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07-02-2012, 07:56 AM - 10 Likes   #1
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Photography Travel Report: What did and didn't work...

I recently got back from 24 days in Israel. I'm a teacher at a seminary, so a significant part of my trip was getting pictures of the archaeological and biblical sites. I also will be having some of my pictures licensed by a Bible software company (BibleWorks) to be incorporated in the program and linked with biblical texts. I was also getting some instruction on Photography and Archaeology that would require some macro work.

I want to make some notes to myself about what worked or not, and since people on this forum are regularly asking what equipment to bring on trips, I thought I would share my observations here.

Note that this was somewhat longer than a usual 2 week trip. I also had the specialized archaeology-related work which entailed bringing a bunch of extra equipment. I was on my own, so I didn't have to worry about the rush of being part of a tour group. That was good, but I also ended up walking over 150 miles and biking another 70 miles during which times I was carrying whatever gear I wanted to lug. Also note that I was in Israel in June. That means no rain to worry about, lots of harsh sun during the day, and very hot. All this is to say that every trip is different and plan accordingly...

First I'll list the gear I brought, and then I'll add comments.
    • Pentax K-x (I have an OpTech Wrist Strap attached to it.)
    • Canon A710IS (an older P&S for backup)
    • Pentax DA 18-135 F3.5-5.6 w/ hood - This was my walkaround and general purpose lens. I also brought along a Marumi CPL for this lens.
    • Sigma 10-20 F4-5.6 w/ hood - UWA - I also have a UV filter on the front of this lens for protection. I don't have one on any other lens, but as big and as convex as the front glass is on the 10-20, it was worth a little security.
    • Pentax M 50 F1.7 - This is my fastest lens for the possibility of dark situations.
    • Pentax DA L 55-300 F4-5.8 w/ hood- My telephoto
    • Sigma 90 F2.8 Macro w/ hood - This was going to be used for archaeological close-ups.
  • BAGS: I used an older Lowepro Orion shoulder/waistpack that fit most of the gear. I also had a small fanny pack sort of thing that just fit the camera w/ lens. I also was using a small backpack for the rest of my stuff when walking/biking.
    • Giottos Rocket Blower
    • Lenspen
    • Ravelli Carbon Fiber Tripod
    • Mini tripod
    • 'Stringpod' (the homemade deal where I have a screw to attach to the camera's mount and then a string attached to the screw which you stand on to provide better stability)
    • Meike Ring Flash / Light w/ lens adapters
    • Pentax Remote Control
    • 12 Hybrid (Low discharge) rechargeable batteries. (I used Rayovac and ReCyko and both worked admirably.)
    • Battery charger and plug adapter
    • SD Cards: My primary card is a Transcend Class 10 16Gb card. I also brought along a Class 6 8Gb card. For the Canon I had a 2Gb and a 1Gb card. I also have a 64Gb SDXC card, but I wanted to use that for backup.
    • A WinXP netbook: This was used to backup pics every day and to review pics. I have FastStone Viewer and Photoshop Elements 9 on it.
    • DroidX smartphone: I didn't have phone service in Israel, but I used the GPS and the Runkeeper program to keep track of where I was so that I could confirm later where a pic was taken.
  • CAMERA: My K-x worked beautifully. I mainly shoot in Aperture mode, and that worked well. The archaeological dig site was very dusty, however, and I did need to change lenses regularly during the day. I had to clean my sensor every evening. My viewfinder is rather dusty now, but that doesn't affect images at least. I can see where having a WR camera (K-30? A guy can dream...) would be very helpful in environments like this.
    I did have a few issues with the K-x.
    • It's not really the camera's fault, but I just hate it when I accidentally bump the mode button, and I end up taking a bunch of pics in M or T mode or something w/ some odd setting. It was just so bright all the time that I always needed to wear sunglasses, and it's hard to see the settings in the viewfinder.
    • Trying to take pics while wearing glasses, I seemed to bump the flash button a few times every day.
    • The rear LCD was of little use in the bright light. This made it hard to check my pics, and it made taking videos nearly impossible. I use short videos to pan a location and note what I'm taking pics of.
It turns out that bringing the old Canon was a great thing. I mainly used it for doing the little videos since I could shoot through the viewfinder. Perfect. I also used it in Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem where you walk 535 meters in a dark, narrow, low, slippery tunnel with 5-30" of running water. I just didn't want to risk my K-x in this setting. Further, the Canon uses 2AA batteries, and I always carry it w/ 2 extra. When my K-x batteries died, these 4 were my backups.

