Monthly Archives: June 2012

Flat As A Pancake – The New Canon 40mm f2.8 STM Lens

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I had never in my life heard of a pancake lens until one of the photography sites that I frequent trumpeted the announcement of the Canon 40mm STM f2.8 pancake lens. I then discovered other pancake lenses: Samsung puts out three of them: the 20mm, the 30mm and the 16mm, and Voigtlander also sells three of them: the Ultron 40mm,  the Color Skopar 25mm, and the Color Skopar 21mm.

A pancake lens is a reallyflat lens – in the case of the Canon model, the lens is about one (1)  inch tall. Really!  A 1-inch tall lens on a DSLR.

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It looks like this on my camera:

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When Canon announced this lens, with a price of $199, I said to myself: “Self, you should get this lens. It’s not that expensive, it sounds fun, it’s certainly smaller and lighter than your 50mm f1.2 lens.  Plus, it’s got a slightly wider view for those group shots. Granted, it’s not an L-lens, with that supreme L-lens quality, but nonetheless…..”

So, I placed a “pre-order” for this lens, since it was not yet in stock. A pre-order means the camera company has your order on record (i.e. in the queue with all of the other pre-orders for an item not yet in stock), but until said item arrives, they won’t charge your credit card or Paypal account.

Two full weeks later, still no lens. I lost my patience, rationalized to myself as to why I really didn’t need the 40mm pancake lens, cancelled the “pending” order and instead opted for the Canon 2x teleconverter. We all know how that worked out.

So, I re-ordered the now in-stock lens.

The 40mm pancake vs. the 50mm L lens on a camera:

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First impressions right out of the box: It’s so cute! ;D

Ok, now for a little more helpful set of first impressions:

  • The pancake lens is so very light.  And, as you can see, the glass itself is pretty small, compared to the glass of the 50mm lens.  This gives me an indication that the L-lens  probably allows in more light than the pancake lens will.
  • The pancake lens feels relatively sturdy.  I’m comparing this to what I remember of the 50mm f1.8 lens I used to own, which both looked and felt a little on the flimsy side (my apologies to those of you out there who own and love this lens – remember, this is just my opinion).
  • The pancake lens was easy to attach to the camera.  I’ve read reviews where it’s a little difficult (especially for larger hands) to work with the manual focus.  I haven’t tried to use the manual focus because I generally don’t use manual focus on any of my lenses; my eyesight is not what it used to be at 51 years of age, so I generally rely on the AF.
  • Speaking of  AF, you probably want to know about this fancy STM focusing.  In a nutshell, that means the lens is supposed to ensure smooth and silent continuous focusing – especially important to those using the video mode on their cameras.  I personally found the focus motor noise to be practically non-existent.  There might have been a teeny bit of noise, but I could only hear it in total silence.  While using the lens outside with all of the background noises of birds singing, cars driving past, lawn mowers working, etc., I heard nada, and focusing was definitely smooth.  Actually, focusing was smooth even under interior low light conditions.
  • Of course, neither my 50mm nor this new 40mm have image stabilization (IS), but the 40mm lens is so small and light that shake seems to be less of an issue.  Just about every image I took, the focus was spot-on from the first click to the last, with very few blurry images.

So what’s that little rubber cup I have attached to my cute little lens?  Well, when using a non-L lens, I generally don’t bother with any sort of filter unless I opt to use a circular polarizer (CPL). There is a school of thought out there that says filters are simply another layer of glass through which the lens must focus, thus distorting the original image and reducing its clarity.  For non-L lenses, I apply that school of thought.  For L-lenses, I like using the slim versions of filters for UV / protection and (in the case of the CPL) to eliminate vignetting for wide angle shots.  For the non-L lenses I prefer to simply use a lens hood as protection and shade from sun flare. With this lens, there is not – yet – a dedicated hood.  However, there are all sorts of lens hoods for 52mm filter threads, which is what I ended up ordering.  I purchased this little rubber wonderfor nostalgic reasons  in addition to price; I fondly remember during my high school years using a rubber lens hood. It works fine and I never have to remove it if I don’t wish to.   Plus, it takes up very little room in the camera bag.  It’s not exactly sturdy (like if you accidentally slammed your lens up against the wall), but it still does the job for me.

