Let the trip begin!!!

Sitting at home putting the finishing touches on the packing.  In less than 2 hours I will be picked up and taken to the airport.  This time tomorrow I will be in France starting on a whirlwind 21 day expedition that should take me to 30 castles 15 or so other cultural institutions and over 2200 miles.

See you on the other side!

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

France Expedition Update and Map

Its been a while since I posted an update on the planning of the documentary and expedition to France.

The reason is simple I have been knee deep in planning.

Imagine scheduling 16 hotels for 21 nights and trying to stay at mom and pop bed and breakfasts for most of the trip.

I will post a longer update later – but the gestalt of my trip is available here via:
Google Maps

Red = Hotel/B&B (sometimes a Castle Hotel)
Blue = Castle
Green = Not a Castle

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Camera Lenses!

Just when I thought I was done!

In a previous post I mentioned that I own these lenses:
Tamron 17-35mm
Tamron 70-300mm
Vivitar 28-210mm
Pentax 50mm

I actually have been very happy with my Tamron lenses and have even recommended them to others.  The Tamron lenses replaced the lenses that were stolen on my last trip to France.

I used to only shoot with 2 lenses: one wide, one medium, and then later I added the telephoto.

As I was getting ready to place my orders I looked again not just at what I was about to buy – but what I would be able to sell when I as done.

I was going to buy:
12-24mm Pentax Lens
55-300mm Pentax Lens

and also bring my:
17-35mm Tamron Lens

And as much as I like the idea of the 12-24 – is this really the ultra wide I want?

This brings me to the Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6
(my original ultra-wide was a Sigma 17-28mm)

So if I am rethinking my ultra wide – shouldn’t I also rethink my other lenses too?

I don’t mind losing the long zoom if I can have less of a gap in my mid-range.

This brings me to the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3

Both of these lenses have good reviews and give me more of what I need on the wide to mid range.  I save some money and in theory can survive with just 2 lenses.  This is the way I like to shoot – keep the ultra-wide on all the time and occasionally switch to the other.

I would probably still bring the 17-35mm but only as a backup.

Just some thoughts.

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Final Still Camera Kit & Technology Woes!

One of my favorite sayings is – Man Plans – God Laughs!

I have been working on the multi-tiered approach to preparing for the trip one of which is to work out the photography equipment and then then videography stuff.

As mentioned in a previous note my photo kit should look like this:

Pentax K20D 14.6 MP dSLR
12-24mm Pentax Lens
55-300mm Pentax Lens
17-35mm Tamron Lens
2 Batteries
2 Battery Chargers
3 8GB High Speed Memory Stick
GiSTEQ PhotoTracker
Memory CardHolder
ColorSpace O with 160GB Hard Drive
Netbook Portable Computer
DC Adapter for Computer
DC Adapter for Camera Batter
Lens and Sensor Cleaning Supplies
Neck Strap
Wraps for Camera and Lenses

Sounds like a nice kit – not too big.

I went out and purchased the Wind u100 Netbook.  Nice little unit.
Got it on Sat, Configured it on Sunday, Battery won’t work on Mon!
Now I have to go back to Microcenter and get a new one!
I spent a lot of hours configuring it – getting Windows XP all nice and smooth and pretty.
I even had it running Photoshop CS3.

Knowing that I am bringing a notebook brought up another technological issue.
Should I purchase a USB GPS unit and then use the notebook for navigation as well?
It is very tempting.  But first I have to get one that works for more than 2 days.

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Documentary Update: Finally an Itinerary!

Documentary Update: Finally an Itinerary!Last night I realized that I had planned a 4 week schedule instead of a 3 week one!
I was so worried about not being at certain places on certain days that I wasn’t counting the number of days. Oops!

However here it is – a doable 3 week schedule!

