Imagine hiking for hours alone through an idyllic Adirondack setting, the sky is an azure blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the black flies are biting, ideal conditions for spending time in the great outdoors.
When the trip’s destination finally appears, whether it is a seldom-visited lake, marsh, swamp or mountaintop, the thought of capturing this rarely glimpsed view becomes overwhelming. If only you’d brought that camera.
The cameraless scenario is increasingly rare as cameras become smaller and are included in all sorts of devices that many find essential to modern living. It was not always like this. Many years ago, a separate camera was necessary to capture images of the backcountry, whether for one’s personal edification or to share with others.
When I first began my Adirondack backcountry career, with that fresh sense of awe and excitement still intact, I never obsessed about capturing the moment for posterity. There were too many other priorities in those early days, like finding the proper tent, sleeping bag and stove. My memory holds those early images today, accessible only in my mind’s eye.
It remained that way for my first few years of Adirondack backpacking, as I emphasized gaining the essential gear and skills over preserving the experience. One trip changed all that. On that fateful trip the 1995 microburst happened, which blew its way through the Five Ponds Wilderness, left thousands of trees grounded in its wake. The devastation left me wanting for a camera.
On my return home, I bought my first film camera for backpacking, an Olympus SuperZoom 3000. I was caught with my pants down once, but it wouldn’t happen again. Since then, I’ve never taken a trip into the backcountry without a camera.
The SuperZoom 3000 became my constant companion, accompaning me into the Five Ponds Wilderness when I returned in 1997 storm, on a solo jaunt on the Northville-Placid Trail, and numerous winter trips into the High Peaks Wilderness. Despite many sudden impacts with the ground, the smeared bug repellent, the frequent wet weather and even the bone-chilling cold, it rarely disappointed me. Any issues with the photographs were entirely operator error.
That camera served me well for many years. Although essentially a point and shoot model, it was relatively light compared to its multifunction brethren. I probably would have traded up to a more sophisticated camera as my experience and comfort level grew, but a little thing called the digital age intervened.
With the advent of digital technology, my film camera went the way of the dinosaur. Now it spends its time taking up space in a plastic bin underneath my bed, a half developed roll of film still lodged in its innards recording who knows what.
The film camera’s replacement was another little point and shoot camera, an Olympus Stylus 410 Digital. Small when compared to its predecessor, but not by today’s standards. At the time however, it fit right in with the other lightweight gear I was accumulating.
That first digital camera accompanied me on many trips, and despite its small size and fragile appearance, it weathered its share of spills, and remains reliable today.
When I started leaving the trail behind for the joy and adventure of the unbroken backcountry, I found myself wanting to make more detailed photographs. Many of the places I fancied visiting were little visited, so I wanted to show everyone what they were missing. This thinking planted a seed that quickly germinated into a desire for a digital SLR (DSLR) camera.
Unfortunately, DSLRs are much bulkier than the little digital point and shoot camera I carried at the time. After some considerable research I purchased an Olympus Evolt E420, the smallest (and lightest) DSLR on the market at the time. In addition to the extra weight of the new camera I added a tripod, adding a couple more pounds to my pack. The DSLR and tripod has been standard equipment on most of my Adirondack adventures since then, providing many wonderful photos.
Photos are not the only way to bring a little of the backcountry back home with you, however, and technological miniaturization has produced a plethora of tiny action cameras that provide exceptional point of view (POV) video recording. This past Christmas, I was thought highly enough by someone special to receive a SONY HDR-AS100VR, a POV action camera. Readers can expect a wide assortment of videos of my backcountry adventures in the near future, complete with all the swearing.
Is this the end of my quest for a better backcountry camera? It would be foolish and naive of me to think so. Now there are mirrorless digital cameras. These are unencumbered with the bulky mirror and prism of a DSLR, and can be significantly smaller and lighter. Just what an aging lightweight backpacking enthusiast would want. Expect a new mirrorless camera to replace my trusty backcountry DSLR in the near future.
The evolution of my backcountry photography gear will no doubt continue until either technology stops advancing or I make that last, long thru-hike in the sky. There is no disputing which of these situations is more likely to happen first. Until that time, I will continue to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
Photos: View west from a seldom visited outcropping on Jay Mountain, Stillwater Reservoir from the Pepperbox Wilderness Area and Jay Mountain from Merriam Swamp by Dan Crane.