Long trek ; equipment choice

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I am in the early stages of planning a long trek in Nepal and Tibet, which will probably entail trekking at various altitudes for between 30 - 45 days. I was thinking of reducing my 4x5 outfit down to ;

Toyo field camera 90mm f/8 lense 300mm f/9 lense Spotmeter Manfrotto Tripod Quickload holder, plus approx 100 - 140 sheets of Quickload film. Loupe Three or four filters Notebook and pen Tape measure (for macro) Darkcloth

Even this would be fairly heavy and bulky. Another option, slightly heavier, would be to replace the 300mm lense with a Fuji617 with 300mm lense, which is much more bulky and delicate, but could help in terms of film bulk and quantity (say 50 rolls of 220 replacing 2 boxes of Quickload), and the lense would have the same filter size as the 90mm lense. Do others find it easier to carry a number of film holders and change film en route? This would help in terms of film choice.

However both of these options preclude carrying much else other than camera equipment, and I would like to hear from others who have done this kind of thing before what equipment choices and compromises they have made.

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), April 26, 2001


This may be a situation where LF isn't the right decision. I mean, you do *have* to carry food and additional clothing, don't you? I currently have a Canham DLC 45, and it comes in under 5 pounds. Light, yes. Bulky, yes. It may not come down to weight. Just the bulk of the entire outfit. I would consider a MF outfit, personally. Something like a Mamiya 7II and a couple of lenses. Cram about 30 rolls of 200 film in there. Voila!

As much as I love LF, I am not sure it is well suited for trekking like you want to do. May I suggest a trekking partner? That way, you can distribute the load between 2 or more people. Definitely more doable.

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), April 26, 2001.

If you like how 4x5 works for you, don't change it. Arrange to have some extra film waiting along your route and send out what you may have by FedEx or courier. If it were me I would carry Mido cut film holders & a few extra 50 sheet boxes of film, but I am apparently one of the few who likes these holders. If you look at them, try them first to see if you can work with them. Lois Connor travels through China with a 7x17 inch view camera. Others manage LF in various ways. If your vision 'works' with the 4x5, don't change but push yourself to get the finest images possible with a camera & format you are comfortable with. That way you won't come back saying... 'if only'.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), April 26, 2001.

Consider taking a thoroughly CLA Speed Graphic; you'll have the focal plane shutter for backup just in case the btl shutter fails. Leave the tripod at home, which probably weighs more than the camera anyhow, and shoot hand-held. WOW and Good Luck.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), April 26, 2001.

I don't believe that sending film ahead or shipping it out via Fed Ex or courier is practical on a trek through Nepal or Tibet. Presumably, you will be going to areas that are inaccessible except on foot (or by pack animal), and they don't have Fed Ex drop boxes there.

I, too, would reconsider the idea of treking with LF gear. While it may be possible, it will be extremely limiting, both because you will not be able to take as much film as you will want on such a long trip (you're talking about 3-4 shots per day) and because using LF you will be limited to static tripod-mounted shots. You will find that the most interesting thing about these areas is not the landscape but the people and their culture. When I went in 1998, I took a Mamiya 6, three lenses, a spot meter, and about 10lb of film. The Mamiya 6 was the perfect tool for the job (I suspect a Mamiya 7 or perhaps the new Bronica MF RF would be almost as good, but the 6 is a bit more compact than either). I could use it like a Leica doing "street" photography (which ultimately comprised many of my best images of the trip) or like a LF camera on a tripod for landscape or other static shots. The quality, at reasonable enlargements, is excellent.

While I might be inclined, when I go back, to bring LF gear as well, I would not try to bring it on a lengthy trek.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), April 26, 2001.

I've done extended traveling in Asia, including a couple of months of hiking in Nepal. Although I'd love to have some pictures on 4X5, I am very glad that I have carried both 35mm and medium format cameras - there are lots of people shots that would have been too hard to get with a 4X5. And I am very happy to be able to work with roll film because of the weight - I'd rather be able to have a lot of bracketed shots. However, one option for hiking in Nepal which allows you to negate weight is to hire a porter to carry some of your stuff - there are lots and lots of people doing the popular hikes in Nepal and many people hire someone to help. I would not definitely not rely on sending myself anything by mail in Nepal in terms of sending film - I had a major crisis trying with a plane ticket mailed to me not getting to Nepal. And don't forget that there'll be a shift in color at much higher altitudes. Best of luck.

-- Artie Kapell (AKapell@HSC.VCU.Edu), April 26, 2001.

