Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Great Ideas from Far and Wide
When starting Team Tane one of my biggest realisations is that I needed to improve both my photography skills and my photography kit to capture people’s attention. At the time I was shooting with a mixture of a small Canon Powershot and a mobile phone which while small and compact really were not producing the quality I was beginning to require. So, I decided to investigate a better solution.
First I defined my focus; adventure photography. Through this focus decided the following were the key elements I required from a photographic system;
- Photo Quality – High as possible in all conditions;
- Weight & Size – As light and small as possible;
- Versatility – Needed to be able to shoot a range of genres each with their own characteristic requirements I.e.: adventure = lightweight & small, wildlife = large zoom, street = unobtrusive;
- Cost – Had to be cheap enough for me to account for in the Africa Sky High budget.
With a defined focus I started researching cameras both online and using the search tool I still believe is more useful than Google; the opinion of friends and subject experts. I approached mates who knew a thing or two, contacted professional adventure photographers, chatted to family and our wedding photographer, Robbie Aspeling (http://raphoto.co.za/), who soon became my photographic sensei.
Through these chats, particularly with Robbie, I decided that mirrorless cameras were by far the best option. In short a mirrorless camera is similar to a DSLR but does not have a mirror system, rather the sensor sits directly behind the lens. This means that the viewfinder is actually a digital representation of the image being seen not the real thing. While some photographers don’t like this, I prefer it as I can see real time what effect my manipulation of settings has on the image and review images through the viewfinder. To me mirrorless cameras offered DSLR quality photos in a much more compact shell thanks to the lack of a mirror, offered the ability to change lenses which enabled versatility and were more affordable than high end DSLRs. To me they offered the perfect base to the ultimate adventure travel photography kit.
“Through these chats, particularly with Robbie, I decided that mirrorless cameras were by far the best option…To me they offered the perfect base to the ultimate adventure travel photography kit.”
My Ultimate Kit
I have provided a list below of the type of equipment I carry on extended trips and the specific gear I use for each category. Obviously I cut down my kit for shorter trips or where specific elements like weight are more important.
- Camera – Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless: This camera is the first generation high end Fuji mirrorless camera. I find it a great camera with amazing manual controls. It is compatible with a large range of great lenses, including Fuji’s own high quality X range and lenses with some other brands like Ssamyang (note autofocus only works on Fuji lenses). I have also used the baby brother, the X-T10. It was great as it was lighter and slightly more compact. It had a built in flash, however, had weaker weatherproofing which will be important on Africa Sky High. Both are worth considering.
- Lenses –I have tried to buy as few as possible to cover as wide a range of shooting as possible both to save cost and space, here is the resulting list. Sample shots at the end of the article:
- Everyday Lens – Fujinon XF 18-55m: The lens is effectively the higher end kit lens for the cameras mentioned above. I would highly recommend it. It takes great photos and is small enough to carry around pretty much anywhere. For a long time I even used it for climbing photography though it was admittedly a bit big;
- Climbing and Adventure Lens – Fujinon XF 27mm Pancake: This baby is the newest addition to my Fuji family. I bought this lens specifically for activities which required my camera to be as small, light and unobtrusive as possible, most importantly for climbing. While I have heard pancakes can produce lower quality results, I have been very happy with the results. In general I think the lens is awesome as it keeps out of the way while climbing and being active;
- Zoom Lens – Fujinon XF 55-200mm: I generally use this lens for wildlife and bird photography. While it is a great lens and equivalent to a 300mm zoom with the 1.5x crop, it is still probably a bit small for wildlife photography. To my knowledge, however, unless you are prepared to go for the lower quality 50-250mm lens or get an adapter and use DSLR lenses from other brands like Canon or Nikon it is the biggest option currently available. In the end it does what it needs to for me and while I can’t get the super telephoto pictures, I am happy with the trade-off of a smaller system.
- Tripods – Rollei Stativ Compact Traveller and Gorillapod: Having a tripod is well worth the minor expense as it enables shots which are otherwise very difficult. Generally I use the Rollei which is pretty lightweight and easier to use but take the Gorillapod hiking as it is lighter, smaller and more adaptable;
- Batteries – Fuji and Hanhel: I would suggest having at least 2-3 batteries particularly if you are going deep into the wilderness or to cold locations which will sap the charge. Both the Fuji and 3rd party Hanhel batteries have worked great for me;
- Camera Bags – Lowepro Backpack and Osprey XL: I generally use the Lowepro to carry all my gear and store it neatly. The Osprey bag is great while walking around and shooting as it is super light, pretty compact and fits the camera well.
- SD Cards – Sandisk Ultra 32GB: While often overlooked as an important component, it is worth buying decent, fast cards as waiting for photos to save can be frustrating and make you miss shots. When I started out, Robbie recommended getting cards over 80Mb/s and having multiple smaller cards rather than one large one to reduce consequences in case of corruption or loss. I would recommend the same;
- Remote Microphone – Rode VideoMicro: Our friend and video guru Michael Carter (https://web.facebook.com/michaelcarterproductions/) suggested getting a remote mic to add to the camera to get better quality audio. The videomicro is a great high quality, lightweight, small and affordable options;
- Video Camera – GoPro Hero 5: In addition to using my camera as a video camera we purchased the Hero 5.Its waterproofing capability, voice activation and visual screen make for the perfect action camera.
As you can see I have decided to adopt the Fujifilm system which I believe is great and would recommend. There are, however, similar options from other brands like Olympus, Sony and Panasonic which are worth considering. I would suggest you do some of your own research to decide between the brands. If second hand equipment is of interest to you make sure you check the availability per brand in your area or country before you buy a brand. Also be aware different brands may have different sized sensors, I.e.: Fujifilm uses a 1.5x crop whereas Panasonic and Olympus use a 2x crop. In short this means that Fuji cameras are likely to have slightly higher quality images due to the larger sensor but will also generally have larger lenses and bodies.
The equipment described above is my ultimate kit and works remarkably for Tarryn and I on our adventures. However, photographic equipment alike any other set of tools are a personal preference and very specific to each person and their needs. You need to define what this means for you to create your ultimate kit.
Below are a list of sample images taken with my different lenses for you to browse, feel free to comment your thoughts in the pane below.
Fujinon 18-55mm Lens
Fujinon 27mm Pancake Lens
Fujinon 55-200mm Lens