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Going light with a camera, why?
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Scott Robertson
(SRPhotographic) - F
Going light with a camera, why? on 12/28/2006 20:25:00 MST Print View

There is something to be questioned about lightening one's camera gear for the sake of saving weight for UL hiking.

After thinking for a while, I believe there exists an invisible line between those who want a camera with them for snapshot purposes and those who want to take advantage of UL hiking so they can get good pictures.

I am a photographer and make the majority of my income through my photography. I could care less about the money because photography is my life passion. For me, UL hiking is an opportunity to take some amazing photos that I will cherish and that might inspire others. My love for photography, travel, and the outdoors were all sparked by the magnificent photos in National Geographic magazine. The NG photographers lugged tons of gear and risked their lives daily to get those pictures, but the end result is undeniably awe-inspiring.

Personally, I cannot justify lightening my load of camera gear. The gear I plan to hike with weighs in at about 12 lbs. To an ultralight hiker, 12lbs is probably jaw-dropping. One of my main reasons for hiking is to take good photographs of what I see. I have done many a day hike and a few overnighters with gear weighing more than 12lbs, but I was very glad to have that spare battery and that 4lb ultra-wide lens.

The difference between photography and backpacking, with the exception of tripods, is the higher the quality of the gear, the more it weighs. However, I am willing to lug extra weight for my photos- they matter that much to me. I'd much rather nurse a few extra blisters than regret my entire trip because I came photographically unprepared.

If interested, here is my Flickr album from my most recent trip (3 days and 2 nights on Cumberland Island National Seashore):

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 12/28/2006 21:11:49 MST Print View

I think you answered your own question.

It depends on whether you want the camera mostly to preserve memories (even the lightest camera can do this), or if you want the photos for their own sake, or for other uses.

Even in the second case, there's a tipping point. If heavy camera gear prevents you from getting where you'd like to get and doing what you'd like to do, then you can't take any pictures of it.

My camera gear seems to keep getting heavier and heavier (7 pounds or so now, I think, luckily split between two people). I think it's probably worth it, but am certainly considering possible ways to lighten it as I contemplate the total weight of camera + all my other gear + two weeks of food + packraft, etc..


Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 12/28/2006 23:09:20 MST Print View

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your post. If your publisher requires you to shoot with a heavy digital SLR kit, then that's a burden you'll need to carry. The good news is that cutting back on other gear weight can still extend your range, allowing you greater opportunities to find that perfect shot.

If, however, you have the flexibility to break from the DSLR, then you can indeed achieve superior quality at perhaps a third or even a quarter of the weight. And that's a path worth exploring!

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 12/29/2006 06:55:34 MST Print View

Hi Scott:

I can certainly appreciate your perspective, but I have also noted several pro photographers who have done amazing things with fairly compact and light weight kits. Galen Rowell first comes to mind. While Galen did carry a fairly complete kit at times, he created a number of wonderful images when he was carrying a fairly compact kit which consisted of just a FM-10 with a couple of lens, and some filters which I believe added up to around 4lbs. There have been a number of landscape photographers which have used light weight leica kits. Of course, if you are going for big game (or worse, birds) then you are stuck with big / heavy lens.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Lightweight camera gear on 12/29/2006 07:18:18 MST Print View

I don't think you need very heavy camera gear to get good publishable results. I've had thousands of photographs published over the years in books and magazines, all taken with lightweight gear. Currently I use a Canon 350D DSLR with 18-55 lens (28oz) and a lightweight Cullman tripod (22oz) or Gorillapod SLR (5.5 oz). If I carry other lenses they are a Canon 80-200 lens (9.5oz) and a Tamron 11-18 lens (12.5oz). My back-up camera is a Ricoh GR-D (7oz). With filters, memory cards, spare batteries and cases the most I ever carry is 7lbs and it's mostly around 5lbs.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 12/29/2006 15:02:34 MST Print View

>I believe there exists an invisible line between those who want a camera with them for snapshot purposes and those who want to take advantage of UL hiking so they can get good pictures.

Absolutely. I carry a 5.1 oz Pentax Optio WP camera so I can take pictures of my drenched buddies with a clouded-in Mt. Rainier in the background, my nephews dwarfed by a monster tree in the Olympics, a sheer mountainside with waterfalls between squalls in Hawaii, or my shadow on snow when going solo in the Wyoming backcountry. Just little lightweight low-res photos that trigger high-quality memories. But I appreciate the work of people with the skill and dedication to get good results from their heavy camera gear. I'm looking forward to putting Ross Hamilton's Olympic Peninsula 2007 calendar on my wall in a few days.

