Have camera bag, will travel

As a frequent traveler, I have great respect for  the discipline that goes into traveling light. It is truly an art form. Yet on the other hand it really sucks to get to your destination and realize you need some particular item that is not readily available. Particularly if that item is light and it wouldn’t have been any trouble to bring it along. And PARTICULARLY if that item is a camera accessory that you can’t just pick up at the local store!

I’ll leave it to the OneBag site to offer the  perfect light travelers packing list. But what about your camera bag when you travel? My criteria for making the traveling camera bag list is:

  1. The camera bag must:
    1. have easy access to grab the camera out with one hand
    2. travel easily through airport security
    3. fit under the seat in front of me on an airplane
    4. have some extra room for books/magazines/iPad storage to keep them handy on a flight
    5. be slender enough that I can make my way through a crowd without bumping into people (this rule eliminates more bag options than any other, btw)
    6. have flexible pouches that if I must overpack it, at least that is an option
    7. close securely to prevent pickpockets in crowded subways

What goes in the traveling camera bag? Assuming you have a DSLR and lenses, my ideal camera travel bag selection is fairly small. Here goes:

  1. The traveling camera bag typically contains:
    1. Camera body  – I’m a Canon guy, but Nikon’s are pretty awesome too. (And just don’t even tell me if you have a  Hasselblad. I don’t want to hear it.)
    2. Fixed 50 lens  – Light and fast for low light situations. The  thrifty fifty rules.
    3. Wide angle lens.  (When I used the Rebel I *loved*  the 10-22 which took  this shot. Now I have the 16-35.)
    4. Zoom lens.  I bring one, but not both, of these depending on where I am traveling.
      1. 24-105/f4 – doesn’t sound like the best lens, but I consistently get the best results with this glass. I LOVE this lens. My all time favorite. But sometimes I leave it behind b/c of weight. It is truly a brick.
      2. 70-300/f4-5.6 – again, doesn’t sound like the best lens with f4, but very flexible and light.
    5. Lens doubler  – also called a  2X teleconverter – also called “flexibility!”  (I don’t use the Canon one, I bought a cheaper one at a shop in nyc). The bad news is teleconverters KILL your lens speed. 2X but I’d guess you lose 4 or 5 f stops. So these are for daylight use only almost. Some exceptions, but TEST before you need. You will be shooting on Manual with the doubler. Oh, and on mine, auto-focus doesn’t work either. So maybe splurge for the Canon doubler.
    6. External Flash  – I use the 580EX and I hated the 430EX. If you can’t budget the 580, buy off brand until you can. The 430 is lame – you get more light from a flashlight.
    7. Extra camera battery  – battery’s are lighter than chargers and I never fully drain 2 batteries on biz trips. Skip the charger and carry an extra battery.
    8. Extra memory card  – mainly in case the other one goes corrupt.
  2. Items I now specifically do NOT bring.
    1. No extra AA batteries.  I used to carry these. Again, rechargables in the external flash will last just fine. And you can purchase batteries if you need them. Skip carrying them. This also eliminates the AA battery charger.
    2. No charger.  If I shoot through two fully charged batteries I need to stop anyway. If it is a long trip I’ll put the charger in my carry-on, but I rarely use it.
    3. No Tripod  – yup, no tripod. I am all about balancing the camera on a rock or holding it against a tree. I no longer lug around tripods and with the new faster ISO speeds on cameras they aren’t as necessary IMHO.
    4. No Lens Filters  – hate them. What is the point of buying a nice lens and then putting a crappy piece of plastic in front of it? Just doesn’t make sense. If you are that worried about your lens, use a point and shoot. Filters are a scam IMHO. The exceptions are polarized filters for daylight long-exposure shots, or artistic colored filters. But the clear ones? Just a way for the camera store to get your 50 bucks. Gone.
    5. No Rubberized Camera Exoskeleton  – if you drop the camera this probably won’t save it. And it makes it impossible to get in and out of most camera bags. And it looks dorky. Skip it. Shoot with a naked camera body.
    6. No Laptop (OK, sometimes no laptop)  – for day trips, the CF cards are large enough that you can sometimes just skip the laptop and download when you get back. Not the end of the world.

