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Giottos Silk Road YTL8213 Tripod Review

For over ten years now I have been using a Gitzo carbon fibre G1227 Mk 2 tripod along with another Manfrotto 055 carbon fibre tripod as a backup tripod that gets occasional use. The Gitzo has been a joy to use over the years, it has been quick and easy to set up, nice and stable and relatively light. Recently I got the chance to use one of the new Giottos silk Road YTL8213 tripods. This tripod has a much higher maximum height of 163cm without the centre column raised compared to my Gitzo which has a max height of 138.9. The Giottos also has a higher max weight allowance of 10kg compared to 7.98 for the Gitzo. With the central column raised the YTL8213 tripod achieves a whopping height of 194cms. On paper the specs were impressive, but specs are not everything, the real test for me would be what it was like using in the field.

Giottos Silk Road YTL8213 Tripod
After trying the tripod out on location I was so impressed with the tripod I continued to use it and have been using the Giottos for around ten weeks now so I thought I would share my experiences of using it so far along with a few images taken along the way.

Upon opening the Tripod first thoughts were that I was really impressed with the build quality and sturdy feel. It really has a quality feel and looks extremely well made. The legs were actually much thicker than my Gitzo so I was a little worried it might not be quite so easy to carry in just one hand. I never bother with Tripod bags and never bother strapping my tripod into my Lowerpro backpack; I just find it quicker and easier to hold in the hand, even on longer hikes. I find longer walks it can double up nicely as a bit of a walking stick to help with balance, especially when crossing streams or walking on the muddy salt marshes of the North Norfolk coast which can be a bit like walking on ice at times.

Fortunately after my first outing with the tripod it soon became apparent this was not going to be a problem and I could actually fit just one hand around this tripod comfortably. This is definitely due to the new central column design by Giottos. A standard tripod has a normal barrel central column where as Giottos has a new Y shaped central column. This design supposedly saves 30% of space as the legs squeeze into the Y groves meaning the tripod is much more compact. I had read about this before I received the tripod and my first thoughts were why! It felt like a gimmick that was trying to solve an issue that wasn’t really a problem in the first place, but after using it I actually think it’s a really neat idea. With this model of tripods the legs are very thick, which gives the tripod a real sturdy base to start from. However, without the Y shaped central column the tripod would have been a bit bulky to carry around. Where as with it the tripod feels absolutely fine.

2014-1917The above left shows the Giottos Silk Road centre column and above right a traditional centre column

Despite being much larger than the Gitzo I was used to, the Giottos is actually a similar weight. However, at the same time it actually feels sturdier. One thing I would struggle to live without is a hook from the bottom of the central column. I use my tripod a lot on heather moorland which is very spongy and can be a problem as a solid base, but the extra weight of my heavy camera bag suspended from the hook weighs it down enough and gives a nice stable base to work from. With lighter carbon fibre tripods it also gives you confidence to leave your camera set up in windy conditions without having to hold the legs all the time for fear of the whole thing blowing over.

The tripod hook on the Gitzo was nice and large, the one of the Giottos though is tucked away and not so large. This is not a major problem, but it does mean that the large handle / strap on the very top of my Lowepro Trekker bag is too thick to use on the hook so I have to use one of the other straps on bag. It is also tucked away neatly and has to be pulled down from out of the bottom of the central column. Again this is not a major problem, but with winter coming up it will mean removing any gloves to do this and it will probably be a bit more fiddly with freezing cold hands.

2014-1247One from the Norfolk Countryside back in August

The locking leg clamps on the YTL8213 are easy to use and feel strong and secure. They are clamp locks like you find on the Manfrotto tripods. I do like the twist mechanism you find on the Gitzo’s, but they can be a bit of a killer to twist come winter when your hands are freezing and you get the pattern of the twist mechanism engraved in your hand as you try and tighten the thing.

2014-2035One of the things I do find really useful on the Giottos is the graduated leg markings which mean it’s really quick and easy to set all three legs up to exactly the same height. After using them for a short while I am already thinking to myself how did I ever live without them. It’s one of the small thinks that just make your life a tiny bit easier and quicker when setting the tripod height up.

Foam padding on the legs makes it comfortable to hold the tripod and I am sure come winter it will be much more comfortable to hold on those cold mornings. By now you can probably see a pattern emerging that I hate getting cold hands in the winter.

