Why Sane People No Longer Shoot Stock Photography (at least in the Southwest)

Six Springs ago Yosemite had a particularly good Spring melt and the Waterfalls were cooking.

So, knowing that it could be a mob scene, I went for a two or three day stay. I lasted one and one-half.

I arrived in the afternoon, did some shooting and more importantly, some scouting for the following morning. I woke up early, arrived at my pre-scouted spot and set up my 4×5 and DSLR. It was dark and I was alone and optimistic that I might have the spot to myself. The sun rose, the light started to work and I began to take pictures and to accumulate a crowd. By the time the light had played out it was me and 17 other photographers all jostling for the same shot, swapping stories and generally milling about. Most had arrived long after anything that resembled very good light had long past.

That was the last time I shot in Yosemite. I’ve only shot in one other National Park in the past 6 years. I may go visit one or two less trampled ones this year. I probably won’t.

It turns out that with only 17 people crowding around me that I had comparitive solitude. On any given evening, hundreds can gather at Delicate Arch.

From an article on Tom Till as he remenises about Arches National Park then, 1974, and now.

Tom gets wistful about 1974, even if it wasn’t all that long ago. Moab was still mostly a washed-up mining town then, not yet discovered by the picture-taking masses.

Tom would make the trek to Delicate Arch at sunrise or sunset alone.

“Nobody was there, ever,” he says in amazement. “I had it all to myself. It was weird. In terms of somebody living here and shooting, it was just me.”

Now, “May, June, July, there will be 400 or 500 people out there every night,” he says. “And 10 or 15 of them will have tripods.”

Here is the link to the original Desert News pice that features Tom Till: Want perfect pictures? Better pack a tripod | Deseret News

It’s far to easy to sound wistfully grumpy about the good old days. They were good, most any scenic point, known or discovered, was your’s for the morning sunrise and sunset. It was just this sort of “I’m the only person in the world here, taking this picture” feeling that made shooting stock in the Southwest such a joy.

 

The Canon 9500 Survives the Switch to OS X Lion

I’m using OS X Lion full time. It wasn’t particularly painful. Except for the occasional “nap” issue and the lack of a clear replacement for Quicken 2007, I’m all in and can even scroll the “right” way. God help me the next time I sit down in front of an older Mac…

AppFresh was a big help in identifying, prior to the Lion install, any vestigial PPC apps and importantly, updates for apps with Lion issues and where to find the updates. AppZapper helped to make sure all the discarded older apps were gone along with their associated files. A couple of hours was spent removing cruft left over from, in one case, the mid-1990’s. I spent about $200 to update apps that needed saving and had been properly updated. I said a not so sad farewell to PSCS 2, which was only still around for a couple of long in the tooth plugins, and FileMaker 8, again I have 9 but I had a couple of 8 specific additions that I’d held onto.

One real issue was my Canon 9950F Scanner. This is my workhorse 4×5 film scanner. Canon no longer supports this ancient but very capable device (well, capable at 4×5 inches. Less so on anything smaller). All the support software was PPC. I assumed I’d just dual boot into OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard for scanning and eventually give ViewScan another try – I’ve appreciated ViewScan’s commitment to End of Life and other obscure scanners but I’ve never liked ViewScan as an application. And there was / is the budget busting SilverFast. I much prefer SilverFast to either Canon’s included software or ViewScan but it kills FARE (Canon’s Digital Ice clone) and since they tie updates to specific scanner types, I was going to have to pay full price.

Canon’s scanner software is junk but it’s the devil I know. I’ve wrestled with it enough that I can pump out 1200 dpi scans that, with a tweak or three in Aperture, look just fine. I did my usual “anybody have the 9500 working in Lion” web scavenger hunt but came up with nothing – probably because most folks content with 1200 dpi scans have move on to the Epson V700 (which I may do someday, but not just yet) and also because, well, because the 9500F is old and unsupported by the manufacturer.

