Monday, March 10, 2008

Traveler's Guide to Photo Gear

The purpose of this is not to debate Canon vs. Nikon, P&S vs. dSLR or even provide tips on how to take better pictures. This is meant to offer my perspective on gear that provides the least cumbersome and most effective way to travel/shoot with a dSLR. I do not mean to infer that you must have a dSLR, as I'm a firm believer the camera doesn't matter as much as the technique. I also don't profess to be an expert on the subject, but I've been an "amateur photographer" long enough to have honed my needs and wants. Over the last few years I've bought and sold enough gear, thinking it's what I wanted, that I can finally say I'm happy with my setup. There may be better ways for you to find your happy place but if you want some guidance, here you go.
  • The Bag - Lowepro Slingshot 200 AW - If you're not just heading out for a day of shooting, you need a bag. I've had backpacks big and small but the third time was the charm here. I finally settled on the sling design because it allows me to retrieve/stow my camera without taking the backpack off. Until I used it, I'd seriously underestimated the value of this feature. The 200 is large enough to hold a few lenses, a flash, the camera, charger and a few other things. I load it up for the flight to wherever we're going and generally take a few things out for day trips to save on weight. The AW stands for "all weather" and that fold out waterproof cover came in handy the day it poured in Osaka. Check out how awesome it looks on me here.
  • The Strap - Op/Tech Grip Strap - The need for a good camera strap is not to be underestimated. Unwilling to hang the camera from the standard neckstrap, I used to twist it around my wrist for security. Not only did I get sick of it restricting my shooting, my hand got tired of supporting the weight of the camera. The Grip Strap is designed to not only secure the camera to your wrist, it also acts as a sling so you don't have to actively support the camera at all times. It's comfortable, it's functional and it's a vast improvement over a neck strap. You can see it in action in the same bag image included above.
  • The Gloves - Simms Windstopper Foldover - Wait? The Gloves? Yes, the gloves. If it's windy, cold or just plain nasty you need gloves to preserve dexterity. I picked these up before our trip because my hands froze during our New Year's trip to England. I needed a way to keep my hands warm but still have the feel to work camera controls without shuffling gloves on and off. You're not going to have any snowball fights in these, but they're amazingly windproof and surprisingly warm. Not shooting and want to warm up? Flip the mitt down to cover your fingers. Need to adjust exposure, white balance or have sufficient feel of the shutter release? Flip them (or just the right hand) up and you're good to go. You also get the added benefit of being able to do things like handle tickets, money and food without taking your gloves off.
  • The Filter - Hoya Circular Polarizer - If you want to know the technical reason why you should have one, check out product page. If you're shooting in less than optimal conditions, and you don't get a choice when you're traveling, this little baby can make up for a lot. I left mine on the entire trip and my photos thank me for it.
  • The Lens - Nikon 18-200mm VR - So you may not shoot Nikon or you might not be able to afford this sort of bling. The important part to take away is the value of not having to change your lens. Not only is it a royal pain in the ass, it can also introduce contaminants into the inner-workings of your camera. Get a lens with a broad focal range and be done with it. This range is so versatile, I now I only travel with my 12-24mm and this 18-200mm... a huge weight savings. If you can get a lens with VR (Canon calls it IS) like this one, do it. It's a huge help when shooting at long focal lengths and at night. Read more here if you like.
So I guess that does it. If you're not in the market, these are probably useless to you. If you're in the market, feel free to learn from my experience. If you need a vendor recommendation or want to try any of these things out, let me know.

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