From the Deepfreeze Into the Oven
The animal photographer Uwe Walz seems to love extremities. About a year ago an article on photography was published external from him, which dealt with difficult working conditions by extreme cold temperatures. During his last photo trip through some of the national parks in the U.S. he again subjected himself and his equipment to extreme burdens. In his account he describes the experiences he made, especially with the tripods.
Well, it was that time again. We landet in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton Park, in the evening just like we did two years ago. The welcome I had always hoped and wished for. Icy winds and temperatures at least 20° below freezing. On the next morning we were picked up right on time by the taxi we had requested and were driven to the Flagg Ranch at the end of Grand Teton National Park in appx. an hour. After three bumpy hours in the snowcoach, we arrived at our lodge which we had booked several months in advance. The Old Faithful Inn is situated in the heart of Yellowstone National Park. We had been there before, two years ago but only for three days. At that time we had our headquarters at the western entrance to Yellowstone and had to deal with a transit time of 2-3 hours. Precious time lost for a wildlife photographer. In that time you´re apt to miss quite a few good subjects when the sun comes up. Since I am of the opinion, that every new area of interest needs at least two trips in order to get good pictures, my colleagues and I decided to visit the nationalpark another time. Yellowstone NP greeted us right on the first mornings with temperatures of 40° below freezing.
The icey cold was so extreme, that our snowmobiles arrived three hours late on the first day. Our landlord was afraid that we would get frostbit on the trip. Even ordinary breathing through mouth and nose was very painful. After the technichal introduction to our snow mobiles was done, we were able to finally begin our picture excursion. After a few kilometers I realized just how quickly technology moves ahead and was thankful to find out that our snow mobiles had newly aquired a reverse gear. On the heavily snowed-under street, a Buffalo herd headed straight for me. Even though I stopped on the far right hand side, at the top of the embankment, the Buffalo made no sign of moving around me. I moved the gearshift into the reverse position just in case I had to turn tail and flee. Two years ago I would have had no chance to escape with the, at the time non-existing, reverse gear and the snow trailer we had used.
A suitcase in a suitcase for the 600-mm-Tele
For this journey I had made - grown wise by experience - some changes to my equipment. In order to cut the weight of the equipment and to insure a safer transport, I had aquired two large aluminum suitcases from a firm called Rimowa (Silver Integral Jumbo 77 x 52 x 26). To additionally keep the weight down but stability at high standard, I bought myself a Gitzu Carbon Mounteneer Tripod and for the large telephoto lens the Sachtler Carbon Tripod ENG 2 CF HD with the 14/100 hydro head. I had a short aluminum case made at the MGM Cases company for the EF 4.0/600mm L, which fits into this case with the turned in lens hood. This case is ideal as carry-on luggage for flights, but I put it in the large suitcase from Rimowa, a suitcase in a suitcase so to speak. This way I had the most adequate protection for the 600mm lens. Besides, the Sachtler ENG 2 CF HD fits perfectly into the suitcase, which was not possible with the Manfrotto 200 (because of ist long joints) two years ago.
I changed the EOS-1 battery packs to NiCd-Packs E 1 with the TP-E1 charger from Canon. One of the few chargers that can work with 100-240 Volt, which is ideal for America. Now my opinion two years ago was, that the EOS-5 should stay home and it has not changed, even if Jürgen Gauß says in the 2/96 issue of Fotografie draußen that there is a powerful external battery pack (BP-5) from Canon availale. I do not want to be tied to the EOS-5 with a coiled cable. I need freedom of movement while shooting pictures. To be on the safe side, I took the EOS-5 with me as a back up but only used it in New Mexico, where we had 20° C weather in the shade. The NiCd battery pack E1 from the EOS-1 casing worked perfectly during the extreme cold temperatures. Depending on the temperature I was able to shoot 10 and 15 films with one battery pack. The Photo backpack with the three casings, the super light weight Gitzo-Carbon-Tripod and the 2 8/70-200mm I lenses went onto the toprack and was fastened with tight elastic bands. The brandnew Sachtler-Carbon ENG 2 CF Heavy Duty Tripod was fastened to the back seat with another tight elastic band.
In operation: Carbon tripods from Gitzo and Sachtler
The EF 4.0/600mm L was put into a special plastic case, both made by Canon, and were placed between my legs in front of me on the seat. This way I had no problem transporting it, was very flexible and could do without a snow trailer. Well, actually this trip was to be a trip of a lifetime, but it turned out to be everything but that. When I tried to take some shots with Gitzo tripod of the landscape on the way from the snowmobile, I ran into the first problems. I was only able to extend the tripod applying great power and the act of pushing them back together was also extremely difficult. The whole act of handling the tripod was time consuming and very akward. The act of extending the tripod in itself was having to untighten und tighten all of 9 turnsleeves. More clearly said: If I wanted to set the tripod joints, I had to loosen and tighten turnsleeves at least 18 times.
What a waste of time! If you found a good setting or subject along the way, which happens very frequently during the course of the day, you had to repeat this procedure again and again until you had callusses on your hands from the constant tightening and loosening of the turnsleeves. It got worse: the handling of the turnsleeves became more and more difficult and so I had to extend the lower tripod legs already in the logde in the mornings because the cold temperatures made it almost impossible to do this and there was so much time involved. (At normal room temperature everything worked just fine). On the third day in this bitter cold, I experienced the super MCA (maximum credible accident) with this DM 1,300,- tripod. I was in the process of loosening the next to last turnsleeve in order to extend the tripod legs. It was as usual quite difficult to do, when suddenly the inner gumming of the turnsleeve came loose and it fell off together with the last tripod leg. That was the end of the Mounteneer from Gitzo.
