Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ecuador Photography Notes

For cameras we carried the Canon SD700 IS and the new Pentax K10D with the Tamron 18 - 250mm lens (equivalent to 27 - 375mm, almost 14x).

This was the first trip I'd taken the big SLR. The weight and size were certainly a change from the Canon S3 IS. It also seemed more awkward and take longer to get it out and put it away, but maybe I'll get used to that. I really enjoyed the lack of shutter lag. You wouldn't think it would make that much difference but it was great. The only time there was a delay was when the auto-focus was having trouble and it would refuse to shoot. (e.g. when trying to follow birds in flight) There is a setting so it shoots even if it hasn't got focus which might be ok if you had enough depth of focus.

I don't think the image stabilization on the K10 is quite as good as the S3. That might be because the S3 is optical. But I still think it's valuable, especially with the long telephoto.

The 27mm wide end of the Tamron lens was wider than I'm used to. I actually found myself using it quite a bit to take in large scenes.

One of the reasons I wanted an SLR was for the manual focus. Especially in the forest, automatic focus can be tricky. I fought with the S3 quite a lot trying to get it to focus on what I wanted. For closeups with the K10 I often set the focus to the minimum distance and then moved the camera in and out to focus (e.g. for insects).

I didn't carry a tripod or a monopod. There were lots of times when it would have helped but I'm not (yet) motivated enough to lug one around.

I shot raw with the K10 in DNG format. This results in image files of about 16mb each. That meant about 240 shots per 4gb SD card. I brought four 4 gb cards, which seemed like a lot, but I filled up a card many days, and some days more than one card. In comparison, the SD700 jpeg's are only about 3mb each so memory was much less of an issue.

One of the reasons to shoot raw is to have more latitude in "developing" the photos. So far I haven't noticed a huge difference, but I haven't done side by side comparisons either.

I knew I wouldn't have enough memory for the whole trip so I took my MacBook and downloaded periodically. Since I was reusing the memory cards this still left me with only one copy of the photos - not so good if the laptop was stolen or crashed - so I burnt dvd's as well. I took 10 blank dvd's thinking 40 gb of storage would be lots, but I ended up having to buy more blank dvd's and ended up with 14 in total. We shot about 4100 photos in a month. That seems like a lot, but with digital there's no reason not to shoot lots and have a better chance of getting something decent. The only downside is that you have to look through all those photos but with good tools like Lightroom that's not too bad.

This system worked reasonably well, but burning dvd's is slow and the dvd's themselves are somewhat fragile. Next time I think I'll try taking an external USB hard drive and backing up to that. Lightroom will even do the backup automatically as it imports the photos, saving a step.

Another option would be to use something like the Epson P-5000 Photo Viewer 80GB Digital Photo Storage Viewer. But that still wouldn't give me a backup unless I used it as well as the laptop, but that would mean downloading the photos twice.

Although it's a nuisance to carry and charge the laptop, it was great to be able to look at the photos on a good screen and to have Lightroom to do sorting and minor tweaks and then upload to the web (using the Picasa Lightroom plugin).

It's a little scary carrying around thousands of dollars worth of cameras and computer. I guess that's what insurance is for!

I used the waterproof case for the SD700 IS for snorkeling and diving. Near the end of the trip it started to leak while we were snorkeling. Luckily only a few drops of water got in and the camera was ok. If it had leaked while diving I would guess that would be the end of the camera. I assume I just need to replace the main o-ring seal but I'll have to test it since it could be one of the smaller seals on the controls, which I don't think are replaceable. I'm hoping I get the replacement o-ring from Canon's service department before I head to Baja in March.

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