The latest news on camera technology, grip equipment and how it relates to car photography and video

Cameras and Equipment

The GoPro phenomenon continues to amaze, we see them pretty much everywhere these days and there isn’t a guest-torturing reality TV show anywhere that isn’t using them to captured the facial pain for our delight. And of course, for car film makers they’re a revelation. Probably one of the few things you’re criticise the camera for would be it’s mounting system. It’s perfectly fine for most shots, but sometimes you need an angle or a mount you won’t get with suction cups and stick on brackets. So when we stumbled across this cage from Red Rock Micro, we sat up straight and read about it.

Make your GoPro part of your main grip kit with a Red Rock Cobalt Cage

Make your GoPro part of your main grip kit with a Red Rock Cobalt Cage

The Cobalt Cage is precision machined from military grade aluminium and puts your GoPro well into harms way. It comes with industry standard mounting points that will allow you to integrate it into your existing grip gear system and use those Magic Arms and Grip Heads to mount it very securely indeed. With 1/4 inch stud threads all over the body, the Cobalt Cage will enable you to rig a GoPro and avoid that sometimes annoying suction mount wobble.

No more suction mount wobble

No more suction mount wobble

The same mount points can be used to rig a mini-light or external sound recording device. The cage can take the GoPro inside it’s waterproof housing, or by using the accessory kit, you can fix it ‘naked’ inside the cage. Doing this gives access to the SD card slot in-situ and minimizes the chance of fogging up in hot humid locations.

We’ve a Porsche 911 Turbo sitting outside just made for the job of fixing a Cobalt Cage onto and then chasing some race cars around a track. This thing is just made for mounting real close to the track and chasing a race or rally car…

Takes either naked or waterproof mounted GoPros

Takes either naked or waterproof mounted GoPros

Cameras and Equipment

At the end of last year, a rather large cardboard package arrived. Sitting inside, with a crisp black finish, was Think Tank’s Airport Accelerator. It’s a bag I’d been looking forward to for some time, the one that would hopefully solve some problems I have.

You may well have read earlier about my tale of camera bag wreckage across the years. They all had good and bad points, but no one bag or case covered all the bases. I’d resigned myself to the fact that camera bags were always going to be a compromise, doing most things to get the job done, but being annoying in the small things they don’t do. Then I discovered Think Tank. I started using the Urban Disguise last year and was mighty impressed by the sheer number of places I kept finding to put stuff. Just when you think you’ve discovered all the compartments, another zip, clippable loop or velcro flap appears. Which, of course, is great for forgetting where you put stuff.

The Urban Disguise is great, it’s my Murder Bag. But I needed a bag that would carry the Canon EOS 1DS sized bodies and other stuff. The Urban Disguise is great for a Canon 5D and vertical grip, or I can get a single 1DS in vertically, but not all of my gear. Which brings me to the contents of the cardboard packaging in front of me. Slide it out of the box, slip off the plastic packaging and set it down. It’s BIG. And it’s square. Well rectangular actually, but there’s a sharpness to the edges of the design that appeals to me. Many bags on the marketplace are shaped like conventional rucksacks, giving them a tapered shape. The problem with that design is that it’s an inefficient use of space, you finish up tugging and swearing at the hook n loop flaps as you try and figure out what item of kit you can fit into that odd, tapered bit of compartment you’ve got left over. This is sharp, angular. OK, I might look a little odd if I have to sling it onto my shoulders for a hike, I’d probably look like a Marine on cross country exercise. But in my line of work, that’s not something I do too often. Far more likely that I’m lifting it a shorter distance into the back of the car or into an overhead airline storage bin.

Lots of handles and harnesses to spread the load

Lots of handles and harnesses to spread the load

However, if you are the kind of shooter that has to hike a distance, or if you dread the airport concourse adventure, then the rucksack shoulder straps are very think. Don’t forget it’s a big bag, so don’t go trying to hang it on one shoulder. That will just give you long term problems. Use the design properly, both straps, plus the waist belt that folds away when not in use. That spreads the load and saves your back.

So, What About The Inside?

Grab the industrial grade YKK zipper and open it up. It’s deep. Real deep. I take a Canon 1DS body and lens and drop it in. It swallows the thing up. Previous bags used to leave the top of the prism and hotshoe of 1D series Canon EOS bodies sitting just proud, always vulnerable to damage if the bag took a tumble. With this thing, it’s sitting deep inside. You’d get a Phase One system in here without problem. Time to do battle with the velcro dividers and figure out a layout.

