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Tough equipment

I’ve over-used my camera and it needs a rest. Some time ago I calculated that I shoot roughly 12,000 photos a year. The trusty Nikon D70 that I have been using for about three years has put up with immense stress, including everything from being dumped in Florida sand to being splattered in the Washington rain forest.

The camera has done well, but the toll of years, miles, and images has begun to show. The onboard flash stopped working a year ago, the long 55-200 zoom makes a grinding noise from the sand inside it, and now my primary lens has a spot in it.

If you look at the photo of “The Mad Greek” I posted a few days ago, you will see the problem. In the upper middle of the image there is a unfocused dark spot. This has actually been in all my photos for the past week or so, but in some images it is hard to see. The spot appeared while we were in Hawaii, sometime between the USS Arizona Memorial and Hanauma Bay. It’s probably some dust that got inside the lens.

In a way, it’s a souvenir of Hawaii, perhaps some lava. I hope Pele the volcano goddess doesn’t blame me. She doesn’t like it when you take lava from the islands.

I was able to work around the other problems, but this one is a killer. The lens probably has to be disassembled, and in the meantime I’ll be camera-less, which for me is like having a thumb removed. My friend Bert Gildart, a serious professional photographer, advised me to get not only another lens but a second camera body, so the D70 could be retired to the role of spare.

(Bert can be forgiven for his free-spending advice. He is currently blissed out, rolling around in joy like a pig in slop, because he just got his new Nikon D300, which is an amazing new camera. The D300 costs $1800 without any lenses and it is not in my budget.)

I have discovered that getting a hard drive replaced on a laptop is much easier than getting camera service. My options are few: ship the camera to an authorized service center, or find a local camera repair shop (very rare) in a major city. Either way, the camera is out of commission for days.

So Bert’s advice does make some sense. A couple dozen of my photos have appeared in Airstream Life, and hundreds are on this blog, making the camera a clear business expense (ahem), and potentially justifying spending a bit more. I’m looking at a really slick replacement lens that would lighten my camera bag and greatly reduce the need to switch lenses when working: the Nikon 18-200mm VR zoom. Unfortunately it is not exactly cheap either, at about $700 from reputable dealers. I’d ask Santa but I already got a ukulele.

Despite the maintenance now needed, the Nikon has been almost as tough as our Airstream. The Airstream has over 50,000 miles on it and with a good bath it will look almost new. It still performs like new and there’s every reason to expect it will last for decades. I can only hope the Nikon lasts as long. I like equipment that can take a beating and doesn’t wear out prematurely. Traveling as we do, there’s no advantage in buying cheap stuff that doesn’t last.

We are still in Las Vegas because Brian and Leigh won’t let us leave.   No, really, it’s because they keep emphasizing that we are welcome to stay longer and that’s awfully convenient right now.   We have nowhere to go for a while, Eleanor can do her shopping easily here, Emma can recuperate, and I’ve been finalizing articles for the Spring 2008 issue of the magazine.

Plus, Brian and Leigh are giving me lots of “black socks” ideas that may get integrated into our upcoming new website launch.   Airstream Life magazine will have an exciting (I hope) new website in a few weeks with a lot more content for you.   Our staff of programming gnomes have been hard at work on it for weeks, and I’m really pleased with the way it is shaping up.   Airstreamlife.com should soon be a very interesting destination …

4 Responses to “Tough equipment”

  1. Ralph Says:

    I don’t think there is anything in your lens. Test it buy shooting with the lens off in a dim area. Looks like a spot on your CCD. There are some very esoteric ways of cleaning it but what I do is sit in a darkened room, with the camera set to manual, set the shutter speed to two or four seconds and fire it (with the lens off) and blow it off with an air bulb or canned air.

    By the way I just bought a 18-135 Nikon lens and it feels real good. Only $330 it has no VR but its not $700 either.

    Look at our friends Bobby and Danine’s site (http://ayearabout.wordpress.com/) for a look at their D40 results…

  2. Lois Grebowski Says:

    “Airstreamlife.com should soon be a very interesting destination …”

    It’s already a great destination!
    :-D)

  3. Jack Palmer Says:

    Camera prices can be somewhat misleading. I still shoot film and with a camera that with exception for a meter is a design that’s 50 years old.I only have a 50 and 90mm lens , but I don’t find it to be a limitation, I zoom with my feet .Some people would never pay $2,500.00 for a camera body. (Leica MP) but this is a small discrete camera built like a tank that will stiil be working long after a dozen digital cameras have stopped working.The body I bought new, the lens used but mint at $1000.00 each.Even pro digital cameras priced from $1800.00 to 5 or 6 thousand have a limited life span measured in a few years because of changes in technology and sensitive electronics. If your batteries die, no photos. I’m not opposed to digital, I just find a slower more deliberate approach to taking photo’s suites my style better. With the rush to digital there are some excellent buys of manual cameras on ebay. Even pro’s that I know that shoot digital for their bread and butter shoot film for their own work. Some younger photographers have never shot film and know little if anything about how to use it. There are those coming back to film after having shot digital for years and as long as someone is making it I’ll be using it. Like someone said, it’s death has been greatly exaggerated.

  4. Tom Says:

    I agree with Ralph, looks like a spot of dust on the sensor. Its usally worse at F16 than at F5.6. I have a Canon 5D and I get one like that shooting at small apetures. I’d look into sensor cleaning for your model. In my case the Canon repair facility is near my house and I’ll schedule a cleaning.

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