Think Tank Urban Disguise 40
Photographers spend a great deal of time looking for the perfect camera bag hoping it's available on the next trip to the store. Every bag is a compromise unless you have found one that folds the space-time continuum in such a way that a small bag holds a lot of gear and all of it doesn't weigh very much. Sadly, I haven't seen that bag available at my local camera store, so I have had to make some sacrifices and select a bag that obeys the laws of physics.One of my first camera bags for my digital camera equipment was the Bob Krist Travel Bag sold by L.L. Bean. It had the distinct advantage of being taller than wide, thus allowing for a full size camera with a mounted long telephoto to be dropped into it.
At 14" X 12" X 5" and with a vertical configuration, it always felt a little awkward to carry. While it had some endearing features including the ability to transform into a backpack, after a couple of years I was back to looking for a different bag. The other bag I have used is the oddly named Crumpler Geekstar that had a unique lower horizontal compartment for storing lenses. It also looked for all the world like a large, royal blue diaper bag but ultimately, like the Bob Krist bag, proved to be too large and cumbersome to easily carry around.Today
my over the shoulder travel camera bag is a ThinkTank Urban Disguise 40
. Into this 13" X 10" X 4" black ballistic nylon bag goes as much gear as I would normally want to carry. Typically I put a Canon 5D Mk II body with grip and separate 70-200 f/2.8, 24-105 f/4, 2X extender and a digital derringer
of some sort. Without the grip on my 5D, I usually store the camera with a mounted 16-35 in the middle compartment, a 70-200 f/2.8 on one side and a 300 f/4 on the other. Again, this still leaves room for a digital derringer to be stored in the central compartment giving me more than enough equipment for almost any circumstance.
As with most other camera bags, the inside can be configured in many different ways by attaching various partitions and platforms using hook and loop attachments. The folks at Think Tank provide a huge selection of these partitions with the bag so there is no shortage of ways to configure the inside.
The rear zippered compartment holds my netbook and power cable. The two expandable front pockets can hold portable hard drives, small prime lenses or an external flash. This still leaves another zippered compartment between the main one and the front pockets. Here there are pockets for pens, paper, lens cleaner and cloth as well as a "Pocket Rocket" - a folding wallet that will hold CF and SD cards and clips to an lanyard mounted in the bag for security. Soft, stretchable outside pockets on each
end of the bag allow for water bottles or the like to be stored where they can be easily accessed.It's really the little extras that set this bag apart and shows that photographers were involved in the design and testing of this product.
While most bag hardware is now made of plastic, all clips, rings and zipper pulls on this bag are of metal to stand up to the most severe wear and tear. The zippers are weather resistant and the bag comes with its own rain jacket that can be installed over the bag on rainy days. There is an open pocket on the back of the bag that can be used to hold paperwork or, with the bottom portion open, it becomes a sleeve that will fit over the upright handle of a rolling suitcase. The adjustable, curved and well padded shoulder strap makes this bag relatively easy to carry even when loaded to the max with gear. The zippers are lockable with any luggage lock you would care to use. Most importantly, this bag is airplane friendly and will fit under the seats or in the overhead bin on the tiny CRJ's that fly in and out of Saskatoon.As the name of the bag implies, it is meant to be non-descript rather than shouting out that it's filled with expensive cameras. Short of carrying around a converted diaper bag to discourage thieves (I've done that, by the way), this bag will limit unwanted attention during your travels.The best indication that a bag works is how long a photographer uses it and this one has been my primary travel bag for four or five years now. The bag still looks great - as the photo above will attest - and is large and flexible enough to carry all manner of camera gear. If you are still looking for that perfect bag, this one - or another in the Think Tank lineup may be in order.
A "digital derringer" is a small camera that is easy to carry in your pocket with the controls and image quality that comes close to a digital SLR. This is the Holy Grail for many photographers (besides the perfect camera bag); a small camera with big camera image quality.
