I have recently returned from a road trip out west.  Whenever I travel for fun, I contemplate the “photography equipment issue”.  What camera should I bring?  Should I simply use I iPhone 13 Pro Max and NOT pack anything else?  I can get pretty good images with that phone camera but I think that choice is the lazy one. I am checking a bag on my flight, so I have room to bring something other than my phone.

Professionally, I use my Nikon DSLRs for jobs.  They are well used and dependable.  When I am away from professional photography projects and shooting for fun, I want my equipment to be fun.  In other words, I don’t want to “work”, as I do for clients, on capturing images.  I would rather not use my workhorse cameras,  (D810 or D800).  They will give me great images, but  are heavy and large.

Decisions

I have 2 travel cameras.  One is a Nikon Cool Pix P7000 released in 2010.  At the time it was a high end consumer camera costing in the 500.00 range.  It’s size makes for a good travel camera.  I purchased a wide angle converter for it, allowing a 21 mm view. My other travel “camera” is a DJI Pocket 2.  This unique tool is the size of small flashlight.  It is a tiny gimbal video camera  with 4k video capabilities.  It also captures high resolution still images.  The Pocket 2 is not an outdated product (like the P7000).   I will discover for myself if size matters. Can I get good video with a tiny camera?

travel camera Nikon P7000

Nikon P7000 (2010 release)

DJI Pocket 2 camera
DJI Pocket 2 video and still gimbal camera
iPhone 13 Pro Max
iPhone 13 Pro Max Most people know what an iPhone camera is capable of.  The task is in it’s ergonomics.  Can I make good images,  with a flat cracker shaped camera and no view finder?
These three “cameras” were my choices to take on the trip:  a fourteen year old compact digital camera, a tiny video/still camera and an iPhone 13.  The challenge was to produce professional looking images with non professional tools.

 

P7000 images

black & white
hermitage in the desert
man goes to church

This camera is well built and compact.  It does not focus quickly.  It is not crisp at higher f stops and there is a slight shutter release lag time.  It preforms  best wide open – f 2.8.   I shot in sunny conditions.  This camera gets “noisy” in dim light so I shot at ISO 100.  I also decided to shoot in monochrome, an option in the custom shooting menu.

A word about shooting only in black & white

Learning the skill of photography in school was a standardized process.  This was pre digital and each student had a film camera.   We were given assignments to shoot with black & white film.  The teaching was to pay most attention to shape, shadow, highlights and composition.  The seduction of color was to be (as best we could) omitted from our mind. The critique at the end of the week was given by the instructor, focusing on those 4 elements and how well we handled them.

I think, shooting in black & white frees me up and releases my attraction to color as the main essence of an image. Who doesn’t like a photo of a sunset?!  Well, let’s remove the color and then see if it is still interesting.  By setting the camera to only monochrome, instead of shooting in color and having the option to convert it in post production, forces me to think in black & white.  (not to be confused with life’s more nuanced handling of opinions and viewpoints!)  I might compare it to working without a net. I embraced the monochrome setting on the P7000.  It was a fun alternative to my other 2  “cameras”.

 

DJI Pocket 2 capture

desert mid day

The DJI Pocket 2 is a good video camera.  With it’s small size and gimbal stabilization, it is easy to capture high quality video clips.  It does well with still images too.  The still image (above the video clip) was shot at mid day one hour before the eclipse on April 9th.   I think the accuracy of color, sharpness and focus are excellent.  When shooting, it is virtually impossible to use the tiny viewfinder in bright sunlight to frame up a shot.  I simply hold it upright, aim and release the diminutive shutter button. I could get an adapter to connect to my iPhone, but that defeats the best part about this unit – it’s compact size.

Solar eclipse light capture

The video clip directly above, was shot during the peak of the eclipse. The muted, soft shadows that are captured in this video are in sharp contrast to the brightness of the  Pocket 2’s still image taken 1 hour before the eclipse.  Incidentally, our location in Texas had 95% coverage. So, the accuracy of what I saw both at mid day and at the peak of the eclipse was rendered quite well with the Pocket 2.  I like using it as a video tool.  Stills are grab shots- point and shoot.  It produces good stills if you don’t mind not having a usable viewfinder.

 

iPhone 13 Pro

designer in the desert
desert sky

The 3 examples above were done with my iPhone.  You have most likely heard the phrase: ” The best camera is the one you have with you.”  I find this true.  The automatic inclusion of this accessory assures me of having a camera with me at all times.   If I value good (or decent) photography, I owe it to myself to at least have the best phone camera available.  If I go out purposefully to capture professional images on any subject, I will not employ only my phone camera.  Having said that, some fine photos have been taken, without deliberately using my professional camera, reinforcing that “the best camera is the one you have with you”!

Incidentally, the last example, a short video taken with my iPhone, simply presents the stillness of the desert environment where I was.  Looking closely, you will notice only the foliage moving slightly in the afternoon breeze. I had the phone/camera, noticed the quiet of the moment and took a few seconds of silence with me.

My conclusion

To challenge myself by using outdated or unconventional equipment to make good images is a diversion.  The mandated expected images I produce on a job for a client are predictable for the most part.  I need that reliability and predictability for professional jobs.  When I am out on my own, exploring and shooting for myself, occasionally using an old camera or maybe only using a manual focusing lens or shooting film, puts a layer of open ended fun into the mix.

I think it comes down to experience, eye, training and problem solving skills.  Good images can be produced with outdated or unconventional equipment.  This, then begs the question:  What is a good image?  After all, isn’t much of what we like in photography subjective?   Yes, but I believe focus, framing, depth of field, angle of view, and choice of what is available to me on my camera settings are most important to making a good image in the end.

I can get from point A to point B on a fixed-gear bicycle however, a carbon frame, 11 speed drivetrain will get me there faster with less effort.  Every so often,  I want to see where I came from and if I can do it differently.

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