Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GALLERY: Valken V-Tac - Milsig Gear Shoot - Feb 22nd, 2011

       There's probably a whole lot of people on my facebook who are getting tired of seeing these pictures in their news feed but it's going to show up once more via my twitter feed. No lengthy text posts prepared at the moment but I decided to figure out how to use Picasa and post some gear pictures from a shoot I did with a team mate yesterday.

        Next thing on the to do list for the blog is to figure out the youtube account as I still don't know how to work that (I need to get with the times, right?). I've rounded up a crew of locals to make a team with and we bagged a modest Valken sponsorship for the 2011 so expect to see a lot more media of the whole team come summer, as well as reviews of all the products we try

       Have a look at the pictures, enjoy, click to enlarge! this is only two of close to 20 shots I imported and processed, I encourage you to follow this link to the full public album: Valken - Milsig Gear Shoot

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SHOOTING: Sigma 70-300mm Lens Overview

What's in the box
       Here's a non-paintball entry way out of left field for you. Say you're in my boat, at least the one I was in last year anyway, and playing is not an option in spite of being present at the field all the time. Maybe you're a ref, maybe you're injured and can't run and dive about the bunkers on your field, or maybe money is an issue and you can't drop 80 on a box of balls every week. What if like so many North Americans today, you have a digital camera, perhaps of the DSLR variety and you want to take shots of your friends playing but have trouble getting super close to the action and can't drop 2000$ on a telephoto lens or don't want to take said 2000$ lens into a shooting zone? There's an option out there that can be purchases with a protective filter for less than 200$ CAD at most retailers which fits exactly that bill.

Fully set up and elongated
WarHammer 40k Figurine, only a few inches tall
that's some good macro

       If you know not a thing about cameras I may start speaking a different language right now, but for the rest of you, let me introduce you to the Sigma 70-300mm telephoto lens, one of the best-for-the-money lenses you can grab for an SLR for amateur/budget shooting. The lens is a lightweight as zoom lenses go at just half a kilogram; I have some smaller ones that are heavier and posses less zoom capabilities than this lens and it's a pretty easy one to hand hold for longer periods of time. It's also a pretty long beast and looks fairly impressive on the front of you camera, if not a little Freudian in it's design. It also includes a sun shade to keep light coming from the side from making it's way into the lens barrel and polluting the image.
       Function wise it's very versatile. In normal use it's a very handy telephoto lens but the lens has a switch that allows it to turn into a very capable macro lens between the 200-300mm zoom ranges; it's perhaps even more capable at macro than it is as a telephoto as can be scene in the Warhammer 40K figurine shot. But as good as the lens is there are a few gripes I have about it that can be easily overcome with just a little practice in manual mode.
       First up is a small one that just a little post processing in just about any photo editing program can rectify. At the extreme ends of the lenses zoom, those being 70mm and 300mm respectively, the lens has a habit of adding a little bit of haze to the image. This I've been told is a common problem with a lot of Sigma lenses, and no offense to the company, but this brand is cheaper by about 100$ on average for a reason. If you don't wish to use a photo editing program and do post processing because you think that's sacrilege like a lot of photographers do, you can overcome the haze by operating the lens within it's two extremes.

That lens and I, Freud would be proud
       Second is the reason why learning to become a little more competent in manual focus is of such value: the lens does not focus very quick. This much I don't know is a common problem of Sigma's but on this particular model it is. It will over shoot it's focus, back track, go a little bit too far, then a little too close before it finally has the subject in focus and it's not a fast process, nor a quiet one. I've used an alcohol analogy to explain it a few times: When I'm sober (I really don't drink at all to be honest) my eyes are like a good Nikon lens, but after a few drinks their focus time is more like a Sigma. You follow? If you learn to be proficient in shooting in manual focus modes you can also overcome your camera sticking it's tongue out at you and saying the subject is too dark or light and not releasing the shutter when it's told to do so.

       Only one more thing to moan about really quick: the lens does not the best max f-stop around. A really good (low number) f-stop in a telephoto lens usually translates to a whole lot more dinero though. If you decide to shoot in low light, very shady places, or even at an indoor field you may need to get creative with some manual mode features in your camera. Tweaking the ISO or active-d lighting to fill out the shadows can help and more importantly, get your shutter speed as close to at least 1/125th of a second to keep your shots crisp and minimize the shake that hand holding a zoom lens can cause. A tripod can help but that's a heavy chunk of gear to lug about for a casual shooter to drag along. Getting closer to the action and using less zoom from the lens can improve your max aperture too and still get you nice bokeh for portrait-like combat shots. Remember though, a dark, under exposed shot can be brightened to look better than an over exposed shot that's been darkened most of the time so don't sweat a under exposure too much.