But the 9500F has in fact survived the switch to Lion. With little to lose I visited Canon’s current products page and (re) discovered that their best and brightest flat bed scanner is the 4400F. This driver works just fine with the 9500F. Maybe a bit better than the “real” drivers did.

And it’s here or here.

When Tech Aligns – The Canon TS-E Lenses, The Apple iPad and an EyeFi X2 SD Card

The Part Where I Remember the Good Old Days..

I used a view camera, more or less exclusively, for over 20 years. I can wallow in nostalgia, but my much reduced Large Format kit sits in a drawer. it sits in a drawer almost all the time.

I do miss the accurate, loupe-up-in-each-corner, precision of a a good View Camera. I also, and this has been said by others, really miss the upside down and reversed left to right world of an image projected on a ground glass. Having a landscape image arrive upside down and reversed side to side made it an abstraction. With practice, it is easy to “fix” the projected image and imagine the final shot (or as an alternative, just look at the scene without using the camera) but the abstraction of the image was always part of the process.

The Part Where I forget the good old days – Canon TS-E Lenses

The Canon 17mm TS-E lens along with the TS-E 24mm II are best in class Tilt Shift Lenses. While Nikon may be close to the 24mm in sharpness (they don’t make anything wider so the 17mm stands alone), the Canon handely beats the Nikon mechanically with it’s ability to rotate the shift and tilt aspects of the lens independently. The 45mm TS-E and the 90mm TS-E are very good lenses as well but have not gone to “Mark II” design status and lack the independent tilt and shift feature.

If you have questions or are unfamiliar with a TS-E type lens click here for a nice review and tutorial that features the original Canon TS-E 24.

However good a tilt and shift lens is on a 35mm camera, it simply isn’t the equal of a view camera. A well made view camera had (at least) 4×5 inches of ground glass to wonder around and check for focus. A real view camera has more movements that just front tilt and shift. But I already wrote about the good old days, anyway… Shift on a TS-E lens is basically as good as a view camera, but tilt is course compared to a view camera, I use it carefully and not often. I will say that it has become better with live view. It is useful but lacking precision.

Building the New View Camera – EyeFi X2 SD Card with Direct Mode and an iPad

In early January, EyeFi announced that they would make available (When? I’ll  speculate late spring…) a firmware upgrade that would turn their any EyeFi X2 card into a WiFi hotspot. Your camera can now interact with any WiFi device – well any WiFi device that runs their free App. Or to quote the quick YouTube Video. “With Direct Mode full resolution Photo’s and Videos from your camera fly directly from your camera to your phone or tablet.” I would have used “transferred” rather than “fly” but I’ll give the presenter a pass – this time.

So, with an EyeFi card in direct mode and an iPod nearby I can preview my composition, including the imprecise tilt, on a nine inch screen. Since I use a Canon 1DsIII which has two card slots, I can send over a medium sized JPEG while recording the full size RAW. Nine inches of high resolution iPad screen compared to a 3 inch camera back is hardly a fair fight. Pinch to zoom should allow me to retire my well worn loop.

Problems. There Are Always Problems

I’m no fan of juggling thousands or even hundreds of dollars worth of tech so the iPad need a good, safe home. I’d mount it on a tripod leg and make it easy to mount and remove. I can do that using a Vogel iPad Holder and a bit of imagination. The Vogel holder also acts as a cover for the quarter acre of glass that is the front of an iPad. And, although I don’t shoot at noon, a hood might be handy. Here is one (on eBay so the link will die.) There may be others – pretty much any netbook shade should work.

Yep, it sounds a little cumbersome and fussy. But I spent 20 years under a dark cloth, 8x loop in hand, staring at the back of a view camera. I do fussy and cumbersome if the results are worth it.

