Gear : Winners, Losers & Victims

I posted a few times on gear before I left: here, here and here.  Now seems like a good time to talk about what worked, what was disappointing and a few “it wasn’t my fault” type failures.


  • ThinkTank Roller – This is a bag that is easily taken for granted.  I didn’t even mention it during my initial write-up, but the Airport was rock solid for the entire trip.  It was bounced up and down countless sets of stairs, raced for the bus, dragged through the snow, pushed through the mud, overstuffed and generally abused.  Never had a single issue.
  • Nikon D850 – If this is what the “new” Nikon is capable of delivering, sign me up for

    the mirrorless now.  Remarkably compact form factor, but attach the battery grip and it’s a legit sports camera.  It’s also worth noting that it’s tough.  The D850 took a couple of tumbles and never let me down.

  • RRS Mini-Tripod –  The perfect finish line remote base.  The head never drifted, the lever makes adjustment easy and it folds up tiny.  I saw a couple of other photographers eyeing it during the Olympics, I won’t be shocked if RRS has a run on them.
  • Craft Storm Pants – My “go to” each and every day of the trip.  Yes, they could be a little “warm” in the superheated press venues and on #saunabus, but they were absolutely perfect out on the course.


  • Glyph Blackbox Pro 8TB – What a colossal disappointment.  I spent weeks researching archival drives and clearly made the wrong choice.  It worked fine for a couple of days, but then just wouldn’t mount.  Olympic Tech Support finally got it back up, but it was painfully, painfully slow.  I brought over some old LaCie drives as redundancy — without those, I would have been toast.  This is my second Glyph drive to fail out of the box and — as the saying goes — “shame on me.”  (And pro tip — as a guy who knows a little bit about customer service — telling me that “Let’s have you follow up with a technician to see if you can prevent these errors in the future” isn’t a good idea.  I ONLY have problems with your drives.  Every other kind has been fine.)  My advice?  Avoid these folks like the plague.
  • Patagonia Galvanized Pants – I like these pants, but the suspenders are a pain.  They’d come unhooked at the worst times and were a hassle getting them reattached.  I tried going without the suspenders, but that almost turned into an international incident of its own.
  • Olympic_20180212_WPursuitBiathlon_14763
    Out of whack D5.  This one still bums me out.

    Nikon D5 – It hurts to put this one here, but I had a rough couple of days.  This camera went to Nikon USA for a full check-up just before leaving for Korea.  For the first portion of the games, it was perfection.  The rest you can read about here.  To be fair, I shot the rest of the games on a D5 borrowed from Nikon and it was fine.  But I’m still ticked about my overall experience and my personal camera failing so quickly.


  • Olympic_20180224_Men50k_77176
    Feathers.  Everywhere.

    L.L.Bean 850 Down Jacket — The miles of scaffolding at Pyeongchang were covered with screening and let’s just say that OSHA didn’t sign off on the wire used to attach it.  It scratched a number of photographers during the week and my jacket was one of the victims.  Feathers everywhere.  Luckily I brought a Patagonia Nano and used it as an “underlayer.

  • Warby Parker glasses & their two friends – I brought four pairs of glasses to Pyeongchang — My WarbyParker frames, two adequate drugstore readers and an “only in an emergency” pair.  I’ve been wearing the latter for the last five days.  It was definitely “hood” weather and putting the hoods on & off was tough on glasses.  They’d fall off and disappear in the snow.  And given the number of photographers, it was just a matter of time before someone stepped on them.

    Rest in peace, WarbyParker.

Equipment Failures aka “The Agony of Defeat”

I’m starting to feel a bit like this guy :

Irineu Esteve Altimiras (AND) with a broken pole in the Men’s Skiathlon

The Games are only a few days old and I’ve already had two major equipment failures.  Interestingly enough, they were items that I bought specifically for this trip.

The three people that read this blog might remember a post about buying an archive hard drive.  My workflow is fairly simple — download cards to the desktop, make a copy on site and then back-up at home.  Three copies at all times.  Well, my Glyph archive drive went DOA yesterday.  The drive would whirr, lights would flash, but I couldn’t get it to mount on the desktop.  (If you’re keeping score at home, this makes two Glyph drive failures out of two.)

I tweeted Glyph and got a quick “We’ll help any way we can” reply, but I’ve been too busy to follow-up.  (And besides, do I really want to carry two of these boat anchors home?)  Bottom line, thank goodness I brought my trusty LaCie hard drives.  Without them, I’d be toast.

