Ryu: Photokina 2016 in a day

BLFS folks,

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I just wanted to write one because I feel like writing one.

I know, crazy right?

It all started for me at 3:00AM. Took a taxi to the Berlin main station, passed out and woke up in Köln, the home of Photokina. For the uninitiated and clueless, Photokina is a biannual orgy of all things photography. My cousin, who is more knowledgeable about photography than 19 of me put together would have reached multiple orgasms at the site of the Phottix and Godox booths.

It really is a sight to behold and an amusement park for photography nutters all over the world.

Two years ago, I went there just to check things out. But this time I had a purpose: Find some interesting stuff for the BLFS people, aka sports photographers.

So here we go.

Best in show:
Velbon Monopod V86s (6 section) and V84 (4 section)
Velbon sounds like something you might contract on your first trip to the moon. It’s actually a Japanese monopod / tripod maker and they’ve been around for a while. I got fucked by them couple of years ago when the disk at the top of their monopod split in two. Emails were sent and not a peep received from them. I binned the monopod. I swore I will NEVER use their product again.

I have been using a Sirui 6 section monopod for about a year. The reason to forego taking my goto Induro monopod was that I needed one that will fit into my Think Tank Airport Roller Derby. And this is due to the price gouging that goes on unpunished here in Europe when it comes to checking in a luggage. On top of that, most airlines allow you to take one piece of luggage as a carry on. My gear + clothes need to fit into my bag, thus the necessity of a compact monopod. Two weeks ago, my Sirui decided that it was time to go to where all bad monopods go. In the bin. The top section wasn’t going in and out smoothly (seriously, I’m not trying to sex things up here) and a dose of WD40 not only fixed it, but separated the section from the rest of it. I was left with a pair of 1/6th monopod and a 5/6th monopod. In a frantic state, I opted for a Gitzo 6 section because A) It’s a Gitzo B) it was the most compact one that I could get. Both Velbon and Induro were tad too long when it was sheathed.

Anyhow, as I snapped away horrible shots of monopods after monopods made in China and other parts of China, there appeared the Velbon booth. My complaints locked and ready, I sauntered towards the rep who looked like he belonged in the R&D lab. But before I unleashed hell, I saw it. I saw their monopods.

My anger dissipated (and later returned, thankfully) and I was holding the best monopods I’ve ever held. These were good. No wait. These were excellent.

First of all, carbon monopod is no longer a luxury. It’s a must. They have come down significantly in price and everyone who is serious about sports photography should own one. It’s lighter than the steel ones, swirly carbon patterns make you look hot, and you can act out your Goku or Vader fantasies til your hearts content.

Second, the locks. Tripods and monopods lock their legs by snapping or twisting. If you want to lose part of your thumb, you should go with the snapping one, but most sports photographers are twisters. Criteria of a good monopod is that the twisting bit is chunky. This allows you to get a better grip which results in more torque. Induro does this very well as their bit is chunky and angly. Velbon has this wonderfully chunky grippy twisters. It’s so easy to twist and it made me weak in the knees. But Velbon didn’t stop there. The twister only turns enough for it to loosen and tighten. No more, “Fuck I’ve been twisting the damn thing in the wrong direction for the past hour”. No, it stops turning when it’s completely loose. Fuck yes Velbon (According to their website, this wonderful technology is called “V-Lock”).

Third, stability. All this turning doesn’t do you any good if they aren’t stable. And indeed they are. Even the 6 section one is buttery stable. It doesn’t hula dance when you prop a 400 2.8 on it.

Fourth, price. Both of the Velbons are around 200-230 EUR. Gitzo 4 section and 6 sections are between 230-260 EUR. Induros are 200-220 EUR. Basically, not much of a difference.

So which ones to choose? I think I’ll need to recommend the Velbons over the Induro and the Gitzo. It’s the V-Lock baby. Once you go V, you never go back. Its really that revolutionary. I just rotated my Gitzo and it keeps on rotating. I just want it to stop, but it won’t. If you really want compact, I’ll go with the 6 section Gitzo. As for the 4 section, it comes down to the V-Lock. You won’t regret it. Go Velbon.

I think you’re wondering why I’m forcing you to spend that much on a pole that isn’t even long enough to dance on. Simply, the more you pay, more likely it will last without splitting into two poles. Sirui 6 section have had stellar reviews on amazon and other internet places. But it crapped out in a way I’ve never experienced. I paid 90 EUR for the Sirui. Not chump change, but not top of the line. You usually get what you paid for and I’m not going to condone your for making one.

By the way, when I came down from my monopod high, I lashed out at the Velbon rep for something that happened 3 years ago which he had nothing to do with. He apologised which didn’t make me feel all that good. As a side note, you can change the foot on both of the monopods, but it will cost extra.

Let’s just hope that their customer service can match their monopods this time around.

Second in show
Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
This was a big announcement for the BLFS people. 70-200mm f2.8 is a starter lens for most, but you quickly understand that it doesn’t have the reach you need. Many threads have been started in our flickr group page that began with “Which big lens to buy?” and Pledge QQQs are often inundated with the same questions. But the answer always seems to be, “Buy second hand, buy the older version, or hopefully the 300 2.8 will give you enough reach (it doesn’t)”. Nikon and Canon were the only choices you had when it came to super telephoto lens. Basically a monopoly. Sigma wants in and they made a huge splash with this announcement.

