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BIRDS AS ART ON-LINE Bulletin 55 September 9, 2001

  • The Death of the Arca-Swiss B-1...
  • New Issue of NPN Now On-Line
  • For What It's Worth...


  • The Death of the Arca-Swiss B-1
        I constantly receive questions from folks whose Arca-Swiss B-1 Ballheads are not functioning properly.  These questions fit into two categories.  The first deals with complaints that the main locking knob s "stuck."  The situation is almost always caused by folks who have turned the knob too hard when loosening the ball with the main locking knob!  It is "stuck" open....  This problem occurs especially with folks who do not have great arm strength.  If you take a large pair of pliers or get a really strong person
    to turn the knob towards "tighten," you should be fine.  Then just be sure to loosen the main knob lightly....
        The second type of questions are from folks whose ballheads grab or stick and do not pan smoothly even when the main locking knob is loosened completely and the set screw is out fully so that the least possible tension is set.  In these cases, the ball is simply dirty.  The problem is exacerbated in cold or damp weather.  I would swear on a stack of Sibley Field Guides that years ago that I never ever encountered such problems.  I have had some success cleaning the ball with isopropyl alcohol and drying it by turning and turning it and working through the cut-out slot.  Bryan Geyer recommends dunking the whole ballhead into 99% isopropyl alcohol and swishing it around.  Arca-Swiss recommends against this. 
    In any case, I, personally, have totally given up on my Arca-Swiss B-1 ballheads.  In recent years quality control has slipped, the ballhead sticks terribly (as above) whenever it gets slightly cold or dirty, and their repair "service" is ludicrously bad at best.  (When the ball grabs, and you grasp the clamp and move it around, the main locking knob actually moves and exhibits almost 1/8 inch of play: this never happened with earlier general I now use the terribly expensive Linhoff Prophy II for my macro work and when working off a tripod or the Groofwin Pod in the car.  
    I would love to hear from folks with regards to either their favorite or most hated ballheads...
    New Issue of NPN Now On-Line
    There are two great articles, the first is "EOS 1v versus Oak Creek" by multiple IPT participant E.J. Peiker is extremely well-written, humorous, and packed with suspense...  You will have to check it out yourself if you want to know if the camera lived.  "Experiences and Changes" by Pete and Alice Bengeyfiled is superbly written.  While dealing primarily with photo locations in the West, it makes me wonder who among us prefers Ding Darling with spoonbills and early morning light and 60 photographers, and who would prefer a long walk down a secluded beach with sea oats and only a few birds.  Both articles are accompanied by some fine photographs. To visit NPN click on: 
    More and more Bulletin Subscribers are hanging out at both the Avian Gallery and the General Discussion.  There have been lots of great images posted on  the former (as well as some heated exchanges), and some interesting threads on the latter, especially the still-developing thread that deals with the correct way to use an incident meter.  If nothing else, do check out Greg Downing's amazing Horned Puffin flight shot from the recent Pibilofs IPT at:  He outdid the famous bird photographer standing right next to him by a million light-years....
    For What It's Worth...
    One of the great pleasures in life is receiving a letter like this:
        I've long been a student of your work - can't count the number of times I've read the chapter on
    exposure in your classic, The Art of Bird Photography. This book (and your previous Pure & Simple
    book) have made me a much better bird photographer. Humble congratulations and gratitude to you for
    raising the bar, worldwide, in bird photography. Also, for kindling widespread interest in bird

    Based on your experience and advice, I made the switch to Canon EOS many months ago, complete with the monster 600/4(non IS... maybe next purchase). My god, has it ever changed my ability to
    consistently make good bird photos. My previous gear was a quite inadequate (for bird
    photography, anyway) Minolta system. As I'm sure you are deluged with questions about the various brands, I thought you might like to read my recent response to someone asking about my experience with Minolta (compared to my recent Canon experience). Not sure if you've had much experience with Minolta systems, or have ever had much feedback about them - so perhaps this is of value to you in your arsenal of knowledge about why Canon is the superior choice in brands.

