The Obligatory Bag Equipment List

Many photographers are overly interested in equipment (sometimes seeming more interested in the gear itself than in actually using it), and a common article is the self-indulgent listing of what the particular photographer typically carries in their shooting bag.  Working under the delusion that my preferences might matter to anyone other than myself, here is yet another such article.

The bag itself is a Tamrac Express 6 http://www.tamrac.com/3536.htm , carefully selected on the basis of being won for a minimum bid on eBay at a cost, shipped, of less than $10.  The bag has two partitions that divide the main compartment into a center/top section with two side sections.  The bag is typically loaded as follows:

Center/top section – E-P1 with either 14-42mm micro four thirds zoom or standard four thirds 40-150mm zoom and MMF2 adapter mounted, and the other of these two lenses either at the bottom of this section, on the right side (40-150), or on the left side (14-42), depending on whether other lenses are being carried.  Which of the two is mounted depends on expected shooting; typically, it is the shorter-length zoom for landscapes. The camera body is in a Chinese synthetic leather half case, with the shoulder strap attached to the case and folded atop the camera when bagged. The full-sized 40-150mm was selected on the basis of being half the price of the micro four thirds version at the time, with the adapter included.  For $200 saved, I can live with carrying the extra 71g mass.  Since I have a collection of 55mm filters for my Konica lenses, this lens is fitted with a 58mm-55mm step down ring and 55mm pinch-center cap.

Right side – Most often, nothing.  Frequently, a Tamron SP 90mm/2.5 macro lens w/ Adptall 2-to-Konica AR adapter and Konica AR-to-Micro Four Thirds adapter (“Fotasy” brand, which appears to be significantly better quality than the “Pixco” brand that I first bought – note the added fluorescent index dots on the sides).  This provides the effect of a 180mm macro lens in 35mm, and provides couple of stops improvement over the 40-150mm. Alternately, to give a bit longer reach than the 40-150mm, a Konica Hexanon 200mm/4 fitted with the Fotasy adapter.  Konica’s 80-200mm/4.5 zoom might be a better choice, offering closer focusing distance and only slightly greater weight, but the diameter is just a bit large for the bag, making it a struggle to insert or pull out.  A significantly heavier alternative is a Vivitar 200mm/3.5 lens (in Konica AR mount) I couldn’t resist for $11 shipped off eBay, which is also a bit longer and thus makes for a tight squeeze to fit the camera in on top. If I expect to shoot in very dim light w/o flash, I will substitute a Konica Hexanon 50mm/1.4. On rare evening occasions when I think it will be used, the flash (Vivitar DF-183) may replace any lens on this side.

Left side – The bag has a small horizontal flap partition which I use to separate off the bottom of this side, and my seldom-used Soligor 1.5X teleconverter for Konica AR lenses (giving a dim, shaky option for an effective focal length on 600mm with one of the 200mm lenses) skulks at the bottom on this side (if carrying the 90mm Tamron lens, this may on rare occaisions be replaced with a 2X teleconverter).  The space above is either empty, holds the 14-42mm MFT zoom, or holds a shorter legacy lens with a wider maximum aperture than the MFT zoom.  This is most frequently a Konica Hexanon 40mm/1.8, less commonly a Tamron Adaptall 2 24mm/2.5.  Either of these lenses are mounted to the Pixco Konica-to-MFT adapter, reasoning that the slightly loose fit will not be as great a concern with these shorter focal lengths.

Front pocket – Two spare camera batteries carried in an Egyptian motif cigarette case from China that I found on eBay during an unrelated search. Ziplock bag containing a puffer brush (a 20+ year old model that still works far better than one that came in a more recent cleaning kit) and a microfiber lens cleaning cloth. A couple of spare SD cards in their plastic cases. 55mm collapsible rubber lens hood (this came with the first lens I ever bought, the Konica 80-200mm/4.5 zoom, and after 25+ years is still supple with no signs of cracking or brittleness). 55mm filter stack – base end is a 46mm-55mm step-up ring with a removable circle of matte board inserted into it to close it off; filters are a polarizer, a Minolta No. 1 achromatic close up diopter (which allows macrophotography with the 40-150mm zoom or whatever 200mm lens is carried), and a seldom-used UV filter for adverse conditions; during foliage season, I may also add in a red-enhancing didymium filter; top end is closed by a spare 55mm lens cap. 46mm filter stack for the 14-42mm zoom – base end is a 40.5mm-46mm step-up ring, closed with a removable circle of 0.02″ styrene plastic; currently, the only filter is a 46mm polarizer, and the stack is completed with a 46mm lens cap. 46mm collapsible rubber lens hood modified to allow use without straining the focusing motor of the 14-42mm zoom – the rubber hood was removed from the original clunky metal ring and glued onto a 46mm-52mm step-up ring, and then the open end was cut back about 1/4″ until I could get the lens’ autofocus to operate without complaint.  Simply shading the lens with my left hand is often more convenient, as using the hood requires removing the step-up ring from the 46mm stack. Ultra-Pod – a light table-top ball-joint tripod that is just barely able to support the E-P1 with smaller lenses, sprayed in Krylon’s “hammered copper” Fusion paint to try and give it a more “steampunk” look.  Likely to be replaced with the larger Ultra-Pod II some day. Grad ND filter – Typically a Cokin A121, sometimes a Cokin P121M.  Either is typically handheld, rather than using a holder to mount it on the lens.  This can alternately be carried in a zipper pocket formed in the top flap (as can the cleaning kit).  Spare AA batteries.

Top flap pocket – Thin leather gloves.  1 gallon plastic food storage bag and a coule of rubber bands (not shown).

Side cell phone /MP3 player /GPS pocket – Unused.

Side flat pocket – Unused.

