Canons New 200-400mm F4L IS Lens

I find myself getting very enthusiastic about photographic equipment again lately with the pending release of Canon’s new 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter. This new super telephoto zoom lens promises to be a game changer for photographers who shoot at these kinds of focal lengths thanks to its inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter and reported superb optics. Canon claims that this new lens “will offer an unsurpassed combination of versatility, first-class optical performance and an enhanced weather-proof construction.” They also claim it will be just shy of a wallet smashing eleven thousand dollars MSRP; which is going to give a lot of photographers serious cause to stop and consider whether this lens is going to be worth the price of admission. The good news is that Canon had a slew of prototypes of this new lens at the London Olympics a few months ago and by all reports and feedback this lens is an outstanding performer and lives up to Canon’s claims.

For Photographers who need a super-telephoto zoom in the 200mm – 560mm range with superb optics this lens is likely to be worth every cent. After spending time shooting from the deck of ships I have come to the realisation that there is no substitute for a high quality super telephoto zoom lens. For shooting wildlife such as penguins, seals, polar bears, walrus and birds from the deck of a ship where the required focal length is always different I expect this lens will likely prove the ultimate no compromise choice for ‘getting the shot’. It is the lens I have decided to take with me on the expeditions I am running to the Arctic and Antarctic in August and November next year. I will also take it to Iceland in March and China in May.

With a focal length of 200mm – 400mm or 280mm – 560mm with the 1.4 TC in place this lens will also be very popular with sports photographers simply because of the extreme versatility it will provide. It is not quite as fast as a 300mm or 400mm F2.8 but I expect this small sacrifice in speed will be a small price to pay for the added flexibility this lens will bring to many sports shooters. I expect this lens to be in hot demand with sports and wildlife photographers when it is released early next year; even with its horrendous price tag. I am hoping to take delivery of this lens in late January next year and will be doing some extensive testing with it before I head to Iceland in March. Look for a full review early in the New Year.

Mountain of Fury – Ushuaia South America

One of the real joys of ship based photography is to stand on the ship’s deck with a camera and watch (and photograph) the scene slowly roll past as you cruise along. Many of my best photographs from Antarctica were made this way – including ‘Penguins Adrift in Snow Storm‘ which was recently featured as photograph of the day on National Geographic’s website. Unlike land based photography, shooting from ship requires absolutely no strenuous walking or hiking (and obviously no tripod) – except perhaps to the bar for the odd drink or the occasional shore excursion via zodiac. All that is really required is a little patience and perhaps a decent pair of sea legs if the swell is up to help keep your balance. Even then, it is amazing how easy it is to brace yourself against the ship to create a stable shooting platform. In point of fact, shooting from ship is actually far easier than helicopter.

During my last Antarctica expedition my good friend Martyn and I spent a lot of time shooting side-by-side as we cruised slowly up the Beagle Channel toward the Drake Passage and Antarctica. Flanked by the Andes mountain range the scenery was truly spectacular with jagged mountain peaks, swirling clouds and dramatic light. Conveniently our trip departed late afternoon from Ushuaia (as most trips do) and we were fortunate to be treated to some lovely dramatic and moody light. As a photographer who searches for the dramatic and portentous this was truly food for the soul and I can vividly recall dashing from one side of the ship to the other with a huge grin on my face in an effort to drink it all in.

Although I had chartered a helicopter with one of the other people on the trip to fly over the Andes mountains the day before; ironically I actually ended up prefering those images I shot from the deck of the ship. One of my favourites being this photograph which is highly evocative of the jagged and precipitous peaks that comprise the Andes Mountains and the dramatic clouds that are constantly swirling around the peaks and summits.A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my website in the South America Portfolio. I am looking forward to cruising up the Beagle Channel again next year on my next Antarctica Expedition with my co-leader Daniel Bergmann and I will most definitely be out on deck armed with cameras as we sail slowly past the spectacular Andes Mountains on our way to the last great frontier – Antarctica.

