5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

Alert! as a backpacker you are not well served by mainstream camera reviews like DPReview.

That is, the 5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera are quite different than those for a general use camera in mainstream reviews. Here are the major differences.

  • CAMERA WEIGHT – In mainstream reviews, the weight of the camera with a sharp zoom lens is not factored into their ratings. In fact, they routinely think that hefty cameras are better!
  • ZOOM LENSES – Many zoom lenses commonly sold with good cameras can only resolve 6 to 9 perceptual megapixels of the camera’s 24 MP sensor! Something not highlighted in mainstream reviews.
    Bottom line: a great camera with a mediocre lens will give you mediocre results.
  • IMAGE QUALITY HANDHELD – Mainstream review image quality assessment is done with the camera on a tripod using the highest quality (expensive and heavy) non-zoom lenses in the controlled environment of a test facility. While lightweight backpackers and hikers usually shoot in the field, handheld using a single zoom lens. (This saves the weight of a carrying a heavy tripod and multiple lenses.)
  • DAWN/DUSK PERFORMANCE – A backpacking photographer is further challenged by taking handheld photos in the dim light of dawn and dusk. This is the golden hour when the light is perfect for that great backcountry photo. Unfortunately, these are also conditions particularly vulnerable to images being completely ruined by blur from low shutter speeds and camera shake. This is not well covered in mainstream reviews.
5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

A great backpacking camera is light but equally important, it gives you sharp photos even when handheld using a zoom lens in the low light of dawn and dusk. Pictured the environmentally sealed Olympus OM-D EM-5 ii with 12-40 f/2.8 PRO lens.

5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera – Summary

  1. Light and compact with ruggedness and environmental sealing a plus
  2. Sharp, wide angle zoom lens that is also light. These can be very difficult to find!
  3. Takes sharp, high quality photos HANDHELD
  4. Fast and easy to use in manual or semi-manual mode  (many light/compact cameras are not!)
  5. Bright viewfinder with all essential information displayed on one screen

And at the end I list What Cameras I take Backpacking that meet these criteria.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Surprised you don’t see any point and shoot cameras in here?

In The Point and Shoot Camera is Dead for Hikers, I discuss why I belive the point and shoot camera is dead (or approaching non relevance) for hikers and backpackers. But to summarize:

 

  • The point and shoot (p/s) camera is being squeezed into the grave from two sides. 1) on the inexpensive side by constantly improving smartphone cameras. And 2) on the more expensive side by very light mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras. If photography is a serious objective of your trip, their near “pro-level” performance justifies their cost/weight vs. carrying just your smartphone.
  • I am covering very light mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras in this post
  • And I will cover smartphone cameras, accessories, and techniques in a future post.

 

Top 5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera – Detail

1) Light and compact with ruggedness and environmental sealing a plus

  1. Yes number 1 is weight, but not in the way you might expect. First, this is the weight of the camera with a sharp zoom lens. And second, as long as it’s below a critical weight I don’t worry about it so much. After that, capturing a good photograph is my primary concern. Criteria 2 through 5 below all contribute to getting the best possible photo when backpacking.
  2. For me, the critical weight for a backpacking camera is determined by what I comfortably carry all day mounted to the shoulder strap of my pack. That is around 24 oz (1.5 lb) for camera and lens. And around 30 oz when I need an environmentally sealed camera/lens system, e.g. the Olympus OM-D EM-5 ii with 12-40 f/2.8 PRO lens.
  3. Environment sealing is important in some situations but not others. It adds significant cost and weight to a camera. Dust resistance is probably the most important since blown dust from dry and windy environments is quite common.
  4. If you are hiking on trail and take reasonable care of your camera, ruggedness is not a big deal. On the other hand, if you are bushwhacking, scrambling, or outright climbing and frequently using your camera, ruggedness may be a very good feature.
For me the maximum weight of a camera is determind by what I an comfortably carry on the shoulder strap of my pack.

For me the maximum weight of a camera is determined by what I an comfortably carry all day on the shoulder strap of my pack. Pictured is a Sony a6000 camera with the stellar Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art lens (22 oz total wt). They are mounted to a Peak Designs CapturePRO on the shoulder strap of my pack. See 15 second video below to see this fast system in action.

