Gear Review – Gloves (Perfect for Summer/Mild Winter Weather & CAMO to boot!)

A few months back, while browsing through Cabela’s, I came across a pair of gloves that I knew would be right up my alley. Having a skin tone that is already having to have pre-skin cancer spots frozen off, I have become much better about protecting my skin. See, I have two shades of skin tone.  There is white with thousands of freckles and burnt red with thousands of freckles and after a few hours in the sun my hands swell, joints ache and little blisters appear. Problem is, I am also very hot-natured and loved living in Texas so gloves for summer would probably make me miserable. What is an outdoorsman to do?

I had been looking for some gloves that would do the following:

  • Protect my skin and hands
  • Be lightweight to reduce heat
  • Work well with camera/lens dials, buttons, etc.
  • Preferably work with a smartphone screen
  • Fit my thick fingers and palms well

Back to Cabela’s, I came across a pair of very lightweight gloves and they were in camo to boot! Now, my hands are more like slabs of meat versus the long, lithe fingers and palms of my lovely wife. So what usually happens when buying gloves is that if they fit my palm then the fingers are at least an inch too long! Because of the material from which they are made (Real Feel™  Super Stretch™ Fabric), the fit is perfect on me. The palms are covered in a silicone grid which is wonderful for working with dials, buttons, and knobs on your camera, lens, or tripod. Now, none of the advertising for the glove mention this, but they do work (albeit not perfectly) with smartphones. This is huge for me as I am often wanting to access calls, guides, or the like.

I have worn these from the high 80’s to the upper 40’s and been comfortable in that range. It hasn’t been in the 90’s since I purchased them and not below upper 40’s when I have needed them.

I have posted a couple of shots below of the gloves on my meat slabs and here is a link to the gloves on Cabela’s website. The gloves are normally $24,99 but on sale for $14,99 as of today (12/5/14). Feel free to ask any questions as well if you wish to know more.

Glove Palm Glove topside

 

Portable Power When You Are “Off the Grid”

Knowing that I will be spending a lot of time in places where I won’t be to charge my laptop, camera batteries and the like easily, I went searching for a portable power source that could charge these and also run some lights and/or a fan when needed. My first “off the gird” trip is coming up in a few weeks when I will be traveling to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area in northwest New Mexico for landscape/night photography and then on to the Ouray, Colorado area for some fall foliage and wildlife photography. I have been to Ouray many times in summer but this will be my first fall trip. One of the things I am most excited about is the chance to meet a phenomenal photographer by the name of David Kingham. He has some incredible night and landscape images on his website and leads workshops around the American West.

I will be camping out of the back of my “new to me” 2001 Toyota Tacoma that I purchased last week.  Reason I went with this vehicle was that an article on Expedition Portal that rated the Ten Best Used Vehicles for Overland Travel put the 2001-2008 Toyota Tacoma as #2 on the list. I had been primarily looking for a Jeep Wrangler (which I have had two others), a Class B RV (get that in 4×4 and you are spending a LOT of money), and a few other options. Ultimately, I found this vehicle near Dallas and decided I would try to put 400K at least on her before retiring her someday!

Tacoma #3 Tacoma #2

I had been researching many different types of power options for “off the grid” camping and if I can summarize what I have learned it is 1)  it isn’t cheap, 2) most don’t last very long, and 3) if you are a do-it-yourselfer you can save a lot money. The first option I seriously considered were the Goal Zero products since my email has been bombarded by their advertising of late. After extensive reading and searching, here is what I concluded about Goal Zero, they are overpriced, short on power, lots of problems with products, and outstanding at marketing. A quick read through expedition websites and related sources will lead you to the conclusion that if all you want to power off the grid is a smartphone and/or iPad, then this might be the way to go. But if you want a portable fridge, lights, or more, you will spend a lot of money unnecessarily with Goal Zero.

The second option I seriously considered was a simple dual battery setup (click the link for a 43 page thread discussing everything you might want to learn about dual battery setups) for the vehicle. In the long run, the reason I didn’t go this route was because a) it requires either a lot of wiring on your own which I really wasn’t up for b) the second battery is fixed and any outlets are probably fixed as well and thus not portable, 3) to do it right is still a lot of money and modification to your vehicle.

The third option, which I almost bought until I found my fourth and final option, was the National Luna Portable Power Pak. This unit is a self-contained dual battery setup (at least 1/2 of the dual battery setup) and is much more portable than the previously discussed hardwired dual battery setup. This setup was really enticing me until I came across a thread at Expedition Portal on the Ark Pak which was initially developed and sold in Australia and finally began distribution in the United States late last year. I read every page of the thread, looked at every page on the Ark Pak website and was sold on what would provide the most efficient power, for the best price, in the easiest manner possible.

The reasons I ultimately chose the Ark Park over the National Luna are as follows:

1) Price: I got the Ark Pak with 12volt charger which lets you charge the battery with your vehicle for $399 including shipping versus $560 (and not sure if that includes shipping or not).

2) Design: The design of the Ark Pak is much more user friendly and cleaner. The Ark Pak looks ready to go and the National Luna still looks very much like a Do-It-Yourself Unit.

3) Features: The Ark Pak includes a 110 outlet for plugging 2 and 3 prong cords directly into the unit. While not as energy efficient as going straight 12v, you still have both options directly built into the unit. With the National Luna you would still have to by an inverter. My plan is to purchase a 12volt car charger for my Canon cameras to improve charging efficiency. I think the plastic box for National Luna might be a bit sturdier, but I plan to take this out when needed and use next to a table so improved portability was key for me.

