Have Camera…Will Travel

I was a late bloomer when it came to travel – I didn’t have my first plane ride until my early 20s and I never left North America until my mid-30s. Nevertheless, I have been going somewhere and seeing things for close to 50 years – even if it meant taking a simple car trip.

During most of that activity I had a camera along, and after all this time I have learned the two basic rules of travel photography:

  1. The perfect travel camera does not exist.
  2. If the perfect travel camera did exist, you would not be able to afford it.

Knowledge of these rules has not stopped me from taking photos – with various degrees of success and frustration. I thought I might write a bit about the cameras I’ve taken along over the years and how I made out with them. Here goes.

1970-1982 Yashica 35 mm rangefinder

I got this camera in Cobourg once I had saved enough money to buy something frivolous. It was a very simple automatic exposure device with 3 basic settings – sunny, cloudy and indoors. Oh, it also had some sort of flash setting although I had to buy the flash separately. No pop-up flash back then.

The Yashica was never that reliable about focus so I got a lot of duds. In good light and at infinite focus it did OK. (See picture above – Zermatt 1981.) Most of my photography back then was with color slides so I have a bunch I scanned over the years.

Flash shooting was an adventure in failure mostly. Flash sync was unheard of, the camera didn’t allow for any sort of manual control and I didn’t know much about the subject anyway. I’m amazed that anything turned out well.

My trip to Europe convinced me I needed better equipment. But what to get?

1983-2002 Nikon FE 35 mm SLR

Well, it came down to a choice between Canon and Nikon. I knew I wanted an SLR. I was leaning towards Canon, but a work colleague offered me a gently used Nikon FE.

This excellent camera revolutionized my photographic experience. I acquired a number of lenses for it – sadly I could not afford the real thing, so I got Vivitar zooms and a Kiron 28 mm to go with the Nikon 50 mm kit lens that came with the camera. At the end of the day I could go from 28 mm to 205 mm.

Everything except exposure was manual on the FE. I had to load film and crank the advance lever. Focusing was manual although Nikon gave you lots of help in the viewfinder. I never lost a photo because of bad focus – at least not for years.

This camera documented all our March break trips to Texas, Arizona and London in the 80s and 90s. By now I was shooting color print film so I have dozens of photo albums in my basement.

Back then the film was slow, and so were my cheapo lenses – so my best results still came in good light. Taking photos indoors without a flash never worked for me. I have some really horrible stuff from inside the Pantheon in Paris ca 2001.

I would probably have used the FE until the end of the film era except my eyesight began to fail in the 1990s. By 2000 I could not reliably focus the camera. What to do?

2002-2006 Nikon F80 35mm SLR

This might have been an opportune time to switch to Canon or Pentax but once a Nikonian always a Nikonian I guess. My F80 was and is a lovely camera – it was fully autofocus. I was still an analog man at this point since the early digital SLRs had some issues with resolution, sensor size and dust. It was the golden age of film – both Kodak and Fuji had excellent ISO 400 color print film and 1-hour photo labs were everywhere. Flash photography was a snap with Nikon’s automatic flashes.

I got some used Nikon prime lenses to go with my kit zooms and was all set. A fine set of glass, ability to take photos from 24 mm to 300 mm. I expected to go on for years with this kit. But it didn’t happen.

Three things changed my way of thinking about photography and travel:

  1. The digital era arrived in spades and computer technology was able to support the large number of digital images I could make.
  2. We changed our way of travel. Instead of going somewhere and staying for a week, we started to take cruise holidays. That meant I was schlepping a bunch of camera equipment off and on the ship every day. I needed to take a lot of film, and I worried about all the X-ray equipment.
  3. This stuff was heavy. In 2006 I took a camera, flash, and four lenses to the Baltics. I had 20 rolls of film and needed to buy more. After this cruise, I decided that my goal should be to experience the cruise ports rather than photograph them for National Geographic. It was time to go digital. A wonderful film system was stored away.

2007-2011 The Fuji Finepix Era

I had experimented with digital cameras in the meantime but up until 2007 I had never replaced my film SLR as a travel camera. I just found digital so unsatisfying and toylike when it came to images.

That changed when I got my Fuji Finepix S6000fd. It was a fine picture taker.

