Note: This post has been written over the course of a week, and partially during my trip with spotty access to WiFi, so it is not as clear or concise as I’d like.
I thought I was way ahead of the game, and that I’d have lots of time to get a few more prepping posts online, but busy times at work and in life resulted in my trip sneaking up on me.
As I sit in Schiphol airport waiting to connect to Johannesburg, I’m left with nothing but time to reflect and write about how things turned out.
There’s been some pretty big shifts in my packing strategy since I last wrote about it, so I’ll try to do a decent summary.
Think Tank Airport Essentials
My Think Tank Airport Essentials arrived a few weeks ago. This bag has supplanted my Incase “DSLR” Pro Pack as my daily backpack for carrying my work essentials and some camera gear to work and home every day. I love it.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, there was no hope it was going to be enough bag for my entire trip, largely due to the longer telephoto lenses I felt obligated to bring. The amount of stuff I can get in this bag is incredible, and without those zooms,1 I could easily do two weeks of travel out of the Airport Essentials.
I sort of felt like I was failing here, but my wife and I resigned ourselves to having to check a bag each this time around.2 The varied South African climate we expect to face combined with family events we have planned means we need a lot more clothes than we’d typically pack.
Given the unique nature of this travel experience, and that we shouldn’t need to worry too much about moving our bags around,3 it makes sense to optimize for more gear, and that means another bag.
Briggs and Riley
As much as I wanted to tell myself that my Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M would be the last bag I ever needed, there is sure to be other travel occasions where carry-on-only will be less than ideal. Patagonia and New Zealand spring to mind. So I started looking into what an optimal piece if luggage would be. I wanted to stick to carry-on size regardless for when I might travel with just a carry-on, and a backpack wouldn’t work. The Wirecutter has a pretty great breakdown of carry-on luggage. They pick the Travelpro Platinum Magna2 22" bag,→ but in my local currency, their “upgrade,” the Briggs and Riley Baseline International,→ is about the same price, making it the sensible purchase.
I might do up a more in-depth review of this bag as it relates to travel/adventure photography one of these days, but having packed and unpacked it a number of times already, I can say the quality is excellent, and the compression system is everything it’s made out to be.
Back to Camera Stuff
With my Think Tank bag freed from having to accommodate clothing, I found myself with much more space available for gear. I decided to give myself permission to really gear up for this trip. That means both the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 and XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 have come with me, along with the 2× teleconverter to get me as close as Fujily possible to the indigenous fauna. Since I had the space, I decided to chuck the XF 10-24mm f/4 in for good wide measure.
My camera gear selection is as follows:
- X-T1 with vertical grip
- XF 10-24mm f/4
- XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR
- XF 50-140mm f/2.8 WR
- XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR
- XF 16mm f/1.4 WR
- XF 35mm f/2 WR
- XF 2X TC Teleconverter WR
- Extension Tubes for flora
- Really Right Stuff TQC-14
- Really Right Stuff Safari Clamp
- Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod
- Safari Sack Beanbag
- Thee batteries loaded, four spares in Velcro wallet
- 6 × 64GB SD cards in card wallet with clip
- Head lamp
- Circular Polarizer and Neutral Density Filters
- Filter wrench
I haven’t carried this much photographic equipment since the first time I travelled with my D300, when I though it was a good idea to bring everything I owned.4 For such a big trip that has so many different photographic opportunities, it made sense to err on the side of too much, rather than too little.
Perhaps I could have gotten away with leaving the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR or XF 10-24mm f/4 at home, but I have used both already, and you’ll note that one lonely lens is missing those two magical initials, “WR.”
My South African family has let me know that, despite the current drought, Cape Town can be quite rainy. This is a place I’m going to want to do some landscape photos. Sure I could get by with my XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, but if I can get myself the flexibility of a zoom lens, I figure I might as well. And that way, if we do find ourselves in heavy rain, I can keep lenses on bodies and not worry about having to change them. Once again, that lack of WR on the XF 10-24mm f/4 is hurting me. Had the 10-24mm been weather sealed, I would have only brought it and not the 16-55mm.
Had I been packing “normally,” three of those lenses and the teleconverter wouldn’t have even seen my bag, but there’s a good chance I won’t be back to South Africa for quite some time, if ever, and since we’re being driven around, I have the luxury of leaving what I don’t need in my hotel room, or on the bus. More often than not, I’m carrying my Billingham Hadley Small.
Additionally, if this was exclusively a “Safari” vacation, at least two lenses could be left out, and maybe even the tripod, depending on the camp.