I bring my small camera along when my Canon 5DMkII would just be overkill. On cruises it's what I carry during a day devoted to shopping or an evening out in restaurants where I don't want to be encumbered with a lot of gear. I use it extensively in the confined space of a tour bus or small boat where there isn't the "swinging room" to pull out a larger camera. I also carry it discretely in places where an expensive DSLR might draw unwanted (and criminal) attention.
The Canon S90 (now replaced by the similar S95) has been with me for a number of years, and at 4" X 2" X 1", it goes a long way to addressing the small camera/big quality balance. It is a 10PM camera that is small and light enough to drop into a pocket yet has big camera features. It's 28-105 (35mm equivalent) lens is a fast f/2.0 at the wide end and a respectable f/4.9 at the telephoto end. In addition, the lens is also image stabilized which gives me even more of an edge at reducing camera shake.
The camera has several other features that I always look for - the ability to shoot RAW images and a usable histogram to review exposure information. RAW images tend to give a little more exposure latitude and allow for final processing under my control rather than relying on the camera to do the work. The histogram gives me a better indication of whether an image is properly exposed rather than relying on the inaccurate thumbnail that appears on the camera's LCD screen. For me, without these two features, a camera really is little more than a toy.
There is a full range of manual and semi-automatic controls, allowing for Aperture or Shutter priority, full manual, Program, Auto, and Custom as well as movie mode and eighteen - count them - eighteen special scene modes (including the ever popular aquarium mode). Also, when shooting JPGs, there are 10 white balance setting available to you.
The movie mode is only 640X480 @ 30fps (the current S95 has 780p HD movie mode) but it still turns in very acceptable movies that don't take up much room on the camera's memory card.
Probably the feature that is most useful on the S90 is the control ring around the front lens mount. This ring provides for easily accessed, customized control that just isn't found on many cameras. I can decide if the ring will remain with its default use, (which changes based on exposure mode) or for zoom control, white balance adjustment, exposure compensation or ISO selection. For those of us who grew up with analogue cameras, this is a great way to easily access one more set of controls that might otherwise be buried in a menu somewhere.
Are there any downsides to this camera? Sure, there isn't an optical viewfinder,and I don't believe that the most stable way to take a photograph is to hold your camera at arm's length from your face! The zoom range is also limited if you are doing anything more than general family, or holiday snaps. At 28mm it is wide enough for most needs but at the telephoto end, 105mm (equivalent) is only 2X magnification - hardly enough to bring in that whale if you are encountering wildlife in Alaska. For this, you are going to need something like the Canon SX30 with a telephoto reach of 840mm! While this camera costs not much more than the S95 does today, it is much larger.
The S90 has long been replaced by the S95 with only a few significant changes including the inclusion of 780P video and in-camera HDR capability. It too, is soon to be replaced by the S100 rumoured to have an increased 12MP sensor. With the S95 reaching end of life as of the summer of 2011, you might just find a great deal on a wonderfully small camera capable of delivering excellent results. If you are willing to deal with Fleabay, you ca find very nice S90's around the $200 mark.
Have your own favourite "digital derringer"? Share your camera of choice with us!
Dusk in Downtown Vancouver - Canon S90
Early Morning in Vancouver
May 20, 2011 - We slipped under the Lions Gate Bridge very early in the morning and were tied up along side Canada Place by 7:00am. The weather was gorgeous with clear skies and the promise of warm temperatures. It is amazing how quickly seven days pass on a cruise ship. We had great weather, wonderful workshop participants and a crew that really looked after all of our needs. While Jan and I took no ship excursions and simply prowled around our own, we came back to land feeling refreshed and relaxed. We are now looking into a northbound cruise sometime in 2012.
Queen Charlotte Strait Scenery
May 19, 2011 - Cruise ships that end their voyages in Vancouver usually travel south through the protected waters between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island on their last sea day. About noon our ship passed into Queen Charlotte Strait which begins at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We sailed south through progressively narrower channels until sunset near Campbell River.