Route info via

France Film Itinerary

– – Arrive CDG Airport
– – Drive 43 min to Compiegne
Visit Gross Tour Du Roi in Compiegne [Open: Always]
Explore City
Sunday Night: Compiegne

– – Drive 18 min to Pierrefonds
Visit Chateau de Pierrefonds [Open: 10am-6pm]
– – Drive 52 min to Chantilly
Visit Chateau de Chantilly [Open: 10am-6pm]
– – Drive 1 hour 17 min to Amiens
Monday Night: Amiens

Visit Amiens Cathedral [Open: 8:30am-6:45pm]
– – Drive 1 hour 55 min to Giverny
Visit Jardin de Monet a Giverny [Open 9:30am to 6pm]
Tuesday Night: Giverny

– – Drive 38 min to Gisors
Visit Chateau de Gisors [Open: 10am, 11am, 2pm, 3:30pm, 5pm – Tour 1 hour]
– – Drive 32 min to Les Andelys
Visit Chateau-Gaillard [Open: 10am – 1pm, 2pm – 6pm]
– – Drive 31 min to La Roche Guyon
Visit Chateau de La Roche Guyon [Open: 10am-6pm]
– – Drive 1 hour 29 min to Chartres
Wednesday Night: Chartres

Visit Chartres Cathedral [Open: 8:30am-7:30pm]
– – Drive 3 hour 15 min to Mont Saint Michel
Visit Mont Saint Michel
Thursday Night: Mont Saint Michel

Visit Mont Saint Michel [Open: Always]
– – Drive 2 hour 49 min to Angers
Friday Night: Angers

Visit Chateau d’Angers [Open: 9:30am–6pm]
– – Drive 48 min to Saumur
Visit Chateau de Saumur [Open: 10am – 1pm, 2 pm – 5:30pm]
– – Drive 43 min to Langeais
Saturday Night: Langeais

Visit Chateau de Langeais [Open: 9:30am – 6:30pm]
– – Drive 18 min to Azay-le-Rideau
Visit Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau [Open: 9:30am – 6pm]
– – Drive 15 min to Villandry
Visit Chateau de Villandry [Open: 9am – 6pm]
– – Drive 40 min to Chenonceaux
Visit Chateau de Chenonceau [Open: 9am – 7pm]
Sunday Night: Road to Saint-André-de-Cubzac

– – Drive 3 hour 4 min hours to Saint-André-de-Cubzac
Visit Chateau de Bouilh [Open: Unknown]
Monday Night: Road to Rocamadour

– – Drive 2 hour 42 min to Rocamadour
Visit Rocamadour [Open: 9am – 7pm – Maybe]
– – Drive 2 hour 49 min to Carcassonne
Tuesday Night: Carcassonne

Visit Carcassonne [Open: 10am – 6:30pm]
– – Drive 1 hour 41 min to Peyrepertuse
Visit Chateau de Peyrepertuse [Open: 9am- 7pm]
– – Drive 2 hour 37 min to Nimes
Wednesday Night: Nimes

Visit Arena of Nîmes [Open: 9am – 6:30pm]
Visit Maison Carrée [Open: 10am – 7pm]
– – Drive 36 min to Pont du Gard
Visit Pont du Gard [Open: 9:30am – 7pm]
– – Drive 34 min to Avignon
Thursday Night: Avignon

Visit Palais des Papes [Open: 9am-7pm]
– – Drive 52 min to Arles
Visit Arles Amphitheatre [Open: 9am-7pm]
– – Drive 1 hour 8 min to Marseille
Friday Night: Marseille

Visit Chateau d’If [Open: 9:30am – 6:30pm – Boats hourly 9am–5pm]
– – Drive 4 hour 49 min to Autun
Saturday Night: Autun

Visit Autun Cathedral
– – Drive 2 hour 48 min to Maincy
Visit Vaux-le-Vicomte [Open: 10am-6pm]
Sunday Night: Maincy

– – Drive 52 min to Versailles
Visit Versailles [Open: 9am – 6.30pm]
– – Drive 41 min to CDG Airport
– – Train to Paris
Monday Night: Paris – 1

Visit Eiffel Tower
Visit Arc de Triomphe
Tuesday Night: Paris – 2

Visit Notre Dame de Paris
Visit Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Wednesday Night: Paris – 3

Visit Musée d’Orsay
Thursday Night: Paris – 4

Visit Chateau de Louvre
Friday Night: Paris – 5

Saturday Night: Paris – 6

– – Train to CDG
– – Fly Home

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Trip Planning, Netbooks, and Camera Questions

First – I have some more updates and then I had some questions.