Now, if the EyeFi folks would allow the app to mimic a real view camera and make it possible to reverse and flip the image…

On The FujiFilm x100 – What We Don’t Know

The Camera

Fuji has done a masterful job of revealing, in a death by a thousand cuts sorta way, the specs of the X100. If you don’t know much about the camera go here and for a brochure go here. Anyway, the executive summary is that it is a Retro-styled, fixed lens, APS-C sensor digital camera. It would look fairly comfortable sitting next to the Bolsey camera that my Dad let me use when I was a teenager. Yeh, it’s that retro.

Earlier this week, Fuji announced that the camera had, at long last, gone into production with shipments to the USA due in March.

The Gallery of Pictures

As has become the custom, Fuji posted a sample of pictures made with the camera. As has become the custom, folks formed hard opinions based on the pictures in the gallery.

A collection of JPEG’s reveals very little about a camera, any camera. And if the JPEG’s are straight from the camera you can learn even less. Serious photographers don’t shoot JPEG’s except at family Holiday Gatherings and the Occasional Birthday. Combine that with the nearly infinite variations available in a modern camera’s JPEG output settings and any pronouncement about the quality of a camera is pure BS.

It Has a Fixed, Prime (non-zoom) Lens

We live in a world of interchangeable cameras. Tack sharp primes and zooms are the norm. Other than size, it makes very little difference if the camera behind the lens is a DSLR or one of the newer Mirrorless varieties. They all have lenses that can be swapped out for another. The Fuji X100 does not.

About that Fixed, Prime Lens and, Not Incidentally, a Real ViewFinder

I am in line to buy a FujiFilm X100 for two reasons. First is the fixed, prime lens. I am beyond sick of cleaning senors and dust busting files. It’s a massive waste of time that somewhere along the way became a normal part of the photographic workflow. If Fuji can ship me a camera with a clean sensor having the lens firmly fastened my life will be simpler. At 35mm equivalent, its a great focal length to have fixed on a camera.

I loath point and shoot cameras that rely on holding the camera away from the body while framing a shot. It’s a fundamentally flawed way to take a picture. It’s fine for a snapshot – it’s beyond worthless if precise framing is important. The Fuji X100 has a hybrid viewfinder that allows you to bring the Camera up to your face, hold it properly with both hands and actually frame a photograph with all the precision your right eye provides.

Fine, is there Anything that the Gallery can Tell you about the Camera

The gallery does tell us this. The lens is sharp and there seems to be very little chromatic aberrations. It also appears that the nine blade diaphram results in an nice out of foucus efffect also know as Bokeh. It tells us nothing else.

Absolutely nothing.

The gallery does not speak to the ergonomics, the focus speed, the focus speed in low light or the quality of an image run through a good RAW session.

Aperture 3.1 and OS 10.6.5

Apple released a gargantuan upgrade to OS 10.6 today. In the long list of things fixed, patched and otherwise fiddled with Apple writes:

Addresses performance of some image-processing operations in iPhoto and Aperture.

Aperture is much faster on a version 1.1 MacPro (the original MacPro) with an aging ATI Radeon 1900. Apple has steadily improved both the stability and speed of Aperture and 3.0 was a big jump. OS X 10.6.5 running Aperture is a revelation.

Three, Lightweight Ball Heads

Tripods

I use tripods – often. It is, almost certainly, because I spent 25 years exclusively shooting view cameras. Even as DLSR’s have become better at hight ISO shooting, I still value the luxury of composing an image, carefully considering the components of the composition and then shooting when the conditions are right.

Yes. I am aware that using a tripod is, especially for a shot  like the one below, is both anachronistic and unnecessary.

2007-10-IMG_2817-534.jpg

But I do it anyway.

 

Connecting the Camera to the Tripod Legs…

Tripod legs need tripod heads. There are two basic types.

 

Pan Heads

For commercial work I use a beefy carbon fibre Gitzo with a Gitzo, low profile pan head. For this type of work, total carry weight is not a particular concern. The Pan head quickly gets the camera level in both directions. The pan head allows accurate adjustments on one axis without affecting the other. Once everything is level left to right, the front to rear adjustment works independently. Getting to level and staying there is easy and fast.