2) It has a sharp*, lightweight wide angle zoom lens

  1. This is number 2 for a reason. And one could argue it should be number 1. The lens, not the camera is the limiting factor for image quality. Unfortunately, most light and inexpensive zoom lenses sold with cameras (“kit lenses”) can only resolve 6 to 9 perceptual megapixels of a 24 MP camera sensor! And sharp zoom lenses light enough for backpacking are few and far between. As such, it pays to do your research to find zoom lens and camera combinations that produce the best image quality.
    *See more on sharp below…
  2. Zoom lenses save weight by not having to carry multiple prime (fixed focal length) lenses. Wide zoom lenses are well suited to the sweeping landscapes of the backcountry and and allow for dramatic perspectives. They speed up work by not having to change lenses. In addition the lens stays on the camera protecting the sensor from dust and moisture.
  3. And for prime lens aficionados, yes there is an argument for them. Two good primes; one wide angle (around 35mm equivalent) for most work and supplemented by a fast and super sharp normal lens is a a great setup. Your feet do a great job of lens zooming! (Or I have used a light zoom supplemented by a fast and super sharp prime lens for critical shots.)
  4. For both zoom and prime lenses make sure you consider 3rd party lenses from the likes of Sigma, Tokina, Tamron, and even Zeiss. Many times these lenses will significantly outperform your your camera’s native lenses. Personally, I’ve had great results from Sigma lenses.
  5. Bottom line: a great camera with a mediocre lens will give you mediocre results.
5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

An example of two sharp wide angle zoom lenses for Olympus’ u4/3 system. 1) To the left of the camera, the compact, wide and sharp 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 lens weighing only 5 oz! 2) On the right the very sharp environmentally sealed, 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens. Far left is the sharpest lens of the bunch, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime.

The Olympus ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 lens is a great example of a light, sharp zoom lens well suited to backpacking. This lens is exceptionally wide-angle (18-36mm equivalent) for dramatic perspectives and sweeping landscapes. Compact and only 5 ounces, it is a marvel optical engineering.

Camera Shake – the Fastest Way to Ruin a Backpacking Photo

Camera Shake can quickly blur a 24 megapixel image down to essentially zero megapixels!
Lightweight backpackers are particularly vulnerable to camera shake since they take most of their photos handheld. Factors that combat camera shake all involve increasing shutter speed:

  • First is image stabilization from the lens (or in the camera body—better since it works with any lens). Image stabilization will usually give you an extra 2-3 shutter speeds with little downside.
  • Second is high ISO performance which uses less light to the sensor for the photo. High ISO performance will usually give you an extra 2-4 shutter speeds with minimal image degradation.
  • Third is a faster (wider aperture) lens. This might get you 1-2 shutter speeds. Downside is buying a heavier and more expensive lens.

If you combine all three above, you can gain a 5-9x increase in shutter speed with minimal impact on image quality. This is what makes handheld shots possible at dawn or dusk. Even so, bracing your camera against a tree, rock, trekking pole or even using a small, 1-3 oz tripod are all improvements over handheld. All Olympus camera bodies and now the new Sony a6500 have in-body image stabilization.

 

3) It takes sharp, high quality photos handheld

Especially in situations encountered backpacking like the dim light of dawn and dusk. Contributors are:

  1. Excellent image stabilization (in-camera is preferred.). A tripod is a last resort for most backpacking photos—it’s both heavy, and time consuming.
  2. High ISO performance gives you sharper images in low light, gaining you 2-4 shutter speeds  This is with only a slight decrease in image quality. After that, image quality increasingly degrades as you go higher.
    Note: for handheld shots at dawn or dusk the shutter speeds gained from a & b above,  may have more impact on image sharpness than the camera’s sensor and lens!
  3. Fast and light lenses are usually primes (fixed focal length) and will gain you 1-2 shutter speeds. Fast zoom lens with good image quality are very expensive and sometimes weigh more than the camera they are mounted to. But some of these zooms have image quality that equals the best prime lenses. This makes them a tempting option if photography is a major objective for your trip.
  4. Fast accurate focusing on the correct subject is essential to quickly getting sharp photos.
  5. Good DRO (digital range optimization). DRO deals-with the less than flattering, high-contrast light of midday when we take most of our photographs. It automatically brings up shadow detail without blowing out highlights. DRO is faster and easier to use than high dynamic range (HDR) photography which takes multiple images and must be done on a tripod.
  6. Finally but by no means least, good quality JPEGs out of the camera: This greatly speeds getting photos into publication—the single largest time consumer/bottleneck in the whole photographic production process. (I am only going to edit RAW images for the few critical shots that need it.)
5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

Sometimes to get the highest image quality you need a sharp prime and a small tripod. In this case the Sony a6000 camera with the super sharp Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art lens.  At only 22 oz,  this camera/lens combo has image quality equal to or exceeding the very best, and much heavier APS-C camera systems.