SUMMARY: The K-x was great, but I can also see why people move up to a better camera, especially one that is WR and has a better LCD. Bringing along the small P&S backup worked out extremely well.
    • I really enjoyed using the DA 18-135, and I am very pleased with the results. Given the dusty environments, the WR provided some security. I was able to use this lens for 80% of the pics. The pic of Masada below is just a typical example. Note that lighting was rather challenging most of the time because of the harsh light and strong contrasts. The focal length was very useful. I rarely needed something longer, especially because it was so hazy most of the time, and it was difficult to have clear views of distant objects. I almost always used the hood, but I ended up not using the CPL much. It is a bit of a bother putting it on, and there was some degradation in image quality to make it a trade-off in how much it helped.
    • If I wasn't using the 18-135, I was using the Sigma 10-20. This turned out to be a great travel lens. In fact, it turned out in practice that I would start w/ the 18-135 and switch to the 10-20 when needed and then just leave it on until I needed something longer than the 20mm end. The pic below of the bell caves at Bet Guvrin shows off the UWA. (This was actually a rather dark space, so that was taken wide open with the ISO sneaking up to 1000.)
    • The M 50 F1.7 didn't get much use. I either had plenty of light or, in darker settings, I needed something wider.
    • The DA L 55-300 is one of my favorite lenses, but I didn't have much use for it. As noted above, the hazy conditions made it hard to use a telephoto.
    • The Sigma 90 is great for macro shots (1:2 or 1:1 with the apochromatic adapter), but that was only used in limited and specific settings.
SUMMARY: I ended up taking 3300+ pics. Using ExposurePlot:
  • 36% of my pics were in the 18-20mm range. (Actual lens length, not adjusted to 35mm equivalent) Another 10% were in the 10-17mm range, so in total, nearly half my pics were 20mm or less.
  • 40% were in the 21-70mm range and 12% were in the 71-135mm range.
    >> These percentages show how useful the 18-135 lens was and how I basically could have gotten by with the 18-135 and 10-20.
  • BAGS: Grrrr..... I feel like my wife searching for the perfect purse... The Lowepro Orion worked well for carrying all my stuff (except for one lens) on the plane. Fits under the seat fine, but the waist belt doesn't tuck away and hence gets in the way. Since I had a backpack, it was great to use as a waistpack. BUT, when it's 95 degrees in the blazing sun, and I'm walking 2 miles or more (and up to 22 miles in a day), it was more than I want. What I ended up doing most of the time was carrying the camera in hand and using the little fanny pack to carry the 10-20 lens. That made it easier to switch lenses. I also used the small backpack to carry water and the Canon camera and maybe the telephoto lens.
    SO, what I think I really want to have is a waistpack that can hold the camera w/ one lens and have room for another lens and maybe some other little stuff. I'm looking at the Lowepro Photo Runner now...
    • The Rocket Blower and Lenspen were indispensable. I used the Ravelli tripod for some of the archaeological stuff, but I didn't bother to carry it around. The mini tripod was used a time or two, and I might have used the stringpod if I had remembered to carry it along.
    • The ring flash was only for the macro work. I don't think I would have bothered w/ a regular external flash either, though it might have helped in a couple circumstances.
    • Never used the remote
    • I don't shoot RAW (yeah, I know...), so my 3300+ pics and some little videos took up about 14Gb. All would have been fine w/ the 16Gb, except when I was backing up one evening, I 'lost' a whole days worth of pics. I still don't know what happened. Previous days pics all were on the card. There was a folder for that day, and I know that I had taken more than 100 pics that I know had been saved, but the folder was empty. The pics were not deleted that an undelete could find. I stopped using the card right away, and when I got home, I ended up have to pay $50 for PC Inspector File Recovery to get them back. (I tried 3 free file recovery programs and none could 'see' the files.) So, I was able to retrieve everything, but it cost me. Good thing to carry extra SD cards.
    • The WinXP netbook doesn't have a very good screen, so it was hard to see exactly what the pics were like, but it worked fine for backup. I did have internet regularly, but it wasn't particularly fast, and so I didn't bother to upload ~1Gb of pics everyday.
    • The smartphone / GPS / Runkeeper deal worked very well except that the phone would usually die about half way into the day.
OVERALL: All in all, things worked out very well. I'm happy with the results I got, but clearly I'm not a professional photographer, because I'm a bit lazy. I don't shoot RAW. I don't like to carry around a ton of stuff, especially when it was so hot, and I was doing so much walking. I don't like to change lens, partly because of time and inconvenience, but also because I didn't want to risk my equipment and expose it to dust and such. There weren't many clean places to put my gear down to make the lens switch. I do know that I want a more effective camera bag arrangement. I'm still a bit conflicted about the tripod. I know I could have taken some better pics w/ one (especially pano shots), but it was too much to carry in my situation.

Congratulations for having endured reading this far! Hope it may help, and I'd be glad for better suggestions.

07-02-2012, 08:24 AM   #2
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Excellent post. I will say that the several times I've shot in Death Valley (a some what similar environment to your trip). Having WR bodies, as I do, while being a great help, still requires daily dust control and management as I tend to change lenses in the field often. Where were those two images shot?
07-02-2012, 08:49 AM   #3
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Outstanding Field Review. Have you considered becoming a reviewer? This is the EXACT type of information truly valuable to those who are venturing into the world of photography and will demand more than the studio or city walk-about experience, such as myself when I first got into photography. But then again, this is why many of us are Pentaxians, no? For the dependability in situations such as these.

Thank you very much, and I definitely learned a few things that I will apply to my own travel photography.

