Friday, November 19, 2010

Photography 201: Photographer's Holiday Wish List

A big part of Photography 201 is adding accessories and beefing up your photography inventory... here's the shortlist of what's inside my pack and on my Holiday wish list this year...

I currently own a little Canon Rebel Xsi that is lightweight for skiing and hiking with, and have two lenses, 18-55mm and 75-300mm.

The first accessories I purchase for a new body are extra memory cards, and then get lens filters, cap keepers, and hoods (I prefer the flexible ones over the rigid version for price and damage control) for all my lenses.  Swapping out one set of each accessory between two or three lenses just gets old, really quick, so stock up.  Lenses also don't always come with lens bags, so finding padded bags or a divided camera bag/backpack is also a must-have. 

The next addition to my current setup was an angling external flash/speedlight with a white reflector. The on-camera flashes for any body, DSLR or point-and-shoot, are weak, too close to the lens, and not dynamic enough in size or angling to take a great night portrait.  The angle-action is the key to good photographs (bouncing light), and ones with swivel are even better, although I suggest you start with just one angle, and progress as you learn the techniques of bouncing light.   I have the Nissan Di466, which came with a stand as well for using it off-camera (in "slave" mode).  It's only downfall is the battery usage, and it drains a set of 4 in 5 hours (and they come out smokin' hot). To save on usage I take the batteries out when the speedlight isn't in use, and have found that unfortunately it doesn't run well on rechargeables.

The next thing I purchased for my camera body was a battery grip, which adds an extra battery slot (must also be purchased) in a side-mount grip with side controls for shooting portrait.  It adds weight, but well worth it for the extra juice on a long shoot, as well as the speedier shutter for action and sequence shots.  Save yourself the mark-up dough and buy a secondary brand for this one. I bought Zeikos, and what I like about this one is that it comes with both the Canon standard battery pack, and an alternative AA (6) battery pack, great for a great backup (although as with the speedlight, it doesn't run well on rechargeables).

Camera straps are also a must-have upgrade, I'm currently looking at this inexpensive posture-saver, the RS-5.  In a line of handy and comfortable options, the RS-5 excels for its 3-layer storage unit on the shoulder.  But they all have the bumper to keep the strap in place, and all help the posture with that side-sling action. The shoulder storage includes a top, phone-sized pocket with silent flap, a long, flat pocket for memory cards or batteries, and a flat, zippered pocket against the shoulder which can be used for lenses, caps, granola bars, etc. My only dislike of it is that it's boring old black.  So if you can skip the shoulder padding and storage, check out the lady-like designs at Jodie's.  Many photographers love them (below).

Once you're packing in the clients, upgrading lenses is everyone's constant expense it seems.  Lenses keep improving, and they aren't cheap.  This is one area where spending the extra for the name brand is probably worth it, although Leika, Sigma, and Tamron seem to get high reviews.  Covering all your distances (such as right now I'm missing the 55-75mm range) is a good place to start, as is an all-in-one lens like a 18-200. Those are heavy and not as fast-acting, however, and if you're unsure, I have a great place I just found out about to rent them and test them out.  Visit, they're really inexpensive and I plan on renting a telephoto- the 70-200 f/2.8L - for our January ski camp.  I tested it at the Canon workshop I took in October and loved its speed, weight, and results.

Last, once you start upgrading with additional camera bodies and multiple lenses, don't forget to add personal property insurance through your home insurance agent.

Please, share your favorite camera accessories in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Nissan Leaf - Green Car Vision Award 2010

I watched a movie last year called "Who Killed the Electric Car," and have carried around a pit in my stomach about it since then. Perhaps electric isn't the way to go, but why would someone eliminate possibilities?  Two weeks ago I watched "Fuel," which was far more educational and enlightening than "Who Killed...", but it still offered up some conspiracies about Henry Ford and his Ethanol cars during the prohibition era that shocked me. My head flooded with other theories about all those who have suffered death or torture in contradicting the oil industry over the last 100 years. And as a green enthusiast since the early 90s when I turned of voting age, I have spent the last two decades wondering, when, if ever, will things change?

Then I saw Nissan's latest commercial. A polar bear is lounging on a last chunk of ice in the glacier melt.  He jumps off and swims south, then walks further south, past what is obviously the Alaskan-Canadian-Pacific Northwest coast, down to, presumably, California.  He trots up to a little blue car, stands on his hinds, and hugs the driver, who is just about to get into his Nissan Leaf.  The ad reads "Nissan's first Electric Car."


Electric car? Wait a minute, Big Oil killed the Electric Car, I watched it all.

But no. Nissan fights back with the Leaf, and Green Car Journal Editors awarded it the 2010 Green Car Vision Award at the Washington Auto Show in the spring, and it hit the lots shortly after.

The Leaf is truly visionary.  But it's not alone.  The Ford Focus went electric (Henry would be proud), Mercedes-Benz released a hydrogen fuel vehicle, and the Toyota Prius hybrid just went plug-in as well. I am astounded by the progress and innovation this year in the automobile industry.

But some questions remain.

1. Is zero emissions a good trade-off for plugging into the grid?  General consumers are not yet taught to alter where their energy is coming from, and while Nissan claims that the upfront cost and monthly electric bills are comparable to a traditional combustion vehicle and its cost of gasoline, are consumers thinking about where that electricity is coming from?  Is coal a good tradeoff for oil? Perhaps not, but it seems like a good temporary detour.

2. When will the government subsidize these alternative vehicles, like Germany did, in order to encourage the transition away from oil?  If these alternative options stay at $25,000 and above for a new vehicle, the general public won't buy them. When the administration launched "Cash for Clunkers," they never encouraged alternative fuel options, and most consumers chose guzzlers like Hummers and Tahoes over hybrids.

3. Where are these cars being made?  Consumers are also not yet fully aware that when purchases come from abroad, they come with a hefty carbon footprint already.  No matter how small the item's future footprint is, is that sensible? Does America still hope to support itself on Chinese industry?  Do the rigs who bring cars here run on diesel?  Do most people even know who Rudolf Diesel was?

Heck, are cars even our future?  Sometimes you just have to stop asking questions though and support progress.  Either way, way to go Nissan for its award in excellence and ingenuity this year. I want one!  My husband is still holding out for his Porche911. Luckily that just went hybrid too.