New Zealand

In GEAR, News & Stuff, Travel by David45 Comments

Nikon D3s, Sigma 24-70/2.8EX, 1/80 @ f/18, ISO 800

Before I send you off for the holidays and abandon you for Jamaica, I wanted to tell you about the New Zealand trip while it’s fresh in my mind.

I went to New Zealand with a hodge podge of impressions garnered from various sources: photographs, stories, and the tourism videos to end all tourism videos – The Lord of the Rings Movies. I went because I’d always wanted to go, and because I only had three weeks for my first trip to Australasia or Oceania or whatever they’re calling it now, and because of its size, Oz seems worth more time than that.

We booked a VW camper van, and like anything when The Legendary H is involved it spiraled out of control in a really fun way and when we got to the rental lot what I thought would be a small camper van was a massive RV. Our rolling home on wheels came with a learning curve, and after we’d emptied the fridge a couple times on sharp corners, we learned it could be locked. We ended in the ditch only once and in classic NZ fashion were pulled out moments later by beekeepers in full beekeeper gear and a flatbed loaded with buzzing hives. We spent most nights camped free in little places close to where I wanted to shoot that night and in the 5am early light.

Our first 5 days was spent on the North Island, the last 2 weeks spent on the South Island. If I were to do it again I’d do just the South Island; it seems to be more my kind of place – the scenery more dramatic, though none of it free of rolling pasture land and sheep. Man, the sheep! I’ve never seen such a sheep-dotted, fenced-in, green-hilled pastoral country in all my life. Favourite spots, hands-down, were Cape Foulwind (I could spend a couple days playing here), Milford Sound (touristy but in the rain it’s a magical place) and all of Fiordland National Park (bring bug repellent and the resolve not to let the Sandflies drive you insane.) Our two days kayaking in Doubtful Sound was awesome. Curio Bay was amazing too.

Nikon D3s, Sigma 24-70/2.8EX, 1/8 @ f/16, ISO 200, Singh Ray ND filters.

This trip was interesting for me because it was the first time shooting on Nikon gear, so there was alot of play involved, and the learning curve wasn’t so much steep as fun. I suspect you know me well enough by now to know I’m not about to go deep into the differences between Canon and Nikon. Beautiful photographs are beautiful photographs and only you know how you made them. But for me the switch to Nikon has been fun. The ergonomics suit me better, the focusing is great, and things like the accessibility of bracketing, a wider EV compensation, and a virtual horizon are a real benefit. But an interesting thing happened. I’ve now shot with the best that both Nikon and Canon offer. And you know what? The end result is still just a photograph.

I’m in the middle of writing a fourth book, and as promised, will tell you more when I can. But it’s less about photography and more about actual photographs. What photographs say and how they are read, what composition communicates, how to balance things, lots of visual language stuff.  And between the focus on photographic expression and this new gear, I’ve dug my heals in deeper on my brand neutrality. Photographs matter, brands don’t.

Part of that journey, and while we’re talking about brands, is my new relationship with Sigma. I shot on Sigma lenses for this trip, so now is a good time to talk about that. I took a 70-200/2.8, 85/1.4, 24-70/2.8, 20/2.8, and 15mm diagonal fisheye and shot with all of them.  So many of you have asked why I’d chose to go with Sigma instead of the top-shelf pro lenses from Nikon, and the answer’s not really complicated. First, Sigma lent me a stable of lenses so it was a no-brainer. But more than that. I am not a pixel-peeper. I never have been. What matters to me is the photograph, not the pixel-by-pixel analysis. So I thought it would be interesting to shoot with lenses I could comfortably recommend to people who don’t have the budget for top-shelf OEM lenses.

And you know what? I didn’t notice a difference in my images. Will these lenses last as long as some of the weather-proof sealed Canon L lenses? I don’t know. I’d guess pretty close, though the way i beat my gear around, you never know, and part of that is my fault. Some of the lenses stack up beautifully against their top-shelf pro-grade counterparts – the 85/1.4 is gorgeous. The 15mm fisheye rocks. The 20/2.8 is a new favourite. I never once felt I was missing something by not shooting on legendary Nikon glass. Will I get Nikon glass? Of course. At some point. Sigma has no tilt/shift lenses, and the Nikon ultra-wide looks pretty nice. I also need a 300/2.8 and could go either way – Sigma or Nikon. But bang for the buck, especially if you’re not a working photographer who beats the crap out of his gear, my experience with Sigma’s been solid (both now and in the past) and I’m looking forward to playing with them more. Might even get a low-end Nikon and shoot that just to prove again that while a high-end camera might make life easier and create images closer to client specs, it doesn’t mean the low-end stuff can’t create gorgeous, compelling, photographs. It’s time we chilled about all this brand stuff and got back to our first love – making and enjoying photographs.

