Photo gear

Friday, 8th May 2009; 1:42 pm - Location:

I’ve been a shutterbug since I was a kid, and bought my own 35mm camera gear even before I started shaving. I spent a large portion of high school and college with my fingertips smelling of Dektol, stop bath, and fixer. So you can be sure that photography is going to be a substantial focus of this journey. The question is what gear to bring.

I have a long history with 35mm film, and I’ve assembled a nice kit of photo gear built around my beloved 1980s-vintage Pentax ME super, with a lean but functional set of optics: 24/2.8, 50/1.7, 70-150/4, 500/8 mirror. It has just enough automation to be helpful, and like any classic SLR responds quickly and effortlessly. But there’s no question that the future is digital. Several years ago I picked up the small Olympus D-460, with a 3x optical zoom and 1.3 megapixel sensor when the price of those got down to around $300. It’s no substitute for a 35mm. I can’t really afford a digital SLR, but a few years ago I found the Olympus SP-500UZ, with a permanent 10x optical zoom. It’s still an autofocus, and the only way to zoom is by pushing buttons, which makes it sluggish to use, but it has enough manual override (e.g. manual focus and aperture/shutter selection… again, by pushing buttons) to give me the control that a standard 35mm SLR always has.

On my first trip to Isle Royale in 2002 (my first real expedition in a while), I brought the 35mm kit simply because that was the only camera up to my standards. I brought the D-460 along as a way of getting some photos in digital format without having to scan them, and as an emergency backup. But the 35mm gear (including film) was a lot to carry, and on my most recent Isle Royale adventure in 2006, I went all digital: the new SP-500UZ, with the D-460 as backup and to take places I didn’t want to risk the new one (e.g. canoeing).

So the question is now what to bring on this trip. Weight isn’t so much of an issue, so I could carry the 35mm gear without any discomfort. That equipment includes a real wide angle (not the 38mm-equivalent of the SP-500UZ), it has the speed and flexibility of manual focus and zoom, and (something I’ve always loved about the ME super) it’ll even work if the battery dies. But space is still a consideration, and there’s no denying the convenience of the self-contained SP-500UZ.

No matter what, I’ll also have something new to me on this trip: the camera in my iPhone. It’s nothing I’d rely on for taking serious images (it’s only 2Mpixels, and the less said about the fixed-focus optics the better), but it’ll be with me at all times, and has the added benefit of letting me instantly add photos to this blog using the WordPress app… like this:

One disadvantage is that it’s actually less convenient to use than a “real” camera: push a button, swipe a finger across the screen, type my security code, get to the right screen of apps, and tap Camera. Then I can point and shoot. It might be worth bringing along the D-460 (open, wait a second, point, shoot) as a (relatively) quick-draw cam.

Taking pictures on a scooter trip is going to be both less and more convenient than taking pictures while backpacking. Forty pounds of gear on your back kinda limits your mobility in getting the right angle, so it’ll be nice that I won’t have to lumber around or shed the pack. But you can snap pictures in an instant when you’re walking, while it’s really not safe to do that while scooting. (It’d be nice to get some “action shots” – maybe even video – but I don’t have the gear to do that. Maybe I could rent or borrow that.) The helmet and gloves can get in the way too. But compared to driving, I’ll have much more opportunity stop and photograph things I come across.

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