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SLR users, confess
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Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 00:12:42 MDT Print View

For those committing the ultralight sin of shooting with digital SLRs rather than cigarette-lighter sized point and shoots:

What lens, or (gasp) lenses do you use?

Wide angle zoom, prime lenses, telephoto for wildlife?

Any thoughts would be appreciated, except those derailing the thread to convince me to use a point and shoot (I already have one, and will continue to use it as well.)

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 01:15:27 MDT Print View

Hi Greyson,

I lug an slr when I've got the room and energy. Must have a wide angle above all else, and at the moment my usual choices are either the Zuiko 11-22 + the 40-150 or the 12-60 alone. Double the focal lengths for the full-frame equivalents.

Hope this helps.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 02:08:59 MDT Print View

I tried a point-and-shoots for a while, but I am very serious about photography and have never had a point-and-shoot that I was satisfied with in terms of control, battery-life, and being able to compose. So I always use an SLR now, in spite of the horrendous weight.

To keep the weight down I now use a single Nikkor AF 18~200 (35 mm 28 to 300 equivalent) VR lens. The 18 mm is a compromise wide angle (I much prefer a 16 mm..."24 mm" in the 35 mm days... which now, for some reason, are called fish-eyes, even though in the 35 mm days a 24 mm was called the widest end wide angle) but good enough. The 200 mm lets me zoom in when it is hard to get close, or to scrunch up the visual elements. And the VR allows me to do away with a tripod in most instances and use my trekking pole instead. It's not perfect, but is a good compromise. Plus the lens quality is superb.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 08:41:52 MDT Print View

Have no clue what my husband carries but he upgrades his digital SLR's every two years or so. All I know is if I have him with me on hikes his pack is nearly all camera gear and ol' Sarah is carrying everything else. He is pretty serious about his photography....

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 09:11:38 MDT Print View

I lug The Beast on all my backpacking trips: a Canon 5D with either a 17-40mm f/4L lens (combined about 3 pounds) or a 24-70mm f/2.8L lens (combined 4-5 pounds). I wear it on my chest in either a hacked/DIY fannypack strapped to my GG Miniposa shoulderstraps, or in a LowePro TopLoader70AW with chest straps. I find that with a base pack weight of around 12 pounds, when you add in a bear canister and food and water, I don't at all mind 5-7pounds on my chest to balance it out. Oh yeah, and I also carry a Slik SprintPro tripod.

(edit: I used to carry a 17-40 and a 70-200 together, but I found that I had to trim down to just one lens, as I never wound up shooting wildlife - no patience and a desire to make mileage - and it was just too bulky to carry it all.)

I did leave it behind on a trip last year and, despite the fact I'm photo-obsessed, I'm sometimes tempted to grab something like a Canon G9. But when the sun's rising and I've got a real SLR with a circular polarizer and a tripod, and I can shoot multiple exposures for later compositing...ahh, nothin' better. Then again, I'm a digital imaging professional, so for me image quality trumps packweight! :-p


Edited by atomick on 03/22/2008 09:13:37 MDT.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 11:05:02 MDT Print View

Wow, I didn't expect so many confessions so fast from our UL community, thanks everybody for your experience.

Rick: What body are you shooting with; I'm just getting into in-depth research on buying a digital SLR, and have only found either crop-sensor slr's (rebels, most nikons) that add 1.5x or 1.6x to 35mm equivalent, or full frame DSLR's.

Nathan: From the hours I've spent reading, researching, and talking to the photogs at the paper I work at, I'm hugely jealous of your set up.
Our shooters have a 1D and a 5D, and a lot of "L" lenses.

More about my purposes: I've been using a supere-zoom type camera (Canon S3 IS) which I've been pretty happy with, but I'm running into some of it's limitations with ISO noise and a widest wide angle of 36 mm.
Buying an SLR would mostly be for my own use; backpacking and outdoor landscapes first, some sports and wildlife, and some news photography.

Thanks again for all your thoughts.

Chris Chastain
(Thangfish) - F

Locale: S. Central NC, USA
Canon SLR - no more! on 03/22/2008 11:24:03 MDT Print View

I have used my Canon 20D with 17-85mm IS lens, but am scared to death I'll get it wet. Great walking-around lens (IMO), decent wide angle capabilites and the IS is worth it.
<- In fact that is a crop of a shot taken with it!
On my last thru hike of the Foothills Trail (where it rained for 3 days and nights straight), I brought this:
Pentax Optio W30 and Joby Gorillapod
It's water-proof, light and I got plenty of frameable shots.
The only thing I REALLY missed was the lens not being wide-angle enough, but I think I'll continue to use it.
The Gorillapod works great... easy to wrap around a limb.

Edited by Thangfish on 03/22/2008 11:38:47 MDT.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 11:28:09 MDT Print View

Hi Greyson,

I'm using an Olympus E-510, which is a four-thirds system camera (Panasonic and Leica also sell four-thirds). The lens conversion factor is essentially 2x, but it's not a perfect analogue because of the different aspect ratio. The 510 is relatively compact and light, yet has lots of features, including in-body image stabilization, which means ALL lenses have IS, not just those you spend the extra buck$ for. As a system newcomer I'm very impressed at the quality and consistency of the Oly lenses. For once, the kit lenses aren't throwaways.

