Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tamrac 5586 Expedition 6x Backpack

With some new gear comes a need to store it all safely away. Previously I wrote about my Lowepro 200AW and how uncomfortable it was for me, as well as being too small for the amount of stuff I've accumulated in the early stage of this obsession, er...I mean hobby. The Lowepro is long gone, having fetched a decent price on Ebay. Since then I've only had the Crumpler Six Million Dollar Home (6MDH) for day trips. That bag has been perfect for its purpose so far and I definitely call it a keeper. For long trips and flights, I needed something to carry everything from home to my destination, while also bringing the 6MDH for walking around once I got there. As usual, I researched the crap out of everything, looking at all the backpacks out there in my desired price range. I read reviews, discussion boards, and read reviews again. Among the brands I looked at were Tamrac, Tenba, Crumpler, and even Lowepro again (a different one of course!). There may have been others but it's all a blur now. I finally decided that the Tamrac model 5586 in the Expedition 6x series had everything to meet my needs right now and allow a bit of extra room for future stuff.
I just received the 5586 a little over a week ago and I can't help smiling and feeling impressed every time I look at it. The build quality is outstanding. Let's start on the outside and work our way in:
Tamrac 5586 Expedition 6x Backpack
On the outside are two "wing accessory" pockets for memory cards, batteries, chargers and any other small knick-knacks you want to put in there. I can stuff a lot of compact flash cards in there and they even have a management system with red flaps to let you know which memory cards are empty and which are full. The lower pocket is meant to hold part of a tripod's feet while two straps in the middle hold the tripod secure. There's another strap on the top that wraps around the upper part of the tripod for even more support. My Slik Sprint Pro tripod with Flashpoint F-1 ballhead fits nicely here. You can't see it in the photo above, but there's a padded laptop compartment right behind all those front pockets and it is sized for a 14.1" screen. I don't plan on taking my laptop with me, so I stuff this pocket with my Cokin Z-Pro filter holder, a pouch holding some 4"x5" graduated neutral density filters, a B+W 77mm MRC UV filter, and a B+W 77mm Kaesemann circular polarizing filter.

Moving on to the inside:
Tamrac 5586 Expedition 6x Backpack
The Tamrac 5586 is capable of holding two DSLR bodies with medium-sized lenses mounted and six additional lenses in the main interior compartment. I suppose you could get one DSLR body with a long telephoto zoom along with another body sans lens too. I don't know that I'll carry all these lenses on a long trip, but it's nice to know I can fit them all in. Everything is well padded and well supported. On the inside of the front flap are two large transparent pockets that I use for my remote switches, USB cord, miscellaneous filters, adapters rings, and my Whibal card too.
The shoulder straps seem very sturdy and feel comfortable, even with 21 lbs of camera gear hanging off my back. A sternum strap provides even more adjustment and support to the shoulder straps, and a waist strap rounds out the great support package. I'm probably not in shape to carry this pack a long distance, but that's not Tamrac's fault. I'll get back into the exercise routine right after the holidays, I promise!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Cokin Z-Pro Filter Holder

I researched a few filter holders in my quest to come up with a decent landscape photography kit that wasn’t too ridiculously expensive. It pretty much came down to the Cokin P and Z-Pro holders, as well as the Lee foundation kit. The Lee seemed very nice but the price with a wide-angle adapter was pushing my budget a bit too much. The Cokin P holder was the cheapest option but I really wanted to avoid any potential vignetting with an ultra-wide angle lens like my new Canon EF-S 10-22mm. I ended up purchasing the Cokin Z-Pro as a combo from with some Hitech graduated neutral density (GND) filters. The combo kit comes with the Z-Pro holder, an adapter ring (you order by size to match your lens filter threads) and one Hitech GND filter of choice. I also added two more GND filters to my order so I have a few selections for different conditions. Below you can see the filter holder adapter ring mounted to a lens (77mm filter size):
Cokin Z-Pro 77mm Adapter

The filter holder slides over this adapter and is held on the top and bottom by little plastic push pins. These little pins are a major design flaw which I will get into later. Below you can see the holder mounted on the adapter:
Cokin Z-Pro Filter Holder

And here is a side view showing all three filter slots mounted:
Cokin Z-Pro Filter Holder

What I like about the Z-Pro is that it is configurable for 1, 2, or 3 filter slots. The construction is plastic, but seems pretty durable and very lightweight. In the default configuration with three filter slots, I noticed part of the third filter slot becoming slightly visible in the frame at 10mm. I removed the third slot and did not see any vignetting at all. Since I will most likely only use one filter until I get more experience, I removed the second filter slot and then ran into a serious design problem with this filter holder. Those two little pins on the lower part of the filter holder stick out and prevent a filter in the first slot from being pushed down. You need to be able to move the filter up and down to adjust for the horizon. Here you can see a filter mounted in the first slot, and only about a quarter of the shaded portion can cover the lens due to the pins:
Cokin Z-Pro Reversed with filter

While the pins are removable, they are necessary to keep the holder in place on the adapter ring. Eliminating them was not an option. After examining the pins I realized that they could be modified to sit flush and still hold in place. Below you can see my modified pin sitting in front of the unmodified pin. I simply cut off the end so I am left with the groove running the entire length of the pin:
Cokin Z-Pro Pin Modification

This allows the pin to be pushed flush either way, and still has enough friction to stay put. I rapped the filter holder on a table a few times and the pins didn’t budge. Here you can see the filter holder again, but with the lower two pins sitting flush:
Cokin Z-Pro Filter Holder (modified)

And here you can see the GND filter mounted in the first slot.
Cokin Z-Pro Filter Holder (modified)

As you might notice above, I reinstalled the second filter slot since it does not get in the way at wide angles and I might get some solid neutral density filters in the future to use along with the GND’s. For the price I am pretty happy with what I got, even with the design flaw. The Lee filter holder has a much better design and better construction. Maybe one day I will upgrade, but for now, and for someone just starting out in landscape photography, the Cokin Z-Pro should suit my needs just fine. Now I just need to get out and take some photos!