Been on a plane lately?… Been asked to donate one of your kid’s kidneys to pay for an extra checked bag?… and now you have to pay moo-la for a carry-on bag on some planes. And who said bandits sailed the high seas?
When I travel, given how user-friendly airports and airlines are becoming with respect to luggage requirements I tend to be fairly specific with what I toss in my bag. Usually a Canon 5D Mk III, a wide zoom (EF16-35 f/2.8L II), usually a mid zoom (EF24-70 f/2.8L or EF24-105 f/4L), and a Speedlite 580EX II or 600EX-RT. Depending on where I am going I may also throw in an EF70-200 f/2.8L II. I will also toss in a Singh-Ray LB Color Combo filter for each lens element size – 77 & 82 (combo of color intensifier and polarizer).
For HDR images it also means taking an ‘L’ plate for the camera body (Really Right Stuff), a mid sized ball-head (Really Right Stuff BH-40), and a light-mid sized tripod (carbon fiber Gitzo GT-2541L). I also use the really cool PromoteControl for the HDR sequencing. I will also have a Canon S-100 point and shoot in my pocket (more often than not just in case I want to be in a shot – I would rather someone drop that than my D-SLR… don’t laugh.. it has happened. So while I travel ‘light’… light is as light does.
Travel Kit – Canon 5D Mk III
So all up, while it isn’t too bad, it is more than enough when you toss in the odd 17″ MacBookPro, iPad, Bose headphones, and various other work related stuff.
So when Canon recently released their new high end ‘point and shoot’, the PowerShot G1X I thought that this might be a reasonable compromise as a half decent, smallish travel camera. In keeping with the ‘keep it small & light’ mantra, I also changed out every other item in my travel kit for their smaller, lighter equivalent. The only thing that I couldn’t suitably replicate (yet) was the PromoteControl for HDR.
Again in the spirit of compromise I found a small wireless remote control from Phottix that works great with the G1X body. It won’t do the HDR sequencing like the PromoteControl, so I simply change the shutter speed manually. Not much of a hassle if you understand how exposure works, but I don’t like the fact that you have to touch the camera, which invokes the possibility of moving it slightly – (1) as the kit is so lightweight, (2) I usually take 7 shots with my HDR images… so a lot of opportunities to move something. In reality though, I will likely come down to 5 shots for this rig to minimize my concerns… Yeah I know, 3 is probably enough… but I like 7.
Note: the second image of the camera body below is only to illustrate the ‘L’ plate… it is not a second body that you have to pack.
I have provided the details of the light-weight kit at the end of the blog, as well as my Likes & Dislikes.
Travel Kit – Canon G1X
So now to test it. I was heading to Beijing in China for work so I tossed it in. The objective was to take a combination of general street photography (single image), both with and with0ut flash; some HDR; and also to test out the video. Now while in no-way do I wish to replace my larger and more expensive toys (love th0se), I do however want a good solution for taking good quality images while traveling (without a pack horse).
How did I travel with it – I packed the camera, Speedlite, and remote control in a Crumpler Haven bag. These are relatively new, but very useful and come in a few different sizes. I attached the ball-head to the tripod and put that inside a small Manfrotto tripod travel bag. Then the whole lot went inside my checked suitcase.
The Crumpler bag has ample protection, and I simply put the tripod on some shirts and undies to give it a bit of extra protection. My concern wasn’t so much that they would get damaged… more the airline would lose the bag (it has happened before), or some fast fingers would steal it (also happened before). As it turned out it all made it there and back fine (must have been the undies?).
Crumpler Haven Bag
So what was I hoping to accomplish? I am not so much into just taking happy snaps, so I wanted to see how the camera would do with some HDR and general photo journalism type images. Video isn’t much my thing either (although I like looking at them), but I thought that I would give that a whirl also to see how it performed for basic travel type footage (for a dummy like me anyway).
Insert ‘pause’ here as I head to the airport (at 4:30am) and take to the skies.
Well I am sitting in my hotel room in Beijing, unable to connect to much other than email and Flickr, so am writing this in Microsoft Word for pasting here when I get home. I used to live in China, both Beijing and Shanghai, but had forgotten that the outside world, while only a plane ride away, is a bit further than that from a social media standpoint. Be that as it may, my MacBookPro still works, as does my camera and Lightroom/Photoshop. Yes you can setup a connection via a VPN or similar to get you out… but I wasn’t staying long and simply couldn’t be bothered.
Technical Note: I have purposely not included any ‘real’ technical commentary here. There are a number of good sites around the place that do provide this (including the OEM sites). My notes are more based on general observation and gut-check feeling… the kind you get when playing with a new toy.
I only had part of one day to get my self imposed assignment completed, so I caught a local taxi from the hotel and had him drop me off about a block from Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City. I went early in an effort to beat the traffic, and the likely few gazillion rubber necks who would also be there later in the day, as it was a Saturday.