Edited by Otter on 12/29/2006 15:05:08 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 12/29/2006 16:01:36 MST Print View

While reading this thread I just can't seem to purge my mind of images of Ansel Adams lugging an 8x10 view camera to high points in the Sierra Nevada.

Scott Robertson
(SRPhotographic) - F
And I'm Glad He Did. on 12/29/2006 21:59:18 MST Print View

I like that someone else piqued on the image of Ansel Adams' efforts.

I also really like the sentence: "Just little lightweight low-res photos that trigger high-quality memories." That is poetry.

On the note of Ansel Adams, we owe a debt of gratitude to Adams for all that he has done for us today. Yes, he took stunning photographs of the American wilderness, but he is also directly responsible for the preservation of that wilderness to this day. Adams' photos were so stunning that they sparked the creation of the first National Park and allowed John Muir to create and keep the Sierra Club alive. Muir and Adams were very close friends, in fact.

This is one of the main reasons for my photography: to inspire others. When many people imagine the great places of the Earth, they bring forth in their mind images of photographs they have seen. I can use my photography to inspire others to get outdoors and see the sights and feel the heights. Without visitors, the National Parks would not exist.

When out in the field in chilly temperatures, with a headache, and growls in my stomach, I imagine the drive that Ansel Adams had. I don't give up a sunrise for extra sleep because I, as a photographer and environmentalist and a hiker, have an obligation to myself, Adams, and those that see my photographs to present a view of the most magnificent places on earth.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: And I'm Glad He Did. on 12/30/2006 04:40:35 MST Print View


Yellowstone was an NP b4 Adams' birth and Adams was a pre-teen at the time of Muir's death. I suspect you were thinking of William Henry Jackson.

As awed as I am with the effort Adams put into his work, Jackson's was even more impressive.

They both contributed heavily to the two great treasures you've mentioned.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Light can be great on 03/05/2007 22:52:45 MST Print View

Here is a different point of view.
About 30 years ago I met Mr Maitani the chief designer/engineer at Olympus , the M in OM. He was a climber as well as a keen photographer. After having designed the Pen system, 35mm half frame interchangeable system, he decided that the standard size SLR were too big and heavy and produced the OM1. With that and 3 lenses he climbed and took some great shots , all for less than six pounds.

Nikolas Andersen
(nsandersen) - MLife
Why not a digicam with exchangable lens? on 03/08/2007 15:35:27 MST Print View

I wish some manufacturer would make a half-size digital slr, or a "half-compact" digicam with exchangable lens. I guess it is a question of agreeing on a standard, which is perhaps not so in these days :)

I think digital compacts are amazingly good, though, for their size.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Almost on 03/08/2007 19:25:39 MST Print View

Olympus are getting there with the E 410, about 20oz inc lens/battery/card

John Baird
(jbaird) - F

Locale: Deleware Watergap A_T
Re: Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 03/08/2007 19:52:39 MST Print View

I just took a look at your .com, ....loved your photos

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Why not a digicam with exchangable lens? on 03/09/2007 16:41:45 MST Print View

I'm with you on this. I'd love to see a four-thirds digital interchangeable rangefinder, possibly Leica CL-sized using Contax G design concepts and downsized lenses.

An alternative would be interchangable leaf-shutter lenses, eliminating the focal plane shutter. One could advance the Ricoh GR1 or more on-point, the forthcoming Sigma DP1 as an interchangeable lens platform.

Clearly this is a niche market, but when the gusher of disposable digicams finally slows down there should be more opportunity for high-quality submarkets to be developed. But the brutal digital camera depreciation has to slow down some.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: Re: Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 03/09/2007 21:37:34 MST Print View

Thanks John!

Prepping now for a major expedition starting off in June: Seattle to the Aleutian Islands (4000 miles, 9 months). Journey on the Wild Coast: This will take me through some really amazing country, and I hope to have some photos to match. Will put those all on the web as well...

Edited by mckittre on 03/09/2007 21:38:13 MST.

Chris Miller
(chrisdm) - F
Re: Going light with a camera, why? on 03/15/2007 13:31:22 MDT Print View

I am also a professional photographer and regularly go on backpacking trips for the sake of capturing magnificent photos. And while I agree with your logic (Why sacrifice weight for quality photogrpahy, if photography is the goal?), I do question your equipment selection.

