Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Traveling to Korea (again) - What's In My Bag?


I've owned this bag for 6 or 7 years and I still can't believe how much gear it holds.

It's been about six months since I first received word that I would be returning to South Korea for my next military assignment. Out of all the possible assignments, this was perhaps the best option for me. It's where I spent the three years just prior to Fort Bliss, Texas, where I have spent the past five years and the area in which I bought a house and hope to grow roots once my military career is over. 

South Korea is also where I found my renewed vigor and passion for photography. As strange as it seems to me now, the first time I traveled to Korea I took with me only one very small camera. The old Sony Bloggie, which was essentially a cell phone camera, without the cell phone. I acquired nearly the entirety of my current camera inventory while I was in Korea from 2013-2016. That being said, the big difference this time was that I had to decide which gear I would bring with me. Obviously, I would not be able to bring EVERYTHING, as my inventory/collection is way too big to take with me on the plane and I chose not to have anything shipped. Whatever I could fit into my https://amzn.to/37FWC75, that would be it.

I first had to consider my needs. What camera bodies would best fit the type of photography I would be doing? For reasons that are obvious, I usually get tasked with the additional duty of Battalion Public Affairs Representative, which in Korea equates to a fair amount of shooting photos in the field. When it comes to shooting Army training in the field, it means dirt, dusty, muddy and overall austere environments. For these reasons, I actually repurchased the Sony A99 that I had previously sold and within the past two years, I picked up a very nice, used Sony A77II

Both the Sony A99 and Sony A77II are built to handle these types of rough and rugged shooting environments. Both have a magnesium alloy chassis and a fully articulating rear LCD screen, which gives me great confidence in that I can simply turn the screen inward, to the "closed" position to minimize the chance of damage. With the A7 and A6000 mirrorless line of cameras, this isn't an option. I have also found the IBIS systems to be a bit touchy when it comes to being bounced and thrown around the back of a Humvee.

Aside from being well-built for shooting in field environments, both of these camera bodies deliver outstanding image quality and shooting capabilities. The only thing I can really complain about is the smaller buffer on the A99, but then again, this camera was first released back in 2012. But I've always loved the images that this full-frame camera produces, even the .jpgs straight from the camera look great. The A77II picks up the slack, such as wireless connectivity, higher FPS and eye auto-focus. Overall they compliment each other well, both have a 24mp sensor, one is full-frame, the other APS-C.

But, I also brought a third camera, which I will talk about further on down the blog. For now, let's talk about the lenses...

Choosing which lenses to pack was a more difficult decision than choosing camera bodies. I've amassed quite an impressive array of Sony A Mount lenses over the years. But what is perhaps more interesting than which lenses I chose to bring, are the lenses I chose NOT to bring. 

Among the lenses I DID NOT pack were perhaps my two best A-Mount lenses; the Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 and the Sony G 70-200mm f/2.8. Why in the world would I not bring those along? The answer is pretty simple really. Primarily it had to do with size and weight. Both of these lenses are quite large and heavy. The Zeiss 24-70 weighs in at 2 pounds, 11 ounces and the 70-200 weighs in at 3.26 pounds. Between the two that's 6 pounds. In addition, they take up so much room in my bag, it would severely limit what else I could bring along. Lastly, these are two of my best lenses, pricey too. I simply did not want to put them at risk on a long journey, knowing that I will be doing a fair amount of shooting in austere environments. 

So let's start with the longer focal lengths and work our way down.

I knew I would need a versatile zoom lens and the Sony G 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 was a perfect fit. The zoom range is generous and while this lens only stops down to 4.5 at 70mm, it still delivers fantastic images. The A99 and A77II can both shoot well at higher ISOs, so if I ever need to shoot with this lens in low light, it can still deliver. But the main reason I went with this lens over the 70-200 f/2.8 is the weight. It weighs in at a mere 1.68 pounds. That's about 1 1/2 pounds lighter! Truth be told, at the last minute, I had intended to leave the 70-300 at home as well, with the intention of bringing along the Minolta "beer can" 70-210mm with a constant f/4 aperture and it weighs even less. However, I forgot to switch them out. Oh well. 

