My first Big Bend Trip: A city boy is going to the big open country

Planning the Big Bend Trip - Austin, Texas

Planning the Big Bend Trip – Austin, Texas

I’m going to the country. This may not be a big deal for most, but for me, it’s a momentous occasion. You see, I was born in New York City and lived mostly in big cities. Actually, Austin is one of the smaller places I’ve lived. When my family goes on vacation, we go to larger urban areas to recharge.

My situation is a source of endless fun for my friends. After all, I’ve never been camping, never been on a horse and never done other typical outdoorsy activities. Not to say I haven’t lived life though. I ask my nature-loving friends if they’ve ever ridden on the outside of a subway train before. Well anyway, that’s back when I was in high school and they frown upon outdoor train riding in NYC now.

from Austin to Big Bend Map

I’m going to Big Bend National Park, all the way on the South Western end of Texas near the border with Mexico. A photography expedition and a workshop of sorts. My friend Alex Suarez is leading it. Between him and the other participants, we have a lot of experienced people and a total of 8. It will take at least 7 hours, not including food and rest stops.

hiking boots

It’s been interesting preparing for it, mainly the non-photography gear. I’ve gone to REI more than I ever have, picking up comfortable hiking boots and assorted knickknacks. So, I’m going to a desert in the dry season in a middle of a drought and the forecast says it’s going to rain? Are you kidding me? Back to REI for some weatherproof pants.

I even “invested” in a new camera backpack too. A nice Thinktank Streetwalker Pro which seems perfect for the gear I plan to bring. When I travel on planes and through cities, I go light with a small messenger style bag and mirrorless cameras. This trip is different. We’re going by car (minivan actually) and it’s going to be packed to the gills with everyone’s photo gear. We’re supposed to be hiking too, which got me a little concerned. Remember that bit about never being in the country?

I’m going to say it right here, before the trip, that my gear selection might be a colossal mistake. But, I’m doing it. I’m taking 5 cameras! Crazy right? I know. And not all of them are the small mirrorless variety.

Thinktank Backpack

First up, I’m bringing my Canon 6D with the 24-105mm f4 lens. It’s my highest quality digital camera and I’m going to use it for landscapes. I also have an old manual focus Tokina 19 – 35mm which I’ll use for night, wide-angle shooting. Big Bend is supposed to have the darkest skies in the continental U.S., I want to shoot the Milky Way. Oh, did I mention that I’ve only seen the Milky Way once or twice in my life? Stargazing in NYC, not good.

I said in my previous post that I’m getting into Medium Format Film. So, I’m also taking my Mamiya 645E with 3 prime lenses. I now have a 55mm, a 80mm and a 150mm. In 35mm terms, they equate to a 35mm, 50mm and 93mm focal lengths. I’m really curious how medium format film compares to my full frame (digital) Canon 6D. How are the colors? The detail? I think Big Bend will be a wonderful landscape test for both cameras.

I’m also bringing my Nikon 35Ti compact film camera. I get to shoot it along side the big film camera — with the same film. Kodak Portra 400, which I always use and Fujifilm Velvia 100 slide film, which I’ve never shot. Slide film is more challenging than negative film so I’ll see how that goes.


I’m taking my ultra compact Pentax Q7 system with 3 lenses. I’ll have the 40mm equivalent prime but also the 18 – 28mm and 70 – 210mm equivalent zoom lenses. The entire system weighs a mere 1 pound. Ironically, I’m going to have the most reach and flexibility with the lightest system. It will be fun to document the trip and I might even use it for landscapes.

Finally, I’m bringing the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Charles from Olympus let me use it along with the wide-angle lens. I’m going to do something special with it, which I’ll talk about after the trip. It will be neat if it actually works.

So there you have it. My crazy kit for my first ever landscape excursion. I won’t hike with all my gear but with tripod and water, the backpack is still going to be 20 pounds. Much more than I’m used to carrying since I’m usually a light and nimble mirrorless guy. We’ll see. As I get tired, I might shed gear on subsequent hikes.

Wish me luck, I should be back Sunday.

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11 thoughts on “My first Big Bend Trip: A city boy is going to the big open country

  1. Big Bend NP is an amazing place. I live about an hour’s drive south of Houston, so for me, it’s a 13-hour drive over to the park. I’ve been there in December and in late April (when the cactus was in bloom, which is incredible, btw). I’ve written a number of blog posts about my trips. Five cameras does seem like an awful lot, but I will be interested to see the shots you get from them. Have fun and enjoy the wide open spaces and fantastic scenery you will see. Most of the hiking is steep, so toting along all of that gear might be problematic (or not, depending upon what kind of shape you are in). Have a great time!

  2. To someone who only ever takes one camera, one lens, no bag, no tripod, your gear list sounds frightening. Having said that, 20 pounds isn’t exactly too heavy so maybe I’m just ultra lazy. In any case, it sounds like a cool trip and I’m sure you will get some amazing photo opportunities. As a fellow urban shooter, I’ll be interested to read of your experience at shooting “the country”. For me, I find it a little harder to “see” the good or interesting compositions. I often resort to the clichés though I see nothing wrong with that.

    Anyway, have fun, and stay safe and blister free.

  3. And you are also bringing your pack mule? Or horse? Just wondering. I understand, I really do because I tend to bring all my cameras everywhere … and then I wind up using ONE. The others never leave their bags.

  4. That’s an awful lot of different systems for a short trip. I have a hard time dealing the the required mindsets when carrying two different systems which I rarely do anymore. I take the micro 4/3 system for walking around town and people gatherings and the 5D MK II for studio portraits or rural landscapes. Just can’t get any satisfaction when shooting rural landscapes with four thirds so I’ll never give up my full frame system but when around town or at a party I can’t deal with the bulk of full frame. Have fun, the sun is at a good angle for desert shooting this time of year.

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