Tripods – Manfrotto 190CX3 and 498RC2: Why, First Impressions and Vs Dolica GX600B200

First of all, I’d like to point out it’s a great opportunity to buy Manfrotto products because of this crazy rebate special they have going with Amazon. $45 off $150, $65 off $250, and $125 off $450. Just make sure you buy from Amazon, not one of their third party sellers.

When I started photography, I did a tiny bit of research and bought the Dolica GX600B200 mostly based on Amazon reviews. I’ve been a happy user until recently, evident by the large number of night-time long exposure shots you can find on my blog. So, why did I get a new tripod?

I was at LA’s Griffith Observatory a month or two back, trying to get some shots of the LA skyline. Zoomed out, my shots were pretty sharp. At least sharp enough. Then I got my telephoto lens and tried to zoom into downtown LA so I could get multiple shots and create a panorama. I could only manage one shot with minimal blur. The strong winds up at the observatory were just too much for the tiny tripod. That’s when I realized it was time to invest in a new tripod before my trip to Chicago (THE WINDY CITY!).

Funny thing is that as soon as I started researching real tripods, I had the chance to photograph the Full Moon. I put my 400mm EFL lens on my camera, tightened it onto my Dolica tripod, set it to point straight at the moon, and tightened the ballhead. The image kept shifting. What I mean is that I had it set to single point auto-exposure and auto-focus. And that point was set to the center of the camera. Since the moon, even at 400mm EFL isn’t that big on a tiny screen, I had to keep readjusting the ballhead. This was very very annoying. This is when I realized I needed a decent ballhead too.

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So I started doing some research. Some great readers of my blog were kind enough to provide links and insight as well. I… did not realize that professionals’ tripod systems could cost $1000+. My $50 Dolica seemed like a cheap toy after that, rather than a bargain tripod. Apparently Gitzo is the Gucci and Louis Vuitton of the tripod world, with Really Right Stuff providing bank ballheads. Could I afford them? Of course not. I’m still trying to decide if I should get the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 for $650ish, I wouldn’t be buying a $1k tripod yet. Another argument against the super expensive tripods was that my camera is much smaller and lighter than most other DSLRs. I don’t need my tripod to hold a 10lb camera+lens system stable. My system is not that heavy, so a lighter duty tripod would be sufficient.

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Manfrotto was considered the brand with the best ‘bang for buck’. It seemed their two most popular product families were the 055 and 190 series. The 055 was taller and sturdier whereas the 190 was shorter and lighter. Both the 055 and 190 come in aluminum and carbon fiber models. Aluminum is sturdier and heavier and the carbon fiber has better vibration dampening and is lighter. Being used to the small Dolica, I didn’t want to get something too bulky or heavy. It was also critical that the tripod would fit in carry-on luggage. I also considered Manfrotto’s new BeFree series, but there were no reviews available anywhere. I got the 190 in carbon fiber because it seemed to be the lightest tripod available without being too light.

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Next, head. It was a debate between the 498RC2 vs MH054. The MH054 is a magnesium ball, smoother movement, nice red accents, and rated for heavier loads. The 498RC2 was good enough and $80 cheaper. I… decided to save money. (I’m still debating this one – will be testing out the 498RC2 this week and trying out the MH054 at a local shop).

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So, I finally got my new Tripod! The Manfrotto 190CX3 with 498RC2 Ballhead.

Comparing it to my Dolica GX600B200, first of all it’s a couple inches longer. If I remove the ballhead, it should fit in carry-on luggage.

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Spreading the legs (no pun intended) and getting the tripod standing, it seems the height difference gets slightly greater. You can definitely tell that the Manfrotto has thicker legs and is sturdier.

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Here’s a shot of the leg segments. The Dolica is a 4-section tripod whereas the Manfrotto is 3-section. We’re seeing the bottom 3 of the Dolica and 2 of the Manfrotto. You can see that the Dolica is much thinner. The second thickest Dolica leg may be comaprable to the Manfrotto’s smallest leg.

