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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I’ve Been Downsized


Thinning out your gear makes travel photography a whole lot easier

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The 16-85mm was perfect for fast-moving dance action.
Notebook Or Netbook. Both assignments would involve downloading, backing up, captioning and renaming my files along the way, and sending previews to editors when possible, so I’d need a computer. I’m a fan of using an Epson P5000 or P7000 for a laptop-less travel job, but while these units are great for storing, viewing and backing up images on the road, it’s still tough to rename and impossible to caption. So my first line of defense for lightweight travel wasn’t going to work for me this time.

Now, I’ve been a Mac guy since the ’80s, when I tried to write a document on my wife’s PC. It was a nightmare. I went across the street to a neighbor who had an early Mac and did it effortlessly. From that moment on, I was sold on Macs; I still am—with one small exception.

So far, Apple hasn’t delved into the sub-notebook, or netbook, category of laptops. Sure, they made the MacBook Air, an elegant fashion statement that one photographer described as the “best $3,000 second laptop you’ll ever own.” That’s my impression—it’s thin, but the footprint is still large, the hard drive options are too small, and don’t even get me started on the lack of ports.

That’s why I was intrigued by netbooks—little, no-frill units with eight-inch screens, respectable 160 GB drives, built-in SD card readers, tons of ports, wireless Internet, a two-pound weight and, best of all, they’re only about $400. They come in Windows or Linux versions, and even though I’ve had some run-ins with the Windows operating system, my USB cellular modem requires Apple or PC operating systems, so I went with the PC version of an Acer Aspire.

What a little gem this computer is! Yes, the screen is sketchy, quality-wise, and almost impossible to profile; the need for constant virus scans by the pricey protection software is annoying; and the Windows OS is, well, let’s just say it ain’t OS X. But the size and weight, or lack thereof, is its crowning achievement. Right away, I’m down to half the weight and size of my usual (and much beloved) 13-inch black MacBook.

Totally inspired by this little find, I looked for other ways to lighten up. Over the years, I must have accumulated 15 or so bus-driven, 2.5-inch auxiliary hard drives. They’re small and they work well as backups to the laptop, but the smaller netbooks don’t put out enough power through their USB ports to run them, so I’d have to take along separate power sources for the drives. There goes the size/weight advantage. But maybe, I thought, there’s something smaller. Enter the 1.8-inch hard drives.

These mini-drives are becoming more popular, and I found a couple of 120 GB USB drives that drew enough from the Acer’s USB port to run. They’re tiny—about half the size and weight of a typical 2.5-inch drive. My computer bag is now half its usual size and weight.

Clothes Don’t Make The Man. With my camera and computer bags at half size, it was time to look at my wardrobe. Thanks to microfibers, Supplex nylon and other high-tech fabrics, I lightened my clothing load years ago. I can take a few pair each of easy-wash, quick-drying pants, underwear, shirts and a photo vest and be gone for months, just washing them out in the sink or shower every other night and having them dry in the morning. My entire outfit can fit into a two-gallon Ziploc® bag and my toiletries into a one-gallon bag! So there’s nothing much I can do to go much lighter.

The Final Frontier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to give up my ƒ/2.8 Nikkors, D300s and MacBooks anytime soon. They’re still the “first string,” the starting five, the go-to guys in my little photo arsenal. But having the smaller stuff as a backup for those times when every ounce counts—and those times seem to be coming up more and more lately—is a great comfort.

Of course, there’s one other way I could lighten my load. Even a cursory look in the mirror tells me that dropping 20 or 30 pounds of me would be another great idea. But that’s going to be a long, hard-fought battle and a column for another day!

For a schedule of Bob Krist’s workshops, visit www.bobkrist.com.

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