Leopard and impala in a tree: One of the most awkward fakes I have seen.

natgeo-leopard1

For many of us National Geographic was always a canon of authentic and high-quality wildlife and nature photography. Therefore I simply cannot believe that this picture was a planned fake. However, many viewers seem to have perceived it as an original shot, in the wild, and I noticed intensive discussions on Facebook where people were arguing that it is a wild leopard with a prey, despite so many obvious discrepancies – in lighting, composition, focus… So this publication by the Dutch edition of NatGeo Junior effectively became a fake although it might not be the intention of the editors.

Here is it:

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 13.05.12.png

Source: National Geographic Junior Netherlands - http://www.natgeojunior.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Spread-Hotspot.jpg

An even more embarrassing fact is that neither of the animals in the picture are alive – contrary to the caption in the NatGeo publication which telling that only the “springbok” is dead. Both animals are in fact stuffed and shown in Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. On the photo in this trip advertising even the perspective is almost the same:

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 13.21.15.png

Source: TripAdvisor - media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/de/90/71/smithsonian-national.jpg

(By the way, “springbok”: The prey showed in this taxidermy is an impala. Another shameful error of the famous nature exploration magazine.)

And here we find the original photo – on Shutterstock! An incredible awkwardness for National Geographic! Royalty-free stock photo ID: 764999929…

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 14.10.21.png

Source: Shutterstock - http://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/leopard-panthera-pardus-his-prey-antelope-764999929

The full title of this “masterpiece” is: “Leopard (Panthera pardus) with his prey antelope on a tree in Serengeti National Park on night sky background with the moon. Africa”. Now I am getting really sarcastic, so please forgive me… Despite the absolutely awful Photoshop skills, the author deserves my compliments – for having revealed the weakness of National Geographic editing workflow. Well done, Artem Avetisyan! Bravo!

Here are two more photos by the Master – just in case National Geographic would need a picture of giraffe (flying over European meadow with African landscape at the horizon) and of a “banteng” (in fact, an Ugandan Ancole bull – hovering over a way in European beech forest):

30656838_1342834115816381_7073952666604268224_n.jpg

30652810_1341996299233496_6215166323534473495_n.jpg

(Are the other wildlife photographs that National Geographic publishes still true?)

 

Hasselblad X1D hands on

With the upcoming release of X1D, Hasselblad is doing a huge leap in the progress of photographic technology. It is not only the smallest, hence most portable, medium format camera, but also the most affordable. X1D will be sold for “just” 9000 $, i.e. for the price of a professional SLR body. From now on a studio photographer whose budget is limited and for whom a Hasselblad H6 have always been out of reach will be able to choose between the usual Canon or Nikon DSLR and Hasselblad. I am sure, for many Hasselblad X1D will be a winner.

To remind of capabilities of this new camera here is a list of the most important technical parameters:

  • 50MP 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS Sensor
  • 16-Bit Color, 14-Stop Dynamic Range
  • ISO 100-25600, Shooting Up to 2.3 fps
  • 1.7 – 2.3 frames per second
  • Central Shutter: 60 min to 1/2000 sec
  • 2.36 MP XGA Electronic Viewfinder
  • 3.0″ 920 000-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
  • Dual SD Card Slots; XPan & Square Modes
  • Built-In Wi-Fi & GPS, USB 3.0 Type C

Last Monday I attended a presentation of the new Hasselblad X1D to photographers from the area near my home and had a chance to see it live and even to try it. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for testing this camera with landscape or close-up shots, and the  X1D we got was was preset with a 90 mm lens. So I could not make an impression of how it meets the needs of a nature photographer. Of course, there was no time for thorough testing. Therefore I am able only to make here a couple of general comments based on my brief hands-on experience with Hasselblad X1D.

Design and Construction

The most amazing thing is, of course, the size and the weight of X1D: With just 725 g it weighs 200 g less than any of my current Canon cameras – 5DsR and 5D Mark III, and it is much thinner.

The design of the X1D body is extremely minimalistic. There is a 3″ touch screen, a mode selection wheel, one customisable wheel, two customisable buttons, and a large golden coloured shutter release button. There is also a row of five rectangular buttons right from the screen. They relate to the content displayed on the screen: With them you can, for instance, delete or rate images. On the left side of the body there are two doors: one covers the card slots, and the other one – the cable connection sockets.

The body is designed like a box, with sharper edges than usually in current SLR and medium format cameras.  I had been skeptical about the usability of it till I tried it: Despite its shape, the camera lies well in a hand, the grip is firm and comfortable. The shutter knob and both wheels are easy to find and to access with the fingers. Overall, the X1D body feels very solid and well crafted, just as one would expect from such an expensive camera.

Lenses

The lenses are made minimalistic too. Hasselblad went further than other manufacturers: All so-called HXD lenses have only a manual focusing ring. No switches, distance scale, marks or other usual information is there. Without anything but just one ring the lens looks stylish and cool, but I found particularly the absence of distance marks odd: I use them on my lenses quite often to preset the focus when I can’t look through the view finder, for instance, when shooting night landscapes or in situations when I can’t put my face at the camera. How can one do it when the distance scale isn’t there anymore? Probably, via touch screen. I haven’t seen, however, whether the distance to the object in millimetres and not just focus is displayed there.

The lenses made for X1D are much smaller and lighter than the traditional H lenses. Only two such lenses will come with the camera in August 2016. A third one (30 mm) is announced for Photokina show in September. According to the Hasselblad representative, more HXD lenses will follow very soon, and even zoom lenses are in development.

The sensor of X1D is about 1.4x larger than of a full frame camera. That means that the effect on focal length is opposite to the “cropped” (APS-C) sensors that “increase” the focal length: The focal length is reduced by this factor, hence, for instance, a 90 mm f/3.2 lens on medium format would work like 72 mm with a full-frame camera, a 30 mm – like 24 mm.

Viewfinder and Screen

Hasselblad X1D is supposed to be controlled mainly via touchscreen. This is what I didn’t like, and also didn’t use while test shooting. The touchscreen is about as large as in my Canon and has the same resolution. The colour and detail presentation was good, but not noticeably better than in Canon 5Ds.

The menu seems to be well thought through and to have a clear and simple structure. However, I had no time to go through all levels of it. I personally have a strong antipathy for touch screens even in smartphones and tablets. In my opinion, they don’t make the use of devices and of software any quicker or more comfortable. They are just supposed to make it simpler for people with limited intelligence who aren’t able to remember the purpose of buttons and key shortcuts.

For outdoor photographers even such a display without touch capability is of a limited use because it is to dim in bright sunlight and too small for assessment of image quality. So being an outdoor photographer I looked at the display of Hasselblad X1D with the usual reservation. In comparison with the display in current DSLR bodies it didn’t impress me at all. The menu and the display quality in current Canon cameras is just fine for me.

Like in professional DSLR and in medium format backs, the display of X1D is not tilting, i.e. it is fixed inside the camera body, and you can’t turn it, for instance, so that you look down at it.  The Hasselblad representative told that this feature may be added in future to the next versions of this camera.

The viewfinder is purely digital, and when you are looking through it, it feels like you are using a video camera. This is what I don’t like in all mirrorless cameras, and it is one of the reasons why I don’t buy a mirrorless camera yet: The resolution and refresh rate of the viewfinders isn’t yet so good that you would feel like looking directly at the object and not like watching it on TV. The viewfinder of Hasselblad X1D is not bad and may be even better than in some other mirrorless cameras, but it isn’t a real break through.

However, there is a very nice feature: The X1D recognises when the eye is on the viewfinder and automatically turns the display off and turns it on again, as soon as you have removed the eye from the viewfinder.

Shooting

We were holding the camera in hands when trying it. Since both the lens and the body are so light, it was easy to hold and to operate. It was feeling as if you have a small DSLR camera with a medium size lens in your hands. The camera was set to autofocus and in the aperture priority mode with ISO 100 and f/5.6.

The autofocus was quick, very silent. The precision was also all right, as you can judge from the images attached below: I was focusing on the face (eyes) of the model, so it looks like the autofocus did it correctly.

However, the depth of field is, typically for medium-format, is very shallow, as you can notice particularly of face portrait. With a full-frame camera and a 60-70 mm lens set to f/5.6 I would expect the whole head of the model, or at least the whole face to be in focus. As you see in the test image, the DOF was only around 5-7 cm deep. Obviously, to achieve a  greater DOF in this light one would need to increase ISO, or to reduce the shutter speed, or to do both. In consequence the image quality may suffer if the camera is hand held. I would have used ISO 100 and f/16, and a tripod, but no tripod was available.

The resolution of this lens/sensor combo looks very good. I am not sure, however, that it is better than of Canon 5DsR when it is used with a premium quality lens. Maybe yes, but maybe no. Since the model is more or less in the middle of the frame and since there were no objects around here that came in focus, I can’t report anything about border and corner sharpness here.

I couldn’t make an impression of the dynamic range that Hasselblad praises in technical specifications of this camera. The lighting in a studio is just too good for such tests, and I think any good SLR camera would perform similarly in such conditions. An interior shot in natural light would have been more revealing, but there was no opportunity for this.