Clever supporting divider for telephotos

Clever supporting divider for telephotos

It’s a right of passage for a new camera bag that I spend way, way too long trying to figure a way to house my kit. If you’re like me, you probably spend an entire afternoon working up a sweat tugging at the moveable dividers until you’ve got everything as you want it. Then a few days later, you’ll change it again. Unlike the images of many camera bag makers publicity images, I leave my cameras with lenses attached, ready to shoot. Pack shots of neatly stacked bodies with caps fitting don’t make sense to me. I want to grab it, power it up and be ready to shoot. Now that creates a problem. Because a camera / lens combo isn’t square. It’s kind of ‘T’ shaped. With Rucksack Bag I always used to have a camera / lens combo running down the centre, then slotted everything else in around it. With the Airport Monster, there’s no need. The bag comes with more dividers than you’d ever need, enabling you to pack stuff around the camera/lens combo. It also has a very useful divider with a supporting cutout for protecting a camera body / telephoto lens combination.

Lid swallows iPad and 17" MacBookPro with ease

Lid swallows iPad and 17″ MacBookPro with ease

The top takes a 17 inch MacBookPro and an iPad without a blink, plus there’s an additional, smaller compartment that’s easy to get to with velcro compartments and a strap that’s just perfect for clipping the Pixel Pocket Rocket memory card holder to.

Things I Like

It’s square. Did I mention that? Well, OK, it’s rectangular…. Why is that such a big deal? As I described above, far too many rucksack type bags have tapered shoulders, looking like a traditional hiker’s rucksack. It’s an inefficient use of space. Angular bags work for me and this one is really, really angular.

It’s deep…. I can almost fit my 70-200 F2.8 vertically into it. My Canon 1DS is totally protected and the abundance of dividers means that I can pack everything tight, with no room for movement, important to avoid damage.

Handles, lots of em…. You’ve got the rucksack harness and waist belt, plus two grab handles, one on the top, ideal for sliding it into overhead cargo bins on jets, plus a side mounted handle, perfect for carrying it like a suitcase down the airport concourse.

Top quality components throughout

Top quality components throughout

It’s built like a tank. In idle moments, I sometimes wonder if companies like Think Tank aren’t shooting themselves in the foot. This thing feels like it’s built to the highest standards, top draw components, YKK zippers, quality material and it has the feeling that it will literally last a lifetime. So why would you ever need to buy another?

Dislikes

Very, very few. The bag is top quality any dislikes are really just personal foibles. Living in the UK right now, I have only one concern and that is our UK budget airlines. The Airport Accelerator, as you’d guess by the name, is designed to international airline luggage standards for carry on bags. Fine for international travel, even within Europe, but our cunning, conniving UK airlines keep changing the rules on sizes and weights.

Pretty much everything you'll need to work all in a carry on bag

Pretty much everything you’ll need to work all in a carry on bag

Finally, not a dislike, but something to bear in mind. The Airport Accelerator will carry pretty much most things a working photographer will need to exist and produce images. That makes it heavy. The first time, I lifted it once I’d loaded it, I got a shock. Time for me to man up and get used to the weight, it is after all, the camera bag I’d looked forward to and the solution to all my woes. But gone are the days of sidling up to airport check-in casually holding my bag with a few fingertips, pretending that it’s lightweight and not worth weighing.

If I sound gushing in my praise fort his bag, please excuse me. For sure there are many good quality camera bags on the market today and indeed, the choice is a very personal one. But the quality of the construction and the sheer practicality of this bag make it a firm favourite. And did I mention that it’s an exact fit for the luggage compartment of a modern Porsche 911? Porsche and Think Tank, you guys should talk to each other….

You can order online direct worldwide on the Think Tank store here. We get some beer money if you do, which is always refreshing.

Cameras and Equipment

There are a great many photo hosting websites out there, all doing a very good job. Chances are if you’re either a keen enthusiast, or someone who makes a living from photography, then you’ll have an archive online. SmugMug, Photoshelter and others all do a pretty good job, at various price points and they have broadly similar systems in place to help photographers sell their work. So, why did I move to Photodeck?

octane-library-grab

It started last year with a sense of frustration at my existing host. Photoshelter had been good, they’re a big company and after seeing Digital Railroad fail a few years ago, they seem to be concentrating on their core business, serving photographers with a platform to sell their work. I’d been with them for a few years, but to be honest, hadn’t really put a big push into marketing my archive. With stock photography revenues seemingly in steep decline, there seemed little point. So my site just ticked over. I didn’t like the lack of mobile and tablet compatibility, primarily based around using Flash for slideshows. They kept promising it was ‘coming soon’ but as the number of mobile device visitors rose on my Google Analytics, I realized that mobile was important. It wasn’t for the future, it was here and now.

Then I realized that I’d been missing an opportunity with print sales. The popularity of that Stirling Moss image and requests for prints of that shot, plus others, made me realize that I needed to get a proper workflow in place.

