The Big Bend Report: What was it like shooting with 5 cameras, actually 6?

The Rio Grande - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

The Rio Grande – Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I went on my first ever landscape photography trip to Big Bend last week. I mentioned that I was bringing 5 cameras — actually 6, if you include the iPhone 5S. Understandably, people thought I was crazy. I had my doubts too. But it worked out pretty good as did the other non-camera gear I recently bought.

The hiking boots are fantastic and especially helped in those rocky places. The Thinktank camera bag was comfortable and my back thanked me. Though the weather nixed our longest planned hike, I held up well after two 2 mile hikes on Friday. 20 pounds, which seemed moderately heavy on the way out, felt light on the way home. Looks like this hiking thing is a good strength training exercise.

So how did all those cameras work out? Not bad. I used every camera I brought. Some more than others, as you can see.

Pentax Q7 3093 photos
Olympus OM-D E-M10 720 photos
Canon 6D 624 photos
Apple iPhone 5S 111 photos
Nikon 35Ti 68 photos (1.84 rolls)
Mamiya 645E 60 photos (4 rolls)
Visitor's Center - Big Bend Ranch State Park

The star of the show was the Pentax Q7. I carried the camera along with 3 lenses in my small Domke bag which I brought everywhere. It was my go to camera and I shot both landscapes and candids during the trip. The big backpack and the tripod stayed in the trunk and was only used during our hikes and longer stops. For quick jaunts and in car shooting, it was the Q7 all the way.

Giant rock at Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Cactus Closeup - Big Bend National Park, Texas

I shot a large number of black and whites which I thought worked especially well. Something about the pointy plants and textured rocks in the desert that really works well in monochrome. I’m glad because while the Q7 black and white street photos in Japan worked well, I wasn’t sure how the style would translate in America.

Little House in the Desert - Big Bend National Park, Texas

I didn’t photograph with the Nikon 35Ti as much as I thought — I didn’t quite finish two rolls. Part of the reason is that I was shooting with so many cameras. There wasn’t much of a weight penally, though. and the 35Ti and the Pentax Q7 kit both fit conveniently in that Domke bag. I got back the first roll and the photos, especially the color, looked great.

Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The medium format Mamiya 645E, on the other hand, got more use than expected. 60 photos doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to digital, but considering that each shutter press costs between $1.25 and $1.80, it adds up quickly. Because taking pictures with film, especially medium format, costs real money, I’m naturally more selective. But looking at those landscapes through a giant glass viewfinder was heavenly.

I shot the Mamiya meticulously which is in stark contrast to the quick, rapid fire grab shots I make with the Pentax Q7. It was fun shooting both ways. Which method creates better photographs? Now that’s a good question.

A path through an alien landscape - Big Bend, Texas

With little risk, I took more chances with the digital Q7 which sometimes creates surprisingly compelling images. There are more throwaways, of course, but there is a sense of playfulness and experimentation. The Mamiya is more like Zen meditation. I contemplate that image and will it into existence with the loud clack of the shutter and the satisfying tactile feel of advancing the film to the next frame. The images are not daring enough though. The fear of “wasting” money prevents me from taking chances with my 645 imagery.

I shot the Canon 6D more like the medium format camera and used a tripod and took brackets (3 shots) for HDR. I slowed down and look carefully throughout the frame, scrutinizing the composition more than ever before — even with no risk of wasted money. My desire for the quick digital captures are satisfied by the Q7. The 6D became a serious landscape camera. You can see my Canon 6D HDR handiwork at the top of the post.

The iPhone held its own and did well in service of creating Instagrams. My Instagram uploads were squeezed in during the short and sparse cell and WiFi coverage. Thanks to the blog readers who follow me on Instagram. They got to see an early preview of the places I’ve been.

Finally, I used the Olympus E-M10 for a very specific reason, which I’ll go into, in a future post. It was a high-tech feature which wowed some of my fellow photographers. Better photographs through technology! That said, I was the only one with film cameras so I embraced old and new tech equally, I suppose.

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16 thoughts on “The Big Bend Report: What was it like shooting with 5 cameras, actually 6?

  1. I’m seriously thinking about the Q7. I’m having trouble finding it in the configuration I want. They all come with either the no. 2 and no. 6 lenses, just the 2. I want the 1 and the 8. I can’t find the 8 anywhere and the number 1 lens, when you can find it at all, costs as much as the entire camera including the no. 2 telephoto. But I’m going to keep looking. I love your take on the camera. Pentax should pay you 🙂

    1. I don’t think the Q7 ever came with the 01 Standard Prime as a set, though in the beginning the original Q did, for a while. The 08 is a great lens but pretty expensive. I bought the two lens 02 and 06 set and then bought the 01 and 08 separately. It can get expensive, though I had the benefit of getting it in Japan where the price was a lot lower than in the U.S.

  2. Nice images! What a beautiful land. I agree, HDR is an art style, its not meant to look natural. I love it. Great job.

  3. I wasn’t there, so can’t speak to whether the HDR shot reflects reality — but it certainly is a pleasant, subtle use of the technique.

  4. I am fascinated with your recount of your experience. Not least the phenomenal photo count. At around 12-15 hours of daylight a day that’s almost one photo per minute over seven days. Blisteringly amazing.
    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the photos on Instagram and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the rest of the photos to come. I’d be interested to know how you felt about shooting nature as opposed to shooting urban. Like you, I shoot mostly urban and find myself somewhat ill at ease when shooting landscapes and nature subjects. It’s like I know how to put my own stamp on urban landscapes but feel lost when it comes to shooting natural landscapes.
    Looking forward to seeing the Q7 photos on Tumblr. As for the 6D shot, it looks just fine to me.

    1. Cedric, I never thought about it that way. Out of the 3093 shots on the Q7, about 450 were part of a time laps I was playing with. The numbers may be even more extreme since I was only out there 5 days instead of 7. What can I say, I do shoot a lot. But not with film, luckily. That would get too expensive.

      Nature is good, “in moderation”, I guess. I still think in angles and lines that I see in architecture. I was thinking of a blog post to compare urban and nature landscapes.

      Wow, I need to post even quicker on Tumblr since I still have a pile of Japan photos to post. It’s going to be a while, unless I give up the chronological posts I’m doing.

      Thanks as always for continuing to follow my work.

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