Define the Mission

In April 2018 we decided to park the rest of our lives and go on a self-supported world tour on our touring bikes.  In our blog post we talk about our priorities being:

  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Cycling

That gives the photo kit a high degree of priority over some other luxuries but we are very aware that what ever we set out with, we’re going to have to carry for circa 30,000km!  That focuses the mind somewhat.

So, as is usual in our household, earnest discussion was held over a bottle of red wine where we defined what we thought we were going to photograph and only then we could talk about the minimum viable kit.

It was relatively simple to “Define the Mission” as it’s pretty much limited to Street and Landscape photography.

Our influences in Street Photography are dominated by Henri Cartier-Bresson but also a wide selection of lesser known brilliant photographers such as Ami Strachan.

Street Photography by Ami Strachan

 

Our Landscape influences are very much from the Group f64, mainly Ansel Adams and Edward Weston; it is partly characterised by the extensive Depth of Field from foreground to the horizon and you will see that a lot in our photographs, it also goes a long way to the choice of the Canon 24mm TS-E Tilt & Shift Lens as our primary lens.

Edward Weston

Minimum Viable Kit

Street Photography

The fantastic Fujifilm X100F

Let’s start with the Street Photography.  A camera for Street Photography has to be light, easy to use and mustn’t change the behaviour of the subject.  In Physics this is known as the Observer Effect; this is the theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon.

My Canon 1DX is a technically brilliant street camera when married to a lens such as the 50mm f1.4, it’s so fast to focus and it’s ergonomically wonderful so thaa I have a very high degree of confidence that when I raise it to my eye that I’m going to nail that shot.

BUT, it has two major downsides, firstly it weighs a ton and it’s a long day with that slung around your neck, the second is that it’s an imposing and intimidating piece of kit; as soon as someone sees you point that behemoth at them, it changes their behaviour.  You would be hard pushed to get a better example of the Observer Effect than the reaction from someone when you shove a 1DX up their left nostril!

The X100F (and X100T) is in a different league; it’s light and rarely gets a second look.

Technically, of course it’s not in the same league as the 1DX, especially with the speed of focusing, but to compare the X100F with a professional Sports/Press camera is very unfair.  The X100F focuses fast enough, the image quality is exceptional against its peers and ergonomically it’s very good as 90% of Street Photography is anticipation of The Decisive Moment and you will already have the camera set for the shot that you have pre-visualised.

There’s not much more that we need for the Street Photography than our Fujifilm X100F & X100T.

 

Landscape Photography

The Landscape Kit has been a little more problematic to pare down.  Let’s start with the easy stuff, the camera. This isn’t the place for a full technical analysis of stuff like Circles of Confusion, partly because it’s been a while since I did that analysis and can’t remember it all accurately, but the number of megapixels is not the quality determining factor and I made the decision that only a Full Frame sensor would cut it for the higher end Landscape Photography.

We have owned a Canon 5D Mk III since the day it was released and we’ve never regretted buying it and we see no need to change it for this trip.

The lens selection was a different matter though.

We are fortunate enough to own a wide selection of Canon lenses and the 24-70mm f2.8L was our first thought.  The 24-70mm f2.8L is a true workhorse and it would be a rare environment where there were professional photographers and you wouldn’t see most Canon photographers with one of these attached to the front of one of their camera bodies, from F1 pitlanes to the catwalk, the 24-70mm f2.8L is a clear frontrunner workhorse lens.

But at 950g it’s heavy!  It would need to be a good justification to pick this lens.

For a long time we leaned towards the 17-40mm f4.  We don’t need the f2.8 of the 24-70 as fast-focussing is rarely going to be an issue for us for Landscape and at half the weight it was looking to be a slam dunk for a while.

We also like the wider perspective of the 17mm, it’s surprisingly different to the 24mm.  But it doesn’t come without its own issues.

Firstly there is the barrelling at the widest range, but this isn’t a deal killer because Photoshop and Lightroom are now very good at correcting this to such a degree that you would be hard pushed to spot it, even if you were looking for it.

But there are two issues that make this lens problematic for Landscape Photography when you don’t want to compromise on quality.

The first is edge quality, even at f8 there is a noticeable softening at the extremities of the image.  The second is that we like to use filters, especially polarisers and grad grey (more about that later) and there is significant vignetting at anything wider than 20mm.

