Almost two years ago I published a three-part article regarding cameras on the trail. Part 1 talked about small point-and-shoot cameras. Part 2 discussed mirrorless-interchangeable-lens-cameras (MILCs). Part 3 was all about hauling around a regular DSLR. All of those entries were written before my last thru-hike and, since the three posts I wrote on cameras are among my most popular, I continue to receive questions concerning trail photography. With that in mind, a new installment seems like a good idea.
My first piece of advice goes to those hikers who are looking to take photos for themselves, their family, and their friends. If you have a decent smart phone that you are intending to take on the trail, you probably have all the camera you need. Most new smartphones shoot high resolution photos, are capable of shooting high-definition video, and when combined with some sort of solar recharging strategy, are just about the perfect solution. It can also hold your GPS, travel guide, evening reading material, etc. About the only addition I would recommend is a GripTight GorillaPod Stand. A few more thoughts:
- Download an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or Lightrac. Both will give you lots of information regarding sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, moonsets, etc., although you do need some cellular connectivity for them to work fully.
- Learn how to use your camera phone (all the features!) before you get on the trail.
- Once you begin your adventure, take advantage of what your phone can do. Try panoramas, time-lapses, and HDRs.
At least for me, the argument is also settled for those of us who are a bit more serious about our photography: leave the big body and pricey lenses at home and take a top-of-the-line point-and-shoot with a good lens, a reasonable zoom range (keeping in mind that you will often want to shoot wide), and the ability to shoot RAW. On my last thru-hike I carried a Nikon D800 and a superzoom. There is no doubt that the shots were better than with the P6000 I carried the previous time, but they were not THAT MUCH better. I’ve concluded that, especially for landscapes, if you have a good lens, a reasonable amount of data (i.e., megapixels), and a RAW file, you have all you need almost all the time.
This year I’ll be hiking the John Muir Trail once again. My Nikon P6000 is a little long in the tooth, so I’ll likely buy or rent a newer point-and-shoot. Among the contenders are the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III or a Nikon Coolpix P340.
One last recommendation to pros and semi-pros: don’t let photography take over your hike. This isn’t a gig, it’s an adventure. That doesn’t mean you can’t come back with some great shots, but that’s not the point!
Good hiking, Ray