Review: Koolehaoda Tripod/Monopod

For the shots that you just can’t hand-hold the camera, you need a tripod. But who wants to lug that thing around? Travel tripods are very alluring, but how is there quality?

For our photography contest, my college club collected a few prizes together. While we were picking out our grand prize, I thought: “This is a great time to check out one of those travel tripods, and I don’t even have to spend a dime!”

So on the college books we collected our prizes, and I am very impressed with our lil’ compact tripod.

koolehaoda Q-666 SLR Camera Tripod Monopod & Ball Head Portable Compact Travel

Things I’m not totally sure of:

  • Ring tensions — These seem like the way to go, other than screw tension, as the plastic clasps tend to break, pooching a whole tripod. I’m not certain of how the rings function, so I can’t say for their longevity

  • I haven’t had the pleasure of using this for any amount of time, so I don’t know how parts will loosen or break down in the future.

    IMG_7532 All The Gear
    Tripod dismantled and re-assembled into monopod form. All the goodies here came in the box. From the top: plush case to cover the ball head, small tool kit for field tightening and repair (an allen key, pretty much), padded soft-case for whole tripod, shipping box, main body, detachable leg and centre column

Cost:

$99.99 – $120

IMG_7525 Bag Compare
Here is a pack-size comparison to a Manfrotto of similar build. The Koolehaoda tripod fits into a bag roughly 2/3 the size of the Manfrotto. Also, the Manny (which cost nearly $200) came with no carrying method. This is a bag from a $40 tripod. Kool came with a sling bag and a carry strap attached to the main shaft, most visible in a photo below.

Fold size:

Folds to about 1 foot height, 6 or 8 inch diameter

IMG_7522 Dual Level Ball Head
The precision ball head on the Kool has dual levels and rubberized adjustment knobs.

Features:

  • Dual locking legs for height or width (helpful with macro)
  • Professional style ballhead with dual levels
  • Detachable centre column and leg for monopod use
  • Ring-style leg tensions
  • Carry strap on tripod and soft carry case
  • Centre column spring-loaded hook for weights (if it’s windy)

The build of this tripod appears very sturdy, but it’s mint and they always loosen up over time. Barring major physical abuse, this tripod should outlast any local $50 – $80 models, and the ring tensions seem unlikely to break (unlike the plastic clasps that are common to bargain models).

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Seen in the slideshow above, the tripod has a removable centre column and leg. Disassembling the tripod allows for it to be used as a monopod. First, unscrew the spring loaded hook at the base of the centre column. This will need to be placed somewhere (perhaps the nifty ballhead bag, and then placed inside the main bag with the remaining legs). This hook would be used to add weight to the tripod to steady it in wind. Next, loosen the centre column’s tension ring to remove it from the body. Then, unscrew the leg marked with the lock and orange collar. Finally, screw the leg into the centre column. Bam, monopod.

Yes, that is the most impressed look I am capable of.

More features, taller centre column extension, and added toolkit on a Manfrotto of about double the price.

IMG_7527 Chris Height
Max height? Here’s my college bud Chris standing just behind both tripods at full extension. Manny on the left, Kool on the right. He’s about 6′ 5″. Remember: without extending the centre column, tripods are sturdier. The Manny is taller without the centre columns extended.

Admittedly, the Manfrotto brand carries a lot of weight (respect-wise and on your back as well). I have no doubt in my mind that the Koolehaoda tripod would never outlast my Manfrotto, but the Manny didn’t come with a toolkit, and after less than five months of owning it I need to carry around an allen key to frequently tighten the ball head mount. Not impressed. It didn’t come with a bag, either.

Why do I recommend this tripod?

From my experience buying tripods, this is a good deal. Unless you’re shooting video and you need the control arm, the ball heads are magic to use. Not everyone likes them, but for me they are a godsend.

The price is right in the middle of cheap and expensive, and the build quality looks like it will hold up for a good deal of time. I’m nice to my gear, though. It might get left on a floor for a while, but it doesn’t get tossed around. When I replaced my previous $40 tripod it wasn’t totally broken, but the plastic clasp tension on one of the legs snapped in cold weather. There is no way to fix it, so I bought a Manny that I knew I could fix at a hardware store. As long as the rings hold up, everything else on this tripod seems easily replaceable.

