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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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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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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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      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. 
       

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      The genre of photography that excites me the most these days is landscapes. I can’t think of anything I enjoy shooting more than a drama filled natural landscape. I feel at peace doing this type of photography, truly content. In preparing for our recent photo safari to Namibia I was looking at getting a filter system to help me make the most of the landscape photo opportunities that we were going to encounter.
       
      So why use filters when a lot of the effects they offer can be replicated in post production software like Photoshop or Lightroom? Well, firstly I don’t like to do things in post when they can be done in the camera. If there’s a recipe for making me fed up it involves me sitting behind a computer screen for hours tweaking pixels with masks and layers in software that requires a great deal of expertise to get the best results from (besides, I’m not playing the Adobe rent-a-shop game these days). Secondly, the sensors on digital cameras these days have pretty good dynamic range, but if you want to make the most of the digital information captured on those sensors, it’s probably best to avoid working with the extremes of DR. If you’re on the edge of blowing out the sky while lifting the foreground, why not just play it safe and protect the sky with a neutral density graduated filter?
       
      Neutral density filters that block light in the same way that sunglasses do have long been used by photographers to slow down exposure times when using wider apertures in bright outdoor conditions, or to selectively reduce glare in parts of the frame. Doing this not only helps to minimise depth of field in situations where your shutter speed is hitting the limits of your camera’s ability, but it also helps to create drama in skies with moving clouds, or to give moving water the dreamy silk-like effect that we see so often in seascapes and photos of rivers and waterfalls. You can’t replicate those effects easily in Photoshop or any other image manipulation software.
       
      So, now that I have convinced you to use filters to enhance your landscape photography, you have a couple of options if, like me, you are chasing down exciting landscape photography:
       
      1) you can buy filters that screw onto your lens, which gets expensive if you have quite a few lenses with different filter thread sizes, or…
      2) you can buy into a system of filters that can be used on any lens with an adapter.
       
      I decided to look into the latter and the LEE filters Seven5 filter system that has been designed specifically for smaller mirrorless cameras like micro four thirds popped up on my radar.
       
      The Lee Seven5 system is much like their well known bigger system of resin based rectangular filters that can be slotted into a holder, which is then attached to a lens by means of a lens adapter. The only real difference is that the Seven5 filters are smaller (they are 75mm wide whereas the bigger filters used on DSLR’s are 100mm wide). Assuming you are using a ND grad, once the filter is in position you can easily rotate the holder around your lens to darken certain parts of the frame. You can also slide the filter up or down inside the holder to adjust the part of the frame you need to darken. This can’t be done with a traditional screw-in filter.
       
      I got a LEE Seven5 filter system that comprised the following bits:
       
      LEE Seven5 filter holder (dual slots for filters)
      46mm, 52mm & 58mm adapter rings
      0.3, 0.6 & 0.9 ND hard grad filters
      0.9 ND filter
       
      The filter numbers indicate the number of stops of light that they cut out. For example, 0.3 is 1 stop and 0.9 is 3 stops.
       
      These hand made filters come in handy micro-fibre pockets that can double as cleaning cloths, but they are also wrapped in a fine tissue like paper that I have often used to clean lenses with in the past. Unfortunately the tissue paper didn't make it out of the desert intact...
       
      The adapter rings are made of a black anodised metal and the filter holder simply snaps onto these, allowing you to easily rotate the holder with the filters in place. It’s a very neat, uncomplicated system.
       
      So how does it work in the field?
       
      Prior to this Namibian safari I had never used filters like this, so you could call me a complete filter system newbie. Fortunately there is a lot of information on the LEE Filters website, as well as guides on how to use their products, so before I went on the trip I spent some time reading up how to use them and it seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.
       
      The first time I tried to use them was at Bloubergstrand in Cape Town where you get some amazing sunsets over the ocean. Initially I found it a little difficult to figure out where exactly the ND grad line was appearing on the Olympus E-M5 because even if you press the depth of field preview, the EVF automatically brightens itself. This is a setting somewhere that I simply didn’t have the time to go looking for, so I guessed where to place the filter. The results were interesting, but as I was still learning how to use the system, I needed to experiment a bit more.
       

      click to enlarge
      Above is a shot showing the sun setting over Robin Island with a bit of the shoreline in the frame. If I remember correctly I was using the 0.6 ND graduated filter here, but I might be wrong. The overall exposure between land, sea and sky seems to be nicely balanced, but there is a spot of flare from the sun in the frame. This is not a train smash as you can always clone it out, but because you’re using what is essentially an external element to your lens, the quality of the filter will affect the severity of flare if you have the sun in the frame, so keep this in mind if you get the notion of buying cheaper filters.
       