NewImage.jpg

The Gitzo has one other important advantage –  it’s short. Pro DSLRs, which have the winder built in, or other bodies with a winder attached, can get pretty tall. Tall camera plus beefy TS-E type lenses (or a big zooms) plus a tall tripod head results in a tippy setup. Small movements get amplified as the mass of the camera tips as the head gets adjusted.

I only dust off my pan head for architectural assignments – it is easy to get the head level and it is the least “tippy” setup that I own.

 

Ball Heads

But, as post headline stated, this is a post about ball heads and which is worth owning.

Ball heads are quick to use and quick to adjust – if you are not particularly concerned about a dead level camera. The are popular as landscape heads and deserve to be.

I shot Large Format for nearly 20  years using the classic Arca B1 monoBall head. It’s a brute. It featured a big, encased ball and large adjustment knobs. 4 x 5 view cameras are brutish themselves (well, relative to DSLR’s anyway) so the B1 is a good match. The current Monoball claims it will hold 130 pounds (59 kg). I’ll bet that’s conservative.

When I jumped to digital, the Canon 5D / Arca B1 seemed a mismatch. The B1 likely weighted as much as the 5D and that seemed like unneeded weight. Also the B1, a mechanical thing after all, was pretty warn out after thousands of setups.

Since retiring the Arca B1 I’ve bought and used three different ball heads.

First – The Acratech Ultimate Ball head.

NewImage.jpg

Acratech Ultimate Ball head, at 1 pound (.45  kg) is a beautifully made, simple ball head. While the Arca B1 ball was inaccessible. the Acratech is easy to keep clean and never jammed in 5 years of use. Drag, that is the native friction of the system, is set at the factory. So the head really only has two operating knobs: Loosen / tighten the ball and rotate the ball. As I said, simple.

The design, with it’s diagonal ball mount, is a compromise.

 

NewImage.jpg

To aim a camera down requires that the diagonal ball mount be oriented with the open face forward. Likewise, to point a camera skyward requires a 180 degree rotation of the head so that the opening is pointed backwards. Not a huge problem, just a a minor irritation. The Acratech Ultimate, at 4.25 inches (11.4 cm), is tall or at least tallish.

 

Next – The Really Right Stuff BH-40 with LR II Quick Release

Two things missing from the Acratech Ultimate Ball Head is, as I mentioned, are a  ball friction adjustment and a quick release. So I bought a RRS BH-40 with a quick release.

NewImage.jpg

 

The RRS BH-40 is even lighter at 13 ounces (.37 kg) and is of a more conventional ball trapped inside a sleeve construction. This sort of ball head can, rarely in my experience,  get stuff in between the ball and the case.That said, the ball never froze during my use but did become stiff to operate once or twice until the foreign substance worked its way out of the ball/sleeve space. It does not have the capacity of the Acratech Ultimate (18 pounds (8.2 kg) for the BH-40 and an honest 25 pounds f11.3 kg) or the Acratech  Ultimate but both are adequate for most DSLR use.

It is compact and short – just 3 inches (7.6 cm) tall. Construction is first rate. I’ve graduated up to a 1Ds Mark III and the BH-40  is less tippy than the Ultimate Ball head.

The Quick Release isn’t all that much quicker than screw type systems but does offer better feedback as you load the camera. Wide open, a camera with an Arca style plate drops in. As the lever is brought towards the lock position more and more force is required. Typically, this is not the case with knob type locks. Some don’t open sufficiently to allow the camera to be dropped in (so the camera plate slides in) and the feedback that declares that the camera is properly mounted and locked down is missing.

The immediate downside to a lever operated ball head is accidentally snagging the lever as you move from point A to point B. Catch the lever just right and you will have a very bad day. I rarely left the camera in place when moving any distance with this head.