Other tips for traveling with your camera:

  1. BUY A NEW CAMERA STRAP!  Really, both Canon and Nikon put the MODEL NUMBER on the camera strap which tells would be thieves exactly the value of your camera from 100 yards away. Sheesh. So yes, buy a generic looking camera strap.
  2. Shoot RAW only  – using JPG and RAW both fills up the card and wastes time. Install the drivers and shoot only RAW.
  3. Shoot a lot  – without a tripod you will have  occasional  camera shake. Odds are if you take three shots at 1/30 that one of those will work out. Delete the other two and move on down the road.
  4. Lightroom  – get  lightroom to handle the large number of shots. Unfortunately it is $300. I used Aperture and loved it, but Adobe is going to win this battle so move on over. Plus Lightroom handles referenced files, the ones saved directly to external drives, much faster. And it handles multiple catalogs. You can research it or trust me – just go with Lightroom.
  5. External Drive  – save directly to external drives. Moving files around on and off a laptop sucks. Just import directly to an external drive. I use the  Lacie ruggedized 500GB drives. I realize they have 1TB drives now, but I don’t recommend them since they require another power supply. The 500GB is powered by USB only, which cuts down on space/weight. Carrying two 500GB drives if needed (I don’t, but hypothetically) is still lighter than another power supply. Plus you can never find enough plugs in a hotel. Another note on the drives – I just use the USB as it is the same cable for the Canon and to recharge the blackberry. Flexibility and the speed difference with Firewire isn’t that huge a deal for me on downloads.
  6. Photoshop Elements (if you must)  –  Elements is about $80. I rarely even launch photoshop and you definitely do NOT need CS. Either skip photoshop entirely or just use the cheaper Photoshop Elements. And I still don’t “get”  Bridge. Any organization I might do in Bridge I can do with Folders and Collections in Lightroom.  Just use Lightroom and give as little money to Adobe as possible.
  7. Laptop  – you don’t actually NEED a MacBook Pro to run lightroom. With the external drive you can use any laptop or even the Macbook Air. Yes it won’t be as fast, but it isn’t the end of the world and this allows you to use a smaller laptop. That said, I use the 13inch Macbook pro. I wish they had a 10inch version.
  8. Clean your lens a lot. – much easier than removing dust spots using software. Basically do as much in-camera as possible and as little on-laptop as possible.

A few photos from my travels below. Enjoy your own vacation!

Orange Line @ eTech 2007
San Diego

wall street subway STOP
New York

Chicago Times Square
New York

running with the seagulls

Dawn Brancheau - Riders on the Storm

bold coffee

Texas State Capital Building

Fruit Loop
New Mexico

little miss risk

woman in waiting
San Diego

USB Flash- Don’t leave home without it, and leave one at a friends

Pink Tokidoki Flash  DriveFlash drives – cheap and easy backup can save on Vacation Stress

They fit in your pocket, on your key chain and just look cool. With all the phones and portable devices we carry these days, we forget about these flash drives at the bottom of our desk drawers. The USB drive still has a couple of great features for traveling. Even if you are settled in for a nice staycation, add this little packing and preparedness tip to your travel plans or todo list. Snag a USB drive on sale in a multi-pack as the prices continue to fall on these little jewels. Or, pick up one of Happy Katies favorite designer Flash drives by MimoBot. Now, get ready for some scanning.

Files, documents and every important document you would ever need, all in your pocket. Scan personal documents and records in case you lose your wallet or passport and you will have a digital image of all your registrations. But, but… WAIT! What if the wrong person finds it when it drops out of the pocket of your shorts? No worries, you should encrypt the contents with TrueCrypt or your favorite security feature.

These little tech toys have some crazy cool options besides just a backup. Don’t want to carry a laptop or computer with you? Portable Apps Platform ScreenshotCan’t spring for the iPad yet? You can save all your bookmarks, favorite email settings, and doc settings on a FlashDrive and launch your profile from any public computer without fear of leaving your crumbs all over the desktop. Portable Apps is an open source software platform you install on your flashdrive or other backup device, adjust your settings, then plug it into a computer and run your programs from your own drive. You have access to all your software and personal data just like on your own PC.

