One question you tend to see publicly discussed ad nauseam on forums is the one that goes something along the lines of “If you could only bring one camera/lens to a desert island, what would that be, and why?” I’m sure it’s something even we more serious photographers give some consideration to from time to time; if only because one day we might find ourselves facing such an eventuality. In the greater interests of this site’s readership, I put myself in precisely that situation a couple of weeks ago.
Admittedly, I did try to take a short weekend break, and was smart enough to leave the laptop behind…but I brought my iPad to serve as entertainment; bringing any devices at all was a bit of a mistake as I landed up working anyway. I blame part of that on the weather, which wasn’t always sunny. Most of you won’t have noticed any difference in the frequency of posting or speed of responses. (Curiously, the island had better internet than back home; I could even get LTE. Maybe I should move office out there.)
Said weather did make for some impressive clouds and sunsets, however; and I did get some personal photography in. Since the primary considerations were flexibility and pleasure in use, I had far more freedom than usual in my selections. Weight was a factor too, but not so much so as to be a limitation. The place where I was going is part of a national park, which would mean some nature and birding opportunities. There’s also obviously the aforementioned seascapes/ landscapes/ skyscapes, plus perhaps some underwater or at very least seafront work that might result in equipment getting wet; plus of course the usual holiday documentary. Throw in a little architecture – depending on how interesting the resort itself is – and that pretty much rounds things out. Sounds like a mixed bag, doesn’t it?
In fact, not really. If you think about it, there isn’t really any special purpose gear you need to bring; leaving out birding, moderate wide to moderate tele would cover just about everything. And since you’re on a tropical island, light generally isn’t a problem; basically, you could cover just about everything with a decent consumer superzoom – either a bridge camera like the Panasonic FZ200/ Leica V-Lux 4 or midrange DSLR. Adequate? Definitely. Fun? Not so much. Two really obvious things come to mind: firstly, if it’s really a desert island, then photography is probably far down the list of priorities after say, oh, food and fresh water. If it’s a desert island in name only – the kind of place where you are stuck with what you brought, and the trip isn’t really about photography – then ultimately it boils down to bringing something that’s fun, won’t get tiring because of its weight, and that you don’t mind leaving in the room or boat unattended when you say, go snorkelling.
So what did I bring in the end?
For the light and flexible, I went with the OM-D and Panasonic 14-42 X; it served pretty much as point and shoot. I debated adding the 100-300 on the off chance I might feel like doing some birding, but left it out at the last minute because that really wasn’t why I was going on this trip. For fun, I added the Hasselblad 501CM, 50/4 CF FLE and 150/4 CF lenses, the CFV-39 digital back (simply because I hadn’t had a chance to shoot it properly yet) and a tripod (Gitzo GT1542 Traveller without the center column, and an Arca-Swiss P0 head). I also packed my new home-made variable ND – two Carl Zeiss T* polarizers front to back via an adaptor ring; easily good for 10 stops before odd color (blue) shifts start to set in. And no issues with glass quality, flare or reflections; oddly, cheaper than a regular variable ND, too. If that sounds like a lot of gear for a beach trip, and some of it potentially unwise given the environment, it probably is/ was. I admit, my choices were partially motivated to test the CFV-39 under more realistic shooting conditions; I think the results were worthwhile, but I’m not sure I’d do it again next time: to be honest, it felt less like a holiday and more like work on location interspersed with some beach time.
I think what most of us forget is that there’s only so many sunsets and seascapes and plant pics you can shoot before getting bored; or photos of your wife before she starts getting annoyed (though I suppose that would take longer than you using a telephoto lens and taking photos of other peoples’ wives). Even when survival on a desert island isn’t your first problem – I simply had trouble finding enough subjects to shoot. By the last day, the only time I brought the camera out was for one spectacular sunset. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy shooting with either camera – I did, very much so – so that criterion was met; however, I don’t think I’d do it again. For me, the question has been answered in perhaps the most practical way possible: next time, I’m either bringing the D800E, 24-120/4 and a tripod if there’s any possibility I might want to make prints and sell the images commercially or for stock afterwards, otherwise, I’m just packing the GR V. MT
For the curious, the island in question was Pulau Gaya off the cost of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. The Olympus OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon) and the Panasonic 14-42 X here (B&H, Amazon). The Nikon D800E is available here (B&H, Amazon) and 24-120/4 VR here (B&H, Amazon). You’re…er…on your own with the Hasselblad.
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