3 Legged Thing Winston Tripod

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3LT Winston

Sir Winston Churchill–one of the most respected men in modern history. He helped lead a nation to victory through World War II. His famous quote “we shall never surrender” sums up his determination to succeed no matter the heavy burden it carries. Not only did he maintain his unwavering trajectory, he looked good while doing it.

It’s a well-known fact that he left a design for a tripod that carried his virtues, but the technology was just not there yet.

Sir Winston Churchill was way ahead of his time.


So now I have the 3 Legged Thing Winston tripod in my hands. Does it live up to this *possibly true* intro I just gave it?

So I’ve owned a few tripods throughout my life. If the 2016 Spencer could tell the budding, younger Spencer one thing to guide his life as a professional photographer, it would be to select an awesome tripod right from the beginning and to not waste money on all the tripods that would end up failing for one reason or another. I would tell young Spencer to just buy the 3 Legged Thing Winston.

So–yes–the tripod does live up to the namesake.

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Let’s start with the build quality and appearances. Oh, yes. The build quality. The feel of the matte carbon fiber legs–with all the carbon fiber that present intended for support and none of the fake carbon fiber weave which exists purely for aesthetics. But just because this tripod does not have the gimmicky pattern does in no-way take away from the beauty. From the awesome anodization of the metal pieces to the active capture of the twist mechanism that gives me a very confident feeling of being locked–this tripod is quality. Cleaning the legs are also wicked easy–without tools!

I have a few tripods that I currently use based on the task at hand. I have a tripod for when I travel by plane and need something light and portable. I have a tripod for when I need to be very incognito and fit a tripod INSIDE a bag. Then I have a tripod for everything else–that’s astrophotography, studio photography, road trips, landscapes and long exposure shots. For those tasks, I usually use the same tripod. I want something stable and quick to deploy. I usually go for something with the fewest leg sections. Weight is less of a concern because I am not worrying about it going in the overhead compartment. That tripod is my most used tripod. My former tripod has now been replaced by the Winston.

So what does this tripod do that is outside of the norm? For a tripod that gets this tall, it’s amazingly compact in its folded form. Also, the minimum height comes in at around half a foot. That is just enough for it to hold my Sony cameras for some very tight macros. Add to that one of the legs turns into a monopod! And if you prefer that your ballhead mount directly to the crown and not a center column…you’ve got that.  And these last features are things that happen on the entire Equinox line at 3 Legged Thing.

Wow. Just. Wow.


So what can 3LT improve on with this tripod? Not much, actually.

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Oneonta Falls: That’s my wife casually sitting on the most dangerous pile of logs I’ve ever experienced.

Some back story…

I am a heavy user of the Peak Design Capture clip. That device is seriously disruptive (in a positive way) to my shooting workflow. I can “wear” my gear comfortably on my backpack when I am hiking and be able to take a picture at a moment’s notice (without opening my bag). This has been useful, for instance, when I hiked Oneonta Gorge in Oregon. If you are not familiar with that chasm, it involves maneuvering over a large log jam that is so dangerous, it actually can be fatal. As such, it involves using your hands and feet to climb over slippery logs to continue on the hike (picture above with my lovely wife).

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Being able to safely climb AND take a photo at a so seamlessly is something that I could do only with the Capture Clip. It securely holds my gear and then allows me go directly onto any arca-swiss compatible clamp. The only disadvantage is that the Peak Design implementation of the arca-swiss standard makes it difficult to put a fail-safe pin that can hold the camera should the screw on the clamp loosen.

It would be gut-wrenching to have your expensive equipment come crashing down due to a slipped arca clamp. So my workaround is to use another Peak Design product, the Cuff, to clip onto the camera. It’s not made for this purpose, but using it as such gives me enough confidence to hold the camera in case it does come loose. It would be nice if the clamp on this tripod had a lever that would ensure a complete lock–that’s all.

One last thing I wish I had (for purely sentimental reasons) is soft padding on the legs. I got used to having something to grip when my hands get slippery or when I am out photographing in the cold. My solution is to wrap a leg with a chainstay protector I purchased from a bike shop.

Problem solved.

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This has now become my favorite tripod. It’s such a perfect match for my type of photography. It is beautiful with the right amount of bling without looking like a highlighter (I’m looking at you, MeFoto). It is light and stable where it counts, and weighty where it matters. So if you’re reading this and you haven’t purchased a tripod yet…you now know what to get.

