A medium format camera for pro-calibre holiday shots
OK, I know I have been suggesting for the past 20 years that the main consideration for a camera to accompany you on your travels is minimal size and weight. So the kind of things I have been excited about – and remain so – are the minuscule Sony RX100 mark VI I reviewed in August (already supplemented by the almost identical mark VII; such is tech life) and the über-innovative and equally pocketable Light L16, which I use myself and which, despite a few quirks of behaviour, often exceeds DSLR quality. But if I may contradict myself for once, here’s a completely different idea. If you’re serious about making truly remarkable travel photos, how about taking a big camera? Not a Canon or Nikon DSLR – the type of 35mm-film equivalent that many travellers lug along with them anyway – but a medium-format digital camera, the kind that emulates the 120 roll-film cameras of yore, with their special studio quality, most significantly the limited depth of field that makes portraits look amazing.
The medium-format cameras designed to achieve that so-special Hasselblad/Rolleiflex style of photo have until recently been strictly pro-studio machines like Hasselblad’s £24,000-ish H6D-100c or Leica’s upcoming and similarly priced S3. But here is something rather different – the ever impressive Fujifilm’s medium-format 50MP GFX 50S, which you could buy with a bag of lenses for the same money as a higher-end Hasselblad or Leica with no lenses. Fujifilm also offers a 100MP GFX 100, too, but the 50S is so exceptional it would be hard to imagine the advantage gained by paying the extra £5,000.
So the GFX 50S it is for moi. It is one of a handful of new medium-format cameras that manage to pack the desirable big-camera features into something of similar heft to a DSLR. It is not quite a point-and‑shoot camera – you need a basic understanding of apertures, shutter speeds and what have you, but nothing too arduous to learn. And your focus, or your deployment of autofocus, needs to be precise. But you will be amazed by the distinctive and beautiful photos you produce. I would recommend the 32-64mm zoom as a starter lens, before you start to buy primes in the lengths you gravitate to.
And here’s something funny: one of the reasons people preferred 35mm cameras when they became popular in the 1950s to the older Rollei-style 120 roll-film machines was that most of the latter shot square negatives, whereas the new 35mm breed made oblong pictures, which seemed more, er, picture-like. The Fujifilm will shoot oblong photos, of course, but you will likely prefer setting it to square because of, well, Instagram.
Fujifilm GFX 50S body, £4,999; Fujifilm GF 32-64mm f4 lens, £2,149, from fujifilm.co.uk.
Superb hifi that fits in the palm of your hand
My favourite way to survive long-haul flights is with a superior music player full of rich high-resolution music downloads and some banging headphones. But such players tend to be on the large side. The extraordinary SP1000 and 1000M players from Astell & Kern, which I have tried, along with a new £3,399 SP2000, weigh up to 432g and are around 7cm x 13cm x 1.5cm. That’s a lot of added travel kit.
So my head has been turned lately by this mini Astell & Kern, the SR15, which weighs just 154g and is 5.7cm x 10cm x 1.6cm. It fits in the palm of one hand and has an offset screen that appears upright – practical and eye-catching. Downsides are that the screen is smaller, the operation more fiddly and battery life is lower (nine to 10 hours versus 12). Plus, the capacity is smaller at 64GB, while the new SP2000 has 512GB. But that’s still enough for dozens of albums; and it’s expandable with a slot-in micro-SD card of up to a terabyte, so you won’t run out of stuff to listen to unless you’re flying to Mars. And the sound is superb, and powerful enough to drive big studio headphones. Five months ago I proclaimed A&K’s SP1000M “properly portable”, but the SR15 is even more so – it could almost get lost in a pocket. A thing of wonder.
Astell & Kern A&norma SR15, £549, from astellnkern.com.
A real-time UV measuring device
Ultraviolet light is funny stuff, aside from being dangerous. My Apple Watch has a UV light readout from The Weather Channel, but I can never tell by looking outside whether it’s a low 1 or a high 6. So well done La Roche-Posay, part of L’Oréal, for this tiny wearable electronic UV measuring sensor, which cleverly tracks UV in real time via an iPhone or Android app, as well as providing location-based pollution, pollen and humidity data – but is battery-free. The My Skin Track UV gives you an informative, well-presented readout for both current and cumulative UV exposure to help you avoid skin damage.
The Yves Béhar-designed device weighs just 17g and is waterproof, so it can be clipped to swimwear, sunglasses or clothing. It exploits a technology called Wearifi, developed by Northwestern University for L’Oréal. It connects with your phone via the NFC (Near-Field Communication) technology that is in your phone, but not much used. It’s NFC that allows for minuscule devices like this to work sans battery, and it’s likely there will be more NFC-powered gadgets coming out in time.
La Roche-Posay My Skin Track UV, £54.95, from apple.com.
The key to untethered in-flight listening
Whether you’re using the suboptimal headphones airlines supply or your own high-end cans, one problem remains the same in-flight: you can be sure to forget you’re tethered when you try to stand up. I’m sure I see that happen to someone at least once on every flight, whatever class I’m in.
The always fresh-thinking Glasgow headphone maker RHA has a rather brilliant solution to that tangle with this little black box, which converts the headphone socket to a Bluetooth transmitter capable of sending sound in great quality to your wireless headphones. So you can hear everything loud and clear on your AirPods, etc, up to 10m from your seat. And if you’re travelling à deux, the Wireless Flight Adapter will work with both sets of cans. The little unit has power for 16 hours. And, yes, as it’s discreet and black, you almost certainly will end up leaving it on a plane, but there’s nothing I can do to about that other than warn you.
RHA Wireless Flight Adapter, £40, from rha-audio.com.