I also packed the Minolta 135mm f/2.8. This is a very compact and light lens considering it's focal length. It weighs in at only 12.9 ounces and measures a mere 2.5 x 3.26 inches. I wanted to bring along a high quality portrait / telephoto lens and this vintage beauty fit the bill perfectly and takes up very little space in my bag.

That's it for the longer focal lengths. What about standard zoom lenses?

I kept it pretty simple when it came to standard zooms. I recently purchased the Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 APS-C (24-75mm full frame equivalent) lens for use on my A77II and my A6500 (with an adapter). It weighs in at 1.28 pounds and makes for a great everyday walk around lens. I've always had an affinity for mid-range zoom lenses and this one is quite nice. For my full frame A99 I opted to bring the Minolta 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5. This is another well-built vintage lens that I wanted to bring along in case I needed a mid-range zoom on the A99, just in case the A77II was busy doing something else. I don't see myself using it very much, the performance doesn't stack up very well compared to the Sony 16-50mm that I'll be using most of the time I need a mid-range zoom. I just wanted a full frame option in my bag.

As amazing at it might seem, in addition to the lenses I have already mentioned, I still had plenty of room to pack 4 more lenses, all of them primes; three full frame and one APS-C.

It was a foregone conclusion that I would bring along a 50mm lens. The Minolta 50mm f/1.4 is an awesome and extremely affordable prime lens. I've seen it listed on eBay for as little as $100 USD but the normally sell for between $140 and $180 depending on the condition. I predict that this awesome little lens will be spending a significant amount of time on my A99. 

I wanted to bring a wide angle lens and had originally packed the Minolta 20mm f/2.8 but when I decided to bring along my drone at the last minute, I needed to save on space. The Minolta 20mm isn't all that big but it is kind of fat (it uses a 72mm filter thread). So I made the decision to take it out of the bag and replace with the much smaller, although not nearly as wide, Minolta 28mm f/2.8, which is much smaller, thus taking up less space (it takes a 49mm filter). I don't shoot a lot of super wide angle photos so I think 24mm or 28mm ought to cover my needs. Besides, I already have my eye on picking up a Minolta 17-35mm f/2.8-4 while I am over here. I've seen those for as little as $199 USD and it is a mighty fine lens.

I also brought along the Sony 85mm SAM f/2.8 lens, which is a nice, yet cheap portrait lens. I used to own the mighty (and mighty heavy) Zeiss 85mm f/1.4, but once I decided to reacquire the A99, I didn't have the funds for the Zeiss, having already purchased the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 for my E Mounts. So I took a chance on this light-weight little lens and was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it is built almost entirely of plastic but that worked out just fine for me, given that I am trying to save on weight wherever I can and this lens weighs in at a mere 6 ounces!

Lastly, I picked up another cheap prime lens, very similar in build to the 85mm, this one being the Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 which is an APS-C lens for use on my A77II. It offers an equivalent field of view of 52.5mm on a full frame camera. It also weighs in at 6 ounces and gives me a nice option for low light shooting if I happen to not have the 50mm on my A99. I guess. I probably could have left this one at home since the Sony 16-50mm, which is also for APS-C use on the A77II, will most likely be living full time on that camera body. But it was so nice and small, I threw it in the bag.


There's nothing wrong with either the Sony A99 nor the Sony A77II. I could have brought only those two camera bodies and been just fine for however many years I'm going to be stationed in Korea this time. But I've spent serious amounts of money on a few serious cameras that offer serious specs. I wanted to bring something small with next level image quality. My options were, the Leica D-Lux Typ 109, the Sony RX100 IV and/or the Sony RX1RII. These three are my most compact cameras.

While I love the look that the Leica D-Lux delivers and the versatility of the 24-75mm f/1.7 lens, I have found it to be a rather fragile camera, not really suitable for the long distance travel and unknown terrain I was sure to be crossing. It's a fine point and shoot for street photography in good conditions but I don't feel confident enough to bring it on a mountain hike, in cold or wet weather on the Korean Peninsula. So that one stayed home.

