July 22, 2015 | By Nick Carver
Camping Essentials: ARB Awning
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I love camping. Aside from the solitude, quiet, and photo ops it affords, I also just love the gear. A good, reliable product that makes the adventure more comfortable, easier, or safer is worth its weight in gold. Because if I'm honest, camping can be a huge pain in the ass. Setting up camp, tearing it down...trying to cook with bugs all around...the heat, the cold... There's a reason most people would rather stay in a hotel.
As a resident of Southern California, I do much of my camping in the local deserts. My proximity to them has fostered a deep fondness for the arid landscape. And when you're out in the desert, your biggest enemy is the sun and the heat. That's why some good, quick shade is a must for desert traveling.
Enter the ARB Awning.
This style of awning is a camping essential in the world of overland expeditions (4x4 camping). It attaches to the roof of your 4x4 and sets up quick for when you need shelter from the elements. As a landscape photographer, I find it invaluable at camp or when I'm stopping for photos along the journey.
Aside from shade, this awning would be invaluable in the rain. One of my favorite things in the world is to sit out and listen to a rainstorm. Get me out to the desert in a steady rain and I'm in hog heaven. Throw in some scattered thunderstorms and I might never leave. In the past I've always been stuck in my driver's seat to view it through my windshield, but with this awning, in just a few minutes I can have a shelter set up that will not only allow me to soak in the desert sounds while staying dry, but I can even take pictures from underneath it.
Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of this ARB 2000 Awning. I'm actually surprised it's not a more expensive item. The tarp is heavy duty, waterproof, and UV protected...it would take a lot to damage this thing. The support poles are lightweight aluminum that lock with a simple twist to the proper height/length. I was very pleased to see just how stable this awning is once set up. With how lightweight the poles are, I wasn't expecting it to be super strong, but I think it could hold up to some tough weather. With the legs staked down and the guy wires attached, it feels incredibly rigid.
Set up is a piece of cake. ARB claims it can be set up in 30 seconds. With 2 people I actually believe that figure, but doing it solo is a little trickier and will take a few minutes. I've only ever set it up solo, which can be a bit awkward and unwieldy to do, but it's not too difficult. I imagine the 8-foot version (the ARB 2500 Awning) would be nearly impossible to set up solo for many people. The 4-foot version (the ARB 1250 Awning) would be a breeze. Each awning model extends away from the truck about 8-feet.
When the awning is rolled up, there is really no "wiggle room" to cause rattling. It's held in tight with 2 velcro straps in an impressively small package. The rolled up awning stays protected under a strong nylon reinforced PVC bag closed with thick zippers. The protective bag is actually one of the most impressive aspects of this ARB awning. You can tell they didn't cut corners here at all. It's going to experience more punishment from the elements than any other part of this awning, so they made sure it was heavy-duty and built to last. I drove around in the rain quite a bit at highway speeds and not a drop of water got past the protective bag.
ARB also makes some awesome accessories for the awning like a mosquito net, a sidewall, and an enclosed room. I have the enclosed room to serve as a kitchen and/or tent which I'll be showing to you in a future blog post and video.
So if you have a truck or SUV and you like to get out into the elements with it, check out the ARB awning. Camping essentials like this make the journey so much more enjoyable. And with the way it's built, I'm sure it'll last for years to come.
This blog post and video were not sponsored or endorsed by ARB 4x4 Accessories or any other company.
April 15, 2014 | By Nick Carver
I’m a fan of UV filters for DSLR cameras (here’s why). With a high-quality UV filter, you can get some peace of mind from a small investment without any penalty. High-end UV filters won’t degrade image quality regardless of what the Flickr forums tell you and they will protect the front of your expensive lens from sea spray, dirt, scratches, and even some serious falls.
I’ve also written about what I think is the best UV filter on the market (read that article here). So then what’s left? You know I’m for ‘em and you know what brand I like...
Well there’s one sneaky little option when it comes to purchasing a UV filter that you should know about: the slim UV filter.
The only difference between a slim UV filter and standard UV filter is that the slim version has no front thread on it. See, regular screw-in type photography filters have a male thread on the back that allows you to attach it to your lens (duh) and they usually have a female thread on the front of the filter that allows you to attach another filter on top of it, and another one on top of that, and another and another...
Standard UV Filters have a front filter thread like this
The slim UV filter, on the other hand, typically does not have a front thread. You can’t attach a filter on top of a slim UV filter. They are basically flat on the front - the outer ring is flush with the glass.