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All legs fully extended, height differences seem to even out a bit since the Dolica has one more leg section to extend.

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However, with the center column fully extended, the Manfrotto is again a couple inches higher. For reference, I am 6’1″ and the Manfrotto fully extended brings my Olympus OM-D to exactly eye-level.

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I did a couple short tests where I tapped the head of the tripod and watched it shake/vibrate. I can tell you that the Manfrotto is definitely sturdier. The Dolica tends to vibrate much longer after each tap (although less than a second).

My first impression after the brief comparison, and based on personal experience with the Dolica so far, is that the Dolica is sufficient for most casual shooters in conditions that are not too challenging. It’s a light tripod that’s easy to carry around and is sufficiently stable if you let it stabilize for a couple seconds. For $50, this is good enough. However, if you run into windy situations, need the tighter grip and tight lock on your ballhead, you will need to upgrade to something better.

I’m visiting Portland, Oregon then Spokane and Seattle, Washington this week. The Manfrotto set will be with me, so I’ll make sure I update with my experiences when I get back.

Thank you!

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Cityscape Photo Wall – Need help/suggestions!

Cityscape Photo Wall

Please read on and share your thoughts and give me some suggestions!

This is a scene from the Korean movie, New World. See that photo-wall behind the desk? Five large prints in different sizes creating one large photo of a city. My guess is that the city is either Seoul or Hong Kong, I can’t tell.

My mission this year is to take a photo in a big city that is worty of a 3+ large print photo-collage. It’ll probably be a multi-shot panorama so I can get plenty of resolution.

What do you think? Do you have any photos that are worth printing like this? Any cities/locations you’d recommend?

Please share!

Thank you!

Film Photography Part 2 : Nikon L35AF

I think I finally have enough prints to start describing my second film camera.

The Nikon L35AF was Nikon’s first autofocus compact camera, released in 1983. I was born in 1984, so it’s one year older than me.

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After miserably failing to focus on several shots with the Samsung SR-4000 that my friend let me borrow, I really wanted an autofocus camera for film. The challenge was to find a wide aperture, compact, autofocus camera that wasn’t too expensive. One camera I really wanted (and still want) is the Contax T3. That camera is so beautiful with its Zeiss lens, sleek design, titanium body, and even synthetic sapphire shutter button! It costs waaayy too much though. So after searching for a cheap alternative, I came across the Nikon L35AF. Ken Rockwell had some good things to say about the camera, so I was expecting it not to be just a cheap crappy camera.

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It cost somewhere around $10 on ebay and used two AA batteries (a common issue with older cameras is that they use older Mercury batteries which aren’t used anymore, so it’s difficult to get replacement batteries). It was a very convenient and cheap way to play with film. So after I bought it on ebay I gave it a roll of Fuji Superia and started snapping away so I could make sure there weren’t any light leaks or problems with the lens.

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While I didn’t purchase the extra high resolution prints from my local print shop, I could tell that the lens was plenty sharp based on the above photo. Here’s another example from my second roll, taken at the Grand Canyon.

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Also note the dynamic range, dark shadows in the foreground and brightly lit canyon in the background. Detail is there!

It was a fully auto camera. You half-press the shutter button with your subject in the center focus box, compose the shot, and press the shutter all the way. In low light situations, it’ll automatically pop up its built-in flash unit.

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As you can see, the camera does a pretty good job rendering the shot with flash. Images are sharp, focus is accurate, and exposure is great.

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The camera has a 35mm f/2.8 lens. While this is 1 1/2 stops smaller than the f/1.4 lens I’ve been playing with, it gives me pretty background good separation when necessary.

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You can see the vase is sharp but the background is beginning to blur out. Especially since this is a wider lens than the 50mm, it’s inherently harder to get DOF separation but this thing’s f/2.8 lens is capable.