      The next time I got to use the filters was a couple of weeks later when we found ourselves photographing landscapes inside the Sossussvlei, which is a spectacular dune reserve in the south western part of Namibia. This is a place where landscape photographers die and go to heaven. Wherever you turn there is majestic landscape waiting for you to capture it. On our second day in the area we stayed inside the reserve in one of the exclusive Namibia Wildlife Resorts which enabled us to stay in the reserve at the most important photographic times of the day, sunrise and sunset. We made the most of this and did a session near dune 42 in the fading light of late afternoon and then again the next morning before sunrise at the Deadvlei, which is about 60km from the lodge, right at the end of the asphalt road that runs through the reserve.
       
      The afternoon session gave me some much needed time to play around with the ND grads using my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 9-18mm lens. While our group were mostly photographing the massive dune in front of us, I turned around and looked at the landscape behind us. The sun was setting and the light was amazing, so I found some foreground interest and proceeded to experiment with the LEE Seven5 ND grad filters, trying them all, before finally finding my stride with the 0.6.
       

       
       

       

       
      The next morning three of us arose before the dawn and headed for a sunrise at the Deadvlei. This gave me yet more opportunities to try out the ND grads. Again the results were great!
       

      click to enlarge
       
      The next time I got to try out the filters was in Swakopmund, but the sky was very washed out there and there weren’t any clouds, so for this particular shot I went with the 0.3 ND grad and positioned it just below the horizon to give some more definition to the tops of the dunes.
       

      click to enlarge
       
      I think that this little system of filters is indispensable to landscape photography. It’s been downsized for use with the smaller mirrorless systems, such as micro four thirds and Fuji X-trans, so it’s easy to carry around in a camera bag. I managed to find a $20 slimline Lowepro GPS case that fits the filters and adapter rings I have perfectly. The filter holder comes with a drawstring pouch that fits nicely into the side of my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag, which means I can bring along my entire m43 kit and a filter set without having to resort to a bigger bag.
       
      There are quite a few filter options available for the Seven5 system, ranging from sunset, B&W, tobacco, chocolate and sepia grads to polarisers and even a lens hood to help minimise the flaring from light hitting the filters at oblique angles. All in all it’s fairly comprehensive as a system and should keep landscape shooters using smaller systems quite well prepared for many eventualities.
       
      Price wise it’s not cheap, but it should be remembered that each filter is hand made, so you're getting the very best it can be. For the set of 3 ND grads, a single 0.9 ND filter, holder and 3 adapter rings you’re looking at approximately US$396 excluding shipping. There are now also Singh-Ray filters that will fit the LEE Seven5 holder, but those cost even more than the LEE filters.
       
      In my opinion if you’re into outdoor photography, especially if you want to keep weight down by using a small mirrorless system, you can’t beat this Seven5 system for convenience. Go get it if you can, it's a worthwhile investment in your photography.

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      The genre of photography that excites me the most these days is landscapes. I can’t think of anything I enjoy shooting more than a drama filled natural landscape. I feel at peace doing this type of photography, truly content. In preparing for our recent photo safari to Namibia I was looking at getting a filter system to help me make the most of the landscape photo opportunities that we were going to encounter.
       
      So why use filters when a lot of the effects they offer can be replicated in post production software like Photoshop or Lightroom? Well, firstly I don’t like to do things in post when they can be done in the camera. If there’s a recipe for making me fed up it involves me sitting behind a computer screen for hours tweaking pixels with masks and layers in software that requires a great deal of expertise to get the best results from (besides, I’m not playing the Adobe rent-a-shop game these days). Secondly, the sensors on digital cameras these days have pretty good dynamic range, but if you want to make the most of the digital information captured on those sensors, it’s probably best to avoid working with the extremes of DR. If you’re on the edge of blowing out the sky while lifting the foreground, why not just play it safe and protect the sky with a neutral density graduated filter?
       
      Neutral density filters that block light in the same way that sunglasses do have long been used by photographers to slow down exposure times when using wider apertures in bright outdoor conditions, or to selectively reduce glare in parts of the frame. Doing this not only helps to minimise depth of field in situations where your shutter speed is hitting the limits of your camera’s ability, but it also helps to create drama in skies with moving clouds, or to give moving water the dreamy silk-like effect that we see so often in seascapes and photos of rivers and waterfalls. You can’t replicate those effects easily in Photoshop or any other image manipulation software.
       
      So, now that I have convinced you to use filters to enhance your landscape photography, you have a couple of options if, like me, you are chasing down exciting landscape photography:
       
      1) you can buy filters that screw onto your lens, which gets expensive if you have quite a few lenses with different filter thread sizes, or…
      2) you can buy into a system of filters that can be used on any lens with an adapter.
       
