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Equipment Considerations

Carry It Off • Planning The Solar Shoot • Micro Four Thirds (4:3) Vs. 3:2
© George Lepp

Photographing wildlife across the tundra in Denali National Park requires a heavy load of equipment: 500mm lens, 1.4X tele-extender (700mm) and camera body attached to a sturdy tripod. Before you toss that rig over your shoulder, check all the controls and connections to prevent an unscheduled decoupling. Caribou captured at 1/125 sec. at f/8, ISO 200.

Carry It Off

Question: How do you transport your camera with a large telephoto attached and mounted on a tripod when hiking/re-positioning in the field? I typically just put the assembly over my shoulder and carry it in whatever position I find comfortable. But I have had people tell me that I can damage the mounting connections with that approach, as well as risk having the camera come off the ballhead. –R. Zahren, Via the Internet

Answer: It’s a generally accepted notion that carrying a camera/telephoto on a tripod over one’s shoulder is not a good idea, but we all do it. First off, it looks kind of cool, doesn’t it? The intrepid nature photographer, trekking through the brush, heavy tripod, camera and big lens slung over the shoulder. But frankly, what’s the alternative? Pack it all up in your bag every time you move? Get it all out, put it back together and be ready to photograph that wolf chasing a caribou?

Safe transport is just another quality factor you need to consider when choosing your field equipment. The first thing you need to know is how good the connection is between the lens and the tripod head. There are a lot of quick-releases out there to make your life easier, but they can self-initiate at inopportune times, releasing the camera/lens from the tripod with disastrous results. I use Really Right Stuff ballheads with a quick release and have never had them let go unintentionally. The lever system is pretty much foolproof. But you need to pay attention to the ballhead/tripod connection as well, because it can loosen up while you’re working—we think we’re rotating the camera on the tripod while we pan, and we’re sometimes actually unscrewing the head from the tripod base. So check the connection between the ballhead and the tripod before you place it over your shoulder.

As extra insurance, I usually grab the camera strap in my hand when moving a camera/lens. I still remember one long-ago instance in Baja California where I was walking through a lava field with the camera setup slung over my shoulder; the pre-RRS quick release somehow disengaged and the 600mm with camera body headed toward the rocks. I had wrapped the camera strap around my hand, and that stopped the potential destruction of some very pricey gear.
Carrying the camera over the shoulder does not affect the mounting connections on any of the tripods that I have used, but going through a little checklist can save the day: controls on the head tightened up; ball head tightly screwed to the tripod; lens properly mounted to the camera body; tele-extenders and extension tubes firmly connected (“click”). It only takes a second to check, but it’s worth it. Think of how uncool it would look to lose your gear and how hard it would be to replace it.

Planning The Solar Shoot

Question: The August 2017 total solar eclipse will be the first visible in the continental U.S. in decades, so many of us have never had the opportunity to shoot one. I realize the use of a solar filter is required, except at totality. I was thinking of putting the solar filter sheet into a homemade frame of foam core and attaching it to the top of the lens hood (600mm, f/4 lens) so that it would be easier and quicker to remove at totality and then replace when totality ends. Is there a reason the filter material needs to be directly on the lens? And since the color temperature will be changing as totality approaches and recedes, does the white balance need to be changed, or can it be left on “sunny” or “auto” for the entire event? –D. Dieter, Via the Internet

Answer: Folks are getting excited about the Aug. 21, 2017, full solar eclipse and the path of totality that will cross the U.S. In fact, totality will happen within an hour’s drive of where I live in central Oregon.

Your idea of putting a solar filter in a frame that can easily be removed from the front of your lens is a good strategy. Because you will have to remove the filter quickly during full totality and bracket the image to get all the detail in the sun’s corona around the moon and then replace the filter as soon as the sun shows again, the frame will be very useful. There is a Solar Eclipse Exposure Guide and other information at to help photographers plan their approaches to the event.

Be sure to wear solar eye protection while viewing the lead-up to the totality and place it back on as soon as the sun peaks out the other side. If you shoot in RAW format, white balance is not an issue; you can change colors and/or optimize the corona in post processing.

It’s a good idea to plot your viewing location now. We’ve noted that lodging in areas near totality are filling fast, and access to optimal areas is likely to be hotly contested, so plan to arrive early.

Micro Four Thirds (4:3) Vs. 3:2

Question: Outdoor Photographer recently published an article on mirrorless Micro Four Thirds digital camera systems. Although I have been an avid Canon user for many years and I have a considerable investment in Canon gear, I recently purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera body and a few lenses. I love the electronic viewfinder, the stabilization system, and the freedom that comes with carrying much less weight. I am avidly exploring the Micro Four Thirds system and now find myself drawn to mirrorless technology in general, and wonder if one day soon I may be letting go of my DSLRs. What are your thoughts on this? –K. Graff, Via the Internet

Answer: While the advent of mirrorless camera technology is not as significant an event as, say, the advent of digital, mirrorless cameras do expand our photographic options. There are several reasons serious photographers might choose them instead of, or in addition to, DSLR systems.

As you note, Micro Four Thirds mirrorless systems offer a compelling advantage in terms of size and weight. Traveling with a lot of heavy equipment can be daunting these days, and the weight of DSLR camera and lens combinations can be a problem for many of us.

The prices of Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses tend to be less weighty as well. As an example, the crop magnification of a Micro Four Thirds versus a full-frame DSLR is 2x, so a lightweight 300mm f/4 lens for the MFT format priced at $2,500 has the reach of a 600mm f/4 lens that costs four to five times as much. Another factor some photographers like is that the Micro Four Thirds 4:3 format relates to the standard 8×10-inch print and frame, while DSLRs have a 3:2 format that relates to an 8.5×11-inch print. Some of the mirrorless cameras are capable of 4K video capture and even yield 8MP frame grabs for stop-action stills.

The results from Micro Four Thirds systems are great for web posting and prints up to 17×20-inches. The quality of the output is limited by the small sensor (13×17.3mm), as compared to a full-frame DSLR (24×36 mm); to get 16MP on the Micro Four Thirds format sensor, the pixels need to be very small. As a result, the resolution will be less than that of full-frame DSLR cameras with 20MP or more, and nearly four times the sensor size. Smaller sensors with small pixels also affect the light-gathering properties of the camera, so the MFT cameras can’t compete in really low light and in dynamic range.

Electronic viewfinders (EVF) are both an advantage and a problem. On the one hand, the viewfinder can reflect the exposure and doesn’t black out during image and video capture. On the other hand, electronic viewfinders still do not have enough resolution to match a through-the-lens view for focusing.

But that’s just for now. I know several pros and many dedicated amateur photographers who have committed to mirrorless systems, and their interest is going to drive the swift development of improvements and options. Choices! It all just gets better!

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.