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Topics - Mt Spokane Photography

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Software & Accessories / $100 Coralpix Gimbal Head Review
« on: October 19, 2013, 08:22:25 PM »
After being very disappointed in the quality of my $150 Opteka gimbal head,  I decided to give a
different brand a try.  I did not expect much for $100, after all, my Wimberly head cost six times that
However, I had already sold the Wimberly and was looking for something inexpensive to try out my
Nikon 200-400mm lens with, and did not want to spend a lot.
Even though a head is inexpensive, there are some things it should be able to do just as part of a basic
1.  Be able to handle a heavy telephoto lens up to 10 lbs.
2. The swing arm should be able to swing smoothly without binding or jerking. It should be possible to
balance a lens so that it stays in whichever position you want without tightening the lock.  Ball bearings
are desirable.
3. The horizontal rotation should be smooth and not bind or jerk when panning.
4.  The tightening mechanisms for vertical and horizontal  should loosen and tighten fully and be user
5.  The finish should be free from obvious flaws like scratches or areas where the paint is chipped.
6.  It should be able to mount a Arca-Swiss compatible plate.
7.  My final test is that it should be able to track a flying bird swiftly and smoothly with a heavy lens.
1.  The Coralpix is rated at 13 pounds, and is made of a aluminum casting which had absolutely no
discernible bending or flexing with the approximately 9 lb rig I mounted on it.  I think it could take a lot
2.  The swing arm rotated smoothly and easily balanced my lens / camera combination so that it stayed
put even though a touch of my finger could move it to a new position, where it stayed. 
Less satisfying and a concern for longevity were the plastic bushings located in the swing arm housing,
and the plastic thrust washer on the swing-arm side of the housing.  I'd be concerned about galling,
and possibly cracking with heavy use. (see the black parts in the tear down photo)
The end near the adjustment knob had a sandwich of two cheap sloppy tolerance washers with a
roller bearing thrust washer between them.  It seemed to work fine.
3. The horizontal rotation had way too much play, but with a 6mm hex wrench, it was easily removed
without reducing the ability of the unit to rotate horizontally.  No matter how loose or tight, it was
smooth but did have a small amount of jerking when trying to move it in fine increments.  I did not tear
it down to see what was inside.
4.   Both the horizontal and vertical adjustment knobs required about 1/4 - 1/2 turn from loose to
locked.  It was difficult to tighten them such that there was friction but still smooth movement, it
worked better with them loose.
5.  The finish was reasonable, there were obvious rough places in the casting, but they were well
covered.  I could not tell for sure if the finish was paint or powder coating, but it looked like powder
6.  The swing arm is able to accept a Arca-Swiss compatible plate, and a short plate was provided.  (As
though you are going to use this with something needing a 1.5 inch plate??)
But ...  there was a problem with the clamp.  The supplied plate, and any plate that you'd want to use
with a big and expensive lens has stop screws to keep it from sliding out of the clamp by accident.  The
clamp would not open wide enough to accept the supplied plate, or any of my pates, for that matter!  I
used a hex wrench to back off the adjustment screw, since It opened freely to a point, and then was
very stiff.  This worked, but the screw suddenly became loose and easy to turn.  Being curious, I
finished backing it out.  The lip of the clamp was nicely designed with a spring on either side to allow
for even clamping.  The screw had some sort of thread locking material on the end which kept it from
opening wide enough and was apparently functioning as a retention method.  It dosen't retain any
longer, but is in no danger of falling apart.
7.  In the finanal analysis, I wanted a gimbal head that could move easily in the vertical and horizontal
planes to track a flying bird without jerking or binding, and I'm happy to say that it passed the test with
flying colors.
The CoralPix CPGH Aluminum Gimbal Tripod Head  exceeded my expectations as far as price-
performance.  It functions very well for a low cost unit and did not disappoint.  Compared to the
Opteka GH1 head, it was larger, made of cast aluminum  instead of steel, and had much smoother
operation and adjustment.  (I gave the Opteka a FAIL).
At the price I paid ($100) it was a very good buy.
The use of plastic parts inside the vertical swing-arm housing.
The lack of cover plates for the adjustment screws, which will allow dirt and debris to fall into them and
make a otherwise nice looking head look cheap.
The poorly adjusted horizontal pivot, how hard could it be to adjust it properly?

