Entries in travel (10)


New Zealand and Australia in 27 days

I recently returned from an extended trip to New Zealand and Australia (read more about packing for this trip here). The trip was anchored on an academic conference in Melbourne, but if you're going to go all that way, you might as well go big or go home. In case you're planning a similar trip, here's my itinerary...

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One (plus one) bag travel

As I head out to my conference in Australia, with a stop in New Zealand on the way, I've been planning for how to pack for the trek. Some caveats as a starting point:

  • Although part of my trip involves attending an academic conference, I tend to dress at the causal end of the spectrum for these sorts of things (maybe even outside the range of what is normative). No suits, ties, shiny leather shoes, etc.
  • There will be lots of walking and exploring in the cities, as well as some hiking in the countryside. Much more on the activewear side of things rather than anything formal.
  • I tend to be low maintenance when it comes to toiletries, and am perfectly fine using whatever is found in the hotel. And I don't mind being scruffy and going without shaving for a few weeks.
  • Admittedly, there's likely going to be more photography gear than most would bring. In particular, a second body is a total luxery. But I'd be crushed if I had a problem with my camera and didn't have a backup on a trip like this. And it's not like I'll be carrying two DSLRs...
  • I need to have a pack for day trips with my photo gear and small messenger bag for the conference and walking around Sydney and Melbourne.

I've been reading about "one bag travel," where the goal is to fit everything into a carry-on bag. Given that I'm an avid photographer, I know there's no way I can do this, unless half of the bag is camera gear. Even though I travel with the small(ish) Fuji X-sytem which is lighter than the Nikon DSLR I used to travel with, it's still more gear than most "one-baggers" would carry. Couple that with a (small) laptop and iPad, I know one bag isn't going to happen. But if I could get to "MLC" (maximum legal carry-on; ~40 liters) bag plus a small bag or backpack (i.e., "personal item" on the plane), I'd be going much lighter than the 90+ liter Gregory Whitney backpack I previously traveled with. So here's the plan...

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Summer 2014 is looking fun

Unfortunately, Tahiti isn't in my itinerary.Summer travels #1 - My biannual conference is in Australia this summer, which will make for some excellent travel and photography opportunities. Before the conference I'll be exploring New Zealand for about 12 days with a friend (and photographer), and then will have ~4-5 days in Sydney before ending up in Melbourne for my meeting. I anticipate the kit will be the X-Pro1 and X-E1 bodies, and 10-24mm, 55-200mm, 27mm, and 35mm lenses. The 55-200mm will likely be attached primarily to the X-E1 (since it's not a good lens to use with the optical viewfinder on the X-Pro1), and the 10-24mm will be at home on the X-Pro1. The primes will be used on both, depending on if using the OVF (X-Pro1) or compactness (X-E1) is desired. My guess is that I'll pack this all in the F-Stop Kenti, but haven't totally settled on that yet.

Summer travels #2 - Although Jen isn't going to Australia and New Zealand with me, she deserves a nice vacation too, right? We'll be meeting up with some friends/colleagues for two weeks in northern Europe, starting in Belgium (Ghent, Antwerp), then to Amsterdam, and ending in Prague. The gear will likely be similar to the other trip, with the 18-55mm kit lens added into the mix (and the 55-200mm staying home?). Update: Trip canceled at the very last minute due to some stupidity on my part and a big dose of greediness on the part of American Airlines. Sigh.

Summer travels #3 - I'd like to do a trip out to see my family in Oregon at some point. Update: this is going to happen! 

Since I'm about to sign a contract for a new, long-term, business venture/consulting gig (hopefully), I'm going to have to work a couple hours a day during my trip to the southern hemisphere. And as much as I like travelling with just an iPad (which I managed for 3 weeks last time we were in Europe), to do any real work I'll need to bring a laptop, and there's no way I'm going to lug my 15" MacBook Pro with me. So one thing I'll need to get before my trip is an 11" MacBook Air. These always seem to refresh in the summer, but I might end up having to buy in May, right before new ones come out. That would be a bummer, but probably how it will work out. When we're in Europe, Jen will need a lightweight laptop since she'll be teaching online. Either she'll use that MBAir and I'll go with my iPad, or we might need two MBAirs. I guess that's the price to pay for having jobs that allow us to work from afar.

