Accessory Reviews

 

I've tried to not only list the major accessories I use on a semi-regular basis but also provide a mini-review to help those considering purchasing these items for themselves.  I hope you find it useful!

Joby Gorillapod Focus & Ballhead X
Manfrotto 3221W Tripod
Sunwayfoto FB-36DDHi Ballhead
Sunwayfoto PNL-D600 L Bracket
Lowepro Inverse 200 AW Beltpack
Crumpler Seven Million Dollar Home
B+W Kaesemann Circular Polarizer MRC
Hoya ND x400 HMC
Hitech Graduate Neutral Density Filters (4x6)
Hitech MK4 Filter Holder

Joby Gorillapod Focus & Ballhead X

At 26.9 ounces (1.7 pounds) with the matching Joby Ballhead X, the Gorillapod Focus works great as a lightweight, compact support for low-angle and macro photography.  If you leave the ballhead at home, the weight drops to 17.6 ounces (1.1 pounds).  Joby claims the Gorillapod Focus will support systems up to 11 lbs, which I've not yet come close to testing.  I've certainly had no issues with it supporting my D600 and 18-35/3.5-4.5G (40.4 ounces, or 2.5 lbs).  

My preferred use for the Joby system is for macro photography or when weight savings is a major issue.  With the ballhead in place, the minimum base height of the camera is roughly 5 inches from the ground.  Without the head, the minimum base height of the camera can be as low as roughly 2.5 inches off the ground.  At the other extreme, the Focus (with ballhead) has a maximum base height of approximately 14 inches (the total length of the tripod + head is 14.7 inches, but I'd recommend splaying the legs at least 8 inches to provide more solid support).  Combined with its ability to attach itself to tree limbs and other structures, the Gorillapod Focus + Ballhead X can therefore provide limited 'general' tripod functionality in certain circumstances as well.  It's over 5 lbs. lighter and much more compact than my only alternative setup (a Manfrotto 3221W tripod and Sunwayfoto FB-36DDHi Ballhead), so when I'm focused on floral/insect photography instead of landscapes, and when I'm hiking almost any distance at all, the tiny Joby is my preferred choice.

Manfrotto 3221W Tripod

This beast of a tripod was available and popular for many years prior to the arrival of lighter-weight alternatives.  The Manfrotto 3221W has served me well since my early adventures in large format photography.  Constructed mostly of aluminum, the 3221W has a rated support capacity of 13.2 lbs... not as much as you might expect, given its 6.2 lbs overall weight.  This is not a tripod to carry with you on a hike.  

Nonetheless, the 3221W is a rock-solid, inexpensive (I purchased mine secondhand), and dependable tripod for short trips from the car.  Since it's my only full-size tripod at the moment, it sees a lot of use.  I certainly wouldn't recommend it for hiking or backpacking:  there are numerous lighter and higher-capacity tripods on the market that would make a much better choice.  But it does what it needs to do, and it'll continue to see use until I can replace it with a better alternative.

Sunwayfoto FB-36DDHi Ballhead with Panning Clamp

On my wish list! 

Sunwayfoto PNL-D600 L Bracket

So far I've been very pleased with this bracket.  It does everything it's supposed to do without hassles.  Access to the battery compartment is a little tight as a result of some Op/Tech Uni Loop connectors tied into the adjacent strap bar, but I can still remove and insert the battery fairly easily.  

Lowepro Inverse 200 AW Beltpack

This beltpack works well.  It fits my camera with mounted lens alongside two additional (smaller) lenses easily, as well as a bike-sized water bottle and a handful of accessories in its outside compartments.  If I'm only bringing one additional lens with me, the inside compartment will also hold a full-sized Nalgene bottle.  As a bonus, it also has enough capacity (with the internal dividers removed and stored away) to hold my Nikon 200-500/5.6E with its tripod foot in position and hood reversed.  This season I may use it as a carrying case for the 200-500 during backpacking trips, then use it as a dayhiking pack for my smaller lenses, water, snacks, etc.  Two gripes:  the tripod straps on the bottom are a bit fussy to tighten and secure, and the Delrin hardware has a tendency to squeak during hikes.  

Crumpler Seven Million Dollar Home

 

Crumpler Six Million Dollar Home

 

The version of the Seven Million Dollar Home I own is an older model purchased in 2007; the newer version appears to have been updated in several important ways.  Major differences (at least based on photos of the newer model online) include the buckle arrangement on the top flap (one at each corner of the new model; only one central buckle on mine), an updated front pocket, and an additional zippered rear pocket.  The interior dividers appear to be largely unchanged.

