Canon feature request?

I had an email from someone who has followed my blogs for many years this week. He’s a working news photographer who I bumped into on a job a few weeks ago. He had noticed some tape on the top of my Canon EOS5D MkIII and my EOS 7D MkII and simply pointed to his cameras and said “snap”. He had tape on his cameras too – doing precisely the same job that the tape on mine does and went on to ask what the chances of Canon making a change to future cameras that would eliminate the need for us to tape that particular feature on our cameras. The email was to remind me that I had promised to do a quick blog post about the issue.

Taped diopter adjustment on a Canon EOS 5d MkIII

Taped diopter adjustment on a Canon EOS 5d MkIII

The tape on our cameras holds the built-in diopter adjustment dial and stops it from being moved in the bag or over your shoulder – something that happens to me a lot if I remove the tape. I have no idea if anyone from Canon’s design department reads this blog (I doubt that they do) but it seems to me that if enough of us sufferers from this problem mention it to them when we talk to them then they just might do something about it. Nikon have a lock on the diopter adjustment on some of their professional cameras so it has to be relatively easy to do.

The EOS5D MkIV will be appearing later this year if all of the rumours are to be believed so this may be a little late but you have to give these things a try.

Canon employees and dealers reading this… please help to reduce my gaffer tape bill. Soon. Please.

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30

31 May 2016. Bournemouth, Dorset. Think Tank Logistics Manager 30. Hillcrest Road

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

A few weeks ago I bought some more Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit and after a short while lugging my gear around in multiple bags and cases I decided that it was time to get myself one big case to take most or all of my Quadra gear. My rationale was that I am pulling one bag on wheels and carrying two or three others so why not make it one on wheels with the lighting and one smaller bag with cameras and lenses riding on top of it or over my shoulder as required? There’s quite a bit of choice on the market but all of my experience with Think Tank bags told me to start my search there. They make lots of rolling bags but only three specifically designed to lug large amounts of kit. My benchmark was that I had to be able to get at least two of my Manfrotto 156 stands plus a couple of Manfrotto 001s in there along with two or three packs, three or four heads, spare batteries, cables, light modifiers and plenty of accessories.

I had previously seen a colleagues Location Manager 40 case and so I wanted to check out the Logistics Manager 30 because on paper it appeared to be just about perfect. The internal dimensions were listed at 70cm length. My 051 stands are 68cm when folded and so I tried one and when it fitted the deal was pretty much sealed. All I needed to do was make sure that it fitted into the boot (trunk) of the car and it was at this point that I realised that neither of the two bigger “Manager” series bags would have worked. The 30 goes in with a bit to spare but anything much longer would need to go sideways and therefore wouldn’t be much use.

In the ten days or so since buying the case I have only used it twice. On job number one I was delighted with it when rolling it but less so when having to lift it up stairs or into the boot (trunk) of the car. There’s no bag or case in the world that can magically make its contents weigh less and the temptation to load this one has to be tempered with my need to be able to lift it. For job two I went with just two packs, two spare batteries, three heads and only three stands and quickly realised that I could only fully load this case if I were working with someone else who could help with the lifting. I’m getting old!

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

I am happy to report that this case comes with so many options for the inserts and dividers that I have a medium sized carrier bag full of unused bits. The flexibility is amazing and the quality of the construction appears to be right up there with every other bit of Think Tank kit I own. I am particularly pleased with the zipped mesh compartments in the lid. I have lots of gels cut into manageable pieces and they fitted into one of them very well whilst the other swallowed lots of those small accessories that can otherwise get lost drifting around in the base of the bag. You can see that I have a couple of pouches in this case. One has the Elinchrom Skyport HS triggers and the other has lots of small and medium sized clips which are great for holding gels etc.

I’m sure that there’ll be a few tweaks and some settling in but, for now, this layout works very well for me when I am working on my own. I haven’t even thought about using any of the exterior pockets but I have already given the built-in combination lock a go – chaining my locked bag to a radiator after I’d finished shooting, packed up and whilst I’d gone for coffee with the client.

My final point here is that turning up with completely professional solutions is good for your image. I’m sure that a reasonable quality suitcase with some makeshift padding would work almost as well and cost £200 less but this really is doing the job properly and my client definitely noticed.

So I bought a Canon 7D MkII

I wrote a long blog post about this time last year talking about the choice between three of Canon’s full-frame DSLR cameras. At that stage in my work I couldn’t imagine buying another crop frame camera after selling my original EOS7D and giving my opinion of it as “loving everything about the camera apart from the image quality above 800 ISO”. Well, hold the front page – the EOS7D Mk II can handle ISOs a fair bit higher than 800.

