In part one of this series I discussed simple, easy-to-use, point-and-shoot cameras. They are a great choice due to their small size, light weight, ease of carrying, and terrific photos they can produce–particularly if you are going to view your photos primarily on a computer screen.
Last week was all about the advantages of carrying a camera with a larger image sensor. I hope I convinced you that it is possible to carry such a camera, without adding significant amounts of weight, due to the vast array of what is known as mirrorless-interchangeable-lens-cameras (MILCs). Nikon, Canon, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Olympus are just a few of the manufacturers with MILCs in their product line.
For some of us, however, neither of these options are going to do the trick. I can think of two types of photographers who might fall into this category.
First, is anyone who truly wants to use nothing but the finest glass available (“glass” is camera-buff jargon for “lenses”). The lenses for MILCs are getting good, but they are not yet up to the standard of the best DSLR lenses. There are specialty lenses that are not available for MILCs, like tilt/shift lenses, and it’s tough to find good prime (i.e., non-zoom) lenses, which produce the sharpest images. Some lenses produced by Canon and Nikon could rightly be described as works of art in and of themselves. MILC lenses aren’t there, yet.
The second group of photographers who may consider hauling a large DSLR up and down the John Muir Trail are people like me, who have already invested a lot of money into DSLR gear, and aren’t particularly interested in starting over with a new format, even if it means less than half the weight.
If you are in either of these categories, you are probably doomed to lug some pounds of camera gear on your back. The question then becomes, what should you take?
The first dilemma many of us will face is full-frame or cropped sensor? (A full-frame camera has an image sensor roughly the size of old 35mm film. They have come down in price in the last couple of years, and many enthusiasts now own one. Cropped sensors are about the same size as the larger MILCs.)
This is a tough question, mainly because of the opposing nature of what we will have the opportunity to shoot: wildlife, which calls for long lenses, or landscapes, which calls for wide ones. Wildlife shooters may want the extra reach of a cropped sensor (a 200mm lens on a cropped sensor will have the effective focal length of 300mm or more). Landscape photographers will want the full-frame body and the coverage of a good, 24mm prime (or the bottom end of a 24-70 zoom).
If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what I would recommend: take the full-frame. Remember, you can still crop the full-frame shots and, in many cases, end up with almost the same resolution (particularly if you are shooting with a Nikon D800, which weighs in at 36MP).
Next, just how many lenses, and which lenses, are you going to carry? I’ve been struggling with this as I prepare for my August thru-hike. I keep vacillating between four options.
- At the heavy end is two zooms: either a 24-70 and a 70-200, or a 16-28 and a 24-70 (all are 2.8s). I suppose I could carry THREE, but now we’re talking close to ten pounds, just for lenses!
- Next is just the 24-70.
- The third option would be to rent a super-zoom for a full-frame Nikon, possibly the Nikkor 28-300, which is relatively light (28 ounces) and comes with pretty good vibration reduction (for handheld shooting).
- Last–and this would be a photographic challenge–is to just carry a fast 50mm.
Right now I am leaning towards renting the 28-300. I’ll probably change my mind, tomorrow. Why not, I did yesterday!
If you are going to carry a DSLR a camera body and lens (or two), you’re probably going to carry some more stuff, too. That includes a tripod (carbon fiber if you’re lucky), a ball head, L-bracket, a filter or two, extra batteries, a way to recharge the batteries when there is electricity available, some additional CF or SD cards, and possibly a way to back up images while on the trail. It’s a shame you can’t hire a porter or two!
Yes. It’s a lot of gear, but here’s how I look at it: one of the highlights of my photographic life was to train for several days under the great National Geographic photographer, Joe McNally. He said something that I will always remember, although he attributed it another great photographer, Jim Richardson.
If you want your pictures to be better, stand in front of more interesting stuff.
If you have committed to hike the John Muir Trail, and you are serious enough about your photography to have invested in a premium DSLR, wouldn’t it be a shame to stand in front of really interesting stuff, day after day, without your best camera?
Good hiking, Ray