How to pack for the road less traveled

I take for granted and and enjoy the constant motion and chaos of travel.  For the last 18 years I have moved every two years and lived outside the United States for 14 of those years.  Even when based in one location for a while, I use it as a launching pad to go on trips to other places.  For example when I lived in Pakistan for a few years, I traveled to Nepal, India, Thailand, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, Switzerland, and England. Packing and unpacking has become the norm for me.

I was at PDN Photo Plus in New York this year and had someone ask me how I packed for trips.  Some people were “surprised” that I carry “fancy” camera equipment to inhospitable places.  I realized packing had become second nature and that I give it little or no thought.  I had become numb to many people’s greatest concern of “What do I pack?”  I took a step back and realized that I have developed an unwritten formula for my traveling.

I decided to look at how different friends and photographers pack for their trips.  Joey Lawrence (better known as JoeyL) and I met up with close friend and conflict photographer Guy Calaf to help him pack for a two month photo assignment in Ethiopia.  JoeyL has also taken multiple trips to Ethiopia and recently had a documentary filmed about his most recent trip into Ethiopia called “Faces of a Vanishing World.”  Between the three of us we have over six years combined time in Ethiopia, and Guy and I have over three years in Afghanistan.  Both Guy and JoeyL are going to be shooting unrelated photo projects in Ethiopia in November/December.   I wanted introduce Joey and Guy in New York so they could keep in touch while in Ethiopia.

We joked that the older we get the more equipment we take with us and the more dependent we are on roller bags.  Guy and I both have started to shoot HD video in addition to our still photography projects.  The addition of video has doubled, if not tripled, the weight of what we carry.  The ability to take one camera body and one lens into the field is one thing I love about photography.  On Joey’s first trip to Ethiopia, he packed only a PhaseOne 645 camera, a PocketWizard and a single Profoto 7B studio strobe.  Unlike still photography, I learned quickly that you can’t consistently shoot great HDDSLR video with the SLR camera alone.  The addition of external audio, shotgun mics, rails, follow focus, tripods, fluid heads, all stacked around your Canon 1D Mark IV, or 5D Mark II, make the once nimble devices look like a family’s station wagon on the way to Walley World.  But damn, the Canon 5D Mark II can take some amazing video footage!

I think the romance of a photojournalist dashing in and out of Landcruisers in the Middle East is rapidly getting replaced by full film crews with cases of gear to stream live multi media events to you.  If you are working on a commercial film production or television advertisement, then you carry even more gear with you.  I was recently out with my friend Vincent Laforet while she shot a TV commercial in New York.  His most recent assignment has him traveling from New York to Barcelona to Shanghai.  When on a commercial assignment, you need quality and redundancy.  My motto is “Two is one and one is none”.  For Vincent’s travels he is taking over 800 punds of kit with him!  Thats 22 Pelican and Kata cases that his assistant Marcus (Good Dude), has to drag in and out of each airport.  If you are going big, then make sure you have an inventory list.  I recommend keeping a list of all gear broke down by case.  Before backing each case, ensure all items are present and accounted for.  Before you leave a location count your cases to make sure you have them all.

Vincent Laforet’s gear for a week long trip to Spain to shoot a TV commercial.

Go light, go fast, go low profile (If you can)
I love Pelican cases and Kata bags but I rarely use camera bags when traveling to remote areas.  In my opinion these custom camera cases are way to heavy.  I find the biggest problem these cases is that they look like camera bags and they bring too much attention to you.  I try to never pack more than I can carry myself.  My rule of thumb is that I have to be able to drag all my stuff for at least two miles (4 kilometers) without any assistance.  If traveling to a very remote area I carry one small backpack that works as carry-on and a large expidition backpack.  I also bring one large duffle bag.  For carry-on I use a Tumi roller carry on bag and pack clothes around my camera kit.  I love the Patagonia Stellar Black Hole Bag because it is rubberized and waterproof, and it does not have huge logos like a North Face bag.  As I stack on the weight, I use the Eagle Creek ORV Super Trunk.  The bag is long enough for tripods, stands, etc. Often, I just put my large Arcteryx backpack in it to wheel through airports and to the hotel.  I try to take cameras and very expensive items in the airplane cabin with me.  If I have to belly load some camera gear, I put it in a smaller Pelican case, then inside a duffel bag.  This conceals the “steal me” box and protects the gear.  Having an extra cheap duffle bag has been a life saver at the airport because I can break apart an overweight bag to distribute weight.
7 Step Bag Problem
For full disclosure, I should tell you I have a serious bag problem.  I have over 15 backpacks, 8 roller bags, Pelican cases, Tenba Air cases, and to count any more will only make me realize the magnitude of my problem.  Several of the cases were custom made by the manufacturer for my precise gear requirements.  I even have a backpack that you can swim with.  For a year in Afghanistan, I lived in a conex box and my tables, chairs, and furniture were all Pelican cases.  I like having gear fit in its own custom home, but I often use clothes as packing material for cameras. For each trip I take a bag that is just the right size.  I have bags and cases from most major manufacturers, as well as many custom shops to choose from.

