Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review - Think Tank Photo Airport Roller Derby - A Roller Bag for Mirrorless?

While most mirrorless shooters would be content with a small backpack or sling bag to hold their gear, I've found that a lot of times having the right sized rolling bag is much better, especially when shooting weddings.

Back when I was still shooting with Canon DSLRs, I lugged everything around with the Think Tank Airport Security 2.0.  This is still one of the best camera roller bags I've ever owned - it holds a TON of gear:

When I switched over to Sony mirrorless cameras, I found that the Airport Security 2.0 was now too big for my needs.  Since the majority of the interior of the bag is around 8" deep, the smaller lenses of the Sony system like the 55mm f1.8 Zeiss just disappear.

There's a lens in here somewhere . . .

... there it is!

So I started looking around for a smaller roller bag that would be better suited for the smaller bodies and lenses. Then I looked at Think Tank Photo's Airport Roller Derby Rolling Camera Case.

Smaller, shallower, and nearly 3 pounds lighter than the Airport Security 2.0, the Airport Roller Derby is almost perfect for a professional mirrorless shooter.

This bag holds everything I take to a typical wedding shoot:

Sony a7RII body + battery grip
Sony a7II body + battery grip
Sony A6300 body
10-18mm f4 Sony lens
16-35mm f4 FE Zeiss lens
24-70mm f4 FE Zeiss lens
70-200mm f4 FE Sony G lens
85mm f1.4 FE Sony G Master lens
55mm f1.8 FE Zeiss lens
35mm f2.8 FE Zeiss lens
30mm f3.5 Sony Macro lens
Phottix Mitros+ flash (2)
Phottix Odin transmitter
Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket with 10 SDXC cards
Sony USB portable power supply
12" iPad Pro + Apple Pencil
13" Macbook Air + power supply
10 Sony batteries
Sony Battery charger
Rotolight Neo LED light

All of this fits perfectly in the Roller Derby, and still leaves room for more.

Like the Airport Security, the Roller Derby comes with a TSA padlock and an integrated cable in an external pocket.

While the zippers are lockable, the bag does not include the handy integrated TSA lock for main compartment like the Airport Security 2.0

Integrated lock on the Airport Security
Not on the Roller Derby

Most of the central space in the Roller Derby is about 7" deep and the sides are about 8" deep.

While you might think a one inch shallower depth (compared to the deeper Airport Security) is minor, it makes a huge difference when accessing the smaller lenses of mirrorless systems.

The two a7 series bodies with battery grips fit perfectly in the deeper sides of the bag.

They are also deep enough to make dual layers, which is what we did for our two Phottix flashes.

Because of the way the Roller Derby is designed, the bottom of the main compartment actually extends past the zippered opening by about an inch. This means there is a slight overhang which is something to keep in mind when configuring the layout of your gear.

You probably will not want to put smaller things like your card wallet in that part of the bag as it will be difficult to get to. I chose to let the longer items like the 70-200 lens and the Phottix flashes use up most of that space.  The 85mm in the middle is a little difficult to get out at times, so I'm still experimenting with the organization.

When it comes to airline travel, my absolute favorite feature of this bag is the 4 wheeled design. 

On every flight I've been on, both inter-island and international, the aisles are just barely wider than the width of your typical two wheeled carry-on suitcase. Since most rolling camera cases are similarly sized, they just barely fit through the aisle of the plane and then only if you roll it in the exact center of the aisle.

Whenever I rolled a two wheeled camera case behind me when getting off on or off the plane, it would almost always end up catching a stray hanging seatbelt buckle and cause me to stop and make everyone behind me wait while I untangled it.

Eventually I got tired of this happening and just started carrying the bag in front of me to save time whenever we exited the plane, which kind of defeated the purpose of having carry-on luggage with wheels in the first place.

With the four wheeled design of the Roller Derby, this is no longer an issue. By simply rotating the bag and rolling it in front of me, it easily glides down the center of the aisle with lots of space on either side.

If you're a mirrorless shooter in the market for a rolling camera case, I highly recommend checking out the Think Tank Airport Roller Derby.   While it doesn't have some of the features of the larger Airport Security 2.0,  the more compact size is better suited for the smaller bodies of mirrorless systems.  If you travel a lot, you will REALLY appreciate the 4-wheeled design.

If you purchase this or any other Think Tank Photo products via the links on this page, you help support this site and make it possible to continue to do reviews like this. Mahalo!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Review - Think Tank Photo Trifecta 10 Backpack

When shooting weddings on the beach, I usually prefer to work out of a shoulder bag or a belt system.  Each has their own pros and cons and as a result, I'm always on the lookout for ways to keep my gear accessible to me when shooting events.

Think Tank Photo recently announced their new Trifecta Series Backpacks and I had the chance to review one for a few weeks to see if I could use it in a typical wedding scenario.

The Trifecta 10 is similar in size and shape to the Urban Approach 15, which I've also reviewed on this site in the past.

There are currently two models in the Trifecta series of backpacks - the Trifecta 8, which is intended for use with smaller mirrorless systems, and the Trifecta 10, which is designed for DSLRs.