Taken with this lens, not a bad action shot
       So all in all you get a pretty good deal on this lens and a UV or A-1 filter to protect it at 200$. It takes a little bit of a creative user to get some pretty slick shots with it given it's limitations, but Sigma's delivered a pretty versatile little lens here, great macro and telephoto features at a reasonable price; it gives similar 70-300mm lenses made by Canon or Nikon a run for the money.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

REVIEW: 5.11 Coyote ATAC Boots, 8 Inch

Side Zip!
       Some people like to play paintball wearing running shoes. Some like to play while wearing cleats. Both these options are good if you don't play often, and cleats are actually ideal if you speedball and only intend to play on a small flat field. Unfortunately for cleat wearers, some fields, the one I work at included, don't allow cleats because they have a habit of tearing up the earth they bite into and it's rotten if you have to swap out your shoes and put on your every day footwear which ends up getting dirty with various forms of paintball filth. I think it's safe to say that regardless of the terrain you play on, ankle support is a much desired feature in the footwear you paintball in, be it for milsim or speedball. No one likes it when a rogue tree root sticks out of the ground and makes you roll your ankle when you're dashing along, eyes on the enemy and not on the ground. Paintballer or not, we all know that feeling and it has a habit of ending with us hitting the ground hard and it's not always an easy injury to walk off. Just last year I had a friend take a spill off uneven terrain which put him out of work and play for more than a month. Let me introduce to you a boot with ankle support which I don't think can be beat for the money you pay for it.
Very good ventilation on the soles to keep your feet cool
and dry
       These are the 5.11 Coyote ATAC boots in the 8 inch format and I gotta jump right into some of the really neat features of this boot right away, I'm too excited not to. First and foremost: I love the side zip on the boot. The zipper runs from the top, all the way  to near the sole of the boot, and it lets you slide in and out of the boot with ease, even when it's fully tightened up.
       Cool feature number 2: The sole of the boot itself is amazing. It's a comfortable one but after extended wear you may wish to replace it once it's compacted from enough abuse. What makes it so fantastical in my mind is it's the best anti-bacterial sole I've ever used, even after a year of wearing these, there's no noticeable foot smell from them in my entry foyer.
       Cool feature number 3: one way vents along the sides of the boot. When you take a step with these boots on, your foot moving around in the boot causes some air to be pushed out. Not a whole heck of a lot can sneak back in and that which does helps to keep your feet at a nice temperature. Water isn't likely to get in through here so a short dash through a creek or a walk through a dewy environment is possible while still keeping your feet dry. The boots are also pretty good for a couple of hours in the snow, but after about 4 your feet are going to start getting damp even if you've applied copious water-proofing.
       Last two cool things: the boots have small pouches on the outside which 5.11 says is ideal for “hand cuff keys or a small pocket knife,” whether you need either of these on the paintball field is questionable but it's a nice spot to stash a Leatherman or some O-rings for on the go, and the last thing, almost not worth mentioning for paintball, is the really neat treads around the toe of the boot. It's a V shaped pattern for those times when you need to vault a chain link fence real fast, You can tell that a lot of effort went into the design, they really pulled out all the stops on this 130$ boot.
For when you just have to vault that chain link fence
       Holy cow, all that talk so far and not a mention of fit or comfort. Good news, the 5.11 ATACs have that too. They come in a broad variety of sizes including wide ones and I'd have to recommend getting a pair that's half a size too small and suffering through the early wear stage. This will break them in to the ideal size for your foot. In regards to wide sizes of the boot, I wear a wide size and it fits me like a glove (or boot?). The widest point of my foot is just shy of 4.5 inches across so if your foot is in that ball park then wide is what you should order. As for the ankle support thanks to the 8 inch height, it's fantastic. The boots have a nice firm upper portion which will keep your ankle in an upright position without restricting the ability to flex your leg forward, such as when crouching. These boots were great for a full season of reffing and playing paintball on rocky, shaley, uneven mountain terrain and I even took to wearing them off the field in my day to day errands as well; once you try that ankle support out it's hard to go back to wearing whimpy little Sketchers! Not to mention the boots are pretty stylish when poking out under a pair of jeans. The boots are very light too, and 5.11 is definitely not lieing when they say it was built off a running shoe platform. I've shown these boots to several friends and they have been very surprised by the light weight; these really beat running around the field in a pair of old steel toe work boots.
Small side pocket for a a knife of handcuff key,
you can insert it all the way in, it's located just below the top
       I have just one complaint about these boots. Story time first: By some stroke of luck I have ended up with two really good pairs of these after A: I ordered a new pair to replace my old ones and B: 5.11 offered to replace the old boots free of charge as a product honouring thing which was great. Product wear and tear is supposed to happen though, so why did they so willingly replace them? The boots' heels wore out after less than 6 months. Part of the problem here was me on account of my placing new insoles over top of the old ones. I guess this caused there to be friction where friction shouldn't be, but in the end this made the boot heel wear out quicker than it should. Alas, I'm working my way through pair number 2 which doesn't have my silly added pair insoles installed on top of the existing ones and there's already some wear in the same area of the heel of these boots. I slowed the wear by removing the sole, and laying a strip of duct tape along the foot and up the heel area, then reinstalling the sole to make the friction occur against my sock and the duct tape and not the fabric in the heel of the boot. ADDENDUM: Pair 2 has just recently died on me here in July of 2011, so that's 2 pairs in just over 1 year. I dragged the life of these ones out well beyond where I should have and the heel wore so badly that it created a hole where my foot could slide into, but not slide out of making removal super difficult. 5.11 has suggested that people purchase a pair of boots one or one half size small to create a better fit and remedy this. That's what I tried to do with pair number 2 but they still died on me. No one else who visits the local tactical shop has had this problem once, let alone twice like I have, so it must be user error or my own mutant feet. I might not wear many more pairs of these boots but I still don't hesitate to recommend them because they are So. Damn. Comfy.
       The 5.11 ATAC 8 inch boot is a brilliant system overall, and I know 5.11 is constantly taking suggestions from owners of their gear for ideas to improve the design. They actually asked me to send them my worn out boots for the them to inspect and keep documents about on hand for future design reference, that's good customer support right there, very cool! Sure, my first pair wore out after 6-ish months but I'd say that I'm partly to blame for that; 6 months is probably the minimum life span of the boot and even if that's all you get out of them that's still 180 paintball days! If you need some proper quality footwear for paintball (or even hiking and day to day life) and don't mind the 130$ price tag these are an excellent pair of boots that you can't go wrong with. Unless 5.11 followed these up with something better, I can see myself wearing pairs of the 8 inch ATACs for awhile.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

