Category Archives: Equipment Reviews

Cinebags Lens Smuggler CB-27 Review – A Bag with a Secret Identity

Cinebags Lens Smuggler on safari

A bag that functions well in the field does not necessarily cut it when traveling by plane between locations. The CineBags – CB27 Lens Smuggler can do both well and has a secret which earns it the smuggler designation.

CineBags employed a clever concept for the creation of The Lens Smuggler: to design a bag that meets the requirements of the airlines carryon “personal item” while making a useful camera bag. Whether your main carryon is a standard roller bag filled with your wardrobe or a camera backpack stuffed with gear, this bag offers a clever way of carrying your important DSLR gear and laptop. It meets airlines’ carry-on dimensions and will fit under the seat of all but the smallest planes, as the regulations require. The ability to fit under the seat and the laptop bag façade minimizes the risks that you will have to check either your equipment or other luggage or both.

 

Cinebag lens smuggler inside

The main compartment has a plethora of rip-and stick adjustable padded dividers for camera bodies, lenses, rum bottles, hand grenades or anything else you can imagine. On the lid of the compartment is a multitude of see through mesh pockets for accessories, cords, extra batteries, flash cards, card readers, and cleaning paraphernalia. Remove the adjustable compartments dividers and the bag is spacious enough for use as a weekend travel bag.

The bag lives up to its guise as a computer bag with a padded compartment fitting a laptop of up to 15” and a second pocket in the front for a tablet or iPad. As with most laptop bags there is a front flap sporting all of the needs of a traveling professional: pen sleeves, cell phone holder, and a business card see-through pocket. To complete its mission to be an airport ready travel accessory, a back molding allows the bag to be easily slipped over the telescope arm of your wheeled carry-on luggage.

The Lens Smuggler is rugged. Built out of a tough waterproof fabric, with oversized zippers, adjustable padded shoulder strap, and a top carrying handle it is ready for more than just commutes to the office. It weighs in at 1995 grams.

 

I used this bag as a “personal item” carryon while traveling to South Africa for my series of safaris. I really appreciated the added carrying space, as my other carryon which is a camera backpack stuffed to capacity. The Lens Smuggler functioned well while working in departure lounges on office work and was much easier to grab stuff out of quickly than my backpack.

 

cinebag-lens-smuggler-3

For fun I tested this bag out on a safari game drive. The Lens Smuggler’s guise as a laptop bag garnered me strange looks from the other passengers each sporting a dedicated camera bag. Once I revealed the bag’s hidden camera centric features, and they could see how well it functions in the field, they were impressed by the versatile bag and its convenient size.

 

I also tested it out as a weekender bag while photographing sharks from a boat in the Bahamas. In Simon’s Town South Africa it accompanied me on the boat holding equipment while we photographed the great white sharks hunt seals. New Zealand, Mexico, and many other wild places and it is still going strong.

If you’re looking for a ultra – organized bag that can transition easily between camera gear, laptop and paperwork, and general travel use, the CineBags CB27 Lens Smuggler is your bag.

Gregory Sweeney – www.AfricaWildSafaris.net & underwater photo tours www.GregorySweeney.com

DYI Underwater Pole Camera for Shark Images

Shark Pole Cam

Several years ago I came across the dilemma of how to photograph sharks with a half and half effect without getting into the water and risking all.  Previously I used to stick my hand and camera in the water off the stern transom of the boat.  This was not idea as it was a big possibility that I would loose the camera and my hands.  To cure this situation I came up with a plan to make a pole cam mount for less than $100 USD.  I figured that if the Wright Brothers could build an airplane from parts in their bicycle shop, I could make a camera mount from bicycle parts and other found garage items .

Using the pole cam to get above and below shots
Using the pole cam to get above and below shots

Canon 5D II as pole cam

The pole com consists of :

  1. Retractable, adjustable pool cleaning pole
  2. bicycle break lever and cable
  3. stainless steel springs and washers
  4. a boat universal antenna mount
  5. homemade fabricated stainless steel bracket to link housing to the pole
  6. a inexpensive pool kickboard to take some weight off  the rig and make the half and half easier to  gauge
  7. wire ties
  8. A six pack and some cash for my welding friend

 

Polecam for photographing sharks shutter trigger on pole cam

A small hole was drilled though the trigger release for the bike cable to run through so it will be able to pull the release

 

Attaching Housing to pole cam

The housing can be quickly removed from the polecam rig

The camera was outfitted with a fisheye lens, domeport,  and two strobes.

