Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Traveling Tech

May 2007

By Mike Gould

Like the painter who paints what he sees, I write what I do (or should be doing). I was having some neurocranial lexiclogitis (what non-technologists call "writer's block") while coming up with a suitable topic for this month's column. I wrestled with my muse, finally winning with five falls out of nine. My winning strategy was to look at what I was doing while avoiding writing: getting organized for a trip to Jamaica. More specifically, getting my technology organized for the trip. Bingo. Once I have a topic, it's off to the keyboard and on to print.

Vacation is Not Work
Planning for a vacation is a little different than getting your laptop in gear for a business trip. For one thing, I'm not going to take my laptop. (I'll wait a moment for your shock and disbelief to subside... dum de dum...recovered? OK. Onwards.)

Hey - this is a vacation, remember? Sometimes I don't. Vacation means "Put down the mouse, step away from the keyboard, and nobody gets hurt". But that also means "Pick up that digital camera, point it at something cool, and then think about how you're going to back up all those pictures before you head home". I also was a little bit leery of taking an expensive laptop to a place of delightful scenery but dubious security. Our hotel room will have a safe in it where I can stash my cameras, but I'm pretty sure I won't be able to cram my 17" laptop in there as well.

Now I am cheating a bit by taking cameras, as I am a commercial and event photographer and "camera" usually means "work". But hey, we're talking my first trip to Jamaica here - the white sands of Negril, fabulous flowers, and snorkeling (and yes, I intend to take pictures while snorkeling, details are below). No way I'm going to let all that go undocumented. And maybe I can sell the photos to a travel magazine or something...yeah, that's the ticket; write it all off as a business expense...hmmmm. Snort, what? Sorry, drifted off for a moment there.

Just to put this all into a business context, let's pretend that I've been hired (via the Internet, of course) to travel to a distant land, meet exotic people, and shoot them. With a camera, of course.

Cameras Abroad
So I'm traveling light, only taking 3 cameras and a smattering of accessories. I've got my backup Digital SLR, a Canon 20D as my main shootin' iron. I'm leaving my very expensive 5D behind in a fit of paranoia, so I'll have to get by with a measly 8Mpx picture vs the 12Mpx I get with the 5D. I'm roughing it. This camera goes in a smallish camera bag I can carry on the plane. For my main lens, I'm using one of my least expensive but most versatile jobbie, a Canon 28 - 200mm zoom. This gives me the equivalent of the 10X zoom factor that point-and-shoot cameras use as selling points.

And speaking of point-and-shoot, that is camera #2: a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1. A point-and-shoot is a civilian camera, designed for non-professionals to point at something and shoot it. Simple, auto-everything, just the thing to take on vacation. I like this little guy a lot; it's worthy of a separate article all by itself. Introduced in 2005, it features an 8.2 Mpx sensor (meaning it takes pictures whose file size is the same as the 20D), a 2.5in LCD screen (which takes up most of the back of this tiny camera), and a Leica lens, the Cadillac of photographic glass. And coolest of all is the aspect ratio - the width/height of the pictures. This is 16:9, which means it is the same as HD television, and this provides for some excellent wide angle capabilities. I should be able to get most of the beach in there, Rastas and all. It also shoots wide-screen movies. This camera retailed for around $500 when I got it, (now down to around $390), which puts it into the rather high end for this sort of thing. But... Panasonic just released the TZ3, a less expensive ($330) model with a 10X zoom. Haven't tried one, but it gets great reviews.

Under the Sea
Camera #3 is this teeny-tiny cutesy thang I bought just for this trip: a GoPro Hero3. I stumbled on this while reading a report on CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. The camera is a waterproof 3Mpx unit that you strap on your wrist. For $139 you get a camera that is 1.25" by 1.75" by 2.6" and is encased in waterproof plastic. GoPro says: "We make wrist cameras for sports. They also strap to bike handlebars, kayak paddles, roll bars, and more. Helmet camera and flat surface mounting accessories are coming soon."

The Hero3 also takes movies, and with a 2G SD memory chip installed, it will make up to a 1 hour movie. Just the thing for cruising the reefs, methinks. It comes without a chip, but as 2G SanDisk SDs are around $40, no problemo. It does come with a USB cable that enables you to download your pix to your computer. One major feature it lacks is a display screen; you don't get the instant feedback you do with most digital cameras. It has a small screen, but this is used just to set up the camera and let you know which mode (still vs movie) you are in.

So Camera #1 goes in the camera bag, along with extra batteries, lots of memory cards, and suchlike. Cameras #2 and #3 get packed in my luggage, carefully wrapped in layers of underwear for padding. Also in the luggage: a clear plastic bag filled with the necessary cabling, battery recharger (do they use 110v in Jamaica? Hmm, have to check), and my iPod and its cabling. Why the iPod? I can use it to download my photos for backup. It has a 30G drive that should hold the whole trip's worth of memories. I can also use it to show the hotel manager my pictures so he can hire me to come back next year and shoot publicity photos. Yeah, that's the ticket.

More info:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/
(search on dmc-lx1 or Canon 30D - the 20D is no longer available)
http://www.goprocamera.com/

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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