Cheap Thrills

I went to Focal Point Photography in Dallas meFOTOon Tuesday to double-check the MeFOTO BackPacker Travel tripod I’d looked at a few months ago. I stopped en route for espresso at the Lady Bug kiosk in Monroe—sips of pleasure before business. Who writes this stuff? The weather was drab but dry, and (prophetically?) the sun arrived full-on just as I turned one last corner and parked in the store’s lot.

Most times, a visit to Focal Point sees me schlepping at least a shoulder bag of gear, but on Tuesday I had only a small messenger bag slung over one shoulder—since I’ve started shooting with a Sony NEX5n most of my photographic thoughts have been small. Minimalist. And that’s good, especially as I stare a month-long trip to England in the face—Kathy and I are limiting ourselves to one carry-on each, and whatever we can cram under the plane’s seat.

I worked from a mental list at the store, always a dangerous challenge (forget a single necessity and you have to make another trip), but came away with most of the items I’d sought. Brick and mortar stores can’t compete on everything—I’ll pick up SDHC cards and extra batteries from a preferred online vendor. Buying there is quick and easy, but lacks the satisfaction of handling the gear, and with a tripod I didn’t want to guess.

As I’d hoped, the little MeFOTO is a great match for the 5n. There’s even a hook on the bottom of the center column to hang a day pack from—smart, since I’ll bet a moderate breeze could take this lightweight combo down. Or a clumsy booted foot—I’ll be watching out for those. With color choices (black isn’t one of them) including champagne, red, green, and silver, I opted for—blue. MeFOTO includes a decent zippered case for the tripod, too—a nice touch even if I don’t use it on this trip.

I made a small pile on the store’s counter—tripod, battery for Kathy’s point n’ shoot, a SD Pixel Pocket Rocket (Think Tank accessories can induce something similar to purse obsession), a Think Tank DSLR two-battery holder (see what I mean?), a new strap and various small pouches dug from a clearance bin. Actually, it was a plastic tote, and as one thing surely leads to another I walked upstairs to Tote Heaven.

I remember the first time I went upstairs, several years ago—I found a disorganized, chaotic blend of old and ancient gear, stacked high without a discernible scheme or intent, the names of long-gone manufacturers scribbled on bags and masking tape (if you were lucky). Positive IDs were only made through digging. I felt like an archeologist. Today, a visitor will still find shelves of plastic containers but, truthfully, most of the biggest thrills are gone, although the discovery of three Nikkor enlarging lenses had a guy shivering on Tuesday. Me? I went looking for small Pentax-M and Minolta Rokkor-X lenses, circa late 1970s and early 1980s. No surprises—there wasn’t anything exotic like a super-wide but I did find a pristine Pentax 135mm 3.5 in a box—on the 5n it’s ~200mm, tiny, and has a built-in lens shade (one less item to keep track of). If it wasn’t meant for the 5n I’d be out only thirty dollars, a reasonable gamble to my mind.

After goodbyes to Mike and Nate I left Focal Point and drove south on Highway 99E and into my favorite Willamette Valley town, Corvallis. The Jackson-Frazier Wetland lies on the northern edge there, and after a couple of hours strolling and shooting along its boardwalk I was pleasantly sure the MeFOTO would do what I needed on our trip. One technique I like to try when a scene warrants it is to set my camera’s self-timer to the 10-second delay and then hoist the tripod above my head (legs fully extended) to gain depth similar to shooting from an elevated platform. (This still works when you don’t have a tripod, although it isn’t as pronounced—simply use your arms.) The lighter the load, the better, and a 5n on a MeFOTO is light. Underline that. I usually angle the lens/ball head at a 45-degree angle, and a wide-angle works best for the effect. Here’s an example from the boardwalk:


My $30 lens bet turned out well, too. The day after I rescued it from obscurity I took it on a walk and when I focus accurately the results are sharp. Another pleasant surprise, it’s already burrowed into a corner of the messenger bag.


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