When the “best” camera may not be best for you…

Here’s a phenomenon I’m encountering more and more often these days on photo trips and workshops.

A well-heeled photo enthusiast (usually a middle-aged guy, not unlike myself—except, um, for the “well-heeled” part) shows up with tip top photo gear (i.e. two D3’s, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm zooms, all the big f/2.8s, maybe a macro or fast prime or two, possibly a flash).

Before every stop on the tour or venture out of the workshop, he asks me, “what gear will I need today?”

When I gently point out that “clairvoyancy” does not appear anywhere in my resume, and stress the need to be prepared for anything, I get the lament “that’s too bad because I don’t want to carry the (fill in the blanks) if we’re not going to need them.” And something always gets left behind, and whatever you leave behind is what you’re gonna need. Yes, folks, it’s a drag to carry your whole kit if you’re not going to need it.

It also stinks not to know when the stock market will spike or tumble, which tollbooth line will move the fastest, or whether or not the Knicks will cover the spread in tomorrow’s game (well, okay, that last one is pretty much a slam dunk “nope”).

The point is, you can’t know in advance what you’ll see in most travel situations. So the question you have to ask yourself is this: which photo gear is better? The heavy “pro” outfit, half of which you tend to leave behind, or the smaller “amateur” outfit that is light enough to take with you and have ready at all times?

This photo below, for instance, would never have been made if I had a D3 instead of a D90 with me on Ibo Island in Mozambique. For the reason why, hit the jump.

Photo © Bob Krist

We were aboard the National Geographic Explorer and we put in for a few hours at the remote island of Ibo in Mozambique.  Wandering the dusty streets, being greeted warmly by the people, I was struck by the “ghost town” feel of this place that has virtually stood still since the revolution in the 70’s.

I was getting shots, but nothing special. Taking a break from the heat to “chimp” in the shade, I started fooling around with the “Retouch” menu on the D90. This is a very “amateur” feature that allows you to make modified copies of your pictures in-camera after applying different effects. They don’t put it on the more serious cameras, because no pro would ever do this….er, well, one might. Especially if it was really hot, and the pro in question is easily amused and likes to push buttons…

Anyway, I ran a shot or two through the Monochrome>Sepia process, and “bam,” I had a revelation. Now all the fading architecture, the abandoned buildings, and the melancholy street scenes suddenly made sense. I stopped looking for “color” and started seeing in Sepia, and it made a difference in the pictures I sought out and shot for the rest of the visit.

It was only a 3-hour stop, but the amateur Retouch menu helped me hone in on a bit of a theme for the destination. I’ll eventually run these through Photoshop to make my monochrome interpretations, but it was the Retouch menu provided the inspiration.

Plus, I was able to carry my two bodies, three lenses, and all the other chatchkes with me despite the near 100 degree F/100% humidity and blazing sun without any flagging of energy. It’s something to consider if you’re a serious photographer who’s reached a point in life where your liquidity may be more robust than your mobility! You know how the saying goes, “A D90 in the hand is worth two D3’s back in the hotel room.”

Here are a couple of other shots from this very interesting island.  I hope to get back there one day.

Photo © Bob Krist
Photo © Bob Krist
Photo © Bob Krist

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Beautiful pix – Bob. Very nice. The old black and whites shot for news with a little sepia toning can now be done digitally. Sometimes post processing can a pain, but this is the “fun” part. It’s way cool.

  2. The sepia toning combined with the subject matter could definitely fool one into thinking that these images were taken long ago, great button pushing!

  3. This post reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to France. Preparing to leave I had the “What do I need?”/”What do I want?” anxiety.

    There was much back and forth and really sweating it, then I decided to go bare bones. Pretend to be an old school Leica user in Europe in the ’40s. Well, sort of… I took a 20mm, 35mm and a 50mm. One flash and two bodies (though I never carried them both at the same time), and no vertical grip. What a revelation! It was so freeing. Not once did I long for a longer lens, a faster lens, a zoom. Not once.

    Came back very happy with the images, didn’t regret a thing. In fact, I highly recommend the minimalist approach… well, occasionally! Makes you think more, take your time. Makes you give greater consideration to lens choice and perspective, composition… everything!


  4. As usual, the subjects and processing are outstanding. Very Krist.


  5. So, do you like the D90s better than the D300 body style? Are they much lighter? I have a D200, which I really like, but with the 17-55 2.8 it’s quite the boat anchor.

    1. Nick: Personally, I like the smaller lighter camera. Of course, the D90 is missing some of the features and also, allegedly, the general ruggedness of the D300. But I am not particularly gentle on my gear and the D90 seems to be holding up. Picking a camera always means you have to sacrifice something, and in my case, I happily opt for small size over tanklike build.

  6. So, What three lenses do you carry most of the time?

    1. Wayne: Nice to hear from you. My three lenses change according to the assignment, but for most travel I’m doing the 12-24mm, 16-85mm VR, and 70-300mmVR Nikkors. I’ll also throw a Sigma 30/1.4 and a Nikkor 85/f/1.8 in the suitcase, and carry them too if I’m going to be doing a lot of stuff indoors in bars, restaurants, etc. on a given day.

  7. Hi there Bob, it’s always nice to see someone so respected telling people they don’t always need the biggest and greatest. I use smaller bodies for my work too and find that I feel like less of a target for thieves when my camera isn’t worth $8000! Maybe it’s only my imagination but losing a $1000 camera is always going to feel less painful than one I mortgaged the house to buy. :)And really how many megapixels do we need in the magazine world?

  8. Yeah I like Kirk Tuck’s stuff. It’s good to see somebody bringing it back to the photography instead of being all about the equipment. I’ve got his first book on small flash techniques and it’s a good read.

  9. Hi Bob! Your book “Travel Photography” is my very first photography book, and I still love it to this day. I really like your simple and practical style because I am the same way. The less gear you have, the more you are able to master it. Your work provides me with inspirations.. again, great work!

  10. Refreshing to hear your comments on this topic. On a recent trip to Costa Rica I carried a D60, 18-105VR and 70-300VR and was very happy with the outcome.

    For my trip to Europe this summer I had already settled on just about the kit you mentioned: D90, 16-85VR, and maybe 12-24. I’ll almost certainly leave the 70-300 at home as I don’t find much use for it in European cities and gardens.

    Bob, do you carry a tripod on these trips?

    1. Yes, I always have some sort of a tripod, even if it’s the little Gitzo traveler.

  11. awesome pics, bob. and very good insights! i’ll be scouring your blog for your views on lenses.

  12. love your work bob,i too believe less is more

  13. Very cool. I dig the typewriter in the bottom left photo. By the way, I was going through some old Communication Arts Photo Annuals from the 80s (a photographer uncle loaned them to me) and I saw some of your work in there, specifically an Audi campaign, that featured what appears to be puppets in Vienna. Hence, the reason I googled your work. Glad to see you are still shooting…

  14. Kind of late finding and responding to this post but I just had to mention that the in-camera changes to B&W, sepia etc. is in the D3 as well. I’ve had fun with them. So now you’ll need another reason to leave the D3 behind. Curious, would you consider getting rid of the D3 and replacing it with, say, a D700 and a D300?

    1. thanks Ken. I only ever played with a D3 prototype, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t have the retouch. That’s good to know.

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