I need a new tripod head and I can’t decide which one to get

So I need a new tripod head.  Mine was a fairly cheap one when I got it about 6 years ago but it has developed a lot of play between the mount and the unit, so isn’t actually stable any more.

Doing some reading of reviews and asking around on forums I have decided on two potential brands

Acratech

Acratech GP Ball Head

GP

Really Right Stuff

RRS BH-40 LR with Pano option

BH-40 Ballhead

Both of them cost about same in USD and I have to pay for shipping and probably customs which will add 10-20% to the price.  Neither have a supplier in NZ therefore no service options should there be a problem.  With the extra bits I want the RRS is slightly more expensive

Both have options for L brackets, tho the RRS has brackets specially shaped to fit most popular brands and models of cameras.

Both have an option for a Pano mount, but the Acratech has to be taken off and mounted upside down to use it.

Both have node rail options (which could be used for my macro lens)

Here are some reviews on Acratech ballheads:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/arcatech.shtml

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/226

http://www.johnbirchphotography.com/2013/07/acratech-gv2-ballhead/

Some reviews on RRS ballheads:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/rrs-bh55.shtml

http://www.wandersandwonders.com/2013/04/14/stuff-that-works-really-right-stuff-tripod-ballheads

http://bobsimmerman.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/review-really-right-stuff-tvc-33s-versa-series-tripod-and-bh-55-lr-ballhead-package/

What do I Want?

- solid long lasting construction

- lever action (not screws)

- pano feature would be a bonus

- L bracket option

- levelling bubble would be a bonus

Both brands come with most of the options above.  Both websites have useful videos and information about using the heads and other useful tripod related info.

Its a really hard choice, I really like the RRS stuff as an idea, I like the specifically shaped L plate and the fact the pano mount functionality can be used without taking off the head.

However I also really like the Acratech design, I like the concept and the accessibility the unit gives you.  It has all the features I need and some I want with some compromises and is a little cheaper in price.

HELP I CAN’T DECIDE!!!

Does anyone out there have experience with these brands?

Would love some thoughts, recommendations or advice

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Clay Cliffs at Omarama

Clay Cliffs which are visible from the main highway which is a few kilometers away  – Click to embiggen

On my trip to Queenstown last year I made a special stop on the way home to the famous Clay Cliffs in Omarama.  They are so big you can see them from the highway which is a few kilometers away and they are quite spectacular even at that distance.

It was a lot further to get to them than I expected, as you have to go across the basin and south a bit til you hit a farm gate.  These are on private land but the farmer allows access (he has a collection box as well).  The cliffs are formed from water shaping the clay and as the road started to climb up a bit you could see evidence of storm runoff that had made some rather scary pot holes, but the trusty Toyota managed to shimmy through around the edges safely :)

View of the path up showing mountains to the south – click to embiggen

There is a decent sized carpark and a sign that says 4WD only beyond this point.  When I got there an idiot with a Suzuki had decided that even tho there was a large and deep gully, he was going to cross it.  Apparently he had, but got stuck getting back and a crowd had formed, watching his mates chuck stones in under the wheel that was spinning in mid air. Making sure I had a safe path I jumped my way across the bits of gully til I got to the path and climbed up til I was greeted with the view above which was just stunning.

I kept walking up the path but got distracted by a big clump of wild rosehips and spent some time trying to capture them in the foreground of the cliffs.

Rosehips in the foreground and the lovely textures of the cliffs – click to embiggen

It was a surprisingly hot day and I had to be in CHCH by a certain time to collect the cat from the cattery so didn’t stay for long.  You can walk right up and into some paths in the cliffs, it feels a lot like a scene from LOTR I have been told.  Will go back again when I have more time and try to climb up to the top if it is possible :)

On the way back down to the carpack I had a completely different image presented to me, the flat plain of the basin with the hills on the other side all snow capped and stunning blue sky

Omarama Basin – click to embiggen

It gets really hot here in summer, in fact it is the gliding capital of the country, as the wide flat plain generates lots of thermals and they have gliding competitions and you can be taken up for a ride.  I imagine the view from the sky is amazing!

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I haven’t taken a real photo in months

Moss and cobwebs in native forest in Paradise Valley past the Dart River

Between working full time and being a part time student I have really struggled with having any creative inspiration for months.  Work has been very stressful since about November, in fact I found out a couple of weeks ago that I may actually lose my job, they are consolidating headcount and my role loses 3 people nationally.

On Friday I had to interview for my current role and maybe we find out on Monday, and then either way it will still be difficult as I could lose my job, or keep it but lose a necessary and valued colleague.

I know that when very stressed I lose my creative scope and so am trying not to be to bothered about that as well, but I’m planning a holiday in a month and a friends wedding in 6 weeks and am really struggling to work up any enthusiasm for either.  That by itself is bothering me quite a lot.

Watching my cats play on the lawn, cat and kitten wrestling and being cute, and thinking “I should get my camera” but don’t cos right now I have more important things to worry about.

This isn’t a post about how much my life sucks right now, its a post about how the creative part of a persons makeup is such a delicate and fragile thing, how surprising it is that it needs energy to feed and develop it. That when you don’t have excess energy it just disappears like clouds on a windy day.  Yes its probably fair to say I am more than a little depressed and this is one of my symptoms.  It feels like a part of my soul is…..numb.

For various reasons I hope everything sorts itself out one way or another because I really MISS playing with my camera.  I miss creating art and appreciating the beauty in this world.  Right now I see it and know its there but its like its on the other side of a door that I can’t open cos I don’t have a key for it.