I decided to keep my green Artisan & Artist strap on my X-Pro2, and affixed the replacement Loop 3 the guys at LumaLabs were kind enough to send after my first one frayed. The Loop is a strap I typically only use during extended periods of shooting like on vacation—for which it is outstanding—so this is a perfect opportunity to double check the strap durability. I’ll update the review post, but so far so good.
Lexar is sorta scummy when it comes to the transfer speeds they list on their cards. They like to list a really fast read speed, which, when it comes to continuous shooting, is much less important. The write speeds are always muchslower until you get up to their 2,000× cards, which are twice as expensive as their 1,000× cards.
Sandisk, on the other hand, has much closer figures for both read and write. The Extreme PRO cards → that I went with have a listed read speed of 95 MB/s, and a write speed of 90 MB/s. I’ve hit the ceiling on the write speed quite a few times, but not enough for me to worry about spending the money for faster cards, and I've been perfectly content to just switch cameras for a different perspective while the buffer clears on the other. I went for 64GB cards, six in total along with a bunch of older, slower 32GB cards as backup. I seriously doubt I’ll touch those though.
Your attire can often be almost as important as what camera you have. If you’re not comfortable due to the elements, sore feet, or an aching back, you’re much less likely to want to shoot. Quality footwear, and clothing that can keep you comfortable in a broad range of climates are invaluable. My wife and I have a bunch of merino wool clothing, largely from Icebreaker, → which has kept us warm in the frigid winter mornings without getting too hot too fast after the sun comes up.
Another major advantage of merino is it can be worn for days without smelling. This might not sound appealing from a hygiene perspective, but it’s been really nice pulling on a pair of pants or a hoody after sitting around a fire without it reeking of smoke.
Well, this post has been in a constant state of revision, from past to present tense, before using any of my equipment to being done nearly all our game drives. I’ll be sure to write more about what I learned from my first safari experience. I hope it won’t be my last.
- Under almost all other circumstances, the XF 90mm f/2 WR is the longest, in terms of focal length and physical dimensions, I would typically bring when travelling. ↩︎
- A couple years ago, I bought an Osprey Farpoint 55 to use as my only carry-on luggage. This worked great, and I was so happy to not have a wheeled bag to drag behind me over cobblestones in Europe. The key difference there is my X-T1 and XF 10-24mm f/4 was the largest camera combination I had.
I considered employing the same strategy this time around, but adding in the potential of two large zooms means my camera bag would have consumed almost the entire capacity of the Osprey, making it impossible. ↩︎
- We’ve hired a bus to move all 26 of us from place to place. ↩︎
- It’s not. Photography kit selection is like design, make it as simple as possible, and no simpler. ↩︎
I had hoped to get a couple more preparation posts done before I left, but time got away from me. Suffice it to say, my packing strategy changed considerably. I’ll elaborate much more when I can.
For now, Fuji vs. Fuji is off to South Africa. I’ll be sure to share what I learned in my preparations for the big trip.
In the past few months, we’ve been fortunate to see the release of two new magazines, each tailored to our camera make of choice, and both of extremely high quality.
Most recently, I received the inaugural issue of FujiXPassion, a magazine dedicated to sharing inspiration by presenting the work of other photographers. As soon as I opened my copy, I knew it was going to be good. The authors have clearly gone to great lengths to ensure the photography looks its best on the matte, premium stock they’re printed on. The shadow detail preserved in the rocks of the first image, for example, is astounding. Folks who enjoy printed work will be very pleased with the quality here.
Included alongside the images are in-depth Q&A’s with each photographer. You’ll read stories about how the artists got started in photography and often, as you might expect, why they switched from DSLRs to Fuji.
The magazine, which is really verging on book territory, ships in a plastic bag, which is then enclosed in a hard cardboard sleeve, so you can be sure your copy will arrive undamaged.1
June’s issue is the third of Tomash’s latest Fuji related endeavour, FujiLove magazine. Its format is more of a traditional rag, and so far, the content has been excellent. It contains interviews, photographic essays, gear impressions, tips and tricks, and even user-submitted images of monthly assignments given out by Tomash.
Everything I’ve read in this magazine has totally resonated at best, and felt hugely familiar at worst. It’s fantastic to have this kind of content written by real users of the camera gear we use.
FujiLove is delivered digitally, has an incredible roster of contributors already, and at the cost of large latté, it’s a steal.
- Fuji X Passion has an affiliate program, but I am not a member. ↩︎
What I thought was going to be a relatively quick handling review of Fuji’s second “Premium Compact Camera” turned into something considerably more in-depth, and I still have a bit more to add.
I’ve been pushing up against the limits of the internal storage in my MacBook for far too long now. The lack of free space on my boot volume was starting to make my MacBook slower, and resulted in files having to be shuffled to smaller external storage.
