If you’re going on a trip that’s probably never going to be repeated (let’s assume it isn’t for a job where you’d have to bring everything you could possibly need and spares) – what do you bring? The tried and true, or the new gear you think might work? And more importantly, how does one balance it out against the current draconian carry on limits, and one’s endurance in the field? After all, there’s no point in bringing the best camera only to leave it in the hotel…read on and see how my bag did in Havana. I made a very conscious choice to travel as light as possible and leave behind the tripod; it was a last minute change mainly due to luggage space challenges and a lack of foreseeable night/ long exposure photography.
I erred on the side of caution with my load out. Havana is an expensive and long – 30h journey time on the shorter leg – trip for us from Malaysia; we’ve got to make it count. To top it off, at the time of leaving we had no real idea about safety etc. – leaving gear in a hotel room is generally a bad idea for obvious reasons, though you also don’t want to be a pack mule to your equipment. The reason for not bringing a complete E-M1 set for stills and video (we filmed a couple of episodes for the video workshops too) was because I also have the secondary objective of making Ultraprints out of my work – and 16MP is simply not enough for anything of size; an 8×10″ is about the limit.
I also considered the Hasselblad and digital back, but given we’d be shooting under tropical sun, I’d either have to use NDs all of the time, or stop down heavily to deal with the maximum 1/500s shutter speed on the V’s leaf-shutter equipped lenses. The D4 also briefly came under consideration to give me some additional low light and tracking capabilities, but it didn’t make sense to carry two battery systems or the much, much larger charger. Finally, there was the Leica T prototype that remained in my hands following completion of the review. This had to be eliminated for the same reasons as the E-M1: not enough resolution, in addition to being a prototype: you really don’t want to take chances especially when there’s precisely zero local support for any brand.
In the end, predictable and sensible worked: the kit let me make the images I wanted to make, and didn’t get in the way. And that’s about all we can reasonably ask from a camera, isn’t it? Most of the masterclass participants did the same thing: stick with the tried and tested, so that they might focus on the image making process rather than a camera’s operating idiosyncrasies.
Nikon D800E (x2)
Performed very much as expected, except it seems as though the mirror calibration of the primary body had drifted slightly. An inconvenient (but at least doable) fix with the tools I brought along. More concerning was the occasional long lag and ‘hour glass’ delay visible when awaiting playback or powering up; it seemed to clear with a power or shutter cycle, and failing that, a battery removal. Other than that – nothing but the usual great image quality. The second body was probably overkill and saw no service at all the entire week. Update: Nikon has finally fixed this problem with the latest v1.10 firmware update a couple of days ago.
Nikon AI 45/2.8 P
Didn’t plan to use it – just as a body cap for the spare body, and to have something to shoot with in that range if the Otus packed in (as unlikely as that may seem).
Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VRII N (to be the subject of a future review)
My impression of Havana as a physical location is that it’s either very tight (poorer and historical areas) or very long/ wide (think grand boulevards and avenues) which meant that I’d probably have to bring a telephoto of some sort. The 2/135 APO is an outstanding lens, but quite large/ heavy and not so easy to focus; given that one of my personal objectives was to try my hand at car photography, a manual focus lens was probably not the best choice for the trip. In the end, the 70-200/4 was chosen and purchased over the f2.8 II for size and weight, in addition to a lack of focus breathing and much reduced 1m minimum focusing distance – and it’s stellar optics and rock-steady VR, which must be one of Nikon’s current best features. The lens handled very well – like a slightly long (but not heavy or overbalanced) 24-70. In fact, it lived on the main D800E body most of the time – 70mm isn’t much longer in practice than 55mm. I found it to require some fiddling with AF fine tune to get a setting that would work optimally for both ends of the zoom and at all distances; it appears that there is some field curvature and variation in focal point as you zoom. Nevertheless, one of the few times I’ve bought gear specifically before a trip, and one of the even fewer times I’ve come away very impressed.
Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon
In short: I didn’t land up using or carrying it because I had the GR with me, and that was just easier to carry, deploy and use off a belt holster than playing musical lenses (especially not in some of the very dusty or sea-sparayed conditions we encountered). I’d leave this behind next time.
Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon
I found the focal length to be somewhat in no-mans’-land for the trip – which is definitely not a mark against the lens, but which certainly reduced its utility. The few times I did carry it, it of course produced the usual stellar images. However, the more I use it, the more the hood annoys me: it’s too easy to ding/ dent the edges, and really needs a rubber bumper on the end.
Harvesting what is probably the world’s most expensive sea salt – I’ll serve it at a photographers’ dinner one day: Cuban, grown on the front element of an Otus. Note: make sure you wet/ dab the front element first to dissolve the crystals before attempting to polish it, or you’re going to scratch it. Badly. The Otus is fine, by the way.
Ricoh GR Digital V
Still just as enamoured of this little powerhouse as I was at the start. Has one of the highest pixel quality levels of any camera, and certainly the highest of all the APS-C cameras – thanks to a combination of its outstanding lens and AA-free sensor. It always goes with me wherever I go, and never disappoints. Despite fairly heavy use – up to 400 images a day – I never ran out of juice. The battery indicator never ran down by a single bar, either…
Olympus OM-D E-M1 (x2)
Though its primary purpose on this trip was video, my partner did use it for some stills; image quality post-EFC firmware update is definitely a notch up on what we had previously. It still remains our choice for handheld video work because if its excellent stabiliser and very low profile.
Olympus ZD 12-40/2.8 PRO
A versatile lens with excellent optics; good for both stills and video (thanks to that manual override clutch with hard stops at either end). Weathered sea-spray pretty well, too.
Olympus ZD 75/1.8
Same comments as for the 12-40: no other contenders for this purpose and field of view.
Billingham 307 and Hadley Small
I love the way the 307 looks, and the fact that it isn’t a Hadley Pro, but it’s quite limited in capacity – between one D800E/Otus, the 70-200, 2/28, laptop, and some spares, cables and ancillaries, the bag was full. I think I need a bigger one next time. The Hadley Small was a good walk around bag when I wanted to carry more than one extra lens; otherwise I just used the Think Tank pouches.
Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards
My choice unless there’s a Leica or CF slot involved; in which case you need to use something slower to avoid file corruption, or take advantage of the faster bus speeds respectively (Lexar 1066x are a good place to start).
WD My Passport 2TB
I experienced some strange behaviour with this drive – with about 200GB free, it started slowing down dramatically to the point that it was perhaps running only at 20% of normal speed – I’ve usually landed up buying a new drive before hitting this point, so I suppose it’s a capacity thing…
Wacom Intuos small (2013 version)
I honestly can’t tell the difference in feel between the latest Intuos (Bamboo replacement) and the older Intuos3/4 tablets – they’re that good. And lighter, smaller and wireless with touch capability to boot – what’s not to like? Only one problem, and I suspect it was a computer hardware one – at one point after using Air Display to mirror the screen on one of my iPads, the tablet didn’t read at all – it recognised it because the power light was on, and the activity light blinked when the pen touched the surface – but there was no cursor movement. Odd – but thankfully solved by a restart.
Think Tank Skin 50 v2 and App House 8
A couple of pouches to hold a large lens and iPad mini/ voice recorder respectively – no radio mikes this time meant that I was carrying all of the audio gear on my person. And me not wanting to carry a bag – most of you know I much prefer camera in and and a jacket with pockets – meant that I’d have to find a solution for the portions when we were filming. These two pouches worked a treat.
Apple Macbook Air 11″, late 2012
Still a great travel laptop given the size/ power tradeoff, but now starting to show issues because I’m processing D800E files on it on location (I always used to leave those til I returned home to take advantage of the faster computer here); it feels slow, the limited screen gamut is growing more frustrating, and the battery life when using PS is abysmal – something like 70 minutes with brightness on low (impractical for editing) and all wireless connectivity off. I can’t help but find myself considering a 13″ MBP Retina…
Would I change anything? Probably yes, I’d leave behind the extra D800E and 28mm, and add the 21mm wide converter for the GR instead; though having said that, if I go again I’d probably bring the 645Z instead, and put everything inside the larger Billingham 555 instead of having two smaller bags…MT
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