Monday, October 21, 2013

Backpacking in Sweden - Kungsleden with a film SLR

 A while ago I went to Vietnam with a DSLR with an ultra wide angle zoom and a standard 18 – 55 mm kit lens. This time, weight was an issue and I couldn’t justify the bulk of a 5D mark II plus a 16 – 35 and another prime... Moreover it’s just a pain having to be constantly careful not damaging it while dropping your rucksack on the ground, or any similar situation. 

Beautiful light scenes in the valleys

 With me

  • Minolta X-300
  • Roccor MC 58 mm f/1.4
  • Vivitar 28 mm f/2.8
  • 2 x 36 Superia 200
  • Canon S110 (+ 2 batt)
What should have taken with me?

  • a 20 mm  lens 
  • a small tripod/Gorillapod-style

Why film?

As hiking isn’t in a fast changing environment like cities and as I’m shooting still more film, I decided to take a “cheap” film SLR with one or two lenses: a Minolta X-300, a 28 mm f/2.8, a 58 mm f/1.4 and two rolls of Superia 200 (36 exp). I bought a second-hand Canon S110 (the pocketable successor of my now-sold G12) to complement the SLR for times where the SLR doesn’t come handy and for movies. Unfortunately, the parcel arrived the moment when I stepped into the plane, too bad. Luckily, two of the three other persons hiking with me had their own so it wasn’t such an issue.

In mid september, rivers are at low levels enabling easy water crossings

Our trip was a fraction of the “King’s Trail” in Sweden, Northern Läpland or Kungsleden. It goes from Abisko to Nikkaluokta, North to South (this detail will have its importanceas I had the sun constantly in front of me when hiking - ideal for walking but quite challenging when having to take pictures).

“L” hiking boots vs GoreTex lenses

Just for those who are interested in doing the same trail, be sure you have the right equipment as Abisko is located above the Arctic circle and temperatures can drop rapidly with overcast days and/or when the sun is blocked by the surrounding mountains. Hikers will agree, walking with wet feet and being cold is the least ideal situation so don’t hesitate to invest in adequate gear: hiking boots, wind blocking vest, adapted fleece (drop the cash on Polartec fleece, it’s worth every penny), a rucksack with a harness capable of distributing heavy loads on your hips, … Sweden has a long history of designing adapted outdoor gear (Fjallräven is the most famous brand); you can find many shops in Stockholm, like Naturkompaniet, which are gold mines for every hiker looking for appropriate gear.

This part of Sweden is so isolated that you can encounter
many mooses and get very close without scaring them

As for photography equipment, you get what you pay for; with heavy use, an L-lens will take years of abuse and still be working while a cheap kit lens will just fall apart. So don’t rely on cheap, unreliable hiking equipment (unless proven otherwise) as your comfort, and sometimes your physical integrity depends on it. If your harness or one of your shoes breaks in the middle of nowhere with a 4-day bad weather forecast in uninhabited territory, you’ll be desperate trying to fix it (granted that it’s still possible of course). 

Minolta X-300 with the described lenses,
28 mm  f/2.8, 58 mm f/1.4 and a roll of Superia 20

The experience, the lessons

As the landscapes are beautiful in these regions, I should have taken a wider lens than 28 mm; I knew it but I just couldn’t get one in due time without having to pay an amount beyond my expectations. Twenty eight millimeters is just too short for these landscapes. I didn’t felt the need for a longer lens than the 58 mm. The second item that I should have taken was a small tripod as Northern lights can show up (and they did), even in mid September. I managed to make some “handheld-on-a-branch-without-breathing-during-30-seconds” shots but it remains quite challenging though. But hikers will also know that every 100 g saved is either more food that you can take or less weight to carry throughout the trip, so I ditched the tripod to lighten my backpack.

Northern lights are in fact less bright than depicted on this picture,
but the dynamic character isn't rendered at it's best

The cool fact with this analog setup is that 1) it’s ultra cheap and robust so I didn’t care when I threw them in my dusty backpack without lens caps (I had used the lenses quite a bit for several years before so I was confident about their resistance) and 2) it gives you superb (or equivalent) image quality (and rendition) compared to digital SLR’s. And-you’re-such-an-hipster-omg-omg-omg (smiley here).


Film vs digital

Well, it’s a personal choice. You don’t “pay” for digital shots, so you can take as much “useless” photos as you want (we all agree that every trip needs some them, dozens in fact)! Taking a film SLR was more for film color and rendition as well as the pleasure of taking the time to frame, adjust and shoot accordingly. I’m on holiday, so I relax.

A comfortable and appreciated location near Nikkaluokta