HATERS GONNA HATE: The Speedball - Milsim Rift


       Sometimes I wonder if the topics I use and language I explain them with the is the reason I don't get more traffic on the blog but I hope those who have been reading along this far have realised I'm trying to make the content appeal to as wide an audience as possible without them having to break out the Paintball to English dictionary. Today's topic is probably something that a lot of die hard paintballers are familiar with but one that those novices such as the majority population from my local field are only slightly aware of. Like that which exists between airsoft and paintball, there is still another rift sitting between speedball and milsim paintballers which I only started to become fully conscious of in early 2010.
They don't Look the Part at First, But These are Some of the
More Terrifying Guns to Encounter on the field
       There's a lot of attitude in competitive speedball, no denying that. Plenty of speedball teams I've heard of and have had friends on and even speedballers who don't have a team yet just seem to hate each other and given that I haven't played speedball in any sort of professional capacity I can't say I know precisely where it comes from. Maybe it's cheater modes on their electric guns, adrenaline, testosterone, paint wipers, bounces, bonus ballers, lousy ref calls, or some kind of superiority complex that accompanies high end sponsorships and worrying about losing a top spot. It could be any number of those things but there's friction there and the attitude seems to instill fear in regular ballers and Milsimmers and they don't want that around so they ostracize anyone with a gun that isn't black or olive drab. Crazy, right? I do know of several fields and leagues who will literally turn anyone with a speedball gun away, sometimes even if the gun just resembles one, like a 70$ Spyder Victor. This happens for two reasons: the aforementioned fear of overpowered guns and attitude and another sillier reason: becuase “they don't look real.”
       I won't lie, I've met some of the god-awful whiny speedballers before but I've also met some really great ones who follow rules better than field employees, and come to play with a great attitude and I get choked to think of someone as dedicated as any milsimmer getting turned away from a scenario big game because of the color or nature of his gun. Almost reminiscent of racism, no? Surely the problem can be solved between the two camps if the speedballers who demonstrate they know how to adapt, grab a 50 round hopper, and play nice are allowed to stay while the rest who just can't stomach the thought of shooting that little paint are turned away though...
       Not so. Speedballers don't really have a hope of trying to argue a point or play with people who have this sacred-cow-of-milsim mindset. If they lose to someone with a magazine fed marker it's because they play carelessly, aren't picking their shots, and sling paint willy nilly. If they win it's because they're wielding a grossly over powered, rope throwing paintball gun which is unfair to possess on the field. Talk about double-bind situations, there's just no winning, even for the good sports. The strangest thing is that I still know of judgemental milsim paintballers like that who praise guns like the BT TM7 and TM15 which are Invert Mini speedball guns in assault rifle clothing and it really aggravates me when they pull that sort of epic cognitive FAIL!
       So let's break it down: there's a lot of milsim paintballers who think the lot of speedball players are whiny cheaters with space guns and clown clothes (which I might add are much higher quality than any battle dress uniform I've ever tried out). Then there are a lot of speedball players who find milsimmers to be closed minded ballers who play paintball while over encumbered by their heavy milspec gear. I'm going to drop the issue here though because it's as annoying to write about as it is to see on forums and the field and I'll explain a few reasons why some players are like this in a week or two.
       A fun day of paintball depends on two things: rules and player attitude. If the field or event you play at imposes a rule of no automatic markers, no ramping, and a semi auto cap of 10-15 balls per second, then an experienced Tippmann Custom 98 operator should be fairly evenly matched when facing a speedball gun. If someone with a gun capable of exceeding the caps in these rules can tone down their gun then there's no reason to not allow them to play. Attitude wise, a whiny milsimmer is just as bad as a whiny speedballer who won't swap out his Dye Rotor for a gravity fed hopper. Preferential treatment should not be granted to the milsim player on account of his gun looking like a Colt M4 while speedballers resembles a Ferrari. With caps imposed or not, both milsim and speedball guns can serve great purposes if used cooperatively with each other. If we saw a 'fusion' of the two play types we might just be able to make some magic happen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

