#107. Patagonia gear and other lessons

By philberphoto | News

May 27

Obviously, going with 4 camera bodies ( a brand new Canon 5D III, with 5D II as backup, a new Sony NEX 7, wth 5N as a backup) was over the top. But I can say that only because nothing went wrong. On a previous trip, in the Lofoten island, my 5D II shutter failed (at only 10.000 clicks, for shame, Canon!), and only my Sony NEX 5 let me take advantage of the last day’s shooting. Never leave for a serious photo trip with only one body!

Second, go with good gear and photo accessories. A good tripod is simply vital (my 540 Velbon was stable, reliable, but too short at barely 1m50 with center column deployed), so I am getting a Gitzo 3542 XLS. The same goes for a backpack (I use a Lowepro). Non-photo equipment also matters. Had I not bought real hiking shoes, I simply couldn’t have done very much at all. Good rainwear and underwear is also essential. In my case, I prefer multiple layers (as many as 4), which gives me greater flexibility when I go from stationary (meaning shooting a given spot) to very active because the hike resumed, or when the outside temperature rises or cools rapidly, a not uncommon occurrence in Patagonia. Boris, as befits a true perfectionnist, had only first-class stuff, and it paid off.

This matters, because getting the best shot possible means that the photographer must be able to focus on nothing else, and have enough energy to go one better. One more lens change. One more composition adjustment. One more change of position. Cleaning the lens each time. Not making mistakes. Putting everything back as it should be. Tiredness works against that, and we begin to think: this is good enough. Which, of course, it isn’t. And good equipment helps minimise tiredness. If the question is: how many of my best shots are very good, but not as good as they might have been? The answer, in truth, has to be: maybe 50%. Here are some examples of infuriating failures.

This one, where I failed to focusThis one, where my lens was fogged upThis one, where shooting with short DOF is just plain stupidThis one, where Boris didn’t care to shoot, and I put myself under pressure so as not to make him wait too long, so I didn’t slow down and compose properlyThis one, where I was tired, and rather than taking my bag out of the truck and choosing the right camera and lens when I was on the shooting spot, I selected the NEX  and a lens and went with that and my tripod, and never found good composition even though there were three delightful cascades, maybe even waterfalls, as Boris demonstrated. He, on the other hand, is very good at seeing in his mind exactly what he can do, or can’t, and getting it done right every time, however long it may take.

And, even though I could put lots more into this failure category, this last one. The previous shot was ruined because I had left the camera strap intrude into the shot. So I removed the cameras strap and shot again, feeling pleased with myself that I had spotted it before I left and lost the opportunity. I was so busy feeling good that I didn’t check what I’d just done…And I could go on like this… Basically, my number of very good shots could have been 50% to 75% higher if not for this hurry, sloppiness, lack of attention, etc… Learn from this, and do not fall in this trap. It hurts too much afterwards…

Another key factor for good shooting is knowing what you want to do. Set yourselves some targets, and work towards them. I had set myself the target that I didn’t care how many shots I came back with, as long as (1) I came back with at least a dozen totally stunning shots that would be in my “Top 50”, and (2), I came back with no regrets, nothing left undone or not-so-well done. Well, the results are in, and not that great. While Patagonia is a fabulous place, I doubt that more than 2 or 3 shots make the Top 50 list. So much for target n°1. And n°2 didn’t get achieved either, as you already know from the shots above. As to things not done, there was one scene where I have real regrets. Getting to Parque Nacional Queulat, it was raining cats and dogs, and with strong winds to boost. We were in the middle of a cloud, and it gave a specific scene a real ghost-like look, like Cape Horn emerging from the stormy cloud. We didn’t stop to shoot it. It was dusk, so long exposures would have been required, the driving rain would have fouled the lenses in mid-exposure, and the strong wind woud have ripped an umbrella aimed at protecting the lens. We thought we would come back to this place, and we did. Twice, but the weather had changed, and, with it, what made this spot fascinating. Will I ever get another chance? So, from now on, I won’t care, and shoot anyway….

To gear itself. How did the 5D III behave, and how does it compare to the 5D II? There are a number of differences between the two bodies, but two make a significant difference. One is the AF, and the other one is the JPEG engine. There are other nice ones as well, like dual memory cards, or a better build quality, but not game changers for me. The AF, to my surprise, is such a difference. It used to be that I shot 90% of my pics (I shoot MF only) focusing with the viewfinder, a more accurate method, for me, than the AF confirm. With the 5D III, AF confirm has progressed to the point that I only shoot with it. It will lock focus even when it is way too dark to see, and give properly focused shots at ISO 12.800 even with such tough lenses as a Zeiss ZE 85 f:1.4 wide open at close range. Great!

