Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adventure Photography Part I: The Camera

Before buying a camera, perhaps it's best to examine your role in the adventure you're participating in.  Are you there as a functioning expedition member, or perhaps a racer in a competition; or are you there primarily just to photograph?  If you are there just as a photographer, then the full spectrum of photographic equipment opens up to you, as you won't be encumbered by weight and other considerations.  For an expedition member or racer, photography is likely to play a secondary role, after considerations of achieving the goals of the expedition or race, safety, speed and efficiency.  This is the type of photography we'll be looking at.

Trekking in Nepal with a Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens

First off, what adventure are you participating in?  Hiking, mountaineering and adventure travel lend themselves well to still photography.  The action is slower, and you generally have both hands free to play around with a camera and have some time to compose the shot.  Biking, skiing and kayaking lend themselves better to video photography.  Not only are your hands busy doing something else, but the action is faster in these sports and capturing the movement is a big part of showcasing the activity.  Sometimes, a combination of the still and video photography works well, and these days, many cameras do both.  Here are my picks:

My top picks for a DSLR would be the Nikon D7000 (or D3100 if you want to go lighter or cheaper).  There are a number of other DSLRs that would do the job too, like the Canon 7D or 550D.  It's just that I'm more familiar with the Nikon brand.  I wouldn't get too hung up on the brand of camera.  If you like the way it feels, looks and handles, it will work.
Last Light at Manvar.  Taken with a Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens

I would pair the body with an 18-200mm lens first and then perhaps a 12-24mm (or 10-24mm) lens.  Sometimes, I'll add a 50mm F/1.4 for shallow depth of field shots.  I'm always on the the search for better quality, but time and again, I come back to the 18-200mm as the basic lens for adventure shooting.  Why?  When you're tired, you don't have to move around a lot to get a shot; or sometimes you just can't, as when you are roped-in.  The 18-200mm gives you a wide focal length range without having to think about changing lenses, or cleaning a bunch of lenses, or carrying a bunch of lenses.

Sometimes, the weight of a DSLR is too much.  Then, I'd take a compact.  My current choice for a compact would be the Panasonic LX5.  I haven't used the LX5, but my wife and I own two LX3s which we are very happy with.  The compact rides very well slung over the neck, either in front of me, or to the side.  It's light enough that I can bike or climb with it without feeling the weight.
Mountaineering with the Panasonic LX3 Compact Camera
The Micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic GF1 are an interesting option that I've also looked into.  For the time being, I've ruled them out because of cost.  If I need light, I'll go with a compact, and if I can afford the weight, I'll go with a DSLR.

Video Cam
I've limited experience with video, but I'd like to do more.  Apple's iMovie make combining still slideshows and video a breeze, and it's easy to upload onto a video sharing site for friends and family to see.
GoPro HD Hero mounted on my mountain bike

My choice for an adventure video cam is the GoPro HD Hero.  It's ultrawide angle and shoots 2 hours of HD video on one 16G SD card, and the battery lasts 2 1/2 hours.  It's light, rugged and waterproof down to 180'(60m).  There's a bunch of mounts available, depending on what sort of adventure you're into.  For example, other than the usual helmet mount, there's a chest mount that is useful for bikers and skiers, a suction cup mount for kayakers and surfers, and handlebar and rollbar mounts for motorsports or bikers.

Here's a slideshow/video presentation I made with the GoPro HD Heroof a recent mountain bike race:

Next up: Part II, Techniques

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