SPOTLIGHT: Valken Paintball

       This news is super old, guys. Just about a year old if I were to guesstimate but there are still a lot of paintballers I meet (mostly only the one's in person at the local field) who have no idea what Valken V-Tac is and I want to bring those folks into the loop, especially since I already have some Valken gear I use to ref in and more tactical gear from them in the mail that I really want to get people excited about! But first, just a little history...
       A gentleman by the name of Gino Postorivo is the brains behind Valken Sports' paintball operations. Until last year, Valken was dealing exclusively in lacrosse, racing, hockey, and mixed martial arts sports equipment and Gino himself was legally obliged not to be involved in peddling paintball wares on account of a non-competing clause he signed when he sold his old paintball business to KEE Action Sports. His period of being in paintball limbo expired last year and in just one year he's brought Valken Paintball a line of paintball gear rivaling Dye and Empire and most certainly outdoing the other two in regards to variety.
       Three lines of speedball gear were released by Valken in 2009: the Fate line for entry level, casual, and budget ballers. The Crusade line in 4 tribal flavors for novice to intermediate player which sat in the middle price range. And for those to whom money was no object, the coup de grace, the Redemption line of paintball gear in 4 additional color schemes.
Click this Image... It Should Explain it all Quite Nicely

       It was revealed in early 2010 that Valken was busting to push out a tactical line geared towards Milsim paintballers to fill a market niche which no other paintball company had claim to. Valken released two different lines of Milsim gear: the Sierra line and the Zulu line, Sierra resembling the Crusade line of speedball gear in construction and Zulu resembling Redemption, both with price points resembling their predecessors. The Zulu and Sierra lines came in 4 different camouflage schemes: Woodland, ACU, Marpat, and Tiger Stripe. Later in 2010 it was revealed that Valken was planning to release a Black SKU of Sierra and Zulu, as well as a Crye Precision Multicam SKU renamed “V-Cam”. Both of these new SKU's were to resemble Valken's 2011 Crusade and Redemption lines.
       In the one and a half years that Gino Postorivo has been powering back into the paintball scene with Valken Sports, he's managed to introduce 5 lines of paintball gear, packs, vests, carve out Valken a strong spot in Milsim Paintball gear, produce a marker (the SW-1), and soon Valken will be releasing an electric hopper capable of feeding 30+ balls per second available in all the V-Tac camouflage colors and select Redemption patterns.
       This V-Tac gear and speedball gear it's based off of is amazing stuff and you can see when examining it that a lot of thought went into the designs. When my gear arrives in a week or so I'll go into full details along with pictures to accompany all the reasons why this stuff is 100% worth your money. Video overviews of both Sierra and Zulu V-Tac lines can be found just below.

Sierra Pant:
Sierra Jersey:
Zulu Pant:
Zulu Jersey: