Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Induro Adventure AKB0 Tripod Review - Introduction

Ever watch the John Belushi movie Continental Divide? If not it's the story of a Chicago journalist that goes up into the mountains to write and article about an Eagle researcher. There's one scene where he's down to his last cigarette and he's in a world of hurt because he's out of shape and has been huffing and puffing his way up the mountain to see what this Eagle researcher does. That's pretty much how I was feeling the day that Donna and I set out to find one of the waterfalls in upstate South Carolina that was listed as "moderate" in difficulty. Clearly the person that rated it moderate must be part mountain goat because that hike for us was down right hard! Of course it doesn't help being out of shape and lugging my camera backpack with extra lenses and my Induro CT314 tripod with me. Long story short Donna and I made it to the waterfall, got some great pictures and made it back to the car without killing ourselves. One valuable lesson I learned that day was traveling light is the way to go on waterfall hikes and hauling around my camera backpack and heavy duty tripod was clearly not traveling light!

Thus began my quest for a lightweight tripod to use when shooting waterfalls. Since I'm obviously a huge Induro fan I checked out their tripods first and read about the Adventure AKB Series of tripods. These lightweight tripods come with matching ball head and carrying bag. They are available in three sizes: AKB0 which is designed for loads up to 10.3 pounds and weights 2.6 pounds, the AKB1 which is designed for loads up to 12.8 pounds and weighs 3.6 pounds, and the AKB2 which is designed for loads up to 18.7 pounds and weighs 4.2 pounds. For comparison my CT314 and BHD3 ball head are designed for loads up to 40 pounds and weigh 7.2 pounds. I spent a good amount of time reading about these three tripods but couldn't decide which one I wanted. My first choice was the AKB2 thinking that it even though I wouldn't be coming close to its load capacity that it would be better to have a tripod that can support way more than I would need but it weighs nearly double what the AKB0 weighs and I really wanted to go as light as possible. I knew that the good folks at Induro had read my previous write up I had done on the CT314 and ball head so on whim I contacted them and told them I was in the market for a lightweight tripod and wanted to know if they happened to have any of the AKB series tripods available for a trial basis. I figured they may have some that didn't meet QC specs or something like that they would be willing to send me. They said they did have something I could test with, faxed me the agreement which I signed and faxed back and a few days later the UPS box arrived.

Inside was not a some loaner tripod that has been used by others and was passed along to me but instead it was a brand new AKB0 tripod. Our agreement was for me to keep the tripod for a few weeks, test it thoroughly and then return it to Induro. For this review I plan to document the following aspects of the tripod:

  • Introduction - this post
  • The Tripod
  • The Ball Head
  • Use in the Field
  • Short Post Accessory
  • Comparison to the CT314
  • Summary

Induro Adventure AKB0 Tripod with Donna's Canon Rebel T2i with 18-200 lens

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

citifari New York Landmarks Photo Tour

Earlier this year I read Switch to Manual Mode written by Sam Levy on the Digital Photography School Blog. After reading the article I clicked on a link to read more about Sam's citifari New York Landmarks Photo Tour. What I read interested me but there was one minor problem. Sam didn't have a tour scheduled on the day that Donna and I would be in New York and available to take one. After exchanging some emails and Sam getting things worked out on his end we were able to do the photo tour this past Monday, December 19th. As soon as I knew we had our date reserved Donna and I spent some time reviewing our camera manuals and other books we have for our cameras. I think I know how to operate my 7D pretty well but I wanted to be able to concentrate on taking pictures during the photo tour and not trying to remember which dial to turn to perform a specific action, etc. Monday afternoon we met up with Louis, our guide right outside of B&H Photo. If you ever make it to NYC go to B&H. Holy cow what a place that is. Just as my mom could spend all day at Macy's I could spend all day at B&H. I was good and managed to make it out of the store only spending a little over $100. I could have spent way more than that!

