16 November 2010

Cameras for Peru

COLUMBUS--I wonder when the sad day will be when I decide not to take a film camera. Happily, that day has not yet come.

While trying to decide what equipment to take I was deeply conflicted. My primary camera is the outstanding Nikon D3 but the D3 has some serious drawbacks for traveling. First and foremost it is large, obtrusive, heavy and expensive. And owning only one it is my primary workhorse for all those portrait and wedding and Stateside news and documentary jobs that pay a lot more of the bills than travel and humanitarian documentary work. I didn't want to carry the big Nikon because if anything happened to it I would be in trouble for upcoming jobs and, well, I didn't want to literally carry it.

I decided initially to make do with my Leica M6ttl and the Canon G9 but it also seemed irresponsible in this day and age to go on a trip almost certain to produce sellable images with no digital camera but a point and shoot (albeit a very good point and shoot). The obvious solution was a new camera! I considered a number of options and those came down to a smaller, less-expensive Nikon D-5000 or one of the new Micro 4/3 systems from Panasonic or Olympus. All the research and my own personal preference led me to believe of those two it would be the Panasonic but I was unable to find one anywhere in Columbus. Finally, I was able to handle one at Dodd Camera in Cleveland and, well, it was pretty amazing to fall deeply in love twice in one year!

The Micro 4/3 system places a sensor about half the size of a 35mm sensor but around nine times the size of a point and shoot sensor, large enough for good detail and to achieve a shallow depth-of-field. The camera has interchangeable lenses and almost no shutter lag, all in a package the size of the G9, a large point and shoot. There are also adaptors enabling one to use nearly any other camera system's lenses.

I bought the Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm f1.7, which on a Micro 4/3 camera is a normal lens. I also got a Leica M mount adaptor and the optional Electronic Viewfinder. I replaced the labeled strap with a black canvas Domke strap. The GF1 and the Leica M6ttl go in a black Domke F3X shoulder bag along with 35mm and 50mm Leica lenses and a 15mm Voigtlander. These all, via the adaptor, can be mounted on the GF1 with an approximately 2x magnification factor. For the GF1 I have four 8GB and four 4GB SDHC cards and for the Leica six rolls of Fuji Neopan 400 ASA, six rolls of Ilford HP5 and two rolls of 400 ASA Fujichrome slide film. I also have an 4GB Flip HD Video Camera and Kristina will carry my Canon G9.

Now all I need is a llama posing in front of some Inca ruins with a cloud-wreathed Andean peak in the background!

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Points South, Far South

COLUMBUS--I think we decided that Peru was our first destination as a couple (other than Chanute, Kansas to visit the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum) even before we got engaged. Kristina had been saving frequent flyer miles since she was in college and figured we had almost enough for South America. We had talked, of course, about Guatemala and Honduras but decided we might as well travel somewhere neither of us had been before. I suggested Ecuador, the South American country I had been longest fascinated by and she tossed back Peru.

We began buying Peru books and I realized I had read more about the country than I had thought. Besides holding the heartland of the Inca empire, Peru contains the remains of other, far more ancient civilizations. The country is twice the size of Texas and contains some of the highest mountains, driest desert and deepest jungle in the world.

The main attractions for tourists are in the southern part of the huge country and nearly everyone asks, when they hear where we are going, "So, off to Machu Picchu? Cuzco is a great city." And one of the places I have wanted to see ever since I was a map-obsessed kid is Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world. And then, along the southern coast are the Nazca lines, enormous monkeys and jaguars and straight paths, miles long, etched in the desert in a land that receives almost no rainfall, ever.

However, perhaps perversely, we decided to go north, off the main gringo trail, to a series of locations that will include jungle and mountains, Inca and pre-Inca ruins and the northern coastal Sechura desert. I think the main reason we decided to go north is to stay in the city of Paita. Why Paita? Because that, dear reader, is where Bogart and Bacall end up at the end of the rather bizarre classic film, "Dark Passage." Yes, that's why. Of course it is the oldest Spanish port on the Pacific and a few other things but there is no other real reason. It's barely in the movie and I am sure what is shown as Paita at the end of "Dark Passage" is really California. But I suppose it the idea of Paita as a place at the end of the world that is the attraction, the idea of going somewhere simply because it is there, because there is nothing grand there.

Neither of us really know what to expect. We'll have to go to these places--Lima, Terapoto, Chachapoyas, Keulap, Paita and the rest to find out. We finished packing our bags last night, two black packs and two Domke bags now lie in the living room waiting to be picked up. We have new shots and vaccinations and the Larium (Mefloquone) is coursing through our veins to ward off the malaria. I've taken the milder Chloroquine many times before but the strains in Peru are Chloroquine resistant. I have heard many stories about Larium nightmares before. Multiple people told me about them and that they usually involve snakes and fire. Last night, after my third Monday Larium I had a nightmare. Mine involved an enraged moose chasing me through a cabin. Moose. Why'd it have to be moose...? At least it wasn't a fire-breathing moose.

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