    Please keep making your outstanding and inspiring bird photos!

    Ethan Meleg
    Bird & Nature Photography

    (Note:  Be sure to check out Ethan's fine web site; his home page yawning merganser is a killer.)

    Hi Mario,
    Thanks for the email. I look forward to seeing some of your photos when they are online! I'm happy
    to answer your email, because it was a scary and big choice for me to switch entire systems from
    Minolta to Canon EOS. Hope my experiences help with your decision...

    I shot Minolta gear for years and made many great shots with it - but ultimately found that it had
    some serious limitations. I chose to switch to Canon when I decided to buy a big lens, which cost
    nearly as much as the entire rest of the system. At that time, I did have a lot invested in Minolta,
    but with services like ebay and, I was able to sell all my Minolta gear quickly and for a
    good price. This helped to make the switch quite easy.

    I believe that the obvious choice of brands for a serious wildlife photographer is Canon or Nikon.
    Sure you can make great images with other equipment, but the other brands have various limits (some
    are big limits!). Canon was my choice for a number of reasons:
    -they are a huge company (way bigger than all the others) and they invest heavily in research and
    -their lens technology is incredible (I'm saving for an image stabilizer) - they are clearly
    industry leaders
    -they have the most extensive and complete selection of gear, especially pro accessories
    (ie.autofocus extension tubes)
    -They have several high-end bodies with essential pro features (ie. mirror lock-up). Minolta bodies
    have lagged behind with such pro features - they're finally getting better with the 7 and 9, but
    it's awfully late in the game.
    -lots of great used Canon gear, especially lenses (non IS) available at bargain prices right
    now (this is how I bought my 600/4 and EOS 1N bodies), as rich photographers upgrade to the latest IS
    lenses and new pro bodies.
    -generally cheaper than Nikon (bodies especially)

    OK here are some specific thoughts on the Minolta pro APO 400/4.5:
    -it is extremely sharp; optically excellent
    -one of the biggest/fastest handholdable lenses
    -good speed and focal length combination for shooting VERY close wildlife

    -Autofocus is loud and sluggish; here the canon lens blows the Minolta out of the water -it is
    lightning fast, accurate and silent - it is WAY better than the Minolta!
    -Cannot switch between auto and manual focus instantly with Minolta as you can with canon - this is
    probably the single biggest fault of Minolta's lens/focus technology. For wildlife(especially
    birds), I like to first autofocus then do fine adjustments manually. Can't do this with the Minolta,
    so I almost always had to shoot it in manual focus. I missed many shots as a result.
    -Awkward lens hood attachment on the 400/4.5- I broke the small attachment pegs on mine and had to
    fix it with tape. Canon is much better design.
    -Add a 1.4x converter (which you will want to do for wildlife) and the lens is awfully slow
    (minimum of f/6.7). A 2x puts your min. aperture at f/9.5. Minolta should have made it an  f/4
    lens - it would have made more sense.
    -Serious vignetting(dark edges) when you use extension tubes with the lens. Must use Kenko tubes,
    because Minolta does not make any.

    All in all, I believe the Canon system and big lenses are much better than the Minolta. I'm not
    alone here, as most pros are using Canon or Nikon. You sound like you're quite serious into nature
    photography - maybe with pro aspirations. My recommendation is to switch to Canon before investing
    more in Minolta. In the long run you'll be more satisfied. It's easy to sell your gear these days on
    the internet. You could pick up the 100-400IS lens for about the same price as the Minolta 400/4.5.
    Used bodies are quite cheap too - I bought two EOS 1Ns used. In fact, most of my gear was bought
    used (the only way I could afford to get it!).

    As a parting note, I should mention that I am not sponsored in any way, so my opinions are totally
    un-biased. They are based entirely on my personal experience with both of these systems.
    If you have any other questions, feel free to send them to me.

    Hope this helps. Good luck and great shooting!

    Listing of Archived Bulletins



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