Neil Losin

Equipment Review: Jag35 NEX-FS700 Baseplate and D|Support

 Posted by at 10:06 pm on February 16, 2014
Feb 162014

On our last trip to the Solomon Islands, Nate and I were faced with an equipment challenge: we needed to capture high-speed footage of small songbirds [specifically Chestnut-bellied Monarchs (Monarcha castaneiventris)] for our upcoming film about speciation – the process by which new species arise.

We were on a tight budget, so the obvious choice for a camera was the Sony NEX-FS700, a relatively inexpensive rental that can easily be adapted to work with our Canon EF lenses and can shoot up to 240 frames per second in Full HD resolution, albeit in short bursts. The challenge was not choosing the camera, however; it was supporting the camera with a very large lens: the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS, which weighs more than 8 lbs.

The big Canon telephoto is too heavy to hang off the front of the camera without tearing off the camera’s lens mount (or destroying the Metabones adapter that lets us use our EF lenses on the Sony camera). The Sony NEX-FS700, on the other hand, is not small enough to hang off the back of the lens the way you can use an SLR; we didn’t trust the strength of the lens mount (this concern may have been misplaced), but more importantly, such an arrangement would be very back-heavy and difficult to maneuver. We contacted Jag35, because we’ve been very pleased with their other products (like their Full Shoulder Rig v2), and they offered to let us use a prototype of their new NEX-FS700 baseplate.

The telephoto setup in the field: Cartoni tripod and fluid head, Jag35 FS700 Baseplate and D|Support, Sony NEX-FS700 with Metabones EF Adapter and Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS lens.

The telephoto setup in the field: Cartoni tripod and fluid head, Jag35 FS700 Baseplate and D|Support, Sony NEX-FS700 with Metabones EF Adapter and Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS lens.

The Jag35 FS700 Baseplate integrates seamlessly with the rest of their accessories –their camera plates, shoulder rigs, and follow focus systems are modular and based around standard 15mm aluminum rods, to which various accessories attach. The FS700 Baseplate has a quick-release system that allows you to attach the FS700 camera on top, and also comes with a sturdy, dedicated tripod plate on the bottom (to which you can attach, for example, a quick-release plate for your fluid head of choice).

Using a long set of rods (we had 20” rods), we were easily able to balance the Sony FS700 with the 500mm Canon lens (and even with the Canon 1.4x teleconverter at times). Because the tripod plate and FS700 baseplate slide independently along the rods, it’s easy to balance your rig on the tripod, even when your rig is as large and unwieldy as ours was!

The final element that made this work was a prototype of the Jag35 D|Support, which allowed us to provide a second point of support for the heavy lens. With the camera attached to the FS700 Baseplate and the lens foot of the 500mm attached to the D|Support, the resulting setup was big and heavy, but also rigid and surprisingly easy to balance and maneuver, thanks to the sliding tripod plate.

Neil using the FS700 and Canon 70-200mm lens on the Jag35 FS700 Baseplate (this time, without the D|Support)

Neil using the FS700 and Canon 70-200mm lens on the Jag35 FS700 Baseplate (this time, without the D|Support)

We also used the FS700 with a variety of shorter lenses. With small lenses like the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 or the 50mm f/1.4, the FS700 doesn’t really need the Jag35 FS700 Baseplate to balance properly on a tripod (though you still might find the whole rod system helpful to mount an external viewfinder, light panel, or follow focus). But with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS or Sigma 180mm f/3.5 Macro, the lens is fairly heavy and having the rod system and the sliding tripod plate made it much easier to balance the whole rig. Note that with a mid-sized lens like this, the 20″ rods are longer than necessary, but they don’t get in the way. With these lenses (which are much smaller than the 500mm, but still fairly heavy), we attached the D|Support to the lens foot when we had the time, but we also occasionally hung the lenses off the front of the camera without a second point of support. The rigidity of the setup with the D|Support was significantly better than without – this is a solid accessory if you’re going to be using an FS700 (or, very likely, an FS100) with any of these larger lenses.

The verdict: Overall, we would definitely recommend the Jag35 FS700 Baseplate and D|Support. They are solidly built, simple, and easy to use. We felt quite confident mounting our big, unwieldy telephoto rig onto our tripods – and even slinging it over our shoulders to hike through the rainforest – knowing that the Jag35 gear was holding it all together.

2013 – A Year Full of People to Remember

 Posted by at 9:33 am on January 1, 2014
Jan 012014

2013 was another busy year for Day’s Edge Productions. We saw, photographed, and filmed some amazing things and worked in some very cool places.

But what struck us at the end of the year was that many of our most enriching experiences had come from meeting (or reconnecting with) some remarkable people along the way. Here are a few of the people that made 2013 a year to remember for Day’s Edge Productions.

On the summit of Margherita Peak on Mt. Stanley (5,109m, or 16,763ft) – the highest point in Uganda and the third highest peak in Africa. From left to right - Nate, Neil, Lazoro, Nason and KG.

On the summit of Margherita Peak on Mt. Stanley (5,109m, or 16,763ft) – the highest point in Uganda and the third highest peak in Africa. From left to right – Nate, Neil, Lazoro, Nason and KG.