RESOURCE PHOTO.VIDEO.LIFESTYLE INTERVIEW

I was recently interviewed by Resource Photo.Video.Lifestyle magazine about my landscape photography and the content of the interview is now online at their website HERE. This interview was particularly good fun for me as the nature of the questions gave me an opportunity to talk about how I got my start in photography, in addition to my thoughts on working in the field in remote locations, the importance of the right equipment and the opportunity to talk about my workshops – including the recently announced 2013 Antarctica expedition. I hope you enjoy the read over a morning / afternoon cup of coffee. 

I am including below an image I shot on my last Iceland workshop  in Landmannalaugar in August this year. Photographed from the top of one of the regions highest peaks in overcast misty conditions it was a very stark contrast to my visit two years earlier (during which time I witnessed some of the most amazing light I have yet had the pleasure to experience).  I thought at the time that the grey misty skies of this trip were conspiring against me and that there was going to be little in the way of opportunity. I photographed anyway and found when I got back to the studio and was reviewing my images that I actually really liked the soft lighting which seems to work so well with the pastel pallet of Landmannalaugars amazing volcanic mountains. This is an area of Iceland very near and dear to my heart and one I am very much looking forward to revisiting next year during my summer workshop. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen in my portfolio at www.jholko.com under Iceland II.

I am currently working on dates for the 2014 Iceland Workshops and hope to have these finalised and online in the next month or so.

NEW GURA GEAR BATAFLAE BACKPACK REVIEW – IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

How do you take what is widely regarded by many photographers as one of the finest camera bags on the market and make it even better?

I was pondering this when the guys at Gura Gear first told me that they were working on an update to the very popular Kiboko 30L camera bag along with a range of new accessory storage bags called the ‘Et Cetera’ range.I was an early adopter of Gura Gear bags. After I returned from my first expedition to Iceland I realized how unhappy I had become with my then current camera bag (whose name shall remain anonymous). For a variety of reasons it was no longer satisfying my needs and I was on the lookout for a new lightweight bag that met airline carry-on restrictions for size but enabled me to carry more equipment comfortably into the field.  Anyone who has travelled domestically or internationally with camera equipment understands the importance of being able to carry equipment onto the airplane to avoid the risk of damage or theft in checked luggage. I therefore needed a bag that could not only hold all of my equipment, but that was light, robust, suitable for moderate hiking, and still enabled me to glide through airport check -in with a smile and a wave. My search led me to the Kiboko which, after several years of photographic travel, has become my number one camera bag of choice for all of my photography.

Fast forward to 2012 – With a four week photographic trip to Europe and a workshop in Iceland in July and August this year it was the perfect opportunity to field test the new Gura Gear Bataflae camera bags and Et Cetera range. The good folks at Gura Gear agreed and a shipment of the new product range was soon winging its way to me.

I admit to being very excited when I opened up the boxes from Gura Gear and saw the new products. You know you have purchased a quality product when you open the box and are greeted by the super slick black dust covers bearing the Gura Gear logo. Whilst the addition of a dust bag might seem superfluous it does in fact prove very useful for long-term storage and can even serve as a pretty cool laundry bag when travelling.

Widely regarded as being capable of swallowing copious amounts of camera equipment with room to spare (the Kiboko 30L will hold just about everything you can throw at it) the new Bataflae 32L adds even more space. Overall, it is larger and deeper than the original. This extra space proved a real blessing during my field tests as Canon’s new 1DX camera with a really right stuff L bracket is a very tight fit in the original Kiboko, but slides perfectly into the new bag thanks to the extra head room. Users of professional DSLR’s, medium and large format camera gear will really appreciate the extra height available.

Those of you familiar with the original Kiboko will already be sold on the benefits of the unique butterfly openings that avoid that unwieldy large flap that most camera bags provide for internal access.  There are, however, times when it would be nice to be able to open the bag right up for packing and full access. Well, the new Bataflae gives you the best of both worlds with the traditional butterfly openings but adds the ability to open the entire bag up by releasing a simple clasp at the top of the bag. This really makes packing much simpler as well as providing full access to both sides simultaneously when required in the field. The centre divider contains extra strengthening to maintain rigidity even when the bag is fully loaded. In use, I found this to work very well.The rain cover has been relocated from inside one of the butterfly pockets to outside the bag in a small zippered pocket, which has freed up more room in the butterfly pocket. The rain cover now also utilizes a draw string which is an improvement over the original elastic cover because it can now also serve as a ground sheet if required.