My Experience with Sony PRO Support

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Sony Imaging PRO Support is a brand new premium care program for professional Sony photographers. It is growing and learning from industry practices on how to best support the Sony professional photographer community.

As such, Sony has a set of requirements for photographers in order to be a part of the PRO Support group:

– A minimum of 2 Sony Alpha Full-Frame interchangeable lens cameras
– A minimum of 3 Sony ZEISS and/or G series lenses
– Be an active professional photographer (self-employed or an employee of a professional imaging business/organization)
– Provide professional work samples
– Provide membership fee payment

– So what do you get once you are in the PRO Support program?
– Dedicated support by phone or email seven-days-a-week
– Speedy repair turnaround time–free shipping both ways
– Repair loans
– Discounts on out-of-warranty repairs
– (and my favorite) Product evaluation

Being part of the PRO Support program since it was in a limited beta release, I have been able to experience most of these features.

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First, the cleanings. I tend to photograph in some pretty sticky environments. While I do my best to shield my equipment from salt spray and the humidity, I realize I am not working in a vacuum. With winds and constant exposure to the elements, my sensor will get dirty. I can clean the camera sensor myself (pretty risky for me–especially after late night editing sessions and too much caffeine), get my local camera shop to clean it for me (at about $50 for each camera), or so send my gear in for free and get it cleaned.

You get three shipped cleanings annually.

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The first experience I had with the camera repair was about a year ago–during the limited beta release I mentioned earlier.

As I am with my cameras nearly everyday in many types of situations, accidents are bound to occur. My personal experience with them started when I broke my Sony a6000. These cameras are strong, but not strong enough to survive a fall from my cabinet (that’s what the Sony TX-30 is for, apparently). I called up the private support number (which is  not advertised publicly, as it’s only for PRO Support members) and was on hold for a minute before a friendly Sony Senior product specialist picked up on the other end. Within minutes of the call, I was provided with a pre-paid FedEx shipping label and guidelines for the camera shipment. After carefully packaging the camera, I dropped it off to my nearby FedEx shipping center. After checking the tracking the next day–I was surprised that it already made it across the country and was delivered to Precision Camera.

Unfortunately, at this early state of the PRO Support program, my experience was not as fast. This had more to do with the supply chain than it did with the performance of the Precision Camera team (I guess the Sony a6000 is a popular camera 😉 ). The day after they received my camera, I received an email saying that the shop didn’t have spare parts for the type of repair my camera. They also offered a replacement camera that I could use in the meantime. As I’ve got a few other cameras to shoot with in the meantime, I decline on borrowing another camera. After a few more days, the Sony PRO Support team again offered another camera to borrow. Again, I declined.

Then the following week, I received an email with a tracking number. Parts came in and my camera was being shipped to me. The very next day, the camera was delivered in full working order.

My second experience with the repair was executed considerably faster? How fast? I needed a display repair on my Sony a7RII and six business days later, I had the repaired unit in my hands–that includes shipping across the country–twice! It looks like the dedicated team at Precision Camera that specifically handles PRO Support members worked out some of the previous kinks they had the year before!

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So this feature is awesome and one of my favorite things about the PRO Support program. Essentially what happens is I send the PRO Support team an email and ask if I could try out some brand new lens I am interested in. That’s it. Within a few days, expect it at your doorstep (assuming, of course, you are there to sign for it).

The first time I did this was with the 35mm f1.4 Zeiss lens. I could not wait to test this lens out–and test it I did. I went everywhere with that lens. All types of lighting conditions and environments.The few weeks with that lens was amazing. After my time with that lens, I had to ship it back to Lens Rentals–but not without ordering my very own copy.

160129FE 35mm F1.4 ZAILCE-7RM241-19If you are curious about acquiring Sony gear and just want to see how it performs first, this is definitely an excellent way to go.

I rented several e-mount lenses, including the Zeiss 16-70 (provide link), the G 18-105, and the FE 28mm f2, and the corresponding adapters. Once I was able to test how they perform, I made my decision to purchase them.

Renting goes through Lens Rentals and they ship it quickly. It also applies to more than lenses. It works with camera bodies, as well. You can try out battery grips, A-mount to E-mount adapters, and monitors. You can rent the items for two weeks at a time based on availability.

As I write this, I am waiting on the Sony RX1RII to borrow–ready to do it all over again and make a more educated decision on my gear purchases.

