Australia – what worked and what didn’t?

FBJ Photo Gear Australia 2008-800pix text

In August I wrote a post about my gear for a photo trip just before leaving for Australia on a 5 week photo trip. This is the story of what worked and what didn’t work in The Kimberley and Kakadu National Park in Australia.

Click the Keep reading link below for the full detailed story of what worked and what didn’t!

Cameras – Canon EOS 5D and 20D
My Canon 5D performed absolutely perfectly day in and day out. The 5D is an amazing landscape camera and I am really looking forward to getting the 5D Mk II. The 5D is a bit of a dust magnet though, that Kimberley dust gets in everywhere and is soon very evident at f/16 and f/22 exposures. Fortunately I didn’t need my 20D backup camera at all but a photographer friend of mine did though, as her 350D died at Bungle Bungle so my 20D was called into service!
I only brought 2 batteries though and almost ran out in the Kimberley, I really need to bring 3 batteries.

Lenses – Canon L lenses, 17-40mm, 24-105mm and 70-200mm f4.0
I have a great and extremely sharp copy of the 17-40mm lens and it is by far my favourite lens as I love shooting at 17mm and the images produced by this lens are sharp with great colours and contrast. I shoot stitched panos with it too; usually at 35-40mm. 65% of my shots were captured through the 17-40mm so it is indeed my bread and butter lens. The 24-105mm is also a good lens, it is however nowhere near as sharp as my 17-40 and I only use it when I need to go above 40mm. I also reckon the 17-40 has a better coating creating better colours and contrast. The 70-200 only accounts for a few percents of the shots, it’s a brilliant lens but I shoot so very little at these focal lengths. I’m a wide-angle man and wish Canon had a 16-70mm L lens then I could get away with just one lens a lot of the time.

Tripod – Gitzo carbon fibre Mountaineer tripod and Gitzo ballhead
Works incredibly well; a brilliant tripod. Extremely stable and very very light. I did miss having a spirit level on the tripod itself and have since bought this (it comes as a Gitzo accessory and is definitely needed in the outback). I don’t actually carry or own a pano head for my tripod. I know I would eliminate parallax errors with a pano head but I find I am doing just fine with a normal ball head. And since I shoot a lot of single shots as well with the ballhead I can easily do both, with a pano head I would have to switch tripod heads all the time.

Camera and laptop bag – Kata R-103
This is a great camera and laptop bag, takes all my gear incl. laptop but is still acceptable as carry on luggage. The bag is very strong and well designed and the harness is very comfortable even when the bag is fully loaded. It offers great protection for your gear as I discovered when I left it on the floor of the truck – unfortunately right on top of the engine! It is great for carrying your stuff on planes, and anywhere where it’s not a million degrees warm. I did find however that a backpack is not very well suited to carrying gear in the outback and the incredible heat. I like walking, rock climbing and exploring the bush and it is not very comfortable wearing a backpack in 40 degrees heat simply because you sweat so profusely your shirt and bag and everything gets completely drenched. It gets very uncomfortable wearing any sort of bag so a lot of times I ended up carrying the tripod with camera mounted on it and then stuffed my pockets with filters, cards, batteries etc. I needed bigger pockets though and may look into getting the Lowepro belt system for exploring in the outback heat!

Portable storage – Hyperdrive Colorspace
Years ago I had an earlier Hyperdrive model which didn’t work very well and died completely on the way to Cape York. Looking for a new portable storage device I gave Hyperdrive another chance as I read great things about the Colorspace. It does the job beautifully and worked perfectly every single time I used it. No problems at all. You stick your CF card in it, turn it on and it backups every image to the internal HD and does it quite fast and displaying the jpeg thumbnails on screen while copying as a visual confirmation. Battery life is very good as well, didn’t run out once and I used it every night in camp to backup the day’s work. I only wish the software on it could detect files already copied as I end up with a lot of copies of the same files (if the same card for example gets backed up 3 nights in a row until I’ve filled an 8 gig card). Recommended!

Filters – Cokin filter system and Hoya Polarizer
Filters are an absolute must as a landscape photographer (although I find them a bit of a pest) and the Cokin filter system works just fine. I am getting the Lee filters soon though as they are better quality without any colour cast. My old high quality Hoya Polarizer was used a lot as well to cut down glare in the outback. I did really end up hating screwing that damn polarizer filter on and off though and dropped it quite a few times, so a new Lee filter system incl. polarizer is on the shopping list.

