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Living and working with the new Nikon Df camera


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This will be a day-to-day summary of working with the new Nikon Df camera. I will report on whatever finding observed large or small, plus my thoughts on the entire Df concept. Thus, has Nikon gone crazy or are there underlying plans to this 'retro' design? Or is the Df pure nostalgia for its own sake? I aim to penetrate these enigmas over the coming days of actual usage of the Df.

There is no strict schedule, just rambling along with the Df inserted as the main camera in my usual workflow (in visible light).

For now I'll use a review camera, randomly pulled out of the production series. So the sample is in no way cherry-picked for the occasion. Later I probably purchase one for my own use (or abuse depending on whether I conclude stuff must be rearranged or readjusted with the camera itself).

This is an 'all blacks' model, not the silver 'panda' version of this Df. Nikon Nordic plans on only selling Df kits with the redesigned AFS 50 m f/1.8 Nikkor G included and thus I also got a new lens to test. Common sense dictates you should never test two new items in combination unless you are able to split them up and combine with items of previously known features and quality. Thus for now I'm only using the 50 G to get an insight in the speed and precision of autofocus of the Df, and later of course will verify with known standards such as the 24-70/2.8 AFS or 200/2 AFS.

However, the overall design of Nikon Df indicates it is made to cater for manual lenses, new or old. That in itself is highly interesting and shed light on how the makers' cameras have gradually precipitated towards a world of AF dominance, to the disadvantage of manual lenses. A tell-tale sign has been the evolution of the viewfinders to make them (overly) bright and virtually devoid of any grain structure, so you no longer can rely on them to focus fast lenses manually. The finder aerial image simply isn't broken up sufficiently to indicate precise focus. An overlooked side effect of this is that you cannot really trust the impression of depth of field given by these finders.

The finder of the Df, however, is made to be useful with manual lenses. The screen is a type B, matte adorned with an outline of focus points, and while the entire finder gives a clear, crisp and bright impression as you lift the camera and look into the finder, the view is no longer overly bright. Instead, the focused plane of the image snaps in and out of focus as it should do. Exactly how the Nikon engineers managed this feat of redesign is unclear to me, but the finder surely works well with say 50/1.2 Nikkor or the 58 mm f/1.2 Noct, to name but a few I tested so far. This focusability extends to wide fast lenses such as 24/2 or 35/1.4 as well, and fast and long lenses now is a breeze. It remains to be seen whether the slower lenses are equally well handled. I had no issues with the 25-50/4 zoom though and this has been problematic on the DSLRs earlier. Later I hook up the Df to some of my über-long cannons such as the 800/8 ED, 1000/11 Reflex, or the king of them all, the 360-1200/11. However, on my current trip the longest lens travelling with me is the Voigtländer 180/4 APO again chosen because it has been a difficult-to-focus item.

The finder itself makes a prominent 'hump' on the outline of the Df and reminds eerily of an FM2 or suchlike models. The entire finder image is easily seen corner to corner even with spectacles on. Among the many (flawed) speculations on the finder before actual samples started to appear, is that the finder specified to have an eyepoint of just 15 mm, must give problems in viewing and would vignette for people using prescription glasses. Several undocumented assertions claimed it would be equal to or even worse than the finder of say the D800 (the finder of which has 18 mm eyepoint). Now, with the Df in hand, it is easy to see where errors arose. The finder indeed has an eyepoint of 15 mm, but the bezel around the ocular is much lower than on the other models so the eye sits closer to the rear glass of the finder. That is why Nikon refrained from incorporating an ocular shutter because this would necessitate a higher eyepoint leading in turn to a bigger finder head or lower magnification. Always compare commensurable variables, as my professor in statistics tried to make us mere mortal students understand.

Time for some breakfast coffee so sign off for now.



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Thanks Bjørn good solid report on findings! :)

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Did a random subject AF test just to see how the Df does in AF with the kit lens. As far as AF goes this was a flawless experience. Focus spot on all the time even when I deliberately tried to fool the camera. Even in low light (1/30 at f/1.8 at ISO 6400 which is low) the AFS 50 hooked onto its intended target, but not without a little nervousness. Slighter better lit subject and it homed onto the subject without any sign of hunting. The AF speed of the kit lens might not set a world record, but it surely is pretty much faster than the recent 24/1.4 and 35/1.4. Had I compared it to the new AFS 58/1.4 (no longer in my hands)  it might well have won.

