John's Wildlife Photography Blog

Welome to my blog. This is where you'll find my thoughts on images, projects, equipment and all other things photographic.

 

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How to articles

Trips/locations

Image posts

Equipment reviews

 

A few useful camera gadgets that I have failed to break

For those of you wondering what to do with all the gift vouchers and/or bundles of cash that Santa Claus no doubt  left under your tree, here are a few camera gadgets that I’ve found to be rather useful over the last year. Each of them has also survived long term abuse in the field (although some of mine now look a bit the worse for wear…). I don’t like to recommend anything that I haven’t used in the field for at least 6 months, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer for my thoughts on various third party speedlights that I have been testing/destroying since September(well, as a sneak preview of the review I’m writing for those I’ll let slip that I personally consider the Youngnuo YN-600RT to be a slightly less useful photographic lighting tool than a flaming banana skin… but I digress).

Sadly, I don’t get anything from manufacturers or vendors for recommending these… I even had to buy them all myself, but at least that means you get an unbiased view. All opinions are, of course, my own and merely based on using the items for real photo work.

 

Yongnuo YN-622 flash radio control system

YN-622C-TX control unit

YN-622C-TX control unit

What is it?

A two-unit system that allows you to control all the settings on your speedlight from a controller that sits neatly in your camera hot shoe.

This system gives you the ability to position flashes around your shooting area and control them from the comfort of your hide while remaining hidden from the unsuspecting wildlife. Studio photographers too lazy to walk over and change flash settings manually might also like it. It works using radio so the flashes don’t have to be in the line of site.

What camera systems does it work with?

Canon and Nikon. Make sure you get the right version! I’ve tried it with most of the series II Canon flashes (e.g. 580 II, 430 II) and later models (such as 600-RT), also Youngnuo’s own flashes (which I DON’T recommend buying) and Pixapro Li-ion flashes.

Why this model?

There are plenty of radio trigger systems around (pocket wizard, photix, cactus to name but three) but the Yongnuo YN-622 supports pretty much every mode your speedlight is capable of (a lot of systems fail to support TTL flash, let alone high speed sync…) and it’s cheap, reliable and easy to use. I’ve been using them for 3 years now and, despite trying alternatives, these are still the best. I’ve abused them heavily and only one unit has ever failed. Their relative cheapness compared to many other systems means you can buy a few spares just in case you inadvertently drop one in a bog, or a Hyena eats one during your shoot (it can happen…).

There are two types of unit – the YN-622C/N, which you attach to your flash gun; and the 622C-TX /622N-TX which has a control screen showing you the flash settings and sits on your camera. (Actually, you can use another 622C/N on the camera but trust me – the added screen and ease of use of the controller make this a far better bet).

YN-622C transceiver attached to a speedlight

YN-622C transceiver attached to a speedlight

So what does it let you do? You can assign each of your flashes to one of three groups and change the settings for each group separately (including turning individual groups on or off). It offers both manual and TTL flash modes as well as strobe mode. First, second and high-speed sync (focal plane sync in Nikon speak) can be chosen if your camera and flash support these. You can control flash power and zoom, dial in flash exposure compensation all from buttons on the control unit. It has 8 channels, so if somebody else nearby is also using a 622 you can select different channels to avoid interference. If you shoot with multiple cameras, you can have a control unit on each camera, with separate settings dialled in.

The unit on the flash gun has a couple of buttons – one selects which group you want the flash to be in (no fussing about with speedlight menus necessary) and one selects the radio channel that you’ve decided to use. There’s also a test button – very handy for partially blinding yourself while you’re setting up.

There is also an additional mode (SuperSync) which is a bit like the Hypersync mode on pocket wizards, and of equally limited use.

Any downsides?

