Copper River Bags Safari Leather Camera Bag Review


As I have previously stated, a good camera bag is a necessity for any photographer who decides to use something other than his/her smartphone to capture images. Cameras tend to attract stuff that you always need to have on hand (just in case). But the bag must also protect the camera and its lenses from mishap and mayhem, yet comfortably carry all that stuff and fit into your style of photography. Since I prefer to shoot in urban settings, I need a bag that will carry my mirrorless kit plus my personal stuff in as small a package as possible. While some view leather as a luxury, working-class leather makes for a tough, durable bag that is light and easy to care for. How often do cowboys buy saddles? Same principle applies here.

Copper River Bags of Nevada City, CA makes some excellent bags out of leather, Water Resistant Cotton Duck Canvas and 1000 Denier Cordura. Their line of camera bags come in small (10″ – the size I am reviewing), medium (14″) and large (15″). All of their products are hand made in the USA which is very refreshing to encounter these days. CRB also makes camera accessories like padded camera inserts (one is included with your camera bag), leather camera straps, leather sketchbooks, leather conditioner and leather initial plates. This list only scratches the surface of the list of bags they make. Click here if you want to see the complete catalog of bags they make.

10″ DISTRESSED TAN NAPA SAFARI LEATHER CAMERA BAG

This bag (pictured above) is a very simple design with one main internal compartment (where the camera insert goes), two internal pockets, two external pockets on the sides, and one pocket on the back. It has a messenger style flap cover which is secured by three snap buttons. Opening/closing the bag is a silent operation. There is a handle on top that is padded. The strap is made of leather with a leather shoulder pad and there is an option for a canvas strap. The entire bag is double or triple stitched and made by hand.

Despite this simple design, the bag holds a deceptively large amount of stuff.


Starting with the Copper River bag on the top, going from left-to-right:

  • Rhodia Notebook with CW&T Pen Type B, Meike MK320FT Flash, Olympus Pen-F w/m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 & RRS Grip
  • Leather Pencil Case for cables and spare batteries, LED Penlight, Lenspen, ThinkTank Card Wallet, m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 & m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
  • Olympus Battery Charger with right angle plug, 2x neoprene lens pouches
  • My glucometer and insulin pump controls (which go in every bag I use)
  • NOT SHOWN – a pile of my business cards squirreled away in the side pocket.

Pros and Cons

Nothing in this world is perfect, not even my wonderful wife (sorry dear) but everything has its good and bad points. Here’s what I have come up with for this bag:

Pros

  • Rugged construction will allow for decades of use. Exterior is made of oil-tanned leather.
  • Bag can be opened near silently.
  • The bag is guaranteed for 100 years!
  • The bag can be repaired at a local cobbler, if you don’t want to send it back for repairs.
  • Made in the USA.

Cons

  • Like all working leather products (saddles, baseball mitts, work boots, etc) this product requires some regular maintenance. CRB offers a wax based leather treatment for purchase, but I used good ol’ boot grease.
  • The inner layout is very simple with no space reserved to keep small items corralled. Plan on adding a small pouch for these items. I used a leather pencil case that fits horizontally inside the bag.
  • The padded liner is not the most heavily padded I have seen, but combined with the oil-tanned leather exterior, will offer good protection for your gear (assuming you close the flap). OK, this isn’t much of a con.

Scoring

I have decided to implement a scoring system for these kinds of reviews because it makes it easier for the reader to quickly see the value of the product being reviewed. The scoring categories are:

  • Construction
  • Design
  • Ergonomics
  • Value for money

Construction: 5 out of 5

Hand made from oil-tanned leather, this well constructed bag can be willed to your great grandchildren (assuming you maintain it properly).

Design: 4 out of 5

The bag’s simple layout is very zen, but it could have used a zippered inner pouch/pocket for for small, loose items that cameras tend to attract.

Ergonomics: 4 out of 5

The bag can be worn as a shoulder bag or cross-body like a small messenger bag. The leather strap could use a slightly better pad to distribute the weight on the shoulder. This is only an issue if you fill it up to the brim with gear.

Value for Money: 5 out of 5

At $189 USD (including the leather strap), this bag is a bargain. Competitive products in this space are more than double the price of this bag and are made overseas.

Final Score: 18 out of 20 – Highly Recommended

I will be traveling with this bag over the course of the next three months so I will be writing a follow-up with any new observations.

Adorama 24/7 Sling Bag Review

Bags. Ever since cameras became small enough to be truly portable, photographers have been stuffing them into bags/satchels/rucksacks/etc. So, as part of the photographic experience, how you lug your stuff is almost as important as the stuff you are lugging. Cameras and lenses contain lots of glass and fiddly bits, so chucking them in an old burlap bag won’t cut it. Thus the photo bag industry was born.

