Photography has become my enjoyable part-time job in our travels. I'm really particular on quality gear that's functional and portable--anything impractical or inefficient irks the heck out of me. There's no point in having a system that doesn't fit your lifestyle and needs--you'll hate taking your gear and miss excellent shots!
I've struggled for over 10 years with finding the right gear, waiting on technology to advance to smaller, lighter cameras, and hating myself for lugging around equipment. Now I've got a pretty simple utilitarian system, and the amazing locations we're in do the rest!
I've got 3 main packs I take depending on our adventure (yellow squares in photo are 1"):
- Smallest: GoPro, used for (a) sport and multipitch climbs, tethered to my harness for fast access, (b) the rare water sport, and (c) videos, mostly bouldering.
- Medium: Sony a6000 APS-C mirrorless camera, in a small pack during multipitch climbs or when size & weight are high concerns.
- Largest: Sony a7ii full-frame mirrorless camera, used for hiking, sightseeing, and lugging to the crag.
Nothin' too fancy here. I looped a drawstring / shoestring to the GoPro with a carabiner that I clip onto my harness when we're sport climbing. I loop my wrist through the drawstring before I unclip from my harness. When we're bouldering, I have a Joby tripod that I sling to rocks and trees.
Medium: Sony a6000
I have a detailed post from last year on the a6000. I've fully switched to Sony mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras are really amazing in the the last couple years and are coming to the forefront of professional photography. Sony's done a remarkable job.
- Sony a6000 APS-C camera
- Fixed 20mm lens (30mm equivalent on full-frame)
- Weight: 17.5oz, including camera body, lens, neoprene case, neck strap
- Dimensions: 5" x 2.5" x 2.5", including the largest protrusions
At just about one pound, it's totally worth fitting into your small pack when you're on multipitch!
Mirrorless cameras are much smaller and lighter than their mirrored equivalents. I can't comfortably reach the thumb controls on a Canon 6D or Nikon D750, whereas a full-frame mirrorless camera fits very nicely in my hands. And you'll save a good pound plus room in your pack! I highly recommend mirrorless if you're primarily using your camera in active pursuits like hiking and climbing, when you're already carrying 30lb+ loaded in a pack.
Largest: Sony a7ii
90% of the time I'm carrying the Sony a7ii with two lenses. It's definitely a step above the a6000 in versatility but also larger size and weight. But, I've finally got a system that I'm ok with packing in my climbing bag or daypack. I suck up the weight, even during long 8+ mile hikes. Makes you stronger, right?
- Sony a7ii
- Sony 16-35mm f/4
- Sony 55mm f/1.8
- Tenba BYOB 9 case
- Peak Design camera holster strap
- Hufa lens cap clip attached to strap
- Foto*Tech remote
- Promaster tripod (I don't hike with it)
There's a ton to research about what camera brand to invest in and it's a highly personal decision. My reason for going with Sony is that they're the most advanced in full-frame mirrorless cameras, the size and weight are amazing, and the price is right, if not $500 less than equivalent mirrored cameras. They have all the features of mirrored cameras in a package that I'm willing to take anywhere.
Lens: 16-35mm f/4
Most of the time I'm using the 16-35mm lens for landscape shots. It's an awesome versatile lens that I keep lugging around despite its relatively larger in size and weight. Most of my "whoa" wide landscape photos are taken in the 18-20mm range.
It's fairly sharp for a zoom lens and can be sharpened well in post-processing. Ideally I wish it'd be a bit shorter (the weight is at the front-end) and lighter, and have an aperture closer to f/2. But ++ all around.
Lens: 55mm f/1.8
The 55mm lens was a spur-of-the-moment purchase that turned out to be the benchmark I'm going to compare all lenses to from now on. It's incredibly sharp, almost surreal to see, especially when you're at the f/1.8-f/2.8 range with large depth-of-field. I'm not much of a standard or telezoom person, but wow! It's ranked #5 in DxOMark's lens evaluations out of over a thousand lenses.
Here's an example 55mm, f/1.8, 1/250, ISO 100:
The next best piece of equipment I've purchased is the Peak Designs Slide Lite camera strap (Amazon, Peak product page). It's invaluable when hiking and walking around. I usually have my camera slung on me during climbing approaches, even heinous ones, with a 30lb pack. Life changer!
Left: Most camera straps attach to the top sides of the camera. When you sling the camera on your back, the lens points directly out, causing you to bang your expensive lens if you're in close quarters or rock-scrambling. And since most of the weight is at the end of lenses, it bounces a lot when walking.
Middle: Peak's sling attaches to one top-side mount of the camera and the second to the tripod mount. The camera sits flush with your body and doesn't jiggle around or whack everything in your way.
Right: When mounted this way, you can easily reach around to grab the hand grip of the camera and shoot. Normal mounts put the hand grip at the opposite side of your back, so you awkwardly grab the lens first to get the hand grip. If you were in a western gunshooter, which would you want?
I use the Promaster XC522 tripod for night shots and family fun get-togethers. I scoured to find a reasonably-priced tripod that's built sturdy and has a solid ball mount. It's $140 but has the build and features of $300+ tripods with fancier brand names. It's light enough that I pack it in an airline carry-on.
Features: sturdy ball-mount tripod head, horizontal and vertical built-in levels, and 360-degree markings (useful when you're doing a panorama on tripod), built-in monopod, legs that swing 180deg when packed to 12" long (from 49" highest extension). And yes, it's compatible with the Peak camera strap, which uses the tripod mount, so you don't need to remove the strap to mount on the tripod.
(MeFoto has a similar one that's now priced similar to the Promaster.)
The case was much harder--I find most cases are full backpacks in themselves, or even if they're just a case, they're built to last a 20ft fall. I wanted a slim one with sufficient protection that would fit into a climbing bag. No frills, some padding, and efficient use of space.
Tenba BYOB 9 case: size of your lunch box!
- Camera body + 16-35mm lens: 3lb
- Camera body + 55mm lens: 2.3lb
- Case + camera body + 2 lenses: 4.1lb
- Size: 9" X 6.5" X 4"--Tenba case
- Not terrible to fit in a day pack.