Unprocessed JPEG file generated from a RAW produced with Hasselblad X1D equipped with a 90 mm lens - f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 100 (Click on the picture to view the full sized image.)

Unprocessed JPEG file generated from a RAW produced with Hasselblad X1D equipped with a 90 mm lens – f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 100 (Click on the picture to view the full sized image.)

Summing-up

As always with such presentations, its main goal was advertising. Therefore it was intended to show the highlights of this camera and targeted at the main customers of Hasselblad – fashion and portrait photographers. I went there with my attitude of an outdoor photographer, and, of course, came back home with a lot of unanswered questions.

Whether Hasselblad X1D is a winner for studio photography I am not in a position to judge due to my limited experience. To me it looks definitely more like a studio than like an outdoor camera. However, compared to usual medium format mirror cameras the X1D makes an impression more of another stylish accessory for a rich amateur. It is what is achieved by the portability of this camera: Not Leica M anymore but a medium format Hasselblad will now be the next stylish gadget wealthy people can bring to parties, events and holiday tours.

Otherwise the portability may be a big gain for landscape and architecture photographers. However, I still see clear advantages of full-frame cameras with their wide range of lenses.

Snake bite poof gloves: A clarification

This is an excerpt from a larger article published on my website: Snake Bite Protection Gloves.

I found out that not only the information from dealers but even from the manufacturer are the cause of this confusion. The following pictures are screenshots from the online catalog of HexArmor (see http://www.hexarmor.com) where two models of Hercules gloves are presented. The first, called R8E, is cut, puncture and also needle stick resistant, the second – 400R6E – is only cut and puncture resistant.

The original “venom defender” gloves by HexArmor, USA (Screenshot from http://www.hexarmor.com)

The current model of gloves with long gauntlets by HexArmor is not needle puncture resistant. (Screenshot from http://www.hexarmor.com)

Not only the product image is the same but also the use purpose: Both these gloves are recommended for use in animal handling. The flyer about HexArmour Hercules 400R6E is telling us: “These gloves are no stranger to dangerous applications such as handling razorwire or protecting from animal bites.” (see it here). Indeed, the 400R6E seems to be more popular because it does what the manufacturer promises in most use situations and costs less than a half of the cost of the other model. According to the product flyer, the gloves R8E are designed for use in animal handling and veterinary as well (see here). The only difference is the needle stick resistance. Apparently, the R8E gloves were not so frequently ordered as 400R6E, and HexArmor stopped their regular production a couple of years ago. Now, they are distributed by the UK company Polyco and manufactured in small quantities on request.

HexArmor Hercules R8E (or model 3180) were those gloves that became famous as snake bite resistant. They were the gloves that king cobras, puff adders, black mambas and many other highly dangerous snakes are biting and chewing on hundreds of photographs and videos throughout the Internet. Hercules R8E are now rare and very expensive. I do not know exactly how their production and distribution is organised. The gloves are still labeled as HexArmor but it looks like Polyco (that distributes many kinds of protection wear and even has own brands) currently has exclusive rights for their worldwide distribution. Therefore HexArmor is saying on the website that the interested buyers should contact Polyco for pricing and availability. Apparently zoos are the main market niche for the R8E gloves. Another UK company 121 Animal Handling Products supplies them to end customers and sells online via the website snakeprofessional.com as “Venom Defender Gloves”. There is a number of small dealers in other countries who resell the gloves to a little higher prices. For instance, in Germany it is zooprofis.de.

The so often rising question about the “right” gloves, quality concerns, and even rumours about accidents may indicate that some people bought and keep buying wrong gloves, i.e. the model 400R6E. Not only the manufacturer who stopped production of R8E (3180) but also the dealers do not sufficiently explain the differences and never point at a possibility of a mistake. Some newer dealers may even not know that another very similar looking model of gloves has been produced and sold some time ago and that it was so different. They just praise the 400R6E as protection from almost everything without any warning that they are not designed for use with venomous snakes. Even some specialised suppliers of tools for reptile keepers and herpetologists were offering 400R6E gloves. When I bought mine in 2010, the same gloves could be ordered in the online shop of Midwest Tongs, in zooprofis.de and even on shows in Hamm and Hauten. Priced at 180 – 220€, even these, “cheaper”, gloves were expensive in Europe. I got my 400R6E gloves from a supplier of industrial protection wear. I knew that they were not needle stick resistant. However, no better options were around, and I even did not know that better gloves may exist. Apparently many reptile keepers did not know it too and were buying 400R6E gloves regarding they as a better protection than welder gloves anyway.

I used my 400R6E gloves with viperids up to 60–70 cm long. The snakes were biting the gloves but the teeth were never getting through or even into the fabric. I suppose that the teeth never got in the spaces between armour plates. A 400R6E glove is very well lined and padded inside, hence a short tooth may even not reach the hand if it gets through the SuperFarbirc® layer. When I was holding a large and 15 kg heavy cactus Carnegia gigantea some of its long and hard needles got through the glove and pricked my hands a little but did not puncture the skin. I assume that a 400R6E glove would prevent a snake tooth from sticking into the hand as well. However, there is, of course, not so strong confidence in that as with a glove that is designed for needle stick protection.

Meanwhile, Midwest Tongs stopped selling 400R6E gloves and seems not offer any bite protection gloves at the moment. Some other suppliers of herpetological and reptile keeping tools still sell 400R6E. The prices in Europe increased to as much as 360 € in some shops. The cheapest offer that I recently saw in one online shop was for 170 €. The price increase can be explained by currently low exchange rate of the euro, but also by the offers of much more expensive R8E (3180) gloves that appeared recently again. It seems like some dealers are again trying to sell their 400R6E for the price of R8E (3180) making use of confusion of buyers and not emphasising the difference.

Of course, 400R6E are great gloves. They provide adequate protection for handling of small mammals, birds with sharp claws, small crocodiles, monitors and other large lizards, as well as most snakes. However, the users should be cautious and not expect from them as high level of protection as from R8E (3180) gloves. This should be always clear to everyone, and someone who buys 400R6E should know all the limitations and try not to go beyond particularly when handling large and aggressive venomous snakes. He or she should not be mislead by pictures of snakes viciously biting HexArmor gloves because those gloves are different! Unfortunately too few people seem to know this. Thus, every new bite accident or just a report of someone whose glove, but not hand(!), got punctured by a snake tooth causes a next wave of discussions and doubts in usefulness of gloves.

It is strange to see how the policy of the manufacturer and the dealers who do not sufficiently inform the customers harms the image of a product. HexArmor knows, of course, that the Hercules R8E became standard gloves for snake handling and that they are often confused with Hercules 400R6E. To see this, you need just to search the Internet for “HexArmor Hercules R8E”: At least a half of search results would be showing HexArmor 400R6E. Yet HexArmor could avoid this confusion if they would make one of these models look clearly different than the other: It may be colour, overall design, labels, product name, etc. This would not only further improve the image the product but also prevent potentially life threatening accidents. It surprises me that HexArmor has not done it in so many years.

For me it was also difficult to distinguish the two HexArmor Hercules models till I got both and could compare them side by side. By the way, my confusion and poor availability of better alternatives on the market made me purchase Hercules 400R6E in 2010.

The best way to ensure that you have got real HexArmor Hercules R8E (3180) is to order them from snakeprofessional.com. Currently they sell the gloves for 249 £ plus shipment under the name Venom Defender Animal Handling Gloves (Hercules™ 3180 R8E) Most probably you won’t find a lower price for new gloves elsewhere because 121 Animal Handling Products and snakeprofessional.com are the primary retailer of this product. The prices in other stores are at least the same, but often even higher.

If you come across a good offer elsewhere, first you should ensure that what you are buying are really the gloves R8E (a.k.a 3180). The seller may even not know the difference himself and have just Hercules 400R6E. I have seen offers of 400R6E gloves on Amazon and eBay for 500 $! To distinguish between these two models, look at the description of the offer and find the following information:

  1. The model name should contain the code R8E and 3180, or at least one of both.
  2. The description should contain the statement that the gloves are “needle stick resistant”
  3. If it is an official HexArmor dealer, there may be one of these pictures:

The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E

The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E

The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E

The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E

“Orange” means “very good”. “Blue” is still “good”, but it means that the gloves are Hercules 400R6E, and you should not pay more than 200–250 euros for a pair. Someone who is requesting more wants to cheat you.

If the description reads like of real venom defenders, take a look at the gloves. Even if it is a photograph, you should recognise that they are black and not dark grey. See a comparison on these pictures:

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - palm side compared

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) – palm side compared

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - back side compared.

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) – back side compared.

In older versions of both models the cuffs had a blue border, and the HexArmor label was hexagonal. Now, the company has a different design of the logo, and the label is rectangular, as shown on the pictures below. The border of the cuffs is now black (at least in R8E): Even if it is shown as blue on product photographs, it will be most probably black in the gloves that you receive, unless you have purchased an older model. Note also the difference in the fabric structure that is clearly recognisable in the photographs below.

Label on a Hercules R8E glove.

Label on a Hercules R8E glove.

Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove.

Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove.

The model name can be found on tags inside the gloves. The information that the tag provides is also different in each of two models.