Like the original bags, the new range is manufactured from highly durable materials, although the new material has more bling. The stitching, zippers and internal fittings of the new bags are improved in every respect. Even the finger zipper pulls are easier to use.  Additional padding has been added to the backpack harness, which makes the bag noticeably more comfortable when hiking. There are yet more refinements to be found in the way of improved clasps for carrying tripods which can even accommodate items such as crampons. Like its predecessor, the new range comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to one’s own particular needs. All of this amounts to a very compelling reason to upgrade to the new models.

When the new Bataflae is fully loaded with my camera equipment it was significantly over the normal carry-on luggage allowance during my Europe and Iceland expeditions, yet I had no issues on any of the five international and domestic flights, including several long haul flights. With the increase in size, the new Bataflae still fits in the overhead lockers on the aircraft I travelled and still retains its understated appearance. I am utterly convinced that the Bataflae is the best camera bag on the market for photographers who fly and travel.

During my four weeks in Europe I used the new Bataflae everywhere, from the bustling streets and Cathedrals of Paris to the more subdued provincial countryside and wine regions of France where I travelled by hire car. I took it mountaineering at 13,000 feet at Mont Blanc in Chamonix where it was -15 degrees Celsius, and trod the myriad of canals in Venice Italy during the peak summer season. I then travelled to Iceland for my 2012 summer Workshop where I spent time on the Snaefellsness Peninsula, the highlands of Landmannalaugar and the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to name but a few locations. I undertook some fairly arduous hiking in the Landmannalaugar region and subjected the bag to everything from waterfall spray, rain, salt spray, sand and dust. I threw just about everything I could at the new bags and found them an improvement in every way over the originals.

The design changes and refinements to the new bags are in many cases subtle but they add up to a significant overall improvement that makes for a very compelling reason for existing Kiboko owners to upgrade. If, on the other hand, you haven’t already pampered yourself and your camera gear with Gura Gear then you are about to be presented with a fantastic opportunity with the release of these new products. They are highly recommended for their robustness and overall design.

The new product range takes everything that was great about the original bags and improves on it in just about every respect. I would argue that, outside of the camera and lens, there are few pieces of equipment that can have as much impact on your photography as your camera bag. If you travel or frequently change locations (and which photographer doesn’t!) you owe it to yourself (and your expensive equipment) to check out a Gura Gear camera bag.

Part Two – The Et Cetera and Tembo Range

As photographers we are constantly adding accessories to our equipment arsenal. Additional batteries, chargers, color checkers, CF and SD cards and card readers, adapter rings – the list goes on and on and there is only so many of these that can be shoehorned into a camera bag already overflowing with bodies and lenses. I am sure many of us have thrown all manner of photographic accessories loose into our suitcases before we travel because our camera bag was already overweight with bodies and lenses and at risk of airport check-in destruction.Solving this problem could well be Gura Gear’s masterstroke. Its new Et Cetera and Tembo line of products is designed to solve that annoying problem of finding a home for some of those accessories. The range is perhaps best thought of as the ‘Tupperware’ of camera storage and provides a range of different storage options for different accessories. I found these storage containers invaluable on my recent European trip and Iceland workshop and far more convenient than throwing items loosely in my checked luggage.

There is a range of different sizes and shapes from which to select and photographers will likely choose those models that best suit their needs and requirements.

Gura Gear products can be ordered directly from the Gura Gear Website

ANTARCTICA WORKSHOP 2013 – AVAILABILITY UPDATE

A quick availability update of remaining places on the Antarctica Photographic Expedition I am leading with Daniel Bergmann in November next year. There is currently only one triple share male space remaining and two triple share female places. There are still a few Twin Share spaces available and Twin Privates. There is one mini-suite remaining and the Captains Suite is sold out. If you are interested in joining us on what is going to be a unique and wondrous expedition to Antarctica then please drop me an email to secure your spot. Places are secured on a first come, first served basis. Once they are spoken for and booked thats it.

  • Triple Share Cabin Male (One space left)
  • Triple Share Cabin Female (Two spaces left)
  • Twin Share Cabin (Six spaces left)
  • Twin Private (Eleven cabins left)
  • Mini-Suite  (One cabin left)
  • Captains Suite (Sold Out)