The first part of my Alaska trip is over and it has gone well. I have thousands of images, hours of video and a whole lot of work to do when I get back home, culling, editing, printing and storing all this work. By the time you read this I will have moved north and will have little Internet access.
The eagles have been a joy to work with. Their spirit, grace and power leave me even more in awe than I was when I came here. The natural beauty of my surroundings, the helpful nature of the Alaskan people and my honor and privilege of being allowed to tell the eagles’ stories with my cameras – have left me a happy camper.
As I wind down, I thought I’d talk a little bit about how my gear faired and the part it all played in this week of wonder.
First, even though I came with far less gear than I did last time, I still had more than I needed. I brought three tripods and a slider. I’ve barely used the tripods, but I have used the slider. The Pegasus Carbon DSLR Camera Slider has proven to be lightweight, easy to set up and tear down, easy to transport and easy to use. When I release some of the video from the trip I’ll show you how I used it. In the meantime, here’s what it looks like with a Canon XF-100 mounted. The slider has been of great help to me and I’m glad I carried it on the trip. So far all the tripods, not so much. I did use them. I’m glad I had them. But I could have gotten by without at least one of them.
I’m getting amazing, and I do mean amazing results from my new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS lens. While this lens has been out since last year, it’s a new acquisition for me, and this shoot was it’s first real test. This puppy is SHARP! I am pretty sure it’s the sharpest zoom lens I have ever used. It simply blows away the competition. I usually prefer to use my Nikon D3s when shooting stills and the Canon 1D MK IV when shooting DSLR video, but the Canon 70-200 is so sharp, I find myself using the Canon more often. Keep in mind I am a primes guy – I usually use fixed focal length lenses, but I see no real deficiency in using this piece of glass in place of any prime within the focal range. It’s that good and certainly my go-to lens on this trip. (Please note I am talking about the new version of this lens – not the old version.) Because the eagles in Alaska are somewhat habituated to people and because I worked from a boat most of the time, I was able to get very close to the birds. Looking at the EXIF data, almost 70% of my keepers were made with this lens. I did try it with the new Canon telextenders – both the 1.4 (Version 3) and the 2x (Version 3) and got very good results.
My new 17″ MacBookPro arrived while here in Alaska and it is FAST. No I mean REALLY fast. If it were an olympic runner it would win the Gold medal. I purchased it with the upgraded 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, eight GB of 1333 MHz DDR3 RAM and my first ever solid state drive – in this case the 512GB version. The boot up time is incredible. The computer starts from a dead stop as quickly (or even more quickly) than my old one did from sleep. It’s near instant. The flat panel display is glare free and sharp. The speed of the computer makes processing images a breeze. While I usually don’t do any work on my images until I return to my studio, in this case I feel comfortable doing so at least for the purposes of posting a few here and elsewhere online. I will do the serious editing at my studio when I attach the Cinema Display to the new Thunderbolt/DVI port.
The star of the week has been my new Canon XF100 Camcorder. While it’s only a preliminary evaluation, so far I’d say this is going to be a category-leading product. As the young people would say, this camcorder is SICK! It has pro-audio, amazing image quality, complete manual or automatic control, a fast lens and it’s easy to use. The autofocus works well and the dual CF card slots and generous battery allow for plenty of video time. I’ll post video from this at a later date, but I can tell you this is the camcorder you want. I’ll be shooting MUCH less DSLR video because of this camera. Order it now. You’ll be waiting in line.
The biggest gear story of the trip is how little I actually used. I have used almost everything I brought, but not as much as I thought. I used the Nikon D3s, but quite a bit less than I planned because I like the images I’m getting out of the Canon 70-200 so much. I’m leaning 1D MK IV most days. I did get a cool time lapse out of the D3s. I’ve done a few landscape shots with the Canon 24-70 F/2.8 and the Induro carbon fibre tripod. I’ve used the Miller fluid head for just a bit of video – mounted on the Miller tripod. For some of the big stuff later in the second half of the trip I’ll be using my lovely O-Connor fluid head and sticks. But during the first half – most of the time, I just headed out with the Canon XF-100 and the Canon 1D MK IV with 70-200 hand-held. Nothing else. It’s a lightweight package and it gave me great results. Could I have used my bigger lenses? Sure. But most of the time they would have been very heavy to carry for the amount of time they were useful.
This trip really has me re-thinking my gear. I find myself gravitating to a less is more approach on each and every shoot. I may start bringing one single camera bag, the slider and one tripod and calling it a day. One thing is for sure, these big trips are impossible without an assistant to carry all this stuff. Even though it’s not typically cricket to use an assistant on a nature shoot I’m doing that from now on. If people think it’s pompous I don’t care. I’m getting too old to schlep all this stuff by myself 🙂
I’m getting close to the point where I’ll be without as much Internet access so I’ll wrap this diary up now. The compiled version will also appear on Photofocus when I get back from the trip in early April.
I do want to thank my guides, they have been great. My boat captains were stupendous. I also want to thank Borrowlenses.com for shipping me some of the gear I’d need while in Alaska. It saved me carrying stuff through airports and gave me backups and peace of mind. Homer and southern Alaska may be my favorite part of the state. The weather is mild here compared to the rest of the state and the scenery is just breathtaking. I’ve seen tons of wildlife, made lifelong memories and captured just a tiny slice of the lives of Bald Eagles while here. I will share more images when I get back home and I thank you for coming along for the ride via this diary. I hope you enjoyed it.