Packing for trip to Moab Utah

My quick Rules for packing international:
  • Passport (Get a second passport so you can have it processing for visas while you are traveling on the other one)
  • Two Photocopies of your passport and visas (Great to have if your Passport is lost)
  • Shot Records with Yellow Fever stamp
  • Emergency phone numbers of family and Embassy of places visiting (On paper not on iPad, iPhone or other electronic device)
Communication Equipment:
  • Always have a 3G international phone (buy a new sim card in each country for cheap local rates and to have a local number)
  • Get a Google Voice phone number and have it forward voice mail to your email/SMS
  • 15″ MacBook Pro and two G-tech 1TB portable Firewire 800 Drives
  • For remote travel, always carry a Thuraya satellite phone if traveling to Africa, or the Middle East
  • Explorer 110 or Sabre Inmarsat BGAN if your are traveling to remote or conflict areas.

Tents, Solar and Photo Gear packing for Mount Everest

Travel Tips:
  • Have your bags look like crap, but dress very well (sports jacket) on the plane and in the airport. Being well dressed gets you better service and often upgrades.
  • Belong to a frequent flyer club with gold status or better:
    • It allows you to use the business lounge with internet, shower, food
    • Authorizes you additional weight and extra baggage on most international air carriers
    • Shorter lines when you check in
Clothes:
  • 1 expedition hard shell Gortex jacket (I like Arc’teryx but Mountain Hardware and North Face is just as good)
  • 1 expedition hard shell Gortex pants
  • 1 soft shell jacket
  • 3 pair pants
  • 5 sets wicking boxers
  • 6 pair Smartwool socks
  • 4 wicking shirts
  • 1 Smartwool long sleeve shirt
  • 1 pair Vasque Boots
  • 1 pair Keen sandals
  • 1 white dress shirt
  • 1 blue blazer

Medical

  • Tourniquet
  • Israeli Bandage
  • Cipro (antibiotic)
  • Flagyl (Anti Parasitic)
  • Ibuprofen
  • Doxycycline (anti malaria and general antibiotic)
  • Zithromax Z-Pak (antibiotic for bronchial infections)
  • Katadyn Micropur water purification tablets

An EPIC time with Tom Lowe from Timescapes

Tom Lowe from Timescapes setting up a CamBLOCK dolly

With hundreds of thousands of photos and videos streaming past us each day on the Internet, it is a real challenge for photographers and filmmakers to make us pause and take notice visually.  When someone finds a way to captivate us over and over with spellbinding visuals, then they truly are masters of their craft. One such photographer whose images have captivated me is Tom Lowe (www.timescapes.org).  Tom is a filmmaker who is perfecting the craft of timelapse and film.  Tom is well known in for his amazing timelapse skills combining earth and astronomy into a visual masterpiece and was recently named 2010 Astronomy Photographer of the Year.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Tom Lowe and his assistant Dustin Kukuk shooting part of his film,TimeScapes in Moab, Utah.  I was living overseas for almost 14 years and now that I’m back in America I have been seeking projects that would help me rediscover this country.  I could not think of a better way to reconnect with the scenic beauty of the U.S. than to drive down to Moab and spend time filming with Tom in Arches National Park.  Tom and Dustin have been living in an RV a.k.a. “The Mobile Production Studio” for the last year driving the Southwest, capturing the the essence of the Southwestern beauty and landscapes.

With all the focus on types of photographic and film gear these days, I find it refreshing to see someone focused on the location and his image more than  the best wiz bang piece of kit he has.  For well over a year Tom has been not only been searching the Southwest looking for amazing locations to film, he has been living on-site to make sure every image is captured perfectly.  This dedication clearly shows itself when you see his work.

Tom shoots a combination of timelapse on Canon DSLRs and full motion film on RED cameras.  He takes advantage of the amazing exposure latitude from the modern HDDSLR to shoot his breathtaking time lapse images of earth and sky.  One great thing about Tom is his openness to share his expertise with others.

His Timescapes Forum is one of the premier locations on the internet for people insterested in timelapse photography.  The Timescapes.org site is also managed by Jay Burlage a.k.a. Milapse who is co-owner with Chris Church of the timelapse dolly maker Dynamic Perception.  On the site Tom, Jay and others share techniques and information on lessons learned and how to make your own motorized timelapse dolly.  Tom started on the same home brew timelapse dollies shown on the Timescapes Forum before his openness to sharing techniques and beautiful imagery caught the interest of filmmakers like Vincent Laforet and equipment makers in the industry.   Now Kessler Crane, camBLOCK, Canon USA, Vinten, and Kata Bags have recognized his talent and are helping with equipment to sponsor his filmmaking.  In turn Tom is providing feedback to manufactures to make their products even better suited to timelapse needs.  Check out the new Kessler Crane SmartLapse function!

