Shots from our most recent trip to Asia. These are a few from Taipei and Jiufen. Source: Location – Taipei, Taiwan Color
In this post, I will be discussing a bit of an overview of photography equipment. I have been asked for advice on a few occasions about what people should purchase. My straight up answer is “I don’t know”. For people looking at purchasing their first camera or first “serious camera” I can only provide a bit of guidance. I really don’t know what will work for someone, but I can help them figure it out to a certain degree. In the case of them wanting to know what I shoot with when I take those travel images they really like, I will tell them about my Fuji’s and Canons and that it is irrelevant. They have to decide how much dedication they want to put into learning a camera. They can get shots just like mine with most of the cameras that are available. Cameras come in many degrees of complexity from the simple point and shot to a large selection of controls to adjust for tricky conditions and creative expression. My cameras range from 12 megapixels to 23 megapixels and for the purpose of displaying on the web, you would be hard pressed to really tell the difference. If, however, you want large prints to hang on the wall, you will probably want to consider a system that is at least 12 megapixels. There are a lot of options for 12 megapixels and above. The next part to consider is whether or not to go with an interchangeable lens system or not. When traveling I give myself a few options. My main camera is the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and I have 4 lenses to choose from, 14mm, 18mm, 35mm, and 60mm. It has a 16 megapixel sensor. Next is the Fujifilm X100S. It has a built-in fixed focal length lens of 23mm. It too has a 16 megapixel sensor, an updated version of the one that is in the X-Pro1. The last option is my Canon G1X. It also has a built-in lens but it is a zoom lens. It has a 14 megapixel sensor. All of these cameras allow me to shoot in RAW format which gives me the most options when processing my images. They also give me the option to shoot in full manual, where I control all aspects of the exposure, semi automatic, where I control some of the aspects, or fully automatic, where the camera controls all the aspects of exposure. The other consideration for these camera’s is the smaller size and less weight when compared to my DSLR’s. When traveling, lugging a large, heavy DSLR or two can really get in the way of enjoying the trip. There are smaller DSLR’s available and they will take great pictures but the lenses are still bigger and heavier than my Fuji’s. Before getting the Fuji’s, I traveled with a Canon 60D and a Canon 5D Marklll. I also took along 3 lenses, a 17-40mm L, a 24-105mm L, and a 135mm L prime (the L designates Canon’s pro-level lenses). I also used these for Street Photography. The quality was fantastic but the bottom line is that they were big and heavy and imposing. There is no doubt that they got a lot of attention which is not something you want when traveling or doing street photography.
The above images were shot with my old (12 megapixel) Canon Rebel XTi. A camera that is over 7 years old. *click on the images above to see the full size then use the back button on your browser to return to this article. Above illustrates the size difference. There is no way to convey the weight issue unless you have carried these kits around for a day, especially on hot days. Admittedly, the DSLR kit has a lot more versatility with the zoom lenses but I prefer prime lenses on my travel kit to give me better quality on the smaller camera’s (except with the Canon G1X that has a built-in zoom). That being said, there are zoom lenses also available for the Fuji X cameras and the quality is great on them. It’s all a matter of personal preference. I prefer to zoom with my feet but that is certainly not most peoples choice. The two kits above, for me, are for 2 different jobs. The small kit is for Travel and Street photography. The large kit is more for creative work where the versatility is a big asset. If you are only going to get 1 camera, which is perfectly fine, and you plan on traveling with it, then I would highly recommend going with a smaller, mirrorless system. The next piece of advise is on how complicated the camera is and how much effort are you willing to make to learn it. My advise would be to get one that allows for fully manual control, an aperture priority mode, a shutter priority mode, and a fully automatic mode. The reason for this is that as you learn your camera and more about photography, you have the option to grow as a photographer and work with more complex lighting and other situations that you may run into. Don’t limit your real potential by choosing a system that doesn’t give you the option of what you can control. Then decide if you want an interchangeable lens system or one with a fixed lens. In the latter case you would need to decide if the fixed lens is a zoom (like on my Canon G1X) or a single focal length (like on my Fujifilm X100s). If you go with the interchangeable lenses, you have a large variety to choose from as well as both zooms and primes. The lenses are where you really want to invest your money. Put a really good lens on a less expensive camera and you will get a really good quality image. Put a cheap lens on a very expensive camera and the image quality will most likely be a disappointment. The quality of the lens dictates the quality of the image that reaches the camera’s sensor. In the above pictures, you can see the red ring around the Canon lenses. This is how Canon designates it’s ‘L’ series lenses, their best. Going with the best you can afford may mean limiting yourself to 1 or 2 lenses but there will be no compromise on the quality of the images you get. If you decide to go with a system with a built in lens, then I would have to recommend a high end compact with a zoom. This gives you a lot of versatility in a small, light package and today, most manufactures have models that would fit this bill. I am only familiar with the Canons having owned a G12 (that took a swim in the ocean) that was replaced with the G1X. Both of these gave me the wide range of control modes that I suggested and have given me some very nice shots as I have traveled with both.The current models of these 2 cameras are the G16 and the G1X mk2.
