Tools of the Trade/Hobby

When you're out railfanning, it's best to know what you need for a successful trip. Here is my suggestions for what can fill these roals.

Camera

June 28, 2009 19:18 EDT

If you intend to photograph the prototype, a decent camera is a must. I personally have a Fujifilm S700; 7.1 megapixels, 10 times optical zoom, pseudo-image-stabilization, uses SD/SDHC and xD (Fuji proprietary), pop-up flash (mildly entertaining), very nice battery life provided by four AA/LR-1 batteries, a very nicely sized LCD screen, optional EVF (electronic view finder). My only qualm with this model camera is that some of the pictures can turn out slightly grainy under closer inspection, but I have a feeling that maybe one of my settings is out of whack.

On Megapixels (etc.)

July 1, 2009 16:21 EDT

For those of you who are just starting in the railfan photography hobby, all the specialized concepts and terms can be somewhat daunting. Here I'll try to explain some of the more crucial terms in digital photography. A 'megapixel' ('MP') is a unit of photo size in millions of pixels. Most cameras normally take photos in a 4:3 aspect ratio, like a computer screen running in 1,024x768, so the number of megapixels is a reflection on a multiple of 4:3. For example, my camera, a Fuji S700, takes photos at 7.1MP, the final size being 3,072x2,304. Take 3,072 multiplied by 2,304 and you get 7,077,888, or about 7.07MP, round to 7.1. Some cameras also have a 3:2 mode that you can use, and the size is adjusted likewise. Continuing on, some cameras will display some numbers every time you take a photo. Usually these include the shutter speed (in seconds) and the -stop (a measure of the light that will be allowed to strike the CCD). The shutter opens to allow the light to be captured and turned into a photograph. The shorter the opening time, the less light that can enter, the longer the more. I've seen pictures taken at night with exposures on the order of minutes that look like they were taken in daylight. The -stop, also know as number, affects not only the amount of light entering, but also the depth of focus; the higher the -stop, the greater the depth of focus, the lower, the shorter the depth. This is becuase of how the -number is calculated: = focal length; D = diameter of entrance pupil; -number = / D. The -number is usually written as /#, where the # is -number, basically the expression of the math. For more, Wikipedia comes to the rescue with a very good article on all of this.

Storage

July 1, 2009 16:45 EDT

Before you go out and start taking photos, you need a form of digital media to store your photos on. Most early digital cameras (namely the Sony Mavica) used floppies to store photos on. Luckily, we've moved on to more conducive means of storage, such as the ubiquitous SD/SDHC card, the proprietary MemStick (Sony) or xD (Fuji), the professional Compact Flash, the ignored MMC (physically similar to SD and most of the time works with SD slots, but different...?), and the out of date SmartMedia (Toshiba). Only MMC and SD are compatible with eachother (not always), and xD/SD are usually marketed as a shared one-way compatibility (if it supports xD, more that likely, if made recently, it will support SD, like my S700). The space is expressed in MB or GB (mega- and gigabytes, respectfully). There are 1,024 megabytes in a gigabyte. I have an 8GB SDHC (HC=High Capacity) in my S700 (I've got upwards of 2,000 photos on it right now). Depending on how many pictures you plan on taking, choose accordingly; usually 2GB is a good entry size, 1GB are hard to find these days, but can be had for cheap. And don't be afraid to shop around for the best price; I stick to SanDisk, but Kingston and others are good as well.

Voice Recording

July 13, 2009 9:28 EDT

If I don't have my camera with me (which is usually), I carry a voice recorder with me. These fairly simple pieces of electronics can be had for about for less that $50 and can record for many hours. They start up in a milliseconds (that, or they never turn off, just the screen). Olympus' are my personal favorites (I've had a VN-240 and a VN-3100PC), and they work great, once you get used to using it. I use it to read off locomotive reporting marks to keep track of which locomotives I've seen.