Hasselblad lenses 5c DIY unjamming tool

Hasselblad DIY unjamming tool
I don’t know if I have to explain thisā€¦the picture pretty much speaks by itself.

Anyway:

1) pick a 5 euro cents coin

2) using a stepped bit – easier – or a normal bit drill a hole in the center

3) pass a piece of cord trough the hole and make a node creating a loop – I used a bit of paracord (parachute cord) I had laying around that it is worth more than the coin šŸ™‚

4) attach it anywhere you want: your keys, the Hasselblad strap, your backpack.

Done!

The important thing is that you will have this object with you if (when) a jamming should happen.

Hell, this thing is so cheap and easy to do that you can also make tens of them, and spread them everywhere!

 

Review: Velbon Ultra Rexi L tripod and a quick and dirty mod

Travel Tripod Velbon Ultra Rexi L

I was shopping for a hiking tripod, i.e. one light enough to not break my back like the 8Kg / 17,6 Lbs monster I usually carry around, but stable enough to let me take un-blurred pictures even with medium / large format equipment. Oh, and it should haven’t costed an arm and a legā€¦so one of the Gitzo Mountaineer series was a no-start.

After checking the reviews on the internet I narrowed my choice to the Benro Travel Flat A2190T vs. the Velbon Ultra Rexi L.

They are both pretty light, in the order of 1,5 Kg / 3.3 Lbs. The attractive of the Benro was, well, that it folds perfectly flat. This would came pretty handy when you strap it against a backpack – or if you have to stuff it in a suitcase. What made me chose the Velbon Ultra Rexi L over it was that the Benro, because of its design constraints, cannot spread the legs to to be lowered enough; the fact that I read in more than a user review that it is flimsy did’t help its cause.

 

The review

The Velbon Ultra Rexi L proved to be pretty much almost perfect for my needs. My only concerns are:

1) the system to open the legs is pretty handy, but sometimes the legs seem locked when they are not. I ascribe this as just a matter of habitude, and not a design fault. Now I’ve taken the habit of just pushing on the tripod head to check for some unlocked section before putting the camera on*

2) reliability of the system used to lock the legs. It looks pretty strong, but only time will tell if dirt and debris will have the best of it**

3) the tripod has the unusual, for a tripod, 1/4″ screw – the same you find on the bottom of every camera. Given that almost any serious tripod head comes with a classic 3/8″Ā hole – and that anyway Velbon gives you along with the tripod a nice tool kit – why on Earth not include a small ultra-cheap adapter screw? I had one laying around, but stillā€¦

 

Last – and this is what this post is really about, so drum roll please:

4) the tripod does not have a hook under the center column to hang a bag if the weather is windy, to add stability

 

Given that:

1) is pretty much my fault, after a life spent using other kinds of locking systems. Besides, this system is MUCH faster to open / close than the traditional ones*

2) is more a concern for a technology I never used before than a fault**

3) is irritating and a lack of forward thinking of the marketing department, but hardly a defect

 

the only real issue impacting usability is 4), but that is easily fixed.

 

The quick and dirty modification

The tools

You will need:

– a drill, but in a pinch you can also operate the drill bit by hand

– a drill bit suited for plastic or, way better, a stepped bit like the one on the right

– an eye screw and a plug / conical anchor or, better still if you can find one: an eye bolt, a suitable nut and a washer

 

I used an eye screw, with a closed circular hook, because on pretty much all of my photographic gear I have carabiners. If you don’t use them you probably will better be using an open hook, to hang on it the shoulder strap of your bag.

Just:

– unscrew the plastic cap from the bottom of the center column

– drill a 6mm hole straight in its center – in the picture above the anchor is already half inserted in the hole

– pass the bolt through and lock it from the inside of the cap with the washer and than the nut – or in my case with the anchor


Done!

By the way, if you want to save further on the tripod weight you can unscrew the bottom part of the center column but still screw the cap on the remaining bit. I did this, because I never use the center column if I can help it; doing so is like using a monopod with three legs, not a tripod, and greatly decreases stability.

 

* Yes, it was definitively a matter of habitude. Now that I’ve grown accustomed to this system I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable when I use my others tripods with their more traditional leg locks!

** For now I’ve dragged it in mud, water, grass and lugged it around quite a few woods and mountaintops, but it is still going strong

 

How to adjust infinity focus using a camera as a collimator

Rolleicord III

When you buy an used camera, especially a very old one, chances are that the focus will be out of whack. Sometime it will be off just a bit, other times a lot.

The procedure to adjust it varies from camera to camera, but in every case you will have to find a suitable target – i.e. a subject truly at infinity – to achieve a correct focus.