Bad Focus – Another Way to Ruin a Backpacking Photo

Occasionally the camera’s “smart” auto-focus algorithm fails and puts the focus in the wrong place, leaving your “intended” subject all blurry. And sometimes in the low light of dawn and dusk there may not be enough light or contrast to get reliable focus. In either case, the resulting photo is useless.

  • A camera with more focus points and a fast, sophisticated focus algorithm is highly desirable. Some of the newer mirrorless cameras like the Sony a6300 and a6500 are rivaling the very best cameras for both speed and accuracy of focusing
  • Consider using manual focus some of the time. Mirrorless cameras have an advantage with their fast, and easy to use manual focus. A key to this is the “focus assist function,” with auto-zoom and/or focus peaking options. These options make it fast and easy to get sharp focus exactly where you want it. I suggest you program one of you cameras functions button to toggle between auto & manual focus.
  • Another great “manual focus” option is a touchscreen that allows you to put your finger where you want focus. This is particularly effective when shooting off of a 1-3 oz tripod.

 

4) It is is fast and easy to use in manual or semi-manual mode

By the nature of backpacking we are moving—we have places to go and other things to do besides fiddling with a camera. That is, we need to quickly take our best photo and move on. To do this:

  1. You should be able to adjust all critical functions without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
  2. Fast easily accessed controls are key. Ideally at least two knobs on the top of the camera do the bulk of the work. And a number of customizable function buttons do the rest. You use all of these to quickly modify your major camera settings: exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting, activate manual focus, manage DRO (digital range optimization), timed shutter release, etc. All in a matter of seconds, not minutes.
  3. Small dials on the camera back, critical items buried in nested menus, etc. all slow down picture taking.
  4. A touchscreen, while not essential, has its advantages, particularly when focusing and making adjustments when shooting from a tripod.

5) Bright viewfinder with all essential information displayed on one screen

A Good viewfinder allows for faster photo taking, better photos, and fewer re-takes. That is, the better you see your image and the more information you have before you take your photo, the better the photo.

  1. Cameras without viewfinders are close to non-starters. Rear screen displays are almost impossible to see in bright daylight. And even if visible, the image is usually far too small to see essential details well enough to assess the quality of the picture before taking it.
  2. In the viewfinder, you should be able see all your critical settings (including histogram). This enables you to quickly assess your photo and make the necessary adjustments before you take it.
  3. A good viewfinder also helps with manual focus.

What is Sharp?

Sharp as I use it is the “perceptual megapixels” of the final image.  This is a combination of both lens and camera—not simply the native resolution of the camera sensor! As an example, for most 24 MP, APS-C (crop sensor cameras like the Sony a6300 and a6500Nikon D7200 or Canon EOS 80D) the perceptual megapixel resolution final image maxes out at around 17 MP or around  70% of the native 24 MP sensor resolution, even with the best and most expensive prime lenses.

Almost all of the loss of the camera sensor’s 24 megapixels is due to the lens. Compared to primes, most zoom lenses do worse, with image resolutions well below 50% of the camera’s sensor. Some going as low as 25% or only 6 MP of your camera’s 24 MP senso.  So it’s important to consider the camera lens combination with a major focus on the lens image quality. One could even argue to select your lens first, and get a camera body that works it.

Bottom line: a great camera with a mediocre lens will give you mediocre results.

For more reading see DxOMark on Perceptual Megapixels, and take a look at a sample table of the Perceptual Megapixels for Nikon DX lenses on various camera bodies.

sony-a6000-kit-2

The full Sony a6000/a6500 kit: Peak Designs CapturePRO (mounts to backpack shoulder strap), Peak Designs Micro Plate (mounts to camera bottom), Pedco utra-pod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery, and Newer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head.

