Starting the trek home today, it's two days of bussing and flying where appropriate after spending nearly a month here wandering in a semi-aimless way. As is often the case with this sort of time in these little adventures, I'm in a largely reflective mood, what has worked, what hasn't, what has over performed and where has it all gone tits up.
I set out with the 6D, 24-105L, 50mm1.4, three batteries, a remote release, cpl and uv filters for the zoom and a uv filter for the niftier fifty, all fitting comfortably in a messenger bag. This has been the first serious road test of my 6d. As yet I haven't had a look at any photos beyond the screen on the back of the camera (which to my eyes is pretty darn good just anyway), so my thoughts may change a little over the coming week when I get to having a more detailed peep.
First and foremost, I have been very impressed with the battery performance. I've gone through three power cycles and am about a quarter into a fourth, for shooting about 50gb worth of photos (raw, largest available resolution).
My plan was to use the 24-105 as a wander about lens and then use the 50mm for street portraiture and moments of opportunism where toying with DOF became desirable. As is so often the case, execution rarely matches a naively laid out plan...
Opportunities for street portraiture abound but I found myself typically not endorsing them. In all honesty, it's something I've never been totally drawn to but thought I'd give it a go. In a few cases I did (pictures to follow) but my heart was rarely in it, plus the frequent rejection by people I thought most interesting subjects knocked what little wind there was in those sails out a fair bit. We live and learn.
This didn't render the prime lens useless though. It absolutely gobbles up light and given I wasn't traveling with a tripod (total luggage weight 10.7kg, I was favouring mobility and despite my laughably white skin, at least a little bit of an inconspicuous nature), it very rapidly became my turn to night wandering lens. I learnt this lesson very early but I really only turned a corner on how to get it really talking for me late in the piece. It's a lesson I would have appreciated three weeks ago in Beijing where my opportunities with composition were a little grander but it is better late than never.
Small in frame and light in nature, the niftier fifty comfortably performed for me, albeit in a manner least expected and not really playing to its greatest strengths (in my opinion).
The 24-105 is a great lens, this is not in any doubt and I am not about to complain or launch a criticism of it. For walk around travel on a full frame body, I'm challenged to offer a better alternative. At home I rarely find myself using the upper lengths of its focal range but out here and on a full frame body, that extra 35mm over the 24-70 was useful.
My limitations overall are quite obvious, I'm too short for even moderate telephoto and too narrow for what a few people I've read here consider good for landscape (oh, I'm also short on natural ability but that's remedied by practice). <24mm is a hard limitation, without grabbing the 60d and 10-22 off the shelf at home (totally undesirable), I have nothing to go wider. >105mm is a soft limitation, I do have the 100-400 sitting on the shelf but elected to not bring it.
So how did these two decisions pan out?
There were naturally occasions where I wanted more from my available gear. Most surprising for me though was I wanted closer - not wider - on more occasions (I think it was about 4-2). While you can get very close to pandas, there are times (twice) where a little closer could have given you a little more magic down the looking glass. The other two occasions came from me scaring strange looking birds by getting too close. Oh well. Is this let down worth not carrying an extra two kilos and an awkward shape for three and a bit weeks? Yep.
Going wider often seems like a great idea but it is something that I've failed more than I've nailed in the past. The two occasions where I felt the need were at Yellow Mountain and in the hinterlands of Sichuan, near Tibet. In both instances, I feel there was enough of interest in the potential frames and that the varied vertical relief in both topographies would certainly have survived the flattening out that width brings but...
... I'm honestly not fussed about not having it. It made me work harder to craft the shots I wanted and could get. That limitation was a good thing. The proof is obviously in the pudding and I guess I/we will see how that has gone in the coming weeks when I get to pouring through those pictures.
The remote shutter release? Didn't touch it, except to move it to grab a battery underneath it.
People complain about the 6d's autofocus system. It does fine. It's not as good as the mk III (which a Chinese girl let me play with on Yellow Mountain, swooooon). More points would be nice, we know. At the end of the day though, it does the job. You can go to work with it.
There were no "oh fuuuuck" moments, photography or general travel. This is practically unique for me. Not everything went right, but there was no disaster, my back was never to a wall and despite some testing moments, this trip has largely been a breeze and a pretty good road test of both the equipment and my own ability to stick it alone in a place that is close to the polar opposite of what I do and how I go about life. Hilariously, the lowest moments have largely been brought about by Americans here, it remains a constant marvel at the stupidity that they manage to constantly export...but that's a topic for a different post in a different place.
Shoot me questions, pictures to follow... Now to fill in a few more hours.