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About that Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag

0f8d5e0837532a8877b878f285565fc2-3.jpgQ: What do Ari Marcopoulos and Iron Maiden have in common?
A: They are more famous for apparel than media.

Ok, that’s probably not true, at least with regard to Ari, but most buyers of camera bags never will have heard of him — or at best will have confused the super-adventurous-street-photographer with Costa Manos of Magnum. Ari’s work is great (as I would expect after 40 years of shooting), and it pushes a lot of boundaries that frankly need to be pushed, but one real work of his genius is designing a camera bag.

First, let’s dispense with the cutesy Incase video. Not all of that stuff fits in one of these bags, unless you just randomly toss things in and try to zip it up. Also, watching Ari wander into a pond in knee-length shorts might give you this icky voyeuristic feeling. Or watching a golf swing with a messenger bag tightly strapped on might make you experience psychosomatic feelings of suffocation.

Features/Benefits

Let’s go point by point on the major features/benefits and detriments. If you like Nava Design briefcases, backpacks, and other things, you will love this bag —because the aesthetics are a dead ringer for the Dot Com 2.0 line (or maybe vice versa).

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Also, contrary to what one reviewer said, the Ari bag does look like a diaper bag, at least the type they design to make men less reluctant to carry diaper bags. In fact, all camera bags now look like diaper bags. Compare your favorite bag to the Skip-Hop one on the left or the Fisher-Price in the center. Or the Diaper Dude one on the right. “Diaper Dude.” Nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

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But enough diversions. On to the countdown of benefits!

1. Reasonable cargo capacity. You can drop a Fuji 6×9 in no problem – so long as it does not have an external viewfinder attached. Also takes a Rolleiflex with no problem. Obviously also fits a Leica or two.

2. Not ballistic nylon. Grey canvas. Incase has figured out — unlike Domke — that canvas is best put on the outside and that something less abrasive is better on the inside.

3. Plenty of padding. The other thing that is infuriating about Domke is the banging around of equipment. Unless of course you use a padded insert – which pretty mich defeats the whole purpose of a Domke in the first place. The Ari at least has some soft stuff inside.

4. Light colored interior. Not hard to see things. Nowhere for small parts to hide.

5. No decoration. Well, save for a cute step-wedge on the back. The color of the bag might qualify as a good neutral grey for color-balancing purposes.

6. Virtually no labeling on the bag. You can’t read Ari’s signature, and the word Ari (on a small fabric tag) looks like a manufacturer’s label.

7. Zips from the top. This is quieter and more convenient than the flap-over nightmares. Also naturally stays open when unzipped, which is helpful for inserting and removing equipment without scratching.

8. Strap that is adjustable for length while you are wearing it. Really easy – pull the plain metal buckle to tighten, pull the metal buckle with the fabric attachment to loosen. Note this; this bag does not come with directions explaining that.

9. Tripod strap on the bottom. If you bicycle, this can hold an air pump.

10. Slot for an iPad. The furry inner pocket of this does not hold a full-size tablet, but the slot itself does.

Not sure about these things:

1. Grab handle on the side. This is useful provided that your cameras are not going to jump the partitions inside the case if the case is turned 90 degrees. But better than nothing if you want to tie the bag down or pull it off a carry-on bin shelf.0ad374e4b336334727a865ad692dbf54.jpg2. Rain cover. Not sure because it is something no one will admit to using on account of its, ahem, unique design. Many report using it inside-out. By the way, when you buy the bag, the cover is hidden in a bottom zippered compartment that is very easy to miss.359de656f5c9e575002a734546a035e8.jpg3. Point-and-shoot pocket. If your p/s camera is a thin one that is somehow not going to lose its nice finish by being repeatedly dragged through a […] dentata, the point and shoot pocket serves its intended function. The zippered opening under the magnetic flat is too narrow for any but the thinnest cameras, let alone your hand. Some tests:

  • Olympus Stylus Epic (mju 1) (tiny p/s): reasonable fit if you shield the camera from the zipper with your hand
  • Yashica T4 Super (midsize p/s): same; a little more snug
  • Contax TVS (midsize p/s): gold finish will not be there long
  • Canon Sure Shot Multi Tele (fat f/s): no way
  • Canon Sure Shot 120 Caption (fat p/s): no way
  • Konica Hexar AF (full-size): for the love of God, man, think of what you are doing!