4) Customer Service/Reliability – I have read a lot about problems with the National Luna controllers which made me nervous. In addition, on the thread about the Ark Pak the manufacturer and sales reps are constantly chiming in and offering advice, assistance and thoughts on options. That was the final straw for my decision to purchase an Ark Pak.

Before you just click the link and buy one, understand you will still need to purchase a battery to power the unit. You can expect to spend $180 to over $300 for a proper battery in the 100 to 130 ah range. The battery of choice for many is the Exide MC-31 AGM-200 which is unfortunately out-of-stock everywhere due to reorganization of the company. A quick perusal through the thread will reveal some other batteries that have been used.

For a solar option to recharging the battery, you will want to consider this option from Renogy. For around $260 you can add 100 watts of portable solar energy but you should definitely read and understand the limitations of portable solar energy depending upon where you are and how much sunlight you will receive. I plan to keep the battery charged through a mix of 12volt charging while driving and solar power.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about my findings or would like to learn more about this type of portable power.

Equipment Review – Phottix Aion Wireless Remote

Phottix Aion Remote

Don’t you love it when you buy something and find out you got a lot more than what you expected?  I was looking for a wireless remote to use with my Canon bodies (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 7D, and Canon 1D Mark III) that would be programmable for night exposures and star trails.  When it comes to purchasing equipment, I have only found four sources that I generally trust when it comes to buying camera equipment and they are B & H Photo/Video (online), Precision Camera (local store in Austin, Texas), Photography on the Net website (for used and almost new equipment), and Amazon.  I was perusing the wares at Precision Camera a few months back when a remote caught my eye and it was the Phottix Aion Wireless Timer & Shutter Release.  I already had a simple wired remote that I had used on occasion for macro photography but it didn’t allow me to program a specific exposure time which I would need for night photography.  Furthermore, although I had never tried star trails, I knew I would want that capability.

While many people prefer a wired remote for more reliability, I have had zero issues with the wireless remote.  However, this remote can indeed be used wired since it comes with a cable for just such purposes.  Just be sure to always have extra batteries (the Phottix uses AAA batteries) available in the event you need to replace.

Here are the features that I have really liked thus far:

1)  Ease of programming in the dark.  Let’s face it, when doing night photography, we really don’t want to lose our night vision.  I have thick fingers and yet I have no trouble changing settings, time, or functions on the remote in the dark.  The buttons are well spaced and the remote is a decent enough size that I don’t feel like I will lose it.  It does have a light that can be turned on to see the screen but this little light is bright and can take night vision away.  There is also a wrist strap which is perfect since I leave this remote always on my wrist so I don’t misplace in the dark.

2)  Ability to customize everything you can imagine.  This remote will work as a simple shutter release which I use extensively for landscape photography.

3)  Ability to autobracket for low-light HDR photographs.  This is a wonderful function!

4)  Has the ability to operate in “S” or SHUTTER mode where pressing the button simply triggers the shutter for whatever length of time you (or camera) has selected depending upon exposure mode.  “C” or CONTINUOUS mode will take 5 consecutive shots when the shutter is pressed.  “b” or BULB mode is very handy in that you can press the shutter button on the remote and the camera’s shutter will open.  A timer begins on the remote and you can simply press the shutter button again to close the shutter when you reach the appropriate time.  Finally, the “2S” or TWO-SECOND DELAY mode is just like the 2 second delay on the camera.  Pressing the shutter button on the remote will take a photo after a two-second delay.

5)  The real star of the function show however is the TIMER function.  This function has DELAY, LONG, INTVL, N, and BKLN settings.  The first four (4) of these functions can be used separately or in conjunction with one another.  The DELAY setting is used as a self-timer before a photo is taken.  The LONG setting requires the camera to be in BULB mode and will stay open for as long as you have the timer programmed with a maximum time of 99 hours, 99 minutes and 99 seconds.  I doubt you will run out of time!  The INTVL setting (Interval) will take photos at the exact time intervals programmed into the timer.  For instance, you can have the timer take 20 consecutive shots 30 seconds apart.  The 30 seconds apart is controlled by the interval setting.  The N (Number) setting controls the number of exposures the timer will shoot during the current program (– being unlimited, 199 being the maximum programmable).  Finally, the BKLN (Bracketed Long Exposure) setting can be used for long exposure HDR.

This is a bit tricky as you don’t set the exposure to start for the right one, you need to calculate the darkest exposure based on the number of shots you plan to take and start there.  Read the manual for more detail on how to properly use this feature.

6)  Finally, at about $90 retail, this remote is a bargain compared to the price of normal wired remotes.

Cons:

1)  The dial used to tighten the receiver on the flash hot shoe is small enough where I have a tough time grasping to tighten or loosen.  I suspect for people with narrow and/or longer fingers this might not be an issue.

2)  In live view mode with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 7D, it can be a bit tricky to get the shutter to trigger.

3)  It can be tricky at first because you use the shutter button on the remote for S, C, B, and 2S functions.  For the timer, you use the Play/Stop button.  You will definitely want to take the manual with you on your first outing until you get everything nailed down.

Here are some photos I have taken using the Phottix Aion:

My normal lens for night photography is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Night Sky - Pagosa Springs, CO

Night Sky – Pagosa Springs, CO

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Lightning Through the Window

Lightning Through the Window

Watching the Stars

Watching the Stars

To learn more about the functions of the Phottix Aion, you can download a user’s manual here and join me on one of my upcoming Big Bend National Park photography workshops coming in 2015!