Really Right Stuff LC-A12 Collar Review (Nikon 70-200 f/4)

rrsf4collar-2One of my few complaints about Nikon’s new 70-200 f/4 was the lack of an integrated foot for mounting on a tripod. A lens of this length and weight is going to have best stability when mounted on a foot, and while Nikon is probably assuming most of these lenses will be in walk-around mode mounted to a D600 or D800, I really wanted a collar.

There are three main options: Nikon RT-1 ($170), Kirk ($160) and the Really Right Stuff LC-A12 ($195).  I rejected the Nikon collar because it doesn’t have the Arca-Swiss dovetail on the base.  Kirk does, of course, but the foot has to be removed with screws and has less flexibility than the RRS.  It has a lens support on the end I feel is unnecessary.  So I ordered the RRS LC-A12 package.

After a bit of a wait, I finally got it.  After having a chance to play with it a bit, here are my thoughts:     (you can also see my video review here on YouTube):

Features

  • Removable Foot Design:  Excellent for minimizing space consumed in your bag
  • Rotation Markings:  On the top and both sides (though Nikon doesn’t make good use of them – detailed below)
  • Dual-Dovetail:  The foot allows use of the very slick (but pricey) flash bracket (better explained in the video)
  • Hole in Collar Mount:  Allows mounting to a tripod or strap if you don’t have the foot
  • Slip-stop:  Helps ensure your lens doesn’t slide off your ball head when you loosen the clamp.  Handy.

Handling

Handling is very good, as you’d expect from RRS though surprisingly I did have a couple of concerns.

The Good

  • Removable foot:  Allows you to save space and weight in your bag when you don’t need the foot.  I toss the foot in a side pocket if I think I’ll need it.  Otherwise, the collar stays attached without the foot.
  • Dual Dove-tail:  Enables you to use RRS’s very cool (if pricey) line of flash brackets.  If you don’t have an RRS foot, you’ll have to attach a heavy bar on the bottom of your L-bracket, which is heavy and complicates switching between tripod and hand-held.  The spacing on the ring to the lens is less optimal, too…
  • Easy to remove:  True of both the foot and the collar itself.

The Not-so-good

  • Knob:  The big silver knob used to adjust tension is…well, big.  I really wish it could be smaller.   Mine also squeaks a bit when tightened (I’ll be calling RRS about that as their manual specifically says not to lubricate the parts)
  • Rotation:  Not as smooth as my 80-200 f/2.8 (which had an integrated, non-removable  collar).  It feels a little dry.  I’m not sure if that is the lens or the collar.
  • 90° Markings:  The RRS collar has great markings.  Unfortunately the Nikon lens only has one, so when you go to portrait mode you have to look a the side of the lens.  My 80-200 had markings that allowed me to look at the top of the lens to match up.

Build

What do you expect of RRS?  The thing is extremely solid and has all the hallmarks or RRS design. Entirely made in the USA, it matches colors of the lens perfectly.  Other than the squeaky knob, I’ve got no complaints or worries here at all.

Value

Value is subjective.  You can save $30-$40 with the Kirk or Nikon collar setups, and I have no doubts about their quality.  The extra money gets you a more flexible setup, and the removable foot in particular is a big plus for me.  Yes, you can find far, far less expensive ones on eBay, but remember the value of the lens and camera that depend on the collar to avoid a nasty fall.  A poor place to economize.  I’ve also heard reports that there is a little slop in some of those cheapie collars, which defeats the purpose.

Photos

LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

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The single alignment dot offered by the f4

The single alignment dot offered by the f4

Front View

Front View

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LC-A12 foot with an RRS flash bracket mounted. Very cool.

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A mounting hole is available for tripods or straps even if the foot isn’t connected.

Summary

I’m a fan of RRS.  I can’t say I find the “dry” rotation or the squeaky knob were expected, but I still think this collar/foot combination is worth having.  I wish they didn’t cost as much as they do, but for $30 more than the Nikon offering, I think RRS is an easy choice.  If I didn’t care about the removable foot, I’d still but the Kirk over the Nikon collar.

