Monday, June 28, 2010

Who's that...

This weekend, I decided it was time for a self portrait. I hate being in front of the camera. I don't know what it is, but I don't feel comfortable. I always have that awkward look, smile, or whatever. Alone, at 1 in the morning, in the freezing cold, I decided it was the perfect time for a self portrait. It was difficult conditions: pitch black with no ambient light, 1 flash, 1 wired shutter release that didn't reach to where I needed it to, wireless flash trigger, 2 tripods (1 for the camera and 1 for the flash), and a flash light. Here is how I accomplished it:
  1. Setup camera tripod
  2. Setup flash tripod so that the head is right where your eyes will be.
  3. Use the flash light to help focus the camera on the flash tripod head. After focus is achieved, set the camera to manual focus.
  4. Do a dance
  5. Move the flash to upper camera right
  6. Set camera to timer
  7. Press shutter and move to location
  8. Look tough.. I mean real tough.. look at my mean mug
  9. Try again and again until you get a desirable amount of sharpness (it is harder than it looks)
Things I would do to make the shot better:
  1. Add a second flash to help fill the dark shadows on the side of my face (the equipment purchases never end!)
  2. Get rid of the hot spot on my cheek
  3. Look even tougher (impossible, I know)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: Benro TRA-B169 Travel Angel (link)

The Specs (link)
  • Max Height (column retracted / column extended) - 51.3 in / 58.5 in
  • Minimum Height - 14 in (This is different from manufacturing specs. With legs at wide spread and column just above ground, this is measurement to the top of the head)
  • Reversible Column - yes
  • Folded Length - 14.1 in
  • No of Leg Sections - 5
  • Independent Leg Spread - Yes
  • Leg Lock Type - twist lock
  • Weight - 3.3lbs

The Competition
The Review
I have been lusting after a new tripod for quite some time now (lusting might be a strong word for a tripod, but they are a crucial piece of equipment for any photographer). I had the following criteria (in order of importance to me):
  • Compact and Lightweight - I do a lot of moving around whether it be hiking at the cabin, dirt bike riding through the woods, or walking around town. What good is a tripod if it is too heavy or cumbersome to carry with you at all times. I knew that this was going to end up making the price sky rocket because compact and lightweight usually equates to $$$.
  • Sturdy - I have used a flimsy/cheap tripod for years. Bottom line is they work for many situations, but can also make you pretty frustrated when a breeze produces blurry shots.
  • Low minimum height - I shoot a lot of macro and ground level pictures so this was a must for me.
  • Cost - I always want things to be inexpensive, but this was last on my list. I did want to try and keep the total purchase with tripod head at $300 or less. At first I thought this would be easy... boy was I wrong!

I started my quest by doing what I normally do and researching just about every single tripod made before I made my final decision (what did we ever do before the internet). I originally started looking at Bogen/Manfrotto setups. While these tripods are very nice, I couldn't find one that fit my needs AND folded down to be compact and light. I soon broadened my research. After scouring the universe, the Benro, and the 3 tripods listed above are what I came up with for a final decision. The Gitzo seems to be in a league of its own, and you pay dearly for that since it is the most expensive of the bunch. I have heard rave reviews, but I still couldn't justify the cost at this time in my life, especially since it did not include a head. The Feisol also seemed very nice and had received good reviews, but once again it did not include a head and the price was a little out of budget. The Velbon had almost the same features and weight as the Benro (even though the Velbon is carbon fiber). I ultimately decided on the Benro since it fit all of my needs and was still under my budget.

The Strengths
  • Very compact/lightweight
  • Low minimum height
  • Many features for the price
  • Sturdy
  • Pieces feel solid
Right out of the box I was very impressed with the size and weight. My previous tripod was 24 in folded and weighed almost 5 lbs, so seeing the folded size and feeling the weight of the Benro out of the box was very exciting. The features of this tripod include: swappable feet (rubber feet are included, spiked feet are optional), weight hook on bottom of column for added stability, locking center column (grooved to keep it from moving), reversible center column (camera can get all the way to the ground albeit upside down), panning ball head with quick release plate, independent leg spread, and carrying case. The construction of the tripod is very solid and the twist locks use a high quality rubber instead of plastic which gives them a nice touch.

The Weaknesses
  • Twist locks are cumbersome
  • Quick release plate is not that quick
  • Low max height
Before writing this review, I wanted to use the Benro for a couple of weeks to see how it operates in the real world. Although the Benro has an extensive list of features and quality build, I certainly found some let downs as well. First and foremost, the twist locks are cumbersome and the tripod takes quite a while to go from folded to fully opened (at least compared to flip locks that I am used to). I was hoping that I would get quicker with them as I got used to them, but apparently you can't teach an old dog new tricks because I prefer flip locks.

I also have some issues with the 'quick release' plate. My previous experience with quick release plates is that you shouldn't need a tool (Alan wrench) to take the plate on and off. Personally, I use a tripod at home for studio shots and this tripod for being out and about. I might be lazy, but it is a pain to switch plates. To be fair, you can switch the head/plate combo for the Benro to a more universal quick release system. I plan to remedy this issue by doing just that.

The maximum height for this tripod is a little low (I am 6' 2"), however it is nearly impossible to have a compact tripod that is also tall and stable. Having the tripod at max height (w/ column fully extended), puts the camera eyepiece right at eye-line.

The Conclusion
If you are looking for a good general use tripod, this is NOT it. There are many fantastic general use tripods that are pretty good at anything you throw at it. The flip-side is that they are not the best in any specific category. I would recommend this tripod to anyone looking for a lightweight/compact tripod on a budget. As long as you understand the strengths and limitations of the Benro, you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New POTM (Print of the Month)!

I have added a new Print of the Month for June. A few days late, but better late than never! Here's the deal. You get the photo above in a 16x24, shipped to your door, for $60! CONTACT ME to let me know you are interested (you know you are). It doesn't get much easier than that.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Expert Amateur Joins the 21st Century!

The Expert Amateur

It finally happened. I decided to join everyone else and get a blog. This blog will cover everything related to photography including, but not limited to 4 of the following 5 options:
  • How To's
  • Photography Tips
  • Equipment Reviews
  • Diabolical scheming
  • Really cool photos

Life is always busy, so I will post whenever I get the opportunity. I understand that the anticipation of my next post is highly stressful for everyone :), so subscribe to my feed and then you won't have to check back 4 or 5 times a day.

Things will be changing quite a bit around here as I get my photo blog aligned with my photo site, so stop judging my poor web page skills!