Adorama has, of late, been introducing their own lines of photographic products: Flashpoint Lighting, Glow Light Modifiers, 3Pod Tripods[1], and now camera bags. Adorama has unveiled their 24/7 line of camera bags starting with the Traffic Collection. The Traffic Collection consists of six bags ranging from a pouch, two holsters, a shoulder bag, a messenger bag and a sling style backpack. I am reviewing the latter.

Disclosure: Adorama contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing their new line of bags. I was sent a review sample for this purpose. No other compensation was provided to me.

Build

The 24/7 Traffic Sling Bag is made of sturdy nylon and features two compartments: a padded main compartment access from the side and a smaller, non-padded compartment accessed from the top. The non-padded compartment has pockets to hold pens, small flashlights and other knickknacks.

Secondary compartments include a zippered padded pocket accommodating up to a 12 inch tablet (I will have to go to the Apple Store to see if an iPad Pro 12.3 fits) and two pockets under the flap.

As this is a sling style bag, there is one main carrying strap and a secondary stabilizing strap. The main strap is well padded, while the stabilizing strap is just nylon webbing (which is Ok because its job is to keep the bag from swinging around your body.)

There is also a rain cover squirreled away in the bottom of the bag.

Zippers are all heavy duty and can be a little stiff to open/close. One nice touch is that the partition separating the two compartments can be opened via an internal zipper combining the two compartments into one (great for big lenses).

Ergonomics

Over the years, I have used far too many bags. My wife can attest to this. Well made backpacks are great for traveling but are hard to get into quickly. Shoulder/messenger bags are easy to access but swing around a bit and cause me shoulder pain when carrying more than air in the bag for any extended period of time. Sling bags are the compromise. Comfy like a backpack but easy-to-access like a shoulder bag. The 24/7 Sling Bag is no exception.

The longish shape of the pack means that it settles nicely between the shoulder blades and hips (depending on how long your torso is). The single sling strap is well padded and does not dig into the shoulder even with a full load. There is a stabilizing strap that clips perpendicularly to the sling strap (rule of diagonals style) and prevents the bag swinging around and walloping whatever you bent down to look at. When not in use, it dangles like a flat orange tail from the bag. I recommend using the strap.

The bag comes with a zippered, removable pouch for the top compartment. This keeps all of the loose bits in one place and prevents them from worming their way into the furthest crannies of the bag making you doubt your memory and sanity. A old friend of my father summed this up eloquently as "the innate perversity of the inanimate."

Overall, this is one of the most comfortable sling bags I have used.

Personal Notes

While this is the largest bag in the 24/7 Traffic Collection, it is by no means a big bag. Adorama claims is can hold a DSLR body, two lenses and a full sized flash. While this can be done, it required the removal of the kit bag and using the upper compartment as well as the main. I loaded my Olympus Pen-F, three (3) prime lenses, and compact speed light all neatly in the main compartment and the charger, 2 spare camera batteries, 6 spare AA Envelops (for the flash), plus my diabetic stuff in the pouch squirreled away in the top compartment. The bag is very well constructed with heavy-duty stitching and zippers but it is not made for trekking in the wilderness. This is a bag for wilds of Flatbush.

In my opinion, this is an excellent day-bag/everyday urban carry bag: big enough to carry all of the bits and bobs you need with you every day, yet keeping a relatively small profile. I feel I can safely stride the aisles of a department store without worrying about knocking over displays, mannequins or little old ladies when I turn around.

Conclusion

The Traffic Collection 24/7 Sling is a well-made bag suitable for everyday urban carry of mirrorless or small bodied DSLR cameras. The bag rides comfortably on the back and slides around easily granting access to the main compartment without having to remove the bag. Heavy duty stitching and zippers ensures that the bag will provide a long service life. A built-in raincoat allows the bag to easily protect you camera from the elements. It is not waterproof and will not protect your gear if dropped in the water or you get caught outside in a monsoon.

The 24/7 Sling bag is sold exclusively by Adorama and retails for $49.95 currently.

1.

For a complete list of Adorama in house brands, visit [http://www.adorama.com/in_house_brands]

Olympus Pen-F Review

The Olympus Pen-F is the latest iteration in the venerable line of PEN cameras. Like all of the PENs of recent vintage, this one is a digital Micro Four-Thirds camera. Unlike the PENs of recent vintage, this one has a built-in viewfinder (FINALLY) and a very sexy retro inspired design (think the digital love child of the film Pen-F and a Voigtländer Bessa R4A rangefinder). And that is just the start.

