Reviews

The Problem of Travel is Getting Worse


Airlines are becoming increasingly difficult for the photographer

A review of the Tenba Roadie 21 Roller

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First Class Travel

Elegance and Protection

Tenba Roadie 21 Roller

NOTE: You can get a closer detail view by clicking any of the photos below

As photographers we need to take our photo gear as carry on luggage and why wouldn’t we, It is glass optics after all. The permissible bag sizes and weights are getting more and more difficult to meet and with an increased risk of of your gear being tagged for the hold. This is a terrifying prospect for our high end optics. And it is random! At the gate you will see a massive expedition backpack get waved through and a modest one just a cm over get tagged for the hold! For a few years now I have been travelling with the fear of having my prized glass taken off me to be unceremoniously thrown into the hold. I have also been yearning for some wheels. 

Tip: Before flying get some camera insurance is the first essential piece of advise. Then read the small print.

Tenba Roadie 21 Air Roller

This bag can go in the hold….period. Caveat, pack gear properly, nice and snug.


Tenba Roadie 21 Roller (the version I’m using and featured in all the photos)

This bag has an outer zip allowing a laptop which would need removing and the long divider inserts (included) used to add further cover to the gear like an additional wall (see photo). Caveat pack very snug. This arrangement would see your gear safe in almost any regular circumstances even if taken off you for the hold. 

The photos show how I choose to use the long dividers for extra protection. The long dividers can be used in place of the inserts for long lenses but also provide added protection when used to cover the gear as in the photo on the right.

Practical Secure Protected

The Tenba Roadie 21 Roller is one phenomenal bag that addresses my concerns elegantly, robustly and with great care to security. It it is of a size and weight that most airlines will allow as carry on albeit that is a fluid situation. The opening front panel has seat belt style hinges which mean you can access your gear without the “door” falling back onto the floor or straining. When combined with Tenba Packlite BYOB this offers a complete solution for travel. Unless on arrival at a destination you daily take all the photo gear around with you then there is a hybrid version, the Roadie Hybrid Roller 21 that uniquely has a backpack harness that tucks away when not needed, this option may suit your needs better. But the BYOB packlite allows you to decant gear from the Roadie into the packlite via the ingenious removable ready to go insert enabling just the gear you might need for the day. Brilliant. 

Make no mistake the photo gear inside the Tenba Roadie 21 Roller travels first class

It has wheels, but they are exquisitely engineered wheels with carbon steel bearings that do not seize up with the heat generated in use as is typical of wheels on cheaper bags. they are smooth on the photo gear due too the engineered shock absorbing system. They are built, as is the bag with very high quality and robust materials throughout. The Roadie doesn’t just look elegant, it is so well thought through. On the outside the features include top quality YKK zippers, the fastest easiest tripod carry system I have ever seen which consumes a small tripod such as the Benro Slim in an instant with all three legs tucked away, a braided steel cable with padlock can be deployed to secure the bag to any suitable lashing point in car boots, train luggage holds and anywhere else where you might need that additional security safe in the knowledge that the main compartment is also locked with TSA approved combination lock. The 15inch laptop compartment can also be locked with a padlock through the zips. The ballistic nylon is also very tough and would take some breaching if attacked with a knife. The security systems on the bag would take a sustained attack to get at your gear. Certainly enough to prevent the opportunist from making off with your camera, drone, optics etc. Still on the outside, there is a three stage handle consistent with the engineering and quality throughout the bag, a joy to use with smooth easy actions and a solid feel. There are three grab handles around the bag that are heavily padded and have the added comfort of leather on the grip sides. These handles make for easy lifting to place in overhead cabins and car boots from any orientation. Also on the outside (tucked away in a fold) is a a pull out strap with a simple metal hook to enable the hanging of additional luggage from the the bag, I love this. The rear zipped pocket houses a recessed slot for a battery pack in order you might charge your phone while on the go. The phone would sit within the zipped pocket while connected to the recessed battery. It is so well thought out.

Navigating around the features of the bag is like an ultra intuitive interface

Literally I have this thing with bags where I can easily forget which pockets I have used for what items resulting in opening various pockets and zips before locating the item I’m looking for. Equally frustrating when you can’t recall the size, depth or shape of a pocket and try several (each time!) Before finding the right home for an item. I imagine we might all be different in this respect but I find Tenba bags seems to know what I’m thinking and everything just seems right, quick and easy. I have this same affection for the intuitive configuration and design with my Benro Shootout 24L Backpack and Tenba DNA bags. 