Back flat zipper pocket – Unused.

Just because the manufacturer adds a pocket does not create any obligation to find something to put in it.

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Thunderstorm

Wednesday evening, Claremont was treated to a spectacular thunderstorm with multiple cloud-to-ground strikes.  Having seen the storm approaching while grocery shopping with my son, I hurried to mount my camera onto a tripod and set it up on the covered porch in hopes of capturing one of these strikes.

The E-P1 allows the operator to set a couple of profiles, so with just a few button pushes I can set it to a tripod-mount profile with a 2-second shutter delay, manual focus, the sensitivity set at the base ISO 200, and the image stabilization turned off.  To prolong the shutter time, I set the aperture at f/16, resulting in shutter times of a few seconds.  With more time, it would have been helpful to turn off the noise reduction feature that automatically subtracts a dark frame for shutter speeds over 2 seconds to remove noise due to hot pixels.  A nice view looking over the driveway and the neighbors houses was composed as wide as I could get it without the roof or porch column intruding, but set back under the roof to protect the camera.  The image looked a bit bright, so I set the exposure compensation down 1/3 EV and happily shot away until heavier downpour and wind gusts motivate me to move the camera inside.

At this point, sharp-eyed readers (note the blithely optimistic belief in the existence of multiple readers) may note the lack of any accompanying lightning-bolt photo.  The visible bolts appeared to strike just after the shutter closed and/or just during the 2-second self-timer delay.  While several of the shots showed a significantly whiter image of the driveway and garage, indicating at least one flash of lightning during the exposure, not one showed any discernible bolt.  None of the photos of cloudy skies over my driveway, garage, and the neighbors’ houses were of sufficient visual appeal to merit saving, much less presenting.

This would have been a disappointing experience if it hadn’t served as motivation to spend time out on the porch with my son, watching the storm.  Perhaps next time I’ll get that shot.

 

Mount Ascutney, just after storm passed (on the way to picking up daughters from 4-H meeting).

Coping with Rain

Rain can be discouraging.  Even though most photographers know that bright sun is technically poor lighting for most purposes, sunny weather inspires one to get out and enjoy the day, while rain typically motivates one to find something of interest indoors.  Even with a water-resistant camera, it is sometimes hard to muster enthusiasm when the weather is wet and grey.

Torrential downpours are not particularly photogenic, but light rain and drizzle can often create lovely mist effects for landscapes.  Lacking a water-resistant camera, a home-made rain cover (such as shown last entry) can be employed to keep the fiddly electronics dry.

Another option is to shoot from under cover, out of a window or door.  Open, covered structures such as parking garages are possibilities, although the available view may not be ideal.  Shooting from an automobile offers a good deal of flexibility in view, but requires paying attention to avoid sprayed water from passing vehicles (shooting while driving is NOT recommended!)

Additional shooting opportunities occur just before or after the actual rainfall.  The interplay of clouds and light can create dramatic lighting effects which typically appear and disappear quickly.  Reflections in puddles offer the option of creative framing to show only a selected portion of the mirrored world.

The rain has to end eventually, so it is good to have a camera on hand, ready to shoot when it does.

Filter Bracket for E-P1 14-42mm Kit Zoom

The E-P1 kit zoom is the first generation Olympus 14-42mm Micro Four Thirds zoom, which does not handle filters well.  The terminal element rotates as the lens focuses, and the petite focusing motor is not happy when torque is applied to the filter threads.  Even rotating a 46mm polarizer needs to be done gently to avoid an irritating and cryptic “Please check the status of a lens” message on the viewscreen.  (Reportedly, the 2nd generation 14-42mm has internal focusing and avoids this problem.)  Clearly, there was no way that the little focusing motor could handle a Cokin A holder and a graduated ND filter for shooting landscapes with the lens at its wide angle setting.

The simplest solution appeared to be to form a bracket to position an empty filter ring around the end of the lens when in its extended wide-angle position (a peculiarity of the lens is that it is shortest in the middle of its zoom range, extending out as it goes either towards the wide angle or telephoto end.)  Accordingly, an L-shaped piece of scrap aluminum was cut to rough size from a salvaged piece of electronic equipment.  Measuring the desired setback of the camera body with the lens extended, a 1/4″ hole was drilled for a screw to attach the bracket onto the base of the camera via the tripod mounting socket.  Note that this screw should have a threaded recess itself to allow the entire ungainly assembly to still be tripod-mounted.  Thin cork gasket material was attached to the top surface of the aluminum with double-sided tape.  The camera was then secured into place, the lens extended and an empty 55mm filter ring placed roughly concentric with the end of the lens.  The filter ring was traced, this outline used as a guide to cut a curve in the aluminum, and the ring attached in place with epoxy.

A second scrap filter ring was added; this second ring not only provided additional surface area for the epoxy bond, but also extends back over the end of the lens to provide some shading, particularly when the lens is retracted in its middle range.  The back of the aluminum was eventually cut so as not to protrude behind the camera as it does in these early views.

Now, any filter system that can adapt to a 55mm thread can be attached, without straining the delicate focus motor of the lens.  This piece of gear, along with a Cokin A holder and 55mm mounting ring, was dutifully stowed away in the center console of my automobile ready for use in my travels.

In practice, I hardly ever pull out this clunker, and instead simply hold a grad ND filter by hand in front of the lens.  This does require a good bit of care to avoid reflections when there is light striking the camera from behind.

Happily, I found that this rig is well suited for shooting in rain and snow (without a filter).  For this use, a 1-gallon plastic bag with one corner cut off is forced over the marrow section os a telescoping rubber 55mm lens hood, and the hood is then screwed onto the ring on the bracket.  The bag covers the camera, with access for the hands from below, and the hood extends to shield the lens from precipitation.