Author Topic: Field Photography for Old Folks  (Read 1232 times)

Michael Erlewine

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Field Photography for Old Folks
« on: April 25, 2022, 18:13:05 »
Field Photography for Old Folks

I am getting old, not just older, but actually old. I will be 81 years in July 2022. And this affects my photography as far as hiking into the field. I always carried quite a bit of equipment because as a stacker of focus, I use a tripod. And not just any old tripod, but a beefy RRS Series 3, and topped with an Arca-Swiss Cube geared head which itself weighs 2 lbs 3 oz. Add a Nikon D850 and your packing some weight.

Well, as for cameras I’ve switched more to the Nikon Z7 II for the most part, which saves some weight right off the top, yet when all is said and done, it still all adds up. Of course, when I drive to an area where I want to photograph, I can just pull stuff from the car if I don’t have to walk too far.

Yet, if I want to hike and wander in the wilderness (like I do), so to speak, I have to watch my weight when it comes to equipment. That, coupled with the amount of time I spend near the ground for close-up and macro work, and the fact that I tend to crawl around on my belly and constantly move to adjust all my equipment, I’ve decided that I should at least try to pare down the weight of the equipment I tote around. Either that, or stay in the studio, which I have been doing for some time. It’s not that I don’t hike, just not with photo equipment. I have a good cell phone (iPhone 13 Pro Max), but that’s not quite yet what I call a camera, although I use it all the time.

Since I can’t do much about the weight of lenses and the camera, any weight reduction means looking at alternative tripods and heads. Although I have a ton of tripod heads, I don't like ball heads and tend not to use them. The only ball head I trust and like is the Burzynski Ball Head, but my copy is massive and heavy, so I won’t be hauling that head through the fields.

And I have tried the little geared heads like the Arca-Swiss and Leofoto and while they are lighter, they only offer 10-degrees of tilt, and even the larger (the 75) Arca-Swiss ones have but 15-degrees. Yes, a base leveler helps and gives a little more room, but there again the weight starts to add up.

And so, as of this writing, the only head I find useful for my kind of field use seems to be the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0, which weighs in at 14.4 oz., less than a pound. And it is smallish, lightweight, and locks tight. I can actually use it, although I have not gotten out much yet this year to prove that to my satisfaction. We are still just warming up here.  And rain and cold? You bet.

As for tripods, it’s the same problem all over again. I have all kinds of tripods from many years back, great big heavy ones, and about every kind of small carbon-fiber tripod you can imagine. And this includes the really small ones that I bought, each time hoping they would cut it, but I find I like ‘sturdy’ and need it, which these are not, so they just accumulate.

So far, I have settled on, as mentioned, the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 for a head and the Gitzo GT1545T tripod, which itself weighs 2 lbs. 5.44 oz. And so, together the tripod with head and arca-Swiss clamp weigh 3 lbs., which is not so bad. If I then add to this my Nikon Z7 II, along with the Nikon Z 105 Macro Lens S f/2.8 and straps I have another 3 lbs. 13oz. So, the whole kit (not including my shoulder bag of diffusers, batteries, etc.) tops out at 6 lbs 2oz.
 
Now, this is way better than what I used to haul around, yet I have to wait and see if this smaller Gitzo tripod is sturdy enough to take all the handling. I am looking at the RRS TVC-32G Versa Series 3 MK2 Ground tripod, which weighs 2.5 lbs., not much more that the Gitzo GT1545T, but is a lot bulkier. I kind of like the fat legs and strength of the RSS, if they only had them in stock!

I am wondering what you folks have come up with as for a lightweight kit capable of stacking focus, meaning a tripod strong enough to get the job done. Please feel free to share with me what you old folks are doing.

And now for my second problem, which I know too many of you will get a laugh out of, a laugh directed at me. And this involves my tiptoeing back from focus stacking and putting my toe in the water, back into one-shot photography, which of course removes the tripod, geared heads, and all that.

As for making the traditional one-shot photo that photography is famous for, I was just imagining that as long as the point of focus (wherever it is in the photo) is very crisp and sharp, that I might be happy with the photo as a whole. However, after trying that out a bit, I’m in love with it… not so much. It forces me to use higher and higher f-stops in order to get more in-focus ‘context ‘around the precise focus point, and by that I increasingly lose bokeh. It is too easy to end up with a resulting photo that is too much in focus, with no relief from the blurred bokeh background I am accustomed to by stacking focus.

And so, the bottom line here is that I feel I need to stack focus, if only around a particular area of the photo, and that requires a sturdy tripod, head, and all of that. I can’t just walk around town with a camera strapped to my neck, picking shots based on composition alone, although I am still considering it. It seems I always want to monkey with the focus by stacking different areas of the photo to bring out the precise focus point or to bring out several focus points in a single photo, which focus stacking allows.

