California Vacation in Numbers. FullFrame vs. Mirrorless. Is good high ISO performance overrated? Which lenses and why? How much car do you need? Why big can be small.
Out of nowhere it is finally there: Our second trip to the USA. Three weeks again, South West again but there is one big difference. After three great vacations in Canada and the one in the USA in 2010 this is the first time we rented a car! All other vacations we very going around in RV’s. I opt for a smooth transition by renting a Full Size SUV and because this is the land of supersize I got even more: A Chevrolet Suburban.
I know some environmentalists will cry out loud now. A massive SUV with a 5.3 litre V8 that does 15mlg ( miles to the gallon ) outside cities! How can you go around with such a guzzler? The answer is: because it’s there and it’s fun. The other answer is that this is still less than half of what our RV’s used to drink so this was almost a green vacation. Enough said about the car. I did enjoy the ride a lot.
Back to cameras. There is a lot of discussion about DSLR vs Mirrorless. Some claim that DSLRs are dead. Some think Mirrorless are just expensive toys. Well – both groups are totally wrong! 😉
During my 3 week vacation I took a lot of images. 8.049 to be more precise. My wife shot my Sony NEX5 and shot 1.105. I know that this is a totally insane number but I got a good excuse: 1. I shot surfers, birds in flight and hummingbirds so a lot of fast ( well 4 frames a second ) series and 2. I enjoy taking pictures.
I thought I present some statistics and here they are:
First graph shows that I shot most images with my Canon 6D. The Fuji XP1 has become a side shooter. Why was that? Since end of 2010 ( Sony NEX5, later Fuji X100 ) I shot mainly with Mirrorless cameras. On my last vacation in Croatia I took only my X100 and the NEX5. Now I shot almost everything with a full frame DSLR again.
The reason is simple: To me the USA is a full frame country. 1. Wide landscapes cry for the larger format and 2. and even more important: you go around by car. There is no need to walk and therefore there is no reason to use lightweight camera gear. You actually stop at the attraction get out of the car and shoot. Sometimes you do not even have to get out of the car like my wife illustrates in the picture above taken in the Yosemite NP. Because of that my Fuji XP1 stayed in the bag most of the time. In Croatia or Italy it would be a different story. I would not even bother to bring my DSLR.
And the Canon 6D offers a big advantage over all my other cameras except the one in the iPhone. It has built in GPS. What a joy! This is a travelers dream come true. No longer guessing where the images were taken. It is recorded and transferred to Lightroom automatically. Wonderful!
The Canon 6D is among the best camera when it comes to high ISO performance. I did some statistics on my catalog a couple of months ago and was surprised that I took more than 80% of my images at low ISOs ( at or below ISO 400 ). I thought that was a result of poor high ISO performance of my old cameras but just look at the graph above: About 70% of all images with the Canon 6D were taken at ISO100! And more than 85% were taken at or below ISO400.
Below you see the ISO usage with my Fuji XP1. It’s almost the same. It seems that at least for me on a regular vacation high ISO is not that important at all. It’s different on business trips because sight seeing is mostly restricted to after work hours but on a normal vacation it is not the most important thing at all. There are some moments when you need high ISO though so it’s nice to have it of course. Here are three examples: 1. when I was shooting hummingbirds I was able to get 1/2000s to freeze motion thanks to high ISO settings. 2. in the extremely dark Monterey Aquarium I used ISO 6400 on almost all shots and 3. in a very dark car museum in Los Angeles it was the same.
Good high ISO makes a lot of sense even if you don’t need it very often. Sometimes it just saves the day.
When you are a photo enthusiast there is always the question what cameras and lenses to take when you go on vacation. During the last 25 years I tried everything. From a fully packed Rucksack filled with heavy pro grade zooms, tele lens and a 180mm Close up lens plus heavy tripod to a single Sony RX100.
When I changed from Nikon to Canon ( all my gear got stolen so I started from scratch again ) in 2007 I got the 5D plus the 4/24-105 IS L and the 4/70-200 IS L. I was very happy with this lightweight combo but this year I changed to the even lighter 6D and the slightly lighter 4/24-70 IS L but traded the small 4/70-200 IS L for the monstrous 2.8/70-200 IS L II.
Why is that?
First idea was to replace the 4/70-200 IS L with the 70-300 IS L. It’s a little bit bigger but it offers more reach and also slightly better IQ than the zoom plus the converter. Last minute I cancelled the order and changed for the f2.8 zoom and here is why:
- You can’t beat the shallow depth of field of a f2.8 tele zoom.
- You can use it indoors and as a portrait lens.
- and most important: you can use is with the 1.4TC and still get a “rather” fast f4 tele lens. Combine it with a 2x Converter and you get a 5.6/400 tele. Not that bad at all.
So even though it’s much heavier than the f4 zoom or the 70-300 L IS it is far more flexible and is a substitute for a small tele lens when traveling. So big can be small. When I finally go for a vacation in Alaska I might add a APS-C camera for even more reach but at the moment I’m set with the two Canon zooms and the Tamron 70-300VC. The Tamron is very cheap but a great performer. It’s perfect if I don’t want to lug the f2.8 around. As you can see I used it a lot. The 6D plus the 70-300VC is a surprisingly light combo. The 6D in general is a very light camera. Together with the 4/24-70 IS L it’s even 100 grams lighter than the Nikon D7100 plus the 16-85 VR which is just APS-C. Full frame does not mean big and heavy anymore.
When I first got the XP1 I immediately loved it’s size and handling but I wasn’t convinced whether I did the right thing. I was happy with my X100 and it’s lens. The 18mm is very nice but not outstanding, the 35mm is very very good but to me it’s more a portrait lens and too long for general photography.
When I got the 14mm lens everything changed. This lens is amazing. This lens is the real reason to get a XP1 or X1E instead of the X100s. It transfers the whole shooting experience thanks to it’s great MF mechanism. When I was in South East Asia I shot almost exclusively with this lens. In the USA I also used the 18 and 35mm lens sometimes but mostly the 14mm. I think this is the most important lens in in the Fuji line so far. If you have a Fuji XP1 or X1E get this lens!