I already have written photo gear "post mortem" articles in the past, so this time I wanted to write up my preparations to collect my thoughts and see if my expectations match the real use. Now that I'm are back from the trip I also added how we actually used the gear. As usual this is more of a resource for myself, but maybe it can help you too.
New gear that I bought specifically for this trip
Tokina 11- 16 2.8 DX ATX
The Tonika 11-16 lens was long on my “maybe” Wishlist. APS-C cameras have by nature a narrower field of view and wide angle lenses are rare - at least if you want a lens with good image quality and a low f-stop number. I waited for years before buying it because most of the time I could do panoramas to get a wider field of view. But our main photographic goal in Norway is to catch the northern lights (aurora borealis) and after checking the photographic spots with the app PhotoPills I came to the conclusion that I needed at least 11mm on APS-C to get the vistas and the northern lights.
Real World Use: I used the lens actually a lot - exactly for what I wanted to use it for - the northern lights. Since I used it on the D850 (see more below) I used only on the “long” end at 16 mm - but it hold up great with the resolution and the clutch AF to Manual Focus was a nice touch. I have a model which doesn’t have the unlimited focus problem, so it was easy ti focus on the stars.
Since the Norway trip I used it on our London trip - on our APS-C Bodies and I took a lot of interesting photos, mostly on 11 mm, which tells me that I could work with a prime super-wide angle lens. But the nice thing about this lens is, that it can work on both APS-C and Full Frame and take very wide photos.
As I’m writing this there has been announced a new version of the lens, which seems optically the same, but with a nicer design — I’m not sure if the looks update is worth the money, I guess it’s a personal preference.
Would I buy it again: Probably - but just because there is no way to rent it. I like wide angle photography, but it’s a special look you don’t want to use all the time.
I saw this tripod accessory in a youtube video and thought: “This is exactly what I need!”. Sometimes I felt the need to put down some stuff while doing long-exposures or time-lapses and this little hammock for stuff you can put between the legs of the tripods seemed exactly the right fit.
A small gadget which should help to stabilise a tripod by adding stones in the bag - or to offer a possibility to use it as a utility pouch.
Real World Use: It’s still in the packaging. In reality it was not even on my mind, and since we moved a lot in the dark, with little wind there was no need for it.
Would I buy it again: No
Ravpower 20.000 Power Bank
I expected to stay without power on some days and I want to make sure that all our devices can be charged. The two USB ports will help running our photo backup setup - which is just as important as our phones 😉
Real World Use: It worked exactly as planned - we drove a lot more that we thought, so the phone charging was no problem. The charging of the camera batteries and the photo backup on the other side was more of a pain when we didn’t have power. We already had RVs with USB outlets all around the living space, but this fairly new European model had only 2 in the front of the cabin, which only worked if you where driving 😞 - I don’t get it. No appliance was running on electricity except the lights - so charging a few USB devices would certainly have not been a problem…. Anyhow - great device with plenty of power - just the charging times are loooooong
Would I buy it again: Yes, but if I would expect to charge it every day or two I would buy one with faster charging option.
Gear I rented for the trip
I admit it - I was paranoid. I was so afraid that my cameras would not be good enough to capture the northern lights, that I was close to buy a new camera. Renting was until recently not a option here in Germany (I know about Lensrentals & Co in the US) - especially not if you where to leave the country. There have been some companies who tried the renting thing, but it was expensive, and the gear was never available.
Gearflix came to the rescue - and with their flat-rate (sort of) it was an option for me - I could get a D850 and have the “best” DSLR from Nikon with me,
I don’t need to say much about specs etc about this camera. It’s the best overall DSLR Nikon has made up to now (ok maybe it’s a tie now with the D780) and it gave me the confidence that I was getting the best image quality on this trip.
Setting it up was not difficult and I had planned to have a couple of days time to get used to it before the trip, but unfortunately a family emergency happened that jeopardised the whole trip and I had to learn and setup while traveling. It really helped that Nikons User Interface is very consistent between cameras - from the budget D3000 Series up to the D5 - if you learn one camera body, you can be sure to know how to operate the camera and where the settings you want to change are.