Tag inside a Hercules R8E glove.

The tag inside a R8E glove.

Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove.

Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove.

Even if the first HexArmor Hercules gloves might be manufactured in the USA, all other were in Asia. The tag in my older 400R6E is telling that they were manufactured in China. The newer R8E are from Pakistan.

Read the whole text of this article here: Snake Bite Protection Gloves.

DHL-Paketversand: Wenn du willst, dass es funktioniert, mach es selber.

In meinem Post über das nicht abgeholte Paket, den ich vor zwei Tagen verfasste, schrieb ich, dass ich das Paket doch zu Post selber bringe, wenn der damit beauftragte Paketdienst von DHL es nicht tut. Nun ist es doch darauf hinausgelaufen: Gestern brachte ich mit Hilfe von einem Kollegen, das Paket zu einer Filiale der Deutschen Post. Danach ging alles zügig. An einem Tag wurde mehr erledigt als in einer Woche vorher.

Es kommt voran mit meinem Paket.

Es kommt voran mit meinem Paket.

DHL Paketservice behandelt die Kunden wie den letzten Dreck und lügt dazu noch

This post is about my bad experience with the DHL parcel service. It is addressed to German readers, and hopefully to DHL in Germany. Therefore the following text is in German.

My parcel awaiting DHL pick-up - in vain.

My parcel awaiting DHL pick-up – in vain.

Wie scheinbar sehr viele DHL-Kunden hatte auch ich schon oft schlechte Erfahrung mit DHL-Paketzustellern. Fast jeder Paketempfänger in Deutschland kennt es: Du bleibst an diesem Tag extra zuhause, weil ein Paket gebracht werden soll; wenn es Samstag ist, stehst du deswegen früher auf, statt länger zu schlafen; hast beide Ohren für die Türklingel offen; sogar auf der Toilette bemühst dich nicht länger als wenige Minuten zu verbringen… Dann wird es Abend, doch das Paket ist immer noch nicht da. Nun gehst du Post aus dem Briefkasten holen. Dort wartet schon ein Zettel: “Leider haben wir Sie heute nicht erreicht…” Einen zweiten Versuch das Paket doch zuzustellen macht ein DHL-Bote heutzutage nicht mehr. Es war früher mal so – als die Deutsche Post sich noch um jeden einzelnen Paketkunden kümmerte, weil es nicht so viele gab. Heute boomt der Online-Handel, und die Post verdient damit kräftig. Längst sind solche “Relikte” wie persönlicher Kundenservice wegrationalisiert. Der Kunde zahlt nicht nur Porto, sondern übernimmt den Job: Er fährt in seiner Arbeits- oder Freizeit zur Poststelle und bringt von dort ein schweres Paket nach hause. Wäre es jetzt wie früher, als der Zusteller erneute Versuche machen sollte, wäre er besser motiviert das gleich beim ersten Versuch zu erledigen, d.h. zu klingeln, denn sonst gäbe es für ihn nur mehr Arbeit an den nächsten Tagen.

Die Deutsche Post wird natürlich behaupten, dass es für den Fahrer keinen Vorteil gibt, wenn er nicht klingelt, denn er muss danach das Paket in eine Postfiliale bringen. Stimmt nicht! Bei einem einzigen Paket mag es so sein, jedoch hat der Fahrer einen beträchtlichen Zeitgewinn, wenn er es mit vielen Paketen so tut: Er schmeißt nur Mitteilungszettel in die Briefkästen, was ihm wenige Sekunden Zeit kostet, statt zu klingeln und die Pakete zu den Wohnungen auf oberen Etagen zu schleppen. Danach deponiert er diese Pakete in einer Postfiliale, und die Arbeit gilt für ihn und für die Post als erledigt.

In diesem August musste ich leider noch eine weitere Dienstleistung der Deutschen Post ausprobieren und auch zum großen Teil selber übernehmen – den Paket-Abholdienst. Sonst hatte ich meine Pakete immer selbst zu Post gebracht, aber dieses Mal konnte ich nicht, weil ich mich nach einer Operation drei Monate lang schonen musste.

Das Versprechen auf der Webseite des DHL klang toll: “Abholung deutschlandweit an Ihrer Wunschadresse… Ideal für den Versand von großen, sperrigen Sendungen… Abholung an Ihrem Wunschort, wenn Sie öfter nicht zu Hause sind… Abholauftrag online mit Zeitfenster: Die Abholung erfolgt montags bis samstags wahlweise zwischen 8-13 Uhr oder 12-17 Uhr.” Das war alles, was ich brauchte! Mein Paket war schwer und sperrig, niemand war tagsüber zuhause, aber ich konnte es von meinem Arbeitsplatz und zur bequemen Zeit abholen lassen.

DHL verspricht nur Vorteile, hält dieses Versprechen jedoch nicht, wie die Erfahrung zeigt.

DHL verspricht nur Vorteile, hält dieses Versprechen jedoch nicht, wie die Erfahrung zeigt.

Ich konnte damals nicht ahnen, dass es nur Ärger, Geld- und Zeitverschwendung sein wird. Am Mittwoch, dem 5. August bereitete ich ein Paket vor, frankierte online und bestellte Abholung aus meinem Büro am nächsten Tag (Donnerstag) zwischen 12 und 17 Uhr (für 6 € extra). Ich wartete in dieser Zeit, aber kein DHL-Fahrer erschien. Dann rief ich den Kundendienst an, den ich beim ersten Versuch erreichte. Der nette Mitarbeiter fragte nach dem Warenkorb-Code, schaute im Computer nach und teilte mit, dass der Fahrer eine Nachricht hinterlassen hatte, dass mein Paket nicht “abholbereit” gewesen war. Dies war eine unverschämte Lüge!!! Das sagte ich auch dem Kundendienstmenschen. Er bot mir an, den Auftrag zu stornieren und 6 € zu erstatten oder einen neuen Abholversuch unternehmen zu lassen. Ich sagte, dass es mir doch wichtiger wäre, dass das Paket abgeholt wird. Dann fragte er mich nach meiner Telefonnummer und sagte, dass man mich wegen eines neuen Abholtermins zurückruft. Das geschah weder an dem noch am nächsten Tag.

Am nächsten Tag (Freitag) rief ich den DHL wieder an. Ich wurde dann zum Paketabholdienst durchgestellt. Der Herr am Telefon guckte wieder im “System” nach und sagte das gleiche: “Der Fahrer hat geschrieben, dass das Paket nicht abholbereit gewesen wäre.” Ich sagte wieder, dass es nicht stimme, und wir legten einen weiteren Abholtermin fest – für den kommenden Montag. Am Montag (dem 10. August) wartete ich wieder von 12 bis 17 Uhr, ohne mein Büro für ein paar Minuten zu verlassen. Doch auch dieses Mal kam niemand, und das Paket abzuholen. Dann versuchte ich anderthalb Stunden lang vergeblich den DHL-Kundendienst zu erreichen. Ich hörte nur Musik und Stimmen, die auf Deutsch und Englisch sagen: “Einen Moment noch… Wir sind gleich für Sie da…” Die nächsten zwei Tage versuchte ich es wieder und wieder – mit dem gleichen Ergebnis. Der Kundendienst nahm gar keine Anrufe entgegen – zu keiner Tageszeit. Auf eine Mail, die ich von ihrem Webformular abschickte, folgte keine Reaktion. Von allen anderen Unternehmen gibt es zumindest eine Nachricht über den Bearbeitungsstatus solcher Anfragen. Der DHL ist wohl ganz anders. Alles, was kam, war nur eine Bestätigung, dass meine Nachricht abgeschickt wurde.

Was der Fahrer beim zweiten Mal gelogen hat, konnte ich bis jetzt nicht erfahren. Nun ist eine Woche vergangen, aber mein Paket wartet immer noch vergeblich auf Abholung. Morgen bringe ich es selber zur Post und tue den Job der Deutschen Post wieder. Mal schauen, ob ich mindestens die gezahlten 6 Euro für den tollen Service irgendwann zurückkriege. Das höre ich allmählich auf zu glauben.

F-Stop Gear Mountain series 2015: An opinion

F-Stop Gear has just added three new backpacks to the Mountain series. This company makes the best backpacks for photographers, and I own one of them – an awesome Satori EXP. Therefore I follow their innovations with great interest and, of course, have compared two of the new products – Shinn and Sukha – with the backpack that I have, to see if I need to regret having purchased it too early and to upgrade, or just to stay with the Satori EXP.

The new lineup of the Mountain series of 2015 consists of 4 backpacks – with 40, 50, 70, 80 litres volume. Only one of already existing models – Tilopa – remained and was updated. Two other models Loka and Satori EXP were discontinued. The first was replaced by Ajna and completely disappeared from the online shop. (Loka UL is still remaining part of the Ultralight series, however.). The second, Satori EXP still can be ordered but apparently won’t be produced anymore because Sukha that is only slightly larger and has similar construction has to be a successor. A completely new and even larger backpack model – Shinn – was added to this lineup. Its design resembles very much Tilopa; in fact, it looks like enlarged Tilopa bag.

