SmallRig Lightweight Fluid Head – the Sweetest Little Thing!

SmallRig Lightweight Fluid Video Head w/Z 9 & Z400f4.5 showing off extending handle

I want to up my game capturing videos of critters and realized I needed a fluid head to make the pans work. But there is a limit of how much gear I can have & carry. My primary shooting remains stills (despite pressure otherwise) but when I do video, I want the best I can do. With the addition of the Z400f4.5 & Z 30 to the locker, I saw an opportunity to up my video game while keeping it all small and light. But what about a fluid head. Don’t know if you’ve looked into them, but some START at $2k, they start there! And they are by no means small or light, they can be massive. In my search I came across the SmallRig Lightweight Fluid Video head for $99. I am a HUGE SmallRig fan, I have their cages, body /lens plates, small ballheads and other pieces that I just love them. Great quality for amazing prices. Well, I rubbed my eyes when I saw the size (only 23oz!) and price of the Lightweight Fluid head and thought it was a typo. Nope, that is the everyday price. Could my problems be solved that easily? Well, I clicked and purchased one. You should too!

SmallRig Lightweight Fluid Video Head w/Z 9 & Z400f4.5

Don’t let the “lightweight” name alarm you. I’ve been using it with the Z 9 / Z400f4.5 with gorgeous results! Use it with the Z 30 and that’s a killer combo. This beautifully machined head is crammed with big features (did I mention it’s only $99!). First, the fluid pan and tilt motion is so smooth. You can set it easily to the tension you desire. You have the ability to turn the Arca Swiss clamp a full 360 easily accepting body or lenses. It locks or pans as per your needs. The handle position is completely adjustable (twist and lock into the length desired) and its length can be expanded making even slower, smoother pans a slam dunk! All this in a package smaller than any ballhead you probably have now that’s built like a rock (seriously, it’s only $99!). And after all of that, it’s the cutest little thing! This will be the standard head I will always use with the Z400f4.5 from now on. It’s great!!!

Camera Gear and Heat

Jake on the ramp captured by D750 / 24-70f2.8

Way back when, I was working on a project with the endangered Mohave Ground Squirrel outside of Death Valley. The squirrel was only active during the daylight hours in the summer (otherwise it was hibernating). I was shooting with the F4, that’s how long ago this was. Anyways, I started the second day and put my eye up to the viewfinder and jumped back like someone had shot me! Turns out the day before the camera prism had gotten so hot it had given me a blister on my eyebrow. I thought I had been taking care of my gear and the heat but that proved me wrong. I had to find a solution fast and the answer turned out to be real simple, the white hand towel from the lodge. With the heat wave currently gripping the globe (and not going away anytime soon), I’ve had a few emails asking about the Z 9 and heat. The answer to that question applies to all camera gear, all brands!

Heat alone probably won’t hurt most gear. The Z 9 for example, the instruction book says 104º is its upper limits. It was 98º when I was photographing the House Wren and it was out in full sun cranking away no issue. If you’re on the ramp at an airshow, there is the real possibility you and your gear could reach that temp. First, YOU need to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Next, when you’re not shooting, give the gear a break and shade it. You can drape it with a white towel. You could hang it on your shoulder and stand so you provide it shade. You could put it back in the bag and a white towel over that. Unlike your iPhone that will tell you it’s overheated and shutting down, your camera gear depends on you. If you’re wearing sunblock (and it you’re not, why?) and sweating a lot, that combo on camera gear in the heat can cause issues. If you have humidity, it alone can be an issue in such temps for you and your gear. The combination of heat and humidity can be really hard on us, our subject and camera gear. The best solution is, common sense. My rule of thumb is, do for my gear as I do for myself. On hot days, I hide under a wide brim hat so the camera hides under the white towel. If I can sit in the sun comfortably, so can my gear. If I can’t, then I find shade for myself and my gear. I DON’T set my gear down on the hot tarmac, be it by itself or in a camera bag as the ground transfers a whole lot of heat!

Depending on your body, you might have heat warnings that appear on the LCD / viewfinder. Most cameras have a sensor and/or card heat issue warning. We’re not talking about that kind of hit issue. I’ve never had a camera tell me by a warning or shutting down that its overheated (my iPhone sure has). That holds true for a lens as well. The goal is to avoid arriving at that place where a gear has to warn us it’s hot. You and your gear can work in the heat, just think it through and take care!

Bird ID … Easy Pezzy!