(update) Summer travels #4 - A jaunt to L.A. for a few days to work on the business venture mentioned above. Wow, I'll be racking up the miles this summer...


Travel photography gear, 2013 edition

With the end of the school year, it's time to think about summer vacation. We'll be spending some time in the pacific northwest and also going through some of the parks in the northern Rockies (possibly Glacier, but haven't fully decided yet). There should be great opportunities for shooting, although packing relatively light would be prudent, so I can't take the photographic kitchen sink. Here's the plan:

  • No brainer: Fuji X-Pro1 with a kit of prime lenses. Small, unobtrusive, awesome image quailty. I have the the 55-200mm zoom coming too, so in terms of focal length, this hits about everything.
  • D3100 w/ 18-105mm lensDebate: Nikon D90. I recently fell back in love with my D90, shooting at a bluegrass festival and bike race. But the X-Pro1 should cover most of my needs, especially with the telephoto zoom on the long end and 14mm prime on the wide side. It would be nice to have the ability to go even longer and there might be some excellent opportunities to shoot flowers/macro, so my 70-300mm zoom and 105mm micro would be the lenses I'd want in a Nikon kit for this trip. But rather than taking both my D90 and Jen's D3100 (with 18-105mm kit lens that originally came with my D90), to save space I think we'll just take her Nikon and I'll liberally borrow it to use with the 70-300mm and 105mm lenses. Although the controls and general performance (i.e., speed) of the D3100 doesn't quite match the D90, in terms of the image quality, it's probably as good, if not better. So we'll share her D3100.
  • A luxury: My tripod isn't small, but I could see it being really useful for landscapes.
  • Didn't make the cut: Although it's one of my favorite lenses, I'm going to leave the Tokina 11-16mm behind and have my wide shooting be covered by the Fuji 14mm prime. We'll see if I miss it! But since the Tokina won't focus with the D3100 (I have the older version of the lens), a commitment to bringing this lens sends me down to the path of also lugging the D90.

Update: Upon returning, here's a report on what my minimal kit will be in the future, based on my experiences on this trip. I continue to love the X-Pro1, and over the last month I shot almost exclusively with my two newest lenses for it (14mm and 55-200mm....see some pictures here and here); those two, along with the 35mm prime, would make an excellent lightweight kit for a trip to Europe :-)


Summer plans, revised

I've been gearing up to write about my planned trip to Beijing for six weeks this summer, where I was scheduled to teach two sections of introductory psychology. I was going to muse on a variety of (the usual) topics, including thoughts about teaching psychology to Chinese students, how I anticipated surviving there when I don't particularly like Chinese food, some ideas for travel and what sorts of touristy things I was planning on doing, and, of course, thoughts about the photography opportunities.

But...I just found out that the program I was supposed to be participating in had to cancel its Beijing program due to some new policies that have put a damper on enrollments. So I'm bummed and now have to think about other plans for the summer (and other things to write about here). 

It's my parents 40th anniversary this summer, and I've be planning on that for a while; in fact I had them move their party so that I could leave for China right afterwards. So now I'm still planning on going to their celebration, but can take more time on (and getting to) the west coast. Some ideas: 

  • A drive out there, including seeing friends in the Twin Cities (although I haven't asked them yet...yes Abs, I know you might be reading this) and Denver on the way.
  • Hitting some of the parks out that way (Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glancier, Waterton, etc); we visited some of those in 2007, but it would be nice to go again.
  • Doing a jaunt through the Olympic Penninsula and up to Victoria Island and Vancouver. And just because my favorite psychology study was run there, the Capilano suspension bridge.
  • Exploring eastern Oregon...I've never really been more than a few miles east of I-5.
  • Spending more time in Portland, including seeing my brother, nephew, and niece.

 More to come as our plans develop!


15 of 59 - The National Park checklist

With the addition of Pinnacles National Park in 2013, there are currently 59 National Parks in the United States; by my count I've visited at least 15* of them:

  • Acadia
  • Badlands
  • Glacier
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Teton
  • Haleakalā
  • Hawaii Volcanos
  • Kings Canyon
  • Lassen Volcanic
  • Mesa Verde
  • Redwood
  • Sequoia
  • Shenandoah
  • Yellowstone
  • Yosemite




I really need to get out more...I'm barely at 25%! An Alaska trip would help knock a bunch of these out.

