Feb 13

All Things That Fly Interview

I spent about an hour last week talking with Daniel and Lucien from allthingsthatfly.com about my experiences so far in the aerial world. These guys get pretty technical and most of their knowledge is way over my head, but we kept it pretty focused on the photo and video side of things, and my successes and some notable failures so far. The full audio is below, and the direct link to the site is here. I come in around 20 min 45 sec into the show:

Jan 13

For Sale :: Dynafit TLT Vertical ST Bindings

Selling these TLT Vertical ST’s to upgrade to a new pair. Skied less than 10 times, they’re in great shape. $300.

May 12

First Look :: Aerials from the Cinestar 8

It’s been about a month since the first flight of my new Cinestar 8, and since then I’ve logged enough flight time to feel somewhat confident enough to actually try and shoot some cool stuff.  I packed the helicopter up for our Utah climbing trip (trip reports – part 1 and part 2), and got a few good chances to fly, first in Indian Creek and then two days later in Moab at Fisher Towers.

Indian Creek was a little scary at first (a running theme when flying this thing with a 5d mkII strapped to it) – I flew at the base of Generic Crack from a somewhat flat-topped boulder, with about a 5 ft x 5 ft takeoff/landing zone.  Given that I’d previously only really flown in big (soft) grassy fields, it was quite the transition – precision was of the utmost importance.  Also new was trying to frame all the necessary elements (climber, belayer, scenery, etc.) from the air – I haven’t hooked up the first-person video system yet, so it was all essentially blind.  In any case, I think a few of the shots turned out nicely, and all from an angle (as far as I know) never seen before…

Back in Moab, I planned to shoot my friends Jake and Luke on a sunrise ascent of Ancient Art at Fisher Towers.  If you’re unfamiliar with Ancient Art, here’s a shot from a week prior of me on the final pitch and Jason Smith on the summit.  The Fisher Towers area is mind-blowing, and the Corkscrew Summit of Ancient Art is no exception.  So yeah, I had big plans to shoot those guys on the summit, and I had this image in my mind of what it’d look like, but pretty much everything went very, very wrong.  In short : the Cinestar has a very powerful GPS waypoint mode where you can plug in coordinates that it’ll automatically follow, and as I flipped it into GPS mode, it went violently wobbling away at about 900 mph, directly towards a cliff and CERTAIN DOOM.  I was 100% sure it was going to crash, so I flipped it back to manual control, gave it a ton of throttle, somehow avoided smashing into the wall, and flipped it into “come home” mode (yes, it does that too).  By now it was about 300-400 feet above me (higher than I’ve ever flown), though in a happy, stable hover, so all I had to do was bring it back down to me and land.  I’m not sure what exactly went wrong, probably a camera gimbal balance problem, but suffice to say that it was quite terrifying.  Either way, the heli came home safe, and the one decent image is still pretty cool, even though I originally planned on flying much closer to the climbers.

So here are some photos, a bunch from Indian Creek, and the one from Ancient Art – the climbers are just tiny little ants, so there’s a 100% crop for reference.  Next up, if the weather cooperates – City of Rocks, Idaho.

Aug 10

Canon Announces New Lenses

Canon announced a whole slew of new products earlier this week, among them a really, really sweet L-series fisheye and an update to the near-perfect 300mm f/2.8L telephoto.

The new EF 8–15mm f/4L USM fisheye lens is pretty revolutionary in that it’s a zoom fisheye.  Canon has never offered a lens like Nikon’s 10.5mm fisheye that gives 180 degree corner to corner coverage on a crop sensor.  I shoot two bodies these days, a Canon 7D for action, and a Canon 5D mkII for almost everything else.  The 7D uses an APS-C size sensor, which is smaller than the 5DmkII’s full-frame sensor.  With lenses designed originally for 35mm film (the size of a full-frame sensor), these APS-C cameras crop and effectively magnify the image by a factor of 1.6. So unless the lens is specifically designed for the smaller sensor, this makes your wide angle lenses less wide, and telephotos, well, more telephoto.  In the case of the ultra-wide, distorted fisheye, you end up with a minimal fisheye effect.  It’s just sort of a semi-distorted, kinda wide angle, uhhh, weird mess.  Not so any more.