In a guise of an inquisitive journalist, I introduced myself as a photographer as well as part of the BLFS army. The rep took me into the office, sat me down, and gave me the business:

-That the lens’ resolving power is as good as the Canon / Nikon offering

-The reason to forego making a 400mm f2.8 was that they wanted this lens to be handheld. It is light and you can handhold it, but obviously not for a very long time.

-There is this super sensor in the lens that tracks object moving diagonally across the face of the lens.

-Connect and modify the M/A A/M switch to your liking (apparently Canon and Nikon have different switch configurations) by connecting it to a local computer using a USB cable.

-It’s weather sealed.

Besides checking the heft of the lens, I had a chance to shoot it. Attached to a Canon body and a German language menu, I couldn’t set it up the way I wanted to. Sniping bald German heads in a crowd wasn’t a true test of its AF performance.

Ah yes, the price. The rep did tell me that it was TBD and that it will come out in 2016. I checked B&H and their suggested retail price is 6000 USD. It even says so on their website, so I don’t know what the rep was talking about. So let’s just assume that’s the price. Nikon and Canon’s 500mm f4 costs 10000 USD. You save 4000 USD. Enough said.

There are no loaner programs in Europe so I can’t test this for you guys, but there should be reviews available for you to help make that decision. Even if these reviews will shoot birds instead of men in shorts.

Sigma has truly arrived for sports photographers.

Third in show:
Laowa 12mm f/2.8 ZERO-D
No distortion.
I was made aware of this lens’ existence on my FB page as this started as a Kickstarter campaign product. As a lover of all things wide angle, I was interested in this lens even though I didn’t actively seek out their booth. It was a happy accident. Although the only image I got to see was that from the viewfinder, there was no distortion whatsoever. When I gave praise to the rep on this lens as well as the rise of Korean lens makers such as Samyang, the rep gave me the “Don’t lump us together with that cheap-o company”. The reason for this is that by all means, this is a premium lens. The cost will be over 1000 USD. The additional benefit of this lens is that when you add the “Laowa Magic Shift Converter” for 300 USD, this becomes a 14mm f4 tilt shift lens. Therefore you can say that it is a bargain to get two high quality lens for 1300 USD.

But here’s the catch for us sports photographers. It’s MF only. If you want a wide shot of a stadium, court, or a field, even my cat or my daughter can get it to focus. But we want you to get close with your wide angles and that is not going to be easy without AF. In any case, I want this lens.

To be determined after the show:
Peak Design Slide
As some of you might be aware, I decided to shoot sports climbing because I want to be accredited for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Since I know nothing about this sports, people in the know have helped me decipher it. One of them is Liam Londsdale from Bolton. I’m sure he will appreciate that I mentioned where he hails from. :) He’s also sponsored by Peak Design and when I dropped by their booth yesterday, only to be handed their strap for a test run. I’ve had my fair share of testing straps and suffice to say I hate them all. I’m going to give this one a go and let you know how it fairs.

The rest of the show:
Nikon: I visited their NPS booth and after talking to the rep, I ended up with a loaner D5 for the next 4 weeks. Nice.

Canon: They always have the best booth. Their white lens looks cooler than Nikon’s.
Go Pro: Wanted to see the Karma. It wasn’t flying. I left.

Lumu Labs: Unfortunate name, exciting product. Attach it to your lightning connector of your iPhone and it becomes a light / incident / colour temperature meter.

Lens Coat: Love their products. I wrap all my lenses and bodies in their covers. Inserts are so 2010. I visited them to see if they had a 200mm f2 lens cap. They didn’t. I asked them if they had anything new. He pointed me to this:

I said thanks, but no thanks.

Lens baby: Some of you get into more creative ruts than myself forgetting to put my socks in the laundry bin. If you want some swirly, tilty, shifty, out of focus lens, this could be yours. But I have a feeling you’ll get tired of that look sooner rather than later.

Godox and Phottix: They are here to stay. Nikon and Canon should just give up making flash guns.

Fujifilm: Instax Square. Polaroid 2016. Will only take Fuji film, which doesn’t bode well for Impossible Project and New55. If they can keep the cost of the film low, this can be a hit.

Savage: I needed a red backdrop for my women’s sumo project in Japan. Found it, but a bit too short.

Millions of tripods and billions of strobes: The world doesn’t need that many tripods and strobes.

Apparels: Nothing exciting. Which was a shame.

Think Tank Photo: I’m a notorious bag whore and I wanted to check out their new Airport International V3. Definitely an improvement over the V2, especially the laptop compartment and the handle. If your destination in life doesn’t come with a broken back at age 42, I’d definitely look into this one. As usual, well made Americano product.

But my personal best in show was something that I found, but more accurately I’ve been found. At the end of a long day of not much sleep and lots of walking, I passed by the Red Bull Photography booth. I stopped myself in the tracks and weighed my options. I could go there and introduce myself or I could just keep on walking. When it comes to selling myself, depending on the day I’m Saul or a Lion without Dorothy. I was definitely leaning on the latter, but I decided to just go and say hello. They told me to come back in 30 minutes. Frantic call to my wife, my chief strategist. No answer. SMS. She calls back and gives me the courage her Lion needs. 25 minutes later, I’m there giving a presentation with my laptop which I only brought as an emergency iPhone battery.

The conclusion is that this weekend’s Adidas Rockstar climbing event in Stuttgart will serve as my test shoot. If they like what they see, this could be a beginning of something beautiful.

It’s nice to write to you guys again.

Vive la Photokina.

Ryu, it was a long fucking day

*Please Read Below*
Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.

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