Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fotodiox Pro Filter Adapter / F-Stop Loka Bag

Kathryn Lake, Sawtooth Mountains - Idaho. 14mm, with circular polarizer.

Fotodiox Pro Filter Adapter / F-Stop Loka Bag  

It’s been a while since I had time to slip in some comments here on this blog, or anywhere for that matter, since last spring. During that period of time, when I was laid up from a ski-injured knee, I managed to eek out a few ripe photography pearls, and an odd article here and there for magazines. However, once the knee was healed, it was back to work as usual, and my entries here died on the vine. So, without further adieu, I would like to briefly talk about the Fotodiox Filter Adapter for the Nikon 14-24mm lens, and the F-Stop Loki camera pack.

When I changed over to the Nikon D800, paired with the Nikon 14-24mm lens, I was terrified by the dome of crystal that bulged from the front of the barrel. Thankfully, I have learned to love this lens, and find myself less anxious about the optics - having learned some basic protection skills, and discovering the real value of the Fotodiox adapter.

For $249 I have seamlessly integrated the occasional need for a circular polarizer and the often-needed lens protection factor. The build quality, materials, and optical clarity of this simple kit took me quite by surprise. The f/2.8 14-24 ED lens has a magnificent field of view, and I was nervous about vignetting – no problem. It is such a heavy lens that the added weight of the adapter doesn’t really make a noticeable difference.

Vignetting was my primary concern as the corners of the 14-24mm are very sharp. I didn’t want to loose my full frame view due to soft, and perhaps dark, corners – which would require a post process crop. To my delight, there is no vignetting with this filter adaptor – even with the filter in place. I sometimes correct the lens distortion in Lightroom, but even if I don’t there is no appreciable vignetting.

I was mostly concerned about using the polarizer during mid-day, with lots of sky. Images captured in shade, containing moving water, are a simple thing – adjust the tripod, twist the polarizer to see ‘into’ the water, and click! But broad daylight with sky – that is usually a recipe for disaster. Typically, a polarizer will only darken a narrow portion of the sky, leaving the final image with an unnatural dark blue wedge in the sky. Additionally, you may not even see this in the LCD screen, on site – but may only discover this bizarre sky tragedy when you are at home, all cozy, and viewing RAW images on the 30” Apple monitor.

Somehow, while I was shooting in the springtime desert world of Canyonlands in Utah, I did not get this ‘death wedge’ of dark blue sky. In fact, I got tonally pleasing enhanced skies at even 14mm! I am unsure of the why’s or how’s, all I know is that I used the polarizer at 1pm (the death zone) and got images that were more than acceptable, in fact, they were quite good.

The Dollhouse - Canyonlands, at 14mm.
The polarizer produced no problems with the sky.
 The filter adapter was mounted onto my camera for about 50% of the 7-day expedition. Only a fraction of the time was the circular polarizer in place. The gigantic 145mm lens cap was in place 100% of the time while it was mounted. Not only does the adapter give you a little more flare reduction, it also gives you some cushion while climbing through slot canyons and dodging the occasional willow snap-back. The lens cap is robust, and never came off without my work to remove it. Even if, somehow, an errant branch were to dislodge it, there is no way on earth you would not know it had hit the ground – think of dropping a Frisbee made out of Melmac – the dinnerware of the 50’s (polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride).

Fotodiox also sells split neutral density filters for this adapter kit, but I have become very comfortable with image exposure blending in Photoshop and have found no need for these extra on-site optical tools.

Fotodiox has produced an amazingly engineered lens hood/adapter/circular polarizer for the boutique Nikon 14-24 lens. If NASA was creating delicately milled aluminum components for the optics of a Jupiter probe, I like to think that this is what it would look like.

F Stop Loka. Petrified tree roots, The Maze, Canyonlands Utah.
The F Stop Loka camera bag was another joyous discovery through Trey Ratcliff’s website, “Stuck in Customs”. At 37 liters (2250 cubic inches), this pack is perfect for an entire day on location with all of my gear. And by gear I mean: Nikon D800, 14-24mm lens, 24-70mm lens, 70-200mm lens (the holy trinity), shutter release, Fotodiox Filter and polarizer, batteries, memory, cleaning cloths, business cards, etc. and – water bottle (or bladder), food, rain jacket, ski hat, gloves, fuzzy jacket, personal locator beacon (PLB), sunglasses, minimal climbing gear (mostly for anchoring camera bag to a wall), and my carbon fiber tripod. This backpack, including the Internal Camera Unit (ICU), weighs about 3.5 pounds.

Screen Shot from

The ICU is one of the most unique features of this professional level camera pack. When you purchase the pack, you also have to choose the internal container for the camera gear. Without the ICU, you would just have a large empty daypack – not a bad thing, but that is not why you dropped $330. The ICU’s come in different sizes and shapes, and hold varying amounts of camera equipment.  The “Pro Large” was my choice of ICU. These padded ‘cubes’ of nylon dividers and Velcro straps stuff into the backpack and lock into place with Velcro tabs. Now, here is the best part – to access the contents, you zip open the part of the backpack that lies against your back. Different, huh? Usually you throw your pack into the snow or dirt with the shoulder straps facing down, which gets them all wet or nasty. Not so with the F-stop. The engineers there have put a lot of thought into the design, and decided to have you place the waterproof back panel of the pack into the snow and dirt – not the shoulder straps, brilliant!

The size of the Loka does not allow for overnight hikes, but F Stop makes a much larger version, the Satori, which is a 62 liter pack and quite capable of lightweight overnight exploits. For multi-day adventures I still use my tried and true set-up – years in the making, which will be the discussion for a later blog.

It is a little difficult to explain how this pack works, so I will suggest going to the website and watching a few of their videos. I can honestly say that this is the best camera bag I have ever owned – weddings, model shoots, street shooting, skiing, mountain and desert canyon day trips – it just works so well. Super rugged, well designed and manufactured, this pack has totally replaced almost all of my old Lowepro bags (which I thought would never happen).
Whispering Stones, Kona Coast - Hawaii.

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