16 January, 2013

YongNuo YN-622C review

Well, this won't actually be a review because you can already find that here, and I highly recommend reading that first. I just thought coming up with some extras.

So, first things first, ordering and packaging. Of course you can find them from big suppliers like amazon but I got a pair from the official ebay store, payed 94$. I ordered them on 23 November 2012 and even though they appeared as shipped the very same day I received them on 15 January 2013. Almost lost hope for them but can't put any blame on the sellers, holidays were in between and a lot of bureaucracy.  Got a pleasant surprise right at the post office though, as the package was marked as a gift and priced for 30$, great for dealing with customs.

YongNuo YN-622C package content

Packaging is quite remarkable. First, there's the bubble wrapped envelope. Inside is an "original" fancy cardboard box, inside it a blank one with just a "tips" label on it (read the manual, don't use the units on a high voltage flash, it's OK to torn off the protective film), then comes two individual bubble wrapped bags protecting the tranceivers and an user manual and even a quick start guide. Even more, when I opened the battery cover I found a silica gel bag used to protect from moisture. The mentioned protective films protect the focus assist lamp and the top surface of every unit. I admit, I'm very impressed with the level of care these guys put into such a cheap product and yet so feature rich.

YongNuo YN-622C box, front view YongNuo YN-622C box, back view

Unfortunately the so called documentation is quite hard to read as english is definitely not an often spoken language at Yongnuo, an extra reason to read that link I was talking about in the beginning. But that's hardly a problem with the amount of online support these days. The real problem I found was the fact that the hot shoe connection to the camera is not properly aligned as both units were having a slight left twist when mounted. It's nothing major, it doesn't even affect the focus assist lamp's aiming, but it's there non the less, for reasons that I can't understand. I thought about opening up a transceiver to get a look at the insides but is seemed it needed more than just unscrewing the obvious 4 screws, and that "more" I could not find. That also killed my hope that the misalignment can be somehow fixed.

The focus assist lamp is implemented through a laser diffraction grating that gets the job done in most cases. The limitation comes from a narrow central spread of the pattern and that fact that at close focus distances that pattern doesn't even cover the center focus point but stays above it because of the lens/transceiver parallel axes. That's not quite a big issue as it can be fixed if using single spot focus moved somewhere inside the assist projection pattern.

YongNuo YN-622C battery compartment YongNuo YN-622C hot shoe

When it comes to weight, one empty transceiver is 76g, adding a pair of enloop 2400mAh got the scale at 136g. The enloops are quite an overkill for the task and regular batteries of cheaper rechargeables will do just fine and cut the weight a little. A nice surprise came from the battery compartment. Instead of the classical design where a spring is mounted at each end, here the springs rest inside the unit and metal pads at the insert/extract side. This makes the use much quicker and easier even though adds for a little attention to look at the battery marking.

But all this aside, what about using them? Well.. it can be as transparent as using a normal optically remote Canon flash or as complicated as other radio TX/RX offers with little buttons, lights and combinations. Point is.. it does it all, or the most of it at least. Am I happy with the purchase? Actually I'm waiting to get some money for another pair so I can use 2 off camera flashes.

06 January, 2013

Gitzo GT1544T review

Gitzo GT1544T .. a dream come true I may say. Since most of my photography is outdoors during mountaineering or biking and almost never with an assist car, going light weights heavy on my mind. Every gram counts and I went to great extents to keep it as light as possible. One thing that I enjoy doing after a day's walk is that awesome nightshot before going to bed, whether it's with the sparkling city lights down below of with the star light sky up above.

Most of the times you get by with the camera on a rock, an improvised support but that always limits your possibilities. I used for a long period of time a Joby GorillaPod  but that hardly qualifies as a tripod. It's rather a tripod head replacement as you need to sacrifice all it's height and length just to give the camera enough stability and the right orientation. So that keeps you and the camera stuck to ground level, hard to look down to the valley because of grass and other obstacles, hard to look up to the sky because of limited head space for image reviewing and setting adjustment. I did get a "full feature" tripod that was travel intended, the Giottos MT8350 but with a "full feature" Manfrotto 498RC2  head and the included carrying case it gets to a whopping 2.7 kg (6 lbs). That is way less than a serious studio setup but it's far from my "going light" philosophy which means thinking for minutes before deciding to take it with me on a trip. That doesn't mean that I didn't use it, and that tripod saw from high snowy peaks to deep dark caves, but on each trip I felt it weighting heavy on my back.

