Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park

I got to visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend, which gave me a chance to see some of the flood damage from this fall.  Nothing was quite as impressive as the amount of material deposited at the base of the Alluvial Fan in RMNP.  The river used to run down the mountain and under the bridge.  The bridge survived, but as you can see, it no longer crosses the river.  The river used to flow about 15 feet under this bridge.  Now there is rock and sand above the level of the bridge...


Instead the river has redirected a bit farther west and took out the road.  The amount of material that was brought down was impressive.  These signs both used to be normal height...



And this sign was taken out by the flow of water, sand, and rocks.


Just about everything in this picture was not here previously.  All these rocks and sand was brought down during the flood.




Hiking with a DSLR - Part 3... and other accessories

Every year or so I post about my camera setup, and the gear I use to carry it while hiking, etc.  Here is this year's update...

You can go back and read last year's post, or my 2010 post to see how I've changed over time.

Since last year, I've upgraded from the Nikon D300 to the D600.  Since it is now a full frame, I also switched my primary lens to the D600 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 kit lens.  Both the D600 body and the lens are smaller than D300/17-55 f2.8 I carried before, although I did give up some speed on my walk around lens.

Camera Mount

The Cotton Universal Adapter is constantly attached to my camera.  With its Arca-Swiss compatibility, it can easily be mounted on my Tri-Pod and Mono-Pod, as well as carried using the Cotton system.  I also have the Cotton Hand Strap attached as my primary strap.  I don't like or use a neck strap.

Hiking/Walking

I continue to find the Cotton Strap Shot to be the ideal carrier solution while hiking.  Mine never leaves my REI daypack, which I carry on just about every day hike.  It holds the camera securely and out of the way while hiking, but I can still have it up and ready to shoot in seconds.  The tether is a nice bit of extra security as I don't keep a neck strap on my camera.

While I own the Cotton Carrier Vest and Side Holster, they don't see a ton of activity.  The vest is great if you want a really stable mount for your DSLR, but I find that for most activities where it would make sense (biking, skiing), I carry my GoPro instead.  I do occasionally use the side holster, and it is a good companion to a waist pack, where you have a heavier belt meant to support weight of it.  I used it once this year on a shorter hike where I just wore a waist pack and it worked well.

For more casual walks, I use my BlackRapid strap.  It screws right into the Cotton Universal Adapter so it is quick to throw on the camera and works great for casual walks where you are taking a lot of pictures.  It isn't stable enough for more intense walks or hiking, but if you are walking around town it is a great option.  I've had my RS-1 since 2008, and it continues to perform well.  Well worth the $44 dollars I spent, although it looks to be a bit more expensive now.

Tri/Mono Pods

I have a Gitzo Basalt Tripod (GT2932) that continues to work very well, and a Sirui P-326 Monopod that I like as well.  The Sirui's padding is starting to split a little after only 6 months, but it is fine otherwise.  Both with Arca-Swiss compatible mounts.

GoPro

In addition to the DSLR, I added a GoPro Hero3 to the mix this year as well.  I primarily use it while skiing, although I have used it while swimming and snorkeling in the ocean this year as well.  For carrying the GoPro, I use three main options:

The GoPro Chesty works great if you are primarily shooting video of yourself skiing.  It provides a very stable platform (your torso), and makes the camera accessible to you, allowing you to control it directly instead of using a WiFi control (iPhone or Remote).

The Helmet Mount works well if you are taking video of someone else skiing.  It allows you to steadily track them while you move back and forth across the mountain.  It is more difficult to control, and pairs well with a WiFi control, although this really drains the battery, especially in cold conditions.

I like both of the above and end up switching back and forth during the season.  Either is a solid option.

This summer I picked up the Wrist Housing, primarily for my trip to Hawaii for use while swimming/snorkeling.  I found it worked well.  It was not overly obtrusive while swimming, and easy to control, even underwater.  I also used it on a kayak trip, and again, it didn't bother me while paddling and kept the GoPro available for nearly every opportunity.

Bags

My main camera bag is the Lowepro SlingShot 200.  I've used this bag for about 4 years now, and it is my primary carry bag.  It fits the D600 with the 17-55 mounted, as well as my 80-200 and a couple prime lenses.  This is really my main carry solution, as it works well to carry the DSLR when you want to have your other lenses available as well.  You can quickly rotate the back from your back to your chest and pull out the camera.  It also provides a steady platform for changing lenses on the move.  It looks like the Slingshot 202 is the current iteration of this bag.

I also added a travel bag, the Fastpack 350.  This allows me to carry my camera, all the lenses, as well as my laptop and assorted cables.  This is my carry on bag when flying.  Although I often throw my SlingShot in my checked luggage if I'm traveling for more than a weekend, so I can use it once I've arrived.

Summary

Overall, I'm very pleased with the solutions I have in place.  I'm not looking to replace any of the solutions I have now, although I'm sure as new products come out I will be tempted.

Note: I purchased almost everything myself, including the Cotton Carrier Vest, SideHolster and various adapters, but Cotton did provide me with the StrapShot and Universal Adapter plate for free.

Kauai Hawaii

I spent last week relaxing on beautiful Kauai Hawaii.  Here are some of the pictures I took during the visit.













Coyote Pups

There are a new litter of Coyote pups in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) this year near the Beaver Meadows visitor center.  I was able to capture a few good shots of the pups playing around near their den.

See all the pictures here, a few selected shots below...