Inside the Roadie 21 Roller there is a reinforced frame which has a level of protection akin to a hard case. I have sat on mine at airports while waiting in queues. The interior insert layout is infinitely adjustable to meet individual needs and is quickly changeable but has an ingenious removable insert that can be placed in a small bag once you have arrived at your destination. I use the Tenba Packlite BYOB 10 which fits the Roadie removable insert nice and snug. If you follow this advice I recommend also taking the padded shoulder protection which is removable on many bags. I use the one in the photo from my Tenba DNA 10 which just adds the needed comfort if you have some weight the straps would otherwise dig. The interior inside door zipped pockets use a mesh that is very durable and useful for being see through.

Conclusion

This bag represents uncompromising protection, elegant looks, total function and value for money. When you are considering the cost, a bag built with this integrity has a reassuring price tag because you just know Tenba have built in the value. Buy once, cry once. Your gear is worth it. 

TSL08C Slim carbon Fibre

How and why I set up office

Using the Benro Slim Travel Tripod


Note: All images (apart from those above of the tripod) taken using OMD M1 MKii mounted on the Benro Slim. Click to expand images.

My Creative Equilibrium Issues

You may laugh or even relate but by the time I arrive at a location I can be mentally dishevelled by all manner of disturbance, it might be some new level of ridiculous I hear on the radio, traffic lights - all of them on red, a badly driven anything, a parking tariff (at 4am!!), empty motorways with 40mph speed limits etc etc. I don’t want to create the impression I'm grumpy, I'm not, I prefer to think of it as creatively sensitive! I’d really like someone to carry all my gear and hand me items upon request. I’m easily put off by the rigors of nuisance in today’s world. Here is an account of my delicate creative balance in relation to setting up my gear. I envy those who are unsullied by little inconveniences, who can create and more crucially get joy from the process without so much of a flicker of thought to the irritants of the day. Even just climbing over a fence with two bags of gear, if this act does not go gracefully I’m literally all off kilter! Having humped my gear around to said spot, if I am to make an image I need to setup office and I need coffee. 

Tripods are a bit of pain for travel. But for me as necessary as a passport. I simply could not consider taking a flight without one. There is too much to miss without a tripod, long exposure opportunities, night shots, interior architecture, low light, even the calm and pace of it which I find facilitates better composition. As much as possible I want clean images necessitating lower ISO’s which in turn forces shutter speeds that are either difficult or impossible to hand hold in some conditions. Besides I see photography as a craft and process to be enjoyed, so upon arrival in a location the first thing I do is setup office. This means the tripod is setup first, I then open my camera bag on the ground with the bag front flap left wide open (weather permitting) providing easy access to my lenses, light meter, filters, and holders, etc. Then I pour my coffee and get into the moment.

 

I put my camera on my tripod regardless. Even when I shoot handheld I prefer where possible to keep placing the camera back on the tripod. I find I’m able to wander about, drink my coffee, look around with a bit more care, more of an eye and it always just feels easier and quicker to change lenses and filters while the camera is on a tripod. Of course, this wouldn’t work if attending an event spread over a wide are such as country fair with activities across various arenas but where possible that is my preference.  The simple act of bending down to get a lens from the bag is so much more of a hassle with a kilo or more of magnesium alloy flying around my neck, to avoid this delicate electronic wrecking ball accelerating into my bag of gear or the ground! I would have to hold it with one hand then awkwardly kneel with the camera hanging from my neck and resting on a suitable bit of bag to enable the use of both hands to grab gear. And if I forget and get up quickly! The slack of the strap is taken up causing the camera to fly with unnerving speed before bouncing off my body. I know it’s all very first world problems but I just don’t like it.  It is the kind of inconvenience that causes the shoot or rather the creativity to be sabotaged and along come feelings of can’t be bothered to change a lens. Seems unfeasible but it’s very easy to forgo a better shot because you cannot be bothered to swap a lens! That’s why I refer to setting up office so all tools are available, easy to access and quick to swap out without negotiating unwieldy baggage around my neck and person. I do not want items swinging round my neck in the process. Instead I can drink my coffee, take a phone call, measure the light, enjoy the moment, etc. Also, I really don’t like camera straps if I can avoid them and much prefer using the camera without a strap on, straps always seem to be in my way, disturbing my joy. Hence, I love an office in the field. I’m sensitive to having my creative balance disturbed and all the above matters, I literally get all rattled if the joy is not there.