What Backpacking Cameras I Use Most of the Time

On most of my backpacking trips and on international travel, I carry:

Sony Cameras

Olympus Cameras

 Sony a6000 or Sony a6500

Lenses for Sony

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens sharp as it gets!
Sony SEL35F18 35mm f/1.8 sharp, fast, stabilized
Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN low cost, light
Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN sharp, low cost, light
kit Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-F5.6 decent, low $, light

Olympus EM-10 Mark II or EM-5 Mark II

Lenses for Olympus

Olympus 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 super wide, 5 oz!
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO very sharp, environmentally sealed
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime. tack sharp, fast
kit Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR decent, low $, light

For astro/star photographers

The lens for this is probably the Rokinon 12mm F2.0 NCS CS Ultra Wide Angle Fixed Lens available in Sony-E and u4/3 mount. Excellent value, fast and reasonably sharp. Manual focus tho, not that it is a big deal when doing astro work, just set it to infinity and go.

The Possible Exception to P/S Death

“Point and shoot like,” 1-inch-type sensor cameras, e.g. the Sony RX-100 series do perform significantly better than the best smartphone cameras. For some their smaller size and lower weight vs. a mirrorless camera is a godsend. As such, they occupy a valid but narrow niche between smartphone cameras and mirrorless cameras. But note that their image quality not quite as good as similarly priced mirrorless cameras that may weigh only a few ounces more. They are too large and heavy to be truly “pocketable.” And finally, their single lens is only about 1/3 as sharp as the best interchangeable camera lenses for mirrorless cameras like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens.

rx100-500h

 

How I Carry my Backpacking Camera – or how to get more photos

For me, its all about the speed and ease of taking a photo. Since I changed to using the Peak Designs CapturePRO mounting system on the shoulder strap of my pack, I get 2 to 3 x more photos per trip. More than I ever got with a point and shoot camera in my pocket!

Note in the video how quickly easily I put my pack on with the camera already attached to my shoulder strap. No camera spinning around and twisting up the shoulder strap.

By | 2017-03-06T15:50:02+00:00 December 2nd, 2016|Camera - Photography, Skills|24 Comments

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24 Comments

  1. Dave December 2, 2016 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Great article. Love the peak design mount. I’ll need to grab one for my a6300!

  2. George December 4, 2016 at 12:02 am - Reply

    Great article. If you’re going to do astrophotography in the backcountry, a fast, ultra-wide prime really helps as well.

    • Alan Dixon December 5, 2016 at 12:42 am - Reply

      Indeed George. The lens for this is probably the Rokinon 12mm F2.0 NCS CS Ultra Wide Angle Fixed Lens. Excellent value, fast and reasonably sharp. Manual focus tho, not that it is a big deal when doing astro work, just set it to infinity and go 🙂 Best, -alan

  3. Bryan Hansel December 12, 2016 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Nice article.

    I owned a Nex-6 with the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-F5.6. That was by far the very worst lens that I owned that was actually trying to be a good lens. I’ve owned worse “toy” lenses, but the Sony took the cake. The Sony 16-70mm f/4 lens, even though it weighs 10.9 ounces, is a much better way to go.

    For me, I’m running a Fuji XT-2, 18-55 f/2.8-4 and a 16mm f/1.4 prime when I’m not carrying my full Nikon setup. Or just carrying a RX100m3.

  4. Greg December 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Great content… I agree with all of it and have been traveling with and shooting with a Olympus OMD EM1 with the 12-40 and 9-18 lenses. The kit is super light and I can carry it for hours and hours and always come home with great images. As for carrying the camera I would recommend the Miggo Aqua X (http://mymiggo.com/product/agua/). This is a stormproof bag that is super east to get into and out of. It hold my EM1 with 12-40 attached perfectly and is the perfect shite weather camera carry system. The EM1 is light enough that I can just put my pack on then throw this over my shoulder and I’m happy. I recently traveled to Iceland on a fastpacking trip (www.juskuz.com/?s=iceland) and this was the perfect way to keep my camera safe and available to capture shots while on the move, even when the weather was total shite. Anyway, great info. I’m super excited about the Sony a6500. But one of the things I really like about the micro 4/3’s cameras is that the small sensor means small/light lenses. The Sony has a larger sensor which should mean better low light performance, but it also means the lenses need to produce a larger image circle and that means slightly larger lenses. It might be worth it, but I’ve been super happy with the EM1 even in pretty challenging light conditions.