The year started off with a big adventure. In the fall of 2012, Nate and Neil won the first ever Dos Equis Stay Thirsty Grant. The grant gave them $25,000 to travel to Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains and document the rare tropical glaciers at the mountains’ summits. In early January, Nate and Neil headed to Uganda to climb all the major peaks in the Rwenzori Mountains. Their goal was to recreate photographs of the glaciers taken by Vittorio Sella in the first-ever expedition to climb the peaks in 1906 and document the trip for a film (Snows of the Nile).  In 1906, the Bakonjo, a tribe that lives in the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains, helped to lead the first-ever European expedition into the mountains. Amazingly, the same tribe helped us navigate through the mountains. This group of men were some of the toughest people we’ve ever met and it was an honor to climb these mountains with a tribe that has more than 100 years of history as the gatekeepers of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Kihuka was one of our Bakonjo porters. It took the efforts of almost 30 porters and guides – all Bakonjo – to support our 12-day exhibition. The grit of the Bakonjo consistently left us humbled; they carried twice as much weight as we did, yet moved twice as fast. But they couldn't have been more friendly, more professional, or more helpful.

Kihuka was one of our Bakonjo porters. It took the efforts of almost 30 porters and guides – all Bakonjo – to support our 12-day exhibition. The grit of the Bakonjo consistently left us humbled; they carried twice as much weight as we did, yet moved twice as fast. But they couldn’t have been more friendly, more professional, or more helpful.

In early February, Neil headed to North Carolina for the annual Science Online conference, a gathering of like-minded folks in the science outreach world. Neil caught up with presenter Carin Bondar (Biologist with a Twist), Alex Wild (macro photographer extraordinaire), Brian Krueger, and lots of other folks. It’s always a pleasure to be in such esteemed company! Being surrounded by people who are excelling in their work makes you push harder to excel in yours.

Carin Bondar shows Neil footage from the Science Online "Gangnam Style" parody video while Brian Krueger and Alex Wild look on. Photo by Russ Creech.

Carin Bondar shows Neil footage from the Science Online “Gangnam Style” parody video while Brian Krueger and Alex Wild look on. Photo by Russ Creech.

In early March, Nate headed to Jacksonville, FL for the biannual North American Nature Photography Association Summit (NANPA). The NANPA summit is a fantastic conference that attracts some of the best photographers in the world. The highlight of the conference was seeing what other young photographers are doing. Our friend Clay Bolt presented his work on Meet Your Neighbors and shared some of the amazing work that has resulted from that international collaboration. Mac Stone blew everyone’s minds with his presentations on Florida’s swamps. Also, Nate’s peer from the 2011 NANPA college scholarship program, Kari Post, was now helping to run the college scholarship program. It was great to see all the amazing things people are up to!

In March, Neil and Nate embarked on the first of two 2013 expeditions to the Solomon Islands for their film Incipient Species. The film stars Dr. Al Uy, professor of biology at the University of Miami, and highlights his latest research on Monarch Flycatchers, a group of birds that seem to be caught in the act of speciation – the process by which new species arise. Working with Dr. Uy was inspiring; he’s one of the top researchers in the field, his research is amazing, and he’s passionate about including the local Solomon Islanders in his research. Al’s wife, Dr. Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy, is an accomplished biologist herself, specializing in the behavior of social insects.

Albert, a local boy on Ulawa Island, in the arms of his namesake, biologist Dr. Al Uy.

Albert, a local boy on Ulawa Island, in the arms of his namesake, biologist Dr. Al Uy.

Dr. Al Uy, Dr. Floria Uy, and Lonsdale, the captain of Dr. Uy's local field team in the Solomon Islands.

Dr. Al Uy, Dr. Floria Uy, and Lonsdale, the captain of Dr. Uy’s local field team in the Solomon Islands.

In April, Nate and Neil visited the windswept Nebraska Sandhills to film a story for the World Wildlife Fund. The film, Saving the Sandhills, follows the Switzer family, who operate a cattle ranch and ecotourism operation in the sandhills. One of the biggest events on their calendar is the annual Nebraska Prairie-Chicken Festival, when they host a hundred or more eager birdwatchers and photographers on their property to witness the mating dance of the Greater Prairie-Chicken. The birds were fantastic, of course, but it was the Switzers themselves that stole the show. They couldn’t have been more welcoming to a couple of filmmakers who came in knowing nothing about ranching, and it was a real privilege to have an insider’s look at their ranching lifestyle. The whole family is passionate about their land and the wildlife on it, and it shows – their property is beautifully managed to balance the needs of their business with the needs of native plants and animals.

Rancher Bruce Switzer in his barn in the Nebraska sandhills.

Rancher Bruce Switzer in his barn in the Nebraska sandhills.

