Digital Photo Help

Worth the Weight: Ultralight backpacking photography with the Olympus PEN-F

by on Aug.12, 2017, under Reviews


Mount Rainier from Grand Park ISO 200 | 21mm | F3.5 | 1/80th

One of the things that I love the most about my Olympus PEN-F camera is its chameleon-like nature. One minute it can be a tourist snapshot camera, the next a rugged backwoods professional shooting rig. Once I was even chastised for ‘still shooting film’ by a millennial.

This past summer I decided to take my PEN-F with me on my annual ultra-light hike to Mt. Rainier National Park. Those of you familiar with the concept of ultra-light hiking will immediately notice the irony of my statement. Ultra-light hiking requires that only essential items are included in one’s pack. Adding over two and a half pounds of photo gear doesn’t really fit the motif.

The Set Up

I have hiked with cameras for decades, but I have never really been satisfied with my set up.

Simple neck straps—no matter how wide—are out because of the interference with pack straps, croakies, and now hydration systems. Kuban-hitches are just too much mental origami to deal with. Similarly, hip slings can’t be used because they inevitably overlap with the main hip belt of the pack rendering them inaccessible.

It was a bit of a difficult challenge, but I was able to locate a great belt strap clip that was both strong enough securely hold my PEN-F and also small enough to fit on the limited space exposed on the hip belt of my Osprey Aether 60 AG pack. This was the key component of my set up. (IMZ’s DSLR Camera Hanger Belt Clip / 3 oz.)

In addition to the belt clip, I wanted much more gripping security on the camera body itself, so I added a couple elements there.

First was a fingertip grip by Haoge that both gives the body some more heft as well as adding some good security to the three dimensional grip and finger purchase of the body (Haoge HG-PENF QR quick release plate camera bracket holder hand grip for Olympus Pen-F / 4 oz.).

I am fairly pleased with this grip, but I’m still searching for one with even more positive fingertip connections. For one-handed, damp, unstable shooting situations, I love the feel of the PEN-F with this grip on it. Solid.

K Spire from Elysian Fields Camp, Mt. Rainier ISO 200 | 32mm | -0.3 EV | F10 | 1/800th

The other item I added was a wrist strap (Prost Leather Hand Strap / 2 oz.). Here I only minimally succeeded with my choice (not that I could find a better one). I wanted the ability to slip my hand into a strap that would keep the camera very close to the palm even if my grip was relaxed.

Such a strap would have to go from the eyelet on the camera body near the shutter release to a spot on the base near the tripod mounting port. The best I could do was a strap that simply ran down the side of the camera from the eyelet to the base. It provided some security, but not everything I was looking for.

It did, however, provide a nice bit of padding for the camera that paid off in some tight squeezes between rocks and downed trees.

Shooting Process

The wonderful thing about the clip is that the camera attaches to the harness with a ball shaped brass connector. This allows the camera to hang easily below the hip belt of the pack with the lens following the natural crease in my hip. Even in steep climbing the camera was both out of the way and completely accessible to me.

There were so many times when I was winded enough that if I had had to futz with a case or a Kuban-hitch I would have simply skipped the shot. Because I am a bit worrisome about my gear, I always clicked the locking pin into position when the camera was seated in the clip. This meant that releasing the camera was always a 2-handed process. The throat on the clip is deep enough that I believe there are many instances where the locking pin could be dismissed without any downside, but I kept it locked on.

Descending from Spray Park, Mt. Rainier ISO 200 | 12mm | F6.3 | 1/320th

In this configuration, the camera did not swing freely (desirable). It did pivot evenly against my hip and while I thought that this pivoting might create some abrasion or wear on the camera body of lens barrel, there are no visible battle scars on the camera from this adventure. Also, I shot entirely with the eyepiece, leaving the LCD screen folded away for protection against scratches and trail dust.

I took only one lens with me, the Olympus M. Zuiko Pro 12-40 f 1:2.8 zoom (17 oz.). For both protection and effect I had 2 filters on the lens at all times: a simple Rokinon UV filter and also an Altura omni-directional polarizing filter. I nearly always shot in Program mode, frequently with one to two thirds of an f-stop of decreased exposure in order to compensate for the dark foregrounds which had a tendency to washout the scenic backgrounds.

Early sun enters Ohanapecosh Valley ISO 200 | 38mm | -0.3 EV | F5.6 | 1/320th

Across the period of 7 days of hiking I shot 440 images onto a 32GB SanDisk Ultra card with tons of room to spare. While I had 2 back-up batteries at the ready, the battery that I started with lasted for the entire journey.

For those of you familiar with the Pacific Northwest and specifically Mt. Rainier, our trip started at Mowich Lake and ended at Steven’s Creek (Grove of the Patriarchs) with camps at Spray Park, Lake James, Grand Park, Frying Pan Creek, Summerland, and Ohanapecosh.

Ghost Fir, Ohanapecosh, Mt. Rainier ISO 200 | 12mm | F5.6 | 1/200th

I did have two mishaps with my clip, both user error but worth noting. First was on a training hike (and gear check). The small brass clip knob that attaches to the tripod mount worked its way all the way out and dropped the camera, luckily onto soft dirt and bushes. That camera drop nearly stopped my heart. For the long trip I made sure it was much more tightly attached and checked it regularly.

Second, while on the Rainier trip, there was a time when the right side of the clip itself worked free from the hip strap. This is possible and resulted in a dangle rather than a drop. Making sure the straps were in the correct position, unfolded, and flat against the other straps became part of my routine.

I love the process of shooting considered photographs. I am generally pleased with the results. And even though it added an additional 2.8 pounds to my total carry (that’s 6%!) it was totally worth the weight.

Mount Rainier from upper Spray Park ISO 200 | 12mm | F5.6 | 1/250th

Specifications:

  • Lens: 1 lb, 1 oz.
  • Strap: 2 oz.
  • Grip: 4 oz.
  • Camera Body: 1 lb.
  • 2 extra batteries: 3 oz. (unused) Belt clip: 3 oz.

Total Weight: 2 lbs, 13 oz.


Ben Bauermeister has been an amateur photographer his entire life and is currently also a social impact entrepreneur living in the small Puget Sound town of Port Townsend where he enjoys cycling, hiking, kayaking, as well as unnatural acts of community stewardship. His community mentoring website can be found at www.skillmation.org, or you can follow him on Instagram @bbauerm.



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