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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2003-07-31

Mini Reviews: Bags, Glass and oXigen
By Vincent Laforet, The New York Times

1. Backpack
Backpacks, bags - if you're a true sports shooter you have more "schwag" bags than you know what to do with. Old backpacks that no longer work with your digital gear or new laptops, press bags they gave you at the XXX Bowl that you never use.

Photo by

The "Back Office" by SJ Design.
Nevertheless you're always looking for that perfect new bag that will allow you to work efficiently - AND make it through the airport X-ray machine.

Well there's one that I think beats them all in terms of getting you and your computer gear in and out of an arena in no time. It's call the "Back Office" ($149.95) by Shaun Jackson - http://www.sjdesign.com/

The idea behind the backpack is to have everything you need in one place, and very easily accessible. In fact - you can leave all of your peripherals connected when you close the pack up.

Therefore you no longer have to scrounge around for the card reader, power adapter, external hard drive, and cell phone cord every time you need to send a picture. It's all ready to go the minute you open up the pack. And even more importantly - if you need to run off last second - or move over to another table because of the space-hog to your left - you can pick it all up in one swoop and plop if down somewhere else. Again - everything still connected and ready to go.

Shaun Jackson is a design professor at the University of Michigan and has produced these bags for exactly such a purpose. He wanted to make a bag that allowed the photographer/multimedia person to be productive "on the go."

I have been using the bag for a little over a month now and am in love with it. It works perfectly for me in almost every situation. When space is at a premium, you can fold the flaps beneath the bag and the whole setup takes just a little more space that your laptop would alone.

The current model work perfectly with both the 12 and 15 - inch PowerBooks (w/ cables plugged in.) Shaun Jackson should be releasing a model that fits the new 17 - inch PowerBook within weeks. The bag has two side flaps that can hold all of your accessories and cords. There are little zippered opening atop one of the side flaps, and the main flap to fit loose cards and wires in, and the top of the other flap holds a spare battery, business cards and pens. There if also a compartment in the back that will hold an impressive amount of paper work - I put my dead camera batteries in it myself.

Photo by

The "Back Office" by SJ Design.
I do have one warning/tip: the bag is so easy to close and move around that you might be tempted to simply clip the two flaps closed and move on ... DON'T. Remember to zip up the computer compartment. At the expense of embarrassing myself I will share this tip with you as I forgot to zip the computer compartment on one occasion - and out flew my laptop when I flung the bag over my shoulder. The 12 - inch PowerBook survived the flight from around 5 - feet high to the concrete city street... and if that's not a reason to buy that sturdy laptop I don't know what is... there is an ugly dent in the laptop but it works fine. So remember zip that flap up - or do as I have since done and apply a healthy amount of Velcro to the bottom of your laptop and Velcro it to the bottom of the backpack - so you don't earn any unwanted frequent flyer miles.

Overall the design is great. A little bulky is you cram everything in - but that's a result of cramming all the stuff we think we need in there - and not of the design. I haven't yet owned a backpack that I haven't stuffed to its limits.The bag can be worn as a backpack - or you can hide those straps and wear it with the optional shoulder strap ($9.95)

Furthermore - for the times you don't actually have a table and chair - you can simply lay it on your knees, and make a virtual workspace out on the street.

Shaun Jackson also produces a number of other designs that you can view on his site - including a smaller version of the "Back Officer" called the "Laptrap." Check them out.


2. 100 ~ 400mm lens
Matthew Stockman, a former colleague of mine when I used to work at Allsport (now Gettyimages,) and good friend has never passed up the opportunity to give me some grief. When he saw me at the Belmont he yelled out "Hey Vinnie - you're a real newspaper photog now! Look at that [zoom] lens!"

Photo by

Canon 100-400 zoom.
He was mocking my Canon 100~400mm 4.5/5.6 USM lens that was hanging off of my shoulder - and I couldn't help to smile, because I knew right where he was coming from.

Some sports shooters are prime lens snobs... we once carried BOTH a 400mm 2.8 AND a 600mm 4 lens around the 36 holes of golf - just because "WE HAVE TO GET THE BEST POSSIBLE IMAGE QUALITY!" The thought of even putting a 1.4X converter on that 400mm was unthinkable! Well those days are long gone given the quality of the new generation of converters - I know few colleagues who now hesitate to leave their 600mm behind - if they need something longer - they'll slap on a converter on their 400mm. They'll only bring a 600mm along if they plan on slapping a converter to it.

Well - I've never been a big fan of converters and zoom lenses - with the exception of the 70 ~ 200mm 2.8. I had played with the 35 ~ 350mm zoom lens Canon makes - and I had little success with it. Forget putting on a converter on it ... the focus was already too slow when used without one.

So when I saw the first 100 ~ 400m lens from Canon - I didn't give it a second thought.

Big Mistake.

It's now one of my favorite lenses.

Why? It's very sharp - even with a converter and the auto-focus is quite fast. Nothing will ever match the speed of a 400mm 2.8 in terms of auto-focus - but the 100~400 is fast enough to follow an F-18 jet takeoff from an aircraft carrier at close to 150 m.p.h. almost head on.