In May, Neil headed to New Orleans to photograph and lead inventories at the annual National Geographic / National Park Service BioBlitz, a 24-hour species inventory conducted in a different park each year. In 2013, it was Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, a beautiful swampy property just outside New Orleans proper. Of course, many interesting plants and animals were found, but the best part of the event was working with some amazing photographers. iLCP photographers Clay Bolt, Karine Aigner, and Kevin Fitzpatrick were there to cover the event for National Geographic. And some other talented folks – Paul Marcellini, Andrew Snyder, Britt Brown, Tom Carlisle, Todd Amacker – also showed up to help out. Good times were had by all!

Neil discusses a green anole (Anolis carolinensis) with iLCP photographer Karine Aigner. Photo by Todd Amacker.

Neil discusses a green anole (Anolis carolinensis) with iLCP photographer Karine Aigner. Photo by Todd Amacker.

In June, Rob and Haley Nelson of Untamed Science came to visit Neil in Boulder. They were just passing through, but in classic Untamed Science fashion, they couldn’t simply pass through without shooting a couple of videos in the 1 day (!) that they spent in Boulder. Rob and Haley put together two great short videos with Neil on camera, discussing a couple of specialized camera techniques (including “Meet Your Neighbours”). It’s always a pleasure to see these guys, and working with them is tons of fun. Luckily, this wasn’t the only time that Day’s Edge and Untamed Science would cross paths in 2013 – they would also be at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in September.

Rob Nelson films Neil talking about the "Meet Your Neighbours" photography technique in Colorado. Photo by Haley Nelson.

Rob Nelson films Neil talking about the “Meet Your Neighbours” photography technique in Colorado. Photo by Haley Nelson.

In mid-June, Neil and Nate embarked on their second expedition to the Solomon Islands for their film Incipient Species, starring Dr. Al Uy. There were just as many inspiring people on this second trip as the first. The Solomon Islanders never ceased to amaze us. With few modern resources at their disposal, the Solomon Islanders have become incredibly resourceful. During the expedition, they tired to teach Nate and Neil how to climb coconut trees and create fires by rubbing sticks together. In general, Nate and Neil failed at mastering these skills. Neil couldn’t manage to get the fire started, and Nate tore the bottoms of his feet off climbing the coconut tree. There is a lot to learn from people who live outside of modern technology!

Our Solomon Island guides lead us through a maze of mangrove canals.

Our Solomon Island guides lead us through a maze of mangrove canals.

On July 12th, the day after Nate got back from the Solomon Island, he headed to Spain for the release of their new book, The Symbol: Wall Lizards of Ibiza & Formentera. In the summer of 2012, Nate and Neil spent five weeks in Ibiza and Formentera photographing the Ibiza wall lizard for a book they co-authored with Dr. Valentin Perez-Mellado, about the Ibiza Wall Lizard. The fruits of their labor finally arrived in the islands in July and Nate had the opportunity to spend three weeks promoting the book in Ibiza and Formentera. During that time, Nate had the chance to say thank you to the dozens of people in the islands who helped him conduct his research, who boated him and the rest of the team to small islands, and who became his friends during the last fives years leading up to production of this book.

The front cover of our book, The Symbol: Wall Lizards of Ibiza and Formentera.

The front cover of our book, The Symbol: Wall Lizards of Ibiza and Formentera.

July 18th radio interview with Ràdioilla Formentera about The Symbol.

July 18th radio interview with Ràdioilla Formentera about The Symbol.

In mid-September, Nate headed to Oak Ridge, Tennessee for a small conference with some big-name photographers. For three days, Nate got to sit in on some inspiring presentations and conversations with people like Rob Shephard, Morgan Heim, Clay Bolt, Gabby Salazar, Bill Campbell and more. Everyone left the conference energized by each other’s ideas and hoping that the Oak Ridge Photography Conference becomes an annual tradition.

Photographers at Oak Ridge work together to photograph a spider - photo by Amy Gulick (another talented photographer at the conference).

Photographers at Oak Ridge work together to photograph a spider – photo by Amy Gulick (another talented photographer at the conference).

In September, Neil and Nate headed to Wyoming for the biggest wildlife film festival of the year: The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. The Day’s Edge team submitted three films to the festival and two – Snows of the Nile and Snakes in a Cave – were selected as finalists! Nate and Neil met some top-notch filmmakers, reconnected with others (including their friends at Untamed Science!) and had a rare chance to meet Dr. Jane Goodall – what an honor! Cody Westheimer, the fantastic musician who composed most of the music in Snows of the Nile, was also at the festival, so the Day’s Edge team got to hang out with someone they’ll undoubtedly be collaborating with in the future.

Nate and Neil meet Dr. Jane Goodall at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Wow!

Nate and Neil meet Dr. Jane Goodall at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Wow!

In October, Neil went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to teach a filmmaking workshop for a UNC / Duke collaborative project called Scientists with Stories. Fifteen science grad students from UNC and Duke took a week out of their busy schedules to learn filmmaking skills while producing their first films ever – on a deadline, for a client! It was a really interesting, if slightly stressful experience. But very rewarding for everyone involved!

Neil films the North Carolina shore with Scientists with Stories workshop participants Eleanor Caves and Mariko Weber. Photo by Lomax Boyd.

Neil films the North Carolina shore with Scientists with Stories workshop participants Eleanor Caves and Mariko Weber. Photo by Lomax Boyd.

