Life is full of trade offs and the same applies to traveling with photography gear. Questions like do I go ultra light? What camera will give me the best image quality? How will I carry my gear in a safe and accessible manner? All of these questions are key elements in choosing what camera gear will accompany me on each of my trips. Once gear is chosen the questions of processing, sharing and backing up, not too mention power, need to be addressed. For my Alaska trip, everything became more complicated by the fact that I would be traveling by bike, in the middle of winter, across south central Alaska, with incredible photographic opportunities at hand.
I am now 4 years and more than 17,000 miles into this little adventure of mine and my entire photographic thought process continues to evolve. I have traveled with multiple DSLRs and a wide selection of lenses by kayak and gone uber light with nothing more than an NEX and two lenses on a bike. While the smaller cameras and their lenses are getting better every year I have still yet to find a small solution that matches the quality of my Nikon bodies and my Zeiss MF lenses (barring a $40K investment in a Leica M9 and Leica Glass, something I am happy to do should Leica wish to make a small donation…). At the end of each and every trip where I have opted to not bring my larger bodies and lenses, I have been disappointed with the overall IQ of what I captured.
With those memories in mind I opted to bring a large kit for this trip. I knew that I was going to experience some stunning locations and vistas, and I wanted to capture those scenes in as much detail as possible. I knew that I would be happy with nothing less than my best gear, even if it meant going heavy.
My camera kit included:
* Nikon D800e
* Zeiss 21 2,8
* Zeiss 50 1,4
* Zeiss 100 1,4
* NEX -7 with 50 1,8
* 2 Nikon batteries
* 4 NEX batteries
* Beat up Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with RRS ball head
I used the D800 for the majority of my shots with the NEX picking up the slack as a sort of quick draw camera for snapshots. The Zeiss glass, as you may know, is simply stunning. I have shot some of Nikons finest lenses and for me, there is a magic in the Zeiss glass that does not exist in most of Nikons lineup. The exception for me would be the stunning 200 2,0 but that is a beast of a lens with very specific application. The Zeiss lenses are simply works of art, fashioned out of medal with a smooth, almost buttery, focus throw. They are still adorned with good old fashion
f-stop and dof markings. The weight of these lenses balances very nicely with the medium weight of the D800, making the combination a very hand holdable kit.
An advantage to shooting the Zeiss glass is that the manual focus lenses draw no power from the camera. I remember when I first got the lenses being amazed at how long a single battery lasted. As you can imagine, in the winter of Alaska, power management is a huge issue. The Zeiss lenses did exactly as I hoped and the two batteries were only recharged once in two months of shooting.
One of the challenges with this setup is that I do not like to carry backpacks when riding a bike. This meant I had to figure out a way to carry a base camera weight (Nikon + Zeiss) of 6.6lbs, plus all the other photographic kit on a bike in a manner that would both protect the gear from the elements and provide me with quick access. I hate to say it, but this whole issue is still a work in progress for me as I found no real good solution.