 

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Speedlight Review (Yongnuo YN-560 II)

The search for a powerful, trustworthy speedlight that doesn’t cost $400 could leave someone penniless and frustrated. This flash is a good’n.

I bought this flash about a year ago to replace an ancient Vivitar. I still use the Vivitar in combination with the Yongnuo, but only that way.

Portable flash has come a long way since I had previously used it as a youngster with my mother’s Minolta Maxxum to photograph graffiti under bridges. When I got into the market for the devices, I was astounded at the prices. Canon marks flashes with real on-camera capabilities above $300. As a student, that is way out of my price range, and I was unwilling to gamble on 3rd party companies.

My mind was changed about a year ago in a photography for journalism course when my instructor told me that Yongnuo was a trustworthy brand. I was surprised to hear him advocate El-Cheapo when he was using $3000+ cameras, Canon speedlights and Pocket Wizards. He didn’t seem the type to pinch pennies on gear…

For more of my justifications for 3rd party companies, see To 3rd Party, or Not?

The YN-560 II is (almost) everything someone could want in a camera flash.

Almost, as it lacks proper pairing with Canon cameras, at least the SL1 and XT, and therefore cannot make use of the advanced flash settings. It seems a wireless transceiversystem (similar to Pocket Wizard) can add that capability, though.

It’s fairly powerful, with a guide number of 190′ at ISO 100 at 105mm zoom (it can light a subject almost 200 feet away when the camera is set to ISO 100 and the flash at maximum zoom).

Without knowing it, I tested this once. Photographing a subject across a pond that was roughly 100 feet wide, my idea was half-baked, but the flash did it’s job!

It also has all the movement to compete with name-brand flashes. It rotates and tilts so the photographer can use it on-camera and bounce the flash to avoid that direct lit, dimensionless, flat look. Also, red-eye is mostly eliminated because of the flash head’s height above the lens.

The YN-560 II has a recycle rate on its most powerful setting around 2.5 – 4 seconds, meaning it takes under four seconds for it to recharge and flash again. In continual flash mode, or the camera in drive mode, it fires at 1/4 power a maximum 3 times, and 1/8th a maximum of 7.

1/8th power with this flash can be plenty for 3/4 or taller portrait photography flashed through an umbrella at ISO 100 and apertures ranging up to f/8.

The build seems frail, though this flash has been dropped from a 6′ light stand up to… several… times… It still functions perfectly. As far as weather resistance, the battery compartment is most likely to be vulnerable, or perhaps where the swivel connects the flash head to the body. It’s not likely that it would last long in adverse conditions, but this one has survived a small share of condensation from temperature differences and misty/snowy days.

I’m probably really lucky about the tumbles it took, as well…

Used with Energizer 1.2v 2300 mAh NiMh batteries, the flash charges quickly. In power modes under 1/1 it functions for a long period before the strain on the batteries is noticeable, 50+ shots at 1/4.

No longer carried by companies like B and H due to updates in the product line, the flash is still available from sites like Amazon. An updated model may be adviseable since they’re in the same price range.

Yongnuo Speedlights on Amazon

Price Range:

  • $89 – $110

Features:

  • 90° degree tilt
  • 270° degree rotation
  • 24 – 105 zoom light focusing (24, 28, 35, 50, 70, 80, 105)
  • 1/1 – 1/128 power settings with 1/3 incremental stops between divisions
  • Notification sound for full charge/ ready to fire
  • Two slave modes for proper pairing with other flash and camera shutter
  • multi flash mode
  • Remote trigger cable and DC in covered by rubber flap
  • 109′ GN at 105mm, ISO 100

Power

  • Four AA batteries
  • Specified DC adapter

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Hand-Held Photography

Certain settings are impossible to use with certain lenses. It’s best to understand a few basic principles before setting out without a tripod.

There are many times when a tripod or extra gear is simply not practical. Without the extras, a photographer needs to know what their camera can produce in its bare-bones state.