I’ve been doing almost as much agonizing over my storage challenges as I have trying to decide what gear to bring on my African adventure. My trip will also leave me with even less space available, so storage is a problem that has to be solved soon. Here’s my thought process.
NAS vs. DAS
The choice is between a NAS (Network Attached Storage) or a DAS (Direct Attached Storage). I like the idea of being able to access my files from anywhere in the house (or world, for that matter), and I really don’t like plugging external hard drives into my MacBook, especially when I’m sitting on a couch, or just want to be mobile.
I’ve been hearing all kinds of good things about Synology products, and almost bought their DiskStation DS716+ → with a third party RAM upgrade, but decided that if I was going to get a NAS, it should have more than 2 bays.1 At the time of my research, Synology didn’t have a unit with 4 or more bays that I was interested in, and being a bit uncertain of how a NAS would impact my workflow, I decided to look at direct storage again.
- External RAID arrays are expensive, considering the functionality you can get for similar money with a NAS.
- Too many options for direct storage ship with drives pre-installed, and they don’t make information about the manufacturer or the quality of those drives readily available, and if they’re from a less reliable manufacturer, you’re out of luck.
There are diskless options, but to get an enclosure I liked, I was sort of stuck, and without the markup the enclosure manufacturers get on drives, I could end up spending more on the same amount of storage.
Synology to the Rescue
As luck would have it, Synology announced their new DiskStation DS916+ →, which is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. Better still, the cost for 12TB in Synology’s latest 4-bay NAS is only $20 more than a Promise 8TB Storage Array →. More storage (or equal storage with RAID 5), and way more functionality for $20 more. I’ve since done a bunch more research and a NAS is looking more and more like the way to go.
What I’d Lose
Network attached storage is slower, there’s no getting around that for now. It’s going to hit me particularly hard as the aging MacBook Pro I’m still working on is 802.11n. I have an upgrade planned within the next 6 months, however. I’m also looking into ways of getting more Ethernet access in my home.
Because of the (potentially temporary) slowdown, I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my workflow, setting up more of an archival strategy with my asset management. Once photos have been dealt with, they’ll move off my local storage, and onto the NAS.
I’ll also lose automatic remote backup of my storage solution by opting for a NAS. Backblaze will happily accept whatever files are on any direct attached storage you have hooked up to your computer, but a NAS is off limits without some trickery that I’m not interested in, will cost me more money, and is apparently flakey at best. I’ll likely sign up for CrashPlan on the NAS, and perhaps move my entire cloud backup to them unless Backblaze figures out a way to support NAS (not holding my breath on that).
What I’d Gain
I won’t regale you with the many, many benefits of a Synology, but on the photo side of things, it looks like I’ll be able to log into my NAS while on vacation and upload my RAFs for an on-the-fly backup strategy, provided I don’t blow through anyone’s bandwidth limits. Backups while on vacation has been a bit of a concern. In the past, I’ve pretty much just shot pics until my cards were full, then tucked them away somewhere safe, and hoped for the best. I’ve been fortunate up until now, and always made it home from vacations with my photos, but this is not a good strategy. It would be pretty upsetting to visit a game park at the beginning of my trip, then somehow lose the photos towards the end.
I’ll need to give the NAS backup strategy a try before I go to see just how realistic it is. It will be dependant on the speed my my internet connections.
I went ahead and ordered myself a DS916+ with 8GB of RAM along with four 3GB HGST Deskstar drives,→ which Backblaze reports as consistently having the lowest failure rates.3 I missed ordering when the DS916+ was first in stock, but I’ll be sure to report back on how these things can work in a photographer’s workflow if there’s interest.
- I would set my NAS up as RAID 5 to give myself a one drive failure tolerance. ↩︎
- I decided to go with a 2-drive array to save some money with the intention of getting a NAS in the future.
I also would have considered something from OMC, but I’ve had a couple not so good experiences with their products in the past so I’m hesitant to try them again. ↩
- Fun fact, Promise Technology use Toshiba hard drives in their arrays. They have pretty low failure rates, but it's still 3× as many as HGST. ↩︎
Today, Riley Joseph published the latest in his series of “Photo Stories,” titled “Palm Springs.” I’ve always enjoyed Riley’s restrained processing style, and the consistency of his eye has been getting better since I first started following him way back when I got my first X Series camera, the X100S. He did more gear-oriented posts back then, but I enjoy the more photographically-focused content just as much.