    • Alan Dixon December 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm - Reply

      Very nice comments Greg. Will have to checkout the Miggo Aqua. Best, -alan

  5. Roy Marino December 13, 2016 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    Very useful information. I believe there is a big distinction that needs to be addressed. What are the pictures going to be used for? I make my living selling prints and most of it is back country. When I would shoot just for my own collection or just to prove I made the long trips I would just bring a small, compact unit. But when I sell some prints that can be 50 X 60 inch I have to bring all my firepower. I usually save weight by other means. I just starting bringing a hammock instead of a tent and going with just a survival blanket instead of a sleeping bag. My last trip into Yellowstone I carried 17 pounds of camera gear for a three day hike. Including two bodies and two lenses (both Cannon 5Ds). I never travel without a very sturdy tripod being a lot of my work is with waterfalls and a 3-5 second exposure is impossible handheld. I’ve made the mistake of not bringing something on a trip and having to make the trip all over again. Something as small as an ND filter can ruin 30+ mile hike if the only goal was to get one picture.

    • Alan Dixon December 14, 2016 at 12:29 am - Reply

      Excellent, and well-considered comments Roy. And they certainly deserve an intelligent and well-considered response. So expect some in the next day or so when I free up a bit. Warmest, -alan

    • Alan Dixon December 15, 2016 at 10:23 pm - Reply

      OK Roy, took a bit pull a reply together. I hear you about trip objectives. The article was mostly written for people where hiking is the primary goal, with photography a secondary but still important goal. But if you are shooting for saleable 50 X 60 inch prints, then you do need head out “loaded for bear.” And I too take trips where the primary focus is to get some great photos in specific places. That being said, I think I have a 5.5 pound kit that does this nicely. It has 4 prime lenses 21 to 50mm that will resolve close to the 42 MP Sensor of the Sony a7R II. And it has a light CF tripod that would work for longer exposures (assuming you attach some weight to the center column in windy conditions)–and if you use a wireless remote shutter release. And yes it’s a single body so you do have to hope it doesn’t fail. And given the mirrorless Sony, a number of spare batteries 🙂 Best, -alan

      Cameras/Tripods MP grams oz. cost
      Sony Alpha a7R II 42 625 22.0 $3,198
      SIRUI T-024X tripod 700 24.7 $200
      Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ballhead 150 5.3 $175
      JJC IR Remote for Sony 25 0.9 $9
      52.9 3.3
      Lenses
      Carl Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 37 394 13.9 $1,500
      Sony FE 28mm F2 35 200 7.1 $450
      Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm F2.8 ZA 32 120 4.2 $800
      Sony FE 50mm F2.8 MACRO 37 236 8.3 $500
      33.5 2.1
      TOTAL WEIGHT (oz and pounds) 86.4 5.4
      Optional hiking lens
      Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS 25 295 10.4 $500
      • Bryan Hansel December 22, 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

        Have you used that ballhead? Can it hold the camera in a vertical position without slipping?

        • Alan Dixon December 23, 2016 at 1:26 am - Reply

          Depends on the lens. The BH-30 would be a better bet for longer heavier lenses. And my prefence is to use an L-bracket for vertical (portrait orientation) shots. Far more secure than tilting the ball head since the camera is again centered over the ball head. Finally with the arrival of the digital world I rarely shoot in this orientation. Anything vertical is super sketchy for any sort of online use. I kind of miss vertical shots. But the world is what it is. Hope this helps. -alan

          • Bryan Hansel January 22, 2017 at 5:18 pm

            I typically shoot my D810 with a L-bracket on a Kirk BH-1 ballhead, but the L-brackets are heavy and with the Fuji I use for hiking the L-bracket gets in the way of the shutter release cord. To shoot vertical with the Fuji, I’ve been flipping my camera to a vertical position on the ballhead.

            I’m surprised that you tend to shoot only horizontal shots. I write for magazines, sell prints and publish articles on several of my online websites and use vertical shots for all of those uses.

            Thanks for the feedback on the ballhead. I think I’ll skip it.

