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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Creative Accounting and Lightweight Travel.

Part One

TRAVELLING LIGHTER , TIGHTER AND BEING A WRITER   (with a bit of photography chucked in for good measure)

Learning to become a tight arse traveller, meandering slowly and smelling the roses, is akin to starting your own offshore tax haven. Don’t let that fool you. The fact is you may never earn enough money to pay tax. But so what? Eat your heart out, here’s my office.

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This is my second home, a bonus of creative accounting. It’s rent free so I have nothing to hide from the taxman. This a drone shot, not mine, I pinched it from a friend.

These days I’m learning a perverse logic:  You may as well not earn money at doing something you enjoy than not earn money doing something you don’t enjoy. Think about it!

I’ve never been mean, especially when it comes to spending Other People’s Money. Now, in the world of media’s changing economics and OPM vapourising, I’m learning to become lean and mean; a tight arse traveller. It takes practice but sooner or later  unique creative accounting falls into place. Not only that but it’s possible to earn a comfortable living. For example I don’t measure my economy in dollars and cents, rial, roubles, rupiah, kip or kyat, even though my best friend is a free currency converting App on the iPad.

THE NEW ECONOMY

My economy is measured in units of air fares and the cost of beer. There is no App for that yet.  One Air Fare Unit (AFU) is $250. A Unit of Beer (BU) is one dollar.

The process started in late 2008 when a global recession scattered freelance journalists and photojournalists in all directions. I was at a career point where I wanted to slow down a little. It was time for a change.

I found myself disliking driving. I’d been down the road of exotic cars, luxury appartments and had a trophy wife. I ‘let her go’ and she quickly married a Gucci. That has become the basis for a bigger story. I’m working on that.

Driving had been a passion but with crowded roads and traffic lights it had become frustrating. I was calculating how much I could sell my car for when somebody kindly drove theirs into the side of mine. The other driver should have become my new best friend. I would have bought him a few beers and traded girl friends because my car was deemed a write off and the insurers paid me twice what my asking price was going to be had I sold it. Suddenly I fell in love with an insurance company, that was a first, they can be very unlovable.

NEW FREEDOM, NEW LIFESTYLE

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New supermarket. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh fish. A weeks shopping costs about $15

Within a week the money was in a new account marked ‘Travel’. I woke to a new freedom, a new style of living. I had an old bike and a worn out travel bag which, at a squeeze, could accommodate a few T-shirts, shorts, jocks, toothbrush, shaving gear and pain killers. This kit was the framework for lightweight travel and a reasonable income.

The economic benefit was instant. No fuel bills, no massive service fees, no new tyres, no broken screens, no break-ins, no parking tickets, no speeding fines, no road tax, no depreciation, no insurance and no drink driving problems. That doesn’t mean no drinking. Collectively they save me a minimum of about $6000 a year.

I axed two daily newspapers, weekend papers and a few magazines saving another $2000 a year. My travel budget was now sitting on $8000 a year. Not a lot in the overall scheme of things but sufficient.

I had been travelling on OPM, staying in decent hotels, sometimes in exotic locations. I had every so often flown first class (nice); more often business class (nearly as nice) and sometimes cattle class;  not nice at all but I liked the passengers a great deal more.

I had spent years in Fleet Street, a nerve centre of journalism in those days, and was on the staff of a French magazine. After several years I went freelance, working on assignments, earning well, saving little but enjoying the freedom only a freelance journalist can enjoy. I then started working on a totally speculative basis, writing and illustrating self assigned stories.  My publication rate was high and I enjoyed more independence.

I’m an avid reader of Graham Green, Somerset Maugham and others who travelled and wrote about the region. Prompted by their influences I have let myself loose in SE Asia, an old territory of colonial France, Indochina. I saw a refreshed career as what the French fondly refer to as a flâneur; simply wandering streets and observing life, making a few notes, taking a few photographs.  I disciplined myself to write most evenings for an hour or so, usually in the company of  ice cold beer and a local meal.

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A sea level view of the office. My spot is on the extreme right, in that dark space.

As it happens Bali is only about three and a half hours by air from my Australian base so I made the island a second home. I can travel door to door, home to home, in about seven hours for  one AFU. Once there I stay in a delightful, clean and comfortable hotel. It has eight rooms and costs me ten bucks, about 10BUs, a night including breakfast and, importantly, a fast internet connection. Adding to the romance of the place is the rumour that it was formerly  a brothel.  I find that hard to believe as it has cold showers which could be counterproductive in some situations. I can live for about $200 a week on the island, including the hotel. That’s less than one AFU. People don’t believe me when I say I’m heading off to Bali to work. “Enjoy your holiday” they say. My office is a beach where I  write in a  warung, eat fresh fish daily with salads, rice and fruit and have a beer or two at about a dollar a bottle. That’s only 2BUs v 18BUs minimum in Australia.

I go to the morning market, buy fruit and chat to the locals who’ve named me ‘Poppa’, which I rather like. I buy fish to feed the hotel’s scrawny cats and frequently a kilo of rambutan when in season but the market is always full of fresh fruits. The fruit costs me about dollar, the fish about 20cents. In my local store, in Australia, rambutan is nearly $50 a kilo! Five kilos is an air fare! The more I eat the more I save.

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Erna and Made in their beachfront warung which doubles as my office. A decent lunch sets me back about  4BU of my creative travel currency. I do  a bit of writing, walk about twelve lengths of the beach, swim. There’s a secret trail though the trees along cliff top to the beach . It takes me about ten minutes to walk to the ‘office’.  

I’m digressing. This blog is aimed at people looking for an uncomplicated life, smelling the roses and earning a quid doing something they enjoy doing. So back to the travel light and write theme. Having spent several decades covering news and other events I was ready for a change. I have always written, always taken pictures. It was a useful combination and I see no reason to change that. This change in direction is to look at laid back stories, probably around travel, people I meet, food I eat. Like any good flâneur I have no sense of direction. I do have a list of ideas which tend to revolve around rivers, lakes, oceans, boats, beaches and palm trees. And a Happy Hour in a bar somewhere. So please feel free to watch this space.

WORKING KIT for WORDS

This is my basic working kit. I sometimes take a Macbook Air but generally find the basic iPad is sufficient. I carry a notebook and prefer the French Clairfontaine products as the paper is extraordinarily good for writing on. I used to use Moleskine but the paper is not in the same league and they cost nearly three times as much – about 33BUs against 12BUs. I like to write with a fountain pen and Clarefontaine paper doesn’t suffer from ‘show through’. Ink is often not practical in climates of high humidity either as the paper can get a little damp from sweaty hands. In that instance I use a highly treasured ball point pen. A few pencils and a sharpener are handy backups.

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Basic writing kit: I use the notebook as a scrap book too. On the left hand page I paste useful things like maps, menus, beer labels. Anything which may jog a memory. On the facing page I make notes. Each page is dated.
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The iPad and notebook are stored in lightweight nylon bag. Not totally waterproof but it could help. Pens, pencils, sharpeners are in a waterproof roll-up pouch. 

I’ll write about a photography kit in the next blog.  Cheers for now.

Roger Garwood. <rjgarwood@gmail.com>