These days, carrying a digital camera is as ubiquitous
as a backpack or a pair of boots is to a hiker. In fact, I have had friends look
at me in shock and horror on trips where I have chosen not to carry my camera. Digital
photography allows us to instantly see the results of what we are trying to capture
and to take many more pictures than we would have normally taken with film. In essence,
digital photography is easier and more user friendly than film. With minimal processing
time, we can share our photos with other people immediately upon our return to civilization.
Some of us carry a camera to document our trips while others are interested in sharing
every minute of their adventures with friends. I often wonder if some of these folks
are missing out on part of the outdoor experience when they seem to spend so much
time observing the world through an impersonal viewfinder. There is yet a third
group of people who are interested in pursuing outdoor photography as a hobby for
the pure enjoyment of capturing something beautiful, aspiring Ansel Adams or Galen
Rowells! With the right equipment and software even a novice can take a pretty nice
picture although someone with talent, knowledge, and experience is going to consistently
take better ones.
I have been using a digital camera since 1997 and I am now on my third one. Like
all other aspects of the computer age, the digital photography technology is advancing
at a dizzying pace. I confess that I can't keep up and consider myself to be a novice
photographer with minimal expertise. Since digital photography has become so pervasive
to hiking, I have asked for help from others, who are more proficient in the field,
to help with this month's reviews. I would like to thank Jim Horn, Jim Hamlin, Tim
Epp, and Justin Brown for their generous contributions.
A review of the Olympus E-500 DSLR Camera
By Tim Epp
First a few quick specs:
- 8.1 MP sensor with 2x magnification conversion on all lenses
- "Supersonic wave" filter removes dust on the sensor
- Records photos in RAW, JPEG and TIFF. Also can record RAW and JPEG simultaneously
- 3 point focus area
- ISO 100 to 1600, with ISO settings in 1/3 steps up to 800 ISO
- Shutter speed: 60 seconds to 1/4000
- 2.5" LCD screen with serves both for image settings and photo viewing
- Sequential shooting at 2.5 FPS
- Card slots for both Compact Flash and XD picture cards
- Weight (camera only) 435 grams, 14-45mm lens: 285 grams, 40-150mm lens: 425 grams
(both lenses have 58mm filter threads)
- Battery: 1500mAh battery good for @ 400 shots
Approximate cost (with the included 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 lenses)
Some links for more information:
great in-depth review here with plenty of pictures
The Olympus E-500 was released in the fall of 2005 and continues to be their "top
of the line" DSLR. I purchased this camera with the two lens kit in early January
of 2006. Since then, I have taken "big oly" along on a wide variety of daytrips
and backpacks, and have taken nearly 10,000 (I can't believe it's that many already)
General overview and Opinion:
Overall I am very pleased with this camera. It would be a tough camera to beat for
the value with the price (sub $1000.00) and the two Zuiko lenses, even with the
current crop of cameras. The two lenses are both very good quality lenses providing
sharp clear pictures within their entire focal and aperature ranges. The 2.5" LCD
screen serves the dual purpose of both posting current settings, as well as viewing
photos. This is especially beneficial for the photo settings part, as the large
screen makes everything easy to read; especially since there is a lot of settings
information! The menu and controls are easy to navigate through and didn't take
long at all to figure out where everything was. The most important settings like
White balance, ISO and focus controls all have dedicated buttons. The shutter speed
is controlled by a dial at the top of the camera. Aperature adjustments are also
made by a button on top of the camera, when in manual mode. Olympus has two distinctions
from other DSLR's: The first is that it incorporates a 4/3 system for taking photos.
All other cameras employ the more traditional 3/2 ratio. What this means is that
the photo length is 4 parts, and photo width is 3 parts. An example being that if
a photo is 3000 pixels long, it will then be 2250 pixels wide, or 3000x2250 pixels.
