Friday, 9 January 2015

Has Trek-Tech, makers of the TrekPod, gone?

My TrekPod XL has been envied wherever I have taken it in the world. For those not familiar with the TrekPod system, it acts as a trekking pole and tripod with a quick-release magnetic ball and socket head.  It breaks down into sections for packing (the XL is carbon fibre and came with a case as well a separate table tripod) and it is the bottom section that can easily be splayed out to form a tripod. For video it is perfect since any kind of support is better than no support.

When I bought it a few years ago, the British agents were Johnson-Photopia. I was concerned that it might be a poor trekking pole and a poor substitute for a proper tripod. That proved not to be so and I was very pleased with it from day one. It proved its robustness as a trekking pole in the Simien mountains of Ethiopia; I really put some pressure on it both uphill and downhill. The MagMount system for the Sony camcorder is excellent and although pans and tilts would be difficult, a steady shot is assured, especially when using longer focal lengths for wildlife.

I then saw that the advertisements for the system had disappeared from the British photographic press; then from the range of products for which Johnson-Photopia are agents. A look at the Trek-Tech website showed that nothing had been updated since about 2008; similarly, the company's page on Flickr held nothing beyond early 2010. I found this ominous notice on the website: To our customers: Trek-Tech is working through some corporate restructuring. Please be patient while we work through this process. And that's the way the website has stayed.

I suppose the rise of stabilised cameras has reduced the potential customer base for this type of product but nothing else quite fills the bill. The current crop of video monopods with fold-out feet are not suitable as trekking poles and even the lightest tripods are less convenient to carry and slower to set up than the Trek-Pod. For lighter CSC and bridge cameras it is also excellent.

Whether Trek-Tech will ever be back in some form I do not know. I could have sold a number to photographers, wildlife watchers and travellers impressed after seeing one in action. It would be a pity if the innovative technology disappeared forever.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Digiscoping Dilemma

My present ‘standard’ digiscoping set up with the Leica apo-Televid 77 is: a B32 WW eyepiece on the scope and a Digilux 1-Televid adapter connected via a 49-46 stepping ring to a Panasonic Lumix LX5 camera. To fill the frame and minimise vignetting with this set-up the camera has to be on maximum zoom (19 mm). This gives me a 35 mm full-frame camera equivalent focal length of 2675 mm. I use an attachment made by Richard Franiec that fits into accessory shoe of the camera and allows a standard cable release to be used to press the shutter button.

Panasonic Lumix LX5 with Digilux 1 adapter
stepping ring attached to 32 WW eyepiece on
apo-Televid 77

However, the LX5, introduced in 2010, does not take full HD video and the whole set-up with so many glass surfaces is inclined to flare. Travelling abroad means having to carry another camera, charger and the Digilux/stepping ring adapter. For most distant shots my superzoom Nikon bridge camera (1000 mm full-frame equivalent) is fine. It is only for the really distant shots that the digiscope offers an advantage.

I have been trying the Phone Skope system for digiscoping with my iPhone 6 to see if that would be a better bet for carrying when travelling. The dedicated phone case (only just available in UK from Newpro) and special adapter for the Leica 32 WW eyepiece work very well. The video from the iPhone 6 with its Sony sensor is of high quality and, of course, full HD. The disadvantage of the set-up is the maximum effective focal length that can be obtained: 960 mm and effectively the same as my Nikon superzoom camera. (For incorporating stills into full HD video, I do of course, have the option of only using 1920 x 1080 of 3264 x 2448 pixels of the i-Phone image, thereby gaining extra magnification by what is a ‘digital zoom’.) However, I can see occasions where I shall use the Phone Skope set-up. If the scope and tripod are locked on a bird then it is a matter of moments to attach the Phone Skope, and start the video or take a still using a remote release or the volume control on the ear-phones.

iPhone 6 in Phone Skope case and adapter for 32 WW eyepiece

Without my Lumix LX5 set-up I would lose the capability to go beyond 1000 mm full-frame equivalent focal length. Should I get a new superzoom camera with an even greater maximum focal length which could take raw stills and full HD video, and ditch the LX5 and Digilux adapter, its lack of hull HD now being a major disadvantage? The gain in optical quality and greater depth-of-field might offset that loss of focal length that my present digiscoping set-up can achieve. For travelling abroad that might be the best bet, with the iPhone (which goes abroad with me anyway) and very light Phone Skope to latch onto the Televid if necessary.

Decisions have to me made…