The best advice I can give on making the above choices would be to do a bit of research on the different systems available and make a shortlist of what you think you would like then head down to your camera store and get a hands on look at your different choices. What feels comfortable in your hands, what has a menu system that you feel comfortable using, and what optional accessories are available for it. If you are lucky enough to have rentals available, rent one for a week and dedicate yourself to learning the system and see for yourself what kind of results you get. If after a week it feels awkward to use then maybe a different system would work better for you. When you get the pictures loaded onto your computer, really look closely at them as this will probably be the most used way of viewing them. If you see any you really like, get a print made and see how they look on paper. If you are happy with how the camera worked for you over the week then you should probably take the plunge and get it. The bottom line is, the only one that can decide on the right camera for you is you. Don’t look at a photographers work and think that the camera that he or she used means you will get the same results as soon as you pick up that same camera. Any decent quality camera, whether it’s a compact, a mirrorless system, or a DSLR can give you great pictures….as long as you learn how to use it. Once you do, the journey has just begun.
One of the places we wanted to see while visiting Bangkok was the Floating Market. This required joining a tour for a day because it was about 1 hour out of the city and an organized tour seemed like the best choice. We were able to book this at our hotel and the price was quite reasonable. By going on a tour, we also got to visit some other unique places along the way.
Our first stop was to see how coconut sugar was made. I really don’t like coconuts but the sugar was awesome. It was still warm from the manufacturing process. The fact is, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as sugar from coconuts so I picked up a bit of new knowledge right at the beginning of this trip. Oh and I ate far too many sugar samples.
After this brief stop, we were on our way to the canals where the Floating Market was located. The boats were fun but kind of tippy. Our driver had to adjust the load balance a couple of times to keep us level. Another thing was that there are no real seats. Just a board on the floor and another one for the backrest. Not real comfortable and by the end of the ride, we were a bit sore and ready to get out. Our final destination on this ride was the floating market.
When we finally got to the floating market, it was still reasonably early, about 11 am. There were already quite a few other tours there but it wasn’t too busy. It was a lot of fun wandering around seeing the different offerings. Of course, it has been transformed from a traditional market to a big tourist attraction but it still holds onto the traditional overall feel of what it was probably like pre-tourist era. By mid afternoon though the crowds got to be a little much but I would still recommend seeing this. Just be sure to get there in the morning.
After a couple of hours, we got back on our bus and started the trek back to Bangkok. There was however, one more stop. We were going to see a working teak wood furniture factory. I was looking forward to this as I’ve seen some examples of the carving skills back home at import stores. There were not a lot of people touring here when we arrived so it was much more relaxed as we walked around and inspected the work.
After the factory tour we headed back to Bangkok. It had been a very interesting and fun day overall and I’m really glad we used one of our four days in Bangkok to venture out on this tour.
The final site we wanted to see was the Royal Palace. When I say final, I mean the last site we had time to go to on our short stay. A few more days would have been nice to have but that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a real early start on the day we went to the Palace. To get there from our hotel, we first had to walk to the skytrain and ride it to the river where we caught one of the tour boats. Then we road up the river to the dock close to the palace. It was only about a ten minute walk from the docks to the Palace entrance. Once we got to the entrance we realized that we should have left the hotel a lot earlier. The place was packed. It was difficult moving around in many of the areas and trying to get some pictures that were not full of tourists was difficult. But I did get a few decent images. The lesson here was ‘get an early start’.