I’m sure you all want me to quit babbling and get to the meat of this post, which are comparison photos, right?    Ok, but first, you need to understand a few things.  I am not a technical person; no tech-speak here in this post.  I’m simply doing this review straight out of the box, from a Joe(sephine) the Photographer point of view.

Below are comparison photos of the 40mm STM f2.8 pancake lens and the 50mm USM f1.2L lens on a Canon 5D Mark II body. Now, I’m pretty sure some of you are saying “comparing those two lenses is like comparing apples to oranges, rather than comparing apples to apples.”  True, but it’s all I have to work with.

Normally, what I like to do with a Raw photo is start my editing in Lightroom 4, then export it to Adobe Photoshop CS5 and run the Auto Tone, do any other little artistic tweaks, and then the final Unsharp Mask.

However, for this comparison, the first photos  you initially see here are straight out of the cameras. No processing whatsoever except to import the Raw files into the computer and convert them to TIFs and then to low-res JPGS. Same settings for both lenses; yes, I know that although I am using the same brand and make of cameras, no two cameras of the same brand and make are ever totallyalike. Deal with it.

Low-Light Interior Shots – unedited

Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 200, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 200, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 640, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 640, shutter speed 1/30

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Bokeh – unedited

Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 200, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 200, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 40mm pancake f2.8, ISO 640, shutter speed 1/30

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Canon 50mm f2.8, ISO 640, shutter speed 1/30

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Exterior Shots – unedited

*Note:  For the exterior images, I had to keep changing the shutter speeds because the 50mm L-lens definitely lets in a little more light than the 40mm (as I originally surmised).  So, I wasn’t consistent with the speeds.  I did remain consistent with the aperture (f-stop) and the ISO.  All of the exterior images were taken hand held.

Canon 40mm pancake f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 50mm L f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 40mm pancake f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 50mm L f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 40mm pancake f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 50mm L f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 40mm pancake f5.6 ISO 250

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Canon 50mm L f5.6 ISO 250

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OK, so you’ve seen what the images from these lenses look like straight out of the camera with no processing. Now let’s see what some post-processing magic does to these shots, since I am one of those photographers who believes that just about every photo taken – no matter how perfect the in-camera exposure settings – has room for improvement with at least some post processing.

I imported these same Raw images into Lightroom 4, where I applied Lens Profile Correction, moved the Highlights slider all the way to the left, ran the Clarity slider up to between 30 – 50 and  on some of them, lightened the exposure.  Then I exported the results over as TIF files into Adobe Photoshop CS5.   For the images you see here, all the TIFs were ultimately saved as low-res JPGS after processing.

In CS5, I applied Auto Tone and/or Curves adjustment, then Unsharp Mask . That’s it.

*Note #1:  Lightroom 4 currently doesn’t have any sort of profile correction for the 40mm because this lens is so new.  I’m sure Adobe will eventually send out a patch for this.

*Note #2:  Looking at the exterior image 100% crops captured by the 50mm, I noticed sometimes they were not as sharp as they could/should be, and I attribute that to user error.  I’ve applied in-camera micro focus adjustment, and with a tripod, the 50mm images are beautifully sharp and smooth.  As mentioned above, though, I was not using a tripod for the exterior shots, my hands are small, and the 50mm lens is a “meaty” lens – especially compared to the teeny 40mm.

Here’s what the images look like now.

