5th 2002: One year after going Digital:
Karl Grobl Photojournalist reports on digital equipment and the advantages of going filmless.
My name is Karl Grobl I'm a professional photojournalist who switched to digital photography in mid 2001. This is a report of my experiences using Nikon D1X cameras, (www.nikonusa.com) Delkin Digital Film CF cards (www.delkin.com) and the Mindstor Digital Wallet (www.mindsatwork.net/ ).
During the last 12 months I have covered everything from the Daniel VanDam kidnapping, to the world trade center attacks. My current project, a world-wide photo-documentary for Health Volunteers Overseas, is now nearing completion. Health Volunteers Overseas is a private, (www.hvousa.org) non-profit, non-sectarian volunteer organization headquartered in the Washington DC, whose volunteers work in developing countries all over the world.
This report describes the equipment used to shoot and back up over 20,000 frames, shot in 15 different countries.
Conditions varied widely and included temperatures ranging from freezing to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, to high humidity and rain in Central American jungles to the arid deserts of East Africa. My equipment has been used at sea level in the Caribbean to over 12,500 feet of elevation in the Peruvian Andes.
My Camera gear and CF cards have been subjected to more than 50 doses of x-ray in airport security machines. My Delkin CF cards have been inserted in and ejected from cameras, card readers, and PCMCI slots more times than I can count. I have dropped a few cards on street and in the dirt, and my gear has been handled by airport officials and curious folks in many countries.
Since switching from film cameras I have enjoyed all the advantages of going digital. While here in the United States, where reliable electricity and computer access is a given, going digital was a no-brainer. My decision to shoot the Health Volunteers Overseas Assignment, an international job, was one I agonized about but now I am certain I made the right choice. A prime concern going digital, especially if you're working in developing countries is battery life and the availability (or lack thereof) of electricity in remote areas. Nikon D1X's tend to be battery hogs, so I decided to carry 4 batteries; this provided some level of confidence if power to recharge was unavailable for more than a day. On more than one occasion I was happy that I brought extra batteries. In Haiti power is sometimes only available where private diesel generators are and in parts of Kenya and Uganda the same was true.
Image storage was my second biggest issue. I wanted to have 2 copies of each image, so that in the case of theft, loss or a problem with data corruption, I had a backup. To overcome this issue on the first leg of my HVO project, I estimated the number of frames I would shoot and brought enough CF so that I wouldn't have to reformat cards; this amounted to over 2.5 gigs. The 20 gig Mindstor digital was my back up device. Later I would decide to carry a laptop computer (more on that later) Micro-drives are not rated to work at over 12,000 feet of elevation, so I decided to go with CF, since my work in the Andes would take me above that limit.
Each night after shooting the day's assignment I would perform an in-camera edit, back up the files on the Mindstor, then safely stow any full CF cards. Whenever electricity was available I would recharge all my batteries.
Probably the biggest advantage of the digital camera is the ability to review your work while still on location. When trying to tell a story through photos, the ability to see what one has "in the can", what images are strong or weak, what needs to be re-shot and in general what's "working" is incredible. Shooting film without access to a photo lab was like authoring a book without the ability to see what you had written in the previous paragraph. I don't know a photographer who hasn't experienced a little anxiety waiting to get film back from the lab after a 5 week assignment overseas.
Most recently, while traveling with fellow photographer and friend Carlo Terlizzi, (www.carloterlizzi.com ) I learned about the indispensability of carrying a laptop computer with a CD burner. Carlo's laptop became an indispensable editing tool that allowed me to do post production while on the road as opposed to doing it all upon my return. Downloading from CF cards via the computers PCMCIA slot saved valuable camera battery power and eliminated the need to carry a card reader or camera cables.
Breezebrowser (www.breezesys.com) a user friendly, image viewer became my favorite software interface for managing my daily image management tasks. Additionally the laptop provided a secondary backup. Images burned to CD and sent to my office in San Diego was another level of security.
Knowing that your images are safely back home takes a lot of anxiety away. What a joy not having to worry about x-ray damaged film, or trying to get hand inspections (more rare since 9/11).On the post production end, my clients and I love the ease of storing, reviewing and distributing digital images.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how I ever dealt with film canisters, stacks of transparencies and boxes of prints !
I'm happy with my two Nikon D1X cameras, they are durable, ergonomic and reliable.
Delkin brand Digital Film CF cards work great, they are reasonably priced and offer a lifetime warrantee.
The Mindstor digital wallet is a compact, user friendly device that allows me to maintain backup files, thus providing an extra level of security.
What's next?...Now I'm searching for the perfect, lightweight laptop to take to Asia this fall while shooting part three of my Health Volunteers Overseas project. Perhaps I'll do a review of my findings in another issue of Digital Imaging magazine.