      I decided to look into the latter and the LEE filters Seven5 filter system that has been designed specifically for smaller mirrorless cameras like micro four thirds popped up on my radar.
       
      The Lee Seven5 system is much like their well known bigger system of resin based rectangular filters that can be slotted into a holder, which is then attached to a lens by means of a lens adapter. The only real difference is that the Seven5 filters are smaller (they are 75mm wide whereas the bigger filters used on DSLR’s are 100mm wide). Assuming you are using a ND grad, once the filter is in position you can easily rotate the holder around your lens to darken certain parts of the frame. You can also slide the filter up or down inside the holder to adjust the part of the frame you need to darken. This can’t be done with a traditional screw-in filter.
       
      I got a LEE Seven5 filter system that comprised the following bits:
       
      LEE Seven5 filter holder (dual slots for filters)
      46mm, 52mm & 58mm adapter rings
      0.3, 0.6 & 0.9 ND hard grad filters
      0.9 ND filter
       
      The filter numbers indicate the number of stops of light that they cut out. For example, 0.3 is 1 stop and 0.9 is 3 stops.
       
      These hand made filters come in handy micro-fibre pockets that can double as cleaning cloths, but they are also wrapped in a fine tissue like paper that I have often used to clean lenses with in the past. Unfortunately the tissue paper didn't make it out of the desert intact...
       
      The adapter rings are made of a black anodised metal and the filter holder simply snaps onto these, allowing you to easily rotate the holder with the filters in place. It’s a very neat, uncomplicated system.
       
      So how does it work in the field?
       
      Prior to this Namibian safari I had never used filters like this, so you could call me a complete filter system newbie. Fortunately there is a lot of information on the LEE Filters website, as well as guides on how to use their products, so before I went on the trip I spent some time reading up how to use them and it seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.
       
      The first time I tried to use them was at Bloubergstrand in Cape Town where you get some amazing sunsets over the ocean. Initially I found it a little difficult to figure out where exactly the ND grad line was appearing on the Olympus E-M5 because even if you press the depth of field preview, the EVF automatically brightens itself. This is a setting somewhere that I simply didn’t have the time to go looking for, so I guessed where to place the filter. The results were interesting, but as I was still learning how to use the system, I needed to experiment a bit more.
       

      click to enlarge
      Above is a shot showing the sun setting over Robin Island with a bit of the shoreline in the frame. If I remember correctly I was using the 0.6 ND graduated filter here, but I might be wrong. The overall exposure between land, sea and sky seems to be nicely balanced, but there is a spot of flare from the sun in the frame. This is not a train smash as you can always clone it out, but because you’re using what is essentially an external element to your lens, the quality of the filter will affect the severity of flare if you have the sun in the frame, so keep this in mind if you get the notion of buying cheaper filters.
       
      The next time I got to use the filters was a couple of weeks later when we found ourselves photographing landscapes inside the Sossussvlei, which is a spectacular dune reserve in the south western part of Namibia. This is a place where landscape photographers die and go to heaven. Wherever you turn there is majestic landscape waiting for you to capture it. On our second day in the area we stayed inside the reserve in one of the exclusive Namibia Wildlife Resorts which enabled us to stay in the reserve at the most important photographic times of the day, sunrise and sunset. We made the most of this and did a session near dune 42 in the fading light of late afternoon and then again the next morning before sunrise at the Deadvlei, which is about 60km from the lodge, right at the end of the asphalt road that runs through the reserve.
       
      The afternoon session gave me some much needed time to play around with the ND grads using my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 9-18mm lens. While our group were mostly photographing the massive dune in front of us, I turned around and looked at the landscape behind us. The sun was setting and the light was amazing, so I found some foreground interest and proceeded to experiment with the LEE Seven5 ND grad filters, trying them all, before finally finding my stride with the 0.6.
       

       
       

       

       
      The next morning three of us arose before the dawn and headed for a sunrise at the Deadvlei. This gave me yet more opportunities to try out the ND grads. Again the results were great!
       

      click to enlarge
       
      The next time I got to try out the filters was in Swakopmund, but the sky was very washed out there and there weren’t any clouds, so for this particular shot I went with the 0.3 ND grad and positioned it just below the horizon to give some more definition to the tops of the dunes.
       

      click to enlarge
       
      I think that this little system of filters is indispensable to landscape photography. It’s been downsized for use with the smaller mirrorless systems, such as micro four thirds and Fuji X-trans, so it’s easy to carry around in a camera bag. I managed to find a $20 slimline Lowepro GPS case that fits the filters and adapter rings I have perfectly. The filter holder comes with a drawstring pouch that fits nicely into the side of my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag, which means I can bring along my entire m43 kit and a filter set without having to resort to a bigger bag.
       
