Newsletter of E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer and www.EJPhoto.com
All contents ©2005 E.J. Peiker
(Vol 3 , Issue 4)
Welcome to the quarterly update from E.J. Peiker Nature Photography. In this quarterly email publication, I will keep you all posted on upcoming workshops including the DuckShop Series as well as sharing some photos and experiences with you. I will also give you brief impressions on any new equipment that I get the opportunity to use and any other general information in the world of digital nature photography. Please feel free to forward this along to other photographers and interested parties. If you would like to be added or deleted to the mailing list or if you would like copies of past issues, just send me an email message at email@example.com.
EJPhoto.com Sporadically Down
Apologies to those that have been trying to access EJPhoto.com while it was not available. I had to take the site offline for a couple of days for security reasons temporarily. I discovered that a site originating in Japan was hijacking my bandwidth – to the tune of 20GB per day resulting in huge excess bandwidth charges. The IP has now been blocked by my ISP and service is restored to normal.
Basalt Tripods – Do they live up to the manufacturer’s hype?
For trips with a lot of hiking I prefer a lighter smaller tripod than the 1300 or 1500 series of Gitzo tripods. I had been using the carbon fiber Gitzo 1228 in these situations but the collar is plastic, not rugged enough, and had not fully tightened in some time. When Gitzo announced the Basalt 1200 series nearly a year ago I was intrigued but was concerned that it had the same plastic collar – from appearances in advertisement it looked the same so I put aside the notion of trying one of these basalt tripods. As time went on, my 1228 became nearly unusable as the center column just could not be tightened so this summer I ordered the Gitzo 1297 three leg section basalt tripod. I was very impressed when it arrived. This truly is a next generation of Gitzo tripods. The weight difference between it and the carbon fiber version is insignificant and it is significantly more rigid. The legs are now constructed so that they do not rotate within their socket making extension and collapse a breeze since you aren’t fighting the leg section as you twist the tightening rings constantly. On older generation Gitzo’s, if you didn’t close the tripod from the bottom up, you often had trouble collapsing the tripod. Since the legs on the basalt models do not twist, this problem is gone. This is the first tripod that is certified by Gitzo to be used in water. It has no metal or fibrous materials in the leg sections that can expand or get wet. Furthermore, the feet of the tripod unscrew to easily drain water and are very easily replaced if worn out. As a pleasant surprise, Gitzo did re-engineer the center column collar nut and it is now made of aluminum instead of plastic. The result is a significantly more secure and rugged tool than the older 1200 series tripod collars. There are only two items I wish Gitzo had not skimped on – I would prefer the tripod head mounting plate to not be covered with plastic and I would prefer a bubble level on the collar. Overall, this is a very impressive offering in the light but very strong and sturdy tripod arena and I feel this will be my tripod of choice for hiking and landscape photography for years to come.
Eagerly Anticipating New Goodies
An unusual array of new products have been announced this summer. Many of these are exiting products for me. First and foremost is the new Canon EOS 5D and 24-105 f/4L IS lens. A year ago after my trek through the American Rockies I wrote that hiking landscape photographers need a full frame, lightweight high quality camera as the EOS 1Ds (and 1Ds Mark II) are just too heavy for this use. I also wrote that we need some smaller maximum aperture professional quality lenses. I feel like Canon listened. The EOS 5D is a nearly 13 megapixel full frame sensor camera that weighs less than half of the weight of an EOD 1Ds Mark II. The 24-105 f/4L IS lens weighs about 1/3 less than the 24-70 f/2.8L. These weight savings are very significant after a few miles of uphill hiking in the thin mountain air. While I haven’t yet ordered a 5D since I have not had the best luck from first production batch cameras, I will certainly be adding this camera to my tools in a few months. Meanwhile, the 24-105 is on its way and I hope to have it in time for some fall color photography.
A second DSLR camera was also announced by Canon – an upgrade to the EOS 1D Mark II fat action camera. The new offering is called the EOS 1D Mark IIN and is an incremental upgrade of its predecessor. Primary changes include a much bigger and better LCD, more shooting modes and customization., a much bigger buffer allowing 22 RAW files per burst at 8.5 frames per second or as many as 135 shots at 8.5 frames per second in one of the JPEG modes, and many other upgrades. I am contemplating adding this camera to my tools as well since I currently do not own a fast action camera.
Really Right Stuff has announced a smaller and lighter version of their world’s best BH-55 tripod head called the BH-40. This will make the perfect companion to the Gitzo 1297 Basalt tripod reviewed above.
An accessory that has been around for a little while but I did not get until earlier this year is the 4th generation design replacement foot for the very bulky and heavy 500mm f/4L IS Canon lens. Replacing the Canon foot reduces the packing size of the lens significantly and more importantly takes nearly a pound or about 10% off of the weight of this bulky lens. 4th generation recently also introduced a similar foot for the 600mm lens. While others make a replacement foot for the 600, none allow you to carry the lens via the foot after the upgrade. The 4th generation design does making it a vastly superior product.
In Search of the Perfect Panorama Software
For years now I have been touting the virtues of ArcSoft’s Panorama Maker 3 software for automated stitching of multiple frames into a panorama. Unfortunately, ArcSoft has not kept up with the times and their software, despite a recent minor update, is hopelessly obsolete. Its algorithms do not blend subtle differences in tone and exposure as well as newer products and its biggest shortfall is that it does not support 16 bit per channel color output resulting in limited post processing options. I have recently been on a quest to find something better. I have found several tools that do a much better job of stitching and color/exposure control with 16 bit output but none with what I would call a user friendly and coherent user interface. So far I have tried the mega expensive Stitcher from RealViz ($580!!!), Panorama Factory, and Panorama Tools. Panorama Tools is probably the single most powerful Panorama Software out there but it essentially requires one of several third party front ends just to make sense of it. It also requires a number of plug-ins from yet other third parties to give it all the functionality one needs. Then there is Stitcher, also a very powerful tool but with an absolutely horrid, clunky and unintuitive interface. While results are good, the combination of the poor user interface and not significantly better output than other much less expensive tools, it simply isn’t worth $580 much less $58. Panorama Factory is an interesting application that works well at a cheap price (about $50) but it has severe limitations in its interface as well making it difficult to back out of procedures already completed and its manual stitching capabilities are incomprehensible. It also uses a linear straight line stitching approach while others use a non-linear morphing approach that typically results in slightly better panoramas. All three of these tools will do the job but I have yet to find a tool that works the way I need it to and I will continue my search. In the meanwhile I’ll either manually stitch or use Panorama Factory. Rest assured that I will not give up my quest for a better tool in this arena.
Photo Activity Review
The summer is my slow time for photography but I have still been able to get some shooting in. A weekend in Banff National Park and some time in Sedona provided some nice new images from these two popular locations. For the fall I am planning on some Fall color photography in New England, and a trip to the Grand Canyon .
© 2005 - E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer.
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