Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Traveling Tech
Part B

June 2007

By Mike Gould

Lies, all lies. Well, sorta. Last month I wrote about the technology I was going to schlep to my first trip to Jamaica, and how I wasn't taking a laptop and the various backup schemes I had for my photos and how I wasn't going to work this time out (work = use a computer). Welllll, a few things changed along the way so I thought I'd bring y'all up to date on my new and improved advice on traveling with technology.

Vacation is Not Work Redux
It turns out that we did end up taking a laptop with us. My wife Salli discovered that the place we were staying in Negril (Idle Awhile - highly recommended) had WiFi, and committed email junkie that she is, she decided she had to stay in touch while away. This was reasonable, as there were some health issues with a family member she needed to be involved in. So she packed up her old iBook, and I loaded it up with a few slide show viewing programs so we could view the days' shooting over rum punches on the balcony after a rough day of beach walking. The WiFi wasn't available in our room, but it was at the bar on the beach, so that's where the email got done.

Since I had the iBook available for backing up my photos, I didn't use the iPod for this, which was just as well, as I learned a few things about iPodding vs. photos just before we left (and after I wrote last month's article). Using the Apple camera-to-iPod adapter will work to back up photos, but the process is painfully slow with large image files (I shoot 12Mpx with my big camera and 8Mpx with the small), and it eats battery charge like crazy. The iPod also only works with certain cameras; it didn't recognize my underwater camera at all. If you have a 6Mpx or less point and shoot, it would be tolerable, but plan on bringing a charging cable for your iPod if you are traveling sans laptop. With a laptop, you can dump the photos to your "My Photos" folder, and then load them into your video iPod for showing off to fellow travelers.

But I was good; I never checked my email, nor did I surf the web. I used the laptop as a big backup device and had a vacation from computing.

Backing Up to Gizmos
After I learned of the limitations of the iPod, and before I learned Salli was taking her iBook, I decided to get yet another backup mechanism, a SmartDisk FlashTrax XT. This is a waycool little box, a little smaller than a portable DVD player. It contains a 40G hard drive, a Compact Flash slot, and a flip-top 3.6" LCD screen so you can see your photos after you download them. It will also store and display video and audio, although I didn't test that on this trip. I got this for $200 at Amazon.com. More expensive models with bigger hard drives are also available; I got the el cheapo, surmising correctly that 40G would hold a week's shooting.

So the theory is, you back up your photos to this device, view them as you travel (it has a battery for total portability), and then dump the photos into your computer when you get home. I tried this on our trip, and found the download process to be fast and easy, even with my 12Mpx RAW files. The main problem I found was that you can only transfer the entire contents of your camera chip at a time. If you shoot on successive days with the same chip, each download will duplicate the contents of previous days' shooting. You could get around this by using a different chip each day, but a more sophisticated download procedure would have been appreciated. You don't have this problem with a laptop, as you can usually select which photos to download each time, skipping those already in your photos folder.

Another problem with this unit is that it only works with Compact Flash. An adapter is available for SD cards (which is what my Lumix point-and-shoot uses), but I didn't have time to order one. Again, this problem was obviated by downloading to the laptop, which accepts USB input no matter what the camera.

Cameras on the Beach
You may recall that I was going to take my backup DSLR, the Canon 20D, as I was paranoid about schlepping my expensive bread-winner, the mighty Canon 5D. After a chat with my insurance agent, I realized I was fully covered in case of theft or other disaster, so I went with the big guy. I did take my least expensive lens, the 28-200mm zoom, and this combination worked just fine. Our hotel room was quite secure, which was good, as the in-room safe was too small to stash camera or computer gear (we kept our passports and cash there). I also took a light-weight tripod, just the thing for group shots on the beach with me in the picture.

My point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 performed flawlessly, catching some of the best sunset photos of the trip. Tucked into my shirt pocket, it was just the ticket for informal shots on the beach and in the restaurants we visited. I had 2 batteries for this, which were just barely enough for the week's shooting; I intended to bring the charger for these but forgot it at the last moment. I did have the charger for the Canon, but barely used up one battery the whole time I was there. Moral of the story; take lots of batteries, a charger, and extra camera memory cards.

I decided to use several of these cards during my stay, putting the used ones in the safe. That way my photos were in 3 places; the cards, the laptop, and the FlashTrax. On the way home, the cards were in my camera bag which I had with me at all times, and Salli hand-carried her laptop, so the multiple backups were closely watched. When we got home, I downloaded the photos from the cards, burned them immediately onto DVDs as yet another backup, and all was well. You can't be too careful with this stuff; you can always replace a camera or a laptop, but the photos themselves are irreplaceable.

Cameras in the Water
Which brings us to the one failure of the mission: the GoPro Hero3. This was the cutesy underwater jobbie that straps to your wrist. It worked flawlessly until I swam with it, whereupon it took on water and drowned. I got one blurry photo of a sad-looking urchin and that was that. I'll be returning this for another try; maybe this one had a bad seal.

More info:
FlashTrax XT: http://www.smartdisk.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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