All in all, I have to say we really enjoyed our visit to Bangkok although we both agreed that 4 days was not enough time. I would definitely love to go back for at least a full week if not two and perhaps explore more of Thailand outside of the city. I have seen a lot of images from the rural areas and it certainly has whetted my appetite for much more.
We’ve been home now for just over 2 weeks and I’m still going through all the shots I took during our Asia trip. We flew to Hong Kong then after 1 full day and 2 nights, we were off to Bangkok for 4 days. I really wish we had stayed a full week or more but we were fitting in 3 cities in 2 weeks with the majority of time in Hong Kong.
After arriving in Bangkok and checking into our hotel, we ventured out to see the area where we were staying. Right next to the hotel was a narrow side street that we took a walk down and were immediately struck by the contrast to our 5 star lodgings next door. It was a good example of inner city poverty. I wished we had someone with us that could speak Thai as I really wanted to talk to some of the people we saw there.
For someone who comes from a smaller city, on the world stage at least, Bangkok is amazing. I never left the hotel without at least 1 camera, day or night. It was difficult resisting the urge to photograph everything I saw. It was all new to me and I ended up with many photo’s that I’ll never post but I will view them myself as every one brings me back to the place. I have to confess, that during our first night out around town, my initial feeling was ‘Blade Runner’. I felt like I had just walked into a real life version of the movie. The huge TV billboards lighting the streets, along with the regular billboards everywhere, and the endless crowds seemed so surreal and gave a certain look and feel to the streets. Also, the vendors set up on the sidewalks selling everything from dinner to clothes to electronics added another dimension to experiencing the city. Even some of the graffiti made an interesting photo.
I guess for me, one of the most amazing things about this city was the sidewalk food vendors. If you take a walk during lunch or dinner times, it seemed like every sidewalk was full of them and every one of them was busy. In many places, it was almost impossible to walk down the sidewalk because of the vendors and customers. The varieties of food was vast and the smells were mouthwatering. I have to confess that I stuck to restaurants for my meals though as I’m a bit of a ‘hot n spicy’ wimp and not speaking the language, wouldn’t be sure of what exactly I would be getting. Also, I didn’t want to risk getting sick on something my system couldn’t handle that could ruin my short time there.
I did learn a valuable lesson in keeping properly hydrated the first day we were there as I didn’t drink near enough fluids and ended up missing the second day’s outings with our group. I was fine by lunch time though and went out to do some street shots. I made sure I consumed a lot of water and Gatorade while exploring and never had that problem again.
One of the other activities we enjoyed was riding on the river. There are numerous options for river transportation and it’s also a great way to get around to different areas of the city. Another bonus is you never know what you might see along the way.
I couldn’t believe what was pulling that enormous barge train.
Of course you also see all types of boats, mostly for shuttling tourists around.
There are many interesting sites along the riverside too. One disadvantage my travel camera kit has is the lack of a telephoto lens. I would rarely use it but it would have been handy during these river excursions. I did however have my Canon G1X along, mainly for grabbing video, and this does have a zoom lens that had a bit more reach than my longest Fuji lens.
In part 2 of this blog, I’ll touch on some of the sites we toured while in Bangkok.
We are in our last full day of our 15 day visit to Puerto Vallarta. This time we stayed at our vacation club located beside the Marina which means we have a suite with a kitchen and living room. Basically a small apartment in a resort. This is the second time we have stayed at this resort and our 7th visit to Puerto Vallarta. After this many visits, it has meant that I have to adjust my mindset when going out to shoot some images. I haven’t shot any of the iconic places as much as I did in the past, although I did a few more shots along the Malecon and some sunset shots.
I also made the effort to get up well before sunrise and headed over to the marina to get set up for a sunrise shot. It was a very enjoyable time as I met a nice ex-pat lady named Jules and we had a nice visit while waiting for the sunrise.
As I mentioned, our vacation club is beside the marina so it’s quite a distance to the central region where the Malecon and the majority of the activity is going on. It’s about 1-1/2 hr walk or 15 min ride on the local buses. One thing to mention about these buses in Puerto Vallarta is the lack of springs and on the cobbled streets, they are referred to as a Mexican Massage. It takes some getting used to, but the price is right and if you are too foot sore for the long walk, they are very frequent.
