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02-08-2011, 10:05 PM - 1 Like   #1
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Suggestions from one novice to another: What to bring/do as a tourist taking pics?

I bought a K-x in October, and I had about 3 months to practice with it before heading on a big trip to Turkey and Greece in January. I had taken about 3000 pics during the practice period. I realize that more experienced photographers may chuckle at the obviousness of some of the observations, but this was my first DSLR, and here are some good things I learned.
  • Reading the manual in advance is a good thing.
  • Learn how to changes lenses quickly and carefully. I tried to have a routine to do so and minimize dust/dirt issues.
    • I ended up using the Case Logic SLR205 sling bag. That was a good choice. I could have the bag in front of me and change lens by resting one lens in/on the bag.
  • Learn how to keep your equipment clean and have the right tools... lens pen is very helpful and rocket blower will be necessary at some point.
  • Gain some sense of what each lens can do and what are optimal settings.
    • I found that I really liked the 55-300mm lens, but it helps to have a tripod or monopod to steady the long shots.
    • I found that I had to work more to get good shots with the 18-55 lens. I ended up buying the Pentax 16-45, and that proved to be a good decision.
  • I had practiced not using the Auto mode. I had not gotten comfortable and confident to use full manual mode, so I had ended up using Program mode most of the time. This proved NOT to be the best idea. I wish now that I had worked more in Aperture mode.
    • I had extended my ISO range, so I could get down to 100.
    • I had set the ISO adjustment to match the EV steps.
    • I set my ISO range to be 100-2500. This worked pretty well.
    • It seems to me now that Aperture is really the deal I want to control the most... depending on light and depth of field I want and the capabilities of the lens.
  • In my sling bag, I carried my K-x, usually with the 16-45 attached. I also brought along the 55-300 and M 50 1.7. I had cleaning supplies, memory cards, and extra batteries. I also had a very compact, lightweight monopod.
    • I kept the charger and plug adapter in the suitcase. Using Rayovac hybrids (the charge-holding eneloop type), I was easily getting 500 pics per set of batteries.
    • I had saved the PDF of the K-x manual on my cell-phone, so I did have it if I needed it.
    • I was able to borrow a netbook, and so each night I would back up all my pics to it and then type up notes of the pics I had taken. This worked well.
    • I did not bring an external flash, and I didn't miss it.
WHAT DID I DISCOVER HAPPENED IN ACTUAL PRACTICE?
I was with a tour group visiting the usual tourist sites, and the biggest thing is that I simply did not have time to set up photos, take a bunch of shots, see what settings worked best, etc... Further, the K-x screen is simply not good enough, especially outdoors in the sun, to determine if I was getting the pics I wanted. Add that to groups of people moving in/out of shots, and I really had to be able to take pics quickly as they became available.
  • I really needed to be thinking in advance. As noted above, I would have done better using the Aperture setting with the auto ISO range set and let the camera do the rest. (I kind of messed up a chunk of one day by setting the ISO high for a shot and then forgetting to return it to auto ISO...)
  • I did use the 55-300 lens occasionally, but I simply did not have time to use the monopod. For the kind of typical sightseeing we did, I could have gotten by with something shorter, but I definitely would want something longer than the 16-45 range. I see now why some people like lens that go out to 70 or 135 at the long end.
  • OTOH, I took an awful lot of pics at full wide angle (ie, at 16mm), and I would have liked an even wider angle many times. I took a number of pano shots (2-4 images), and I have found that PhotoshopElements 9 does an amazing job of stitching them together, even my handheld pics.
  • BUT, that 16mm wide does create enough barrel distortion on verticals (all those ancient columns!), and I have not found an easy way to fix that in PSElements. (The "Correct Camera Distortion" filter is pretty worthless except for changing vertical perspective, not barrel distortion. I've ended up mainly doing a little Transform > Skew to make the distortion less distracting.)
  • I never used the 50mm F1.7. We were outside most of the time. Many museums allowed non-flash photography, but I was shooting most of those shots in the 20-30mm range, so the 50 would have been too much.
  • I'm glad I had a lens hood. I never dropped a lens, but when we are moving along in the group, I just didn't have the chance to climb around in the ruins to get the right sun angles. I did the best I could, but the hood was a help.
  • As noted above, the CaseLogic 205 turned out to be a good bag (but I have some suggestions if they want to upgrade it...) I did bring along a little fanny pack that was just large enough to hold the K-x w/ the 16-45 and nothing else. This was a great thing. I didn't want to be toting around a nice camera bag full of goodies in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul...
  • Using Exposure Plot, I come up w/ the following info for a typical day's worth of shooting about 130 pics. About 1/5 of the shots were at 16mm (24mm on a 35mm equiv), about 1/4 - 1/3 were at at 45mm. A few shots with the 55-300 lens, and all the rest somewhere between 20-40mm. We had pretty sunny weather, so most of the shots were at ISO200, but that's also because I tended to leave the aperture too open too many times. (Ie, I had a lot of shots at F4 when I should have had it at 5.6 or more...)
  • My sister was also on the tour, and she was using a Panasonic Lumix F28, not a bad little point-and-shoot. Comparing some of our similar pics, there are quite a few instances when she basically got as good a pic as I did. BUT, if there were any lighting challenges or when you would want to zoom in on some detail in the pic, there really was no comparison (as long as I was taking the pic correctly). The Pentax K-x was a great touring camera.
  • Ideally, I would like having a lens that could do something like 12-120mm w/ little distortion, great sharpness, and capable of F2.8. Right... (If such a lens existed, could I afford it?)
AFTER GETTING HOME...
I've been using Picasa3 to organize my pics and make minor corrections on a lot of them. Quick and easy... For any pic where I really want it to look a little better, I'm using Adobe PSElements9. That has worked very well. Fix up the lighting a bit, add a touch of sharpening if necessary, and good to go... As noted above, I've used the skewing to straighten out some wide angle shots, and the panoramic stitching feature is really great. Even after fixing in PSE9, however, I go back to Picasa3, because I then geotag the pics with the connected Google Earth. It's quite easy, and I can indicate where I took the shot to within meters. Then I've been uploading some of the ones I like better to the space provided on Picasa web albums.
The one challenge I'm having is fixing some barrel distortion. I'm starting to use the PanoTools plugins in PSE, and I seem to be getting some better results, but if anyone has better suggestions...