It’s not Hyena proof. It’s also not waterproof (but neither is your flash) so you’ll have to cover them with a plastic bag if it rains or snows. The claimed 100m range is rather optimistic. 30m is more like the real effective range – but that’s generally more than enough. Like a lot of these systems, when your camera is on a tripod in a hide it can be difficult to read and operate the control unit on top of the camera– I generally attach a short flash extension cable (readily and cheaply available on amazon, ebay etc) and then I can place the unit where I can most easily see it.

Where do I get it and how much does it cost?

You can by the units from Amazon. These are the links for the Canon version. There are similar Amazon offers for the Nikon models – YN-622N-TX and YN-622N

Control unit  £33

Flash unit  £35

A quick search on amazon UK reveals a package of controller and 2 flash units for £90 (which saves you £15)

 

Hoodman Hoodloupe 3.2

What is it?

A rubber hood with a high-quality focus-adjustable magnifying lens that, when held up to your camera’s LCD lets you see the image displayed in detail. It's better than it sounds - trust me. Hey, you at the back... WAKE UP! It really is very good.

The Hoodloupe  is useful for several reasons:

1 it lets you see whether your image *really* is in focus at 100%, and makes it easy to see the full detail of the histogram

2 I wear glasses. I used to have to change to reading glasses to see the information on the LCD. With the Hoodloupe, I can set the focus adjustment on the loupe so that I can clearly see what’s on the screen without removing / changing glasses.

3) Even in the brightest sunlight, the hood blocks out external light so that you can clearly see the screen

4) Hanging around your neck, it makes you look a bit like a Hollowood movie director

5) When I'm shooting at night I can review images without the LCD lighting up my face and advertising my presence to the local wildlife.

Comes with a handy, if not fashionable, softcase

Comes with a handy, if not fashionable, softcase

 

Why this model?

The focus can be adjusted by +/- 3 dioptre so it can be adjusted to suit most people’s eyesight whether they are wearing glasses or not. It’s robustly constructed (mine has been heavily used for 2 years and is still fully intact), the German optics are excellent quality, the 3.2’’ screen opening fits most DSLR camera LCDs.

Any down sides?

It’s one more lens to clean. Some people may think that it’s a bit expensive.

Where do I get it and how much does it cost?

£110 (new fold flat version £120) Amazon and all the major photographic retailers.

 

Lenspen

 

What is it?

A safe, effective and compact lens cleaning tool that uses a special carbon surface to remove grease and an integrated brush to remove dust.

Why this model?

Cleaning lenses in the field is a real pain – having (and keeping clean) a pristine lens cloth, brush and serious lens cleaning solution (e.g. Eclipse) is the first hurdle. Then there’s the sheer amount of careful effort to ensure you don’t end up smearing the solution with the lens cloth making things even worse.

Lenspen has a sealed brush (i.e. it’s easy to keep it clean) and the carbon pad removes grease very easily. Great for getting rid of smudges and fingerprints anywhere. I’d still recommend using a blower to remove as much dust as possible before applying the brush and pad, but it’s a much easier solution in the field to cloths and cleaning fluids. It even comes in a range of pad sizes so you can buy the one that’s right for the size of lens.

Apparently, Canon and Nikon use them, so you can be fairly sure they’re not going to do any damage when used properly.

 

Any down sides?

You’ll still need to do a thorough old-fashioned all-over lens clean in the comfort of your home every now and again – lenspen removes smudges effectively but it would take a long time to clean the entire lens with it. People keep 'borrowing them' from you, which can become expensive after a while.

Where do I get it and how much does it cost?

£10 and up (depending on model). There are quite a few fake Lenspens being offered cheaply online, so buy from a reputable camera specialist.

Here’s a link to the most popular size of lens pen on the wex.com site.

 

 

 

Lastolite Micro Apollo 60 II

 

What is it?

A fold-flat softbox for your speedlight flashgun. Not, as the name may at first suggest, a small spacecraft.

Why this model?