 

The Benro Slim in the hand

Upon taking delivery of the The Benro Slim for my then upcoming trip to Montana my initial appraisal was that this is an incredible travel tripod, the name references the very small diameter when closed of all three legs. Because of this configuration you cannot fold the legs back over themselves (which would give a shorter length for packing in some scenarios) but this provides the benefit of remaining unbelievably, Slim! The clue is in the name. You can literally grip all three legs as monopod or carry it with one hand around all three legs. You have to hold a Benro Slim to fully appreciate this. It comes with a very light bag which when over the shoulder is so light you literally forget it is there. The carbon fibre is 8x layers strong, this is notable as you would expect some corner cutting in such a lightweight and affordable tripod. However, 8x layers of carbon fibre is considered the peak of light, strong and rigid in tripod manufacturer and I'm talking about the very high-end products here. Think of the biggest names and their most expensive offerings and you will see 8x layers of carbon fibre. Apart from Benro which have 9x layers in their larger tripods. Probably overkill but here in this ultra slim light weight travel tripod you have all the strength and rigidity of 8x layers. You wonder if it is a cheaper version of carbon fibre? No, it is the same premium material as on the high-end tripods. The twist locks, surely, they will be a little less certain than for example the Benro Mach 3 tripod? No, same precision engineered half turn beautifully knurled twist locks that lock, solid, every time. Ok so what about the head surely there is a compromise there, upon delivery I’m looking for the compromise because the price of this tripod is a ridiculously low at £119. I mean surely that’s an impulse buy! It is priced like a show deal for an outgoing model! No wonder it has been an incredible success, I understand it has sold out in every retailer stockist and and at time of writing is on back order. I would not have been surprised if this was priced up to £240. I’ve seen comparable gear in that territory.

 

So, back to the head, I was trying to find the weakness as this was being considered for my Montana trip and it was critical I selected the right tool balancing capability to do the job with the least impact on weight and packing space. I have a few choices; all my support equipment is either Benro or Induro for the simple reason I will not use anything I believe to be inferior, I want beautifully engineered tools for the job and for the joy of using them. I want such tools to look after me, I want reliability, longevity and customer service befitting a premium product. Back to the head, it is a pan and tilt ball head, but this is with just the one knob, I’m used to and very much like independent operation of pan and tilt and thought to myself this may well be the compromise that makes it slightly awkward in use even if forgivable. Forgivable because independent pan and tilt would likely make this a considerably larger head that would not sit well with the rest of the profile or incredibly expensive to manufacture. However, it was very quickly notable that the operation can be performed with one hand, not just the panning and tilting simultaneously but crucially the holding of one or the other fixed while adjusting a single direction.

It was a breeze and on my trip to Montana where I used the Benro Slim constantly and exclusively this proved a slick and easy operation due to size and lightness, you can grip the whole head and lever with one hand. The head feels perfectly balanced to the tripod, has a Swiss Arca compatible plate and a nice solid knob to tighten. Everything is smooth and well-engineered. I like Swiss Arca, I find it quick, I'm unsure if its quicker than anything else but it feels quicker. There is no safety lock (the bit where you have a second action to prevent unscrewing the lock fully, here there is no “are you sure”? moment) but the plate has anti slip studs so it cannot easily fall off. I do like that safety feature. With potentially thousands of pounds of gear mounted on it what I want from the tripod is trust, I want to trust my gear when locked in place is secure and of course very still. I spent a good hour at home fiddling with the Benro Slim before concluding I would take it and it alone as my support system for the trip to Montana. I do not go to Montana every week so this was a very fast instilling of confidence that it would alone do the job for a trip I cared a lot about.  There is an easy action wingnut style lock to adjust the centre column which itself is grooved to prevent any unwanted twist. There is a spirit level, and the legs have three locking positions enabling any degree of articulation and there is even a panning scale for panaoramas. The specs are just incredible and astonishing at this price point. And the warranty? 5 years upon registeration. Benro back their products.