The website of F-stop Gear currently contains very little information – less than in the last years. It isn’t clear if other bags from Mountain series – Ando, Guru, Kenti and Literoom – will be offered in future or are going to disappear from the model lineup too. There is no online discussion forum anymore, and no new blog posts were published since September 2014. It looks like communication with customers entirely moved to Facebook. I found more up-to-date information there that brought me to some thoughts and conclusions that wrote down in this article.

What’s new?

In fact most changes were not so huge and the improvements were even smaller. Actually, the manufacturer mentions only three of them: “new fabric”, “spacious side pockets” and “updated harness system”.

New features in the latest models of F-Stop Gear Mountain series of backpacks. New features in the latest models of F-Stop Gear Mountain series of backpacks as stated on the homepage of F-Stop Gear.

Also the colours were changed a little. Instead of previous three colours – all new backpacks are now offered in four colours: A new orange colour option – called “Nasturtium” – was added. The green colour (previously – “Foliage Green”) got lighter and is now called “Aloe” (or “Drab Green”). Other options – “Anthracite Black” and “Malibu Blue” – remained.

ShinnShinn backpacks are available in four colours: light green, black, blue and orange.

SukhaColour options of Sukha.

Satori EXP backpacks were offered in 3 colours – folliage green, black and malibu blue.

New Isn’t Always Better

Of course, Shinn is a completely new model of a backpack mainly intended for videographers. Since I don’t belong to this target group, my critique may be not so relevant. When F-Stop Gear designers were working on it, they, of course, heard the opinions of videographers whose needs they tried to satisfy. I don’t know, for example, whether videographers really need such a large backpack and how far the video equipment can be disassembled to fit smaller bags.

Again, the wish of many outdoor photographers to have just one perfect backpack isn’t fulfilled by any of current models of Mountain series. From photographer’s point of view Shinn, just like all other bags, is too much a compromise. It is quite large although again not so large as a trekking backpack of the same volume – 80l. It is the volume of the main compartment, not of the pockets what matters. If a wildlife photographer would use Shinn, the main compartment will be just large enough to accommodate lenses and camera bodies, and even then some equipment would go into pockets. I know it from my experience with Satori EXP which is a little smaller: No place remains for food, cloths and camping stuff. 80l of Shinn isn’t the volume of the main compartment: The largest ICU, Cine Master has in reality a much lower volume but will occupy all the space of the main compartment.

Sukha is basically a Satori EXP with increased height and side pockets instead of M.O.L.L.E. attachment points. With the new ICU Tele Master it is now possible to carry a 600-800mm lens mounted on a camera inside Sukha and Shinn, but the hood will need to be removed. Then I don’t understand the sense of this height enlargement: The equipment won’t be ready for shooting anyway till the hood is in place. If you have time for putting on the hood, you’ll have time also to attach the camera to the lens. Sukha is smaller than Shinn but now not small enough to comply with the rules of airlines for carry-in luggage.

Let us look at the features of Shinn and Sukha mentioned in the product descriptions and compare them with Satori EXP and other older models.

Construction
Most materials used in construction of Shinn and Sukha remained the same as in Satori EXP.

  • Ripstop nylon is the main material, but in new backpacks its water resistance was improved with thermoplastic polyurethane film.
  • EVA molded rear panel remained the same.
  • Hypalon® reinforced base. In my Satori EXP it is absent, therefore the bottom of it is scratched and rubbed on stones and ground every time I put the backpack on the earth. After just two expedition there were many signs of abrasion, and I wonder how long it will take till holes appear in the fabric. The latest version of Satori EXP does have a Hypalon reinforcement. So there is nothing new in Sukha. However, Shinn has also a reinforced front side, unlike in Satori EXP and Sukha.
  • Heavy-duty 3-fold carry handle and side handle. The first is in Satori EXP too but I never use it because my backpack is always too heavy. Usually it weighs at least 18kg but often over 20kg. Therefore I lift it by grabbing at the harness. The side handle that Sukha and Shinn now have is a nice thing when your bag is empty or not so fulll and heavy. With my backpack it is never the case.

Zippers
They remained in the new backpacks overall the same as in Satori EXP:

  • YKK® Aquaguard® zippers
  • Hypalon® zipper garages
  • Hypalon® pull-tabs

Pocket Configuration
Pockets have undergone some redesign:

  • Side pockets with full-length zipper and expandable design: This is actually what frustrates me the most. Satori EXP has three M.O.L.L.E. attachment stripes on each side. I can attach anything to it and customise my backpack. In Sukha and Shinn there are large pockets instead. They are of limited use and make the bag wider.
  • Stretchable interior mesh sleeve lid pocket with Velcro® seal: Hm… I don’t know why it should be better than various pockets with zippers that Satori EXP already has.
  • Zippered mesh underside lid pocket: Satori EXP had it too. Therefore it is nothing new.
  • Mesh sleeve energy pockets on each shoulder strap: This is an interesting thing that is nice to have. I eat energy bars on the go and would use such pockets. But even if not for energy bars, they can be used to store batteries, cables or other small items.
  • Multipurpose internal sleeve either fits up to a 13” laptop or can be used as a hydration bladder pocket. This is a wise change. In Satori EXP there were two pockets lying on each other: one for a 15″ laptop and one for hydration bladder. I criticised this construction in my review of Satori EXP: If a laptop would be there the hydration bladder and the entire ICU with photo gear will be lying on it. Your poor laptop should than withstand over 10kg of weight as soon as you lay the bag on the front side to access the equipment stored in the main compartment. I have a 11″ Macbook Air with me in my expeditions that I put in a separate sleeve in the ICU over the photo equipment. I haven’t tried the same with a 13″ laptop, but think that it should also fit under the lid of the main compartment.
  • Exterior front panel pocket. Compared to Satori EXP that also had it, in Shinn and Sukha it got larger and offers more room for cloths, food or more equipment.

Pack Hydration

  • Compatibility with numerous hydration systems: It remained the same as in Satori EXP as well as the rest – bladder pocket, sealed Velcro® hydration tube port, etc.

Suspension & Compression

  • Just like in Satori EXP, depth adjustment and a means to mount a tripod or other vertically shaped tools and gear provided by quick-release compression straps.
  • Easy tightening while on-the-fly via strap keepers: This is not new too.
  • Adjustable sternum strap with integrated whistle for emergencies – same as in older Mountain series backpacks.
  • Ergonomic Soft Flex injection molded EVA belt and shoulder straps. In Satori EXP and other older models it is not different.

Loading & Closure

  • Camera gear is accessed via the rear panel and features YKK® heavy gauge zippers: This is in all Mountain series backpacks of F-Stop Gear since the very first model.
  • Top opening for main internal compartment access features YKK® heavy gauge zippers: In my Satori EXP it is similar.

Pack Attachments

  • 12 GateKeeper mounting points. It is less than in Satori EXP that had 14.
  • Attachment of f-stop and third-party accessories via internal and external M.O.L.L.E. system. In new bags the external such attachment points are reduced to two on hip belt while Satori EXP had also three at each side. Therefore it was more extendable. In new backpacks, such attachment points are compatible indeed only with M.O.L.L.E. components or those that have thin attachment stripes. Pouches and pockets made by Lowepro and Thinktank Photo can’t be used anymore because their stripes are too wide. In Satori EXP this problem doesn’t exist.
  • Hypalon® loops and bungee cords for attachment of accessories such as ice axes and trekking poles – are in Satori EXP and other older products too.
  • Easily attach f-stop’s Navin camera case on the chest mounting attachment via GateKeeper system – same as in Satori EXP and other older backpacks.
  • Additional accessories attachable via 2 metal D-ring attachment points. They were available in all older backpacks too.
  • Attachment of a Rain Cover via connection loop. In Satori EXP the rain cover is stored in separate pocket under the bottom of the bag and can be attached the same way.

Hip belts of SukhaHip belt of Sukha and Shinn: The new M.O.L.L.E. attachment points are a joke. Sorry, F-Stop-Gear, but this is a real fail of your new design!

Side view of Satori EXPSide view of Satori EXP: There are M.O.L.L.E. attachment points at both sides of the bag and on hip harness. They are also compatible with products of Thinktank Photo, Lowepro and similar that have wide attachment slides. With new backpacks of F-Stop Gear it is not so anymore.

Integrated Features

  • 4 internal ICU attachment points: This is like in any Mountain series backpack that takes ICUs.
  • Exceptional all-day support provided by an internal aluminum frame. In older models it was the same.

Advantages of Satori EXP

  1. The dimensions fit into limits for carry-on luggage of most airlines: Though, if fully loaded with photo gear, it would exceed the allowed weight limit, usually the airlines representative at check-in wouldn’t object it when the bag looks small. Anyway, I had no problems with carrying my Satori EXP with me on board so far.
  2. Better extendable due to M.O.L.L.E. attachment straps on the sides: I often attach large military bags on one or both sides of my Satori EXP when I carry it in the field. To take it on board of an airplane, I remove these bags, so my backpacks becomes small again.
  3. Attachment straps on hip belt compatible with all third-party bags and pouches: The M.O.L.L.E. attachment points are at both sides of the bag and on hip harness. They are also compatible with products of Thinktank Photo, Lowepro and similar that have wide attachment slides. With new backpacks of F-Stop Gear it is not so anymore.

