So Sarah and I are in the midst of editing the 1,285 rolls of Kodachrome shot between August of 2006 and the final day of Kodachrome processing on January 18th of this year. While we do that, we have been taking breaks to get out in the camper to shoot other projects, get our cat “Face” used to camping and traveling and doing more upgrades to the camper. One of the main problems I faced with the camper last year was keeping the fridge in operation at all times, no easy feat as the propane mode of this 3-way fridge required the truck to be as close to perfectly level as possible. When “Stealth-Camping”, this was particularly tough as the bright yellow leveling blocks were a dead give away in places like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. It even netted me a nice $75 ticket in Acadia National Park when I was out shooting for hours, not even camping per se. The 12 volt mode of the fridge pulled way too many amps to be practical, even drawing off of the battery, single 85 watt panel and the truck’s charging system while in motion. So a few weeks ago, Sarah and I decided that for critical things to be kept cold like food and now expired and rare Kodak High Speed Infrared film, a new system was a must. The total cost of all my upgrades was a no nonsense $2,000. Thankfully, work has picked up and I sold nearly $20,000 worth of film specific 35mm camera gear, mostly Leica, to make ends meet. I still have the M6 and 35mm, the camera I shot the very last frame with and an M3 with a new Zeiss ZM 50mm F/2, a lens that has third stop increments that would have been brilliant for shooting Kodachrome. Nearly all the film I shoot now is either Kodak Tri-X in the Leicas or Ektar 100 and various black and white in my Hasselblads.
So the upgrades are a new AC/DC 65 quart Dometic CR-1065 fridge and freezer, a lightweight 100 watt solar panel mounted on a custom slide out and removable rack that resides under the cabover of the camper. The panel produces 17% more output and is 5 pounds lighter and even smaller than the 85 watt one on the roof. Also purchased are a new Morningstar MPPT 15 charge controller with the RM-1 remote meter for detailed analysis of all aspects of charging. The charge controller has been moved to the inside of a dead space in a storage cabinet and the remote is on the panel along with the other instruments. The now 185 watt output feeds a new Sears Die Hard Group 31 deep cycle marine battery with a higher amp hour rating. There is a temperature sensor hooked to the battery that gives this information to the charge controller for optimum charging. Another upgrade are 4 40 pound capacity pneumatic springs, two on each end of the camper that greatly help with both lifting and lowering the roof. This is a great upgrade considering the weight of the 85 watt panel, storage rack, two electric fans and the occasional load of fresh snow on the roof.
So the fridge install, charge controller and remote meter install were a breeze, the fabrication of the slide out mechanism took some more time and certainly more thought. The fridge did require the additional purchase of the space saver flange, which gave it 2″ more space on the rear for clearance in our All Terrain Campers “Bobcat”. I thought of coming up with some form of tilt mechanism for the 100 watt panel, but simply removing the panel and using an extension of the commensurate gauge of wire seemed a better bet. I used connectors from this supplier, good price and great products. So the panel can be both slid out when parked or just removed completely and plugged in via a 12 foot extension cord. The 85 watt panel is always working as it is on the roof and the additional 100 watt panel comes into play when parked / camping. The panel is secured to the underside of the cab over via two 2″ x 48″ L shaped aluminum guides mounted with carriage bolts to the camper. Then the panel slides out on 1″ angle aluminum mounted to either side of the panel with a 1″ square brace across the back that has holes drilled for clevis pins that secure it in both extended and retracted positions. Two casters mounted upside down on the brace keep the panel sliding smooth. While driving, a piece of foam hose insulation is stuffed between the panel and camper underside to prevent it from bouncing on rough trails and crosswinds. To keep sticky fingers from walking off with the panel, a lock replaces the front pin and can be used in both travel and active modes.
So thus far, the new system is great, the fridge draws less than a third of the amps as the 3-way and provides the coldest temps of the old fridge at a setting of around 50%. The freezer is simply luxurious. When not holding ice and frozen meats not mention ice cream bars, it will easily hold 20+ rolls of film and a tray of ice cubes. We ran the fridge for nearly two weeks straight and the freezer was always perfect while the fridge temp never lost more than 2 degrees when opened in regular fashion. This would have saved tons of headaches in the last two years that I was shooting the Kodachrome Project. The AC provision on the fridge is a great thing to have when “Camped” in those friend’s drive ways, KOA Kampgrounds and for pre-cooling the fridge before departing. The off setting turns off the interior light but you can still check that the unit is getting power from the green LED that is always on as long as there is power. We also stopped by to visit our friends at All Terrain Campers to show them the upgrades and stock them up with Pepsi.
Here are some pics of the panel and fridge:
Another upgrade was the acquisition of the new Fuji X100 digital camera. As much as I would have loved to get an M9, the price to performance ratio just did not make any financial sense to me, especially given my Leica 35mm 1.4 Aspheric would exhibit troublesome focus shift and needed to be replaced with the ridiculously priced version-II. So for 1/10th the price, I got a camera that is smaller and lighter than the M9 and does even better in low light even though the lens is one stop slower than my Leica 35 at F/2. To top it all off, the shutter is dead silent, simply brilliant for shooting events like the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival. Even Leica fans Steven Huff and the controversial Ken Rockwell gives props to the X100 over the M9. Leica gear mattered a lot when shooting Kodachrome film, but far less so when shooting digital so since the photograph matters first to me, I punted the idea of a $12,000 35mm digital camera with a 35 1.4 that only does so so above ISO 1,600. For $2,100 less than the price of the new Leica 35mm 1.4, I got the X100 and Nikon’s new 35mm 1.4G which is simply outstanding, now that is responsible spending.
Sarah and I took the Fuji X100 along with my two Leica bodies loaded with Tri-X on our trip, part of it spent where we met last May, Yosemite. Life is good, my wife and I are planning our year anniversary wedding day and will celebrate 8 months of a wonderful partnership in just a week or so.
Now…I have to confess, even though I have some 35,000 photos shot on the film, I miss Kodachrome! I am starting to see more and more “Kodachrome Light” everyday, including this nice moody light at Tunnel view that I shot on the X100 while Sarah was cooking pan seared Sea bass with fresh veggies…in the parking lot..:-)