Combine the photographic triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), controlled by the camera, and a lens of given focal length and the limitations are easy to see.

Most beginning photographers will have a “stock lens,” whatever the camera was sold with. This lens is often considered “slow.” The definition of a slow or fast lens refers to its aperture setting. Minimum apertures are often listed on the lens on the plastic surrounding the glass. Stock lenses are often in the range of f/3.5 – f/5.6.

A “slow” lens is not a bad lens, many stock lenses have impressive capabilities. You can also spend many hundreds of dollars on a slow lens.

The “f/#” is an equation for how “wide-open” the lens is. “f” being the diameter of the lens and the number being a division created by the iris blades. ISO is how fast a camera can record an image.

More on aperture and ISO later, if you are having trouble adjusting these settings you may need to switch into a Manual Mode

Aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together to determine how an image will look. Limitations to handheld photography will be seen when the shutter speed drops below a certain point, and will be further affected by the lens’ length. If your shutter speed is too slow, your body will move too much to take sharp pictures.

A rough rule that proves to be very effective is to match or exceed the focal length with the shutter speed. This rule is meant to take sharp images from a hand-held camera, it does not account for subject movement. Great for fruit stands, landscapes — just about any still subject. However, any photographer will have difficulty taking sharp pictures with a shutter speed of more than 1/30th of a second, no matter the focal length, unless the camera or lens has stabilization technology.

In practice, a lens with a focal length of 50mm has a minimum hand-held shutter speed of 1/50th of a second (1/50sec). A 300mm lens has a minimum 1/300sec shutter speed.

Having a “faster” lens (able to open up wider, has a small division number) will allow faster shutter speeds at lower ISO (high ISO is considered low quality due to grain). Further, depending on subject matter, the minimum hand-held shutter speed for a lens may not be fast enough. Careful, as well, as the closer a subject is the more pronounced the limited depth of field will be from a wide aperture.

My benchmark shutter speeds for portrait photography using ambient light (no flash) are 1/60sec and 1/125sec. I find these do a good job of eliminating blur from subject movement, and most of the time allow reasonable apertures with low ISO.

A good investment for any photographer is a 1.8 lens around 50mm. These can be found from name brands to match cameras from around $100 – $150. Gambling on 3rd party is out of the question for these as prices are very similar.

IMG_7181.jpg

All those extra stops open up a lot of light conditions to hand-held photography.

I use a Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. It’s my sharpest lens, runner up is the 18-55 EFS that the SL1 came with.

The only downfall of a prime lens (fixed focal length) is to adjust composition a lot of foot work needs to be done. No pampered zoom capabilities, but the trade-off is a very high quality lens for a low price. Take a deep breath and buy a step counter as well.

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

To 3rd Party, or Not?

The YN-560 is a huge upgrade from an old Vivitar. The price is right, it has a wide range of functions and seems durable (may have taken a few tumbles off of a light stand) but it does lack some features like TTL and rear curtain sync.

In the market for cameras and gear, there is a huge price gap between Functional and Extensive.

The Yongnuo brand seems to be a promising competitor in the Functional category. Their flashes have more power and often more ability than minimum functionality products from first market competitors.

For comparison, take the Canon 90EX: lower power output, no swivel, no zoom control. About $129. What it does have on the Yongnuo speedlights, though, is the ability to control other Canon flashes (where a transmitter and receiver system is necessary otherwise), and the benefit of custom functions from Canon cameras like rear curtain sync (which is useful for night-time photography).

The  Yongnuo YN-560 II is a more valuable on-camera flash. The Canon 90EX, not having swivel, zoom, tilt or height above the lens, pales in comparison. Someone with really deep pockets who could afford to buy Canon and nothing but Canon would benefit from the high-tech capabilities of the flashes, but on a budget the 3rd party products make sense.

The YN-560 II, at about $100, has the same physical functionality as the Canon 430EX III-RT, at about $400. YN also has two slave modes for syncing with other flashes (one flash can act as a “master” to trigger slaves) which closely mimics the Canon flash’s ability to control each other.