Nikon D700, Sigma 70-200/2.8EX, 1/640 @ f/10, ISO 400

Anyways. 2010 is drawing to a close. My birthday is tomorrow and I’m joining family in Jamaica so you’re not likely to hear from me. I’ll check in if I can but feel free to just close the browser and enjoy your family and some time off. Thanks so much to all of you for the birthday and holiday wishes you’ve sent, and again my sincerest thanks for being part of my journey. It’s been an amazing year and your support of this blog, my books, and Craft & Vision has been humbling. Thank you so much. A very happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, and blessings for a full and peaceful 2011.


  1. David – I would love to see you continue to take on the quality of gear vs. quality of photographer aspect. I think you have some really amazing work and it only further supports your argument of vision first. Please, go out and get that early Nikon D20 and show us how its done! Thanks for your great energy and professionalism.

  2. Happy (belated) Birthday David. I’m really looking forward to your new book – can’t wait to add it to the collection.

    By the way, we in Oz still like to call “it” “Australia and New Zealand” 😉 haha

  3. Thank you for sharing some of your NZ photos. They’re stunning – I don’t know what it is, but I just love them.

  4. Beautiful man! Happy Birthday! I have started reading your blog almost every day now and I have never followed one before. I’ts always an inspirational treat and has become something I look forward to.

    Its your focus on Vision rather than technology that keeps me interested. I whole heartedly agree with this approach. I have tried explaining it to twenty somethings in my camera department but it just goes over their head. Its a unique individual that understands this stuff.


  5. Happy birthday David, and only beautiful light in 2011.
    BTW, if you ever came close to Prague, Czech republic, you have a cold beer(s) waiting for you here ;-).

  6. Happy Birthday. Thanks for all that you do for so many of us out here. Your inspire you. You keep us focused on what is (or al least, should be) important, and you help each of us to each out a little farther in the the world of photography. I”m looking forward to your next book. Hope it comes soon, but I also hope you don’t spend a minute on it while you are with your family.

    Have a very blessed and Merry Christmas.

  7. Hi David,
    Thank you for inspiring me this year (I was a winner of one of your Vision & Voice books!) and reminding us what is truly important, both in photography and in life.
    Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, enjoy your family and good luck this year on your new adventure!

  8. David,

    Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the new year. You have brought lot of inspiration through your blog.

    Thank you,

  9. Happy birthday David – really look forward to reading your blog every time so keep it up.


  10. As a New Zealander living in Australia, you’re making me homesick there David!

    Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.

  11. David, almost a year ago, I decided to move my life towards one of vocational landscape/nature photography. I was unemployed, but took the leap of faith by using some tax-return money to invest in a 5D/II and the 17-40L and 70-200 F/4L. The rest of the year was slow photographically, but was filled with much absortion of wisdom and knowledge from those photographers willing and gracious enough to share of their founts of experience. You, Sir, have been chief among them.

    With all that my brain has osmosed (if I may be permitted to ruin that word in such a way), I feel that my photographic ability is stronger now than ever before. For that, I thank you, as well as the other photographers out their in Internetland whom you represent vicariously. You are humbly deserved of all the praise we, your friends, heap at your feet. I feel that a man or woman can gain praise through either vanity or conceit (the shallow way) or through service (the honorable way), and we all, to a person, could tell you how you’ve been of service to us all. Thank you again, and have a wonderful Holiday time.

  12. Happy birthday and a Merry Christmas to you. BTW – would love to see a photo of said RV. Any chance you took one of the beekeeper rescue? Not that I don’t love your amazing scenic images, but it would be kind of fun.

  13. Thanks for your blog and your books and ebooks as they have all contributed to my photography and ways of looking at things this year. NZ isn’t on my bucket list as It is my home country but since I now live on my extended OE I now realise that I take it for granted! Thanks again and I cannot wait for your next book!

  14. Happy Birthday wishes to you David. New Zealand has been on my list for many years and has now moved up a few notches. Your images speaks volumes and speaks eloquently. Have a great Christmas and New Year. Cheers.

  15. Happy birthday to you, David. All the best, many gourgious journeys, many wonderful shots, a lot of new books and many dreams that come true.
    Your recent post as always interesting made me think about your attitude to photography. Usually people think once they get new gear they will be better photographers. Your sentence : “I am not a pixel-peeper. I never have been. What matters to me is the photograph, not the pixel-by-pixel analysis. ” I do fully agree- the point is the photograph, never mind what you used: Nikon, Canon or Olympus. 🙂 The most important is the climate of the shot, in my opinion, its climate and if it can move our soul. That’s the point.
    Have a nice Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂

  16. So you went bungee jumping, for the ultimate experience, check out Pentecost land dive. You have to initiated before you can join in.

    When you decide to go to Oz, try and make a side trip to Vanuatu.
    Cheers Rex

  17. I love the stories, almost as much as the images, I too have had the fridge on the rv pop open as we travelled down the road, not good for the milk supply I am afraid!
    Wishing you a great b-day, happy holiday and many more stories and images in 2011.

