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11/25/2009 03:39:34 PM · #1
Hi team,

Next spring a good buddy and I embark on an epic nature spirit quest to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the AT - as it's commonly known - stretches from northern Georgia clear up most of the way through Maine along the backbone of the Appalachian mountain range, passing through a 2100 mile-long corridor of dwindling American wilderness. Mountain vistas, glacial lakes, rare flora and fauna, charming rural American communities, colorful and eccentric (if not perhaps mildly insane) fellow thru-hikers -- no photographer would be at a loss for quality subject material. And who wouldn't want to snap some photos along the way? I certainly plan to.

I'm posting to glean whatever insight I can from anyone on these forums who has experience with photography on long backpacking trips through a wide range of inclement weather. The trail takes 5-7 months to complete, and in that span you see temperatures that chill the bone, and those that burst the thermometer. Sticky humidity, and (incredibly) frequent, often heavy and occasionally relentless rainfall. Sometimes snow; sometimes sleet. You name it, it'll probably fall from the sky while I'm out there. In parts you ford rivers with pack hoisted above shoulders. I'm not looking to have a camera dangling from my neck 24/7 -- the focus is on the hike itself, and serendipity dictates when and where the camera comes out. What I'm looking for is a system that can survive the experience and allow me to take a few photos a day above the 'snapshot' grade between those occasional stops in town for laundry, showers and recharging of batteries (both of the biological and proprietary Nikon/Canon varieties). Those oo-and-aaah moments when the sun sets through the trees, when the morning fog rolls through the valleys below, when a lightning storm dances across a neighboring mountain, when the weary body of a fellow hiker rests at the top of a particularly challenging summit.

I suspect most people would tell me to take a nice, low-weight, durable P&S camera, given the arduousness of the journey, and in the end that may be the best advice. I am, however, exploring as well the idea of bringing a small dSLR, which would be my default preference were it not for the following concerns, which are listed here in order of their importance: 1) weight, 2) fragility (both from blunt trauma and water), 3) bulk/volume. I would bring a single lens - small, fixed, and as fast as I could afford (tripods are hard to find in the woods).

So at the end of this long-winded post, what I'm looking for are your thoughts, advice, any and all further concerns I should be aware of. Any system you might have that you could recommend, or resources you could point me to. I want it to be safe, but accessible, and not feel like I'm cradling a baby for over 2000 miles of rugged, dirty and wet terrain, because I won't be able to spare that energy in many parts.

Thanks so much everybody!

11/25/2009 04:17:49 PM · #2
I wish you luck with this venture and I am sure you will relive it many times during the coming years. I would suggest a good quality P&S as a standard camera, always ready and willing:)

A good, small DSLR? Look at the Pentax range, one of these paired with a Tamron 18-250mm lens should suffice for most oportunities. Pentax K200D is a good allrounder, weatherproofed and dust proof. Smallish body, SD cards and really good quality results.

Hopw this helps:)
11/25/2009 04:21:40 PM · #3
Ask ' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', '/') + 1) . ' Mephisto, he did a lot of travelling recently.

Message edited by author 2009-11-25 16:22:04.
11/25/2009 04:33:18 PM · #4
I would look at the Canon D10 for a rugged, weatherproof option. A small gorilla pod will allow you to use tree branches, etc, as "tripods" Small, weatherproof slrs with fast lenses--dunno enough to recommend anything there: there are some new 4/3 format cameras that might fit the bill: this Oly for example

not weatherproof, but fast lenses are available for it (kit lens is slow). Olympus also does small slrs and rugged point/shoots.

Message edited by author 2009-11-25 16:35:21.
11/25/2009 04:43:13 PM · #5
Here's one you might consider. The reason I'm suggesting something like this is the fact that it has built-in geotagging capabilities.

If you're not familiar with geotagging, this camera will mark the latitude/longitude of each of your shots, so you can easily see exactly where each shot was taken. I do this with my vacation shots now, and I really like the idea of being able to see where I took shots on a map. This has already come in handy for times I've wanted to revisit a spot where I took a photo.

Seems like something that would really be a cool feature for a trip like you're taking!

