“You need to watch your step, but everyone makes it across easily” my guide whispered to me in encouragement as I gazed a little perplexed at the hazel coloured water that stirred, foamed and crested in front of me. “Ok, it’s fine, I’ll do it”, I said.
Stripped down to my swimwear with action camera and selfie stick in hand, I felt vulnerable, exposed to the Sumatran sun and the rough forest around me. I told myself I was just getting ready for the far side of the river where there were hot spring water pools waiting to be enjoyed, the thought of which had brought me by the bank in the first place. I simply had to get across.
The sharp, angular pebbles pinched my bare feet and challenged my balance at every step as I hobbled to the water’s edge. “Everyone makes it across easily” I reminded myself as I held my breath and splashed into the fresh flow. Slowly I waded ahead into deeper, mirky cold running water and quickly I lost view of my feet. They were always in pain though, gripping to the edge of some slimy surface with all toes. The water got deeper and crept up to my chest, the current got stronger as well. “Good thing I can sling my action camera on my shoulder with the monopole strap. Yeah, and how cool that my action camera has water proof casing” I thought.
I must have looked pathetic as I attempted to thread my arm through the selfie stick strap. I could hardly stand on my own two feet let alone juggle camera equipment as well. Then the inevitable happened, I slipped and fell face forward into the flow. Like driftwood the current swept me away and rushed me downstream in its clench. I had no choice, I had to swim and powerfully too if I wished to reach the safety of the nearest bank and avoid painful knocks with rocks and debris. A few brisk strokes from my arms and I was in shallower water once more, out of trouble but to my dumbstruck dismay my precious Sony action camera and monopole stick were gone, nowhere to be seen, lost in the silty water along with two gigabyte of unsaved videos and pictures.
Losing camera equipment is always regrettably costly, but losing hard earned pictures and video footage as well is gut wrenching to say the least.
But what to do? After all, adventure cameras are meant for use in pretty wild environments where the risk of loss is always a real issue!
Here is a list of hints that might be handy for the GoPro enthusiast. I certainly wish I had known about these before that fateful afternoon in Sumatra. Maybe they are nothing new to the avid video maker but I am sure they’re worth remembering all the same.
A) Take the time to write your contact details on a piece of paper and stick this appropriately to the camera body or at least include it in the water tight casing of your camera. ALSO save a “READ ME file” containing the same contact details on the camera’s SD memory card. This way if your device is ever lost and found by someone conscientious enough, all the information needed to get in touch is available.
B) If using your camera next to water, always use a floatation accessory. It can be self adapted piece of sponge cut out and added to your selfie stick, or a specially purchased add on. There are several products available.
C) Hugely useful, but hard to come by, are floating monopoles. Keep in mind though that a wooden stick is definitely a cheaper option and can work just as well if not better!
D) Make sure the your camera and/or stick have a robust enough tether. Reinforce the stock attachments with sturdy metal rings and good quality cord. Hold on tight!
So…..sunk to the bottom of the sea, dropped from paragliding heights, knocked from racing motorbikes or cars it would be good to hear of other action camera disasters experienced first hand. I know there are many. Occasionally some lost cameras are found on hiking trails, by the side of the road and by scuba divers too. All hope need not be lost…..at least for those who have taken some precautions?
There is an unspoken truth that most newcomers to travel photography ignore. It’s an uncomfortable secret that camera stores avoid exposing when new photo enthusiasts are set on the purchase of their first “capable machine”.
Blinded by the promise of amazing dynamic range, lengthy exposure times, high ISO settings, amazing pixel count, battery life, focussing speed and more, budding photographers often walk away from camera stores with new entry to mid range DSLRs confident that they should be considered seriously amongst their peers with a branded, enviable and wisely chosen machine dangling from neck or shoulder.
Extended travel however, has the ability of making us come to terms with a minimalist and low key existence. For example, it forces us to accept and deal with the limited space of back pack, a suitcase or a pair of motorcycle saddle bags (panniers). What space is available needs to be managed wisely with an eye on maximising convenience and comfort above all.
The learning curve here can be harsh. Throwing away grandmas hand knitted socks while on the road is no fun and neither is trashing costly “good to have” but never used camping gear. There’s no room for extras in rug sack and that includes souvenirs, books and 13” laptops.
Light, small, packable, robust, versatile are the most sought after adjectives that experienced travellers focuse on when selecting and packing travel gear. From clothes and footwear to sleeping bags and tents the mantra does not change.
It makes sense then to abide by the same rules when selecting camera equipment for adventures around the globe. Light, small, functional does the job and it’s here that the flaws of the capable but cumbersome DSLR camera become apparent.
The DSLR is cumbrous, to say the least, especially with any lens greater than 50mm. DSLRs are also fragile and loathe knocks, drops, dust, sand, water and moisture. They’re sometimes heavy, especially when extra glass (lenses) are added to the kit to carry. DSLRs are also conspicuous and perceived as expensive bits of hardware that can draw the wrong kind of attention, especially in poorer developing nations.
So, as the new enthusiast carries his new capable photo camera around the world, the untold secret from the camera store sunravels. The DSLR and its accessories are a burden. In fact, the DSLR can become such a burden that on many occasions it is wilfully left in a hotel room, or tucked away in a carrier bag or in the trunk of a car rather than carried around like a ball on a chain.
But, technology comes to the rescue. Over the last seven or eight years the photo industry has shifted in trend and delivered new sexy smaller photo cameras to the public known as CSCs (Compact System Cameras) or simply “mirrorless” cameras.
The advent of mirrorless cameras has brought a sighe of relief within the world of travel photography. With picture quality intact (CSC cameras use the same sensors as DSLRs of comparable level), many mirrorless devices offer the advantage of notable reduction in size, weight, increased portability and versatility compared to their DSLR counterparts.
Is it all good? No, in reality, as with all things newish, there is a certain amount of inertia to be won. Skepticism and perhaps limitations on the availability of lenses, have hindered the appeal of CSC systems at large as of 2017. As a result, many new DSLR devices are still sold to unknowing novices and will be for a while yet.
It’s not my intention to discuss the merits or demerits of brands or models. I simply want to reach out to first time buyers of a “decent” camera and encourage them to think carefully, to look beyond the advertised selling points of a any picture taking contraption. Size when traveling is parampunt and small, packable cameras trump bigger and bulky ones even at the price of slightly lower image quality. It’s a fact that the most reputable of glossy magazines such as National Geographic require pictures to be a minimum of no more than six mega pixels in size to be published, way below the standard pixel count of low level cameras on the market today.
In the end, when you’re “out there” with all things being acceptably equal, the most important feature of your camera will be whether or not you can comfortably carry it all day.