I’m spending a lot of time thinking about Hiking Photography this year. More specifically about gear. I’ve been using my trusty Sony A77 along with the 16-50 kit lens, and occasionally the Tokina 11-16 Pro, for the majority of those shots. While I’ve been happy with the results I feel that I should step up my game this year. Stepping up the game means doing things differently and that implies new gear.
A big part of the mission will be to go deeper into the back country, and to stay longer. In most of the good locations the only way to get those magic golden and blue hour shots is to camp overnight. That means carrying much more gear. Ask anyone who has done much back country hiking and they will tell you how important weight is. You have to carry your sleeping bag, shelter, food and a bunch of incidentals on even the most basic excursion. Camera gear goes on top of that.
My theory is that if you’re going multiple miles into the woods or the mountains you want to come back the absolute best image quality possible. Taking great wilderness landscapes with a mobile phone is not going to cut it with any serious photographer. So the equation is all about the best image quality you can get for the lightest weight to carry.
For comparison, the A77 with 16-50 kit lens weighs 1230 grams or 2.71 pounds. Compare the to 1185 grams for a Sony Nex-7 with a Zeiss 35mm f/2, plus a Voightlander 21mm f/1.8 and a Voightlander 15mm f/4.5 along with a Metabones adapter. The two cameras use the same sensor, but with the smaller Nex-7 you can have 3 very good prime lenses for the same weight.
The new Sony A7R is another choice to consider. At 465 grams, it’s 30% heavier than the Nex-7 but much lighter than the A77. The only wide angle lenses available at the moment are Zeiss and Leica M mount which have some issues with corners, or the Zeiss for Nikon mount which so far haven’t been tested by anyone reliable. The Nikon mount glass should work better than the Leica mount in general, but it’s impossible to say for sure what the difference will be without specific testing. Plus the body is $1000 more, and will require the absolute best glass to get the full value out of the camera.
When I go back and look at past shots, I find that many of my favorites were taken around 24-35mm on the crop sensor. But a few of those favorites were done at 12-16mm. That’s ultra-wide to panorama territory. There is an alternative to the ultra wide shots, use a panoramic head. There is an extra weight and bulk penalty for a pano head, but it does provide a lot of flexibility. The other thing about a pano head is the photographer has to be on his game. Taking a number of shots and stitching them together takes time and precision. Definitely not for the tourist or casual shooter.
Making the right choices about gear is terribly important. Every once counts when you have a 1000 or 2000 foot elevation change before you get to your chosen location. At the same time you want every bit of image quality out of all that work. It’s not going to be satisfying to bring back average shots. Think hard before spending those bucks.
The stream shot at the top was taken at 12mm, using the Tokina UltraWide 11-16 f/2.8 lens. The lower shot was taken at 35mm using the Sony 16-50 f/2.8 SSM lens.