Advantages of Sukha

  1. More water resistant fabric: In my opinion, this is the only real improvement that the new Mountain series backpacks have got. However, the fabric of my Satori EXP is highly water resistant too. I had it many times under quite heavy rain and the water didn’t get inside. Apparently, the new fabric isn’t completely waterproof too because F-Stop Gear still sells rain covers for the backpacks.
  2. Greater height: Space needed for a large telephoto lens is better available due to this although such lenses could be carried in Satori EXP and XL Pro ICU too. Unfortunately the increased hight and side pockets makes this Sukha look too large for carrying on board of airplanes. Indeed its dimensions do not fit into airlines limits anymore, and it can’t be compressed to the allowed size because even the minimal dimensions are too big. I had wished the volume and size to be adjustable – through add-on pockets or through expandable construction of the backpack itself (for instance, through foldable top like in trekking backpacks).
  3. Larger frontside pocket: It isn’t really a big deal, but just a nice little improvement that makes the frontside pocket even better useable. In Satori EXP it is quite flat.

Advantages of Shinn

If I were buying a backpack this year and money weren’t an issue, Shinn would be my choice. Otherwise the price of over 370€ for the bag only is just too high. To use it, you need at least one ICU – either Cine Master or Tele Master – that would require additional 180 or 200€. A photo backpack for almost 600€ looks somewhat high priced even if you are getting with it a Rolls Royce among photo bags. It is hard to say if such an investment should make sense. Currently, it looks like Shinn is going to be the best backpack for an outdoor photographer as soon as Satori EXP would not be on sale anymore. On the other hand, it exceeds the carry-in luggage limits of airlines, and there are many other backpacks that do it too. Therefore, it may be possible to find a cheaper alternative with similar volume from other manufacturers (Lowepro Pro Trekker 650 AW is what comes to my mind, for instance) or to use a trekking backpack.

This backpack is made of the same materials as Sukha, is similarly high and has also the same large frontside pocket. The other advantages of Shinn compared with Satori EXP and Sukha are the following:

  1. Reinforced front side: This is what I liked in Tilopa bag too, what I am missing in Satori EXP, and what is now absent also in Sukha.
  2. Larger volume: Unfortunately, it doesn’t come without the biggest disadvantage – large size – that makes Shinn incompatible with airlines regulations for cabin luggage. What I wrote above about the need for adjustable size is valid here too.

Conclusion

Still Satori EXP appears to be the best suitable for the needs of a nature photographer who has to carry very much equipment both on airplanes and on terrain in remote places. It is very sad that F-Stop Gear has decided to discontinue it. Now my hope is that they will change their mind and bring up an even better successor in future. Till then I am happy to have a Satori EXP.

If I would be buying a new bag now, in current situation, I would either buy Satori EXP and XL Pro ICU again or go for Shinn and Tele Master ICU. Both, Sukha and Shinn are too large for airlines but Shinn has just more volume as Sukha. My tactics would then be, to take the gear in a bare ICU as hand luggage and to send the backpack with the rest of the content in the checked luggage. At the location I would then have a larger backpack. This would be an advantage over Satori EXP and XL Pro ICU combo. However, Shinn and Tele Master ICU are more than twice as heavy.

Which lens?

This is the beginning of a large article that I have written for my website. Read the rest of it on www.nature-images.eu.

Lenses are the most important part of photography equipment. Many beginners and non-photographers are surprised to hear this, but this is true: Only the level of colour noise depends on the camera; all other aspects of image quality are entirely associated with the performance of lenses. Although cameras are very complicated electronic devices, lenses are optical, electromechanical and electronic devices at the same time, hence they require a much more sophisticated engineering and manufacturing. Digital camera models have much shorter life cycles than lenses. Usually manufacturers need about a decade to make significant improvements to a lens that was already nearly perfect. Absolutely new and technically innovative lens designs appear very rarely. Cameras have a much shorter development cycle: Their models usually get updated more frequently — every 5 years at most; new and better models of cameras are even released every two or three years. Therefore, when we purchase a lens, we do it for at least 10 years, till we are forced to upgrade by competition and by technical progress. With cameras it happens much earlier. Therefore, if selected carefully, lenses serve longer than much of the rest of our equipment. Only supports (tripods, etc.) are more timeless.

Usually lenses are also the most expensive items in our equipment kit. While many have only 2 or even just one camera body, no serious photographer has just 1 lens per camera. 3 was the minimum number of lenses owned by the photographers whom I knew so far. I currently have 8 lenses. The cost of several lenses usually exceeds the cost of a camera many times.

Cameras are rather than lenses “many-purpose tools”: With the same camera you can photograph various subjects, in various photography areas and genres, while a certain lens is usually needed for a certain subject and genre.

All this makes the process of choosing lenses much more difficult than of cameras. While technical specification and a couple of independent reviews are usually enough for making a judgement about a camera, for a correct decision to purchase a certain lens you need to know very well your needs, be clear about ambitions and plans for the future, have a lot of practical experience with other lenses. When people are asking me for lens recommendations, I am, of course, saying: “Get the best lens you can afford!” This is my usual answer of the question “What lens I should buy?”, and I explained the reasons of it in my earlier article — Choosing the Camera Brand. Unlike with many other things that may be overpriced, the price of a lens is usually a good indicator of its quality: Expensive lenses are usually better than cheap although many cheap lenses are quite good. A much more difficult question is “Which one?” Every lens has its specifics, and the choice of lenses depends on a number factors that may be different for different photographers. Therefore, a universally applicable and straightforward answer isn’t possible to give.

This article should be a general overview of choices a photographer has and of recommendations based on my own experience and knowledge. However, I am not going to give definite recipes — “To shoot this, take this lens…” It is the reader who should draw conclusions and make decisions.

Although I use Canon equipment I am mentioning lenses for both Canon and Nikon cameras. This shouldn’t be understood as a recommendation to choose either of the brands but only as an example of lenses with a certain focal length.

What about Sony?

Sony is a very innovative and very promising brand of photographic equipment. However, most lenses for Sony cameras are made by other manufacturers. Although some lenses are really good, there is not a so wide variety of them as for Nikon and Canon. Therefore Sony even recommends to use lenses made for other systems via an adapter with their α series of full-frame cameras with interchangeable lenses.
When I was writing this article Sony was still rarely used by nature photographers. Therefore, I didn’t discuss the lenses for this platform in depth. However, everything I have written here is valid for Sony too.

Parameters and Characteristics

There is a usual misconception that in certain areas and genres of photography lenses with certain technical characteristics are to be used. I often see people writing or saying that, for instance, a 14mm lens is a “landscape lens” and a 100mm one is “for portraits”, etc. This is an extremely simplistic and counterproductive point of view. In reality a photographer chooses a lens not according to the subject but according to the way how he wants it to be depicted. Landscapes can be photographed with ultra wide-angle and with super telephoto as well. Portraits shot with wide-angle lenses often look more dynamic and impressive than those that were shot with a telephoto lens.

The focal length is the most evident technical characteristic and the key parameter for choosing a lens. According to my observations, a photographer decides to get a new lens much more often because he needs a lens with a certain focal length. Therefore, also in this article I structured the discussion of lenses based on this characteristic. The focal length of a lens can be either constant (fixed) or variable. The short name commonly used for lenses with variable focal length is zoom, and lenses with fixed focal length are usually referred to as prime. I described the advantages and disadvantages of both these kinds of lenses in the article Prime vs. Zoom. Actually the biggest practical difference between them is in the need for the photographer to move which greater with prime lenses. Therefore, it is easy to decide which type of lens if better for you: If you can’t or don’t want to move a lot when you are photographing, a zoom lens is what you need.

Since a single zoom lens can have a wide range of focal lengths, it is difficult to discuss them together with prime lenses. Therefore, I am going to maintain the division between prime and zoom lenses also in this article and treat them separately.

Once the need for focal length is clear, other parameters apply in the following order:

  1. Special features and capabilities, such as tilt-shift, fisheye, zoom, work distance, etc.;
  2. Resolution;
  3. Contrast and colour rendering;
  4. Aperture range (maximum and minimum);
  5. Out-of-focus rendering (bokeh);
  6. Level of chromatic aberrations and flare;
  7. Distortion, vignetting;
  8. Autofocus;
  9. Image stablisation;
  10. Protection against dust and moisture;
  11. Build quality, brand.

Once you know what focal length you need, technical specialities and features is the next important thing for lens choosing. In some cases, you have to decide, for instance, if the lens should be with mechanically adjustable optical system — so-called, “tilt-shift”, or if it should be a fisheye type lens, or if you only should need a zoom lens for you work and not a prime… Also you may need to make a decision about focusing distance that you subject would require. This parameter is very different even in the lenses with the same focal length. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers clearly show it in the technical details of their lenses probably because they think that it isn’t an important information. In some areas of nature photography this parameter may play an important role however. For instance, a very short focusing, or working, distance is required for making close-up photographs of small animals so that the surroundings are also visible in the resulting image. Another parameter magnification ratio that is usually stated in the description of lenses is related to minimal focusing distance.