*It's also possible that as a kid I visited Crater Lake, Olympic, and Rocky Mountain. I don't specifically remember, but these are likely suspects for family roadtrip vacations.


Travel photography gear, recap

We’ve been back from Europe for almost a week, and I’ve had time to reflect on how my photography and computing gear performed. Before the trip I mused about the gear I was planning on bringing here and here.

Atlas at the Archeological Museum in Naples (50mm lens on a Nikon D90; click to embiggen).Across the three weeks I took more than 2200 photos (about 30GB). My 64GB iPad had enough storage for all the pictures, but that’s with a minimal amount of movies/music loaded (although a lot of apps). For a longer trip, storage would be a problem. My planned strategy of uploading photos from the iPad to Dropbox worked okay when there was a good internet connection, but took a long time (i.e., had to let it upload overnight). Given the limited internet access in some of the smaller hotels and B&Bs, it would be a problem if I had to rely on this. But overall I didn’t miss having a laptop at all. Traveling with the iPad is great.

Processing photos on the iPad was better than I expected (all of the the photos posted in my albums from this trip were done on the iPad). I used the Snapseed app for the majority of the editing, although iPhoto was useful for some touch-ups since Snapseed doesn’t have a clone tool. My only complaint about Snapseed is a minor gripe about the black and white conversion tool, compared to Silver Efex (both Snapseed and Silver Efex are made by Nik): the filters in Snapseed aren’t adjustable like they are in Silver Efex. They are either on or off, and can’t be tweaked. But other than that, I’m really happy with the quality of the edits from Snapseed. 

The view from Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Austria (Tokina 11-16mm on a Nikon D90; click to embiggen).

In terms of lenses, the Tokina 11-16mm was used a lot on my D90. Other than the distortion and proneness to flaring, this is a perfect lens for the sort of travel photography I do. My guess is that 50-65% of my best pictures from the trip were with this lens. The second most used lens, at least in Amsterdam, was the 50mm f/1.4, although I ended up not using it wide open that much. But it was a good length for photographing the cyclists and architectural details around the city. I really only used the 105mm micro at the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens and Zoo, but it was great for that day. I’m wondering if a good combination/compromise would have been to pick up the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro and leave both the 50mm and 105mm lenses at home, but that $550 was probably better spent elsewhere. As anticipated, I only used the 10.5mm fisheye for a few shots. 

At the World Press Photo show at Oude Kerk in Amsterdam (Fuji x100; click to embiggen).The only time I really needed telephoto reach was on the Amalfi Coast leg of the trip; I was lucky to have access to the 18-105 lens that originally came with my D90, and is now on Jen’s camera. I ended up borrowing it from her a lot. It’s making me rethink not having a zoom lens to travel with. Maybe pairing the 11-16mm with a 24-70mm f/2.8 would be a good (but heavy) combination.

I used the Fuji x100 a good deal in Amsterdam, when I was traveling by myself and had plenty of time and flexibility to walk around to get the shots I wanted (especially since I was on my feet a lot, so it was refreshing to carry a minimal amount of gear from for a few hours a day). But in Italy I shot almost exclusively with my D90 given the range of the Tokina 11-16mm and Nikon 18-105mm combo.


Travel photography gear, part 2

I made a brief trip to Washington DC last week to give a talk, but it also gave me a chance to beta-test some of my camera gear plans for my upcoming trip to Europe (see here for previous musings on this topic). Some thoughts about the following stuff I had in tow along with observations about workflow (Fuji X100, Nikon WC-E68 adaptor, iPad): 

