SoCal PhotoExchange

Pentax Spotmeter V – User Report

Posted in Camera equipment, Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on February 7, 2018

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Pentax Spotmeter V 2017 copyright Douglas Stockdale

For my analog/film photography, I have been a long time user of spotmeters, my first was made by Soligor and when I dropped that too many times, I replaced it with the Pentax Spotmeter V. The Spotmeter V is an analog spotmeter that has since been replaced by Pentax with a digital version. The meter will measure the luminescence of a very precise area of the subject designed by a round spot much like a bullseye within the meter.

What brought me to use this precise light meter tool was my introduction into the zone system many, many years ago. In a future article I will discuss the zone system in more detail, suffice to say when using black & white film that was hand developed, there were a number of film processing tricks a photographer could use. This was predicated on the fact that they knew the lighting conditions of their subject and what the black & white values that they wanted in the resulting print. The secret trick to make this happened depended a lot on using a spot meter that could record exact light readings in various places within the subject; from the lightest values, mid values to the darkest values.

One thing that I did not like about the lesser expensive Soligor spotmeter was the undersized handle grip, which was rather annoying and maybe a reason that I dropped this delicate instrument one too many times. The Pentax in turn has a large handle and from that perspective alone is a delight to use. You can really get a grip on this little beauty.

The second was the Soligor had a two phase scale; you had one set of values with a slight squeeze of the button and if needed a different sensitivity, you squeezed a little harder to get the second set of light values. In comparison the Pentax has one continuous scale within the view finder, which is much easier to use, especially if the light values were in the mid point of the scale that for the Soligor had the readout jumping between the two values and a bit confusing to know exactly what was going on.

To use this spotmeter requires the photographer to take the value(s) viewed inside the meter and then translate it to the rotating scale on the outside of the meter, see below, to determine the required camera settings. As example, if reading a gray card (18% gray) and the meter pointed to the value of 10 & 1/2, you moved the dial to point at the 10-1/2 mark and for an ISO 100 film, you could chose a series of exposures that provide you with an appropriately exposed film (e.g. 1/15 sec at the half click between f/8 and f/11).

The final luminescence value determined for the mid-point is called the exposure index (EI) and when using the older Hassleblad lens, there is a corresponding EI scale on the lens. Thus this meter and lens make a great combination. When the EI is set on the lens, the aperture and shutter speed sequences were coupled together and locked in. A change in the aperture created a corresponding change to the exposure time. Thus a photographer could make one exposure and then quickly change the coupled exposure index settings for a different combination and still have the desired film exposure.

Although I no longer hand-process my film, I still depend on this meter to evaluate the lighting of my subject and then determine what my exposure should be.

This Pentax Spotmeter V has been a work-horse for me and has been trouble free for the past ten plus years. recommended.

Cheers!

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Really Right Stuff ball-head system – User report

Posted in Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on February 1, 2018

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Really Right Stuff BH-40 and mounting plate with Hasselblad 2017 copyright Douglas Stockale

The review of the Really Right Stuff (RRS) ball-head system is the second part of my series on tripod systems and last week I discussed the Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods. To create a really good camera support platform, you need to use equal parts tripod and the means to hold and position the camera system. While the tripod provides the basic support I have found that a well design tripod head can make the photographic experience a lot of fun or if not well designed it can be a lot of frustration. Having used a both a ball-head and a pan-head, I do really, really do prefer the ball-head system for the following reasons.

First, I will admit that the pan-head systems have come a long way since I purchased my all-in-one tripod that included a pan-head camera mount. From my discussions with other photographers the pan-head seems better suited for those who need precision and are not in any big hurry, such as architectural field work. Essentially you have three levers to control changes; for the vertical, horizontal and tilt. I just found it frustrating to use a pan-head as a change to one of the three levers usually entailed adjusting the other two, which is why you better not be under a time constraint.

Since my field work is usually more dynamic and after frequent struggling with a pan-head I made the change to a ball-head support system and I am glad I did. I can vouch for all of the comments that I read about the Magnum photographers almost elusively using a ball-heads as I now realize that a ball-head makes a ton of sense. Set up is fast. And faster still if the ball-head is smooth as silk in operation.

