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Monday, January 1, 2007

Air Travel And Carrying On Gear

A few things to help deal with the current clear and present carry-on hassles

Travel Lighter. Do you really need that auxiliary battery pack that adds height and weight to the camera body in exchange for 6 fps performance instead of 4 fps? How about that 300mm ƒ/2.8? Could you get by with a much smaller, lighter 300mm ƒ/4? Why are you carrying on your tripod? Isn't it rugged enough to survive in your checked bag, wrapped up in socks and underwear? These are the hard questions we need to ask ourselves in light of 21st-century air travel.

Air Travel And Carrying On GearEarly in my career, I shot a story about an expert backpacker who was fanatical about weight conservation with his gear. He actually cut the handle down on his toothbrush and shaved some millimeters off the soles of his hiking shoes just to save a couple ounces of weight. His thinking was that every little bit helps. I've taken his advice to heart my whole career, especially these days.

Currently, I'm experimenting with the Nikon D80. It's smaller and lighter (and cheaper!) than my beloved D200, but it has the same-sized sensor (and high-quality image capture). It's missing some of the bells, whistles and ruggedness of the D200, but is the trade-off worth it to me (and my spine) in terms of saved size and weight? I'll keep you posted.

I'm experimenting with smaller lenses, too. My camera's APS-sized sensor means most of my lenses have a 1.5x magnification effect. I've always been frustrated by smaller, slower wide-range zooms, but I'm reexamining lenses like the 18-200mm VR Nikon, and smaller, faster lenses with less range like the 50-150mm ƒ/2.8 Sigma. It gives me the same basic coverage as a 70-220mm zoom on a 35mm body, but is about half the size and weight of my current 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VR zoom.

Will these compromise items replace my larger workhorse gear? Probably not. But if they'll shave off crucial weight in carry-on situations when an extra ounce or two might mean the difference between carrying gear on board or sending it to the hold, they're worth their weight in petroleum, er, platinum.

If all these measures prove futile, what then? Fear not! I'm talking to a camera bag manufacturer about a new design that will hold enough gear for an entire large newspaper photo staff, but be completely carry-on compatible. I can't say more, other than it's huge, white, plastic and says in big red letters: "Duty Free..."




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