Zeikos vs. Nikon Grips

If you find yourself shooting in portrait (vertical) orientation a lot, you probably get tired of the awkward pose required to hold the camera:  your right arm and elbow are high in the air and bent over to your forehead.  Beyond a lack of comfort, this isn’t necessarily the best posture for sharp shots, either.  Other than moving to a tripod (which doesn’t work if you’re highly mobile), one solution is getting a battery grip.

There are two big benefits.  First, you can now hold your camera in the standard way in portrait (tall) or landscape (wide) orientation.  Second, the grip contains a second battery that gives you serious battery life – especially useful if you’re shooting a lot of flash.

The downside is the camera makers tend to charge some relatively serious money for them.  The grips for Nikon’s full-frame cameras get progressively more expensive:  $230 for the D610, $370 for the D750 and $439 for the D810.  Even the D7100 grip is $250.  As you might expect, third-party providers have stepped in and offer the same function for less than $100.  The question is “How good are they?”

I’ll start by saying the grip I’m “reviewing” here is an old one, so it is completely possible that improvements have been made for the newer cameras.  However, I doubt the conclusion is any different at all (provided here for those of you already chafing to click close and hit Reddit):  For the money, they are a very good deal and work well enough.  If you use one a lot, you may want to spend the extra bucks on one from the manufacturer.  Read on for details.

I just got a Zeikos grip with the D700 I purchased, so I did a quick comparison (Nikon left, Zeikos right):

LH7_0460 LH7_0464Nothing big to report here. The radius in some of the angles is a little less subtle for the Zeikos (which is consistent in general). The mounting screw for Nikon seems slightly beefier, and has a half a turn more thread or so…

LH7_0467The plastic on the Zeikos is smoother and shinier. The feel of the power button is similar, but the shutter button is smoother/more progressive than the Zeikos, which has a slight but definite “break” for the shutter release. I don’t classify that as a negative outside of the fact that it isn’t consistent with the body – It felt fine when shooting.

LH7_0463The Zeikos feels a little less “full” in my hand. The Nikon grip is rounded out toward the front, and has a cavity for your fingertips (you can see that well in the first shot). This is definitely preferred. The Nikon rubber is slightly grippier as well. The Nikon wheels are slightly rubberized vs. hard plastic for the Zeikos.

LH7_0462Nikon obviously has a rubber bottom area where Zeikos continues with the grip rubber. Probably a wash unless you put your camera down on the bottom routinely. I’m not sure how well the Zeikos grip would hold up if you’re using an L-bracket (probably fine). The tripod mount seems beefier on the Nikon.

LH7_0461More rubber on the Nikon grip on the back, along with the rubberized wheel. I think if you’re using the grip sparingly this isn’t an issue. If you use it a lot in portrait mode, I’m guessing the hard plastic at the thumb might get tiring. The AF-ON button is labeled on the Nikon. The button feel is pretty similar here, though the edges of the Nikon button are smoother and more integrated into the body of the grip. Joystick feel is similar, with the Nikon feeling a little tighter/more refined. The click action for the Zeikos isn’t as defined as the Nikon, which made 1-click zoom less certain. This is the biggest single issue I have with it. Not a killer if you don’t use that a lot (I do).

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Battery trays are nearly identical. Again the Nikon tray seems…beefier…and a little smoother when installing and removing from the body. The shape of the tray handle is a little more elegantly molded for the Nikon, though that is just aesthetic.

Conclusion:  Overall I think the Zeikos grip is fine. If you aren’t using a grip a lot, I think the function-for-value equation is really good. There are a few things that clearly aren’t up to Nikon’s standards, but you’re not paying Nikon prices.  I haven’t seen the Canon equivalents, but I’d guess the conclusion is the same.  If little things bother you, grab one from the manufacturer.  Buying used is often a way to save some money, too.

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Iceland and others

2014 was a really busy year, and I shot less with my camera than I have in some time.  I also posted less here on Enthusiast Photographer.  Part of that is (and continues to be) that my primary editing PC was in a closet for most of the 2nd half of the year.  I still have a few shots that haven’t made it to my secondary (travel) PC.