 

Pole Camera

On the boat we would assign someone to work a fishing pole with bait but no hook.  he would cast it out then pull it toward the boat luring the sharks in toward the boat and polecam.  When shark to to the correct distance he would raise the bait and I would activate the shutter by squeezing the bicycle  lever.   I found that it works really well on calm water conditions.  Always room for improvement, but I did get a few nice shots.

 

Bracket for Pole Cam

Using a UV Filter as Lens Protection – My view

To use or not use a filter as protection on a lens is a polarizing issue (pun intended): many are dead against it and many see logic in using them.  When I am in Africa I use a UV filter on my 70 – 200 mm lens. I was taught to do so by my mentors back in the dark(room) ages  and I continue to do so because it saved my much loved workhorse lens.

The argument goes that nearly all digital sensors used in DSLRs incorporate UV and IR filters into their designs or coatings so an additional filter is not useful in most cases. In the grab and go world of wildlife photography where the lens and camera are exposed to dirt, moisture, rough rides, and unpredictable hazards, it is nice to have one part of the camera wearing “protective goggles” and reducing the worry.  When replacing one (yes, I have broken several) I do not go cheap: it makes no sense to put a cheap piece of plastic over a fortune’s worth of lens.

Pros of using a Clear UV filter for protection

  • Protects front element from scratches.  It would be especially tragic to scratch the expensive lens yourself while doing a quick clean in the field
  • Allows you to clean more quickly and aggressively
  • Takes the hit if dropped or knocked against something while on a neckstrap

Cons of using a protective filter

  • Lens coatings are tough and will survive some grime, dust , and fingerprints
  • Could introduce lens flare and ghosting in artificial light scenarios or reduce contrast

 My filter took the sacrificial blow for my lens on a game drive.  I slipped my second camera into the backpack in order to use my primary camera with the 300 mm on it and some dislodged padding allowed it to take a hit while we were driving along.  I simply needed a few seconds to say a prayer after hearing the glass rattling, remove the lens cap, dump the glass, and  blow and wipe the lens. I was a bit late, but got the shot.  The sense of relief for having the filter in place has never worn off and I continue to use one.  

Safari Camera Support Systems Recommendations

camera support on safari

 

Our safari guests often ask me for a recommendation on how to support long lens in safari vehicles. The options out there range from simple to complicated and from cheap to outrageously expensive Over the years I have tested many methods, some worked and other didn’t. I like multitasking products that are simple, effective, and easy to travel with -inexpensive doesn’t hurt either.  A few basic support items in my travel bag can be used singly or in combination to support my camera while allowing for necessary tracking.

My Photo Safaris

Safari vehicles are usually custom made and no two are likely to be constructed the same. On the typical safari you will be in many different vehicles and one system may not work for all of them: the more complicated the system the more likely it will not work in all vehicles.  Most support systems are bean bag supports, tripod or monopod with heads allowing pivot and movement, or a combination of tripod/monopod rigs and various clamps to secure it to a spot in the vehicle.

Bean bags – These come in many shapes and sizes with some made for specific lenses and vehicle situations. When empty, they are easy to travel with. Upon arrival at your destination, stop by a local grocery store buy a bag of rice or beans, put the fill into a zipper plastic bag then into the bean bag, and you are ready to go.  In a pinch you can use sand. When you are finished shooting, donate the beans or rice to a local family.  Also Birdseed works quite well and the birds get a happy meal after your travels.

I like bean bags because they provide a significant amount of vibration isolation compared to a hard mount and can be used in multiple situations not just safari vehicles.  Beanbags work best in pop-top vans (the photographer is standing in this type) or open-roof vehicles that would be found in Kenya and Tanzania. For the standard open safari vehicle they do not work so well due to the lack of doors, window frames, or other resting point. Usually you will get just a pipe-type arm rest or seatback to attach to; nothing to obscure the view of the animal, but not enough surface for a beanbag to function.

Tripods – Usually a photographer’s best friend, they unfortunately do not work so well in safari vehicles. They are difficult to set up and keep secure among the vehicle seats and passengers. Tripods are not recommended in vehicles because they take up precious space.

