The Travel Series: Jet-Set Shooting with Mirrorless Cameras and iPad Apps
Imagine traveling with a small camera kit that weighs less than 5 pounds and produces photographs worthy of a National Geographic photographer. Imagine being able to shoot all day, walk to the top of the mountain, and not have an aching back? Then imagine returning home and all the post-processing work is done and your images are ready to be printed or posted to your blog. How about traveling with just one rolling suitcase and a small camera bag while avoiding checking-in luggage? In short, carry-on luggage rocks! Checking bags is time consuming and can be problematic—light travelers are happier travelers. If this sounds like a dreamy way to travel and shoot, then read on and learn how the Jet Set Photographer travels.
Above image: Highway overpass between Monterey and Zacatecas, Mexico
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, 1/480 second, f/9, ISO 200
For starters, unless you have been happily shooting under a rock with your ancient Canon Rebel XT (or Canon T70 for that matter,) the newest thing to cause excitement in digital photography is the rise of the Mirrorless Camera or MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera). These cameras offer all the quality and speed of their larger and older brother, the DSLR, but without the size and weight. How do they do this? They incorporate an electronic viewfinder instead of the pentaprism system that a DSLR utilizes, which vastly reduces the cameras’ size while making them perfect for travel photography. They don’t have the “hump” on the top of the camera!
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, 1/55 second, f/8, ISO200
The only real shortcoming mirrorless cameras have is the lack of super-fast telephoto lenses and very high frame rates. I would still recommend a DSLR for anyone shooting sports or doing wildlife photography. But for travel, they are absolutely perfect. There are many camera offerings and all of the choices will yield results equal to your photographic skill. If I had to offer camera suggestions, I can only make general statements about some select brands.
Olympus produces mirrorless cameras with very accurate focus and a fine assortment of lenses. The cameras are also ergonomically dynamic. The only downside to Olympus is the menu system―while being extremely comprehensive, the navigation can be clunky. Panasonic has a cult following, and the Lumix GH4 is also known as the best in class for video. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of its menu navigation either, but it’s a solid performer. Sony might be the best of all the worlds, great for stills, excellent for video, proven performers, and the company offers two types of Mirrorless systems, the Alpha (formerly the NEX system) and the A series. The Alpha sports an APS-C-size sensor and the A series is the first interchangeable full-frame mirrorless sensor camera. They have even released a brand-new a7S, which offers outstanding dynamic range and is a new standard for video. Nikon presents some unique features, especially in the Nikon V 3, which can shoot slow-motion video and has an amazing burst rate of 20 frames per second! Don’t let the small 1-inch-size sensor fool you, this camera performs. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Fujifilm XT1. Fujifilm roared back to the camera market with this line of mirrorless models, featuring their super-high-quality X-Trans sensor and a matching line of high-performance lenses that have become new classics (like the 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2). The super-easy ergonomics and menu navigation set these cameras apart from all the others, and is one reason I shoot with them. However, if you want video, the Fujifilm cameras are really created for the still photographer—they are behind the others in terms of video capabilities.
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4, 1/600 second, f/5.6
Considering lenses, I would like to point out a tenet of travel photography that emphasizes a sense of place. In short, your image should imbue the local flavor and suggest to the viewer what it would be like to be there. Generally, this means that you want to include a foreground, a subject, and a great background in the image so you have many elements in the photograph to illustrate that sense of place. That will be hard to do with a tele! Travel photography is the realm of wide-angle lenses. I love to shoot with fast, prime wide angles. For Fujifilm X system and Sony NEX/Alpha cameras, we are blessed with exceptional Zeiss Touit lenses, in particular, the Zeiss 12mm Touit, which delivers a crisp-cornered, super-sharp extreme wide angle that is capable of making dynamic images. Another aspect of primes that you are going to love is they tend to be both smaller and lighter weight than zooms. Bonus! This last comment on primes might be a little hard to quantify, but I, as well as many pros believe it all the same: primes make you a better photographer. You have to work a little bit harder to make that well-composed image than with a zoom lens. You “feel” the focal length better and have to physically move backward or forward to control the cropping. This extra work will translate into being more intimate with the subject and you will find that, while it slows you down, you will come away with an image containing more soul.