But more significantly, I’ve had camera problems over the last 48 hours.  I bought a used Nikon D5 earlier this year.  Sent it to Nikon Professional Services for a cleaning & check-up prior to this trip just to be safe.

The camera was fantastic during the early part of the trip.  Sharp, laser focus, just about perfect for a less than perfect photographer.   Here’s an example :

Erik Bjornsen (USA) in the Men’s 15×15 Skiathlon

But during last night’s biathlon, my images looked a little “odd.”  Kinda of smeary and out of focus.  The good news?  Nikon has an equipment depot here at the Olympics.  It’s got nearly every Nikon product you’d want to borrow and is fully staffed with technicians.  So I visited after the biathlon and asked for a clean & check.

That’s when things got weird.

I stopped by to pick up the camera the next morning.  The desk person said that the techs had checked and everything was fine.  But when I looked on the camera, there was an “odd blob” on the back LCD.  I first thought it might an internal Nikon repair message that wasn’t erased.  Showed it to the desk person and she asked me to come back in a bit.

An hour later — the blob was gone.  And the tech assured me that they had checked the focus calibration.  Awesome!  I headed out to the Planet Hoth Biathlon Stadium.

Here’s the result :

Uhhhh…this isn’t supposed to happen.  Laura Dahlmeier (GER) is blurry, but that sign off in the distance is razor sharp.  D5 with 400mm f2.8

The entire Women’s Biathlon Pursuit is out of focus.  The camera seems to be “back focusing” by about five feet.  The problem is worse today than yesterday.  And while I checked the viewfinder a couple of times, my fingers aren’t always working here in the cold and I didn’t catch it.  Besides, Nikon said that they had just calibrated the camera.

Absolutely.  Frickin’.  Heartbreaking.

Just to be sure it was the camera and not me, I grabbed my spare and mounted it to the same lens for the Men’s biathlon.  Here’s Martin Fourcade of France winning the Men’s Biathlon Pursuit :

Backup camera and same lens as above.   The focus is spot on.

Bottom line — I’ve got a camera problem and Nikon’s “repair” seemed to make it worse.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to figure it out tonight.



Packing, Part #2

It probably speaks to my photography skills that I’ve received more questions about clothing than camera gear.  So here’s a quick look at the apparel that I’m packing for Pyeongchang.

Apparel choices start with weather.  And according to flyingpointroad’s Chief Meteorologist, Seth Wescott, here’s what I should expect in South Korea : “Pyeongchang was usually quite cold in the bitter, humid Maine way, but generally windy as well.  So being prepped for a good cold Sugarloaf day should have you all set!”

Bitter, humid cold?  Like Maine? Like a Sugarloaf wind-hold day?  That’s my sweet spot!  As a result, 90% of my gear is stuff that I use every day I’m shooting.


Footwear :

  • L.L.Bean Mountain Treads.  (I think.)  This pair is a few years old.  Gore-tex, made in Italy and truly awesome for stomping around all day.
  • Salomon Toundra Pro CSWP.  When I was coaching my very first ski race, one of the other coaches told me “If you’re fond of keeping all your toes, you need to buy a pair of NEOs.”  And if you look around at any cross-country ski meet in the East, you’ll see that nearly every coach is wearing NEOs over another pair of shoes or ski boots.  They’re fantastic and I typically wear them over the Mountain Treads.  The only challenge is that with two pairs of boots, they’re heavy and a little clumsy.  Given that I’m going to be doing a lot of walking during the Olympics, I wanted an alternative.  After doing a bit of research, I came up with these Salomons.  They’re light, crazy warm with an Aerogel insert and were fantastic during the “Miracle on Ice” test.

Baselayer :

  • Craft, Craft and more Craft.  Tops and bottoms.  Layerable if needed.
  • Grid Fleece.  A couple of pieces here.  A long discontinued L.L.Bean micro-grid pullover and a new Arc’teryx full-zip that my kids gave me for Christmas.

Jackets :

  • L.L.Bean Primaloft.  I think this piece was also discontinued and I’ll admit that I’m “teetering” just a bit.  It’s a little heavy and I have alternatives that would also work.  But the primaloft is fantastic if we see any rain or wet snow.  Bonus points for the flyingpointroad logo that my kids had embroidered on it.
  • L.L.Bean Neoshell.  This is either called the “Bounder” jacket now or was discontinued.  Kikkan Randall turned me on to this jacket — it’s the outerwear of choice on APU’s Eagle Glacier summer training facility.  Breathes well, resists everything but a sideways monsoon and packs up surprisingly light.