I decided that on this trip I would shoot primarily for color images. This is a shift in mindset for me as I usually concentrate on black and white with only an occasional color shot. Of course with digital I could process the shot either way but there is a difference when actually looking for shots. It’s hard to explain but I guess it is mostly to do with the light and contrast. Another thing to consider when shooting for color is really being careful with the background to ensure there isn’t some bright and flashy object that will compete with the main subject of the shot. I have to admit that it was more challenging for me as I’ve gotten a bit lazy in this aspect because of the amount of black and white that I’ve done on previous trips.
Lighting can be tricky with color street shots. There was a festival going on from Dec. 1 until Dec. 12 and everyday in late afternoon there was a procession and lots of crowds on the streets. Although it was later in the day, the light was still quite strong and hard so I was constantly trying to keep the sun to my left or right and slightly behind me.
I also spent a lot of time looking for shady areas and trying to position myself so I could minimize or eliminate bright hotspots in the background.
Sometime though, I just shot the scene I wanted to capture even though the lighting situation was far from ideal.
On a couple of occasions I asked to take a portrait. I gave out my card and told them if they emailed me, I would email back their pictures for them to do with as they pleased. This got a very favorable reaction and the pictures really turned out nice. I do hope to hear from them.
So to sum it up, this trip has been a bit different for me on the photography side. Even though we have visited here many times, I was able to make the photography interesting and challenging. The amount of pictures has dropped from other visits but I did shoot every day and enjoyed other activities as well. Now I have to get home and get ready for Hong Kong and Bangkok in 3 weeks. That is going to be very interesting.
The cameras I had on this trip were the Fujifilm X100S and the Fujifilm X-Pro1. The X100S has a 23mm lens and for the X-Pro1, I brought all my lenses for it. The 14mm, 18mm, 35mm, and 60mm.
One thing we do a lot of is walking when we travel. By walking, we can take our time and stop at the places that interest us. We can also explore areas off the beaten path, so to speak, and discover areas less frequented by the regular crowds. With the photography that I like to do, getting away from the main tourist thoroughfares is important to get some ‘real life scenes’ type of photographs. I love the common, everyday, what people do type of shots that can be difficult to find in the high tourist traffic areas. This means I have to do a lot of exploring off the beaten track. Prior to our trip to Europe, we spent a lot of time researching Paris and London to get an idea of where we would like to visit. Being that this was our first trip to these cities, the locations, for the most part, were the popular tourist areas. We did choose hotels in each city that were well located for seeing the popular attractions as well as easy access to the city transit systems, the Metro of Paris and the Tube in London. I also researched the use of these and the first thing we did in Paris was buy a 10 pack of tickets and in London, an oyster card. We didn’t even use up the 10 tickets in Paris even though we were out exploring every day, rain or shine. Our hotel was about a 10 minute walk to The Louvre museum and only a couple of blocks away from the Tuileries Gardens. From here we could walk to many different areas that we wanted to see. In London, our hotel was right beside St Paul’s Cathedral, about a 15 min walk to the Thames River Walkway. We were also a 5 min walk to the St Paul’s Tube station where we could easily travel to areas of the city that were too far to walk to where, after a brief tube ride, we could wander at our leisure and have lots of time to do so. The great part about walking to a set destination is that you find many different interesting places along the way. For the most part, I don’t pay attention to the time when wondering around. I rarely have a set time for any place that I have to worry about so if I detour for a while, I’m not messing up a schedule. Many of my favorite shots were taken during the journey to a destination, not the destination itself. There have been occasions where we have booked a tour to get a good idea of the different areas of a city and we could then revisit locations that interested us and explore further at our leisure. We did this in Havana and Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time in Havana to revisit some of the areas that we would have liked to but someday hope to return there and do so. We have visited Puerto Vallarta many times now and are very comfortable getting around there but still make new discoveries with every trip. Many of the side streets and small markets that are great for photography would have remained unknown if we hadn’t done a lot of walking around. In Havana, part of our city tour was a walking tour of Old Havana but it was done at a quick pace and there are many areas that I would love to revisit and explore off the path we took. I guess my suggestion for less experienced travelers would be to book a city tour early during your visit, make note of places you see that you would like to explore, then get out there and walk lots. Check out anything that looks interesting. Most important of all, don’t leave your hotel without your camera.
