It’s all about the light…

A flying visit to the Lake District this week yielded a couple of hours to get out with my camera.  The conditions were not, however, very encouraging – although the forecast was for ‘sunny spells’, it was raining when I parked at the Silverthwaite National Trust car park just off the Ambleside to Langdale road, and it was blowing an absolute hooley (the aftermath of Storm Henry.) Still, boots on and kit in hand I headed down to the path running alongside the River Brathay to see what was possible.

1602 langdale-14I had planned to try a couple of long exposure images using my new Hitech filter holder, but it was clear it was far too windy for sharp pictures, even with my heaviest tripod set as low as possible. The tops of the fells were shrouded in mist/cloud, but there were some brighter patches in the sky (nothing to actually call sun though…)  Anyway, I found a nice view with a fence as lead-in, and set up and waited. After about 10 minutes, it had pretty much stopped raining, and I was rewarded with a few breaks in the cloud. The foreground was nicely bathed in sunlight – only for a few seconds, but enough to get a couple of frames including this one.

1602 langdale-4Wandering along looking for another view point, I spotted this family of ducks, and quickly set up.  Within a few seconds they had moved into the perfect position in the frame, and as luck would have it, another fleeting moment of sunlight brought the scene to life. Time for one shot only before the ducks had moved on, and the sun had disappeared again!

In the time left, I managed another couple of shots, but as before it was a case of finding something interesting, setting up, and then waiting (and waiting…), and hoping the light would come good.  I had quite a few strange looks from walkers passing by, and even a few comments about me just standing there waiting – everyone expects a photographer to be shooting all the time, but there’s absolutely no point if the light isn’t going to make the shot work. Sometimes waiting until the light is right pays off, but so often its a case of returning when the conditions are better. Patience is rewarded (but only sometimes!)

Here are a couple more I managed that morning.  All photos taken on my Fuji X-T1 camera with 16-55mm lens, Hitech filter holder with 0.9 ND grad filter, and Manfrotto 055 tripod. RAW images processed in Lightroom, and Viveza 2.

Fuji X-Pro2 – Start of a new Generation

When the Fujifilm X-Pro1 was launched back in 2012, mirrorless cameras came of age. A combination of robust build, compact size and a revolutionary hybrid viewfinder all combined with some excellent quality lenses to provide the first real alternative to the DSLRs favoured by professional and serious amateur photographers.

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Pre-production X-Pro2 (thanks Matt!)

In the four years since launch, the X-Pro1 has had its firmware updated a number of times to improve its AF speed and add new features. But for over a year now, Fuji aficionados have been anticipating a major update to a camera which has recently started to look somewhat dated, and which has had its performance surpassed by newer Fuji offerings and by competitors.

The specification and features of the expected new model were well leaked, so it was no surprise to learn that the X-Pro2 has a new 24Mpx sensor, massively faster AF performance, and twin SD card slots. The revolutionary hybrid viewfinder from the X-Pro1 has been further improved, and the camera now boasts weather sealing with over 60 seals. Amongst other new features are a brand new film simulation, up to +/-5ev exposure compensation for HDR fans, and a brand new processing engine that improves performance around. All these new and improved features add up to a camera that is truly unique, AND can match anything that any DSLR can do.

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Photo – Fujifilm Corporation

Thanks to Matt Hart (www.lighttraveler.co.uk), I was able to briefly try a pre-production sample on the very day the long awaited  X-Pro2 was announced. While this camera didn’t have final firmware etc, it was truly impressive.  Paired with the new 35mm f2 lens, even in very poor light the AF performance was both fast and accurate. The new viewfinder was simply amazing – clear and bright in either optical or electronic mode, and the omission from the earlier model of diopter adjustment has been rectified – there is now a handy little knob, just like the X-T1 and X-T10 cameras. Fastest ‘regular’ shutter speed is now 1/8000th second, and there is also the option of a purely electronic shutter up to 1/32000 second. There is a certain ‘heft’ to the camera – it feels solid and reassuring in the hand, just like the X-Pro1 did, and this will please pro photographers who expect their cameras to take real punishment.