Now comes our article's subject, with a black friday 30% off deal that I couldn't refuse. Saw it before in the stores but didn't dare to dream about it, even so it was a deep hole in my pockets but I really think it's worth it. Strangely enough there aren't a lot of places on the net that talk about this wonder so I decided to add my personal take.

Gitzo GT1544T box
Gitzo GT1544T box and included accessories

Nothing much to be said about the box, quality cardboard, black with a slick Gitzo writing and a label attached on one end. I knew the tripod wasn't supplied with a carrying case so I ordered the separate case but I was pleasantly surprised to find inside more of a storage paper-textile-something bag. It's also just perfect when you carry the tripod inside the back pack, a suitcase or stuff like that. It's nice that if you put the tripod in the dedicated case it will still fit in the included "light" case.

Some weight figures:
- legs only: 795 g
- short metal column: 100 g, carbon tube: 95 g, complete column: 195 g
- "light" case: 25 g
- dedicated case (GC1201T): 375 g

Preferred to give numbers like this because there are multiple combinations possible.  Wanna go light? With legs, the short metal column and the "light" case you have a 0.92 kg tripod.

If I took the extra step to get the Gitzo legs, didn't feel like paying the price for a Gitzo head as I couldn't see the difference in product value so I choose the way cheaper Manfrotto 494RC2 head. With a light head to match the legs like this, you end up with a 1.24 kg (2.73 lbs ) complete tripod, ready to hold 4 kg (8 lbs ). Switching to the complete tripod with head attached and the dedicated case you get to 1.68 kg (3.7 lbs ), still way better than my old setup at 2.7 kg (6 lbs). One drawback is that when folded, the head doesn't fit perfectly between the legs and one of the legs flexes a little around the head which is not quite ideal.

Gitzo GT1544T tripod legs folded around a Manfrotto 494 RC2 head Gitzo GT1544T tripod legs folded around a Manfrotto 494 RC2 head

You can see bellow the short metal column, separate and mounted on the legs. The top black metal "cap" holds a reversible two headed screw with 1/4 and 3/8 thread so it can connect either directly to a camera, or to a tripod head. The sideway allen key screw is used to fix the metal cap on the carbon tube when used in full column assembly. In the bottom part, there's a rubber ring that keeps the legs from scratching against the metal parts. There's also a spring loaded hook that can be used to hang stabilizing weights.

Gitzo GT1544T short metal column
Gitzo GT1544T tripod with short metal column

Next is the full column assembly, top and bottom view.

Gitzo GT1544T tripod with full center column, top view Gitzo GT1544T tripod with full center column, bottom view

Next lets talk a little about the separate dedicated carrying case for his tripod.

Gitzo GT1544T tripod and GC1201T tripod carry case GC1201T tripod carry case wear marks GC1201T tripod carry case in the field

The Gitzo GC1201T  bag is quite a tight fit. I tried it in the store with a GT1542T (which is an older revision of the same tripod) and I had a hard time fitting it in because of the slightly longer center column. Even with the GT1544T with the Manfrotto head attached the bag is used fully in terms of length and interior diameter. Actually the zipper rests directly on the tripod at the head side which is not ideal.

Gitzo GC1201T tripod carry case interior
Gitzo GC1201T tripod carry case zipper detail

For further Gitzo's carry case compatibility with Traveler series tripods I also recommend a look at http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=538298&page=46.

So what does is all come down to? Well, lots of nice long exposure shots in the field with a small and light package. Of course it won't hold the heaviest equipment in the worst conditions but it doesn't have to, it's enough to fulfill the other 90% of field scenarios. Below as a test of pushing things to the limit I used the tripod fully extended with a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS with 2x extender and a 60D body. I also tried a more robust setup with only 3 sections extended, column retracted but camera on portrait position, again with no problems.

Gitzo GT1544T tripod fully extended with long telephoto attached Gitzo GT1544T tripod fully extended with long telephoto attached

That's about all folks!