Traveling with gear

We travel internationally every year, and have done so for the last 15 years or more. I’ve always taken my photographic gear with me.

Checking baggage
I’ve checked video and film equipment into the hold as luggage with only minor incident. I use Pelican cases because they are rigid and have good foam protection for the contents. Here are a few tips based on my own experiences:

  • When traveling from, or within, the USA you should expect your luggage to be opened and searched. Secure checked baggage with plastic zip ties that can be easily cut for security inspection, and include a couple of spares inside the case on top of everything – I usually leave a note asking that the case be secured again and have never been disappointed.
  • If your case has a very good seal, as the Pelican cases do, it will often have a pressure relief valve to admit/exhaust air. Leave this open why checking the bags as otherwise air will escape past the seals, but not leak back in again. You’ll land with “sucked in” cases as a result of the lower pressure at altitude.

Carry on luggage
Make a point of reading your airlines restrictions carefully before traveling; learning something for the first time at check-in doesn’t give you many options. It’s not the gate agents fault that you didn’t read their rules regarding carry on luggage.

I’ve been caught out by weight restrictions once on BA. On a flight from the US to the UK there was no mention of a weight restriction for carry on, but the leg from the UK to the US they weighed my carry ons. At that time the limit was around 6kg or 13 lbs per bag.

Things I pack
I use a camera back-pack as my carry on, a Canon 200EG. It’s cheap, provides good protection, and the one I have at the moment has been going strong for over 5 years. In it I have:

  • Camera body, lenses, battery charger, spare battery
  • GPS data logger
  • Kindle; much less weight and space than a bunch of books to pass the time
  • Tom Tom GPS/SatNav preloaded with maps for where ever I’m going. Also packed is the windshield mount and in car power cord. Getting where you’re going from the rental counter is never difficult again
  • iGo charger. This one charger covers our phones, kindle, the GPS data logger and other sundry devices
  • Travel papers/documents

Upon arrival I usually take out the chargers and stuff I don’t need for daily outings to make a lighter pack.


Search, where art thou?

This blog started as a result of me encountering one of the most frequently asked questions on a photography forum, for what felt like the thousandth time. If you regularly visit some of the consumer oriented forums you’ll find certain questions arise, with excruciating predictability, several times each week.

This continues to puzzle me: with apparently no expenditure of effort on their part, at all, someone expects a complete stranger to give up their time answering a question that has been asked, and answered, many times before. Often many times within the last few days.

How does this thought process work? The forum features clear instructions to anyone starting a new thread to use the search to see if their question has arisen before, but they ignore that. Some complain that there are simply too many messages to read, that’s it’s too hard to find an answer. Because everyone keeps asking the same bloody questions over and over again!

In many cases merely typing the title of their post into a Google search box would yield a workable answer within the first 3 results, but even that is apparently too much to ask.

What, ultimately, will become the fate of forums if this continues? Will there inevitably be an evolutionary process where those seeking knowledge gain it, share it, become frustrated and leave – at an ever increasing pace?

Filters, the great debate

Right up there in the list of most re-asked questions seems to be “what UV filter should I buy”.

There are only really two camps to this debate: every lens needs a filter and no lens needs a filter. I’m firmly in the later camp: UV filters are a waste of money and will quite probably degrade your image quality. There are specific lenses (the Canon 100-400 for example) which exhibit quite predictable image quality degradation when using certain filters for protection.

But what about scratches to the front element of my lens?
How often do you worry about scratches to the windshield/windscreen of your car? Think about the constant abuse your windscreen takes, can you still see through it? Do you know how hard glass is, and what it takes to scratch it?¬†Glass is very, very hard and extremely difficult to scratch. Even if you could easily scratch the front element it wouldn’t matter:

What if I drop my lens, or bump into something?
Then your extremely thin filter will break, and the small, hard, sharp pieces will be ground into the front of your lens.

I’d rather clean the filter than my lens
Why are you needing to clean either with any regularity? Every now and then, probably no more than once a year, it occurs to me to look at the front element of my lenses. I’ll probably dust them off with a lens brush. End of story.

What about protection?
Use a rigid lens hood at all times. Unlike a filter it will improve image quality and physically protect the front of your lens from bumping into things. Digital sensors are not sensitive to UV, so there’s no need to filter it out.

What about special effects?
With only a couple of exceptions you can recreate just about any effect imaginable during post processing, with the added benefit that you can experiment with different effects on the same scene without retaking the photograph.

The exceptions? You cannot reproduce the effect that a polarizing filter has on reflections in post processing, neither can you block highlights to the same degree that a graduated neutral density filter will.

So: save your money, use a lens hood, and forget about useless filters.