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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gadget Bag: Window Mounts

Discounted as being for lazy photographers, a car window mount is an excellent tool for a variety of subjects from wildlife to scenics

Labels: Gadget BagGear

Kirk WM-2; Giottos Car Window Mount

In the camera support family, window mounts have been the stepchildren. While tripods, monopods and all manner of ballheads get attention, the lowly window mount is seen by many as a sort of tool for lazy photographers who can't be bothered to get out of their car. In fact, however, a window mount can be an outstanding tool for any nature photographer, and it's particularly useful for wildlife photographers using long lenses.

Vanguard PH-304

In this issue of OP, we have several articles about long lenses. A quick look at the chart in the "Supertelephoto Zooms" article will show you that these lenses are frequently large and heavy. Keeping a long lens steady is a challenge that's magnified by size and weight, as well as focal length. You're probably familiar with the minimum handholding rule, which says that 1/focal length is your minimum shutter speed, i.e., a 500mm lens has a minimum handheld shutter speed of 1⁄500 sec. The problem with this rule is that most people follow it blindly without realizing the importance of technique. Very few photographers can hold a long lens steady enough at the minimum handholding speed to get sharp photos, particularly in single-shot situations (see the sidebar "Techniques For Sharp Telephoto Shots"). Also, the longer the focal length, the more you need to pad the minimum handholding speed. In theory, the rule itself takes this into account, but professional wildlife and sports photographers will tell you that the progression really isn't that linear, and longer lenses require progressively faster shutter speeds. So, in general, the longer the lens, the more difficult it is to get a sharp photo, especially if you're not using a support. Image-stabilization systems are a tremendous benefit here, but the longer the focal length, the more you'll need to consider a grounded support system.

The window mount gives you a nice steady platform to shoot from, but if you're still unconvinced that it's little more than a device for someone who wants to shoot from a parking lot, consider this. Cars, in fact, are excellent wildlife blinds. Many animals that would bolt or hunker down at the sight of a human on foot will be completely unperturbed by the presence of an automobile. Until you get out of it, the car is little more than a rock that moves. This is a bit of an overstatement, but with some patience and taking care with your movements inside the vehicle, you'll find that you can get a lot of spectacular wildlife photos using a window mount while seated behind the wheel compared to walking around with a long lens and a tripod.

The actual mounts come in a broad array of sizes and capacities. Here are a few selected examples.

The Kirk WM-2 Multi-Purpose Window Mount is designed for serious long-lens users. It's made of solid black anodized aluminum, with rubber-covered feet to help brace the system on the inside of your car door. It can hold up to an 800mm lens. The mount folds, which allows you to use it as a low-to-the-ground tripod, as well. It has a standard 3⁄8" screw to connect to any tripod head with a 3⁄8" socket. Estimated Street Price: $249. www.kirkphoto.com

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