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X-Pro2 showing larger LCD and control layout

I for one am looking forward to getting my hands on a full production model of this exciting new camera! I can’t see how I will be able to resist buying one…

Inevitably, the talk now is of an upgrade to the X-T1 model – while its a brilliant camera in pretty much every regard, landscape photographers would certainly appreciate a step-up to a 24Mpx sensor, let alone some of the other features from the X-Pro2. Will this happen too in 2016? Exciting times…

Fujifilm X-T10 – the ‘pocket rocket’

91npjD2GO8L._SL1500_When the X-T10 camera was launched in late 2015 it was dubbed by many as a ‘cut down X-T1’, stripped of many of its features.  Having bought one a few weeks ago, that seems to be far from the truth!  Sure it is smaller, it doesn’t claim to have the weather proofing that its big brother has, and both the LCD and viewfinder screens are a little smaller, but it really is an exceptionally good camera, at around half the price of the X-T1!

The autofocus is very good indeed, better than the X-T1 at the time the X-T10 was launched, although the X-T1 autofocus has now been brought up to the same level.  The sensor and processing is virtually the same as the X-T1 and other current Fuji cameras so img_main03no issues there – the image quality is identical. There are the full range of image quality and shooting controls, a tilt LCD screen, face detection and continuous AF, and even a built-in flashgun. Apparently the time to store a burst of photos is slower, but as I see it that is really only an issue if shooting sport or similar.

What I really love is just how tiny the camera is – put one of the smaller Fuji lens on it, like the new 35mm f2 or the diminutive 27mm, and the camera is little bigger than a compact – yet offers full ‘DSLR’ type performance and image quality. It’s now my ‘everyday’ camera, and will definitely be my first choice for street photography as it is so inconspicuous.  Nice one Fuji..

Here’s one of my first ‘serious’ photos taken with the camera. I’ll be adding more images in due course.

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Fuji X-T10 with 10-24mm lens

Liverpool #Streetlife Photos

While street photography isn’t really my genre, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to go on the free #Streetlife ‘photo walk’ in Liverpool sponsored by FujiFilm and Clifton Cameras, and lead by Matt Hart. I’ve a lot of time for Matt’s work, and never really explored Liverpool, so far too good an opportunity to miss.

A bright sunny early autumn day saw close to 100 photographers of all ages turn up at the Albert Dock, sporting everything from Fuji CSC cameras, big Canikon DSLRs, right down to just iPhones and iPads. After a brief intro by Matt, we all set out along the waterfront, but quickly split up into smaller groups as we roughly followed the preset circular route, taking in highlights like Bold Street, the ‘bombed out church’ (St Lukes) and the beautiful Georgian Quarter. We didn’t stay too long around Lime Street Station as there was a political demonstration going on that could have turned nasty, so headed on past the Central Library, the shops of Liverpool One, and back to the waterfront area – in total a very enjoyable 4 miles or so, over 6 hours.  All in all a great day out, and I have a good number of photos I’m happy with – mostly ‘characters’ but also some cameo shots of some of the buildings and sights in a fine city.

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I don’t think there’s any doubt that I will be back to Liverpool again soon!

EDIT – all photos taken with the remarkable 90mm f2 Fuji XF lens and X-T1 camera.

Why I love Fujifilm….

I switched to Fuji around two years ago after being a near-lifelong Nikon photographer. The reason why? Well, it was mostly about the bulk and weight of the new generation of DSLR cameras. My (extremely good) Nikon D800 weighed almost 2kg with its zoom lens, and all the other lenses I had for it were pretty big too. I found I was increasingly reluctant to go out with – it was just too heavy to want to be bothered with if I was going to be any distance from the car. If I was taking ‘people’ photos, this bazooka sized camera and lens was often off putting – discrete photography was out of the question.  I wasn’t ‘knocked out’ with the quality of some of the lenses – sure the camera itself was awesome with its 36 million pixel sensor, but both my zoom lenses distorted horribly and were not good for landscapes.

