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Mark Llobrera

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Philippines & Japan 2023: Some Technical Notes from the Trip

Sunset through multiple layers of clouds.
One of my favorite shots, from Coron

Cameras #

I was traveling with family, which made this an interesting trip from a photographic viewpoint—there was less time to wander about and immerse myself in a scene. More snapshots and grabbing things on the move. Here’s my album from the whole trip.

Stills #

I used my iPhone 11 and my Fujifilm X-T30 (with a 35mm lens) during the trip, with the iPhone used for wideangle shots and the Fuji acting as a 50mm-equivalent short telephoto. This worked ok, but I quickly found that 50mm was too tight for a lot of the shots I wanted to take (landscapes, cityscapes), whereas the iPhone 11 lacked the editing latitude even when shooting in RAW.

I think next time I would actually flip the equation: go back to using the Fuji X100 series1 for the bulk of shooting, and pair it with an iPhone Pro (or Pro Max for even more reach) for the occasional telephoto framing. Either that, or just go all-in on on the phone camera. I do still prefer the both the shooting experience and output from a dedicated camera, but even I can see the difference on both fronts is shrinking.

Video #

Video, on the other hand: it’s not even a question. My X-T30 takes very nice video, but it’s not terribly useful in the field because the camera is not stabilized. I used it for a few videos where I could position the camera in one spot. But for everything else I used my iPhone, and it’s…perfectly fine, even for a four year-old phone. I’m consistently impressed with how Apple hit the Goldilocks zone for video—it still blows my mind that you can get stabilized, 4K video in your pocket.

Editing #

I process both photos and video using Darkroom, which allows me to edit on my phone, iPad, or laptop. It does a good job with video, too, which means I can tweak curves/color just as easily as for photos. Editing on my iOS devices was important, because I decided to travel without my laptop.2

Cell Service #

eSIM for the win—we used Airalo’s Asialink option which gave us data connectivity in the Philippines and Japan. It doesn’t give you a local phone number, but we found Whatsapp to be a decent workaround for VOIP calls.

Carrying things #

I used an Amazon Basics 20-in hardside suitcase (fine, unremarkable). Luckily summer travel meant a lot of lightweight clothing. I wanted something that I could carry on but I think in the future I would opt for a larger suitcase and just check it.

For my carry-on gear I used a Bellroy Venture Backpack, which appears to be discontinued. I liked the hook attachment for the top flap, and the low-profile water bottle pockets. The main compartment opens fully, which made packing/unpacking very easy. I fit a packing cube with a change of clothes, my camera, and my iPad and all my chargers. Downsides? It’s a bit heavier than I would like, and the sternum strap can be annoying—it tends to latch when you take the backpack off, making for a rude awakening when you try to put the backpack on again.

For walking around I used a 9L Bellroy Venture Sling. It’s pretty big for everyday use, but I chose it because I could fit a camera, a small 12 oz water bottle, and a packable windbreaker. I’m pretty happy with it although I wish the strap got a tiny bit tighter, for less movement when it’s not fully loaded.

We were on lots of tiny bangka boats in the Philippines, so I’m glad I packed a dry bag. We should have picked up properly-sized snorkel gear for our kids—they would have enjoyed the Balicasag island excursion in Bohol far more if they weren’t using the one-size-fits-all snorkels.

Audio #

At work I prefer over-ear headphones with a proper wired connection. But for this trip I took a chance and used a pair of Apple’s Airpods Pro—and I have to say that for travel they worked great, and they saved me a lot of space and weight in my backpack. I tend not to use them around the house, but for quick commutes to the office they’re quite handy.3

Finally: don’t forget earplugs! I have a decent pair from Loop, and forgot to bring them the one time I really needed them.

  1. I got the X-T30 back in 2019 as a stopgap, waiting for the latest version of the X100 to be released, which turned out to be the X100V. I figured I would pick one up before our trip, but did not anticipate the camera being impossible to find, due to a combination of production issues as well as a spike in popularity due to…Tiktok. I almost took my old X100S on the trip, but mine has a wonky power switch and the autofocus is pretty slow. ↩︎

  2. I went back and forth on this decision for a while, but I eventually left it because I wanted to make sure I didn’t do any work, and once I drew that line there were very few other things that necessitated a laptop. ↩︎

  3. I do have a pair of Master & Dynamic MW65 headphones, which sound great but have pretty mediocre ANC. I use them almost exclusively for watching TV/movies on one of our TVs at home. ↩︎