Using the Benro Slim

In situ I loved the Slim, I carried it either one handed gripping all three legs and I do not have big hands, or in the little bag over the shoulder. On two occasions after visiting coffee shops I had a moment believing I had left it behind. You know that funny little sudden dance you do when you think you have lost something of value like your wallet or camera? I did that, only to realise it was still on my back. I’d sat through my cappuccino having forgot to take It off my shoulder. Seriously it is that light. In use, I found it to be extremely solid, I had my Olympus OMD M1 Mkii with me which has a feature called “Hi Res”. This can only be used on a tripod and for still subjects, many landscape shots work well, blowing in the wind foliage can be hit and miss though. The way it works is the sensor has a little giggle into 8 different positions taking 8 exposures and combining them to produce an 80mp raw file (I think they call it sensor shift, by half a pixel 8 times). This is medium format territory of detail and is very unforgiving if the camera moves. In the right situations, it is an astonishing feature BUT relies on being kept still hence the leap of faith to bring only the Slim on the trip. One photo I took using Hi Res mode was of an abandoned homestead which involved a 20 second exposure, but remember that means 8 x 20 second exposures, that is 160 seconds. Any movement ruins the image, the result was spot on and I can give no higher praise than that test. Granted the air was still and this helped but nonetheless this is impressive performance.

 

I will continue to take my Benro Mach 3 tripod wherever practicable along with my Benro Gimbal or Induro ball head because they are a combination that is as solid as an airport runway even in very strong winds and (I have video to prove this, see my Mach 3 review!) I just love that beast of a tripod. But when needs suit, be it requirement of lightness for a day of walking, traveling on a plane, wandering around Cities etc then the Benro Slim is an absolute must and a first choice. I know I can trust it. It does also feature a centre column hook so in the wind you do have the option to weigh it down with a bag to give additional stability in some adverse conditions. If it was my only tripod it would indeed work. I would suffer only in the worst weather conditions and or using a heavy setup well beyond its rating. I often use tripods low down without extending the legs and in this respect, I’m sure the weight capacity rating would be well beyond the advertised figure. Of course, I only recommend using it in accordance with the rating but should you get yourself a Benro Slim you will appreciate just how solid it is. Along with the practicality of having such a light tripod another use for it is to mount off camera flash. I did this in the entrance of an abandoned mine. I could position the flash exactly where I wanted it using the ball head, out of sight just inside the entrance and triggered from the camera, perfect.

 

Conclusion

A massive recommend. The price makes this a no brainer, it is built so well the joy of use is assured. It is so light there is no excuse for not having it with you. It is beautiful to look at, hold and use and it absolutely keeps your gear still even for long exposures. The specs are well beyond expectation. If you are considering a travel tripod, a walk round City architecture tripod as an addition to what you consider your “main” tripod then this cannot be beat for quality, function and price. Everybody I have shown this to has bought one or is buying one.

 

 

The Best Noise Reduction System in The World

Benro Mach3 TMA48CL Tripod Review

 

Benro asked I be ruthless in my appraisal of this tripod. I tried. All images below taken on the Mach3 in severe winds.

 

It is a specialist piece of photographic equipment and needs some background. So why use a tripod?

 

The reasons of course are endless and vary for everyone but my take is simply that a tripod enables super sharp shots when using slow or long shutter speeds thus allowing the use of the lowest ISO’s available to the camera. I also like that that using a tripod slows the process down to a sense of creating not snapping and gives me time to stand back from the camera and enjoy the scene before me and keep my hands free for a coffee! A premium tripod can also provide support for heavy cameras and lenses particularly with sport and wildlife. If you are shooting for a long time with a big lens its stops being funny quickly and the results follow. A stable platform also enables creativity for example when long exposures with ND filters or taking several shots focusing on different points in a scene. This technique cannot afford for the camera to move. The resulting combined shots produce a super high resolution detail rich image comparable to large format. Or maybe HDR where the exact same image is taken several times but this time instead of shifting focus points shifting exposure values. Again, this is a futile exercise unless that camera is stable and does not move between shots. Or you may want to create a panorama with several shots stitched together (best taken in the vertical orientation). This time you move the camera between shots but require precision in how much you move along the scene ensuring the angle is maintained requiring a powerful and functional head. This technique is very unforgiving so it is better to give your stitching software an easier time by using a stable platform and precision between each shot, ideally having first established the nodal point. There is a comprehensive nodal point resource in the link below.

