Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Landscape Photography Equipment

A warning, this post will appeal mostly to the gear heads. Ok now that the warning is out of the way, lets get to it. On my recent trip to the Grand Tetons, I had a chance to try out my new landscape rig. In particular I was using two pieces of equipment I hadn't used before. First was an Arca Swiss C1 cube, second was a Zacuto Z-Finder.

I am fortunate enough to have a lot of nice camera gear. Those that have shot with me in the field or those at work can attest to this. However, there isn't much I own that doesn't serve a distinct purpose and the same is true for both of these additions.

I have been intrigued by the notion of a geared head since trying in frustration to get a perfectly framed landscape image with my ballhead. I would usually get just a small amount of slip as I was locking down the ballhead. Its much worse with cheap ballheads, but even the best ones made by Really Right Stuff or Markins can have just a smidge under a heavy load. So I started doing some research and found some really nice geared heads made by Manfrotto but they are bulky and weigh a lot. Finally, I came across the Arca Swiss C1 cube and it looked like exactly what I needed. After I got back up from swooning at the price I discarded the idea. Eventually, unable to find anything else comparable in both weight and functionality I bit the bullet.

I won't re-iterate what many others have said about the cube, check out the thorough review on Luminous Landscape to get an idea of all it does. So what does it do for my photography? With the cube, I can very easily get my camera platform perfectly level. Then with the rotating camera base I can easily pan for stitched panoramics and best of all I set all this up very quickly.

Next up is the Zacuto Z-Finder (I got the 2.5x version because I wear glasses and the 3x I've told is a little too much magnification for glasses wearers). Anyone, who has done DSLR video is probably familiar with this product. Its basically a giant magnifying glass attached to the back of the camera LCD. Because it magnifies the view of the display the idea is that it makes it much easier to get accurate manual focus with Live View (or when shooting video). Overall, the claim is true, its very true. I find it wonderfully easy to get precise focus with the Z-Finder, though its largely only useful with cameras that have a reasonably high resolution display (like the 5D Mark II rather than the 1Ds Mark III). My favorite landscape lens is the Canon 24mm TS-E II and with the Zacuto I can get the focal plane exactly where I want it, especially when applying tilt.

The newest version of the Z-Finder comes with a base plate that attaches to the bottom of your camera which then begs the question how do you get an arca swiss compatible plate on there to attach to your camera to the tripod, especially an L-plate?

Fortunately, Arca Swiss has a solution for this and its the Universal L bracket. Arca Swiss' design for the universal bracket is brilliant with an easy flip of a switch both of the bases can be adjusted. One of the really nice things about the Really Right Stuff L brackets is that they are slightly moulded for the body which means its possible to twist the bracket when attached. Due to its universal nature, thats the one downside of the Arca Swiss Universal L bracket.

Lastly, there's filters. Those who have shot with me in the field know that I love filters for landscape photography. Its not uncommon for me to have 2 or 3 filters stacked. I use the Lee 100mm x 100mm system (I have adapters for each of my lenses) and have a Lee Circular Polarizer and ND grads. I also have a couple of Singh-Ray Grads and the Reverse Grad.

Finally, here is an image with everything put together. This was taken at about the same time that the images of the equipment above were taken, using everything I talked about here. I used the Zeiss 21mm ZE lens instead of my usual tilt shift here and the grad ND was a Singh-Ray 4 stop soft grad.
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