So, you might ask, am I switching to Nikon?  My answer is that they are just a tool, and I feel comfortable with either one.  I stumbled across a deal on the lens and was able to add the camera and gimbal head for far less than what the lens normally sells for used.  I'll probably sell it but keep the head and camera.  I'm not really into the use of large lenses, I prefer to hand hold them.  Suprisingly, I can handhold the lens for long enough to get good shots.  Packing it around for hours is out of the question, but a younger person might do just fine.  For BIF though, the gimbal head comes into its own.
Coralpix left, Opteka Right

Swivel Arm disassembly, the black bushings are plastic.

It comes packed in a nice closed cell foam protective support and includes good instructions, a rarity for a low cost item.

Here it is with my Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR lens with a D300s attached.  even with the large lens, it has no problems and can take something bigger and heavier.  The lens does not balance well due to Nikon's habit of putting a foot on the tripod ring that is too short.  Fortunately, I has a 6 in Kirk Plate with two mounting screws, and it was still almost at the rear limit.  With a heavier D3 or D4, it would balance better.


Software & Accessories / Opteka Gimbal Head Review
« on: October 17, 2013, 12:26:53 PM »
I was wanting a low cost but sturdy gimbal head to try my new Nikon 200-400mmG with.  I've previously used the big Wimberly head with my Canon 600mm f/4, so I know how a gimbal head should work.
At $150 on Amazon, the Opteka was reasonably priced, and with a 30 lb rating, certainly heavy duty enough to hold my 9 lb combination of lens and camera.
I received it and sure enough, it was heavy duty, plenty big and strong for my purpose.
That's where my positive comments end.
This was a piece of junk.  Nothing worked right.  I did not expect a Wimberly head, but I did expect something useful.  I could have pried out the silly plastic compass thingy which likely covers a adjustment screw, but the swing mechanism was binding at some points, so even loosening up the screw would not fix the mis-machining.  They obviously did not intend for it to be adjusted, I'd have to damage the cover seals to pry them out and adjust it.  Really amateur construction, all heads need adjustment eventually.
I posted a review on Amazon, so I'll quote from it here:
Here are some of the things I saw.

1. Very stiff for swinging a lens vertically, even with the tightening know loosened, it was stiff and I could not move the lens. No need to balance the lens, even my heavy Nikon 200-400mmG stuck in whatever position I left it.

2, Very Stiff horizontal panning, again, pretty much useless.

3. Machining of the swing arm and vertical slider was rough and so loose that it would catch when trying to raise or lower it, with or without lens.

Its really useless for tracking a bird in flight, and so jerky that its difficult to get it pointed at a stationary object.

Being a optimist, I ordered another low cost Aluminum Gimbal Head from Amazon.  I'll post my comments when I use it.

Third Party Manufacturers / New Lens Today
« on: October 08, 2013, 09:37:55 PM »
I keep a eye on our local Craigslist, and a few days ago, I noticed a Nikon 200-400mm f/4 G VRI for $2500.  The write up did not sound like a scam, so I sent a e-mail and received nothing back.  It stayed there, and finally, I sent another e-mail and got a reply. 
Today I went down to the owners office, (He is a Doctor in Spokane), and looked it over.  He bought it new and it was used twice.  Not a mark on it, clean and like new.
Being a doctor, he has been extremely busy, and probably did not return e-mails promptly, so my perseverance paid off.
Now, if I only had a Nikon Camera :)
I have been negotiating for a used D3 that needs a shutter, but I am a bit scared of it.  I do have a Nikon to EOS adapter, so I'll use manual focus at full aperture to take a few test shots tomorrow.
Its such a nice lens that I may go ahead with the D3 Deal, or even buy a D7100 to use it with.  I'll certainly never afford $11K for a new Canon one, or even 7500 for a new Nikon lens.

Third Party Manufacturers / 100-400mmL + TC Versus Sigma 600mm Mirror lens
« on: September 29, 2013, 04:42:56 PM »
I bought a used 600mm Sigma lens this morning for $135, and thought I'd compare it with my 100-400mm L + 1.4X TC.  First, I took several shots and found that in the dark windy rainy weather that a 1/1000 sec image took a very high ISO setting on my 5D MK III, such that the image was noisy.  So, I mounted the lens on a monopod, held my breath, and set the shutter speed to 1/320.  My tripod was in the studio, and I did not want to brave the weather to go out and get it.
Then, I used the same setup with my 100-400 + TC.  I could immediately see the difference thru the viewfinder, but went ahead and took the image for a first shot at comparing them.
To be fair, $135 versus almost $2000 worth of lens is a bit extreme, but I wanted to see the difference.  I may have to get out that tripod after all, because there was a lot of difference, and some of it was movement.
Here is my first try, with images cropped and sharpened in Lightroom.
Sigma 600mm

Canon 100-400L + 1.4X MK II TC

To be fair, if you were printing the images at 8 X 10, I doubt that most people would see the difference, they look pretty good at a small size.
I'll try again later with my heavy duty tripod just to compare.