What do you think?  Anyone have the Nikon, Kirk or one of the knock-offs?  Please comment with any experiences or thoughts.  Thanks for stopping by!

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Black Rapid / Arca-Swiss Solution: Mr. Blurrycam Edition

I get enough questions about my setup that I thought a video might help:

Black Rapid and Arca Solution – Enthusiast Photographer from Lee @ Enthusiast Photographer on Vimeo.

The full write-up can be found here.  I’ve carried this setup literally all over the world, and it has performed flawlessly.  If you’ve got a Black Rapid Strap and an Arca-Swiss-based tripod head/plate system, I think you’ll like this rig a LOT.  I think it even acts as a quick-release system for Black Rapid users who don’t have Arca-Swiss, too…

Apologies for the poor camera-work – I’ll try to improve on that in the future!

Here are some updated photos (though still camera-phone pix):
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Sunwayfoto XB-44 Ball Head Review

I wanted to get a few hours under my belt shooting with the Sunwayfoto XB-44 before I put a review out there, so I appreciate the patience of the folks who contacted me about when I’d write it up. So many comparisons and reviews are done on paper rather than from use in the field that I wonder if people who read them are getting good information – how can Ken Rockwell declare a new camera “the best *insert-brand-name-here* SLR ever” when he has only looked at it on paper?? But I digress.

In my limited experience, photography products are highly susceptible to the “looks great on paper, but…” syndrome – what good are specs if they are poorly designed and/or implemented? What fun is it to get a great price on something that isn’t made with quality and won’t last as long as you want?

On paper, the XB-44 looks pretty interesting – design clearly inspired by the Arca/Markins heads but just as clearly a different overall direction: Dual drop notches similar to my Really Right Stuff BH-40. 88-pound capacity. All-metal construction. Low-profile design intended for the lowest center of gravity and stability. An included screw-type clamp with a bubble level that can be mounted in multiple locations on the clamp. All for $299 at B&H.

But how does it work in real life? In short: really well!

But before I get too far down that road, let’s check out some photos of the product:

Nicely wrapped in a foam cocoon…

A look at the included plate with a screw-clamp and a bubble level. The plate has laser-engraved markings and is notched for the safety screw in the plate. The head will, of course, accept other plates.

A look at the knobs – no rubber here, just raw, meaty, knurled goodness. Knob placement and function is very good.

Fully upright, with a good look at the tension adjustment integrated into the main knob.

Disclaimer: I didn’t purchase this head – it was given to me for review by Sunwayfoto. I responded to a request by Sunwayfoto on one of my forums for volunteers to review the heads. The unit I have is marked SAMPLE in the serial number. If you’ve read my other reviews, you know how picky I am about anything that is fiddly: I can’t stand it, and getting something free won’t endear me to any product. I’m not a talented enough photographer to overcome distractions created by poor products or bad design. I just won’t tolerate anything that gets in the way of my photographs, so I hope you’ll trust that my opinions here are entirely straightforward, honest and unbiased.

On to the rest of the review. I took my RRS BH-40 off my Gitzo 2531 and mounted the XB-44. First problem: there were no included hex keys. I still had the keys that came with my BH-40 and 2531, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it seems presumptive that the customer will have one. Second problem: no user manual or instructions. I contacted Sunwayfoto and learned that the user manual was still under development when mine was shipped (so there will be one), but no hex keys will be included. Not a big deal for me, but something to know.

I played around with it a bit in my den, but the real test was taking it to my favorite car show for a four-day weekend. I spent a fair bit of time taking pictures, and with that crowd you often don’t get second chances – everything had to be quick!

So how did it perform? In a word, flawlessly. I really want equipment to disappear as much as possible, and the Sunwayfoto XB-44 didn’t disappoint. I was really surprised how much I liked the screw-type clamp since I’m used to my RRS LR-II with the quick release. The compact design is also nice – it looks very tidy on top of my tripod and makes packing it and lugging it around a little easier.

