Category Archives: Cameras

Praise for Canon and a Little Shop in Hungary

Kevin in front of CAMERA KFT. in Budapest Hungary.

Bad things happen. We’ve all been there. From locking keys in the car to losing a wallet, every knows that sinking feeling at the moment of realization.

On my recent trip to Hungary, leading a photo tour, I stepped away from my tripod for a moment to help a participant with her camera… a few moments later a strong gust of wind blew between us and I heard a thud. I turned to see my Canon 1DX body and borrowed 800mm lens on the ground… no longer attached to each other. That sinking feeling took a moment to happen as my brain wrapped around the situation.

When I was finally able to inspect the damage, I found the mount on the lens and the mount on the body both broken. This was only day two of the tour and I was down one body and my big lens. Oh, well, I thought… move on and shoot with my other body and 100-400 lens.

However, our local guide, Gabor (he and his wife, Andrea, own Kondor Ecolodge), was already on the phone calling a friend. The friend gave him the name and number he needed and Gabor continued his quest. A few minutes later we were on our way to Budapest… making our previously planned, afternoon ice cream stop along the way, of course!

I had photographed Little Owl, European Roller and many Bee Eaters with this lens and body during the previous 36 hours we had been in Hungary, before the nightmare happened…

Arriving at CAMERA KFT., a Canon Professional Services repair shop and camera store, I handed over the broken equipment and was told to come back in 90 minutes. Really? 90 minutes?!

90 minutes later the lens was good as new. However, the body repair was going to take longer, so they loaned me a 1DX body until the next day, when they said the camera body would be fixed.

Matei Miklos handing over the repaired camera to Kevin.

The following afternoon, Gabor and I drove back to Budapest to pick up my Canon body from the repair shop (and returned the free loaner). Matei Miklós handed me my freshly repaired camera and sent me on my way. Fortunately, I have insurance through NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) and they had a check ready to send before I returned home from Hungary.

Thanks for the great service Matei. I got a lot of great images with the repaired equipment!

–Kevin Loughlin

REVIEW: Nikon 1 AW1

Nikon1 AW1

The Nikon 1 AW1 wearing its waterproof 11-27.5mm zoom lens.

 

Back in the mid-1980’s, after getting SCUBA certified right out of college, I purchased a Nikon Nikonos system with strobe set-up. I carried a Nikons IV and later a Nikons V body with their 35mm and 80mm lenses. I could not afford to buy any added equipment beyond that back then.

Of course, there were major limitations with the Nikonos systems… mainly we could only shoot 36 images before having to surface and re-load as they were film cameras. We did not have zoom lenses that were waterproof. There was no motor drive… single shot, lever advance only.

I don’t do a lot of underwater photography anymore… mainly when I am on one of our tours, like the Galapagos Islands where we do a fair amount of snorkeling. So to save money, I have been using compact digitals in waterproof housings (very bulky) and later compact, waterproof models like the Olympus Touch and Panasonic Lumix waterproof models.

One major issue with the pocket-sized models was not having the RAW image format available, so when I saw the new Nikon 1 series announce the waterproof mirrorless AW1, I had to check it out!

When it arrived on my doorstep, I quickly opened the box and looked over the parts and yes, even read how to properly assemble the camera using the included o-ring grease. Once I knew exactly how to assemble the lens to the body properly for underwater use, it was done and the lens not removed. (This is important to know for what happened during use in the Galapagos.)

One of my clients joining me in the Galapagos purchased an AW1 for this trip as well, which made for an interesting comparison of experiences. We had the same lens as well… the Nikon 11-27.5 waterproof zoom. Nikon has a waterproof 10mm lens, too, but I wanted the versatility of the zoom for multiple purposes.

 

Wildside tour participant snorkeling at Santiago.

Wildside tour participant snorkeling at Santiago.

 

Our first snorkel adventure on this trip would be on the first morning while at Genovesa Island. This island, far to the northeast of the other islands, has the warmest water in the Galapagos. Not necessarily warm, but warmer than other islands due to the Panamic Current coming from the northeast.

We walked into the water from the beach, with some trepidation in the chilly surf. I finally went under and swam along the rocks where more fish were hanging out. Within seconds, my lens had fogged up behind the protective front element of the zoom. Everything was a misty blur. How disappointing! I continued to swim and enjoy the wildlife with my clients, checking the lens from time to time. Eventually, after about 10 minutes, the fog dissipated and I was able to take some photos and movies.