Anyway, here are a few 2014 shots that I like that hadn’t made it to the blog yet.  Some of them are touristy, which is fine with me 🙂

Quick scenic stop on our way to Akureyri, the 2nd largest city in Iceland

Quick scenic stop on our way to Akureyri, the 2nd largest city in Iceland

Another scenic stop on the way to Akureyri

Another scenic stop on the way to Akureyri

We were very lucky to catch the Northern Lights.  Tripod and very long shutter speed required!

We were very lucky to catch the Northern Lights. Tripod and very long shutter speed required!

The cabin we stayed at...

The cabin we stayed at…

In the museum in Reykjavík, there was a display that caught my eye...

In the museum in Reykjavík, there was a display that caught my eye…

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The opera house / theatre in Reykjavík

More sculptures from 798 in Beijing

More sculptures from 798 in Beijing

I thought this was an...interesting...contrast

I thought this was an…interesting…contrast

It is time to get back to some more creative shots, but I still really enjoy my travel photography!

Sometimes you go back…

I recently went back to Beijing’s very-interesting 798 District.  It is a really eclectic area with a lot of art and…unusual…things to see.  The last time I went I was in a bit of a rush, and wanted to get back to see a few more sights and take a few more photographs.

As it turned out, this visit was even shorter and the time of year meant it got dark much earlier, so I got a lot less opportunity than before.  I took a bunch of touristy shots (I am fine with that kind of thing as long as it is done on purpose), but also tried to get a few creative shots in as well.  As we wandered around, I went by the spot of one of my favorite shots from my previous visit:

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I loved the texture, subtle colors and indirect light in this photo when I took it a few years ago

I thought I might try some different things with the scene, somewhat like I do with the tugboat I often photograph in Charleston.  Unfortunately, sometimes you go back…and things aren’t what they used to be:

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I’m sure everything works better now, but it isn’t nearly as interesting as it was.

I guess the lesson is that you can’t count on interesting things enduring – make sure you take the opportunity to capture what you want – think about more than one composition and have as much fun as you can.  The shot might not be there the next time you come back…

Had similar experiences?  Post ’em up! 🙂

Japan (and Singapore) 2014

My job sometimes takes me to really cool places, and recently I was sent to China, Japan and Singapore. I didn’t get a chance to get out at all in Beijing, but got around a fair bit in Japan. Finished with several days in Singapore, but most of the photography from that leg was pretty touristy, so most of the images below are from Tokyo.  I was in Macau earlier this Summer, but haven’t had a chance to pull those together as I’ve been swapping computers.  I’ll come back to those soon…

In any case, I was apparently in an abstract mood… 🙂

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14573067759_bc953e98d9_cLEE_788214737037866_63cf1d2dfd_bI feel like these images do a better job taking me back to the place and time than “regular” photographs, and I find myself paying a lot more attention to my surroundings and the small details everywhere…  🙂

What is your favorite travel/vacation photo?

 

 

Get it Right In the Camera

Man on the Chau Phraya

Man on the Chau Phraya

If you hang around on photography forums or blogs enough, you’re eventually going to hear someone say “Get it right in the camera”, “I never edit my photos” or “You shouldn’t need to tweak your photographs.” While I understand where these people are coming from (especially in the first one), I think these kinds of statements are extremely damaging to beginning photographers.

Here’s the thing: You should never feel scared to press the shutter button. While I appreciate (and agree with) the idea that a photographer should have full command of his/her equipment, the learning and creative process is far more important as you start out. Editing photos isn’t a crutch – it is a way to extract what you were looking for to begin with. There is nothing wrong with making adjustments after the fact – Ansel Adams made plenty of adjustments in the darkroom. Editing will help rescue images that didn’t come out quite right as you’re trying new things, too.

Also, the “get it right in the camera” crowd are getting tweaked whether they know it or not: The camera applies a certain amount of adjustment for saturation, contrast, sharpness, etc. for JPEGs by default, and most editing software like Lightroom does the same thing for RAW files as well (though of course in the case of RAW you can change/undo 100% of what the software applies).

