what to pack for....

Ok. The street bag was fun and easy.

Now to this years projected primary bag.

“What if I were a day tripping Landscape photographer, what would I pack?”

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Landscape photography has a few advantages over other types of imaging. Lens quality is important, even more important than in less scrutinised forms, but you have access to the best settings a lens has to offer, often evening out performance. The super fast, sharp when wide open prime is usually a pointless waste of money and weight if used at f8+. Some are even poor performers stopped down due to all the corrections being weighted to the more open apertures.

Although I am a fan of prime lenses for most of my work, zooms also really come into their own for tripod work, offering a minimal or no crop work flow. Get it right in the field and there is no wastage of precious pixels in processing.

Occasionally a lens comes along that offers the same quality as a premium prime with zoom versatility.

The Olympus 12-100 f4 has revolutionised my thinking for landscapes.

I remember all too recently shooting with a Canon full frame, top end “L” primes and resolving to do some serious landscape work. Heavy bag (very), shutter vibration reducing monster tripod (that still failed to tame my 200mm even with precise and unforgiving technique) and lots of wasteful cropping, made for a very uncomfortable, expensive and frustrating process.

Skip on a few years and I can now match that set-up pixel for pixel with an electronic shutter (read; no noise-no vibration), edge to edge sharp, all-in-one super zoom that also has the benefit of amazing stabilisation if a tripod is out of the question and the cropping factor DOF advantage (f5.6 = roughly f11 on a full frame allowing a 2 shutter speed/ISO buffer).

The lens covers 24-200 full frame equivalent, which is all I need as I am more of a tight abstract, rather than big sky style shooter. It is also a decent semi macro for my artistic close-up needs.

The camera is a Pen F, which I find well suited to tripod work. Ironic really as it is designed for street and travel shooting, but the mechanical cable release connection, Arca style tripod optional grip and general operation all point me towards tripod rather than hand held use. I can, though rarely, use the high res mode as I find a “perfect” 20mp is actually more than enough for big prints and processing/storage are lighter.

I still remember the first time I tried out this set-up. I was hopeful, even confidently fatalistic about the results, but still surprised at the ease of getting that quality out of the camera regardless of the lens and with (by my standards) sloppy technique. The images below were taken within seconds of conception and my then make-shift tripod set-up was clumsy to say the least. It almost felt like cheating.

Pen with the 40-150 pro. Much the same quality is possible through the whole Pro range (and many of the non Pro lenses as well).

Pen with the 40-150 pro. Much the same quality is possible through the whole Pro range (and many of the non Pro lenses as well).

Crop from above. The sort of quality I could have dreamed of in the film era (top end medium format maybe?) and so easily printed. This lens was really too big and heavy for landscape, so the added range of the 12-100 is kit changing. The 75-300 is nearly indistinguishable from the 40-150 at middle apertures over the same range with the added bonus of more reach when needed.

Crop from above. The sort of quality I could have dreamed of in the film era (top end medium format maybe?) and so easily printed. This lens was really too big and heavy for landscape, so the added range of the 12-100 is kit changing. The 75-300 is nearly indistinguishable from the 40-150 at middle apertures over the same range with the added bonus of more reach when needed.

The Pen also seems to have a very slightly cleaner/sharper sensor at lower ISO’s than the EM1 mk2 (not scientific fact, just my observations).

The only down side is the lack of camera body weather proofing. If this is really a consideration, I switch out the Pen for the EM1 or carry a back-up EM5 mk1.

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More than enough for my fine art printing needs.

More than enough for my fine art printing needs.

For filters, I use a polariser and a 10 stop ND that is enough to create silky water in daylight. I do not find weaker ND filters of much value.

The 75-300 makes into the bag for the occasional wildlife or extreme distance shot (only made possible by the gentle camera), also with matching filters.

The bag is a modified Lowe Pro Inverse 100 (review posted). The modification is cutting out the bum bag “wings”. This allows the bag to be used as either shoulder bag with the supplied strap or to be threaded onto the front of a real* back pack’s waist belt using the massive, padded “wing storage” rear loop.

It holds a surprising amount of gear and acts as a handy work bench in the field.

The camera’s gentle operation also allows me to carry a small to medium tripod. My current one is a basic Manfrotto 190 that I have had for ages and a new Pro Master ball head or I can chance a light weight Velbon Sherpa and mini Gitzo ball head I picked up a few years ago. For expeditions I can even carry both easily in case of mis-hap, chopping and changing heads as desired.

Again, lots of batteries, spare cards and snacks etc.

What would I use if not this? I guess, if just for landscape work, I would look at full frame, probably a FF mirrorless Nikon (Z7 and 24-70/70-200 f4 rig as available or Canon (R? 24-105 and up coming tele or adapted 70-200 f4). I could not come at an SLR rig at this late stage unless I was prolific enough to justify the expense and/or would be happy with adapted lenses in the future. If pressed for time and cash, the D7200 Nikon (still a resolution demon, matching the D750 pixel for pixel) with the 16-85 and the new 70-300 “P”. As much as I am happy with the Olympus outfit, I would probably fail to resist the siren call of more pixels and greater dynamic range even though I know it will not greatly effect the quality of my images or work flow.

*lets be honest. If you are going any real distance, a photo style back pack is pointless. The camera component of your rig needs to be accommodated alongside a real trekking pack, not in place of it (otherwise you will not sleep/eat/survive etc.).

Still fun to do, more on the way.