At this point, I studied SmugMug, Zenfolio and Photodeck. Photodeck stood out, here’s why.

1. It’s blazing fast and I mean fast. Take a look at my archive at http://www.neillwatson.com and see how quick.
2. It’s totally mobile friendly, resizing on the fly and creating layouts that work on all screens, laptop, tablets and phones. Plus all the features continue to work, regardless of the platform.
3. No commission on your sales. This is a big thing for me. As I found my print sales increasing, so my monthly bill went up too. OK, so you can say that’s a good thing, it means you must be making more sales, right? True. But Photodeck takes no commission. Founder JF comments “We stick to what we’re best at, being a technology provider. In the same way that we don’t come between you and your clients, so we don’t step between you and your business partners.”
4. Enhancements are happening all the time. In the last two months alone, Photodeck have rolled out the print partner program and also added a mechanism to allow you to sell eBooks and other publications on the site too.
5. It integrates with WordPress. If, like me, you have a self hosted WordPress website, then you can take your Photodeck style settings and export them to your blog. This means that you can achieve a consistent look, plus you don’t have to worry about trying to export your WordPress archive to Photodeck.

Criticisms? Only tiny ones, none of which are deal breakers for me. First, Photodeck does include a blog template should you choose to run your entire website at one location. It’s a pretty good platform, but nothing like as powerful as a WordPress install, something I’m pretty sure that JF is working on. If you really really need a full featured blog platform, then continue running WordPress alongside as I have.

The other thing is you’ll need to invest time in it. Photodeck is immensely powerful, highly customizable. You can take one of the many pre-built themes, then customize that to your desired look. In addition, the pricing profiles are infinitely adjustable. The Plus Packs pricing calculator can be adjusted up and down to achieve the pricing level you desire, plus you can add multiple print sales options and differing pricing for postage. But it does take time, so be prepared to invest in it beyond the free trial period.

I spent a long time looking at the options and while others are perfectly OK, Photodeck’s combination of features as I’ve outlined above made it the choice for me. If you want to try it, you can use the referral code of YG@UETFDN when you sign up to get yourself a 50% discount off your first month. If you do, that helps us too, as we get a credit towards our own Photodeck account.

So sign up, use the code and try it out. I’ve only scratched the surface of it’s feature set, as I gain more experience with it, I’ll report back and write some more. But so far, I’m not regretting the move.

>h2>UPDATE

14th March ’14. The Photodeck guys don’t sit still, just last month they released some new features for the service, something I asked about a while ago. Print fulfillment using One Vision Imaging in the UK is now integrated into Photodeck. This means that you can now ‘drop ship’ prints, canvas wraps and other products from the One Vision range directly from your website. We’re still testing this out, but so far the interface seems pretty straight forward. Once we’ve had chance to sampe some of the finished products, we’ll report back with more news.

Cameras and Equipment

You’re probably fully aware that those tracking shots you see of cars the world over are obtained in often dubiously legal circumstances. I’m the first to admit that I’ve had some grovelling conversations with The Law on occasion, generally managing to use humility and charm to wing it, while The Officer probably struggles to find the right box to tick on his List Of Offences. But the guys over at Car Enthusiast just gave us the heads up on this great looking camera tracking car built by Ford Europe which should keep us all legal and happy.

Based upon a Focus ST 5 door wagon, the tailgate is completely gone, removing those annoying of things, the shadow in the shot and the blow to the back of the head due to weak tailgate dampers. A plastic seat resembling something from a fetish dungeon is in place of the spare wheel, with a very solid looking mount based upon the tow bar mount that should give some solid tracking shots for video. A machined mount just ahead of the passenger wing mirror provides a second video mount and the rear seats have been removed completely, giving the photographer peace of mind that he hasn’t had to leave half of his gear hidden in a hedgerow for him to climb into the trunk.

ford__focus_st_estate__2013__009

Downsides? The ST suspension will probably not be greatest at low speeds and over bumpy surface and seat doesn’t allow any movement once you’re installed, so that killer low viewpoint shot with the camera body skimming the tarmac won’t be possible. I love the idea of the open tailgate area and additional mounts. The thing that would make it a killer car for me would be a multitude of tie down mounts that will enable me to clip my fall-arrest harness to, giving both security and freedom at the same time. Oh, and a bumper height front mount would be cool too.

If you shoot tracking shots yourself, what would be the spec of your perfect Camera Car? I can see a ‘Build Thread’ starting here already.

EDIT – Kyle Fortune just emailed to say Ford make a second seat fitting – one that elevates. Can’t help but think I’ll keep my head down and strap in on a bungee….

Images via Kyle Fortune / Car Enthusiast