91npjD2GO8L._SL1500_Mirror less cameras seemed to offer a good alternative – much smaller and lighter, and ‘good enough’ image quality, and I was impressed by the reputation Fuji had, so decided to take the plunge with an X-E1 and lens.  Weighing only around 550gms, it was a delight to carry around and certainly not intimidating to potential subjects.  Sure it was a different experience – a fully electronic viewfinder and far less capable autofocussing, but the image quality from the 16Mp sensor was, and still is, outstanding. Everyday JPEG images are sharp and contrasty and the colour saturation is amazing. With some post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom, the RAW images rivalled the photos I was getting from the Nikon, all from a camera a fraction of the size, and far less expensive.  I’ve invested in several more lenses (all superb, and a fraction of the size of Nikon) and now have 2 camera bodies and flash units etc…… I don’t claim it’s a perfect system, but it works for me, and it’s restimulated my love of photography. I rarely go anywhere these days without a camera, and now take far more photographs than before. I’m exhibiting a selection of photos for the first time, and have another exhibition planned later this year – I couldn’t have envisaged this a year or two ago.

But there’s one more thing that really sets Fuji apart from the other camera manufacturers, and turns my enthusiasm into real love, and that’s it’s support for the model range. With Nikon (and the others..) you buy a camera and that’s it. It never gets any new features or improvements – you wait a year or so and then there’s a new model that makes yours obsolete.  Fuji is different.  Very different. Every few months there’s a free firmware update that makes performance improvements and adds new features. And this isn’t just for the latest model – Fuji provide these updates (to the extent they can) on models that are several years old.

img_main01Today Fuji announced a radical upgrade to the auto focus system of the X-T1, which will address many of the requests users have asked for to make their cameras function more like a conventional DSLR camera.  Chief of these is the implementation of dual Wide and Zone tracking modes which will allow better focussing of moving subjects.  Also included is Eye Detection AF which will detect and focus on human eyes, a major benefit if using wide aperture lenses that have limited depth of focus. Other features/improvements include Auto Macro Mode, better Movie AF, improved shutter dial operation, and additional Exposure Compensation capabilities.

I’m really looking forward to this upgrade, due for release in June – it will be like having a new camera!

Thoughts On My First Photo Exhibition

After a long wait, and quite a lot of work, my first ever solo photo exhibition is now up and running (runs to 9th May 2015).  Details at http://www.nigelyoung.co.uk/exhibition

OK, so it’s not a big venue in New York, London or Paris, but it’s a start – it’s at our local Community Arts Centre here in Market Drayton, Shropshire, UK.  They have a gallery area that local artists and photographers can book for a 3-week exclusive exhibition. Its completely free of charge, and the space available – 2 long walls, will take around 30-35 decent sized photographs. The audience is obviously friends and family, and of course the mainly local residents who use the facilities like the cinema, and education, fitness and leisure classes. I don’t claim to be a great photographer – years of practice does NOT make perfect, but an exhibition is something I’ve always wanted to do, and this opportunity was a no-brainer

Yesterday was pretty hectic – getting all the mounted prints hung level, labeled, and the supporting promo material setup, so I didn’t really get chance to appraise how it looked.

Today, however, I went back to the venue (with a relative who was keen to see my pix) and it was a really emotional experience – I guess we look at our individual images time and time again on the computer, but there is nothing, believe me, that compares with seeing a set of 30 good-sized prints of just one’s own work up on the wall!

Although I’ve been taking photos for a long time (the oldest image on show dates back to 1974!), I’ve always favoured landscapes with maybe a few architecture/urban images included, and don’t often take photos of people.  I did include some street/people photos in the exhibition, mainly to add some variety. What really struck me today was how compelling the ‘people’ photos are compared to landscapes and urban scenes – I constantly found myself drawn back to the photos of people, rather than landscapes.

So now I find myself more confused than ever – I was planning to ‘rationalise’ my photo interests to landscapes, and maybe some building/urban scenes, but am now questioning whether people photos are the way to go (for me…) I don’t feel a particular affinity for photographing people, and don’t even feel I’ve got a flair for it, but if I get satisfaction looking at the results, isn’t that enough?

I’m really interested to know whether fellow photographers struggle to define what ‘kind’ of photographer they think they are?

Here are a few of my favourite photos from the exhibition…

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EDIT: Festival Drayton Centre have extended the exhibition until 30th May 2015 – yippee!

Always Have A Camera Ready…

XT102980Last night was a perfect reminder – we were sitting at home having a drink when OH noticed the sunset colours developing and the cows at the top of our garden.  Encouraged by her (it was hard to tear myself away from a Sauvignon Blanc, even for a photo), I grabbed my Fuji X-T1 and raced to the top of the garden.  Managed to get maybe 6 shots off while the cows were suitably juxtaposed with the big old oak tree, and before the colours faded. No time to set up a tripod, all shots were taken with the camera balanced on a fence post.