 

Thus, people may not need to worry about AF. It works. However, to verify with a wider range of lenses, I'll repeat the exercise later when I have again access to my main lens storage home.

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Great stuff Bjørn. Looking forward to read more of your test drive.

The Df is on my wish list and will replace my D300 in the near future :D

Edited by Petteram
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In my opinion, handling is the forte of the Df and probably the feature of this newcomer that will cause most divided comments. For now, it is prudent to remind what a reorientation in handling and interfacing features we were faced with when the first wave of DSLRs struck nearly 14 years ago. Since then, the DSLR user interface has become the 'norm' to which all new entries are compared.  However, there is no given rule set in stone that the typical DSLR is the pinnacle of interfacing between man and machine. The Nikon Df whisks us back to times and features many of us either have forgotten or never learnt to deal with. Think of it as being "different" and which that comes a need of mastering a learning curve. You have to accept to do things the Df way for the better or worse. I guess many will dismiss that learning experience or never take the time to understand its logic. So, the allure of the Df will remain an enigma to many digital photographers. For those who aren't afraid to learn afresh, or to revive older ingrained habits, the Df has a lot to offer. It rests perfectly balanced in your hands, for once there is a need to bring both hands into activity which makes actual shooting much more relaxed, and you will find the controls are precisely positioned to match your fingers and ensure as little hand movement as possible. You do have to think ahead how you wish the camera to operate, as shifting mode from A to M (or P or S) is not done easily while looking into the finder. The ISO and +- adjustments can be operated whilst shooting, though, if you practice a little first. And given the dynamic range of the sensor of the Df, I saw less than usual need for minor exposure adjustments.

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Sten: LiveView allows precision focusing say with my 25-50/4 or 15/3.5. That's a feat D800 never could have achieved.

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It is nice to read a non-commercial evaluation, so thanks a lot for your efforts Bjørn! Looking fwd to more sane reading material here.

Agree, Sten!

 

And to you, Bjørn, thank you very much! Keep it coming :-).

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Guest Dlighter

Posted

When one wants to change ISO while looking through the finder there is d4 "ISO display" in the custom setting menu, which brings up the ISO instead of the frame count. Not completely new, but nice.

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You must have read the manual? I'll postpone until unavoidable, as flipping through nearly 400 pages in a PDF document is not my idea of an optimum manual. (no printed manual accompanied the camera kit). However, so far no problem as the Df by and large has the same set up facilities as my other Nikons.

 

One aspect of the handling I shall wait to implement until I come to grips with the ramifications is attaching the camera strap. The first Df I used had the strap in place and I considered its position (on the right-hand side) to be problematic. So I learn after a while how the camera is best operated before I decide to attach a strap. Maybe the position isn't as detrimental as I first thought. Only time and usage of the camera can tell.

 

Were this my own camera I wouldn't hesitate to drill a new hole in the chassis for a strap lug, but can't do that with a loaner unit. For the same reason I refrain from putting one of my usual Foolography "Unleashed" BT GPS receiver on the camera, because that would necessitate the removal of one of the port flaps on the left-hand side of the camera. I just have confirmed the GPS unit will work on the Df, but pushing it firmly into the port without removing the flap could break the receiver's foot. Again, once I get my own Df, this will be fixed in seconds using a sharp knife of course.

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Yes, done. Little or no plastic there.

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And using the camera in normal operating mode will avoid seeing those cheesy plastic buttons up front  :D

 

IF I'm gonna buy a Nikon body again in a years time or so it will probably be the Df, that D4 sensor, the optimised for manual operation finder and dials combined with the light weight is just too good to be true.

 

In the meantime the 50/1.2 will be waiting patiently while performing forced labor on the a7R. 

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Guest jramskov

Posted

You can call it random ramblings, I call it the best and most interesting camera review. Looking forward to your findings.

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Bjørn, thanks for starting this destined-to-be-long thread!

 

Could you compare, so long as your time allows, the comfort of MF of f3.5-5.6 class lenses between Df and D600?  I would bet you have a D600 body which should be UV modified but the OVF image should remain the same as that of a stock one.

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It  would be interesting to hear how it handles when wearing thick mittens in the cold. Particularly if there are problems with the locks on the exposure comp. ISO and shutter speed dials.  (On my F4 I had that lock removed on the shutter speed dial, which was much more convenient in an underwater housing, as one could risk getting stuck on the flash sync speed. On the Df one could likewise get "stuck" on the 1/3 stop step if the lock cannot be depressed with thick mittens.)