If you turn it upside down (yes, really) and attach it to an on-camera speedlite with a 100mm macro lens it makes a superb macro lighting solution. The softbox is big enough to give a nice soft difussed light for macro subjects like insects, plant details etc and (this is the best part)extends to just touch the far end of the macro lens: i.e. no nasty shadows and much better illumination of the lower part of the subject. It really is very good. You need to be the ‘60’ for this (not the ‘45’ which is too small), and don’t buy the mk I as this doesn’t have the strengthened elasticated flash attachy bit (appologies for using a technical phrase there).

Turned upside down, the Apollo just reaches down to the top of a 100mm macro. Neat!  Hmmm, really must clean that lens... now where did I put my lenspen?

Turned upside down, the Apollo just reaches down to the top of a 100mm macro. Neat!  Hmmm, really must clean that lens... now where did I put my lenspen?

 

Any down sides?

Well, you’ll loose about 1 stop of flash output… but shooting at point-blanc macro distances this isn’t much of an issue. Also, only really works with lenses of around 100mm focal length (gets in front of short macro lenses).

If you were planning to use it as the manufacturer intended to photograph people, you’ll find (like all of these small speedlight softboxes) that it’s not big enough to improve lighting much. Use it for macro (and buy a studio-sized softbox for your family portraits).

Where do I get it and how much does it cost?

£32 or so from the big online photo specialists, amazon and others.

A couple of images taken with the Apollo, a 5D Mk III and an EX600-RT speedlight, in case you were wondering whether it's effective... these are all shot in daylight using the flash to fill in / highlight the subject.

OK - I know this one is a bit yuk... but the lighting's quite nice,  isn't it?

OK - I know this one is a bit yuk... but the lighting's quite nice,  isn't it?

 

 

Wild Bird Photography Workshop in Hungary

May 2017

Koros-Maros National Park Hungary

16 - 21 May 2017 ONLY 1 PLACE REMAINING

21 - 26 May 2017 ONLY 1 PLACE REMAINING

26 -31  May 2017 SOLD OUT

Overview

Join us for an intense small group (3 guests per workshop) 5-night Wildlife Photography Workshop set  in and around Koros-Maros National Park, Hungary. Every day you'll be photographing a variety of wild birds from a mixture of pop-up and permanent hides while learning the key techniques of bird photography. There's also the chance for you to learn advanced use of flash to tame tricky lighting situations including harsh sunlight and limited light.

  •  Rollers (photographed from a tree level tower hide)
  •  Hoopoes (nesting, flying, feeding)
  • Bee eaters courting
  •  Wading birds (Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Egret, Grey Heron) and Whiskered terns nesting on Lake Tisza, photographed from boats
  • Woodpeckers (Syrian, Green, Great-spotted) and woodland birds (Hawfinch, Nightingale, various  tits and paserines, assorted finches, doves etc.)
  • And, with a little luck, we may get to photograph raptors such as Sparrowhawk, Goshawk and Buzzard close-up, or exotics such as Black Woodpeckers and Golden Orieles.

Maximum of 3 participants per workshop.

Cost

£740 (includes tuition, accommodation, meals, transport in Hungary.  Excludes flights, alcoholic drinks, travel insurance.)

This is very much real wild life photography - we'll be starting very early(often 4am) to be in place ready for the first action, usually taking a break in the middle of the day before continuing later in the afternoon when the light becomes softer. Sometimes we'll continue shooting straight through the day, if subject and light are good.  There will usually be periods of waiting followed by frantic bursts of activity. You'll have to work harder and longer than on some other photography workshops but hopefully you'll learn a lot that you'll be able to apply to your photography elsewhere.

Detailed Information:

I've prepared a detailed info sheet on the workshops which you can find here:

Koros-Maros Bird Workshop Info Sheet

You can see a few of the images taken by guests on previous workshops here:

Koros-Maros-guest-photos

Booking:

Places are very limited and will be offered on a first-come basis. To reserve a place, you’ll need book below, complete your details and pay the trip deposit (£150). The remaining balance (£590)  is due 6 weeks prior to departure.