The new E-420 is smaller, lighter and cheaper then the 510, lacking only the IS and a few controls. It's the lightest dSLR available. With careful lens selection you can hit the trail at under a pound-and-a-half, which isn't half bad. A new 25mm "pancake" lens is tiny, at 95 grams.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: SLR users, confess???? I dont think so on 03/22/2008 11:45:17 MDT Print View

Confessions!!! Hmmmm for me carrying less is a means to an end. And this is a perfect example by carrying lighter, tighter smaller backpacking gear it allows me to enjoy my hobby of photography. Not with just a simple but lightweight point and shoot but a REAL camera with an interchangeable lens system, filters and even a tripod.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 16:25:54 MDT Print View

Well, I used to agree, as I still have an Olympus OM2N and an Olympus OM-2 Ti, with many lenses. Worth a small fortune - once.

I have been using a Canon A95 since. It has a smaller sensor, true, but it has most of the control features of the SLR (time and aperture control) except for very wide-angle and very tele stuff. I can however fit a Canon extension tube onto the A95 to take both wide-angle and tele accessories: these are available OTC. In fact I have made up my own extension tubes and lenses for this camera as well (R&D, biomedical imaging) and they worked very well.

I have carried a full tripod, but have since switched to using a GorillaPod and the dealyed shutter release on the camera. This has worked excellently. (Test report at BGT).

But you know - the need for all the extreme bits which I had with the SLR just is not enough to justify the extra weight at this stage.

Maybe what i need is a real transparency scanner to digitise that shelf-full of negs...


Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 17:44:54 MDT Print View

My compromise is to carry a Canon G5, much better than the tiny cameras (at least when I bought it, I think the G7 is the modern equivalent), almost as good as my SLR. Weighs about 12 oz if I recall, fits in a pouch on my hip-belt, ready to go at a moment's notice. Lots of metering modes, macro mode, spot meter, etc.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 23:09:07 MDT Print View

I used to carry a Canon SLR and two lenses then my wife bought me a Contax T3 for my birthday ... it takes sharper photos than the SLR ... but you don't have the zoom of course.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/22/2008 23:20:38 MDT Print View

You have a very nice wife to have bought you a T3 :-)
Do enjoy it.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: SLR users, confess on 03/23/2008 00:20:39 MDT Print View

Occasionally I take my Digital Rebel and a Tamron 28-300 lens. Sometimes I save some weight and carry a 50mm fixed instead.

Usually, though, it's a Canon point and shoot.

Sean OLeary

Locale: Mid West
SLR users, confess on 03/23/2008 07:44:26 MDT Print View

I lug around my D200 with 18-200 lens. I've tried to get along with the point and shoot variety, (I've got a Fuji F10) but at the end of the day a real camera is just worth its weight ( to me anyway). I also had a couple of Canon S-70's, but they kept finding new homes with strangers while traveling in Asia. They were a decent compromise but still no SLR and still a small sensor reguardless of # of MP. I've also added a gorilla pod to the line-up and put a tiny ball head on top and a quick release plate and an L-bracket on the D200 so I can take the vertical shots w/o hanging the weight of the camera off the CG of the tripod. Tests at home work so far but I'll be hitting the trail with this setup in a few weeks in New Zealand. I guess its not exactly light weight but its lighter than my real tripod. Life's all about choices, I just happen to make bad ones.:~)

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: SLR users, confess on 03/23/2008 20:39:32 MDT Print View

Mostly I take a P&S. I am mostly taking pictures to prompt memories rather than pictures to share with others. On recent trips when I have been prioritizing photography I have been using a Digital Rebel XTi with a 17-40/4L for landscape and general shots. When on group trips I also bring a 85/1.8, it's my favorite people lens!

A tempting combination for me would be one of the 10-22 to be able to do w-i-d-e again, and the new EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS. Hmm... maybe after my birthday and a bit of ebay selling :-)

I don't typically do wildlife when backpacking. When I am hoping to, I take a 70-300/4.5-5.6 DO IS.

The Olympus 420 plus the recently released 25mm (50mm 35mm equiv) looks really sweet... but not sweet enough for me to add a new system or switch from canon.

My biggest struggle is camera support. I really like my gitzo 1228 and arca swiss ball head... but it's 4+lbs and bulky. I have tried to make do with an hiking pole / mono pod, an ultrapod, or a gitzo 026... but I haven't been really happy with any of them.


Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
I abandoned the DSLR... on 03/25/2008 22:21:46 MDT Print View

...for reasons of practicality. I wasn't willing to lug around a camera I would not have available at a moment's notice. I found that I ended up throwing everything inside my pack and as a result, missing some good shots. I have done quite a bit of photography but precious little landscape work - and ultimately found that landscapes are incredibly demanding.