Ipod
I do not ever leave home without it (actually I bring 2 ipods); no music and my mood drops a few million degrees. Best new cds I bought in Australia: Archie Roach – The Tracker Soundtrack, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Something for Kate live at the corner!

Moleskine notebook
Essential for all my notes and stories and for pretending I am Bruce Chatwin!

And finally…other essential bits and pieces
Mossie repellent! Dry bags (I lent one to a guy who then immediately dropped his camera in the water while crossing Manning Gorge – camera was saved so they work!). Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaner! Australian accent! Sock savers (keeps the muck out’a your boots!) And a sense of humour when everything breaks down and all plans go to shit!

13 responses to “Australia – what worked and what didn’t?

  1. What a story! Half of the stuff was intense tech talk for me (you are too much of an expert!), but it is a great story. I like the Lowepro belt, it seems to solve a few problems. I always drop my lens cap in the dirt and it gets in the way…. Although it is attached to a string, it still gets in the way. Hate it! 😉

  2. Great insight Flemming.
    My hiking setup is slightly different.
    It contains my Camelbak – backpack, 3l of water. 40D with 17-40mm, 360 adjuste pano head, carbon fibre manfrotto strapped to the back of the camelbak, my blue lunchbox from primary school that contains my Lee Filters, GPS, Petzl Headlamp, Musli Bars and Space Blanket.

    I have a 50mm 1.4, and 70-200mm 2.8 but couldnt be bothered carting it around.

    It’s amazing to see what some people lug around, but I find my setup ample, quick and easy to setup and dismantle. But it has taken me a while to work out what I need and what I don’t.

  3. Gudrun, thanks! I think I will try out the Lowepro belt the next time. As for lens caps…I have a habit of setting everything up, tripod, cable release and camera and then looking through the viewfinder only to discover the lens cap is till on! I do this far too often! Very pro! I then remove the lens cap and half the times I drop it and it’s amazing I haven’t actually lost a lens cap yet. My tripod should have a sign saying “I’m with stupid” hehe.

    Thomas, thanks! I like the little touch of using your old lunchbox 😀 I also carry Petzl headlamp and müsli bars forgot about that. A torch is as essential as mossie repellent!

  4. My setups nearly the same… but with a mac.

    Hey doesent the 17-40 have too much edge distortion for full frame?

  5. Hi Sean. The 17-40 is built for full frame, not that crop sensor nonsense hehe so the edges are fine. At 17mm it has a lot of barrel distortion but that is from the focal length itself. 17mm is so wide it will naturally distort lines. This is what we want anyway for that wideangle look, just don’t shoot architecture with it!

  6. yeah still waiting for my next 17-40!
    Cant wait to get it!
    Flemming you would cry if you saw my most used lens!

  7. Mate, I’ve seen a photo on facebook of your old setup remember? So no I won’t cry, just quip sarcastic remarks 😀

    We all need to remember anyway that cameras and lenses do not take photographs – photographers do! I can’t stand all those pixel peepers shooting photos of their cat with their 5D and complaining on forums about lack of focus points and edge sharpness on their lens! Get out there and shoot no matter what gear you have!

  8. Good to see it all worked for you Flemming. You certainly sound as if you enjoyed it, and you have some great shots to show for your efforts.

    Flemming , jump over to my blog and check out a new view on the most photographed boat shed in Australia, bet you’ve never seen it like this before!

  9. Thanks Merv! To say I enjoyed it is an understatement, I’ve been to Australia 7 times but still, this visit no. 7 was a life changing experience (as was no. 6 visit last year!)

  10. last time i tried a 17-40 it was on a 1ds mk3 and it had loads of edge blur. are we talking about the same lens?

  11. Hi Sean. By edge blur I take it you mean less sharpness at corners. If you stop it down to f/11 or f/16 it is a great landscape lens and fairly sharp in corners even at 17mm. Of course it is sharper in the center than in the cornes, I agree. The only way to get better sharpness at 17mm is invest in an lens adapter and then the incredible Nikon 14-24mm wide angle lens:
    http://www.16-9.net/lens_tests/nikon1424_17mm/nikon1424_17mm1.html

  12. Nice little writte up mate ,
    Glad to see you had a good time on your holiday .
    I got the 17-40mm lens great lens for what it is a wide angle lens . I tried it a few times shoting at 40mm for panoramas but I find the 50mm prime lens a lot better for panos the sharpness through out the image is increadable

  13. Kirk, not holiday, it’s all work mate 😀 Fun work but still work!
    I’ll have to give that 50mm prime a go one day although I must admit my 17-40 lens stopped down is incredibly sharp and I am really happy with it.

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