The superb Handling of the Sachtler Tripod
Working with the brand new Sachtler ENG 2 CF HD ( HD is short for Heavy Duty) with the Hydro Head turned out to be totally different and a lot more enjoyable. I found working with these pieces of equipment was a continued pleasure. The Handling of the Sachtler is superb and starts with the process of extending the tripod legs. The precision with which the tubes extend is a pleasure in itself. The extension clip locks are a work of fine craftsmanship. Setting up the tripod during strong snow flurries and by temperatures of more 30° below freezing went smoothly. Another large advantage and time saver are the 6 extension clip locks which are easy to unclamp and fasten within seconds. This process is surely 3 times as fast as with a Gitzo tripod.
A More Than 50° Temperatur Difference
The Hydro Head features in its swing and tilt mechanisms over three different attenuation steps which can be shifted and set at half points. Beyond that, it has a balance differential for an ideal center of gravity according to whatever focal length you may need. That is an integrated, movable by 60 mm balance plate, on which the telephoto lens with means of a quick clutch is placed. It also features a dynamic, reinforced weight balance that can be set on two steps. It was amazing to see how smooth and clean the Hydro Head operates under such temperature conditions. An extreme example: During the early morning hours I drove approximately 10 - 15 Km with the snowmobile by temperatures of almost 40° below freezing. The tripod with the Hydro Head was placed diagonally across the seat. After 20 - 30 minutes (and taking the headwinds into consideration) everything was frozen. So I stopped, set up the tripod, placed the 4.0/600 mm lens onto the Hydro head and continued working with this equipment is if spring had sprung.
Hard to believe, but very true, there was not even the faintest bit of sluggishness while operating with these pieces of equipment. Another and very positive advantage: Carbon is more temperature independent by cold weather and does not feel as cold as aluminum. This carbon tripod is with its user friendly handling a joy to work with. After 10 days we flew from the snowed in cold Yellowstone to New Mexico. After we arrived, we found our first stop was the department store to buy sun lotion. During the morning, we found that the mercury marker showed us temperatures of 20° (above freezing) in the shade at the Bosque del Apache protectorate. Our body´s circulatory system needed to be very sturdy in order to take the 50° temperature change. At the lake in the sanctuary we had appx. 21.000 snow geese and 1.400 canadian cranes waiting for us. It was a unique spectacle of nature to see all of those snow geese at sunrise flying in from their resting places to the lake in order to take a quick bath. Then they flew in larger groups to the surrounding fields to graze. Shortly thereafter, the cranes started up from the, from the rising sun blood red tainted, lake. Normally I should have been used to this sight; having seen something similar at the Homborga Lake in southern Sweden. There the cranes had a great flight distance. There is no comparism though between the Bosque del Apache Naitonal Wildlife Refuge and the Homborga Lake. Here the cranes let you get as close as 50 Meters and the snow geese, if you´re lucky, up to 20 Meters. The same with the Heron and the birds of prey. In all the years of my photo experience I had never encountered such short flight distances. Back to the Sachtler tripod one more time. This tripod has a height just short of 1,60 Meters; with the Hydro head and the 600mm lens you are at about 1,80 Meters. During flight photos, the photographer does not need to bend quite so much behind the camera. It is a bit easier on the intervertebral discs. So I did not have so much of backache while standing at the lake mornings or evenings and taking flight pictures.
Die sagenhafte Präzision hat ihren Preis
Either at 40 and more degrees below freezing in Yellowstone or at 30° in the sun at Bosque del Apache: The Sachtler tripod with Hydro Head operated with such fabulous and smooth precision that I have not yet encountered and which I will not be without any more. For me it is the Rolls Royce among the the tripods. At DM 2.350,- plus tax, it is not exactly inexpensive, but precision and german craftsmanship tend to cost a little bit more. The Hydro head cost DM 2.465,- plus tax. Many colleagues will probably groan at this point, but......you only buy a tripod like this once in a lifetime! The ENG 2 CF HD is the real heavy duty version and carries up to 95 Kilo (211 US lbs) and is at 4.3 Kilo, even 100 gram lighter as for instance the Studex 500 by Gitzo, which can only be loaded with 20 Kilo (45 US lbs). The more weight a tripod can be loaded with, the more stable it will be. Every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Having returned home, the problem I had to solve was, which tripod will I use for landscape and macro pictures. Meanwhile I had sold my Berlebach and Manfrotto tripods. There is another Sachtler Carbon tripod in the catalogue. The ENG 2 CF which is supposed to weigh only 2.400 gram. I contacted the Sachtler company and had them send me the tripod to have a look at it. To make it short.....now I am owner of two beautiful Sachtler tripods. It is absolutely fabulous: A douple tube extension, carbon fibre tripod, light as a feather with 300 gram less weight than the most lightweight Manfrotto 055, which can carry 40 Kilos (89 US lbs) and is clearly more sturdy. This tripod can be used with the 4.0/600mm lens without second thought. So to say a versitally usable tripod with a working height ranging from the macro area (shortest working height of about 39 cm) through the short focal lengths up to the 4.0/600mm telephoto lens. The price ranges with DM 1,980,- plus tax far below the ENG 2 CF HD. In spite of the high cost, quite a few colleagues will be changing their equipment to include the Sachtler tripod ENG 2 CF and shortly thereafer be supplementing it with the Hydro Head. Those who are interested in the program of the Sachtler company can inquire about information through ISARfoto Bothe where the tripods can be viewed and questions can be answered. Information about special offers for beginners are also available there.