Greetings on this wonderful spring weekend. I spent a few magical hours at Shaw Nature Reserve yesterday. Spring migrants have begun to arrive and I was quite fortunate to gather a nice list for this time of year as well as some great looks. For reasons not worth mentioning, I did not have my bird lens, but enjoyed the day and the hike, nonetheless.
A bit of a different subject matter for me today. Normally I won’t speak much to gear on this blog. But, when I find something I find interesting, that I think is a great value and that might help fill a void in someone else’s kit, I will try and mention it here.
Today I will be doing two things: 1) giving a quick review of a new product from LensCoat and 2) giving a rundown of the new travel kit I have put together for when I want a supertelephoto in a light and easy to transport package.
I have used a number of LensCoat products, including the Lens Coats, Hoodie Lens Caps, Rain Coats and Gimbal Cover. The latest from LensCoat that has gotten me all excited is the Travel Hood.
I know what you are thinking; “Holy cow, where can I get a cylinder just like that one!” Yes, unless you are a big-lens photographer, particularly one that uses a rather disappointing Canon product, there will be nothing in this post that grabs your attention. Let me give you some background that will explain two reasons this is so exciting for me.
Chances are, if you have owned or used a Canon supertelephoto lens, then you know about a particularly horrendous design flaw concerning the tension screw that holds the lens hood to the lens body. The lens hood is designed to be removable in order to turn it around for easier storage options. The problem is that these tensioning screws tend to wear out and not behave as intended, leading to a good deal of hassle to get these things tightened down. I’m sorry I don’t have the engineering background to describe such a simple problem, but trust me, both the lens hoods for my 500mm f4.5 and 500mm f4 I.S. have been showing this on occasion. OK, so just order a new tension screw, right? Nope. Both of these lenses are out of production and, if one were able to easily find one, they are not easily replaced. OK, so just order a new lens hood. How much could it cost for an aluminum or carbon fiber tube? When I have seen these available, they have been at or above $600. You can find some folks on the web that have the do-it-yourself capability of being able to make something out of plexiglass, carbon fiber, plastic plant pot, etc… I am not one of those fortunate ones.
Another and more important reason I have been looking for an alternative is space and weight savings in moving and storing this equipment. Even with turning the lens hood around, it still takes up a good amount of space in addition to the giant lens itself. I have slowly been working on developing a light and space saving means to take a large supertelephoto lens, in my case my 500mm f4.5 in a smaller, less conspicuous bag. The LensCoat TravelHood has helped me to do just that.
I wanted a bag I knew would make it through any interpretation of the carry-on rules and I found a minimalist, inexpensive bag that has plenty of compartments and adjustments in this Sandpiper bag pictured below. Even the name is perfect… 😉
This pack should work great for trips that will require air travel, – either work, business or combination. When I want to minimize weight, bulk, and setup time, I have been carrying the gear seen below in this bag with good success.
My light telephoto kit includes the 500mm f4.5 lens, the Canon 7d camera body (stored detached from the lens), the TravelHood (stored collapsed), a short and light monopod (MeFoto) – good, but I would not want to use gear that is any heavier with this one, and a monopod head that I picked up used (Kirk brand). This has been working great. In an upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, I plan on traveling with this gear along with a landscape lens or two, binoculars, a laptop or tablet, a field guide and all the necessary accessories for such a trip. Because the Sandpiper bag has no protective padding to speak of, I bought the cheapest foam sleeping pad I could find and have lined the inside and bottom of the bag with this. Everything is nice and snug and relatively well balanced.
I wanted to make a point about all the options that are currently available for smaller supertelephoto that are available on Canon systems. I already owned this lens and want to take advantage of its superior imaging, but if you are starting from scratch and want to stay smaller, lighter and cheaper, there are some very nice options out there, both from Canon and third party lens manufacturers.
Back to the Travelhood. Here is the simple item unfolded.
The materials are good quality, there are a number of colors available for the outside and the inside is black, as expected. Only time will tell, but the velcro and other materials look as though they will last, although ask me again in a couple of years after a few hundred uses. The fit is nice and snug and the hood keeps its shape. I have taken it through some thick brush and it comes out as well as the original hood. It stays in place and does not become deformed under normal to slightly rough handling. I think it should even work a bit as a shock absorber in case you drop your rig, but, obviously not as much as the original, hard hood.
To place the hood, the designers have created a kind of tongue-in-groove fit that is easily followed.
Simply follow this around and tighten the velcro support straps. A little practice is needed, as you want the velcro tight enough to keep the hood attached as well as keep its cylindrical shape. Too tight and you might deform the shape, resulting in partial blockage of the field of view. The current hoods are actually designed to fit a couple of specific Canon and Nikon lenses, but it looks as though there is enough of a range that it should fit many older supertelephotos. Contact LensHoods if you want their opinion.
I’ll be sure to update if my opinion of this product significantly changes or if there are any new developments. Here is what the working kit looks like put together…