Cameras: Equipment basics to improve your photography

In a recent post we discussed 10 basic photographic tips to help improve our photography on the trail, which focused (no pun intended), on photographic technique rather than the ability to use the equipment itself. This article takes us one step further and looks at basic camera protection through the use of a decent cover / dry bag. In addition, I discuss essential camera memory and power accessories that are often overlooked.

Now in relation to camera memory and power this is definitely not a sexy topic. Many of us will often spend weeks or months agonising over our camera choice which is often one of our largest purchases and can often dwarf most of, if not all our individual hiking equipment purchases. My Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 tent is the only piece of hiking equipment I own that is more expensive than my compact camera. In purchasing our camera kit for hiking this is often where many of us stop researching and this may be a mistake. Two additional and relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment you should also consider when creating your photographic set up for hiking, is camera memory which is usually photography specific (but not always) and a backup power source.

Bag it!

Firstly I want to look at the protection aspect. Most camera stores will sell camera covers/bags when your purchase your camera. These bags are fine for ‘normal life’ and for many hiking trips they work well. However if you are planning a multi week trip or are hiking in areas that have heavy rain then they may not be enough. My compact camera sits in my pants pockets unless I’m about to cross a serious creek or river where the potential is to drop the camera or fall over. In this instance my camera will go into its own dry bag then be put inside my pack inside another dry bag. This ensures that unless I plan on going swimming with my pack for an extended period my expensive camera will remain dry and in good condition. A good quality camera size dry bad is relatively cheap and when compared to the replacement cost of your camera is really an essential on extended or potentially wet trips.

Pick the right size dry bag. For smaller cameras the 1 litres bag is ideal. Take your camera into the store with you to check

Camera Memory Cards

This is the tiny bit of plastic and metal that stores your photos and is rarely considered by most photographers who often buy the cheapest memory cards they can without thinking of the consequences of this choice. How many of you have given any thought to which memory card you purchase other than how much they cost? Up front I do need to say that there is nothing wrong with buying cheaper memory cards if they suit the type of photography you do but what does that mean? Here’s an example that you can use to consider your own situation.

In 2016 we hiked the Larapinta Trail and I had only recently purchased a new Sony RX100 mark 1 compact camera that uses SD memory cards (see the images below). SD memory cards are just one type of memory however this information is transferable across other memory types such as compact flash memory.

I use 16 GB memory cards and on a typical two-week trip will take up to 1600 photos. I set my images at a fairly high quality, which for my Sony camera means 20 Mb. Given that 1600 images X 20 Mb is 32 GB, I opted for two cards. Easy I thought, but I was wrong. I had set my camera up to shoot RAW as well as JPEG. RAW is a format that allows a much greater ability to manipulate photos due to the amount of information that is collected by the camera. My new camera also had panorama ability, which took multiple photos to create a wide-angle image. Imagine my distress when I filled up my first memory card five days into the trip and still had seven days and only one card left. What this meant was that for the remaining seven days of the trip I limited the images I took and didn’t get the usual number of high quality images I would have expected; lesson learnt. On my upcoming seven-day hike in Tasmania I will carry three memory cards. At 0.4 grams per card I think I will be able to cope with the additional weight.

The next consideration with memory cards is size. As mentioned my card size of choice is 16 GB and on average this will last 5-7 days. I prefer to use multiple cards for two reasons. Firstly if a card is faulty or the camera is stolen I don’t want to loose the whole trip. I must confess here that in the past nine years I have never had an SD card fail. Companies such as San Disk produce cards up to 512 GB in size, which would be big enough to store about five years of photos for me and I take a lot of photos. The second reason is that I find it easier to keep track of my trip days on 16 GB cards.

The other consideration when purchasing memory cards is the card quality. By quality I mean the speed at which a memory card can record an image as well as downloading onto your computer at the end of a trip. Memory cards will have ‘class ratings’ on them. A class 2 card will record an image at 2 MB per second, a class 10 memory card will record and image at 10 MB per second. For most of us we will never shoot ten frames per second and your camera may not be able to so buying ultrafast cards may not be a benefit. If that is a consideration, then you will need the memory card speed to cope.

The faster cards will also load onto your computer much faster as well e.g. a 16 GB card that reads at 90 MB per second will load onto your computer in approximately three minutes. A lower speed card of 45 MB per second will take about seven minutes. Not really a major issue unless you are dealing with much bigger cards and multiple cards. My suggestion here is when purchasing your camera, talk to the sales staff about memory cards as well and be prepared to answer questions about how you will use your camera so you get the right memory cards for what you need.

High Quality SanDisk 16GB memory card

Power

The next camera consideration many people fail to think about is camera battery life. Again I’ll use my Sony camera as an example. The camera battery (at full power) is rated for 330 shots per battery charge with 50% of the images using the flash. I don’t use the camera flash and I have taken over 600 images on a single camera charge. In practice what this means is I will need to charge my camera at least once on a two-week trip. My choices for this are to purchase a second camera battery or to recharge the one in the camera. Given I am already charging other pieces of equipment the recharge route is the way I have gone. My current choice for a backup power source is the Powermonkey Explorer 2.

You may find a second battery is the way you prefer to go but you will need to consider factors such as trip length, time away from a power point and cost. For some of you who don’t take that many photos, you may not even need a back up power option, however it is some thing you should consider.

Powermonkey Explorer 2 battery back up

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