While Neil was in North Carolina, Snows of the Nile had its Colorado Premiere as an official finalist in the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder. Even though Neil was away from his home in Boulder, Nate flew into town to attend the festival and help teach a workshop called Photography for all. The workshop was an activity offered through the Adventure Film Festival for people from all fields to learn about how to become better storytellers, photographers and filmmakers, no matter what their background.  It was an honor to co-teach the workshop with famous Adventure filmmakers like Michael Brown, television host and filmmaker Ryan Van Duzer, conservation photographer and videographer Jason Huston and more. There are SO many talented people out there!

Nate presenting Snows of the Nile at the Adventure Film Festival.

Nate presenting Snows of the Nile at the Adventure Film Festival.

Then, still in October, Nate and Neil headed to South Dakota to film two more stories for the World Wildlife Fund. First, they went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where efforts are underway to designate the first-ever Tribal National Park in the US National Parks system. They met a number of remarkable people, members of the Oglala Lakota tribe, including several folks working on re-introducing a large herd of American Bison to the reservation. The connection between the Lakota and the bison is both spiritual and economic, and the passion that the Oglala Lakota are bringing to the re-introduction (and the Tribal National Park) is really inspiring.

Bryan Brewer is the President of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and one of many people working to re-introduce buffalo onto the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Bryan Brewer is the President of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and one of many people working hard to re-introduce buffalo onto the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Day's Edge and World Wildlife Fund: The Dream Team. Matt Wagner and Jill Majerus accompanied Nate and Neil in South Dakota and were indispensable members of the team.

Day’s Edge and World Wildlife Fund: The Dream Team. Matt Wagner and Jill Majerus accompanied Nate and Neil in South Dakota and were indispensable members of the team.

During the second part of our trip to South Dakota, we visited a few ranchers that WWF has identified as leaders in grassland conservation. One of the ranches that we visited was Rock Hills Ranch near Lowry, South Dakota. This ranch was run by Lyle Perman and his family. We were surprised to find out how deeply these ranchers cared about their animals, their grassland and their profession. The sacrifices they made (and continue to make) to sustain the ranching way of life is inspiring. Nate and Neil were thrilled to produce a handful of videos about their story. In addition to our films about what is happening on Rock Hills Ranch, Nate and Neil also worked on a short film about how the economic policies in the Farm Bill are incentivizing the destruction of America’s Ranch land. You can check out that video, and WWF’s campaign to influence the next Farm Bill here.

Saving America’s Grasslands from Day’s Edge Productions on Vimeo.

In December, Nate and Neil took their last work trip of the year to film the Pulitzer Prize Winner, National Medal of Science Recipient,  MacArther Genius and Professor of Geography at UCLA, Dr. Jared Diamond. Dr. Jared Diamond’s career has spanned from physiology to evolutionary biology, anthropology to geography. On this trip, Nate and Neil were interviewing him for their film, Incipient Species, about speciation. Dr. Diamond played a critical role in some of the early research on birds in the Solomon Islands. In fact, along with Ernst Mayr (who originally identified the monarch flycatchers as incipient populations), Diamond co-authored The Birds of Northern Melanesia. The interview was riveting. Diamond, deserves all the praise that has been given to him. Nate and Neil can’t wait finish Incipient Species with everyone in 2014!

Nate & Neil with one of the greatest scientific minds - Dr. Jared Diamond.

Nate & Neil with one of the greatest scientific minds – Dr. Jared Diamond.

To all the wonderful people we met, worked with, and were inspired by in 2013: THANK YOU! Our 2014 calendar is already filling up with exciting adventures, and we can’t wait to share more stories, images, and videos with you in the coming year!

Happy New Year!

Equipment review: Think Tank Hydrophobia 70-200 Flash

 Posted by at 8:23 am on April 2, 2013
Apr 022013

Day’s Edge Productions just returned from a 2-week filming expedition in the Solomon Islands with Dr. Al Uy of the University of Miami. Knowing that it was the rainy season, and not wanting the rain to cramp our style, we asked Think Tank if they would give us two Hydrophobia® camera rain covers to use on location. They kindly agreed and, as expected, the Solomon Islands gave us plenty of chances to put the Hydrophobias through their paces!

Think Tank Hydrophobia Flash 70-200.

First, what does this rain cover do? Basically, the Think Tank Hydrophobia allows you to operate your DSLR camera in the rain without having to worry about your camera or lens getting wet. It consists of a well-fitted waterproof fabric cover with holes in just the right places for your hands and the front of the camera lens. It’s also got a nice internal attachment loop that goes around the base of the lens and allows you to carry the whole setup by an external strap (rather than using your own camera strap, which is inside the cover). Both Nate and I got the Hydrophobia® Flash 70-200, which has an additional transparent flash cover that allows you to use a large professional flash, like the Canon 580EX flashes that we use most often, attached to the camera’s hot shoe.

Here’s what we liked, based on our use of the Hydrophobia covers in the Solomon Islands:

1) The Hydrophobias did their job, and did it well. We were never worried that our cameras were getting wet, even in the heaviest downpour that we encountered. The waterproof material is sturdy and the seams look like they’ll last a long time. These things look and feel durable, and we expect them to wear well.

