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02-17-2014, 12:04 AM - 3 Likes   #1
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Photography Field Report: 3 Weeks in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, January 2014

I recently spent 3 weeks in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. I am a seminary professor, and I was leading a group of 43 people. Everyone was church-connected in some way, and the focus of our trip was on biblical sites and also on experiencing some of the culture of these places.

In June 2012 I had spent a month on my own in Israel (photography report here), and I had also led a group in 2007, so I had some ideas about what I wanted to accomplish photographically. I'm writing this report both for myself and for anyone else planning on a similar kind of trip.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS
  • January is rainy season in Israel. For that reason I was glad to have a K-30 and the DA 18-135 as my WR kit. Fortunately, for the whole trip, we only had about 5 minutes of a very light mist, but I was ready for rain!
  • On a tour, there usually is not time to dawdle or fuss about to get the perfect picture. As a leader, I also could not afford to be discourteous to the group and make them wait ever. In the past, I found that I just did not have much time even to switch lenses, so I wanted a good, all-purpose, walkaround lens. Additionally, I decided to bring along 2 camera bodies, both so that I wouldn't need to change lenses and also as a backup.
  • For other considerations, I have a two-part blog entry on "Picture Taking Tips on Biblical Site Tours." They cover a lot of other things I think are important from a practical (what gear?) and etiquette perspective. PART 1 - PART 2

Sea of Galilee
: K-30, DA 18-135, ISO 100, 24mm, f8 1/800


So, here's what I ended up bringing:

CAMERAS
  • My K-30 was my primary camera. It's a great camera that does well in low light and is WR. The only problem I experienced is that I just could not keep the sensor clean, even though the 18-135 was on it almost the whole time. I had a rocket blower with me, but it just seemed to move specks around. Thank goodness for Lightroom and the spot removal tool where I can apply the spot removal, copy it, and then paste the removal on a whole batch of pics rather quickly. For batteries, I had the original battery pack that came with the K-30 along with a third party one (a MaximalPower one for $7 off ebay which isn't as good as the Pentax, but it could get me through a day). I brought the charger, of course, and I also had the AA battery holder as additional backup and since I was also using AAs for my K-x. In practice, on most days, I was taking between 100-250 pictures and the battery was good for 2 days before I would change it before it ran out. I do use in-camera distortion correction and have highlight and shadow correction set to auto. The biggest problem was usually blown highlights, so I often dialed down the exposure a bit and fix things later in Lightroom.
  • My old K-x was my second/backup camera. I basically just left the Sigma 10-20 on this camera so that when I wanted ultra wide angle, I could just grab it without switching lenses. This worked out fine. Only one problem... I got fine pictures from this K-x, but the K-30 is capable of much better ones, and the K-x suffers in comparison. This may be particularly apparent when using an ultrawide angle which is trying to capture so much more data.
  • Smartphone camera (Samsung Galaxy Note II): This was my go-everywhere backup. It also was handy for doing quick little videos or auto-panoramas.

Petra, Jordan: K-30, Sigma 10-20, ISO 160, 10mm, f8, 1/800

LENSES

  • The DA 18-135 was my primary lens. Of the ~2200 pictures I took, about 85% (about 1900) of them were with the K-30 and this lens. (On a previous trip, I had used the DA 16-45, but as my stats below will show, that was just too limiting on the long end.)
  • The Sigma 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 EX DCJ was the lens on the K-x and was used for about 8% (about 175) of the pics. I took a number of pano shots with DA 18-135 that I will need to stitch together, but this lens is just so nice for capturing perspectives that would otherwise be missed.
  • Pentax DA 35 f2.4: In terms of quality, this is simply a great lens. I had 3 reasons for taking this small and fast lens. 1) If I wanted to go around with something light and would not attract much attention, this works. 2) Because it's fast, I often used this when walking around at night. It's speed again was useful in the various churches, indoor venues, and caves we visited. 3) In particular, I knew we would be visiting the Israel Museum where flash is not allowed, and this lens on the K-30 was my best choice. About 4% (about 85) of my pics were shot with this lens. In the museum, there were a few things where I could have used something a bit wider, but overall this lens worked out great.
  • Pentax DAL 55-300: I only ended up using this for about 1% (about 25) pictures. I.e., I probably didn't need to bring it, but I did get some images with this lens in the 200-300mm range I simply would not have as effectively captured with the 18-135.

