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About Andy


I am an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. My photographic safaris allow my travelers to not only enhance their understanding of photography, lighting, and wildlife, but to develop a life-long admiration for Africa ‘s beauty and culture.

Banana Republic recently used my photographs as the cornerstone of their Urban Safari campaign, and my images were seen in all 750 stores around the globe, as well as in their billboards, catalogs and annual report. I was also the winner of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the ‘Wild Places’ category in 2008 and a highly commended in the ‘Creative Visions of Nature’ category in 2007.

I launched Gura Gear in 2008, in an attempt to deliver lightweight camera bags to the market. I was looking for a lightweight camera bag to hold all of my photographic gear, and there was nothing desirable on the market that suited my needs. After spending 2 years with many prototypes, the Gura Gear Kiboko bag was born. More products are now available on the Gura Gear web site.





Entries in A900 (2)


Sony A900 and lenses - Namibia trip summary

I know it has been a few months since I have returned from my 3-week Namibia trip, and I have even been back on safari in Botswana in the meantime, but I thought I would throw together a quick summar of my feelings of the equipment that I used on the trip. So here goes.

I always travel to Africa with my Gura Gear Kiboko camera bag, as I started Gura Gear precisely because I was tired of all of the same old camera bags on the market. All are too heavy, uncomfortable, overpadded and not well thought out. My Kiboko bag allows me to not only get my gear to my locations in a lighter fashion, but it also allows me to have multiple cameras attached and ready to shoot from. This is accomplished by dividing the center of the camera bag into two separate 'butterfly' sides. In my Gura Gear Kiboko bag I carried the following:

And there was still more room left over. I have to fess up and say that I had an experimental version of the Kiboko bag with me, and it was a different size than the standard Kiboko bag. Was it larger or smaller? Only time will tell!

On this safari I opted for simplicity, and I didn't want to take extra gear with me. In hindsight I think it was a good choice but also a bad choice. Sony graciously loaned me a great set of cameras and lenses, and I had to choose what to take and what to leave at home. Here are the additional lenses that they sent to me that I did not take with me:

So let's dig into the details a little bit. My most used lens on the trip was the 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens. It pretty much sat on one of the A900 bodies for the entire trip. It is built like a tank (a good thing), and performs exceptionally well. I really have nothing but praise to say about the lens, other than some vignetting when approaching 24mm in conjunction with a polarizing filter attached. I tried swapping out my polarizer for another traveler's slim polarizer, and it didn't make much difference, unfortunately.

The second most used lens was the 70-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G. This is a great lens, and is pretty much a blend between the Nikon 80-400mm and the Canon 100-400mm. Let me explain. Canon users pretty much hate the 100-400mm for its push-pull zoom design, as well as its optical quality over about 300mm. However, it does do a good job at autofocusing. The Nikon 80-400mm is optically decent and has a traditional zoom ring for zooming in and out. However, its great downfall is its atrocious autofocusing speed. Well, the Sony 70-400mm takes the good from both of those lenses and combines everything into 1 lens: good autofocusing speed, good optics and a traditional zoom ring. Pretty cool. The one thing that I really love about this lens (and also the 70-200mm f/2.8 G) is its lens shade. The lens shade has a nifty sliding door on the underneath side so the shooter can easily rotate a polarizing filter from underneath. Pretty cool!


The Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 with the slot on the bottom of the lens shade


The one thing that I don't think is necessary is the 70-400mm lens is painted in silver. Not my favorite color for a lens. I think they should match the same white color as the 70-200mm.

When we were shooting in high wind situations I really wish I had brought the 70-200mm. Why? Because the 70-400mm has a long barrell when zoomed out to 200mm or more. This barrel is slightly wobbly, and I ended up with many unusable images in these situations. I should have brought the 70-200mm in addition to the 70-400mm for this reason, as well as the lens is optically superior at equivalent focal lengths and at similar f/stops. The 70-400mm could have been used for wildlife and the long shots and the 70-200mm strictly for landscapes.

The 16-35mm Carl Zeiss lens was mostly used for people grab shots, and also at Kolmanskop ghost town. I found the lens to be every bit as good as its competitors from Nikon and Canon. The lens is also built in a similar way as the 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss, which is a good thing indeed.

And now we get to the Sony A900 camera bodies. I first used the Sony A900 cameras on my polar bear trip this past November. My first impression was that Sony really hit the nail on the head with the product, as it had great specifications at a very competitive price. The A900 reminds me of how I felt about my old Nikon F100 in that it just feels good in my hands. After shooting with the A900 for 3 weeks in the desert, I am very glad that I wasn't carrying around the extra weight of a professional camera from Nikon or Canon. For landscapes the A900 is really about as ideal as a camera can get. The file size and quality is excellent, the ergonomics works well and the lenses cover everything I will ever need. There are some glitches, however, in that some of the buttons are difficult to reach without lifting an entire hand off of the camera. A good example is the ISO selection button is tough to reach with either my thumb or my forefinger. This is a small nit, for sure. One thing I love about the Sony system is the approach to handle image stabilization / vibration reduction in-camera. This means that *all* lenses are image stabilized. Very nice.

