Saturday, 22 January 2011

Travelling with Digital Cameras

Travelling overseas can be a hassle with multiple cameras, batteries and other electrical gear. You'd be amazed at just how much junk we pack in order to leave home. Here are my thoughts on what's best to take, with options depending on whether you are a big shooter, or not. Adapt or modify this list according to your weight and baggage requirements. Also note, I'm not a qualified electrician so at any mention of soldering or altering store bought products do so at your own risk.

Power leads. Why take three or four when three spliced into power cable will do? Take three power cords and cut the ends off at 6, 8 and 10 inches. What I did then was strip the outer protective plastic off the two inner wires on each cord, then spliced all three cords, making sure that the live cable (brown) for each was longer than the neutral blue wire. Doing it this way means that even if someone stamps on the cables wearing hobnail boots and bares one, or both wires there's NO chance of an electrical short, as neither are opposite each other. Each is first carefully soldered together (don't burn the protective plastic covering) then covered again using electrician's shrink wrap (Note that as this is a tube, it has to be slotted over your cables BEFORE you start soldering). Heat it with a hairdryer and it reduces significantly in size to give a snug, insulated finish. I also bound electrical tape round the junction for more protection. This cuts weight, bulk and tangles significantly.
Camera charging. If you are a big shooter (i.e. 6-10Gb image files/day) you'll need to charge multiple batteries at one time. Two ways to do this. I use two different DSLRs + a compact camera (more problems) so pack three Canon chargers. These are actually compact and lightweight. You could tape them together to save them getting lost in your case or deal with each separately (below).
If you have two of the same cameras, the Hahnel Powerstation Twin V Pro is one good option - charge two at the same time using only one power cable.
Hahnel also make a Universal Charger - you swivel the screws at the end of the unit to match the position of the battery terminals - making it capable of charging/fitting any DSLR battery.

I've seen people travelling with 6 socket power boards! This is massive overkill. Rarely do you need more then two sockets at one time! I found this neat little travel power board in Officeworks ($18). The cable is just the right length for most hotels and, when not in use, wraps around the socket. There's a flexible tie for holding it in neatly. If more sockets are needed, take a dual Aussie adaptor - cheap and light.
Very compact dual travel socket
Take a laptop not a netbook! Easy for me to spend other people's money, but from experience, a netbook is certainly not powerful enough to do anything other than email, WORD, surf the 'net. A notebook or laptop on the other hand can be light, very powerful and great for editing on the road. If you are shooting a lot while traveling, having a few hours each day to check the work and edit on the road makes it so much easier when you get back

Take a laptop! It's so much better to get ahead with a bit of sorting, editing and processing before you get home - that way, if you plan on a digital picture book, you arrive home with a big chunk of the process already completed. This is the new Apple AIR - very small, incredibly thin, weighs 1.1kg, battery lasts 5 hours, fast processor and enables you to watch DVDs and movies while on the road. Awesome machine for $1200.
Sony and others have equivalent type machines designed for performance and light weight - particularly the Z series of Vaio laptops. Faster, more storage, more features than the AIR but also more expensive. Also get yourself a good neoprene type bag for the laptop. As a suggestion, load the software that you plan to use but bring copies of the CDs with you in case there's a disk error while on the road.
If laptops are not your thing, consider getting a portable storage device. This could be a model like the Canon M80 - an 80Gb hard drive with a 3-inch screen - plug the CF card into the device and it copies everything (also takes SD cards). Images and movies can be loaded onto its hard drive and then viewed on the screen, or on a TV screen using the supplied cable. Has a headphone jack for listening to movies and sound files. You can also do this using an Apple iPod (only with some of the larger models). Holds about 20,000 images.
Memory cards are all basically the same other than the fact that they read/write at different speeds - this is only really relevant if you shoot HD video or shoot high resolution images in fast drive mode. I'd probably recommend the middle speed - currently at 60Mb/s. Expect to pay about $99, $150 and $280 respectively.

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