Canon, Nikon and the others would give you a 3000x2000 pixel photo, as their photos
are 3 parts long and 2 parts wide. This makes the Olympus photos more square in
nature. This is advantageous in printing photos like 8x10's, since a 4/3 photo is
more closely in proportion to an 8x10 than a 3/2 photo, so less cropping is needed.
The second distinction is that the Olympus sensor is smaller. This enables Olympus
to build a more compact DSLR, and it also gives a 2x magnification ratio for its
lenses, whereas most other DSLR's have a ratio of 1.6x. What this means is that
if you put a 50mm lens on an Olympus, you are effectively getting a 35mm (which
uses a full frame sensor) equivalent of 100mm. A 50mm lens on a Canon Rebel XT,
which has a 1.6x magnification factor due to a larger sensor, would make that 50mm
lens into a 80mm lens in 35mm standards. This is particularly beneficial when dealing
with telephoto lenses because the E-500 doubles the magnification instead of just
a 60% increase like other DSLR's. Because of the smaller sensor, Olympus manufactured
the world's first line of lenses specifically created for digital photography, since
lenses that were designed for full frame sensors don't work so well in this scenario.
The E-500 also gives you the option to choose you ISO settings in 1/3 increments,
which is quite unusual to have such a feature, in a camera of this price range.
What this means is that rather than being limited to ISO 100,200,400,800 and so
on, The E-500 gives you ISO 100,125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000,
1250, and 1600. With the smaller sensor, digital noise becomes a bit more of an
issue, so the ability to customize the ISO settings like this helps get around the
noise issue more so than if you had to jump from say ISO 400 to 800.
I have found that anything up to ISO 320 is virtually noise-free. Digital noise
is minimal to 640 and even 800 can be removed in post processing. Certain lighting
conditions make it possible to even squeeze out an ISO of 1250, but that's about
as far as I would go. I've taken a number of low light shots up to 60 seconds at
lower ISO settings, and have found very little in the way of "hot spots or digital
noise up to ISO 250.
There are also plenty of options concerning what quality of photos you would like
to take. The three formats of choice are RAW (roughly 13MB per photo or 55 photos
per 1 gig card in manual mode) TIFF (roughly 20 MB per photo or 45 photos per one
gig card) and JPEG (roughly 6 MB at it's lowest compression: 1/2.7 or 170 photos
per 1 gig card). Of course there's various compression settings and sizes for JPEG's.
RAW files at roughly 13 MB each seems a bit on the high side for an 8 MP camera.
The automated modes such as landscape mode gives more like 72 photos per 1 gig card
for some reason. Manual modes provide only 54. Simultaneous RAW and JPEG capture
is a nice feature; especially if you want to browse through your photos quickly
on the computer without having to open those large RAW files. Even here you have
the option of choosing a wide variety of compressions and photo sizes. I like shooting
in RAW and JPEG low compression 1024x768 pixel images simultaneously. When looking
through the viewfinder, to the right shows information such as your current camera
settings (F-stop, shutter speed, camera mode, and focus mode) plus what your exposure
level is at; which will show a plus or minus number. I found that an exposure of
-3 to -7 (3/10 and 7/10 of an F-stop) seems to give the most accurate exposure.