This tripod has three leg angled positions that allow you to get the tripod into a wide range of leg positions and low heights. In fact you can get as low as 15cm.
I wasn’t expecting to change my Gitzo at all, I was happy and comfortable using it but after my experiences with the Giottos silkroad YTL8213 over the summer has meant this is now my tripod of choice, the Gitzo is the backup tripod and the Manfrotto is about to be listed on Ebay. The tripod really does everything a landscape photographer could want from a tripod, it is very solid, seems well built with great maximum height and low level capabilities. It will also support a maximum weight of 10kg. Having the Y shaped centre column saving space means it is easier to carry in the hand for a tripod with such thick legs. The foam padded legs and leg markings are also a nice touch. I would love a slightly larger hook on the tripod to suspend my camera bag from, but that is the only slight negative thing I could say on this tripod and the important thing for me is at least it does have a decent tripod hook from the centre column.

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This tripod has been worked hard in the last ten weeks, often around salt water and has been used in some extremely windy and wet conditions, but the tripod has not let me down and still feels like new. If you are looking for a new tripod and you consider how much tripod you get for your money compared to some of the other manufactures it really is worth considering.

Review of Hitech ND Grad Filters for Landscape Photography

Hitech ND Grad Review

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The reason landscape photographers use ND Grad filters is that cameras simply cannot record the same level of detail that the human can. When the sun is low in the sky or not yet risen then there is a much wider tonal range for the camera to capture.  The filter is toned with a darker area at the top of the filter and a clear area on the bottom half. The darker area is a neutral colour and tones down the exposure over the sky proportion of the scene. This bridges the contrast range between the darker foreground and brighter sky and makes for a more evenly exposed image with good detail and colour in the sky and a lot more detail in the foreground. The above example shows a scene captured without a grad and then a second image captured with a grad filter.

Like many landscape photographers I started with the Cokin filter system. However, I found I was always experiencing the classic problem of the infamous Cokin colour cast. After struggling along with the Cokin system for some time I had heard a few good things about the Hitech system as a good alternative. I quickly invested in an 85mm set of Hitech ND Grads. Immediately I saw a massive difference. I continued using the filters for about a year, then as I upgraded to the wider Canon 17-40mm lens, a move from the 85mm size filters was required. I opted for the Lee filter system, and like most Lee users I have been a happy user ever since.

The move to Lee filters was about 8 years ago now; however I often recommend Hitech filters to my photography workshop participants as they represent a good trade-off between quality and price. The obvious problem with the Lee filters is their higher price. If you are serious about landscape photography and can warrant the cost then the Lee filters are well worth considering. However, for those occasional shooters, or the newcomers to photography who don’t want to fork out around £250 on a filter system, then the Hitech system is well worth looking at.

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A few months back Hitech filters generously provided me with a large number of new filter kits and holders for my workshop participants to try out on the courses. I thought it would be really good to try out a few of the filters myself to see how good they really were.

Although Hitech did send me a few of their ten stop filters I haven’t had a good chance to try these out yet so I will report back on this filter at a later date. The filters I am going to look at here are their ND Grads.

First let’s look at the Hitech hardware. Hitech have released a new modular filter holder, like the Lee holder you can add or take away slots and add or remove a 105mm front filter ring for polarising filters. On my own Lee holder I use a 105mm circular polarising filter on the front, this makes rotating the filter much easier.  Due to the design of the Hitech holder it’s actually quite easy to just rotate the whole filter holder with a polariser attached to the lens behind, the brass screw on the side of the holder can then be loosened to quickly straighten up the holder. This is hard to explain here, but in practise is actually really quick and easy to do. This makes using a polarising filter behind the Hitech holder really easy to work with.

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Adapter rings to attach the holder to the lens come in normal and wide angle versions; the wide angle ones are set back slightly and can help avoid any vignetting.

Hitech offer soft edge, hard edge and reverse densities for their graduated filters. The density relates to how quickly the grad changes from clear to dark. If you are just going for one set and you shoot lots of sunsets, costal scenes or general landscape stuff I would probably opt for the hard grads.  When investing in filters I would always avoid the cheaper Chinese sets of filters you can get on ebay, they have a grad area that’s way too soft and these are useless not only for the optical quality of the filter, but because the grad area is difficult to place and the lower part of the sky will not have enough light blocked out.