Mind you I took it some places where it was difficult to take a bad photo.

It was ironic that after all the years of shooting Fujifilm with Nikon that I went with a Fuji camera, but the S6000fd ticked a lot of boxes at the time. It was large and resembled an SLR – so it had a familiar look and feel. Its 28-300 35mm equivalent lens gave me adequate coverage. Its images had a nice Fuji appearance. And no dust on the sensor – bonus!

However, there is no perfect travel camera. The Fuji bridge unit had a wimpy electronic viewfinder, was a bit on the slow side, and its LCD screen was washed out in bright sunlight.

After a while, I got tired of its bulk and added to my travel camera collection a Fuji Finepix F480. This little camera took excellent images but was slow and frustrating to use – sort of a replay of my 1970s Yashica.

Got some nice photos with it though, if the lighting was right.

However this combination of big and bulky and small and sluggish wasn’t the answer. Time to change travel partners again.

2012-2016 Canon S90

Now we’re talkin’! In 10 years I went from 20 lb. of travel gear to a little box the size of a deck of cards. And it did this!

The S90 was a big upgrade from my previous travel cams. It had a nice sensor size for a small camera. It had a Canon lens. It was reasonably good in low light.

This little gem accompanied me on numerous Transatlantic cruises, to the Caribbean, and was my sole photographic tool for a cruise of a lifetime across the Pacific.

I’d probably still be using it except for one thing. It had a limited telephoto range and I missed that for photos at sea.

Oh sure, it was fine if the ship got close enough, but otherwise…

Well, I didn’t retire the S90 – my son-in-law has it now, and it was still clicking away on the last cruise with us. But there was one more thing I needed – decent telephoto.

2016 – Present Panasonic Lumix ZS50

No travel camera is perfect – but this one will have to do for a while. It’s lightweight, has a Leica lens and can go wide or insanely telephoto. I don’t have to worry about some nimrod trying to steal it – it looks like your typical $100 point and shoot. It still gives me some grief in low light (damn!) but I don’t think any small camera could give me as much bang for my buck as this Lumix.

It’s been across the Atlantic and down to the Caribbean and I’ve been happy to have it along.

It handles the ship traffic too. Not perfect, but hey…

So to sum up, I started out with a camera that frustrated my skill as a photographer. I now have equipment that probably gets frustrated by my lack of skill. I went from large and heavy and film based to tiny digital works of art. It’s been quite a ride, and I still have camera..will travel (for better or worse.)












Paleo Photography

First the good news: there is an unprecedented interest in photography right now. More digital photos are being taken and shared on the Internet than ever before.

Now the bad news: the camera makers have never had such tough times. The consumer camera market has virtually disappeared – sales are down about 80% from the peak in 2012. About the only things that are selling are DSLRs or mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses.

Canon is concentrating on its health science and printing business. Nikon is shrinking in size, hoping to increase profitability while its Coolpix sales go away.

The reason for this dichotomy is the smartphone of course. Smartphone cameras have steadily improved to the point where they are good enough for most snapshots – and in fact, sharing photos on two of the most popular sites is difficult if you don’t use a smartphone app.

If your workflow is like mine – use a “real” camera, remove the SD card and upload to a PC with a card reader, touch up the photos with some sort of photo studio program, share on a blog – then you are so 2005 it isn’t funny.

Just as the SLR replaced the vintage 30s and 40s twin lens reflex Rolleis above, the smartphone camera has taken over the once massive fixed lens digital market. This was quite noticeable to me on our recent holiday. The ship’s photography area used to have a large and varied selection of point and shoot cameras for sale. Now they have maybe 3-4 modestly featured units. I noticed that the ship’s pros were still using Nikons, and there were a few enthusiasts carting around heavyweight Canons (they must have driven to the port.) But I was one of the very few who had a “travel camera.” Another guy from the stone age, apparently.

When I came home, I noticed that our local Walmart’s camera section has disappeared from the store. Not even DSLRs are being sold there anymore.

So you tell me. How would I get an image like this with a smartphone? How could I go wide enough, have a lens that is sharp enough, a camera sensitive enough, with a shutter fast enough to catch the pounding surf at just the right point? I admit that I was lucky to be there at the right time, and it isn’t all just equipment – but give me a break.

