In 2011 I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Nepal. I traveled with a Canon Powershot G10 which is an amazing little monster, and great for travelers. There were times, however, when I just didn’t have the focal range that I craved. Some shots were burned only to my mind because of the inherent limitations of a point-and-shoot camera. (Check out the gallery at Rogue Images.)
This year, when I learned that I would make the journey one more time, I immediately began searching for a new toy. Mirrorless system cameras like the Sony NEX or Olympus Pen lines really caught my eye due to their large, high quality sensors and compact body size. For my money though, the technology is not quite there. I wanted interchangeable lenses, great video capability, and most importantly, the ability to perform anywhere I perform.
Sacrificing size for durability and functionality, I eventually found my way to the Canon EOS 7D. This beast is renowned for being able to take a beating (check out this torture test!). Multiple times throughout the trip, she proved to me that magnesium construction and weather sealing are worth every penny.
There are obvious risks and added burdens to carrying a bunch of expensive electronics and glass into an austere location. Not to mention the added weight on top of your normal packout. I’m pretty new to the “serious camera gear” scene, and it is certain that I am still learning from challenges encountered along the journey. So, I thought I’d share some of my lessons learned in hopes that they are ingrained further into my brain, and to aid you on your next excursion. I hope it helps, and I encourage you to share your own experiences in the comments section below.
Official Nepal 2012 Rogue Camera Kit!
- Canon EOS 7D body
- Sigma 10-20 mm f4-5.6 (phenomenal for landscapes)
- Canon 50 mm f1.8 (rarely used, but light, compact, and great for the streets of Kathmandu)
- Canon 28-135 mm f3.5-5.6 (well used, all around lens)
- Canon 70-300 mm f4-5.6 (used for birds and animals; not used often, but glad to have it)
- 2x batteries, 1x charger, 1x USB cable
- 2x 16 GB SanDisk CF cards
- Cheapo Kodak aluminum tripod (a little wobbly, but very light weight)
- LowePro Top Loader Zoom 50 AW
- BlackRapid RS-Sport camera strap
- First off, the 7D performed exceptionally well in jungle steam, Kathmandu pollution, Himalayan sleet, and sub-freezing temps at 16,500′.
- When the temperature drops below freezing, be sure to remove the battery from your camera and keep it in your sleeping bag. It is not bad if it gets cold, but if you try to use the battery when it is frozen it will die very quickly. This is called “cold-soaking.”
- The BlackRapid RS-Sportcamera strap worked very well. It has an underarm strap
to keep it secure to your body, and the camera can slide up and down the length of the main strap on a carabiner style clip. The strap can then be locked down to keep the camera in place. This way, the camera is ready at a moment’s notice, but can be secured when negotiating rough terrain. It was, however, fairly unstable when I would bend forward or climb over something. The sling and camera can swing away from the body, and potentially smash into a rock, elephant, friend, etc.
- Another disadvantage of traveling with the camera on a sling is that the camera is always exposed to the elements. My 28-135 mm lens ended up with a lot of dust on the inner element. Safer options may be to mount a front loading pouch to your chest (like the folks from Patitucci Photo), or keep the slung camera inside a neoprene cover when not in use.
- I left for a 5 day trek with 2 fully charged batteries, and came back with a little power to spare. Just be judicious about leaving the camera on for long periods. A solar option may be necessary for anything longer than that, or if shooting lots of video.
- 32 GB of total storage space was not nearly enough for the month long journey! I completely underestimated the size of RAW files from my APS-C sensor. Luckily, my comrades let me dump the files onto their computers when we stopped in civilizations. I’d really like to find an affordable solution other than just carrying a bunch of expensive CF cards, but I’d rather not (or sometimes can’t) carry a big fragile laptop. Some adventure and travel photographers use “image-tanks” and some have gone to netbooks or even iPads.
- On some cold mornings, I noticed that keeping the lens cap on allowed fog to build on the lens face. If I left the cap off, it would dissipate after a few minutes. My hypoxic brain attributed this to the fact that I kept the camera and lenses inside my tent at night, and they were still warmer than the ambient air. This was a minor problem, and easy to mitigate by wiping the lens and leaving the cap off. It was definitely easier to deal with than a frozen camera!
- I really have not found a camera specific bag that can handle a multi-day trek into the mountains. I tried to fit whatever I was not using inside my LowePro Top Loader which was inside my actual rucksack. It worked OK, but was somewhat bulky, and did not accommodate everything. I’m working to DIY some lens holders into that pack soon.
- My tripod was annoying and awkward to travel with, but I think it was worth it in the end. There were a few shots that wouldn’t have happened without it. It is made of aluminum, so is very lightweight. I carried it in a free ice axe loop on the back of my pack. I’m considering a well built mini tripod for the future. (By the way, a 50 rupees hacky sack works in a pinch, too!)
- Always ensure you have a packcover, trashbag, or poncho to protect your gear! Keep an ample supply of sturdy zip lock bags and Q-tips, and always have at least 1 cleaning cloth within arms reach.
I hope that these tips will allow your future endeavors to flow more smoothly. You can check out the rest of my favorite shots from Nepal at Rogue Images. Prints of all the photos are available there as well. Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts in the comments below!