I used the RRS GH-40 for 3 years and never got used to how fussy the head is. Not shown in the above illustration is how close the drag and rotation knobs are – or how small they are. Also, Acratech’s knobs are rubber coated, the BH-40 is shinny, cold metal. The adjustable, right sized lever on the side, which locks the ball, is great. The small, cramped pan and tension knobs are just too precious and close together. The rotation knob gets used constantly – precious won’t do.

 

Third – The Acratech GP / GP-S Ballhead

The Acratech GP (and its close cousin the GP-s) improve on both of the above. This is my current favorite.

NewImage.jpg

The Acratech GP Ballhead

 

Like the Acratech Ultimate, the ball is mostly exposed and, after a year of use, has always moved smoothly. The GP / GP-s has a large ball drag set knob lacking in the Arcratech Ultimate. The knobs are larger and rubber coated when compared to the BH-40. Just as importantly, the pan knob and the drag knob on the GP / GP-s are at 90 degree angles to each other rather than stacked one upon the other as on the BH-40.

The Acratech GP / GP-s lack a lever type quick release (as of 2013, a quick release is available.) However the double speed, rubberized locking knob is nearly as fast as a lever type lock. The head opens fully so a camera with an Arca type plate can drop in the heads clamp area. There is positive feedback as the plate is locked into the head. This system is a close second to the lever type.

Both can be field modified to change from a typical ball head to one with a leveling base. This is useful for panoramic photography and works well enough that it the G / GP-s can largely replace a traditional pan head. This modification does require an allen wrench and the inevitable opportunity to drop the screw that holds the quick release platform to the head into the nearest mineshaft – never to be seen again. It also requires that you bring the allen wrench which is just one more  thing (tm.)

GP-s Leveling 200.jpg

The Acratech GP “Flipped” and Modified with Leveling Base

 

I’ve settled on the Acreatech GP. It’s lightweight, less than one pound, is very well made, and the leveling base makes it particularly versatile. It’s tall, at a bit over 4 inches (10.5 cm) but with the ability to adjust the ball drag, it is plenty stable while adjusting a heavy load. I often use a 1Ds Mark III with a 24mm TS-E Mark II lens and with this head, I can stiffen the ball drag so that there are no sudden movements and the rubber coated ball lock tightens nicely – everything stays where I aim it.

And for a small, light ball head, the controls never feel cramped. I’ve used this tripod while wearing gloves –  something I could never quite do with the RRS BH-40.

 

 

 

Iceland Again – A Portfolio of 2010 Images

Iceland is still a long way from the West Coast of the USA but, after taking a year off, I went back again this year. This trip was later, starting in mid-July and ending in the second week of August. I went late specifically so I could make my first, tentative steps inland.

Iceland’s inland desert is vast and completely uninhabited. With rental car prices for even semi-capable off road vehicles brutally expensive (despite the Icelandic Krona’s devaluation) and tours way too confining, I decided to limit the inland portion of the trip to the developed area at Landmannalugar. Buses serve this area daily and, handily, never fill – the Bus company just keeps rolling out additional busses until everyone who wants one, has a seat.

Landmannalugar, which is the start of the famous  the famous Laugavegur hike, is a busy place. Hikers arrive on the never full busses mid-afternoon. Tents appear and dinners get make. First thing the following morning another 100+ hikers start the 55 km  (34 mile) treck to Skógar.

The rest of the trip was spent in the extremes of the Westfjords and the North and NorthEast.

The 2010 Portfolio can be seen here.

The iPad as a Photographer’s Tool

Professional photographers need an effective, portable way to display digital images. The current methods, web sites, flash drives stuffed with jpegs, CD- ROM’s burned full of hard work and on and on universally suck.

The Part Where I Miss the Good Old Days

As a 4×5 shooter I spent 20 years lugging around portfolios of my work as mounted transparencies. Submissions were FedEx boxes sent at considerable expense. We, photographers and editors, all used magnifying loops and light tables to view the images. There was stooping and lifting and racing to the nearest FedEx drop point but I knew that the editor that received the work would see exactly it exactly as I did. All the clerical work and shipping costs bought a level playing field.