2012-0007sssThis stormy afternoon light in the Peak District was captured with a Hitech 0.6 Hard ND Grad

Soft grads can be more difficult and less effective when used on crop cameras, lenses with a smaller diameter and telephoto lenses. Where soft grads can be an advantage is if you shoot in areas where you have an uneven skyline, such as some mountain scenes, cityscapes and woodlands. With my own Lee filters I own both sets of Hard & Soft Grads, however the vast majority of the time it’s the hard grads that get used.

Hard grads are easier to place on the horizon level. One problem when shooting sunsets is the horizion level is normally the brightest area of the scene, but with the soft filter this can actually be the weakest part of the ND area and the sky can easily burn out in this part of the scene. This is less of a problem with ND hard grads as the horizon area of the filter is much darker and because of this it is more effective.

Where the reverse grad comes in to its own is when shooting sunsets or sunrises. A normal grad filter starts by being weakest on the horizon level and strongest at the top of the filter. With a lot of sunset or sunrise scenes the brightest area is obviously around the horizon level. The area of the sky where the filter doesn’t need to be quite so strong is actually the top. The Hitech reverse grad works by being darkest at the horizon level and slightly weaker as it rises to the top of the sky. This is a filter I have wanted for years and am really pleased Hitech have begun producing this one. It’s not going to be required all of the time; however it’s great to keep one or a set in the kit bag for those occasions when it is really useful. I have been trying this filter out for a few weeks now and am already beginning to wonder how I have managed without it for so long.

2012-0836sssLeft Soft Grad, Middle Hard Grad & Right Reverse Grad

Conclusion

I have been really impressed with the quality of the filters and the colours achieved. I have received no unwanted colour casts, in fact the colours achieved have been very realistic and true. The optical quality of the filter seems excellent with no loss of quality and lens flare has not been a problem at all. I must confess I haven’t shot in a situation where I have needed to stack any filters and this is where any colour casts could suddenly appear. If you do shoot raw then slight colour casts in the sky are probably less of problem now as they once were. Software like Adobe Lghtroom has a grad tool where you can apply adjustments to just the foreground or the sky, including adjusting the white balance / colour on one particular area which is great for correcting any slight colour casts.

2012-0345ssssaA frosty morning in Thetford Forest captured with a Hitech 0.9 Hard ND Grad

If I had to say one negative thing about the filters it would be that I find they can scratch a bit easier than the Lee filters. Most of this seems to have occurred when I have been taking the filters out and putting them back in the plastic wallets, these wallets do feel quite sharp and are quite a tight fit, especially when you have freezing hands. Personally I would house them in a soft filter wallet and not use the plastic pouches they come in. Both Hitech and Lee make such filter wallets and these are ideal to get at your filters nice and quickly whilst also protecting them much better. The black multi filter wallets also double up as an excellent tool to hold at the side of the lens to stop lens flare.

It would be a nice touch to see the more expensive larger size grad filters come in the soft cloth with the three pockets in, similar to how the Lee filters arrive. These can double up as good lens and filter cleaners as they always seem to be to hand and are ideal for this purpose. When shooting in wet weather keeping rain droplets off filters can be problematic. I like the soft pouches the Lee grads come in as you can just put the filter back in the soft pouch and it’s easy to wipe away rain droplets before taking it back out and being ready to shoot again.

All in all I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised with the Hitech filters, they seem so much better than the first set I was using over eight years ago now. I actually prefer the Hitech holder to the Lee holder. Would I change from the Lee filters though? The simple answer is no. With the Lee filters I have never had any problem in eight years of using them. At the larger size 100mm x 150mm (same as Lee), a set of hard grads, a filter holder and a wide angle adaptor is actually not that much cheaper for the Hitech kit compared to the Lee kit. I believe though that Hitech can offer kits consisting of a number of different filters which can result in quite a good saving. Hitech also offer their very own 105mm circular polariser at a good price, although I have no experience of this filter and do not know of any photographers who have used it so I can’t comment on how good it is. It’s also difficult to find any reviews online.

2012-0821sssaHitech 0.6 Hard ND Grad used at Winterton on the Norfolk Coast.

I would certainly recommend the Hitech Reverse Grads which I believe Lee don’t offer. These have been fantastic in use, they fit my Lee holder with no problems and I have found myself using this filter all of the time.  If I didn’t require the 100mm x 150mm size grads then I would certainly recommend the smaller size Hitech filters as these do represent excellent value for money with a really high quality product. Compared to the Cokin filters it’s a no brainer in my opinion I would go for the Hitech every time.

A slightly updated version of this can be found on my website at http://www.theuklandscape.com/Hitech%20Review.htm

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