My travel camera is small and lightweight but it has a Leica branded lens, can go from wide angle to ridiculous telephoto, works in just about any lighting. It’s capable of manual control or totally automatic operation. There has to be a market for a camera like that.

And what about the really great cameras like my Nikon D5500?

Will I not be able to take something like this –

or this – in the future?

Well yes, I will as long as my current stuff keeps working. My uncle continued to use his ancient Kodak rangefinder long after the average photographer would have replaced it with a new Canon AE-1. He got the same great images.

But I wonder if the future of photography will ever be reconciled with its past. I have a wonderful Nikon film SLR and a good collection of glass to go with it. I’m keeping it for my grandson. Maybe he’ll like to try out film photography when he hits his teens. But I fear he will not. Maybe he’ll just be happy with his smartphone.





Chilling Out

This was the first time in 14 years that we traveled during the Ontario March school break, and our cruise ended on the day that all the students would be coming home from vacation. The airport in Ottawa would be jammed and prices for flights were very expensive. We elected to extend our holiday a couple more days and come home on Tuesday instead of Sunday.

We were disembarked without incident, customs and immigration was a breeze and we soon found ourselves back at the old familiar Holiday Inn. Of course, we could not check in but we were able to store our luggage. We headed off to explore the Biscayne Ave area.

Didn’t expect these guys in downtown Miami but there ya go.

There was a big concert planned in the seaside park so the kids’ favorite playground was off limits. Very disappointing.

Sarah and Maria discovered a Marshall’s nearby and immediately went into shopping mode. Dave and the kids were not as enthusiastic. Everybody was hot, tired and hungry. The Marshall’s was crowded with ships’ crew on turnaround day. We escaped to a burger joint.

Back at the hotel, we crashed until we were able to check in.

Our ship was ready to go on the next cruise. After a bit more shopping we called it a day. The kids had a McDonald’s picnic in our room that evening.

Next day we were up bright and early. Sarah, Dave and kids went to the science museum and aquarium. Maria and I opted for a bus tour.

We took the city tour first. Got a spot up top where it was breezy but cooler. Watch out for those palm branches though!

Coconut Grove.

Little Havana. We remembered this spot.

We headed downtown and back to the hotel area. Then we took the second tour which went to Miami Beach.

We went over to the port to pick up a few cruise passengers who were in for the day.

On our way to the Beach.

Miami Beach has some very interesting buildings ranging from the art deco 1920s to the 1950s. Before 1955 there was no air conditioning – so the “better” places had eyebrow shades over the windows to keep the sun off. A good way to spot the older stuff.

Some real beauties around 11th St.

The taller 1950s buildings are very impressive as well.

Even the newer stuff has that South Beach vibe.

It was nice and cool along the water – if the bus was moving.

A look back at the Beach.

On our way back downtown.

Back on Biscayne, we went to visit the J. F. Kennedy Memorial.

We wrapped up our holiday at the Bayside Mall. Can’t miss the Disney Store, now can we?

The next day we were up at 3:45 AM and our of Miami by 06:30. We arrived safely back in Almonte by 3 PM, picked up Mr. Oates and got back to a normal life. It was a great vacation and I’ve enjoyed sharing it here.









Sailing Back to Miami

Nothing like ending a cruise with a couple of sea days – so we did.

The spectacular weather we’d had for two weeks continued right to the end of our cruise (and beyond.) The seas calmed down and it was smooth sailing for the 1000 mile trip back to home port.

The kids continued to enjoy the Fun Factory program.

We had one more Evening Chic night.

The lawn took a bit of a rest.

And the outdoor pools were not crowded, although the spa area was.

Always fun to kick back and watch the wake of the ship.

And so it went – it seemed we were back in Miami and ready to disembark in no time. A great cruise to be sure.

Two Days in Orange City

My grandson’s favorite color is orange. He was pretty excited that our last port of call would be a two day stop in Oranjestad, Aruba. Gotta get a T-shirt for sure.

Doesn’t look like shopping will be a problem in Orange City.

We were off early on our tour of Aruba and right away got into the desert experience.

Stone AND cactus – that’ll keep the goats away from the flowers.

The windward side is pretty desolate. Nobody could live here.

