Walking With a Camera, Part 3
How to buy a camera for walking
Seven examples of great walking cameras
This article is part of a series of articles about Walking With a Camera. Links to the first two articles are below.
Future articles will be about other equipment for walking with a camera like lenses, packs, and boots, as well as photographic techniques for walking with a camera.
The pictures in this article were all taken with one of the cameras I discuss in the article, my simple Olympus C-8080 point and shoot camera. The pictures were taken while on a rafting trip last year on the Green River in Utah. I shot them on various hikes along the Green when we stopped to camp for the night.
These pictures are a little different from what I usually do. Sometimes I get started taking close-ups of small details as I walk along and find it hard to stop. I guess some people might think these pictures are a little on the weird side, but I love taking pictures like these. I think they are different and sort of modern feeling and maybe even a bit arty. But then again, I may be just an eccentric nut case with weird tastes. People do look at me a little strangely when I'm down on my belly taking pictures of rocks and sticks. They just don't know how much fun I'm actually having. Like I said, a little on the weird side.
Anyway, on to the article. The first principle for Walking With a Camera is, as AA says, "Keep It Simple Stupid".
In terms of equipment for walking with a camera, generally the less there is and the simpler it is, the better it is. If you can get away with one good camera and one lens, all the better. If you have to hassle with a tripod, a heavy camera, three or four lenses, and miscellaneous filters, walking with a camera isn't going to work well; in fact, it's going to be a pain in the butt. If you insist on carrying all this stuff, you may be better off finding one of the famous locations mentioned elsewhere in this article and forget about walking with a camera.
As far as tripods go, when you are walking with a camera, leave them at home; they will cut down on the number of good pictures you get and totally ruin the fun of the hike. Good digital cameras now-a-days have all the ISO speed you need to get the small f-stops and fast shutter speeds that you need for good pictures. In my opinion, the only time you really need a tripod is maybe when you are shooting very early, before the sun comes up on a dawn shoot. And even then, it is often possible to go without a tripod.
I was just at one of the most famous of all the famous scenic shots in the West a couple of weeks ago, the Oxbow at dawn in the Tetons. I felt a little lonesome, without a tripod, wedged in between the other 150 shooters who all had huge tripods and large format cameras and trucks full of gear. And I must admit that I did miss my tripod on one dark, predawn shot when I wanted both the silhouettes of some grasses on the edge of the water and the distant Tetons to be in focus. However, I did get the shot, without my tripod after a bit of fiddling and as soon as the sun hit the tops of the mountains I had all the light I needed for high speed, small aperture shooting without a tripod. The only bad part, aside from the mobs of shooters, was being sneered at by all the "real" photographers with their twenty pound tripods and $300.00 photo vests. So it goes.
Anyway, if you want a little more info about taking great pictures without a tripod, I wrote a whole series on this subject last year; here is the first article of that series. Also, I discuss the problems of shooting without a tripod in the technique part of this article which will come to you in a couple of weeks.
So, what kind of cameras work best when you are walking with a camera. Basically they should be light and simple, yet capable of taking sharp, high resolution pictures at high ISO speeds. Below, I discuss several cameras that I use (and some that I covet) when I'm walking with a camera, beginning with the heaviest and the most expensive and working down to the lightest and least expensive. Most of these cameras are Canons as these are the cameras that I use and am familiar with. All of these cameras are digital.
My mainstay camera these days is a Canon 1Ds Mark II. This is a very heavy, very expensive camera that has 16 MP and shoots at ISO 800 with no significant problems. It is an older, somewhat out-of-date camera, but it still works extremely well. I bought the camera about five years ago.
I paid $8000.00 for my 1Ds Mark II and it weighs about 7 pounds with a lens attached plus another three pounds for accessories, like the one pound batteries that it uses. This is a great camera and I use it for long hikes where I know the scenery is going to be outstanding and I want the very best quality I can get. However, I find it is really too heavy to comfortably and conveniently use when I'm hiking and shooting. I often take it and wish I had taken a lighter camera. The best place for this camera is really at a dawn or sunset shoot at one of the afore-mentioned famous locations. And this is where I mostly use it these days.
My Canon 1Ds Mark II has been updated to the Canon 1Ds Mark III which costs between $6000 and $8000 depending on where you buy it. This is an even better camera than the Canon 1Ds Mark II and I would love to own one; sharpness, noise control, ISO speed, overall picture quality, everything has been markedly improved.
However, both of these big cameras are really overkill for walking with a camera: too big, too heavy, too expensive and almost certainly more than you need. These are superb, top of the line cameras but there are better ones for what we are talking about here. But, on the other hand, if you are young and tough and dedicated to absolutely top notch pictures, a camera like this may be just the camera for you. It definitely will work for a walking camera for the right person.
A smaller Canon that I really like is the Canon 5D Mark II. This is a simple, full frame, 22 megapixel camera with very high ISO range. Also, it is a fairly light camera at two pounds. This camera is almost a professional level camera that will take great pictures. Amazon sells this camera for around $2500.00. If I was going to buy a single great camera for Walking With a Camera, and I could afford $2500.00, this would be the one. Of course I already have a bunch of expensive Canon lenses, and this influences my decision also. I don't own this camera now, but I'm pretty sure I will in the near future.
The Nikon D-7000 and the Sony Alpha 900 are two other cameras in more or less the same basic class and price range as the Canon 5D Mark II. All are full frame cameras, all have high MP resolution and all have good performance at high ISO speeds.