Pants :

  • Craft Storm Tight 2.0.  Great for cold weather x-c skiing and equally good as a “wear all day in the snow” pant.  Nylon shell in the front and a crepe fabric in the back.  Dries quick.  Awesome for kneeling in the snow.  Drawcord.  I buy a pair every year.
  • Patagonia Galvanized Pant.  These are a “soft-shell” type ski / alpine pant and after trying them at the Colby race, I wish I would have bought them years ago.  GREAT pockets.  The suspenders are incredibly useful.  And – unlike other manufacturers – the length is spot on for a relatively normal build.  (I’m looking at you Strafe)  If it gets crazy cold, I’ll wear them over the Storm Tights.

Assorted :

  • Bates Skiing Hat.  Need to represent.
  • Skida Hat.  Lighter weight than the one above.  On a cold day, it’ll be both hats.  And huge shout out to Corinne and Margie for their continued support of the “cranially advantaged” over the years.
  • Buffs.  Assorted.  One of the mysteries of life is why it took humans so long to figure out that a simple tube of stretchy fabric had infinite functionality.
  • Outdoor Research Overmitts.  I think these are technically ice climbing mitts, but they’re perfect for wearing over shooting gloves on “Narrow Gauge” type days.
  • Black Diamond Liners.  I’m not even sure when I bought this pair, but they’re fantastic.
  • YOKO “Kikkan Randall Edition” Gloves.  XC skiing gloves are the best shooting gloves imaginable.  They’ve typically got sticky rubber on the fingers and palms.  I’ll bring over a pair of Craft gloves and these YOKOs, but we’ll give the pair shown the sentimental nod for this trip.
  • Black Diamond Backcountry Gloves.  These aren’t shown and seem to be missing in action.  But they’re a bit warmer than traditional race gloves and still have enough articulation to work the camera dials.  I need to find these before I leave…

Three weeks is a long time, so say a small prayer that I find a washing machine over there.  If that doesn’t happen, pray that you’re not on the plane with me on the way home.

(Incidentally, Packing Part #1 “The Gear Edition” is here.)

Packing, Part #1

Wow, this is coming up fast.  With only 23 days before my plane leaves, I’ve got to start thinking about packing.

I’ll admit that my call with Dave Black earlier in the fall threw me off a bit.  I had initially planned to “go light” and borrow from the Nikon room when necessary.  But now that I’ve seen maps of the facilities, Dave’s advice to be self-reliant was right on.  There just won’t be time to go back to the main press center between events.

So here’s the camera gear I’m planning to bring.  With only a couple of exceptions, it’s my typical “kit” for a big event.


Three camera bodies :

  • Nikon D5
  • Nikon D850 : Is it a landscape camera? Yes.  Is is an action camera? You bet.  It’s the craziest, best thing that Nikon has come out with in a very long time – ESPECIALLY if you like buying hard drives.
  • Nikon D4s : I’ll use this one primarily as a fixed remote when needed.

Seven lenses :

  • Nikon 300mm, f2.8 : My favorite ski lens of all time.  Sharp as nails.
  • Nikon 70 – 200mm, f2.8 : Years ago when I was shooting my first World Cup, I heard one of the European photographers describe this as a “fighting” lens.  Great all the time, but when a mass start comes down to a fight for the finish, it’s the one that you absolutely want to have in your hands.
  • Nikon 14 – 24mm, f2.8 : A bit of a specialty lens, but another favorite.
  • Nikon 24 – 70mm, f2.8
  • Nikon 35mm, f2 :  If you remove the battery grip from the D850 and add this lens, it’s a remarkably compact package.
  • Nikon 1.4x teleconverter
  • Nikon 24 – 120mm, f4 : This one is new to me.  My hope is that it’ll be a great lens for a fixed remote.  And frankly, it’s been a permanent fixture on the front of my camera since I bought it.

Assorted :

  • Three Pocketwizard Multimax with custom IDs
  • Manfrotto Magic Arm with a Hejnar Arca-Swiss plate.
  • Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod & Micro-ball Head :  RRS’s price points hurt just a little, but this was worth it.  At most races, I’ll shoot with one camera and use another as a “walking” remote – I’ll move it to different spots during the race.  After trying a bunch of pocket tripods/heads over the years, I’ve found that this is the only one that doesn’t creep from the weight of the camera.
  • Nikon SB700 flash : I’ve got some team shots to take and will use this for a little fill.
  • Nikon SU800 flash commander – Allows the flash to be used remotely.  And the very talented Joel Marklund taught me a few tricks with this at last year’s World Junior / U23 Championships in Soldier Hollow.