So what did we choose?

We went for the technically brilliant but quirky and difficult to use 24mm f3.5L TS-E, Tilt & Shift lens.

There are several reasons for this, firstly at 780g it makes it mid-range weight and needs some serious justification to carry the extra 300g over the 17-40mm.

If we think back to the Group f64 that I mentioned earlier then the Tilt function of this lens is a must for nailing that Depth of Field from feet to horizon.

 

It’s been over 30 years since I last calculated the angle of tilt needed using the Scheimpflug Principle and I have no appetite to do it again, starting at 1.5° and experiment from there is a good method 🙂

But it’s the ability to rotate the lens barrel and shift 12° in both directions is a deal-clincher.  Photoshop CC now has excellent pano-stitching built in and Adam Karnacz expplains it better here than I could.

 

Those 3 shots of his in that video make my hairs stand on end and they definitely represent a style that we have long admired and we first experienced with Colin Prior.

As a real example of what can easily be achieved, we photographed our house for sale and this was one of the photographs of the lounge using the same technique of stitching 3 x 24mm images.

If you’re interested, then it’s also worth looking at this video where Mason Marsh uses a similar technique but rotates the lens into a portrait mode to give greater height to the image; he also illustrates the differences of this technique and the issues at the edges of a lens such as the 17-40mm f4L.

 

If that wasn’t enough justification then there’s the benefits when using filters: the vignetting is far less than the 17-40mm, although you do have to be a little circumspect at about 10° of lateral shift.

Also polarisers work better on a 24mm lens that’s shifted and stitched rather than a 17mm lens that creates a much more defined polarised band.

Phew- so that’s why the 24mm f3.5L TS-E has earned its place in the camera bag.

 

Filters

Some will tell you that filters are obsolete now with the capabilities of Photoshop and, to a large degree they’re right.  But not completely.

We are packing 3 main Lee Filters:

  • Grad ND (aka Grad Grey)
  • Polariser
  • “Big Stopper” – 10 stop ND

Let’s take the justification one at a time.

Firstly the Grad ND, but it’s not one filter, it’s three. This Lee set of three ND filters is a bit painful on the wallet at over £200 (over £300 with holders) but they are optically excellent and the choice of most Lansdcape photographers.  We have had ours years.

 

Their usual purpose is to balance the contrast between the sky and the ground.  Digital cameras have come a long way with their dynamic range but at between 8-11 stops for raw images on a good camera they’re still nowhere near what mother nature can throw at you.  Back when B&W film was cutting edge, FP4+ was the emulsion of choice and that had a Dynamic Range of 9-11 stops and Grad ND filters were widely used then.  Nothing has yet evolved to change this.

Bracketed HDR is an option but there are two things that put us off, the first is the lack of control of how the HDR is applied and the second is that, when you’re stitching shifted images, you now need to process 3 x raw and then stitch 3 x resultant HDR that introduces a lot of room for cock-up and loss of image quality when consolidating 9 images for a single Landscape photograph.

It’s possible, just not the method we would choose.

This shot is an example.  The centre part had too much contrast between the kitchen interior and the garden on a sunny day and I had to shoot 3 images bracketed by two stops each to build a composite  HDR image that was then stitched with the two outlying shots that were shifted ±10° left and right.

 

The second filter is the polariser.  Yes, Photoshop can add saturation similar enough to the filter that means that you would leave it at home but, whenever you’re near water, reflections are going to need taming.  Nothing does that like a polariser and it can’t be done in post-processing.

Again, at £169, quality doesn’t come cheap.

 

 

Finally, it’s one of my favourites, the Lee “Big Stopper”.  It’s a 10-stop Neutral Density filter that looks like black glass that will cut down the light so much that you will need to use a very slow shutter speed, often of many seconds.  I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I love it around water.

Having spent nearly £500 on filters so far, this Big Stopper at about £100 seems a bit of bargain :)))

 

 

So that’s about it, with the exception that we have also decided to pack a telephoto lens and a fast lens.

Both are a compromise and are chosen for their weight over the absolute quality, with the under-rated 705g 70-200mm f4L making it into the bag in preference to its hefty f2.8L IS cousin.  And the bargain lens of Canon’s stable, the 50mm f1.4.

70-200mm f4L
50mm f1.4