180303 Support - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

It's hard to tell, but I do try to avoid talking about equipment here. Not only is gear-talk something that's quickly outdated, I hardly need the temptation to spend more time thinking about things instead of images. But sometimes the gear does matter, and I've made so many macro upgrades in the past little while that I need to get it out of my system.

The photo shows my new equipment. Every piece works superbly.

A Fuji XT2 with the 80/2.8 macro lens does the imaging. With VR off and electronic shutter on, triggered remotely and on a solid tripod, it's simply outstanding. And instead of using speedlights, as I did with the Big Nikon and 85PCE, there's an LED panel adding a bit of light to this photo. The photo itself was taken with the X100F, which I've come to think of simply as "my other camera", despite having many others that could apply to. Yes, I'm slowly becoming all-Fujifilm, although I remain brand-agnostic otherwise: the XT2 is wearing a Nikon AN-4B camera strap, which doesn't include any metal to scratch the camera finish, and a Canon RS60 cable release.

But the real star is the support system, which I expect to keep using long after everything else here is gone.

The tripod is the Jobu Designs Algonquin. Not only is it named after a (relatively) nearby Provincial Park, it was made in Toronto. It took me only 45 minutes by TTC to reach their southern Etobicoke factory from my home, which still blows my mind. And the carbon fibre tripod is amazing – easily the match of the more expensive competitors that I've seen. Combined with the Arca Swiss P0 ball head it laughs at the meagre weight that I put on it, but this way I can add a few pounds of focusing rails, or use my GX680iii on it, without coming close to its capacity. I see no reason why I wouldn't still be using this set in twenty years.

The Algonquin's size is perfect for my almost-six-foot height. With a head attached the 62" extended length becomes tall enough that its three sections can put the camera above my eye level. And as a bonus its collapsed length is just short enough that it doesn't brush the ground when I'm dangling it from the ballhead, although I don't usually carry it that way. There's a spare Think Tank Photo camera strap attached so that it drapes down two of the legs slightly when I'm using the tripod, but lifts by the canopy when I'm transporting it longer distances with the camera detached.

The quirky ballhead has also been working out nicely, both at home and in the field. I do like that it's actually Arca Swiss, not "-compatible", and that I picked it up from its importer, B3K Digital, which is a walkable distance from my home. Despite its looks it's the least fussy head I've ever used. The ring to tighten the head works well with gloves, and putting the panning mechanism on top of the tilting mechanism is a certain kind of brilliant. It's not suitable for multi-row panoramas, but has worked out well for everything else so far.

And there are two final bits holding the camera. I bought the Jobu offset plate-clamp as soon as I saw it – they also make one to go from Arca dovetail to Manfrotto 200PL if that's more your thing. The body of the clamp and plate are a single piece, removing any concerns about strength, and it's amazing. Used as shown it lets me centre the camera+lens better over the tripod, and it can also be used to set the lens nodal point over the rotational axis for better panoramas. But my favourite use is as a 'zoom', letting the camera slide forward or backwards to adjust framing instead of needing to scooch the whole tripod around. At close distances this make a huge difference, and the camera can also mount facing the other way for those times when extra proximity is needed. Like I said, amazing, and far simpler and lighter than my focusing rails for the times when I don't need their precision.

The last part is decidedly less remarkable, but the Really Right Stuff L-Bracket also does the job without complaint, and is definitely nicer than the eBaymazon knockoffs I've bought in the past. The vertical plate is only on the camera when I think I'm likely to need it, but the base plate lives on the XT2 all of the time. That allows me to carry the camera vertically right-side-up, which is better than horizontal carry for absolutely everything. The straps is out of the way when it's wrapped around my arm or dangling from the camera on the tripod, and lets the camera keep a lower profile when it's hanging from my shoulder. My Fuji GA645zi is designed for this, and I wish it was standard. 


But wait, there's more! 

I can't finish off without quickly mentioning the new XF 50mm f/2 lens that I've also added to the set. It's becoming my general-purpose lens for when I'm not using the X100F. The XT2+50/2 isn't quite as talented as the X100F at night photography, but that's a high bar, and its decent close-focusing abilities mean I haven't missed my XF60mm macro at all. There have already been times when I've switched to the 50 instead of the 80 for product photography.

The XT2+50/2 is small enough that it can get away with my little RRS ball head and 1-series basalt Gitzo, but it still usually ends up on the Jobu. That leaves the little tripod – my oldest piece of equipment that's still in regular use – dedicated to the X100F in non-windy weather. That's a good combination, which weighs less than the Algonquin and P0 alone, for when I go on long walks in nature. But for nights in the city, with its constant traffic and vibration, heavy will still win.


Back to photos next, I promise.


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