It’s not often that I’m forced to shoot with just one set of equipment for an extended period of time with no real recourse to my other gear. This trip – three weeks – has provided me with an opportunity to focus on the evaluation of what I did bring. I packed light this time – I knew I would be walking a lot, so I wanted to avoid a whole-day bag. What follows are some quick thoughts on how I thought things stacked up. MT
18/4/13 at 4.30pm – Corrected for autocorrect-induced typos; I was trying writing on my iPad on the plane home.
Olympus OM-D (B&H | Amazon) – This has cemented itself as my travel camera of choice. I’ve now done several extended sojourns with it and not found any major operational quirks (except the propensity to occasionally lock up if you ty to protect an image too soon after zooming out, necessitating a hard reset by remove the battery). During this trip, my camera surpassed the 30,000 image mark with no other major hiccups. It got rained on, covered in dust and dye and never missed a beat. A single battery did get me through most days, with about 50% remaining in heavy days. I still carried a spare just in case, but never needed it. Even though my camera appears to have sstarted developing the cracked LCD frame edge problem after a minor impact, I still come to the same conclusion as before: highly recommended.
Olympus HLD-6 battery grip (B&H | Amazon) – Though optional, the front piece should be standard at very least. I brought both parts with me, but never used the vertical bit after day one – I simply didn’t miss it. That half will stay at home next time. Criminally expensive for what it is, but unfortunately very necessary for handling.
Olympus ZD 12/2 (B&H | Amazon) – Still the best (and possibly only) fast wide choice for M4/3 until the Schneider 14mm shows itself. It’s competent but the corners show lateral CA until stopped down somewhat. I used it until I got the Coolpix A – partially because I got lazy changing lenses, partially because I prefer the optics and image quality of the Coolpix.
Olympus ZD 45/1.8 (B&H | Amazon) – One of the bargains in the lens world – great optics and fast focusing, but the build is somewhat plasticky. I landed up switching to the 50 Summilux after picking it up because I prefer the rendering of that lens’ out of focus areas. It’s not easy to nail with the OM-D’s EVF and no focus peaking, though. I carried both for a while, but used the Leica unless I was shooting something documentary that required fast focusing.
Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (B&H | Amazon) – I finally managed to get a good copy; it came from the Leica Store NYC via Amazon. Haven’t shot it on an M body; it went straight on the OM-D and has proven to render beautiful cinematics – I think there’s some very slight field curvature to the design that does the same thing the Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon does at the edges. Tough to focus without the magnification on, but you get used to it after a while. Definitely worth the effort, and best shot wide open or close to it with the subjects in the central portion of the frame.
Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X OIS pancake zoom (B&H | Amazon) – I bought one of these out of curiosity: since the X20 was nearly the same size as the OM-D with a small lens and no grip, and the flexibility of the zoom was one of the things I enjoyed most about the X20, why not find a small zoom for the OM-D and use that as my compact? So far, so good: the lens is a surprisingly good performer, with minimal CA and good sharpness across the frame. Focusing speeds are fast enough. There’s no mechanical zoom ring, and extending/ contracting the barrel every time you cycle the camera power uses a bit more juice than normal; the hit to battery life is perhaps in the 15-20% range. Still, a very interesting travel option when paired with a faster prime…
Fuji Finepix X20 (B&H | Amazon) – A very enjoyable camera to shoot with due to the mechanical zoom lens and tactile feel, but ultimately one I did not land up keeping as the size/ image quality tradeoff wasn’t really a good one – it was big enough (nearly as big as the OM-D and a small lens) to be unpocketable, required two-handed operation, and has somewhat weak battery life. Really fast to focus, though, and the lens is pretty good. Fine if you’re not carrying a larger camera and don’t intend to do any processing of your images – best for the JPEG shooters.
Nikon Coolpix A (B&H | Amazon) – This one initially got little use, but steadily grew on me throughout the trip to the point that I was perhaps using this slightly more than the OM-D. Image quality is superb; the lens is very, very well matched to the sensor indeed. I think the overall image quality is possibly even better than the M9 and 28/2 Summicron-ASPH.
Canon ELPH 530HS (B&H | Amazon) – A jetlag-induced purchase off Amazon on a whim late at night; it’s tiny and packs a 12x, 28-330mm optical zoom lens. Produces surprisingly good results under good light; 10MP sensor but cropped from a larger 16MP sensor (outer portions not used, so it’s actually a very small sensor indeed. I actually kinda like it for the huge range of perspectives it offers; it’s not going to supplant the Coolpix A, but it’s small enough that it does come along for the ride most of the time – you won’t notice it’s there until you need 300mm. Recommended, especially at the price (around US$130).
Voigtlander metal 28mm bright line finder (B&H | Amazon) – Originally meant for the Coolpix A, but I landed up not using it and taking it off after the first day – you can’t turn off the LCD on the Coolpix, making this somewhat useless.
Billingham Hadley Pro (B&H | Amazon) – My workhorse bag. Packed it into my suitcase this time without the insert; good as a very light daybag or to hold my laptop. I like it so much, I’ve actually got two of these.
Billingham 555 (B&H | Amazon) – I like this bag a lot. It’s the largest one Billingham makes, and just fits carry on size. Holds an enormous amount of gear – almost more than you can lift – and looks rather stylish in the process.
Wacom Intuos 4 medium (link for the 5, latest version: B&H | Amazon) – Together with Photoshop, the only piece of equipment I use for every single image. I don’t buy new ones out of feature envy, I buy them because I wear out the surface after a couple of years. Mine’s at the point where it needs replacement; the cursor is skipping. It’s not a flaw with the tablet, I just use it heavily. Worked as usual, but I can’t wait for the Cintiq 13HD to replace it.
Apple MacBook Air 11″, late 2012 (B&H | Amazon) – Powerful and light, survived an accidental drop and bounce across the LAX security checkpoint with a little dent in one corner. I don’t think a platter-based machine could have survived it; score one for SSD. Despite what people say, the latest configuration is plenty powerful for running Photoshop; I can happily open batches of 15 or more RAW files from my OM-D at a time without a hiccup. The only letdown is the screen; hopefully the Cintiq 13HD will fix that.
Apple iPad mini 64gb (B&H | Amazon) – I’ve had previous full-size iPads, but the mini makes the most sense because of size and portability – it fits into a large jacket pocket – and allowed me to carry my teaching notes and example images without much weight penalty. It’s much easier to see images on a 7″ screen than an iPhone…
Sandisk Extreme HD 32GB SDHC cards (B&H | Amazon) – I use a bevy of these in all of my cameras. They’re fast and reliable, unless you happen to shoot a Leica M9, in which case they tend to make the camera lock up and eat files…
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