Tom Lowe setting up a camBLOCK in Moab

A key to Tom’s success is in scouting for inspiring locations.  To find locations, he uses recommendations, Flickr and his own exploration to find the great spots.  One night we went out to Arches national park to shoot one of the many amazing sandstone arches.  Timing this month was key due to the full moon and the highly visibility of the Milky Way.  Before the shoot we prepared gear, charged and checked batteries, cameras and the timelapse dolly. Because Tom shoots primarily at night, the locals at the trailer park get curious about the loads of film test gear and the odd nocturnal comings and goings of Tom and the Rastafarian capped Dustin.  A few hours before sunset we loaded up our trucks and headed into the park.  Tom and Dustin had already scouted out an amazing arch that was a short hike from the road.  At evening we loaded our backpacks with cameras, tripods, rails, lighting sets, and bed rolls.  We made several trips to get all the gear on site to start setup as the sun started to set.  Continually exploring his craft, Tom uses a multitude of timelapse techniques from multi-axis motion rail system, truck lapse, and even boat lapse to capture his EPIC motion timelapse.

During the evening shoot we set up a timelapse rail system made by Stew Mayer, the inventor of CamBLOCK.  The camBLOCK dolly is an ultra modular system that enables you to shoot amazing, repeatable multi-axis shots.  We used a Canon 5D with the extended battery pack, and a Canon 14mm 2.8L series lens to capture the full sky and towering sandstone arch.  Dustin made quick work of setting up and leveling the dolly then we got to work setting the keyframes for the motion dolly to pan and move while the moon arched behind us.  Much of the setup time was calibrating the lights to properly illuminate the dark canyon just enough to give the motion track an amazing depth while the night sky moved above us.

After setting up the shot we fired up the CamBLOCK controller and started a 7 hour timelapse of the night sky which captured the moon rise and set passing into view under the massive stone arch.  We moved locations to set our bedrolls on the other side of the canyon so no errant light might spill over and ruin the multi-hour shot.  We fired up the iPod speakers with Pink Floyd Dub Side of the Moon (a Regaee remix of Pink Floyd), cracked open some beers and discussed the merge of cinema and still imagery with the advent of the HDDSLR.  Tom is a avid supporter of the RED camera system and truly believes in RED crushing film and making celluloid’s days numbered.  We both agree that the Canon 5D Mark II has been an amazing leap forward in the industry as a film making capability.  As a still photographer I have found the new technology a great gateway to film.  The ability to shoot a movie with amazing quality has brought cinema-quality filmmaking to the masses.  I think the newness of the technologiy will soon wear off and it will come back down to a person’s skill in their craft of story making instead of just making a HDDSLR Vimeo short film with amazing depth of field.  I hope that Tom’s film will create a great blend of the funtionality of the HDDSLR in film making while merging it with the RED footage.

After a few more beers, and a myriad of late night topics the sun started to rise and we started the tear down of the rails and cameras to pack back out to the trucks.  A few more hours and we are back to the mobile production studio for a much needed rest.  After a full nights (days) sleep, we got to work editing the stills using Adobe CS5 After Effects.  Adobe CS5 has surpassed Final Cut Pro in its ability to ingest Canon HD video and RED footage without transcoding.  AE lets Tom edit each 22 Megapixal image in raw format to get the best color and contrast and edit the time lapse timeline.  After a quick edit we saw the fruits of our labor from the previous night.  The scene we shot is amazing, I wish I could share it with you, but I am afraid you will have to wait for his film TimeScapes to come out.

To keep current on timelapse photography I recommend reading the Timescapes Forum and getting on Twitter and following:

Tom Lowe - @Timescapes

Tom Lowe – Timescapes Vimeo Page

Dustin Kukak – @drkanab

Jay Burges – @milapse

Chris Church – @droneone (maker of the OpenMoco.org project)

Check out Tyler Ginter’s Filming Astro Time Lapse with Tom Lowe

Follow me at @F9photo for encouragement to take your camera off the beaten path.

If you have coding experience help us with the OpenMoco.org project!

For cinematographic motivation watch the film Baraka by Ron Fricke on Blue Ray and follow the cutting edge HDDSLR advice by @vincentlaforet

TimeScapes: Rapture from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

This is production footage I shot over the summer for my debut film, “TimeScapes,” a modern portrait of the American Southwest. I used Canon and Red MX cameras.

Follow the production of the film at: http://twitter.com/timescapes

Also here: http://timescapes.org and here http://timescapes.org/blog

A huge thank to my assistants who helped me film this, Dustin Kukuk (http://twitter.com/drkanab), Nilo Recalde (http://twitter.com/nilomr) and Chris M (http://twitter.com/visceralway). And, as always, my most sincere and humble respect goes to Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson, Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio.

Music by Nigel “John” Stanford: http://johnstanfordmusic.com

Why I like the SmallHD DP6 field monitor

SmallHD DP6

I have had my SmallHD DP6 for over a month and have used it on several shoots to include the One Day on Earth Documentary and a cross-country road trip with a stop to Moab to hang out with Tom Lowe from timescapes.org. I have been very impressed with the SmallHD DP6 monitor it is now a must have to keep a solid focus. I have found it to be the perfect size for HDDSLR shooting and great for run and gun work. It is so nice it never leaves the rig.