I wasn't really sure what to expect from the tour and in fact I had kind of thought it was going to be a bit boring in that you'd go from place to place the guide would point out a building or other landmark, we'd snap a picture and off we'd go to the next one. Boy was I ever wrong and I'm so happy that I was. Three other photographers joined Donna and me on the photo tour. Interestingly enough we all shot Canon's. Donna used her T2i, I used my 7D, another photographer from Mexico also shot with a 7D and the 2nd couple shot with a 7D for her and 5D Mark II for him. We brought along a light weight tripod but it turns out there's really no need for one to plan to travel light and leave the tripod and other goddies in the camera bag behind. There's really only one place where you could use it and there's a railing where we propped our cameras on when we needed to support them. After giving us some introductory comments and a hand out about the citifari photo tour, some photography terms, etc we were off to our first destination which is where we soon learned this afternoon was going to be WAY more than just pointing your camera at an object and taking a picture.

At our first location Louis stopped us and described the scene we were going to photograph. Along with that he showed us a sheet from his guide book showing the shot they had taken to give us an idea of the composition and camera settings used. "Now everyone set your dials to M." Louis said and I'll be honest with hearing those words a bit of panic hit me. I have dabbled around manual mode and have had some success with it. Donna has never used manual mode nor have we even talked about using it. I told myself to not sweat it, just do as Louis instructed and see what happens. After switching to manual mode we next switched our cameras from evaluative metering to spot metering. We then dialed in the suggested ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. With each setting Louis explained why were using the those instead of just telling us and us blindly following along. Knowing why we were making the changes really made things start to click for me. Our first photo was going to be of the New Yorker Hotel sign with the Empire State Building background. Louis instructed us to meter off of the New Yorker Hotel sign, adjust shutter speed until we got a proper exposure and then take the picture. While I understood what he said what I did do didn't match what he told me to do and my shot didn't come out as expected. I tried it a couple of times and just wasn't getting the shot. When asked how I was doing I showed Louis the photo and he agreed that I wasn't getting the shot :). We discussed the process I was using to take the shot and we soon figured out what I was doing wrong. What I was doing is after metering off of the New Yorker Hotel sign and setting my shutter speed I'd move the camera to recompose the shot. After moving the camera I would adjust the shutter speed a 2nd time because I noticed the exposure meter reading had changed. I wasn't supposed to be doing that. The process was to meter off of the Hotel sign, recompose and shoot. Once I figured that out things started working much better. Louis sent time with each of us making sure we were getting the shot correctly. Once we were all satisfied with the shots that we had gotten we moved on to the next shot.

I won't go into detail about each shot that we took but I will say that shot a variety of different subjects and each shooting location was used to teach us something new about our camera and shooting in manual mode. We shot everything from 1/2000th to 6 second exposures during the photo tour. I can honestly say that I learned more about using my camera and how to properly shoot using manual mode in the time we were on the photo tour than I have in the past 5 years reading books, magazines, and watching DVD's, etc. Later that night Donna and I were discussing the photo tour and she said that she had learned so much and felt so much more comfortable with her camera and couldn't wait to get out and shoot again. Hearing that I knew her photo tour was every bit as enjoyable and educational as mine was. If we ever make it back to NYC I guarantee you we will take the Central Park photo tour.

New Yorker Hotel
This is the shot I like best from our first stop. I lucked out and got the airliner in the frame as well. I used 1/1000th of a second at f/5.6, ISO 400 for this shot.

Subway Exit
This probably my favorite shot from the photo tour. I shot it kneeling down on the bottom step of the stairs leading out of the subway and waited until the gentleman climb the stairs before taking the shot. I used 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0, ISO 200 for this shot.

Empire State Building
Love the leading lines on this shot. I used 1/400th of a second at f/7.1, ISO 400 for this shot.

My wife, Donna, shooting the Empire State Building. Louis is behind her and the guy in the red jacket is another photographer. The guy in the blue jacket stopped and listened. I don't know if he's a photographer or not. I used 1/30th of second at f/7.1, ISO 400 for this shot.

Not part of the photo tour but when I saw my name I had to take the shot :). I used 1/200th of a second at f/7.1, ISO 400 for this shot.

The Lion
This is one of the Lions in front of the NYC Library. I used 1/100th of a second at f/5.6, ISO 400 for this shot.

Apple Store
This is actually the exact opposite of the shot we were supposed to be taking at the time. I had taken the shot we were supposed to get and then was fooling around when I noticed the bright Apple logo across the terminal from us so I adjusted my camera and got this shot. I used 1/6th of a second at f/22, ISO 200 for this shot.