At the end of the day, your goal as a photographer is to end up with the best composition and exposure possible. As a learning beginner, both of those things can be improved after the fact. Hopefully you wind up with an image that makes you happy and learn what to do next time that makes editing less necessary. As I’ve improved my photography, the kind of editing I do is different. It is probably fair to say it is a lot less and certainly I strive for an image that is as close to done as possible when I press the shutter button. That said, I’m a lot more interesting in having a photo I’m proud of, and if editing gets me there I have no issue with that at all.

So that’s it: Edit, learn from what you’re having to adjust and improve. And most importantly: have fun with your camera!

That twitch…

WP_20140205_007A yellow field surrounded by mottled gray and bone-white trees and morning mist.  An abandoned church covered in vines, the door blocked by vines but the stained glass that crowns the entrance peeking through.  An old camper wildly painted in vivid colors and images that are slowly fading.  A bright pink diner with a Cadillac out front and a tremendous array of Elvis memorabilia on the walls.  Fields split by a rumbly river fringed with trees.  Stone bridges barely wide enough to pass on four wheels.

An unexpected trip this morning took me on twisty, back-country roads that I thoroughly enjoyed driving.  But as I wound my way to my destination, images kept catching my eyes and making me wish I’d brought my camera.

I’m sitting in the pink diner, and I’ll probably take the chance on the way home to take some of those pictures with my phone.  They won’t be the images I wanted, and mainly I’ll take them to illustrate the path I’ll return to in the near future to capture the images the way I really want to catch them.

I finished 2013 with a bullet.  Lots of travel.  Busy with work and family.  I haven’t even taken the opportunity to post my Favorites of 2013 yet (which I’ll get to shortly).  The shutter-bug in me had been dormant other than family photos recently, but it is now fully awake and pulling me to get out with my camera.  Not a bad way to start 2014…

Enthusiast Photographer 2013 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this Enthusiast Photographer. I logged over 130,000 miles in the air this year, so I have to admit I didn’t get as much done here as I’d hoped but I did get to visit some amazing places and take some of my favorite photos ever. This is their summary – I’ll get one of my own up soon.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Finally got my hands on a Nikon Df…

This is as close to Nikon’s replacement of the D700 as we’re ever likely to see.   I’ll write my thoughts up over the holidays (and catch up on some other things here on Enthusiast Photographer…) but I’d love to hear if anyone has any thoughts on it….

What I’ve been shooting lately… (Part 1)

It has been an incredible run of travel this year – well over 100,000 miles in the air and over 60,000 since July.  I’ve seen a lot of the inside of a metal tube, but I’ve also had the chance to go to some amazing places.  The more I shoot, the more comfortable I am with my equipment and just as importantly what I need to work on.  So that is the lesson for this post – shoot more and think about what you need to learn to improve when you’re looking at the shots you don’t like as well as then ones you do.

I had my first try at bird-in-flight (BiF) photography.  Verdict:  HARD!  Knowing how to set up my AF was key to getting some decent shots for a first outing.  More knowledge and tuning needed.

I had my first try at bird-in-flight (BiF) photography. Verdict: HARD! Knowing how to set up my AF was key to getting some decent shots for a first outing. More knowledge and tuning needed. D300s & 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 1/4000, ISO 320, AF-C w/ 51-point tracking

My son came out to feed the gulls. I sat down with my back against the house, and after shooting a few shots with flash I realized I was missing a much better shot without the flash...

My son came out to feed the gulls. I sat down with my back against the house, and after shooting a few shots with flash I realized I was missing a much better shot without the flash… D300s & Nikon 18-200 @ f/7.1, 1/640, ISO 200

I left for Japan the day after returning from the beach.  I took a few photos I like, but I really enjoyed a chance to get a better shot of Tokyo Tower from the Mori Tower.