  

http://www.hugha.co.uk/NodalPoint/Index.htm

 

But if you’re in a lowlight situation and the subject is still why mess your image up with a high ISO if that is not the creative choice? By using a quality tripod, you can create beautiful ultra clean images with a low ISO/longer shutter speed. Those moody black & white lantern lit doorways of timeless buildings with the winter mist floating by need not always be grainy affairs. They can be super sharp detail rich fine art when taken with low ISO’ on a solid tripod. And macro photographers are familiar with using rails for focus stacking, but they know that rail needs to be attached to a solid platform.

 

Which tripod?

 

The more we delve, specialize and learn this wonderful craft of photography we come to appreciate every element of photography is a compromise. Shutter speed v ISO v aperture. Ultra-steady tripod v weight. Full frame v portability. Everything is trade off. I think a big reason for GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is because we take our choices and more quickly learn what we cannot do than what we can. So, we blame a lack of…some item or another. And we are right, gear makes a difference. We can get great photos with any camera providing we match the right camera/gear to the image required. But you’re simply not taking an award-winning shot of a high-speed diving King Fisher with a large format bellows camera handheld! You’re just not. So yes, photography is also about gear as well as concept, creativity and understanding. But mostly for me it is about joy and I get so much more pleasure from the process when using supremely engineered kit fit for the task at hand.

 

We often say the best camera is the one that is with you and this can also true of tripods, provided it can perform the task of offering stability to the weight of gear you have. It is an investment you will not regret. In fact it is only when your using a premium tool that you can appreciate it is essential. Nobody every said I wish I had a cheap tripod. I believe you should invest in two tripods and spend as much as it takes to meet your individual needs.

 

  1. A quality portable lightweight one that can always be available to you. Kept in the car and easily carried around just in case of a photo opportunity that needs support. Why rule out a long exposure of a perfect scene because you didn’t bring a tripod. A portable tripod should still be considered and purchased as specialist equipment not just lightweight. It needs to hold steady the equipment you are going to use with it. There is no such thing as a portable lightweight tripod for very heavy equipment. I use the Benro Travel Angel which has served me extremely well in some trying conditions and is always with me. But I could not use it with a 600mm lens.

  2. This is your primary tripod, your preferred option with the greatest stability. Balance what you can carry (and how far unless you only work in studios then weight won't be a consideration) to match your needs. I prefer to over spec so I make sure the heaviest kit I own is well within the maximum load rating of the tripod. You need strength and stability to cope with your gear. Choose one which is the right height for you without extending the centre column. Such a tripod will offer shooting capability in circumstances and conditions that can literally change your output overnight.  

    The Benro Mach3 TMA48CL offers total reassurance in every scenario.

    My take on the various elements that make the Mach3 a great tripod.  

    Legs:

The legs are massive.  9x layers of carbon fibre make them very stiff, durable and yet able to absorb vibration. They feel superb. The smooth action of the magnesium locks allows three leg angles giving a full range of articulation as required. This model has four leg sections and mostly I do not open the last section but they are extremely solid when needed. One of the legs has a cell foam cover to keep the chill from your hands on when outdoors on cold days. I find this cover also provides a little padding when carrying over the shoulder with camera attached (guilty of that). I have a thing about making sure the legs are fully spread, you don’t have as stable a platform unless they are and it is surprising how often a tripod is not in its most stable setup. I find this a very reassuring aspect of the tripod as there is a very solid stop when opening the legs to set up. OCD maybe but next time you set your tripod up check before you shoot you might be surprised the legs may have a little slack.  

    Twist Locks:

I favour twist locks, I like using them, they feel neat and don't catch on anything. I also like the action of using twist locks but I think its personal preference. Massive grippy knurled/textured twist locks which are all equal in the turn and pressure required. They just work. Rain, snow, cold, they just work. They feel engineered. I love them. I haven’t measured the turn required but I think 3/4 is accurate but it is one action to open and one action to lock. They are an absolute joy to operate.