Right now  am reading comfort books, playing with my cats, gardening and eating comfort foods and hoping HOPING that everything sorts itself out real soon.

(Both of the images in this post were taken in Aug last year and processed late last year)

Old horseshoes covered in cobwebs at Paradise Homestead in Paradise Valley. Processed in LR and Nik Silver EFEX Click to embiggen

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

This weeks Photo Challenge – I’d like you to use one tangible object as both your inspiration and subject

This is an old bicycle at a place called Paradise (yes really!) situated in Paradise Valley nearly 2 hrs drive away from Queenstown in NZ.  Its damn near the middle of bloody nowhere and then you find this lovely old historic settlement with a pink farm house, glossy roosters, woolly sheep all surrounded with snow covered mountains.

I processed this image with a sepia finish in Nik Silver Efex, I wanted to give it that ‘old historic photo’ feel – how did I do?

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Shooting Landscapes in Black and White – does it work?

So I dipped my toe in the B&W end of the pool about a year or so ago after seeing what really good stuff could be done with Nik Silver Efex, and when Google acquired Nik and rereleased at a much more affordable price I was in.

Glenorchy Jetty

Colour seduces us with its brightness and excitement.  We see a riot of colours and our brains get all excited about it .  Its easy for us to view an image quickly and go on to the next, getting high on yet more contrasting exciting colour!

 

Flooded trees at Glenorchy

However when you want to present your images in black and white something really interesting happens.  First as a photographer you have to *think* about your image creation differently.

How will this look without all the exciting colour?
What interest is there to the viewer in BW?
What draws the viewer in?
What catches their attention with BW?

Bearing in mind I am a total noob at this, what I think the answer is to most of these questions is two things – Texture and Composition.

Anyone will tell you a good image needs good composition, but a B&W needs it more.  Why?  Because I think someone viewing B&W actually takes more time, their brain is less saturated so they need to look at the image more to absorb it – let it speak to them I guess.  So a good composition is necessary to engage that attention and hold it.

Then its about texture – contrast of tones, different levels of detail.  I notice this more when I am playing with the image in Silver Efex – it has a lot of handy presets to get you started, who would have thought that something as limited as B&W could have SO MANY interesting variations :)  Processing these is so much fun!

Anyway enough waffle from me, I have two pix above I have shot and processed in colour but I intended for them to end up as B&W images, so here they are:

Click to embiggen

 

Click to embiggen

Which do you prefer – the colour version of the B&W version?

How do you feel about B&W landscapes, can it work or is it pretending to be arty?

Im still feeling my way with this so love to hear thoughts or feedback :)

 

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Queenstown Aug 2013

Mountains behind Glenorchy Township

Back in August last year I was invited to a 4 day Conference at Millbrook in Queenstown.  Quite exciting as this conference is by invitation only and travels around to different parts of NZ and Queenstown is one of the most beautiful parts of the country and only 5-6 hrs drive away!

So I organised to see a customer on the way down, he was at the halfway point and a good place to stop for lunch and took the car down (having organised some leave after the conference) all ready for adventures.

Did a lot of driving – 1500 km over the 7 day trip – 900 of it in three days.  Man was I pleased to get home!

The weather was lovely, there was enough snow to be very scenic and I had a really good time even if I almost got stuck in a bog.  So be prepared for a series of photos from my Queenstown trip to show up over the next week as I work through processing them.

The above shot is taken of the mountain range up behind Glenorchy which is a small settlement at the top end of Lake Wakatipu.  I had a delicious bowl of chicken soup at a cafe on my way back to Queenstown and it was a pretty place.  Cold in winter but I could see it would be delightful to swim in the lake in the middle of summer.

Image processed in LR5 and then processed further in Nik Color Efex to remove a colour cast, tone up the whites and a polarising filter to brighten up the sky a bit.  I was there late morning and the sun had yet to burn off all the morning cloud so you see drifts of it still lingering.

Top end of Lake Waktipu, Queenstown

This is the top end of Lake Wakatipu with all the peaks still cloud enshrouded, the lake a gorgeous green blue that you get with glacier fed lakes.  The Queenstown – Glenorchy drive takes about an hour and is one of the prettiest drives I have had the pleasure of driving.  Every corner has a new vista of stunning scenery.  This was taken from a convenient lookout with room to park several cars, ideally placed for the best shots.

You can see the road meandering on in the distance on the right of the image, leading me on to more lovely scenery, of which I have many more photos to show you :)

I liked the first mountain pic so much I made it my new Blog Header, what do you think?

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Cognac seal birman kitten – 2 weeks in new home

Well its 2 weeks today that I bought Cognac home and its been eventful but in a good way.  He settled in really quickly and has thrived, mostly by stealing all the cat food in the house, he is a right little guts!

Taz has also accepted him really well, they spend a lot of time romping in the mornings (OMG 5am I have TWO cats telling me its breakfast time!!) chasing each other through the house and wrestling.  Even eating off the same plate.  Cognac hasn’t grasped the idea that Taz can be used as a snuggle bunny when its sleep time, always wanting to play, but he will calm down eventually (we hope!).

Making sure Taz gets some quality alone time and lots of snuggles when he is in the mood and he seems quite calm about things, so I am hopeful for domestic bliss at some point in the future.

Anyway enough talking, let there be adorable kitten photos!

Cognac and his favourite toy

In a playful mood

 

Radioactive! This side lighting really shows off the classic double layer birman coat that Cognac has even as a kitten, the soft thick undercoat and the halo of much stronger protective guard hairs that pick up the light so nicely

I particularly like the last shot, it shows his usual expression really well, very serious and yet slightly puzzled.

More pix up here

Which one is your fave?

 

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