Edited by otoien

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Akira: will certainly do. Most lenses that gave trouble on my D800, in particular in LV, behave slightly better on a D600. However, as my only D600 is UV modified, it will just be general impressions of focusing capability I can relate.

 

Sten: feel free to contribute, the more the merrier. Having possibly different stand points can only be helpful in the grander scheme of things.

 

Øivind: should be a camera easy to operate with gloves on. With mittens my experience nothing is easy to handle. Today I used only finger gloves and had no issues of course.

 

Just returned to my girl friend's apartment after spending an icy cold yet enjoyable shooting day outside. I think I'm slowly coming to grasps with what the Df really is. Apart from being highly enjoyable to work with and a camera that performs as an extension of the human body. I'll mull over this a little longer to see if I can come up with an intelligible analysis. Now, time for some piping hot coffee and processing of today's images.

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Guest vicfei1

Posted

Bjorn -

 

I keep reading about the DF and how it is meant for primes. After handling the DF, do you agree that most zoom lenses would render the DF top heavy and out of balance compared to the feel with primes, or is it no different than any other "modern" style DSLR? 

 

Thanks for your astute and comprehensive analysis of the DF!

 

Vic

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Bjorn -

 

I keep reading about the DF and how it is meant for primes. After handling the DF, do you agree that most zoom lenses would render the DF top heavy and out of balance compared to the feel with primes, or is it no different than any other "modern" style DSLR? 

 

Thanks for your astute and comprehensive analysis of the DF!

 

Vic

 

A question that likely is in the mind of many.  My assessment is that the Nikon Df will not be ideal for the 24-70mm f/2.8 as with the 70-200mm f/2.8 specially when used for fast-paced events due to the form factor and where shutter release button is located.  But I would be pleased to be informed otherwise.

Edited by Larry

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Only tried with the 25-50 so far, a zoom lens that fits the camera to give a perfect handling and balance. However, I'll make sure other zoom lenses with meet the Df during the next week.

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Whilst the Df surely can mount virtually any Nikkor ever made (it shares the exception for the 2.1 cm f/4 with any Nikon model after F and F2), don't forget this camera isn't meant to be a replacement for any current model of DSLRs. The Df is an extension of the Nikon camera range and requires its own ways of operating.

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The second season of the Nordic noir TV series "The Bridge" just ended on the house altar, so a homage seems in order.

 

No Porsche, but the brand name starts with a "P" ... Df, AIS 15 mm f/3.5. Auto ISO.

 

post-15-0-06757900-1385747543_thumb.jpg

 

This ultrawide vintage lens is a royal pain to use with D800 because it almost never seems to get into focus and the poor Liveview does nothing of value to assist either. Put the 15 mm on the Df and you now actually can observe the lens comes into sharp focus. Still not easy in dim light due to the extensive depth of field, but in this case you probably should put the camera on a tripod and then you do observe the true focus easily enough.

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      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      A few weeks after our Ultimate Big 5 Safari in August, I found myself packing to fly to Cape Town where we had a 32 day adventure lined up, namely the Namaqualand to Namibia Safari. This time there was a lot more to pack, so I decided to put the ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 to the task, seeing as I already knew it would fit on a smaller plane (one of our guests used it without drama on the flight from Kruger Airport to Jo'burg) and the plane to CT would certainly be a lot larger than that other one.
      I had planned to do a lot of landscape work on this trip so while I was going to bring along my Nikons and the Sigma 120-300/2.8, I also needed to find space for my entire mirrorless kit. Configuring the roller with the low divider set was challenging for the m43 stuff, mainly because the lenses are so much smaller and the dividers are designed for much bigger partitions. But I managed and here's a shot from my iPhone of everything that fit inside the Security V2.0 roller.
       

       
      Lot of stuff, huh? Here's a full list:
      Nikon D700
      Nikon D3100
      Olympus OM-D E-M5
      Olympus 9-18mm
      Olympus 75mm f/1.8
      Panasonic 14-45mm
      Panasonic 45-175mm
      Samyang 7.5mm fisheye
      Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS
      Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens (review is in the works)
      Sigma 12-24mm f/4-5.6
      13" MacBook Pro
      iPad Mini
      Back-up hard drive (WD 1TB)
      Lee Filters Seven5 system (to be reviewed soon!)
      Chargers
       
      In the pocket shown as empty here I later added my sunglasses cases. I had a pair of polarised driving glasses and a regular pair.
       
