Just Another Ordinary Day

It’s just another day and not one I’m certain we will remember for long. Sometimes it’s the ordinary things that come into focus clearly and cause us to realize that these days are the most important when it comes to putting together a life. It’s not the monumental moments that matter but the moments in between that no one notices. I’m celebrating the failures that fall between occasional success. I wish the two could be reversed but since I’m not always sure ahead of time what it is I am trying to do I will have to settle for things the way they are.

Wild Rides

It’s been a long, long time

Since I’ve been on such a wild ride

That it’s hard to decide

On the extent of my decline

It’s taken me a while

And always brings a smile

To add the many miles

Between places in my mind

Poetry is like packing a box. It’s all about the economy of space and some people are better at both than others. My teachers often chided me for substituting poetry for prose by writing terse notes in bold red letters on the assignments I handed in. I guess we can’t all be happy and we are certainly not all the same.

This particular photo was taken with the iPhone 3G at the Dallas Airport. I cropped it and did a little fuddling about with the contrast afterwards mostly because I needed something to work on while I am testing the trial download of Adobe Aperture 3. This is really my first experience with Aperture and I never really got into using iPhoto on my MacBook so it’s a whole new world in many ways. There is a lot to like about the user interface and tools with plenty of adjustment presets that will get you started on enhancing your photos very quickly. It’s pretty impressive and should appeal to both new and experienced photographers who want to organize and edit their work as efficiently as possible.

Check it out for yourself – http://www.apple.com/aperture/trial/

On Our Own

Skating through life

As if we could fly

Until we crash

Never knowing why

Sailing on air

Without earthly cares

Doing only as we dare

Never getting anywhere

Coasting down the road

As though we know the way to go

Hearing nothing but the radio

Not heeding good advice anymore

We don’t like the world of reality

But prefer the lure of imaginary

Because life is not as we want it to be

So we choose to live our fantasy


Graduation Day

Oh to be young

And to outshine the sun

Who will be the lucky ones

Forever beautiful

Forever young

Dividing Lines

Lines divide and define things, allowing us to express ideas and create things with dimension. Lines are important in photography as a way to show perspective. Sometimes life becomes complicated by the divisions between people and sometimes we loose our sense of perspective and the ability to see through the eyes of other people.

I only wish that I could express half the things I think and feel but that takes skill and a receptive audience. Sometimes we wonder if there is anything new to discover in life or if we are only repeating the mistakes of the past. It’s easier to follow the ruts in the road than it is to get out of them and if we were only mildly observant we would learn from the mistakes of others instead of our own.

The are a thousand metaphors to guide us in our quest for a happy, productive life and yet human nature is to ignore all existing wisdom and to find out for ourselves the hard way. Experience is a great teacher but it can often be cruel as well.

We are allowed one life and it’s not just a practice run. You have to live life as best as you can every day. I believe that we are meant to create great things and ideas, not to be mere consumers of things.

Lowepro Fastpack 350

This week the UPS truck delivered a Lowepro Fastpack 350. My initial reaction is love at first sight. I chose the Fastpack 350 over the slightly smaller 250 on the off chance that I might someday get a larger laptop. The Fastpack 350 can hold a laptop up to 17″ though it would probably be a good idea to test your laptop to make sure it fits. My little MacBook fits with room to spare for a small paperback book. Based on the specification at the Lowepro web site there is really not a very big difference in the size between the Fastpack 250 and 350.

The basic idea behind the Fastpack series of camera backpacks is that they use the same side opening panel of the Slingshot bags made by Lowepro. You slip off the right shoulder strap and then rotate the bag on the left strap around your side to the front to access the camera from the side panel, which is now pointing up after rotating the bag around your body. In practice, I found this to be a little tricky at first with the bag fully loaded with a MacBook, SB900 flash, Nikon D300, Nikon 24-70 zoom, Tokina 12-24 zoom, Nikon 70-210 zoom and a Nikon 20mm lens. I think I had a set of 77mm filters in there somewhere too and also a raincoat in the upper compartment. Yes, that’s a lot of weight and swinging it all around on one shoulder it a bit of a trick and I wouldn’t want to accidentally drop the bag when it is fully loaded with gear. Contrast this with the Slingshot bag, which hangs from your opposite shoulder making it impossible to drop accidentally. That’s not to say that you couldn’t accidentally dump the contents if you are a klutz but at least you are unlikely to drop the bag. The big difference is that you can’t carry a laptop in a Slingshot bag and carrying a laptop is something I need to do from time to time.