That throws me right back into the conundrum of packing a tripod and head that is not too flimsy, one that will make picking the area in the photo for focus stacking easy and precise. And the whole kit has to be light enough for me to walk around with it for some distance from the car if not actual just hiking.

Any thoughts?


Cell phone photo
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Birna Rørslett

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2022, 18:46:54 »
My preferred tripod for low-ground work & hiking is a cut-down Sachtler with the Burzynski head. Weight of the combination is around 1.5kg. I also have another even smaller bespoke version that weighs less than 1kg and is mainly used in confined circumstances (for example, in a narrow creek) or in shallows under water. Provided it is rinsed thoroughly after underwater use, no harm is done to the tripod.

The 105/2.8 MC Nikkor is excellent and not too heavy, but what a pity they didn't aim of a tripod collar for it. I have a third-party collar that is really good, but its drawsbacks are firstly it cannot rotate to portrait mode (unless undergoing a surgical DIY hack of the 'nerdy' variant), and secondly, it conflicts with the Z9 body. The collar does work well with the 105 attached to any Z fc/Z6/Z7 models though.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2022, 18:52:09 »
My preferred tripod for low-ground work & hiking is a cut-down Sachtler with the Burzynski head. Weight of the combination is around 1.5kg. I also have another even smaller bespoke version that weighs less than 1kg and is mainly used in confined circumstances (for example, in a narrow creek) or in shallows under water.

The 105/2.8 MC Nikkor is excellent and not too heavy, but what a pity they didn't aim of a tripod collar for it. I have a third-party collar that is really good, but its drawsbacks are firstly it cannot rotate to portrait mode (unless undergoing a surgical DIY hack of the 'nerdy' variant), and secondly, it conflicts with the Z9 body. The collar does work well with the 105 attached to any Z frc/Z6/Z7 models though.


Thanks for the pointers. I would like to see a photo (please) of the Sachtler. I still have a Sactler. Also what is the third-party tripod collar? Thanks.

My copy of the Burzynski Ball Head weighs  2 lbs. 4 oz. (with no clamp)
 
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Bill De Jager

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2022, 21:00:15 »

Thanks for the pointers. I would like to see a photo (please) of the Sachtler. I still have a Sactler. Also what is the third-party tripod collar? Thanks.

Here is one: https://www.ebay.com/itm/274908948976. I have the version for the Sigma 40mm Art.  It's of decent quality and seems pretty solid, but as Birna mentions it cannot be rotated to the portrait position.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2022, 21:53:55 »
Yes, I found that particular collar and have it on order.

Here is my Burzynski head with a cheap clamp. I have a better one on order.

Also my Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 with a RSS panning clamp on it. This RSS clamp is as good as it gets for me.
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Birna Rørslett

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2022, 15:20:32 »
I remembered the weight incorrecdtly, it was 1.3 kg... Making it is simple but tedious as the ordinary Sachtler "host" has to be pried apart and the legs cut down in size. If a carbon fibre version is the starting point, weight can be even lower, but cutting is more complicated.

This is the version for confined spaces, flower meadows, underwater, or ice. It goes flush to the ground. I have added stainless steel pegs to anchor the tripod on slippery surfaces.


Michael Erlewine

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2022, 15:46:59 »
I remembered the weight incorrecdtly, it was 1.3 kg... Making it is simple but tedious as the ordinary Sachtler "host" has to be pried apart and the legs cut down in size. If a carbon fibre version is the starting point, weight can be even lower, but cutting is more complicated.

This is the version for confined spaces, flower meadows, underwater, or ice. It goes flush to the ground. I have added stainless steel pegs to anchor the tripod on slippery surfaces.

That is so cool! I have a Sachtler S 14 L 4182 (4.4 lbs), which is aluminum based. Does that sound like a good version to hack up. A sawed-off Sachtler! Sound like a photographer's weapon.  What version of a Sachtler (model) did you start with?

What are the leg measurements for that, if I decide to try it? Where did those tripod feet come from?


 
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Birna Rørslett

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2022, 16:01:24 »
If memory serves it was the 14L, in aluminium. The modification was conducted nearly 30 years ago so the details become a bit blurred since then :)

As long as the outer legs are equal in length, the actual measurement is optional.  Somewhere between 30 to 45 cm is a good starting point. My usual travel tripod when I go by air is bigger, cut to fit inside a normal-sized suitcase. Do remember to add extra length (approx. 5cm) to the innermost tube or the finished tripod won't extend fully.

The centre spikes are from the original tripod. The extra leg spikes are stainless steel and sharpened at the front. Any hardware store should offer something similar.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2022, 16:10:16 »
Here is the Sachtler I have, the Sachtler S 14 L 4182

It should work, right? Excuse the messy room, but that's part of being a photographer for me.