This, especially if you live as I do in a city surrounded by mountains, can be a bit difficult. One of the best way is focusing on the full moon; unless you are into astronophotography you will not find on Earth – literally – a subject more at infinity than the moon. Unfortunately to do so you will have to wait for a night of full moon, hoping that will not be cloudy and that nobody will take you for a crazy person šŸ˜‰

Luckily there is a much simpler, if less known way: using a collimator. “What? And I should buy an expensive piece of equipment just to check my infinity focus? No way!” – I can hear you all saying. What you don’t know is that, if you happen to have a camera and a tele lens, you already own a collimatorā€¦

Here you can see a focus check performed on a nice Rolleicord – the poor man version of the Rolleiflex TLR cameras. All you have to do is:

1) tape a piece of ground glass* with a couple of lines marked on – a pencil will suffice – to the film plane of the camera whose focus you want to check (with a TLR like the Rolleicord you will have to check, obviously, also the viewing lens). This is critical: remember to tape the ground glass with the matt** side against the film plane.

ground glass attachment

2) point a flashlight – preferably a LED one because are way brighter – or a table lamp straight into the ground glass; the lens has to be at full aperture and the shutter locked with a remote release in B or T

shining a flashlight in the back of the camera

3) point your other camera with a tele lens set to its infinity stop and at full aperture mounted on straight into the lens of the camera you want to adjust. Focus the lens on the camera you want to check to infinity. When / if the lines on the ground glass will appear sharp well, congratulations, you have lab-perfect infinity focus. Otherwise you will have to adjust your camera – not the “collimator” camera! -, following the specific instruction for its model, until you can see the lines are sharp.

checking the focus

To adjust the viewing lens of a TLR you follow the same procedure, except that this time the flashlight goes straight on the ground glass in the waist level finder.

checking the viewing lens

For this job a Sony Nex is perfect because it lets you zoom up to 14x, so you can actually see the surface grain of the ground glass; with such magnification spotting even minor faults in the focus becomes trivial. I tend to use mine with a cheap but really good Minolta MD 135mm f/3,5, that on the Nex is equivalent to a 200mm on a full frame.

Now the Xenar of my two old Rolleicord are sharp as a tack! Talk about old lensesā€¦

*I’ve seen pretty much everything used for this purpose on the net, from scratched cd jewel cases to masking tape. Please, do yourself a favor and by a piece of real ground glass for a couple of euro! The plane of focus has to be perfectly flat, so jewel cases or – worse – tape do not workā€¦ After all you haven’t shell out all that money for a high quality camera to take unsharp pictures!

**Troubles identifying the matt side? Orient the glass to catch the reflection of an open window: if you can clearly see the window image in it this is the glossy side, if you can just see a “blob” of light then that is the matt side

How to carry a camera in the woods

Lowepro front view

First a confession: I hate – literally hate – having to haul around my waist a funny pack. Heck, I hate the name funny pack itself! But, objectively, it is one of the few way to carry gear in the woods – or around a city, for what matters – that at the same time doesn’t break your back and don’t require you having to stop every three seconds to put the bag on the ground, cursing because inevitably the ground will be damp or littered with animal poop, to access your camera and lenses.

But, did I told you? I HATE funny packs / bum bags.

To avoid carrying one I tried practically every alternative solution, from the commercial available to the DIY one:

– vests: pretty comfortable, especially if you avoid the photographic one and go for the cheap fishing type; but they scream “PHOTOGRAPHER, EXPENSIVE GEAR” to every thief, that in the woods is not a big problem, but in a city tour may well be. More, they are hot in the summer and uncomfortable in the winter, when you need to zip / unzip your jacket a thousand time a day.

– shoulder bags: THE photographer bag. I avoid this one like the plague. First they share the “look: photographer, expensive gear!!!” problem of the vests. Then they are too bulky, too heavy and the padding wastes a lot of space. If you are even a tiny bit careful that much padding is not needed. To avoid both of this problems you can make your padding insert out of Reflectix (the stuff of which car sunscreens are made), and put it in a normal, not photographic bag. Reflectix, other than dirty dirty cheap, it happens to be also a thermal isolating material, and that are good news for when (notice: “when”, not “if”) you will left your bag in the trunk or in the sun.Ā In both cases, commercial or DIY bags: forget about using that kind of bag in the woods, unless you walk just a hundred of meter from your car: your shoulders and back will thank you.

– sling bags: probably fine if you carry a mirrorless o some kind of light camera during a city tour, but in the woods you almost certainly will have same kind of technical backpack, and the sling bag will interfere with the shoulder straps of your primary pack.

– backpacks, photographic: forget about them. They are overpriced, over-padded and often don’t have room for the indispensable things you have to carry in the woods, like a jacket, 10 essentials (knife, compass, lighter, etc.), spare clothing, sandwiches!