Cropped area of approximately a frame shot at 3200 ISO blown up to 100%

Cropped area of approximately a frame shot at 3200 ISO blown up to 100%

In the frame above shot at 3200 ISO you can see some noise in the out of focus areas but it isn’t nasty and it isn’t overwhelming. In the sample shot under ‘press conference’ conditions at 1600 ISO I think that the camera performed brilliantly. I would say that the MkII is at least two stops better in low light than the original 7D and maybe a bit more under certain lighting conditions and those two stops are the difference between a camera that is very usable as an every day available light camera and one that isn’t.

So far I have been delighted with it. I’ve used it on ten assignments already and it is rapidly becoming one of those things that goes into the bag first. Married with f4 L series zooms with the image stabilisation turned on I have been deeply impressed with this camera. The AF is brilliant, the shutter is responsive and shooting video with this camera has been the best DSLR video experience I’ve ever had.

Cropped area of approximately a quarter of a frame shot at 1600 ISO blown up to 100%

Cropped area of approximately a quarter of a frame shot at 1600 ISO blown up to 100%

I’m not saying that this camera can, in any way, compete with something like an EOS5D MkIII or even an EOS6D but it is a lot better than the original 7D and I’d be happy to use it at 3200 ISO on a job if I needed to. I bought the camera for other reasons than its high ISO performance (AF performance, speed, video performance and price) but this was a nice surprise. I won’t be parting with any of my full frame Canons but my prejudice against the APS-C format just disappeared in 1/200th of a second.

Elinchrom Quadra ELB

27 April 2016. Bournemouth, Dorset. Elinchrom Quadra ELB. Hillcrest Road Neil Turner

When I get a new piece of kit worthy of mention, I usually write a first hand account of how it is working out and go into details based on using it on a few jobs. I bought an Elinchrom Quadra ELB HS kit a couple of weeks ago and I thought that it was about time I gave some first impressions on this blog. Sadly, I haven’t used it for anything particularly interesting and I certainly haven’t stretched it beyond what I would normally do with my old Quadras (some executive portraits and a quick location shoot) but I can already see a lot of small but amazingly significant changes from the original system.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I was very impressed with the Quadra when I wrote about it in my “32 Months On” and was further impressed when the Lithium Ion batteries came out. The differences between the ELB and the Quadra for most jobs aren’t huge but everything about the new kit tells me that the designers have listened and that the manufacturers have allowed their engineers to implement some great changes. For me, the positive changes with the pack are:

  • Far better display
  • Vastly improved menu system
  • Ability to recondition flattened lithium batteries
  • Better cable port covers
  • All of my old Quadra bits and cables are compatible with the new pack

I have the new High Synch head too which brings one key improvement which is the ability to synch with my cameras at shutter speeds right up to 1/8000th of a second using the EL Skyport Plus HS Transmitter and I’ll talk about these a bit further down the page.

Let’s talk about the menus: back a few years I said this about Quadra menus “some bits of the menu system are not too obvious without the book. Changing stuff like the duration of the beep that signifies that the pack has recharged or whether the readout is in f-stops or watt/seconds isn’t too much of a problem but switching Skyport channels for the first time isn’t all that easy.” With the ELB I was changing stuff without having to resort to any instructions and the display is easy to read in just about any light. For me, this kind of progress is brilliant and it makes the new kit that bit easier to use – which is what you want, serious evolution rather than revolution.

When I swapped over to the Lithium batteries I posed the question “What do you call it when something that was already very good gets quite a lot better?” I went on to answer “an upgrade”. The downside of the lithium batteries is that if you leave them flat they can appear to be dead and not accept a charge, no matter what you do. When this happened to one of mine the marvellous folks at The Flash Centre reconditioned it for me. The new ELB pack has the facility to recondition batteries and that could turn out to be a real help. I try not to leave anything flat but if it happens again, I have the wherewithal to get myself out of that particular jam now.

As I said before, small improvements add up and the less heavily engineered and simpler port covers are great. Nothing revolutionary but a fair bit better than the old ones and the same can be said for the relatively small power bump from 400 watt seconds to 424. That’s a fraction of an f-stop but, to paraphrase a well know UK supermarket, “every little helps”.

So far, I cannot see any negatives with the new pack – a solid upgrade with some great functionality. The same cannot be said for the EL Skyport Plus HS Transmitter . That’s a mouthful so from now on it is the HS Transmitter and it’s infinitely better. It’s a lot bigger than the old Skyport – which is a great thing as I have always said the old one was unnecessarily small. The new one runs on AA batteries which answers another one of my criticisms. You get viewfinder feedback such as a ready light and, most importantly of all, you can now shoot with high speed synch if you have the right flash head. With the ELB pack there are way more functions built into the transmitter and all-in-all it is way more than an upgrade. If I have a criticism, it is pretty expensive but that’s all I can find wrong with it so far.