The knob placement is very natural and the knurling ensures positive contact. Where I’ve liked the flap-paddle design of the RRS BH-40 well enough, the knob on the XB-44 is just plain out of the way, literally and figuratively – I liked it instantly. The tension adjustment knob works as expected, and the progressive tightening of the main knob is smooth. The movement and action of the head feels just right. The tension/drag adjustment is built into the main knob. It operates fairly well with the tip of a finger, but can be over-tightened to the point it is pretty hard to move. I think the directions would have helped me here. It didn’t bother me too much since it seems to pretty much be “set and forget”, and I like how little real estate it takes up. I expect that once I get used to it I’ll like it fine, but it is the only thing that made the “fiddly” dog bark at all.

The XB-44 ball uses an elliptical design that reduces the “flop” that spherical balls have when you reduce the tension, but the movement is extremely smooth. If I understand correctly, the only other major ball-head company that uses an elliptical design is Arca. All I can say is I liked how it handles a lot. This includes the panning base, which glides nicely while keeping reasonable amount of tension – no slop at all. The panning knob, like all the knobs, is a “captive” design, which means it won’t fall out if you unscrew it too far. The panning base is marked every 5 degrees with the same laser etching found on the plate, and has a ridged design that I assume is intended to ensure a secure grip when mounting to the tripod.

Two drop notches give you a great deal of flexibility for portrait shooting as well as extreme up and down shots. One of the great thing about the Arca-Swiss plate standard is the availability of L-brackets for virtually any camera. This eliminates the need for the drop notch for portrait, but the notches are still very useful for extreme composition up and down. Like many heads (including my RRS BH-40) you can run into clearance issues in portrait mode – where the head contacts the base of the tripod. The ability to move the bubble level to any of three sides of the plate would come in very handy here. Personally, I’m a huge fan of my L-bracket – it makes switching from landscape mode to portrait seamless, avoids any issues with clearance and is a more more stable way to mount the camera since the weight stays centered over the legs.

The load rating is specified at 88 pounds, which sounds very impressive. Unfortunately, there isn’t an industry-standard way to measure load capacity that I’m aware of. I can say that with my massive 80-200 f/2.8 lens mounted to my D90 that the camera felt very stable. I think a 300mm prime could be used in this head, but if you use a lens like that or larger on a routine bases, I’d suggest a look at the big-brother model from Sunwayfoto, the XB-52.

I’m thinking of some “unfair” tests to run on the XB-44 vs. the BH-40 (for example, running my big 80-200 from the base as opposed to the foot on both and seeing which maintains its composure). Any recommendations on that would be welcome!

In summary, I liked the Sunwayfoto XB-44 a lot. Nothing on this head feels cheap. I don’t see any corners cut. I like the fact that is is a unique design overall – there are lots of elements incorporated from other heads in the industry, but in total the design and function stands out against most designs. At $299, nothing touches it for overall functionality, ease of use, load capacity, excellent handing and very good design. I can’t fault anyone for buying RRS – they make terrific products, but every dollar counts and if you want a premium ball head while saving a big chunk of money toward that prime lens you want, it is a fine choice.

Here are a few more photos of the product from the Sunwayfoto website, used with their permission:

A look at the XB-44 mounted on a Gitzo 2531 (photo provided courtesy of SUNWAYFOTO)

Another view (photo provided courtesy of SUNWAYFOTO)

The XB-44 with its big brother, the XB-52. I see the XB-44 as a Series 2 tripod and down, for use with lenses up to 70-200 and more, while the XB-52 can likely handle just about anything you throw at it, and will sit on a Series 3 tripod or above. (photo provided courtesy of SUNWAYFOTO)

Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to leave any comments!