If anyone has any suggestions, please send them along.  And if someone wants to buy me this new Nikon lens,  please know that I will be eternally grateful.  Email me for a shipping address.

USANA 2017 FIS Nordic Junior & U23 World Ski Championships
Here’s a “walking” remote shot from last year’s World Junior/U23 Championships in Soldier Hollow, UT.  Photographers weren’t allowed to stand in this area, but we could put cameras here.

“The more storage you have, the more stuff you’ll accumulate.” – Alexis Stewart

The advice from past Olympic shooters seems to follow a function of 2 :

  • Plan on the simplest tasks taking 2x longer than usual.
  • You’ll get half the sleep you need.  And with every biathlon race in PyeongChang starting after 8:00pm, that’ll be especially true at these Olympics.
  • Whatever you think you need for storage, multiply that by 2x.

That last one has me worried.  I’m committed to shooting twenty-six (!) races in x-c skiing, biathlon and nordic combined.  I’d really like to shoot at least one alpine event and hopefully some jumping.  Add in Opening and Closing ceremonies.  It’s a lot of images.

On the camera side, my D5 pushes out 20mb files.  And depending on settings, this new D850 has monster file sizes between 30mb and 52mb(!).

storage box

Bottom line — I’m going to need a bigger boat.  And after looking at every option under the sun and talking to the folks at B&H, I’ve settled on the Glyph Blackbox Pro.  8tb, 7200 drive and USB-C.  This obviously won’t be the only drive I bring to PyeongChang, but this will be my “central storage unit.”

It’s worth noting that I already have a Glyph Nano.  It’s also worth noting that it crashed last year after a particularly hard weekend of shooting.  But it was how Glyph got me back up & running that led to the Blackbox Pro.

Stuff breaks.  It happens.  But its how companies deal with those failures that build customer loyalty.



Magic Arms and Arca-Swiss Clamp Heads

This will be — without question — the single most boring post in the history of blogging and suitable only for the most discerning gear head.  But if you use a magic arm, I might be able to save you a little time.

A Manfrotto Magic Arm is just that.  Want to mount a camera on a basketball backboard?  You need a Magic Arm.  Hang a camera from rafters?  Magic Arm.  Tuck a flash up near the ceiling?  You know it.

The challenge is the connecting clamp.  I moved to Arca-Swiss style plates a long time ago.  Each camera has one mounted on the bottom.  Which means if I wanted to use my 244RC arm, I needed to stack a Manfrotto plate on the bottom.  Inconvenient for sure, but also unstable.

So as I started thinking about the Olympic trip, I thought about replacing the clamp with something Arca compatible.  And that, my friends, proved more difficult that you’d imagine.  The Magic Arm has an “anti-twist” flange that sits in a groove on the clamp.  Works great, but it also means that — for patent reasons or otherwise — most 3rd party clamp heads don’t work.  I tried a couple from Amazon with no luck.  Asked the kind folks at B&H and they didn’t have any suggestions.  Ditto with Really Right Stuff.

Then I found Chris of Hejnar Photo.  And quick email exchange later, I bought this clamp.  Fits perfectly.

Chris doesn’t call out the 244RC in the copy — which I hope he charges — but if you’re looking to replace a magic arm clamp, this is the way to go.


“I need custom what?”

Some of you have seen me use a remote camera during events.  Most often, I’ll tuck it pw shotnext to a race course on a small platform.  Sometimes I’ll mount it at the finish or — on occasion — in a tree, on a snowmaking head, or anywhere else that might give a unique perspective of an event.

That extra camera is fired by a Pocketwizard (out of Burlington, Vermont).  They’re radio triggers.  You attach one to the camera in the snow and the other on the camera you’re holding.  If you set it up right (often the biggest challenge), pushing the trigger on your handheld will magically make the other camera fire at the same time.

Now take a look at this post from Getty during the last Olympics :


If you look carefully, you’ll see a lot of Pocketwizards.  With that many radio signals bouncing around, the odds of someone accidentally triggering the wrong camera goes up exponentially.  As a result — most major sporting events require “Custom IDs” on any remotes — a firmware update from the Pocketwizard factory that ensures each photographer is working on their own individual frequency.

Bottom line — after sending my Pocketwizards off on a quick trip to Vermont — you can now call me “0B6 @350.5Mhz.”

Pocket Wizard Custom ID