What lens(es) to bring on backcountry trip

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by bdb, Aug 22, 2006.

  1. bdb


    I'm going on a 10-day backcountry camping trip in September. I'm wondering what the best combination
    of camera equipment is that won't add too much weight to my gear. Though I have a few years of
    experience with photography, this will be my first backcountry trip. I'm hoping to get some advice from
    those of you who are more experienced with this kind of photography/hiking.

    My current kit is: Canon 20D, Sigma 10-20 & 17-70, Canon 35/2, 50/1.8, 135/2 + 1.4x TC.
    The simplest answer would be to take the 17-70. It's a pretty sharp zoom with a 1:2 macro capability
    which is very nice for flowers, nature, etc. It's also very lightweight and compact. However, I'm absolutely
    in love the the 10-20 for landscape shots, and find that a large percentage of my favorite landscape
    images are taken at 10mm. This makes me consider taking the 10-20 + 35/2... but then I'd be missing
    the 35-70 range and the "semi-macro" capability of the 17-70.

    Also, I'm not sure whether to buy a new tripod or not. The one I've got (Velbon Maxi i343e) is labeled a
    "travel" tripod, but it's definitely not the most compact or lightweight one out there. I am definitely keen
    to keep things simple and not add too much weight to my pack.

    What do you think?

  2. suck it up.. carry what you need. none of your equipment (aside from maybe the tripod) is likely to be all that heavy. the stuff will take room in your pack though, and that can be essential. SO personally I would probably take the 10-20, the 35, and the 50,, and just hope you don't need a longer range than that. the tripod,, that is a toss up. If I expected to take lots of landscape photos.. .. yea I would take it. strap it to the outside of your bag.

    get some leg muscles.. and endurance.. good luck and have fun.
  3. Take every iota of gear you can get your hands on and pitch stuff as it weighs down too much. Or trade if for food and DVDs.

    Prioritize your needs and act accordingly. If I were backpacking the most I'd carry would be a p&s, but that's just me. If you want to shoot badly enough you'll find something else to skimp on, like socks and skivvies :)

    Seriously, if this is you first backpack trip with photo gear you should plan conservatively. If you won't settle for a p&s, then limit yourself to a body and one lens -- next time you'll know better.
  4. Chris, the real question is "Will I regret missing a shot because I didn't have the exact lens I wanted?" If the answer is "yes" then take it all.

    I personally take few shots other than landscape or macro when I am in the wilderness. Therefore, I would not be upset sacrificing the primes and go with the 10-20 and 17-70. As for a tripod, take a look at the lightest most compact models you can find. If you feel the cost is justified, go for it. I use a cheap Slik tripod that is relatively light and small and I don't mind breaking.

    Of course, all of this depends on what kind of trip this is. If it is a "leisurely a-few-miles-a-day trip" then splurge on a new tripod and suck up the weight as Byron suggested.

    If this is a "real in-the-middle-of-nowhere trip" then go light. You want to be comfortable and enjoy your time there as well.

    Just my 2 cents.
  5. 10 days is a long time and that's a lot of photo gear.

    Some essential info is missing from your post:
    How much weight are you carrying apart from the photo equipment?
    What is the weight of the equipment?
    What is the terrain? And at what altitude?
    How many miles/km per day (both max and average)?
    How in shape are you or will you be (now be honest about the "will you be" part)?
    How much priority do you put on photography (i.e. are you willing to give up a 1 lb sleeping pad in order to carry a 1 lb lens)?

    I don't think anyone can give you a credible answer without that info.
    I'm assuming proper pack and proper boots. These will be essential for a 10 day trip.

    Keep in mind that avid backpackers go to great lengths to shave off ounces - while you are adding pounds. All that gear may not be seem so necessary on days 3 through 6 when a) you are tired and b) you haven't eaten enough food to lighten the load.

    I've been on 5.5 day trips with scouts and I can tell you from first hand experience what adding an extra 10 lbs to an already full pack is like.
  6. bdb


    Thanks for the very helpful responses and questions. In reply to Harris, the terrain will be
    moderate, the altitude 1500-3000 feet. I haven't weighed my pack yet, but I do have good
    boots. Photography will be a fairly high priority on the trip, and I intend to spend quite a
    bit of time doing it.

