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In our last newsletter we covered a number of products designed to lighten your load when heading out the door with photo gear in tow. Based on your feedback (quite positive, thank you!), we decided to poke around the store a bit further to see what other items we carry for light & compact photo trekking. Compact flash guns and small tripods sturdy enough to use without cussing topped the list, so here goes.
Despite the wiggle room afforded by expandable ISO ratings and increasingly advanced image stabilization systems, there are still times you need a flash. And though most digital cameras have built-in flashguns that work as advertised, sometimes you need a bit more horsepower than the built-in units provide. You also might want the option of using an off-camera flash to avoid the washed-out look common to dead-on flash exposures. That said here are a few suggestions for shoe-mounted strobes that won't eat up too much space or add much to the weight of your bag.
The Nikon SB-400 Speedlight is the smallest iTTL flash offered by Nikon for use with all of Nikon's DSLRs. Unlike many entry-level strobes, the flashtube on the SB-400 can be tilted upward of 90° for use as a bounce flash. With an advertised shooting distance of 2'-66', the SB-400 has a guide number of 98 and covers the AOV of an 18mm lens (28mm equivalent). The SB-400 also features a lockable hot-shoe mount, and recycles in as little as 2.5-seconds with a fresh set of (2) AA batteries.
If you shoot with a Canon DSLR, the Canon Speedlite 270EX is E-TTL & ETTL II compatible, and features an AF-assist beam for low-light shooting, has 60°, 75°, and 90° bounce settings, as well as 2 flashtube positions to match the AOV of your lens (28mm & 50mm equivalent). Depending on how fresh your (2) AA batteries are the Canon Speedlite 270EX has a recycling time of 0.1 to 3.9-seconds. The guide number of the 270EX is 72' at the 28mm position and 89' at the 50mm position when shooting at ISO 100.
New for Alpha-series DSLRs is the Sony HVL-F20AM Digital Flash, a slim (24mm thick) dual-position flashgun, which can be mounted vertically or horizontally, and offers twice the output of the Alpha built-in flashguns. Rather than using a conventional on/off switch, the HVL-F20AM comes to life when you pull it up from its compressed resting position. A dual position flash head allows you to adjust the flash coverage to match either a 27mm (using the included diffusion panel) or 50mm equivalent focal lengths. You also have the option of tilting the flashgun for bounce purposes. The HVL-F20AM has a guide number of 66' @ 50mm/ISO 100.
The Olympus FL-14 was designed for the new EP-1 Digital Pen, but works equally well with other Olympus DSLRs. The FL-14 has a fixed-position flash head that offers coverage for a 14mm lens on a 4/3-format camera (28mm equiv), and a guide number of 46' @ 14 meters. Powered by 2 AAA batteries or NiMH equivalents, the FL-14 can be used in TTL mode with Olympus cameras, as well as Auto and Manual.
Also available from Olympus is the Olympus FL-20, which can light the AOV of a 35mm lens or 24mm lens (equivalents) when used with a diffusion panel (included). The FL-20 has a guide number of 66' @ ISO 100, 46' when used with the wide-angle diffusion panel, and is powered by 2 AA batteries.
A slender TTL flash designed for the multiple camera systems is the Metz mecablitz 28AF-series flashguns, which can be used in TTL mode, as well as manual and manual with output controls. Basic coverage is for a 35mm equivalent lens, with adapters included for 24mm and 85mm coverage. Aside from straight flash, you also have the option of shooting rear-curtain and slow-sync. The Metz 28AF has a guide number of 72' @ ISO 100, is powered by 2 AAA batteries, and is available in 3 flavors – Nikon (28AF-3N), Olympus (28AF-3O), and Minolta/Sony (28AF-3M).
If you're looking for a compact one-size-fits-all flash solution, check out the Metz Mecablitz 20 C-2 flashgun, which slips happily onto any camera's hot shoe for basic Auto and manual flash control. When shooting in Auto mode you have a choice of 2 apertures (f/5.6 & f/2.8). You also have the option of tilting the flash head for bounce lighting.
If you shoot with a Nikon or Canon DSLR and you're into sleek and rakish design, have a look-see at the Sunpak RD2000 Digital TTL flashgun. This low-profile flash features 90° vertical bounce and 180° horizontal swivel control, along with 5-stop exposure adjustments, a guide number of 65' at the 35mm position, and 35mm (equivalent) coverage, which can be expanded to 24mm with the included wide-angle adapter. The Sunpak is powered by 2 AA batteries and is configured for TTL flash exposures with Nikon and Canon cameras.
And do keep in mind off-camera TTL cords that enable you to shoot off-camera for more creative lighting effects are available from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, and Olympus. Generic off-camera cords are also available from Dot Line to fit a variety of popular camera models. And do check compatibility with your particular camera and model before placing an order.
While expandable ISO ratings, image stabilization, and flashguns make it possible to capture sharp images under the worst of lighting conditions, there are times you want the flavor of natural light, low noise levels, and rich tonality. These are the times you need a reliable camera support. And if you're traveling, this means a compact, lightweight camera support. As you might have guessed by now, we have a few suggestions in the camera support department too.
