One of the main reasons I got into photography in 2016 was because of a goal to capture as many memories of my aging mother and father as possible. Having moved from Canada to China in 2013, I lost the luxury of seeing my parents aging gradually.
With annual or twice annual trips being the most I could afford, the changes in their appearance were dramatic with the large gaps in time between seeing them. It really hit home that mom and dad were getting older and that I needed to capture these memories before it was too late.
Fast forward to 2023 and here I am in Vancouver, Canada, with mom, dad, and 12 other family members who came from around the world, including Kampala, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and me, from Beijing.
In this post, I’ll intersperse images taken from the trip, mostly from Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia. I’ll make a separate post about the incredible Joffre Lake. Since I wasn’t on a tourism trip, I don’t have too many tips or locations to share, so I’ll discuss the gear I took and how that worked out.
My luggage looks like I’m a professional photographer. I brought the Fujifilm GFX100S, along with the GF20-35, GF32-64, GF80 and GF100-200, the Sony A7R5, along with the 35MM F1.4 GM, Sigma 85MM F1.4 and Sigma 50MM F2, the DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro, the Hover X1, and the DJI Pocket 2!
On top of this, I brought a Godox flash, a portable diffuser, Peak Design Tripod, a whole bunch of batteries, and cables and other accessories. In hindsight, I went way overboard and should have pruned down what I needed. I got a little carried away because dad is 84 and mom is 79, so I wanted to get photos and videos on this trip.
I hope it’s ok to get a bit personal. Back in 2015, with dad starting to really show his age (heart condition), I initiated a new annual ritual for our family. We would, without fail, agree to meet somewhere in the world as a family. Most of the time, it ended up being in Canada, but we did once meet in Mexico too.
We have several high achievers in our family who have demanding bosses and busy lives. The goal of this annual get-together is that once committed, nobody can back out. It doesn’t matter how urgent the CEO’s or client’s request are, nobody can back out. By having this simple rule in place, it’s worked remarkably well.
Once the CEO or client knows about the event, they give space and time so that we can enjoy our time together as a family. I think some of our bosses and clients feel they’re a part of our gathering and ensure that they work around the family trip schedule.
The pandemic meant that we had to pause the family get-together for four years; China was a bit late in getting out of the pandemic. For 2023, we chose to revisit Whistler as it was close to Vancouver (more comfortable for dad to travel in a car vs. a plane) and has stunning outdoor activities.
In this post, I’ll share some photos from Vancouver and Whistler and share some thoughts on the gear that worked out and the gear that could have stayed at home. Regardless of the gear I brought, I’m super happy with the photos and videos that came from the trip; I got some great candid shots of mom and dad and the family surrounding them. It made hauling all that gear totally worth it.
As mentioned in the introduction, I brought a lot of gear. Looking back as the event is winding down, I’ll admit that I didn’t need to bring nearly as much. I think I could have left the whole Sony kit back at home which was a big surprise.
GFX100S vs. A7R5
I recently bought the Sony A7R5, primarily with this trip in mind. I wanted to ensure that I could use the powerful autofocus to capture candid moments of my family. However, when comparing images between the GFX100S and the A7R5, my family members 90% of the time preferred the GFX images.
I think their preference came down to skin tones. For whatever reason, the A7R5 seems to render my family’s darker and Asian skin tones with a green tint. Given that I’m using Capture One, it’s my responsibility to fix the tint, but I haven’t had sufficient time with the camera to get the consistency that I get with the GFX100S.
One area that the A7R5 really excelled was with the 4k 60p video. While I could have also used the GFX100S with its good 4k 24p footage, the Sony was clearly better especially the touch-to-autofocus feature. In hindsight, I could have left the Sony gear at home and brought the Leica M11 and GF110 in its place. I still would have saved a lot of room.
Perhaps it’s because my parents are slow moving at their age, the GFX100S Eye-AF kept up just fine with their movements. Even with the younger family members, once I coached them to time their movements with my shutter actions, the keeper rates went up dramatically. I offered to use the A7R5 so they could get more dynamic poses, but they again preferred the GFX100S.
I did appreciate using the A7R5 in restaurant environments because of its smaller size, however that could have been even better accomplished with the smaller M11. I’m a bit dismayed that my family members didn’t seem to like the A7R5 images; to my eyes, they look indistinguishable from the GFX100S images (excepting resolution of course).
I should mention one panic inducing moment that occurred to both myself and my fellow photographer while we were hiking at Joffre Lake. First I’ll share what happened to my photography partner. He accidentally opened both zippers on his Peak Design Everyday Backpack.