After a lot of checking and reading reviews I concluded that the camera support system made by Really Right Stuff (RRS) was my choice, although a bit more pricey, these are made by a US machine shop which is run by photographers. They have created a really nice market niche and in my book have shown that they can create one of the best ball-heads in the market that is made in the US. Lots and lots of precise metal machining going on.

I acquired the middle of the line PH-40 which is predicated on the weight of the camera system, with the BH-55 meant for the really heavy cameras, e.g. a load view camera or DSLRs with some really long lens. RRS also has some lighter and more compact ball-heads as well. At the time I bought this ball-head I still had my Mamyia RB-67 with the prism, which is a heavy beast (since changed to the Hasselblad system) and a bunch of digital cameras including a full-frame DSLR.

The ball-head weight issue for long lens (my longest zoom is the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L lens) is with all of that heavy glass hanging out at the end of the lens acts like a big gravity lever that can result in ball-head creep. This occurs once you lock the ball-head down for your composition (or a pan-head), there might be a tiny bit of moment in the camera/lens due to the amount of static weight being placed on it. Even with the relatively light 70-200 on my Canon, I still recheck the composition before committing to the exposure.

Although the ball head comes with a threaded screw, what makes this system work even slicker is when you pair a ball-head up with a quick release system. This also requires a matching mounting plate dedicated to the camera base. In my case I opted for a lever quick release base mounted to the ball-head and I have not had any issues with snagging this lever and inadvertently having the camera come off. The design of the lever does require some force to engage it, thus it does take some effort to open and close so a slight brush with your clothes is not going to allow a catastrophe to occur. For a square format camera like the Hasselblad a simple bottom quick-release plate will suffice, see above.

For a DSLR with a rectangle format, I would recommend acquiring an L bracket (see below) that once the camera is locked down for the composition, the camera body can be quickly changed to for an alternative framing. Although an L bracket does add a bit more weight to potentially an already heavy camera such as the Canon 5DMk3, I have found that the L bracket weight actually seems to act as a counter balance to the battery and hand hold aspects of most digital camera systems. The camera as a whole now seems more balanced and for hand holding situations, the horizontal framing process seems quicker now. Maybe it’s just me, but I get similar comments from other photographers when they pick up my rig.

I will be honest; the majority of my work is with horizontal framing, but when I wanted a quick vertical framing after the camera was set-up, it was lightening fast to change the body and quickly get the exposure. When you are working with a fluid situation, the amount of time to make a camera change can also make the difference in getting the alternative shot.

My one gripe; the quick release plate does include a leveling bubble, but this bubble is concealed when the camera is on the ball-head. If for an architectural composition in which the horizon and verticals need to be in alignment this would require removing the camera body and checking the bubble or setting up the tripod and get the bubble right before mounting the camera body. My work around for speed? I purchased an inexpensive bubble that slides into the flash bracket of my DSLR (regretfully not shown below).

All in all I have now used the RRS BH-40 for over five years through the US, Europe and Asia. It easily dismounts from the tripod to reduce size for travel and is an absolute delight to use; very, very smooth operation. It is really great that when you are engaged with a subject that you don’t find yourself worrying about your support equipment and it essentially becomes an extension of your creative imagination.

It’s also my option that Really Right Stuff is the top of the line for ball-heads systems. Not the most inexpensive system, but you only need to buy it once and you should consider this a valuable investment in obtaining great photographs.

Cheers!

RRS BH-40 ball-head with Canon 5DMark3

Gitzo compact carbon fiber tripod: user report

Posted in Camera equipment, Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on January 24, 2018

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Gitzo G1228 Mountaineer Reporter Carbon Fiber Tripod, copyright Douglas Stockdale

A number of years ago when I bent and broke for the last time my aluminum tubing heavy duty tripod, I decided to make an investment in a carbon fiber tripod. One of my many reasons for selecting the Gitzo G1228 as the tripod’s name implies it that it’s meant for backpacking and mountaineering; rugged and light weight. The carbon fiber materials were very much lighter than the beast that I had before and every bit as rigid and has held up very well over time which is the reason for this user report. By the way the current Gitzo model is the G1228 MK2.