The idea is that with ultra wide-angle lenses, there’s a risk of vignetting from a standard UV filter. Vignetting is when the corners of your photo are darkened because the filter sticks out in front of the lens too far. It’s like looking through a tunnel. So someone came up with the bright idea of slicing off that front filter thread to reduce vignetting. It’s a smart idea. And hey, it’s not like anyone was using that front filter thread anyway...
So some say that for wide angle lenses, you need a slim UV filter otherwise you’ll get vignetting. Well, not exactly. A standard UV on even the widest angle lens might create vignetting, it might not. Depends how they engineered the lens. For instance, I have a Canon 16-35mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is the widest angle available second only to fisheye. My standard B&W 77mm UV filter (not slim) creates no vignetting even at 16mm. Take a look:
Even at 16mm, a standard UV gives me no vignetting
But maybe your wide angle lens does get vignetting with a standard UV filter. If that’s the case, you really have just 2 choices: either use a slim UV filter or don’t use one at all. Just remember that this filter is going to be on your lens all the time. So if you use a slim UV filter, your lens will no longer have a front filter thread available. And here’s the thing about having no front filter thread: you can’t use any other filters (goodbye polarizer and split ND filters) and you can no longer use a lens cap.
Sure, you could remove the UV anytime you want to use a polarizer or split ND, but that kind of defeats the whole point of having a UV filter to protect your lens. I’m betting that if there’s any time you’ll drop your camera, it’ll be when you’re trying to unscrew a UV and replace it with a polarizer. And sure, slim UV filters come with a replacement lens cap that slips over the top like a glove, but it’s going to pop off your lens much more often than a standard pinch cap.
So before you buy a slim UV filter, weigh the pros and cons of having no front filter thread in exchange for no vignetting. But most importantly, see if a standard UV filter is even going to create the vignetting you’re worried about.
And by the way, if you’re interested in learning more about filters for digital photography - a subject I’m very passionate about - check out my Filters for Nature Photography online course.
November 5, 2013 | By Nick Carver
The New Nikon Df
Pre-Order Yours at B&H Today!
I normally don't give a damn about new camera releases. But today Nikon announced a new full-frame DSLR camera that finally got my attention: the Nikon Df DSLR.
Except for gear heads who are really only into photography for the sake of getting new toys, newly announced cameras aren't that exciting. For one, they are just too frequent, and two, they generally offer new features and specs that actually aren't that big of a deal. "Ooo, more megapixels that no one needs? Awesome! And higher ISO limits even though everyone still won't shut up about digital noise? Fantastic! AND there's an in-camera HDR feature so I can create god-awful image composites without the need for Photoshop? I'm in!" We have enough megapixels already, the ISO goes high enough as it is for 99% of shooters, and we don't really need 63 auto focus points - a dozen or so is fine.
But here's the thing that irritates me most about modern digital cameras: It seems every manufacturer is moving away from buttons and dials, towards touch-screens and menu-based navigation. In other words, "Let's make our cameras more like an iPhone and less like a camera." Cameras should have buttons and dials on them. Things you can actually touch and see without the need for a blaring LCD screen. I've talked before about the importance of tangibility. Tangible buttons make adjusting your settings way quicker and easier. I've gotten my hands on almost every DSLR on the market through my classes and private lessons and I can say for certain that the slowest cameras to control are the ones with fewer buttons and more menu-based navigation (I'm talking to you, Nikon D5200).
Enter the Nikon Df DSLR.
Nikon clearly took a cue from the film SLRs of old. This thing has tangibility written all over it. Big clearly marked dials for shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, shooting mode, and drive mode rise proudly from the top of the camera - all the most important functions easily accessible. And the LCD screen up top isn't big and obnoxious displaying every single function from shutter speed to your current blood pressure. It just has the shutter speed, aperture, battery life, and images remaining - the only things you really need on the external LCD screen. And all of this in what I would describe as the most beautifully designed DSLR camera body since the F100. This camera is gorgeous, no doubt about it. With styling very similar to the Nikon FE from way back when, this camera will turn heads whether you get it in sleek black or throwback silver.
Now, of course, this thing has awesome specs inside like a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor with a max ISO of 12,800 (which can be pushed all the way to ISO 204,800), 100% viewfinder coverage, 39 auto focus points, a rugged body...all of these things are worthy of praise. But this camera is really about the design with the functionality of external dials, buttons, and levers. And don't think this radical departure in design is just for looks. Listen to a guy who has worked extensively with SLR cameras from just about every generation since their inception: these tangible controls make shooting quicker, easier, more intuitive, and much more gratifying. This new camera is a big deal in the war against intangibility. For that, I give it mad respect.
The Nikon Df DSLR, I think, will be one of those cameras displayed proudly on people's shelves 50 years from now as an iconic example of when camera manufacturers got it right. I hope to get my hands on one soon.