    Feet:

Solid rubber all-purpose feet, they work well on any surface. But the tripod comes with spikes included! Love that! Beautiful precision engineered spikes at that. Swapping them over is very easy because they are perfectly engineered so they screw in and out like butter. If that were not the case it would be a pain to swap over and most probably wouldn't bother. Not a token they are built and engineered for actual use.

    Centre Column:

It doesn’t do tricks. It goes up and it goes down. No fiddly gymnastics. This is a serious no compromise tripod. The centre column lock is a beautiful large precision butterfly wing type design. Its operation is so smooth you can’t help but smile. The centre column does have a hook. Brilliantly also included is a short column which is the one I use. I love that this is included. While this beast of tripod remains stable with the regular centre column fully raised I prefer to never raise them. Instead I value more being able to open the leg angle and lower the tripod head to within an inch or two of the ground. You cannot do this with a regular raising column.


    Carry Case:

The tripod is supplied with a substantial padded, lined carry case with additional pockets for tools, feet, spare column etc. There is also a dust cover if storing.


    Design:

This matters to me. It is a component of the joy. An example of this is the gorgeous wing style centre column lock. It is large enough for use with gloves, very easy to grip the wings and is as smooth as butter. The look, finish and form of the magnesium and carbon fibre is as pleasing as the function. It is a beautiful tripod with no compromise to the function. I applaud the design team at Benro, they are producing products which are highly functional, highly durable and joy to use. 


    Stability:

In the end it is all about this, stability and the ability to cope with an absorb vibration. The diameter of the legs, the number of carbon fibre layes and the layout and material of the platform to which the head attaches all have a considerable role in stability. The Benro MACH3 TMA48CL is like sitting your camera down on concrete. I have included a video clip showing my setup in the rain and strong winds along with the image taken in that moment and a couple more for the same day and conditions. The severe level of wind had no effect whatsoever on the image, literally none. And the image of the Swaledale sheep was high on the fell and it was seriously strong winds, I'm certain many a tripod would actually have blown over, yet look at the eye! pin sharp.

Trough of Bowland hill path     1/6th of a second in strong winds

Swaledale sheep on the fells in the Trough of Bowland.   in storm and very strong winds

Lone Tree Trough of Bowland.   strong winds


   

    Cons:

The short centre column doesn’t have a hook is all I can really come up with. I’d like it to come with a bespoke hammock to hold filters and a cable release between the legs. I never know what to do with my cable release other than let it hang from the camera! While the carry bag is ample size for the tripod with every ball head available I'd have liked a couple extra inches in order it also fit the tripod when the Gimbal head is attached. But those are wishes not negatives, I just can’t find a negative with any aspect of the actual tripod. If you are in the north west of england and want to try it, let me know.

 

  Warranty:

5 years


  Conclusion:

The Benro MACH3 TMA48CL is like sitting your camera down on concrete. Get one. I think it is impossible to be disappointed with this tripod. It is beautiful to hold and use, it gives joy to the process. It does not perform fancy tricks it has one job and it does it to perfection in any conditions. I’m not sure of the specs of the manufacture claims (dust & moisture resist) but I would have no issue planting this tripod in mud, rivers, streams or even the sea accepting reasonable care and maintenance follows the abuse. The price, yes, it is an investment but I think it is a bargain. This is a precision made exquisitely engineered premium finish tripod that performs as well as tripods costing three times the price. In the case some very expensive tripods that are extremely needy on the aftercare required to keep them in good shape the Benro undoubtedly outperforms. It seems very light for a big tripod, maybe that’s just perception because in the flesh it looks like it is going to weigh heavy. But I cannot put it down and the only time I do not take it with me is when I’m getting on a plane. I have no difficulty walking with this tripod. I’m sure there are activities and times I will consider it too much but it hasn’t happened yet. Before I had this tripod I did climb up and down Rubha Hunish on the Isle of Skye and it may have been a wieldy option on that occasion! I was certainly glad of my lightweight Benro Travel Angel that day. Proof is in the pudding, I lent this tripod to a photographer friend who found himself in need of specialist support solution following the purchase of a monster new lens that I describe as a bazooka. It is the Sigma Sport 150-600mm and weighs a crazy amount (in my view). It is like lifting a Labrador to your eye and I suspect he was struggling to get sharp images, a challenge with long lenses at the best of times. He used my Mach3 for a week but after the first two hours of use he ordered one. Which brings me to......