I've had the Sony RX100 IV for a number of years and it has never disappointed me. It is extremely small and I have always liked the image and 4k video quality. But the sensor in it is quite small (it features a 1 inch sensor which is about 1/4 the size of a full frame sensor) and the aperture only goes to f/11 which limits my shootings options for long exposure landscapes. And although it features a built in ND filter, it is still extremely limited. This is a fine camera, built tough too, but it simply didn't offer me enough options when it came to what I think I might be needing.

So that left only the Sony RX1RII. This is perhaps, the camera that delivers the best, sharpest, highest resolution images in my entire collection. The 42mp full frame sensor, is perfectly matched to the fixed, 35mm Zeiss f/2 lens. It's a great camera for street photography, well, any genre of photography really. And I've had great results with it for landscape photography, which I plan to be doing plenty of while I'm over here. I brought along a variable ND filter and 4 extra batteries. The extra batteries are a must because this thing goes through the tiny little NP-BX1 batteries really fast. This is the only downside to this camera. The tiny NP-BX1 is the same battery that's used in Sony Action Cams and in the RX100. IT IS SMALL. But small is the operative word here. The Sony RX1RII is relatively compact, extremely compact when you consider it packs a 42mp full frame sensor. And that's what I needed, a super-high-quality camera in a compact body, easy to fit in my bag with everything else we've mentioned so far.


No landscape photographer worth his salt (is that even a saying?) would be caught dead without a decent set of filters. I brought a modest assortment of ND filters and a variable polarizing filter. I did not pack a full-sized tripod, but I did bring along a very handy Manfrotto mini tripod, which doubles as a sort of handheld stabilizer. I also brought the cell phone holder that goes with it. I'm planning on simply buying a full-sized tripod once I'm settled in, it's time for a new one anyway.

I brought along a basic cleaning kit complete with sensor cleaning swabs, liquid, dust blower and brush plus a few microfiber cleaning cloths.

I also packed a microphone, the Sony ECM-XYST1M which is great for better quality audio and mounts right to the camera hot shoe and I packed a basic external flash, the Sony HVLF20M. I wanted to bring along a larger flash but I simply didn't have room for it in the bag. Additionally there are the various battery chargers and spare batteries for the Sony A99 and A77II and my Dell XPS 15 laptop which slid snuggly into the laptop slot at the rear of the bag. I've upgraded this to 32gb of RAM, along with the Intel i7 processor, it easily handles HD and 4K video editing tasks. 

And lastly, I ultimately decided to make room for my DJI Mavic Mini drone. Granted, it wasn't that difficult to make room because it's so small, even with the controller, spare props and spare battery but I did have to switch out the larger Minolta 20mm wide angle lens for the smaller 28mm but it was a small sacrifice considering how much I flew a drone the last time I was in Korea. Back then it was the Phantom 2. 

It's really quite impressive, the amount of gear I was able to pack into my bag. I guess that's part of the reason I bought it in the first place. It's lasted a number of years without any tears or serious wear, although, I can tell it's starting to near the end of it's service life. I have yet to find it's equal and will probably replace it with the identical model. 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for photos from my Korean adventures over the next few years!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Progress, Not Perfection - Meet Ben Clagett (Walking Across America!)

There's a long stretch of New Mexico State Highway 9 that runs through what has to be one of the most isolated and desolate places in the lower 48. If you're traveling West, Highway 9 ends at a "T" intersection with Highway 80, intimately close to the Arizona state line, nearly straddling it.

On Thursday, February 4th 2021, I made a round trip from my home in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, to Tombstone, Arizona where I met up with a friend, but let me stay on track, lest I "veer off the highway" and start telling that story (although, truth be told, there's not much to tell, I had lunch, watched a wild west show and that's about it for Tombstone). 

Ben Clagett walks along a stretch of New Mexico State Highway 9, near the Arizona border promoting walkfor60.com

On the return leg, with the sun at my back, coming the way I had come in the morning (also with the sun at my back), this had me therefore, traveling Eastbound on Highway 9, having just made the turn off of Highway 80, I spotted, along the side of the road, a moving, animated figure. As I closed the distance, traveling at about 70 MPH in my Jeep, I was able to make out a marker flag of some sort and a person wearing an orange safety vest. All at once, as I drove past, I was able to briefly make out that this person was walking, pushing an oversized three-wheel stroller/buggy. 