I can't thank Sam (whom we met while at Grand Central Terminal) and Louis for sharing their expertise with us and getting us to move over to manual mode. If you're ever headed to NYC and have time for a photo tour I highly recommend you do so. I can't wait to get back out there shooting again with the new knowledge I gained from Louis and Sam. Thanks so much for everything!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CMSgt Fred L. Clarke

43 years ago today the airplane then TSgt Clarke was flying in over Laos had a mid-air collision with another USAF airplane. He has been missing ever since. 23 years ago Freddie as I have taken to calling him came into my life. I started wearing the POW/MIA bracelet with his name on it and I have worn it everyday since and I will continue to wear it until either he comes home or I go to my grave. Recently Donna and I went up to Washington, D.C. and while there we took a night time tour of several Washington monuments. One stop we made was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where we took this picture. While it certainly is not a great picture it's the thought that counts. While Donna used the flash from her iPhone I used mine to capture this image. I consider it an honor to take Freddie with me everywhere I go. He's been to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Israel, to include a stop in Jerusalem where he was placed on the stone where Jesus was prepared for burial, Germany, France and any and every other place I have traveled since I put him on my wrist. While I doubt it will ever happen if any of the friends or family of Freddie happen to read this please know that he has not nor will he ever be forgotten.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Reviews: Hiking Waterfalls in Georgia and South Carolina and Hiking Waterfalls in North Carolina

This year Donna and I have taken to finding and photographing waterfalls here in South Carolina. So far we've made at 3 trips to upstate South Carolina and thus far were able to find all of the waterfalls we tried to find except one and boy did we have an adventure on that hike! Along the way we've been doing some product testing which I'll reveal later this month but for now I wanted to write about a couple of new books we bought to help us with our waterfall quests.

Melissa Watson has written two guides that we bought: Hiking Waterfalls in North Carolina and Hiking Waterfalls in Georgia and South Carolina. At the bottom of this review are links for the books on Amazon. If you click on the link and buy a book I'll earn a little commission. So far I think I've earned enough to buy a lens cap but hey every penny helps! The guides list 35 waterfalls for Georgia and 18 for South Carolina and 113 for North Carolina which explains why it gets its own book. I'm a bit disappointed with the South Carolina coverage because we have over 30 waterfalls here in our state so the coverage is a bit light in my opinion. I do have to give the author credit though she personally has hiked to each of these waterfalls she has written about and has provides turn-by-turn directions, with mileage for making your way from the trail head to the base of the waterfall. She has included GPS coordinates for the trail head and waterfall. For each waterfall she includes a map with the track she took to get from the trailhead to the waterfall, height of the waterfall, her beauty rating for the waterfall, distance, difficulty rating, trail surface, approximate hiking time, blaze color to follow, county the waterfall is located in, contact information for the waterfall, and map information to use to look the waterfall up on topo maps. That's a lot of information!

I've compared her write up of some of the waterfalls Donna and I have already found and found her descriptions to be very accurate. My only complaints about the book are: (1) lack of coverage for South Carolina and (2) there's a few errors in the GPS coordinates that I've found. Fortunately I was able to discover the errors while entering the coordinates into my mapping software and not while out trying to find the waterfall. Fortunatly the errors are minor. In one case she listed the trailhead and waterfall with the same coordinates but the description says it's a 1 mile hike to get to the falls so obviously one of the coordinates is wrong. I've passed along the issues I've discovered to the publisher and author and received a brief response from the publisher and am waiting to hear back from one of them with the correct coordinates for one waterfall. Given the amount of information she provides and that I was only able to find a couple of mistakes I think she really put a lot of work into these guides.

Overall I'm very impressed with the guides and I'm sure they will get lots of use as Donna and I continue our waterfall quests. It'll be next spring before we get a chance to use the guide. I don't think we'll be doing any more waterfall hunts this year but you never know. If we get an unusually warm weekend we may head north west to upstate South Carolina and put the guide throuh a test. Once we've had a chance to use it in the field I'll post a follow up.

Below you'll find a list of the waterfalls listed in each of the guides.