Sepphoris (Israel) Mosaic - "The Mona Lisa of the Galilee" K-30, DA 35 f2.4, ISO 1600, 35mm, f5, 1/25

BAGS
  • My main bag was the Tenba Discovery Photo/Laptop Messenger. I bought this bag particularly with this kind of trip in mind, and I did a rather lengthy review of this bag before I left. I can now report that it worked out wonderfully. 1) I was very happy to have a bag that had a rugged bottom and would stand up when placed on the ground. 2) As you can see from the review, I got it because it would hold the K-30 w/ the 18-135 and the K-x with the Sigma 10-20 with both of them easily accessible from the top access of the bag. This worked exactly as I had hoped. 3) It's small and convenient enough to bring on a plane. l usually put it in the overhead compartment, but it does work just fine under the seat ahead of me. 4) It can carry a lot of stuff and still be comfortable. (See the review for all I fit in it!) A typical site visit might entail a mile or two of walking, and I had no issues with this bag. The bag does come w/ a rain cover, but I never had to use it.
  • Small fanny pack and nylon knapsack: I also knew that I didn't want to be carrying around a bag like that when spending the time walking around in Jerusalem, when hiking up the Snake trail to the top of Masada, or walking 6 miles through the Siq to Petra and back, and so I also brought along a fanny pack and simple nylon, drawstring knapsack. The K-30 with the 18-135 fit comfortably in the fanny pack. In Petra, I wanted the 10-20 lens with me, so I had a neoprene bag that I could attach to the belt or just carry in the knapsack along with the other stuff for the day. It all worked out well.
Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel - K-30, DA 18-135, ISO 640, 21mm, f5, 1/50

OTHER PHOTO RELATED GEAR
  • Here's the list: Flexible mini tripod with mini ballhead, K-30 battery charger and cord, rubber pad (for filter removal), 13” ultrabook, lens cleaning cloth, Pentax K-30 AA battery holder, 4 spare AA batteries, string tripod, Pentax remote control, rocket blower, lenspen, case with 62 mm Marumi Super DHG Slim Circular Polarizer for DA 18-135, USB OTG dongle, USB SD card reader, extra SD cards. All that and more fit in the Tenba bag!
  • I never used the mini tripod. I was thinking I would use it for group shots if I wanted to be in the pic and use the remote. There was always someone else around who could take the pic.
  • With so much sun, I did often use the circular polarizer.

Machaerus, Jordan - K-30, DA 18-135, ISO 160, 24mm, f8, 1/80

BACKUP
  • I backed up my photos every evening. I was able to borrow a Microsoft Surface, and it did exactly what I needed. Since it has a USB port, I needed to bring along the SD card reader. I'd back up the day's work to the Surface, and then I'd copy it to an extra 64GB card I had brought, so I always had 2 backup copies. For quick viewing of pics and some editing for pics I uploaded to our travel blog, I used the fine and free Faststone Image Viewer.
  • I used RAW/DNG on the K-x to maximize the photo info, but I only used JPG on the K-30. (Yes, I know... I did switch to JPG + DNG on lowlight shots and special ones.) In total, I had almost 16GB of photos.

Temple of Hercules, Amman / Philadelphia, Jordan - K-30, DA 18-135, ISO 160, 21mm, f8, 1/800



PICTURE STATS
I've already given some stats above, but here are a few more observations after using Exposure Plot to analyze the 2200 pics or so I took.
  • About 8% with Sigma 10-20
  • About 4% with the DA 35 f2.4
  • About 85% with the DA 18-135
  • About 1% with the DAL 55-300
  • About 36% of the pics were in the 18-20mm range
  • About 50% were in the 21-70mm range (Hence, someday, and if I don't need the WR, and I want a little better quality than the 18-135, the new Sigma 17-70 would work out well)
  • I kept most of my pictures in the ISO 100-800 range. I did shoot about 7% in the ISO 1000-1600 range which produces fine pics on the K-30. Since there was a lot of indoor work, about 9% were in the ISO 2000-3200. These are all still quite useable.
OVERALL

All in all, I'm quite happy how the photographic aspect of this trip turned out. I'll try to answer any questions, but I would love to hear how your experiences could help me in the future as well. Thanks for reading.