Made for the street

Technical reviews abound for this camera already, and as usual, I will present my opinions of the camera as it relates to actual use. First, and foremost, this is a street shooter’s camera. Small, discreet, with quick AF and a very quiet shutter. It is hard to hear this camera more than two feet away.

Micro Four-Thirds sensors feature a 2x crop-factor, effectively doubling the focal length of any lens. This is not so good for landscape photographers, but is a tremendous boon for street shooters (and bird watchers). The sensor in the Olympus Pen-F is new with 20 megapixels of resolution. This may not seem like much in this age of 100 megapixel sensors, but it’s a big increase for Olympus who has produced nothing but 16 megapixel sensors for quite some time. The new sensor has the best high-ISO performance I have seen in a Micro Four Thirds camera. To wit:

Adding to this is In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which allows you to handhold longer exposures using any lens mounted on the camera (even legacy glass). This won’t help you with moving subjects in low light, but then again sharpness is sometimes over-rated. Oh, and for those moments when total stealth is the order of the day, there is a Silent Shutter Mode.

Made for prime lenses

The Pen-F’s smaller body makes prime lenses a natural fit. I personally have the Olympus 25mm f/1.8, the Rokinon 12mm f/2, and plan to add the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 to round it out. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Already picked up the 45mm lens.) The 2x crop factor transforms this to a 24/50/90 combo that gets me wide, normal, and short telephoto fields of view. Here is a shot of the Torii in front of the Japan Pavilion in EPCOT Center:

This does not mean you are limited to primes. Olympus makes some excellent Pro level zooms and I have seen plenty of fine images taken using that combination. I have even seen someone attach the new 300mm f/4 Pro lens (600mm equivalent) to the Pen-F! For larger lenses, Olympus makes a grip that add some more area to hold on to the camera as well as an Arca-Swiss bottom plate for tripod use. Really Right Stuff is taking pre-orders for their grip+plate solution.

Made for JPEG Shooters

Apparently, Olympus listened to Ken Rockwell (the Chuck Norris of photography) and made a camera that excels at shooting JPEGs because "RAW files are unnecessary." The Pen-F does, in fact, shoot in RAW too. But to add to the JPEG fun, there is a dedicated knob on the front of the camera (on the analog Pen-F it was the shutter speed dial) that allows you to quickly switch between color and mono profiles.

Personally, I like the Mono 1 profile, but many photographers are smitten with Mono 2 which looks like Tri-X Pan film. And just like The Most Interesting Photographer In The World, when using color/mono profiles, I will shoot in RAW+JPG. With my 32GB SDHC card, I can capture over 900 images that way (over 1400 is RAW mode).

Made for traveling

When it’s time to hit the road and travel abroad one has to think really hard about exactly what to pack. Even more so if air travel is involved. Camera gear can get heavy quick, so you have to make some hard decisions as to what you are going to carry. The Olympus Pen-F is far smaller than a comparable DSLR and smaller than a lot of other mirrorless systems. Some folks recommend using some species of all-in-one superzoom or a pair of zooms, but I am a little more old school, opting for a three prime travel kit: 12mm f/2 wide, 25mm f/1.8 normal, and 45mm f/1.8 tele.

Now, these are all reasonably fast primes and the Olympus Pen-F is the first micro four thirds camera I have used that has a really usable ISO 3200, however, there is no built-in flash on the Pen-F. To Olympus’ credit they do include a teeny tiny shoe flash. It’s very kawai. It also has a guide number of 6 so you may have better luck packing an LED flashlight. To fix this problem, I went "off the reservation" again and picked up a Meike MK320FT flash for $79. This unit is powered by two AA batteries and if you install rechargeables you can recharge them using a standard micro-USB cable and cellphone charger. That means one less charger to carry! Full TTL and even has an LED video light!

So just to give you my travel/everyday carry kit in list form:

  • Olympus Pen-F (Black)
  • Gariz Half-case (Black)
  • Artisan Obscura Concave Softrelease and matching Hotshoe cover in Bloodwood
  • Classic Gordy Strap (black with red stitching)
  • Meike MK320FT Flash
  • Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS
  • M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8
  • M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
  • Two (2) additional camera batteries (Wasabi) + Olympus charger
  • Right angle NMEA plug (USA)
  • Eight (8) Eneloop AA Rechargeable batteries
  • Adorama 24/7 Sling Bag (to be reviewed soon)

What it’s not made for

  • Foul Weather – A lack of weather sealing on this camera (Why Olympus? Why?) does not make it a good candidate for rainy weather photos.
  • Sports – While the single shot AF is one of the best I have ever used, the same cannot be said about continuous focus AF. I can only hope that Olympus is working on a firmware update to address this.
  • Videographers – while the camera does capture video (1080p HD video and 4K time lapse video) it lacks dedicated microphone/headphone jacks (which makes it difficult to capture high quality audio) relegates it to a B-roll camera.