27 April 2016. Bournemouth, Dorset. Elinchrom Quadra ELB. Hillcrest Road Neil Turner

Moving onto the high synch head, well it looks and feels exactly like the old heads. It takes exactly the same accessories and cables as the old head and it definitely works when synching at shutter speeds in excess of 1/200th of a second. I have yet to give it a thorough testing but it appears to do exactly what it should – which is great.

Up until now everything I’ve had to say is positive and I am extremely pleased with my new acquisitions. I was asked the other day why I didn’t buy the Profoto B2 instead. The answer is that I wanted the backward compatibility of sticking with Elinchrom and I refused to pay the price for the Profoto. It has a TTL function which the Elinchrom lacks but I have no idea when or even if I’d use it and I don’t like the way that light modifiers attach to the B2. Maybe TTL would be another (the next) upgrade for Elinchrom’s ultra-portable. Maybe it would push the price up too far. Who knows.

What I do know is that, yet again, the engineers at Elinchrom’s Swiss HQ have taken a very good product that I had 100% trust in and made it better in every way that I can see. I’m a fan of these ultra-portable kits and I’ve tried pretty much every one of them since I first handled the Lumedynes and Normans back in the early 1990s. The Quadra ELB is one of the best bits of kit that I own and I will post some examples when finally get to shoot pictures that stretch its capabilities out beyond what the old Quadra could do.

Pelican case wheels

peli_wheels

There cannot be many photographers out there who don’t own at least one Pelican Case. The super tough plastic boxes (often on wheels) that a lot of our gear travels in are superbly designed, brilliantly made and as tough as old boots. I have three of them and another photographer swapped the standard hard wheels on my 1510 case for some softer rubber ones a couple of years ago and the absence of grating hard wheeled noises was a revelation. I find myself using my 1560 case a lot more these days and so it was time that got the ‘old soft wheel shuffle’ too.

I am not someone who indulges in much DIY but it became obvious when I read this ‘how to’ blog post by David Fearn that even I could do it. So I sourced some 60mm inline skate wheels from SkatePro, re-read David’s blog post and got stuck in. In his post Mr Fearn used 63mm wheels but I went for 60mm because a) I was having trouble finding keenly priced 63mm ones and b) the original Peli had worn down to 59mm and still worked. The extra 3mm probably makes no difference but I went with smaller. Once I had the bits and tools assembled, the job took less than ten minutes.

What a difference some soft wheels make to rolling the case around. On and off of a train, on and off of the London Underground with barely a sound! Quite why Pelican fit rock hard wheels in the first place or why they don’t offer a soft wheel option is anyone’s guess but I’m most definitely a convert – even if it means that the lifetime wheel replacement guarantee that the manufacturer offers goes away. I ordered plenty of wheels and so I reckon I’m good for another ten years now.

Thinking on your feet

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

I was out shooting a job yesterday and needed to get quite a bit of extra height. The best place to shoot the picture from was on the side of a grassy hill which was very wet and the client’s health and safety policies meant that it wasn’t going to be easy to use a step ladder – whilst building a tower was outside the budget. In an ideal world a proper pole-cam or even a drone would have been the best option but the light was right and I needed to improvise.

Having used the Canon EOS6D as a remote via their iPhone app once before I was reasonably confident that my idea would work but the app has been replaced/updated and it meant learning the new one on the job. I had a basic monopod, a tripod head and a Manfrotto Super Clamp in the car but no proper way to attach the phone to the monopod to use as a viewfinder and remote release. With a proper pole-cam you rest the base of the pole on the ground and it is pretty stable. You also have a cradle for the phone or even a tablet if you want to go bigger. I had to tuck the foot of the monopod into my belt to get enough height but I had about an hour so I went into full “1970s Blue Peter” improvisation mode.

The cradle that holds my iPhone in my car was pressed into service and that attached very easily to the Manfrotto Super Clamp. Having extended the monopod to its full height I then attached the clamp to the second stage of the monopod (about eye-level when the whole thing was in use I guessed). Then I stuck the tripod head onto the monopod tilting down a little and put the EOS6D with a Canon 16-35 f4L IS lens on it. Whilst all of this was being done I was downloading the latest Canon Camera Connect app from the Apple App Store.

After a few minutes messing with settings I had the system working. I could use the phone as a viewfinder and a remote release for the Canon DSLR and I set about shooting the pictures without leaving the ground myself. After a minute or two I decided that I needed more height to look down on the subject a bit more and so I tilted the tripod head down a little and when I put the camera back into the air the foot of the monopod was resting on my chest. Even with a camera as light as the 6D I couldn’t hold it up for more than a minute at a time but we got the shot and I only got pointed at (and laughed at) by a small handful of passers-by. I wouldn’t want to have to work this way very often but, having just edited and uploaded the pictures, I know that I have a “Blue Peter”** solution that works.

** Blue Peter was required viewing as a child growing up in the 1970s. They always showed you how to make useful things from odds and ends lying around the house.