Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Brookfield Zoo 2012 photo contest

Brookfield zoo has just released the results for their 2012 photo contest...and I am one of the very proud winners!

The contest was open to everyone and is divided into an adult and children under 11 categories. My entry won 2nd place for the adult category.

My winning photo.

More about the photo...It was a hot day when I decided to go to my favorite nature center here in Illinois to take some bird shots. I brought with me my Canon 5D MK2 along with 2 lenses, my Canon 400mm f/5.6 and my 50mm f/1.8, I also brought my flash extender for the bird shots. As I was walking in the trails, I noticed these frogs that were just above the water filled with what I believe was algae. The birds were all over them, picking them out from the water one by one. So I decided to swap my lens from the 400mm to the 50mm. I think I actually brought the 50mm by accident. I thought it was the 100mm macro that was in my bag instead of the 50. The 50mm proved useful though as I can't get close enough with my 400mm. So I knelt down and took the shot. The frog that was in the shot actually didn't flinch. The shot came out as I wanted it.

Couple of months later me and my wife were walking inside Brookfield Zoo, a woman approached me and gave me a flyer for the photo contest. I then remembered this shot and submitted it. Luckily it won 2nd place!

Lesson really don't know what you'll come across when you are out shooting. So make sure you are prepared for whatever comes. I was prepared (somehow) and got lucky!

Click here for the Brookfield Zoo 2012 photo contest results.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lowepro Vertex 300 AW Backpack

The Lowepro Vertex 300 AW backpack. Probably one of the best big travel camera backpacks ever.

Before our trip to Maine, I knew that my Lowepro Flipside 300 bag isn't enough to carry all the stuff i'm bringing in to our vacation. Maine is a pretty big area for photographs. The photo opportunities there is endless. From wildlife to landscapes...I know I need to bring a couple of my lenses to make the most out of our trip.

My Lowepro Flipside 300 backpack basically will hold one body with a large telephoto lens attached, 2 extra lenses and a speedlight. Or 2 bodies one with a telephoto attached and one extra lens and a speedlight. I need more than that on our Maine trip so I decided to look for a large travel backpack that can hold at least 2 bodies 2 large telephotos, and 2 smaller lenses plus a speedlight and a tripod. So I browsed online for a large travel slr backpack with a not so stellar price.
Both sides of the bag feature the glide lock system used to hold a tripod or a light stand.
I ended up finding the Lowepro Vertex 300 AW backpack. I found one online for less than $200, a price that I am willing to spend on a very good travel backpack. Usually it is priced around $250-$299. I was lucky I found one cheaper so I ordered it and it arrived 3 days later.

The front features a detachable tripod catch, multiple pockets and a tripod strap.
My first impression when I opened the box was that this bag is huge! I guess I got what I asked for. It is huge but not obnoxiously huge like a hiking bag. I actually can walk around with it in my back and not worry about bumping anything when I turn around. Surprisingly the bag alone is pretty light.

The back features padded shoulder straps for comfort. 
The front features a tripod strap and a tripod catch at the bottom. The tripod catch comes in unattached. It really is up to you if you want it attached or not. I find it really helpful when carrying tripods so I just leave it alone in there. The strap features a system called Glide lock which enables you to move it up and down for your tripod height. A feature not found in other bags.

The sides of the bag also has tripod straps and Glide locks. I find these really nice when you're going on a shoot and bringing in your tripod and light stands. I use the sides for light stands. It is so convenient that you don't need a separate bag for 2 stands.

The back has the padded straps for comfort. The straps are padded thickly for extra comfort during long hikes. It also has a waist strap to keep the bag steady along with your body...and those straps are padded too.

If you are not using the straps, the bag has a cover  so you can zip it up and it becomes a carry on bag.
How good is it as an outdoor camera backpack? The Vertex 300 has a built in rain cover which you can hide in the bottom compartment. This is a very nice feature when you're outdoors and carrying expensive equipment under not so good weather. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to use it so I can't tell if the rain cover is that good. By the looks of it, it seems like it's pretty weather resistant.

It has a built in rain cover.
The bottom has a compartment where you fold and keep the rain cover and also the back cover if you don't want to use the shoulder straps. Both flaps just fold into the compartment. You wouldn't even know that it's there. It closes by a strip of velcro.

The bottom pocket used to keep the rain cover and the back cover.
Now we go to the most important part...the inside of the bag. As what the photo shows below this paragraph, this bag has a ton of room for your equipment. As like other camera bags, the inside dividers are detachable using velcro. You can basically set the dividers however you want them to be. The top most part houses a body as well as the bottom part. I use the side compartments for lenses and other stuff.

The dividers are detachable for easy setup to however you want it.
The front panel of the bag that is inside has pockets that can hold your filters, manuals and anything that's flat. This is where I store my FX5 better beamer flash extender, since it stores flat.

This is where all the flat stuff goes. Filters, manuals, etc.
Now here is where the Vertex 300 shines...the room. I basically carried 2 bodies, 2 long telephotos, 3 extra lenses, a video camera, about 5 batteries, 3 chargers, a teleconverter, 1 speedlight, a shutter release, a tripod, 5 memory cards, a portable hard drive with power supply, a tablet, about 3 filters, a flash extender, a first aid kit, and I can't remember what else. It is like bringing your studio to a vacation. I love how you can carry 2 bodies with lenses attached facing each other. Now you don't have to worry about attaching the lenses when you get to your location.

The only thing that will limit you with this bag is the ability to carry it with all the stuff inside

The tripod holders are a plus with this bag. It has 3 of them!
The front pocket has 4 memory card compartments. In addition to 4 separate pockets.