Interior – Edited

40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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Bokeh – Edited

40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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Exterior – Edited

40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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9616_Wrought Iron CROP100pct

50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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40mm pancake lens – edited original and 100% crop

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50mm L lens – edited original and 100% crop

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0011_Oleander_edited_50mm CROP100pct

My concluding impressions:

  • I really really like this lens!  It’s a fun little lens! I’ve read other great reviews for this lens, and now I can add my own support.  It doesn’t let in as much light as a larger 50mm lens does, but it just requires a change in aperture, shutter speed, or ISO to remedy that issue.
  • It’s nice and light and easy to carry around on the camera.  Plus, it doesn’t call as much attention to the photographer as a larger lens might.  I don’t like to have attention called to myself when I am busy taking photos – it’s about my subject(s) and not about me.
  • I like the slightly wider view on my full-frame camera because I plan on using this lens not only as a walk-around lens but also (mainly) as a group/portrait lens.  This wider view means I can get more of a group in without having to back up as much.
  • I do wish they had made the lens a little faster (i.e. 1.8, 1.4 or 1.2 as opposed to 2.8).  Just a quibble though.  For me and my purposes, it’s still a decent low-light lens and I can increase the ISO if I need to.
  • It’s a damned sharp lens!  Canon actually did a great job with a non-L lens (I hate their kit lenses, and for a full-frame camera, it’s been L-lenses all the way for me….until now).
  • And finally, the price is right.

So there you have it:  my 2-cents worth of a review for the Canon 40mm STM f2.8 lens.  If you don’t feel like spending $200 right away, then just rent it for a few days (it’s a cheap rent) and decide if you want to have a lens like this in your camera bag.  Every lens I think about purchasing, I rent first (well, with the exception of this little gem).

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More Figs In A Box

Figs in a boxSometimes, fun photo ops can be found right at home, without ever having to get in the car and drive anywhere. These are just some of the figs my mother picked from the now-prolific fig tree in her back yard.

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Fig On A Branch

Fig on a branchI should have posted this photo first, before posting my Figs In A Box photo previously. Even after seeing all those little figs in the box, I still couldn’t believe how prolific the figs were on Mom & Dad’s tree and I had to go out and take a look for myself.

Taken with a Canon 5D Mk II camera and 50mm f1.2 lens.

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Figs In A Box

Figs in a boxSome 10 years ago, my parents planted a fig tree in their back yard. They thought it was going to be a small tree, but it’s pretty darned big. When the tree first began producing, it would only put out maybe three or four figs, all of which would be pecked by the birds. Neither Mom nor Dad thought the tree would ever produce much more, which was a shame since Dad *loved* figs. Now – two years after Dad’s passing away – the tree is prolific with these little figs. And no birds are pecking them at all (Mom thinks because of this thing Dad put up that scares away the birds). I’m here to tell you this year’s batch of figs are yummy!

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Common Sunflower in Monochrome

Common Sunflower, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, TXI converted some of the flower photos I took at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. I was aiming for something a little different, and I think I got that with this photo. I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro and got rid of some of the structure, but not all of it.  I wanted some detail delineated, but nothing that would overwhelm.

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Common Sunflower

Common Sunflower

As usual on a weekend, I find myself restless and wanting to get out with the camera rather than tackle the chores that need to be done at home. Outside was rain and thunder, and I thought – even though it was 1:00PM and not a prime photography time – I’d take the short drive to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. Mind you, I already knew that I wouldn’t be getting any stellar bird images with my 70-200mm, and I couldn’t be assured of any dramatic clouds. Nonetheless, I gathered the gear together and headed out the door.

What I *did* manage to find were flowers I either had not previously seen, or simply didn’t feel like photographing – like this common sunflower.

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Anticipation (AKA Packing For My August Photo Trip)

Vacation Map

Is it too early to start talking about an upcoming trip?  Will I jinx things?  I hope not, because I’m going to write about it anyway.  You see, I live(and work) for my vacations.

Yes, I am packing already for a trip I won’t be taking for another 2-1/2 months. Planning for a trip is part of the fun for me. Besides, it’s helpful for me to pack early because then I have plenty of time to really think, then unpack, then repack.  No last-minute packing for me, by golly!   My Type A personality likes to get it out of the way early.

I’ve noticed that many photographers are curious as to what  camera-lens setups their peers take with them when traveling.  I know I’m always curious as to what other photographers take with them when traveling.  So I am going out on a limb here and will assume you are curious as to what *I* pack for such a trip.

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Allow me to digress for just a moment.