Riley‘s always captured great photos—nuanced detail missed by the casual observer, clever compositions, and precise timing—but after a few redesigns of his site, he seems to have hit a new stride, and his work has reached new levels. Or maybe he just got around to posting it, I’m not sure.
Anyhow, with Palm Springs, it’s not just how well he captured the time warp of the area he visited, it’s also the presentation. The balance of text and images is just right for me, and I found it wonderfully compelling. I really felt like I was there with him, seeing through time, so to speak, and he was reminiscing about a shared experience. It is indeed, storytelling.
If you haven’t already heard, Fuji has another big sale happening on just about all their lenses. A couple standouts are the XF 14mm f/2.8 for $499 (save $400), and the XF 16mm f/1.4 WR for $699 (save $300).
And of course, B&H has all the same deals as well. Get ’em while the gettin’s good.
This fantastic piece from Lee Varis starts with a refrain many of us have heard, Fuji’s JPEGs are great, but then quickly moves into some excellent examples that demonstrate how. It’s a must read or watch (I watched), and it’s nice to see Astia get some love.
My only caution might be on layering a JPEG over a RAF. You’ll want to be mindful of Fuji’s in-camera corrections, depending on which lens you have mounted. Another approach might be to shoot with Film Simulation bracketing and use one of the colour Film Simulations for the layering. Cool effect either way.
The response to my Prepping for South Africa post has been incredible. No other blog post on Fuji vs. Fuji has generated so much thoughtful feedback so quickly. I really appreciate it all, and as I catch up on my email, I am seriously rethinking my gear selection yet again. Here’s the latest.
Well, readers are decidedly in favour of me bringing the XF 100-400mm. Tweets, Facebook Messages and emails all say bring it. This prompted me to do a bit of my own reading about the lens, which lead me to this fantastic piece by Daniel J. Cox about mirrorless telephoto zooms. Fuji has an awfully impressive showing.
I certainly won’t mind the chance to do a little testing of my own with a lens like this, but I want to do what’s best for the trip, first and foremost. So, the current plan is to see how things fit once my Airport Essentials arrives. That should help determine just how many zoom lenses I’m going to bring.
Now of course I’m asking myself if I really need the XF 50-140mm f/2.8. In some ways, it could be indispensable. The faster aperture might do wonders during dawn and dusk game park drives. But it’s another big telephoto lens with at least some overlap (depending on which teleconverters I have mounted) to haul around.
It could also necessitate yet another body thanks to…
The Wide Angle
Given how close we could get, there’s no way I can go on a game drive with 50mm being my widest focal length.
Readers also reaffirmed what my research indicates, dust will be a real problem when driving along the dirt roads in the game park, so lens changes are almost certainly going to be impossible. That got me thinking about a lens I don’t think about very often, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8.
One of my big summer comparisons is going to be this lens pitted against primes in its range, but it might just be the perfect companion to one of, if not both of the big zooms. Standard focal range, weather and dust resistant, 77mm filter thread. Suddenly a lens I wasn’t even looking at before is in the running. This trip could be an all red badge affair.
Minimal or Maximal
In truth, when I bought the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, it was with the intention of using it almost exclusively as a travel lens. Visions of trudging through the rainy lakes, dales, and moors of England came to mind. My sole reason for not considering it at first was my desire to travel with as little gear as possible. I wanted to minimize.
I’m now in danger of bringing way more gear than I was hoping. Here are some contending options:
Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR*, XF 35mm f/2 WR, XF 50-140mm f/2.8*
Minimal Zoom Kit
Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, XF 16-55mm f/2.8*, XF 100-400mm*
I would have a really hard time leaving the XF 35mm f/2 WR behind, and probably won’t, but it’s covered by the XF 16-55mm f/2.8.
Maximal Zoom or “All The Things” Kit
Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1, another X-T1 or X70/X100T
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, XF 16-55mm f/2.8*, XF 35mm f/2 WR XF 50-140mm f/2.8* XF 100-400mm*
Ugh. I really don’t want to have to do this, but if I had both the telephotos along, I feel I would almost have to bring a third body of some kind along to cover the wide end.
Going X70 has the added benefit of my wife having an “adorable little Fuji” at her disposal, but there could be a risk of dust contamination during the game drives, and it means another set of charger/batteries to bring.
Going with a third interchangeable body means I have to actually get a third, weather sealed body. That presents its own set of issues (WAF, space in the bag, batteries, WAF, etc.)
*Denotes gear I’ll bring on the game drives.
Thanks again so much to everyone who wrote, tweeted and messaged me their feedback. It’s been immensely helpful, and I’ll be sure to post more as I continue to sort this out. I’m hyper aware that this is an awesome problem to have, but the struggle is real, and it continues. More to come.