Sunday, 19 October 2014

Something old, Something new, Something built

Photo of fruit using my new tripod and light table

As a photographer, I love getting new toys to play with. Unfortunately while I would love to splash a 1000 notes on a new lens or camera body, I have to be more realistic.

However this time the stars have aligned and I have 3 (Yes 3!)  new toys to play with (well new to me anyway)

Something old

My most recent project is taking photographs based on the "Opulent" key word. My ideas pointed to some close up photography, so I needed a macro lens (I had bought some macro extensions recently, but I have not been greatly impressed by them)

Looking through my motley lens collection, I was aghast to find that only one of them had a macro switch and that was my 300mm zoom, which wasn't really the easiest one to use for close ups. So I resorted to the last hope of the cheap and desperate and went to flea-bay. I managed here to get an old Minolta 35-70 zoom with a macro switch for about £30.

Now this is not the best glass in the world. It's only 49mm wide and has a maximum aperture of F/4, but on the plus side it will focus to 30 cm with the macro enabled(apparently the camera is designed so that auto-focus is disabled in Macro mode, but that's not a great issue ).

I don't think it is a lens that will sit on my camera when i'm out and about, but for taking detailed close ups in controlled conditions, it should be fine.

Something New

Toy number 2 is something much more impressive and expensive.

As I mentioned in this blog before, my present tripod showed that it just wasn't up to the task (not surprising really, since I think it cost me the princely sum of £25). For the kind of projects I was envisaging I decided I really needed a new one.

The first problem was price.

Decent tripods start at £100 and rapidly increase from there. If you want to go for the super dooper carbon fibre special, you can easily spend over £300, which was well outside my price range. On the plus side, I had a birthday coming up, so I worked out that if I forgo all other gifts and blackmailed relatives and friends then it would be possible to get a decent aluminum job.

Then the second problem. Which one to go for?

Starting from scratch, it was difficult to know what to get. Even by excluding those made of the more exotic materials, it still meant I was left with quite a large range of tripods to choose from.

My biggest surprise was that tripods and the camera mounting heads are generally sold separately. The heads however can cost almost as much as the tripod itself. Now while this makes sense if you already have a existing head from a previous tripod, but it does feel akin to buying a car and then being told the engine and tyres are extra.

Anyway with my budgets fixed, I had to decide my priorities.

Firstly while portability would be useful, it was not critical.  As long as it could be carried in some form for a few miles I would be OK. After all I had no plans to take it abroad, up Everest etc. (not at present anyway).

My experience at the flower show had showed me that my key need was adaptability. After all this was likely to be my only tripod and would have to be suitable to do all the tasks from landscape to macro photography.

This need in turn directed me to the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Aluminium Tripod.

Firstly it was just about in my price range, even with a included ball head. But best of all it had a great trick, in that the centre column could swing out, so that it could be placed at any angle from 0 to 180 degrees.

So this was the present I requested from my loving family(It's best in these situations to be specific, otherwise you get something which is half the price and they consider is just as good, but isn't). So it was that a present in the shape of a long parcel awaited me on the appointed day

So what are my first impressions?

Firstly it is bigger and heavier than I was expecting, but not so to make it unmanageable. However this is not designed as a travel tripod you can stick in your rucksack. It does however come with its own carry bag.

The first challenge is to work out how to use it. Tripods always seem to consist of a number of knobs flying in close formation. Therefore you really don't want to try and use it for the first time on a mountain top in the dark.  However it did not take me long to work out the basic mechanics.

The swing arm is a great . However you have to be careful using it, since fully extended it does make the tripod a tad unstable without adding extra weight on the other end of the arm. I was often very nervous that there was a serious danger of it plunging into the ground and in doing so useing the camera on the end as ia very expensive crumple zone.

The legs are easily extended and can be moved so that the tripod lies almost flat to the ground. The feet can either be spikes or rubber by screwing/unscrewing them.

It also comes with a spare camera mount plate and a tool for adding/removing it. However putting the plate on the camera could of been easier.

The included ball head itself is easy to adjust and very stable

So far I have been very impressed with it and I look forward to using it considerable as the dark nights draw in.

Something built

My third toy is something I made with my own fair hands.

I had a project in mind, partly driven by the photographic society competition based on the Opulent key word. In order to do it however I required a light table.

I looked up how much it was going to cost me to buy one and I was a bit shocked by the prices of just a modest one.

The bigger problem however was where I going to keep the table when I wasn't using it?

I have a small corner of a room dedicated to my photo kit collection. It is increasingly expanding as bits of kit get added(am I the only photographer who loathes to throw old photo equipment away?). Although my long suffering wife doesn't say anything, I can see in her eyes, her disapproval. So I had to ask myself,  did I really want to buy a light table that I might only use for one project, which would be forever more littering the house?

I therefore investigated alternatives. The first idea was to use a old LCD monitor. Monitors have a in-built LED back lighting, so if you replace the front screen with a piece of translucent perspex, you can re-purpose them as a light table. However the first issue was where I would get a old monitor? The second was where would I store a hefty and large monitor when it was not in use?

This was when I hit upon this link. The concept was to take a £5 IKEA table, rip out the innards and replace it with LED lighting and a perspex top.

Now I not the greatest D.I.Y proponent, but the skills required looked within my range, so I decided to give it a go. I got a IKEA Lack table (I went for the deluxe shiny table at the extortionate cost of £10) and ordered the required lights and perspex. I then proceeded to hack away at the table in the proscribed manner.

In the end the only serious issue was when ordering the perspex from Trent Plastics  in that I forgot to hit the add message button telling them of my cutting instructions. the meant that the plastic sheet was too large and had to be re-ordered.
Best Scandinavian woodwork before...

and after...A working lightbox/cofee table

The result was a light table larger in size than any I was considering purchasing, and about the same price. But best of all, when it is not being used it still functions as a pretty decent coffee table so doesn't need packing away.

In use, the results have been pretty good, and I have a number of projects in mind to use it with. I am also using it to view some some old family slides. My eldest daughter is already eyeing it up for use as a tracing table for her art work.

So 3 new toys. Happy days.....

Tripod, Light Table and camera in action...

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