 

Blue-striped Grunts

Blue-striped Grunts

Galapagos Sea Lions are quite playful at times. This image was taken by our local guide, Pedro, using my Nikon 1 AW1.

Galapagos Sea Lions are quite playful at times. This image was taken by our local guide, Pedro, using my Nikon 1 AW1.

This first snorkel allowed me to play with settings and learn some functions of the camera to determine the ease of use while underwater. I was impressed. The controls were easy to understand and navigate on the large screen… as long as I was in the right light. When the sun peeked through the clouds, the screen became unusable.

My next snorkel would be the following morning at one of my favorite locations, Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), aka Kicker Rock, of the coast of San Cristobal Island. This huge volcanic remnant rises high above the ocean surface and offers beautiful snorkeling opportunities full of Sea Lions, Pacific Green Turtles, Spotted Eagle Rays, White-tipped Reef Sharks and many colorful fish and sea stars.

As the Humboldt Current (from Antarctica) flows around San Cristobal, the water is a bit cooler. So when I jumped in with the Nikon 1 AW1, it immediately fogged up, useless for about 10 minutes again. Now remember, I mounted the lens onto the body immediately after opening the box, and never took it off. There should be no moisture inside. My client, who had dome the same, had no issues with fogging to this point, so it was only my camera.

Once the fogging went away, I played with the camera controls again and found settings to adjust my screen and easily, even while underwater, brightened my view so I could more easily see my subjects. This made a huge difference in my composition and I now had fun photographing turtles and fish around Leon Dormido.

My standard default for nature photography is to use aperture priority for my exposure (with manual being a close second in usage). I set the AW1 to aperture priority and found it very easy to raise and lower the f-stop as desired for more depth or changing shutter speed. I still had full, easy use of the exposure compensation (+/-) as well.

I also found that underwater I liked using the 5-shot burst mode as my default as currents, wave action and subject movements made it difficult to compose. Using a burst of five shots I was able to get at least one shot in five composed well with each burst.

Over the next few days, I tried to reduce the moisture in the camera and lens by placing them in a zip-lock bag of rice (with caps on of course). This helped and the fogging issue was lessened. Another trick was to tie the camera to a rope and drop it overboard for 10-15 minutes before we went snorkeling. The combo worked great and I was able to maximize my photo taking while snorkeling.

My client still had no issues with fogging, until the very last snorkeling opportunity. Another favorite location at Santiago Island where we often get to swim with Green Turtles and Galapagos Penguins! At this snorkel, his Nikon 1 AW1 fogged up after being in the water for about 15 minutes… about the time the first penguin showed up!

 

This was a very cooperative Porcupine Boxfish.

This was a very cooperative Porcupine Boxfish.

This Galapagos Penguin swan through, around and between our legs as it caught and ate sardines!

This Galapagos Penguin swan through, around and between our legs as it caught and ate sardines!

 

During this snorkel I had fantastic opportunities with the Galapagos Penguin, including the image above. The camera’s focus speed was amazing when using the 5-shot burst, with the image above being the last of five as the penguin swam toward me!

Image quality was very good, though noise became an issue above 800 ISO and there were times I needed 1600 ISO in order to get a higher shutter speed when snorkeling on cloudy days. However, the images are sharp with good color quality, and since I was able to shoot in RAW (Nikon NEF) I had much more control in post processing to get the image I had imagined.

My overall impression? I love the Nikon 1 AW1 for my purposes… a bunch of snorkel trips during a tour, like the Galapagos Islands. For SCUBA it won’t be a popular as its maximum depth is only 49 feet (15 meters). The controls are easy to use, once you have practiced with them. Get used to the settings and buttons you use most and you will probably enjoy using the Nikon 1 AW1 as much as I do.

 

Article by Kevin Loughlin

Think Small for Travel and Nature Photography

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the tern “mirrorless” camera by now. A mirrorless camera is a digital camera that uses interchangeable lenses like a conventional DSLR, but it uses the LCD on the back of the camera or an electronic viewfinder (or EVF) to frame a photo instead of a traditional optical viewfinder. Without the optical viewfinder there is no need for a complex prism and mirror box, hence the term “mirrorless” camera.