– backpacks, technical: now we are onto something! Using a technical – i.e. made for hikers – backpack, and protecting your gear with a DIY padded insert or stuffing the lenses in spare socks, is one of the best solutions. Its only drawback is that it is a fine carrying method for gear which you don’t need often, but uncomfortable for camera and lenses you use the most. Every time you gotta stop, you will have to: put the pack down, search for the gear, make the photo, re-stuff the gear in the pack, put the pack onā€¦geez I got bored just saying that!

(Lightly) uncomfortable as it was, the technical backpack method was my choice for many years, and still is for the less used gear. As an added benefit, especially if you use a pack with an external frame, you can easily transport an heavy tripod without too much effort. But how to access the gear we use the most? And yes, without using a bum bag?

There are two categories of people that wander in the woods with hefty loads on their back: photographers and military. So I decided to look into how the army men carry their stuff, and a solution for my problem sprung to mind.

Lowepro back view
The belt loops; as a background I used my DIY silnylon tarp (200g, 10 euro)

This is a Lowepro funny pack that costed me 10 euro. It’s really well made, even if the central compartment it is too much small for a big camera like the Canon 5D Mark II – but perfect for a 60D and the kind. For me this is not a problem, as my camera lives on a tripod or fastened on my backpack shoulder straps with a carabiner; if the weather turns bad I simply slide on the Canon an Optex rain cover or a DIY silnylon one – made from scraps left from the above tarp. This way I can carry up to 4 lenses in this bag. What are you saying? That I’m cheating because this IS a funny pack? Yes, I know, for now it isā€¦ But with a simple – real simple – and dirty cheap mod you can turn this in a leg holster type pack, like the one used by the military to carry their guns.

Lowepro view of the details

The belt loops

Yes, it is that simple. Just slide two loops of cord – preferably 550 lbs breaking point REAL (i.e. not cheap chinese made one) paracord – in each of the two top fabric, Lowepro made loops and use the original waist belt, instead, to tie the bag on your thigh. Done!

Now:

– when you are without a backpack you will pass your trousers belt trough the top loops;

– when you are out with you technical backpack on, instead, you will pass through the loops the backpack kidney belt.

As an added bonus I was able to put an additional pouch on the Lowepro belt in which I carry my first aid / survival kit. Nothing fancy, you know, just: band-aids, a lighter, map and compass when needed, a little knife, a bit of tape and rope (paracord or Dyneema / Armsteel / Spectra) and my phone – that doubles as a GPS. And a little pouch in which I carry a 10 euro (againā€¦) chinese 10×25 monocular, quite useful to see from a distance trail signs and the kind without having to actually walk the distance to the sign, only to discover that it’s not the one you are seeking. It may seem an unnecessary luxury, but after you’ve hiked 20 Km you want to save every meter.

This solution worked like a charm for me, so I can finally say that I found the Graal of the hiker photographer: the perfect camera carrying system! I hope will do the same for you.

Winter is coming! A DIY tripod substitute for walks in the snow

Tripod stickWhen you walk in the woods in winter, with your trusted pair of snowshoes, you usually try to travel light.Ā It has been proved that walking with the snowshoes, while it’s a lot of fun, makes you spend 30% more energy; so we tend to travel as light as possible.Ā And giving that we cannot avoid to carry lenses & cameras & safety stuff we have to skim down somewhere else.

More, we all tend to buy the smallest snowshoes possible, i.e. the ones that barely support our own weight + a normal backpack, because a pair of oversized snowshoes are cumbersome when you have to take them out and have them hanging & banging on the backpack. But add to the equation the weight of an hefty tripod and we literally start to sink in fresh snow…

Last, but not least, we normally are pretty busy messing with gloves and walking sticks, so often we do not have enough hands. But here come the solution!

Snow stick top

It’s pretty simple: just unscrew the bit that keeps the laces tightened to the stick, insert in the slot, under the laces, a piece of wood or plastic (to give the screw something solid on which to hold) and put (using a longer screw, not the one that comes with your sticks) a tripod head with a fast release plate on top on one of the sticks. Done!

Sure, it is not a support as solid as a tripod, and you can forget to use it for long exposures (even though if you sink it into the snow deep enough…). But, especially if you use a mirrorless or a light compact camera (say a Leicaā€¦) you’re set. To add stability you may also pull toward youself the lace of the stick while pushing the stick itself away.

Total cost ranges from 0 (if you have an old tripod head like I did, just laying around) to 20-25 ā‚¬ for a good quality, Arca compatible plate.

Total weigh is negligible, a few grams on top of an object that you will carry anyway.

And, by the way, the same thing (although this one involves drilling an hole into the metal head) can be done on a ax pick to use when there is no snow. But in this case, quite frankly, I prefer to carry my 9Kg tripod!