What to save on your USB Drive

Losing important documents can ruin what should be a happy vacation. A little safety and planning can eliminate much of the stress. Before you pack up and leave, take the time to scan copies of important documents and save the files on to a secure area of the flash drive. Here are some examples of important documents:

  • Vacation Plans: Itinerary, Maps and receipts of deposits for reservations.
  • Personal documents: Drivers license, passport, birth certificate, Insurance cards (health and auto), Credit Cards and CC phone numbers for lost cards.
  • Home Documents: Home Insurance, Auto Titles, Registrations, photos of big purchase items for insurance documentation, and documents that would be hard to replace if you came back home and they weren’t there. Yikes! My next plan is to scan old family photos for safekeeping before they detoriate or get wet in the next hurricane.
  • Medical Records: List of medications for each family member, immunizations, List of family doctor and dentist contacts.
  • School and Work Records: Nice to have everything in one place while you are at it. Include copies of your transcripts, diplomas, Resume, licenses, permits, Wills, and any other items you may want to keep all organized.

Now, your life is basically in one place if you ever have to recreate your history or need to hide it Bourne style. This is a cheap and easy way to travel light, backup photos off the camera while on vacation for processing later, and use software programs securely when on public machines. In fact, buy a couple of the drives, make copies of the drive and give one to a friend to put in their safe deposit box or mail one to a family member in another part of the country in case of emergency.

Enjoy your trip, be safe, and tell us how you use your Flash Drive for your vacation!

iPhone as Travel Accessory

Not that I know anyone who would be so obsessive as to insure that they have their iPhone on them at all times while traveling, or perhaps, would go so far as to give their devices cute little names; but should YOU know anyone like that and maybe be traveling with them at some point this summer… well, let’s talk a bit.

As Aaron so wonderfully pointed out, when you want to get off the beaten path these little modern marvels do have their limits. Suddenly you find yourself in a world where cell towers just don’t go, in a land where no one has heard of 3 or G, much less the awesome that occurs when the two get together. I’d never recommend making voyage with just the iPhone as your travel partner, and have probably more than my fair share of near-horror stories of what might happen should you try. As a travel accessory goes though, the iPhone can really come in handy on the road, thanks to some pretty sweet apps out there.

For starters, let’s look at getting there. Perhaps the most dangerous travel app for me to have is the Kayak Flight app, which brings the power of the Kayak search to your iPhone in one neat little  convenient  package. It is now way too easy to find a flight – a cheap one! – to any where in the world. You can even complete the reservation all from your phone. Once you’re on your journey you can use the app to track your flight and make last-minute changes if needed. One airline that has set up a great iPhone app is Southwest. From their app you can not only check in to your flights, you can change existing reservations, and get notice of special fare deals. Personally this app has come in handy for me when arriving at stop-over airports and finding my connecting flight delayed – with it I was able to locate a flight leaving at the same time to another nearby airport and get myself on standby. This can also be dangerous; when faced with a long layover you may find yourself checking for flights to oh, say, Las Vegas for instance. Then again maybe these danger factors apply mainly to me.

So let’s talk about once you’ve arrived at your destination. I’ve got two trips coming up; Hawaii and Vegas. My default place of residence in Las Vegas is the MGM Grand, which has itself an iPhone app. It’s loaded with maps of the property, details on the room types, dining options and entertainment details. For convention-goers there is a special aspect of the app that ties in to details exclusive to your individual convention or event. Other Vegas properties have similar apps – check out the offerings from  Mandalay Bay and NewYork NewYork as well.

When it comes to the beaches of Hawaii, there are a lot of app options out there. I was gifted with the Hawaii’s Best Beaches app, and having played with it a bit from the comfort of my desk in Texas, it looks like it will really come in handy. You can search for a beach based on the activity you’re interested in – snorkeling, sunsets, camping, etc. – and all your best options will be presented with details on the site, distance, a map to the location, and photos. Right now I’m showing about 3,816 miles away from the beach I’d like to be on… can’t wait till that number gets smaller next week.

No matter where your vacation travels are taking you this summer, there’s likely a (free!) app for that. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.) Wherever you’re thinking about heading off to, type it in the Apple store search and see what comes up! You might find some app that details an awesome new attraction that you suddenly have. to. see.  If you’re planning on driving, make sure you check out the AAA apps – you can request roadside assistance and access all discounts.

Let’s hear from our fellow geeks and iPhone addicts – what are some of your favorite apps that you’ve discovered as a result of your travels?