Looking forward into a crystal ball I can see reports that Sony is working on a super telephoto lens. This has me very intrigued as to the future of Sony and how it will play a part in wildlife photography, as well as sports photography. I am going to seek out other Sony cameras other than the A900 to see if there are other camera bodies that have better low noise characteristics, as this is something I rely on quite often. ISO 400 is now my starting point, ISO 800 is my late afternoon setting and ISO 1600 is a requirement at the end of the day. Heck, ISO 3200 and 6400 is a joy on my Nikon D3, but I recognize that no other cameras will be able to match this. I also don't shoot that many images at those higher sensitivities, so this isn't really a big deal to me.

I want to again thank Sony for loaning me some great equipment. It is a shame that I didn't take the time to use the 50mm and 135mm lenses, as they seem to be excellent performers as well. The 135mm is the one lens that I would like to try, as the build quality is top notch.


Polar Bear Trip Report and Sony A900 Mini Review (Long Post)

Now that I am back home and back into my daily routine, I have had the time to reflect back on my latest trip to Churchill, Canada. So where do I begin? Well, from the beginning.

A few years ago there was a conversation around a camp fire at some remote bush camp in Africa, and some of the people at that gathering mentioned that they wanted to go photograph polar bears. Well, there are a number of locations that one can visit, but the most productive, safe and predictable location for polar bears is arguably Churchill, Canada. Churchill is on the edge of Hudson Bay, and the location has a high congregation of bears in the area. I can get into a long discussion of actually why the bears are there, but this is for another time.

The tourist polar bear season last about 6 to 8 weeks each late fall / early winter, and most viewing is done from vehicles that are high off the ground. I presume the primary reason is for safety (duh), as polar bears can stand very tall on their hind legs. These vehicles, sometimes referred to as tundra buggies (and also a name of one of the two operators in the area) have both inside and outside locations from which to photograph from. On the inside, there are slide-down windows from which to put a bean bag and also your camera and lens combination. On the rear of the vehicle there is a platform. There is variability with these platforms, depending on which vehicle and which company you are working with. On our vehicle there was a grate where you could watch a bear go underneath you. Very cool!

The Pirate Ship. Aaaaaarrrrrr.

We stayed in the town of Churchill, and went out on the tundra vehicle during the daylight hours. And one evening we went out for a night ride with wine, cheese and dinner. Oh, and we also saw some wildlife. I must confess that this type of a trip is about as easy as it can get for wildlife photography. The company we used was Natural Habitat, and they did an excellent job at setting up the trip for me, taking phone calls, preparing people for the trip, getting us there, assigning an excellent naturalist / guide to take care of us and pretty much guaranteeing us a good time.

Churchill is a very well known area for polar bears, and for good reasons. I have nothing to compare our experience to, but we certainly had a wonderful time. We had a cast of characters for sure.

The Sony A900 camera goes to the arctic

On the equipment side, SONY graciously loaned my group a pair of A900 24mp full frame cameras, and three wonderful and fast lenses: the 24-70mm f/2.8 Zeiss, the 70-200mm f/2.8 G and the 300mm f/2.8 G. All three of these lenses are very well made, and have a very professional feel to them. I spent some time with the equipment, and I came away very impressed with many aspects. The A900 is a very well-built camera, and reminds me of my old F100 Nikon from the film days. The A900 fits in my hand like a glove and is rock solid. I love the angular design of the prism housing on the top.

The Sony A900 24.6mp digital SLR and 24-70mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens

The Sony A900 and 300mm f/2.8 G in action

The Sony Alpha A900 is a 24.6mp full frame digital SLR, and is one of only a few companies with a full frame sensor inside. Canon, Nikon, Contax (remember them?), Kodak (now discontinued) and now Sony have brought out full frame sensors, but Sony is the king of the hill with a whopping 24.6mp sensor. So only Sony, Nikon and Canon have full frame cameras, and Sony has the upper hand if file size is something you are after.

Sony A900, 300mm f/2.8 G, 1/1000 @ f/3.5, ISO 800

The file size is really nice, and I needed to shoot at ISO 800 for most of the trip, as the available light wasn't enough for a lower ISO value. The viewfinder on the A900 is gorgeous, and is likely the brightest I have seen to date on any camera. The A900, like many of the other Alpha line of cameras, has their SteadyShot anti shake technology inside, and from my limited time with the camera does have some benefit. How much? I am not sure, but it certainly cannot hurt.

In extremely cold environments battery life can be an issue. I had numerous batteries for the A900 on this trip, and even though we were working all day in mostly zero to 5 degrees F, I was unable to draw a battery down more than 50 percent.

Sony A900, 300mm f/2.8 G, 1/1250 @ f/5, ISO 800

There was a learning curve with the A900, just like with any platform change, and I was able to navigate through the menus fairly easily. The rear LCD is bright and detailed, and the menu items are fairly easy to understand what is meant.

All in all it was fun to shoot with the Sony equipment. I look forward to using more of their lenses, flashes and camera bodies. All of the Sony gear was transported to Churchill, Canada in a Gura Gear Kiboko bag, with tons of extra space for accessories and other items.

Here are some other images from the trip:

Shooting off the rear deck of the tundra vehicle. The polar bears get close!

An evening with some of the locals


And a larger gallery of images can be found here:

Polar Bears of Churchill