Other Bits of Fun

The camera also has a high resolution multi-shot mode which can crank out 50 megapixel JPEGs or 80 megapixel RAW files of stationary subjects. A built-in intervalometer makes time-lapse and procedurally removing people from an image (using Photoshop’s Median function) a breeze. The camera sports a built-in WiFi hotspot that allows their iOS app to remotely control and manage the camera. HDR fuctionality can process images in-camera or save the exposure bracketed set of RAW files for post-processing.

(5-shot HDR bracket processed in Aurora HDR Pro)

Tips

  • Adjust your AF for the situation – Shooting events with the Olympus Pen-F is a treat because of its small size and low-noise operation. However, Face/Eye Detection AF can sometimes work against you. Sent the AF to a single point in the middle and focus/recompose on your subject. (I am aware that there is a touchscreen AF function. I despise shooting with the rear LCD screen and rubbing my finger on rear screen while holding it up to your eye is a painful act of contortion.)
  • Assign focus peaking to a custom function – When using adapted or manual focus lenses (like my Rokinon) you should set focus peaking to a custom button (Fn1 for me) that way you can bring it up quickly and easily. This does not apply to MFT lenses with electronic contacts – those automtically inform the camera that MF is in action.
  • Disable the Warm White Balance setting – by default Olympus MFT cameras have a very warm white balance setting. By going into the custom menus you can disable this to achieve more neutral looking images.
  • Conserve battery by turning off WiFi and other non-essentials – Wifi is cool, but unless you are wirelessly triggering your camera or live blogging an event, turn it off to conserve power. I also fold my rear display so that it remains covered as much as possible and prevents it from sucking up power as well. I try not to chimp too much either.
  • Disable Red Eye Reduction to speed up flash photography – I recently encountered this. If you have Red Eye Reduction activated with the Meike Flash, the Pen-F tries to use the red AF illuminator to deal with red eye. This adds a 1-2 second delay to the shutter release. Setting it to Auto eliminates this problem.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Drop dead sexy camera – Conversation starter and ice-breaker all in one.
  • Super fast single shot AF – despite it only having CDAF, the Pen-F locks on quickly and accurately. Not perfect (see Cons), but very, very good.
  • Small & easy to carry – great for those long street photo journeys.
  • Vastly improved High-ISO performance – while not the High-ISO king, the Pen-F has the best High-ISO performace I have ever seen in an MFT camera.

Cons

  • Not weather sealed – but then, neither is the Leica M (the de-facto king of street photography).
  • Continuous AF needs work – Hopefully Olympus will address this with a firmware update since they drank the Kaizen Kool-Aid a couple of years ago.
  • Weak video features – lacks an external mike and headphone jacks. Suited for B-roll work.

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Slideshow

Flashpoint Auto Lightstand Review

As photographers begin to expand their horizons artistically, they will come to a point that studio lighting becomes a part of their workflow. (OK, birders, sport/street shooters, and photojournalists can go read something else) Studio light kits are a great way to start, but unless you drop some rather large coin for them, corners will have been cut by the lighting maker. This usually is applied to the light stands that are included in the kit. I have owned several kits and I have always found that the included stands are a little bit on the wobbly side. So you run out and buy some beefier lightstands and you discover that their stability (dutifully obeying the laws of physics) is derived from the wide stance of their tripod. That’s great because now your lights are steady.

Until you have to move them.

 

Some lightstands come with wheels but that doesn’t make them any easier to move about. Outside of that, not much has been done to improve that situation. Until now.

Adorama has introduced an automatic lightstand. Automatic? Like in self-deploying? No, not self-deploying, but the next best thing. You have to manually set up this lightstand just like every other one, but once you have done that, that’s when the magic happens. The Flashpoint Auto Lightstand can automatically retract its legs when picked up and deploy its legs when put back down.

 

lightstand270x480

This transforms the stand from what is, in effect, an upside-down open umbrella into a simple pole and back again. You can now move your lightstands without having to worry about tripping over the silly things.

Genius.

The Auto Lightstand comes in two heights (7′ and 9′ – 9′ model shown above) and cost $49.95 and $79.95 respectively. The stand also includes a handy carrying case.