Brian's Photo Blog — Article 224
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On the Trail With My Camera Equipment
Thursday 24 January 2013   —   Category: Equipment
For me, hiking and photography are inseparable. My favorite occasions to take pictures are when I’m out hiking, and I couldn’t imagine going on a hike without taking my camera equipment! It was this very passion for photographic hiking which led, last June, to The Great Camera Quandary, after trying to carry all of my APS-C camera gear on a Silver Falls Summer Solstice outing.

In order to bring more than 15 pounds of photographic equipment on a hike, I stowed it all in a huge backpack: the Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW. But it was a major hassle to change lenses on my camera, because each time I had to take the pack off, set it down, and rummage through it to find the lens I wanted. Sometimes I would get so fed up doing this constantly that I just left the same lens on the camera for a while, even though it wasn’t the lens I needed for certain shots. I suppose I could have saved myself a lot of weight and bother by leaving all my extra lenses at home and taking only one hiking, but then, which lens would I take? And why own all those lenses if I don’t take them with me and use them?

To summarize my previous article, my great camera quandary was this: I have high photographic standards, which neither a fixed-lens bridge camera (or point-and-shoot camera), nor a single interchangeable superzoom lens can live up to, because such equipment involves too many compromises. But the high-quality equipment which I then owned, built around a Sony α77 camera, was simply much too heavy and bulky to take hiking.

To extricate myself from this quandary, I decided to abandon all of my current photographic equipment, and step into a brand-new Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) world by building from scratch a completely new camera kit around the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. Because my new system is about one-third the weight and bulk of my old system, it is now feasible for me to take a large proportion of my equipment with me while hiking without it being too much of a burden on my middle-aged body. But exactly HOW was I to carry this µ4/3 equipment with me?

First of all, I knew that I absolutely had to carry all my camera equipment on the front of my body, where I could easily reach it, rather than in my backpack, which made it inaccessible. Fortunately, the relatively low weight and small size of µ4/3 equipment made this plan possible and practical. All I needed was the proper bag in which to carry some lenses. After much searching and comparing, I found the now-discontinued Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 10 at Pro Photo Supply in Portland.

This bag is the perfect size to carry four µ4/3 lenses, batteries and other small accessories, plus my iPad 2 and a water bottle. Although the hefty, permanently-attached hip belt could be stowed away when not used, it was still too heavy and bulky for my tastes and I wasn’t going to use it, so I cut it off! That brought the weight of the bag down to 1.6 lbs. (730g).

In the past I had been extremely pleased using a Think Tank Photo Holster 20 to carry my camera with its attached lens, so I was thrilled to discover that they make a smaller Digital Holster 10 which is the perfect size for my Olympus camera.

Now that I had the equipment bags I needed, the next problem was how to attached them to my Kata Ultra-Light Bumblebee 222 backpack (which replaced the heavier and bulkier Lowepro), so that they were hanging in front of me and easily accessible. After quite a bit of trial and error, I finally figured out a way to do it using some nifty S-Biners. I just love these useful little clips!

In the first photo to the right, you can see the Wired Up bag with four lenses and my iPad 2. Now that I have switched to the smaller iPad Mini, it fits even better!

In the second photo, you can see the Wired Up bag and the camera holster hanging on the front of my body, attached to my Kata backpack and to each other with S-Biner clips, and a single additional strap. It may look like a bit of a strange setup, but it works great for me, and keeps all of my photographic equipment within easy reach.

With my older Sony equipment, the camera body and lenses were so large and heavy that sometimes it was a real struggle to change lenses, even with two hands. If I was hiking with someone, I would often ask them to hold one of the lenses. But with my new µ4/3 equipment — which is so much smaller and lighter — that problem no longer exists.

The last two photos are side views which show my photographic equipment on the front, and my Kata pack on my back, which normally holds food, lots of water, and non-camera gear, like a first-aid kit, spare socks, and some simple, small survival items, among other things.

You can also see my hiking tripod — a Sirui T-025 carbon fiber tripod with G-10 ball head — which fits nicely at the bottom of the Wired Up bag. This is another piece of equipment which needed to move from the back to the front in order to be useful, so I’m glad that I was able to solve that problem too.

I've used this arrangement of bags and equipment for seven hikes now, including my most recent one to Smith Rock last week. All in all I am very happy with how things are working out, and it is so, So, SO much superior to how things used to be with my previous Sony equipment — it’s really a night and day difference! I could NEVER go back to a large, bulky, heavy camera system, even if I were to stop hiking. Micro Four Thirds is AWESOME!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 224
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