Lenses / There is No Perfect Lens - Article by Roger Cicala
« on: September 20, 2013, 11:09:10 PM »
Roger has not only the knowledge, but the very rare talent and ability to explain things in a way that we can understand.
There are lots of posts asking which lens is best, or asking if I have poor resolution, too much flare, or decentering, and more.  Roger addresses the variables in lens design and manufacturing in a way that most of us can understand, and having a background as a designer, lab manager, and tester of some very tightly specified components and systems, I think he has hit it right on the head.

Landscape / Sunset Frustration
« on: September 15, 2013, 10:25:32 PM »
I am a inpatient photographer.  Last night, there was a brilliant red sunset lighting up half the sky.  I went into the house, mounted my 16-35mmL, and back out to the front yard.  By then, it was mostly gone.  I took 4 or 5 shots a few seconds apart.
I admire those who wait and capture that right moment, but I never seem to make it.
Here are the examples, not processed or enhanced.  you can see how fast that sunset goes away.  less than 30 sec, and I missed about 2 minutes of it.

Pricewatch Deals / Yet another Canon Refurb Store Sale Starts Sunday
« on: September 13, 2013, 11:51:59 AM »
Its not a big sale, but if you are planning to buy anyway, be aware.

Pricewatch Deals / Canon Refurb Sale Starting 8-25
« on: August 24, 2013, 10:34:41 AM »
I received the following info.
If lenses are discounted, it might be worth staying up until the sale goes live.  Sales usually run from 15-20% off.
A sale on refurbished items at the Canon Store will begin early morning Sunday, August 25th. It runs until the evening of Wednesday, August 28th. At this time we know bodies will be discounted but are unsure about lenses. 

This is the tallest 190 series tripod, its aluminum, and while most are looking for carbon fiber, it might be a good choice for someone trying to save money.

Site Information / Manuals for old Photo Equipment
« on: August 19, 2013, 01:28:37 PM »
I occasionally find the site below invaluable for downloading free copies of old cameras flashes, and light meters.
Be sure to donate a few dollars to help keep it going.

Animal Kingdom / Northwest Trek
« on: August 03, 2013, 08:22:24 PM »
Has any one been to Northwest Trek?  I did not see any images when I searched. 
The wife and I have reservations for the photo tour next weekend, and I've been debating about which cameras and lenses to bring.  They take out windows and doors on the tram, and stop frequently to allow for shots.  There is also a walking tour which is more like a conventional zoo.  The park is part of the City of Tacoma parks department.  I've been wanting to go for a few years, but its necessary to signup for the photo tour well in advance, so I finally remembered to signup early this year.
My wife will likely take her 1G X, and I'll take my 5D MK III.  I'll take my 100-400mmL, my 70-200mm 2.8 MK II,  my 24-70L, and my 16-35mmL.  Maybe my 100L too?
I hate to pack so much stuff, and I'm even thinking of taking my 580 EX II and better beamer, since I hear that the animals are sometimes hiding in the shade.   That's going to make a big load to carry, maybe I need to bring my big roll around case :)

I will also put my 40D in as a second camera.
I'll bring my monopod, and Pol filters, but I don't like to use filters unless I really have to.
I'll start packing up to see what I can actually carry in my favorite bag.
Meanwhile, any advice from someone who's been there is welcome.

Pricewatch Deals / Refurbished 6D now at Canon Direct, $1599
« on: July 25, 2013, 02:28:58 PM »
I don't know if they will give a 15% discount thru the Canon Loyalty Program, but it might be worth asking.  $1599 is not a deal.

I don't know if its appeared before, but it is there this morning.  The price is no big bargain, but it will likely be sold out before the next sale.  Now with a 1 year Warranty, I'd buy one if I didn't already have mine.

Canon has recently increased the warranties on their refurbished DSLR cameras and lenses.  The warranty on refurb powershots is still 90 days.
I thought I'd post this, because I still see posts from those who are not aware of the longer warranty period.
That might help some buyers relieve their anxiety over buying refurbished, and American Express doubles that warranty when you buy with your AMEX card.  I'd check with Amex, they do not specifically exclude Refurbished when bought from the original manufacturer, but there are always weasel words that might exclude a refurbished, words like "Original Warranty" ;)

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