Things are different with digital and different does not imply better. Displaying my digital imagery is mostly out of my control. I fuss with images on a color calibrated LCD display in a room painted neutral gray. My display, mostly because it plugs into the wall and cares not at all about battery life, is forgiving of my viewing angle. Clients view these carefully tuned images on anything and everything. The commercial clients that I visit have cramped, uncalibrated LCD displays or, worse still, laptops with heavily polarized displays. The web images are viewed in Internet Explorer X – so any color management is ignored so I don’t bother.

The Horror. Viewing Images on Portable Devices

Current laptop computers, no matter the size or the manufacturer, are pitifully bad at displaying photographs. A laptop screens restricted viewing angle makes proper viewing of images an exercise in precision head holding. Gadgets like the Acratech Viewing Angle Gauge are only a small help. Netbooks, which are built to a low price, aren’t yet even awful at displaying color images – the manufacturers of netbooks strive to reach the lofty peak that is awfulness. I wish them well.

Worse than any laptop is the LCD on the back of any camera. No matter how good, a 3″ LCD is, it is far to small. Contemporary camera LCDs, though better than laptops, also suffer from color shifts and falloff as you move off axis. The “too small to be useful” argument also applies to the way-to-expensive-for-what-they-do dedicated field storage and photo viewers. They are over priced and underwhelming.

The iPad – A Possible Solution

In Apple’s soon to be released iPad may finally be a portable device suitable for the proper display of digital images. I say this, of course, without actually having ever seen one.

The iPhone / iPod Touch are already capable, portable image viewers. High resolution, less fussy screens and multitouch together combine for the best portable viewing experience. They are too small, but the ability to easily selectively zoom helps. The photo display app is complete if simple.

The iPad evolves the iPhone / iPod Touch into a bigger and far more capable device. Specific to photography it uses an LED-Backlit IPS Display. The IPS tech is the key here. In both videos of the unveiling and still images posted by Apple and others, the iPad’s LCD screen appears to ignore viewing angle. This is not the case in other battery powered displays which, I’ll mention again, are unusable for critically viewing images.

Again, relying on demo footage, the iPad’s include Photo app seems first rate and built to take advantage of the devices multitouch control. And, not incidentally, it appears to be really fast.

As a web device, the iPad will run the Safari Browser and Safari honors color management. A properly configured web site can ID the device and send Color Managed content with some genuine confidence that client and photographer are looking at substantially the same thing.

The Inevitable iPad Postscript

The hype, generated not by Apple so much as the interwebs, surrounding the iPad / Apple Tablet may be unprecedented. Without actually using one, I refuse to participate in pronouncing it either the end of computing as we know it or, conversely, just a big iPod Touch with no discernible purpose. I will however provide you with opinions by people that have touched it, however briefly, and who are known to me as thoughtful writers about things tech. First would be John Gruber or Daring Fireball. Gruber has written extensively on the Apple Tablet that became the iPad. Also, beneath the roar and above it all is is a very nice consideration of the iPad by Frasier Speirs.

The Gura Gear Kiboko – Almost a Great Camera Pack

There will never be a perfect, do everything, carry everything camera pack. So it came as no surprise that the Guru Gear Kiboko fell short of the universal way to transport my gear. What was surprising is just how close it came to being good enough.

About the Kiboko

The Kiboko carries cameras, lenses and accessories and does so in a package that can be carried into the cabin of most airlines (by size, you can certainly exceed the in cabin weight limits of airlines with a fully loaded pack.) It carries well by hand and, when you arrive, it has an above average back pack style harness system suitable for a day long carry. Unlike a traditional panel loading pack, the Kiboko has to smaller panels attached lengthwise at the center of the pack. As a result, the top opens onto it’s self, one half at a time. The “butterfly” openings run the length of the pack so long lenses easily fit.