There is no better way to edit your images on the road and stay connected while traveling than with an Apple iPad. The IPad is a wonderful tool with excellent native color management and an elegant, easy-to-use IOS. You can get a full-size iPad or go with the mini; either way they are superior to traveling with a laptop, due to their small size. Have you ever tried to use a laptop on a plane? In coach? It’s really quite difficult. The other benefits of the iPad are that you can use it for other travel necessities, such as reading books, checking email, and posting your best images to your social media outlets (twitter and Facebook), which is a great way to let your friends know what you are up to.
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0, 1/45 second, f/2.0
The iPad can’t run Photoshop―it’s not that powerful. However, for the Jet Set iPad traveling photographer there is Google’s Snapseed. Snapseed is a free app that works with jpegs extremely well and, the best part: Snapseed maintains your files’ original size (other apps can shrink photos). When I process jpegs from my Fujifilm Xpro1, I end up with 45.5MB files. Snapseed maintains a high level of inherent image quality with little effort. Play with the Drama filter, convert to B&W, or use the Grunge filter. They are all winners!
So now you have a mirrorless camera system, complete with great lenses, to create awesome travel photographs. You will need a few more items to be a Jet Set travel photographer, such as card readers and the perfect travel camera bag. Almost all mirrorless cameras use SD memory, and if you are working with an iPad generation 1, 2, or 3, then go for the Apple Camera Connection kit. If you have a Mini or iPad 4, then go with the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader. Camera bag choice is something about which I feel strongly. I think that a discreet bag with lots of pockets is the way to go. I say “discreet” because sometimes your travels won’t take you to posh destinations, and thieves with good taste in cameras are everywhere. The best defense―camouflage it with a bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag! My first choice is the Domke F803 satchel. They travel great, offer protection, can hold it all, have lots of pockets, and the best part, the Domke doesn’t look like a camera bag. Domke also offers custom inserts, so you can take your favorite old army satchel or shoulder bag and convert it to a camera bag.
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Fujifilm X-Pro1, Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, 1/1700 second, f/2.8, ISO 200
The cornerstone to the Jet Set travel photographer is a disciplined workflow using the iPad. This workflow is made to be used after each segment of the trip. Ideally, you should be editing and downloading during your down time between sights. This includes: on flights, buses, before you go to sleep, and breaks. Since the iPad does not have unlimited storage and Snapseed can only work on images that are local on the iPad, you need to be very diligent and exercise prudence when choosing which images to download and perform post processing with Snapseed. I recommend using your camera playback function and a Hoodman Collapsible Hood Loupe to review your images in-camera. By picking only the best shots and being decisive with your edit, you then download the images to your iPad. After you download, the iPad will ask if they should be deleted from the memory card. Make sure you keep the images. Once images are downloaded then you may edit them with Snapseed and they will be saved to the camera roll. I would also encourage you to set up folders for each trip in the photo app so you can stay organized. Once you have returned home, you can download the cards to your PC and archive them securely. By using an app called photo transfer, you can take the images you edited in Snapseed and save them to a folder in your archive. I like to call these images, “worked.” At this point, you have images you shot unprocessed out of the camera and images you already edited available for printing, making a book, or to just add to your blog.
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0, 1/900 second, f/4.0
The end result is a body of work, edited and processed when you have returned home after traveling. For a more in-depth look at this process, please take a look at the B&H Event Space presentation on which this blog post is based. There is much more information in this presentation, such as workflow details, adding photo style and also a tour of Snapseed.
Enjoy, and travel lightly and safely.
About David George Brommer:
David George Brommer is a New York City-based photographer, specializing in alternative culture. In the mid-’90s, Brommer was the creative mind behind Suspect Photography, a studio-gallery acclaimed for exhibiting maverick and emerging photographers. During the past two decades, his extensive oeuvre has been widely shown across the country in several solo and collective exhibitions. In recent years, Brommer has become a sought-after speaker on matters of contemporary photography, as well as technical teaching. Among others, he has taught seminars at the International Center of Photography, The Maine Media Workshops, and industry conventions. Currently, Brommer is the Director of the B&H Photo Event Space.