Yet it does have some advantages unrelated to its stated purpose: you could run headphone wires out of it easily, as well as pull your wallet out. But keeping your wallet in a piece of luggage might actually cross the thin line between a camera bag and a man-purse.c23c3eb53028e575ae11553a7d6821ec.jpg

Room for Improvement:

1. Set in its ways. It is no secret that Ari designed this bag for his own use – as the video states. It is designed around a Canon 5D, a Leica film rangefinder (as you can see from Incase’s product shot, a Contax G2 has to stand in), and a compact camera (from the looks of it in the video – in the stock photo below, the compact camera is replaced by two rolls of film, an iPhone, and a Moleskine). Other configurations work, but the two removable dividers and the point-and-shoot pocket can only be removed, not repositioned!

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The second picture is a real-world load of this bag, showing a chrome-plated Fuji G690BL (don’t ask…), 100/3.5AE lens, 50mm lens and an extra 72mm filter, and a Fuji X100 (looking like a fetal G690BL…). To the left you see a pro-pack of TMY 120. The “point and shoot” pocket holds Sekonic L-358 meter and a Tascam DR-40 audio recorder. The upper zipper pocket holds a spare X100 battery and a 50mm viewfinder.openbag.jpg

Here’s another, showing a 2.8GX Rolleiflex (sporting a 2.8F viewfinder/reflex hood…), Leica M typ 240, and SF 58 flash in the main part, a Leica battery and TMY120 in the side pockets, a Rollei E46 filter adapter in the top pocket, and a Tascam and 46mm filters in the point-and-shoot pocket. Now think, with an M10, you could fit an extra folded up piece of A4 paper in the extra 3mm you would have!

openbag2.jpg2. Uno strap senso unico. The strap only has one direction: worn on the left shoulder, crossing over the body. This is important to remember because there is no double shoulder pad to cover right-shoulder use (in the photo below, you can see that the second pad cannot be moved because it is sewnin place). The orientation also puts the grab handle on the wrong side of the bag. I tested the “wrong” orientation, and indeed it is unconfortable compared to the “correct” one. On a 10-mile pleasure bike ride, this bag with 8 pounds of equipment in it is actually pretty uncomfortable on the shoulder. Part of this comes from the seat-belt-style shoulder strap. It’s a great material, but where right-shoulder use does not have a pad that wraps over the shoulder, the web part of the strap ends up digging into your shoulder.

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3. Missing stabilizer. One place where Crumpler wipes the floor with other brands is in the use of a stabilizer strap that helps keep a fully loaded bag from swinging around and hitting the handlbars. Although you can mitigate some of this with the Ari by tightening up the straps, it is still capable of swinging around on you. It can also work its way to being at angles where it might lost stuff out the top if unzipped.

Conclusion

All joking aside, the Ari Marcopolous bag is fairly nice, especially at its closeout price of $120. It is a little quirky and is the kind of thing you would want to buy with a return privilege. Just in case you and Ari are not on the same page.

Metz 45CL-4 Digital + SCA3045 + SCA3502 M5 + Leica M typ 240

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„Beatific look” its Metz part no. SCA 999S

A long introduction

It’s a little bit difficult to understand why Leica and Metz have such a strange relationship. It is no secret that Metz makes Leica’s flashes, but it is surprising that when it comes to the SCA system and TTL operation, Metz is just as much a stranger to Leicas as it is to Nikons.

The Metz 45, like the Vivitar 283, is one of the most timeless flash designs that exists. Since the 45CT-1 of the late 1970s, Metz 45 series flashes have been the gold standard in light output. automatic flash exposure accuracy and light quality (meaning that the diffusers actually work, and the light has a nice warm tone to it). The massive 6 x AA battery pack and solid bracket add to the fun. These are flashes that mean business.

But since 1979, Metz has leaned heavily on modules rather than dedicated flashes. It actually did a remarkable job in adapting the 45 CL series to TTL cameras, and there was a module for every application, and for good measure also slave modules and even basic hot shoe modules. Digital, however, has presented its own challenges. Digital “TTL” systems actually do look through the lens, but they typically look at preflashes rather than cutting off the main flash. Because the architecture of the 45 series did not allow for multiple flashes in a cycle (also necessary for High Speed Synch), Metz introduced the 45CL-4 Digital, which has that capability.

The 45CL-4 Digital functions like a 45CL-4 in most ways. You need to add an SCA3000 connecting cord and your choice of SCA3000-series module to get TTL operation on a film camera. Automatic operation requires nothing but a PC cord. But to get E-TTL (Canon), i-TTL (Nikon), and GNC (Leica), you need an SCA3045 connecting cord and one of the latest generation modules (M10 for Nikon; M5 for Leica). If the title of this post seems complicated, that’s because connecting all of these things is.