A specialist tripod needs a specialist head. I use two specialist heads with this tripod depending on the situation. First is the Benro GH2C Gimbal. The review of which will be found here soon.....

Olympus OMD E-M1 Mk11 Real World Bird In Flight (BIF) results and sample shots

 

Since taking delivery I am constantly asking about the OMD EM1 Mkii’s continuous focus ability! I was very sceptical myself. I’ve now had chance to test my own. Some amazing claims have been made, yet some press days seem to have had good reviews but without the jaw dropping references to tracking yet others including visionaries have raved. Why the seemingly dual views? Or at least a distinct hesitancy to state that the cameras tracking is amazing from some writers?

It makes sense that Olympus would address the tracking failings in the M1. If you think about it Micro Four Thirds is most compelling for both sports and wildlife and that means continuous focus and tracking needs to be nailed. With the M3/4 sensor size you have massive reach, 2x full frame equivalent to be exact. Olympus have already proven with their fabulous pro glass and camera sensors that they have some special wizardry in their in camera processing that results in IQ well beyond the sum of the parts (or at least well beyond the sensor size rather than the equipment), simply magical IQ. With lightweight fast pro glass, the small form factor of the camera along with tank like build quality and weather sealing then all that remains to make an overwhelming argument for the sports or wildlife photographer is the ability to track subjects and continually focus while firing. If Olympus crack that then it becomes an extremely compelling option. But it has to be very good to compete with some of the existing top end DSLR cameras in the area of tracking/continuous focus.

My OMD EM1 Mkii arrived late December. Being an owner of the original M1 and PEN F I was sceptical about the tracking and continuous focus powers advertised for this model. Not because the M1 isn't a fantastic camera, it is, but because it was unable to efficiently perform the task of continuous focus during sequential shooting while the PEN F for all its tactile charm and outstanding IQ cannot track at all. It is possibly the most technologically challenging function to build into a camera. Also the numbers in Olympus’s marketing blurb are staggering, I just couldn't help but be sceptical, though of course why would they oversell only to disappoint, that wouldn't be Olympus's style, they are far better than that. But 60FPS (S-AF)!! really? in RAW! 10 RAW fps in mechanical shutter! 18fps RAW in silent! These are crazy numbers.
I’m no bird photographer, I regularly photograph various animals and especially dogs running at speed (but not as fast as a bird) and the M1 Mk11 has very quickly proven its credential with my dog seen here in an unedited straight out of camera jpeg. And the OMD EM1 Mkii IQ is absolutely gorgeous.

OMD E-M1 Mkii 40-150mm f2.8 Pro C-AF sequential shooting with mechanical shutter. Straight out of camera jpeg. Click to view in Lightbox.

OMD E-M1 Mkii 40-150mm f2.8 Pro C-AF sequential shooting with mechanical shutter. Straight out of camera jpeg. Click to view in Lightbox.

OMD E-M1 Mkii 7-14mm f2.8 Pro straight out of camera jpeg click to view in Lightbox.


As an unskilled bird photographer I took my M1 Mkii out and tested the crazy claims of this cameras speed. I was blown away, staggered and humbled. Bare in mind I'm comparing against as good as it gets tracking capability. My other camera is in fact the Nikon D500, I don’t need to elaborate on the tracking power of that!

My camera choice....


The shots below are two instances of tracking. Click on the image to open in lightbox. One sequence is 15 shots and one is 26 shots. They are straight out of camera jpegs. I could improve them of course but I have not made a single adjustment not even noise reduction. They were taken at 10 fps mechanical shutter. You will notice that throughout one sequence the bird transitions through various backgrounds; water, buildings and sky. The focus never wavered. Amazing, and the exposure values even altered throughout the sequence as the background changed. I think there is one soft shot in the 41 below and that was me wavering off target. The staggering numbers in the Olympus marketing materials are real and they are jaw dropping to experience. I have only tested in good bright light. I know my D500 delivers with tracking in poor/low light and high ISO, yet to be tested with M1 Markii. My results suggest that the users on the press days that subsequently did not rave about the continuous focusing capability of the new OMD EM1 Mkii simply did not set the camera up correctly. They cant have. You cannot experience this performance and not be blown away. It made me laugh out loud!