When you know all this and know how much money you can spend, it’s time to start looking for the best lens that fits into this framework of requirements and limits. When assessing and comparing the quality of various alternatives, resolution is the most important quality aspect that photographers normally look at. The resolution results in sharpness, so when someone is talking about a “sharp” lens, he is meaning that this lens has good resolution, i.e. can capture finer details. There are at least three reasons to want the highest resolution. First, the more detailed the image the larger can be the presentation of it, i.e. the larger can be the print of it, or the higher the resolution of the screen it will be displayed on. Of course, modern computer screens or projectors have still a much lower resolution than cameras. However, it is increasing rapidly. For the time of writing, so-called “4K” monitors, i.e. capable of displaying a 8Mp image at 100% size, were already entering the mass market. The first “5K” screen was released 2014 capable of displaying 14.7 Mp. This means that your 14 Mp photographs can be presented on it without size reduction. Certainly, it isn’t the limit, and the resolution of screens will continue to grow. Also new high-resolution or very large display media will appear in the future. Therefore, if you want your images still to look good on large format prints and electronic media in the next decades, you have to produce them with maximum possible resolution already now.

The second reason is related to resolution of the recording media, i.e. of the imaging sensors of our cameras. Lenses made for film cameras don’t provide adequate resolution for modern digital camera sensors. Although adapters for such lenses are still available, using them even with 5 Mp cameras doesn’t make sense. The same problem arises with low-end lenses that were produced for digital photography when you attempt to use them with high resolution cameras. Currently only the best lenses can provide adequate resolution for 35 Mp or 50 Mp sensors of modern full-frame cameras. Due to the natural limitation caused by the optical phenomenon of diffraction it is unlikely that the lens resolution will grow in future far beyond the already achieved maximum. However, we can expect the majority of cameras to have 30-50 Mp sensors very soon. This means that low-quality lenses that we buy now won’t be useable anymore.

The third reason why you need maximum resolution is more typical for wildlife photography. Too often images of wild animals need to be cropped during postprocessing for better composition. This happens, for instance, because the animal has moved in the frame before you released the shutter or because the distance was too large so that the subject appears too small in the photograph. Obviously, the more detailed is the image the more space is available for cropping. Cropping leads to enlargement of the rest of the image because the physical dimensions of the output medium remain constant. For instance, if you planned a print on a 60×70 cm paper sheet but cropped the digital original by 15%, thus reducing its size, the paper sheet size will still remain the same. In the consequence, only 15% less content will be printed, or in other words, the remaining 75% of the original instead of 100% will be stretched to fit the 60×70 cm large medium. Everything in the image will be enlarged by 15% in that case. As a result, a not very sharp and not very detailed image will then look even worse.

The best lenses provide a more or less uniformly sharp image all over the frame surface. However, not very many are so. The wider the lens the more prone it is to sharpness fall off at frame borders and in the corners. Also aperture plays a role: The majority of lenses deliver the sharpest images at apertures that are at least 1 stop smaller than the maximum and 1 stop larger than the minimum while the sharpness improves further towards the middle of this range. For instance, a good lens that has f/1.4 maximum and f/16 minimum aperture would be sharper in the range between f/2.0 and f/11. The best sharpness will be at the aperture around f/2.8-f/8. A wider range of sharpness is another reason that makes us wish lenses with wide maximum aperture. Lenses with aperture starting at f5.6 will usually be good only at f/8 and f/11. While in wide angle lenses f/16 is the most used aperture, in telephoto lenses the sharpness may noticeably decrease already at this aperture value. Aperture of f/22 and f/32 is generally considered as useable only in extremely good lenses that are free of other optical imperfections, such as chromatic aberrations. Otherwise the image will be too blurry due to the effect of diffraction. The urge for such extremely narrow apertures exists only in macro photography. In other areas, f/16 is the upper limit that is enough for the required depth of field.

For all new lenses, it is easy to find information about resolution. Manufacturers are the first source of it because they always publish in the announcements of the new lenses the so-called MTF charts — graphical presentation of resolution and contrast. Resolution is of course the main parameter that the reviewers always test. They do it through photographing either so-called ISO resolution charts or any objects with fine details — postal stamps, banknotes, etc. Then they evaluate and compare the sharpness in the middle, a corner and sometimes at the border of the image shot with different aperture and, in zoom lenses, at different focal length. When you are looking for a new lens, study the official MFT charts and the results of several tests from independent reviewers and make your decision accordingly.

Contrast is the next issue photographers usually pay attention to. Through contrast the ability of the lens to gather and to transmit to the sensor the luminance and the colour of the scenery is described. Good lenses should do it without loss of detail in the image. Therefore contrast and resolution always go together. Photographers talk sometimes about “micro-contrast” meaning the contrast of fine detail. This contrast can’t be as easy corrected in postprocessing as the general contrast of the entire image. Therefore it is important that the lens is capable of capturing the finest details with sufficient contrast.

Usually photographers praise lenses that provide more contrast over the entire image. The colour in such images looks more intensive already when they come out of the camera. Of course, brightness and contrast can be adjusted afterwards in the process of RAW format conversion or in the editing software, but more photographers seem to prefer stronger initial contrast and like the lenses that provide it. I often have heard people saying that Nikon lenses have better contrast and criticising Canon. Indeed, contrast is among things that I like in Carl Zeiss lenses more than in Canon.

Although contrast is displayed in MFT charts, viewing sample images of various subjects at 100% size (so-called 100%) is a better method.

Aperture range is important for choosing lens for several reasons. Two of them are quite obvious: First, a wider aperture allows a higher shutter speed and provides a shallower depth of field; second, a narrow aperture results in more depth of field, thus has an advantage in macro photography or for telephoto lenses. Another reason was already mentioned above: The wider the total aperture range the wider is the range with better sharpness.

A shallow depth of field causes problems with small subjects but in many situations it is preferred because the majority of photographs that the nature photographers create are portraits of animals. A blurred background is one of the basic requirements of this genre. Of course, a shallow DOF is of advantage when there are too many objects in front and behind the photographed subject. This a very usual case, for example, when the subject is in grass or in a tree.

The blur pattern in out-of-focus parts of the image (referred to as bokeh) differs in various lenses and even can be a speciality of a certain brand. Sometimes photographers even are looking for lenses with a special kind of bokeh. Fortunately, it is a parameter that is very easy to evaluate: Just look at sample shots done with the widest aperture and decide if you like the blur.

Also a number of quality related issues exist that photographers aren’t so often confronted with but would want a lens to be free of it. They may become evident in certain lighting conditions. Colour fringing, or chromatic aberration (CR), is one of them. It appears at the edges between very light and very dark elements of an image. Chromatic aberrations can be hardly found in the images made with wide-angle lenses, but lenses with greater focal length may be more prone to it. Modern RAW converters and photo editors can correct the CR very well, and it is isn’t a knock-out criterion in lens choice. There are no lenses that are completely free of it like there are no lenses that don’t have other issues that are normal to any optical system, such as flare, i.e. a phenomenon when the light is reflected by the optical elements inside the lens. Unlike CR, flare can’t be corrected in postprocessing automatically. Some flare artefacts can be removed through retouching, but it is a very annoying and destructive for the image pixels work. To recognise and to evaluate how strong lens flare is, you need to look at photographs done at various aperture when the light source was in the image, for example, the sun shining across the image from one of the corners. If the artefacts that you see won’t appear to you as too bad, you may decide to take the lens. Don’t be very critical, remember that literary all lenses have such issues and ask yourself how often you are going to shoot against the sun.

Distortion is a common problem of wide-angle lenses. Some ultra wide lenses produce images where only objects that are in the middle of the frame preserve their shapes. There are two types of distortion — barrel/pincushion and perspective. Strong barrel distortion is normal for the so-called fisheye lenses but may be irritating elsewhere. Strong perspective distortion is typical for wide-angle lenses and many people don’t perceive it as disturbing in landscape photographs. However, in images with clearly rectangular objects, for instance with trees, it may be particularly unwanted. Certainly, distortion is particularly noticeable in close-up photographs of animals. Some people can live with it and even regard it as an artistic effect, but for my taste, it is just an imperfection that should be avoided or corrected whenever possible.

To a certain extent both kinds of distortion can be corrected in postprocessing, however, always with loss of some parts of the image. Even if automatic correction is possible, for it to be effective the distortion should be uniform: If there is, for instance, a barrel distortion, than it should not be interrupted in some parts of the image. Look at sample images and decide yourself if you like what you see. If the distortion appears too strong or non-uniform, look for a different lens. A tilt-shift lens is the best solution of the distortion problem. Such lenses are also free of many other issues, such as non-uniform sharpness, strong flare, vignetting, etc. However, all this to a somewhat higher price than of normal wide-angle lenses.

For some kinds of photography and for some lenses, autofocus and image stabilisation are either required or nice to have. Autofocus is absolutely important in wildlife photography, when the subject is moving or may move at any moment, or when you just need to change the focus quickly and precisely. Autofocus is a standard feature in telephoto lenses. However, the speed and precision of it is different in various lenses of various manufacturers. Autofocus is not needed in macro and landscape photography. Macro lenses usually have it, but in mine I never turn it on. Wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lenses are normally with manual focusing only.