Or should I try and find an inexpensive used one? I use this one for video, with a fluid head, in this case a Miller head.

What does your hacked Sachtler do for a mid-level spreader?


Where would one get a very light top plate to cover the bowl and offer a mounting screw?
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Bill De Jager

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2022, 18:28:33 »
There also is this:

Really Right Stuff Ground Pod
B&H.

Unfortunately it's rather expensive and like a lot of other RRS products is not currently in stock.

Birna Rørslett

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2022, 18:57:51 »
Here is the Sachtler I have, the Sachtler S 14 L 4182

It should work, right? Excuse the messy room, but that's part of being a photographer for me.

Or should I try and find an inexpensive used one? I use this one for video, with a fluid head, in this case a Miller head.

What does your hacked Sachtler do for a mid-level spreader?


Where would one get a very light top plate to cover the bowl and offer a mounting screw?

The sight is familiar :)

Your Sachtler would definitively be a candidate for hacking, but do keep in mind this hack is a one-way process and there is no way you can get the original back (except by purchasing a new set of legs, but then the cost likely exceeds that of the tripod in the first place). I would find a beaten-up specimen to experiment with instead of sawing up a perfectly good tripod.

I see no use of a spreader however guess it might be fabricated from yet another piece of original equipment :(

A small, inexpensive Manfrotto or similar half-bowl for 75mm tripods plus a 3/8" bolt and a big washer is all you need for giving a mounting point for ball heads. Or run a long enough screw straight through from below, through a big washer, into the head. This is my usual setup for the Burzynski heads anyway. It couldn't be simpler ....



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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2022, 19:12:01 »
Safran-Vectronix tri/monopod in amagnetic aluminium alloy. Intended for military use (laser telemeter, gonio etc). 1 kg. Works perfectly if full height is not required. Here with a D4s and 300mm f/2.8 VR II.


IMG_2996.jpg
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Birna Rørslett

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2022, 16:26:10 »
I used a similar device a lot when shooting aquatic plants. The 3-legged pillar was made up of the left-overs from hacked Sachtlers :) and the small cut-down Sachtler provided the base foundation.

Here my old incarnation is shooting aquatic macrophytes in a New Zealand lake, using the pillar for much needed support on a treacherously soft lake floor. A long time ago and unfortunately the scan I received from my co-worker wasn't very good. But you get the idea.


Michael Erlewine

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2022, 17:10:37 »
Forgive me for the length of this, but here is a similar story of wading around, but in my case it was in bog in Northern Michigan. This was in 2014.

I had been invited to join a very select group of naturalists who were given permission to enter a rare bog preserve at the very top of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in order to take a survey of wildlife there. Bogs are very fragile environments and even walking on them is destructive. But this conservation society allowed special teams to enter these closed reserves once or twice a year and I was to be the team’s herpetologist. I had been trained in reptiles and amphibians, specializing in amphibians, in particular salamanders (Ambistomids), and so I knew all about them and every other Michigan amphibian and reptile. I was geeked to go.

I could not wait to get to Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula and out on those endangered bogs with my camera. The trip was to last a number of days, and I was up before dawn of that first day and in my car heading north. It must have been around 4:30AM when I hit the road, which is like me.

The only hiccup was the fact that I had just had some fairly protracted oral surgery (several days of root canal work), and the tooth in question had developed a really nasty abscess beneath it. I was already on my second dose of antibiotics, this time really heavy antibiotics, the first round having not even touched the problem, but I was not about to be stopped by a wayward tooth.

Although I was in some pain and my lower jaw was swollen, I assumed that as time passed and the new antibiotics kicked in, the swelling would just naturally go down. Anyway, hell or high water would not have kept me off those bogs, so on I went. I had been studying bogs for quite some time, and these were massive.

My first stop was at a small bog at the top of the Lower Peninsula, just before you get to the great Mackinac Bridge over to the Upper Peninsula. I was out on the bog in the full morning sun by 8 A.M., already hours from my home. It was a magnificent crisp morning. Yet I was still having trouble with that dumb tooth, a certain amount of throbbing punctuated by needle-like shots of pain in my jaw. I did my best to ignore it and again told myself that it would die down.

There I was in my hip boots, far out on the surface of the bog, surrounded by sphagnum moss and small bushes, and carefully stepping my way along in the deep ooze. Each step made a suction sound as I lifted a leg and then placed it back in the thick matrix of the bog. Moving was very slow. I was maybe halfway around the periphery of the small lake-bog when I first saw them, a pair of large Sandhill Cranes picking their way through the bog on the opposite side. I was thrilled to see them, of course; these huge birds are incredible.

As I threaded my way along, I must have somehow begun to encroach on the area where they perhaps had their nest, for they became increasingly animated. Now these are large birds. They can stand five feet high and have wingspans of six to seven feet across. And their piercing red eyes were on me, and they were not just casual looks. Then slowly I realized these birds were moving in circles around me.