The team behind Sony PRO Support photographers are far more than support professionals. They know the gear and are also photographers, themselves.
There’s so much more to the PRO Support program and it’s awesome to see how they continue to grow and listen to their customers to better the service.160622FE 28mm F2ILCE-7RM2103

Sony Playmemories – Sky HDR

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Those ND Filters

I use neutral density filters a lot. 15052612-24mm F4.5-5.6ILCE-7R-54It is, by far, my most
used filter. It helps me drag my shutter speeds to get a pretty neat effect with water and clouds. It helps me make the smoothest curtains of water, as well as stretched out cloud effects.

But they also serve a different purpose. When I photograph something with skies, I grab a graduated ND filter to properly expose the skies with the land or water. The dynamic range of the Sony sensor is pretty amazing, but sometimes you need to stretch it even further to bring out details in both the land-based items and the clouds in the sky. Otherwise, with less dynamic range, you stand to lose details in the highlights or shadows.

It has worked so far with my photography, but it comes with it’s set of problems. One is making sure I brought the correct one and every piece required to mount it (not only do I need the actual graduated ND filters–there’s a few of them–but I also need the slide mount and the appropriate threaded rings that the slide mounts clip onto). Then when I bring the pieces, I need to make sure I don’t drop it. Typically the environments I photograph in are not the easiest to move in, and among the most hazardous when I drop things (dropping glass on rocks usually ends in tragedy). Then there’s always the cost. Some of the ND filters cost several hundreds of dollars. You could always purchase the cheaper, non-multicoated ones, but then run the risk of glare and internal reflections. To add, it’s really another element to keep clean. You have to make sure your lens is clean–sure, but now you also have a filter with two sides that can pick up dirt.

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You have to really be dedicated to put up with all the filter juggling .

Sky HDR Playmemories Camera App

Now I would like to think that Sony actually made this Sky HDR application for me. This app ticks so many of the checkboxes for me.

It includes three types of presets (Blue Sky, Sunset, and Graduated ND), with two additional custom “save points.”  I only had time to really play with two of them and I’ll share my experience here.

Here is the comparison–with the only corrections being the removal of dirt on the lens and sensor.

Comparison

I got really comfortable with the Sunset and the Graduated ND filters. The sunset preset provides a warm tone that “expresses the redness of dusk scenes impressively.” The Graduated ND filter “shoots images with only different exposures.”

Usage

This app is remarkable to me for the reason that it does a composite of the land and the sky–each with it’s own exposure settings. You can independently control the white balance, shutter and aperture of each element. You set the boundary between the sky area and the land area and rotate it appropriately to match your horizon. When you get your settings dialed in, you push the shutter button and your camera takes an image with the land settings first, then it takes the second exposure with your sky settings. It presents it to you then asks if you would like to tweak your boundary settings (position of boundary, as well as the defocus area–the strength of the effect near the horizon). When you accept the changes, you can then save the image. Oh yeah, it can also do this on the RAW file.

ON. THE. RAW. FILE.

Also, it’s friggin’ 10 bucks. That’s cheaper than shipping on some of the ND filters I own.

Caveats

The Sky HDR app is, no doubt, a pretty powerful tool. That being said, it can take a while to get the settings done so that your image looks natural. It’s very easy to make the settings so pronounced that it makes the image look weird.

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Also, in my small time with the program, I could not figure out a way to make the exposure last longer than 30 seconds, even with a remote shutter connected. It would have been nice to use the remote to drag the shutter far beyond 30 seconds, as I find that the clouds really start to look pretty awesome after a minute with an open shutter.

Discovered Niceties

There are some advantages to the Sky HDR application that I never thought about before even playing with it. One nice advantage is that I can further shrink what I bring when I go shooting–which is nice. I have forgotten things when I head out to shoot (memory cards, filters, batteries), so it’s nice to know that if I bring, at minimum, my camera, I also know that I have a decent set of graduated ND filters.

Another nice advantage that I didn’t realize when I first started playing with this application is filter stacking.

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Filter stacking can be frowned upon due to degradation of some filters, as well as vignetting that occurs–especially when you shoot with a wide angle lens. The reason filter stacking is nice is for use with a 10-stop ND filter–to really slow down my shutter.

Lastly, it saves me some time when I don’t need to do a composite in Photoshop. When I do it with my Sony a7R II, that would be at least two 42 megapixel images, each one with the potential to be over 80 megabytes in size. When my camera can do that for me–then I could send the image straight to my
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I am quickly finding the Sky HDR application very useful–and now a very easy to implement component in my workflow. Also–it’s only $10. That’s a simple decision for the application-capable Sony camera owners out there.