The same applies for image stabilisation (or “vibration reduction”, in Nikon terminology). Both, in Canon and Nikon equipment it is not the camera but the lens that should provide image stabilisation. Image stabilisation isn’t necessary in landscape photography and is even thought to be disturbing and should be turned off when the camera is mounted on a tripod. It is, however, absolutely required for telephoto lenses used in wildlife photography. All such lenses made by Sigma lack image stabilisation, and therefore are not useable in very many cases when the photographer has to handhold the camera.

A nature photographer would want a lens that is protected against harsh environment influence — is sealed against dust and moisture, has scratch resistant finishing. Most lenses aren’t so. The best protection against dust and moisture is in the big super telephoto lenses of Canon and Nikon. These are also lenses with most scratch proof paint. Since such lenses are usually carried open and used sometimes in bad weather conditions, you should always ensure that the wildlife lens that you are considering to purchase has some kind of environmental protection. Unfortunately, most other lenses aren’t so. All Carl Zeiss lenses have at least very stable finishing and due to exceptionally good build quality are very sturdy. They are an exception. Even expensive lenses of other manufacturers are completely unprotected and very prone to scratches. Among them, tilt-shift lenses are particularly prone to dust and moisture. Also the black paint of current Canon lenses is quite unstable and begins to get off already in the first field use.

Build quality shouldn’t be your main concern if it is going to be an expensive lens of a renowned manufacturer. Normally, such lenses have good or very good build quality. However, it is important to look at it in cheaper lenses. In some cases you’ll have to decide if you should get a cheap lens and be careful when you use it, or to get a more expensive one that may be more reliable and sturdy. Anyway build quality shouldn’t be the main reason for your decision. Other parameters discussed above are much more important. Personally, I would take just the lens I need, even if I would see that it isn’t very well built.

As I already wrote in my article about choosing the camera brand, I don’t regard price as something one should first look at when choosing the equipment. If we can’t afford something, the too high price is an obstacle, and not a factor that makes us not to want or not to need that item. Our needs and wishes aren’t defined by prices, hence the cost of a lens isn’t regarded here as a choice parameter though I am giving a hint about the price range of lenses in a certain focal length range as a number of dollar signs ($) corresponding to the number of digits in the price tag. For instance, $$$$$ means that prices start from 10.000$, and $$$ — that they are less than 1000$ but more than 100$. Except when you buy it used, an SLR lens that is suitable for nature photography wouldn’t cost less than 250-300 dollars, or euros, or pounds. Even the cheapest lenses made, for instance, by Korean companies aren’t cheaper. Usually, depending on subjects and personal requirements, a nature photographer has to be prepared to pay more, much more for lenses. An average price of good lenses for Nikon and Canon cameras varies between 700 and 1500 dollars (or euros, or pounds).

Of course, I am aware that many people can’t afford top-priced lenses. Then they should consider the less expensive alternatives. I will suggest them in gray boxes in this article. With some subjects, such as birds and many other animals there is simply no cheap way to quality photographs. Everyone who is serious about wildlife photography has to be ready to pay dozens of thousands for equipment, or to choose subjects and photography techniques that would require less expensive equipment. For example, someone who can’t pay 15.000$ for a 800mm lens, can have a 300mm one for 6000$ and find a way to get closer. If even 6000$ is too much money, then one can use a wide-angle lens for 700$ or less and go even closer to the subject. If it shouldn’t be possible, other subjects are still there, such as landscapes, plants, invertebrates, etc.

Also a word needs to be said about lenses for cameras with imaging sensors that are smaller than 36×24 mm — so-called APS-C, or “cropped” sensor cameras. This topic is specific for Canon and Nikon technical platforms because other manufacturers make exchangeable lens cameras either only with 36×24 mm (Sony, Leica) or with smaller sensors (Olympus, Fuji, Pentax, Samsung, Panasonic, Sigma). While APS, i.e. full-frame, lenses in Canon and Nikon are absolutely compatible with APS-C sensors, there are restrictions for use of lenses for APS-C sensors with APS cameras. In Nikon, an APS-C lens (identified as “DX”) will fit the mount of a full-frame camera but will render a correspondingly (1.5 times) smaller image. In Canon, the EF-S lenses are made exclusively for APS-C cameras and won’t fit a full-frame camera at all. Some manufacturers of expensive hi-end lenses, such as Carl Zeiss or Schneider Kreuznach, make them only for full frame. Sigma and Tamron produce different lenses for APS-C than for APS. Sigma marks such as “DC”. Tamron‘s APS-C lenses may be more difficult to recognise. The compatibility with Canon and Nikon will be the same as of native lenses. Therefore, owners of full-frame cameras have to watch what lens they are buying. If it is a APS-C lens and you have an APS camera, in Nikon, there is no reason to have a lens that won’t render the whole frame, in Canon, such a lens won’t be useable at all.

So why do APS-C lenses exist when an APS lens can fit both types of cameras? The lower cost ist the main cause of popularity of APS-C cameras. Obviously, a budget camera needs a budget lens. EF-S and DX lenses in Canon and Nikon are just so, as well as their equivalents produced by Sigma and Tamron. APS-C lenses usually accompany a camera body in a so-called “kit” — a set of a camera body and lens sold together, and many occasional users of SLR cameras are completely satisfied with them, or buy another such lens they learn about from a magazine or a discussion in the Internet. Also it is obvious that for a lens to be low-cost also technologies, know-how, materials and manufacturing of APS-C lenses should be low-cost. APS-C lenses made by Tamron or even by Sigma may have similar quality as APS lenses of these manufacturers. The APS-C lenses of Canon and Nikon can measure only with their low-end APS lenses. Some APS-C lenses can deliver images of decent quality but still aren’t good enough for serious photography. Personally, I never have seen a professional or semi-professional photographer using them although there are even professionals who use APS-C bodies at least as a spare camera. I too don’t use them, never had one and don’t recommend anyone who has serious ambitions in photography. Therefore, I just omit APS-C lenses in the following discussion in this article. All lenses that I am mentioning further are for APS sensors.

Read the rest of this article on www.nature-images.eu

Copycatted in USSR

When I was browsing through reptile illustrations published in the Internet I stumbled upon an image that looked very familiar. It was a painting of an Agama with a caption in German telling “Felsenagame” (Rock Agama) under it.

Agama dodomae, Germany 1911-1920

“Agama dodomae”, Brehms Tierleben, published by Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, Germany, 1911 (original title: Brehms Tierleben. Allgemeine Kunde des Tierreichs, Hrg. O. zur Strassen, Bd. 2, Leipzig, Bibliographisches Institut, 1911-1919)

In another book that was published later in Spain the same picture appeared but as illustration of a different species – Agama colonorum. According to the knowledge of that time, all African agamas with red head and blue body were of that species, also known as Agama agama. Therefore also A. dodomae was just a synonym accordingly.

Agama colonorum, Spain, 1925

“Agama colonorum”, colour print, Spain, publ. 1925

Apparently, the original German illustration was just reprinted in a Spanish book. I haven’t seen the book myself and even don’t know its title to check it, but the fact that the signature of the artist remained and the original wasn’t changed lets us assume that the painting was reprinted with permission or at least with reference to the source.

I own none of these two books and had never a chance to see them. I knew this agama illustration from somewhere else.

“Agama planiceps”, illustration from the book “Life of the Animals”, ed. L.A.Zenkevich, Vol. 4.2, Moscow, 1969. (original title: Жизнь животных. Земноводные. Пресмыкающиеся / под ред. Л.А.Зенкевича — 1-е изд. — М.: Просвещение, 1969. — Т. 4.2.)

Every person interested in nature science who was born in the Soviet Union knows the book “Жизнь животных” (“Life of the Animals”) in 6 volumes. The first edition of it appeared in 1950s-60s. The 2nd was published in 1970s-80s. I too got it from my parents (even both editions) and it was the first and maybe the most important zoology book in my life. I grew up with it.

The Soviet Life of the Animals was a reply to famous classical “Brehm’s Tierleben” (“Brehm’s Life of the Animals”). Its concept was somewhat different, however. While Brehm’s Life of the Animals was a popular book – written in a simple language and without too many scientific details – the Soviet counterpart was intended for a reader more involved into life science. Except the title it had no parallels with the German original. No content of Brehm’s book was (at least officially) translated and reprinted in it. In fact, the Soviet book offered more up-to-date knowledge in zoology, so the title was just a metaphor – a tribute to Alfred Brehm whose work was known in Russia too.

This book was illustrated by Nikolai Kondakov who was “the” zoology illustrator of the Soviet Union, Alexandr Kondratiev and Olga Khludova. Kondakov made almost all illustrations in such books. Since he illustrated other herpetological books I suspect that the agama picture in volume 4 (part 2) of Life of the Animals was also from him.

Smiling Agama in a Soviet book

The Agama painting from the “Life of the Animals” got further remakes in later Soviet publications. In this one, for instance, the agama is hairy and smiling.