Tripod Armor

This is the kind of shot I love, and the kind of setup that makes me cringe...I just ordered a set of these, and before I’ve even laid eyes on them I know I’m going to love them!  No, it isn’t the head and tripod legs, it is what is protecting them from the sand and salt.  These plastic sleeves are my favorite kind of photography product – one that is invented and sold by a photographer.

These re-usable sleeves are what I’ll use the next time I go to the beach or the lake or pretty much anywhere where I’ll wind up washing things like mud, grime or sand out of the tripod.

There is a pretty good tutorial on the internet on how to disassemble your Gitzo tripod to clean it out, but for 15 bucks, I’d much rather do this.  I’m very careful about my equipment – I want it to stay as clean and happy as I can, and this is a terrific way to let me fully utilize the tool that my tripod can be without worrying about what I’m doing to it.  Anything that helps the equipment disappear from my mind and let me concentrate on the photograph is a great thing.  Bliss for $15.

They are on the way tomorrow, but I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to get them out in the wild and do a full review.  I have no doubts about the function, so in the meantime, I didn’t want to wait to put a little light on this product.

A couple other photos (used with permission from the creator of the product):

You can order them here: http://www.tripodcovers.com/

The continuing saga of the Enthusiast Photographer at CES: Sunwayfoto and Sirui

In the name of torturing you with fewer posts, I’m combining some of them to make things easier on everyone ;).  I’m leading up to my two final posts, which are my visits to Timbuk2 and Nikon, so bear with me.

A few stops down from Acratech was Sunwayfoto. I remember seeing some things on various forums about them a while back – a company based in China that  made ball heads and various other products, had a website in English and Chinese and shipped to the US.  For a period of time, it seemed like their website dropped off the web.

Now they are back, and even have some of their products on B&H.  But they had a much broader product line on display at CES.  Among other things, they showed me their medium (44mm) and large capacity (52mm) ball heads, which are very similar to the Markins design – pan and lockdown on two big knobs, with tension adjust in a mini knob embedded in the lock knob.  They have a newer product line – noted by “X” in the product name – that is a lower-profile version of their head, which keeps a lower center of gravity and hopefully offers more stability.

Same size head and weight rating, but lower-profile "X" model on the right.

From an Enthusiast Photographer perspective, these seem very sturdy and well made.  They exhibited no creep at all, but I didn’t have an opportunity to see a camera mounted on one.  But when I compare these to the new Manfrotto Magnesium heads, I find myself liking them better, especially since they include an Arca-Swiss clamp and will probably sell for less.

Are they Really Right Stuff (RRS) quality?  I doubt it, but I do think they offer a very reasonable option for the serious amateur working on a limited budget.  I spent a fair amount if time handling the products and came away impressed.

The same is true of their panning clamp.  Since my lens and camera plates face different ways on my head and I was thinking about getting a monopod for an upcoming trip to Europe, this is interesting to me. The Sunway DDH-01 sells for almost $100 less than the very similar RRS PCL-1 ($235 vs. $137). We’re talking about amazing-quality, USA-made vs. likely-decent-quality, Made-in-China here. Since I own an RRS head, L-plate and lens plate, I can attest to the RRS workmanship and quality. If I was a working pro, I probably have a lot of their gear. If money is a challenge or you are an Enthusiast Photographer, I think Sunwayfoto is a viable option.  The monopod head is tempting for the trip to Europe I have planned for the Summer…

I also saw a monopod head that looked pretty beefy, but isn’t available at B&H (yet):

I didn’t notice the price, but my guess is it will be close to the $139 price of the Sirui head in the next section, though this one doesn’t have a plate included.  It does, however, include a panning function, which might or might not be handy.

On to Sirui.