02-17-2014, 02:39 AM   #2
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A very good report that demonstrated the capabilities of budget lens.
02-17-2014, 03:09 AM   #3
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Wow, those photos are great, and sounds like you had a nice trip and brought along some great gear. Really like all of the photos but especially the second one - fascinating and beautiful sky. What is this? Looks like a very ancient building of sorts.
02-17-2014, 05:57 AM   #4
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Great report and wonderful pictures

And it's a reminder that the photographer is more important than the equipment - even though I think the 18-135 is a terrific travel companion. Even if you added, say, a DA21 ltd, a fast 50, and a DA70 ltd they wouldn't replace the 18-135. But they would complement each other very nicely

02-17-2014, 09:38 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by ausmoose Quote
Wow, those photos are great, and sounds like you had a nice trip and brought along some great gear. Really like all of the photos but especially the second one - fascinating and beautiful sky. What is this? Looks like a very ancient building of sorts.
Thanks, ausmoose. That second one is at Petra. The Treasury is the most famous spot there (the Indiana Jones movie scene), but this shot is from the main part of what was an ancient city. The structures in the hills are some of the many tombs carved directly into the rock. Amazing place...

---------- Post added 02-17-14 at 11:50 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by savoche Quote
Great report and wonderful pictures

And it's a reminder that the photographer is more important than the equipment - even though I think the 18-135 is a terrific travel companion. Even if you added, say, a DA21 ltd, a fast 50, and a DA70 ltd they wouldn't replace the 18-135. But they would complement each other very nicely
Thank you, savoche! I do have a DA 50 f1.8 and a Tamron 90 f2.8 macro. Fine lenses, but I'm not sure when I would have used them on this trip. The 50 f1.8 would have been nice for its speed in dark settings, but the 35mm f2.5 was already rather long for interior spaces. I could see how a DA21 would be nice... And while the Sigma 10-20 is a great ultra-wide zoom, I've really liked pics people have gotten w/ the DA 15. Maybe someday...
02-17-2014, 10:01 AM   #6
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A fine report and well done with these images.
The versatility of the 18-135 is pretty clear from your account.
The DA 15 would have essentially reduced your camera bag size and weight - the 10-20 (like all other UWA zooms) is relatively heavy and bulky.
The DA 35 is definitely a great all around lens that is as light as a lens gets.
The historical sights brings some light to the biblical times and culture.
Thanks for sharing this.
02-17-2014, 01:41 PM   #7
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Nice work, those are some wonderful shots and great advice for travel photography. Thanks for sharing.
02-17-2014, 07:19 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
A fine report and well done with these images.
The versatility of the 18-135 is pretty clear from your account.
The DA 15 would have essentially reduced your camera bag size and weight - the 10-20 (like all other UWA zooms) is relatively heavy and bulky.
The DA 35 is definitely a great all around lens that is as light as a lens gets.
The historical sights brings some light to the biblical times and culture.
Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you, Ash. Yes, the 10-20 is pretty big. For the benefits of the size and quality of the DA 15, I think I could live without that 10-14mm range.

02-17-2014, 08:57 PM   #9
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I forgot to include one important aspect of my photography this trip!
I have a Garmin watch that I use for running that I can sync on my computer to generate my route. I can export the route as a GPX file.
I synchronized the time on my camera to the watch when I was over there.
When we were visiting a site, I started the tracker.
Now, what I'm doing is using Geosetter to match the GPX with the picture timestamps and apply it to the EXIF metadata on the picture. Works well, and now all my pictures are geotagged w/ latitude and longitude.
02-18-2014, 01:54 AM   #10
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Thanks for sharing you trip with us all in pictures and words.
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