PS... My college roommate's brother wrote a book about his experiences on that trail.
11/25/2009 05:05:35 PM · #6
Originally posted by chromeydome:

I would look at the Canon D10 for a rugged, weatherproof option. A small gorilla pod will allow you to use tree branches, etc, as "tripods" Small, weatherproof slrs with fast lenses--dunno enough to recommend anything there: there are some new 4/3 format cameras that might fit the bill: this Oly for example

not weatherproof, but fast lenses are available for it (kit lens is slow). Olympus also does small slrs and rugged point/shoots.

I second the recommendation for the D10. I bought one for my hiking/camping/rafting and other outdoor activities. It's waterproof to 10m, freezeproof, dustproof, shockproof and has IS. It's simple enough that I can just hand it to one of my kids and they can take good pics, but I can have a good deal of control by using the various scene modes and other controls. It's pretty much bombproof. Another reason to consider it is the fact that it has 4 bayonet style lugs on the corners to attach the carrying strap. You can also get the accessory kit, which has a variety of other straps, one of which has a carabiner style clip on one end that I use to strap the camera to my pack and then use the clip to hold the cam out of the way. When I want to shoot, I just unclip the camera and shoot, without fear of bumbling it into the void.
11/25/2009 05:06:01 PM · #7
Camera Armor can be purchased on Ebay pretty cheap...
11/25/2009 05:47:09 PM · #8
I have struggled with the never ending dilemma of long distance hiking and what camera to take for some time. As you already know there is no easy answer. I have carried a DSLR and various P&S cameras and a variety of accessories and have only truly been happy with the photos when I have had my DSLR along. That is not to say that you can not get good shots with a decent P&S, you can. The problem is that with the small sensor comes added noise, less speed and less resolution when you want to really blow up that perfect shot.

I have climbed onto glaciers and even did rock climbing and never worried much about weather proofing and/or protecting the camera. It is really no problem as you can use something as simple as a zip lock bag and then wrap the camera in your clothes bag for padding. My D300 is like a tank so most of the time I end up with it strapped to my body unless it is pouring out. Now-a-days I also carry the Canon D10 (along with my DSLR) when out in the mountains as I can keep it handy and not worry about it. Then I bring out the big guns when needed. But as you know these options add weight, about 5 lbs in my case. On a long journey you may not want to invest that much weight, it is a personal choice and I have made it both ways at times.

Good luck on your journey!
11/25/2009 06:21:57 PM · #9
I always worry about condensation.

I own an Olympus E-520 and brought it camping this past weekend (Taconic State Park). The camera survived but one weekend in the cold with the camera in the car is very different than you lugging a camera and all of your backpacking gear around in unpredictable conditions.

I also own the Olympus SW 770. Yes, it is a point and shoot but if the journey is your main focus than you might want to seriously consider this camera as it is small and virtually indestructable. I bought mine for all the times (Kayaking, camping, hiking, bad weather) when I want to have a camera but would be too afraid to use an SLR.

When I got my SLR I stopped using the SW 770 for a while but I've found that the SLR got me really interested in photography and now I use the SW 770 more just because I know it won't get messed up and I can really be creative with it.

Bottom line: Yes an SLR can do more than the Olympus SW 770 but it will become a pain on a 5-7 month journey. You will not have to worry about anything with the Olympus SW 770, it and others in the Olympus SW series was made for backpackers.

Let me know if you have any questions!


