LF for Inca Trail? General advice for Peru and Bolivia

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I plan to travel to Peru and Bolivia in May, with Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and the surrounding Inca architecture as the highlights. While I have a light 4x5 system, I fear that it will still be too heavy after I add my clothes and other gear; setup time might also be too slow, since I'll be with my wife and on the go, without the usual car trunk to serve as a base. The intense tourist traffic of some sites seems also to militate against setting up the tripod etc. We will not be part of a group. On the other hand, I will probably never go back again, and want to make the most of the opportunity photographically. With these in mind, could forum members please assist? Specifically, 1. Am I mad to go with LF and light tripod, or should I get a much more portable MF camera (Mamiya 7 seems good for architecture)? 2. I plan to travel with all of my film, flying into Lima. Besides the usual problems, are there others I need to be aware of? 3. The trip seems replete with obscenely photogenic sites, but any other recommendations are welcomed. Thanks very much.

-- Burke Griggs (griggsb@bc.edu), March 27, 2002


You will find very beautiful landscapes there... But be careful with your camera, and if possible, insure it. There are many very poor people in Bolivia and Peru. A too nice camera can cause envy, as this may be worth 10 years of their income. My gear has just been stolen in Santiago de Chile last week, so I speak from (bad) experience... Always keep an eye on your stuff, especially in touristic places, even when under the black cloth (which may be difficult).

Otherwise, I think there is no technical impossibility to go there with a light 4x5 system, even without a car. I personnaly travelled Chile up and down with mine without problem (and with nice results :-)). Using LF while travelling by foot has a nice consequence: you apreciate the sites for a longer time. But shooting in a crowd of tourists is, in my opinion, impossible.

Good luck ! :-)

-- Pierre Kervella (pkervell@yahoo.com), March 27, 2002.

You've only got a month. Whatever you decided to do, be sure to do it quickly and use the equipment intensly between now and then. Read all you can about the peculiar filtering and exposure requirements for high altitude lighting. (Personally, for that kind of trip, I'd take a first-line 35mm such as a Leica M6 and shoot either Kodachrome or Velvia.)

-- Wihlmanh (wmitch3400@hotmail.com), March 27, 2002.


While I haven't been to Peru or Chile, I just came back from Ecuador a few months ago. You have a number of decisions to make. First, heed the advise of the first response to your question. You will be traveling to a part of the world that is incredibly poor, by US standards.

The big question you must answer is: are you going primarily to take photographs, or have fun/vacation? If you're going primarily for vacation, I would advise against taking the 4x5.

In any large population center, or tourist area, you'll want to travel as light as possible, so that you're not a target. You must keep your eyes open at all times. The minute you let your guard down, you'll become a victim.

Good luck and have a great trip.

Regards, Pete

-- Pete Caluori (pcaluori@hotmail.com), March 27, 2002.

You probably don't need to be worried about crowds inhibiting your use of a tripod, etc., especially if you can arrive at a site early in the day or stay late. For instance, you'll definitely want to stay in Aguas Calientes for a night while at Machu Picchu (or on the Trail if you opt to do that trip), which means you'll have morning time at the ruins before the Cuzco train arrives and time after the train departs. Same thing goes for the ruins closer to Cuzco, like Sacsahuaman -- just go early -- and it's even less of an issue around Lake Titicaca. You can always get away from the crowds there (except on the floating islands -- use a 35 mm there). However, as mentioned above, crime is unfortunately a real concern. And even without a camera you'll be a center of attention almost everywhere you go. So unless your wife or a guide is willing to watch your gear closely while you're under a darkcloth, you may want to opt for a camera that won't require one. Another issue of course is weight, and the effect of lugging around a heavy system of any format at altitude. You'll feel the altitude most accutely at Lake Titicaca -- which is higher than Cuzco and Machu Picchu. And the third is time of set-up. If your wife is patient through a half dozen exposures on a LF system, you're a lucky guy. There's always something else to see around the corner, though, so it may be hard to juggle your photographic interests with your wife's site-seeing. A MF system like a Mamiya 7 may end up being a good compromise. I took an old Hasselblad rather than my 5x7 down there this time last year -- a real tough call, but I'm still married. If I ever get the chance, though, (say, after winning the lottery) I'd go back with as big a camera as a llama can carry, hire a guide, and spend six months photographing everyday. By the way, if your're not familiar with their work, you may enjoy looking at the photographs of Martin Chambi (from Cuzco, and one of the great early 20th C. photographers), Edward Ranney (an American who has photographed the Incan ruins extensively) and Javier Silva Meinel (a contemporary Peruvian). Have a great trip.

-- Sam Osborne (osborne.samuel@dorseylaw.com), March 27, 2002.

i'm jealous!! i know you will have an extraoridanry experience. i have done a few things like this before, and my kit included my trusty old crown graphic, my nikkor sw-90 and my rodenstock 135/5.6, two kodak readyload holders, and a few hundred readyload tmax-100 negs, and a truly dinky tripod - totally inadequate for LF work, but the only thing i could cram in my backpack, and i managed to make it work when i needed it. i shot many images using the CG handheld with the 90mm, zone-focused, and a fixed small amount of front rise with wonderful results. other times i placed the camera on a convenient rock, or other near level surface for exposures i couldnt handhold, and when necessary i would pull out the rinkadink tripod and get the shot. to handhold, i was not able to use the normal orange filter i use for architecxture, but even with no filters, i got some extremely nice views. have fun.

