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Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Type of Camera Should I Take as an Expeditioner to Antarctica

A question I get asked frequently about Antarctica is," what type of camera gear should I take?" The short answer is as little as possible.What you see here to the right is a portion of what I take. It doesn't show the video camera or the monopod, tripod, and a gorilla pod, flash unit, laser triggers, and a mired of battery chargers. Also I have to have large cases to keep it all in for transport.

 The fact is that it depends on whether you're a photographic tragic like me who was into photography long before going to Antarctica, or your someone who basically takes happy snaps when at home and only on holidays.The short and curly of this is that you will only need a good quality point and shoot or mirrorless camera for Antarctica. If your a "photographic tragic" , you will already have all the gear you need.
To get the full benefit from DSLR's and their associated  lenses, you need to have a full understanding of what all the dials and buttons are for, have an understanding of processing software, and or are prepared to find out.My advice is if your a happy snapper, then get yourself a good point and shoot (compact) or better still a mirrorless camera that has better quality than a compact due to its sensor size being that of popular DSLR's. 

There will be times when you wished you had a bloody big lens for an obscure bird flying around,and the auto focusing capabilities of the DSLR, but in reality you will probably just frustrate yourself because it takes more than a big lens to capture birds on the wing. Mirrorless cameras will capture high quality images for most "happy snappers".

I would be reading all the camera reviews online about the various types and brands. I do not recommend phone cameras as they have very limited abilities in coping with the extreme light contrasts of Antarctica and their sensor size is so small that the quality of the image is poor. They are fine for "selfies" and party shots, not Antarctic landscapes. 

If you do decide to go with the DSLR's, buy yourself a bloody good cleaning kit. This should include a "jumbo" bulb blower, cleaning wipes or "pen" and a bucket of patience. A sensor magnifier with light is also handy. I suggest this as surprising as it may sound, Antarctica is very dry and dusty during the summer months. Dust will get into every thing including the insides of lenses which usually can not be fixed other than by a professional camera cleaning service.Removal or exchanging lenses out in the open is fraught with danger down here as dust will cover your sensor and doesn't make for good images.In terms of lens focal lengths the "zooms" are more practical to carry, though they don't give as good a quality images as a fixed focal length, but not of importance to most amateur photographers. So I take a 18-55mm,24-70mm , 70 -200mm ,75-300mm,150-500mm zooms.I could in fact leave the 18-55mm and 75-300mm zooms at home, but they are my back ups if the wheels fall off the cart so to speak with one of the other lenses.If weight and a budget is a consideration, then go with two lenses,an ultra wide, say 10-20mm or there abouts for big landscapes, and a telefocal that goes up to 300mm or 400mm for wildlife.

Regardless of what camera you purchase, get a good protective carry case or bag. Also make sure you are familiar with the software that comes with you camera, before you leave home and it is loaded onto the computer you are going to bring with you, not the one you leave at home on your office desk. A gorilla pod is also useful as a small lightweight tripod that is used for "selfies" or self included group shots.

Another style of camera which is worth considering is an extreme sports camera. These cameras are great for capturing video and stills. The HD quality of the video component on these cameras are great and due to their construction can take a fair beating. Drift and Gopro both produce great cameras.

I could go on for ages about this subject and sometimes I do, but hopefully you will be able to come up with what bests suits you between my excessive amount of gear and a mobile phone.

Basler BT 67

The Basler BT 67 is old school external design meets new technology. Based on a DC-3 body these old birds have had their lives extended. Basler Turbo Conversions have re-powered them with turbo - prop engines and made fuselage modifications. 

They fly down each summer from Canada through the northern and southern continents of America and then on to the Antarctic continent. We as Australians, use them to transport cargo and people between our Antarctic stations. They can land on both sea ice airstrips as seen here at Davis Station, and snow airstrips when the sea ice blows out.
See also the Australian Antarctic Division for more specifications on this aircraft. I personally have not flown in one as of yet, but certainly look forward to that day. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crossing the Southern Ocean - by Horse

Icy Cargo on the foredeck
Finding Open Streams Close to Bergs
Nothing Keeps a Good Photographer Below Deck
I haven't sailed on many of the oceans of the world, in fact technically only three. Those being the Pacific, Indian and the Southern Ocean.For me, the Southern Ocean is as wild and unhospitable a place that any sailor could venture. It offers you beauty and splendor in the wildlife that follow you, the majesty of icebergs that you pass, and the full voracity of mother natures wind and sea.   The Southern Ocean was only defined as recent as the year 2000 as that stretch of ocean below 60° S that surrounds the continent of Antarctica and does not come into contact with my home continent of Australia. Anyway, regardless of the exact geographical locality of the ocean that stretch between Australia and Antarctica is "bloody" rough and once your past the 60°S mark, cold. This year I traveled down as usual on RSV Aurora Australis. The trip took a more southerly route this time to avoid a low that was driving strong winds and seas directly into our normal path. So we headed pretty much due south towards Antarctica rather than sloping off to the west soon after leaving Tasmania. The seas weren't too bad this year compared with other years (A Voyage to Antarctica by Horse) a maximum of 6m this year. The main difference this year was how quickly we came into sea ice, and how tightly packed it was around the 60°S mark. With overcast  days we were not able to launch our helicopters early to direct us to open "streams" (open water between ice packs) thereby allowing us to maintain good speed. On a few days we were only able to put 1 or 2 Nm(nautical miles) behind us.This in turn put us a week behind schedule in making it to Davis Station

Up Close and Personal with Ice Bergs
Ice Closing in Behind  Showing Little of Where We've Come From
The ice did however allow for some spectacular sights and the cold never keeps keen photographers below decks for long. Ice this year was they tell me some 6m thick  in places which is just amazing given this is yearly ice and not ice that has built up over a number of years like the Northern hemisphere. The RSV Aurora Australis is only a baby icebreaker and while it is a capable ship, she lacks horse power and size to handle that thickness of ice. Of course that is only my opinion as any old salts with years of maritime experience might care to disagree.With the weather not being on the side of photographers this year with cloudy conditions for the most part, my personal endeavours were limited as I find my images appear flat and not to my taste. The weather also limited the number of birds we saw. However, there were many whale sitings this year and crab-eater seals were abundant. Photographing whales from the ship and in those water a little uninteresting with my images looking like those of a slug on a board. Whales don't get up close and personal with ice breaking ships for long.

A Horse on the Helideck during one of our routine musters to explore our fashion sense on the Southern Ocean.Hey I don't pick the colour or style. The water was 1 to 3°C at this time opposed to -1.3°C when we got into the ice.What I have on here would be only good for 5 min. in the ice water before I went into shock. The yellow goretex outfit here is only good for windy days as an outter shell on land or on a helideck.