Georgia Waterfalls
Ada-HiAmicalolaAnna RubyBecky Branch
Bull Cove (North Carolina)Cane CreekCrow Mountain CreekDenton Branch
DesotoDick's CreekDukes CreekEastatoah
Falls #1 on Waters CreekFalls #2 on Waters CreekFalls on Deep Gap Branch (North Carolina)Flat Branch
Helton CreekHemlockHigh ShoalsHolcomb and Ammons
Horse TroughLitle Rock CreekLittle ridge CreekMartin Creek
MinnehahaPanther CreekPanther and AngelRaven cliff
Sea CreekSliding Rock on Wildcat CreekStonewallSylvan Mill
ToccoaTrahlytaWaterfalls of Tullulah Gorge 

North Carolina Waterfalls
Big BradleyBig LaurelBridal Veil Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont State Forest
Bubbling Spring BranchBull CoveCamp BranchCascade Lake Dam
Cascades on the Cullasja RIverCathey's CreekCedar Rock Creek Falls and Falls on Grogan CreekChestnut
ConnesteeCorn Mill Shoals in Dupont State ForsetCourthouse FallsCrabtree
CullasajaDenton Branch (Georgia)DillDouglas
DryDuggers CreekEastatoeElk River
Falls on Cove Creek, Little Sliding Rock, and Cove Creek FallsFalls on Deep Gap BranchFalls on Long BranchFalls on Long Branch, Hendersonville Reservoir Dam, and Falls on Fletcher Creek
Falls on Tributary of State Rock Creek and Pound Pup FallsFalls on the West Fork of the Pigeon RiverFrench Broad, Mill Shoals, Rooster Tail, Lower Rooster ail, and Bird Rock
GlassmineGlenGlen CannonGranny Burrell and Frolictown
Grassy Creek Greenland CreekHarper CreekHickory Nut
Hidden and Window Falls in Hanging Rock State ParkHigh Falls on Mills RiverHigh Falls on the Thompson RiverHigh Shoals Falls in South Mountain State Park
Hooker Falls in Dupont State ForestHunt FishHurricaneJackson
John's JumpJuneywhankKeyLake Powhatan Dam
Lake Sequoyah DamLaughingLittle BradleyLooking Glass
Lower Cascades in Hanging Rock State ParkLower Falls of Upper CreekLower Falls on the Little Beartrap BranchLower Satulah
Lower and Upper LinvilleMcGalliardMerryMidnight Hole and Mouse Creek
MingoMooneyMoore CoveMoravian
North Harper CreekParadisePeason's Picklesimer Rock House
QuarryRangerRaven RockRoaring Fork
Rough Butt CreekRufus MorganSchoolhouse and Warden'sSecond Falls at Graveyard Fields
SecretSetrock CreekShunkawaukenSilver Run
SilvervaleSkinny Dip HoleSlick RockSliding Rock
SocoSouth Harper CreekStone Mountain, Middle, and Lower Falls in Stone Mountain State ParkTom's Branch and Indian Creek
Tory's Falls in Hanging Rock State ParkToxawayTriple, High, and Grassy Creek Falls in DuPont State ForestTurley
Upper BearwallowUpper Cascades in Hanging Rock State ParkUpper Falls at Graveyard FieldsUpper Falls of Upper Creek
Upper Falls on Little Beartrap Branch and Falls on Big Beartrap BranchWalkerWalking StickWaterfall off Moore's Springs Road in Hanging Rock State Park
Waterfall on Avery Creek and Twin FallsWaterfall on Log Hollow Branch and Falls on Tributary of Big Bearpen BranchWaterfall on Sam Branch and Wash Hollow
Waterfalls of the Horsepasture River: Rainbow, Turtleback, Drift and StairwayWhite OwlWhitewater and LaurelWidow's Creek Falls in Stone Mountain State Park
WildernessWintergreen Falls in DuPont State Forestwildcat and Falls on Flat Laurel Creek 

South Carolina Waterfalls
BrasstownBull SluiceCedar CreekChau Ram
Chauga NarrowsFall CreekFalls on Reedy BranchIssaqueena
King CreekLong CreekOpossum CreekPigpen and Licklog
Raven CliffSpoon AugerStation CoveTwin Falls
Upper Sloan Bridge, Lower Sloan Bridge, and Hiker's PerelYellow Branch