2) The openings in the rain cover are well positioned to allow you to manipulate the camera controls — right hand for most of the shooting controls on the Canon 5D Mark II or 5D Mark III, and the left hand for focusing, zooming, and operating miscellaneous controls on the left side of the camera body. There’s enough room to move your hands around inside the cover, but not so much extra room that it feels baggy. The bottom / left hand opening also allows you to mount the camera to a tripod or monopod with the cover attached, which we did while shooting video in the rain.

Neil shooting video in the rain on Frigatebird Island with the Hydrophobia 70-200 Flash on his Canon 5D Mark III and 70-200mm lens.

3) This thing is really well thought out! There are lots of little details that make the Hydrophobia more functional, which we’ve come to expect from Think Tank. There’s a waterproof lens cap that you can quickly slip over the front of your lens hood when you’re done shooting. There’s a transparent flap, secured with Velcro, that you can use to cover the viewfinder when you’re not shooting (or when you’re shooting in Live View mode). The eyepieces (required for use; not included) are specific to each model of camera, and fit the cameras securely. The Hydrophobia mounts to these eyepieces very securely by means of a stretchy neoprene collar that grips the outer rim of the eyepiece. You can even keep an extra eyepiece in a little pocket on the outside of the Hydrophobia.

So overall the Hydrophobias are a pretty slick solution to a common problem: shooting in the rain. In a place like the Solomon Islands, particularly in the wet season, we couldn’t let rain limit our shooting options, and the Hydrophobias let us keep shooting in some pretty camera-unfriendly conditions, from downpours in the forest to rainy sea crossings from island to island in small, bouncing boats.

Nate using the Hydrophobia 70-200 Flash in heavy rain on the beach. The camera inside is a Canon 5D Mark III with an 80-200mm lens.

There were a few things that we found challenging when working with the Hydrophobias. First, as the name suggests, they really are made for 70-200mm lenses, and they’re best used with these larger lenses. We tried using the Hyrdrophobia with smaller lenses, and it can be done, particularly if the smaller lens has a decent-sized lens hood. The material covering the lens bunches up somewhat around shorter lenses, however — it was a bit tricky to access the focus and zoom rings of my 24-105mm f/4L lens with the Hydrophobia on. But it can be done, and having the option of using these smaller lenses definitely came in handy. Second, the Hydrophobia is at its best when you’re using the camera’s optical viewfinder. When shooting video (or stills with Live View enabled), the neoprene eyepiece collar and surrounding Velcro obscure the top edge of the LCD screen, so you won’t see 100% of the frame. That being said, we shot plenty of video with the Hydrophobia covers on, and we quickly learned to adapt. The clear plastic that covers the camera back can also get fogged up in very humid conditions, or with rapid temperature changes, but I was stupid and didn’t apply the (included) anti-fog coating to the plastic before the trip. I’m sure this would have solved the problem. Third, as someone with big hands, I found that there wasn’t quite enough room for me to reach in through the lower/left hole and adjust the zoom of the lens when the camera was attached to a tripod head like the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead or Manfrotto 501 fluid head (a smaller tripod head, or smaller hands, would have been fine). Finally, if you’re not planning on using a flash very often, you’re probably better off with the non-flash version of the cover. The transparent flash “bubble” is a great feature, but stowing it away securely when you’re not using a flash isn’t trivial.

Conclusion: This is definitely a product we’ll be taking with us on our next trip to the Solomon Islands in June (with any luck, we can also try the Hydrophobia® 300-600 model to cover our supertelephoto needs when we’re shooting wildlife in the rain!). It’s a much more ergonomic and mobile solution for shooting in the rain than using an umbrella or rain jacket to cover your camera, both favorite strategies of ours in the past! We would recommend a Hydrophobia rain cover to anyone whose photographic work can’t wait for fair weather.

Mar 052013

For Christmas this year, my wife Liz got me the Think Tank Digital Holster™ 40 v2.0 and the Digital Holster™ Harness v2.0. I knew that the first months of 2013 would involve some adventurous photo and video expeditions, and I wanted a solution that would keep my camera close at hand, but also keep both of my hands free. Since I knew I’d be visiting the Rwenzori Mountains and the Solomon Islands, two very rainy places, I also wanted a solution that would keep my camera protected from the elements (this ruled out some popular camera carrying devices like the Cotton Carrier).

Here I am with the Digital Holster and Harness system, during our ascent of Mt. Speke. Photo by Nate Dappen.