Many of the bushes on the bog were several feet high, so I could not always see the cranes, but I could hear their frightening calls. I didn’t say ‘frightened’ calls; I said frightening calls, which they were – eerie. And then the cranes began running through the bushes, circling me closer, working together, and they moved fast. Much of the time all I could see through gaps in the bushes was a sideways profile of one of their heads as they circled me. I could see one bird as it ran through the bushes on my right, and then suddenly on my left, there was another bird circling in the opposite direction. I was constantly off balance, and I had to watch my every step lest I step into muck so deep that I would begin to sink down in it, which happens. Bogs are mostly a mat that you can fall through, so there was that. I was carrying over $12,000 worth of camera equipment, not to mention my life. Bogs, like quicksand, can be treacherous places.

One of the birds would rise in the air and cut directly across my path (only a few feet in front of me) only to disappear into the bushes and take up running around me again. And the cries were now getting really scary. At some point I began to feel like I was being stalked, and visions of the movie Jurassic Park and velociraptors came to mind. These were very large birds, and they didn’t like ME. It is easy for me to see how birds were once reptile-like creatures.

Well, that is as far as it went. I finally managed to plot a course through the bog that apparently took me on a route away from their nesting area, while all the time I was moving one gooey step at a time very slowly through the muck, carrying a large tripod, geared head, camera, and accessory bag. Every step was a balancing act. I finally got out of there, found my way back to the car, and drove to the nearest town.

By this time, it was beginning to be clear that my tooth was not going to just calm down, but instead was only getting worse. I had super strength-Ibuprofen and even some Vicodin that the dentist had given me, so I had to dip into those a bit. And this was just the first morning of the first day of a five day journey. I had to decide what I would do.

I went to visit some friends who lived in a nearby city to where I was. I was now safe in a nice home in a town only a few hours from my home. But I had the strange experience of feeling that I was somehow embedded in a scene at which I was no longer fully present. Part of me was elsewhere. It was probably the Vicodin, and it was like a dream or a movie set in which I was only an actor. In other words, I was beside myself. It must be the medicine.

At the same time, I was kind of leaning out of it, like you might lean out the back door to get a breath of fresh air. Something had stirred or moved inside of me that day and I was damned if I could figure out what it was. Somewhere back in there I had lost my incentive or my direction. Perhaps these combined events with the birds, my tooth, etc., schooling (like fish school), now appeared as signs that all pointed that something within me had changed (or was changing) at the core.

Yet by tomorrow I was supposed to be across the Mackinac Bridge and way at the tip of the top of the Upper Peninsula, hours from where I was now, and out on those remote bogs, miles from any town (much less a hospital), and the temperatures up there were predicted to be very cold, even for a spring day. After all, way up there it was still hardly spring. Hmmmm. What's the message here?

In the end, the throbbing of my tooth and those little sharp spasms of shooting pain told me that slogging through a bog for a few days, miles from anywhere, might not be the time to try and push this 67-year-old physical envelope. As it turned out, that was the right decision because the second round of antibiotics with its very large dose also failed to do the trick. My abscess overcame all attempts to control it and spread much farther into the bone of my lower jaw. In the end, the tooth had to be extracted and the jaw treated. And I only tell this longish story because this became a real turning point for me. I will try to explain.

Like so many times in my past, I had once again managed to confuse the inside with the outside, the important with the unessential. What had been going on over the last year was that I was now using the outside (nature photography) to look at the inside (my mind) AND I had fallen into the mistake of confusing the two, which is easy to do.

Since it was through photographing nature up-close very exactly that I was realizing something about the nature of the mind, through ‘Insight Meditation’, I began to elevate photographing nature as the goal or object of my passion, when it was only the means through which I was experiencing a glimpse at my mind’s nature, which is my real passion. I hope that makes sense.

Yet here I was, trying to upscale my nature trips when all they were to me in the end were the lens or means through which I was viewing the mind itself. It was the seeing the nature of the mind that was illuminating. And here I was, buying more equipment, planning longer and more extensive trips, and ordering every kind of field guide I did not already have, and I have a whole room full of them. Well, this all changed, and that early morning faceoff with the Sandhill Cranes was perhaps the turning or pivot point. That experience was thrilling and not really that scary, so I was not scared off by what happened there. But something else did snap around that time and I woke up from that particular dream. It seems that in this life, I wake up from dream within dream from within dream.

Here are a few snapshots I took of the cranes while I mucked through the blog, one step at a time. It will give you some idea of how it was with me.
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Hugh_3170

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Re: Field Photography for Old Folks
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2022, 19:13:45 »
Fascinating story Michael.  Thank you for sharing it.

Abcessed teeth are no fun either.

Hugh Gunn