Resolution: All I can say is wow! I have become very accustom to the retina display on the iPhone and the DP6 delivers HD at 1280×800 resolution making it the smallest full HD monitor available. The blacks are super black and the view angle is over 170 degrees making it great for awkward look angles and camera placements (the whole reason your shooting with a HDDSLR).
Weight: The little guy is only 12 ounces which makes it super easy to mount with a magic arm on a rail or other system. The smart addition of 4 ¼ industry standard mount holes makes it easy to mount on your RedRockMicro rig on a steadycam/glidecam. I personally am against mounting anything to a flash shoe but it can be easily mounted anyway you like. I mount the SmallHD DP6 on my Redrock rails with an Ikan MA206 6″ Articulating Arm and a Redrock Micro Mount.  I use a second Ikan arm to mount a Tascam DP-100 on the other side (balances well).

Power: One think that is a major selling factor for the SmallHD DP6 is flexibility with taking a power source from 5-18v and they make a very slick 5D/7D battery plate. A D-tap cable is available to use it with your V mount of Anton Bauer battery, which is another must have. You can even power the monitor off of USB! The back battery plate accessory is also very cool and does not add that much to the weight or size.

Focus Assist:
The peaking function works well but I would like a little more clarity to come out in the peaking. There is a highly accurate focus assist but the red color takes a bit to get used to. The auto aspect ratio detection to deal with any, preset and customizable image scaling, full RGB color controls, 1:1 pixel mapping.  The focus assist is a must have on any HDDSLR project!

SmallHD DP6 with Canon Battery Adaptor

Build: The little monitor is solid and professional. It is made from a milled aluminum shell instead of injection-molded. The aluminum makes the unit lightweight and extremely strong in addition to making it look and feel professional. The mounts on the side for a sunshade are ingenious and the plexiglass clip on screen protector is a must have to save the monitors amazing screen.
Buttons and Menu: If your use to the Marshall monitor layout the top roller dial will be challenging the first time you use it. After playing with the roller button for a bit I think it’s a very good menu layout but I still like the big individual buttons on the Marshall. A few weeks into ownership, the menu jog dial system grew on me and now using it is second nature.
Future Proof: The main reason I purchased the DP6 over the Marshal 5D is the 1280×800 resolution, and the ability to upgrade to SDI in addition to HDMI at a later date. As stated above, the flexible power system makes it work with any V-Mount or Anton Bauer battery system. The systems firmware is easily upgraded and Reed at SmallHD appears dedicated to making the firmware better every day.  Update: Reed says the kudos go to Dale Backus and Chris Guan as the brains behind the whole firmware/software development.

SmallHD DP6

DP6 vs Marshall 5”: I have not had much time with the Marshall 5” V-LCD50-HDMI and only played with Philip Bloom’s Marshall 5” at the Vimeo awards .  I think Marshall monitors are great, and they are the industry standard that all other portable monitors will be compared against. I think SmallHD is a coming into its own and after a slow start it is nice to see another solid monitor being offered.
  • I found the small size and weight fantastic. Its $500 price point is even nicer. If you already have a larger Marshall it is hard to beat consistent button placement.
  • I’m was not a big fan of the 5” Marshall’s AA batteries but I think may people will like the emergency battery replacements in the field but I like the DP6 5D battery rack the best. The Marshall’s lower 800×480 resolution was sharp but not as nice as the super sharp DP6. I also did not care for the Marshall’s back mount HDMI configuration. I think the placement will make it easier to break the HDMI cable (which we all do when using the non field friendly HDMI standard).

Bottom line: The SmallHD DP6 is a super sharp, rock solid monitor. I think it’s flexible power system and upgrade path from HDMI to SDI makes it a worth the extra money over the Marshall 5” because it can grow with you as a filmmaker. So if its 7D/5D today and Red Epic tomorrow spring for the SmallHD.

SmallHD DP6 on RedRock Micro Captain Stubling and TASCAM DR-100

Using a PocketWizard AC3 Canon SpeedLite 580EXII and Profoto AcuteB

I have been testing the new PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController to see if this little device will help me complete the finishing touches on my ultra portable field mobile flash kit.

My first impression is that I am amazed at how ultra simple this little guy is.The AC3 requires no power and just slides onto the shoe of a FlexTT5 or a TT1.The AC3 is powered via the hot shoe connection of a MiniTT1 or MiniTT5.When the MiniTT1 goes to sleep, the AC3 goes to sleep as well.There are three wheels on the AC3 that individually control the output of up to three Speedlites attached to FlexTT5s.

Each Zone has a wheel and a switch. The wheels are easy to spin and each step is a 1/3 step increment from +3 to =3.Spinning the wheel clockwise is 0 to +3 and counter clockwise is 0 to -3. It took just a little bit to figure out the simple ratio and how it correlated to the Speedlite power.