So, now that we’re back from the Rwenzoris, how did the Digital Holster™ fare? Well, overall I was very glad that I brought the Digital Holster™ and Harness combination on this expedition. Here’s what I liked about it:

1) The Holster: The “Holster” itself is a solid little bag (not surprisingly for Think Tank, the build quality is excellent). Even though I shoot with a 5D Mark II and a 7D body, I opted for the Digital Holster™ 40 (which is designed to accommodate a full-sized pro SLR), because I like to leave my Really Right Stuff L-plates attached to my cameras at all times, and these make the camera body a bit bigger. I didn’t regret getting the larger holster (the other option was the Digital Holster™ 20). As it was, there wasn’t an abundance of extra room in the holster, and I’m not sure the 20 would have comfortably fit my camera with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and the lens foot attached. Oh, and the zip-out extension for longer lenses is really convenient, accommodating my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (with the hood reversed) with a bit of room to spare, but collapsing to a smaller size when I wasn’t carrying the big lens. When I wasn’t using the chest harness, the holster provided enough protection for my camera that I was confident stuffing the whole thing in my backpacking pack while we were climbing some of the bigger peaks.

2) The Harness: The Harness was very comfortable, distributing the weight of the bag evenly across my shoulders. Even when I was carrying the 5D Mark II and 70-200mm lens, the whole setup was quite comfortable, which was important since I was climbing mountains most of the day. I also appreciated the low profile of the straps – instead of cushioning the load with bulky padding, they spread the weight of your camera across your shoulders with wide, thin straps that even have breathable mesh in the back so you don’t get too sweaty under them. The harness attaches to the Holster with a system of six straps that’s a bit complicated and definitely confusing at first. But once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to get on and off, and the harness holds the holster very securely against your chest.

Digital Holster™ 40 v2.0. Photo from Think Tank.

3) Bells and whistles: The Digital Holster™ has some nice extra features, the kind of details I’ve enjoyed in other Think Tank products that I’ve used. It’s got a nice integrated rain cover, which I used on several occasions in the Rwenzoris. My camera never got wet. There are a couple of nice little pockets, one outside and one inside the lid (I used the inside pocket for memory cards and batteries). There’s also a nice stretchy pocket on the front of the holster (the side away from your chest), which I often used to carry accessories like a Rode Videomic. There’s a nice attachment that allows you to attach the holster to a belt, and some accessory straps where you could attach an extra lens pouch or something on the outside of the holster.

Overall, I was very happy with the Digital Holster™ 40 v2.0 and the Digital Holster™ Harness system. That being said, there are a few small things that could be improved.

1) When the Holster is perched on your chest, the lid opens away from you (which is good), but this makes the zipper somewhat tricky to access against your chest when it’s fully closed, especially if you’re wearing gloves. I’m not sure what the best solution to this issue would be, but I didn’t find the zipper placement to be ideal for quick access to the camera.

2) The attachment points for 4 of the 6 straps of the harness are very small webbing loops, and it was sometimes difficult (especially with cold hands or gloves) to connect the clips of the harness to these little loops on the holster. Once connected, however, I didn’t have any doubt that they would stay connected. Rather than deformable webbing loops, maybe small metal D-rings or something would make donning and removing the harness quicker.

3) While I used the rain cover several times, and it did a pretty good job staying on the holster, I think some kind of attachment (maybe Velcro or a snap closure) to secure the top of the rain cover to the top / rear of the Holster (i.e. the top of the side of the Holster that rests against your chest) would make the rain cover more secure.

Digital Holster™ Harness v2.0. Photo from Think Tank.

Finally, one limitation of the bag that is not a shortcoming of engineering, but simply an unavoidable consequence of this kind of bag: I found that once we got into really gnarly terrain, where I needed to use my hands and feet to climb, I really didn’t want the camera on my chest any more. On steep rocks, your instinct is to keep your center of mass as close to the rocks as you can, so you just don’t want something like an SLR in between you and the surface you’re clinging to. When we were climbing rocks, I put the holster in my backpack, and I was much happier that way.

To summarize, I think the Think Tank Digital Holster™ 40 v2.0 and Digital Holster™ Harness make a great camera-carrying solution for backcountry trekking. The build quality, degree of gear protection, and level of comfort are all excellent. In my case, I used the Digital Holster™ to keep my most-used camera and lens readily accessible on the trail, while I kept other, less frequently used items in a larger photo backpack. Despite a few minor shortcomings, I will take this combination with me – without hesitation – the next time I’m on a photo expedition that requires extended hiking in challenging terrain.

What are Calories? (or The Snickers Challenge)

 Posted by at 6:16 am on March 1, 2013
Mar 012013

Last month, Nate and I returned home after our Dos Equis-funded expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. We’ve been editing some photos from the trip, so you can get a taste of what we experienced during our ascent to base camp, while climbing the high peaks, and you can get a closer look at some of the flora and fauna of the Rwenzoris. We’re also producing a short film about the expedition, and we’ll be able to share more details about that soon!

A portrait of our expedition cook, Augustine. Photo by Nate Dappen.

It was a physically demanding expedition – we hiked for several hours every day, often carrying heavy camera gear, and we summited five 16,000-foot peaks in the space of seven days. We expected to lose a few pounds during the trek, but thanks to the excellent (and abundant) food provided by Augustine, the expedition cook, we didn’t end up losing much, if any, weight.