      So on the day of the flight I got to the airport (early as usual) and there was a very large queue of people waiting to check into the Kukula.com flights. I was somewhere near the front of the queue when I heard this announcement being made that went something along these lines: "Kulula.com advises all passengers travelling with them that hand luggage is restricted to one item only and that it may not exceed 7kgs. It will be weighed at the check-in counter and also again at the gate. If any hand luggage is found to be over the limit at the gate you will be sent back to the check-in counter and additional check-in charges will be incurred." Oh. What could I do? My carry on weighed close to 20kgs!
       
      Well, I could only do one thing: plead ignorance. I got to the counter, hoisted my big red suitcase onto the conveyor and would you believe it, the scale read 20.8kgs. The attendant looks at me and says I am over the 20kg limit and I will have to pay in R250 (about $25) for additional baggage. I look back at her and I smile. "That can't be possible. I weighed this suitcase at home and it was 19.5kgs. There must be something wrong with your scale. Can we try it on another scale?" Now at this point the queue had gotten longer and there were no additional free counters for us to check the weight at. She looked at me, half-smiled and said, "OK, I'll let you go through without extra charges, but next time you'll have to pay the R250..."
       
      Phew.
       
      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.
    • By Dallas
      As a photographer who organises wildlife safaris fairly often, the biggest elephant in the room I usually have to deal with is transporting my camera gear on airplanes between cities in South Africa. The issue is that if you are flying on a domestic airline within South Africa the rule for carry on luggage is that it can't exceed a certain dimension or weight. This happens to be either 7 or 8kgs, depending on which flavour airline you're on. Not a hell of a lot, is it? Put a couple of pro cameras with big lenses and a laptop into the mix and you'll be over the limit very quickly. The domestic airlines here also restrict you to one piece of checked luggage that cannot exceed 20kgs. On my last safari to Namibia I think my camera bag was pretty close to 20kgs on its own. I'll elaborate a bit more on what was in it later in this article.
       
      The volume side of the carry-on restrictions is not usually a problem, provided the bag you're using fits into the little aluminium scaffolding apparatus they use to determine maximum proportions at the check-in counter. Smaller planes don't always have overhead stowage so your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you which is not always a possibility, especially if it's a really small plane and also if you find yourself sitting next to an emergency exit.
       
      When you are at the check in counter at South African airports that are run by ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) you will also notice that there are signs behind the attendants clearly indicating that you are prohibited from checking in any valuable electronics, including cameras, computers, etc. So, it's a conundrum alright. How do you get yourself and your equipment from one city to the next without going through the stress of possibly being charged additional luggage fees for being overweight, or perhaps being forced to check your equipment in with your regular luggage and running the risk of it being stolen or damaged by the handlers? The answer is simple: you don't. The stress is just something you have to deal with. Fortunately there are a few strategies you can employ to minimise the issue.
       
      1) You can wear your equipment using one of those photographer vests with numerous and large pockets. These work quite well, but you will attract the attention of airport security as well as raise the anxiety levels of nervous flyers who may mistake you for a terrorist. You're also not going to have the most comfortable flight if you're thinking of wearing it in your seat.
       
      2) You can upgrade your ticket to Business Class which allows you more hand luggage, but this is not always available, especially not on regional routes. I haven't seen any business class on any flight to the Kruger Park.
       
      3) You can choose the right bag, one that is unobtrusive, versatile and in the worst case scenario where you have to check it in, will provide your gear with adequate protection. You may also need to be a little devious in this regard.
       
      The ThinkTank Airport roller series are such bags (or cases if you're a stickler for details). On the two safaris I have led this year I evaluated two different types of Airport rollers, namely the Airport International V2.0 and the Airport Security V2.0. This article is about the smaller one, the Airport International V2.0 which I used on our Big 5 Safari. I will write a separate article about the Airport Security, which is the one I used on our Namibian safari shortly after the Big 5 trip.
       
      So, at the beginning of August this year we did our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari to the Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had to fly from Durban to Johannesburg and then once we had all our guests with us we flew from Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). I decided to use the Airport International roller because the Security, while only slightly bigger than the International, does appear a lot bigger than it on the outside. When I first received the Security I thought there is no ways that thing is going to be allowed as a carry on - it looks more like a suitcase than anything else, so I got the International just to be safe.
       
