Traveling with a camera on the road can be a challenge; traveling into the wild with a camera can become impossible, especially when hiking through wet conditions. As I prepare for the West Coast Trail hike, 78kms through rain forest and shoreline, I need to make a careful decision about what camera equipment I will take with me to ensure that I capture what might be the most transformation journey of my life. It is one thing to carry a Canon 1DmkIII into the Peruvian rainforest when you are transported by steamer down the river, and it is quite another thing to drag that same camera on your back for 14 km a day in harsh terrain.
Fortunately, I have a wide variety of options to choose from. I have both a Hasselblad SWC and 501C/M, the Canon 1DmkIII, a Leica M3, a Yashica 4×4, a Canon EOS 3, a Canon 35mm Waterproof Sureshot and a GoPro Hero 3 Black. Unfortunately, each option has its pros and cons to deal with relating to weight, resistance to moisture, size of file or negative, film options, lens options and resolution. In the past, I have taken the SWC, the 1DmkIII and the EOS 3 into wet terrain and come away with good results but with the cost of weight. Hence, my attempt to see whether the GoPro Hero 3 Black will provide me with the options I need or fail me totally.
To test the camera I walked around the school to see what kind of file the GoPro would give me at 12mp Wide Angle. Ideally, I hoped for files that would have a high definition and that the still frames would translate into decent image files. In some ways these files are amazing, especially at “blog size” and on a retina display. However upon close inspection the resolution is pretty fuzzy and artistic. Maybe I am now spoiled by the image files I get from film and the new Hasselblad CFV 16 digital back, but unless I plan on only using the files from this adventure on my blog and maybe a coffee table book, then the GoPro will not meet my expectations.
Still, as crops from the basic file, these look pretty solid, and in a hostile environment where I might not want to take out a “real camera” for snapshots, the GoPro seems to have taken good quality stills. Certainly I intend on taking it along for the ride as it will provide me with a reasonable weight to content ratio for video footage of what the trail feels like. While I do not always do too much with video footage, in this case, the trail might offer up a few surprises worth filming. If nothing else, then it will keep a few memories for me that I never, ever will want to surrender to the strains of Time.
My next step for the jury will be to compare the 7mp shot resolution to the 12mp crop. If I can get a decently sharp file, then the GoPro will at least provide a back-up should my main camera fail. On my Haliburton canoe trip I hope to test out the film functions while canoeing. I might affix one of the mounts to the side of the boat, but we will have to see about options.
Where does this leave me for West Coast Trail options? The SWC Hasselblad remains the easiest to shoot and forget. It survived the Peruvian jungle, but it was housed in a heavy Pelican case for the main part of the trip. Would it fair so well in a big Zip-loc or stuff sack? Plus, it would not allow for any real focus, and would require me to drag along a light meter to boot.
The 1DmkIII is possible, too, as it is a brilliant all-around performer. With a LensBaby and one other focal length I could turn out a brilliant collection of images without need for film development. The EOS 3 is my expendable choice. I could use the same lenses, have a lighter body and not worry if it died enroute. The Leica, the CFV back and probably the 501 C/M are most likely out. The Leica is not for the woods and it weighs a ton. The CFV back is not for the outdoors, let alone for a rainforest. The 501 C/M will work beautifully and I can focus it, but I would be stuck with one lens, and none of them are really wide enough to capture the feeling of the trail.
At the end of the day, I was both impressed and disappointed with the GoPro’s ability to capture still frames. The fact that it froze in the middle of learning how to use the settings is not a comforting sign. If there is one thing that I have learned: if you rely on what failed you in good times to work in bad times, then you are a fool.
The two self portraits were taken with my two option cameras: the Hasselblad SWC and the GoPro Hero 3 Black edition. The SWC has the CFV back on it which reduces its 38mm to about 60mm in focal length, and I did correct the GoPro file to compensate for a bit of its distortion. To my eye the difference is striking, but maybe I see too much detail; both photos are keepers, but only one of them could be blown up past 8×10″.
Back to the lab again…