Recently back from the Falklands, South Georgia Islands and Antarctica, and while images will follow, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts about how my gear fared on the trip. Most of these notes were made during the trip, I've only lightly edited them for G+.
Gura Gear Kiboku 22L: Continues to perform well in the field. Handled wet and blowing snow conditions with little fuss, and almost completely ignored the indelicate handing I gave it save for a single pull tie, replacement pull ties are inexpensive and I’ve ordered several because … why not? They’re really cheap. Kudos again to GG for the solid construction and wonderfully heavy zippers.
I’ve always been a critic of the butterfly design, I tend to work with one body and many lenses, and I can never keep track of which lens is where, and it’s all too easy to close one side and think you’ve closed the other (OUCH!)… but on this trip, I used the D800E with the 24-70/2.8 or the 24-120/4 in one side and the D7100 with the 70-200/2.8, and the Kiboku was a great way to carry around two bodies with lenses attached “at the ready.” I may color code the pull ties left vs. right to help me remember which side has one setup vs. another.
Nikon D800E: This camera continues to impress this longtime Canon shooter, even if everything, and I mean everything still turns the wrong way. Low light performance is letting me shoot less often with a tripod—great from the ship here, and in terms of covering indoor events I used a lot of ISO 3200 and a fair bit of ISO 6400. All that and 36MP? Didn’t seem to mind the weather (-4C, blowing snow at 20m/s), I brought several extra batteries but never needed to replace one in the field. The labeling of the AF-C/AF-S selector switch is a fail, but the AF functionality is good, and I like the UI of focus point selection, I found it naturally. It’s silly that the best way to get mirror lockup and time delay is a funny menu item rather than that being the default for timed exposures, but I was able to move that to a custom function and put that on the function button on the camera, so moving from handheld to tripod and vice versa isn’t extraordinarily painful.
Nikon D7100: Most of what I said about the D800E is true here as well. It seems to handle weather, have good battery life, and it’s high ISO performance is quite good given the even-tighter sensor pitch. I spent a lot of time using the D7100 in continuous autofocus shooting birds in flight, and once I was set up well for that, I was impressed by it’s ability to hold focus. Birds in front of some textures of sea were still sometimes a challenge, but still, a very respectable performance. This was a new camera body for this trip, and I noticed early in the trip a rather large sensor spot, large enough to be visible at f/2.8. I surmised there was a good chance that I was looking at a glob of SLR mirror lubricant—I’d heard that had been an issue for the D800/D800E for a while, and I’d had that experience with a Canon 7D in the past.. the important thing is to not clean those until you’re sure you can actually clean them and not make the problem worse. I got three more similar spots during the trip—quite tractable, really, but that leaves a little room for Nikon to improve.
Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR: This is simply excellent. I’ve used the Canon70-200/L4 IS for a long time, which is not a directly comparable lens, but the 2.8 seems very sharp, and I’m hard pressed to say that either Canon or Nikon has the edge here based on the images. I recall that the Canon tests better, but I didn’t notice the difference. didn’t make formal AF tests, but informally, this lens did not appear to require micro adjustment, or at least not significantly so, with either camera body, my Canon 7D and 300L/4 IS required some signficant user adjustments during a previous trip that cost me images. Kudos Nikon.
Nikon 24-70/2.8:. This is a very good, even excellent, normal zoom lens, but it does not seem to quite live up to the recent update of Canon’s equivalent (the 24-70L/2.8 II) in terms of image quality, particularly with respect to chromatic aberration and sharpness in the corners. It’s not a problem, but Canon’s remarkable and recently updated glass spoiled me here.
Nikon 24-120/4 VR: I brought this as a backup lens, never took it out when I was taking the other two lenses out. It isn’t quite as crisp as the 24-70, and does suffer from more geometric distortion than that lens at some focal length, but it is still good enough to be used with the D800E. In some cases I ended up taking it alone on one body or another for landings because of its relatively light weight and wide range. I do actually compose a tiny bit less closely when using this lens in some cases, knowing that I’ll generally apply some level of lens correction. But I don’t have any concern that I’ll be able to create excellent, large prints using this lens.
Singh-Ray 10-stop ND 77mm: Quite satisfied, optically clean, and got somewhere in the range of a 10.5-11 stop decrease in exposure. There was a color cast, but it was neutrally and cleanly corrected in LR, a scene that rendered a neutral overcast sky at 6050 and +10 in LR at 1/60s needed 5100 and 0 with the filter and a 15s exposure. I didn’t cross-test that this came from the filter rather than the camera, but the other (often bright) colors in my test scenes came through fine after the bump down in these settings, and a +0.8 stop exposure bump to the longer exposure. I make that as closer to 10.5-11 stops rather than 11, but that’s a quibble at worst for my application and most likely yours.
B+H polarizer 77mm: I’m blanking on the exact model, it’s a wide-angle compatible mount. I barely used this, despite the fact that I tend to “go to” polarizers quite often. It worked fine when I used it, it just didn’t seem to be part of my work this time.
iPhone 5 panorama feature: Shocked me by producing a really great panorama in a penguin rookery. I included it without concern on the DVD I was selling to passengers.
Pelican Memory Card Cases (CF and SD): Worked great. I brought a lot of memory cards, and used front-facing vs back-facing on the SD cards, which is what I primarily used during the trip.
Various Sandisk Memory Cards, CF and SD, 16-64 GB each: Worked great
HP USB thumb drive: Kept reading and writing fine, but the cover plastic never fit quite right (too loose), and the blue plastic that was supposed to be glued to the functional part of the thumb drive detached near the end of the trip. Will replace.
Macbook Pro Retina/OSX Mavericks: It was aggressive of me to install so quickly before a major trip, but I survived the experience. Mavericks requires users to (at least once) indicate that they are okay with applications like TextExpander sending other applications keystrokes, this is a sensible security measure, and throwing the switch wasn’t hard, but I did have to do it. My external CF/SD card reader stopped working for SD cards, I’m not sure why, it continued to work for CF cards and I have a direct SD slot in the MBPr, so this wasn’t at all an issue. I did make one attempt to hook up an ethernet connection (at least that’s what I think it was!) using a Thunderbolt->Ethernet adapter, I got an immediate crash, and haven’t repeated the experiment. Pity about only having 512GB in this MBPr, as I came near out of SSD space, and ended up moving my music library to another disk to make room.
Lightroom 5 continues to work well for me for slideshows, presentations, and quick editing. It would have been much harder to complete this assignment without it.
iMovie proved capable of producing the slideshow I needed to produce, which was nice. Not having documentation sans internet access was a real issue, as was the loss of a function that would allow slideshow sync to particular beat markers that iMovie supported in previous versions. The way that many of the features work is non-intuitive for people using the tool for slideshows (clip duration adjustments), but probably make more sense for people actually using the tool for it’s intended purpose.
The Cloud (in the general sense) was missing in action. This includes things we think of as being in the cloud, but also the documentation for many programs we don’t think of as being in the cloud.
Adobe Creative Cloud succeeded in not disabling my Lightroom and Photoshop applications during the trip, with an annual subscription it did warn me that I'd need to "phone home" by February. Presumably I've already reset that counter now that I'm home.