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Overall, I think this is a great camera to just keep around. It takes AA batteries and only cost dollars on ebay. I’ll be keeping this in the glove compartment of my car for emergency photograph situations.

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After all, the best camera is the one you have with you, right? Maybe it’s ironic that this $10, 30 year old compact camera is capable of taking better photos than my expensive smart phone. Hopefully it’ll be with me enough so that I don’t miss any great photo-moments!

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I’d also like to note that some photo scans have been slightly processed through Adobe Lightroom.

Thank you for reading through this long post! I’ll keep updating my blog with photos from my Nikon as I get more rolls developed.

Canvas Prints Arrived!

A while back I put up a post asking readers to vote on which photo would look best on a canvas print. Although many voted for the photo I have as my header, I felt that photo would look better on a cleaner, glossier print rather than canvas. I was looking for a photo in B&W or a bit muted colors, as I felt they would look best on canvas. Maybe I’m wrong. I chose two photos and had them printed. Easycanvasprints was having a sale on the 16″x20″ canvas print, all for under $30. Two prints came out to a bit under $60.

Here they are!

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They were a bit bigger than I expected. I love the way they came out. The motorcycle one is a bit loose, but tight enough.

Here they are on my walls

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I love them! Please let me know what you think!

 

Film Photography Part 1.5 : Ilford Delta 400 B&W Film

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about my photography journey, rather than just photos from trips. I was hoping to post about my second film camera (actually first, since I was borrowing the Samsung), but I spent an entire roll in a day so I could test the camera and didn’t get many that I liked out of it. Same with the next camera.

So what I decided to do was post about film! The photos out of the Samsung were using Fuji Superia film since it seemed to be most readily available at the time. After learning more about film, I now have Ilford Delta B&W, Fuji Acros B&W, Fuji Velvia, and Kodak Portra film sitting at home waiting to be used and developed. This post is a brief post about the Ilford Delta B&W.
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Before I even started getting interested in film, I’ve read some news recently about Ilford releasing high-grade disposable B&W compacts and read that it was a respected company. I know Ming Thein also uses their film, although his shots are mostly medium format (since then I’ve also read on his blog that Fuji Acros is better for brighter lights and dynamic range so I got a pack of that too).

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I haven’t had a chance to test the Fuji Acros film yet but I hope to soon because Southern California has some harsh sun and I could use its performance.

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I think Ming had said that Ilford is better at lower light greys (gray vs grey?) and I would agree that this film provides some really pleasing shades.

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Along those lines, I would probably recommend under-exposing slightly for Ilford film, as highlights can be harsh and ugly.

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I like how it processes skin tones too, pretty nice for taking photos of people. Since I intended to use film mostly for taking photos of people, this is a good thing for me!

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I particularly like how the above shot came out!

So overall, it’s pretty good film. Supposedly bested by Fuji Acros in highlights but really good with blacks and greys. Pretty pleasing portraiture and skin tones, which is good for my needs!

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And lastly, here’s a photo I took with my Samsung, guessed focus by distance and set it on a SUV’s dashboard with a 24mm lens. People in the back are a little blurry, but this shot has been framed and displayed in my room. I think this is ultimately why I take photos, to preserve memories of great times with great friends.

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Film Photography Part 1 : Samsung SR-4000

I spent a huge chunk of my time following camera blogs, reading equipment reviews and news, participating (mostly viewing) photography forums, and even watching YouTube videos about photography.

I think every enthusiast photographer, at one point, gets curious about film photography. I was really enjoying my GX1 (this was slightly before or around when I first got my OM-D) and wanted to play with film.

I was lucky because I had a friend that lived nearby that had a Samsung SR-4000 laying around with 3 lenses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe SR-4000 was the first and last SLR that Samsung released in 1997 and was discontinued in 2002. It was a manual focus  film SLR. It was released with a three lenses: 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5, 70-210mm f/4-5.6, and 50mm f/1.4 prime. The interesting thing is that the 50mm f/1.4 prime is actually a Schneider Kreuznach Xenon lens!