What I really like about this camera:
- Solidly built; doesn't feel like a cheaply made camera
- Supersonic wave filter removes dust from the sensor quite effectively
- Menu and controls easily accessible
- LCD screen displays both photo settings and photo review (but not at the same time
- Included Zuiko lenses are good quality and between the two provide an effective
focal range of 28mm-300mm
- Takes both Compact Flash and XD picture card. A 1 gig card in each slot is a nice
- 2x magnification factor for increased telephoto range
- Great value for the money
- Mirror lock up for increased stability in longer exposure photos
- Olympus Master software is good for the RAW file viewing and editing
- Wide range of controls and settings usually not found on cameras in this price range
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- 10,000 shots so far in a variety of conditions and it still performs flawlessly
- Extra low compression feature for JPEG's (1/2.7) gives great quality photos in JPEG
- Camera with both lenses and battery works out to only around 3 lbs
What I'm not so keen about:
- Smaller sensor gives more noise at higher ISO's than comparable DSLR's
- Small viewfinder can be tough to see through in low light
- Very limited 3rd party lenses. Pretty much have to stick to Zuiko lenses
- Limited RAW support in 3rd party photo editors (paint shop pro can't open the RAW
files, not sure about Photoshop)
- Write performance on the XD cards is quite slow compared to Compact Flash (Even
with the new H-series)
- RAW files seem a bit on the large side
- In camera exposure meter seems to overexpose slightly by around a third of an F-stop
(once I figured this out, I could adjust accordingly)
There is plenty to like about this camera, and it certainly performs well in a wide
variety of photo scenarios. The two lenses included provide the photographer with
pretty much everything that's needed for whatever photo opportunity presents itself.
There are also plenty of automatic settings as well for those who may be a bit intimidated
with the manual settings. The "scene" mode and its sub settings provide an automated
photo taking scenario for pretty well any situation. For the more serious photographer,
the variety of manual settings and plethora of EXIF data and histogram information
that is quickly available. For anyone looking to get into a DSLR complete with pretty
much all the lens you need for under $1000.00, this is certainly a good buy.
Advice on Lenses, Filters, and Tripods
By Justin Brown
I have had a number of crappy, hand me down tripods over the years and have learned
that if you want to take good, sharp photos at low light or long shutter speeds
it is very important to have a decent tripod. This is not really a compromisable
I have found Slik Tripods to have a great selection of reasonably priced tripods
for any type of photographer. Focusing on backcountry photography, it is important
to go with something light without compromising good stability. The Slik Compact
Series, namely the Compact XL is a good choice at weighing only 670 grams and offering
great stability in calm conditions. The Slik Able Series are an even better tripod
in terms of stability but are heavier. If money is no object, there is a Carbon
Fiber Series, which are 30-40 percent lighter than equivalent aluminum tripods.
My overall experience with this manufacturer is that they will likely have what
you need, regardless of what kind of photographer you are.
An aspherical Macro compact zoom lens seems to be the all in one and most versatile
lens for packing out on trips. Tamron 28-200mm, Tamron 28-300mm are excellent choices
delivering great image quality with a sharp macro and deep clear zoom shots. Sigma
also offers a line of affordable Compact Zooms but I am unfamiliar with their quality.
The Compact Zooms will get you the pano, the close-up and the zoom shots that you're
Polarizing Filter: is an absolute must and mine is rarely separated from
my lens. This filter gives you so much more to work with as it actually lets you
play with how light is seen. Colours can become more saturated, reflections can
be added or taken away on water, ice, snow etc. Skies can be contrasted more with
clouds and harsh glares can be cut from snow, water, ice, etc. I find this filter
an important part of balancing out and preventing overexposure in snowy, bright
UV and Haze filters: I found were of little use and mine were quickly replaced
by the polarizer which can act as either of the filters.
Neutral Density Filters and other creative filters: Most of these effects
can now be duplicated reasonably in photo editing software.
I'd say the most important factors in producing outstanding outdoor photographs
are an individuals use of light and the ability to see things in a creative and
unique manner. Being backcountry photographers, we have advantages that many photographers
don't. Rapidly changing mountain weather can host a variety of different lighting
conditions over a short period of time. Take advantage of those silvery lighting
conditions when the sun is barely visible through mist or cloud. Or just after a
rain when things are brightening up. Shadows of clouds over terrain, bright sun,
snow, we get it all. We also are exposed to a variety of terrain, which can turn
up interesting angles for our subjects. The lower the angle of light that is hitting
your subject, the more interesting and saturated the subject becomes. For example,
taking a photo of an alpine meadow in full bloom. At midday, when the sun is at
it's highest, a shot snapped of the meadow will look quite predictable, consistent
and ordinary. The same shot taken as the sun is just rising or nearing sunset and
things will take on a more interesting look. Certain colors may light up more and
shadows will show patterns. Things will look more "painted in gold". As far as seeing
things creatively and uniquely, try imagining how a marmot would see what you are
seeing. Get right down low and shoot that meadow, try different focal points. If
you want a nice shot of that lake, don't just stand on the shore, get high. Climb
part way up a tree to get your shot or scramble up that rock outcropping.