Camera supports are available in a number of forms, both traditional and quirky. At the most basic level is a handy (and inexpensive) little device from Bogen called the Manfrotto Modopocket Tablepod. Reminiscent of a screen door hinge assembly, the Bogen Manfrotto Modopocket Tablepod consists of 4 rubber footpads attached to a folding, 3-piece aluminum platform designed to steady the average digicam from the surface of a table or other platform. The Modopockets ¼-20 camera thread can be used centered or off-center, depending on the best balance point of your camera. Rated to support up to 17.6 ounces, the Modopocket tablepod folds flat enough to slip into your pocket.
Another tiny-yet-versatile camera support is the Hama C-Clamp & Tabletop Tripod 3, which can be used as a traditional table tripod or as a device to clamp your camera onto railings, fences, or any number of ‘clamp-able' surfaces. A slightly smaller version is also available in the form of the Hama C-Clamp Tabletop Tripod 1.
Designed around the Novoflex Ball19 mini-ballhead, the Novoflex Universal Photo Survival Kit is a compact camera support system that enables you to mount a compact digicam to most any surface. Along with a mini tripod for flat surfaces, the Novoflex Universal Survival Kit allows you the option of clamping your camera onto windows and ledges, as well as screw-mounting the camera into wood poles or fences. Included with your purchase is a padded, sectioned storage case that is easy to stow away on camera outings.
And if you don't anticipate the need to clamp or screw your camera into or onto polished surfaces or lampposts you might be satisfied with Novoflex' Microstativ, a cleverly-designed tablepod that can support a medium-format camera as well as break down for easy stowing.
While it may not save you money on auto insurance, the Delkin Devices Fat Gecko Dual-Suction Camera Mount can secure up to 8 lb of camera gear to most any smooth or polished surface. Offering 360° of rotation, the Fat Gecko allows you to position your camera in most any position for capturing the trickiest of images. For the more adventurous souls out there, you can also attach the Fat Gecko to an optional handlebar mount for shooting stills or video from bikes, motorcycles and ATVs. Just promise us you'll wear a helmet.
A small tablepod that folds up neatly is Bogen's 709 Digi Tabletop Tripod with Ballhead. Made from cast aluminum, the 709 Digi Tabletop Tripod allows for 360° of rotation and +/- 90° of tilt for cameras weighing up to 4.5 lb.
For steadying your camera from eye-level position while keeping the weight factor in check we recommend the Benro A-069M8 Travel Angel tripods, a series of weather and dustproof tripod/ballhead combos that are available in a choice of aluminum/die-cast magnesium (2.4lb) or carbon fiber (1.8lb). An interesting design feature of the Benro A-069M8-series is the way the legs fold back 180° over the ‘spider base' and center column, which further reduces the size of the tripods, making them that much easier to bury in your baggage. Benro A-069M8 tripods come with quick-release ballheads and plates.
A lightweight, more conventional style tripod is the Gitzo GT-531 Mountaineer 6x carbon fiber tripod. Able to support cameras up to 11 lb, the GT-531 is an easy-to-tote-all-day 3-section carbon fiber tripod that features G-Locks for quickset-up and break-down and anti-rotation legs and center column for slip-free camera positioning.
Another series of tripods worth investigating for compact travel needs are the Velbon LUXi-M, Ultra LUXi-L, and Ultra Maxi-M, each of which comes with a Velbon PHD-series 3-way pan/tilt head. These compact tripods have 5-section leg extensions and a fast quick-release system for easy-to-set-up hit-and-run imaging.
Lastly, if you plan on shooting beyond the limitations of your memory cards and/or want to edit images on-the-fly, the venerable Epson P-series multimedia viewers remain the standard of the trade. Available in 80GB (Epson P-6000) and 160GB (Epson P-7000) capacities, Epson's multimedia reliably enable easy downloading, viewing, and editing of RAW, JPEG, and video imagery. Both units have built-in CF, SD/SDHC, & MMC card readers as well as a USB 2.0 port for downloading images from cameras and laptops. Images can be viewed on an extremely bright 4" LCD that can display up to 94% of the Adobe RGB color gamut, or about 16.7 million colors. Power is supplied by a choice of AC or a long-life lithium-ion battery. And yes, both Epsons have headphone plugs so you can listen to your favorite tunes during your downtime.
I'd be amiss if I didn't mention my long-time (25-plus years) favorite travel companion, the Leica tablepod. Consisting of 2 components, the Leica Large Ball & Socket Head and Leica Table Tripod, this dynamic duo can securely support up to 5.5 lb on its ¼-20" tripod thread, and breaks down small and flat enough to fit in narrow pockets and pouches. A single lock-screw knob allows for 360° of camera movement, and the tablepod's rubber-tipped legs can be locked to position. This Leica combo is pricey, but it's a joy to work with and is built to last forever.
Another Leica worth consideration for lighter cameras is the Leica Mini Tabletop Tripod, a low-profile camera support and mini-ballhead that steadies your camera slightly higher than countertop level.