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Gear for winter alpine climbing
Old 11-07-2005   #1
jamiewakeham
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Gear for winter alpine climbing

Hi all.

Not specifically a rangefinder question, but I can guess where the answers might tend to...

Just been invited on a winter climbing trip to the Swiss Alps. This'll be my first time in such extreme conditions (done the Alps in summer before, but I suspect it'll be a little bit colder in december).

Amisdt the huge expense and logistics of all the other equipment, I'm trying to decide on the photographic gear. I need to keep this cheap!

It's going to need to cope with probably -20 degrees C. I can't decide whether to shoot B&W or colour slide - probably a mix of both. I am capable of going by versionsof sunny F/16, but my partner and the other climbers probably aren't, especially when that cold and (frankly) scared, so some metering would be helpful.

Currently at my disposal - my Canon EOS setup, with a range of EOS autofocus lenses and also a few M42 lenses I use via an adaptor ( I can't see this being useful - won't it all just freeze up?), my trusty Zorki 1 with collapsible I-22, and my new Canonet QL-17.

I'd like some range of focal lengths, so I wonder about an all-mechanical (bar the meter) pentax body to take a couple of the M42 lenses. Or would you recommend another RF body and lens - perhaps a canonet 28? Weight becomes an issue here...

All advice gladly recieved!

Cheers,
Jamie
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Old 11-07-2005   #2
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Hey, ManGo.

Take your point about the override - I'll need to be able to either meter off something neutral, or to set exposure totally manually.

As an aside, when shooting slide, I'll either use a polarizer or a UV filter - is there a need to use both? I suspect that the polarizer will cut out sufficient UV. And what about the B&W? I'll probably leave an orange filter on the lens permanently - surely no need for UV too?

Something like a Spotmatic or an ME, then? I know very little about the old Pentax gear (except that their lenses are fantastic and a LOT cheaper than Canon's...). Wonder how much they go for over here (whilst at School my firewall blocks the Bay, which is both a blessing and a curse).

<edit> Oops - the ME is K-mount, isn't it...

I suppose my alternative would be a couple of other LTM lenses for the Zorki 1... I don't like shooting slides with the I-22, though. I suppose LTM lenses are just as fiddly to change with big gloves on as M42. Which leads me back to something like a canonet 28 to avoid changing lenses at all...

Oh, hell, I don't know! I'll just take a 4x5" rig!

Cheers,
Jamie
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Old 11-07-2005   #3
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Jamie, I think you're on the right track with the Pentaxes in terms of reliability and lens quality. But here's an important consideration, I think: screw mount lenses can be a pain in the neck on a warm day, with plenty room to put your gear down. Think of trying to change M42 lenses with gloves on, maybe hanging from a harness! I cringe at the thought of one of those lenses slipping from your grasp and disappearing into the void.

I think a bayonet mount would work better. So maybe an MX, which I think is all mechanical save the meter, and M42->K mount adaptors for all the lenses you plan to bring. (The tradeoff is stop-down metering, to the extent the meter doesn't crap out from the cold.) As I recall, the MX has a very easy to engage film take-up spool, which will save lots of aggravation in difficult conditions.

Another alternative would be to see if you can get ahold of a Canon FTb, and a few of the FD lenses. This is a very rugged, all mechanical camera. The meter requires a 625 mercury battery, but there are work arounds for that, which you probably are well aware of. One big advantage of the FTb, as well as other Canons, is the QL (quick loading) system -- just pull the film out enough to lay it on top of the wind-on spool, and close the back. The FD lenses are first rate, and very reasonably priced these days, as is the FTb. I'm thinking the older breech lock lenses would not be preferred here, because they are a little fiddly to attach to the camera. The later FD lenses, with the button release right on the lens, are very easy to attach and detach. They are also lighter (somewhat more plastic) and slightly smaller as well, and I think the coatings are better too. Erwin Puts, rather to my surprise, has a section on the FD lenses at his website.

I'll be interested in what you decide.
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Old 11-07-2005   #4
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THE CLASSIC alpine camera is the Rollei 35. It's small, mechanical, manual, and produces great picture quality.
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Old 11-07-2005   #5
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Jamie, if you're looking for another rangefinder-like suggestion, you should strongly consider getting a Bessa L and the 25/4 Snapshot Skopar. I think that would prove a very useful combination for most of the photo opportunities you'd have. If you need a longer lens, maybe that's where you have that Spotmatic body with a lens like the Super Takumar 135/3.5.
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Old 11-07-2005   #6
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Thanks for the advice, all.

