Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

The beautiful south - A mini break to the coast to test mobile photography solutions

Published by Christine

This past weekend, Mr C and I ventured on a mini break to the coast, but as we are never ones to be off duty, we took the opportunity to test out some photography workflows on the go.

Since the start of Sidepodcast, one of our main outside broadcast aims has been to bring pictures and video as it happens. We've tried this a few times before - pre-season 2009 we discussed which gadgets we took out and about, but it was Silverstone testing in 2008 where we took the initial steps into the unknown. Photos were uploaded during the first day of testing action and we streamed live video from the circuit before the laptop ran out of battery.

Along with a lot of power, back then outside broadcasting required some hefty mobile broadband expense, plus bulky equipment and cables, along with plenty of time and patience.

Thankfully, technology continues to evolve rapidly and lately the process has become quicker and easier. As something of a test we set out with little more than a camera, a tablet and an internet connection.

And the train runs late for the first time

The following picture was taken and edited out of doors, and took about fifteen minutes from snapping the shot to uploading the finished product.

A chance to reflect, with added clarity
Credit: Sidepodcast

Quite apart from the fact that it's one of the best pictures I've ever taken, the fact that this quality is achievable with so little technology is astounding. The straightforward process we went through completely changed our outlook on photography on the road, and here are some of the things we learned.

Pebble beach, a pier that's just been painted red

The tablet (in this case an iPad) is not only lighter than a laptop, easier to carry, fits in my handbag and does all you'd need it to on the road, it also has an impressive battery life. It was one of the first things that I loved about the device, and the chances are it will still be going when you are long since finished for the day.

A lovely scene, but glossy screens do not work in these conditions
Credit: Sidepodcast

There are significant issues when it comes to the screen. We journeyed to the coast on perhaps the sunniest day of the year, and so any attempts to work in direct sunlight were foiled by the glare. It required shade and plenty of it. At a circuit, this could be found in a grandstand, or nestling behind a merchandise stand, but on the beach there was little to be found.

If you were near the coast this past weekend and spotted someone squinting and desperately trying to place their body in the right position between sun and gadget so as to get a glimpse of what they were tapping at - you probably saw me.

He'll always be 23

We invested in the camera connection kit for the iPad, which is basically two small dongles - one for a USB cable and one you can put a storage card directly into. Our workflow so far, then, is to take a picture with the camera (a Lumix compact), pop out the SD card and transfer the image to the iPad.

Gorgeous colours, as chosen by the Sidepodcast comments
Credit: Sidepodcast

This is still quite a clumsy stage of the operation, although far improved over what we have previously attempted. We still want to look into the option of the wireless Eye Fi memory card which would make transferring images to the iPad more seamless, rather than requiring a manual step.

Sit on the banks and drink for hours

It may be that the photograph we've taken is perfect from the start. It may be that perfection isn't important and getting the information up quickly is key.

What is more likely is that a couple of tweaks here and there would make the picture far better, and so we looked into some of the photography apps available. Our particular favourites included Camera+ which has a few awesome presets, plus some nice borders and a few effects to play around with. We also enjoyed the brand new Noir app which offers stunning flexibility, but only worked if the photo lends itself to black and white (useful for reducing file size for upload as well).

When less is more, just time for cocktail party
Credit: Sidepodcast

The one thing we were missing was the ability to straighten images when I invariably messed up the horizon, and the few apps we found with that function were too slow, or too complicated to fit the workflow. I will just have to try harder to not shoot wonky.

Social boy in the photograph

With a picture that has been tweaked, filtered, desaturated, whatever the case may be, all that remains is to share it with the world. For that, we have found our Posterous account to be invaluable. There's an app for easy uploading, the photo can be instantly shared on Twitter and Facebook, and it's simple then to link to images in the Sidepodcast comments or wherever it may be needed.

We have a MiFi device for enabling wifi access on the road, and this has the benefit of allowing multiple devices to connect at once. The battery life on the MiFi is something to be considered. Ideally it could be left on all day in your bag, but battery drain is such that you'd need to charge it several times before the iPad ran out of juice. This problem could be alleviated with the 3G version of the iPad, but how that affects battery life and relevant costs would need further investigation. Plus you are then limited to only a single device having internet connectivity at any time. At least for the time being.

Thus, we can now sum up the equipment needed for our current setup.

Equipment List
CameraLumix DMC-LX3
ProcessingApple iPad
Camera Connection Kit

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend's work. We took many photos, we shared plenty of them, and we learnt a lot. There's always more to be discovered, particularly in terms of video and the possible benefits an iPad 2 could bring. Hopefully, though, if we find ourselves at an F1 event this year, we will be able to send back images almost instantly.