  6. Jennifer Faoro Weller January 16, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Hello Alan,
    Thank you for all the great information! I’m switching to ultra light equipment and I’ve found your website super helpful.
    I have a Sony a6000. What do you do when it’s raining/spitting rain with the shoulder strap mount?

    Thanks!

    • Alan Dixon January 16, 2017 at 11:32 pm - Reply

      Good Q Jennifer. I wear a large brimmed hat, and that with slightly leaning over when hiking with a backpack on gives the camera enough of a rain shadow — especially as it rides so high on my shoulder. That helps a lot with intermittent light rain and mist. A lens hood is essential to keep water off of the front element, even with weather resistant lenses. Finally I have been know to carry it in my hand for a while with a plastic bag or stuff sack wrapped around if if i really need the shots. But as some point if it rains hard enough it goes into a w/p bag between shots (either in a side pocket where my partner can get it quickly, or into the main pocket of my pack if it’s pouring down). If it’s raining this hard, it’s really not good photo weather anyway hope this helps. Good shooting, -alan

      BTW I’ve tried the Peak Designs Shell with mixed results. It’s pretty heavy and I don’t find it all the easy to use the camera with the shell over it. Others may have different results. -alan

  7. Jeff January 18, 2017 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all of the advise! I currently have the a6000 with the Sony 18-55 3.5-5.6 (need to upgrade) and the Rokinon 12mm which I love for shooting northern lights. I’m going to be doing a 1,000 mile backpacking trip across Alaska next summer, so I’m trying to figure out what upgrades to make so that I can get excellent photos (I would like to be able to blow them up) and obviously not blow my overall efforts toward being ultralight. I know that experience matters more than the equipment with photography, and I’m working on that part.

    My question about the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 – is this still a viable/good lens to use if I’m going to be largely shooting without a tripod, and neither the lens or camera have IS? Or would an upgrade to the a6500 be necessary for making full use of this? I’m also intrigued by the Sony 18-105 with OSS that you talk about. Do you feel that this could be used as a single-lens quiver?

    Thanks again! I’d love to talk via e-mail if you have time.

  8. Roger Gorman February 18, 2017 at 4:55 am - Reply

    Some people take pictures when they hike, and some people hike to find photographs. Being in the latter camp, I carry one of two Canon 5DsR DSLRs 50MP full size sensor, never more than two lenses, and usually one. One 5DsR is as produced by Canon and the other DsR has been converted to infrared with a 720nm wave band. I find that carrying many lenses causes too much playing with the equipment and not enough looking for the photograph. I tend not to use zoom lenses for the same reason, not because they aren’t sharp (my canon 100-400mm f4L II lens is the sharpest I own), but because one lense forces me to hunt for the photograph. By spending my time looking for them, instead of switching lenses and twisting rings, I have a much better chance of finding them. Do I miss a few that I would have taken with a bag full of equipment? Perhaps, but I would have missed many more that I have taken if I did not spend my time looking.
    All of my lenses were extensively tested at f11 for two reasons. First all lenses aren’t created equal and you may go through several Canon 50mm f4 lenses until you find one that is sufficiently sharp. Second, the sweet spot of focus on any lens is approximately two stops from wide open. And everything I shoot is at f11. Stopped down any further and sharpness falls appreciably and any larger aperture does not provide enough depth of field. Selective focus rarely works in a landscape. So why buy a expensive fast lens? So you can do natural light at a wedding of course. So we test all of the lenses at f11. The results are often surprising. We tested both Zeiss 20mm range lenses ($5000 and $3000 respectively) against a Canon 20mm, a 20mm Sigma ART lens and the Tamron 20mm. The $400 Canon beat the field. I got rid of my 24-70mm Canon L lens because the Tamron was sharper. We have rented, bought and sold a lot of lenses. The current carry is the 35mm Canon f4L Series II. Sharp as a razor clear into the corners,, heavy as hell, expensive and a wonderful length for a full size sensor camera. My tendency is toward wide angle. Which is another point, for hand holding, wide angle is much less susceptible to camera movement blur. I often do carry a tripod. An Induro baby grand. It is small, carbon fiber and looks like a table top tripod on mega steroids. I don’t use a ball head on it, I just lengthen or shorten the legs. I use L brackets to change from horizontal to vertical. I use the old style Leki trekking poles that have a tripod mount on the top, again without a ballhead. I have some wonderful Gitzo ballheads, I just think it is bizarre to carry them. Usually adjustments are a few degrees. A ballhead is overkill.
    I hand hold a lot.. When I hand hold, I usually take 4 or 5 exposures of the scene in succession,, so one of them is bound to be sharp. I am not suggesting anyone follow my lead. It makes photography expensive, sometimes boring and generally a lot of work. Photography should be fun or an obsession.
    Bottom line, nothing, not expensive equipment, technical prowess, incredible subjects or a good cup of coffee makes any difference. The finished photograph either has it or it doesn’t. There is no magic camera. One of my favorite quotes (and I don’t remember who said it) is “if you don’t like your photographs, find better subjects to put in front of your camera!”

