Memory and Batteries for Antarctica (South Georgia & the Falkslands)

With over a year and a half to prepare for this voyage, I’ve had a lot of time to think about gear and preparedness.  It would be one thing if all I had to worry about was clothing and a set of binoculars, but my main focus is photography.  Already having a good deal of photographic equipment to choose from has sparked numerous debates in my head, but I’m approaching the “just over a month-away mark” on leaving and the debates are getting nasty.  So I decided to leave things up to math (which I’m not very good at) on digital storage and battery usage.

I do not know how long the average zodiac trip is – I’m figuring anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.  This is really where the battery usage and memory card equation comes into play.

All of this math is based around prior excursions with the Canon 1DMKII and 1Ds.  Compared to the MKII, the 1Ds is a battery eater.  I can get anywhere from 100 to 300 shots out of one battery depending on exposure lengths (30 second exposures kill the 1Ds’s battery).  The 1DMKII fares far better with anywhere from 500-800 shots per battery (also dependent on exposure length).

I only shoot in RAW.

The most shooting I ever do in a day is during a race at VIR.  I typically take two 4GB CF cards and one 2GB SD card plus an Epson P-2000 (40GB) for offloading.  I usually only have to offload both the 4GB cards one time each.  So I end up shooting somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 images.  My finger rarely comes off the shutter button (only to drink my beer 🙂 ).  I have never gone through more than 2 batteries in 1,200 images with the 1DMKII (slowest shutter speed being around 1/60th of a second).  The biggest battery-eating trip was in West Virginia where almost every scene was caught on a tripod with a long shutter speed to smooth water.  In a full day of shooting (Before sunrise at 5:00 AM to after sunset around 8:00 PM) I ran out of batteries, but nowhere near filling about 12GB’s of memory cards.

Visiting the Antarctic converge in the spring and summer does not yield the type of cold conditions that heavily factor on battery life.

I’ve been following both the 2005 and 2007 Luminous Landscape expeditions to Antarctica and it sounds like the average photographer shot about 100GB over the course of those trips (about 2 weeks each time).  That equates to about 7GB of photos per day (100GB / 14 days), but those 14 days were not all spent on location – days at sea, and time in Santiago and Ushuia are close to electricity sources.  Not to mention how many shots were taken on the ship, where storage and battery life aren’t a factor.  So, I’m figuring an average of 10-12GB’s of storage will be needed for zodiac trips (just a guesstimate).

Camera Batteries

10GB’s of memory card storage equates to roughly 750 RAW shots on my 1DMKII (rough estimate – not factual), and 600 RAW shots on the 1Ds.  These estimates are based on my use with a Sandisk 4GB Extreme III CF card.  So, that comes down to maybe using 2 batteries on the 1DMKII and definitely every bit of 2 batteries on the 1Ds.

It makes me think 4 batteries that are interchangable with both camera bodies would be sufficient.  5 batteries might be better.

Memory Cards

As for memory, I’ve got these in the bag already:

  • 2x 8GB Sandisk Extreme III CF cards
  • 1x 4GB Sandisk Extreme III CF card
  • 1x 4GB Hitachi Microdrive (CF equivalent)
  • 2x 2GB Sandisk Ultra II SD cards

That comes out to 28GB of storage for zodiac trips.  I think this is over-kill, but they’re tiny and one or two could go bad.  Of course, I’ve got software on the laptop for that.

Computer storage and backup

I’m taking my trusty old Sony Vaio SZ-120P laptop that I just put a 320GB hard drive in along with Photorescue (in case one of those memory cards goes bad) and Adobe Design Premium CS3 (Photoshop).  I will also have my Apple iPod 80GB, a Western Digital Essential 250GB & 320GB portable hard drives for backup (these are also very small).  I plan to put my images on the Sony, then back-up to the 2 external hard drives….then put my favorites on the iPod and memory cards too – that will be 5x backup for my favorite images (over-kill, I know).  With almost a terrabyte in storage, I should be covered and still have ample room for PSD & JPEG files as I convert the RAW images.

With the money spent on a trip like this, why take chances?

Flash batteries

I don’t plan to use my flash too often, but I did buy a Better Beamer in anticipation of getting better shots of the birds chasing the ship and some penguin portraits with the 300mm.  I’m only taking 12 rechargeable AA batteries to power the Canon 430ex (takes 4 batteries at a time), so I’ll have 3 rounds with the batteries in the flash at a time.  I have a feeling I’ll end up only taking 8 batteries on the zodia excursions to maybe just leaving the flash behind altogether later.  Again, the flash and the batteries do not take-up a whole lot of packing space.


I’m going over-kill.  Better safe than sorry.  28Gb of memory card storage and 970GB of computer/back-up storage is a ton (I hope).  The only part I’m a little leary of is only taking 4 batteries because I know my Japanese-photo-taking-self 🙂 and am concerned I might be wishing I had 5 at some point.  I’m really not concerned about powering the flash.  I don’t think I’m going to use it enough to go through 12 AA batteries in a day.

If you’re gearing-up for a trip like this, be ready for the major debate you’ll have with yourself….and get your wallet ready!