I left for Japan the day after returning from the beach. I took a few photos I like, but I really enjoyed a chance to get a better shot of Tokyo Tower from the Mori Tower. The conditions were tough again – very windy, but this shot came out OK anyway and really showed the value of VR (vibration reduction). D300s & 70-200 f/4 @ f/4, 1/15, ISO 1000

One of the next places I went was Bangkok.  To say there is a lot of texture there is an understatement.  I'd love to spend a few months wandering around there - amazing, beautiful place.  These fruits were so colorful at a street-side stand, and seemed a perfect time to play nearly wide-open.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/2.2, 1/60, ISO 200

One of the next places I went was Bangkok. To say there is a lot of texture there is an understatement. I’d love to spend a few months wandering around there – amazing, beautiful place. These fruits were so colorful at a street-side stand, and seemed a perfect time to play nearly wide-open. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/2.2, 1/60, ISO 200

The Chao Phraya river in Bankok offers just as much to see as the land.  A good example of the versatility of the 18-200 VRII for both the zoom range and the stabilization.  D300s & 18-200 VRII @ f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 320

The Chao Phraya river in Bankok offers just as much to see as the land. A good example of the versatility of the 18-200 VRII for both the zoom range and the stabilization. D300s & 18-200 VRII @ f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 320

Coming off the river is a combination of a dock and a shopping center, an awesome jam of people and products.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.9, 1/160, ISO 800

Coming off the river is a combination of a dock and a shopping center, an awesome jam of people and products. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/160, ISO 800

At the temple of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha.  Behind it are metal pots - you make a small donation and get a cup of old coins to plink in the buckets.  The sound as many folks walk up the row is really cool.  Tough to get a sharp shot as it was pretty dark and I didn't want to push the ISO.  D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/30, ISO 800

At the temple of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. Behind it are metal pots – you make a small donation and get a cup of old coins to plink in the buckets. The sound as many folks walk up the row is really cool. Tough to get a sharp shot as it was pretty dark and I didn’t want to push the ISO. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/30, ISO 800

An elephant statue at the Erawon Temple in downtown Bangkok.  I should have dialed the ISO down to 200 here -  it was pretty bright. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 320

An elephant statue at the Erawon Temple in downtown Bangkok. I should have dialed the ISO down to 200 here – it was pretty bright. D300s & 35 f/1.8G @ f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 320

The Summer kept hopping from there – I took another trip to Asia and went a few other places too. I’ll post a few more photographs from those trips soon. In the meantime, I’d love to see YOUR favorite pix from this year so far!

What to take when you travel

TTUD60v2ContentsOne of the most common posts I see on the various photography forums is a question that goes something like this “I’m going to <somewhere far away>, what should I bring with me?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a single answer to that question.  What photography equipment you should take with you has a lot to do with what you’re planning to shoot, what your style is, how much space you have to travel with your equipment and what you’re comfortable carrying.  If you have a story to share, please feel free to leave it in a comment!

I travel extensively for work and do a fair bit of individual/vacation travel as well.  Personally, I tend to travel heavy – I’m a pretty big guy, and I prefer to have more than less.  That won’t work for everyone, and over time I’ve figured out what I do and don’t use.  I’ll pass on what I bring, and then offer some thoughts on how you might decide what to take when you travel.

Before I talk about what I bring, I wanted to tell you how I bring it.  Since over 80% of my travel is business (especially internationally), I’m almost always sharing space with my gear for work – a laptop (and sometimes more than one), power adapters and other various gear.  Generally my strategy is to carry the key stuff – the body and lenses – and pack the rest in the suitcase with my clothes.  Unless I’m protecting it or I need it while flying I try to put it in the suitcase – batteries, L-brackets, filters, chargers, etc.  For the most part, these things are a lot easier to pack in a suitcase where they’d take up valuable space in your shoulder bag. If that only adds up to the ability to carry one more lens, you’ve still achieved a significant benefit.