The other side has 2 zipped pockets for batteries or whatever, plus a pen holder and another pocket.
The Vertex 300 has a buch of pockets in the front compartment. I use this to store my batteries, cleaners, wipes and swabs. A pen holder that can hold 3 pens is useful when you're on the go. On the other side the vertex 300 has 4 separate memory card holder. Of course, you can also put your memory cards in whatever pocket you want to.

The top front has a separate laptop sleeve that can hold a 15" laptop or a tablet.
The laptop sleeve can hold a 15" laptop or a tablet, I use this for a tablet which is really useful for seeing the previews of the photos that you take when you're on location.

There are endless pockets and compartments with this bag. Basically the only thing that will limit you with this bag is the ability to carry it with all the stuff that you can put in it. The construction is pretty tough, even the some of the zippers are protected from the elements.

Lowepro did a good job on this bag. I've always loved the Lowepro brand when it comes to bags. For the price, there is just no way to pass on this good deal.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Me and my aperture Etsy shop

The Me and my aperture shop is now online at

I decided to sell prints at my new Etsy shop. Etsy as you know is a very popular marketplace for arts and crafts. My friends told my about it so I decided to give it a try.

The prints are photographs that were shot on numerous occasions. A lot of them have been featured here in this blog. The photos are printed on 13x19 premium matte paper, unmounted and ready to be framed.

The Meandmyaperture shop at
The prints are $30 each. $5 shipping to the continental USA. For any special sizes, I can be messaged here or my Etsy shop.

Please visit for more details.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fotopro NGC-65 Carbon Fiber Monopod

The Fotopro NGC-65 Carbon Fiber Monopod
After purchasing a super telephoto lens months ago, I needed something to support it during hikes. I purchased a Canon 400mm f/5.6 which isn't that big nor heavy, but I still needed something to support it while I take a shot. Considering that my 400mm doesn't have stabilization, I need to keep my camera steady while I press the shutter. Going above 200mm, you are going to need some steady hands for you to hold your camera to prevent camera shake. In that range, the slightest movement of your hands can affect your shot.
I got mine in blue, I'm not sure if it has other colors.
Sometimes a tripod isn't the best solution. Oftentimes, you hike around an area and realize that a tripod is more troublesome than to just hand hold your camera. Also a tripod takes time to setup. The best alternative to a tripod when hiking or walking is a monopod.

I looked on the web to see what I can find for monopods. I really didn't need to spend a fortune for a monopod, though I didn't want to get a really cheap one either. I've learned my lesson from buying ultra cheap tripods and I'm not gonna make the same mistake again. So I went online and found a monopod that caught my attention...the Fotopro NGC-65 Carbon Fiber Monopod.

I've never had any Fotopro equipment. Although from the looks of their tripod, they kinda resemble the colorful Benro/Mefoto tripods, as well as the Sirui ones that are both manufactured in China. I've tried a HorusBennu ballhead, and for the price it's really not bad...I was hoping the same for this Fotopro monopod.

Fotopro has been around for sometime manufacturing support equipment for cameras. As I have mentioned, their products resemble the Benros a lot. I'm kinda wondering if they are made in the same factory.  I decided to try it out. Managed to get one for around $45.00.

I got it within 5 days. The monopod came neatly boxed. The item came with a bag...comes in handy when you want to bring it around and you don't have a tripod holder in your camera bag. Being made out of carbon fiber, the monopod is really light. By adding a ballhead, the tripod will weigh a little bit heavier but not that much.

I attached my Giottos MH-1302 Pro Series II Ballhead into the monopod and it was still pretty light I then attached my 50D with the Canon 400mm f/5.6 on the ballhead mount. The monopod seemed to hold pretty well.

With my Giottos MH-1302 pro ballhead.
There's a lot of people who are not fans of the twist lock system for tripod/monopod legs. I thought it was a pain too at first but after a couple of hours of playing with it the twist lock system doesn't bother me at all. Maybe it's because it's just one set for a monopod compared to three on a tripod, but I don't think I will have a problem with the same system on a tripod either. The locks have grooves in them to accomodate the thumb and the index finger to twist it more easily...a very nice feature to have.

The twist lock system. Some hate it, some love it.
At the top of the the first twist lock, you'll find an arrow telling you which goes to tighten the lock and which one goes to loosen it. At the second section of the monopod there are measurements which I don't really use but maybe useful for some people. The monopod has a faux leather strap where you can insert your wrist as a safety to keep you from losing your monopod just in case your hand accidentally let's go, it is attached to a metal ring which is attached to the monopod itself. I've tried a more expensive monopod which used a plastic holder for the strap and it broke a couple of hours after using the the metal is so much better. The monopod has a piece of foam covering the first segment for comfort. This proved to be very helpful when carrying the monopod around long distances as it rested on your shoulders, providing you with a soft padding.

The second segment has measurements, maybe useful for some photographers.
Fully extended, I didn't find the monopod wobbly at all with the 400mm attached. I would love to use it with a bigger lens if I have one, but so far it holds its own. I also feel comfortable walking with it on long distances at nature centers. The twist locks also provide quick adjustments so you don't miss a shot.

With my Canon 50D attached and a 400mm f/5.6 lens.
The monopod features a reversible 1/4 and 3/8 head screw. This is useful if you have multiple heads that use different screw mounts. The smaller screw is used for lighter capacity heads and the bigger one for the more durable heads. I have three ballheads and all of them use the 3/8 screw.

The monopod extends up to around 57.5 inches when fully extended, and it is almost 16 inches when folded. The specs on their website says it can support up to 11 pounds. So far, with my heaviest setup, a 50D with a battery grip and a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens, the monopod still doesn't feel wobbly.

For the price, this monopod can't be beat. The carbon fiber construction is a very big plus compared to the aluminum ones when it comes to weight. I have taken mine to numerous outings and it never has failed me. I highly recommend it!