As far as technical tips go, I can offer one. Many of my shots I will underexpose
by a half stop or so. I find that often this will produce a more color saturated
image in a bright sun situation. Except with bright snow, in which case I will usually
overexpose by up to one stop to compensate for having a polarizer on. This will
also produce a more saturated, less glared image.
Nikon COOLPIX 7600
By Stephen Sharp
If you are interested in an uncomplicated point and shoot (POS) camera, which takes
decent pictures, the Nikon E7600 or its sister models are worth considering. I find
its compact size of 85x60x39mm and its weight of 204g (with two AA batteries and
memory card) convenient for storage in the hipbelt pocket of my pack or my pant
pockets for easy access. The body is robust enough to take being dropped several
times (I have tested this on many occasions!)
This 7.1 MP camera comes with a host of features or options commonly found on other
brand's POS cameras but it has a few unique features such as a Face-priority AF
function that automatically detects people's faces in the frame and provides the
best corresponding focus, Electronic VR (Vibration Reduction), an in-camera Red-Eye
Fix function that automatically detects and then corrects red eyes, and a D-Lighting
function that automatically compensates for excessive back light or insufficient
flash. The Nikon's 3x optical Zoom-Nikkor ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens takes some
pretty sharp pictures despite the small size of the 7.1 MP image sensor. The bright
1.8in LCD screen is easy to view and the GUI (Graphic User Interface) provided is
simple and uncomplicated to follow. This camera has 14Mb of internal memory in case
you need to squeeze a few more pictures in and have filled your SD memory card.
The maximum resolution of the Nikon E7600 is a 7.1 MP (3072x2034) 1:2 compressed
There are several things that I don't like about the Nikon such as it takes an extremely
long time to recharge the flash between pictures and the auto focus is finicky in
low light situations. The photo blur indicator is annoying because it automatically
comes up on the display after every low-light picture is taken and it is often incorrect.
I also find that, while I appreciate the simplicity of the camera's built in functions,
I sometimes feel limited by them and wish that I could do more or have more control.
At $349 Can, the Nikon Coolpix 7600 is a good digital camera for novices or those,
who just want something simple, compact, and portable for their backpacking adventures.
Roots Digital Camera Bag
By Jim Hamlin
Having a larger digital camera has its pros and its cons on the trail. The biggest
problem is packing it along with you – a delicate balance between it being in the
way while you hike and being easily accessible should you want to take a shot quickly.
A couple of years ago I moved from my smaller Canon G3 to a Canon Pro 1. I realized
that I would need to find a case that could be as small as possible, but still be
durable enough to protect the camera from the elements.
I looked around at several options but many were tourist oriented camera cases,
not really ideal for hiking. I ended up finding this roots bag that ended up being
a perfect fit for my Pro 1.
The handle on the top is nice to have. I use it frequently when at camp or if I
have it off my hip belt. It is a durable handle that is large enough to fit over
my hand and be supported by my wrist if I so desire.
The front of the pouch has a nice amount of storage to store an extra battery and
flash cards. This storage is suitable for a larger digital camera as many bags that
support cameras of this size also have additional compartments for lenses – something
that isn't necessary unless you have a DSLR.
The padding inside is good and protects the camera well. The bag itself isn't waterproof.
It will deflect a certain amount of rain, but during a rainstorm, the bag can become
The double Velcro back is designed to be easily added and removed from a belt. This
is ideal in cases where you want to attach it to straps on your backpack hip belt.