The Rollei is a very good idea, Frank - but as the focal length is already covered by my Canonet I'll probably not go looking for one. Thought I may want to carry B&W as well as slides...

The M42-K adaptor is a very good idea, Nick - thanks for that. I think I'd go that route rather than the FTb and FD lenses - that's a more expensive route , given that I've already got plenty of M42 glass. The Bessa's a nice idea, but I can't afford new glass (I've just seen how much a pair of Vega mountain boots costs...).

I reckon I'll go with:

Zorki 1 loaded with Delta 100, 50mm Elmar-a-like and maybe a 28mm.
Canonet QL-17 loaded with Velvia 100 (probably the only one I'll carry on the really hard days).
ME or MX loaded with Velvia, Zeiss 35/2.4, J-9, Zeiss 135/3.5.

Anyone want to change my mind? And any answers to the filter questions?

Thanks, all.
Jamie

PS Look for the results in early January. Assume I won't be castigated for putting up a couple taken with the pentax? ;-)
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Old 11-07-2005   #7
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Last December I was in New York for a day, when the temperature went down to 12F, about -12C. I walked about for maybe a couple of hours and took several pictures with a Canon 10D. From there I went to a place in the French alps for a week, and did quite a bit of walking around watching and shooting skiers, for several hours at a time. The temperatures were typically around zero, but at times went down to about -5C or so. I had spare batteries, but I was surprised that the camera really did not seem to notice the conditions at all, throughout the entire time. I had to be careful of condensation when going inside from outside. When not in actual use, I carried the camera in a zipped-up case.
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Old 11-07-2005   #8
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Tell me more about your Canon EOS gear what body, what lenses?...They are pretty robust i have shot in zero degrees with them. Keep the batteries in a warm pocket before use.
If it uses the larger Lithium battery get Sanyos or Energizers for your trip. With the other mechanical cameras I suggest a full servicing to get the thick 30 year old grease out of them.
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Old 11-07-2005   #9
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Personally, I'd avoid changing lenses, because it's hard with gloves on and you may curse every extra gram of glass on the approach. Would you have to remove your gloves to reload the Zorki?

Sun on alpine snow is a world of stray light, so hoods and filters are good, especially on the QL17. They'll help in blowing snow, too, as will a way to dry the front filter glass.

If I were in your shoes (crampons?), I'd bring the QL17 and a mechanical RF with a standard lens; rubber hoods and orange/ND filters for both. Additionally I'd bring the ideal dirtbag climber's camera: Holga
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Old 11-07-2005   #10
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How about a 6 x 7 or 6 x 9 folder?
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Old 11-07-2005   #11
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-20 C (or Farenheit, they're the same at that point)...not so nice memories.

Wear gloves, then mittens over your gloves. Long johns (long underwear). A nice warm hat with ear flaps, or at least an ear warmer. Trust me, I live in the Artic Belt (hello, Canada! how are you?)

Don't bother with your Canon EOS gear. Find either a Canon F1, or a Nikon F2N/F3N, or a Leica 6.2; have a plastic bag with you, for when you come back from shooting outside, put your camera gear in it before coming back inside anywhere warm, and wait until the temperature of your gear is at the same temperature as the room temperature, otherwise there will be condensation inside your equipment and you really don't want that.

This is the main stuff you should know.
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Old 11-07-2005   #12
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Oh, and don't fast rewind your film. If you must rewind your film, do it very very very slowly, otherwise it may break and/or you'll see some pretty not-so-neat electrostatic discharge fogging on your negatives.
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Old 11-07-2005   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KoNickon
Think of trying to change M42 lenses with gloves on, maybe hanging from a harness! I cringe at the thought of one of those lenses slipping from your grasp and disappearing into the void.
I must wait at the bottom of that void... he he...

But seriously, better the lens than the man. I mean, take something simple to use like a fixed lens RF. Picking one is hard and I would be confused myself. However, I'm sure you want to minimize or competely eliminate the fiddling.
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Old 11-07-2005   #14
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Thumbs up

No metal mechanical camera will be reliable shutter-wise if it arrives at at -20deg (20F below Zero). If you can't properly winterize it (remove lube and replace with no lube or with very fine silicon lube) you'll need to keep the camera WARM.

