My European Road Trip and Kit Review

We’d had two weeks in September blocked out for months, but had no idea what to do until fairly close to the time. We decided we’d drive (from the UK) to Switzerland in our trusty little Micra (Marty).

There were some bits we needed to film for current and upcoming documentary projects and it seemed sensible to roll all of this together with having some time away.

The Itinerary

  • 2 nights near Bapaume in northern France
  • 2 nights in Verdun, France – about 3 hours south-east of Bapaume
  • 7 nights in Switzerland
  • 2 nights in Luxembourg (City)
  • One helluva drive home from Luxembourg with a day filming down the Belgian coast

A Partnership

I’ve previously bought some filters and camera odds and ends from a company called SRB-Photographic and without sounding too much like an advert, I like them because they’re reasonably priced and good quality.

I got in touch with them about us potentially working together, and we had a chat. They kindly suggested sending me over some items to test while I was away.

SRB equipment.jpg

I received a lovely and very exciting package of:

The guys asked me to test these out and then give my honest opinion of their products and what photographer doesn’t love to test out new gear!

P Size Filter Holders

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The holder plus 0.3 soft grad filter on my Nikon D800

Traditionally I’ve used screw on, round filters so using a filter holder was a new experience for me.

It’s great to be able to change filters easily without having to screw things off and on – that was a real plus and time-saver. The holders come with their own soft bag which doubles as a very useful cleaning cloth, as well as protecting them from bumps and scrapes.

The size of these is such that if I want to carry around my camera and say, a handbag, these will fit easily in my bag and they’re not too heavy. They also won’t scratch my phone or belongings because of the bag I mentioned before.

My only beef with these was that they could be tricky to screw on properly. Occasionally they’d pop right off the thread. Now SRB are releasing a brand new holder – the P Size Elite Filter Holder – on the 7th of November (it can be pre-ordered too), which I’m told will address those issues.

The Filters

If you want to know more about how filters work and why you might want to use them, then you can keep up with me over on Tuts+, there’s a filter tutorial coming in the near future.

Neutral Density Filters (0.3, 0.6, 0.9)

Neutral density filters are great for being able to take long exposures during the day. For significantly long exposures in daylight, only an ND1000 will do, but if you have a time when the ambient light is low (like a sunrise or sunset), you only want to lengthen your exposure by a small amount or you need to block out incredible sunlight for a regular exposure (think shooting directly into the sun) then these are perfect.

Boat on a Lake - Switzerland
Boat on a Lake – Switzerland

This image was taken directly into the sun on an incredibly bright day, the sunlight reflecting off the water causes a whole other set of problems, too. I didn’t want a long exposure as the boat was moving, so the 0.9 ND filter was used to get the right exposure and to ensure the highlights weren’t blown.

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A phone picture to demonstrate the brightness of the day

I took this with my phone to show just how bright the day was. When you expose for the sky, as above, the shadows are all but lost.

ND1000

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You can see the difference the ND1000 makes to the water and sky

This has always been my favourite filter. I actually have about three of SRB Photographic’s screw on ones for various lenses, so I was over the moon that this was included in their pack.

The thing about an ND1000 is that you can’t see through it (that’s kinda the point), at all, so you need to compose and focus your scene before you put the filter on. With a screw on, that’s a bit of a pain because you can accidentally end up spinning the focus ring.

Sliding the ND1000 into the P size holder was so much easier and significantly cut down my ‘set up’ time.

The thing I look for in an ND filter is the glass quality. More so than any other filter, this can cause weird colour casts or worse, let light in.

I used the ND1000 quite a lot and I’m pleased to say there were no colour cast issues and the filter has a material ‘buffer’ to fit it snugly around your lens – so no light leaking either.

lucerne-riveroeschinensee-2

Smooth water shots in full daylight are just about impossible without an ND1000 so a good one is a must for every kit bag.

Soft Grads (0.3, 0.6, 0.9)

So, a soft grad is mostly used to tone down a bright sky, or water. Previously, I thought I could make do with a polariser to take the edge off, but really I didn’t know what I was missing where soft grads were concerned – now, I wouldn’t be without them.

One of the places I really noticed the difference in using these filters was at Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. The memorial itself is a stark white and the sky that day was heavy in cloud cover, with very little sky showing through – a nightmare for photographing and the kind of thing that turns out very white and flat in an image.

 

Look at the drama in that sky! There’s no way that would’ve come out so well without the filter. It has been enhanced in post-production, but the RAW data wouldn’t have been there to recover if not for the filter. I used quite a strong one for this, the 0.6 or 0.9.

The one I got the most use out of though was probably the 0.3, which at the equivalent of one stop of light, is just enough to tone down a bright sky so you can keep some detail in your shadows.

You can see from the two pictures above that the 0.3 is just enough to stop you blowing your highlights (in the clouds) whilst keeping your shadows in the recoverable range. I always expose for the highlights, but that’s so often at the expense of the shadows when you’ve got such high contrast in an image.

The Tripod

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I bought a cheap tripod from Amazon a couple of years ago and loved it, hadn’t used anything else since. I have to say though, SRB’s is a definite contender.

It comes with a very solid and easy to carry bag, which is a huge plus when you’re taking it to places where it may get bumped or put onto dirty ground.

It’s light and manageable too – on top of my camera bag, I wouldn’t even entertain a tripod that weighed me down. I found the leg releases fiddly – I prefer to flip up and lock a release rather than twist, but this is a minor thing and just a personal preference really.

When the middle is extended and the legs aren’t, it’s still solid, I don’t feel like it’s going to tip over in a slight breeze. It’s also able to be used as a monopod, which is useful. The legs themselves felt sturdy too and even when they were extended, I still felt like the camera was safe.

The ball under the plate moved smoothly and locked tight and the plate itself fit the tripod well. This sounds silly (they’re usually standard) but I once had a tripod that wouldn’t open quite wide enough to accommodate my plate. I keep the plate on the camera, so being able to pop it on whichever tripod I have handy is pretty integral.

Final Thoughts

Before testing anything I’m always careful to be honest with the company and have them be straight with me, too. If it’s a review then I have to review it honestly, the good and bad – I never want to compromise integrity for sponsorship. When a company readily agrees to and in fact, encourages this, as SRB Photographic did, I know they a) have confidence in how great their product is and b) are genuinely looking to get a feel for how their audience uses and finds their product(s) and that’s great for us as photographers because we know they’re always going to be looking for new innovations and ways to build on what they already do.

As I mentioned, I already owned some of SRB’s filters, which is what led me to contacting them in the first place. I think their holders, filters and tripods are of a very high quality and significantly cheaper than their nearest ‘brand’ alternatives.

Whether you’re an aspiring amateur or a seasoned pro, I think we’re all looking to find good products that don’t cost the earth, and that’s what I’ve found with SRB. They’ve also started my love affair with Soft Grads, so they have a lot to answer for.

Thanks for reading, folks, more on my road trip and pictures soon.

 

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