"Documenting My Travel Experiences" Personal Page by atufft
The Virtualtourist.com website doesn't include uploads for video that I know of, but my wife and I do capture video and sound. The image shows the older somewhat larger video camera, but currently we use a Sony DCR-HC 40, a digital video camera which has a 10x optical/120x digital zoom, image stabilization, low light controls, and many other features. This camera is not bad considering the relatively low price tag. We tossed the 1 hour battery in the electronic junk drawer, placing it with two longer life lithium batteries--one 9 hour and the other 2 hour. For a long trip, we may take as many as 10 hour long tapes, which are carefully organized and protected from dust or water in a plastic album that fits into the laptop sleeve of my daypack. When we return home, I often take several months to edit and author a DVD on my Powerbook G4. On the trip to Africa, for example, the results were three DVDs packed with video and still slideshows, one each for Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali. The master tapes and still image files are stored away for whatever potential they may have in the future.
While the audio capability of the video camera is of stereo quality, often we don't like the hose nose look of the camera in public places where music is being appreciated. We would rather sit back and enjoy the music without the hassle of the camera. Not wanting to lose the great one time opportunity for ethnic music, I'll often use my iRiver mp3 recorder/player. This unit, which is like my iPod, but with a more reliable battery, can record high quality stereo through it's powered mic jack, and so I plug in a small Sony dual mic. This inconspicuous set up on the table top in a night club functions very well to capture bootleg recordings of great performances. I've also captured natural sounds, holding the semi-directional mic in hand. I don't have a foldable parabala, but I wish I did. In any case, these sounds, whether music, street, or natural, are typically used as an audio track for slide shows, but I sometimes also use this sound to replace poor quality audio tracks during video editing. The iRiver has a radio too, but unfortunately, it doesn't allow direct recording from the radio, so I also bring a microsized high quality radio. This allows me to capture local popular music, exotic DJ voices, and news reports during those long sometimes boring bus rides when I have nothing else to do.
My wife has become quite good at directing the video camera, which really doesn't neet much more than a stable hand and reasonable zoom control. I can edit out the bad stuff. But, with the stills, I preoccupy myself with capturing frames, content that is forever etched into my mind. I carry the camera most everywhere I go, and have over the years tried to make it less obnoxioius for those around me. In the old film camera days, I used a Canon camera, and carried three lenses, and sometimes up to 20 rolls of film. For the past few years, I've used a Panasonic DMC FZ10 digital camera, which is a great all around camera for travel. It has image stabilization, so that I can shoot great pictures in lower light conditions without a flash, such has in a museum where flash is forbidden. The 12x optical zoom provides the film camera equivalent of a 35-410 zoom, so I'm in pretty good shape for shooting animals on safari. This camera also has a pop-up flash and plenty of adjust on the fly features, both before and after the shutter release, and it takes quicktime movies with sound that can substitute in a pinch when the video isn't around. I have a 1gb SD card so that I never have to worry about running out of memory during any given day of shooting. I also have good two lithium batteries for camera, so that I never run out of power. That's one reason I don't use Canon anymore. Using AA battery packs isn't a good substitute for a rechargeable lithium battery, but I still always have a backup ready to go.
At the end of the day, or when the 1GB SD card is full, I download to a special 20 GB iPod-like hard drive unit with a long life lithium battery. Called an X-Drive, it's basically got a card reader and a firmware program that automatically saves all the data, often from more than one trip. Nothing can be lost as it's a very simple and durable system. It has a USB plug and can be attached to my laptop as any hard-drive. At night in a hotel with a spare electrical outlet, I plug in a continous voltage transformer that I bought for $15-. It's not the same as the travel transformers for shavers because it can be used continously without fear of fire, and it produces up to 100 watts of power. So, into this I plug a standard surge protector strip with which can plug chargers for the Sony videocam, iRiver mp3 recorder, Pansonic still camera, X-Drive, the iPod music player, Zire Palm, and other electronics. Sometimes, the only outlet in the room is dedicated to a bedside lamp, so I can plug the lamp into the surge strip too.
The equipment we use is not cheap, but it's also not so expensive that loss, theft, or damage would put us out of shape financially. We would rather upgrade than have the very best, and besides, our composition technic often depends upon giving the camera to a stranger. In addition to those situations where we want a fellow tourist to shoot a composition of Belinda and I together, I'm often inclined to give the camera to villagers and children to try. What a thrill that brings! As the selected villager shoots pictures of me with friends and relatives, I sometimes get very good self-portraits with lots of smiles. I'm a school teacher and have learned how to smile for the camera as a matter of happy habit, and I want to bring out the best in my subjects too. So after showing the results on the LCD screen of the still camera, I am then able to do my best portrait compositions. When we went to Africa, I purchased a tiny portable eWear color printer by Panasonic that produces passport sized photos. It has a lithium battery and after it's three pass printing process, I am able to give my villager a reward for work well done. This printer unit is small enough to fit into the front zipper pocket of my camera's holster-style bag. My wife does her best to show a replay of her video efforts to children with it's flip-out LCD screen. In any case, this equipment is extremely useful in remote and undeveloped areas, such as in Africa and South America.
Believe it or not, I do try to travel light, and I don't bring the laptop along. With this much equipment though, there is always some risk of robbery, theft, or loss. So, I pack each unit into a form fitting bag of it's own, and then toss it into a durable but otherwise ordinary looking daypack. I avoid any kind of fancy logos, and my daypack is dark color. I put my passport, traveler's checks, sunglasses, ear plugs, binoculars, GPS unit, lense cleaning stuff, Lonely Planet guide, cables, and all other critical stuff in the many zippered pockets that it has. The zipper pulls are looped, so that in a pinch, I can lock them all together with a tiny padlock to keep out sneaky hands. My wife also has her daypack, and typically is the one to carry snacks, medicines, and so on, as these are the domestic details she is good at managing. So, when we are in route somewhere on the public bus, the bags can be handled rather casually, bringing the least attention to their value for our travels. I'm very concerned about the electronics, so they are never far away from my grip. But, Belinda has left her bag behind twice. Each time though, the driver or other person graciously helped locate and retreive the bag. Most of the time, people are honest.
Documenting one's travel IS important. I agree that having a carefree experience is also important, and that equipment can encumber one in a way that can make locals feel nervous or distracted. However, often the places we visit are a once in a lifetime experience. California is a remote place on this planet, and so chances to return to Africa and Asia, for example are unlikely. So, what I try to do is practice and become familiar with my equipment enough so that I can whip it out and shoot. Because of this need autofocus and digital memory makes a good partner with travel. I can edit out the bad images on the computer at home, in the months after the trip. During the processes of authoring DVDs and writing virtualtourist.com and blog entries, I review my experience in images, helping to crystalize the memories for longer term storage. I have found that a too carefree travel experience is easily lost in time. Besides, the DVDs and Virtualtourist.com entries provide a vicarioius experience to those unable to make the trip.
If you browse my images you'll find that I have a terrible time with color and light for the scanned images taken from the predigital days of slide film. Sorry about that. Trust me that the majority of these images have been reproduced faithfully for larger size prints in my home albums. If anyone is interested in getting better quality copies of the images from my trips, let me know. Again, examine the content, irrespective the slight color and light issues, and contact me. Hopefully, my future digital image uploads will be more crisp. Several members have noted that my images are better than I give myself credit for, suggesting that the representation of colors and light on my Mac computer are not the same as for those with PCs at home. That is, while my Mac reproduces these images very well on it's own, it may not take the VT versions as well...
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