Now, with the new zoom feature, everyone can use just one lens for fisheyed goodness regardless of what camera body they shoot.  I bought the 7D and 5DmkII combo specifically to avoid having to commit to the bulk  of the 1D series bodies.  The 7D, for outdoor action photography, is arguably as good as the mkIV, and combined with the f/4L lenses, much, much lighter in a pack full of backcountry ski gear.  For everything else, including action shoots with off-camera lighting, the 5D mkII is just stunning and I don’t think there’s any competition until you start talking Leica or digital medium format.  I’ve resisted buying the Canon fisheye, but now I’ll have to reconsider.  It’s a specific look that should NOT be overused, but it has its usefulness and can create some really fun results.

I also mentioned the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM earlier – it’s a mid-range tele prime that’s insanely sharp, and it manages to stay sharp wide open at f/2.8 AND at the corners, with really no vignetting.  It’s a thing of beauty, and the new one is lighter, has new coatings, new image stabilization and focusing functions, and should be even better than the previous version, if that’s really even possible.  It also plays very nicely with the 1.4x and 2x tele extenders for brightly-lit ski and wildlife photography, giving you a ridiculous range of options:

-300mm with 5D mkII
-420mm with 5D mkII + 1.4x
-480mm with 7D + 300mm
-600mm with 5D mkII + 2x
-672mm with 7D + 300mm + 1.4x
-960mm with 7D + 300mm + 2x

The extenders scrub some speed and sharpness, but lo and behold, Canon has also announced updated EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III Extenders too. So now for a cool $7000+, a paltry sum compared with the really big Canon tele lenses, you too can get razor-sharp shots of the nose hairs of that mountain lion as it’s bounding in your general direction.  AND you can shoot it hand-held without a massive tripod and dedicated tripod head so you can run like hell afterward.  Thank you Canon, it’s all about survival out there…!

Apr 10

Phantom HD – Slow Motion 5D Shutter

Here’s a sweet video from James Pearman of a Canon 5D shutter firing in super slow motion, captured at 2000 fps by a Phantom HD.  It would be really cool to see this sort of thing with a 1D mkIV in continuous shooting mode at 10 fps.:

Jackson-based Brain Farm Digital Cinema is also using a Phantom HD Gold to create some absolutely stunning footage:

Brain Farm is currently working on a multi-year project with Travis Rice that, much like That’s It, That’s All, is sure to melt faces…  I can’t wait.

Click on the Phantom HD Gold below for Vision Research, Inc.’s Facebook Page:

Apr 10

Elinchrom Ranger Surgery


As I mentioned in the first post, I had a bit of trouble with one of my Elinchrom Ranger RX batteries a few weeks back.  The battery was connected to the head and the Pocket Wizards on both the camera and strobe side seemed to be working just fine, and the flash head test fired as normal when you pushed the test button on the battery.  It seemed to me at that point that it had to be either a). the sync cord, or b). some internal disconnect having to do with the sync port.  Andy shot down to my office to grab a new battery and a new sync cord, which of course solved the problem, but we were then burdened with carrying around a useless extra pack and extra 20 lb. battery, which, well, sucked.

I was pretty sure that something had gone wrong on a park shoot earlier in the season – we were out there at sunset, and the temps dropped from somewhere in the 20s to just about zero in a matter of minutes after the sun went down.  There must have been some moisture or condensation in the sync port, because the sync cord was frozen to the port at the end of the night, causing the whole sync port to stick and spin when I tried to unscrew the sync cord.  Anyway, I later learned that this caused one of the wires inside – attached to the bottom of the sync port – to twist off and break.  Lesson learned here – if your sync cord freezes to the port, just let it thaw out before you try to unscrew it!

On to the fix, which was really simple.  I searched a bit for a warranty contact, but wasn’t too excited about sending the heavy battery anywhere, not to mention being stuck without it for a few weeks.  The fix is as easy as removing the battery from the case (you had to put the battery in when you got it, so I’m presuming you know how to do this), unscrewing the top, carefully lifting the top off to expose the interior wires and circuit boards, and then stripping the end of the loose wire, and re-soldering it into the bottom of the sync port.  It might also be a good idea, once you’ve removed the battery, to turn it on to drain any remaining juice out of the circuits.

Ranger Battery Case Top
Ranger Insides
Top view, with key screws indicated
Inside view

Seal ‘er back up and you’re done!  It should work fine.  This isn’t exactly neurosurgery, but it’s better than spending the cash and wasting time on sending it in for warranty.  That said, this probably voids the warranty, but what doesn’t?

Also, the shot from the original night sesh where the Ranger died can be seen on my site here.  Video (thanks to Karl Steslicke) here.