I know these are not award wining images, not even edited, that's not the point it was just a quick demo. The point is the bird takes up a very small part of the frame and yet focus is nailed throughout.  For fast rendering purposes on this website the images are just 500k but if you would like the full file versions for your own pixel peeping pleasure drop me an email. If you have any thoughts or questions just ask.

 

Tenba Shootout 24

The biggest bug bare of all is camera bags. Not least because the camera bag plays a significant role in "what to take" be it a day trip, a single shoot or travel. I want maximum kit, I want to travel light, I want all the options, I want pockets that make sense, weatherproof, light, strong, easy to clean good looks, I want it to be small I want it to be massive.

Ok so a choice of bags is sadly the answer as no one bag seems right. But if if you may need two hands, and perhaps a trek or lengthy walk, possibility of bad weather and need a large choice of kit the winner is the Tenba shootout.

Cleaning is a significant consideration, I have dog and so many bags seem to attract hairs like a magnet and somehow they need removing one by one. The Tenba shootout material allows nothing to stick in or glue itself mysteriously to the surface. I actually love that I can knock hairs off with a wipe of a dry hand. That means so much. So do the pockets, and I can't explain this but I do find that pockets on a bag need to be plenty, but they need to make sense and what I mean by that is; if I put a cable release in a pocket and say my keys in another then it needs to make sufficient spatial sense that I never have to go looking in two or three pockets to find what I'm looking. Of course this may just be me, but this bag is designed such that I always "just know" which pocket to head to for any given item. A kind of mind mapping thing is going on here, does that connect with you? It makes a days shooting so much less stressful to not be constantly opening and closing pockets to no avail.

The bag has a carnivorous amount of space but we all know those advertising shots with the items placed "just so" are great until you need to get on a plane and include all the accompanying support items for the gear in the photos and they just won't fit. I'm talking about batteries, chargers, hard drives, powerpacks, cleaning tools, cleaning solutions and cloths are generally nowhere to be seen in the marketing photos. Just a cursory footnote that a pocket is suitable for "accessories". Often a bag has accessory pockets that won't close if they are all used. The Tenba has considered this with sufficient material built into the pockets to allow actual room for items not just the appearance of pockets! Actually without accessories there is no shoot and this is where the Tenba wins with generously accommodating pockets and which uniquely can all actually be used simultaneously and still close all the zippers! The attention to detail is apparent everywhere and the quality of the detail is high. The base is of such strong material that you would confidently set it down on any surface no matter how wet and muddy. It will wipe or wash off with ease. The rain cover is always with you, and importantly does not take up valuable pocket space since it is tucked under the base. The tripod attachment copes well with almost any size tripod which can be moved to one side without removing the whole tripod (in order to access the bag contents) by releasing just one clip. When the bag is on the back the tripod is secure and stable. Which brings me to the actual function of moving with the bag when  packed. It is without doubt the comfiest system I've used. It is as near as can be to weightless with perfect distribution and no stress points, the padding and venting is exceptional. It works fine on one shoulder while walking briefly through for example customs. It is not a bag that needs babying but it does look quality and engenders a lot of confidence the gear is protected. The camera itself can be easily accessed by swivelling the bag around off one shoulder and unzipping a side flap the inside of which contains a handy zip pocket for a lens cloth. Thoughtfully this inside zip cloth pocket has no sharp edges and the zip pull is shielded in cotton in order to avoid contact with your gear. It is this thoughtfulness that gives assurance that the bag is truly built for purpose. In this field test of the Tenba bag it was small enough to take on the plane as carry-on luggage, carnivorous enough to take all the gear in the photos you see here, yes all the gear on the table fits in the bag. It travelled on speed boats, cars, buses and sat in the strong salty sea winds protecting my gear. I love it. I still need alternative bags when taking less gear and maybe do not require a back pack form factor. Just as well built and thoughtfulis the Tenba DNA range which again each size seems to pack more than it should in a logical way and utilises the best fasteners I've seen which instantly magnetically attach but then lock! But not without allowing the fastest unlock ever. Brilliant. I will post more about the DNA.

15 inches of MacBook pro.....easy

On the boat

The elegant tripod solution

The elegant tripod solution

There is no doubting this is well built

It all fit in, with room to spare and that is a 15inch MacBook pro!

Endless configuration options

At work protecting the gear