  • I spent some time playing with zone focusing on the X100. This seems like it will work pretty well for unobtrusive and candid street photography.
  • Click to enlarge; Fuji X100 In my previous sessions with the X100 I almost exclusively used the optical viewfinder, which I like very much. But since I had time to visit the US Botanic Garden, I figured it would be a good opportunity to test the macro mode and electronic viewfinder. I've been torn about whether I should bring the big/heavy 105mm macro lens for my Nikon to Europe, for taking pictures of flowers and other details, but maybe I can get by with the X100's macro mode instead. It's not bad.
  • Given that at f/2 the X100 maxes out at a 1/1000 second shutter speed, the built in neutral density filter is a lifesaver. Thanks to a recent firmware update, the RAW button can be reprogrammed, and I've set mine to toggle the ND filter.
  • A few days before the trip I received a Nikon WC-E68 wide angle adapter that screws on the X100 lens with a 49mm-46mm step down ring and the Fuji hood adapter/ring. The Fuji WCL-X100 adapter was just announced (although won't be available for a couple of months) and it's relatively pricey although I'd be tempted to get one if it was wider (relative to a fullframe sensor, the X100 has a field of view similar to a 35mm lens; with the WCL-X100 it would be similar to 28mm, and with the WC-E68 it's akin to the field of view from a 24mm lens). From the samples I've seen online, the Nikon adapter lens works pretty well if the X100 is stopped down to f/8 or smaller. Based on the handful of shots I took between f/8 and f/16, it seems fine for my purposes (and the $40 price on ebay); although I'm not a pixel peeper, I did notice that it flared a bit shooting into the. If it had better performance wide open, I'd be tempted to leave my Tokina 11-16mm home, but for low light the Tokina + Nikon D90 that I'm planning on bringing will probably serve me better even though it will be heavy.
  • If I had an unlimited budget my travel kit would be the X100 and a Fujil X-Pro1 with the three lenses that are currently available (18mm f/2, 35mm f1.4, 60mm f/2.4 macro). The 18mm lens isn't quite wide enough for my liking, but if Fuji comes out with the 14mm lens that is listed in their X-series lens roadmap it would be ideal, assuming it performs well. I'll start saving now...
Click to enlarge; Fuji X100, converted with Nik Silver Effex Pro.
  • What about keeping it simple and traveling with just the X100? It's tempting. Creatively, I think it would be great and not too limiting. I'd love to be able to shoot wider, especially in Europe, but the Nikon WC-E68 will get me into that range, assuming I can stop down to f/11 or so. And the sensor and image quality are good enough that I could crop in for details when necessary. My main worry is the reliability of the X100. I haven't had any problems with it, but the camera-geeks on the interwebs keep talking about "sticky aperture blade syndrome" where the lens gets stuck wide open so you can only shoot at f/2. I'm not sure how widespread the problem is, or if this is some form of internet hysteria, but I'd hate to be on vacation for a few weeks and have the lens on my X100 fail without a backup camera. Another reason the X100 + X-Pro1 combo would be ideal! But for now, I think I'll lug the D90 along so that I can choose between the full Nikon system and the X100, depending on that day's planned adventures.
  • Using the camera connection kit, I uploaded pictures to my iPad. Any (or all) originals (as RAW files) as well as edited images (in Snapseed, iPhoto, PhotoForge...I still don't have a preferred editor yet) can be uploaded to Dropbox via WiFi (or cellular connection, but I won't have that in Europe). My Dropbox doesn't have enough storage to copy every single image over (I have about 30GB free, so this would be okay for a shorter trip), but I'll backup the very best on the cloud, and then keep the originals on the memory cards. And I am planning on clearing as much room on my iPad as I can for storing photos (i.e., sorry...the movies will have to go!).
  • As an aside (but related to video on the iPad), streaming Netfilx over the cellular connection worked pretty well, as long as the connection was strong. When I was on the train it dropped a few times, but overall it was very functional.
  • Black and white conversion with Snapseed is pretty good, although it doesn't offer all the same options as Silver Effex Pro (even they are both Nik products). I need to play with the other programs I have (i.e., iPhoto etc) to see which have the best control when converting one's images (filters, contrast, structure).

Musings on travel photography gear

This summer's plans will include three weeks in Europe, with stops in Amsterdam, Munich/Bavaria, and the Amalfi Coast. I'll be on my own for the first week, traveling with a friend for the second week, then meeting up with Jen for the last week in Italy. The fundamental tension on this trip will be trying to travel light (i.e., backpacking) and wanting to make the most of the photographic opportunities.