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I receive 4 weeks of vacation a year – a drop in the bucket, I know, but I’ll take what I can get. Most of my vacations are spent flying to some favorite place out West, renting a car, and staying in a hotel/lodge/resort as a base.  I’m so over tent camping (my rheumatoid arthritis dictated that); I like my “beauty sleep”, a desk onto which I can place my laptop, and a nearby bathroom.  Sure, I could do that with a SUV-trailer combo, but I don’t own either and don’t want either at this point in time. So, I sing the praises of hotels and lodges.

I usually visit some place I’ve visited previously and really enjoy, but I also try to make at least one trip somewhere to which I have never been. This 2012, I am traveling the last week of August to a place I’ve only briefly been (Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado).

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I’m also going to visit a place to which I have never been (Arches National Park, Utah).  It’s going to be hot and dry at both places (for the most part), and I plan on hiking from sunrise to sunset, since I’ll be stationed 5 days at Mesa Verde and 3 days at Arches before heading to Durango CO for a day via the scenic Million Dollar Highway.

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Ok, back to the subject of this post.

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I always take 3 bags for domestic trips, one of which I check in at the counter.

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The checked bag is the largest one holding all of my clothing, extra shoes, toiletries, underwear, tripod, some food (Clif Bars, those Land O Lakes Mini Moos  half & half packets, trail mix), water bottles, hair dryer, assorted cords, and – oh yes – my little 4-cup coffee maker along with a bag of good coffee. It’s a Samsonite Brght Lite polycarbonate hard-side, hot pink 28-inch spinner behemoth that’s a little awkward to lug around but is still a fantastic piece of luggage. I deliberately chose the hot pink color to better identify it on the baggage carousel….besides, who in their right mind (other than the owner) would want to be seen walking around with such a garish suitcase?

The two carry-on bags consist of

1. My laptop case which I purchased at my employer’s company store, packed with my 15-inch laptop, mouse, portable hard drives, cords, memory card reader, and various documentation like my boarding pass and confirmations for my hotel(s), rental car, any tours, etc.; and

2. My Think Tank Airport Antidote 2.0 camera backpack, which is usually stuffed with two or three camera bodies, my 70-200mm lens, 16-35mm lens, 24-105mm lens, and 50mm f1.2 lens (sometimes I even lug my 85mm f1.2 lens around). This case is wonderful and is sized to fit in the overhead bins of both domestic and international airlines (I can tell you this is true from personal experience). I’m a short person (5’2”) and this pack doesn’t overwhelm me sizewise or weightwise (well, the weight thing is a challenge, since I usually overpack). Into the Airport Antidote – in addition to the cameras and lenses – I also pack 35 CF cards (that’s right – I said 35 cards of 4GB and 8 GB size), 5 extra camera batteries, two Lee 4×6 .9 graduated ND filters (which I hand hold flush against the camera lens), my slim-mount circular polarizer filters, slim-mount UV filters, a couple of round grad ND filters (77mm and 82mm), a 6-stop 77mm ND filter, and a backup memory card file storage device (Sanho Hyperdrive).

1874_Think Tank Open

I also pack my lens hoods, which I may or may not use if I am taking photos requiring the use of either the circular polarizers or the Lee graduated ND filters. The Airport Antidote allows the packing of a 15-inch laptop as well, which I did for my international trip.  For domestic travel, however, I prefer to transport my laptop in a separate laptop case.

Yes, it is quite the load to lug around, but I use practically everything I take with me on a trip…including the coffee maker.

Oh, and I always wear my Domke PhoTogs photographer’s vest. I have one in black, and another in khaki.  I LOVE all the pockets into which I can stuff my wallet, iPhone, memory cards, extra camera batteries, extra pair of glasses, business cards, pen, etc. And it looks good on me, too (don’t you think?).

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For this upcoming trip, however, I’m changing things around. I’m not going to take the Pink Monster, nor will I take the Think Tank backpack. Instead, I’ve been packing (I began a couple of weeks ago packing/unpacking/repacking) an IT Luggage Shiny Large Dots 24-inch hard-side black roller with large white and pink polka dots. When I purchased that little case, I felt pretty sure it would be an almost one-of-a-kind-easy-to-spot-at-baggage claim kind of case much like my hot-pink suitcase.  Nope. When I flew to Seattle back in April, I saw a young lady retrieving the exact same case. So I’ve applied strips of neon-green duct tape to my case. That ought to set it apart.