For his time and under the circumstances in his country Nikolai Nikolaevich Kondakov was really an outstanding painter and naturalist. There is no doubt that he was able to draw or paint himself and had some his own original artworks. Therefore my discovery is not only surprising but also disappointing.

Obviously, none of three Soviet illustrators could be the first who painted the agama because even the oldest of them, Kondakov, was 2 years old when the German illustration was published. Most probably they had access to the 1911 edition of Brehms Tierleben and just copied an illustration (maybe even several) from it. The illustrator even didn’t try to conceal the similarity with the origin and made only minor changes. Certainly, it is a plagiarism what we see here, and I keep wondering how it could happen at all. Was it the illustrator who didn’t mention the source, or the book editor, or the publisher?

It is unlikely that it was publisher’s policy. It is well known that copying “western” goods and know-how was an everyday practice in the USSR and the very idea of commercial copyright was absent. However, plagiarism was officially dispraised and regarded as unacceptable. Although omitting references in citations and even simple copying of parts of foreign publications were common and tolerated, presenting someone else’s work as own was officially not accepted and discouraged. Therefore, I doubt that the publisher just requested the illustrator to re-paint a picture created by another author even if the original wasn’t protected by any law.

Although the country was isolated and the access to foreign publications was extremely limited, the 1911 edition of Brehm’s Tierleben might be available even in some libraries in the Soviet Union because it had been published before the Revolution, so some copies should have remained. Therefore it is unlikely that the authors of the book could be sure that such plagiarism would remain unnoticed forever.

The biggest question for me is about the reason. Why the “great Soviet animal painter” Kondakov or anyone of his two colleagues needed to copy an illustration that was already very bad? Anyone who has seen an agama alive, preserved, or on a photograph, would recognise at once that even the original German picture is just terrible. Kondakov could create his own much better painting. Why didn’t he do it? As a zoologist and staff member of a large museum he certainly had access to preserved specimens of agamas. Of course, he had seen or could see agamas alive – in captivity or even in the wild. An agama has such a characteristic morphology that drawing it is very easy even for a less experienced artist. At the same time, many agamas have similar body shapes and morphological details, so that to illustrate a particular species the artist even doesn’t need to have a specimen of this species as a model. The result would have been better if Kondakov had made a general agama drawing based on any agama species that lived in the USSR and colourated it as Agama agama ssp..

Unfortunately, we will never get answers of these questions.

Thuraya phone not working: Big troubles and high costs.

Thuraya XT handset

In 2013 before the expedition to Pamir I purchased my own Thuraya XT satellite phone. I had rented and used one in 2012 in Ethiopia and was very positively impressed by the quality and ease of communication regardless of the place and time – to very moderate prices compared to cellular network roaming.

In Asia and Africa Thuraya still looks like the best choice for satellite communication compared to the alternatives – Iridium and Inmarsat. However, only as long as it works…

Like any technical device one day it may not. If you think that the only trouble will be then being cut off from the rest of the world while you are far from home, you are wrong. Of course, I had it, too, when my Thuraya XT stopped functioning: I was in Ethiopian mountains without any communication. But this wasn’t the only problem, as I had to learn after my return.

Everything began before the trip when I was charging the batteries of the equipment before packing it. Then I discovered that the Thuraya XT didn’t charge nor switch on at all. I had used it a little in July-August, 2013 in Pamir and Alay. Since then I kept it in a box together with other communication equipment but charged the battery now and then. Last time I did it in September, and three months later the phone wasn’t functioning anymore – soon after the warranty period was over. This was still an almost new Thuraya XT handset that seized functioning just by itself, without any recognisable reason.

I noticed it on Friday evening, and in 3 days – on Monday evening – I was leaving for the Ethiopia expedition. I contacted the customer support of Thuraya via their website:

My XT handset doesn’t turn on nor the display lights up when I want to charge it, i.e. it looks completely dead. It was at home, and I didn’t use it since summer 2013. I turned it on now and then and it was OK. Last time I did it in August this year and charged the battery. Then switched it off again. On Monday I am going for a longer expedition to Ethiopia and need the phone there. Today I was going to charge it, connected to the charger but the display remained dark, charging didn’t start. To exclude the possibility of a damaged charger, I tried the car charger – with the same result. Both chargers seem to work, but the phone doesn’t charge. Now I don’t know what to do. I would like to know if the phone normally turns always on when it is connected to the power source, i.e. also when the battery is discharged. In other words: Can the battery be as much discharged that the phone shows no life signs even when connected to power socket?

The reply was almost immediate:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your email,

Kindly note that according to your scenario we suspect the battery is damage and therefore we suggest you to take the handset to our respective service provider on the below given address for checking and advise.

• Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH

Thank you
Thuraya Customer Care Team

Obviously, I had no time to send the handset for servicing. Since there was a suggestion in this mail that the failure may be caused by the battery, I decided to try to replace it before departure. There are 3 to 4 firms in Germany who sell Thuraya equipment. Fortunately, one of them – Därr Expeditionstechnik – is in Munich, and my flight was on Monday evening from Munich airport. So I decided to try to get the new battery. I called Därr Expeditionstechnik in the morning on Monday and asked for a battery for Thuraya XT. Fortunately, they had some. This company has neither a shop nor a public office, but the owner allowed me to pick up the battery at his home.

I did it. Then I tried the new battery… I didn’t help. The phone was still dead. I had to come around without it for three weeks in Ethiopia.

After return I addressed the company Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH, as Thuraya Customer Care had suggested. I sent an email at the provided address in Germany. They sent a request in English to their Customer Care department:

Please assist Mr. Tiutenko with his technical hardware failure issue (Thuraya XT handheld, <2 years old, the battery does not charge and cannot be switched on – when using a new battery, the problem persists).

Mr. Tiutenko states that Thuraya Customer Care Dep. forwarded him to Airbus DS as Service Partner in Germany, the reason of his email request.

Soon I received a weird request (original spelling preserved):

Dear sir,

could you please provide me the thuraya sim card numbers?

Do you have the GPS position?

What is the error message ?

Please desribe the issue

I had thought the “issue” was already described in several mails. But I did it again. The request of “sim card numbers” looked particularly strange. Why could the SIM card and my geographical position be a course of the problem with the handset? Anyway, I sent the requested information.

The next day another, rather informal, mail arrived:

Good day Arthur,

upon further investigation the Thurya simcard is not an Astrium/Vizada stock. I am not sure who your card and phone belong to. Best you contact Thuraya at link below.

Of course, my SIM card wasn’t from “Astrium/Vizada stock”! It was from Därr Expeditionstechnik, and the phone was purchased without a SIM card from M-Cramer Satellitenservices. The note “I am not sure who your card and phone belong to.” was particularly irritating. I mailed back that I cannot understand that reply. They reacted:

Dear Sir,

sorry for the possible misunderstanding but we won’t be able to repair the Hardware if it doesn’t come from us.
We only provide repair for terminals sold by us.

Please contact DAERR or whoever Provider where you bought the Hardware.

Then I wrote to Thuraya again and they replied with a new idea:

Dear Arthur,

Please be inform that we don’t have any repair center in Germany, if you would like to send your handset to our repair center below are contact details, we recommend before sending the handset please replace the battery if it worked. …

Even I had been already suspecting that there was no repair centre in Germany, but why Thuraya folks realised it so late? Why didn’t they know that Atrium… GmbH they sent me to was a wrong address?

If not that chaos, if Thuraya were better organised and their support staff were better informed, the repair could be quicker and less expensive. The repair service they finally referred to was in Dubai, and I had to send the phone there. I was in Dubai myself just 10 days before that. I had the Thuraya XT with me and could leave it there for inspection and repair. Now, I had to pay DHL freight without any certainty that the device will be fixed.

There are dozens of “rare” brands being sold in Germany and throughout Europe. They all have at least 12 months warranty, i.e. the manufacturer is obligated to repair it if it is broken within this period of time. This means that there should be service centres within the reach of the customers. Why Thuraya (and apparently other satellite phone manufacturers – Iridium, Inmarsat) are such an exception? Their phones are electronic devices consisting of replaceable parts. So why there is no company on the whole European continent that does a simple procedure of testing for broken parts and replacing them? In Germany alone there are several companies that sell or offer satellite phones for rental. I simply don’t believe that their hardware never needs to be repaired. If in every case of malfunction the phone needs to be sent to UAE or USA, repair costs may be too high to make sense. However, all satellite phones are too expensive to be disposable after a short use.

“Expedition to the Roof of the World” – my photography exhibition at Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn

The Museum Alexander Koenig is the largest zoological research centre in Germany and one of the largest zoological collections in Germany and in Europe. “Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander König” (Zoological Research Center Alexander Koenig) is the full name in German of this institution that is situated in Bonn, former German capital city.

It was a great honour and pleasure for me to have an opportunity to show 21 of my photographs to the visitors of the museum in November-December 2014.
Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany

Arthur Tiutenko at exhibition "Expedition to the Roof of the World"

Arthur Tiutenko at exhibition "Expedition to the Roof of the World"

Arthur Tiutenko at exhibition "Expedition to the Roof of the World"

Arthur Tiutenko at exhibition "Expedition to the Roof of the World"

Arthur Tiutenko at exhibition "Expedition to the Roof of the World"