Zone Selector Switch:

  • Off
  • Manual
    • Manual Mode will use the manual power output value set on the Power Dial
  • Auto (PowerTracking/E-TTL II
    • Auto Mode will use the Flash exposure compenstion as set on the Power Dial.The ISO and aperture changes will track and be adjusted automatically.

One thing I really love about the AC3 is being able to quickly shut off multiple Speedlites all from the Camera to use natural light, or pre stage them to use later.

Integrating with my Profoto kit:

The nice thing is that a PocketWizard is already integrated on my AcuteB and a have a PocketWizard Plus II on my Profoto 7Bs. Now that I have the AC3 I can set up my key flash as my Profoto AcuteB and quickly dial the other Speedlite’s in with the AC3. Having a quick manual knob on my Profoto kit and now the AC3 effectively gives each of my Speedlites a quick manual knob.This makes using the Speedlites in remote locations much more easy and it saves time for you or your assistant fumbling though flash menus on each Canon Speedlite.

I wish I could control the AcuteB or 7B power output with the AC3 (Which I hear PocketWizard is working on) but it is not a showstopper for me. PocketWizard has already released the AC9 AlienBee and the PowerST4 for Elinchrom RX.

- Great field mobile flash system using 2 Canon 580EXII, Profoto AcuteB, 2 PcoketWizard TT5, 1 TT1 and AC3

Bottom Line:

The AC3 will defiantly take place of my Speedlite ST-E2 Transmitter, which is a pain to use compared to how easy the AC3 is.If you own more than one PocketWizard TT5 and want to have more control over your lights, the new PocketWizard is a must have at only $69!

– Using PocketWizards TT1, TT5 and Canon Speedlites to light the forground and pillars at Mount Rushmore.

WiFi tethering using the Eye-Fi Pro X2 with a Canon 1D Mark IV and Adobe Lightroom

Eye-Fi ProI love my iPhone’s ability to quickly send photos to friends and family wherever I travel. Canon WFT-E2 II A Wireless File Transmitter

I wanted similar transfer ability with my other cameras so I purchased an Eye-Fi Pro X2 to use with my Panasonic GF1. For my “real shooting” I have a Canon WFT-E2 II A Wireless File Transmitter for my Canon 1D Mark IV. Due to the ease of use and quick setup of the Eye-Fi card, I started using the Eye-Fi in the SD slot on my 1D.  I use the Eye-Fi card as the “backup card” in addition to the Compact Flash card using the 1D’s “save picture to two cards ” function.   This mirrors each photo to a CF card and the Eye-Fi card.  The Eye-Fi card will then send photos to my computer automatically.  This is very useful to review shots during timelapse and gigapan shots and is easier to setup than my  WFT-E2. The quick WiFi transfer also allows your assistant or client to review an image during a live photo shoot.

What is a Eye-Fi card?

The Eye-Fi card is a wireless memory card. It fits into cameras just like a regular SDHC card and has a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter that uses your wireless network to transfer photos and videos. You can specify which networks the Eye-Fi card uses to transfer your media. You can even automatically send images to an FTP server or online sharing site like Flickr.

The 150 dollar Eye-Fi Pro X2 vs the 750 dollar WFT-E2 II A.

Comparing the two products is unfair because the Canon WFT-E2 II A is in a different class. The WFT-E2 is designed to act as its own http web server, it allows remote liveview, remotes camera control, auto ftp of images to online servers. It has Bluetooth and USB built in for connections to compatible printers and GPS units. It is designed to mount directly to the side of a compatible EOS camera. I had been using the Canon WFT-E2II A with my Canon 1D Mark IV to tether it to my Macbook Pro to remotely control the camera and to automatically transfer images to my computer while shooting. I have been using my iPad to remote control my camera via LiveView. The Canon WFT interface is very cumbersome and is hard to setup. During a recent shoot I wanted to quickly proof photos in Lightroom and started to use the WFT-E2II for the job but it would transfer both the RAW and the JPG version of the photo making for a slow transfer. I wanted a system to do a quick review of what I had shot without being tethered by a USB cable to my laptop or have to attach the WFT.

The Eye-Fi card only does one thing; transfer images from a SD card via a WiFi network to your computer or online storage. But it does that one thing very well and it is very easy to set up. I like the fact that I can put it in the 1D and forget its there. It even imports the raw and video files off of my 1D. It has much better range that I expected from inside the 1D. I set the EyeFi software to only import JPG images. I have found a JPG transfers to my laptop in under a few seconds. Then I have Lightroom monitoring the import folder and it auto import the image (4 more seconds). You can do the same in Apple Aperture.

How I setup a file tether with an Eye-Fi Pro X2 in Canon 1D Mark IV and auto import preview photos into Adobe Lightroom

1D Camera Setup:

  • Put the Eye-Fi Pro X2 card in the SD card slot on your 1D
  • Put a regular CF card in the CF slot of your 1D
  • Set the 1D to shoot photos to both the CF and SD card slots
  • Select the CF slot as the card to review photos from

Eye-Fi Setup.