Sirui is one of a number of made-in-China makers of carbon fiber and other tripods that have popped up on the market in the last year or two.  I’ve seen several of their aluminum and CF tripods and monopods at my local camera store, and come away impressed.  My visit to their booth at CES was no different.  The large tripod on the left is taller than me (and I’m 6’1″) and seemed extremely solid while offering airy carbon fiber weight.  Again, the true test of a tripod or head is in the field, and I’m a big fan of my Gitzo.  I’d love to have an RRS tripod.  I can’t help but like the Sirui products I’ve looked at – they aren’t dirt-cheap, but they are affordable for what they are and seem to have very good stability and quality.  I can’t say the customer service is much of a risk against anyone else other than RRS (who is excellent) – I’ve heard a fair bit of grumbling on various forums about Manfrotto’s service and support, and they now own Gitzo, too.

Net: I liked the Sirui tripods and monopods a lot.  If I get a monopod, these guys are likely to get my business.

They were also showing off a really attractive monopod head:

There is no mystery here where the design was inspired from (think RRS), but it is pretty compelling for a casual/occasional user at $139 including the head.  The unit was very solidly built, has an integrated Arca plate on the bottom and felt very comfortable.  I almost hope they sell a version without the head – that base plus the Sunwayfoto panning head would be a really nice combo for reasonable money.

Should you buy from Sirui or Sunwayfoto?  I think the answer depends on a lot of things, but ultimately I think they represent very reasonable quality for very reasonable money.  There are a lot of brand snobs who are going to tell you that unless it is Manfrotto, Gitzo or RRS (or add Acratech, Markins and Arca-Swiss to the list for ball heads) that you won’t get quality or durability.  I think that is untrue, at least for the Enthusiast Photographer.  If you’re a pro, they are probably a marginal, or at least risky, choice.  For those of us who aren’t generating income with our photography, I think they represent a good budget alternative.  The challenge is that they aren’t well distributed so there aren’t lots of hands-on reviews and experience to draw from.  In the giant money-sucking vortex that is photography, it comes down to a risk assessment.  I think it is a decent bet that the Sunwayfoto and Sirui products will serve you just fine.  Of course, Vegas is where all the bets seem to be made…  😉

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I saw lots of other vendors last week and took lots of other photos, but I think I’m down to three more CES posts after this: LensPen, Timbuk2 and my visit to Nikon and Canon.  Hopefully I’ll wrap it up before the weekend so we can get back to the fun stuff!

Enthusiast Photographer Hits CES – Acratech Part Deux

One other quick note on Acratech.  After getting the cool demo on their spiffy ball heads that can do gimbal and pano, the owner showed me something they are bringing out soon:

The key...

Apologies for the terrible phone picture.  In my tech-industry-day-job that is called a “Mr. BlurryCam” shot – usually a poor backroom photo of an unannounced product.

In this case, the product is pretty obvious – a small hex-key for your Arca plate to make removal/swapping easy.  I have three L-shaped keys in my bag, and I hate them.  They take up too much space and they are awkwardly shaped.  I told him I’d buy a set tomorrow if he’d make them in three sizes: my camera/lens plates, the set-screw for my ball head and the legs of my tripod.   I’d order immediately and just have them hooked to my bag by that handy strap.

What do you think?

CES Diversion – Snoop Camera Bag

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. But hey, I just like a bag now and then – there’s nothing wrong with that, right? I mean, a man shouldn’t have to limit himself to just one bag when there are so many really cool bags out there. Right? Anyone?

OK – so the fire sale that was going on with the Snoop Camera bags was too good to pass up (as of the time of this writing, they had a number of sizes and colors available, starting at $59 – over 45% off!), and I ordered a Medium Snoop bag for $79 (regularly $150). My rationale was that while I love my current Laptop Messenger, (A) it is a pretty big bag, (B) I liked the idea of a dedicated bag I could keep loaded and ready to go without unpacking my work stuff and (C) was made of ballistic nylon that would tolerate my shoots in the woods, etc. better than the waxed canvas of my other bag.

At least that is what I’m telling myself.

(If you’re a new reader, check out the review of my custom-made Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger as well my separate review of the Snoop insert that goes inside the custom bag – I make a lot of references and comparisons below)

It arrived today, in the now-familiar Timbuk2 bag/map.