The strange irony is that using older modules leads to additional (but erratic) functionality, all of which revolves aroud HSS (high-speed synch). A Nikon M8 module with a D700 will high-speed synch some of the time (but only, it appears, at 1/1000 sec and faster). A Leica M3 module with the M typ 240 gives you high-speed synch sometimes – but most of the time just shoots off a full-power flash blast. The newer versions don’t allow HSS. When I pressed Metz on this, I learned, at least for the Nikon, that the HSS synch protocol changed between the film and digital Ms, and that it’s just a coincidence that it works. Yikes.

But back to our story. The SCA 3045 M5 on the M typ 240 gives you GNC (Guide Number Control), which is a limited form of M-TTL. It shoots a pre flash, measures it, and then shoots the main flash. Although some deride it as not being “true TTL,” it is conceptually identical to how all M-TTL flashes work. The only catch is that it is slower between flashes and lacks exposure compensation capability. When the “GN” switch is set on the module, a green light on the module glows (odd – because the same module doesn’t do that on the 54MZ-3).

A short statement on performance

Let’s say this: it works. Automatic modes are generally accurate (if slightly underexposed – which is ok for digital), and GNC is right on the money.

The GNC system does not seem to be fooled by sun in the frame (likely because the Leica TTL sensor is too primitive to see things off x). The double flash should be fine for all adult subjects; children may react to the pop-pop and blink. Contrary to the instructions, the flash does work with GNC with bounce and/or the use of the secondary reflector (as seen in the shot above, which is even more remarkable considering that it was taken in a stainless steel box).

Using this flash in with the camera shutter set to A mode, once the shutter speed crosses the maximum synch speed, the camera does not fire the flash.

Versus the SF 58

The Leica SF 58, at least used, is about the same price as a fully configured 45CL-4 digital. The SF 58 is very well integrated, supporting fast TTL operation (preflash to flash), exposure comp for TTL, high-speed synch, and automatic zooming to match the focal length of whatever lens is on the camera (assuming 6-bit coding or manual selection). It should be a killer, right?

It’s not as much as you would think. The Metz is deficient in some ways, but it is considerably ahead of the SF 58 in terms of flexibility to use with other cameras, simple controls, putting the flash off the lens axis, and POWER, both in terms of the size of the battery pack and its output. The 45CL-4 is rated for 45m at at 35mm field of view; the SF 58 (like the Metz 58 it is derived from) only hits 58m at the 105mm reflector setting; it’s only GN 35 at 35mm.  It is also very difficult to beat the 45 series accessory infrastructure, which includes two of types diffusers (pebbled and opaque white), a telephoto extender, a bounce card, colored reflectors, slave units, and NiMH battery packs.

For social use, indoors, the SF 58 has an edge because it can be taken down and set up quickly. Its balance still is a little awkward, since it seems to be designed for the much larger S series cameras.

# # # # #

Pixi Dust

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Small camera supports represent the Kobayashi Maru scenario: an unwinnable conflict between competing considerations. For keeping a camera steady, particularly for video, a regular tripod starts large and gets larger – and the little “mini-pods” are useless (in many cases, the legs only spread to one position). In any event, the heads of most of these devices are not up to holding anything more than a flat point-and-shoot camera of the early 2000s.

The Manfrotto Pixi, which you can buy at Target as a $25 impulse (same price as Amazon before sales tax, so no need to showroom), is an interesting addition to the mix.  Constructed mostly of ABS plastic with a pushbutton ball head (push to move the ball, release to lock), it is probably the sturdiest baby tripod currently made and definitely the best one ever sold at a convenience store. The design is very organic (anatomic?), particularly in white (it also comes in black and some two-tone combinations like red/black and pink/black).

Opened, it raises your camera approximately 5 inches and puts it on an equilateral leg spread of about 6 inches on a side. For small tripods, the added height is always negligible. The real thing is being able to change the angle of inclination of the camera (consider that you can put the camera and tripod on top of any box-like object and use the ball head to fine-tune the aim). For this, the Pixi has a real ball 25mm ball head, machined with grooves to be clamped. The platform is rubberized (as are the feet) and features the ubiquitous 1/4 x 20 tripod thread. If you have gaffer-taped the bottom of your M, it will make a good contact. For a Rolleiflex, on the other hand, you might want to make sure your 3/8 to 1/4 bushing is flat on the bottom of the camera. Heavier cameras with off-center sockets (like Leica M film cameras) may give awkward balance.