    • Alan Dixon February 21, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      Roger,
      Sorry for the late posting of your comment. I am just back in the US after two weeks in remote areas of country and with absolutely no internet whatsoever. I carried a Sony A7R II and a single lens with great success! So, yes sometimes full-frame is where it’s at. And yes, there are not great photos that don’t have a good subject. Without that you are bound for mediocrity. All the best, -alan

  9. Lange Jorstad March 7, 2017 at 4:15 am - Reply

    Hello Alan,

    I’d like to ask a potentially stupid question: When backpacking with your a6000 attached to your Capture Pro, how do you protect the camera if it starts raining / gets dusty / bushwhacking / etc, since it isn’t weather-sealed? Do you just shove it in your pack, or do you use some kind of cover and keep it on your backpack strap?

    • Alan Dixon March 7, 2017 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      Good Q Lange. For rain, I wear a large brimmed hat, and that with slightly leaning over when hiking with a backpack on gives the camera enough of a rain shadow — especially as it rides so high on my shoulder. That helps a lot with intermittent light rain and mist. A lens hood is essential to keep water off of the front element, even with weather resistant lenses. Finally I have been know to carry it in my hand for a while with a plastic bag or stuff sack wrapped around if if i really need the shots. But as some point if it rains hard enough it goes into a w/p bag between shots (either in a side pocket where my partner can get it quickly, or into the main pocket of my pack if it’s pouring down). If it’s raining this hard, it’s really not good photo weather anyway.

      The light way I protect my camera: I put the camera in a homemade bubble wrap bag (bubble wrap and packing tape), and then put that in a gallon freezer ziploc if I am afraid of serious precip (see pic). And yes if conditions get really bad I packing the camera towards the top of my pack in a way that keeps it mostly compressed from all sides with other gear.

      Link to picture of case:DIY Sony Case for backpacking

      Dust blowing dust is a big issue and there is not true solution to that one. Hope this helps. Good shooting, -alan

      BTW I’ve tried the Peak Designs Shell with mixed results. It’s pretty heavy and I don’t find it all the easy to use the camera with the shell over it. Others may have different results. -alan

      • Lange Jorstad March 12, 2017 at 2:50 am - Reply

        Many thanks Alan, good advice as usual. I’m walking the JMT in July this year – the weather may be decent (the usual Sierra summer weather) but I’m anticipating the route still being in the guts of melt off and generally wet conditions. I will also be wearing more of a “French Foreign Legion” hat (baseball cap with a mullet), which probably won’t provide much shelter for my a6000 during light rain. I was considering using a light waterproof stuff sack (something like the Zpacks “small” cuben fiber stuff sack) that could just be pulled over the camera and cinched up for light to moderate rain protection. As long as it fits over the camera while attached to the capture pro, seems like it would be a quick, easy on-easy off solution. Will report back!

      • Lange Jorstad June 27, 2017 at 3:24 am - Reply

        Howdy Alan, quick follow up to this string. Zpacks cuben fiber drawstring stuff sack arrived today. Fits like a charm over camera and lens when mounted on my Capture Pro, and drawstring pulls tight over the CP mechanism, so looks perfect for all but torrential downpour. Decided in the end to splurge a bit on a Sony/Zeiss 16-70mm lens – I don’t get into the Sierras often anymore so want to make the most of the memories! Would post a pic, but not sure how to – probably not too difficult to imagine however…

        • Alan Dixon June 27, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

          Nice Lange. I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase of lens! And good tip about the fit of the ZP stuff sack over the camera. What size?

          Enjoy the Sierras. Warmest, -a

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