-- jnorman (jnorman34@attbi.com), March 27, 2002.

thieves of course are a worry in tourist spots around the world.

what are your goals for the final images? As much as I'd love to lug a 4x5 around that area maybe a smaller format would better suit your trvels. have you considered getting a camera like the Cambowide (or the similar Horseman, Sinar or Silvestri) cameras with a shift panel mounted 65mm or 58mm lens and a 6x9cm Horseman back? A high quality rangefinder with a 35mm and 75mm lens would be a good complement to the pancake camera. And of course a smallish carbon fiber tripod like a Gitzo 1227 or 1228 or the Hakuba CF tripod.

Anotther question for you: what kind of physical condition are you in?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), March 27, 2002.

I would bring a Mamiya 7 or P67 with Velvia. As someone has suggestesd it'll all depend on the kind of trip you are making. If the trip is not primarily focused on LF shooting I would avoid such an effort. Just my .2C

-- Roberto Manderioli (rmander@libero.it), March 28, 2002.

A cheap wood field with 135 and an older tessar-design 200 (like the Koadak Ektar 203 f7.7) with a teeny tripod (a carbon fiber one if you can afford it) makes for a lighter kit that most medium format ones. Add a 90mm f.8 plasmat or even older Gauss-design (Angulon) lens and a tessar 300mm (e.g. Nikkor M) if you really need more lenses. Kodak or Fuji ready (quick) loads or grafmatic or Mido holders (I use Midos all the time. They're a pain in the neck, but the lightest of the bunch.) will shave the weight even more. Sure, no extreme movements or long lenses, but this you can carry in a small bag strapped to the outside of your pack or in the pack itself.

As for the security issue: Don't advertise that you have camera gear by carrying the tripod in plain view and/or displaying fancy camera bags, especiall ones with brand names. Find the oldest, rattiest sturdy cloth or nylon bag for your camera gear that you can stand. One that looks like its contents are dirty laundry or garbage. I once had my car stereo stolen, but the thieves didn't even bother to open the beat-up styrofoam cooler my LF gear was stored in!

Regards and have a great trip! ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), March 28, 2002.


I use a Linhof 23 with a 220 6x7 back for traveling. While it is neither light nor cheap, it is really tough. More importantly, it can be hand-held AND it has movements (although limited). I travel with 3 compact lenses (65mm, 100mm, and 180mm) and a lightweight tripod. Since you are doing architecture the movements might be important, depending on your shooting style. If you don't want to spend so much money (and who would?) perhaps you could consider a 23 Crown or Speed Graphic (which ever doesn't have the heavy internal shutter) with a 23 back, a handful of 120 film, a lightmeter and tripod.

I was on the inca trail about 15 years ago and only had my Leica--I am kicking myself now. I took the Linhof with me though Mexico and Belize, and have lovely 6x7 negs to work with--not exactly the same as 4x5, but I didn't have to carry all that!

-- jason (sanford@temple.edu), March 28, 2002.

Just to give you a little perspective, I regularly travel with my 8X10, within the last year to India, Vietnam and Cambodia, a couple of dozen trips in all. As luck would have it, I will be going to exactly the spots you are going in May, but I will be carrying my 12X20.

Brief advice: you might take a look at my article on this site about traveling with LF. Consider a short weekend practice run to figure out how you will pack and carry stuff. Crime is an issue everywhere, probably more in the US than in Peru, be sensible, have insurance, and don't let worry ruin your vacation. Finally, decide ahead of time with your wife what the exact ground rules will be for photography on this trip, and then stick to it! My bet is that the one downside you will remember is how sick she was of your camera by the third day, unless you really talk it thru before you go. My wife and I have followed a system where the camera only comes along every other day. Just accept that half the time you'll be planning shots, or just shoting the old "memory camera," which may give the best results of all some times. Great advice, by the way, about staying at Aguas Calientes, that's what I'm planning to do. I'll be there the 15th-17th, maybe I'll see you!

Good luck, don't fret, enjoy your LF travel experience!


-- Nathan Congdon (ncongdon@jhmi.edu), March 30, 2002.

You might consider what jnorman said and hand shoot an older (beat) Graphic by the sports finder. No darkcloth, and even if you have the time to GG compose you'll have a hood. A handheld meter amd some quickloads will be light with say a 135mm Sironar S. Add a real light tripod like a Velbon Chaser EFL-4(A) 3.5lbs, 12# load capacity and 20" collasped. A small Giotto MH1001 at 1# will hold anything to 16- 17# in weight. It will all fit (maybe not tripod) in a common backpack with room left over for lunch and weather gear. A 6x9 Graphic with rollfilm would be my second choice. Remember the P&S.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), March 31, 2002.

Thanks very much for all of these thoughtful responses. This forum makes useless trips to the camera store truly useless.

-- Burke Griggs (griggsb@bc.edu), April 02, 2002.

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