My map collection grows…

Out of the…um…bag, the Medium Timbuk2 Snoop bag was clearly smaller than the Large Laptop Messenger Bag – they both have the Medium Snoop insert, and both seem very snug, so somehow the Snoop looks a lot smaller but appears to hold nearly as much the Large bag.

Snoop Unleashed...

Open view, note the clear pocket for cards, etc. and the standard velcro silencers

A quick view inside

Snoop Camera bag - loaded and with a ThinkPad T420s on board

View of the insert, loaded other than my camera

My bag-o-many things fits fine all loaded up

So how does the Snoop bag compare to my full-size Laptop Messenger? Clearly, these bags are sisters – the overall exterior design is very similar – same trio of zippered pockets on the front, along with a drop-in pocket at the top. In contrast to the Laptop Messenger, the bottom of the zip-pockets has a clear plastic front, presumably so you can see the memory cards, etc. you tuck inside. Like many bags from Timbuk2, the Snoop also has the “Napoleon Pocket” – a long pocket accessed from the side which doesn’t require opening the messenger flap – very handy.

The overall outside design is two colored panels instead of three. My bag is the black and gunmetal ballistic nylon, which looks great and feels really sturdy and durable.

The shoulder strap is the same very heavy-duty affair with really strong hardware. In contrast to my custom Laptop Messenger bag, the shoulder pad is included, as are the velcro “silencers” that were an add-on to my custom bag. These are used when you don’t want the “RRRRIIIIIiiip!!!” sound of velcro on a nature shoot, during a quiet event shoot (wedding, etc.) or during a meeting when you just don’t want to be loud. It does take away a layer of protection – the velcro ensures the bag doesn’t fly open if you don’t clip the flap down and later drop or tip the bag. Since I don’t shoot wildlife or weddings, I don’t think I’ll use them often, but I’m glad I have them. The shoulder pad has excellent padding that makes even a fair amount of wear bearable and regular weight very comfortable.

The other big differences on the outside are something gained and something lost. This version of the Snoop Camera bag does not have the handy “grab strap” handle at the top. I happened to talk to the lead designed of Timbuk2 at CES (post coming soon) and he seemed to say that newer versions of this bag would have the handle. I hope so – it is a very handy feature (no pun intended…), and I’m sure I’m going to miss it.

The added element(s) are the two tripod straps on the bottom of the bag. This is a feature I was excited about, since I’m a tripod guy, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of the execution. First, it is very difficult to get the tripod in and out of the loops. There are no snaps or connectors. You have to open the strap loops very wide, slide the tripod through and then tighten the straps around the tripod. My Gitzo almost slid right out because I went for balance, placing the tripod in the middle, and the legs are very slick – when I picked it up, it almost fell. Ultimately, I had to tighten one loop around the neck between the base and the head, with the other loop around the legs, which left a considerable amount of the legs exposed. The tripod is light enough that it didn’t affect the balance of the bag, but I think it is going to be awkward. I think the “compression tabs” on my Laptop Messenger will work better, and might well be more reliable, too. The tripod loops on the Snoop bag are each sewn at one 1″ spot, which seems like a lot of stress on the fabric. The compression straps on my Laptop Messenger are sewn at the outside edges of the bottom forming a cradle that I can use for the tripod – easier to use, seeming as secure and spreading the load across four points vs. two. Lastly, I wish there was some sort of padding on these straps. I’ll likely wrap my tripod to avoid any wear from the straps, and may rig something different altogether to carry my tripod. A disappointment, if a small one.

Snoop Camera bag - using the tripod loops

To keep the tripod from sliding, I had to tighten one loop at the neck, leaving a lot of leg exposed at the other end...

