The great equalizer in digital photography and video
is limited battery life. Whether you have a pro camera and an 80GB storage device or a point-and-shoot you picked up in the aisle next to the suntan lotion display, it's all just deadweight when the batteries go. Last time
, I told you about my two-week trip to Greece and some of the gadgets I brought along for storing photos. You can use those devices
to store thousands of pictures--unless you run out of juice, in which case you'll return home with zero pictures. What you need to keep the current flowing will depend on your destination, but there are more options than you might think, even for tricky situations such as hiking and sailing trips. You also have more choices than your old shoulder bag when it comes time to bundle up all your gadgetry. I'll tell you what I took on my vacation to prevent myself from being transmogrified into a pack animal.
Solar power and a universal charge
One thing I hate about digital photography--and electronics in general--is the tangled mass of chargers that always ends up occupying a large corner of my suitcase. M.I.T.'s Technology Review recently reported on new solar nanocells that manufacturers may eventually be able to paint onto electronics. In the meantime, Solardyne and Digital Camera Battery have introduced a couple of standalone solar chargers. If you're planning a hiking trip or a foray into the jungle, check them out--and let me know if you try one. I wasn't able to get my hands on them in time for my trip, so I settled for the next best thing: a universal charger.
I've been wishing for a universal charger for years, so I was very pleased when the people from RadioShack stopped by with one a couple of days before my departure. It's called the iGo EverywherePower 3500, and you can use it to charge two devices simultaneously. You can also purchase an optional cigarette-lighter jack to charge your electronics in a car, a boat, or a well-equipped airplane seat. The EverywherePower automatically regulates the current to the devices you connect, and if you can find a compatible tip for every device you bring along, all you'll need is one compact charger. Unfortunately, for my trip, only a couple of tips were available, but iGo promises that it's adding new tips every day, so check and see if the company has what you need to get rid of the charger nest in your bag.
If you'll be in a location where electricity is spotty or nonexistent, bringing along an adequate power supply is of critical importance. There are high-capacity battery packs for many digital SLRs--check with the manufacturer. Digipower and Maha make external power packs that are compatible with other types of cameras; check out Imaging Resource's reviews of the Digipower DPS-9000 and the Maha PowerEx PowerBank. If you're bringing a camcorder, invest in a high-capacity cell; they're available for most models. Hard drive-based photo storage devices use removable batteries, so if you have one, consider purchasing extra cells and charging them before you go.
A brand-new bag
If all you're planning to take on vacation is a compact camera and maybe a storage device, you can check the portability box on your packing list. But if you're an avid photographer, you'll probably have more gear and will need to give a little thought to how you're going to get it from point A to all the rest of the points on your itinerary. I have a LowePro Nature Trekker AW camera backpack that I bought years ago, not because I do much trekking through nature but because I figured it would provide a good way to carry my camera gear around on long trips. That was before I spent several hours walking from terminal to terminal in the Rio de Janeiro airport with the thing on my back (don't ask). I'm about 5 foot 4, and as far as I can tell, the backpack just wasn't made for someone my size--no matter how I adjusted the straps, the bag hung a little too low on my back for comfort. However, if you're bigger or brawnier than I am and carry a lot of photo equipment, a photo backpack might be a good choice. I recommend you load one up with gear and try it on before you buy it.
This time, I decided to travel in comfort and packed my gear in one of LowePro's new rolling photo backpacks, the Rolling Mini Trekker AW. I still wanted the option to carry it on my back over rough terrain, but most of the time, I used it as a rolling bag. I made 10 airport stops on my recent trip (I may be more adept at photography than travel planning), so I'm confident in saying that the Mini Trekker makes a very stable and sturdy travel companion. It also fit into an overhead bin on all of my flights, including the ones in the puddle jumper between Athens and the islands. On the rare occasions when I carried it on my back, this bag was noticeably more comfortable than my old Nature Trekker, although it's about the same size. The inside of the bag is configurable, and there's an attached rain cover that you can pull over the outside. Tamrac and Tenba also make rolling camera backpacks, so shop around and find one that fits you comfortably.
If you're not planning to bring a small fortune in camera equipment on vacation with you, you won't need a bag like the Mini Trekker. And even if you do bring a lot of gear, you won't necessarily want to take it all out with you for every stroll around town. I always travel with a couple of camera wraps: one for my camera and one for my storage device. They're padded to protect your equipment, and they fasten at the corners with Velcro. If you're a woman or a man traveling in select European countries, you can wrap your gear in one and toss it in a large purse. I've found them especially useful in places where I don't want to carry an easily identifiable camera bag; a camera wrap and an old canvas bag have always worked well for me. My wraps are made by Domke, but you should be able to find them from numerous companies at a well-stocked camera store.
It was pretty sunny out there on the Aegean, so I brought along some camera accessories to help handle the bright conditions. Next time, I'll tell you how I kept from being blinded by the light.