The Nikon D-7000 has a smaller megapixel size at 16 MP but it is also about half the price of the Canon 5D at around $1200.00. It is undoubtable a good camera.
The Sony Alpha 900 is probably a better camera than the Canon 5D as it has 24.6 MP, is reputed to have stunning resolution, and does get a "Highly Recommended" citation from dpreview. However, the Sony is priced higher at about $3000.00 (You can probably do considerably better at Amazon though; I didn't check the price there.)
The Canon 5D Mark II is, I think, actually a pretty good compromise of the best points of these three cameras. I don't think you will go far wrong with this camera.
A little less expensive, but still very good camera for hiking is the Canon Rebel. There is a range of Rebels you can buy, but the basic Xsi, 12 MP Rebel that I have is a very good camera. It is very light and takes all the Canon EF lenses. I bought my Rebel Xsi about a two years ago and this is the camera I mainly use for walking with a camera. I use a Tamaron 18x270 mm lens with it and the whole kit and caboodle weighs under three pounds. You can still buy the Rebel Xsi , even though it is several years old now, at Amazon for $524.00
If you want a little better Rebel you can now buy the newest model, the Rebel T2i. The T2i is 18 MP, takes HP movies, shoots at 6400 ISO, and is capable of 14 bit images which makes them a bit smoother. I don't know an awful lot about the T2i but I suspect that it is a good bit better than my Xsi. A lot of the improvement may be in its ability to shoot really good movies though. The T2i sells at Amazon for $739.00. I'm thinking it would be a great buy.
The pictures that come out of my Rebel are not the quality of my big Canon and the Tamaron lens is not quite the quality of my good Canon lenses; and I wouldn't expect them to be, considering the price difference between the two cameras. At first I thought the overall picture quality of the Rebel was just not quite good enough. The pictures in very large magnifications had a little more noise than I liked and they seemed to lack a little in sharpness. However, I have found that with a little extra work they are actually quite good. It all has to do with how I edit them.
I edit the Rebel pictures quite differently than I do pictures from my high-end Canon, the 1Ds Mark II. In the Camera Raw section of Photoshop I turn sharpening all the way off and I add 20 or 25 points of luminance noise removal. Camera Raw sharpening does not seem to work well for me, even though others swear by it.
Then in the main Photoshop I sharpen at about 200, with a radius of 1. To repeat, sharpening of my Rebel pictures in Camera Raw does not work at all, but sharpening them in Photoshop works wonderfully well.
I'm also careful about using the auto adjustment setting in Camera Raw which sometimes does bad stuff like overexposing dark shadows that can ruin Rebel pictures. This editing combination results in very rich, very sharply detailed pictures. I have printed several of these pictures in 24x36 and even in 33x50 size and they are quite good.
A third camera that I use with good results for hiking and shooting is the 8 MP Olympus C-8080. This is a point and shoot camera with a single built-in zoom lens. The camera and lens weighs a little under two pounds. It is slow when shooting RAW Format and the viewfinder makes it a little hard to see the quality of the picture you are getting, but in spite of these faults, this is a great little camera. The pictures are pretty much noiseless and I have enlarged and sold 30x40 pictures from this camera many times. This is an older camera but you can buy used ones for around $250.00 on Amazon. There are also still a few new ones around if you search online. The last time I looked, Amazon had five used ones for $265.00 and one new one for $784.00. I would skip the new one, you can get a better camera for that kind of money, but I'm tempted to buy a used one for a second ultralight backpacking camera. I like this camera that much. The Olympus C-8080 probably isn't quite as good as the Rebel, and it is harder to use, but it is still a very respectable camera that is very light and easy to carry. All the pictures on this page were taken with this Olympus C-8080 point and shoot.
If you are in the market to buy a camera, the best place to find out what is great, good, mediocre and downright awful is dpreview.com This is a terrific site. Everything you need to know about buying a good camera or lens is right here. Go to the reviews section of the site. Look at the kinds of cameras that interest you, read the reviews and concentrate on the conclusions of the in-depth reviews. Look for cameras and lenses that are "highly recommended;" these will be good cameras and good buys.
I have recommended dpreview many times before. The layout of the site is a little different now than it used to be. If you haven't been there for awhile, it is very much worth another visit. And if you are in the market for a new camera or lens, run don't walk to dpreview. It is the best site I know for objective, in-depth information about new cameras.
Recently, dpreview has changed its rating system. Now-a-days the conclusions section has a bar graph showing you the quality of the main camera features and the overall review is expressed as a %. Anything rated over 80% is outstanding, basically the same as the old "Highly Recommended" rating.
I wrote an article on dpreview before the layout changed, but the basics of using the site are still more or less the same. If you are interested in buying a new camera, you might want to read my article about using dpreview when you buy a camera.
A couple of light-weight photo essentials that you will want to carry on any kind of a photo hike are extra camera batteries and extra storage cards.
I usually carry at least 8 gigabytes of storage in my camera and 8 gigabytes of extra storage on any hike where I plan on taking a significant number of pictures. There is nothing like running out of digital storage at the far end of a long hike, just when the light is starting to get good and the best wildflowers are beginning to appear. That happened to me once, in Glacier National Park, and I guarantee you that it's never going to happen again.
Ditto with batteries. You can almost always buy extra batteries for your camera. Just Google batteries for your brand of camera and you will easily find a place to buy them at a decent price. I always carry two or three extra batteries.