Over the last three years I have gone from playing around with mirrorless cameras to ditching my DSLR kit and shooting mirrorless full-time. I shoot Panasonic LUMIX Micro Four Thirds cameras because of their amazing image quality, small form factor and the extensive selection of Micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The Micro Four-Thirds system Includes cameras and lenses made by both LUMIX and Olympus, as well as several third party lens manufacturers. Micro Four-Thirds was the original mirrorless system and I think it offers considerable advantages to those of us who have to carry all of our gear on our backs. Here are a few of the reasons I use LUMIX cameras and why you might want to think about a smaller kit for your next photo workshop.

 

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

 

1. First and foremost, they make beautiful images. When I began shooting mirrorless cameras my regular gear was a full-frame Nikon kit. I was sure that the images from the smaller cameras couldn’t compete with my professional gear. In reality I discovered that my mirrorless cameras produced beautiful images that I could easily print or sell as stock photography. That was two sensor generations ago, and the current generation is even better. The LUMIX GH4 and GX7 produce professional quality images that easily stack up against bigger DSLR’s.

I also found that I had my camera with me more often because it was smaller and lighter. That meant I was getting shots I would have missed before because I simply didn’t want to bother with my big camera kit. That is really important when you’re traveling. If you bring equipment that is difficult to carry you might be tempted to leave it behind and miss out on photo opportunities.

2. There’s more to the size of a mirrorless camera system than the sensor. There is a lot of buzz lately about full-frame mirrorless cameras. They have the same size image sensor as a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D Mark III. The rub for me is that with a larger sensor comes larger lenses. A small camera is fine, but for me smaller lenses are better.

The Micro Four-Thirds sensor is smaller than full-frame, so the lenses are much smaller than their full-frame counterparts. LUMIX lenses like the 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 offer the same field of view as the standard 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses on a full-frame camera at around one-third the size and weight. For wildlife shooters the LUMIX 100-300mm f4-f5.6 offers a 600mm equivalent lens that is around 6” long!

 

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

3. A smaller sensor generally offers greater depth of field. Some portrait photographers claim that this is a shortcoming of the Micro Four Thirds system, but for nature photographers it can be an asset. More depth of field means that I can shoot with a wide aperture and get more of the image in focus. Shooting with a wide aperture (low f-stop) allows you to use faster shutter speeds to freeze action and lower ISO settings for less digital noise. That is a combination that spells more keepers when it comes to shooting wildlife.

For landscapes the greater depth of field means it’s easier to get your foreground, middle ground and background in sharp focus. The smaller sensor with the excellent wide angle Micro Four-Thirds lenses makes for a great landscape photograph combination.

4. I didn’t start shooting video with my still camera until I got a LUMIX camera. I had DSLR’s with video recording capability, but it was pretty complicated and I never really used it. Mirrorless cameras (especially the LUMIX line) make it easy to capture fantastic HD video, and in some cases even super high-res 4k video.

I don’t have to switch my camera into video mode to record a motion picture. I simply press the shutter release for a still picture, or the red movie record button to record broadcast-quality video.

This allows me to shoot video the same way I shoot my still photography: I look for an interesting subject in appropriate light and create an interesting composition. If the subject makes a good still photo I hit the shutter. If the subject is better captured in moving pictures than I record a few seconds of video. For me the process is about telling a story whether it means still photographs or moving pictures. My LUMIX cameras get out of the way and allow me to capture whichever medium is appropriate for the subject I’m shooting.

There are other ways to get your images moving besides HD video. The cameras I use also capture slow motion video and time-lapse image sequences right in the camera. Just like regular video clips, these tools allow me to respond to my subjects and easily create whatever I envision.

I find many of my clients and workshop guests either shooting with mirrorless cameras or extremely curious about what mirrorless cameras have to offer. The combination of high image quality and portability offered by the Micro Four-Thirds system is perfect for a lot of photographers who like to shoot while they travel. My LUMIX gear allows me to carry all of the lenses I need along with one or two camera bodies without ever having to worry about weight restrictions or size limitations. Maybe you’l find a mirrorless camera kit to be the right fit for your next photo adventure.

Article by LUMIX PRO Rob Knight
If you have any questions about small camera systems, please feel free to contact me at rob@robknightphotography.com or visit my website at robknightphotography.com. You can see what LUMIX cameras are capable of first hand if you join me on one of my workshops like the Ecuador Photo Safari with Wildside Nature Tours.