Inside, the differences are a lot greater. Outside of a tall sleeve for a laptop or tablet on the back of the cavity, there are no pockets or other storage at all inside the bag. Of course, the camera insert itself has compartments for lenses, the camera body etc., but no other mini-pockets at all to tuck things into. I’d really like to see some storage on the top flap of the Snoop insert – a couple zippered compartments on the top and maybe a mesh one on the inside. As you can see in the pictures, I do have a separate bag I tend to use, and Timbuk2 has an array of small bags with funny names they are happy to sell you.

At the end of the day, the bag has a very reasonable amount of storage, but storage in a camera bag is like closet space when you’re married – there is never too much.

The bulge on the flap. That's technical...

One other difference from my other bag is the Snoop bag does have the bulges at the base of the main flap that fold inward to seal the bag from moisture, dust and other nasty stuff. There is even velcro that you can pinch as you’re closing the bag to make it extra secure. I wish my Laptop Messenger had this design, and I wonder why it doesn’t.

The bags share the waterproof “TPU lining” which seems to be a slightly rubberized nylon. Whatever it is, I like it – it feels tough and the protection from water is peace of mind.

Since this is a dedicated camera bag and to make access easier, I tucked the top flap of the camera insert away. Since I’ll have the snaps and the velcro protecting things from falling out, the flap will only be used during actual travel if this is the one I take on a trip or during storage.

Tucked away - the zippered top of the Snoop insert is folded over and hidden to allow better access.

I’m amazed at how much less volume this bag has while still carrying the large majority of what I had in the much-larger Laptop Messenger:

Side by side, Snoop Right, Laptop Messenger left. Both loaded with Medium Snoop inserts

Top view

I’m picking a lot of comparative nits here, so let me be clear – I’m thrilled with the Snoop Messenger bag. For $150, it represents a lot of function, flexibility and style in a package that carries very well. It has a lot of capacity, has a very reasonable amount of pocket storage and protects the gear very well. If my time with the Laptop Messenger is any indication, the bag is great to walk around with – it is comfortable and convenient. Is there room for improvement? Surely, but my addiction…er…quest for the perfect bag has been lulled into a passive state by this excellent bag. For now.

At the $59 to $79 they are selling for at the moment, they are an absolute steal. I’m hoping it ends soon so I’m not afraid to go on the internet any more. It isn’t a problem though. Really.

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As an aside, in case you are wondering, I’m just what I say I am – an enthusiast photographer. I don’t make money on this in any way, I don’t get free stuff and I don’t have any ties at all to any products or companies I write blogs about. I don’t have a PayPal account for donations like Ken Rockwell. I’m just passing things along as I see them and hoping they are useful, entertaining or both. Thanks!

Facing Vegas (off to CES)

So the Enthusiast Photographer is off for CES, the famed Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  That probably means it will be a quiet week for the blog, though I may do some quick mobile blogging – who knows?

I go for work, not fun, but I should get a chance to swing by the area that hosts the photography industry.  One obvious target is the new Nikon D4, but what would you like to see?  I’ll try to get to anything you post as a comment and take a few photos and/or post a few thoughts, though my time isn’t my own, so I can’t make any promises.  Let’s hear some ideas!

Legs or or no legs?

Maybe it is the specter of Scott Kelby telling me the first step to sharp photography is a tripod, the kind of photography I do (lots of landscape/cityscape shots) or just the plain great results I’m getting when I use one, but I’m a pretty big fan of my tripod.  I look for excuses to use it, especially since I got the RRS head and L-bracket (which is still a post for another day).

But what about you?  Do you use one?  I’d love to hear comments on why you do or don’t, if you love it or hate it!

Black Rapid + Arca Solution

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If you’re here, you’re looking to solve a problem, so on to the information!

A phone-cam picture of Arca bliss…

Here is a quick look at a really convenient solution to using a Black Rapid with an Arca-based tripod plate system without having to constantly un-screw the plates and the strap fastener.  It think it is also a good solution as a “quick-release” for the Black Rapid system even if you don’t use tripods!  I’m a huge fan of my tripod, my Arca-Swiss system ball head and my Really Right Stuff L-bracket.  If you read my post “When Gadgets Collide”, I felt like my two favorite photography accessories were fighting each other – my tripod and my strap.  I’ve put a video walk-through on my Vimeo Channel, but have a quick read of this article too.  The video link is at the bottom of this page.