For example, I have two pro backpacking camera rigs. My "heavy" rig is a Canon 5D, 25-105L lens, and a SLIK Sprint Pro tripod, for a total weight of 5.3 pounds. My lightweight setup is a Pentax K10D, 21mm and 43mm (or 70mm) Limited primes, and the SLIK Sprint Pro tripod for a total of 4 pounds. Some might argue that the tripod isn't up to pro standards. But, I have a technique where I hang a weighted pack from the center column of the tripod, increasing its stability exponentially, far exceeeding the stability of the heaviest standalone tripod.

So, a complete high quality camera rig can be had from 4 to 5 pounds. I don't see a need to carry 12 pounds of camera gear into the backcountry, unless you're including some serious telephoto lens for wildlife photography.

Chris M

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Backpacking with 4 X 5 on 03/15/2007 17:09:24 MDT Print View


I too am a Professional Photographer. But, you have not seen backpacking with a 4 X 5 camera. My modified Toho 4 X 5 weighs in at 2lbs 12 oz. I can have as much as 20 to 25lbs or so of photo gear including my Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod, lenses, Kodak Readyload film holder, Fuji Quickload film, spot meter, filters, loupe, dark cloth....

Unfortunately I am not a lightweight backpacker with all of this gear, but I do use lightweight and UL backpacking equipment to try to keep my pack weight (5.5lb McHale custom Panel Loading Pack) at least reasonable.


Edited by naturephoto1 on 03/15/2007 17:11:01 MDT.

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
UL is to let me be a Lightweight photographer on 03/29/2007 14:58:19 MDT Print View

My UL habits are meant to allow me to haul my camera while still maintaining lightweight total weights.

MY normal setups + weights (inlcuding accessories like extra batteries, polarizers, lens hoods, cleaning cloths, memory cards)

10-22mm 3.5-4.5
17-55mm 2.8 IS
70-200mm 2.8 L
(3.5kg + tripod) (usaully only if I plan to have skiers or wildlife/birds as subjects)

My NORMAL carry:
10-22mm 3.5-4.5
17-55mm 2.8 IS
105mm 2.8 Macro
(~2.7kg + tripod)

Lightweight: 20D + 17-55mm 2.8 IS (~1.5kg)

UL: Canon A610, minitripod (~300g)

If was doing no action shooting, the ultimate lightweight setup would be:
24-105mm 4 L IS
50mm 1.8
(1610g + accessories + tripod)
That kit would be about $4K

Edited by Summit on 03/29/2007 14:59:11 MDT.

Steve .
(pappekak) - F

Locale: Tralfamadore
Re: UL is to let me be a Lightweight photographer on 03/29/2007 17:13:21 MDT Print View

Similar to Summit I take UL gear to let me take my camera equipment (strictly amateur) with me.

11.9 - camera - Panasonic FZ3
13.0 - wide angle - Kodak Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 0.7x
5.5 - macro - Olympus B-Macro
30.0 - tripod - Slik Sprint Pro w/o extension
4.0 - batteries (3@1.33oz)
0.5 - memory (2@.25)
0.4 - cleaning cloth
1.7 - filter - polarizer
1.0 - shock cord from tripod to backpack to stabilize
4lb 4oz

This gives me macro (+2.5 diopter) and a range from 24mm to 420mm, f2.8-f8.0. Adding my Olympus TCON 17 (11oz) takes the setup out to 670mm and brings the total weight to just under 5lb.

Kari Post
(karipost) - MLife

Locale: New Hampshire
I understand! on 06/21/2008 09:31:54 MDT Print View

Don't feel bad. I'm a serious photographer too, and my calculated camera gear makes up half my pack weight. I do plan on getting a better backpacking setup, but my gear weighs in at around 13-15lbs or so now, so I completely get where you are coming from. This is my current gear...

Canon 1D Mark II N (the heaviest DSLR ever made)
17-40mm f/4L USM
70-200mm f/4L IS USM
1.4x Teleconverter
25mm extension tube
Polarizing Filter
Gitzo GT3530S 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod
RRS BH-55 LR Ballhead
Extra NP-E3 Battery

I plan on eventually lightening my load by buying a 5D, RRS BH-40 ballhead and lighter carbon fiber tripod for backpacking. I think I should be able to reduce about 4lbs that way. Right now, I have the heavier camera and support setup because I also photograph birds and wildlife using a 300mm f/2.8 and I don't yet have the money for two setups.

Check out my website if you please!