Have Camera, Will Travel

It’s Been a While Between Drinks

That’s not true. What I mean is that it’s been while since I promised to make regular postings on this blog. But I did get distracted for a few months.  I mentioned that I was going to suggest a reasonable camera to work with, even for those of you who are sensible enough not to use one at all.

From memory I said I was doing a lot of work with my phone. There’s a considerable amount of logic in that. It’s light, it”s usually with me, it’s unobtrusive, it delivers also really top quality and not a single editor has complained about the images. It’s now been something in the region of 30 years since I used exotic long lenses, or any exotic lens for that matter. Those were film days and, like the parrot who pines for the fjords, I pine for the film days.

Taken in northern Laos with the iPhone 7+. An abstract snap and the last place I expected to find a pining parrot. I was attracted to the loose graphic layout and  colours. I carry the cage everywhere in case I need a prop 🙂

When it Comes to Cameras I’ve Been There, Done That

I had in mind that I would recommend a good camera for travel shooting and, if you are inclined, something to take pictures of sufficient quality to  back up written stories. I have a policy of not recommending equipment I haven’t had a reasonable degree of experience with which narrows it down to a small field of gear like rangefinder film Leicas, Nikon F and F2, a few 4×5 cameras and other stuff. All beautiful gear, all capable of producing very high quality images and all pretty much obsolete in this day and age.

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This is Joe Sommerville and Agnes. A favourite picture taken by Trish Ainslie and I while we worked on the book “’til She Dropped Her Strides”, a essay about the lifestyle in Australia’s Kimberley region. The camera was a tripod mounted  4×5 inch film Toyo.  These large cameras are fairly cheap to buy these days and produce exceptionally high quality images.

From a purely professional standpoint and, within that, the print media – newspapers and magazines, it’s worth looking at statistics. These days about 90% of people get their information from the internet and view it on a smart phone, a tablet, maybe a laptop and sometimes a desktop computer. Thus, in general terms, if you disregard the remaining viewers there’s not much sense in investing in exotic, expensive, digital equipment. A couple of reasons are that it can be very heavy when travelling around. It also makes you a target for rogues who know what equipment is worth and the large cameras can be very intrusive.

The Considerations Were Cost, Weight, Lens Quality, File Size and Ease of Use

I decided I wanted to play around with a broader range of lenses but didn’t want to spend huge money. That’s best spent on air fares and beer, not necessarily in that order. (see the previous post).

I had an idea of what I was looking for. It had to be small and light with a file size of about 15-20mp. There are many cameras around, borderline professional, cheap and with reasonable quality lenses which in the old language offer a zoom range of between  25 and 500mm. One such camera caught my eye (pardon the pun).

Taken in Malaysia on Pulau Ketam. The woman had just walked out of the local temple to these massive incense sticks. They were back lit by early sun and really glowed. This was taken on the Lumix TZ90 set at about 500mm. Normally a lens of this focal length can suffer from camera shake but the Lumix has excellent inbuilt stabilisation I did carry a very small tripod in my luggage but didn’t bother to unpack it. In any event this was a picture opportunity which lasted ten seconds at best so it was a case of point and shoot.

It was awash with good revues  and had a feature which I knew I’d like – a flip up screen. This was the Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90. That’s the Australian designation. In other areas it is the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70. It has a lens which goes from a very wide angle 24mm to a very long telephoto 720mm. The lens is not ‘fast’ and the sensor does not perform that well in very low light. That’s not an issue for me. I prefer to leave the darker hours to enjoy food and wine and not worry about what’s happening in dark spaces or the night sky. If you want ‘fast’ anything be prepared to raid your secret offshore bank account to raise the loot. There is no connection between PANAsonic cameras and the PANAma Papers (Though I’m not sure about that).

Also taken on Pulau Ketam. A maze of jetties are connected in swampy mangroves by raised bridges so that fishing boats have access . The only means of transport is on foot, bike or electric scooters. Taken on the Lumix at about 300mm

The Final Choice – A Lumix TZ 90

Cutting a long story short I settled on the TZ90. Depending on where you live they cost around US$400 though while I write this it crosses my mind they out of production. Anyway the big feature for me was the flip up screen. It helped to me slow down while shooting, to compose carefully and also to be less obtrusive. There is a large range of Lumix travel cameras  worth careful consideration. But beware. Most of these cameras have too many features. The instruction book for the Lumix is about 500 pages. I have set my camera up for one channel whereby I can quickly change the ISO, the exposure compensation or focus point. You will need help even if you are a Rhodes Scholar.

I’ve now put in a few months travelling with this camera and am happy. I carry one battery and only one 16gb SSD card and a couple of 8gb. If I lose the card or it malfunctions they can be bought in pretty well any flea market in the known universe. I edit pictures most days, chucking out obvious junk and back up on the iPad and, more recently, the Cloud. I recharge the camera by plugging it into my Macbook. The battery lasts for pretty much a full day. I also recharge the iPad (and the iPhone) from the Mac.

On the last trip I did take the Macbook and the iPad as I was inclined to work on editing in the evenings. It’s easier on the Mac.  This set up cuts down on the number of leads and chargers I carry.

The flip up touch screen on the Lumix helps to remain unobtrusive while shooting. It’s bright and clear . This guy was a fortune teller with a parrot who was trained to hop out of its cage and select a tarot card. (It didn’t seem to be pining for the fjords and it’s not even a Norwegian Blue).

In terms of the Lumix lens quality I’m not underwhelmed. It’s more than adequate though not in the league of top range Leica and Nikkor glass.

I haven’t referred back to my previous post but writing is important ( that’s where the dollars are these days) and for that I narrowed the task down to two bits of software to trial. I’ve now used both Scrivener and Ulysses. I found Scrivener offered far to much. It’s like Photoshop and Lightroom but for writers.  Ulysses has the obvious asset of being designed with solid German logic, no gimmicks. Again, I store the work on the cloud and anything which I write on one device is available on all the others, including the phone.

I’ll give a rundown on Ulysses in a later blog.