Camera for Mountain Climbing

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FrankB

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A friend of mine is planning a stroll up Mont Blanc next year. He's a climber not a snapper but, as he's probably only going to do this once, would like some pictures to show for it.

Weight and bulk are generally considered bad things in this kind of situation. He did consider going the d****** route but image quality, battery-life, image quality, reliability and image quality all counted against it! (Oh dear, how sad, never mind.)

He has used a old Minolta Dynax SLR in the past with a consumer-level 35-70mm zoom. He has mainly stuck to point-and-shoot with it but he's a very technical guy and easily capable handling a manual camera with a bit of practice (whether he would want to half-way up a mountain is a different matter!). His budget is up to about £400. His priority is going to be doing the climb and taking a few nice shots along the way rather than creating photographic masterpieces.

My first thought was a Dynax 5 with a kit 28-100mm (about £200), which would leave him enough change to get more compact gear to make up for the SLR's bulk. However, I would greatly appreciate other opinions.

Thanks in advance,

Frank
 

Helen B

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The Rollei 35 was (still is?) the classic climber's camera - combined with a padded pouch such as those made for it by CCS. It's not just weight, it's also how handy the camera is to use and how well protected it can be while still convenient for use, but not a physical hindrance. You don't want taking a picture to be much of an interruption, or something that you don't feel like doing when it is 3 am, well below freezing and you are not feeling all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I still use a Rollei 35 when climbing (rare these days), an M7 while walking and a weatherproof compact Nikon (35 AWAF) when ski-ing - the AWAF can survive on its own without a case in all weather conditions, and is very fast to use. Before I got my Rollei I carried my Nikomat inside my rucksack when climbing - this is not ideal, not so much because of the weight, but the hassle of getting it out.

If your freind is doing one of the 'normal' routes on Mt Blanc it will be more of a strenuous walk than a climb. The altitude might also cause a small problem - the effects of altitude are highly variable from one individual to another, and nothing much to do with fitness. (there was a url link here which no longer exists) a snap taken with the Rollei 35 looking down the Dome du Gouter 'normal' from the top of a route on the Italian side of Mt Blanc.

Best,
Helen
 

John L

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I've never been to Mont Blanc but after doing a little web-searching, and thinking about my own outdoor trips, I think most of the pics he'll value will end up being people - he and his fellow climbers - and many will be taken at short range with dimmer lighting - the overnight hut, early morning and late evening, maybe bad weather days - or shadows - squinting faces under full daylight. So the sweeping Alpine vistas in brilliant mountain sun, that I initially envisioned, will be only a minority of his pics.

Given that, I think there's a lot to be said for a quality point & shoot. Minimal bulk and weight, indeed he could even carry a spare. Fits in a pocket where it can stay warm/dry. Can operate with a single gloved hand. Likely to get at least passable pics - in focus, exposed more or less right. Flash for pics of the overnight camp, and also fill flash for daytime. Decent zoom range. Slow lenses probably okay, given flash and/or outdoor lighting.

If he's more inclined to manual photography, I'd think a compact rangefinder would share a lot of the above virtues.

So personally my investigation would start with:
- Olympus Stylus 100 Wide: 28-100mm, flash with fill mode, claimed weatherproof, metering modes claimed to include spot. I've never used one, I just looked up the specs since I liked my older Styli, but on paper it seems to fit the bill.
- Olympus XA w/ A11 flash: the manualist's choice. Will be great for the daytime shots (set on f8 and infinity) but less so for the overnight. Very nice lens, but no zoom.
- Rollei 35 w/ flash: the traditionalist's choice. Probably too fiddly for someone who isn't already familiar with the camera to take up Mont Blanc. But if he gets an old one with a corner dent, well, it may well have preceded him up Mont Blanc!

I'd also consider taking a tiny table-top tripod.

Finally, you should advise him as to the type of film, too. I'd want at least one roll of something with saturated colors for overcast days.
 

glbeas

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Just remember anything totally dependent on batteries may well turn belly up in the cold temperatures. If the point and shoot only needs the batteries for flash you would be guaranteed results.
 

clay

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The best lightweight beat-it-to-pieces climbing camera in my experience is the Nikon FM-10. It is a mechanical camera with an internal meter. It is very lightweight, can operate if the batteries die, and if you put some decent Nikon glass on the front of it (not the zoom lens it comes with), it takes great pictures. It is cheap, and if it ends up getting dropped or soaked, it won't leave you in tears. I carry one in my climbing pack with a 24mm Nikkor, and it is super reliable. I'm guessing you could probably get one on ebay for under $75 right now.

glbeas said:
Just remember anything totally dependent on batteries may well turn belly up in the cold temperatures. If the point and shoot only needs the batteries for flash you would be guaranteed results.
 