Using the camera was also great in most scenarios. It’s big and heavy, but it is well balanced with full frame lenses. What do I mean by that? Simply put, it feels right. The bigger lenses have the right proportions and the don’t make the camera front heavy even while handholding. Also all the viewing angles through the viewfinder make a lot more “sense” now that I used full frame for the first time since my analog cameras years ago. I didn’t have to backup a couple of steps like I normally have to do (unless I shoot landscapes).
The two things that where a bit of a negative where the high pixel density (yes I know) and that the User Settings where a bit strange (at first). The pixel density is great if you are on a stable platform like a tripod. All the Aurora shots worked great (even though the ISO noise wasn’t that much better) as they need a tripod - but most of the photos I took where handheld, or while riding the RV (yes it’s a thing - I have to write that up another time). I needed to go higher with the shutter speed than normally to avoid shake-blur. It wasn’t a huge issue, but when I reviewed the images I’ve got plenty of images that where less usable than on last trips. A side effect of the higher shutter speeds is obviously the need for higher ISO and then you get into degrading the image quality.
Overall I’m very happy with the results - but would not use the D850 for the run and gun style if I have another camera.
Gear I already owned and used
This trusty little camera captured a third of the keepers and was used a second body with an alternative focal length to capture different angles - especially when on a hike.
Gopro Hero 8
There wasn’t too much action on this trip, but it worked great to quickly capture some hiking or driving memories. The Timewarp and stabilisation feature is always nice and the ease of use makes this really a nice addition to the kit.
Sirui Travel Tripod
No decent Aurora-Pictures without a tripod - and the travel tripod series from Sirui is really great. Light and stable and it has a small issue because I bought it second hand for next to nothing it is a fixture.
Sigma 18-35 1.8 DX lens
This is one of the best lenses I have and would have normally be used a lot - but with the temporary addition of a full frame camera it got a bit sidelined. Mostly by the Tokina 11-16 for wide angle shots - as I wanted to use the new lens in town. It’s heavy and when focal lengths overlap makes it harder to consider if the 1.8 is not needed - even though the colours are excellent.
Nikon 24-85 & 70-300 VR FX lens
These two lenses are very versatile and work really well for the type of shooting I do. Especially on this trip I had finally the possibility to use them at their “proper” focal lengths and it was almost eye opening. I’m sure the 2.8 trinity would be better, but also heavier
Tamron 150-600 G1 FX lens
It was only used a couple of times for capturing some whales, eagles and some animals in a wilderness-park. This was expected as it is a wildlife lens and it performed well on the D850. I could feel the difference in reach between full frame and the app-c body - even though through cropping you could mitigate that. I remember that it did struggle a bit while on whale safari in low contrast situations - but I think that is probably to expect and I must admit that I didn’t have time to calibrate the lens.
I really liked the allure of 360 video to immerse myself in the places I visit in 360. The promise of this camera was great, but it has many issues and since it is really fragile I barely use it. On this trip I used it only in 2 situations when I arrived at the top on a trail and to capture some shots from around the RV and inside.
Gear I brought with me, but didn’t use
Olympus EM10 MK2 + Lenses
I did bring my small M43 kit with me (camera + 2 lenses) as a backup and I thought I would use it as a walk around Camera in Restaurants or when I wanted to be discrete. In the end I just took the big camera. The reuse of lenses and that we didn’t need to be discrete just won. If we felt to not take the camera we took pictures with our smartphones. With the smartphone I have now, even more so.
I just brought the polariser and a few variable ND filters for maybe using them for long exposures - or for videos. I used one filter once as a test and got rid of it quickly. I more and more realise that I’m just not a filter guy.
I know that certain results can only be achieved with filters, but it seems that I rather don’t capture those images than to bring filters with me or attach them etc.
I brought it with me as a backup, but didn’t need it. Having 3 cameras seems much? Well I had 6 with me 😆
I’m happy with the gear I brought with me and I had only a few items I wouldn’t bring again. My fear to not being able to capture the northern lights was a bit unfounded and I could have taken the same or at least very comparable pictures with my existing camera gear. On the other hand I gathered some real experience with a great full frame camera and understand now more what my needs and wants are. It also helps me to understand that I don’t need to buy everything (which I didn’t anyway, but the FOMO is real).