I went to get the Netbook from Walmart for $298 and it was out of stock. I then went to BestBuy who had the solid-state version for the same price (no HD just an 8GB RAM drive) – which was nice – but I need the storage. I next went to Microcenter which had the unit in stock but… sitting right next to it was an MSI Wind u100 netbook.  This computer has the same processor and RAM but a larger HD – 160GB, a non glare screen, a slightly larger keyboard and it just felt nice – all for only $319.

The funny this is that to upgrade the RAM you have to violate the warranty – but I will wait to see how performance is first.  It turns out to be an interesting beast.  It comes with XP Home so I had to do my normal clean it up routine to make windows run smooth and fast.  I found that the track-pad had tapping enabled and the only way to remove it was to install drivers from another company but now that it is off I am very happy.

It does introduce a host of new questions, beyond just backing up my memory cards I should install some software.  Office (which version), Photoshop (which version), should I get navigation software and a gps for it and carry one less device?  All problems to ponder.

In response to my post of yesterday about still photography I was asked a few questions.

1) Are you sure the old lenses will work on the Pentax dSLR?

Yes that is what makes Pentax such an amazing camera – they even have special modes to fine tune and remember up to 20 custom lenses.  It also let’s you map out hot pixels and has a find dust on the sensor utility.

2) Why shoot in RAW+JPG why not just in RAW and save space?

I doubt I will get to play with the images in Photoshop on the road so it will be nice to see them on the netbook as JPG – plus it is just one more copy.

3) Why not just get some cheap and small SD cards?

It isn’t the size it’s the speed.  Most memory cards are Class 2 but for faster access to the camera you really want Class 6.

4) Why don’t I borrow Tom’s 20D?

Because while it is a GRACIOUS offer (thank you Tom) I won’t be happy with 8MP plus I hate borrowing optics from anyone.  And at the end of the day I like to be able to customize and tweak my own stuff.

Next  – more updates on my netbook installation and we ponder video!

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Trip Planning Continues – Moving from Film to Digital

So the next big planning hurdle for the trip is how will I be shooting  my still photos?

And there is an irony to this question.

With only one exception I am only going to places that I have already been (this of course is the nature of the trip).

So I will only be replacing and augmenting photos from my collection not really expanding on them.

Part of me considered not shooting stills at all – but since I wouldn’t know what to do without a camera in my hand the question remains.

The first step is to establish what I won’t be shooting:
1) No 3D
2) No Panoramas
3) No VR

It is hard to let those go – but it is an awful lot of equipment.

My regular camera is a Pentax MZ-30 35mm film camera.

On my last 3-week trip I took 120 rolls of film and at 24 photos/roll that is 2880 photos.
(On my two week trip to Peru I took close to 2600 photos)

Rolls of film can range in price (from $1.30 to $2.50 depending on the ISO) and at an average $2/roll of film and then another $3.88 for processing and printing (at Costco) my photo costs would total $705.60.

The same 2880 photos printed at $0.13 each from a digital camera would total $374.40 for a savings of $331.20.
This ignores the added discounts from the fact that not all the photos would get printed and the time saved from scanning my negatives.

I own 4 lenses for my Pentax:
Tamron 17-35mm
Tamron 70-300mm
Vivitar 28-210mm
Pentax 50mm

I scan my 35mm negatives with a Nikon Supercoolscan 9000 ED which gives at 4000 DPI gives me between 20 and 22MP.
I like the digital ICE feature as well as the grain removal tool – though I find I also like what NeatImage does for me in post.

To migrate over to digital I would want to stay with Pentax and I am considering a K20D 14.6 MP dSLR.
This has vibration reduction in the camera so I can still use my older lenses with it.

The first problem is the magnification factor of 1.5 that comes with a non-full frame sensor.
I know for a fact that my Tamron lenses are designed for digital – the others would work but I would want to test  for quality.