Construction is solid with a clear emphasis on building a light weight pack that still adequately protects the contents. Nice touches include large, glove friendly, zipper pulls, integrated rain cover, a side luggage handle and a pile of extra padded dividers.

(An Aside) A Very Short History of Backpacks

While it can sometimes be hard to see past the blizzard of fasteners, straps and zippers, a contemporary backpack’s advantage over packs of yore lies in their suspension. While there are variations on the theme, any pack designed to carry 20 – 25 pounds (9 – 11.3 kg) or more distributes the load primarily on the hips and secondarily on the shoulders. The pack is drawn into the body by the tension of the shoulder straps, the tension of the sternum strap (which runs between the front shoulder straps at chest level) and in some sophisticated harness systems, by tension straps connecting the top of the pack to the top of the shoulder straps. Ideally, as the top straps leave the pack and travel over your shoulders they stay, more or less, flat. On the other end, the padded waste belt of a properly sized pack sits on a part of the bony pelvis called the Ilium. To locate the ilium just run your hand down either side beginning above the waist. The substantial bone, just beneath the skin at waist level, is the ilium.

Because people come in vastly different sizes and therefore have vastly different torso lengths, backpacks come in two or most often three lengths. Additionally backpacks often have vertically adjustable waist belts to fine tune fit. Because boys are shaped differently than girls, many manufactures make pack lines tuned to fit (mainly in the engineering of the waste belt) the different sexes.

Carrying Cameras and Lenses on Your Back

The suspension on Kiboko pack has the torso length fixed. It is too long a pack for some and, at as I stand 6’2″, too short for me. With the waste belt properly placed, the shoulder straps plunge 4 to 5 inches (10 – 12.7 cm) off my shoulders and down my back to the pack. This misfit results in a pack that is difficult (impossible?) to fit tightly to the back without transferring excess weight to the shoulders. Secondarily, even though it adjusts over a wide range, the sternum strap is higher than I prefer as I wore the pack.

Shorter photographers will have a different but equally problematic fit with the Kiboko. A shorter torso will result in shoulder straps that leave the shoulder and angle up to the pack. This results in almost no weight being transferred to the shoulders and a pack that will be difficult to control if packed with some weight.

With my travel kit loaded, the Kiboko weighed in at 26 pounds (11.8 kg.) Add some extra clothing, a snack or two, a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and a Acratech Ultimate ball head and the weight of the full loaded, ready to hit-the-trail and get-that-view-at-sunset pack weighs in at about 32 pounds (14.5 kg.) I certainly could leave some stuff behind. But leaving equipment behind in a US National Park or other popular area for photographers makes me queasy – especially if I’ve been shooting for a few days in one location. I’d rather haul the bulk of my gear with me than worry about baddies breaking into my vehicle.

If your in the sweet spot, fit wise, for the Kiboko I’d guess that 30 pounds (13.6 kg) would be about the comfort limit for the pack. You can likely stuff more pro level gear in the Kiboko but you’ll be straining the limits of the suspension.

Missed It By That Much – Maybe a Bit More

Other than the fit, which is a deal killer and the pack has been sent back, there is little to complain about with the Kiboko. Since the dual butterfly wing opening is fixed to the center of the pack, it squanders some room. The divided vertically down the center layout also limits the width of contents. I found it hard to fit my lenses with hoods mounted in the pack without staggering them. Rather than run a wide velcro strip down the center of each compartment, the pack has a single patch at the center of each side. This requires that any dividers that need to be anchored on three sides be at the center of the pack – an arbitrary limitation.

At $399 US, the Kiboko is fairly priced. A airline sized pack that carries well on the ground is a grand idea. Andy Biggs came close to making my travel life a little easier but he missed it “by this much.”

On Using the Eye-Fi Pro – A Problem Solved

If asked about my photography I instinctively use the words landscape or exterior to describe what I do. While that was once accurate, lately it is less so. With the construction of commercial buildings in my part of California pretty much stopped this past year I’ve found my commercial work moving indoors.