It also gives you an incredible range. Many sports/news shooters who love to shoot with long lenses can become frustrated with the 70~200mm, a lens that even combined with the teleconverter is never quite long enough - those days are over... how's a bout a lens that's just a little bigger than your 70~200 and gives you a range of 100mm to 560mm (w/ a 1.4X converter - and even more, a whopping 728mm when you're shooting digital.)

And you don't have to carry that 300mm 2.8 or worse the 400mm 2.8 around for outdoor assignments...no more breaking your back! The lens is incredibly light and compact - a true marvel for photographers who travel.

I ordered the 100 ~ 400mm lens prior to going off to the second Gulf War. Space and weight were at an incredible premium - and I could not afford to lug around a 300mm 2.8. The lens performed flawlessly, backlit, at sunset, with a converter, fully extended - and yielded some pretty incredibly images - that I would never have otherwise been able to make.

The ability to have such a long (728mm!!!) lens and be able to zoom in and out for small corrections, is one of the biggest improvements I've experienced in terms of technology helping me realize what I see, into a photograph. Kudos to those who made this lens - it's helped me make images that were otherwise impossible to make on that carrier (due to weight, mobility and space - imagine running around with a 600mm on a monopod on a carrier deck during flight ops - impossible.)

All of the long-lens images I shot the carrier were made with this lens. I used the 70 ~ 200m only twice in 27 days - when I shot 8 second exposures at f/2.8 on a tripod under moon-light of parked aircraft on the deck - and then long exposures of jets taking off with afterburners. (http://www.sportsshooter.com/laforet/lincoln/index.html and http://www.sportsshooter.com/laforet/lincoln2/index.html)

Basically - unless I need the speed of a 2.8 lens, you'll find me walking around with two bodies, one with 16~35mm 2.8, and a 100~400mm lens. I haven't been using it for football or baseball yet - because I like to shoot at 2.8 or 4 to knock out the background all the time - but it's the perfect secondary body lens for headshots, fan shots - whatever - where a fixed lens may kill you. It's also a perfect lens for any sports where you're walking around trying to find different angles - trust me - it's better to walk around with this lens than a 600mm up and down stairs to find that perfect angle!

I should note that Nikon makes an 80~400mm f4.5~5.6 and now a brand-new 200mm to 400mm f4 zoom lens - but that I have not had a chance to try them out.

All three lenses have a stabilizer built in - which really makes up for the loss in speed - I've shot at 1/15th of a second at 400mm with the stabilizer on - and gotten tack sharp images. This lens is also my new favorite aerial photography lens - no more going up in the chopper with a 500mm f4 or 300mm 2.8!


3. osXigen
Many Macintosh users switching to OSX have a tough time finding a good ftp program for the new operating system. I have been using Fetch for years now - and made the jump to the OSX version of it. While still as dependable as the OS9 version - I found three key flaws that I didn't want to put up with - especially on deadline.

Photo by Vincent Laforet / The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet / The New York Times

The inside of Vince's car.
The first problem is that the progress wheel of a photo or document moves in large chunks - so you can wait a few seconds to a minute to see if you're making any progress with that transmission.

I really liked the option of having a "hot folder" - a folder that automatically starts to upload a picture when you save a file into it (directly from Photoshop for example) or when you drag a file into it. FTP Upperware did this and I loved it - it saves only seconds - but really smoothens my workflow on deadline, especially on a small laptop screen.

It's also very difficult to see how good or fast your connection is. And I've gotten very tired of that little running dog too...but that doesn't exactly count as a fourth flaw.

I then tried out a bunch of other freeware programs - and immediately picked a program called osXigen - http://www.osxigen.com

The main reason I picked is because the program gives you a progress window or "activity viewer" as they call it that gives you REAL time progress and connection speed. Therefore I can tell if a line is slowing down, or hanging, and I can also immediately tell if I've got a good or bad cell connection a few seconds after I start - which is key on deadline.

The activity viewer also allows you to drag a number of files at once - and lists them in order - so you can constantly see how many files have landed, clearly read their names off to the editor on the other side of the phone, and see which ones have yet to go.

Photo by

osXigen
I also e-mailed the company and asked if they would consider adding a "hot folder*" option - and within hours I got an e-mail back from the program designer Jorge Monteiro. Within a few days we had worked out some kinks and Jorge has created a script that works flawlessly with the use of Applescript - which is pre-installed on all Macs with OSX -for directions on activating Applescipt go to http://www.apple.com/applescript/script_menu/ - a 5 second process. The script and program are bundled and are both available at http://www.osxigen.com. The program has a free 15-day-demo and is available for purchase for $20.

* The idea behind the hot folder is to eliminate one step from the typical three-step-process of transmitting a photograph. Someone usually has to a. edit the picture off disk b. load it into Photoshop for color/contrast correction (and maybe a little unsharp mask:) and captioning and then c. locate the file and drag it onto your ftp program. OsXigen eliminates the last step -and the headache of searching through your hundred folders to find the file you just saved! Once you're in Photoshop - save the file to your "hot" folder and osXigen takes over - It automatically starts to send the file to your ftp site. Meanwhile you can continue editing your other photos and wait for the familiar "beep" to tell you the photo has landed. Very little wasted time. And that's the general idea on deadline eh?


(Vincent Laforet is a staff photographer with the New York Times and a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau, Nov. 7 - 8 in Manhattan Beach, CA.)


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