Like all things, I think any camera bag system takes some getting us to and the way you use any bag is likely  to change over time. There is no perfect bag for all tasks. The next test will be how the Fastpack 350 behaves on an airplane. It looks a bit large to fit under the seat of an airplane and that is where I usually like to keep my camera bag just in case I need to get in it during the flight. There is no way to remove or store the harness system on this bag and though the shoulder straps and waist belt do lay fairly flat I could see all that webbing getting caught on something. I wouldn’t mind a lightweight nylon or mesh bag to keep it clean, contained and camouflaged on the airplane.

The contoured shoulder straps and padded waist belt on this bag are first rate as you would expect from Lowepro. There is also a sternum strap including a cleverly designed rail system that make it adjustable for a perfect fit, The bag is very secure and should work well even if you are riding a bicycle or other two wheeled vehicle. There is also a loop on the shoulder strap for attaching a phone or sunglasses case.

There are lots of handy pockets including an exterior mesh water bottle pocket on the right hand side. I would be a little concerned about putting a heavy water bottle in that pocket when using the pack in the sling position and I wouldn’t put anything expensive in it or that I couldn’t afford to loose. Outside pockets are handy, sometimes they are so handy that other people try to help themselves to your expensive gear. On the Fastpack bags there is a clever security flap that covers the outside pocket on the lower section of the bag and keeps the camera compartment from opening all the way when using the bag in the sling position.

The Fastpack bags are basically divided into top and bottom sections with the camera gear in the lower half and personal gear stored in the upper half. A lightweight rain jacket fits easily in the upper compartment and there are several internal pockets for a smartphone, car keys, pens or cleaning brushes and a detachable zippered bag for your laptop and camera cables. These interior pockets also add an extra measure of security if you forget to close the exterior zipper all the way or someone gets curious about what’s inside your bag. There are other pockets that most people will find very handy but one thing that seems to be lacking is the All-Weather or AW feature found on many of Lowepro’s other bags. I would have preferred a rain cover in place of a few of those extra pockets, though in practice I have rarely used the rain cover on my other bags. I’m thinking of buying or making a lightweight rain cover for this bag that could be stored in the exterior mesh pocket and could also be used to set the bag on when the ground was wet or dusty.

This bag has a lot of neat features and it will take me a while to explore and appreciate all of them. Lowepro knows a lot about building camera bags and the experience shows in all the little details that go into their products. There are a few other bags out there with some extra bells and whistles but I think the Fastpack series of bags offer the best feature set for the money. If this is not the right bag for your specific needs then Lowepro probably offers another one that comes pretty close. All of the Lowepro products I have used have been of the same consistent high quality.

For product specifications visit – http://www.lowepro.com/

Lowepro Slingshot 200, 202 AW Review

I thought I would write a little bit about my experience with the Lowepro Slingshot 200 AW camera bag. I’ve been using this bag for about two years now. During that time it has gone just about everywhere that I have gone and spent a considerable amount of time under the seats of different airplanes. About a week ago the zipper on my Slingshot finally gave up the ghost, making the bag pretty much useless. I still remember the day that I bought this curious bag and thinking (or predicting) exactly where it would fail. To me the zippers seem like the weakest link (or tooth) on just about any camera bag and I wondered how many trips around the corner of the opening of this bag the zipper would make before it would stop working. The answer turned out to be about two years worth of constant everyday use, far exceeding what most people would subject a camera bag to under normal use. In spite of everything I put it through the Lowepro Slingshot 200 exceeded all my expectations.

About a week ago I went to my local camera shop looking for a replacement. I took my much abused loved Slingshot 200 AW with me to compare with some new bags. The salesman started chatting me up and reminded me that Lowepro has a lifetime warranty on their bags, a nice selling point to reassure skittish customers contemplating spending large sums of money on fancy camera gear. So I showed him my scuffed Slingshot and he gave it a skeptical look. It was missing a few zipper pulls, the zipper on the main compartment was dead and the interior dividers looked like victims of a monster truck rally gone wrong. The velcro inside the bag no longer had any actual hooks or loops to speak of and the exterior fabric was frayed like a pair of vintage blue jeans. The padding on the shoulder strap was finished too. The salesman filled out a form and gave me a copy. He didn’t seem too encouraging. After all everything wears out over time. Meanwhile, another customer was looking at the Slingshot 300 AW at the other end of the counter as a second salesman cheerfully explained that Lowepro bags have a lifetime warranty…