Key thing for me, and the moral here, is to always have a camera set and ready to go – my X-T1 ALWAYS goes back in its bag with battery fully charged, fitted with the 18-135mm lens, set to Auto ISO 3200, and everything else on Auto. That pretty much guarantees a shot in all circumstances and is a good place to start.

For the technically minded – images were shot in RAW, then processed in Lightroom with a Fuji Velvia preset to boost the colours, a little clarity added, then cropped to suit.

A Tale of Three Flashguns

Coming from Nikon to a Fujifilm ‘X’ camera, the choice of flashguns appeared somewhat limited – something Fuji have since acknowledged and are working on.  None of the complete flash systems that Canon and Nikon offer – just 3 flashguns. Firstly the diminutive but expensive EF X-20 model with a modest guide number of 20, no bounce flash facility, and it only works in TTL mode off-camera using a cable.

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Fujifilm EF-42

Then comes the EF-20 model, again with a guide number of 20, but this time with a bounce (but no swivel) facility. Lastly the EF-42 model, really just a rebadged and slightly re-engineered Sunpak unit, it does at least do bounce and swivel flash, and has a guide number of 42, but for off camera TTL use again needs an extension cable. It’s quite bulky for its power and limited functionality, and the menus aren’t particularly intuitive, but it was the best on offer at the time so I bought one.

It turned out to be ‘ok’ for general use (not that you need flash a lot for everyday photography – the amazing low light sensitivity means the Fuji ‘X’ cameras pretty much see in the dark.) Family and group photos came out reasonably well, especially if the flash was bounced off a wall or ceiling.  Exposures weren’t always dead accurate on auto, but not bad.

HOWEVER, where I really struggled was with product photography, something I do from time to time. It really needs much more than just bounce flash to create consistent lighting across a range of products, and the relative lack of control means lots of ‘bright’ spots or indeed reflections.  Shooting through an umbrella or softbox is pretty much the only way to go, but this means off-camera flash. The extension cable route worked, but was a PITA – the longest off-camera lead I could find (has to be a Canon OC-E3 type) was a coiled type that only stretched to 1m or so before it pulled my lighting stand over, so this seriously compromised my camera and shooting position. Then the lack of power really showed up shooting through an umbrella, and I found I needed to switch to manual operation anyway as the exposures were inconsistent because the products varied so much in colour/reflectivity and this affected the TTL flash metering.

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Yongnuo 560

A couple of Yongnuo RF-603C II flash triggers overcame the extension lead and stand instability problem – one on top of the camera set to Tx mode, and the other underneath the EF-42 flash set to Rx. Triggering was 100%, and I completed the assignment without further problems.  I was using 2 cameras simultaneously on each shot so had to switch the RF-603 transmitter between cameras for each shot – awkward, but ok.  A bit more power would also have been useful, and next time around I will probably want to use an additional flashgun for some fill-in.  So what to do next?

Enter the Yongnuo YN560-III speedlight – an inexpensive manual only flashgun with a guide number of 56, and bearing a marked resemblance to the ‘old’ Canon 580 speedlights. At under £50 (yes – £50!) and some good reviews, it seemed worth a try.  It will operate on-camera on its own or triggering other YN-560s, or can be triggering by the above RF-603s. It’s fairly simple to set up, and with the recently announced YN560-TX controller/trigger, flash output for single and groups of flashguns can be set remotely. Given the price, these flashguns and triggers are remarkably robust, and the quality seems at least as good as the Fuji brand flashguns. The extra power of the YN560 over the EF-42 makes about 2 stops exposure difference, or the option to still use lower power, but with improved flash recycle times.

There are a couple of other options for 3rd party speedlights (notably the Cactus RF60 and the Godox 850) but both are much more expensive and also have their drawbacks, whereas my £150 investment in Yongnuo gets me 2 speedlights, 2 triggers and the 560-TX controller. This gives me the 2 flashguns, triggers for 2 cameras, (3 if I use the controller on camera instead of off-camera.) Everything I need for a mini-photo studio in terms of flashguns!