      We normally fly on SAA to KMIA from Jo'burg and they use a 4 engine jet plane (can't remember the name, so I have a photo of it below this paragraph). This plane has adequate overhead stowage capacity, but sometimes they might change the plane depending on the number of passengers booked on the flight, so prudence is advisable when going to KMIA on SAA. For this trip I had to fly back to Durban on Kulula from Johannesburg and I hadn't flown with them before, so I had to be extra prudent in the light of not knowing how strict they were with hand luggage, or the type of plane they operated.
       
      I had managed to keep the weight of the Airport International V2.0 down to about 15kgs. Inside I had my Nikon D700 with MB-D10 grip, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, a couple of teleconverters, a Nikon D3100, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, 45-175mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses, MacBook Pro 13", iPad Mini. A fair amount of kit for a week in the bush! I was also using the low dividers set for this case which is an absolute must in my opinion. This lets you put your laptop inside the case for extra protection. There is a sleeve on the outside of the roller you could put one into, but it's not advisable. When you open the lid of the roller the laptop will slide out of the sleeve. Trust me, I've done this - it's the making of a movie with a very sad ending.
       
      Getting to Jo'burg from Durban on SAA was easy. I have never been asked to weigh my carry-on luggage by SAA and this time was no different. I checked in my main suitcase and they didn't even ask about the ThinkTank roller which I had strategically positioned directly in front of the check in desk so that the attendant didn't really see it. I also draped my jacket over the top of it to camouflage its dimensions a little. No questions were asked. I went through security and on the other side I found the gate I needed to be at, making sure I was the first in line to board. This is important as it assures you of a space in the overhead bin - the last thing you want to have happen if you can't find any space in those overhead bins is for the flight attendants to have to place your bag for you, because the weight will be a major concern and then they will most likely gate check it if they haven't already compressed their vertebrae trying to hoist it somewhere themselves. Get on the plane first and secure a space in the overhead bin.
       
      Going back the other way from this year's Big 5 safari required me to make two flights; one from KMIA to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg back to Durban. In the past I have flown directly back to Durban from KMIA, but this is where I encountered the small plane problems that I knew I would not be able to take a big carry-on like the ThinkTank rollers onboard. On that flight there was no overhead bin and there was very little space under the seat, so I decided to fly back via Johannesburg this time. Longer and more expensive, but I'd rather pay more for the flights and get all my gear home safely than check it at the gate and possibly lose everything.
       
      One of our guests on this safari had brought his gear over from the US in the bigger ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 roller. While we were waiting to board the plane back to JHB from KMIA after the safari we were both approached by a ground personnel individual and asked to gate check the rollers as we walked out to the plane from the gate. She seemed a little unassertive, so we both refused, citing the contents as being too valuable to check. She relented easily enough and we boarded the aircraft with our rollers ahead of everyone else, found our seats, stowed them above us and sat down to enjoy the flight. I also had no problem getting the roller onboard the Kulula flight back to my home city, Durban. Job done. Thank you ThinkTank!
       
      If you're thinking about getting this case, I can highly recommend it. You'll fit a decent amount of kit into it and it has some pretty neat features, including a raincoat, lockable zippers, external pockets and also a system for attaching your monopod or tripod to the outside of it. There's also a combination lock you can use to secure your case to a pole or something immovable if you need to be away from it for a short while. I can see this coming in handy when shooting on location. The build quality is also top notch.
       
      If I can offer some criticism of the case it's that I found some of the dividers a little too stiff to configure nicely. I think if they could make them a bit more flexible it would be a whole lot more awesome as a solution for your camera travels. Also, the telescopic handle of this model seems very thin and flimsy compared to its bigger brother's handle. Speaking of handles, ThinkTank have placed one on three of the cases edges, which makes it very easy to hoist from any angle. That's clever design.
       
      The inside also zips out completely so you can wash it out thoroughly, especially if you're in the habit of dragging your roller into dusty locations, which we tend to do a lot on safari! My associate Pepe is now using this roller permanently and I have opted to use the larger one, the Airport Security V2.0 which I will discuss in my next article.
       
      If you are in the USA you can buy this bag directly from ThinkTank and get a free gift when you use this link.
       
      Note: unfortunately the images for this article were lost in a software upgrade. 
       
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