When he went to put the backpack on, his recently acquired Hasselblad film camera came tumbling out. Several people shrieked at the sight of that; that led my partner to bend down to pick up his camera, upon which time his Sony A7R5 and Leica M6 both came tumbling out.
I learned a tip online somewhere that you should always attach one of the zippers to the bottom locking mechanism. That way, you can always know that if the zipper is at the top, the side panel is closed. Thankfully, the ground was soft from the recent rain and all the cameras were unhurt.
My heart-stopping moment came when I put the GF32-64 on the GFX100S and then tried to capture the incredible scene before me at Joffre Lake. The camera would take one image and then freeze. The rear screen would have the image showing, but then would be frozen. The only thing I could do was take the battery out and re-insert.
The image that was previously on the screen however did not save. At that moment, I thought I had hiked up the mountain and now didn’t have a camera to capture the scenery. I knew the camera worked the night before and the only change I had made was to swap lenses, so in a desperate attempt, I removed the lens and re-installed it.
Much to my surprise, the camera operated normally again. I can only assume the lens contacts were dirty or had some issue when I put it on in the dusty environment. I didn’t have any problems for the remainder of the day, which was very fortunate because the view at the middle lake was stunning!
DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro and Hover X1
Switching gears to the flying cameras, I often bring the DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro to trips and then never use it. It was a similar situation on this trip so I forced myself to use it on the last day and I immediately regretted not using it more during the trip; the standalone RC controller makes it so much more convenient.
Staying on flying cameras, the Hover X1 turned out to be everyone’s favourite piece of gear. Even my mom got in on the action and let it film her cooking while following her around the kitchen. The way it lands had everyone in awe; it’s a great party trick and the Hover X1 works very well indoors.
I brought two flash triggers but could have left the Sony one at home since I used the GFX100S for the family portraits. The Godox V1 flash and X2F trigger worked perfectly even in the outdoor bright light. It provided the ideal amount of fill light to eliminate dark circles under people’s eyes.
I brought one Peak Design Tripod, but in hindsight, I should have brought a second one. One for the camera and one for the flash diffuser. Thankfully, another photographer in the group had a small tripod that we used.
I often get asked what cables people should bring with their phtography and digital gear. I’ve evolved my cables pouch over time and now that I’ve travelled all over the world with this little package, I feel confident to share it with you. Here is what I take on trips and how I pack it into a little Muji clear container:
- 2m USB-C to USB-C power cable
- Apple USB-C to USB-C cable
- Apple Lightning to USB-C cable
- 1m USB-C to USB-C Thunderbolt 4 cable
- 0.5m USB-A to Micro-USB cable
- 0.5m USB-C to USB-C Samsung T7 cable
- USB-C to USB-A adapter
- USB-A to USB-C adapter
- Micro-SD to SD adapter
- Samsung T7 2TB SSD
- Apple SD card reader
- Apple 35w Dual USB-C Port charger
- Fujifilm NP-235 battery
- Generic SIM card tray pin
- Generic bulb air blower
Here’s what it looks like in the Muji clear container:
In addition, I always bring a Momax 65w GaN charger that has 3 x USB-C ports and 2 x USB-A ports. I can also use the Apple charger to plug into the adapter for two more USB-C charging ports.
The above may seem like overkill, but I often travel with other people and they often forget to bring critical cables. In that moment, I earn a beer or two by helping my fellow traveller. Sometimes USB-A comes in handy too as that standard has been around for so long.
As is typical of my travel style, I took too much gear with me. I could have done just as well with the GFX100S, GF32-64, GF80, A7R5, Sigma 50MM, Sigma 85MM and the Hover X1. I should have left the Sony 35MM F1.4 GM, GF100-200 and DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro at home. The DJI Pocket 2 failed on the second use so that should have stayed at home too.
Leaving this gear at home would have been very helpful as I went to town on Canadian clothing brands while in Vancouver and loaded up on Lululemon, OVO, Reigning Champ and Arc’teryx. It’s shocking how much cheaper these brands are in Canada compared to China.
I bought so much clothing that I couldn’t fit it all in the luggage. I thought about sending it via post, but it turned out that buying a cheap luggage from The Bay and taking it back on the place was more cost effective!
I’m so glad that the family was able to get together again after four years apart. For next year, we’re planning an Alaska cruise so there will be many photo opportunities and tough decisions on what gear to bring. Any advice from my readers would be greatly appreciated!