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Lessons on Mobile Photography

August 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

We've just returned from three weeks of traveling in Scandinavia. During that time I made over three thousand photographs. Eventually I will have that whittled down to 300 or so keepers, but I'll get after that once jet lag has loosened its grip on me. I had many photography-related decisions to make prior to leaving on this trip. Recovering from a bad choice would be difficult and expensive once overseas, so I gave this careful thought.

I will start with my computing device choice, mainly because it also played into the decision of which camera to bring. I really didn't give this a whole lot of thought, opting to bring my iPad. This device is perfect for mobile photography. I could have brought a Mac laptop, but there really was no good reason to do so. My main computing needs when mobile revolve around simple image enhancements and photo sharing. Each day I would upload that day's images into the Photos app on the iPad and then delete those that didn't make a first-pass cut. Next I would go through the remaining images and decide which to share out via a Photo Stream. I will use the results of my mobile selection process as the beginning point of my ratings in Aperture. That will simplify the process of distilling my images down to the 300 keepers.

Next there is the choice of camera. The options I considered were the Nikon D800 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3. When we were originally considering this trip I had decided to take the GH3, as we were planning to take a 60-mile hiking trek in northern Sweden. Unfortunately, a leg injury took the trek off the table. That threw the whole camera decision back up in the air. Eventually, I ended up choosing the Nikon D800 for reasons I will now explain.

The first reason I chose the D800 had to do with mobile workflow. Because the D800 has dual card slots, I could dedicate the secondary SD card to holding small JPEGs. Those are the images that I would upload to my iPad each day. The process of loading these small JPEGS onto the iPad using the Lightning cable is super fast. If I had brought the GH3 I would have had to use the Lumix Link iPad app and the GH3's built-in WiFi to duplicate this workflow. While this is workable, it is not ideal. I find that using the WiFi on the GH3 really draws down the battery and it is much slower than using the Lightning cable. I also do not care for the thumbnail view on the GH3 that you use to select photos to send over to the iPad. The thumbnails are so small as to be almost useless.

The other main reason to bring the D800 was its superior low-light performance. I knew that some of the locations I'd be shooting in would have challenging low light. I figured the combination of the D800 and my 28mm and 50mm f/1.8 lenses would put me in the game in certain situations when the GH3 might be out of luck. Of course, the downside of bringing the D800 was the weight. As I expected, there were times where the D800 enabled me to get the shot. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is a prime example. I really had to stretch my D800 to get usable images there. My GH3 would have been out to lunch I'm afraid. The Vasa image below was shot at an ISO of 12,800 with an aperture of f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/50 with no flash. That gives you an idea how dark it was in there. While I won't be printing this image large, it is perfectly fine for use in a family slideshow.

As far as the workflow with the D800, it worked as I had hoped, so that is a definite plus for the D800. One downside to the D800 that I stumbled over a couple times is LiveView performance. I was reminded of how much I dislike shooting in LiveView with DSLRs. The AF performance is just atrocious. With its fully articulating LCD screen and fast LiveView auto focus performance, the GH3 is way better than the D800 for LiveView shooting. All in all though, I am happy I brought the D800. It is a wonderful camera to shoot with and feels so natural in my hands. Of course, the image quality of the D800 is superb.

I know that some photographers want to have a backup of their images when on the road. Given that RAW files from the D800 are over 40 MB each, I really did not want to be ingesting them into my iPad. Currently, the Photos app on my iPad is consuming 7 GB of memory. If I had uploaded RAW files my iPad would have run out of memory. I did have a 9 megapixel JPEG file of the keepers as a backup, which is better than nothing. Plus, I brought enough memory cards so that I did not need to reuse cards. I used two 64 GB cards and went partially into one 32 GB card during the three weeks. I will not format those cards until I have two full backups, one local on Time Machine and one in the Cloud on Backblaze.

Another decision was the camera bag. My requirements included the ability to hold an iPad and a camera and two extra lenses. I wanted something that would hold either my D800 kit or my GH3 kit. I wanted a messenger style shoulder bag. I did not own such a bag, so I went shopping. Pretty quickly I settled on the Retrospective 7 from ThinkTank Photo. I already own three ThinkTank bags and have always been impressed with the quality of their products. They are not the lightest bags out there, but there are tough and incredibly well made. I liked the fact that the Retrospective 7 didn't scream camera bag. One thing I was a bit unsure about was the use of Velcro fasteners to secure the flaps rather than clips. As it turned out, I found I loved this feature. It made it so easy for me to work one-handed with the bag, which is really handy for street photography. Plus, if someone tried to open my bag, I would have heard it. I've got to say, this is probably the best camera bag I have ever purchased.

So this has been a long post, but I had so many things to rundown after this three-week trip to Scandinavia. We had a terrific vacation and I had great fun creating images. This was my longest stretch as a mobile photographer. I was happy with every decision I made. I used everything I brought, so there was no dead weight in my camera bag. My shoulders are happy about that.


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