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Ok, in the money is no object, get the best image for the weight category

I would go with a Mamiya M7II 6x7 with 50mm lens. Set it to hyperfocal and everything is in focus from 10 feet to infiniy. Nice, wonderful images; Not all that heavy compared to some of the other SLR suggestions.

I hiked all over Israel, even in the southern mountains and I was impressed with the agility of the camera. The transparancies I got back were amazing.

Make sure you get the external battery so you can keep it warm against your body.

--Jeffrey, Scarsdale, NY
 
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Woolliscroft

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Olympus used to advertise that Chris Bonnington used an OM-1. You could do a lot worse (an OM-2 even better). They are small light, robust and have superb lenses. Add a 28 or 35mm lens and a polorisor.

David.
 

mark

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Galen Rowell used a Nikon FM-10 on his ascents up everest and a Nikon N80 on some. I figure he knew what he was doing.
 

Julian Hart

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Hi Frank

I'd go with a Nikon FM, FM2 or FM2n with the 50-135 Nikkor but it wouldn't be the lightest choice.

The Rollei 35 that Helen mentioned also seems like a good idea. On that subject try and get yourself a copy of AP from 23rd October 2004 which had an excellent article on the "35" range by Ivor Matanle

Cheers, Julian
 

John McCallum

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Hey Frank, I'd suggest a rangefinder. A friend of mine just got back from three weeks serious climbing through the Himilayers. He used a rangefinder, and his landscape and people pictures are excellent. Surprisingly the digi point and shoot that he used, lived longer than I told him it would, and he got quite a few pictures off that :rolleyes:.

best, john
 
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FrankB

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Many thanks for all the input, I'll be looking into quite a few of them!

Please keep them coming!

All the best,

Frank
 

bobfowler

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I'd take one of the Nikon FM series cameras or an Olympus OM-2 and a 24mm, but then again, you wouldn't catch me hanging from ropes on the side of a mountain...
 

Mark Schumann

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2nd vote for Rollei 35

Here is a 2nd vote for the Rollei 35. Where light weight, mechanical reliability, and battery independency are important, the Rollei 35 can't be beat. When I used to do backcountry skiing (solo) where weight is definitely an issue just to keep your balance. I would choose my Rollei 35. I have used mine in temperatures as low as -40 degrees C. This also equals -40 degrees F. Do the math conversion if you don't believe me. Jet fuel must not freeze before -40 that's how I know.
 

Helen B

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'I have used mine in temperatures as low as -40 degrees C.'

As far as I know I've only ever used mine down to about -34°C -ish, but I've been thinking about the number of pictures I've taken that couldn't have been taken with a bulky camera, or a camera that needed more than one hand for removal from its pouch, exposure setting, picture taking and returning to its pouch. And, in many situations, every ounce does count.

Best,
Helen

(there was a url link here which no longer exists) and (there was a url link here which no longer exists) are two more Rollei 35 snaps.
 

titrisol

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Just remember to put some electrician tape around the viewfinder... you don;t want that freezing metal to stick to your eye
 

Stan. L-B

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I too would go for a Snap type camera. But, no batteries, semi-waterproof, that can be operated with one hand, from the chest position, without focussing or need to use the viewfinder or even to alter the aperture or speed. With the usual - very good
constant light, UV filter attached and wide latitude film - success is almost assured!
 

argus

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As I am a (mountain) climber myself, I can reply with some knowledge:

I take my Minolta Dynax 505si (Maxxum in the USA) along in my backpack. It is very light and also the 100-300 weights nothing.
Be sure to have a fresh battery loaded.
A polarizing filter is good to have up there.

As for film, I always shoot Fuji color slides @ 100asa, but also carry some 50asa (forgot about the brand) in case the weather is perfect: blue sky, sun reflecting on the snow...
 

modafoto

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glbeas said:
Just remember anything totally dependent on batteries may well turn belly up in the cold temperatures. If the point and shoot only needs the batteries for flash you would be guaranteed results.

Totally agree.

Consider the following (I use these):

  • Rollei 35 (as Helen says)
  • Olympus Trip
  • Kodak Retinette IB (sturdy and works in low temp)

Morten
 

NikoSperi

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Only two cameras come with me to Chamonix: Sinar F2 (Sherpa not included) or Leica. Guess which one comes climbing, and which one travels à la Ansel Adams on the roof-deck of my car?
 

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FrankB

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John L said:
So, what is he taking / did he take on his climb?

The jury is still out. However, the Rollei 35 is a front runner (probably the 'B' variant as it's cheaper and doesn't rely on batteries).

Whatever he decides on he'll probably also be borrowing my Olympus mju II 135 PAS as a backup.

Once again, many thanks to everyone for their contributions! Very much appreciated!
 
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