How Big is Too Big in D.C.

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by cdowell, Feb 10, 2010.

  1. cdowell

    cdowell Member

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    I'm going to Washington D.C. in a few weeks with the family and will have an opportunity to go "behind the scenes" in some government buildings thanks for a distant family friend who has been working in one of them for decades.

    Naturally I'd like to get some good pictures instead of snapshots (particularly if the kids get to meet anyone they've heard of), but I'm curious to know how much equipment is too much equipment, in terms of drawing attention from security officials.

    Looking like a tourist will be fine (and inevitable, I'm sure), but I'm assuming tripods and medium format cases might be asking a bit much. But am I limited to 35mm because it looks like a normal camera? Remember, I'm not going as a photographer, but as a family friend getting to look around a relative's place of work.

    Anybody been through any security checkpoints lately? How much attention does MF equipment draw these days?

    In your opinions, what's the biggest camera that can pass as no-big-deal?

    I've got a 35mm, a Bronica 6x6 and a Fuji 6x9 to pick from.

    Thanks for any thoughts and opinions.
     
  2. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    Behind the scenes

    If this was me I'd take a Leica rangefinder. Less is more. Simple is better.

    But if you have to shoot medium format, I'd recommend a Mamiya 7 system.

    Anyway, having dealt with DC security over the decades, I'd also bring a smile to every security check point you go through. These men and women who are protecting the government are people, too.
     
  3. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    If you;ve got enought time I would pick a 35mm RF somewhere.
     
  4. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    in addition to whatever camera you're bringing, patience will be a needed accessory to your gear kit. Be prepared for the possibility that they will NOT allow you to bring a camera in, since you will be there as a visitor. You may have better luck getting your family friend to bring the camera in as his own. Advice would vary greatly depending on the agency. Anything relating to the Department of Defense, I'd just tell you forget it, even with an insider as a guide. Congress, pretty likely to be ok. Most other agencies are not likely to have specific policies banning photography, but you may still get the hairy eyeball and/or refusal (polite or otherwise).

    If you want to go for least provocative and attention-grabbing, I'd definitely go for the 35mm. Distant second would be the Fuji, and dead last is the Bronica.
     
  5. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    Taking a range finder camera is good advise, make it a medium format RF like a Mamiya 6 or 7 or a Fuji, or anything of that ilk, if you have it.

    Rick
     
  6. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    For this type of photography ("grip-n-grin"), do you really need anything more than a nice point and shoot?

    If so, I would bring one SLR camera, one lens (35 or 50), perhaps a flash, and nothing else. No case, monopod, light meter, etc.

    I suggest against a rangefinder. They are slower and more difficult to focus in low light (unless it is also a contrasty lighting situation). They also look more "non standard". You will stand there fiddling for longer, and when it comes to keeping a low profile, you will blow it drawing attention to yourself because you will look like a "real" photographer. Rangefinders are great, but SLRs do have their [many] advantages.
     
  7. Tim Gray

    Tim Gray Member

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    If for no other reason, I'd take a 35mm camera just because you will be indoors and might need the faster lenses available for the format.
     
  8. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    I work for the Dept of Treasury and frequently visit DC. The Ronald Reagan Bldg if always full of tourists because of the food court. Across the street, my Treasury badge will get me in the IRS bldg, but I best not try and take a camera with me. A few blocks away, at the main Treasury HQ, even my Treasury employee credentials won't get me in unless I make arrangements first and am on the "list". But, then, I was there 2 weeks ago and shot all the pictures I wished.

    My point: don't assume anything and every place may be slightly different. Ask permission and abide by the rules. Be a good guest.
     
  9. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    I went in to see Congress in session this summer. Everyone had to check in anything with batteries. I think I could have gotten away with taking my Rolleiflex -- we joked about it a little (the concept of a camera without batteries was very weird to them), but I decided that I would not push it -- and I don't think I would have taken a photo of it anyway -- not a whole bunch of light in there.
     
  10. eddym

    eddym Member

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    2F/2F, this is one of the few occasions that I have to disagree with something you said. My Leica M's are MUCH easier to focus in low light than any SLR.
     
