Monday, June 13, 2011

Hejnar Arca Swiss adapter for Manfrotto 405/410

The what I hear you say? The Hejnar Photo Arca Swiss adapter for the Manfrotto 405/410, of course!

Brilliant piece of kit that entirely replaces the quick release platform with an Arca Swiss quick release on the Manfrotto 405/410 geared heads. What's a geared head? It's basically a head where the adjustments in 3 planes are adjust by gears - you simply turn each of the 3 knobs to achieve the perfect composition, making it the ideal for macro, landscape and architecture. No need to worry about locking off the head like you would with a ball head, just dial it in precisely where you need it.

Unfortunately geared heads tend to be bulky and expensive, and even the most economic model, the Manfrotto 410 'junior' geared head (which I use) has an enormous quick release plate (designed for medium/large format cameras) that gets in the way even on a pro-sized DSLR and looks ridiculous.

Up until now, I've used a Kirk Arca-Swiss style plate on the camera and a Kirk QR platform bolted onto the Manfrotto plate - a bit of a kludge to say the least, and I've always fretted that I'd accidently release the Manfrotto QR and see the whole lot tumble to the floor, or that the Kirk QR platform would simply twisting off, being attached by a single 3/8" bolt.

Enter the innovative Hejnar Photo adapter, essentially a precision machined plate that replaces both the Manfrotto plate and the Manfrotto QR platform, bolting instead directly to the head. A Hejnar Arca Swiss QR clamp is then attached to the plate by 3 bolts. You do need to disassemble and remove the Manfrotto QR mechanism, but the result looks neat and feels a good deal more secure.

I assembled mine with a little thread-lock, but since the attachments (head-to-plate and plate-to-clamp) are by 2 and 3 bolts respectively, there's no real possibility of either twisting off. Available from Hejnar Photo ebay store here, and if you prefer to use a different clamp, the adapter plate is available on it's own.

As supplied, there are a couple of minor downsides: firstly the supplied clamp is a little wider than the plate and partially obscures the bubble level on the 410 head - but then again this is totally obscured once a camera is mounted; and, when the camera is in portrait mode, it is impossible to tilt the camera up or down, making composition tricky. Fortunately, both problems can be completely resolved by simply unbolting the QR platform and swinging it through 90 degrees - tapped holes are provided for either orientation.

Overall this is an excellent niche product that solves a tricky problem for those that want to use a geared head with DSLR cameras.

Wow! Time flies

I can't believe I haven't posted for so long! I've been busy with a number of projects, including packing up to move house! This is always a good time to have a little re-think and a spring clean, and my camera gear hasn't escaped unscathed. By coincidence I was also involved in a project that involved learning a little about 'Lean' methodology, and this prompted me to have a hard think about what gear I was actually using, when I needed it and how to carry and store it.

Over the years I've accumulated a number of camera bags, but with a little application I managed to make 2 redundant, and focus the remainder for specific photographic needs. First of all, I put my main landscape kit into my Billingham 550. Now this bag can swallow a whole load of gear, and the consequence is it can get pretty heavy. But, for most of my landscape work I'm not generally walking far, and I'm not rushing, so the weight of a Nikon D3x, 3 tilt-shift lenses, filters etc. is not really a problem.

At the other extreme, I have a small Billingham Hadley, which just about accommodates a Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm, Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and a nifty 50 (more on this shortly). This is just perfect for casual carry-around work. It's small, discrete and works superbly well, and will even accomodate a D3-sized body (with lens removed) and a standard lens.

For wildlife, my other main photographic interest, I have a Lowepro Dryzone rucksack. This swallows a 300mm f/2.8, teleconvertors, 70-200mm and 105mm macro lenses, and remains comfortable even with all that weight. I'll pack a D3 or D7000 with this depending on the size of the subject and light conditions.

Now that I have focussed (pardon the pun) my gear into 3 distinct setups, it's thrown up some anomalies. First of all, I realised I had collected 4 'standard' lenses: a 45mm PC-E tilt/shift lens, a manual focus 50mm f/1.2, autofocus 50mm f/1.8 and a manual focus 55mm macro. The 45mm was a given in my landscape work, but of the other lens I was finding critical focus at wide apertures tricky on the 1.2, and although the AF f/1.8 kind of worked, it wasn't really comparable in image quality to the 1.2 at these wider apertures on full-frame. The excellent 55mm macro has practically been superseded by a 105mm AF macro, which has a more practical working distance for macro work.

So, in the end I am selling on both the 50's and the 55mm, and replacing them with the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-S G lens. I tried the f/1.4 version but found the bokeh 'noisy', and actually preferred the slower lens, which takes it's place in my carry-all-day kit bag. Less to carry, less to store, more money in the bank. I will no doubt miss some aspects of the f/1.2 and the 55mm, such as build quality and a certain tactility that modern lenses don't give you, but the new lens simply seems a more effective (efficient?) tool for the job.