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Return from the Northern Wasteland

Some travel notes

in Travel , Wednesday, September 08, 2010

So, a couple of weeks ago I got back from Svalbard.  First of all, I want to take the opportunity to thank the 11 people I shared a small, yacht-shaped space with for 14 days for making it such an unforgettable experience. If you ever want to see Svalbard properly, your first port of call needs to be Mark Van Den Weg’s Jonathan Adventure Sailing. Don’t leave home without it.

Although photography was a big part of this trip, for me it wasn’t absolutely vital. Nevertheless, it was a considerable blow when, due to brain fade on my part, my XPan stopped working after 3 days. Even though I also had the Olympus and a full set of lenses, I’m finding more and more that “real” photography for happens on film through a wide screen viewfinder. Although I brought back over 6000 digital images, I’m finding it quite hard to get enthusiastic about them.

I have a total of 120 frames from the XPan, a few of which are interesting, but unfortunately the first few days were not really interesting from a photographic perspective. Here’s one of them:

xpan_svalbard06_14.jpg

This example is one of the few taken on Provia 400X. I haven’t really used this before, but it does seem quite similar to Provia 400F, in that it is a little washed out and the shadows seem to lack some density. It is also quite coarse grained compared to to, say Velvia 100F, and there’s quite a lot (relatively speaking) of chroma noise in the scans. However, for handheld use (as this was), when the light is fading, it’s pretty useful. Otherwise I used Ektachrome E100G, on Tim Parkin’s recommendation, and although I haven’t done any high resolution scans of it yet, I’m quite impressed, especially by its dynamic range and neutrality. I’ve got more than enough left over to carry on experimenting ...

Of course, the XPan isn’t much use for wildlife close-ups, or at least not when said wildlife is large, aggressive, and / or timid.  For those shots the Olympus E-3 together with the 50-200mm lens and 2x teleconverter worked fairly well. My traveling companions had various equipment from the usual suspects (no Sony though), and although the heavy artillery on Canon 1Ds and Nikon D700s looks impressive and can give sensational results, it really looks cumbersome and clumsy. The only camera that really made me slightly envious was the Pentax K7, but as far as lenses are concerned, my feeling is Olympus still has nothing to fear from the competition.

Actually there was very little camera talk. Hardly any at all, and when there was, it was invariably somebody asking for help with an uncooperative widget or advice on a setting or two. Absolutely zero “my camera beats your camera” talk, which was very, very refreshing.

But I’m getting increasingly fed up with carrying heavy gear on planes and everywhere else, and I’m seriously looking into something like an Olympus E-P2. I’m not sure how this would work out for long zoom wildlife shots - for that kind of thing I think the balance of a DSLR body helps a lot, but otherwise, well the sheer weight advantage is a strong argument.

My LowePro Photo Trekker Pro bag finally gave up on this trip as well, with a terminal main compartment zip failure. It’s been going that way for several years. One of my companion’s LowePro bags suffered a similar, but even more terminal fate (at least I managed to patch mine up enough to get it home), and my general opinion of LowePro is therefore not good. Their bags are too heavy, often poorly designed, and way over-rated. I won’t be buying another one.

But Svalbard wasn’t about gear, or even photography. It was about experiencing close up one the most remote-yet-accessible and pristine locations in the Northern Hemisphere. And Polar Bears. And Polar Beers.

More photos will follow at some point.

Posted in category "Travel" on Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 09:59 AM

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