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I have to say I am completely knocked out by the Yongnuo gear – I was sceptical about quality and performance given the price (my ‘old’ Nikon SB flashgun were upwards of £300 each new!), but there is absolutely nothing wrong with these. The design and operation is exactly what is promised, the fit and finish of the component parts is good, and I’ve seen no significant complaints regarding reliability or longevity.

What about the EF-42? Well, it is now going on eBay and should pay for at least 1 of the YN560s.  But what about a nice small on-camera flash for those family and group photos where auto operation is needed? That’s covered too – the newly announced Nissan i40 has just arrived.  It’s 2/3rds the weight of the EF-42, around half the bulk, and looks so right on a Fuji camera. It’s SO easy to operate, and also to use flash exposure compensation when needed.  Its actually small enough to carry in my everyday bag, which is a real bonus. The following shows just how different these 3 flashguns of mine are in size:

So until Fuji (or someone else) brings out a significantly better flash system at a decent price, I’m set up – the Nissan i40 for everyday and event photography, and a set of the Yongnuo’s for ‘studio’ and setup work with umbrellas, soft boxes and reflectors. I’m happy with that, (and haven’t spent the earth!)

The Under-rated Fuji X-M1

The little Fuji X-M1 tends to be overshadowed by its ‘big’ brothers – particularly the X-T1 and X-Pro1 and the iconic X100S. It’s relatively inexpensive (I picked mine up used for £160), and only has an LCD screen on the back, no electronic or optical viewfinder. The construction is a little more ‘plasticky’ and the controls with the PASM and mode dial are somewhat reminiscent of cheaper compact cameras.  However, the heart of the camera is the same 16Mp sensor used in the X-T1 etc and it takes the same fabulous XF lenses, so in the right hands, and with a few caveats, is capable of the same results.  I picked mine up to keep as a backup to my main camera body and didn’t really envisage using it on a regular basis. However, pair it with the diminutive 27mm lens, and it’s a cracker! Its just 12 x 6.5 x 6cm so actually smaller (and lighter) than the X100S! It really does fit easily in a jacket pocket, and I took it into a concert without security even noticing it…DX141123-2

So given that it is smaller than my X100S and I felt I needed to get to know the camera better, I took it out with me last night, just on the off-chance of some photos. What a revelation! Used wide open at f2.8, and with auto ISO set to 3200 max, it performed brilliantly in what seemed like near darkness.

Walking around Centenary Square in Birmingham, the AF locked on perfectly on the Giant Wheel and the new Library of Birmingham, and propped against a wall a 1/20th sec photo of the canal was adequately sharp. Inside the NIA Arena, I even managed some decent concert photos. What is incredible about all these Fuji cameras, and the X-M1 is no different, is the high ISO performance – it retains an amazing amount of shadow detail, with very little noise.  I’ve had some far more sophisticated cameras in the past, but none can equal this low light performance. It almost doesn’t matter how dark it is, just shoot away and the camera sorts it out. The only ‘tweak’ I made was to the concert photos where it was burning out the highlights, so I dialled in one stop of under exposure and that fixed it.

DX141123-5Don’t forget also that the tilting LCD screen is great for low level or overhead shots, and it even has a decent little pop up flash built in. It’s wifi enabled too, so photos can be uploaded directly to a smartphone, or printed on the new Fuji Instax printer. It may not have the faster AF that the X-E2 and X-T1 have, but when it does find focus is generally locks on accurately; unless you are capturing sport or other fast moving subjects, it isn’t really an issue. It’s a credit to Fuji that they have managed to pack the image quality of their more expensive models into what is a very affordable entry level camera that is fully compatible with the whole XF lens range.

I’m really happy with my little ‘pocket-rocket’ – it’s a great combination with the 27mm lens, and there’s always the option to pair it with any of the other Fuji XF lenses – even with the 18-55mm zoom lens it is still very handy for travelling light.

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EDIT: Although I really liked the compact form of the X-M1, ultimately I struggled without a viewfinder, so sold the X-M1 in favour of its bigger brother – the X-E2. Only slightly larger, it has a better build quality, great viewfinder, and much faster AF, so a winner alround. Thanks to eBay, I sold the X-M1 for virtually what I paid for it, so a win:win there.