1 flash with many software capabilities, or 2 flashes with light stands and umbrellas?

This argument depends on your needs, but I value the versatility of many lights and simply can’t afford Canon models. Trustworthy 3rd party producers have allowed me to do things with photography that I would not have been able otherwise. Not without a much larger investment.

I would love to own Canon flashes. There are many times when the extra functionality would have made for great creative shots to add to my portfolio. Instead, I chose a route to quickest monetize my equipment and skill. It seems I made the right decision…

Yongnuo isn’t left in the dust for software capability, however. They keep releasing new models with better specs that remain in a similar price margin. Their new wireless system appears to be very promising, and even boasts TTL and Rear Curtain Sync. For about $400, when combined with two speedlights and light stands, this system allows a purchaser to gain greater capabilities for about the same price as a flagship Canon flash.

The Canon flashes, being all inclusive for functionality within themselves, are a tighter package. However, with slave mode on the Yongnuo flash, only two wireless transceivers are required to activate many lights. They don’t take up a lot of room in a camera bag.

Cautions with 3rd party products:

  1. Don’t drop them. Same goes for all camera gear, but these may not be made with the same durability.
  2. Keep away from water/dust. Again, this should be standard with all gear. A light mist is probably OK, but prolonged exposure should be avoided.

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Unlock the Real Potential of the SLR (Manual Modes)

I’ll be posting more detailed articles about these modes later, for the time being, you can check out your camera manual to get a good idea of how to use them…


 

Cameras these days advertise as “will do it all for you! An idiot could take pictures with this camera!” Wrong. You are the photographer. You decide on creative choices like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and angle. Also, a camera is an idiot in a lot of situations.

Because the camera is an idiot, I avoid program modes at all times. On a Canon camera, the running man, person, mountains… They are very functional in their specific conditions, but I am experienced enough (most of the time) to be fast without them. I just recently made a lot of use of the P mode, considered one of the creative modes on a Canon brand, but still too automated for my liking.

Tasked with photographing a fundraiser for a young-and-expecting women’s shelter, I was confounded by a tiny bar’s mixed-light. From the front, a huge bay door converted to windows provided a pool of natural light that faded away towards the back, where the left was a yellow-looking light and the right appeared to be tungsten lit.

First I shot with flash, eliminating ambient light with a fast shutter and closed aperture. I assume people will be annoyed with flash, so I avoid using it as much as possible. Especially in enclosed spaces. I then switched to natural light only, switching between a slow 18mm – 55mm EFS and a fast 50mm EF.

Near the window things went OK, but creatively was limiting. Anywhere else and people looked all sorts of odd colours. Trying to figure out the best settings left me chimping constantly, and I’m sure I missed a lot of moments. I decided on the P mode as my best option, and switched only my white balance for the latter half of the evening. I even gave up so much as to use auto-ISO, which isn’t as terrible as I always thought it would be. 

 

The “Creative Modes” are common in function in most DSLRs. They may have slightly different names, but they essentially perform the same. Some have extra modes, but the main ones are (as appearing on a Canon camera):

P – sets aperture and shutter speed automatically. Allows user to set ISO. Seems to do its best to set up for hand-held photography, but not always (Not a very creative mode, actually)

Av – Aperture Priority: user sets aperture, camera decides on shutter speed. User sets ISO.

Tv – Shutter Priority: user sets shutter speed, camera decides on aperture. User sets ISO.

M – Manual: User sets everything. A.K.A Master Class, Man(ly) Mode. User sets ISO.

Extras…

A-Dep – as far as I know sets aperture to make sure as many things are in focus as possible, then sets shutter speed. Does not prioritize for hand held. User sets ISO.

These modes are so-called creative because they allow you to make real decisions about how a photo looks, like the depth of field or motion blur. At first, they are confusing. With experience, a photographer is able to snap the camera as close to the preferred look as possible, only to make minor adjustments. It takes experimentation, a lot of it, but these modes do become second nature.

My advice: using these modes at first might be a little slow, and you will mess up a few shots. That being said: are you a photographer? Then get into them! You will be thanking yourself less than a year later. Promises.