It was day one of the family holiday to Austria. A low-key photo week, with the camera on-hand to take some shots and grab anything interesting. We landed, checked in to the apartment, and then prepared to head off for the afternoon. Where had I put my camera?
Camera selection for any kind of trip is always a trade-off between quality, size, weight, and lenses. What photos will you be taking and how important is image quality? Or to rephrase that, how are you going to use the camera and what are the deliverables?
I started off with my standard travel setup - Nikon D700, along with 85mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/2.8 prime lenses. It's not a huge kit, but equally, I didn't want to be lugging around that amount of gear on days out. So, at that point, I threw in the Sony RX100MII. I then sat down and looked at the small pile of gear. It was way too much for a holiday.
So, how was I going to use the camera? Most of the shots would be portraits and wide to wide-normal scenes. That dictated a focal length equivalent range to about 24-100mm, ideally in a small format. And the deliverables? I'd planned to take the Fuji Instax SP3 printer with me and get my daughters to select a different photo each day to print out so that they could curate a growing set of physical prints as memories. Working out the resolution needed on the basis of physical print size (54x86mm) and viewing distance (about 12"), it would be hard to argue for taking the Nikon D700. The Sony RX100MII would be fine, except that the bokeh in portraits is limiting.
The answer took its time in arriving, but it was my mirrorless test camera that I use on and off. The diminutive Fuji M1 with 27mm pancake lens makes an excellent travel camera and was cheap and great for experimentation. Coupled with an old Nikon 50mm pancake lens (and adaptor), it covered the focal lengths I wanted and is also able to print directly to the Instax printer.
As I unpacked on that first day, I took the Nikon lens and printer out of my bag, then returned to the front door to pick up my travel documents and Fuji M1. Except it wasn't there! I turned the apartment upside down looking for it with no success. I remembered having it as I exited the aircraft, but no memory of taking any photos after that. In fact, I thought it was always across my shoulder, although I'm guessing I must have left it on one of the trains. Of course, as I recommended in an earlier article I had labeled both the camera body and lens with my email address and registered their serial numbers with LensTag, but so far there has been no success in being reunited with them.
That left me with no camera and one very old phone. For the record, it is a 5MP f/2.4 1/5" sensor fixed focus unit, with no flash or front-facing camera. With an effective focal length of 28mm, it provides a fairly standard view of the world. Even back in 2012, it was a poor camera with low resolution noisy images, bad low light performance, no bokeh to speak of and no ability to focus.
As the familiar quote goes, the best camera is the one you have with you which meant playing to the strengths of the smartphone in order to meet the question of "how am I going to use the camera?" That required bright light, slow shutter speeds, and wide angle. The lack of a front facing camera meant using the countdown timer, while experimentation showed that the HDR mode retrieved a significantly wider dynamic range. Much to my surprise, there was also a Pano mode in the native Motorola camera app. After some initial shooting, I also notice some quite bad lens flare manifesting itself as low contrast across the frame.
In terms of "what are the deliverables," these were to be printed on the Instax printer and so 5MP images were not limiting. In fact, they far exceeded the requirements of the printer allowing for moderate cropping. With Snapseed on the phone, I had a lot of flexibility in post-production.
By the end of the week, there were a number of big takeaways to remind myself of. Firstly, take care of your camera gear! I've already written about this, but it's always a good reminder. Secondly, take a backup camera. It wasn't a commercial job, but that didn't stop me feeling annoyed. The Sony RX100M2 is significantly better than a smartphone. Thirdly, if the above two things go wrong, a decent smartphone camera will be able to produce commercially acceptable results, so make sure you've got one! Just take a look at the Mobile Photography Awards to see what is being achieved in this area. Fourthly, it's not about the camera, but the outcome. A good camera won't necessarily produce a good photo. Fifthly, pretty much any camera with enough light and a long enough exposure can produce a great shot.
It's not a scenario I wanted to find myself in, but it forced me to focus on the essentials of what I wanted to achieve and deliver them using the gear I had.
Have you found yourself "gear limited" and if so, what did you learn from it?