Even though I shoot with the Sony mirrorless system I chose to review the Trifecta 10.  This is mainly because I tend to use battery grips on my Sony a7II cameras when shooting weddings, which makes the bodies larger than the average mirrorless camera.

First thing to note out of the box, unlike Think Tank Photos other bags, the Trifecta 10 does not come with a lot of extra dividers.

You get 3 - count 'em,  3 dividers. Plus the main divider that splits up the backpack.  That's it.

These dividers are much sturdier than the average camera bag divider, as they help support the structure of the bag itself.  One of the issues I've run into with typical soft removable camera bag inserts is that eventually the inner foam material has a tendency to fold over on itself inside the divider, so you have to massage it back into shape.  That shouldn't happen with these sturdier dividers.

I spoke to a Think Tank Photo rep and was told that they can ship you additional dividers if you need, but this is how it comes standard. If you like to haul a lot of additional gear with you, Think Tank Photo's Streetwalker series will better fit your needs.

The Trifectas are unique among Think Tank's lineup of backpacks in that it they are the only backpacks that Think Tank Photo has designed with side access zippers so that you can access the contents from both sides of the backpack while still wearing it over your shoulder. This concept has been done by other camera bag manufacturers where they have a side opening for just a camera with 1 lens attached, but Think Tank goes a bit further by letting you access a whole half of the bag from each side.

On the inside of the left side of the bag are some pockets that will fit memory cards and a couple of spare batteries.

The bag can also be opened from the other side.

However, there are no pockets on this side.  

They probably could have added some more pockets on this side. As it is, this is a bit of wasted space.

The iPad pocket will hold up to a 10in tablet.  12" iPad Pro users like myself are out of luck.

The Trifecta 10 comes with an integrated waist belt.

This allows you to swing the pack around to the front and hold it horizontally to you like a tray table so that you can access your gear from the back of the bag while still having the bag on you as opposed to taking the pack off and laying it down.

This is a handy feature and I'm wondering why they did not also include that on the Trifecta 8.

Though would be nice if they could design it so that you could tuck the straps away when you don't want to use them.

Like other Think Tank bags, the Trifecta 10 also includes a raincover.

The Trifecta 10 is very comfortable to wear. The padding, especially the lumbar support, is a bit thicker than other bags.  

One thing that I liked on the Urban Approach 15 that I missed on the Trifecta 10 was the handle on the back of the bag that you could use to slip over the handle of your roller bag.  I wish Think Tank could have found a way to also incorporate that feature here as well.

Something else I noticed - most other Think Tank backpacks have the style of zippers that can be padlocked like this:

On the Trifecta 10, however, the zippers are not lockable.

I kind of understand their thinking on this one - as the large opening of the backpack is concealed against your back when you are wearing it, no one can open it but you.

However that still leaves both side panels accessible, so be aware of this if you are wearing this bag in a crowded area.  I would have preferred if Think Tank had standardized on the lockable zippers for all three access panels.

 There is a compartment on the top of the bag which is not accessible from the back or side panel.

This is roomy enough to fit a flash and  remote trigger.

There are a few pockets in this section as well as an attachment point for your keys or Think Tank Memory Card wallet.

In here you'll also find the straps for attaching your tripod to the front of the bag.

The pocket is also large enough to fit a water bottle if you don't need to carry your tripod.

I tested this bag out on a few beach weddings with the following gear:

Main compartment:

Sony a7RII with battery grip
Sony a7II with battery grip
16-35 f4 Zeiss
24-70 f4 Zeiss
70-200 f4 G
4 extra batteries

Although the Trifecta 10 is designed for DSLR systems with one body and the 3 main workhorse lenses,  it works equally well for mirrorless systems as well.  An added benefit is that you can fit a second backup mirrorless body - essential for anyone shooting weddings.  If you're shooting with a DSLR setup, I think you might have difficulty getting a second body in there with your three zooms, especially if you have battery grips. Like I mentioned before, this is not the bag for you if you need to carry a lot of gear.  It's mainly designed for a single camera body and three main zoom lenses.

Top compartment:
2 Phottix Mittros+ flashes
Phottix Odin transmitter
Think Tank Pixel Pocket

In actual use, I found the side access panels quite useful when I needed to switch lenses.  While it was not as fast as using a belt system like the Think Tank Modular set, I did like the fact that my gear was more protected from the elements by being in the bag as opposed to being in pouches on my belt.  I also liked using it better than a shoulder or sling bag as the weight was distributed to both shoulders instead of just one.

It also made it easier for times when I needed to get the gear off of my body so that I could climb up a tree or lie down low in the sand to get a shot - situations that would normally be problematic when using a belt pouch system. With everything housed in the Trifecta I could quickly take off the bag, hang it on my lightstand, and go get the shot.

Swinging the Trifecta around to the front and accessing gear from the back while the waistbelt held the bag on me - "tray table position" - was a nice feature, but in practice I found I didn't use it much in that manner.  In actual use, it was faster to just use the side panels to grab a lens and swap it.

Also when using the bag in "tray table position", the entire weight of the backpack is in front of you supported only by the unpadded belt around your waist.

