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Question of the Month
December 2009 - January 2010

How do I deal with shaving weight with my gear, and dealing with physical decrepitude?

In last month's Question I discussed manual exposure, as it applied to our recent trip to Antarctica. That trip also generated the theme for this month's question, because we were very tired through the first part of that trip and were physically worn down.

Although Mary and I keep our weight down and stay in shape, carrying a heavy pack and wearing a fourth of our body weight in clothes was tiring, and doing so day after day did wear us down. Before that trip I had pulled out a bicep muscle and was doing a lot of my lifting and carrying of gear with one arm, as I favored and babied the injured one. This added to the strain. Mary, shortly after we returned home, was going in for her 16th knee operation -- yes, you read that right, sixteen!, and she was hurting from carrying our gear.

While I was using the best, lightweight pack available -- the Kiboko, it was still heavy with all the gear I usually carried ashore each day. Here's what I had in my back:

500mm mounted on a 1D Mark III
28-300mm zoom mounted on a 1Ds Mark III
16-35mm lens
Sometimes a 580 flash and cords

and over my shoulder a
Gitzo Tripod and BH55 tripod head

Shortly after I returned home I had a chance to see the new Canon 1D Mark IV and a Canon 7D camera. Several people had the 7D on the Antarctic trip and they did extremely well with it, catching birds in flight with the AF that were simply incredible. What impressed me, in seeing the two cameras side-by-side was the size difference. Without an auxillary drive the 7D was about half the size of the Mark IV, and less than half the weight.

That got me thinking ... did I need the Mark IV and all its weight when carrying that bulk was killing me? Could I get satisfactory results with a non-pro camera?

If you mull over those questions yourself, you'll have to consider frame rate, pixel count, durability, the different size battery and charger (assuming you already have a Mark III and you're thinking of upgrading to a Mark IV) and other issues.

But for what it is worth, I think when we do our next Antartica trip in 2011 I will be carrying afield the 7D, or its latest version. Although I'm sometimes impulsive, I didn't go out and buy the 7D since that trip is almost two years away and I'm guessing that by then Canon will have a 8D or 11D or Double-D (where do they get those names?) that will be even better than the 7D. But it will weigh less.

I will have a Mark IV with me -- I'm convinced it is worth having, but I'll leave that on the boat when I plan on hoofing around a heavy pack all day. But I'll be adding another addition, too ...

I just purchased a Canon 400 f5.6 L lens for this reason. This lens (actually two, Mary needed one also!) is about 1/3rd the weight and size of our 500mm lenses, so we're saving a lot of weight there.

Although f5.6 won't be as bright, I'm not worried about the f-stop since the new cameras easily shoot with an ISO of 400, and I'm guessing with the Mark IV with 800 or more. Recently a friend returned from India where he shot the Nikon D3 at an ISO of 2000 and had noiseless, sharp images, and rarely shot less than 1/1,200th second in the forest. I saw his images -- of tigers, and they were terrific!

So while I use Canon gear, Nikon also offers smaller camera and smaller, lighter lenses that may do the job for you, especially when you're thinking of carrying that equipment all day. Bottom line ...

If your pack is so heavy you can't enjoy yourself to the fullest,
rethink what you're carrying and don't be afraid to make changes.

On our end, with joints and muscles seemingly failing by the day, I'm more than willing to make compromises that will keep me afield, and if you have similar concerns, follow my lead!

You can learn how to become a master of Manual Exposure, as well as a wealth of other vital photographic and digital skills, at our Digital Complete Nature Photo Course, held in both Arizona and in Pennsylvania.

Questions of the Month

Why do I advocate Manual Exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Kiboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.