Part 1 of this post here.

I’ve been meaning to do the classic camera bag post forever. But first a quick thanks to the owners and staff of The Hotel Pearl Palace, who took great care of me and are as much a part of the HOW as much as the pixels are. On the staff side – a special shout out to Chef Arjay. Those afternoons shooting and eating were a blast.


The Gear


Sony a77: “You’re my #1 guy.” Read that again as in Burton’s Batman. From the day I saw the press release – I knew this was going to be my new photo & video backbone. At the time I was juggling a still and video camera. I actually saved up the scratch to buy it right away. Like a ten-year old working for a ten-speed. No longer do I need to worry about missing the image or the footage because I’ve got the wrong style camera handy. So 80% of the time I’m shooting through a Sony 16-50mm f2.8 that I love to death. All I do to shift from stills to video is clip on my Sony ECM-CG50 shotgun mic. I chose the Sony over a “mic brand” because it uses the camera’s plug-in-power, saving me the step of powering the mic up and down and perhaps leaving it ON in my bag. I shoot video in the 100% manual M mode, shutter speed of 50-60. Dropping the auto-focus lets me get video in at f2.8 – using the auto-mode video shoots at 3.5. This is also the lens I use in a very very manual mode to convert 8mm and Super 8 footage to HD video. It takes a bit of tweaking but is a low-cost way for me to share my collection. Check out this restored San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade 1941 8mm footage I “rescued” from an auction.

The other 20% of the time I’m shooting through a 1986 Minolta 50mm 1.7 af prime lens that fits my a-mount. Best $83 ever. It’s my moody dusk and night lens. The a77 body lets this 80’s relic perform better than the day it was new. On the global traveler side – I feel the small size and vintage style makes it look like a low-end kit lens thus making me less of a “snatch and grab” target at night in tourist thefty areas. Here’s a link to a Hanoi Night Market video I shot with it.

Sony FX7: My former #1 guy and veteran of our Thailand and India productions. This camera was relegated to back-up on our Morocco and Vietnam trips – never seeing the light of day. BUT I knew that I wanted to do a 2-camera interview with Mr. Singh, so for India the FX7 came back out. I forgot how easy it is to have a proper video camera. Here’s a link to my favorite footage so far – shot with this camera in the alleys of Old Delhi. People react very differently to a video camera compared to a still camera, less worried for sure. The best part was having powered ZOOM back. I forgot how handy it was. There are times when it works and IS what the shot needs. And when you shoot video with a “still” camera – it is part of what you give up. I’m officially over my “break-in” a77 period and thank my FX7 for waiting for me patiently. Together they/we are great combo. Due to frequent video theft – I only upload 720p to YouTube – so the lack of 1080p on this video camera is a minor issue for now. It’s features outweigh the need for a higher res. The next time I turn back into rich Johnny Graphics Freelancer I will probably upgrade to the NXCAM which is my FX7 evolved a couple generations.

GoPro Hero2 x2: Or “A” and “B” as I know them. Tough, tough, tough little buggers you can stick to anything. I had one fly off a roof and land in traffic on Lake Shore Drive – with only a scratch on the case to show for it. These have their place and that place is in bright light. Great for B roll and nooner selfies. I really like to shoot time-lapse hi-res photos with them. You can string them together into an HD video AND then be able to zoom in on the sweet spot of the shot. The opening of this Adler Planetarium video was shot with “A” stuck to an egg-timer. Same trick mounted to a SUV roof in the Rif Mountains of Morocco. Same trick in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. I dig em – but really wish they had better low-light response. The new ones claim to be better and the footage agrees, but it’s not where I’m looking to invest $ next.

Add three 160-LED light panels with stands, 3 other tripods & monopods, a DIY steadycam, a bag of GoPro mounts, wireless mic system, backups for every charger, battery & drive, a telephoto lens and a bag of chips.

The DIY Slider Dolly

I knew I was going to want some cool dolly shots of the Peacock Restaurant on the roof of the Pearl Palace – so I built one from what was available at Crafty Beaver and Sport Mart. A junction box, 8 roller blade wheels and the top of a hated tripod all came together the day before the trip. I knew I’d be able to build the rest in India…


And build it we did. Mr. Singh has a welder on-staff who turned two old handrails into my track. Not a word was spoken between he and I – not even names. I showed him the dolly cart, the iron rails I dug up, a tripod head and my camera. He took the cart back to his shop Grinch-style in an actual sack – fixed it up there and brought it back here. I wish I could have flown the rails home but shipping would have killed me. Now I must built it all over again. But 2.0 will never replace – only succeed. A big THANK YOU through time and space to my welder friend.


And here is a pretty raw sample shot from the slider. I wanted to capture people as they were – so nothing was set-up. I had to try and find a shot in each setup. It worked well, letting me track the guy getting his food from the waiter. Also the roof looks/feels JUST like that. So I’m happy with attempt #1.

A quality camera and lens are kinda weighty, so next time I will use beefier tripods and lighter weight PVC tubes. Get the whole thing bottom heavy. And perhaps motorize the cart for even movement. But that’s a project and a post for another day.

Part 3 – WHY I went – coming soon…