My commercial exterior skill set was borrowed from years of shooting the West’s landscapes. Decisive framing, knowing good light from lesser light, and shooting fairly quickly are some of the skills that work just as well while shooting in a National Park or a squeaky new Office Building. Also, photographing the exterior of an office building, like shooting landscapes, is (most often) a solo activity.

In contrast, interior work is far less spontaneous and far more about staging and fussiness. While not necessarily more technical, indoor work definitely uses different set of tools. Unlike exterior work, interior photography is almost always collaborative and while I’m happy looking through a view finder for composition, most interior designers and other interested parties are not.

The solution, and there are several variations depending on the species of camera, involves either tethering the camera to a nearby laptop or talking to the laptop wirelessly. Either way images show up on a nearby laptop and crowds gather. While tethering is cheap and reliable, stringing cables between things that don’t drop or fall without suffering greatly, is an invitation to a bad day. Tethering is for the studio.

I shoot Canon Digital and Canon has a wireless solution, the WFT-E2A Wireless File Transmitter, by all accounts it works well. It is pricey and does lots of things that I don’t much care about. Enter the Eye-Fi Pro Wi-Fi / Airport enabled SD card. The Eye-Fi Pro lets most any camera that has an SD slot (my main shooting camera a Canon 1Ds III has both CF and SD slots) to transfer files via a wireless network. Most importantly it allows for an Ad hoc, aka direct camera to laptop, network setup.

I’ve tested it with my MackBook sitting a full 25 feet away and it pretty much just works… well after the obligatory “new thing not working at all” phase.

Setting Up an Ad hoc Network

The folks at Eye-Fi central have a far more grand vision for this little card than simply transferring files from here to there. While the Eye-Fi is plugged into the computer’s USB port, all these features are enabled and managed in a browser based application. This all goes well until it’s time to set up the Ad hoc network feature. To configure the card you have to be on a network. Let’s pretend you are on a wireless network as I was. To configure the ad hoc network you have to leave the network and create the computer to Eye-Fi link. This is unfortunate. If you try and do this wirelessly… well I couldn’t. The Eye-Fi browser application complained that it could not talk to Eye-Fi central every time I left the Airport network to configure the Ad hoc feature.

After a couple of rounds of this sort of behavior it became clear that what ever computer is being used to configure the card needs to be hard wired to the internet. After dusting off a spare ethernet cable and finding a spare port to plug it into, my MacBook and Eye-Fi were properly configured. The MacBook was able to talk via ethernet to Eye-Fi central while the wireless chatter between the MacBook and the Eye-Fi card set up the direct wireless link.

The Eye-Fi Pro allows for RAW files to be transferred. Saving (this is a slow, small capacity card) and sending big RAW seems unnecessary for this purpose. The 1Ds III allows for different files to be written to each of the two internal cards. I set up with RAW going to the fast CF card and a medium JPEG file is sent to the Eye-Fi. From click to transfer time seems strangely variable with maximum time of roughly one minute with less than 20 seconds more typical.

Fun With Folder Actions

While transferring a JPEG from camera to laptop using the Eye-Fi qualifies as a good trick, a real solution would display the resulting JPEG for the gathered crowds. Again, some solutions do this natively and others are home made. Follows is the latter.

As part of the Ad hoc network setup, the Eye-Fi application asks for a folder to load with the transferred JPEGs. Using the Automator application that ships with OS X I wrote a (very) simple action that automatically checks to see if anything has been added to the target folder and, when something arrives, to display it in the OS X native Preview application.

The workflow: Compose, worry about staging and lighting, and fire the shutter. The file is sent to the Eye-Fi Pro and from their to the anointed folder on the MacBook. The crowd stares at as the JPEG appears. Fault is found in the framing or the staging. Something is fixed, the shutter is tripped again…