To get the Sky HDR app, and the MANY others for your app-capable Sony camera, go here.

A camera and a smartphone.

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One humongous reason I have shifted all my shooting to mirrorless cameras is because I wanted smaller devices that were still as fully featured (if not more so) than my larger SLT cameras. Saving weight is nice and all, but I did it so that I can actually fit more gear into my bag.

One thing I couldn’t quite shed, though, was my computing system. I always had to bring a laptop (and it’s large power supply), a mouse, and an external backup hard drive. That meant I had no choice but to also carry another bag that housed my computational needs.

This was inefficient. In the past five years, my photo gear has managed to shrink by about a third, but my laptop has remained the same size. When I discovered a wireless SD-card capable external drive that was compatible with my mobile phone, it dawned on me that I could leave the laptop at home and just use my smaller phone and tablet.

But I wanted to take it further. I wanted to see if I could leverage my android devices to not only backup my media every night, but to also edit the images to a degree near what I could do at home.

DSC07034-01 DSC06843-01 ORG_DSC07619-02ORG_DSC08022-02 DSC08240-01 DSC06806-01 ORG_DSC07329-02 DSC06873-01 So I packed up my camera gear, my android phone (with the Snapseed mobile application), and wireless SD card 2TB hard drive and set forth to photograph the changing colors of the North Eastern part of the country.

This is what I was able to do–all from my cameras and editing on my phone.

 

What did I learn?

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I could definiately do it. Barely making a change to my workflow (in fact, improving it slightly), I was able to take pictures with my camera like I normally would do, wirelessly transfer select jpeg images to my mobile device for editing and sharing, and archive my photos and videos at the end of the day at the hotel while I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed (the wireless hard drive can automatically backup my SD cards upon inserting the card in the hard drive slot).

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The output of the imagery could even be printed and published–it’s that good. Now there are some things that I couldn’t do. For instance, my desktop computer at home has some sophisticated software for editing RAW software. That way I can really leverage all my dynamic range and push my shadows and highlights–far more than I can with the normal jpeg. But for the majority of my other images, this newly found mobile solution suited me fine.

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No need to bring the proprietary charger for my laptop, I was able to charge my hard drives and mobile devices with the same ubiquitous micro usb charger I also use to charge my cameras!

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Snapseed is one insanely sweet mobile application. I find myself using it like a simpler touch-friendly Adobe Lightroom-like program that can edit jpeg images that come out of my Sony A7R II and have a degree of latitude in editing thanks to the dynamic range of the camera. I could even clean up specks from a dirty sensor.

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The word “impressed” was inadequate to describe how I felt.

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Less cables, less power requirements, less baggage, lighter luggage, a simpler infrastructure, smoother traveling and the ability to edit images while waiting for my sandwich to arrive.

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Photo nirvana.

Note: every image here was taken on my Sony A7R II, edited on my Nexus 6 phone. I am writing this article on my phone on the flight back home.

GEAR TALK – High Resolution PC for a professional photographer

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I finally got my hands on the amazing Sony a7R II camera. All computer-crushing backside illuminated 42 RAW megapixels of AWESOME SAUCE are finally mine to process–assuming I’ve got the computer powerful enough to process it.

And I do. The a7R II wasn’t my first romp with high resolution photos–the a7R was. And with my experience with that camera, I was able to customize a machine tailor made to my purposes.

You see, when much of my workflow involves delivering images expeditiously, I have to remove all bottlenecks. The computer has the potential to be the largest bottleneck to my productivity.

In my workflow, if my computer is a hindrance, my entire process is stalled.

So how can I make sure my computer can slice through hundreds of images and have enough computing power to play some music while I cull into the wee hours of the morning? Keep in mind that each Sony a7Rii RAW file is over 40 megabytes. To add, I usually have multiple RAW files open at the same time.

I have built my computers for as far back as I can remember–finding it both cathartic and cost effective. I like controlling what goes into my machine and not let a big-box computer company tell me what parts belong in my computer. I also like to swap out a part for something else if it will give me better performance or that part happens to be what ails my computer rather than have an entire system out of commission. This ideology precludes me from going with laptops or going to companies like Apple or shopping at pre-made places like Costco. Also, my work in photography requires key applications that prevent me from going to Linux distributions.

Because of that, my computing world is PC-based. And in that PC-based world, the most important things for me as a high resolution professional photographer are redundancy, parallel processing, and efficiency. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll explain the components in my computer system and how it contributes to what I feel are important.