Many camera bags have plastic hoops or backs that are stitched, therefore being
inconvenient for connecting and disconnecting.
The biggest complaint that I have about the bag is the zipper on the back. Its intent
is to be an additional storage compartment for storing "something". Not sure what
would actually fit in there as it is so slim. I would consider it a design flaw
in the bag as the zipper has been prone to unzip itself several times over the course
of the hike because of the weight/pull on the Velcro connector just below.
Canon EOS 30D (quick) Review
By Jim Horn
When asked to do a quick review of the Canon 30D, it was difficult to decide which
features to focus on - there are so many to choose from. I think I've narrowed it
down to the features that will be of interest to my fellow CTers.
- "Pro-summer" - The 30D is midrange in Canon's lineup of dSLRs - between the digital
rebel and the 5D (with its 16 mp full frame sensor).
- Very rugged - The body is made from a magnesium alloy, and feels very substantial
in your hand. My typical configuration (camera, battery, and 18-200 lens) weighs
in at 2 lbs 12.6 oz. It's definitely out of the ultralight league, but now that
I've used the camera on a backpacking trip, it would be tough to switch back. I
haven't really sorted out the best way to carry this camera. Typically, I carry
it around my neck, so it's ready for use. When I'm not taking pictures for a while,
I put an arm through the neck strap so that the camera swings down by my side. All
this is fine and dandy for nice weather, but I still haven't investigated the best
way to carry it in inclement weather. This brings me to the next point...
Not sealed against weather. You'd think that a camera at this level would be better
sealed against the elements (I'm talking moisture here), but it isn't. Of course
a better sealed camera is going to require the same of its lenses, and that's not
available until you move to professional quality glass (read $$$).
- Large LCD. The 30D has a nice, large 2.5 inch LCD screen - with exactly twice as
much real estate as on the 20D. The larger the screen, the easier it is to see if
the shot(s) you just took are keepers. The new LCD is viewable at angles of up to
170 degrees, which is helpful when sharing with others, or when you have to change
the angle due to reflections.
- Built-in flash. Although I rarely use a flash, a built-in sure comes in handy from
time to time. This particular unit (E-TTL II) is mounted high atop the camera, and
thus reduces the red-eye effect that's common with built-in flashes. When I have
used the flash, I've been impressed by the quality of the images; they don't generally
have the typical blown-out appearance of flash photographs. The 30D is the highest
Canon model to sport a built-in flash.
- Its 8.2 mp sensor provides stunningly clear prints - even at larger sizes (such
as 13x19 inches).
- Extensive range of ISO settings. There are 14 ISO levels, ranging from 100 to 3200.
Noise is virtually undetectable at up to 800 and very acceptable at 1600 or even
- Subject-specific (customizable) "picture styles" - There are 6 predefined picture
styles (standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome), as well
as three user-defined styles. Within each style, you can define the sharpness, contrast,
saturation, and color tone that you'd like to use. I find myself using the landscape
setting more often than not - which slightly increases the image sharpness, but
leaves the other settings at their default. A feature of note is that if you shoot
in RAW format and apply a picture style (monochrome for instance), the style is
not permanent and can be completely reversed on your PC. If you shoot JPEG, styles
- Ease of use - Intuitive menus with easy access via a few buttons, thumb wheels,
and a "multi-controller" joy-stick device. The controls seemed a little complex
at first (a ton of new settings to deal with), but have now become second nature
to access. The big dial on the back, for instance, can be quickly rotated in shooting
mode to increase or decrease exposure compensation.
- High-speed 5 frames per second. There are 2 high-speed modes on the 30D - 3 and
5 frames per second. I find the 3 fps mode useful in most situations, but on occasion
I like to switch to 5 fps to be certain I catch the action. I shoot a lot of soccer
pictures, and it's nice to assured of getting that shot of the "high-five" after
a goal or the ball pushing out the back of the opponent's net. One thing I find
with the 5 fps mode is that it's sometimes difficult to shoot a single frame - especially
if you're carefully trying to hold the camera steady in low-light conditions.