Galen Rowell, before he died in 2002, used Nikons ...when one failed on Mt Whitney (or was it the Karakoram in Pakistan?) he resorted to a little Rollei plastic clamshell camera, worn inside his clothing. The Rollei was optically excellent, but it had special problems with rewind-produced-electrostatic discharge, ruining film. He said he learned to rewind SLOWLY, as GABRIELMA advised.

http://www.bythom.com/chasing.htm

In addition to being an inspiring individual and jaw-dropping photographer, I've never known anyone as physically fit as Galen. A mountain goat, a rock.

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Old 11-07-2005   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jamiewakeham

Just been invited on a winter climbing trip to the Swiss Alps. This'll be my first time in such extreme conditions (done the Alps in summer before, but I suspect it'll be a little bit colder in december).
I would find a rental place and rent a Hasselblad SWC and as many film backs you can carry. Load a couple with color, a couple with B&W, a couple with infrared.
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Old 11-07-2005   #16
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The film inside the camera does not get iced/freezed whatever? It still "works" that way??
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Old 11-07-2005   #17
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I do a lot of ski mountaineering, so I may have a different take on this.

First- are you going as a photographer, or as an expedition member? If this is a self-guided trip in technical terrain, make sure your team-mates are clear as to your intentions. They'll then be ready for occasional photo-related stops. Otherwise, they may find it bothersome, or even dangerous. If it is more a guided trip along established trails, with warm shelter each night, that's different.

My friends with serious digital gear have external battery packs, with the battery next to the body and a cord to plug into the camera as needed. A full day with an alpine start will definitely drain a cold battery.

Even if you're not carrying shelter, extra weight in the pack will bother you. Go for lightweight, and simple.

Changing lenses in a tight spot, especially if you're roped, will not win you fans. And dropping gear is no fun, especially for anyone below you. Keep in mind, too, where your camera will be in the event you need to self-arrest.

This sounds like a good job for a quaility P&S, or a camera with a (shudder) zoom lens-you'll likely have a lot of light I like the little Rollei idea, and I really like M series Pentax SLRs for te small size if you have to go with iterchangeable lenses. I think you'll be able to keep the works warm enough.
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Old 11-07-2005   #18
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-20C isn't that cold. I've done it with my DReb 300D, little p&s digicam A70, manual X-700 Minolta, Minolta Maxxum XTsi on numerous different occasions. No problems except for keeping a fresh set of batteries under the jacket.

I've been in sub-zero temps with most of my cameras. Leaf shuttered cameras seem to fare the worse as the shutters will start sticking and the FSU cameras were fine, especially the Kievs. But be warned... they'll get _very_ cold.

Static hasn't been a problem.. condensation is. Our winters aren't that dry up here in Ontario.

BTW, -40 is where the F & C scales meet, not -20.
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Old 11-07-2005   #19
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As someone with some mountaineering experience in my younger days, I'd echo the comments of aad above. Whether it is winter or summer mountaineering, the number priority is safety for yourself and your partners. Don't let photography endanger anybody.

Therefore, if it is going to be a technical climb, I'd say bring just one wide-angle lens---a Rollei 35 or an all mechanical SLR with either 35mm or 28mm lens (or a short zoom like 28-80). Do not even think of changing lens on the climb.

If it is a non-technical climb, you may want to bring a backup/second camera---such as the combo of the one-lens SLR and a Rollei 35 (or similar small camera). I wouldn't bring a telephoto prime lens telephoto. It wouldn't see much, if any, action under such circumstances.

One final comment---I don't know whether you are aware that you can buy a pair of liner gloves made from weaved metal threads (don't know what the proper name for those are). You can wear those as liners under your mittens. They are thin enough to allow you to make camera adjustments, but also protects your bare skin from being frozen by the cold wind or the cold metal surface of either your camera or mountaineering gear.
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Old 11-07-2005   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KoNickon
Jamie, if you're looking for another rangefinder-like suggestion, you should strongly consider getting a Bessa L and the 25/4 Snapshot Skopar. I think that would prove a very useful combination for most of the photo opportunities you'd have. If you need a longer lens, maybe that's where you have that Spotmatic body with a lens like the Super Takumar 135/3.5.
I'd vote for the 25/4 Skopar but not in combination with the Bessa L body. You don't want to lose/damage the external viewfinder, which is quite likely under a mountaineering situation. I'd sue the Bessa R or R2 without the external viewfinder. You can use the extreme outer limits of your viewfinder as the frame for the 25 mm lens. In landscape photography, I do not find that a problem. It is close enough---I've had the experience 10 rolls of slide film during my European trip to satisfy myself with that conclusion. And I do wear glasses. A the beginning, you may need to move your head a little to the right and a little to the left while looking through the viewfinder just to assure yourself though.
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Old 11-08-2005   #21
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Morning, all.

