Photography Gear for Cruising

October 21, 2022  •  Leave a Comment
Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh, ScotlandHolyrood Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Shot with Fujifilm XF-10-24 F4 R OIS WR @12mm

Sumburgh Head LighthouseSumburgh Head Lighthouse

Tamron18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD @42mm

For anyone who follows this blog, you will know that it is primarily about travel, albeit through the lens of a camera. It is not about photography, per se, nor is it about reviewing camera gear. But as those of you who are, in any way photographers, will know that over the years you buy a lot of expensive gear. And even though we know that it is silly and immature, photographers often suffer from GE (Gear Envy), leading to severe GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). It is not mitigated by well-meaning friends and viewers saying such things as: "Wonderful pictures; you must have a really great/expensive camera!" But we can't seem to help ourselves. I will try my best to avoid encouraging GE or GAS in this article.

I do a lot of different kinds of photography, among them cruising. But cruising is not a single pastime. It can encompass a wide variety of situations from a 3-day Bahamas getaway to a 180-day around the world voyage. It can be in a Giant luxury ship with all the amenities, a river cruise boat with tiny cabins,  or even a sparse, cramped expedition ship sailing on vicious seas. Where you are going, What kind of pictures are you planning on taking, what the weather you will likely encounter, what you plan on doing ashore, and what you are going to do with the pictures that you will take, all impact what camera gear is appropriate.

Having described some of the considerations, let us return to the question at hand: What gear works well for cruising. To begin with, unless you are blessed with the ability to drive to and from the ship's departure and arrival port, you will most likely fly from and to the cruise. So, you will have two problems to solve: What can I reasonably fly with and what works well on a cruise. Now, if you are so lucky as to live in the departure and arrival port, then you might be tempted to take a huge amount of gear. Don't, you won't need it all and you may well miss shots phutzing with gear. So, it is, in the end a compromise between the practicality of the gear to the particular cruise and the quality of the images that you will take.

For my last trip, I was going to Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark for 15 days. We would be traveling on a small, but luxurious ship, albeit with small cabins. There wouldn't be room for lots of camera gear. Clothing to match the huge variations of weather would be more important. Having traveled to this part of the world several times in the past, I knew that a single day could produce temperatures from the 40's to the 80's and gloomy, stormy, rainy weather, followed by brilliant clear skies. I also knew that photographic subjects would likewise be extremely diverse. These areas are known for epic landscapes from the rocky coastlines and moors of the Shetlands and the breathtaking fjords of Norway. But we would be touring some world class cities such as: Edinburgh, Oslo, and Copenhagen, where "framing shots" would be interspersed with interior shots of castle, great houses, and museums. Wildlife and birding were not anticipated for this voyage, but might surprise us. The subjects would suggest focal ranges from wide angle (~10mm in APS-C terms) to moderate telephoto (~200mm in APS-C terms). While having an aperture of f2.8 would be ideal, the additional size, weight, and cost may not be worthwhile. An aperture of f4 or so may be sufficient, especially if the camera and/or lens is stabilized.

On this trip, there were some additional constraints. First, this was a cruise where the vast majority of guests were not serious photographers. Secondly, given the particular ports, schedule, and COVID considerations, we would only utilize the ship's shore excursions. Those two factors, I have learned from experience, can be very frustrating to photographers. Most non-photographers don't want to hang around while you get your perfect shot. In fact, most don't want to get out of your way either. Because the tours tend to be fast paced, you end up doing what is sometimes called "run and gun;" taking a large number of quick shots, often framed widely, to enable cropping to a effective composition. Trying to switch lenses on the move is both difficult and dangerous to the gear. This was further reinforced on this trip, as it was often foggy, rainy, and windy; a dangerous combination to camera sensors. So, the decision process moves from perfection to a compromise that heavily weights minimum lens changing, which also provides an opportunity to minimize weight and bulk.