I saw a couple ideas on photography forums that I merged into this solution. The components are simple: the Black Rapid “FastenR” nub is attached to a Kirk QRC-1 1″ screw-type quick release clamp with the Op/Tech Uni-Loop (Op/Tech part number 1301062 – B&H part number OPSCUNL) as a safety tether.  I also got a small tube of Loctite Blue from the hardware store.

Setup is easy.  I put a little Loctite on the threads of the FastenR (which makes it very unlikely it will ever un-screw by accident), slightly moistened the rubber gasket and screwed it directly into the Kirk clamp.  The Optech strap loops to the strap hole in the L-bracket on one end and the D-ring of the Black Rapid strap.

The Kirk clamp mounts to my RRS L-bracket (or foot plate on my 80-200 f/2.8) with a few quick twists, so it is quick to put on or take off. It feels very tight and very secure – I don’t see this thing backing out.

Just in case it does (or, more likely, I do something stupid), the Op/Tech strap is a safety tether. This makes it very secure, and proof against one of the more likely failure scenarios of the strap:  the swiveling hook/carbiner wearing/coming loose or failing to tighen the carbiner nut enough resulting in a fall. Unlikely, but I tend to live in a world of realized implausible disasters ;).

Mounting and un-mounting is easily faster than if I was screwing in the Black Rapid fastener nub (FastenR) – I’d estimate three seconds or less for the tether and the clamp, The safety tether is very inconspicuous on the L-bracket even when I’m not using my RS-7.

I also like the idea of always attaching the safety tether first.  It is a good defense against me dropping the camera while attaching the strap – something I worried about a bit with the original setup. Here’s a view detached:

WP_20130411_002

Now I’m excited that my two favorite photo gadgets are working together (my Arca plate and my BR strap). The setup even works fine when I’m using the massive 80-200 and connecting the strap to the foot-plate.  All told it cost a little less than $50, but that seems a reasonable price for harmony while improving usability and safety!

I did a video walk-through that can be found here.

**UPDATE**  I’ve wrapped a bit of gaffers tape around the carbiner since I never need to remove it from the “rig” and I’ve heard stories of the carbiner opening and dropping cameras.  I have a safety tether, and I think most of those stories are the fault of the user, not the hardware, but why not take that risk out of the equation?

After spending four hard weeks traveling recently, most with this strap seeing action all day every day, I’m very pleased with all aspects of this setup.  The clamp has shown absolutely no signs of loosening during use, the safety tether has never gotten in my way and the Loctite has the FastenR securely fixed.  It carries well and is super-convenient – I love it!
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(You also might want to read my more recent post “Don’t Fear the FUD” regarding Black Rapid Straps and the concerns on the tripod mount.  If you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow this blog, “like” Enthusiast Photographer on Facebook, or follow Enthus_Photo on Twitter – I’d be thrilled :))
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Other Notes
As an aside, I’d note that there are certainly less expensive clamps on places like eBay, but I felt like the clamp was a poor place to economize.  The Kirk clamp is very solidly built and shows no signs of backing out, etc.  I’ve got a couple of Sunwayfoto clamps and they are very nice – I wouldn’t have any reservations about them either. I’d get the smallest screw-type clamp you can get from a reputable company – go a little larger if you carry bigger camera/lens combinations.

Recently I noticed RRS released a “nubless” version of their clamp, which I’m sure is awesome (though their photo of the setup has the knob pointed where your chin would be… :)).  RRS makes great stuff (I own several of their products, including my L-bracket in this rig) –  You can save at least $20 with Kirk or Sunwayfoto clamps, though my buddy loves his version of this rig using the RRS clamp.

Readers: What do you think?  Does this make you more comfortable with a Black Rapid strap?