Speaking as a complete amateur, I found more success taking photos of people than of nature. Maybe it's because people are inherently interesting, the subject itself can make up for poor technique, which I have plenty. Capturing landscapes requires patience for the perfect lighting, an artist's eye for composition and exposure, and skillful development and post-processing (read about the Zone System largely developed by Ansel Adams). I am not saying landscapes are less interesting, rather they require a degree of skill underestimated by many and mastered by few.

In the end, I had to ask myself, "What is the purpose of my photography?" I concluded that my photos would never hang in fine art galleries or museums, but would serve to rekindle memories of adventures past. The important thing for me is to have a photographic record of the trip on which to reflect, and to be able to share with others (even against their will!). The easiest way to accomplish this was through a small camera that I could pull out whenever the muse struck.

DSLR users, of course, will always have the edge in quality and flexibility with their cameras. There are some great shots out there, including these by Bearcant that he took with a Nikon DSLR on his PCT journey:

I would also echo Nathan's sentiments - a chest pack that allows easy access to your camera is really handy. I've seen a few hikers with those and they all say that it's worth the weight for the easy access to their camera - even if you end up tagged with a trailname of "twopack."

Now, that E420 with the 25mm (50 equivalent) lens might change everything!


Edited by dirk9827 on 03/25/2008 22:24:04 MDT.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: Re: SLR users, confess on 03/25/2008 22:56:39 MDT Print View

My research continues on which SLR, which lenses, and which lottery I need to win to afford the aforementioned cameras and lenses, but to be clear - I'll be keeping my (admittedly big) point and shoot, and it will often find it's way backpacking when I don't want the weight of a full SLR.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Experience with Canon and Nikon on 03/26/2008 01:05:19 MDT Print View

I should have mentioned that the camera I took backpacking was much heavier than other dSLR options: the Canon 20D. I generally brought a 17-40L lens, which is fantastic, and sometimes a 70-200 lens, which is rather heavy. I found that I used the 17-40 considerably more often than the 70-200. Part of this was due to lighting conditions, the 17-40L was a much faster lens (lower f stop) that produced rather pleasing shots in low light.

With the Sierra Nevadas your stomping grounds, I would suspect that there is ample opportunity to capture truly amazing photographs. A wide angle lens would be tops on my list, as well as good UV/Polarizing filters. A good filter to me is essential, as it does wonders to improve photographs, particularly on hazy days (think the moisture resulting from a melting snowpack). It also protects the lens. Break a filter and you are out $50; break the glass on your lens and you are our far more money.

One issue with the 20D was it was particularly susceptible to dust if you were not careful when changing lenses. It is a bummer to pull up your photos and find a dust spec in the middle of frame after frame. I am not sure how the latest cameras from the different makers handles this issue.

If I were to do it again, I'd look seriously at the primes. First they are often faster and lighter (less glass), and they do demand, in my opinion, a greater adherence to the art of composition than a zoom by their very nature of being a fixed focal length. If photo quality is the overriding issue, it is important to note that zooms do have a sweet spot, in terms of focal length/F-Stop. The 17-40L has very good glass and less distortion than typical zoom lenses, but it was still there. Finally, primes are often less expensive than high-end zooms.

I believe the Digital Rebel line offers terrific value, especially with the number of features offered. As you've already touched upon, you can spend a fortune on equipment. With the changes in sensors (the full frame capability is available on some prosumer and professional models), lens compatibility becomes an issue in the Canon line. The EF-S lenses are not full-frame compatible. Something to consider when buying a lens, since bodies may come and go, but lenses generally stay a part of your kit for years. The downside to any camera body that doesn't offer full frame capabilities is that the wide angle capabilities of a lens is effectively compromised.

The entire Nikon vs. Canon argument to me, anyhow, is pretty much tantamount to a religious debate. Each brand has its own advantages; many professionals stick by Canon because of the many lenses (just watch a sporting event on television) and because it was at one time well ahead of Nikon in the digital segment. Nikon has closed the gap and in some cases, exceeded Canon. I have photojounalist friends who swear by Nikon's spot metering system, for instance. I have used Nikon's DSLRs as well, and they are terrific. Speaking only as a rank amateur, I can guarantee that bad photos are a result of my poor technique, rather than any deficiency with the camera.

I wish you the best of luck. If you could borrow a camera and take it out on a few trips, all the better! I wish you the best of luck!

Edited by dirk9827 on 03/26/2008 01:43:45 MDT.

Robert Devereux
(robdev) - F

Locale: Pittsburgh, PA
New SLR user on 03/26/2008 07:28:57 MDT Print View

I just got a Digital Rebel XTi, Costco has a pretty good deal on them. Online you get one deal (28-50mm lens), but the physical store had another deal with a 70-200mm lens. It's probably not a good quality lens, but if you need a cheap telephoto zoom it may be worth it.

While I've been playing with it (and realizing how little I know about manual settings), I researched a bunch of lenses and read a lot of reviews at

I decided on the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS Image Stabilizer USM Autofocus Lens, which was fairly expensive. I ordered it yesterday.

I'm still going to bring a point and shoot out with me, but I also want the greater flexibility that the SLR gives me.