A new site I have created to showcase my work done with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujifilm X100s cameras.
Prior to leaving on our last trip, I did the most research on our destinations that I have ever done. For us, this was a big trip and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. To start, I found a really good site called http://www.tripomatic.com. This lets you build itineraries off of the maps of the city you are interested in. It shows points of interest, hotels, landmarks and transit stations. I spent a lot of time building itineraries for both Paris and London. Did we follow those itineraries? For the most part, no. But they were our guidebooks on things we wanted to see and where they were. We still saw pretty well everything that was on the itineraries, but due to inclement weather or other factors, not in the order, or necessarily on the day that it was planned for. Trying to stay on the itinerary schedule would have been very difficult and would have effected the enjoyment of the trip. By playing it loose and sometimes going elsewhere, we found things that weren’t planned for and had fun just exploring.
I also did other research. One of the most valuable bits of work I did was finding online and studying the transit maps for both the Paris Metro and London Underground or Tube. The maps look pretty imposing at first but once you get the hang of how they work and follow the color coding, you soon discover that it is pretty easy to figure out how to get pretty much anywhere you want to go. We found the service to be excellent (compared to what we have at home) and while in London, took advantage of the Oyster card program. This saved us money and it prevented a lot of frustration in regards to not having to buy tickets for each trip. We even took the tube out to the airport when we went home and saved a huge amount. In Paris we purchased a set of 10 tickets for each of us and that saved us a bit and again eliminated the frustration of trying to buy tickets for each journey.
Before leaving home for this trip, I was able to purchase a map of each city. I studied them quite a bit and when we were in each city, the matching map was always with me. Both maps are now showing signs of heavy wear and tear. One thing I did find was that it usually took awhile to get my bearings when we came out of the Metro or Tube. My internal compass failed me and I chastised myself for not bringing along my real compass. But once I got a sense of which direction was north, we were back on track.
A big advantage to the early research was being able to find a reasonably priced hotel that was well located. Many of the sites we went to see were a reasonable walking distance. The tripomatic site connects to the hotel booking site so it wasn’t too difficult selecting our rooms. We did this 6 months in advance though and were glad we did. Hotel rooms in good locations at a reasonable price are hard, if not impossible, to get the closer you are to your trip date. Even with a 6 month lead, rooms were starting to fill up. In Paris, we were a 10 min walk to the Louvre and Seine River. It was an ideal location for us. In London we were right beside St. Pauls and again found this to be a great location.
The above shot was taken just a 15 min walk from our hotel in Paris.
Another type of research we did, I say ‘we’ because my wife did most of this, was to go on youtube and check out videos of places we might be interested in. These were mostly of the markets. Museums and monuments are interesting but the markets are great fun. By seeing videos of the markets, we were able to decide which to skip and which were a must see. My favorite turned out to be the Stables Market in London. Unfortunately, some of the vendors were not ‘photographer friendly’ but I still loved the atmosphere of the place.
Stables Market, London – Fuji X100S
In summary, I have to state that the research we did was well worth the effort. We managed to see all our must-see items, most of our like-to-see items, and discovered a lot just by exploring and being willing to treat our itineraries as a loose guideline instead of a hard schedule. We had 6 months to prepare and in my opinion, that is a good amount of time to do all the planning. Of course it wasn’t full time work, but an easy pace doing a bit on most evenings after work. Also, that amount of lead time allowed us to be somewhat picky on our accommodations. By studying and understanding the transit systems, we had no problems getting around right from the time we landed. Lastly, the one thing I didn’t mention yet is that google maps is your friend. In a lot of my location research, I would go to google maps street view and ‘walk’ around getting familiar with different landmarks. On a couple of occasions, this also let me discover another site that needed to be visited. By doing our research in this manner and pace, we avoided getting burned out by it and we ended up having a wonderful trip.
I hope you may have gleaned some ideas from this post that may help in your future explorations.