Film That Family Fun!

Summer break is finally here! You’ve packed the cooler, fueled your car, and programmed that GPS. It’s time for a vacation! Whether your traveling to England or just down to Galveston, you don’t want to forget sunscreen or a new HD camcorder for capturing all sorts of family fun.

With advancing technology like HD, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of camcorders on the market, all wanting you to buy them for your next-get-away. This can be daunting at first but don’t fret! I spent weeks last summer deciding what camera to purchase (with my own money I might add). I ultimately broke my potential cameras down into 3 different categories based on price. This is how I will break it down today as well.

The Flip (Portability)

Price: $159.99

I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about this camera. Weighing in at just 5 oz, this little device has become an icon for portable video. With the addition of HD and the simplicity of the design, it’s easy for anyone to pick up and use almost instantly. It’s a great device to have on the road for all those moments when you don’t have time to pull out a full fledged video camera. The device does suffer for fashion however, the portability knocks out mini DV tapes (leaving only an hour of recording space!) and many basic features. Beyond the 2x digital zoom, there isn’t much else one can do.

My Take: The iPad of video cameras. While the device is amazing and useful for many occasions, at the end of the day the lack of features and 1 hour recording space isn’t enough to handle my week long trip to England. I see the Flip to be a great supplemental device to my main camera, as if my Flip is my video sketchpad.

Pros: Extremely portable, Full HD, ease-of-use, (great for day trips).

Cons: Few functions, 1 hour recording life, no accessories.

Panasonic HDC-TM55k HD (Functionality)

Price: $448.99

The middle ground device in this review, and probably the camera most people end up buying. An AVCHD 8GB built in memory camcorder boasting full 1920 x 1080i HD resolution, and an impressive 35x zoom. The camera houses an impressive set of features like, auto face-recognition, auto power LCD, intelligent auto (senses the shooting conditions and optimizes all settings to shoot the “best” video), notice a theme here? This camera would shoot a movie by it’s self if it knew how. All these auto features are aimed at home movie makers who don’t know how or don’t have time to mess with settings.

My Take: The array of auto features is a double edged sword. For some, the ability to just point and shoot nice video is all they need, and if so, buy this camera. Maybe it’s just the inner filmmaker in me crying out about the lack of control. I enjoy being able to tweak the camera to find the best look, but by no means might you have the same intention.

Pros: Full HD, full auto, portable, built-in wide angle lens, optical image stabilizer, 2.7″ LCD display.

Cons: Touch display (This tends to dirty the HD screen and make it hard to navigate while shooting), Flash memory (compresses video which lowers quality vs. minidv tapes)

Canon HV40 (Control)

Price: $949.00

The highest-end model coming in at just under 1k. Packing a huge punch in a small camera, some features include: full HD, 10x optical zoom and stabilization, and an advanced accessory shoe. However, the beauty of this camera does not lie within the HD or the basic features, but rather one special one, the ability to choose different frame rates. If the sound of that doesn’t make you jump up and shout then you probably should choose the camera above. Basically, choosing different frame rates, allows your movies to look more like film, or if your shooting high-speed action you can choose a higher frame rate. The number of frames per second the camera takes, ultimately effects your final movie, and few cameras under 1k include this feature. This is the camera I use to make all of my movies.

My Take: A water-downed professional camera in a small device. If your willing to pay a little more, this device can be perfect for that geeky Mom or Dad. This is the camera I ultimately ended up buying because of the control I have with the picture and with the accessory shoe which you can attach microphones and lights. If you feel like you don’t need these features (if they don’t get you all worked up!) then paying the price probably isn’t worth it. I absolutely love this camera, because it allows me to have professional control at a consumer price, so if you have any aspiring Spielberg’s in the family, pick this one up!

Pros: Full HD, Different frame rates (24, 30, 30i), MiniDV (can be good or bad), accessory shoe for mics and lights, super-range optical image stabilizer.

Cons: Price, MiniDV.

This wraps up my take on these cameras, I hope this helps you decide what to take on your next family outing. If you are looking to buy these cameras or look at more, I suggest B&H, a store (and online store) located in NYC. I have bought ALL of my cameras and camera gear from them the last couple of years and they have been the best place to find what you need. There are tons of cameras out there to take on your trip but of course, if all else fails, just take your iPhone.