I'm torn on what photography gear to take. On one hand, I'm tempted to go the minimalist route and bring only with my new (as in haven't shot with it much yet, although I've had it about 6 months) FujiFilm X100. It's a portable package with great image quality, and the 23mm lens (full-frame field of view similar to 35mm) would be a reasonable choice as a single focal length to carry around (okay, maybe it's a bit long).

On the other hand, this migh be a once in a lifetime photographic opportunity (hopefully not!), so it would be a shame not to use my Nikon system (D90 with a range of lenses), which includes lenses from 10.5mm up to 300mm (on DX). Of course, the idea of having my backpack filled with heavy gear isn't so appealing.

I've been ruminating on this a lot recently (more than any reasonable person should think about such things), and here's the gear I'm currently planning on bringing:

  • FujiFilm X100 (23mm f/2)
  • Nikon D90 with the three lenses below and maybe the small SB-400 flash. Not sure how much I'll need an external flash, but it's compact and won't take much room in my bag.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8...This seems like the "must have" lens for the trip. Going wide will be key in the narrow European streets, and this might be the favorite I have (here are some images with it, and also I used it a lot when we were in Hawaii last year). It's the obvious first choice to take.
  • The second lens choice is a bit odd: I'm definitely taking my Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. I just love the unique perspective this one gives, and I ended up using it a lot when we were in Rome a couple of years ago. It's a really compact lens, so even though it's a pretty specialized piece of glass, it's easy to justify bringing it. Given it's size, it's basically a freebie (in terms of size/weight).
  • Nikon 50mm F/1.4I've pretty much decided that I should only bring one other lens besides the stuff listed above, so it has to cover the "long" end. But how long is long enough? When we went to Hawaii I carried a 70-300mm lens, but really only used it for a few pictures of sea turtles (that you weren't supposed to approach too closely). I'm really glad I had it for those shots, but otherwise it pretty much went unused. As far as I can tell, I won't be encountering any sea turtles (or other wildlife), so it's probably not worth carrying that one. The 105mm macro is another possibility; there surely will be some close-up opportunities and it would be a good telephoto to take, but it's big/heavy and still would probably see limited use compared to the other options. It's coming down to either a 50mm or 85mm lens. My guess/hope is that 50mm (on DX) will be enough reach. If not, I can always crop later. Plus my 50mm f/1.4 is small, light, cheap enough that I won't be devistated if something happens to it (as opposed to my 85mm lens, which would be more costly to replace), and fast enough for some low-light shooting. I'll throw a close-up lens in my bag and attach it to the 50mm if I want to do any pseudo-macros.
  • One additional lens I'll have access to is the Nikon 18-105mm that came with my D90, which I used a lot when we were last in Rome. Jen now has that one on her D3100, which I assume she'll be bringing. Maybe she won't notice if I hide another lens or two in her bag...

D90 with fisheye lensSo, that's the plan/rationale, at least for now. If once I start packing my bag I find there's more room, something else might get slipped in there :-)

Interestingly, I've put all this thought into it, and now that I think about it, this is exactly the same lightweight kit I took when I last went to Oregon, sans the fisheye, and when we went to Seattle (again, no fisheye, and this was also before I got the X100).

On the computer/editing side, I'm only taking my iPad (no laptop). I previously mused about getting a Hyperdrive to back up all my pictures, but that's more weight and expense than I want to deal with. Instead, I'll make sure I'm stocked up on SD cards, import pictures onto the iPad for previewing and basic editing, and then upload the best shots to Dropbox to save them to the cloud. I was pleased to find that the iPad can import/export RAW files.


Is summer here yet?

It was 30 degrees on my way to work this morning and this joker in a convertible was driving with the top down...I'm hoping summer is just around the corner.

The rumor is that I'm going to get 10 days to two weeks backpacking in Europe this summer (while Jen is at a conference in Rome). Still not sure if I'll be flying solo or if I'll be able to round up a mate to join me, but either way it's sure to be a good time. At this point to itinerary is totally open....Barcelona? Lisbon? Back to Paris? Belgium? Amsterdam? I'd like to go to LegoLand!

Not sure how much planning to do ahead of time vs. winging it, but I'm already looking forward to it.