  • Configure the Eye-Fi card (next para)
  • Set the system to only import JPG (for speed)
  • That’s it!

Eye-Fi Setyp

The setup for the Eye-Fi card is very easy. It comes with its own USB card reader and is loaded with software for both a PC and Mac.

Full install instructions for the Eye-Fi Mac OSX:

1. Install the Eye-Fi Center software

2. Insert the Eye-Fi Card into the USB card reader

3. Insert USB card reader into your computer ( PC or Mac)

4. After several moments you should see a yellow message balloon stating “Found Eye-Fi Card, Initializing Eye-Fi Card” followed by another stating “Found Eye-Fi Card, launching Eye-Fi Center”.

5. The Eye-Fi Center Registration dialog will open. Complete all fields. It is important to note that the email address you enter here will become your user name for your Eye-Fi account. Click the “Create Account” button.

6. If your Eye-Fi Card requires a firmware update you will need to click the Eye-Fi Card icon and follow the instructions in dialog window that appears

7. Choose your network from the drop down menu, enter your network password and click the “Add network to card” button.

8. Skip the “Share photos online” selecting “I don’t want to set up Online Photo Sharing now” and clicking the “Next” button.

9. The card is ready to upload photos, remove the card and place it in your camera when you see the following screen. Take a JPEG photo and wait a few moments, you should see the image and or progress bar start in the bottom right corner.

The Eye-Fi only comes as an SD card so you cannot use it in a Canon 5D Mark II. I have tried it with a Compact Flash to SD adaptor and it works with reduced range. I’m not sure I would trust it in a production environment with a large frame buffer running through the CF to SD adaptor.

How to run Canon 1D Mark IV, 5D, Inmarsat, and Macbook on solar power in the field

Many of my photographic trips have taken me far from civilization. The longer and more remote the trip, I have realized my great dependency for electricity. It has been a great experience to step into lands that have little to no electricity to make me appreciate what I take for granted. I had written an article years agon on my power plan for traveling up to Mt Everest so I wanted to write an update on how to use a MacBook Pro, 1D Mark IV and 5D Mark II in the field on solar power. I travel with a 15” Macbook Pro laptop that has amazing battery life but sucks down the watts. A Macbook air is more power efficient, but I like the power of a MacBook Pro and do not see myself switching just to increase battery life.

I needed a system that I could recharge my camera and laptop without being to heavy in the field. The new Canon’s LC-E4 charger for the EOS 1D Mark IV is dual voltage and AC/DC (thanks Canon) however, it is very challenging to find the CLA socket cable (CB-570 Car Battery Cable) for the LC-E4. You can use the factory Canon charger to charge your LP-E4 batteries if you have 12-24 volts of DC power. The LC-E4 is a “smart” charger so it needs a full 12+ volts to operate so if your using a flexible Brunton SolarRoll I recommend chaining two 14W rolls together to make the system reliable outside the peak noon sun. For best performance get the Brunton Solaris 26 To charge EOS 5D 7D LP-E6 batteries purchase an aftermarket car charger from Amazon and connect into a 14watt solar panel.
I’m a big fan of redundancy on key things like power so remember, “two is one and one is none“ in the field.
Solar Panels vs Rolls:

It’s all about weight vs. performance. I like the Brunton systems for being designed for rugged field use. The flexible solar panels are ultra lightweight and I roll them in my bedroll to transport them.

For the ultimate lightweight travel solar panel get the Brunton SolarRoll 14

  • Dimensions open: 12″x57″
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • Max output: 14 watts (15.4 Volts / 900 mA)
  • Perfect for running satellite phones and charging laptop

But for better power for your money I would recommend the Brunton Solaris 26

  • Overall dimensions: 21.5″x37.5″
  • Overall dimensions folded: 11″x8.5″x1″
  • Weight: 28 oz
  • Max output: 26 watts

There are many other great portable solar panel manufactures, and have experience with Brunton. If you make another lightweight panel, I would love to try them if they want to send me a panel for review.

Depending on where I am going my minimum requirements is to charge my camera and laptop. To charge a MacBook Pro, you need a 55 watt solar charger to give the laptop a full charge. You will find that it take 5-8 hours to fully charge a MacBook Pro and the only way to keep yourself charged is making a power station at your base camp. MacBook users will need to get a custom Magsafe adaptor or modify your own to make your MacBook car charger capable. Magsafe is an Apple proprietary product so they will cost you around $95 to purchase a modified adaptor. You can also make your own from your existing Apple charger (I like this option because if you use the same connectors on all your devices, you can cut weight down). I like the Powerpole system from Power Werx www.powerwerx.com. I have not tried their new PowerFilm solar option but it looks good and is cheaper than Brunton.

 

To keep connectors to a minimum I recommend getting a Kinsington 120W all-in-one AD DC Car Airline adaptor along with a MikeGyver Kensington Magsafe adaptor or making your own Powerpole system.  I recommend getting a Watt’s Up power inline power meter to aim your solar panel and give accurate power, voltage readings. It has very low power loss and is very light and small.

