for the Grand Canyon Expedition
Against Shooting Digital
I'm going to strongly discourage members from shooting digital. There are two
and possibly three real impediments to doing so on this trip.
The first is battery power. The second is file storage.
Most people will shoot between 1,000 and 2,000 frames on this trip. That's some 30-50 rolls of 36-exp film. Maybe double that in medium format.
I'm not sure how many shots on a battery a D1x gets, but likely less than 300. That would mean the need for between 4 and 8 batteries. A Canon D30, which has very low battery requirements would still need 3 - 4 double battery sets.
As for file storage, this represents between 4 and 8 one GB Microdrives. I wouldn't trust a Digital Wallet with these one-in-a-lifetime shots, and it too has limited battery capacity.
So, for all of these reasons, and also because this trip will be very rough on equipment, I'm going to be urging people not to shoot digital.
The two choices are 35mm or medium format. You might even want to consider shooting both. I am.
If you own and shoot medium format I would suggest that you'll want to use it for 75% of the shots that you'll be doing. Most of our shooting will be on hikes up the side canyons. We'll be photographing at a relatively leisurely pace. The only penalty you'll face when using MF is weight and bulk, not speed of operation. The longest lens you'll need would be a 200mm, with 35—45mm being the most used (in 6X6 terms).
If you're shooting MF you'll still want 35mm for a long lens, and preferably one that's stabilized, like a Canon IS or a Nikon VR. This is for shooting the passing scene from the rafts, and for wildlife. The boat drifts down the river at about 2 miles per hour, except when we're motoring through a rapid or trying to get to a location quickly. This means that it's quite possible to shoot interesting things along the shore as we drift past. Wildlife is seen along the shoreline — everything from big horned sheep to condors and other birds. A Canon 100~400mm f/4.5 IS or the Nikon equivalent VR lens is ideal for this. If you don't have a IS or VR long lens then consider bringing some ISO 400 film, because you'll be shooing in shade a lot of the time. The canyon walls are deep!
If you're only shooting with 35mm, that's just fine. CC and Steve will be doing this. CC is a Nikon guy and Steve shoots Canon, so there's no favoritism here :-)
I urge you to bring 2 bodies. You need a backup in case something happens to your primary camera. If you currently use a high-end body like an F5 or a 1V then get a medium range one like an F100 or a EOS3. If it's the other way round, then now's the time to rationalize getting the state-of-the art body that you always have wanted.
My plan is to shoot 6X6 and 35mm. I'm bringing the Hasselblad ArcBody with 35mm and 75mm lenses. I'll also bring a Canon 1V and the 100~400mm IS and 24mm T/S. This way I have two systems, in case something happens to one I have a second, and I have MF quality for landscape and 35mm versatility for everything else.
You may also want to consider bringing a waterproof point-and-shoot. Steve and I both brought Canon Elf Sport (APS) models on our 2000 trip, and they were really fun to use. You can't take photographs with your regular cameras while we shoot rapids — it's simply too wet. (Imagine standing in front of a fire hose). But with one of these you can do snapshots on the river and under the waterfalls that we'll be visiting. Recommended. Do plan on coming away with snapshots as well as "art".
Subject matter dictates lenses. On this trip you can anticipate a little bit of everything. Looking at 35mm, I would bring a wide zoom or a couple of wide primes in the 16mm — 28mm range. A medium zoom, or prime in the 35mm — 75mm range, and then a long zoom like the 100~400mm. If you own a Tilt / Shift lens or have considered buying one then this is the trip to take it on. The Canon 24mm T/S is the ideal lens for this trip. You'll use it a lot.
Much of your shooting will be tripod mounted so speed isn't an issue. ISO 100 film should likely represent 90% of the film that you bring. If you normally shoot Velvia, that's fine, but the extra contrast will be unwelcome. Contrast is very high on the river with bright cliffs and deep shadows. I'll be shooting Fuji Provia 100. Brings some 400 speed film as well or plan on pushing a few rolls when the light gets low.
As for quality, figure on shooting between 30 and 50 36-exposure rolls during the 8 days that we're on the river. Don't run out of film! Bring more than you need. You'll use it eventually.
In medium format, if your camera or film back can take it, use 220 instead of 120 film. This will reduce by half the number of rolls that you have to bring.
