There’s nothing like a photo trip to get your image creating juices pumped. I love the idea of shooting all day for days at a time. During April’s Neil’s Great Photography Adventure’s Cuba shoot, all this and more swept me up. As with all photo adventures, gear choice landed front & center. Which gear? Nikon; Big, heavy, attention-getting gear. Great low light shooting. I have super lens range from 14-24mm through 150-600mm, but no effective live view AF for video. Olympus; Small, discrete, lightweight, 2 lenses, 7-14 and 12-100, likely to catch everything. Oly’s world-beating IS, blazingly brilliant live view, all functions, working to deliver superb images. Olympus’ Zuiko Pro 12-100 is half the size of my trusty Nikon 24-120 with more than twice the range. Not much of a choice here. Oly all the way. Not only that, I get to deny airlines’ rape and pillage extra bag fees because my entire Oly system, 2 bodies, lenses, chargers, filters, shotgun mike, everything, fits in a small backpack overhead or under the seat. They can’t get me!
From our very first moment, we felt safe and at home. As with any modern city, Havana bustles with activity all day. I started with my E-M1 Mark II sporting my Olympus Zuiko Pro 12-100. That crazy lens is a real workhorse. I started and ended each day with it. Street scenes, people shots, cityscapes, you name it. I used the 7-14 for maybe 100 clicks, mostly from our vintage ’54 Chevy convertible’s back seat as we tooled around Havana. I kept my 2nd E-M1 Mark II body set up for video. That camera wore the 7-14 most of the time. 2 camera bodies, 2 lenses: Nothing but speed. Still, small and lightweight. My favorite generic settings of Aperture Priority, ISO 400 and f8 proved quite appropriate for most situations. Single point, single shot AF easily locked on faces, flowers, architecture, landscapes, and vintage cars.
Olympus’ Zuiko Pro 12-100, when accounting for Micro Four Thirds’ 2X crop factor, performs as a 24-200mm lens might on a full frame body. Its f4.0 maximum aperture provided reasonable low light performance but I worried 200mm effective focal length maximum might be too short. The lens, though, was perfect. For street photography, it’s fast handling, shots of local musicians and character actors were perfect. It flattened out car perspectives. From wide to tele, it covered just about anything I could throw at it. I found it particularly effective at people shots from non-intrusive distances.
Their Zuiko Pro 7-14 offers superbly rectilinear results for architecture interiors and great field coverage in tight spaces. I brought it along primarily, though, for its wide view during back seat convertible car ride videos.
Despite our news media slant toward hyperbole, we felt no pressure or overbearing surveillance during our stay. I was completely comfortable no matter the part of town. People were friendly, especially vintage car ride purveyors. Our guide, Michel Hernandez, filled us in on Cuban history, current Cuban politics, best places to shoot and, most importantly, arranged meals in Havana’s very best restaurants.
We made lasting connections with Leonor Corona and Noel Gonzalez, excellent Cuban tourist ambassadors and prominent figures in Cuba’s arts community. I’m excited to learn more about Havana’s art scene. My next Cuba visit will be even better as Neil’s Great Photography Adventures is looking forward to an invitation for 2020 Bienal presentation. You should be there. Let’s go shoot!