There are several paths you can take in your power management plan:

  • Have a direct DC solar charging option for each electronic device. This is the most power efficient method and often the lightest for specific short trips. One problem with this plan is that you have to directly connect one device at a time to the solar panel when they sun is at it peak charging hours. Some factory chargers are “smart” and will not charge your batteries if it detect the power fluctuations from solar power.
  • Plan for a base camp plan where you charge a gel cell or new Lithium Ion battery and then connect into the large battery (storage battery) to charge your Thuraya, Laptop, Camera, iPod, etc. Have an inverter, but try to have a direct 12-volt power option (Cigarette power adaptor) for most of your kit. Inverters are very power inefficient. I recommend the extra battery like the Brunton Impel™ Portable Power Device or Solo 15 as the best option because its far less headache in the long run to charge multiple devices.

I also love the MAHA MH-C777PlusII Smart Battery Charger because it can charge almost anything even with unstable power. It comes with a cigarette adapter that can charge most Canon batteries, even the old NP-E2 and NP-E3 batteries.

The MH-C777 PLUS-II is designed for people who have multiple battery-operated devices. It has a universal charging capability for almost any shape Lithium Ion, NiMH, and NiCD battery packs. It also has a digital voltage and capacity display that is very handy to read input voltage, charge time, and can help aim solar panels.

How to communicate via voice and data in remote areas using VSAT and GSM

 

The good thing is it becomes easer to communication via voice and data throughout the world. 3G service and WiFi are becoming prevalent in most locations but some of us still seem to find the end of the technology tether. One of the questions my remote traveling buddies ask me is what tech gear tobring with them to talk home. This can range from an Internet café in Nepal, a prepaid GSM phone, Thuraya or an Inmarsat Explorer or VSAT at your base camp.

  1. My number one recommendation is to use public infrastructure in the cities you transit instead of packing your own communication kit. Kabul, Addis Ababa, Djibouti, etc all have Internet usage in the major hotels. Buy a calling card or use Skype. I highly recommend Skype; if you are not using it, get it now. You can get a foreign phone number in addition to U.S. phone numbers for your friends to get in touch with you. Google voice is very nice if you want a U.S. number that friends can use to send you voicemail. Google will even make an attempt to automatically convert your voicemail to text and email or SMS it to you.Note: Skype is illegal in some countries like Ethiopia and may be blocked (but often it is not).
  2. Bring an unlocked 3G GSM phone. Most European and African countries have SIM card sales as soon as you land at the airport. This may require a passport to register in Europe and some other countries. Many countries it cost you less than 5 dollars to purchase a SIM card to drop into your phone. Buy 10 dollars in local minutes, load up and you now have a phone number in the local country which is very handy for reservations, help, etc. It also is way cheaper than using your roaming AT&T or US or European carrier.
  3. Check if CDMA, EVDO, wireless local loop, etc is available in the country you are traveling to. Many 3rd world countries have more modern wireless Internet plans than the U.S. because they have new equipment and don’t have to worry about backwards compatibility.

Use of satellite phones and satellite Internet:

OK so you’re in the middle of nowhere and you want a phone for emergencies what do I get? That question is easy for me to answer; I am a huge fan of the prepaid plan on the Thuraya. The first and second generations are still lightweight and the batteries are fantastic and also act as a simple GPS. You can get voice and SMS on the darkest most remote places in the world.

You can also tether the phone to a laptop for slow and expensive 64k data (28.8 reality). During my trek from the Tibetan border to Everest I burst a daily update on my website via Thuraya. Just remember the minutes can add up quick at around 1 dollar a minute connect time. If you find yourself traveling all the time in Africa, South East Asia pick up a Thuraya XT. They are small, tough, roam on GSM, send SMS, great battery life, and have a GPS built in. I like Thuraya’s because they are very small now and do not raise much review at customs checks. The batteries are small and light so you can have 3 or 4. You can charge a Thuraya battery with a small solar panel on only a few hours and have a tremendous standby time.

I toted around a BGAN for years. They are lightweight, but so expensive I had to budget what I used them for. Remember that they bill you by the megabyte and not by time. At first you think this is a good thing because you can leave it on at your base camp and only get billed when you transfer data. The scary thing is that most computers are downloading updates, etc in the background. It is VERY easy to rack up a 10,000 USD bill in only a few days (not kidding) if Microsoft or Apple decides to push down some large software update to you. Some of the new Inmarsat BGAN terminals can act like a WiFi hub and people can connect to it and use it. The data is fast and reliable enough for Skype voice and video.

The new BGAN’s by Inmarsat are much better than my old Thuraya BGAN (Inmarsat used Thuraya spot beams for data back in the day). Get an Inmarsat Explorer 110 if you want a fantastic ruggedized data modem (2 pounds) that can also be used as an Inmarsat voice terminal.

Legal: Please know that “unregistered” satellite communication is illegal in many countries like Ethiopia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. Most people do it, but by the letter of the law it could get you in trouble at your boarder crossing.

