Traveling Light - Part IV

August 10, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I was never going to take a laptop. I’m self-employed, so work was never going to stop completely, but I wasn’t going to allow it to take over – and I didn’t want the weight. I broke the rule for the camera battery chargers, but tried to limit myself to gadgets that could be charged using USB cables – and preferably - micro USB cables.
And I was never going to take a DSLR. I’d assumed I’d take the Fujifilm X-T1 and X100T – and then Fuji launched the X-T10... Smaller, lighter but almost as capable I’d only miss out on a little shooting speed - which I probably wouldn’t need, weather sealing – which I might, and the vertical grip, which I was pretty sure I could live without. And although I have an 8mm, 14mm and 56mm that sit outside the range, if I bought it with a kit 16-50 lens I could leave most of the primes behind. That was settled, then – the only thing to decide was which tablet to take... 

I have a bit of a tablet problem – but it’s caused by the problems with tablets. I waited ages before I bought one – partly because I didn’t like the idea of finger-only touchscreens. I had a Toshiba m200 laptop running Windows for Pen years ago and it was great – a pre-cursor of things like the Lenovo Yoga – so I knew what a pen could do and when htc launched the Flyer with one... I had to have it. The pen functionality was good; the rest of the tablet was slow and unreliable. Since then I’ve had three Asus Transformers (all good, but bulky – and Asus are hopeless at keeping them up to date), two HPs (one good, one awful), two Nexus 7s (by Asus, but with Google in charge of the software upgrades... – and both excellent), a Samsung Tab 4 (execrable) and two Nexus 9s (both excellent – one stolen).

It was the Nexus 9 that I used for the experiment in Part III and the one that I assumed I’d take round the world. 10 days before I was due to go, though, I discovered the Samsung Tab A. Bigger (but lower resolution) 9.7” screen, really quick and smooth – and available with LTE (essential for a remote machine in the UK – not so useful on this trip) and an S Pen! I had to have one, so I ordered it immediately.

When I picked it up, I discovered that, in Europe, they’re available with LTE or an S Pen – but not both. It was too late to do anything about it before the trip, so I planned around taking it – and then discovered that in Singapore – our second stop – you could get a version with both – for less than I’d paid for the LTE-only version with the misleading side-on shot that looks a lot like a pen if you’re not paying attention. I didn’t want to risk not actually being able to get one – and I needed to use it before I got to Singapore, so I resigned myself to carrying two tablets around for most of the trip.

When I got to Singapore I also discovered an 8” version with both features but stuck to plan A and bought the 9.7” version in a different colour to my existing one – which will be on eBay in late August... All four parts of this blog were written on it – and all the photos on the trip were edited on it.

So, the complete kit list is – the X-T10, 16-50, 14, 18, 23, 27 (pancake), 35 and 56mm Fujinon lenses and an 8mm Samyang, the Galaxy Tab A in a cheap (£11) Ivso case with a really rather good bluetooth keyboard), a lens pen, an OTG cable, an SD card reader, four spare batteries, an EXPro dual battery charger, a WD My Passport Wireless 2Tb HD (with a built-in SD card reader), a Manfrotto table tripod and a Gorillapod plus a couple of SD cards. Almost everything bar the charger and the HD fits in a small Bilingham Hadley bag (including one of the two supports – provided you have the camera and one lens over your shoulder. It is starting to get quite heavy at that point, but not desperately and it’s really small. On flights, the pop-out padded section goes comfortably into my laptop-less laptop backpack and the outer goes into my checked bag.

That’s it – for four weeks. I did think about taking the X-T1 and grip as well - or instead - but I couldn’t be bothered – the same was true of the 50-140. I spend enough of my time lugging multiple bodies and big lenses around – this was supposed to be a holiday, not an assignment. A holiday that I planned my photography workflow for in advance and on which I wrote a rambling four part blog post, but a holiday, nonetheless.

So, what is the workflow? Again, there are a couple of variations. The simplest is that I take a picture, use the built-in WiFi to connect to the phone and then share the picture straight from the phone. It’s clunkier than it should be, to be honest. The phone and the Fuji rarely connect without having to switch access points (which involves pressing OK on each device...) and transfer is limited to 30 pics, but it works.

If I have a bit more time – coffee stop, say – I’ll send a batch of JPGs over and edit them in Photo Mate R2. Back at the hotel, I ignore the WiFi and plug in the OTG card reader. Each evening I’ll fire up PMR2 and filter it so that it just shows the JPGs and go looking for the ones I want. If they’re OK, I’ll edit them and save them to the Samsung at a Facebook friendly 1600 pixels wide – but if there’s a picture that needs tweaking I’ll switch the filter to RAW and produce the FB image from that.
I’d prefer to do them all from the RAW files, but it is a little slow – not to find or edit images, oddly enough, but to render the JPG can take a couple of minutes per image.

Which leads us to the final variation on the workflow – on long flights or lazy days by the pool – which is OTG and SD directly from PMR2 – but working on the RAW files directly. It’s slow, but it doesn’t matter. Actually, there’s a fifth mobile workflow, enabled by the backup system.

The SD cards are backed up by putting them in to the SD card reader on the external hard driver – which automatically sucks in any new files. Unhelpfully, it doesn’t merge the imports, but creates a new copy of the SD card folder structure – albeit one that only has the folders with new files in it.

I’m grateful for it, though. I took a long sequence (300 pictures) of a sunset in Bali with the intention of making a time-lapse movie. It all seemed to work, but then the card developed a read error in the camera – wouldn’t admit to having any pictures on it – and had lost the most recent DCM folder when viewed via OTG. Three days pictures were gone from the card, but I only lost the most recent day – the ones that weren’t backed up – including some rather nice sunset shots.

This was the first time that not having a PC was a major problem. On my PC I have a range of file recovery packages that might have recovered – might yet recover – the missing files, but no Android equivalents. So the card will have to stay unused for the remainder of the trip.

The fifth workflow method? The backup HD creates its own WiFi hotspot and IP network, so you can edit photos using PMR2 straight off it. It’s slower than OTG, so I wouldn’t have done, normally, but I did bring some of my backlog with me on the drive and I’m trying to catch up.

The drive isn’t perfect – there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to back up from the drive to the cloud – but I’m very glad I had it with me when the card failed. 

Would this workflow also work for ‘work’ photos? We’ll find out when I try it in Scarborough, but I did have a request for a hi-res version of a client picture and I was able to use the ‘cloud’ connectivity that comes with my Asus home router to find it, PMR2 to edit it and Dropbox to send it back to the client, so it very well might.



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