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Elk in Estes Park

I went up to Estes Park over Thanksgiving weekend with my family.  While I was there I got a chance to take some pictures of the Elk heard in town right at sunset.  They were mostly hanging out and grazing, but a couple of the males were sparring.  Some of the picture are below, you can find the rest here.








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Hiking with a DSLR - Part 2

Two years ago I wrote a blog post about Hiking with a DSLR.  I had just recently moved to Colorado and was enjoying all the great hikes but struggling with how to take my camera with me in an unobtrusive but accessible manner.  Since then I've tried a few new options and thought I would write an update.

My camera is a still the Nikon D300, and my primary hiking lens is the Nikkor 17-55 2.8.

First, I supported the Capture Kickstarter project.  I ended up purchasing two of them and found they were a pretty good solution for smaller cameras.  However, with my D300 and the 17-55 2.8 the camera and lens were just a bit too heavy for longer hikes.  I ended up giving these to my Dad, who has a D40 with some reasonably sized lenses and it works great.  I also like the Capture because the camera mount is Arca-Swiss compatible, so you can keep a single bracket on your camera and switch between the Capture and a tripod.  The kickstarter is long over but you can find them at peakdesignltd.com

The original Cotton Carrier (vest) was an good solution, but the chest harness was pretty bulky.  I certainly used it quite a bit, but something smaller and less obtrusive was appealing.  I bought the holster and liked it, but it was better for casual walks than hiking.  You really don't want something bumping against your legs on a long hike.

I'd also found that over time I was slightly annoyed by the solution I came up with to put the Cotton Carrier hub on the camera.  Here is what I wrote before:
I looked into using quick release plates with my Cotton Carrier and realized all I needed was an additional clamp.  You simply screw the Cotton Carrier round attachment to the Clamp, and then you simply clamp the clamp to the camera.  This approach increases the distance from the camera to the carrier a little, but I didn't find it to be a problem.
Since then, Cotton Carrier came out with a newer solution, the StrapShot.  They were nice enough to send me one, and I was intrigued.  It is essentially a competitor to the Capture, but uses the Cotton Carrier hub solution instead of the Capture locking system.  You simply mount the StrapShot on any strap (I put it on my day pack's shoulder strap) and then put the camera on it.  It comes with safety strap and a hand strap, which I really liked and now is now my main 'camera strap' for casual use.

However, I still wanted an Arca-Swiss plate on my camera full time, and the use of the clamp/Cotton Carrier Hub was just bulky enough to turn me off.  But Cotton also has 'Universal Adapter Plate' that mounts to your camera and provides Arca-Swiss style mounting with a Cotton Carrier Hub.  This removed much of the bulk in mounting the camera and has become my permanently installed camera bracket.

So I am pretty happy at this point with the StrapShot + Universal Adapter Plate solution.  It allows me to comfortably carry my camera while I hike, keep the camera Tripod ready, and still use the holster or my Rapid Strap for more casual outings.

I'm sure that there will be even better solutions in another two years, but for now I feel that I have a very solid solution.

Note: I purchased two Captures, the Cotton Carrier Vest and Holders, and various adapters myself, but Cotton did provide me with the StrapShot and Universal Adapter plate.
 

What you may not understand about your compensation...

There was a small wave of excitement on twitter this week about employee benefits.  Specifically, FullContact announced Paid Paid vacation.  Essentially, not only do they provide you with vacation time (ie Paid time off), but they will pay for your vacation itself, in the form of $7,500 'bonus' in salary (taxable of course).

This is a great marketing, as it drove a lot of social media traffic to their business yesterday.  I'm sure they yielded a lot of new applicants, and probably some new sales leads as well.  Nicely done.

However, I will take a skeptics view of this and share how I see this from the business side.

1. At the end of the day, the business looks at the total cost of an employee.  This includes salary, taxes, medical coverage, training, paid time off, and misc benefits as a whole number.
2. Businesses are run on margins.  You must take in more revenue than you pay out in expenses.
3. Employees are an expense.

Digression:
Ok, so #2 assumes you are running a profitable business.  It seems that FullContact also announced an additional 7M in funding this week as well, so the whole margin part can be set aside as they are not profitable, or at least are in 'growth mode' where profits are sacrificed for market share.  This doesn't mean that they can't make it all work, but let's agree that their model is not YET stable.

So at the end of the day, a company can afford to set aside a certain amount of its income to employee compensation.  Some companies set out more money than others.  Companies then choose how to allocate this money.  For example, a theoretical competitor to FullContact may choose to simply pay every employee a higher salary instead of offering a Paid Paid Vacation benefit.

My point is simply that the allocation of money within the benefits package is essentially a 0 sum game.  A company may choose to offer more vacation, more cash, better health coverage, etc.  But these decisions are mostly done separately from determining how much the company can afford (and chooses) to spend on its employees.

I don't think there is anything wrong with FullContact's announcement, plan or structure.  I think they did a great job of garnering a lot of attention for their business, well timed with a new round of funding.  Nice work.

My point is simply that when you evaluate a company or package, realize that everything costs money, and look for a company that has their compensation package well aligned with what you value.


I believe the most transparent approach to compensation packages is a flexible 'points' model.  Essentially, employees get a certain number of points, and can use them to buy the benefits that are important to them.  If you want more vacation, use your points on that.  If you want more salary, apply your points to your salary, etc.  While this is really an ideal plan as it enables the employer to get the most employee value for each dollar it spends, it is more costly to setup and administer, which may be prohibitive for smaller firms.