    I'm inclined to either go with the 17-70 alone or the 10-20 and a 35/2. I can add an
    extension tube to the 35/2, which already has a good MFD, to get good close-up
    capability. It's small and probably weighs 8oz. The tripod is the big question... but I'll do
    some more research here and see what's available.

    Thanks again,
  7. get a small bean bag.. you can stack rocks or rig up some form of tripod in the wilderness if you are that inclined to use one at some given point. a tripod is more or less a luxury and it will definately add weight and space. but if you plan to take a lot of photos.. have a plan for steadying the camera because you will wish you had some system if you don't.
  8. Another question is, who are you travelling with, what's their attitude toward photography, and what's the policy of sharing the load?
    If you're travelling with a bunch of non-photographers who expect to divide up the food and kitchen gear equally and have everyone take their share, go light on your own personal luxuries. This goes double if they're more experienced and "hardcore" in backcountry hiking than you are. They'll make you suffer doubly, first in having to carry the weight, and second in having to endure their remarks.
    OTOH, if you're travelling alone, or with one or two mellow photo-friendly companions, you can splurge a bit more. If you're each self-sufficient in your food and kitchen gear, you get to weigh the tradeoffs of an espresso maker versus a lens, and you alone live with the consequences of your decisions.
    Still, I'd be hesitant to take more than one lens, especially on a first backcountry trip. Actually, I'd be hesitant to take anything bigger than a Stylus Epic on a 10 day trip. It can be an experience in learning to live within the limitations of your gear, and trying to find shots for which the gear in your pack is suited, while doing your best to ignore the situations that would look nice with the gear that's at home.
    As for a tripod, I've used a Bogen/Manfrotto 3007 tabletop tripod with mini-ballhead in the backcountry. It's definitely a compromise, giving up size/height, but preserving lots of strength and stability, and being VERY portable and backpackable. It requires you to find a nearby tree or rock, or else take your pictures from almost ground level. But it's a compromise that I can live with, and I carry it almost everywhere.
    I've also owned and used two sizes of the plastic "Ultra-pod" tripods marketed in backpacking stores. These are a lot cheaper, a LOT less sturdy, and a little lighter than the Bogen/Manfrotto. They're not good in a stiff breeze, and I don't trust them to guard against mirror slap. They're really more for a P&S than an SLR.
  9. les


    Watch the weight. Been there, done that. If you drive - it is different, but when you carry the stuff on your own back - all the bets are off. Take the 20D, the 17-70 and a mini tripod (and I mean: MINI). Then have fun.

    Backpacking trip is NOT for carrying a full size photo bag, unless you go somewhere SPECIFICALLY to take pics.
  10. Have to agree with the weight shavers. When I go for any distance, I pack the D50 with a 24mm f/2.8 and a 50mm f/1.8. If I think there'll be flowers, I throw in a PK-13 extension ring. The bean bag idea is good. I use a Bogen tabletop tripod. In the past, I've lugged 60-70 pounds for a week with 20 river crossings a day. Nowadays, I don't even carry a stove unless I need to melt snow for water.
  11. My philosophy: I'm going to hike, see the scenery and take pictures while I do it. I'm NOT going out just to take pictures. That being the case, one camera, one lens, is plenty. Sure, I'll miss some shots from not having the right lens, but that would happen if I carried a suitcase full of lenses, too. I had a lot of fun just taking a 24mm lens (on a film body) that had good close-focusing capabilities. That tripod can just stay home, too.

    Now, if you are going specifically to photograph, that's different. Carry all your lenses and tripod. You may not ever get more than 3 miles from the car, and may hate every minute of it, but you'll have some good pictures. Or skip the tent, use a bivy sack, and that kind of thing to concentrate on photography. But pick your priority and go from there.

    If you find yourself fiddling with the camera too much, just leave it at home next time. Surprisingly, it's just about as much fun to go without.
  12. Chris,

    I went on a similar solo hike earlier this year. That hike consisted of two stages: cover the distance and then wait for the boat to pick me up. I carried a D200 with a 18-70 lens, a small table-top tripod, lots of spare batteries and CF cards, all in a watertight photo bag.