We ate our fair share of snacks on the trail, of course, and that’s how our latest video project began. I stuck with classic fare – granola bars and peanut butter crackers – but Nate had packed some calorie-dense protein bars in his backpack. I said, “If you really want lots of calories in a compact package, you should’ve just gotten a bunch of Snickers.” That’s when the disagreement started. Nate claimed that a standard-sized Snickers bar only had 120 Calories, a figure that I knew must be incorrect. I guessed 300 Calories. To make it interesting, we made a bet. It was a gentleman’s bet – no money involved – but the loser would have to eat five Snickers bars in one sitting… Very gentlemanly.

Unsurprisingly, I was right. Or nearly so… the standard Snickers bar in the U.S. contains 280 Calories (not for long, however – they are downsizing the bar to 250 Calories by the end of 2013… keeping the price the same, naturally). But rather than let Nate serve out his sentence in the privacy of his home, we decided we should parlay his misfortune into something positive… educational, even! So we made a video about Calories – what are they? And what do they do? So here it is! It’s kind of like a double feature; you get to watch Nate eat five Snickers bars AND learn something in the process. Enjoy!

To borrow a John Stewart line, “Are you not horrortained??”

Where have we been?

 Posted by at 8:09 pm on December 6, 2012
Dec 062012

It’s been a busy few months for Day’s Edge Productions – we’ve been just about everywhere except our blog, it seems! Luckily, there’s a good reason for our blog silence: there are big things in the works! In the first half of 2013, we’ll be heading to Uganda to climb the Rwenzori Mountains and document their fast-disappearing glaciers, and we’ll travel to the Solomon Islands to make a really exciting film about how new species arise! We’ll do our best to keep the blog up-to-date with news of our adventures. But aside from planning our upcoming expeditions, we have actually been doing some interesting things with tangible results!

In August and October, I spent a few days filming on Colorado’s Yampa River with a crew from National Geographic. We were covering a really interesting story – 2012 was an extremely dry year in the West, and several Colorado conservation groups came together with National Geographic to secure the water rights necessary to keep the Yampa River flowing at a healthy level. Most water leases are made in order to use water from the river; this one was made to keep water in the river. It’s an innovative conservation measure that just might have kept the Yampa River – and its inhabitants, like the native mountain whitefish healthy in a pretty bad draught year. Check out the video that resulted from this shoot, courtesy of the National Geographic Freshwater Initiative:

A male Anolis evermanni in Puerto Rico

Earlier in the year, Nate and I also sold some footage to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for their long-running nature series The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. They needed footage of Anolis evermanni for an episode on animal intelligence, “Mysteries of the Animal Mind,” and – wouldn’t you know it – we had captured some nice footage of this anole species during one of my research trips to Puerto Rico! Anyway, it amounted to a modest footage-licensing deal, but since this is our first broadcast credit, it’s still a bit of a milestone for us! Check out this short excerpt from the program, which features some of our footage in a segment about Dr. Manuel Leal’s research on anole intelligence (our footage was used in a couple of other places, but we couldn’t share the whole program!):

If you’re in Canada, you can probably watch the entire episode here, but if you’re in the United States you’ll have to settle for our excerpt!

Finally, we’ve been working hard on The Symbol, our book about the Ibiza Wall Lizard, and we’re making good progress. We’ve still got some work to do, but we can’t wait to share the fruits of our labor!

The Most Interesting Project in the World

 Posted by at 10:17 am on November 16, 2012
Nov 162012

We’ve got big news, and it involves beer and science! Last night, Nate and I found out that we won the first-ever “Stay Thirsty Grant” from Dos Equis. This $25,000 grant is going to support our expedition to Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains to document some of the last tropical glaciers on Earth. (View our “pitch” video here:

The official announcement was made by “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” the spokesman of a wildly successful Dos Equis advertising campaign, in a private event in New York, which was followed by a huge masquerade party. You can see us fraternizing with TMIMITW, as we affectionately call him, in the pictures below.

The winner was decided by a popular vote, so we have to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who voted for us and encouraged their friends to vote! We couldn’t have done it without your support! To learn more about exactly what we’ll be doing in Uganda, check out this piece we wrote for National Geographic Newswatch last month. We’ll be posting lots more about this project as our plans develop over the next couple of months, and we can’t wait to get to the Rwenzoris and bring back some amazing images to share with all of you! More to come!

“The Symbol” Video Update #3: Es Vedrà Trek

 Posted by at 2:48 pm on July 28, 2012
Jul 282012

Closeup of an Es Vedrà lizard. The combination of a deep blue body and yellow back is not found in any other population.

We visited dozens of islands during our month-long expedition to the Pityusic archipelago to photograph the endemic Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusesis). We photographed lizards clad in brilliant blue, green, and orange, cryptic shades of brown, and even black. But right from the start, we knew our expedition wouldn’t be complete until we climbed Es Vedrà. Es Vedrà is an island shrouded in mystery – it is visible throughout the archipelago, a monumental 1250-foot-high pinnacle of rock rising abruptly from the Mediterranean off the southwest coast of Ibiza. But Es Vedrà is uninhabited and off-limits to the public, so few people have a chance to explore it, and fewer still reach the summit. The island has inspired countless legends through the centuries. More importantly for us, Es Vedrà is home to what may be the most spectacular population of Ibiza Wall Lizards in the entire archipelago.

