If you want pro results and performance out of your camera, a little versatility, and the ability to shoot beautiful twilight landscapes then forget ultra light backpacking. I am carrying the lightest outfit I’ve ever carried on a backpack trip and it still weighs in at 3 to 5.5 lbs depending on which tripod I take. So my base weight will always be more than the 13-15 lb average of most PCT hikers. Carrying this extra weight day in and day out may slow my pace down. I don’t know. After a lot of research and rentals, it is unthinkable to take a trip of this magnitude and NOT have a pro level and capable camera.
This is the death grip my perfectionism has on me. If that were not the case I would have gone with one of the fabulous 1” sensor cameras from Sony or Fujifilm. They are amazing in terms of performance and light weight. I just don’t see the quality in the files to be used in 18-24 inch calendars and magazine double page spreads.
My outfit will be minimalistic and consist of one body and lens, a few filters and a small but sturdy tripod. I’m apprehensive about not taking a speed light for lighting tents, and fill light on portraits and trail action imagery but that may change. My Sony A6300 is new to me and thus far I have not had the time to check out their speedlight system.
I’ve spend months researching what might be the best trail cameral outfit. For my needs and photographic style. My current Canon outfit is great in performance and quality. It is the weight that is killing me and has prompted me to search for another backpacking photo platform. It was tough to determine what outfit would best fit my demanding criteria of: professional image quality, performance, and weight savings and mobility for a very long trip. On my many backpack trips in the past 10 years I have just endured carrying heavier gear on 5-7 day backpack trips. I’ve carried a Canon 5D and 5DIII (I skipped the Mark II) with one lens, 2 filters and spare battery. My current outfit had been a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70F4L. That set up with a spare battery, polarizer and grad ND filters in the F-Stop Gear Navin case came in at 5 lbs. That does not include a tripod or speedite, both of which I find hard to travel without. Those 2 add another 3 lbs. So every day, I am carrying an additional 8 lbs of base weight over what other thru hikers carry.
There were many cameras that excelled in one or two of my 3 criteria mentioned above but only one that seemed to fit all 3. The 1” sensor point and shoot cameras are amazing! I just couldn’t fathom going to the places I will be seeing and only having a 1” sensor. Those cameras would be a limiting factor to calendar and big print sales. Many shooters thought the obvious choice was the Sony A7RII because of it’s amazing 42mp full frame sensor. I would love to have that many pixels in every image but do I really need them? That body with equivalent lenses just didn’t represent a significant weight savings over what I currently used. The ideal combination is the Sony A6300 with the Sony-Zeiss 16-70F4. This combination with spare battery and the same two filters weighs in at 2.9 lbs. A 2 pound weight savings on a backpack outfit that I’ll wear for 150 days is very significant!
At first glance the image quality is outstanding. It is better than what I thought it would be for a cropped sensor. It seems comparable to the Canon 5DIII with 24-70F4 combo with essentially the same number of megapixels at 24. It will take some time to get used to a different set of buttons and menu functions. So far I love the small, non intimidating size of both the camera and lens. It fits easily in the Navin case along with the filters. I normally carry the case on my chest for quick access while hiking.
I’m on the fence with a tripod. The ReallyRight Stuff Pocket Pod is very sturdy and light. When paired with their Microball head the support weighs in at .5lb. It is limiting as I have to find a rock or stump to perch it on or shoot in areas void of any tall vegetation and all my shots will be from a pica’s point of view. My old series 1 Gitzo carbon fiber with the lightest Really Right Stuff BH25 head weighs in at 2.1lbs. That is still a great weight for the height and sturdiness it offers. I will take it on a few stretches where I anticipate the potential for aspirational landscapes where I’m only carrying a few days worth of food. The stretches where I have to carry a week or more I will take the Pocket Pod.
About the gear picture: Camera: Sony A6300 with 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card. Lens: Zeiss Vario-Tessar 16-70/F4 ZA OSS (24-105 full frame equivalent). Filters: Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3 stop, hard step graduated ND 4×6 (I find the most useful for mountain/canyon photography), B+W circular polarizer (55mm). I have a pro Lee holder for grad ND’s. To save weight, I will hand hold the filter. Camera Support: Really Right Stuff: dedicated plate for the A6300, Pocket Pod with Micro Ballhead Case: F-Stop Gear Navin holster. Accessories: 2 extra SD cards, 2 extra batteries with charger, lens pen. The entire ensemble pictured here is 3.5lbs. This is the lightest pro level outfit I’ve carried on a backpack trip thus far. My Canon 5DIII with 24-70/F4 L ALONE, weighs this much. That doesn’t include tripod, extra batteries and filters! (Not pictured here: Gitzo 100 series (old, not made anymore) carbon fiber tripod with Really Right Stuff BH25 ballhead which weighs in at 2.1lbs. And it gets me up to a height of 45 inches.)