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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gear Up For The National Parks

Accessories to help you make the most out of any national parks shooting excursion

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AF 35mm SLRs and all digital cameras depend on battery power. You can’t recharge batteries easily in the field, so it’s wise to take plenty of spare batteries for your camera and other electronic gear. When the battery-low indicator comes on, switch to a new battery so you won’t miss a shot because the battery died. You can always reinsert a low battery if necessary.

You can recharge batteries in your hotel room at the end of each shooting, of course, or use a car cigarette-lighter adapter if you’re camping. If you’re camping for several days far from your car, you can get a portable solar panel to power your battery charger.

For DSLRs, the camera manufacturers’ proprietary rechargeable batteries provide good performance; those on a budget can find lower-priced batteries from accessory manufacturers. For gear that uses AA batteries, rechargeable units are cost-effective and easier on the environment, while lithium AAs provide better performance than regular AAs, among the nonrechargeables. Ansmann’s Digispeed 4 Ultra kit includes four high-capacity NiMH AA batteries and a charger than can recharge them in as little as 10 minutes should the need arise. Other good AA battery makers include Duracell, Eveready and Maha.

Heliopan Circular Polarizer
Camera Supports
A good tripod can hold a camera steadier than any photographer can, producing sharper images, especially when you’re using the slower shutter speeds needed to permit shooting at lower ISOs for best image quality while stopping the lens down for great depth of field. The tripod also locks in your composition so you can study it and won’t accidentally change it when you press the shutter button.

Landscape photographers will want a lightweight, but sturdy tripod. Wooden tripods are sturdy and minimize vibrations, but are relatively heavy, so are best when you don’t have to carry them far. Tripods made of carbon fiber and other exotic materials are strong and light, but costly; they’re the backcountry photographer’s staple. Aluminum tripods are a good choice for those on a tight budget, as they’re sturdy and relatively inexpensive. If you work in very cold or very hot conditions, you’ll find a wooden or carbon-fiber tripod more comfortable to handle than an aluminum one. Three-section legs are steadier than four-section legs, but the latter close down to a smaller length, handy when traveling.

Hoya Yellow/Green
A good wooden tripod for national park photography is the Berlebach Report 3032. Good carbon-fiber units include the Benro Travel Angel TRCB269, Davis & Sanford Carbonlite 3, Flashpoint F-1328, Giottos MTL8361B, Gitzo GT1541T Traveler, Induro CT214, Manfrotto M-Y 732CY, Novoflex QuadroPod (your choice of carbon-fiber or aluminum), Really Right Stuff TVC-33 Versa, Slik Pro 813CF-II and Sunpak Pro 723B. Good aluminum examples include the Benro Travel Angel TRAB269, Cullmann 3020, Davis & Sanford ATPX10 All-Terrain, Gitzo G1340V, Induro AT214, Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 and Slik Professional II-LE.

Formatt 2b
The most popular tripod head among landscape photographers is the ballhead because it lets you position the camera as desired with a twist of a single knob and then lock it there with another twist. Ballheads are also great for wildlife portraits. Check the specs to see that the ballhead you choose can support the weight (camera body and lens) you intend to use with it. Good ballheads include the Acratech GP, Arca-Swiss Mono-ball p0, Benro BH-2-M, Cullmann 904, Flashpoint F-3, Giottos MH-1300, Gitzo G1177M, Kirk BH-3, Manfrotto 468MGRC0, Novoflex MagicBall 50, Really Right Stuff BH-40 LR and Slik PRO 340 BH.

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For wildlife action with long lenses, a gimbal head is better, as it allows you to pan the camera to track the moving subject while still providing excellent support. (It also holds your camera in position while you’re waiting for a bird to take off, eliminating arm fatigue.) Good gimbal heads include the Custom Brackets CB Gimbal-LS, Flashpoint Gimbal Head 1, Induro GHB2, Jobu Jr. Z, Kirk KC-1 King Cobra, Manfrotto 393 Heavy Telephoto Lens Support and Wimberley WH-200 Version II. Some bird-in-flight specialists prefer a gunstock mount like the BushHawk Model 320D, which provides support for a handheld DSLR with a long telephoto lens.

If you don’t want to lug a tripod around (or really rugged terrain precludes it), you can take a monopod, a “one-legged tripod” that provides more steadiness than handholding, but is easy to carry—you can even use it as a walking stick. Good outdoor monopods include the Benro MC-91M8, Cullmann 580C, Davis & Sanford BHQ11 Trail Trekker, Flashpoint UC 204 Monopod, Gitzo G1564, Induro CM34, Manfrotto 676B Digi, Monostat RS16SK ART, Novoflex BasicBall with telescope rod, Slik Pro Pod and Sunpak PRO 724M. There are also specialty tripods like the Joby Gorillapod, a very flexible minipod, and the Sunpak Flexpod.


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