Good luck and happy shooting!


Devil’s Den, The Tourists Club and Google Maps

Devil's Backbone, Devil's Den State Park ArkansasWelcome to Devil’s Backbone, part of the Devil’s Den cavern and crevice system in Devil’s Den State Park Arkansas.   Arkansas has amazing hiking, terrain, and apparently the people in Fort Smith are pretty nice too.

Hiking is a family vacation tradition for the Long’s dating back to the days of “high socks with stripes” and uncomfortably short shorts.

When I got the chance to go to Fort Smith, Arkansas I knew I wanted to take an extra day and go hiking, but I was unfamiliar with the parks around Fort Smith. So I began my Google map investigation. My goal with this post is to show you how to use Google maps to help you find the best and most relevant travel destinations for you. In my case that means getting back to nature.

Your first step in finding a hidden treasure using Google maps is to learn about the area. Simply, what is around Fort Smith, Arkansas?

Google Map of Fort Smith Area

Next I decided that I wanted to spend my time in an area that had a pretty high elevation change, so I used the “Terrain” button located in the more section of Google maps.   I could tell by looking at the terrain that there is a 1000′ elevation change from the bottom of Lee Creek to the hills that surround the Devil’s Den State Park. This gave me a pretty good idea that the area not only had a nice winding creek, but indicated the area might be good for my hike.

Terrain feature showing a change in elevation

photo of Devil's Den Waterfall in Google MapsThe best tip I can give you is to use “Photos” under the “More” section of Google maps to see other people’s interests.

Photography and the internet give you a more realistic idea of what you may encounter. In this case I could see waterfalls, caverns, cabins, bluffs, etc. Most of the map photos come from Panoramio as it allows the photos to be tagged with geographic locations.

In a separate trip to San Francisco I was able to find the Tourist Club near Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods using this same technique of user generated photography map discovery. Aww hell, I think that needs an acronym – UGPMD (User Generated Photography Map Discovery). Google does a terrific job of helping you find unique and scenic experiences.

If you’re brave enough, skip the “touristy” excursion on your next cruise and make one of your own by uncovering the scenic wonders of Chankanaab Park, Cozumel, Mexico from Google Maps (I also suggest additional planning to account for safe transport).

Another Google map travel insight is to plot your route and distances using the directions feature. It is also a “must” that you print off your maps and take them with you.

Even though you iPhoners may cringe at the thought of paper, I suggest you print maps for convenience and because “truly getting away” often takes you out of cell phone range.

Google Maps has indicated that my trip to Devil’s Den Arkansas from Fort Smith should take 55 minutes and is mostly an interstate route of 46.9 miles. However, I live in Houston and am tired of interstates. I might venture to say that I hate them.

So, I am going to use Google maps feature that allows me to drag the route to a particular road. I have now changed my trip to a more scenic route that drives up highway 220 and winds through some awesome terrain. My trip now has changed to 1 hour and 37 minutes at 47.8 miles. My concern however is with experience and not time, so I am satisfied.

One word of warning though – apparently in Arkansas, highways can be “dirt roads”. It was an adventure climbing over mountains passes in a rent car on highway 220, and one of the best drives ever. I would however suggest you decide if you are the type that can be out of phone range in rugged terrain separated from civilization. For me it is a yes.

Schipul Geek’s Guide to Summer Vacation Success

Photo thanks to jaeWALK

Greetings from Schipul-Land!   As our Schipul crew prepares for another hot Houston summer, our minds wander to our favorite vacation spots, travel tools, preparation tips and out-of-town safety tidbits.

We may not be lounging on a beach or flying high in a plane over foreign lands today, but our entire team has some great ideas on how to make your summer travel experiences safe, fun and memorable – one geeky post at a time.   Join us for this month’s:   Schipul Geek’s Guide to Summer Vacation Success!

Schipul Book Club giveaway!

Lonely Planet books

To kick off this vacationing Blog posting party, we have a fun Schipul Book Club giveaway for June.

Leave us a comment telling us about your dream vacation spot (whether you’ve been there yet or not) and on Friday, June 18th 12pm CST we’ll pick one lucky commenter to select a Lonely Planet Country Guide book of their choice!