Field Accessories For Digital SLRs; While Perhaps Not Top Priority, These Items Can Really Come In Handy

Being a gear head at heart, I'm not really happy unless my backpack is overflowing with neat photo equipment. However, while most of the photo gear used in the field is apparent and readily available, there are some lesser-known products that seem to earn their keep fast. Some are for very specific shooting situations or environments while others never seem to be used until you are in the middle of the woods and you need a specialized lens or accessory. And some only surface when you see another photographer standing next to you getting the shot that your lack of that one item causes you to miss. Let's start with specialty lenses.

Tilt And Shift...For Landscapes
While out photographing Crystal Lake in the western part of Colorado, the leader of our workshop group casually opened his case and attached a tilt-shift lens to his Canon. As conditions were perfect for mountain reflections, no one took the time to query the leader on why he would use this lens for this general type of photograph. After talking with him, the reason became obvious.

Canon's unique tilt-shift lens enables objects near and far to be in sharp focus even when photographed with a wide aperture. With the lens in this position, objects like a stone wall would be sharp from left to right.
All Photos © 2006, Stan Trzoniec, All Rights Reserved

For one thing, because the movements of this lens mimic a view camera, the lens can be shifted side to side or tipped up or down to obtain a greater depth of field per given f/stop. For instance, shifting the lens in a side-to-side movement, two-picture panoramas are easily made by just shifting the lens all the way to the left and taking a picture. Then moving it all the way to right (and watching for the overlap) allows you later to stitch the image in Photoshop for top-quality panoramic photographs.

Tilting the lens left or right or top to bottom allows you to extend the plane of sharp focus along the line of a fence (horizontal) or, using a vertical axis, to get an entire field of wildflowers sharp. Canon's tilt-shift line-up includes focal lengths of 24, 45, and 90mm, all with an f/2.8 maximum aperture. Nikon calls their 85mm lens "Perspective Control," also with a max aperture of 2.8. Street price on these lenses ranges from $1100-$1200, depending upon brand name and focal length.

With the tilt-shift lens, most of the flowers are now sharp front to back.

Fisheye View
Another unique point of view is provided by the so-called "fisheye" lens. Nikon's DX series (made for the smaller sensors on their proprietary D-series cameras) 10.5mm Fisheye is a blast to use outdoors as you can get an incredible depth of field, from 5.5" to infinity at minimum aperture setting. The angle of view is 180Þ, clearly a super-wide point of view, even with the focal length factor from the smaller sensor the digital camera holds. If you want to eliminate some of the naturally occurring distortion you can do so with the Fisheye Transform tool in Nikon's Capture program. MSRP is $815.

Nikon's impressive 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens is made for all Nikon D-series cameras and has an imposing 180Þ view.

Shooting down on the edge of the lake, you can readily see its "fisheye" configuration.

Get Down
Every photographer tries for that new angle on nature photos. The Kirk Low Pod is very light, sits on three rubberized feet only 2" from the ground, has a carrying handle to transport in the field and a 3/8" threaded stud to mount just about any type of ball head. Current mail-order price directly from Kirk is $150.

The Kirk Low Pod is the perfect outdoor accessory for any digital camera as it allows you to lower the angle of the camera to ground level without the need of adjusting the tripod for every time you want to shoot.

With a defiance to the up and coming winter, the last of the scrub oaks stand tall waiting for the cold. Photographs like this are easy and fun to do with a Kirk Low Pod handy.

Versatile Ball Head
The Really Right Stuff ball head features easy to use friction and control knobs, twin drop notches, and a choice of four different mounting arrangements (including a panning clamp) that allow a change out with just an Allen wrench. However, the unique thing about this ball head is its lower profile, which makes it sit almost a full 2" below its competitors of the same ilk. It is made here in the US and has a large 55mm ball with a 50-lb capacity. With a five-year warranty, list price starts at $455, depending upon model and mount.

Really Right Stuff's new ball head. With a lower profile than most, it offers many innovative features to include a ball level right on the camera clamp itself.

If you want to take photographs like this where every blade of grass is as sharp as a tack, a solid ball head is necessary on a sturdy tripod.