The JPEG engine is also much better. The difference is already undeniable on the camera’s LCD. That, of course, gave me hope that the RAW would show the same improvement, but that is the major disappointment, RAW is improved over the 5D II, but not by much. Colours are a bit better, and DR fractionally so. In that, Canon, 3 1/2 years after the 5D II, has missed that boat entirely, and they deserved to get spanked by the D800 and other cameras incorporating the latest Sony sensors

Which brings me to Nex 7. I love it! Yes, it has problems with wide angles, but the IQ is a delight. Better colours, contrast and DR than the 5D III. The format is perfect for me. It keeps its game-changing tilting LCD,  which neither Olympus not Fuji competitors have, and, where sunny conditions foul the LCD, the electronic viewfinder is a good solution. Plus peaking, plus a built electronic level, plus….

I have full confidence that more native e-mount lenses will improve the NEX product line, like the new Sigma 19mm and 30mm, and that the next generation, of which the first model, dubbed F3, has already been announced, will improve on this last major issue, with corner WA performance.

Could I go NEX-only? No doubt I could, and I have shot some of my best pics (IMHO) with the NEX. All the same, there are still things the DSLR does better. Lower pixel density helps, a large optical viewfinder, greater handheld stability, much better AF, etc…

So, at this time, having a dual DSLR and NEX is my equipment of choice. But the time will come, soon I guess, when that is no longer the case and my last DSLR will go under the hammer. Whether, then, I still keep the wonderful ZE glass fo use on my NEX (or other mirrorless FF M-mount-compatible platform), with something like the Conurus-Metabones electronic adapter, is still an open question…

To finish off this last post from the Patagonia series on anything other than pictures would have been wrong IMHO. So here goes, with 2 that didn’t quite make the cut.


  • pascaljappy says:

    Philippe, that picture with the tripod leg in it is so gorgeous !

    You can (1) sell it to a modern art gallery saying it represents the intrusion of man in nature ;))) or (2) find a cloning artist who will remove it for you …

    Any takers out there ? 😉

    Thanks for the lovely post.

  • John Hartung says:

    Hi Susan –

    How do you like the Olympus E-M5 compared to the Nex 7? Perhaps I misinterpreted your comment about tilting screens, but the Olympus does have a tilting screen … at least according to the olympus site at http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/product.asp?product=1583

    I’m in a quandary. I have a Nex 5n. Should I wait for next Nex (7n, 8)? Go back to 4/3 (prefer the format and loved my Oly E-3 … except for the neck breaking part)?



    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi John,

      my reply will seem strange. I think the OM-D is a better camera than the NEX-5n. Better build, better colour fidelity, better dynamic range and that incredible internal stabilisation. But I prefer the NEX-5n because it suits my shooting style better. The OM-D is 10 times more efficient at cathcing fast subjects and the lenses are simply gorgeous. But it doesn’t work with my legacy lenses. So I’m now selling the OM-D, the Lumix 14mm and the incredibly good Digital Zuiko 45mm. If you’re interested, I’ll give you a nice bundle deal 😉

      Final answer is that if you have m43 lenses and like quicker photography than me (family, street shooting, sports, reportage …) there’s not comparison. If you like to plonk your camera on a tripod with a 20 year old lens and wait for the light, I think the 5n still has a lot going for it. Hope this helps.


  • John Hartung says:

    Dear Pascal,
    Thank you for articulating an insightful and perfectly understandable (not strange!) position on the Nex-5n vs. the OM-D. I use the word ‘insightful’ because you have an accurate appraisal of your photographic style. I am still struggling in that regard … toying with an Edward Weston self-image while behaving like a point-and-shooter!

    One of the symptoms of my disease is that I buy more equipment than I use. For example, I bought two E-mount lenses and two Alpha-mount lenses with the LA-EA2 translucent mirror adapter for my Nex-5n. During the intervening six months, I have only taken pictures with the 55-210 mm E-mount lens. So although I have decided to keep the 5n, I am going to put the Zeiss Planar T 85mm f1.4 (Sony SAL85F14Z), the Sigma 17-50 F2.8 DC OS HSM, the LA-EA2 adapter and the 30mm E-mount Macro (Sony SEL30M35) on ebay.

    Thanks for your offer on the OM-D bundle. I’m going to wait for a camera that is a bigger step up from the 5n (though I agree that the OM-D is a small step up … as is, I think, the Nex-7). Meanwhile, let me know if you want any of my ebay-bound equipment before I get it posted. I would be willing to send it to you before receiving payment, as I do with ebay sales, so that you could be sure that it is as ‘new’ as described.

    Best regards,


    • pascaljappy says:

      John, thanks for the kind remarks on the blog 🙂 Trust me, I understand the disease 😉 I must say the Planar 85 is tempting but I will refrain until greater certainty about my future system is at hand. My feelings are exactly yours, neither of these cameras is really big enough a step up to justify chaging. I’ll be spending a few quality weeks with my NEX-5n trying to decide what to do and to focus on the more interesting side of photography : making pictures 😉

      Best of luck with your sales and your own picture making. At the heart of it all must always be having fun !


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