Overall, I like this bag.  The exterior has good abrasion resistance and is nondescript enough to pass as a normal shoulder/messenger bag.  I have the interior configured such that with a single camera and mounted lens stored perpendicular (and lens-down) in the center of the bag, there are four additional slots for lenses, flashes, or whatever else needs protection.  Since I have a relatively small kit, I often will store a full Nalgene water bottle in one of these slots, which works well.  The velcro- (now button?-) latching front pocket is handy for small and/or flat items, but nothing bulky is likely to fit there.  The zippered mesh compartment underneath the top flap is handy for a magazine or two, but anything rigid stored there would prevent the flap from closing properly.  There are two very narrow slots for storing a filter or two between the interior compartment and the attachment points for the shoulder strap.  In addition, there are several loop straps on the exterior ends of the bag where additional gear, like a tripod, can be clipped or strapped on.  Only one quick-release buckle is available to secure the folding lid on my version.  The attachment point for this is almost centered on the bottom of the bag, precluding its use to secure a tripod in-line underneath the bag.  The shoulder strap is well-padded , but I'm not sure how comfortable it would be over long periods of time if the bag was fully-loaded.  My version has enough space between the camera/lenses and the lid to stow a small jacket, but that's about it for 'bonus' capacity.

Crumpler Six Million Dollar Home (Interior)

From what I can see online, the newer version of this bag is much improved.  Compared to my version, two corner buckles on the lid would be vastly better from a security point of view, as would the addition of a zippered rear compartment.  I prefer shoulder bags that have some added utility and capacity beyond photographic purposes, and my version only barely fits the bill.  Despite the improvements, it's not clear to me that the new version is much better in this regard.  If you too are looking for a multi-purpose messenger bag, this may not be the bag for you.  But the SevenMillion Dollar Home provides excellent protection for camera gear in a well-constructed, durable, and attractive package that may be just what you're looking for.

B+W Kaesemann Circular Polarizer MRC Filter

What can I say.  This filter does exactly what it's supposed to do (which is, by the way, to block polarized light can generate glare and decrease contrast).  It's well-constructed, multi-coated to reduce flare, and cuts glare very well.  According to Schneider Optics, the Kaesemann foils provide a more uniform and neutral filter effect and are also edge-sealed to prevent the intrusion of humidity between the glass.  

I also own the 'Moose Peterson' Warm Circular Polarizer manufactured by Hoya (in a 67mm frame), which combines a basic circular polarizer with an 81A warming filter.  When looking directly at both filters, the clarity of the B+W glass appears slightly superior to the Hoya.  But the CP + 81A design of the latter makes this comparison difficult.  

Here's an example of a scene shot without any filter, with the B+W Kaesemann CP, and with the Hoya 'Moose Peterson' Warm CP.  Note that the image shot with the B+W filter could easily be post-processed to match the warmer tones produced by the Hoya.

[no filter]

[B+W filter]

[Hoya filter]

Hoya Neutral Density x400 HMC Filter

On its way from B&H!  Once I've had a chance to work with it a few times in the field, I'll provide a mini-review here.  

[no filter]

[Hoya filter]

Hitech Graduated Neutral Density Filter (4" x 6")

I have two graduated neutral density filters from Hitech:  a two-stop soft transition and three-stop hard transition.  Both are constructed of optical resin and measure 4" by 6", designed to slip perfectly into my Hitech 100mm filter holder (see below).  These filters are most often used to reduce exposure of the sky during sunrise/sunset shots which also include a more deeply-shadowed foreground.  These situations were particularly challenging to deal with when using color reversal ('slide') films, which possess a limited ability to record scenes with wide dynamic ranges.  I used these filters fairly often with my Cambo 45N and Fuji's Astia 100F.

Despite their utility in the film era, I've completely stopped carrying and using graduated neutral density filters.  The sensitivity of the Nikon D600 sensor allows enough latitude during post processing that I can recover shadow/highlight areas very well without them.

Hitech MK4 Filter Holder (100mm)

 

Hitech MK4 Aluminum 3-slot Filter Holder

 

There are several versions of the Hitech 100mm filter holder out there on the new and used market.  Mine is (I believe) the Hitech MK4 aluminum 3-slot 100mm/4" filter holder (HT100H4A3).  This holder consists of 4 parts:

  • A threaded rear lens adapter which attaches to the holder using a screw-clamp on the filter holder
  • The filter holder itself, including the 3 forward filter slots
  • A 105mm threaded front ring
  • A collapsible rubber hood with a 105mm base for attaching to the threaded front ring

Basically, the purpose of this unit is to hold your filter exactly where you want it while you shoot.  If you're not already familiar with square- or rectangular-format filter holders, though, you might be thinking that the above list is pretty complex for a relatively straightforward item.  Every part has its purpose, but the resulting unit is fairly bulky as a consequence of its design.  As noted, this holder unit is threaded both in the rear (where it attaches to the lens) and in the front (to utilize the collapsible hood, if desired).  I eliminated the rubber hood from my kit and unscrewed the front 105mm mounting ring from the 3-slot holder as well, reducing overall bulk and the number of components from 4 to 2.

Like the graduated neutral density filters this holder is designed to support, I used this item fairly often with my Cambo 45N large-format camera.  And also like those filters, I've completely stopped carrying this holder with me in the field.  The Nikon D600 has more than adequate sensitivity to recover shadow detail in poorly-lit portions of most scenes, so sadly this well-machined and useful holder no longer sees regular use.