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Apparently there is some interesting history to this. Samsung bought Rollei in 1995 (and owned Rollei until 1999) from Heinrich Mandermann, who happened to also own Schneider Kreuznach. This is when the business relationship between Samsung and Schneider developed. However, while I’m not an expert at lens sharpness and quality, the Schneider 50mm f/1.4 lens for the Samsung SLR is rated to be OK, but not great.

Anyways, back to the camera. My friend hadn’t used this camera for years. It had a roll of film that was possibly over a decade old still sitting in it. He let me borrow the camera and in exchange I offered to develop the film still inside (if it would develop at all). I went on Amazon and without a lot of research, went ahead and bought a pack of four each of Fujifilm 200 and Fujifilm Superia 400, and a roll of Ilford B&W 400 film. I actually bought two rolls of Ilford B&W film but I accidentally purchased one as 120mm Medium Format film, so that’s… just laying around. I will be trying Kodak Porta, Fuji Velvia, and Reala in the future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFilm photography was very different. Having gotten used to digital cameras, I was more familiar with shooting whenever and whatever was interesting. With digital, when I saw an interesting subject or view, sometimes I would try to stop and compose the shot, but often I would be snapping away and trying different angles, distances, views, as well as using burst shooting. With a film camera, I couldn’t do that as easily because each shot cost film and development fees. I couldn’t review my shots as well! This was critical because the Viewfinder on the SR-4000 is small. And I learned that depth of field on a full-frame film camera using a f/1.4 aperture at 50mm is very shallow.

05100023As you can see in the shot above, I missed focus very often with that lens because it had to be exact or it’d be blurred. I wasn’t used to the viewfinder, which was small to begin with (I later compared the VF to one on a Canon AE-1 and found the Samsung’s VF significantly smaller), and the inability to review photos did not end up very well. But. But! When I got focused correctly on subjects, I loved the way it rendered colors and the shallow DOF was beautiful!

05100013 05100010Since it was very difficult to compose and take ‘artsy’ photos and landscape with the film camera, I focused on taking portrait shots. I ended up spending a couple weeks trying to shoot that one roll of film because I was being too careful in the beginning, but I eventually finished the roll. I excitedly took the roll to Pro Photo Connection in Irvine, which seemed like a pretty professional shop. Dropped it off along with the roll of film that was initially in the camera and picked it up a few days later.

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I think the part that intrigued me the most was the shallow DOF of a full-frame camera that I could not achieve with my micro four thirds camera. In case you don’t know, I won’t get into the physics of it, but a crop sensor will have deeper DOF than a larger sensor. With 35mm full-frame as standard, a APS-C crop censor will have 1 stop deeper DOF, and micro-four-thirds will have another 1 stop deeper DOF. So for example, in terms of DOF only, f/1.4 on m43 sensors will have the same DOF as f/2.0 on APS-C and again the same DOF as f/2.8 on full-frame. So my best lens on m43 would only get me DOF as shallow as a f/2.8 FF lens/camera. And in order to achieve the same DOF as a f/1.4 FF, I’d need a f/0.7 lens on m43.

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The color (which is most likely more dependent on the type of film), grain,  and… I don’t know to be honest but a combination of factors just made very attractive photos! The inability to review photos and film costs made me think much more carefully before each shot, and I think this would benefit my composition skills and photography in general as well.

While I’m finishing my second roll of film – Ilford B&W 400 this time – I’ve decided to get some old cameras of my own. While I’ll delve into my decision process for choosing these two (yes… two) cameras in later posts, I’ll share that I’ve started testing my Nikon L35AF and am waiting delivery of a Pentax ME Super with Pentax 50mm f/1.4 lens.

On a side note, my friend’s decade old film DID develop. I guess the light seals on the camera are still pretty good!

Thank you!