  11. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    +1
    Low light ease of focus is considered to be one of the greatest advantages to the rangefinder camera.
     
  12. jcorll

    jcorll Member

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    You didn't mention which Gov't buildings you were going to be in, but last time i was in D.C. (2 years ago), security wouldn't let me take anything in except for my keys, cell phone, and wallet. Everything else they would turn you away. I'm guessing though that where you're going aren't the standard "touristy" places.

    Personally, I would take a rangefinder because I've had good luck with them in lower light.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 11, 2010
  13. PeterAM

    PeterAM Member

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    I would ask my friend to check out the regs about cameras for you. If you have to give up the camera at the security check-in you'll either have to check it (if they will do that), which I don't like doing, or not go in.
     
  14. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I have to disagree back. :D

    I will say that focusing wides in general is easier with a RF than with an SLR, but accurately focusing a RF in low, flat light is one of the hardest things for me to do when shooting. I find that SLRs are a breeze in comparison.
     
  15. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Touche and counterpoint. I bought my first Leica M with a 90mm f2 Summicron to shoot live dance performances. Some of them have been pretty Stygian... :smile: The M was much easier to focus in the theaters than the SLRs I had been using before.

    Whatever blows yer skirt up...
     
  16. DBP

    DBP Member

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    It very much depends on where you are going. Ask your friend to ask.
     
  17. yurihuta

    yurihuta Member

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    Your Fuji rangefinder should be no problem. I took my Fuji GW690 to some museums when we had family visiting. I live in the DC area and routinely take my photography gear (sometimes Pentax 645N and lens(es)) to work or to meetings - both at Federal Gov't agencies - where you pass through security.

    Depending on where you are visiting, lighting might not be all that bad. Keep a light meter handy and meter often when moving from venue to venue. Have it preset soon after you enter a new setting for surprises.
     
  18. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I've found that unless one has the proper VF to go with a wide (<= 24), that an SLR wins out for the feel of framing, perspective, and width that wide-angles typically provide. 35mm feels right on my M4, but 28mm feels way more right on my F3 than it does on my M4's viewfinder. Even though it's capable of it at the extremes - it doesn't convey the same feeling of immersion. Hard to explain unless you know what I mean.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Yuri-

    I think that's in part because you are an employee of the agency. As a visitor, I think the question would be asked, "why do you want to do this?" perhaps strongly, depending on the agency. Several agencies where I have worked, this would not be allowed, period. Heck, some of them try to prevent you from even photographing the outside of the building from a public sidewalk!
     
  20. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    why do you want to do this? In a place like Union Station, or the National Gallery of Art, I can imagine that you might see some photographic possibilities (especailly Union Station). But not where the actual work of government takes place.

    In most place where I've wanted to photograph the real deal killer is tripods, not cameras. As long as whatever you're using is hand held you shouldn't have much trouble. I've never been approached, even in Union Station, by any security clones when using my Hasselblad with a 250mm Sonnar attached. I find a trash can or a pilaster to brace against and have gotten some nice negatives that way.

    But I've been run off of just about every public property in town before I could even get the third leg of a tripod planted on the ground or floor.
     
  21. rthomas

    rthomas Member

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    I've never even tried to use a tripod in DC, nor have I used my RB67 there, but I had no trouble with a Fuji medium-format rangefinder on several trips in the past. I think I could probably pull out the RB if I was using it handheld with the waist-level finder.
     
  22. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Tripods in public places are generally no big deal, with certain exceptions (the Lincoln Memorial, the grounds of the US Capitol Building, Union Station). I've had pretty good luck shooting on and around the Mall on a tripod. This will also in part depend on the security thug/professional you run into at the time.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 12, 2010
  23. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    Many years ago (pre-Bush), our family was in DC for a short vacation. I had photographed a spiral staircase on an earlier visit and wanted to make another negative. I thought I knew which building it was in, and when I asked guard, not only did he let me in with my camera equipment, and stopped the pedestrian traffic in the building for the time required to get the image.

    Ya never know what the reaction will be - - -