This made it a bit unwieldy as the bag kept wanting to tilt forward.  This is mostly because I had more gear in this bag than the designers intended.

To counteract this, I would put one foot forward and rest the bottom of the bag against the upper thigh.  This had the effect of tilting the top of the backpack back towards me which made it slightly more stable and easier to access the contents of the bag.

While I didn't feel that the belt buckle was in any danger of unbuckling while using the bag in this manner,  I preferred not to use the bag in this position too often.

I also wished you could access the top compartment of the bag from the back and side panels. That would have been more useful.

Overall I liked this new backpack from Think Tank Photo.  The side access panels are actually pretty handy to use and as long as you're not planning to haul a lot of gear around, you should definitely check out this bag.

We are a part of Think Tank Photo's Photographer Support Program, so whenever you use the links on this blog to shop at Think Tank Photo, you will receive a free gift from them whenever you order $50 or more.  You also help support this blog in the process and we greatly appreciate that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shooting Jungle Queens, Ninjas and Bikinis with the Cheetahstand Collapsible Beauty Dish

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

My apologies for the lack of recent posts in this blog.  We've still been shooting and taking BTS notes from each shoot, but haven't had the time to organize and do the writeups on them.

Early last year I had the chance of working once again with one of my favorite teams - Luke and Jen. We started with shooting a Jungle Queen theme, which then evolved into a Ninja shoot and we finished off at sunset with swimwear on the beach. Three very different kiinds of looks in one day.

We shot in Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley, starting at a big banyan tree in the middle of the park. This tree has lots of interesting nooks and crannies to put a model in and around.

For our first set, Jen selected an Ujena swimsuit which fit perfectly with our jungle theme.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

We lit this first series of images with the Cheetahstand CL360 in a QWBD White collapsible Beauty Dish.  This was boomed up overhead with a painter's extension pole modified with a Kacey adapter.

To light up the inside of the tree behind our model, a Cheetahstand V850 with a Saberstrip modifier was attached to one of the inner branches with a Justin Clamp.

The USB radio slave that connects to the V850 flash make the unit slightly too large to fit completely into the Saberstrip, but we were able to get most of it into the tube to make it work.

We started off with some simple poses, but Jen wasted no time coming up with poses that really showed off her physique.

Like this one:

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

Working with Jen is a lot like photographing a comic book super heroine or an action figure come to life. It is simply amazing to watch her when she flexes her muscles.

You really need to see it in person - it's like she has built-in Iron Man armor under her skin.

Moving around to the other side of the tree, we shot some reclining poses. This spot did have a slight issue where we were getting dappled light on the model's body so we diffused that with a California SunSwatter.

Wanted a bit more edge light behind the model than the existing natural light was giving us so we moved the Saberstrip to a spot behind the banyan tree.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

One of the advantages of working with an athletic model like Jen is that you can experiment with ideas you normally wouldn't dare to try. Like climbing WAAAAAY up to the top of that tree.

Since she was so high up in the tree, we put the Cheetahstand CL360 and beauty dish back onto the painters pole and had Luke hold it as high up as he could to get the light on an even height with the model.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

We then headed over to the Japanese garden area of the park to do our Ninja look.

Here we experimented with shooting "day for night" - using a tungsten white balance in camera and underexposing the image to give a feeling of a moonlit night.  The flashes were gelled with MagMod CTO gels.

For these images we went with a different style of treatment in Adobe Lightroom for more of a "300" or "Ultimate Fighter" kind of look.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

This ninja weapon is called a kyoketsu shoge, and has a long rope with a metal ring on the end which is used to ensnare an opponent.  To simulate her actually using it in combat, the metal ring was held next to the camera as the shot was taken.  This had the added effect of creating a leading line to the subject.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

I've had these martial arts weapons for years and have always wanted to incorporate them into photoshoots.  Jen is one of the few models that had the physique that matched the look I wanted for these.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/200@f4

One of the things I noticed after the shoot was that the kanji on her headband was upside down so I had to fix it in post.

Details, I gotta remember to think about the details DURING the shoot.

For sunset we headed out to Makena Cove beach.  Lucky for us there were no weddings that day, so we were able to move around the beach a lot to get different settings. We cycled through several different sets of Wicked Weasel bikinis for these beach shots.

Since the sun was still a bit high in the sky when we got there, we started out by using the California Sunbounce reflector as fill.

We also turned it around and used it to block the harsh sunlight for a softer look for some of the shots.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 250 1/200@f4

Around sunset we switched to using the Cheetahstand CL360 in a QWBD White collapsible Beauty Dish.  I really like the portability and power of the CL360s.  I also found a way to doing hypersync with the Sony cameras so that we can exceed the flash sync speed limitation.  I'll have to remember to do a post about that.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 400 1/160@f4

The light hitting the sand in front of the strobe made the foreground a little hot, so in the future I'll also need to remember to bring some Cinefoil next time to flag off the bottom of the beauty dish.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/200@f4

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 800 .5 sec@f5.6

It was so much fun to work with this team again. Looking forward to our next shoot!