My intent was to use if for my DSLR and medium format cameras with light to moderate weight lens. I understand from others that this tripod can probably handle a light weigh 4×5″ camera as well. I was also intending to travel with it on airline flights and when the ball head is removed, the tripod collapses and measures 20 1/2″ which is ideal for stuffing in an overhead bag that fits in the overhead bin. I have since carried this tripod with me on assignments all over the US, as well as to Europe and Asia. No issues.

The downside to this compact travel size tripod is that when the four section legs are fully extended as well as the column fully extended my camera is almost the right height for eye level viewing. The less you can extend the tripod legs usually the greater its stability, which is the whole reason for its use. So when I using this tripod with my camera rig, such as in both the photos, I try not to extend the column if the composition appears to work. I have also found that when the three legs are held together, the tripod can double as a monopod and provides just enough added stability when working with an active situation (perhaps looks a bit weird, but it works).

The legs are secured or extended after a quick twist of the heavy duty locking rings and I prefer this over the flip-tap type leg systems. It seems that the flip-tabs keep getting snagged (not great for packing with clothes) and are always in the wrong place. The leg sections always seem to extend quickly and smoothly.

Since I am a big fan of ball-heads to attach the camera to the tripod, having the option of a plate to attach the head design of your preference was a nice feature. This also allows a more compact size for travel when I remove the ball head.

The Gitzo is very stream line and robust and has done by me very well for the past five years.There was a hook that threaded on the bottom of the column, but I seemed to have lost that a while ago. If you can keep track of your hook, that is idea place to attach a bag or some other object to provide additional stability for the tripod, such as on a breezy day.

With a lot of my travel assignments now by car/SUV, I am considering a longer tripod. I would prefer that I do not need to extend the smallest legs and still have my cameras at eye level. I would also buy another Gitzo again when I am back in the market for another tripod; little pricey, but worth it.

Cheers!

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Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens check

Posted in Camera equipment, Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on January 15, 2018

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Santa Ana, CA, May 13 copyright 2017 Douglas Stockdale

This is not meant in any means to be a full technical review of the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens that I recently purchased, but in the immortal words of the late Garry Winogrand, “I want to see what this looks like”. As background I have been using almost to the exclusion, the standard Canon 24-105mm L zoom lens which is the “kit” lens that came with my Canon 5D. I think that the 24-105mm is a great all around lens but I am also of the opinion that the prime lens, such as this 50mm f/1.4, will provide an extra brilliance in the rending of the image.

The photo above is essentially the first exposure I made after walking out of Samy’s Camera store in Santa Ana, CA, a full frame capture on my Canon 5D Mark3. I am planning to dedicate this lens on my Canon 5D for my studio work for when I re-photograph photo books for The PhotoBook Journal.

Right now I want to see this full frame image after processing with Photoshop in a lower resolution (72dpi) JPEG on my monitor, since the images I make with this are essentially destined for viewing in this format on the web. I first did a check of the image’s outer edges and corners since that is where a lens usually starts to fail in image quality. My assessment: looking very good and this appears to be a keeper. No need to make a return trip back to Samy’s Camera.

I am not thinking about another photo project involving Southern California food trailers, but it is nevertheless an interesting idea. I must admit, while walking out of the store and trying to decide what to quickly photograph, this red foodie trailer quickly caught my eye. So a little bit of formal composition and the photo was captured.

After working with a zoom lens for so long, using a fixed focal length (e.g. prime) lens was a mental rust remover. Such that if I wanted to tighten up this composition and stay full frame, I actually needed to move my feet. Back in the day when one bought a 35mm film camera, it usually came outfitted with a 50mm lens, such that my Canon Ft-QL (that was somewhere in the very early 1970’s) came with a 50mm f/1.8 FL lens, and this same focal length came with my upgrade to the Canon Ae-1 in the early 1990’s.

Actually for street photography the 50mm (normal focal length) is a really nice lens to work with and I know a lot of street photographers who swear by this focal length for the majority of their work. Nevertheless I may also just tuck this little lens in my camera bag when I take some road trips, or if I want to go low-key/light-weight to replace the heavy and slower 24-105mm zoom altogether ;- )

Cheers!

Below, recent photograph with this 50mm f/1.4 on the Canon 5DMk3 from my project Path to Somewhere; Arroyo Trabuco Trail, December 2017 (cropped square).

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