My lenses then become:

Tamron 17-35mm = 26-53mm = wide but not super wide
Tamron 70-300mm = 105-450mm = very telephoto
Vivitar 28-210mm = 42-215mm = we will see if this lens works
Pentax 50mm = 75mm prime

On my trip to Peru I didn’t bring the Vivitar because of it’s vignetting – this should go away with the smaller sensor.
The only reason I brought the 50mm lens was because I was scared to travel with a gap between 35mm and 70mm.
I used the lens maybe 4 times – I really do love shooting with a wide angle lens the best.

Because I need ultra wide angle for my castle photos I would need to get an additional 12-24mm (18-35mm equiv.) lens.

Step one – purchase new camera and lens = $1160

Looking at lenses again I keep seeing this Pentax 55-300mm lens (with great reviews) for $300.
That would eliminate the Tamron 70-300mm, the Vivitar, and the Pentax 50mm.
I like the idea of fewer lenses.

Now what else do I “need” for my still camera kit.

Well it comes with ‘a’ battery which with LiveView off and no flash averages to 530 shots.
While more than enough for a single days shooting – I still want a spare battery.

A spare battery is another $40 and an extra charger (with car adapter) is $18.

I was tempted by the other accessories like the add-on grip that holds the extra battery but for $130 I don’t think I want the extra ‘heft’. or the infrared remote – which while ‘cool’ is something I won’t use – since I am never in my own photos nor will I be able to shoot on the sly with it. I also don’t need the AC adapter because I won’t be near any.

This brings us to the matter of memory cards.

Shooting in the Raw+JPG mode I should be able to fit about 100 pictures on a 4GB card.
If I shoot 3000 pictures I will need about 120GB of storage. Film is starting to look cheap again.

So how do I get 120GB of storage?

Well I don’t.  Instead I get some reliable memory cards – in this case  3 – 8GB High-Speed – Name-Brand cards.
Each 8GB card can hold 200 images so that should be good for a day and also be ok in case one -gasp- dies.

But that is only 600 pictures (and 24GB) so how do I store more?

I have been investigating the various “photo safes” that are on the market that allow you to transfer your SD card to a portable HD.
Years ago I owned an early model called a Terrapin Mine.  It was bulky and bizarre but it worked well.
Most of the products on the market have mixed reviews – people love em – people hate em.
If I am going to do this I will go with the ColorSpace O by Hyperdrive.
It has the best of the ‘works well’ reviews and you can install your own hard-drive which I figure is better because I can pick
the brand and size. It also will read and display the RAW files so I can use it as a viewer too!

The problem is – do I really want to put all my eggs in one basket?
As a film photographer I only have several worries:
1) X-rays
2) Crushing/Opening the roll
3) Losing the roll

I know how to combat x-rays (fast talking and lead bags)
and after years of travel I keep all exposed rolls on my body at all times (in case of loss).
As for damaged film – I carry a changing bag and accessories in case of emergency.

But with this – hardware failure looms – and it is so scary!
Even if I purchased this device for $250-$350 dollars the only  way I would be happy is if I purchased two of them!

I could bring my laptop – but I don’t want to lug it around France (and I plan on having some repairs done to it while I am out of town).

One thought is to get one of those little Acer Netbooks and an external USB hard-rive as backup.

I like this idea because I have two copies on two devices that are small enough to keep on my person.

The problem is if the notebook dies – I can’t get the data to the USB hard-drive.

I even looked into portable DVD burners!

My concluding logic is as follows:
I will get a Netbook and a ColorSpace so that I am as secure as possible and both should be small enough to keep on my person.

One last item!

I have been looking into GPS data loggers.  They are so powerful and so inexpensive these days.
I think it would be great to be able to track exactly where I was when I was shooting and to route the entire trip.
At first I was a little apprehensive because the one I like holds – ‘about’ 3 weeks of data – but since I am getting the NetBook I can monitor how full the device is getting.

I really like the look of the GiSTEQ PhotoTracker and my friend Mace went out and got one and is in love with it!

