To Boston and Back. A Parenting Journey.

Our room at the Taj Hotel, just off the park. Boston is so nicely compact,
it seems you can get anywhere in just a few minutes.

I've been in Boston for the past week. Now I am back in Austin, Texas. My small crew was doing something traditional that, no doubt, many of you have been through, and some more than once. We were visiting colleges during our child's Spring Break. For now, at least, I know that Ben did not spend his week frolicking on the beach in Daytona with a beer bong and a group of young women whose judgement has been impaired by alcohol...

We visited the big name schools and the not so big name schools. Our parenting mission was to get the ball rolling so that the kid would start to narrow down his preferences. Big school? Intimate school? Urban or bucolic? Ivy league or desert quaint? We'd love to think that our little darling is so bright that every school will lavish money upon him but we're pessimistic enough to know we'll all be selling plasma at the blood bank before this is all over with. 

Ah well, many of you have already experienced the pain and far be if from me to push you into reliving it. I will say this: I love Boston. And I was thrilled with the tiny camera system I took along with me. I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to go out shooting in the streets but then again, I am married to a benevolent goddess and she does make allowances for my street shooting addictions. I took a single, very small Tenba backpack. One that I wrote about this last summer.
I took two cameras because only a rank amateur travels without some sort of back up. I took three lenses because in my estimation that's all anyone really needs. 

I left all flashes, tripods, lights and light stands at home and traveled photo naked. If I couldn't shoot with the image stabilization and ISO 1600 I really didn't need the shot. 

Since I wanted to travel light I took the lightest system I have ever owned. Two Sony Nex 7 camera bodies, the 50mm 1.8 OSS Sony lens and the two new Sigmas; the 19mm and 30mm 2.8's. I shoved a 16 gig card into each camera, added one battery charger and four extra batteries and that's it. Did I pine for more? Naw, I have a weird brain. If the basics are covered I spend my time figuring out how to maximize what's in the bag rather than aimlessly wishing for something else.

The Nex 7 is an amazing camera. It's small and lightweight but it packs an imaging punch high above its weight class. For all but low light applications I'd put the Sony Nex 7 24 megapixel sensor up against full frame cameras where resolution and sharpness are the driving metrics. Sure, the bigger sensor cameras will out score it in high ISO noise but what do I care? I shoot in normal situations, mostly. 

The Nex 7 has three well known faults when it comes to intense, daylong use. And two of the faults are interrelated. Fault number one is the fact that the system launched with a bare handful of lenses and an even sparser collection of really good lenses.  The Zeiss 24mm, the new 35mm 1.8, the 50mm OSS 1.8 and one or two others are quite good but some of the early entries are mediocre at best. Most maligned, on the Nex 7, is the 16mm lens. Some of the others are just the run of the mill, slow kit lenses. And it's really sad because the sensor coupled with the right glass is capable of really good images. The saving grace in this regard is the increased introduction of third party lens makers like Sigma. Their cheap and plain 19mm and 30mm 2.8's are very sharp, even wide open. At f5.6 the 19mm is a stunner little performer and I can imagine that the m4:3's version brings a bunch of extra bite to the really good sensor in the OMD as well.

The second major fault of the Nex 7 is all about power management versus start up speed and awake from sleep times. If you want any battery life you need to implement the power management controls and set the sleep time to a few minutes, at most. The problem is that the camera takes five or six seconds from a dead stop to fully functional. And about three seconds from sleepy time to hello, I'm engaged, let's shoot. When I'm in a visual target rich area I give a minute massage of the shutter button on a regular interval so the camera doesn't go to sleep and it's ready when I am. Still, you have to expect that if you want a battery to last all day you must turn the camera off when you are not using it.