      There are quite a few filter options available for the Seven5 system, ranging from sunset, B&W, tobacco, chocolate and sepia grads to polarisers and even a lens hood to help minimise the flaring from light hitting the filters at oblique angles. All in all it’s fairly comprehensive as a system and should keep landscape shooters using smaller systems quite well prepared for many eventualities.
       
      Price wise it’s not cheap, but it should be remembered that each filter is hand made, so you're getting the very best it can be. For the set of 3 ND grads, a single 0.9 ND filter, holder and 3 adapter rings you’re looking at approximately US$396 excluding shipping. There are now also Singh-Ray filters that will fit the LEE Seven5 holder, but those cost even more than the LEE filters.
       
      In my opinion if you’re into outdoor photography, especially if you want to keep weight down by using a small mirrorless system, you can’t beat this Seven5 system for convenience. Go get it if you can, it's a worthwhile investment in your photography.
    • By Dallas
      ThinkTank have released what I think is probably the perfect roller for the photographer who needs to travel by air with a decent amount of kit on any kind of photography excursion.  
       
      As many of my readers over the years will already know, one of the biggest problems I have had since I began hosting photo safaris, is picking a suitable means of travelling with my gear on local flights. In the past I have used both the other (older) ThinkTank Airport rollers, namely the International and the Security. Both have their own strengths as conveyors of equipment, but for the most part they are also part of the problem in that they weigh a fair amount before you have even put any gear in them. 
       
      These days the airlines are getting stricter with the carry on luggage limits and most of them in South Africa limit you to 7 or 8 kilos in a single carry on item for economy class seats. There is no way I would be able to get away with dragging the Airport Security V2.0 onboard a local flight as hand luggage these days. It’s a wonderful case to keep your gear safe in, but it’s not the most inconspicuous, mainly because of its size. When the cabin crew who man the gangways and plane doors see you bringing it onboard they will most definitely stop you and ask you to sky check it. The Airport International is a bit smaller than the Security, but it is still big enough to attract unwanted attention from the cabin crew. 
       
      In preparation for this year’s Ultimate Big 5 Safari I was in a bit of a quandary when it came to deciding which bag I should use. On the two previous safaris I used the ThinkTank Retrospective 50 which swallows up an incredible amount of gear, including my 13” MacBook Pro and a bunch of other things like chargers, hard drives and power supplies. I like that bag a lot, but it is a bit large to carry around casually and I also had an issue a few years ago in getting it to fit in the overhead of a small plane. When fully loaded it also doesn’t easily go under the seat in front of you. 
       
      My favourite and most used camera bag is the ThinkTank Retrospective 7. It can carry both of my Olympus E-M1 bodies, the Oly 50-200mm (without hood and tripod mount) and a bunch of other items I would want on the safari. However, the pouch on the rear of that bag is designed for iPads and isn’t big enough to fit my 13” laptop. Despite this I had pretty much decided that this was going to be my bag because I could always carry the laptop in its Thule case as a personal item and/or put it into that rear slip long side up. 
       
      Then ThinkTank announced the Airport Advantage about 2 weeks prior to my departure. Just by looking at photos of it and watching the video on their website I knew that this would be the perfect case for me to take on safari this year. About a week or so later it arrived at my door via courier and boy was I happy to meet it! 
       
      The Airport Advantage is a lot lighter and more importantly slighter in stature than the other ThinkTank Airport rollers, which means that when you look at it, it doesn’t attract any unwanted cabin crew attention. Yet this roller, in spite of this diminished appearance, possesses some sort of TARDIS-like magical power because it swallows up a lot of stuff, including some very large lenses which people coming on our safaris here in Southern African have been known to bring with them. 
       
      Configuration Options
       
      Like all bags with padded dividers there are a lot of configuration options for the interior of this roller. You get a decent amount of dividers with the case too, as well as a raincoat (more about the raincoat later). The three-part telescopic handle only runs about halfway down the spine of the case so the bottom section has enough depth to accommodate the largest of DSLR’s, including gripped ones, with their big lenses attached. 
       
      Typically on our safaris we find most of our guests bring two camera bodies, one main telephoto lens (the 200-400mm seems to be the most popular lens), a 70-200/2.8 and a wide angle like the 14-24/2.8, a flash, teleconverters and maybe one or two smaller lenses. So I took the opportunity on this most recent safari to see how this kind of kit would fit into the Airport Advantage. 
       