There was a Natural Bridge here but the wave action collapsed it a few years ago. A smaller bridge remains but it is unsafe.

No flowers here – just rocks.

Not exactly a wading pool either.

Our next stop was at the Casibari rock formation. You can get a great view from the top if you are a mountain goat.

Why do I get this continuing Arizona vibe?

Prickly pear just starting to bloom.

Next, we headed over to the Aruba Aloe factory.

They’ve been growing aloe vera for cosmetics here since 1890.

The aloe is harvested by hand and then the cosmetic mixing and filling process takes place. It’s all labor intensive.

At one time the aloe vera sap was the principal product – rather than the slimy gel. The sap is a powerful laxative. Now though, the healing gel is the main item of interest.

A little cosmetic chemistry.

The oldest Catholic church on the island – with some colorful above-ground tombs.

We finished up our tour at the California lighthouse. It is named for the SS California which got wrecked here in the 1890s.

You don’t need to climb the lighthouse tower to get a nice view.

Some nice scenes on the way back to the city.

Nice beaches too.

Back aboard now. The Pullmantur Monarch (ex-Royal Caribbean ship) was in port with us and now sailing away.

Holland America Zuiderdam was here too. It left later that evening. So concluded Day 1.

Time to start our Day 2 shopping tour. On your mark…

We went on a street off the main drag where all the high-end watch and jewelry shops were and found lots of souvenir places. One, in particular, offered great prices and the kids found everything they wanted. A kitch fest for sure, but Teddy got his orange shirt.

Nice view of the Eclipse from the shore.

Another eet-cafe. Right then the police came by and ran a tsunami drill – scared the crap out of everybody.

Not everything in Orange City is orange.

I’m hot. Let’s go back and get some pizza.

Carnival Vista was in with us on day 2.

That concludes our two-day visit to Oranjestad. It was time to sail back to Miami.
















The Swinging Old Lady

That is what they call this pontoon bridge across the ship canal in Curacao. Its official name is the Queen Emma bridge and it was put into service in 1888. The swinging old lady was a highlight of our visit to Willemstad, Curacao.

But first, we were off on our tour of the island. Our first stop was the Curacao Museum.

Housed in a former military hospital, the Museum contains a nice selection of Curacao mahogany furniture and displays of 19th-century island life.

The living room display.

Airing out the undies.

A Dutch kitchen.

Not sure what this is but it looks cool.

The Museum has a Carillon but if they play it, it brings the building down. They are planning to build a separate tower for it.

Nice gardens outside with some interesting artwork.

On the way to our next stop, we saw more of those famous flamingoes.

Our second point of interest was the Hato Caves. These are above ground Coral Caves.

More Arizona vibes.

Some interesting rocks, for sure.

Crossing the high Queen Juliana bridge we got a nice view of Willemstad.

Next, we went to the distillery where they make the famous Blue Curacao liqueur. Very tasty. I didn’t try the Tamarind flavor though. Ecch!

I’ve seen lots of production lines and this one seemed rather labor intensive to me. They are using the same still for the liqueur they did in 1896.

Back from the tour, we headed off to see Willemstad. The colorful historic buildings require a lot of maintenance. The oldest ones are built of coral rock with a painted stucco covering. The rock is porous; water gets in and the stucco spalls off. Then you replaster and repaint – and rinse and repeat.

Let’s take a walk on the swinging old lady.

The lovely waterfront after you cross the harbor.

Shop till you drop.

A sign that needs no introduction.

You can look it up.

The famous Willemstad synagogue.

An eetcafe – just like you’d see in Amsterdam.

We headed back only to find the swinging old lady on the opposite side of the harbor entrance.

A ship had come by, so we had to wait until they got the bridge back in position.

A nice promenade heading back to the ship.

Coral rocks, pounding surf, and the Eclipse – probably my best ship picture on this cruise.

Back on board, we could reflect on what a great spot Curacao is. Our favorite port. On to Aruba tomorrow!









White Hell

That what the slaves called Bonaire when they were brought here to break their backs working in the salt crystallization pools.

Bonaire was called “the useless island” by the Spanish who soon abandoned it. But the Dutch had a lot of fish to salt down at home and they soon found that Bonaire’s arid climate, hot sun and windy ecology was perfect for making sea salt. More on that later.