So, here's some examples of pics I liked from a couple days:
Aphrodisias and Laodicea in Turkey
Thessaloniki and Meteora in Greece.

02-09-2011, 01:42 AM   #2
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Nice shots, you should be proud! I wish I were as detailed in my own analysis as you.
02-09-2011, 02:04 AM   #3
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Actually what I would suggest to tourists taking photographs is to be aware of your surroundings and not put yourself in dangerous situations. I have seem tourists standing in the middle of busy roads taking photos
02-09-2011, 04:10 AM - 1 Like   #4
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One of the big problems is light. Usually it's best around sunrise and sunset, and where are tourists then? Having breakfast or supper!

My own suggestion would be to look at photos of where you are going well in advance. Look critically, think about what works and what doesn't, look especially at the light. If you look on (say) Flickr, you can often pick up the date & time the photo was taken from the EXIF so you can think about if that's the right time or not.

And whilst there are lots of on-line application for sunrise / sunset times across the world, this is the one I found - the one as I didn't look any further:

World - Sunrise, sunset, dawn and dusk times - Gaisma

02-09-2011, 04:39 AM   #5
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Novice or not, obvious or not, useful advice born of personal experience is always of help to somebody in some way. You did right by sharing with us.
02-09-2011, 05:00 AM   #6
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Last I make a trip in Greece also with my K-X. I support what you said regarding lenses. In a trip like this you need flexibility
My trip include 3 lenses
Tamrom SP AF 10-20 f3.5-4.5 DI II
Sigma AF 17-70mm f2.8-4.5 DC
Pentax AF 55-300 DAL f4-5.8 ED

This give me all the range I need. When I visited ruin , my Tamron was invaluable including inside shot to take room artifact . The Sigma with the f2.8 at the low end , was great in low light and the Pentax give me the reach when I took photo from the boat or bus
02-09-2011, 05:20 AM   #7
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Good commentary and very nice photographs Mark! I'm a bit surprised you didn't make more use of the 50mm. On my first foray, I found a fast prime indispensable inside churches & pubs.
02-09-2011, 07:42 AM   #8
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Thanks for that wonderful info mgvh! Will take note of those things you outlined. I also have a K-x too.

