Rain on my Parade

I mentioned at the very end of 2008 about my new tripod, and the fact that we were visiting the Lake District where we were seeing friends for a Christening. The hope was that I got at least half an hour outside with my camera to take some pictures, but that hope was quickly dashed when we arrived in the Lakes.

By the time we got there, it was dark (about 4:30) and not “town dark”, which is a sort of orangey-hue twilight; but “countryside dark”, which means it’s starlight, moonlight, or nothing. We had thick, low clouds which meant nothing was visible. Anything you could see was being blown around by the gale-force winds, so that ruled out any long-exposures too.

The next morning we needed to be at the Christening for 9:30 – 10 minutes drive from our hotel for the night. With a little one, that means getting up at 6 to get everything ready for the day ahead. We still managed to be 5 minutes late to the venue because I left my mobile phone in the hotel room. Problem was, we were godparents so couldn’t just sneak in at the back either.

After that was more gale-force winds, torrential rain and driving to another venue for a very nice n-course meal. I don’t remember exactly how many courses there were because I lost count. So no pictures there either.

I finally did manage to “get it out” (oo-err!) while at the second venue to take some family photos for the Christening party, though. It was worth every penny.

New Tripod

I’ve been umm’ing and and ahhh’ing over getting a new tripod for months now and I’ve finally taken the plunge.

The original one I had was kindly donated by my in-laws, but it was really designed to be reasonably cheap and for camcorder use. That means it lacks the stability and adjustability which is preferred when using still cameras. It was also quite small, meaning every time I wanted to use it, the legs were at full extension and I still needed to bend down low to look through the viewfinder. So I went and ordered a Manfrotto 055XProB tripod, with a matching Manfrotto 488 ball head.

It is a truly beautiful piece of kit and absolutely rock-solid. Height is spot-on – even without the centre column extended up high, the viewfinder is perfect for my eye level.

The centre column itself is very clever too. It can be raised and lowered to offer an extra foot or so of height, should you need it. The whole thing can also be flipped round 90 degrees to the horizontal plane so that you can take photos from a whole new angle – very handy for macro shots.

20081231_2192 Indeed, that’s how I got the photo for my previous blog post – put the leaflet on the table and setup my camera above it. From there, I just set ISO to 200, Av mode and set the aperture to f/11. Zoom in a bit to avoid using the lens at the widest zoom setting, while auto focus takes care of getting it right first time.

That keeps everything nice and sharp with the minimum of fuss. This needed a 1.5 second exposure, so use the self-timer mode to avoid needing to touch the camera when the shutter is being triggered.

The photo to the left is how the setup looked – plus it was about 1 minute’s work too: such is the ease-of-use.

Unfortunately, such ease-of-use and stability comes at a price. As far as tripods go, this wasn’t that expensive, which means it is made of traditional aluminium. Now normally aluminium is associated with being lightweight, but the modern alternative is carbon-fibre. These c-f tripods are very expensive – typically double the price of their aluminium counterpart.

So the only problem really is the weight of the thing: 3.2kg, or 7 pounds. If you want to walk somewhere, you need to add to this weight the contents of my camera bag: a Canon 350D, a Speedlite 580EX flash, lenses (x4), and various batteries. That makes my all-up weight when taking my camera out a fairly hefty 8.7kg (about 19 pounds). Even with all that mass though, my camera rucksack still feels good when properly strapped to my back.

The photo below shows a close-up of the setup, which includes the horizontal centre column and the ball head (the bit between the silver plate and the camera body).

Horizontal orientation

We’re visiting friends in the Lake District later in January, which should hopefully give me a few good photo opportunities in the winter sun for landscapes. I’ll report back here.