The photograph above shows the scenery early in the afternoon while below is the1898 Cape Mudge Lighthouse at dusk. This lighthouse protects the entrance to Seymour Narrows, the location of the once treacherous "Ripple Rock" which claimed 120 vessels before being blown to bits
in 1958 by the largest non-nuclear explosion at the time.
Cape Mudge Lighthouse
Creek Street, Ketchikan
May 18, 2011 - Our stop in Ketchikan was the only day we really saw any rain on our entire cruise. We had anticipated cold, wet weather this early in the year but were treated to warm and sunny instead. It was heavily overcast with light rain as we docked but the rain ended and we remained dry during our entire visit. Once again, having taken in many of the sights
in Ketchikan previously, Jan and I explored on our own. We walked through Tongass Trading Post right on the pier. This is one of three stores, all located in downtown Ketchikan, with the whimsical names of "Tongass 1", "Tongass 2" and "Tongass 3". The store on the pier is filled with souvenirs, hardware goods and a small confectionery. Many cruise passengers make this their last stop on the way back to the ship as the souvenirs a
re reasonably priced, an extra suitcase can be bought cheap and the bottled water, pop and snacks are better priced than on board.Downtown Ketchikan is compact enough that it is very easy to walk around. There are probably more jewellery stores per city block here than in any other Alaskan port, but if you manage to walk through town without being distracted, you will soon come to Creek Street, the former red light district built on pilings above the water. This is now the location of restaurants and boutiques in probably one of the prettiest settings in Alaska.
The green house to the right is Dolly's House Museum, a throwback to the time when there were numerous "establishments of negotiable affection" along the boardwalk.
Ketchikan Crossing Guard
It's funny that in a town of only 15 000 residents there are crossing guards at many downtown crosswalks. I'm still not certain if this casts aspersions on local drivers or visiting cruise ship passengers, but the help was always appreciated!
Jan's Image of Downtown Juneau
May 17, 2011 - Juneau is the capital of Alaska and the only American capital city that you can't actually drive in or out of. The city has a municipal area larger than the entire state of Rhode Island with its eastern edge being the border between Canada and the U.S. It's the only American capital bordering another country and the only US city to have a glacier within its city limits.There is much to do and see in Juneau, some of which we discussed in an earlier posting. As this was our sixth time in Juneau, we decided to take it easy and do our own walking tour of downtown Juneau. We spent a great deal of time in a little art gallery called Annie Kaill's on Front Street that specialized in local Alaskan artists.
They not only had some very unique pieces but they took extra care to wrap and protect our purchases for our trip home. We also discovered the downtown postal outlet on Franklin Street not far from the cruise ship that had boxes and packing supplies for any size item you might want to send home rather than carry with you. We just mailed off a post card (which took about 10 days to reach Vancouver) as we didn't have that much "stuff" to carry home.
Shopping for Shore Excursions
We noticed that a number of our fellow passengers eschewed cruise ship excursions and instead used the dock side kiosks to book their tours. Prices were reasonable and the selection was good. In spite of dire warnings from the cruise industry that the quality of the tours would not be very good or that passengers would not be returned in time for sail away, everyone was on board and happy at the end of the day.
We chose to spend the afternoon on board Millennium to see what it was like to experience the ship while in port. We didn't have to share the ship with many other passengers, so it was a great time to visit the spa or the pools as there was little competition on a port day like this. As we were also teaching our photography workshop on this trip, our stop in Juneau proved to be one of the few days we weren't teaching, but we still needed time to look over our notes and adjust our slide shows based on what we still needed to cover.
We sailed at dusk after a beautiful, sunny day in Juneau - port days don't come much better than this!