Redundancy:

2 SSDs
5 internal mechanical hard drives
1 Drobo
2 NAS
2 UPS

I do not skimp on my storage. First–SSDs. I have two of them. One contains my operating system and applications. The second contains my scratch disk and Adobe Lightroom catalog.

The mechanical hard drives are my “staging environment” where I save the RAW files, other documents, and recorded videos. The mechanical drives also are “enterprise” quality rather than normal consumer quality. My external Drobo drive (which contains four additional mechanical hard drives) contain my processed files. My network attached storage (NAS) devices contain timed encrypted backups of my client files, and are located in various areas of my house, connected to my wired network. I also have several uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that condition and protect my computer and storage during power outages.

Task Manager

Parallel Processing:

12 core CPU
64 GBs of RAM
2 3D accelerated video cards

What does parallel processing mean? Essentially, that means my computer can multitask. When my computer is on, it rarely has only one program open. Usually I have a web browser with multiple tabs open, a music streaming service (I use Rdio), Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as Capture One 8 Pro. I also have my email client open, and a variety of utilities that support the tasks I am working on. For instance, I have been trying out a product from Palette Gear, that allows me to cull and edit my Lightroom catalog. I also have software that maintains my color calibration for each of my computer screens. All of the hardware devices plugged into my computer require some type of software driver. It needs to work harmoniously. The newest versions of Adobe photo editing software (Lightroom and Photoshop) can actually leverage the powerful 3D accelerated graphics cards to improve performance in the application. For instance, Adobe Lightroom can use the 3D card to instantly display the changes that a slider (exposure, blacks, clarity, etc.) move makes to the image.

Desktop-Screenshot

 

Efficiency:

Water cooling
80 Plus Platinum Power Supply

Why do I use water cooling? 12 cores of processing power get hot. Air cooling would work, but a smaller fan mounted on top of my CPU would need to spin fast, making it too loud for my office. When the cooling task is spread across two larger fans (as opposed to smaller ones) by way of a liquid radiator, it allows each fan to spin slower, letting my computer run cooler and quieter. “80 Plus Platinum” is a rating given to the highest performing efficient power supplies. That means more power is used by your computer and not lost unnecessarily to heat and noise. Also, the hotter a power supply is, the less efficient it is. So it allows the power supply to run cooler.

So how does it perform?

It’s fast.

The programs open immediately and my photos load with minimal lag, going from image to image quickly and rendering the image modifications nearly instantaneously. And this is with Adobe Lightroom, arguably a resource intensive software that, while extremely feature packed, has been known to be slower with each recent release. I can have multiple image editing software open simultaneously and have each one executing a task (for instance, I can have Capture One exporting hundreds of images, Photoshop can process a HDR image, and Lightroom can make edits to another image).

Is it expensive?

Your camera–wasn’t it expensive? Yes, this computer is not cheap.

I may not be the typical computer user, but as a photographer that processes high resolution images, I know I cannot be the only one with this elevated processing echelon. Your requirements might be different. In fact, many others who process the 4K video might need something even beefier.

Peak Design Products

Peak Design Capture Clip with Pro Pad

By now, you can probably tell that I am a big fan of innovation and technology.

This has me constantly scouring the internet for items that help make my photographic life better. I frequent websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It was on one such website that I discovered the Capture Pro and the Peak Design team behind it.

Not only do they have the Capture Pro camera retention devices that allow me to be moving around with my cameras secure onto my body WHILE allowing me to mount directly onto my tripod–they also have different types of straps that affect every facet of my photography.

Versatile camera straps for freedom of movement and snug when I need it? That’s my SLIDE.

Strap for when I’d like to improve stability while hand holding? That’s the CLUTCH.

Peak Design SlideThe next one, CUFF, is amazingly useful for a use case that I don’t think Peak Design intended. I think they intended the CUFF to be used for fastening your camera to your wrist. Instead, I use it for tethering to my cameras to my tripods as insurance for my sometimes-loose arca swiss Peak Design Cuffclamps. Rather than have a camera crashing down to the ground, it swings down while still being attached to my tripod.

I’ve been using their stuff for over a year and their products have made it around the world with me, from the desert to the sub-arctic circle. It has never failed on me. In fact, the only issue I’ve had was a weird flaking on one of my Capture device. But their customer service is friendly and swift.

Not that you’d have an issue with the Peak Design quality. The stuff is crafted beautifully. Everything from textures to materials selected.  To Peak Design’s  designer, a heartfelt thank you.

Your stuff is badass.