So what will my digital kit look like?
-Pentax Camera + Lens = $1160
-Pentax 55-300mm Lens = $300
-Extra battery + Charger = $60
-3 8GB Memory Cards = $180
-ColorSpace + HD = $260
-Acer Netbook = $298
-GiSTEQ PhotoTracker = $80
-Tamron 17-35mm= Already Own
-Camera Wraps = Already Own
-Blower = Already Own
-Cleaning Supplies = Already Own
-Camera Strap = Already Own
-MemCard Safe = Already Own

What won’t I bring (that I usually do)?
-Stereoscopic Camera
-Light Meter
-Panoramic Camera Mount
-Small Digital Camera
-Fish-eye Lens
-Changing Bag
-Film Shields

So what does all this get me?
1) Less equipment – it really is just one camera
2) Instant Feedback – which I admit I do like
3) No development or processing costs
4) Cheaper printing costs
5) No scanning time
6) Vibration Reduction
7) Kick ass new Wide Angle and Telephoto Lenses
8) GPS Data Tracking

I think it is doable.

Next up – let’s talk Video Equipment!

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Updated List, Updated Order, and Fuel Costs

As I continue to plan for the film I have been updating my destination list – the order of the list and so on…

I had to ad one more place to the list because I had a very long stretch of driving between Marseilles and Paris. I decided that even though I haven’t been there that the Cathedral at Autun could not be missed and made a very nice break in the trip.

Going through my old records I found that the website was good at estimating, time, mileage, and even estimate of petrol, fuel costs, and tolls!

On the bad side of things is that many places are closed on Monday or Tuesday so I needed to arrange accordingly.

The total distance is about 3289km or 2087 miles.

Now let’s do the math.

I am looking at leasing a 308 SW Premium turbo diesel 5 door automatic (cause I cant drive stick).

This car gets 7.13L/100 km or 14.02km/L.

For a total of 234.5 L of diesel

At 1.107Euro/L the total is 238.5 Euros

At 1 Euro = $1.289 the total is $308 for fuel!


My revised list – in order – looks like this:
* = Not on my original proposal list.

Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport
Gross Tour Du Roi in Compiegne
Chateau de Pierrefonds
Chateau de Chantilly
* Amiens Cathedral
* Chateau de Gisors
* Jardin de Monet a Giverny
Chateau de La Roche Guyon
* Chartres Cathedral
Mont Saint Michel
Chateau d’Angers
Chateau de Saumur
Chateau de Langeais
Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau
Chateau de Villandry
Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Bouilh
Chateau de Rocamadour
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
* Arena of Nîmes
* Maison Carrée
* Pont du Gard
* Palais des Papes
* Arles Amphitheatre
Chateau d’If
* Autun Cathedral
Chateau de Versailles
* Eiffel Tower
* Arc de Triomphe
* Notre Dame de Paris
* Sacré-Cœur Basilica
* Musée d’Orsay
Chateau de Louvre
Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport

More to come…

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]

Updated Destination List

Planning this film is a lot of work!

So I have gone over my original list of 20 Castles and asked myself what is missing from the ‘experience’.  I am holding to the original premise that I will not be going anywhere ‘new’ on this expedition so that my previous research has some value and that I have at least some constants.  That being said – you can’t go to France and only see the 20 castles previously listed.

So I went and added some iconic destinations to the trip and also mapped them around France so I could get an order to the list so I can start building a real timetable.

Here is the updated destination list – in order:
* = New to List

Chateau de Pierrefonds
Gross Tour Du Roi in Compiegne
Chateau de Chantilly
* Amiens Cathedral
* Chateau de Gisors
* Jardin de Monet a Giverny
Chateau de La Roche Guyon
* Chartres Cathedral
Mont Saint Michel
Chateau d’Angers
Chateau de Saumur
Chateau de Langeais
Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau
Chateau de Villandry
Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Bouilh
Chateau de Rocamadour
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
* Arena of Nîmes
* Maison Carrée
* Pont du Gard
* Palais des Papes
* Arles Amphitheatre
Chateau d’If
Chateau de Versailles
* Eiffel Tower
* Arc de Triomphe
* Notre Dame de Paris
* Sacré-Cœur Basilica
* Musée d’Orsay
Chateau de Louvre

More updates to follow…

[Re-posted from my University Blog & Edited 07/01/2011]