Monopods – A good monopod will be  lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with.  I have found them indispensable when shooting wildlife from a safari vehicle.   They carry the majority of the weight of long lens to save your arms and provide stabilization.   Combined with a ball head the monopod can be very versatile in capturing images on safari allowing you to swivel and adjust. The single leg pivot point makes it easy to turn and shoot out the opposite side of the vehicle with minimal body shifting and rearrangement of equipment. It is comfortable  and safe to hold the camera on the monopod while the vehicle is in motion.  I found that monopods work very well in the game drive vehicles in Botswana and South Africa.

If there is a down side to monopods it is that they are not secured to the vehicle.  Really Right Stuff (www.reallyrightstuff.com) has designed a clamp system specifically to clamp the monopods to a support in the vehicle. I have not tested out yet and am not sure about loosing all the mobility advantages of a monopod  by clamping it to the vehicle.

safari-camera-clamp-1

I have been experimenting with my own camera / lens mount system for safari vehicles.  My goal was to create one with a secure mounting system that was affordable, stable on a vehicle, and all its components could be multitaskers used in other photography settings.  I sourced out 3 components from different manufactures then MacGyvered then together.  The combined system came to about $155 USD before shipping costs.

My system starts with The Impact Super Clamp. This is a lightweight, inexpensive clamp that is easily attached to a strobe unit or ballhead. It can then be attached onto a pipe, table, stand, game drive vehicle seat back, or anything stationary. This thing is so handy; it is a must for your camera bag arsenal. At $20 it is a solid product that outperforms more expensive versions.

It can clamp onto an object ½ in to 21/8 in diameter and has a weight capacity of 33lb (15kg)

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/371927-REG/Impact_KCP_700B26_Super_Clamp_with_Standard.html

The second component is a Mini Gimbal Mount Sidekick for Large Telephoto Lenses that I procured on Ebay from India for $110.00 USD.

http://www.thecinecity.com

To attach the super clamp and the Mini Gimbal Mount together I used a Manfrotto 208HEX Head Mounting Plate with Hex Stud – 3/8″ Thread

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/307472-REG/Manfrotto_208HEX_208HEX_Head_Mounting_Plate.html    $20.51 USD

I still like to have the freedom of the camera on the monopod but the clamp rig will give me a more stable option.  With this system I can have the clamp set up on the safari vehicle ready to go then quickly switch from a monopod  rig to the full support clamped rig for a longer distance and stationary subject such as a lion on a kill.  So far I have had good success with the Frankenstein clamp rig and it works in most safari vehicles.  Unless you know your safari vehicles well it is best to choose support systems that are simple and offer options.  My best advice is still a nice ball mount attached to a good monopod.

safari-camera-clamp-2

What is the Best Season to go on Safari in South Africa?

See our Current Safari Schedule

New Tree House added to our Lodge

Photoshop: Using the Shadows/Highlights Command to Improve and Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution of the Canon 5D Camera – How Much better is the 5DMKIII in low light / high ISO?

I have the new Canon 5D MKIII and I am very pleased with it, but how much better is it in low light and high ISO conditions?

Canon-5D-Camera-range

Introduction

Back in 2005 Canon was one of the first horses out of  the gate with the 5D;  a full–frame DSLR with a high-resolution 12.8 megapixel sensor and a 3 frames per second continuous shooting.  It was ground breaking at the time because it was affordable, the sensor was the same size as a 35mm SLR image,  and one could use their old full frame lens and not need to purchase additional cropped framed lens.

In 2008 Canon upped the ante on its competitors and came out with the 5D Mark ll.  It featured a  21 megapixel high resolution full-frame sensor and one of the first DSLR to incorporate video capability (HD 1080p video), also a high max ISO 25600, higher capacity battery, and 3.9 frames per second continuous shooting. The 5DMark II quickly became a favourite with professional and armature photographers alike.

As 2012 rolled along, Canon listened to the voices of the 5DMark II shooters and what they wanted in the new 5DMark III.  Their wish list was almost granted.  The new 5DMark III was born with a 22 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, 6 frames per second continuous shooting, ISO 100-25600 standard and 50-102,800 expanded, better autofocus, 61 point AF system, very snappy operation due to the new Digic5+ processor,  and 100% viewfinder coverage, duel card slots for CF and SD, a very sharp high resolution 3.2” LCD screen, excellent build-quality with magnesium shell and weather sealing, HD 1080p 30 video with stereo sound.

How Much Better Is It?