So I was thinking about camera bags for about a week when the phone rang yesterday afternoon and Jeff from the camera store said, “Your new Lowepro bag is here.”  I was a little dumbstruck at first, because the camera store manager told me I probably wouldn’t hear anything for at least a month and I was expecting that maybe they would just throw some industrial strength stitches on my old bag and call it a day. Lowepro basically credited me for a new bag and that is pretty cool. They really do stand behind their products and that is one of the many reasons I will always be a dedicated fan of theirs. The newest updated version of this bag is called the Slingshot 202 AW. It’s basically the same bag with several added features like a hideaway tripod (or monopod) holder, extra storage pockets and an updated divider system in the main compartment. My replacement 200 model also seems to have the updated divider system.

The first time I saw a Slingshot camera bag I was pretty skeptical. The smaller Slingshot 100 AW seemed a bit cramped for my Nikon D300 and the larger 300AW seemed like it would encourage me to pack way too much gear than I wanted to carry around all day. The Slingshot 200 AW seemed just right. One of the best things about this style bag is that you don’t have to take it off or set it down in order to get to your camera and lenses. If you work a lot in wet or dusty environments this is a very important feature. It also makes the slingshot bags superior as travel bags. If you are in a crowd or on a subway you can swing the bag around in front of you where you can keep an eye on it or just sit it in your lap until your next stop. The grab loop on top is handy for the times when you do want to set it down between your feet. The all-weather (AW) rain cover comes in handy for downpours and I have used it at times to cover the zippers and outside pockets for extra security in a tight crowd.

You can stuff a lot of gear into the Slingshot 200 AW or the new 202 AW. In fact,  you might stuff too much in and that can make it get heavy pretty quickly. I’ve been trying to pair down the kit that I normally carry in mine. Currently it holds a Nikon D300 with battery grip (a snug fit) and a Nikon 24-70 2.8 zoom lens (heavy) mounted on the camera. Right now I am carrying the Nikon SB900 flash in the top compartment. The flash needs to have the head tilted forward but then it is ready to use right away to mount on the camera. I have also started carrying an iTTL cord for the times when I want to use the flash off-camera very quickly without setting up the Nikon CLS system or pulling out my remote flash radio triggers. Right now there is a Tokina 12-24 wide angle zoom in the main compartment with the lens hood reversed. There is plenty of room for a third or even fourth lens like a 35, 5o or 85mm. I usually put the battery charger and all the cords in the back outside pocket if I am going on a trip but then take them out when I arrive at the hotel. I often put a 120 film camera in the top compartment instead of the flash if I know that flash is not going to be needed.

I had been accessing my additional lenses through the side opening of the bag by pulling up the velcro flap of the interior dividers on the left and right of where the camera sits. This tended to wear out the velcro after about a year and half of constant use so I may be rethinking that plan and opening the zippered main compartment all the way to access the interior. You need to be careful that you don’t dump the contents of the bag when it is all the way open and it is probably a good idea to set it down when you do open it up that way. Of course in practice I am always in a hurry and don’t have time to set the bag down carefully.

I talked to a lot of people last week about what camera bags they like and what bags they actually own. I found out that most serious photographers own several different bags because their needs and camera gear are constantly changing and that makes perfect sense. You should always buy a camera bag for the gear you plan to use and not try to stuff more equipment in a bag than it was designed to carry. In my case I need a camera bag that I can store the camera and lens so that it is ready to shoot with as soon as I take it out the bag. I have now moved most of my off-camera flash gear over to my Pelican 1510 rolling carry-on case, which can also fit the camera with zoom lens inside when I go canoeing or traveling out of town.

The Lowepro Slingshot AW continues to be my favorite camera bag for all day sightseeing and spur of the moment travel. Think about what gear you need for the day and resist the temptation to take more gear than you will use even if you can fit it all in. Your neck and back will thank you and you can spend more time taking photographs. I’m enthusiastic about anything that can help me get out and create photographs and about companies like Lowepro, who stand behind their products and constantly keep improving them.

For more information and technical specifications visit: http://www.lowepro.com/