Hubbard Glacier From The Helipad
May 16, 2011 - This is one of the coldest places in Alaska. The Hubbard Glacier is over 13 km wide and terminates directly into Disenchantment Bay, not far from the small community of Yakutat. Think of Hubbard as one of the world's largest refrigerators, with winds constantly blowing off the face of the glacier out into the bay and directly into oncoming cruise ships. Bring a hat, bring gloves, bring a blanket..... you will get cold out on the open decks - for a while. Something magical happens the closer you get to the face of the glacier (and how close you get depends on the weather and the amount of ice in the water). You will reach a place where the winds pass over the top of the ship and you are left standing on deck in very calm - and if the sun is out - much warmer conditions.
On this voyage we were in for a treat as the Captain opened the forward helipad for us to scamper out on to for our viewing pleasure. It was a bit of a climb up and down steep stairs and through the narrow passageways but the view was well worth it and we shared this space with several hundred of our fellow passengers. Hot chocolate and other libations were available to ensure that no one became too cold and it was a great place to watch our final approach to Hubbard. While we did not get as close as some of our other trips, given how early in the year it was and how much ice was in the water, we still got a great view on a beautiful sunny day.
The Captain brought us in as close as he could, spun the ship around so that port and starboard both had great views and then we eased ourselves back through the ice the same way we approached the glacier in the first place.
Leaving Hubbard Glacier (Jan)
Jan's Beach Trail and Boat
May 15, 2011 - We made landfall for the first time on this cruise in Icy Strait Point, just west of the Tlingit community of Hoonah on Chichagof Island. Ship tenders dock here rather than in the town itself and it is a beautiful location that feels like "the real Alaska" that it is marketed to be. There are several buildings near the dock, including an excursion lounge and cafe, a cannery museum, gift shop, restaurant, and native theatre. From here buses take guests on shore excursions or into town to explore. Walking trails follow the ocean shore and meander through the old growth forest.
Last time we were in Icy Strait we went on a bear watching excursion that took us into the muskeg and forest looking for bears. Unfortunately the closest we came to seeing bear was spotting Sitka deer, but the landscape was beautiful and we still enjoyed ourselves immensely. This time we opted to hang out in Icy Strait Point itself and walk the Beach Trail the leads west from the Cannery Museum, along the ocean shore, through forest and under the screaming guests riding the longest zip chair in the world before circling back to where we began.
On the whole, a relaxing way to spend a day exploring Alaska up close and personal!
Jans Old Growth Forest
May 14, 2011 - The first day at sea on an Alaskan cruise offers the possibly of encountering choppy water in places like Hecate Strait. This trip proved to be smooth sailing through these waters and it was a special treat to enter one of the gems of the Canadian Inside Passage in the early afternoon. Grenveille Channel is a 90km long narrow fjord north of Princess Royal Island, home of the famous Kermode (Moksgm'ol) Bear
. The channel takes a little over three hours to navigate and brings the ship within meters of the steep edges of this spectacular fjord. This is the kind of breathtaking wilderness that everyone hopes to experience during their cruise and this one was off to a great start.
Grenville Channel Seen From Millennium
Dominion Building, East Vancouver
May 13, 2011 - We boarded Celebrity Millennium shortly after 1:00pm on Friday after spending an hour in the cattle chutes leading up to security and immigration. As this was the first Alaska sailing of the season, we'll cut the port authority and the cruise line some slack but it was a long haul to get on the ship (some passengers waited three hours to board later in the afternoon), but it was not up to the usual efficiency we have come to expect from this port.
Most cruise ships sail from Canada Place in downtown Vancouver and this is where we boarded Millennium. The real advantage of this mooring is the view of the heritage buildings in east Vancouver. This is the Dominion Building, a 13-storey "sky scraper" built in 1910 in the "Second Empire" architectural style. More modern, and far taller, sky scrappers can been seen in the background while shorter buildings contemporary to the Dominion Building are visible in the foreground. A number of Hollywood movies and TV shows have been filmed in and around this Vancouver landmark.