PHOTO 1: Going to work at the Forbidden City
For those who have not caught a local taxi before in a country like China where few speak English (relatively), make sure that you grab a hotel card with the address on it in the local language so that you can give it to the driver to get you back. On the way out, it doesn’t hurt to have your destination also written in the local language, as even though the hotel doorman will likely tell the taxi where to go, I have not met a taxi driver yet (in any country) that said they didn’t know where to go. Don’t confuse a smile with understanding. You are a walking ATM, so make sure you know how to get there and back.
Just the day prior (in Beijing) I was in one heading back to the hotel from a major local area (International Exhibition Center), with written instructions, the taxi had a GPS, the driver got out and asked directions two separate times, … and we still got lost three times. Many a time this is a ruse to simply get a higher fare… but in this case I had pre-negotiated my rate… so, between him and me it was a common case of dumb and dumber. We got home eventually none the worse for wear. He did try and ask for more cash… well he simply didn’t give me all my due change… what he didn’t realize is that I can still speak a bit of Chinese, so I got my change… and a knowing cheeky smile in return.
Canon G1X on Tour in Beijing
So, on with my Walk-About.
I put the kit together in the taxi on the way and simply left it together – and carried it around like a stick. It wasn’t worth taking the camera on and off the ball-head, and given that the tripod was so light, I simply lifted it up to take hand held shots, even with the Speedlite on. Simple enough. I did get the odd stare and smile (or a thousand or so) walking around with it, especially on Tian’anmen Square. You could spend the day on the Square simply taking photos of local people with cameras (they are everywhere), but few would have seen a tripod up close before, let alone the remote control hanging off it and a Speedlite.
PHOTO 2: Alley leading to the Forbidden City
Most people head for the bright lights and color (yes I have been there and done that myself many a time – shiny object syndrome), but you don’t really see the local community if you go and look at what the local tourism board wants you to see. By all means go and check it out, particularly in places like China where the history and culture are spectacular in places, but if you get the time, and you have the stomach for it… get off the beaten track a little.
Initially I took a random stroll in the backstreets a block or so from the Forbidden City. There are some small community green areas, and then you get into the local Hutong living communities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutong). The below photograph shows the entrance way into one of them not far from the Forbidden City.
PHOTO 3: Entry to a Hutong near the Forbidden City in Beijing
While walking around near a small waterway on my way to the Hutong area I came across the below young boy playing a board game with his grandfather. I stood and watched them for a while, then asked to take their photo. I was hoping they would simply keep playing, but the young lad was keen to get his picture taken and he stood abruptly to attention… it took me a little while and some gesturing to get him to sit down again… then he got his ‘photo on’. Peace out in Beijing. They both enjoyed the photo when I showed it to them on the LCD.
PHOTO 4: Peace Out Beijing
PHOTO 5: Next to the Forbidden City
Now while I am a self proclaimed camera snob (I like my Ds & D series… and soon to be Dx body no matter how big (and expensive) and heavy they are), I have to say, given the relatively economical price (not cheap for a point and shoot though) for the image quality you get, the G1X was pretty decent for what I used it for. Now will it be my go-to camera… No… but for basic travel it will be fine for many things. It is also more than adequate for those looking for a decent camera, but don’t want to shell out a lot more money, or have the hassle of needing several different lenses (and the cost associated with them). It is also pretty simple to use once you understand the user interface logic.
It is a bit chunky, so it isn’t what you would call a ‘toss it in your pocket’ camera like the Canon ‘S’ series (which are great small cameras), and when you bolt on the ‘L’ plate it gets a little bigger and heavier. In defense of the latter though, you are only going to do this if you plan on putting it on a tripod anyway. It was actually quite acceptable to hang onto for hand-held shots. The grip on the right hand side is reasonable, and your left hand simply wraps around the other end (depending on your holding style of choice).
For general photography it was fine, but I can’t say that I was enamored with it for HDR. Would it suffice if that was all you had… sure. But the overall stacked image quality did not seem to be what the 5DMkIII or DMkIV will give you (maybe it was just me being that camera snob again)… See previous note re technical review on my part – there is no science to my comment here… just eye-balling it.
Using it with a Speedlite was also a little frustrating. I pretty much use rear curtain sync all the time, so there was a long delay (relative to a D-SLR) from when you pushed the go button, to when the flash actually fired. This was annoying… I will no doubt get used to it the more I play with it.
The lens was OK. Given the sensor crop it didn’t get wide enough for me (compared to a full frame D-SLR), but more than adequate for cruising around (according to the Canon specs it is the equivalent of 28mm on a full frame sensor – something closer to 16mm would be more useful, at least for me). I missed not having a Polarizer on the lens. I have since ordered the 58mm filter adapter so that I can (canon part number: FA-DC58C). While I was at it I also ordered the lens hood (canon part number: LH-DC70).