11/25/2009 06:51:52 PM · #10
I say do take a tripod. I bought a small gitzo tripod when I did 9 weeks in New Zealand. Also - for the diverse terrain you will be passing through I would recommend two lenses - something wide and something fast. You can easily put together a decent pach weighing in at around 2kg. Its not like you carry it on your back anyway - camera must be accessible with your pack on your back, tripod slots in under an arm and spare lense lives in a fanny-pack. Your body completely adapts after a few days.
11/25/2009 07:28:43 PM · #11
This guy always took the biggest and best camera (as well as a serious tripod) on his backpacking trips, and most people would argue that it was a good thing. :-) So do a lot of weight lifting between now and the spring, and you should be fine.
11/25/2009 10:58:44 PM · #12
I pretty much agree with what ' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', '/') + 1) . ' jbsmithana said. I always get that nagging feeling if I don't lug my D300 along, and I've done about the same sort of activities. A slightly cheaper and lighter weight approach would be to use a D90; much of the same functionality but less mass. For a fast, wide, I'd consider the 24 2.8. There's also the Sigma 20 1.8, but it weighs more.
The Pentax bodies were also mentioned- keep in mind many of these are weatherproofed, not just the higher end ones, so that's a nice thing to throw out there.
To answer your question better, however, we need to understand if you are attempting to do the AT in an ultra lightweight approach or not (Jardine style).
The 770SW was mentioned- I also own that camera, and it is durable, but honestly the photo quality is meh. I bought the 1050SW for my girlfriend for her 4.5 month trip to New Zealand, mostly because there weren't all that many other options out there at the time and I got a good price on it. Again, photo quality is just average.
Now, however, there are several other options out there. Casio just introduced the EX-G1, there is the Canon D10, Panasonic TS1, and Pentax Optio W80. If I were to buy one today, I'd probably choose the Tz1. Also, I can't STAND the menu system for scene settings on the 770SW. The 1050SW is a bit better but still annoying.
What you need to realy think about is can you justify lugging the extra weight of a DSLR for the photo quality. Some people can, some people can't; it's a personal decision. Also, yeah, a D40 weighs nothing compared to a D300, but that D40 isn't nearly as durable, either. It really just comes down to what sort of load you can justify.
If you're going to try and compromise, I'd really consider the Panasonic G series and the Olympus micro 4/3 equivalent and throw something like the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 pancake lens on the front. Low bulk, low weight, high quality. I'd be a lot more carefulw ith it than my D300, but then, that's the sacrifice of really lightweight gear of any kind(backpacking gear included).
11/26/2009 03:11:35 AM · #13
I went around the world with a 40d, a 17-40L and an 85mm 1.8. Oh, and 3 batteries. I had it all in a Lowepro Nova AW bag that was the perfect size and in the other lens compartment I kept a Wolverine flashpac, which is a 100gb HD with a card reader attached as backup.

It went into my big backpack when travelling within a country, and when on a plane it was my carry on and I kept a book in one pocket, an MP3 player in another and it was awesome as awesome can be.

So, yes, you can justify the extra weight. Mine was very useful just to carry stuff in due to the zip pockets and mesh side pocket things so I could have money, notes, medical stuff, phone numbers and everything else in there. Nobody could take it because it was around my shoulder the entire time and getting to the actual camera involves unbuckling the top flap, then undoing the zip, then extracting the camera. Not an easy thing to do without being noticed.

Don't be fooled. It's a very small bag.

See here (mine was black)

The strap is good to reduce the weight. It has an all weather cover and I think it's a work of art for the money. Mine has been with me all over the world and I still use it on jobs. I use my Tenba Shootout bag to carry all my junk to a venue, then use the Nova with a 5d2, 27-70L, a 50mm and the 85mm and I'm good to go.

Best damned idea I ever had was to take that bag with me :)

I only had 2 lenses at the time (sold my other 3 before I went travelling) and I used a wide angle and a portrait/small tele and that was it.

People here seem to be over-complicating it and it doesn't need to be. It is worth taking an SLR. But take the minimum equipment, and do not under-estimate the peace of mind insurance can bring you. I travelled through India, SE Asia and New Zealand for 15 months and was covered in all territories against theft and accidental damage in all these zones.

Funnily enough, 2 days after my insurance expired my 40d got a broken mirror assembly.

If I can be of more exacting help, PM me.
11/26/2009 04:06:13 AM · #14
My suggestion if you decide to use a DSLR is to get a ThinkTank Digital Holster. I have the 20 version and it holds the 24-70 f/2.8 L with the lens hood on (when the case is expanded) or the 70-200 f/2.8 without the lens hood. It is great for carrying a camera while you have a backpack on your back.
11/26/2009 06:02:10 AM · #15
DPReview Waterproof Camera comparison test.
11/26/2009 08:43:18 AM · #16
Im envious about anyone thru hiking the AT. What camera you carry depends on how you set yourself up as far as supply drops (more of them means less on your back) how you like to hike (i.e. bivvy vs. tent), and what kind of hiker you are (can you carry a lot of weight).

The extra weight of an SLR and an extra lens would only be a few lbs vs. a point and shoot. But, you will have that on your back for every step you take.