    Experience: while covering the distance there is not much time to take pictures. It is essential that the camera is 'ever-ready'; you won't stop to take it out of the backpack. This is worse if you have non-photo companions as they will not wait. A compact waterproof P&S would be very much preferred. Also, consider the weight: food, water, tent, sleeping bag, clothing are essential, camera is not.

    For the 'waiting for the boat' period a SLR is the way to go. Taking (half) day trips from the base camp just for taking photos is great. On my next trip I will replace the 18-70 with the 18-200 because of its larger range and the VR/IS feature (just nice in the woods). The table top tripod is useless. Next time I am bringing a plastic bag to be filled with sand on location.
  13. My kit for the same things is a 300D, Canon 10-22, Sigma 50mm Macro, Olympus "Light Weight" Tripod. So far I haven't needed the 1:1 macro ability when hiking but is has been useful elsewhere. I personally wouldn't go anywhere without some sort of tripod, just for taking flowing water photos, sunsets and shots where you need a lot of depth of field in the shade but that is the sort of shots I take. I like the look of the Silk Sprint Pro as a light weight hike tripod but I've only played with one in a shop so far.

    So yeah, take just the 17-70 if you think you can get away with it and keep the weight to a minimum, but if you are adicted to the wide like me then I would suggest the 10-20 with the 50mm to give you a bit more reach and maybe add extension tube(s) if you want macro.

    BTW, how is the 17-70? Hopefully my next lens purchase!
  14. Oh and don't forget something like a dry bag (a decent one for $$ gear) to put it all in should the weather turn bad. I have a dry bag for my camera (moderate weight/thickness), one for my sleeping bag (light weight/thickness) and one small one for anything electronic I take (phone etc.). They are more reliable then plastic bags as well as being reusable and not much heavier.
  15. bdb


    Wow! Thanks to everyone for such helpful replies. I really have a much better sense of it all

    Will, I love the 17-70. Very sharp with excellent IQ, and the 1:2 "semi-macro" capability is
    great not only for flowers/nature but also for interesting and creative framing, especially on
    the wide end with the 2.8 aperture. It's very compact and lightweight, too. I definitely
    recommend it.

  16. Buy a digital elph or a coolpix for a couple of hundred and enjoy the hike and nature.

    That way your friends when you set out will still be friends when you get home.

    And if there is some awesome scenery, then hike in again with your load of gear by yourself.
  17. I lived in Alaska for nearly forty years because of the excellent hunting, fishing, camping, and general outdoor opportunities. I have been an avid photographer for longer yet but have found from long years practice and self denial that the least amount of photographic gear you carry with you into the various venues the more you will enjoy the experience and still have images to record them. If you live off the land, carrying only the barest of staple foods, you still will value every ounce saved from not being burdened by non-essentials. A simple camera and single lens is capable of recording ninety nine percent of your adventure. I usually carried my old Barnack and the 50mm Elmar. I learned early to estimate exposure by the Sunny 16 or one of its variants. Generally I tried to ration my exposures to a fixed number per day in order to not be burdened by excess film. This is one area where a digital will save you a lot of misery because the film factor is negated. However, don't forget to carry extra batteries if you go digital. In the early days I was guilty of carrying two cameras and several lenses and never enough film; a habit that was modified with experience. Age and infirmities finally trimmed my camera battery down to a Contax T and NO flash, but if I were doing it now it would be strictly a digital venture. Remember, food and essential comforts are of prime importance and an excess of unnecessary gear will always spoil much of the success of the experience.
  18. ONE more note: FORGET the tripod. Get a good hiking staff and put a 1/2"-20 tpi screw in the top. Cover it with a crutch tip. that way yoy will have the best aid for hiking along with a steady rest for your camera when you are panting and heaving.
  19. That should be 1/4" NOT 1/2"!
  20. You may find some wisdom in this quote from the late Galen Rowell, one of our best wilderness photographers:

    "Ninety percent of my best life's work could have been made with a manual body, a 24mm lens, and a telephoto zoom in the 80-200mm range."

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