Travel tripod mini-review

My Manfrotto tripods have served me well over the years, and with their height, stability and quick release ballheads, were perfect for my DSLR cameras. Moving to a smaller camera system (to reduce the strain on my back!) has highlighted just how heavy these tripods are, and increasingly I’ve not wanted to carry a tripod at all when out walking. So perhaps it was time to look for something smaller and lighter, and I was attracted by the new style of travel tripods weighing around 1kg and folding down to just 30cm (12″) or so long – small enough to go inside a backpack.

There are at least 6-7 brands that all look quite similar – they all have legs that fold back on a centre column, a small ballhead, and are typically around 130cm tall when fully extended. Prices run from about £80 to £140. The first I tried was the MeFoto Backpacker at £119 from Amazon. It had received very good reviews so seemed a good buy. First impression was indeed very favourable – 1-2kg in weight, 130cms tall extended, a fixed centre column with a rising inner column, a ballhead with an ARCA-Swiss style quick release, and twist lock legs.  There is a hook in the centre to hang a bag or weight for extra stability, and it all comes in a carry-bag.

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Hahnel Triad C4 Tripod

Considering how light it is, it was remarkably stable, and easily took the weight of my Fuji X-T1 with zoom lens.  Several observations from the outset –

1. The centre column is fixed in position, so there is no option to use the tripod with the ballhead sitting immediately on top of the legs – its most stable position. This also means that if you want to carry the tripod on the side of a backpack, it is around 50cms tall with the legs retracted, but in the unfolded position.  Likewise the column cannot be reversed for ultra-low shots.

2. There is no means of retaining the legs closed together, so any tripod holder needs to take account of this. Also, with 4 sections to each leg, that means a total of 12 twist actions to both unlock, and then relock the legs – miss just one when you are retightening the legs, and the tripod will collapse to one side. I prefer the flip locks on my larger Manfrotto tripod.  There are only two ‘in use’ positions for the legs, a fairly upright position, and the usual very splayed position for low level work.

3. By far the biggest problem for me was the camera mounting plate – fitted to 714053c8qaL._SL1500_my Fuji X-T1 it obscured the access to the battery compartment, so when out shooting in a muddy field I had to remove the camera from the tripod, then remove the plate and re-attach it, just to change a battery. This isn’t a fault of the tripod/ballhead – it occurs on all quick release heads because of the proximity of the battery compartment to the tripod bush on the Fuji.  I tackled this issue by getting a Fuji X-T1 Small Grip Plate – essentially a flat plate that screws onto the bottom of the camera (but doesn’t obscure the battery compartment) and provides an ARCA/Swiss style dovetail mount which fits perfectly on this tripod.  Problem solved!

However, the points above caused me to look around, and I dropped on an Amazon ‘lightning deal’ for the Hahnel Triad C4 Tripod and Head, for an amazing £39.99 (usual Amazon price £72.00, and on sale at Wex for the RRP of £99.99).  What a steal! This is so similar to the Mefoto tripod it’s untrue – one is definitely a copy of the other. Given the much lower price, I wasn’t expecting much, but its equally good (with one exception below…)  The height and weight are much the same, the centre column is adjustable and removable, so great for low level work, and slightly better stability in the fully ‘down’ position.  There is also an intermediate position for the width of the legs – great on a windy day, or or uneven ground

The problem however is that the ARCA/Swiss ‘style’ camera plate is some 5mm wider than the standard 37/38mm standard for these.  No problem if you just use this plate, but remember I now have the special camera plate – you guessed, it doesn’t fit this ballhead. Not great. After trying a different ballhead,  I sourced a replacement plate and clamp to fit the original Hahnel ballhead for approx £5.00 (from China).  It needed a new 6mm countersunk bolt to fit it, and a little Araldite to take up some slack in the mount, but it really works a treat.  So, job done, and total cost of this new setup  is just £45.00.  What a bargain!

Bottom line is that for a very modest price, it’s possible to buy a lightweight tripod good enough for most travel shots, and that weighs less than half of a conventional tripod. Definitely a good investment…

EDIT: This tripod is very much my ‘trekking’ tripod – if I’m close to the car and don’t mind the extra weight and bulk, one of the larger Manfrotto units is clearly more stable, but this one definitely has it’s uses.