Bonaire is the smallest of the ABC islands in terms of population and Kralendijk is the smallest town. Our scheduled tour was in the afternoon so we had time to get out and do some sightseeing before we left.

The town was clean and colorful. Most of the shops were along one main street.

We were the only ship in port so it wasn’t too busy ashore.

Looking forward to seeing those famous Bonaire flamingoes.

After we got on the bus and left Kralendijk we soon arrived at the salt pools.

After the salt crystallizes they dig it out with front-end loaders and pile it up.

Then they convey it out to a ship anchored offshore. A big agro-conglomerate (Cargill) controls the business today.

Of course, in the 19th century, this was all a manual harvesting operation by slaves – who after a day of hard labor were crammed into these luxurious stone huts to try to sleep. The tourists have it a lot easier today.

The salt pools are the feeding grounds for Bonaire’s pink flamingoes – who get their color from the shrimp they eat here. A flamingo wades through the pool, does a Moonwalk dance to stir it up and eats the shrimp it finds. I wonder if those treehuggers buying Bonaire sea salt know that flamingoes have stomped through it (and worse.)

A big flock of them out there. They don’t get too close to tourist buses.

Later we stopped at a Windsurfing beach. Bonaire is famous for it and this particular beach is a perfect place to learn. It has shallow water and persistent winds – plus world-class instructors.

Driving back through the center of the island you might have concluded you were in Arizona rather than the Caribbean – lots of prickly pear and organ pipe cacti.

With this much cactus around you might as well make a fence out of it.

Time to head back aboard and sail away to Curacao tomorrow. Tot ziens, Bonaire!


A Lovely Surprise

Back in 2008, when we were on a cruise around the British Isles, we had the most wonderful tablemates for dinner. They were three lovely “southern ladies” from Birmingham AL – Rebecca, her mother Jean and their friend Vangie. We had many laughs and ended up closing the dining room every night

We kept in touch with Rebecca over the years but had no idea she’d be on the Eclipse cruise with us.

About halfway through we were sitting in the Captain’s Club breakfast lounge and Maria said. “I think I saw Rebecca sitting over there when we came in.”

“We can go see,” I said. “But let’s make sure it really is her. I’d feel pretty dumb if we were wrong.”

As it turned out I needn’t have worried because Rebecca recognized us right away. She was on the cruise with Jean and her sister-in-law Cindy. Vangie was actually on another cruise so she missed this one.

We got together for some drinks and socializing later.

Here’s Maria with the 3 Southern ladies – Jean, Rebecca, and Cindy. We had a blast getting caught up on the news and remembering old times.

Later in the cruise, we went to the Captain’s Club tea and the ladies meant Dave and Sarah. Finally, they got to meet the grandchildren as well. A good time and a wonderful surprise.

Rebecca and her mother are off on some more cruises later this year. Bon voyage ladies!

Hangin’ Out with the Bajans

When I learned about math back in the stone age, I found out that a Bayesian was a particular type of statistician. More recently I found out that a Bajan is an inhabitant of Barbados. The two names are pronounced in the same way. We hung out with some Bajans during our tour of the lovely island of Barbados.

Since we hadn’t been here before we took a bus tour of the island.

Our first stop was Gun Hill. This was a signal and weather station built in 1818. Back then they used gunfire and flags to get your attention about the weather or approaching enemies.

The station has a small museum inside the restored building.

There is quite a commanding view of the island from Gun Hill.

Nice flowers too.

Speaking of flowers, our next stop on the tour was a lovely botanical garden.

We were careful not to stray off the beaten path.

There was an orchid garden that was simply sublime.

You really could not take a bad photo in there.

Maria told me this plant is called Bird of Paradise. Seems logical enough.

Off to the east side of the island now and a visit to St John’s parish church.

A lovely Gothic building with some Norman and even Moorish influences.

Quiet and spiritual on the inside too.

From St. John’s cemetery you get quite a nice view of the Atlantic coast. I don’t think I would want to go swimming here though.

The cemetery is right behind the church.

The final resting place of former Prime Minister David Thompson. This concludes our tour.

Back aboard we noted other ships in port like Seabourn Odyssey.