      Below are some photos showing exactly how it handled a Nikon D4 with 200-400mm f/4 attached, as well as a D3s with the new 300mm f/4 PF with a 2x TC and the 70-200/2.8 on the side. I also put a Canon 7D Mk II with a 300mm f/2.8 and its hood un-reversed in there. You can see for yourself how easily it accommodates these large items and how much room is left over for other things. 
       

       

       

       
      For my gear I had more than enough space to carry not only my 13” MacBook Pro (there’s a sleeve on the front for that), but 2 Olympus E-M1’s, the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, Olympus 75/1.8, Sigma 19/2.8 & 60/2.8, 2x battery chargers, 2x external hard drives, lots of cables, a back-up card reader and a whole bunch of other items like extra batteries. I even had a dedicated space for my Peak Design Slide and Leash straps. It really is quite an incredible roller! 
       

       
      With everything packed I weighed it on the bathroom scale and it came in at around 10kgs, which is still over the official carry-on limit, but the thing is because it’s so compact it doesn’t look like a heavy bag and nobody raised an eyebrow at all on my 2 domestic flights this time around. 
       
      Features
       
      While it is a truly amazing roller, there are one or two things about the Advantage that I think could be improved on. 
       
      Raincoat
      Firstly the raincoat, like all other bag raincoats I have ever tried to use in a hurry, simply eludes me. We were out on a game drive and it started to rain, so I tried to cover it up but nothing seemed to fit logically. Eventually I just gave up and left it lying on top of the case as we made our way back to the camp. They really ought to coat these cases in something more water resistant than nylon. Maybe a lining inside the nylon would be better? 
       
      Pockets
      The other thing that I would like to have had is an external pocket to put my travel documents in. There is a zippered recess just underneath where you can put your business cards, but it isn’t deep enough to hold much more than a passport, and even that is a bit of a wiggle to get in on its own. I think that they could put a pouch on the flap of the laptop compartment which would then make this the absolute perfect safari travel roller. 
       
      Unlike the other Airport rollers I have used where there is a stretchy sleeve on the front for putting your laptop in, only to have it fall out if you’re not careful, the Advantage has a proper sleeve with a velcro flap. The sleeve doesn’t have any padding though, so if you’re going to travel with your laptop in there it’s a good idea to have some extra protection for your hardware. I use the Thule semi-hard shell for my MacBook and it survived not only a couple of hours in the overhead bins of the planes I went on, but also 12 hours of road transit between Johannesburg and the Sabi Sands. I was careful to make sure that no other bags were placed on top of it though. 
       
      Handles
      There are handles on three sides of the Advantage which makes hoisting it into overhead bins quite easy. I like the design of the handle on the bottom of the case which also doubles as its balancing feet. A nice touch. 
       

       
      The other top quality finish is the telescopic handle. This feels very well made. I have wondered though why ThinkTank opted to use a dual shaft handle instead of a single one on this roller. I think it may have been a better design to use a single telescopic shaft that is housed on the outside of the back instead of two shafts that use up space on the inside of the case. Perhaps v2.0 will see some of these refinements? 
       
      Tripod Attachment
      If you are travelling with a tripod it is possible to strap one onto the side of the Advantage and Think Tank supply removable straps for you to use with the loops on the bag. Personally I always put my tripod in my checked luggage so I doubt I would use this, unless I was using the roller on a local shoot and needed to take a tripod with.  
       
      Lockable
      Unlike the big brother Airport Security, this roller doesn’t have a built-in TSA lock but it is possible to lock it from the zipper with your own luggage lock. I have a cheap combination lock which I have no doubt any thief could probably gnaw off in a matter of seconds, but I suppose it’s better than nothing if your bag might be unattended for a short while. 
       
      Wheels
      The wheels are super smooth to run and I put those to the test properly when I had to literally sprint through OR Tambo airport to board my flight home on time. I think Wayde Van Niekerk better watch out - this old dude can shift his molecules quickly when he needs to!  
       
      Conclusion
       
      In spite of my few little nitpicks and improvement suggestions, this is by far the most useful travelling case I have ever used for my camera gear. For people coming on our safaris it’s just about all you will need to bring out not only your essential camera gear but also a fair amount of accessories and of course your computer too. I highly recommend getting one to simplify your travels with cameras. 
       
      If you would like to support Fotozones please use the link below to order your Airport Advantage. A percentage of each sale is paid to us in commission AND you will also get a free gift from ThinkTank when placing your order using this link.
       
      ORDER YOUR AIRPORT ADVANTAGE HERE
       

       
       

      View full article
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