  18. A very happy and relaxing birthday David and thank you for sharing your honest and moving thoughts during the year – they mean a lot to quite a few people and I am looking forward to reading more next year. Also a blessed and special Christmas

  19. David, you have a birthday at Christmas, do you call it a Birth-mas? 😉

    Recently, I had the opportunity to borrow a 10-20mm Sigma. I had no problems with it what-so-ever. The images created were great. It is a lens that should find a home my in camera bag.

    Happy Birthday and enjoy your holiday season.

  20. Author

    Thanks Beate – in one month I’ll be back in Kenya. Hard to believe it was a year ago!

    Thanks for all the birthday and holiday wishes folks. Days like this it’s hard not to feel really rich indeed. 🙂

  21. Loved your reports from New Zealand – it is on my bucket list :). Gorgeous images, as always!

    Have a happy Birthday, merry Christmas and enjoy your adventures next year!

  22. by the way, that comment picture that posted with my comment was taken in Queenstown… from the overlook above the lake!

  23. Beautiful photos as always, Mr. DuChemin! While I really enjoy the simplicity and contrast in the first photo, I find the third photo with the sheep in the tree my favorite!

    I hope you have an absolutely wonderful time in Jamaica with your family this Christmas and I wish you a Happy Birthday!

    P.S. I’m really looking forward to reading about your journey with Jessie. What an incredible adventure you have in store!

  24. David, A Merry Christmas to you and your family and a Happy Birthday as well. Love your feedback on the Nikon and Sigma tools, this is helping me to think about my future tool purchases as well. I agree, its about the photographs!

  25. Love it. my favorite place on earth. The landscape AND the people. I spent 10 days on the south island a couple of years ago and still have dreams of returning.

    Anyway, loved following your trip. Two weeks on the south island is a minimum, from the states I think our maximum stay is 3 months… my next trip there will use every bit of that time.

  26. Amazing pictures…I have a Nikon D700 and love it – I had a D80 and then a D90, switching to the D700 for the full frame, and it as more in my budget than the D3, I’d rather allocate my extra $$’s on lenses…although I haven’t tried Sigma, I’ve stuck to Nikon. I really like my D700, but most importantly, brand aside, I think it’s important to shoot with a camera you feel the most comfortable with. I have a Canon 7D, and while it is a great camera (I use it for my children’s sports and some nature stuff with the 100-400 lens) I am most used to and most comfortable with my Nikon, therefore I think I shoot better photographs with it. So that’s my 2 cents on the issue!
    Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays, and enjoy Jamaica! I’m sure it will be an amazing part of your journey!

  27. While you are out traveling the world, I am in the process of moving home to Vancouver from Toronto in mid-January! Thank you for your inspiration this year. 2011 is full of change and promise! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!

  28. Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas! Thanks for your inspiration…I asked ‘Santa’ for more of your Vision books…here’s to hoping he follows through! 🙂

  29. David, I cannot believe it is only a year ago I met you and your blog! I received Within the Frame for Christmas last year and have since bought Vision and Voice. Even tho I have only taken up photography in my later years I am loving it with all the help from your books and what I read here. I was the one who saw you on Davie Street last July and when you get back from your cross-country trip I will take you up on that coffee date! I hope you are still going to call Vancouver your home – because I love bragging that you live in my hometown. Enjoy your Christmas and I hope 2011 brings good health and lots of fun and laughter into your life.

  30. We have visited both islands (separate trips) and agree that the South Islands is a standout. North Island by car and the South by campervan. Camper van is the only way to go!
    I was planning the next trip back to the South Island before the plane had landed back home in Melbourne.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  31. David, I just purchased your book VisionMongers and find your photographs, writing and attitude very inspiring. I learned some of the basics of photography while studying graphic design and back then there was no digital and the choices seemed easier.

    I’m just getting back into SLR photography after trading in my 35mm Canon AL1 in the early 90’s for a point and shoot digital.

    Currently I have a Nikon D5000, the 18-55 kit lens and a “cheap” 70-300 Nikon zoom. I’m certainly no professional and my gear is reflective of the fact that I can’t afford more than that at this point, so it’s nice to hear you mention that after all said and done it’s the photograph that counts, not the equipment.

    Thanks again for your inspiration.

  32. Author

    Lynn – Thanks for the feedback. I think it’s honest discussions about the real-life affect of a lens on the look of the image that’s important and things like CA can make a difference. I’ll be interested to see how my own experience with Sigma and their QA department stacks up against others.

  33. Wonderful photos David – thanks for putting them up here. Have a wonderful holiday season. Glad you’re happy with the Sigma lenses – I took a chance a few months ago and got the 50mm 1.4 – it’s been back to Sigma twice – the focus is now spot on – but really struggling with CA when it’s wide open – a real shame as I really, really wanted to love this lens. As a result I’m most likely not going to purchase another lens from Sigma but will save until I can afford Canon glass. Happy Christmas!

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