- Low power consumption - Using one battery I'm able to take close to 1,000 photos,
and that's with up to a 2.5 second review of each image on that great big LCD. It's
always a good practice to carry a spare battery and extra memory cards though.
- Lenses - With SLRs it's easy to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on lenses
(commonly referred to as "lens lust"). I've joked that manufacturers should GIVE
you the camera as long as you agree to buy a couple of their pro lenses. While I
decide which lenses I really NEED to have, I went ahead and purchased a lens that
would serve me well for most applications. I settled on the Sigma 18-200 DC lens,
which set me back a little over $500, but is a nice wide-angle, and telephoto unit,
and which will focus to as little as 9 inches at all focal lengths for some macro
work. This particular lens has received a lot of great reviews.
My wish list currently includes (in no particular order):
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
- Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
- Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
- Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
- Easy to use - the 30D has modes to suit everyone - from fully automatic point-and-shoot
to fully manual. I personally shoot almost exclusively in aperture priority and
with an ISO of 640, since optimal sharpness for my lens is around F8. This combination
generally allows me to use a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action. A bonus
with an SLR is that you can zoom in to ensure your focus is bang on (using manual
focus), then zoom out a bit to recompose your shot.
- 1.6x conversion factor - This refers to the difference in size between the sensor
and an actual frame of film. This effectively gives you better zoom, but adversely
effects your wide-angle shot. The 18-200 lens I use is equivalent to 29-320 on a
full-size sensor, or with a standard SLR.
- $1700 - At this price, the 30D is quite an investment. This is my first real foray
into the world of dSLRs, and I didn't want to compromise quality, knowing I'd long
for the pro features of this camera if I settled for less. My logic in this was
that the pain of the price tag is long forgotten while the ease of use of the pro
features is still being appreciated. Some of the lesser models make you fumble through
menus to access common settings, while with the 30D, most settings require nothing
more than a quick flick of a finger.
In conclusion, I've become very fond of my 30D, and wouldn't hesitate to buy it
again. If you make the move to a dSLR, I think you'll find it very difficult to
go back to point and shoot. Beware of lens lust!
iPod Camera Connector
By Stephen Sharp
There may be an occasion where your all media cards have reached their maximum storage
capacity and you are desperate for somewhere to upload the pictures so you can continue
to shoot more. The options usually are to carry more cards or to use a digital wallet.
Apple has a connector, which allows you to upload your pictures from your camera
(through the same USB cable you would use to connect to your computer) into an iPod
Now I don't use my iPod on the trail but I know many people who do. The idea of
being able to multi-task with this luxury item might justify carrying its weight.
The software for uploading the pictures from your camera is extremely easy to follow
(the iPod leads you through the steps – plug and play!) and the connector is compatible
with most cameras.
Once stored on the iPod, you can look at the pictures and upload them onto your
computer at your leisure. RAW photos can be stored but not viewed. Each download
of pictures is stored in its own directory labeled as "role 1" etc.
Just as an example of what kind of storage capacity I am talking about, my 30Gb/5G
iPod Video has 21Gb of free space still available with 1500 songs, 81 podcasts,
and various other software and files loaded on it. This gives me the capability
to still upload over 5000 pictures at 7MP from my camera should I be crazy enough
to ever need it. The down side to this otherwise fantastic storage option is the
slow transfer rate of the
connector. It takes ~10 seconds to upload one 7MP picture so uploading full media
cards of 2Gb may take up to two hours to upload, which makes the battery power levels
of both the iPod and the camera a possible concern.
I'm not sure about the practicality of using this combination on a backpacking trip
unless it is a very long one but it would be great for traveling. An iPod is still
cheaper than purchasing multiple media cards and perhaps risk losing a full one.
The iPod Photo Connector costs $50 Cdn.