As for video… as I said I am a relative knuckle-head when it comes to that. I simply used in on the ball-head and tripod and panned it… not really the correct way, but for what I was doing it was fine. Is it on a par with it’s higher end D-SLR cousins… no (and nor should it be for those shelling out the cash to get a higher end camera), but for some holiday video or your kid’s school concert or soccer game it would be more than adequate. I stitched a few clips together in the following compilation. I did not attach a seperate microphone so the sound is as is out of the camera. There was also no post work on the video itself so it is straight out of camera also.
I leave you with the below ‘Team Photo’. While it isn’t a very good photo, it was one that made me laugh while I was taking it.
If you have ever been to Tian’anmen Square you would know that this is an extremely popular tourist attraction for Chinese people… and I mean lots. I felt sorry for the guy trying to take this official photo of this particular tour group. He was trying to get them all lined up and looking at him (something akin to organizing chickens by how well it seemed to be going)… so to make things worse I stood next to him for a few minutes with my camera (on a tripod) held up and I snapped a few shots. I was well on my way and he was still trying to get them to say ‘cheese’. May the Force be with him.
PHOTO 6: Team Shot on Tian’anmen Square
Well that’s it… See You There!
Below I provide the specs on the various photos and kit in case you are interested.
Camera: Canon PowerShot G1X
Flash: Canon Speedlite 430 EX II
Tripod: GITZO GT-1540T
Ball-Head: Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ultra Light
L-Plate: Really Right Stuff
Remote Control: Phottix WXD-189
Pack Mule: Me
- Smaller & easier to pack than a D-SLR
- Hot Shoe to permit use of Speedlites and Pocket Wizard
- Moveable LCD screen
- General overall quality of images was better than all other point and shoots that I have used (which is limited to only Canon models)
- Front dial (have mine set to change shutter speed in manual mode). Useful for how I was doing the HDR sequencing.
- A bit on the chunky side to be a real point and shoot… but not bad given it’s size (happy to trade a little size for quality though)
- On the expensive side, but not so if this is going to be your only higher end camera
- Lag on second curtain sync for flash using a Speedlite
- Connection capability to permit use of higher end remote controls (eg PromoteControl)
- For what you pay, the filter adapter and lens hood should be included
- Not quite wide enough zoom given the sensor crop (currently 28mm full frame equivalent)
- PHOTO 1: Four young ladies heading to work in the Forbidden City
Shutter Speed: 1/250th - f/stop: f/8.0 - ISO: 100 - Focal Length: 38mm - Flash: No
- PHOTO 2: Alley leading to the Forbidden City – HDR 5 shots
Shutter Speed: 1/60th (middle exposure) - f/stop: f/8.0 - ISO: 100 - Focal Length: 44mm - Flash: No
- PHOTO 3: Entry to Hutong
Shutter Speed: 1/160th - f/stop: f/5.0 - ISO: 200 - Focal Length: 40mm - Flash: Speedlite 430 EX II (EV -2 stops / aimed at left door frame)
- PHOTO 4: Peace Out in Beijing
Shutter Speed: 1/100th - f/stop: f/5.0 - ISO: 400 - Focal Length: 15mm - Flash: No
- PHOTO 5: Building near the Forbidden City – HDR 7 shots
Shutter Speed: 1/80th (middle exposure) - f/stop: f/8.0 - ISO: 100 - Focal Length: 15mm - Flash: No
- PHOTO 6: Team Shot on Tian’anmen Square
Shutter Speed: 1/160th - f/stop: f/5.0 - ISO: 200 - Focal Length: 15mm - Flash: Speedlite 430 EX II (EV +1 stop)
- PHOTO 7: Young child on Tian’anmen Square
Shutter Speed: 1/100th - f/stop: f/5.6 - ISO: 200 - Focal Length: 44mm - Flash: Speedlite 430 EX II
Well I had one more happy snap left so thought that I would toss it in seeing as how the little girl was nice enough to stand still long enough for me to take it.
Again if you have been to Tian’anmen (or many places in China) you would have seen the many ropes and ‘keep out / keep off’ signs. The parents of this little girl kept putting her over the ropes near these flowers to get a photo… at least until the Tian’anmen police came, upon which they would simply move a little further down the rope line and do it again. I used the Speedlite 430 EX II here. I didn’t have much time as that same Policeman was coming, so you can see the moderate highlight bouncing off her forehead when the flash hit her ‘head on’. It was a really hot and bright day, so I simply tried to balance the exposure to what was on the flowers behind her and get on my way. Aperture priority… push the go-button, and run.
PHOTO 7: Photo Op on Tian’anmen