A change is gonna come…

…HT Sam Cooke.

If my life doesn’t change, and for the better, things are going to go very badly for me, so I need to make a major effort to ensure that it does change.

Of all the things I used to be able to do – backpacking, photography, rambling, cycling, sea angling, fly fishing, even drinking and x-rated activities, only one remains remotely doable – photography. And yet I can count the photographs I’ve taken over the past year on my fingers, and still have a couple left over.

There are several reasons for that.
Transport is the biggie. These days I can’t use my powerchair for anything much beyond taking rubbish out to the bin room, or trundling round within the building, as the slightest bump is excruciating (my leg is healing, I’m in no doubt about that, but it still hurts like a bastard). This means using it for travel – and I used to go for miles in my chair, pre-lymphoedema – is out of the question, as the roads in Wirral are in a dreadful state. Taxis seem to be the only solution, maybe to transport my powerchair as well as me.

Then there are physical restrictions. For reasons that no-one seems entirely clear about, I’m losing the use of my right hand (and I’m right-handed, so seriously unhelpful). Thumb, index and middle finger are mostly OK (middle is getting iffy), the rest of it not so much – my theory is that the better part of 30 years spent leaning on crutches has damaged the nerves in my hand, and possibly the circulation, too. The nurses think it’s a calcium deficiency (and supplementing with – prescribed – calcium has helped somewhat; magnesium – self-prescribed – helps with cramp). I think we’re both right.

And there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m now physically weak. During the crisis of 2012-13 I lost a huge amount of weight, much of it muscle which I haven’t regained (I’ve regained much of the weight – as flab and retained fluid – but without exercise, which is impossible, muscle remains elusive.

The bottom line, though, is that it’s just so bloody hard to handle a camera and crutches at the same time.

A tripod** is the answer, and I have an excellent Slik Able 300DX, but it’s a bit heavy at 2.6kg, and the legs are adjusted by means of screw clamps, not clips, which makes it cumbersome. Extremely stable, though.

Slik 300DX All pics click image to view full size, Back button to return.

For its original purpose as a mount for a scope (birding), when it would be set up and left in place for hours, it was perfect. For a camera on the move, not so much.

**I toyed with the idea of a monopod, but I don’t have enough hands – a pair of crutches, camera, monopod – something will inevitably get dropped sooner or later. The safety of a tripod offsets the inconvenience.

So I’ve ordered a new, much lighter, tripod, a Hahnel Triad 30 Lite Professional, in magnesium alloy (the Slik is aluminium), which weighs in at a mere 1.2kg. Well-reviewed (Amazon), and comes with a pretty decent ball head which also helps keep the weight down compared to the more usual pan and tilt head. Quick-release plates are available separately (you get one with the tripod, of course), so I can fit them to both of my still cameras and my camcorder.


I know the potential problems with light tripods (vibration, wobbles, susceptibility to wind), but my Olympus E-420, even with the Zuiko 70-300mm zoom attached (140-600mm 35mm equivalent), is still pretty light, and I have a remote control for it (with a tripod-mounted camera you should take the pic using a cable release or an electronic remote).

One way to stabilise a light tripod is to put a carrier bag in your pocket. Then, when setting up, put a few rocks in the bag and hang it on the bottom of the centre column – many have hooks for just this purpose – makes a big difference.

A bonus with a tripod is that I can attach the head and camera (with a shorter lens), to the bottom of the centre column, thus getting around the problem of being unable to bend down. Well, not so much that I can’t bend down, but if I do I can’t get up again!

I have two cameras (actually I have more cameras than is sensible, a comprehensive 35mm Minolta X-700-based SLR outfit, a Zenza Bronica medium-format SLR, and a collection of digital cameras which was kicked off with a Fuji S602 Zoom bridge camera about 12 years ago), but I mainly use either my Oly E-420 d-SLR or my Canon SX30 IS, a bridge camera with a massive zoom (24-840mm, 35mm equivalent). For my blog photos I use a compact, a Canon Ixus 860 IS.

IS is Canon’s Image Stabilisation designation. On the Ixus it’s not great (it’s an early version), but on the SX30, even hand-held at maximum zoom, it’s pretty damn good. I’m not a great fan of digital compacts (I prefer cameras with viewfinders), but I have to say I do like the Ixus.

By the way, my kitchen video scheme has been on hold as I’ve been so ill the past week or so (nothing new, just the same old crap, but worse – I should probably be in hospital, but you know how I feel about that!). Anyway, it will happen but, during the hiatus, I’ve taken the opportunity to modify the camera support setup by replacing the pan and tilt head (very heavy), with a ball head. Koolertron – not a brand I’m familiar with, but it looks well made and is well reviewed (Amazon again).

Koolertron Ball head

Both head and tripod are due today.

Not impressed with the ball head – it works, but it’s very clunky. I posted a critical review on Amazon (might not appear for a day or two). I paid £25.99 with free Prime delivery. That’s changed. It’s now £19.99 plus £9.94 p&p, from the same supplier. Note that p&p charge – it’s a tad ambitious. Allowing for packaging, next-day, signed-for, delivery (though there’s no indication this is offered for the better part of a tenner), is £4.30 by Royal Mail.