Unknown Bird Species on the computer monitor in Photo Mechanic

Knowledge in wildlife photography is a powerful tool! Knowing who you’re photographing opens up all sorts of doors to your photography. Identifying species and learning their names is a challenge! I receive a whole lot of text and emails with thumbnails asking me to identify who’s in the photo. But there is a simple tool for birds you should have on your iPhone. It’s called Merlin Bird ID.

I’ve mentioned it before in regards to its Bird Sound ID which I use a lot. I’ve forgotten to mention it’s Photo ID. I advise folks when out shooting, get the shot and then ID the bird later. Merlin makes this real simple. Whether the photo is on your camera’s LCD or, on your computer monitor like above, you simply open the app and take a picture of your picture (see screen shots below). Then just follow the steps on the app. It’s going to ask your location which is important for bird ID. It know the time and date. You give it a moment and it will come back with the answer, in this case, House Wren. It’s a really great tool you should have in your bag of confidence!

More Than Gear in the ‘Ol Bag

Kodiak Brown Bear captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

There is no doubt, I love my Nikon camera gear! There are so many reasons, the main one is it lets me, be me. And that’s a really important aspect of gear and the shooting experience I think gets lost at times. When you’re behind the camera watching that subject like this Kodiak Brown Bear, there is probably a lot that is going through your mind. For me, it’s asking questions like, “What’s the biology I’m seeing, what will it do next, what am I feeling and what story do I want to tell and how?” I’m thinking about the bigger picture of the whole shoot and then me, being me, my mind goes into business mode thinking about possible markets, if there is any. For me at this point in my shooting, it’s a whole process my mind circles whenever I’m behind the camera. You could wrap it all up in one word, confidence.

And I’m incredibly thankful for what’s not part of that process, thinking about my camera gear! All the gear in my Bag of Confidence was selected based on everything above, combining with my style and putting it all through the paces before I ever step out in the field to shoot. By doing that, having gone through and doing my homework before it’s time to go click, I have complete confidence when I go click. I’m a guy who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. My thought process I mention above would fall apart, the photo would never come to be if I have to think about my gear too. I didn’t come to this point overnight, it took decades and I remember the frustration I felt at times. I’m just here to say that, you will get to that point, it just takes time. You too will have more than gear in the “ol bag!

The Z GLog Feature

My Z 9 Glog mapped out

No, this in itself might not improve your photography but man, it’s a really cool tool we have in our Z 9! When you turn on Location in the Z 9 menu (other bodies have this feature as well) you then have the option to Log Location. You can set how often the camera records your GPS location and the camera collects all of these points until you turn it off. You then have a G.log file that you can plug into a number of sites online for free that turn that log into a map like you see above. I had my Z 9 set to the default settings for the log you see. You can see where I started at Bear Camp (top left line), boated to the bear eating barnacles, walking around the shore photographing it, then getting back in the boat and motoring back to Bear Camp (lower line in top left corner). Looking at the map, it would appear we were standing in the bay to shoot. It was low tide so the water was gone exposing the barnacle beds. This is a really cool I can see many uses for like when I do an A2A mapping our flight. Check it out, I bet you can find uses for this cool feature as well.

Don’t Leave Home Without One!

Sam’s keen eyes watching a Kodiak Brown Bear captured by Z 9 / Z24-120

When heading to new territory, wanting to find that new something, or in this case, wanting a great set of eyes with decades of knowledge behind them, I hire a guide. But Sam is not just a guide! Oh no, he owns the place, he’s the boss too but I just think of him as a dear friend. He’s been watching Kodiak Brown Bears since he was nine, his dad a world-renown guide instilling in him a deep appreciation, love, and knowledge you can’t find in any book. Having “bear eyes” spotting them is one thing, translating what you see into action or inaction, that’s the true gift. Working with Sam was great as he knew pretty darn well on any given day with the tides and weather where we should start our daily quest to watch Kodiak Brown Bears. Yeah, our goal was to photograph them but first, you have to find them. Then you have to watch them and then become part of their world as a guest until finally, you can join them in their world. It’s the knowledge that protects us, gets us close, and most importantly, a witness to the biology, and lives of these gentle giants. Sam is the best I’ve worked with in all my decades with the big bears. We have so much fun watching the bears, at times nailing what they are going to do next and the next moment, totally, totally wrong in the direction they are heading. In either case, the time flies as well as the pixels. That’s why when it comes to Kodiak Brown Bears I love having Sam by my side. I don’t leave home without him!

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