Wow - lots of responses. Guess I just had to wait for you all to wake up on your side of the pond :-)

The main objective is the Darbellay Route on the N Face of the Petit Clocher du Portalet. It's a very steep (in fact, mostly overhanging) aid route. I'm not going to be on the attempt on that route; I (and my partner) will there to help with the carry to our base camp and get the guys established on the wall. When they're on their way, we'll have free time in base camp - maybe three or four days before they get back down, epics notwithstanding- to go climb some easier stuff in the area ourselves. Amidst this, they'd be chuffed if I got some nice photos of them on the first few pitches.

So, I probably won't be trying anything sick hard myself - Scottish III or so, which I suppose is Alpine PD or AD. We'll keep these routes short (not planning on any bivvying, though I've said that before...) so I'll have time back at BC every night to change rolls of film and so on.
I thank you for your concerns about my safety, and I can assure you that getting back safe is very much my first priority! If, subject to that constraint, I can get the shot, *then* the camera comes out...

My EOS set-up is an EOS 620, 50/1.8, 28/2.8, horrible nasty 75-300/4-5.6 (must sell it), and (via adaptors) Zeiss 35/2.4, SMC Takumar 50/4 macro, Zeiss 135/3.5 and a Pentacon Zeiss 180/2.8. Lovely kit (apart from that zoom) and capable of giving wonderful results - but I think it's just too damn heavy. It's not impossible that I could keep batteries warm, especially by rotating them in and out of my inner pockets, but I just don't think I can bring myself to add more weight to the initial carry to BC! Having said that, I can concieve of taking, say three or four RF (or mechanical SLR) bodies so I can have a choice if waht to take on a given day.

I knew about the electromagnetic discharge on rewind (another reason I don't want the EOS up there, as it rewinds at its 4fps rate!) - thanks.

So, I need to go get all the mechanical cameras winterized? How much might this set me back, and is it a permanent process? And is there some sort of hood that'll go on my orange filter over my I-22?

Thanks, everyone.

Jamie
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Old 11-08-2005   #22
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I'd go for a Spotmatic 11a, a couple of sharp screw-on Pentax lenses, a hood, and a linear polarizing filter. Oh, and you'll probably need a bag and battery adaptor. This should set you back about $300 to $400 USD.
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Old 11-08-2005   #23
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Winterizing cost me $100 for a IIF and IIIF together in 1968. The shop (Adolph Gasser, in San Francisco) gave me the choice of whale oil (legal, traditional) or a then- illegal synthetic from Dow OR no lube at all. I chose no lube. The problem with no-lube, I discovered, was that it didn't protect the axles of the shutter from rust...which quickly became a problem. I think no-lube was a good idea in the Antarctic, a frozen desert, but not for a camera that would spend a lot of time coming in and out of a warm, humid living space (condensation, rust, freezing).

The reason I'd thought to have my Leica winterized was in fact because they'd earlier failed to operate at mere 32deg. Perhaps if they'd been in fine condition with modern lube at the time, that would not have happened. $100 was certainly a lot of money for me in 1968!
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Old 11-09-2005   #24
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Crikey - $50 each, almost forty years ago! I dread to think what it'll cost today...

Both my Zorki and Canonet have had recent (last twelve months) CLAs. I may risk not doing any more to them, and just trying harder to keep them from getting *very* cold.

Do I risk any actual damage to them by doing this, or just a temporary jam?

Oh - anything on the hood for the orange filter on my I-22, btw? Suppose I could fabricate something, but if there's a product out there...

Cheers,
Jamie
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Old 11-09-2005   #25
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Be aware that common problem with Zorki (or any other system using cloth shutter) is that the rubberised cloth can lose elasticity. Maybe that could be avoided if the camera kept in warm most of the time, but it probably ain't too convenient. I know that some folks just always keep the equipment in the cold - helps against condensation too.

