. Whew! Ironic that I was worried about data failure while schlepping equipment through the brutal dust and heat of the East African summer. Instead, the drive gave up the ghost in my comfortable home office. Lesson: always have a backup…and then back that up.
Before my recent photo trip to Tanzania, I spent months agonizing about what equipment to bring. Not only were there decisions about which cameras and lenses to bring, but there’s a host of other considerations such as whether or not to bring a tripod, what to use to backup my images in the field and how to support my camera while shooting out of a Safari vehicle. I wanted to do some reviews of the various equipment we chose because some things worked and some things didn’t. This is part 1.
Epson P-7000 Multimedia Viewer – A+
This was my primary backup device. I brought enough memory cards on the trip that I wouldn’t have to delete any of them and reuse them. Then each night I would back up my cards to the Epson P-7000. Let me say that the P-7000 is fantastic. One of it’s most useful features is it’s ability to only backup new images on a card. Frequently I would shoot a CF card full, then delete many of the bad images at night and shoot on that card the next day. The Epson can backup only the images that have been added to the card since the last backup. It also has the ability to copy all your backed-up files to another USB hard drive for extra protection. I brought a hard drive to do this, but you have to have both the Epson and your hard drive plugged in to power during transfers. The power at most of the lodges and camps in Tanzania is unreliable, frequently cutting out or fluctuating. This made it impossible to transfer multiple gigabytes to the USB drive.
What makes the Epson P-7000 so nice is it’s fantastic screen. The high resolution Adobe RGB display, shows your images in bright, wonderful, color accurate clarity. Plus the controls make it relatively easy to surf through your images and zoom in instantly to 100% to check sharpness. There’s no question that the P-7000 is the Mercedes of photo backup devices…but it’s biggest disadvantage is it’s price. While it can substitute for a laptop in the feild, you’ll pay darn near low-end laptop prices for that luxury.
Gura Gear Kiboko camera bag from Andy Biggs – A+
My brother and I are big admirers of Andy Biggs and relied a lot on advice from his blog during the planning of our trip. We both carried all of our camera equipment in Gura Gear Kiboko bags. Since the bag is designed so well for international travel it was nice to not have to worry about camera bags during planning. We knew our gear would fit in the bag and that it conformed to airline carry-on size requirements. What was challenging was keeping our bags within KLM’s carry-on weight limit of 26lbs. Both my brother and I’s packs were over that weight limit by a few pounds, but fortunately KLM never even gave us a second look. The Kiboko bag can be made to look low profile when the straps are zipped away which might have kept us from scrutiny by the gate agents. We also shot out of the bags during game drives. I kept my D300 with 200-400mm lens in the bag when not shooting to protect it from the very dusty conditions. It was ready to go whenever I needed it. Despite the bag’s light weight and low profile, it is remarkably sturdy. If, for example, you were forced to put the camera bag in the luggage hold of a bush flight (a scenario that should be avoided by buying an extra seat), I think the Kiboko would provide enough protection for the camera gear.
iPhone for international travel – D-
Normally, I’m a big fan of the iPhone. It’s an amazing device with what seems like unlimited usefulness. I planned on sending out email updates to my family and friends while in Tanzania so I set up an international data plan on my iPhone. The problem was that the iPhone was frequently confused while overseas and had no cellular connection whatsoever for about 90% of the trip. We were in areas where I knew there was plenty of cell coverage but the iPhone would just say “no service” or would show bars but not connect to anything. AT&T also has a lame policy where you have to keep your international data plan active until the overseas phone companies decide to bill for your usage. So instead of only paying for international data for the duration of my trip, I have to keep paying for international data after I return until bills come in to AT&T from the overseas carriers. Apparently AT&T can’t look at your billing history and determine that you had an international data plan when you were overseas. Now thats customer service!
Before the trip I also rented several movies from iTunes to watch on the plane. What didn’t occur to me was that the iPhone needs to connect to iTunes during playback to make sure you’re authorized to play the movies…something that doesn’t work too well when you’re 30,000 ft. above the Atlantic Ocean. Surely I’m not not the first person to rent movies from iTunes to watch on an iPod or iPhone on a plane?