I have a question though... me and my family are going to have a good summer trip to the beach in the coming months. Do you guys have any tips when taking the K-x to the beach? I know it's not weather-sealed and all, and sand+saltwater/salty air is a bad thing for cameras... but I don't know what or how to keep it safe from those things aside from putting the cam in an watertight plastic armor/case of sorts >_<

02-09-2011, 09:17 AM   #9
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1) Many excellent observations and insights! And good commentary in response.
2) I hate tour groups. But they're useful as an intro to a site. After the orientation, I like to return at my own pace, with varied lenses.
3) When choosing gear to take, I rehearse: I take myself on a simulated tour, to see what stuff I do and don't use.
4) My minimalist kit includes 10-24, 18-250, 50/1.4, maybe 10-17, and Raynox. Monopod and AF360 flash just don't get used. For long shots, I brace myself.
5) Maybe if I had a cam with better high-ISO than my faithful K20D, I'd feel less need to take fast primes too. [24/2, 50/1.4, 85/2, maybe 35/2 and 135/2.5]
6) Besides a dSLR travel kit, I always have a good P&S in my pocket, for situations where it's better to be inconspicuous.
7) Be sure to leave room in the carry-bag for trinkets, snacks, collapsible hat, bandanna, etc.
02-09-2011, 10:02 AM   #10
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Original Poster
@cats_five: Thanks. I think that's a great idea to check out pics others have taken in advance to get some ideas on angles.
@bobmaxja and RioRico: I can see how that Sigma 17-70 or the 18-250 lenses would be quite useful and versatile. Both of you also included a wider 10-20 or 10-24. These look like good combinations, but then there's the $$ needed to buy them...
@dadipentak: I went back through and checked what I was using on my indoor shots. I probably should have tried the 50mm F1.7... It would have helped in a number of instances, maybe half the time. (The other half of the time I was shooting in the 20-25mm range.) Partly it was the matter of switching lenses, but I'm also not entirely confident about my proficiency at using the manual lens.
@RioRico: I did bring along my trusty old P&S, a Canon A710IS and used it in a few situations where I did not want to be conspicuous. Sadly, someone else broke their camera on the trip, and I let her use my Canon... and she broke it too. What turned out as a good backup to the backup was my Droid X. The pics aren't terrible, but they do have the added advantage of automatically being geotagged.
02-09-2011, 10:08 AM   #11
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One more thing I might mention that isn't directly camera related but did prove helpful. I had my Verizon Droid X with me on the trip. I couldn't get phone service in Turkey and Greece, but in addition to being a backup camera, I was able to make good use of its GPS capabilities. I had downloaded the free Endomondo app which is an exercise tracker type of app, but I used it as we were walking around the various sites. Once I got back in WiFi range, it pulled up the path on Google Maps and also uploads it to the web where it includes elevation, pace, etc. It comes in handy for quickly locating where we were and walking through the pics I took as I reviewed them and organized them. Here's an example: Walking around Delphi
02-09-2011, 10:31 AM   #12
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Nice shots, and you did an excellent job of detailing your trip. It is always nice to have someone point out what they did and what lens was used. Excellent posting of good, the bad, and the ugly (your broken backup). Thanks for posting.
02-11-2011, 07:16 AM   #13
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I've found that I need to work a little with the 18-55 to produce nice shots too, but the 55-300mm just turns out great image after great image. When I was at Stanford last month I was constantly swapping out lenses because I wanted just a little more reach than 55mm, and I loved the sharpness from the 300mm lens... I barely used wide angle at all. The 18-55 was also annoying because it's f5.6 at 55mm... which makes photography in fading light rather difficutl. So, waiting on my doorstep today was a shiny, barely used Tamron 23-75mm f2.8. Just played around with it so far, but it produces some SHARP photos, and I'm already thinking that next time I go on a trip I may not need to take the 300mm at all. The only dice is this Tamron is *heavy* compared to the 18-55.

Charles.
02-11-2011, 07:52 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChopperCharles Quote
When I was at Stanford last month I was constantly swapping out lenses because I wanted just a little more reach than 55mm
And that's why some of us use the 18-250 rather than a 18-55 + 55-300 or similar kit pair. We find that much shooting happens in the 35-70mm range so we needn't swap lenses around 50mm, as well as having the 18mm wideness and 250mm reach available. IMHO an ideal minimal kit would be an ultrawide (8-16, 10-20, 12-24, whatever) for tight spaces, one or more fast primes for dim spaces, and the 18-250 for everything else.
02-11-2011, 06:29 PM   #15
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Thanks for this very helpful post.

It is frustrating to be on a tour where you can't control where/when you can take
pictures, but it's sometimes the best way to see a location for the first time.

Paul
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