The most conspicuous terrestrial animals on Es Vedrà are wild goats, descended from domestic goats introduced to the island by humans centuries ago.

In the final week of our expedition, we finally had a chance to face Es Vedrà. This film chronicles our trek to the summit. Nate had reached the peak once before, so we had a rough idea of what lie ahead. Still, we knew we would encounter challenges along the way! Early on our hike, the pouch that held our wireless microphones got torn off my backpack as I pushed through some dense brush, and we didn’t realize the mics were missing until we reached the summit. Unfortunately, that meant that we couldn’t record our impressions when we were there. But in case the video leaves you with any doubt… it was SPECTACULAR!

We retraced our steps on the way down, and – miraculously – Nate managed to find the mics! What a relief!

Our other objective on Es Vedrà was to capture a high-resolution panorama from the summit, so that our friends and project backers could share our experience and get a sense of what we could see from the summit. You can explore the high-resolution panoramic image below, or use the cool full-screen interface at the Gigapan website, complete with annotated “snapshots” within the larger image.

Exhausted but happy, Nate, Amanda and I stand atop Es Vedrà!

Farewell to Formentera!

 Posted by at 8:25 am on July 13, 2012
Jul 132012

They say time flies when you’re having fun. And evidently it flies even faster when you’re working 12-hour days photographing lizards in an island paradise! Our time in Formentera is drawing to a close — we leave for Ibiza tomorrow morning, and we’ve got a busy schedule planned for the final five days of our expedition there. The local response to our project continues to be really encouraging… everyone we tell about our project seems excited that we are creating a book about their iconic sargantanas. And the local media have continued to cover our expedition as well; the total is now up to 2 TV interviews, 1 radio interview, and 2 newspaper articles about our work. The most recent addition to this tally is a really nice article (in Spanish) by reporter Carmelo Convalia in the most widely read newspaper on the islands, Diario de Ibiza. One of the nice things about this latest article is that it’s in color! We got the whole back page of the newspaper devoted to our project, with several color photographs. We took a quick picture of the newspaper (the front page is just for reference; the article about our work is on the back page), which you can check out below (click the image to enlarge).

On a side note, this is our 200th blog post on Day’s Edge Productions! We hope all of our readers will stick around for another 200!

By land, sea and air

 Posted by at 11:44 pm on July 10, 2012
Jul 102012

Islands: they’re hard to get to. It’s why biologists find so much to study on islands, but it means they can also present major logistical hurdles… a blessing and a curse!

Things never go quite as planned on a field expedition. You have to roll with the punches and be ready to improvise. This trip has had a few unexpected hurdles (and, to be fair, unexpected opportunities), but one of our major unanticipated challenges has been getting to all of the small islands around Ibiza and Formentera. In the course of his research (starting in 2009), Nate developed a close relationship with the Natural Reserve office here in Formentera, and in past summers they have graciously provided him with a boat and driver whenever he has needed to collect data one of the many uninhabited islands near Formentera.

Javi (in the green jacket) skillfully navigates Formentera’s Natural Reserve boat toward Islas Negras, small islands between Ibiza and Formentera (Ibiza is in the background). Javi and Edu (in the red jacket) were a fun – and knowledgeable – team to spend a day on the water with!

Unfortunately, we arrived in Formentera to find that the situation had changed. Despite the Natural Reserve’s best efforts to help us, we’ve only gotten access to their boat for one day so far, and worse still, the boat is now out of commission for repairs, so we probably won’t get to use it again! But in the absence of our “Plan A,” we’ve improvised. We’ve swum to a few islands near the shore, towing our gear in a raft. We’ve used an inflatable kayak. And we’ve gotten help from the National Parks office in Ibiza as well – we’ve been out on their boat once already, and we’re looking forward to spending more time with them when we revisit Ibiza next week. In any case, we’ve learned that nothing is certain until we’re actually on the water, so we always make backup plans for photography here on Formentera… and we’re ready to hop on the boat at a moment’s notice when the opportunity presents itself!

We’ve only got nine more shooting days on the island! There’s still lots to do, of course (we’ll never get all of the images we want!), but we’re really happy with our progress so far, and we can’t wait to share the fruits of our labors with all of our Kickstarter backers and blog readers! More news soon, so stay tuned!

Boats aren’t just useful, they’re fun! Here Liz is enjoying the ride to the Bledes islands with the National Parks boat in Ibiza.

Nate and Amanda work together to inflate the “Explorer 200,” a small raft that we’ve used to float our gear to some nearby islands, as we swim alongside it.

Our field crew embarks for the Bledes Islands (with their all-black lizards!) on the Ibiza National Parks boat. Jorge, in the foreground, generously shared with us his considerable knowledge of the islands and their wildlife.

When islands are fairly close to the shore, kayaking is an option. Here, Liz paddles toward the island of Cala Salada with our photo gear safe and dry in the kayak, while we swim behind her.

Boats moored in the harbor at La Savina, the main port in Formentera. Thanks to the Natural Reserve office in Formentera, this is where we embarked for Islas Negras, with their orange-bellied green lizards.