My first thought was that the "holy trinity" of a wide, normal, and telephoto would do the trick. For my Fuji cameras, I could take my 10-24 f4, the 16-80 f4, and the 55-200 f3.5-4.8. This combination would weigh a bit over 1,400 grams or 3 pounds. Not bad, but I could see myself having to either change lenses often, or forgo shots outside the range of the lens currently on the camera. These are choices I've often had to make in the past.

About the time I was preparing to leave this trip, Tamron announced that they were going to release an 18-300 super-zoom for Fuji cameras. I had previously had great luck with their 16-300 on my Canon 7DII. So, I ordered one, which was delivered just a few weeks before the trip. After some preliminary testing, I decided to violate one of my personal rules: not taking new camera gear on a trip. It is a rule that I have had to re-learn several times, but what the heck? The lens functioned well and appeared to be reasonably sharp. It was not much larger than the 55-200, with an additional 100mm of reach. It was a half inch longer than the Fuji and 4o grams heavier. But in return, I could eliminate both the 55-200 and the 16-80, saving 345 grams. For folks in the States, that's about three-fourths of a pound! And, I would drastically reduce the lens changes in inclement weather. The bonus was that it saved an entire compartment on the small camera bag I planned to take. So, I took this combination. To be honest, I never go on these trips without a second body, and on this trip, I choose my Fuji X-E3 with a 27mm pancake lens. I could, if needed, use the two larger lenses on this camera. It was as close to a pocket camera as I have, so it took for "just walking around" pictures. So, I never took the 27mm when I had the other two.

The Darnley Jewel, Holyrood CastleThe Darnley Jewel, Holyrood CastleShot with Fujifilm XF-10-24 F4 R OIS WR @ 24mm

Shot with Fujifilm XF-10-24 F4 R OIS WR @ 24mm

Municipal Gardens, OsloMunicipal Gardens, Oslo

Shot with Fujifilm XF-27mm f2.8 F4 R  @ 27mm

So, how well did these three lenses (Tamron 18-300, Fuji 10-24, and Fuji 27mm) do? On this trip I took a total of 2038 images. Of these I selected a final collection numbering 80 images. I will break down the results for each camera/lens combination.

I shot 156 images with X-E3 and the 27mm combination, primarily on walk arounds in two ports. I never had to use either for backup. Of the 156 images, 11 were used in the final collection (7% of the 27mm lens photos).

The X-T3 and Tamron 18-300 was used, almost every day of the trip, for 1680 images. Of those, 61 were used in the final collection (3.6%).

The Fuji 10-24 was used for only 4 days of the trip and for 202 images. However, it is important to note that while 83 of those images utilized a focal length that overlapped that of the Tamron, they were all shot in sessions where the remainder of the shots required the sub-16mm focal length. The final collection included 8 images taken with the 10-22, 6 of which were sum-18mm focal length. This is 3.9% of the 202 images.

So, was the choice of the two lenses, plus the backup camera, a smart choice? I think so. Could I have just taken the X-T3 and the Tamron? While it would have been possible to have taken a total of 1773 images using the Tamron alone, it would not have been possible to take 119 of the images, several of which were included with the 8 in the final collection. In the end, could I have left the 10-22 home? Yes, but I wouldn’t have wanted to. Was the Tamron as sharp as the 16-80 and the 55-200 Fuji lenses, maybe. I’ll let you review the final selections and decide if it is sharp enough. While the Tamron may not be quite as quick as the Fuji lenses in low light, it is quick enough for most travel needs.

Was the purchase of the Tamron worthwhile, absolutely! It is an excellent lens for most travel shots. An ultra-wide lens is still, in my opinion, a necessary travel lens. Now, if Tamron can only market an X-mount 10-24, stabilized and weather-resistant lens, I’ll be a happy camper.

Copenhagen Wind Generators at SunsetCopenhagen Wind Generators at Sunset

Tamron18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD @42mm



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