I had a bitch of a time coming up with a name for this.. as the photography itself is not ultralight, just the camera and backpacking gear. Anyway, I think you get the point. Photography is certainly a subject that I am no expert on and something that is always evolving. I have tried everything from oldschool analog cameras such as the Hasselblad X-pan panorama camera, Leica M3, M6, as well as sony’s A7r, iphones, compact cameras and now my personal favourite for the outdoors is the FujiFilm X-T1. A lot of my photography you can find on this site.
Along kingstrail – Fujifilm X-t1 with kit 18-55lens
With all respect in the world to the analog master of time’s past – how the hell could they be bothered bringing 20 or more pounds of camera gear? There are of course still photographers who prefer to bring monster DSLRs with them when they go out hiking, but I find this tedious and unnecessary. Like everything else in the world: Technology has come so far, that taking amazing pictures on cameras half the size or smaller is now possible.
Also, most people in the world are more than happy using just their iphone (or any of the cheap copy brands) as their main camera while backpacking. In fact I have a book at home done by a professional who did the entire book taking photos on his Iphone and edited in Snapseed. The photos are incredible.
Iphone photo edited in Snapseed – Tavelsjöleden, Umeå.
Throughout my years of hiking and trying to combine my ultralight philosophy with my photography hobby; I have found this to be a pretty difficult task. Which is why I have changed so many cameras through the years. On a lot of trips I’m fairly happy just bringing my iphone, though sometimes I really need and want to take masterful photos. For this I have to bring a camera capable of capturing such photos.
Bringing a more capable camera has of course it’s own obstacles and drawdowns that must be overcome. One such drawdown is battery life; especially on the mirrorless systems that eat batteries like a fat kid eats a bigmac: They just swallow them whole. Other camera’s such as the Leica M series (I’ve had the M8 out on the trial) won’t require any batteries for up to a week, while the mirrorless will require a new battery every day. I’ve never had a proper Nikon or Canon DSLR on the trail so I can’t say how their batteries hold up. I find them way too heavy to bring along comfortably.
This is my own opinion and preference, but I truly love the images that my Fujifilm X-T1 give me. On top of that it’s fairly light at just 458grams and I can usually bring a few extra lenses and batteries with me and still have a total weight under 1 kilo. The Fujifilm in my opinion has the best balance between weight and quality. I get by far better pictures out of my Fujifilm than I ever did out of my Sony A7R or any other camera for that matter. I’m certain that fujifilms cameras and lenses will be in my bag for years to come.
So what is the best way to trek with a lightweight mirrorless camera? If I’m out for a week or so than I just bring extra batteries. This goes for my action cam as well. The batteries are so light that it’s worth it to just bring extras. If I’m out longer than that I bring a battery charger, some extra batteries and a lightweight solar charger to keep all my batteries going. Depending on what battery charger you have and how much other gear you need to keep charged the solar panel should have a minimum output capacity of at least 10w. I find for optimal performance of charging batteries and iphone and everything else I have with me, that my battery pack has to have at least 9000mah. Anything less than these two and you will end up with long periods without properly charged batteries. I know from experience.
There are of course better solutions and many compact cameras now take incredible pictures and a single battery can last a week. Much more practical.
There is one camera that as of this writing will be released fairly soon that I believe could be an excellent edition for the ultralight backpacking photographer and a camera I am looking forward to try. The DxO One iphone camera. Basically a tiny little adapter for the Iphone (Sorry no cheap copy brands yet) that produces 20 megapixel photos and has a higher sensor and test rating than the Sony Rx100 III. The obvious problem of course being that you will always have to use two hands.
I also feel that certain compact cameras such as the Sony Rx100 are getting so advanced that for anyone less than a professional would be an awesome choice. Two batteries should get your through a couple of weeks of hiking and you won’t have to bother with a solar panel.
Contrary to what your brain is thinking, I’m not talking about anything other than mounting your camera onto your backpack here. I’ve seen a lot of ultra heavy and miserables as well as ultra lighters that love having their big ass cameras dangling around their necks on a camera strap. There are luckily much better solutions than having your head being whipped around and getting neck burn from a strap. Personally I use the Peak design camera clip – I find it awfully heavy at 143 grams but extremely functional which is why I use it. This allows me to mount my camera on my backpack front strap without it flying around. I also prefer this to anything else as it keeps my camera close to me and ready to fire. Meaning I always get the shot.
Another solution that works but is not optimal is bringing the camera along in a front pouch. This is a good solution if you wear regular rain clothes as it’s the best way to keep your camera dry. For me however I use a poncho which just covers everything so I don’t worry about my gear getting wet.
If your using an iphone or compact camera I’m sure you can figure something out. Usually a water tight pocket is just fine, I use the Lifeproof phone cover as I use my Iphone as my GPS tracker as well.
Don’t bother. Bring extra memory cards and save the backups for home. I always keep my memory cards in a water tight bag in my water tight front pouch under a water tight poncho. Memory cards for the most part don’t weigh enough to even bother putting them on a scale.
There are of course excellent solutions to backing up on the go and my preferable device when I’m out being a tourist; Read tourist, not hiker. Is the WD My passport wireless which weighs 350grams and has built in battery and allows me to backup my photos without having to have a computer with me. This however I would not bring with me when backpacking, it’s not waterproof and the battery doesn’t last very long. I would rather lose a memory card than my entire harddrive filled with pictures.
Here is something I haven’t really figured out completely yet – an excellent ultralight tripod to bring along with me. I have personally used the gorillapod hybrid bendable tripod. However I find this to be a big lacking for most uses and decided to change it out. I have several tripods that I use while taking travel photography but these all weigh around 1 kilo or more.
I don’t want a mini-tripod, I like have a full-size adjustable length tripod.
Some of the Tripods I’ve seen on the market that might be interesting for ultralight hiking are:
As with everything else, I think this depends on what you need and how heavy your camera is. The lighter your camera the lighter your tripod.
 Julian Calverly: #iphoneonly 2015