Plus a couple of Windstar tall ships. I hadn’t seen them before.

And P&O Azura was docked right in front of us.

This concludes our tour of Barbados. We saw lots of flowers, churches and Bajans but didn’t encounter a single statistician.




35 years of Nikon

Long, long ago – back in the antediluvian era before smartphones and Instagram – I began to take photographs with 35 mm film. In doing so I was following in the footsteps of my Uncle Howard. He was a master photographer who used an old Kodak manual camera as early as the mid-1950s.

My first camera was a Yashica rangefinder. It took passable photos in good light, although flash photography was often frustrating. By the early 1980s, I was anxious to get something better. I wanted to get a single lens reflex camera – but which one?

Buying an SLR back then was a long-term decision, as once you had the camera body you needed flash, lenses and so on. Many Japanese companies were making such camera systems but for me, it came down to a decision between Canon and Nikon.

I was still trying to decide when one of my work colleagues offered to sell me a used Nikon FE. That was the decision maker. Although the FE wasn’t quite the technological marvel that Canon was, it was a solid choice. It had some automatic features and was built like a tank – although a bit more light and compact than Nikon’s pro-level models.

I used the FE for 20 years. It came with a Nikon E series 50 mm lens, but over the years I acquired some decent 3rd party zooms (Vivitar) and a 28 mm prime lens (Kiron.) Nothing fancy – I couldn’t afford Nikon glass back then. Aside from very low light photography, it served me well. Most of our 80s and 90s March break vacations were documented with the FE.

The FE was pretty much a manual camera – manual focus, manual film advance. By 2000 or so my vision was deteriorating and I had trouble getting pictures in focus with it. Not really a good situation. It was time to move on to generation 2 of my Nikon equipment story.

And this was it – circa 2002. A Nikon F80 film camera. The F80 used autofocus lenses and had power film advance. It represents the golden age of Nikon consumer film models.

At the time digital cameras were becoming more and more popular and Nikon did have a digital version of the F80 called D100. However:

  • It didn’t match film in image quality (yet.)
  • Flash photography wasn’t as good as film.
  • It was very expensive.
  • There was the problem of dust getting on the sensor and spoiling your images.

Lots of negatives as far as I was concerned. I figured I could soldier on with film a bit longer. I was wrong though.

I got some real Nikon glass for this camera – zooms at first then a few fixed focal length lenses. I also got a decent flash I could mount on the camera. At last, I had a real Nikon system.

I took this camera on a number of holidays but eventually I found it heavy and bulky – especially since I was hauling the flash and 4 lenses in a camera bag along with the body. Great photos though.

The last serious photography journey I undertook with this camera was our first cruise to the Baltics in 2006. After that I was ready for digital – but not a digital SLR. They were still expensive and I was worried about the dust on the sensor. I couldn’t get wide-angle photos with my existing lenses either. The smaller DX sensor in the Nikon DSLRs meant that my existing Nikon lenses didn’t work as well as they did with the film camera.

So I made do with a series of digital Fuji and Canon rangefinder cameras. For a while I used a Nikon Coolpix 5000 rangefinder – good images but frustrating to use. The film system was stored away. Was my Nikon story at an end?

Well not quite. In 2015 I decided that DSLR technology had gotten to the point where I could get back into the game. But I needed a whole new system.

This was it:

Nikon D5500 – lightweight, great image quality, dust on the sensor much reduced by ultrasonic cleaning. I got a couple of lightweight zooms and was back in the SLR business. I don’t use this camera for air travel though – I have gotten used to vacation photography with a camera the size of a deck of cards. But for family photos, car travel, serious picture taking you can’t beat Nikon. My story continues.

Just one thing bothered me though. I was still not able to take the wide-angle photos I used to enjoy getting with my old F80 film machine. That’s all changed because finally, Nikon came up with a lower cost wide-angle 10-20 mm zoom lens for DX cameras. It only took 20 years but it’s here and I am getting one.

35 years, 3 cameras and a lot of lenses. That’s the Nikon way I guess.

Epilog comment: I can still use some of my venerable Nikon film lenses on my latest DX camera. Autofocus doesn’t work but with my improved optics after the cataract surgery, I think I’ll be able to focus manually again. I certainly will try.




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