The push button on the Pixi’s ball head has been the subject of some discussion; it is stiff, and it should be stiff – since it is the only thing that keeps your camera from going nose-down on the table.

The weight capacity is another issue. The capacity is nominally 1kg (2.2 pounds). People have put much larger loads on this tripod, and it indeed will hold the weight. Dynamic load capacity, however, is not the same as static – and as such, the steadiness will diminish as the load (and stress on that load) increases (consider also wind and vibration in the environment). Understand that operating the controls on a Leica M with a moderately sized lens (which can hit 3 lbs) will cause deflection in the legs when you press the M[ovie] button. So 1kg really means 1kg* unless you are willing to wait for a little “settling” at the beginning and end of the work (and with telephotos, you may need to use a remote release – the Pixi documentation specifcally mentions 85mm as the limit). So in summary:

  • Micro 4/3 or APS-C camera with small lens = Yes.
  • Fuji GA645 series (815g) = Yes, but use the self-timer.
  • DSLR = yes for small ones, hell no for pro and semi-pro models.
  • Leica M (min. 680g) = Yes, but only with a small lens.

*Unless you are talking about the body, which is limited to 650g.

The static/dynamic weight thing afflicts real tripods too; one of the best tripods going is (was) the Linhof 2- or 3-section (Profi-Port-Stativ series), but that 5kg weight capacity means that heavy cameras need to be treated gingerly. In fact, Linhof’s own Super-Technika cameras were almost too heavy for these tripods (you would use a cable release, though, under most circumstances).

Closed, the Pixi operates as a handle. It is possible that most true mini tripods could function the same way; however, the legs fit together such to create a handle for over-the-head work or for video work (one would suppose, if you like the “steadicam” look). For overhead work, it helps to have a camera with an articulated screen that can be pointed down. It is unclear in use whether it actually helps steadiness for handheld video; the benefit seems to come mainly from the extended grip.

Is it worth it? Anything that costs less than your monthly cellular usage is probably not worth agonizing about. The Pixi is highly functional and attractive – and likely merits the 7 oz in your bag if you think it would help your work. And the color? White. Definitely white. Not for that Space Odyssey thing but rather because light-colored objects are harder to lose in camera bags.

That $15 Kaiser job, or, a brief history of lens caps

Jar lids, my friends.

Jar lids, my friends.

As Vincent Vega once said, “That’s a pretty fucking good milkshake. I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty f—ing good.”

There are only two reasons to buy a $15 lens cap (item plus shipping). One is that you are filthy rich. The other is that it’s a pretty f—ing good cap.

Over the thousands hundreds of years that optical manufacturers have been making lenses, caps have been an afterthought. In the beginning, they were leather and promoted mold. Through the late 20th century, they were beautifully finished metal (or infrequently hard plastic) and predominantly relied on a friction fit to stay in place – and became useless as soon as they were dented or their felt linings became loose, grit-filled, or otherwise nasty. The 1980s brought the pinch cap; a thin plastic plate with spring-loaded tabs that engaged maybe 2 cm total of the circumference of the lens. This was easily knocked off and did not even effectively keep dust out.  The 1990s version was the center-pinch variant, where the release mechanism could be operated even if a lens hood prevented the user from reaching the side-tabs. One almost has to wonder if the utter failure of lens cap design drove the UV-filter-as-protection craze, since it’s much easier to keep a filter screwed on than it is to keep a lens cap on.

To get back to the point, the Kaiser 206951 lens cap ($15 shipped at the usual places) is an excellent alternative. It is made of a semi-flexible plastic and basically stretches and suctions onto your lens. Size it 2mm larger than your filter size, and off you go. In testing so far on an X100, it fits snugly over a B+W F-Pro filter and creates an airtight seal that prevents pocket lint from getting in. Although it is not shown in the picture, many sizes of the 2069xx have lanyard loops so that they can be tied to strap rings or otherwise tethered so they don’t get away. This is a great example of a product that is well-designed, simple, and functional. Does it cost a little more than some Chinese pinch cap that you can buy for a buck, airmailed, because both the manufacture and shipping is heavily subsidized? Yes. But is it better? Absolutely.

Lens caps might seem like something simple and silly, but they fit into a category of product whose only value lies solely in its functionality. We would be lucky if every accessory were as well designed as that $15 Kaiser lens cap.