1878_IT Roller Case

Believe it or not, I’ve packed almost as much into that little case as I ever did in the Pink Monster! This includes the addition of three large water bottles for my hikes, an extra pair of hiking boots, hat, a pair of Keen sandals, and my Induro Carbon 8X CT213 tripod with an Induro BHD2 ballhead (I had to unscrew the tripod head and place it elsewhere within the case). It excludes the coffee maker (my hotel rooms all have coffee makers, so I’ll still take my bag of coffee, the little #2 filters, and my packets of half & half, ‘cause I gotta have my coffee). I’m beginning to realize that I don’t need as much suitcase space as I thought I needed for trips lasting up to 2 weeks. The weather will be relatively consistent (i.e. hot and dry), but I’ll still pack a raincoat and a couple of lightweight fleece tops, since I expect the mornings and evenings to be quite cool.

Below is a shot of my new case, partially packed (the tripod is hidden underneath other stuff, and I still have a few more items to pack):

1880_IT bag open

Regarding the packing of the camera equipment, I’m taking a camera backpack that I originally was going to stuff into the 28-inch suitcase. As I was going to sleep one night, the light bulb went on and I realized there was no way in hell I could pack that particular camera backpack in the smaller case and also take the Think Tank pack. This required some revisions of what I really wanted to take with me for this trip, in the way of lenses.

I’m still taking the three camera bodies (two Canon 5D Mark II bodies and a rented Canon 5D Mark III because I can’t afford to purchase one outright for myself…yet); I am a firm believer in camera redundancy. I like to know that if one (or both) of my own camera bodies break down, I’ve got that extra one. I am paring down the lenses I take. I’ll just have the 16-35mm, the 70-200mm, and I’ve rented a 14mm fisheye (I want to get in as much as I can of the cliff dwellings in Colorado and Delicate Arch in Utah). I may take the itty bitty 40mm pancakeCanon lens I’ve pre-ordered so I can test it out and then blog about it (provided I receive that lens in time – according to my order history, the processing is still “pending”). And of course, I’ll still take all of my filters and lens hoods and memory cards and such.

What backpack am I taking, then? It’s the Lowepro Fastpack 350.

1902_Lowepro Front

1901_Lowepro Back

Compared to my Think Tank pack:

1883_Lowepro Vs Think Tank

It’s awesome! I’ve used it a couple of times for my Brazos Bend State Park and Brazoria NWR photo ops. This pack is lightweight (well, it feels that way compared to my Think Tank, when packed) and  nicely padded.  Retrieving a camera/lens is relatively convenient – you don’t even have to take the backpack off in order to access things, although I still find I need to take the pack off to get to my gear – I haven’t quite gotten the method of  swinging-the-pack-around-on-one-shoulder-while-still-standing ironed out just yet. The top portion of the pack can be used for items like memory cards, filters, snack/lunch, extra water bottle, and light jacket or fleece pullover; that’s the main reason for wanting to take this pack.  I’ll be hiking in some really hot areas, where the temps get into the triple digits.  I need to be able to carry more than one large water bottle, plus some snacks.  The Think Tank doesn’t allow for that, but this Lowepro Fastpack 350 sure does.  There is even a padded, zippered slot where I could easily pack my 15-inch HP laptop, if I wanted (and yes, my laptop doesfit in there).  One side of the pack also has a mesh pocket for a large-sized water bottle.  The only caveat another photographer might notice is that there is nothing handy for attaching a folded tripod to the pack.  Not an issue with me, since I use my tripod as a hiking staff to help me maneuver around.

1886_Lowepro Bottom Open

1889_Lowepro Open

Two-and-a-half more months to go, and I am sooooo ready for this trip Open-mouthed smile

1923_Ready to Go

What do you pack for your photo trips?

*Note:  with the exception of the map image, and the Mesa Verde cliff dwelling photo, the rest of the photos in this post were taken with a Canon Powershot G11.

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