The Right Tripod - Velbon Ultrek

OK, every enthusiast photographer has probably already considered or actually bought a tripod. Or several... I surely did, but I think I did it wrong every time until last month.

First of all, there is a large offering. Hundreds if not thousands of models, with so many features that don't make much sense to beginners. The first two I bought were rather cheap and bulky ones. But quite sturdy, which is an important criteria.

So what are the criteria to consider? If you are already well versed into tripods, you already have your ideas, but if you aren't, let me give a few hints (before you create your own priority list):

  1. Portable! hell yes... you don't want to carry around a large piece of stuff. And when I say portable, I mean light and compact. It has to fit into a shoulder bag or a carry-on piece of luggage.
  2. Sturdy. Otherwise, why would you even want a tripod? But as natural as it may sound, it is not so common, especially when you factor in the first critieria...
  3. Tall enough. Here, you set you own acceptable limit...
  4. With a good head. because you will probably have to adjust the camera all the time to level it and that's were the head pays a big part.

And I have a great piece of news for you: there is at least one trip that excels in all the categories above! The Velbon Ultrek (UT-53Q, for the one I got). If you are fine with the unusual locking system, this tripod is marvelous assistant much smaller, sturdier and taller than most of the competition in this weight category.

 Unfortunately the brand is not so well distributed outside of Japan, so you may have some problems to find it, but it's surely worth the search!

You can at least find it on Amazon Japan (provided they deliver abroad), or on Rakuten (the Japanese equivalent of Amazon).

Below is a quick video of this very nice piece of hardware.

Quick review of the wonderful Velbon Travel tripod, the Ultrek UT-53Q.

Shot Story 2 - Man in the storm

With the warm dampness setting on Tokyo, a cooler memory with this shot in the midst of a snow storm!

This year in Tokyo, we got the heaviest snow in forty-something years. And to make it even more exceptional, we got a second heavy snow a week later!

Anyway, when it started to snow, I was mildly excited at the prospect of some B&W shots, but when it reached a critical point, snow blowing hard and piling high, I got really crazy, like a child... and I went out, with my boots and my Fuji X100s.

The main issue was the wind, blowing hard and making it difficult to keep the camera dry. I had to shoot one-handed, holding an umbrella to protect the camera. So you get the idea: it was a nightmare to pay attention to the shots, the snow, the people, etc. at the same time.

I saw this shot and it got me by it's atmosphere: the snow was blurring everything, the light globes were glowing softly and the timing was perfect to get only one person walking at the right distance. Si I was very happy back home to confirm that the photo was OK. I lowered the exposure compensation a bit, as the street is in fact quite brightly lit at night, but the shutter speed remained both slow enough to make the snow only be a blurry veil and fast enough to keep the man sharp.

It was a very funny photo shoot and I'll definitely get out again next time we get such snow (in 40 years, maybe?).



Shot Story 1 - Viewing Angles

Every nice shot feels like a lucky shot... especially in Street Photography, where it is extremely difficult to foresee a specific situation (although I read some shot stories where the photographer really had a specific image in mind an waited hours for the scene to happen!).

For this specific one, I was idling around in the MOMA in Tokyo, half looking at the paintings and half looking a the people looking at the paintings, camera on and ready. The X100s allows for customized settings, so I could stay in full auto mode, knowing the camera won't decrease shutter speed below 1/40th and won't increase ISO too high.

I saw the scene from the far end of the corridor and had to rush closer to catch it, even with the TCL converter already attached and giving an extra reach (50mm full-frame equivalent). But should I have needed to change any setting, the scene would have disappeared, as the two men in the picture moved just a second later.

The picture was shot in RAW and converted in LR5.4 later, by adding a bit more contrast and slight vignetting.

Lessons learned: keep the camera ready, with settings matching the conditions and don't hesitate to rush to catch a specific image! if you feel it's a potential good one, trust your intuition!

Which lens?...

Today there was a really interesting post on Olaf and Kasia photography blog. They were kind enough to answer, in details, a question I asked in the comments a while ago regarding the change of lenses on the field and how to chose lenses before a trip.

As they explain, there is no magical and perfect solution. One should consider the lens as part of the guidelines for the photography of the moment and this is why using a prime lens allows to focus on the image itself. I can't agree more, having spend so much precious seconds hesitating on the focal length rather than taking the picture! 

But the flip side of prime lenses is that the guideline they bring is also a limitation in some situations, which means sometime missing an opportunity for a good shot. Tough call... That's where having a second camera with you in important occasions allows to quickly switch focal lengths without having to fiddle with a lens or converter.

Anyway, I'd strongly recommend following Olaf and Kasia's blog, as they bring both great advises and good inspiration with their pictures.