Articles

This page hosts photography related articles covering subjects such as photographic technique, in-depth trip reports, equipment reviews and other items of interest to photographers.

Flexline Pro Review

This ingenious new ball head is comprised of two separate balls within an outer sleeve. The larger silver ball incorporates a bubble level that is used to accurately level the inner ball. Once level the smaller spring counter-balanced inner ball does all the work – acting like a cross between a two-way pan and tilt head and a gimbal. I have been using the Flexline Pro for the last three months.

When travelling overseas to shoot both landscape and wildlife subjects my first choice tripod heads have been my Sachtler FSB-6 fluid head and Really Right Stuff BH-55 Pro ball head. The combined weight of these is 3387g, so I would only take them both if they could be packed in a Peli case in the aircraft hold. Where weight of equipment was a concern I would instead take my BH-55 Pro ball head along with a Wimberley Sidekick. The combined weight of this is 1408g and the operation of the Sidekick with big telephoto lenses falls well short of the Sachtler head, but is acceptable at a pinch. Then along came the Flexline Pro that covers all bases really well in an extremely compact...

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Sachtler Flowtech 75 Tripod review

Ever since I took up photography I have been constantly looking for the perfect tripod … one that works well for both landscape and wildlife photography, is compact and light enough to travel with, but rigid enough to provide a stable support in high winds. After only 25 years of searching I think I may finally have found it!

Many years ago my research led me to a German company called Sachtler who specialise in tripods for video and cinematic use. They use a very different design to conventional telescopic tripods designed for stills photography, as each leg section is formed by a pair of narrow carbon fibre tubes. This design has much better torsional rigidity and is therefore less prone to wind-induced vibration. I bought one of their smaller models and was very impressed with how rigid it was. It really did make a big difference to the sharpness of my landscape images when shooting in windy conditions, especially when using telephoto lenses. Although not exactly compact, it was surprisingly lightweight. One downside of this type of tripod was the need to use a separate and rather cumbersome “spreader” between the legs to...

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Sachtler 5590 Speedlock

My search for a better tripod continues ... to be honest I think it always will! Many years ago I invested in a Sachtler ENG 2 CF which was a very capable video tripod which cost me an arm and a leg ... six months later it was blown off a 600ft Scottish cliff into the sea below! Nevertheless, in the short time that I had it I realised that the twin leg tripod design was far more stable in windy conditions than any traditional single leg telescopic tripod. Unfortunately though this design of tripod is meant to be used with a central mid-level spreader, which adds weight, bulk, cost and increases set-up time. It also hampers low-level shooting. At the time I decided not to re-invest and bought a Really Right Stuff TVC-34L instead - which is still my main everyday tripod. However, the number of times I have cursed my lack of a sturdier tripod when working with longer lenses in windy conditions seems to increase year upon year. I therefore decided to invest in Sachtler once again. When a great deal appeared on a used 5590 Speedlock on eBay I could resist no longer. This is the heavy duty...

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The best lens for photographing the Northern Lights

*Update at end of article*

Last year I was in need of a lens more suitable for photographing the Northern Lights. I have been "making do" with my Canon EF16-35mm f4L IS, but the relatively small maximum aperture obviously limits what I can do, especially when using the 5DSr, which isn't great at high ISO settings. I had various options to choose from but after some online research these were the most compelling:  

Canon 16-35mm f2.8L III £2050 Pros: Sharp, low coma, maximum versatility as I wouldn't need to carry an extra lens Cons: None other than price

Samyang 14mm f2.4 AE XP £899 Pros: Sharp, low coma Cons: Heavy vignetting

Sigma 14mm f1.8 ART £1679 Pros: 1-stop wider maximum aperture Cons: Mixed reviews, coma, size, weight, price

Laowa 12mm f2.8 Zero-D £899 Pros: Wider angle useful for some but not all situations Cons: Put off by disappointing optical quality of 15mm f4 Macro

Irix 15mm f2.4 Firefly/Blackstone £409/£599 Pros: Sharp, price, weight (of Firefly), build quality Cons: Wave-type field curvature, ugly bokeh, coma

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Computer monitors for photography

If you fancy a higher resolution computer monitor or have considered purchasing a 5K or 8K monitor, read on! Personally I have always used high-end computer monitors because they were the only ones that could be correctly calibrated for the full RGB colour space. This was vital in enabling me to obtain accurate colours  and see smooth tonal graduation when processing my images. I began with a NEC Spectraview 2690 Reference, which was upgraded eighteen months ago to an Eizo CG277 (with the older NEC then becoming my secondary display). The Eizo is superb. It displays very accurate colour and contrast and with 2560 X 1440 resolution it's great for evaluating image sharpness. It even calibrates itself, so that's something I never even have to think about!

I had never considered what is in my opinion a major downside of the newer high resolution monitors (for photographers) until I upgraded my MacBook Pro earlier this year. The resolution of its 15" screen is 2880 X 1800 (as opposed to my 27" Eizo monitor which has only 2560 pixels across its width). As soon as I began evaluating images in Lightroom I noticed a problem. I was unable to zoom into the image...

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Bracketing for exposure blending

I have not used graduated neutral density filters to help control contrast in my landscape photographs since switching to digital 15 years ago. Instead I prefer to shoot a series of different exposures to capture the full dynamic range of the scene and then either blend them using layers in Photoshop CC or, if possible, by using the merge to HDR function in Lightroom CC. 

As I always shoot in manual exposure mode it's easy to determine how many exposures are necessary to capture the full range of tones in a scene simply by viewing the live histogram. However, there is a trick that makes this even easier if you use a Canon camera body.

1.Make sure exposure bracketing is set to -0+ in the menu. This means the sequence will begin with the darkest exposure for the highlights and finish with the lightest exposure for the shadows. * 2.Set your bracketing sequence to 3, 5 or 7 shots, depending upon the amount of contrast in the scene. ** 3.Set bracketing to either 1/3rd, 2/3rd or 1 stop increments. *** 4.Turn on Live View and bring up the live histogram. **** 5.Set ISO and the aperture you need for sufficient depth...

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