The only other real fault of the camera (number 3) is the short battery life. This is of course all tied up with power management and the implementation of two backlit screens as well as the smaller form factor of the camera. When I shoot diligently (as opposed to casually and sporadically) I tend to go into the menu and turn off the sleep time which means the camera is on all the time. This sucks power from the battery but ensures that the camera is ready to shoot the moment I am. My work around is to carry four or five batteries for a full day's shooting and change as needed. I've got three chargers so on a day of shooting out of town I generally put three on the charger before we head out for dinner and then put the other two on before bed. Works fine. I've been using Wasabi Power batteries as my second layer of batteries and so far they work as well as the originals.

I generally used two cameras on the trip, one with the 50mm and the other with the 19mm. It was a very efficient and straightforward way to work.

Over the next week I'll be blogging about my Boston experiences and about my wonderful, behind the scenes tour of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts photo department tour, where they do magic. We'll also talk about shooting while doing family trips.

Once I experienced how good the images could be and how little a great camera can weigh (not to mention how little space they take up) I can't imagine ever traveling with a bigger camera system again. The a99 will travel when it is contingent on me charging my regular fees to a brand picky client. Until then it's mirrorless Sony all the way.
Coming back from an early morning session of shooting and the acquisition of personal 
coffee. I took a break to shoot the mirror image.
We missed the snow by a day or two but we had our share of 
cold and rainy nights.
My collection of sweatshirts and set gloves certainly came in handy.

Is it my imagination or are there really a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts on every single street corner in Boston?

Ben's top choice at the moment (subject to quick change) is Brandeis...


  1. Welcome home, Kirk. I look forward to hearing about Boston.

  2. Hey kirk, u messed up the 16gb card with 16megapixel.:)

  3. Welcome home. The women in Boston look a little stiff.

  4. The wife and I spent some days in Boston in the fall of 2011 and I took many hundreds of photographs. I love history and you are surrounded by it in Boston. A waiter at a seafood restaurant who used to live in Austin told us: "All you have to do to find something interesting in Boston is take a short walk." He was right. I'm sure you will have lots to share with us from your trip.

  5. Been there and done that with my two boys...glad that experience is behind me. It was great, but stressful and financially taxing (I guess that would be the polite way of saying it).

    I'm with you on the small cameras, especially when traveling. On a recent trip to Montreal I took only my little Nikon P7100. The pics came out great, didn't miss the big DSLR at all. Last year in Fort Lauderdale I brought only my EP-2 and 14mm lens and I really didn't feel like I missed anything, lots of nice shots and memories from that small combo. Even when I go out at home it's one camera and one lens. I'm a better photographer when I don't have too much stuff with me, and a happier, more rested traveler. Recently I've switched back to my Samsung NX100. They make a nice camera and the Samsung lenses are quite good and compact too. My wife bought me an awesome little Coach camera bag for a whopping $70 (it's quite nice, not feminine looking at all). I can fit a mirrorless cam and a couple of lenses, spare batteries, plus a bottle of water and an apple or sandwich, my i.d. and it weighs very little.

  6. Brandeis would be a great choice -- good location, great atmosphere, and absolutely top-notch faculty! What's not to like

  7. Boston's a great town to be a student in, and is just awash in an embarrassment of amazing school. Brandeis and Tufts are both great if you want the smaller liberal-arts experience without completely giving up a University setting, and BU is one of the great big dynamic urban Universities going...and that's not even talking about those little Cambridge schools. Though speaking as somebody who moved from SoCal to NYC for university and subsequently to eastern Canada, the Austin-to-Boston winters will likely come as a shock to to the boy. I remember having to learn the difference between a "coat" and a "jacket," and finding out that unlike what they taught is in L.A., a lined flannel shirt doesn't qualify as either...

  8. I love Boston too. My wife's two brothers married two Italian sisters from there, so every couple years we pack up from out West and get to experience a different world. Being out East in general though makes some of us "jeans and a t-shirt" guys feel uncomfortable, but that's okay.

  9. Have you seen B&H's special on Sigma's 19 & 30 mm lenses? It's $199 for the pair!

    See: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/913513-REG/sigma_19mm_f_2_8_ex_dn.html/

    Also, when I enter Tenba in your Search box, the only article that comes up is the one from March 26, 2013. What Tenba bag did you review?


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!