I did the following exercise to see just how much more detail and how much less noise is captured in low light and high ISO conditions.

stamp

I took a colorful postage stamp on a postcard and proceeded to take photos with all 3 of my Canon 5D series cameras with the same lens:  Canon EF 100mm f2.8  with IS.  I photographed the postcard indoors with a tripod using a setting of  ISO 1600 (one highest settings on the original 5D), f5.6, and a shutter speed of 1/50 sec  .  Below are the results when zoomed way in.

The 5D MKIII is way sharper and has captured more details in true colors  and low levels of color or luminescent noise.

5D-comparision

I feel very reassured in setting my 5D MKIII to a high ISO and expecting sharp, clean, detail.

5d2_detail

 

5d3_detail

My 5D MKIII does not have an underwater housing yet,  but you can see my Canon 5D MK II shooting some underwater action on my recent Whale Shark Swim in Isla Mujeres Mexico  Here ( Youtube)  .  Images from the trip can be seen on my website   here and in recent blog posts.   My 5d MKIII  will travel with me next week to Africa for our upcoming safaris.  I am really looking forward to come great photographic action and enhanced results while photographing lions and leopards at sunset!  Watch this blog for the results .

A Monopod: the Right Camera Support for your Safari

Choosing a support for your camera equipment to use while on safari is important especially if you are bringing large lenses of 300mm – 600mm image stabilization or not.

Over the years I have learned to streamline and keep my photography equipment light and versatile for use on my safari photography workshops in South Africa. For many years I used an aluminum monopod and a homemade mount. It had seen too many safaris and needed to retire. I replaced it with a new monopod  system.

The system is composed of

Really Right Stuff Monopod Head MH-01 and a quick detachable plate for my Canon 5D’s

Gitzo carbon fibre GM2541

monopods

 

The light weight and durability of these products were top criteria for me.  The plate on top is quick and easy to release so I can transition to handheld instantly.  The whole thing is less than 900 grams

I own a nice ball head that will fit on this monopod,  but I can get a great range of movement and angles just by twisting the monopod in my hands. By the way I also prefer a lighter camera without a bunch of bells and whistles that are impossible to use out in the field while the elephants are charging and the light is changing.

Tip:  When shopping for a monopod make sure it will be able to fold short enough to use from a seated position (not too tall)

Support Options for Safaris

For Southern Africa including South Africa and Botswana, the monopod is my best recommendation.  Bean bags work really well in Eastern Africa where the safari vehicles are either enclosed with windows or of the popup roof variety. Some photographers even use mounts that secure a Wimberly head to the window.

These solutions are not at all useful in South Africa where the vehicles are mostly open Land Rovers with no sides and in some places fitted with canvas roofs (required in Kruger National Park). The open vehicles are much more exciting to ride in and afford more unrestricted view as well as allowing riders to see well without standing.

 

safari-monopod-setup

The vehicles do not have room for tripods, so monopods or handheld are the way to go.  With a monopod your camera is supported and you are still able to move about, swivel the camera, and it is pretty easy to adjust the height. With the right mount ranging from a simple swivel with a tightening screw to a fancy ball head, you will be able to move and lock into any position.  Monopods are also handy for when you are on foot and are easy and fairly light to carry or strap to a pack when not in use.

My nice tripod and gimbal head will still travel with me for star photography and interior shots of the lodge

 

see our Current Safari Schedule

Review: The Better Beamer Flash Extender

better beamer

Sometimes the simplest and least expensive products work the best.  Case in point is The  Better Beamer (www.naturescapes.net/store/home.php?cat=21) . It’s a flash extenderthat attaches to the strobe and concentrates and magnifies the light into a tight beam.  This gives your strobe the ability to reach out to your subjects when using a long lens.  If the subject is at a distance which requires a telephoto lens, the light from a small strobe could be pretty diffuse by the time it gets there having little or no fill flash effect, but the Better Beamer’s light concentrating ability helps with the distance problem.  The Beamer breaks down very flat for traveling and was pretty quick to assemble.   I am thoroughly happy with this small purchase as it enhanced my photos, packs small and light, and can light a hippo at dusk from a distance of 15m. I was surprised at how the animals seemed to be unfazed by the flash; if it caused an elephant to charge, I wouldn’t be here to give a review. Because I am so happy with this simple devise, I recommend that if you bring a strobe on your wildlife shoots, also pop the Better Beamer in your gear bag.

 

Taken without flash
Taken without flash
with the Better Beamer
with the Better Beamer

I am continually surprised by what this simple devise delivers and how it can deliver great shots even after sundown.