Another issue to be aware of is focus drift. With low temperatures, contraction of metal parts is unavoidable and the working distance of your camera becomes shorter. Not a big deal with SLR, but definitely a problem with a rangefinder. E.g. at -36C, the actual inifinity focus of 50mm lens can be found at 5m mark; for 35mm lens at ~3m.
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Old 11-09-2005   #26
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buy a Lowepro Dryzone backpack for your gear. Totally waterproof and insulated. Look it up. I bought one, and the thing is perfect for taking gear where it will be wet, might be dropped, submerged, or used to float down a river. Makes the wet experience, a totally worry free and dry one for the gear.

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Old 11-09-2005   #27
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I just posted this in the Epson in Winter thread.

I did an M7 to Hudson Bay last Feb. NO problems what so ever. My F3 even worked. It hit -30C

For the F3 I bought a winder because it had NiCads. Used NiCads suck, and these wouldn't hold a charge very well. Even so, I had no problems with the bodies at all.

Hudson Bay or Bust II ALL these pictures (of mine, there are a few from other people here) are mostly Leica, with a few Nikon F3's



By all means, whatever you take, we want to see pictures
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Old 11-09-2005   #28
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If you are doing serious mountaineering you should be carrying the bare minimum you think you need and then throwing half of that out! Also, when you are climbing in the Alps you have to be obsesessed by speed, so forget about changing lenses, unless you are resting down in the valley. Believe me, your partners will not appreciate frequent stops to change lenses. Even changing film will be a major hassle. I'd go for a quality p & s such as the Ricoh GR1 or a fully mechanical RF or SLR with a single lens. With a 35mm or 28 mm lens you won't have to worry too much about focus accuracy and getting good compositions quickly at these focal lengths is not too difficult.

If the route is not too serious I find a R2 with 90 mm lens and a GR1 (28 mm) make a good combination. On a technical route I'd forget the 90mm.
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Old 11-09-2005   #29
jamiewakeham
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Varjag - are you saying that my focussing will become inaccurate? That's slightly worrying! I doubt I'll be going much wider than f8 anyway - any focussing more accurate than 'close up or hyperfocal' is unlikely to take place.

Shutterflower - thanks for the tip; I went out last night and (amidst £400 worth of kit) bought a few Ortlieb drybags. Fags, phone, down vest, cameras...

Wonderful shots, Ducttape, thank you! What film did you use, and what metering regime? I'm unsure of whether to even look at a meter, or just to go by sunny (hopefully VERY sunny) f/16 and bracket a bit.

Cheers,
Jamie
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Old 11-09-2005   #30
terrafirmanada
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I use Canon F1s for all of our technical rock climbing/ backcountry shooting. They are rugged, and have great optics. They were designed with extreme in mind. Even if you were to find yourself in temperatures that might disable your batteries, you could still use the sunny 16 rule.
Now carrying your camera is another thing you should spend some time thinking about. Galen Rowell, who was already mentioned designed an inventive camera harness for running. This might not work for you if you are mountaineering with chest harnesses. If this is the case, then you could use a small fannypack worn on the side. Make sure to connect the camera by at least one other means to the rope or yourself.
Have a great trip!
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Old 11-09-2005   #31
terrafirmanada
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Oh, one last thought. If you can climb first or second, then your pictures are going to be much better of others climing up. Otherwise you are going to come home with lots of butt shots.
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Old 11-09-2005   #32
Kin Lau
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ducttape
Hudson Bay or Bust II ALL these pictures (of mine, there are a few from other people here) are mostly Leica, with a few Nikon F3's
Yup... you're nuts! But you're a happy nut
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Old 11-09-2005   #33
jamiewakeham
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Pab - yep, I know what you mean about not wanting the weight; I've done areasonable amount in the summer out there. Hopefully, in Winter, with less threat of the sun causing rockfall and opening crevasses, we won't be *quite* so speed-obsessed (start at 3am rather than 2am... ) but I still have no intention of changing rolls of film or lenses on route. Like I said, no (planned...) bivvies, so will have the chance to set everything up the previous afternoon for the following day.

I reckon climbing with a camera on each side of my harness in a Lowepro will be ok - there shouldn't be too much technical rock, more snow- and ice- tromping so I don't think it'll be crowded with too much gear. Moving together on the easier stuff allows me the freedon to drift off to the side of my partner(s) to avoid the traditional climbing butt-shot! Must get some of those clever attachments that go into the tripod thread to attach some cord to, so as to loop them back to my harness.

Cheers,
Jamie
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