Cost: Just remember that communication by satellite is NOT CHEAP. Expect a minimum of a 1000 – 2000 dollar investment for the device. Expect a minimum cost of 1 dollar a minute for voice calls and 12 dollars a megabyte for data. Most plans are prepaid so expect to dump several hundred dollars in just device registration and prepaid scratch cards.

If you’re on assignment for a client, make sure you put a data/voice communication plan in your contract. Make sure it clearly states the amount of data you can use, or the cost of data is listed if they require remote transfer of data. I have had friends stuck with 15,000 dollar bills while they argue with a client’s accounting department which did not “understand” that sending back 100 RAW shots and an HD video would cost them thousands of dollars.

If you’re using a Apple Macbook, etc, you can use the Inmarsat and BGANS via Ethernet, but they may need to be configured by a PC before you depart depending on the model you have.

There are lots of variable on what you want to do with your commo kit, and what data and voice requirements you have. Feel free to send me note if you have specific questions.

Lets ask Panasonic to fix GF1 Auto ISO problem

As you know I love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1. It is the ultimate small travel camera for the serious photographer and use the 7-14mm ASPH as my primary lens for street photos.  Even with my satisfaction with the GF1, I would like to point out a bug in the GF1 Auto ISO setting. In twilight hours, I like having my camera set on AUTO ISO so I can guarantee a shot, even if its has a little more ISO grain.

To my dismay the ISO AUTO setting on the GF-1 does not change the ISO to a higher setting until the camera’s shutter speed goes below 1/30 of a second. This makes the AUTO ISO give a blurry photo and thus makes the function worthless. Panasonic could easily fix the firmware to auto raise the ISO to not let the shutter speed go below 1/60.

I had hoped that Panasonic would see all the complaints on blogs and reviews across the web and fix this in the latest firmware update. They did not. In order to highlight the need for this simple fix to the firmware please contact Panasonic at:

and tell them they need to change the AUTO ISO setting to change itself to guarantee the shutter speed does not fall below 1/60 of a second.

At the Vincent Laforet CreativeLive HDDSLR workshop

Over the last three days I attended the Vincent Laforet HDDSLR live seminar by CreativeLive. The event was streamed live to tens of thousands of viewers on the Internet and had 8 photographers on the local Seattle set (you can buy the edited download from CreativeLive). The class was focused for professional photographers who wanted to use the new HD video function on their Canon and Nikon SLR cameras. Vincent, whose work I have been following for a few years, was instrumental in making the HD DSLR craze take off. Almost two years ago he used a prototype Canon 5D Mark II to shoot an amazing video called Reverie with several close friends in just 48 hours (before having to return the camera to Canon). This video showed the power of the new HDDSLR technology.

Like many photographers I wanted to use this great technology in my camera to start producing videos. Like many others I found the videos I took amazing, but were just a collection of scenic views with no story. I decided I was more important learn how a good film is made instead of just having a camera with a HD film mode. This class was the perfect answer for what I needed.

The great thing about Vincent’s teaching style was his focus on the story and not on the equipment. I appreciated the class not being 100% gear centric yet we understood the need for some professional video gear to make the jump into commercial production. Chase Jarvis and Art Wolfe also had excellent input from their experience in working with film in addition to still photography.

When I get a chance I will write more on the behind the scenes details for the HDHDLR workshop. Watching the CreativeLive team work was as amazing as the class itself.

Chimera Super PRO Shallow Plus Bank softbox baffle problem

Chimera pro shallow bankI purchased the Chimera Super PRO Shallow Plus Banks with the internal baffle to further spread the light from the softbox.  I also purchased the Chimera quick release Speedring for Profoto that allows me to quickly collapse the softbox in seconds without tearing down.  I found the new Chimera softbox no longer used the hook and ring method to secure the inner baffle.  They have replaced the functional and secure method with a small Velcro tab.   This Velcro tab is on the corner of each side of the baffle and a small Velcro one-inch wrap on the internal four rib corners of the softbox. This small amount of Velcro does not function well and I could not get more than three sides to connect at one time.  I thought I might have been missing a Velcro piece that would better secure the baffle so I contacted Chimera. To my disappointment the first response from Chimera was a generic help email that was of no help. I am unsure of why Chimera would change the design so I contacted a friend who is a Chimera hard core fan.  He stated that he does not use the internal baffles on the new boxes because he cannot get them to stay fastened.

For the record, I love the quick release Chimera speed ring and the quick collapse design.  I can set up a softbox in under 30 seconds and pack the sofbox in seconds.  I would love this for my Profoto Octabox!

I plan to contact Chimera again to see if I can get a better and more helpful solution on the poor inner baffle attachment

UPDATE 15 April : After contacting Phil at Chimera and showing him photos of the problem they are shipping me a new baffle FedEx to try.  I hope this works and will post updates.

UPDATE 19 April : Chimera sent me a new modified baffle via FedEx.  As requested they added two pieces of velcro to clip on both sides of the softbox velcro.  It works and I hope it becomes a standard design for Chimera’s baffles.