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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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August 2, 2008 1:38 AM

Olympics: Planning, Packing, And Panicking.

Posted by Rod Mar

Time to get back to work as I'm finally headed to the Olympics.

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, but as well as preparing for these upcoming couple of weeks I've also been spending some good quality time away with my family.

Thanks for all of you who have emailed with questions -- I'll try to answer some of them here.

What's up with the Nikon gear? You shoot with Canon.

Many of you noticed that I was shooting some Nikon equipment at the U.S. Track and Field Trials in June. The Times has used Canon for a number of years. Nikon recently released their new flagship camera, the D3, and they have allowed me to spend a good period of time evaluating the new body and an assortment of lenses.

Nikon is being aggressive in marketing their new camera and has spent the summer getting the camera into the hands of lots of photographers. They'll also be sending some test stuff for other shooters on our staff to use.

The D3, quite frankly, is a wonderful camera. It features a full-frame sensor, which has been kind of a Holy Grail in digital cameras. Canon has it in its very high-resolution Canon Mark III DS camera, but that's been prohibitively expensive and has a slower shooting rate than most journalists prefer. It's mostly been marketed to commercial shooters.

But with the D3, Nikon has made a camera that is full-frame, shoots nine frames-per-second, is amazing in low-light situations (ISO 3200 looks like ISO 800 on most other cameras). Most importantly, the files are gorgeous with true colors and skin tones in all sorts of lighting situations.

Anyway, Nikon is being aggressive in trying to regain its share of the professional market after Canon dominated it since the release of the original EOS 1D body over a decade ago.

Canon had fumbled with its most recent flagship, the EOS 1D Mark III. Many have complained about the terrible autofocus capabilities and noted photo guru Rob Galbraith's website just released a pretty damning 17,000 word reevaluation of the camera after Canon has publicly said it has fixed the problems.

As you might remember, I wrote about focus problems I had with the Mark III last fall. After sending it in for one of the first fixes offered by Canon, I didn't detect any further problems, at least in my cameras.

Bottom line, Nikon and Canon are the two big dogs in professional SLR cameras. Nikon was king for decades, Canon overthrew them as photography entered the digital era, and now Nikon is hitting back HARD now that Canon has shown a weakness with the Mark III and Nikon has winner with the D3.

There is a great deal of suspicion that Nikon is hoping to see a large percentage of "black" lenses at the Olympics this year in order to stymie Canon's ubiquitous ads showing large numbers of "white" lenses as every major sporting event.

As for me, I'm all about whatever helps me make good pictures. I don't get paid by either company, and their battles will advance technology for all photographers in the future.

What equipment will you be taking?

Photo positions at the Olympics can be few and far-between. Even having a credential does not guarantee a spot at the most popular events, which are "ticketed" (you sign up the day before and hope you get a ticket which allows you a shooting position).

Even having access to an event doesn't allow full access. The biggest agencies and publications (think A.P., Getty, Sports Illustrated) will get unfettered access. At an event with the scope of the Olympics, a single shooter from a relatively small paper in the United States is not guaranteed very good positions.

With that in mind, I'll bring a full complement of lenses from 14mm to 600mm. I'll also have four camera bodies and the ability to set up and fire remotes should the opportunity arise. It's a mixture of both Nikon and Canon gear.

No, what EXACT equipment are you taking?

Really? Okay, here's the list:

Nikon D3 bodies (3)
Nikon 600mm f4
Nikon 400mm f2.8
Nikon 200-400mm f4 zoom
Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon 24-70 mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon TC14 1.4x extender
Nikon SB 800 flash

Canon EOS 1D Mark III
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 24-70mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 15mm f.8 fisheye
Canon 1.4x extender
Canon 550 ex flash

Gitzo monopod (2)

To anchor remotes, I've packed:

Bogen Magic Arm
Bogen Super-clamps
Slik pro ball head
Bogen mini-ball head
Gorilla pod (this is a little tripod that has flexible legs that can be used as a traditional tripod but can also be used to "wrap" the legs around something for support.
Pocket Wizard MuliMax remotes (4)
Pocket Wizard pre-trigger cords (2)

Lastly, I've also packed some gear for multimedia:

Canon HV-20 video camera
Olympus pocket audio recorder
Canon G9 point-and-shoot (great for wandering around, also shoots video!)

I've checked three bags (yeah, that's an extra bag charge) -- two cases of equipment, and one bag with some clothes and more equipment. I've packed my trusty Think Tank rolling bag (aptly named the Airport Security) into a Pelican case which also is carrying a Think Tank belt bag and some rain covers.

I'm carrying on a North Face Surge backpack, and I've got my laptop and some camera gear in Think Tank Photo's incredible Urban Disguise bag. This bag looks like a laptop briefcase. It carries a laptop in the rear compartment and is also capable of holding two full-sized DSLR bodies (currently two Nikon D3's) and three lenses along with assorted cables, batteries, card readers and a rain jacket.

One added feature of the bag is that it slips over the handle of my Think Tank rolling bag, freeing an arm!

My friends who are veterans of shooting the Olympics tell me that it's one thing to bring a lot of equipment -- it's entirely another thing to haul what you need from venue to venue for 17 days straight.

So, I can bring my roller with the Urban Disguise bag over the handles, and also carry my backpack if I need more space. This will should allow me to move pretty freely without A) killing my back and B) killing another journalist by trying to load and unload too many heavy bags off of buses.

That's the plan anyway. We'll see that happens once the Games start.

You're going to the Olympics. Why are you panicking?

I'm a little panicked because the Olympics are an enormous event. I am only one photographer so I won't be able to cover everything. That much, I know.

But everyone who gets to cover an event such as this wants to make incredible images every day, and that's a lot of pressure.

I'm fortunate that I have strong support and clear instructions from my Directory of Photography Barry Fitzsimmons, Sports Editor Cathy Henkel and our great photo editing team.

Many shooters from newspapers come to the Olympics and try to compete directly with large agencies like the AP, Reuters, and Getty. My paper has made it clear that's not what they want from me. I agree. What good is it for me to have the EXACT same image as every agency there? No reader would know or care if it's my name under it or someone from Getty. Why even send me if I'm going to shoot the same angle as someone already there?

My assignment is to cover our local athletes when they have medal chances, but also to take risks, find my own angles when I can, but mostly to show readers what I'm seeing every day.

In some ways, that's even more pressure. I'm totally psyched and looking forward to the next three weeks. I'll try to update whenever I can. Because events are spread through out the day and throughout the city, the updates might be brief, but I'll do what I can.

Let's light that cauldron and get going!

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