On, and +1 from this guy

07-02-2012, 08:53 AM - 4 Likes   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
BAGS: Grrrr..... I feel like my wife searching for the perfect purse...
Bags only come in two sizes. Too big, and too small.

07-02-2012, 08:56 AM   #5
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Thanks for the report - I plan to get the k-30 with the 18-135WR and your review helped a lot.

As much as I love the k-x, it does lack a few things - most of all the light up focus points that the k-r has. I always thought I didn't need them until I did a few night shots of my friends, and I couldn't figure out where my center circle was.
07-02-2012, 09:11 AM   #6
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Thanks for the 'likes' and encouragement!
@blackcloudbrew: The first pic is of Masada using the 18-135. The view is from the N looking SSE. You can see the Dead Sea at the left background and the Roman ramp that was constructed in the upper right. The second pic is of the Bell Caves at Bet Guvrin using the Sigma 10-20. Really interesting place...
@Parallax: "Bags only come in two sizes. Too big, and too small." That's the truth!
07-02-2012, 11:23 AM   #7
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Nice post and pictures! I took a seminary class in Israel in 2006, which included a lot of hiking, so travelling light was essential for us old folks. As a result I left my Leicas and Pentaxes home and just took one of the "superzoom" (SLR-styled) Panasonics. While I would have liked to have had my good cameras, it was freeing to just carry the single camera with fixed lens, and still be able to cover a reasonable range. The results still project very well, and I've been using the results in Bible classes since then. The "real photographers" in the group had the usual problems of missed shots while changing lenses, dropped lenses, dusty sensors, etc, and probably got less out of the trip while paying so much attention to their gear instead of the surroundings and lectures.
Since then I tend to vacation with just a single camera (often film) and lens, and I haven't missed my gear bags much at all.
07-02-2012, 03:48 PM   #8
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@TomB_tx: Like you, I thought about doing a similar thing using one of the newer superzooms. My daughter got a Panasonic Lumix FZ47, and I was really impressed. A 25-600mm lens (35mm equivalent) that focuses well, nice movie mode, very light weight, pictures are very nice. If the pics are just going to be used in PowerPoint and web, then it is more than satisfactory. Ultimately I decided to go w/ my K-x because it does have better resolution, can handle low light much better, can't beat the Pentax colors, and with the 10-20 lens, I can get much wider. (Between my 10-20 and 55-300, I have a 15-450mm setup [35mm equiv.].) Like you note, though, traveling light and not spending time fussing w/ camera and lenses is important to me too. I can live with the relatively (for a DSLR) lightweight K-x, the 18-135 and the 10-20 as a comfortable travel kit.

07-02-2012, 03:58 PM   #9
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I just remembered one other thing I was going to mention. It's pretty obvious, but it goes against natural tendencies a bit, that is: Don't try to frame the picture perfectly in camera. You certainly want to get your thirds right and subject properly, but always then go a bit wider. I have quite a few pics where the framing is right, but I should have backed out just a bit more to get the full shadow or edge of a tree or whatever. You can always crop later. You can't add more to the pic.
07-02-2012, 04:54 PM   #10
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We need more of these types of reports! Very informative, echos what I would have went through had I taken a DSLR to Cambodia with me. This helps those "What lenses should I take on my trip to......" type threads.
07-02-2012, 09:07 PM   #11
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Very informative post, thanks for sharing. Even if you aren't going to Israel, some of these ideas are good anywhere. I can relate to a lot of what you've written. Most camera bags are great for carrying gear, but not much for using it. I've got a Tenba sling which works well in converting to a work area, but I prefer one or two individual lens cases attached to my belt. And whenever I forget the Lenspen I need it. What a great idea to use Exposure Plot after the trip. I've often went on small trips (even a day trip) and never unpacked the lens I thought I would use most.
07-08-2012, 11:37 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
I really enjoyed using the DA 18-135, and I am very pleased with the results. Given the dusty environments, the WR provided some security. I was able to use this lens for 80% of the pics.
Really good report, analysis and feedback. I took a K-5 and DA*16-50 and a DA55-300 on a recent 3 week trip to the Nordic countries. When I analyzed the 7000 shots using Aperture Inspector I found that from the zooms the vast majority of shots were in the 18-135mm range. I have found WR is essential when traveling to cover wet days etc when you still want to shoot.

Your analysis and feedback on the 18-135 is very interesting and informative to me - as part of my post trip analysis I have been considering purchasing an 18-135WR to take with me on my next trip as an alternative to the 16-50. Combined with 15mm and 35mm limited primes, and the 55-300 this would provide a relatively light 4 lens kit that fits nicely into a Crumpler 5 bag.

Thank you for taking the time and effort to post all this information.


07-09-2012, 02:39 AM   #13
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I endured the whole of your description. And I liked it. Very informative writings. Helped me understand what the K-x (my camera) is capable of and what it's not capable of doing.

Also gave you a like.
12-26-2013, 07:16 AM   #14
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Consider a monopod, especially if you're doing something like this. A nice sturdy monopod doubles as a hiking/walking stick, and it packs up in a quarter the space.


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