But what was he doing way out here? 50 miles in any direction from the nearest town. This wasn't just a local out for a late afternoon stroll. I just had to find out what the story was. I applied the brakes and made a U-turn to investigate.

As I pulled along side, I blurted out "Do you mind if I take your picture?" (For lack of a better ice breaker).

"Sure" the stranger in the orange safety vest replied.

I wasn't sure if he was going to stop what he was doing, or talk to me as he continued with his walk. He definitely had a look of determination in his attempt to get to wherever he was going. I parked about 50 meters ahead of him and when he reached my location, he did indeed stop. I felt guilty for the entirety of our interaction, feeling as if I was keeping him from getting to where he was going, which would now take a bit longer thanks to me.

"I'm walking across the country." he exclaimed. 

"Well, Jacksonville to San Diego, actually."

(Holy shit!) I thought to myself. I might have even said it out loud, I can't be sure.

"Is there a cause?" I asked, diving further into this roadside curiosity. 

"I'm Ben." introducing himself as he unzipped his stroller, reaching for a business card. "I'm promoting walking." (Which makes perfect sense, doesn't it?) 

"I'm Felix" I replied in kind.

"I'm also a recovering alcoholic," he continued. "My web site is Walk for 60. I'm trying to get people to get out and walk at least 60 minutes a day for better health. I'm a recovering alcoholic. It's (walking) helped me in my recovery."

On the front of his stroller is a hand written sign...




Progress, not perfection

Take a step today!

"Progress, not perfection" struck me with its genius philosophical simplicity. It's not about how much you do, it's about doing SOMETHING. One step at a time. Which as Ben himself pointed out to me, was key in his continued success overcoming alcoholism. This philosophy can be applied to any endeavor in your life and it's one that I consistently am in need of being reminded of. So it was perhaps my fate, that I should have had this all-too-short, chance encounter, on the loneliest stretch of a remote New Mexico highway. 

"Do you mind if I take YOUR picture too?" Ben asked politely.

"Of course!" I answered.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and I mentioned that I was a photographer and soldier, headed to Korea in a weeks time. He told me about how the simple act of walking has impacted his life "one step at a time" as he and many others have espoused.

Still feeling guilty about the delay I caused in his already lengthy-enough journey, we shook hands and concluded our all-too-brief encounter. I would have liked to have talked more, but both he and I had places to get to, and the sun was dropping rapidly. 

And as amazing as it was, to meet someone in this remote place, walking across the entire country, that isn't the best part of this story. The best, most amazing and incredibly inspiring part about Ben, is that THIS IS HIS THIRD TIME WALKING ACROSS AMERICA!

Please take a moment to follow and support Ben in his efforts at the following pages and sites:

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/walkfor60/

Web - https://walkfor60.com/ 

Make a donation (I donated a modest $15) - https://walkfor60.com/how-can-i-help/

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/been_walkin/

Ben Clagett walks along New Mexico State Highway 9

The photo that Ben took of me posing alongside his buggy/stroller. Holding my Sony RX1RII. NOTE: All photos in this blog, except for this one, were taken with my Sony RX1RIIBen posted thia photo on his pages later that same day. We now follow each other on social media and I look forward to reading about the successful conclusion of his walk across America.

Now then, since this is a photography blog, and I intended to snap a few photos on my day trip to and from New Mexico to Arizona. I find it only fitting and mandatory that I share a few other images of scenes that caught my attention along what ended up being a fabulous and wonderful day.

How much resolution does the Sony RX1RII deliver? Check out the above photo (original) and the cropped and edited photo below. With 42mp to play with, you can crop in 100% or more and still retain a super high resolution image.

A must see if you're ever in Southeastern Arizona is the Coronado National Forest. Sadly, I only had about a half hour to spend there, but managed to snap a few nice photos and capture a short video with my DJI Mavic Mini drone.

Sample video shot with the Mavic Mini

Above photo capture at 400 feet altitude with the DJI Mavic Mini

Above: the view looking Southwest towards the dramatic entrance to the Coronado National Forest.

Below: a few more images from my road trip...

Above and below, just another pair of examples of the 42megapixel resolution of the Sony RX1RII at about 120% crop, it's amazing!