I went to Antarctica in December, 2005. I had written this up as my "what worked, what didn't" for a friend. Just my alternate take on the question.
I went on a small trip with Quark Expeditions. We were on the Professor Molchanov which was originally, according to rumor, a Soviet spy boat. It was a wonderful trip, with just 33 passengers, making it possible to do a lot. 10 of us kayaked about 2-3 hours per day, and about half the group camped on Antarctica one night. The ship wasnít stabilized, and we had a fairly rough passage of the Drake. I was sick one day in each direction. No biggie. I took some drugs and slept. Actually, I was kind of glad we got some rough weather. I wanted to experience the Drake in some of its glory. You can see some of my photographs http://jfiddler.smugmug.com/Antarctica
. You can also see an amazing encounter that we had with some Minke whales at http://youtube.com/watch?v=1slYOxaS7V4
, which may help put some of my comments in perspective. Watch the whole thing Ė it was very cool!
If you have an opportunity to kayak there, I'd highly
recommend it. It's an aquatic environment, and you can cover much more distance, get a unique perspective on bergs and wildlife, and experience a kind of peace that is truly special. Of course, photography from a kayak does have its own set of challenges, but we also had plenty of opportunity to walk around and for zodiac cruises. BTW, my trip was organized by my sailing club, http://ocscsailing.com/
, which is partially why the kayaking was available. They're doing another one this year, I think.
The equipment I took was:A Nikon D70
Ė Worked well. Iíve since gotten a D200, which would definitely be better for three reasons: it focuses faster, it has a bigger RAM buffer, and itís more weatherproof. The focus and the limited RAM in the D70 caused me to lose shots, particularly of the whales Ė not so much the Minkes that are in the video, but another day when we were around a bunch of humpbacks that were moving much faster. When I used the continuous mode to shoot one of them sounding, I always seemed to miss the best shot when the camera paused for a second while offloading to flash. Focusing, particularly on the birds, was tough with the D70. More megapixels in the D200 would also have been nice, but less important for me. Sadly, the D200 wasn't yet available when I went.18-200 Sigma lens
Ė I didnít plan to use this much Ė I took it mainly to leave it in the ship as a spare (see below) - but I wound up using it quite a lot. Itís hard to change lenses in the snow, in a Zodiac, or with gloves on. Itís impossible
to change lenses in a kayak. And, things often happen very fast, such as with the whales. Imagine, you're shooting some penguins in the distance with your 300MM., and suddenly a whale or two shows up next to your Zodiac. You don't want to be changing lenses, especially with gloves on! So, a zoom lens with a very broad focal length range was really, really great to have. The Sigma was pretty good, but Iíve since replaced it with the Nikon (which wasn't available when I went), and itís better. The Sigma would be fine, though.Nikon 18-70 lens
Ė I planned on using this a lot, and wound up leaving it in the ship as my spare.Nikon 70-300
Ė Mostly useful for birds, especially in the Drake Passage but also in Antarctica.Sigma 10-20
Ė Iím REALLY happy I took this lens. Check out the photos in my Paradise Bay / Petzval Glacier gallery for some examples. The scale of Antarctica is amazing, and sometimes youíre too close to capture it with anything but a very wide lens. Iíd highly recommend taking one. BTW, I found that the lens corrections in DxO were helpful on some photos with this lens.A spare Nikon D70
Ė I borrowed a spare body and left it and at least one lens on the ship all the time. If I had a camera disaster, I didnít want to be camera-less in Antarctica. Luckily, I never needed it.Pentax WPi
Ė This is a small waterproof point & shoot. I kept it in my pocket almost all the time. When I kayaked, I clipped this to my float vest so it was always accessible, and kept the Nikon in a dry bag to pull out only when things were stable. It did quite well and took some really interesting photos. Look at my Petermann Island gallery. The main problem with it was that it has no viewfinder, and it was nearly impossible to see the LCD in bright sunlight, so I was often pointing and praying. Still, I think the waterproofness outweighs the disadvantage of no viewfinder.Nikon SB800 flash
Ė Occasionally useful on the boat, but definitely not a requirement.
I considered taking an incident meter but didnít, simply to have one less gadget, and I didnít miss it. I did take an ExpoDisc
and used it sometimes for white balance and for quasi-incident measurement, but I wouldnít recommend it unless you already have one. I took a small tripod and monopod, and never used either one.
I used my lens cleaning pen
A LOT. Sometimes, when it was snowing, Iíd clean the lens with it for nearly every shot. Even so, I lost some shots to water drops on the lens. Highly recommended, and take a spare or two!
I carried all my stuff in a LowePro Dryzone Rover
, which has a waterproof compartment. You get in and out of Zodiacís a lot, and it gave me great peace of mind to know that my gear was safe, even if dropped in the water (it never was). A sling bag might have been more convenient, though. Itís a judgment call.
I took a laptop
to offload to, and also a small portable USB hard drive
, and a bunch of blank CDs
. Some of us on the boat loaded all our stuff onto each otherís drives for redundancy, in case something didnít make it home, as well as just for sharing purposes. The blank CDís are useful for the same purposes. Iíd recommend this.
There are two things I didnít take that I wish I had. The first would be a rain shield
, something like http://www.kata-bags.com/Item.asp?pid=269&...Id=4&ProdLine=4
. It might have made it easier to work in the snow. The other is a sensor brush
. It would have saved me a bunch of dusting in photoshop.
I read a bunch of books of all kinds. For me, the best was The Crystal Desert
, by David G. Campbell. If you only read one book, this would be my choice, but of course some of the exploration books are really fun as well. Also, you might want to look at Eliot Porterís Antarctica
book, for some great photographs. There are some good photos online at http://www.pbase.com/chris67/antarctica_the_crystal_desert
(unrelated to the book) and http://www.pbase.com/jeanmcc/antarctica
. Thereís a newsletter at http://antarcticsun.usap.gov
, and links to a bunch of things, including real-time weather, at http://uwamrc.ssec.wisc.edu/realtime.html