I’ve got a pretty nice kit of lenses these days – six total (see In My Bag for the list).  While I can get them all into my Urban Disguise bag, it is a pretty heavy carry.  Before I head out on a trip, I think about what kind of shooting I’ll have the chance to do and what my goals are – higher goals often drive more gear.  Travel photography generally boils down to scenes/candids, landscapes, creative shots and walk-around shots.  The good news is I can usually cover most of that with two or three lenses:

  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8:  Great for wide-open landscapes as well as capturing the most of tight interiors like churches and other historic buildings, this lens comes in awfully handy.  Since it has a fixed f/2.8 aperture, it does a nice job in those low-light interiors.  However, because it is a fairly bulky lens and little limited in overall usefulness it is the first lens I drop among my three core travel lenses.  The shot below could only be taken by my 11-16 – I would have had to stand in traffic with my next-widest lens.  It created a pretty dramatic angle, too… (click on the photos to see them larger)
La Madeleine church in Paris.

La Madeleine church in Paris.

  • Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-f/5.6 VRII:   This is the ultimate walk-around lens.  Pretty darn wide and pretty darn long, it offers a lot of flexibility.  A lot of lens-snobs turn their nose up at this lens, but it can be pretty darn sharp and has a moderate carry weight.  It does a nice job at the wide end for landscape shooting and has enough reach to allow you to bring back some texture.  As a variable-aperture zoom, it isn’t a low-light champ, but it pays you back with extensive range and versatility.
Tyn Church in Prague

Tyn Church in Prague

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8G:  When it comes to creativity, I find it hard to beat my primes.  The ability to use shallow depth-of-field and shoot in low light gives you the ability to create a lot of mood and atmosphere in a shot.  While I’ve used my 85mm to get some good shots, my 35mm f/1.8 has yielded a big chunk of my favorite shots, including the one below (which will look familiar to return visitors), and is almost weightless.
Love locks in Prague

Love locks in Prague

Those are my three key lenses for travel.  When it is just the body, the 18-200 and the 35mm, the kit is reasonably light.  From there I’ll add lenses situationally – the 70-200 if I need reach and ultimate sharpness in low-light, the 85mm if I think I’ll do something portrait-like or a little more reach vs. my 35.

The first lens back in my bag for travel is the 28-75 though – it offers a lot of flexibility as a walk-around lens has has terrific sharpness, contrast and color along with f/2.8 creativity.  Occasionally I’ll substitute it for my 18-200 if I don’t think I’ll need the longer zoom capability.

The other thing you have to think about is whether you’ll need a tripod.  I bring my monopod on travel more than my tripod because of space and weight.  I don’t own a travel tripod (which fold down to a super-small size), and it is fairly heavy and bulky to walk around with, despite which it goes with me about half the time.  My monopod is small and fairly light, and has been really handy in dark interiors but only makes the trip about 1/3 of the time, mainly due to how much my tripod travels.

Sometimes I bring a bit more than I’ll need for a single situation and pack only the things I think I’ll need on a given day, leaving the rest in the hotel room safe.

So here are some questions to ask yourself before you travel:

  1. How much room do have to bring things with you?  You can optimize space by packing bulkier items with your clothes.  You won’t need your charger when you’re walking around anyway.
  2. What kind of shooting are you going to do?  along with “what lenses/filters/other equipment are necessary to get the shots?”  Be realistic here or you’ll wind up with almost everything you own.
  3. How much weight can you carry around for extended periods?  Generally I’ll choose to be a little more tired and sore to get the shots I want, but some don’t have that option.
  4. What else are you going to be doing?  If you’re on vacation and will do some shopping, it is  a good idea to leave some space in the bag for the things you pick up along the way.

The last thing I’ll mention is that sometimes not having the perfect lens means an opportunity to be creative.  If you’re faced with a situation where you think “I really wish I had that other lens”, the next thing should be “How do I create a shot with the equipment I do have?”

Travel photography should be fun and add to the experience.  If you’re frustrated, hurting and tired, you’ll probably remember that more than your shots and it may take you out of the creative zone.  Keep it simple, travel with reasonable comfort and plan ahead a little and you’ll find you like what you come home with more.

How skinny do you travel?  Anything you’ve found hard to live without when on the road?  Please feel free to share any travel stories below.  Thanks!