As you all know, do not pack your film in your luggage. Baggage X-Ray systems will fog it. Hand carry your film on the plane with you. Remove all the cardboard packaging. Ask for a hand check if you can, but don't sweat it if you're refused. Boarding gate X-ray systems in the USA, Canada and Mexico and most of Western Europe will not damage film, even with multiple passes. (On a recent trip to Mexico my film was X-Rayed 6 times. No hint of a problem).
Bring a waterproof indelible felt pen and some large heavy-duty Ziploc bags. Keep your film in these bags at all times; exposed as well as unexposed. Keep the film in their plastic cans at all times. Sand and water are ever present enemies. Mark your unexposed film with your initials before you leave home. There will be 11 of us shooting together and we'll all be using the same or similar brands and will all have Ziploc baggies full of film. Let's avoid confusion.
Batteries, Flashlights & Misc.
Before you leave home put fresh batteries in everything. Then bring along another fresh set. Make sure that all your gear has spare batteries, including meters and flash units.
You're going to want to make notes. Most outdoor supply stores sell waterproof notebooks and pens.
Flashlights are a must. A double-A Maglite with a belt pouch is handy. I urge you to get a Petzl Zipca as well. We're going to be doing some night shooting (star trails) and also hiking back to our campsite occasionally after sunset. Having you hands free by using a headlamp is really convenient. Don't forget extra batteries for your flashlight and headlamp as well.
Make sure that you bring a locking cable release. We'll have lots of opportunity to shoot star trails and night exposures.
Bring a flash unit if you own one. If you're not familiar with doing daylight fill-flash this is a chance to learn how. Steve is something of an expert at doing this and there will be lots of opportunities to experiment.
Tripods and Heads
It goes without saying that a tripod is a must. If you don't already own a good one, now is the time to make the investment. Though they're expensive, a Gitzo carbon fiber is a great choice. A ballhead is also highly recommended. Geared heads or ones with levers are slow and awkward to use. An Arca Swiss B1 (with panning base) or a Kirk head are recommended. Lighter weight and ideal for hiking is the Acratech.
Cases and Bags
If you don't already own one you'll need to purchase a waterproof hand-shell case. This is a must-have. Pelican makes the best ones and they're available in a variety of sizes. Buy one without any foam or inserts and if yours has this, remove them down to the bare shell. You then want to put your backpack style soft camera bag inside the Pelican. Get a Pelican that will hold your backpack. For example, a good small backpack for hiking is the LowePro Mini-Trecker. This will go inside a medium or large Pelican. If you have a large one like the Pelican 1650 model then it will also hold some other gear as well.
You can check this as luggage on the airplane (Buy a combination lock for it, not a key lock). On the raft the Pelican will be strapped down while we're shooting the rapids. Your gear will be well protected in both instances. (Mark your Pelican case with some clear personal identification. There will be lots of identical black cases on the raft.)
When we stop to camp or do a hike, just open the Pelican, grab your Mini-Trecker and away we go. We're camping on sand each night and these cases are needed to keep the sand out of things then as well.
Vests Hats and Belts
If you use a shooting vest, these can come in handy. It's likely to be quite hot on our trip, especially during the last 3-4 days. A vest gives you pockets needed for film, filters and such, because you'll likely just be wearing shorts and a T-shirt. LowePro has a neat new system of belts and pouches, called Street and Field. Have a look at these as well.
A hat is a must. A wide-brimmed canvas hat (Tilley is a great brand) is a great investment.
I'll be doing a separate write up about clothing and other gear which I'll publish shortly.
A polarizer to fit each lens in your kit is highly recommended. You'll likely be using one almost all the time. (I have an article on polarizers coming in late January. Watch for it). If you don't already own and use them, give very serious consideration to purchasing split (graduated) neutral density filters. Cokin is OK, but I highly recommend the Lee system, though it's more expensive. Sing-Ray makes great filters to fit the Cokin system.
In any event, if you don't know how to use these this is a great time to learn how. I plan on publishing a tutorial on graduated ND filters and their use in February, so watch for it. In the meantime, if you have any questions, just let me know. These are almost a must. You'll regret not having them on this trip.
If you have any question on this topic, the Forum is a great place to ask, but please feel free to write to me privately.