I agree with the previous reply, and would take a 35mm camera instead of a meter. You can hire a porter for a few dollars per day. I would think that 3 boxes of 50 sheets of film, a couple of holders, and a changing bag would be lighter and much less bulky than 140 quickloads. Compare your Manfrotto to the Gitzo 1127 and see how much weight that would save you. The Toyo field is not by far a light camera.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), April 26, 2001.

I would forget the 45 film but take one 6x9cm roll back and top-up with 120/220 film of choice. Reloading sheet film in the field is a pain one runs the risk of an increase with dust problems. Sods law states that dust will always settle on a nice even tone area like the sky! Unless you're planning to produce really big prints a 6x9 neg./tran. will yeald superb quality. All the best,

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), April 26, 2001.


I'd suggest you to add a mid range lens (150 - 210 mm), and a light 35 mm camera for your "grab shots" on the move. Use a BITS Darkcloth and forget about those horse blankets. It's quite windy there. You probably need to double the sheets of film, assuming you make 10 shots a day. Now let's get serious. You do not have a lot of gears, and they do not weigh very much at sea level. However, once you are in Nepal/Tibet area, you will feel they weigh at least five times heavier because you are standing at 4000+ meters above sea level. So as Artie suggested that you need to hire a local, and he will be your porter, security guard, weather man, translator, PR man, and tour guide. It's not expensive at all (thanks to the strong dollar!). You can find such persons at local tourism offices or get referrals from returning trekkers at the base camp. He should also be able to help you determining how much food to carry on each trip and where the next food supply stop is. All you need to do is "Here's cash". You also need to bring medicines you think you will need. Good luck and cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), April 26, 2001.

Great answers. It's not a photo - it's an adventure! If anything, I'd lighten that camera as much as possible; strengthen the tripod more so.

-- David Stein (DFStein@aol.com), April 26, 2001.

I would elaborate some on Artie Kapell's response:

Probably the most important factor is the nature of the trek. Is this an organized group? If so, will they be comfortable with you using LF equipment? (Day 8: "Let's just leave him behind", etc....) If not an organized trip, then I would hope that you already have enough experience trekking in Nepal to know the answer to your question.

I would certainly consider any trek with LF gear to be a photo expedition, not a trek with travel as the principle goal. In which case do what any sensible Nepali with your obvious relative wealth and with LF photography goals would do: hire an assistant! Someone you trust to help carry gear, manage crowds, hold your reflector on a macro shot, deter theft, translate to the excessively curious police, explain to the Maoists that you are not counter-revolutionary, etc. If you want quiet mountain solitude, don't go to the Himaalayas...

What little I have seen of the Nepal portion of the Himaalayas is indeed quite photogenic -- although much of it calls for quick handheld work (bring a little camera too).

Have a safe and stunning trip!

-- Eric Pederson (epederso@darkwing.uoregon.edu), April 26, 2001.

How about a lightweight 6x9 view, such as the Arca-Swiss or the Linhof. I know this is expensive, but with the money you're spending on this trip, maybe it's worth it. Everything's smaller and lighter with 6x9, the lenses, the camera takes up less room, you don't need as hefty a tripod, film is more convenient and more easily changed, etc. And, you can still come away with some great photos.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), April 27, 2001.

While I would also recommend the Canham DLC, but the Toyo, if it works easily with the 90mm and the 300mm, will also be suitable. I also second the recommendation of a 6x9cm and a 6x12cm back instead of 4x5 holders. Roll film has many advantages: More exposures per weight, less problems with dust and probably easier times in the airport and you'll still make very high quality images. The downside of using 6x9 instead of 4x5 is that you'll need a 65mm to equal the horizontal coverage of the 90mm on 4x5. bringing along a 6x12cm back will negate that but of course you'll lose the vertical coverage.

I also strongly advise you replace the Manfrotto with a Gitzo 1325 or 1349 tripod.

For some portraits of various peaks, you'll be using the 300mm on 6x9cm (roughly equivalent to a 500mm or 600mm on 4x5) quite a lot. Hey here's an idea! Swap the 300mm lens for a Nikon 360mm T-Nikkor. Since this lens is a telephoto design, you'll need less bellows draw and if you use roll film the smaller image circle won't matter. If you don't have much experience with the 6x17cm format I'm not sure I'd recommended it. Composing effectively in that format is very different from more square rectangular formats.

I haven't been to Nepal but I just finished editing and organizing a photo library for a photographer who has been to Nepal 18 times over the past 24 years and have a couple of very good friends who are Sherpa.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@swbell.net), April 27, 2001.

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