Thinking about it though, I would go for a very good point and shoot. You arent likely to stop to setup and take those really awesome vista shots very often anyhow and the shots you take will prob mean more to you than others. Its less weight, no lens changes, etc. Get a gorilla pod too, you can set it on the ground or there is always a tree to mount it to - no need for a tripod.

Have a great hike. If you can, let me know when you will get up to the NY portion of the trail (Harriman park/bear mountain area) and I would be glad to day hike it with you and resupply you.
11/26/2009 09:29:17 AM · #17
Originally posted by Tez:

I went around the world with a 40d, a 17-40L and an 85mm 1.8.

This is pretty much all that I carry around nowadays unless I am planning to shoot something special - though I take a 5D with 16-35 2.8L and 85mm 1.2L. I very rarely miss my other lenses for everyday use.

11/26/2009 09:36:10 AM · #18
How do you keep your batteries charged for 7 months? I would fear them being dead at the best time. Why not a film camera?

I wouldn't take the 24-70L, its heavy.
11/27/2009 01:32:59 PM · #19
take a charger and a universal converter. Also, take 3 or 4 batteries.

My converter cost me 4 gbp on ebay and still works perfectly. It had a built in surge protector thing too and it worked in every socket i tried it on.

11/27/2009 01:43:31 PM · #20
Hey everybody, thank you for your great advice -- it's provided me much food for thought. I'm giving the Pentax line of dSLRs some serious consideration given the weather and dust sealing on most of the models, and the fact that many of them seem to use AA batteries -- easy to find and don't require outlets to recharge. I'd be curious to know peoples' feelings on this line of dSLRs; there seem to be very few users of this brand on dpc if the equipment section's stats are any indication.

The Think Tank Digital Holster and similar products also looked quite promising, especially paired with something like this chest holster: here. (This is also something I might be able to simulate with a bit of work on my hiking backpack itself). I particularly liked the idea of the built-in rainfly on this bag -- can anyone comment on how effective the waterproofing with that is? i.e. deployed are there unprotected regions where straps protrude, etc.?

Also, thank you all for the advice on the gorilla pods. I'll definitely have to look into those.

A number of you had recommended pairs of lenses to bring, but really, if I bring a dSLR I am very keen on bringing only a single, prime lens with me on the journey, to minimize weight, bulk, and the list of things that I'm afraid about breaking. The other consideration there is that I will be in the great outdoors and covered in at least a low-level ambient glaze of filth for the vast majority of the 6 months I expect to be on the trail: I would rather not invite any of that into the body of the camera to set up camp on the sensor as I don't anticipate being able to review my photos terribly often with scrutiny to assess sensor dust levels or have a stellar means of getting in there to fix the problem should it arise. For this reason I have been looking primarily in the 30-35mm range of prime lenses to maintain as much versatility as possible. I'll admit my search on that front is in its infant stages, but just looking at lenses for Pentax's cameras, the SMC-FA 31mm f/1.8 AL seems to be a beautiful and well-respected, solid lens. I had found praise for some older Pentax lenses that were both lighter and cheaper (a 35mm f/2.0, if I recall, caught my attention in particular), but these no longer seem to be in production and are hard to find. Does anyone have experience with third-party lenses in this range?

Sorry for the questions all over the place. Thanks also to everyone who listed their preferences on durable P&S's -- I am still making my way through those and may have questions on them later.

11/27/2009 02:38:30 PM · #21
Incidentally, I love your style of writing. Make sure you keep a journal of the trip!
11/27/2009 02:48:06 PM · #22
You might think about getting a Spot and we can watch your progress. //www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=107
11/27/2009 07:41:53 PM · #23
Originally posted by Niten:

You might think about getting a Spot and we can watch your progress. //www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=107

Love me little SPOT. Even more when me and the boy start motorcycle camping/backpacking adventures.
One hike I have up
11/27/2009 09:35:39 PM · #24
Really a solid book (funny and insightful about trail itself)

I would read this for sure before hiking the trail.


Read the reviews..gives a good feel of the book.

Message edited by author 2009-11-27 21:36:18.
11/28/2009 12:18:45 AM · #25
Oh, don't worry, I've definitely made my way through Bill Bryson's pages on the trail. ;)
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