Zenfolio | Matthew Clay | Photography and hiking

Photography and hiking

August 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

A lot of people message me to ask what camera I use, so I thought I'd do up a quick post on the topic to explain how I got to where I am when it comes to photography.

Me and my D90 setup. That's a lot of straps and weight I realized I don't need. While I've always been interested in photography, I didn't actively get into it until May 2010 when I bought my first digital SLR, a Nikon D90 with a 18-105 mm lens.  At the time I did a lot of reading on the technical aspects of photography, practiced a bit, and watched my photography slowly get better. Things improved further when I began to shoot RAW and process in Adobe Lightroom.  But one thing bothered me:  I didn't seem to enjoy hiking and photography as much as I thought I should!  In part it came down to the only practical setup for carrying the SLR camera, which was to have it strapped across my chest.  This made adding or removing clothing layers frustratingly complex and the camera, lens, filter, and carrying case setup weighed nearly 4 lbs, which is no small amount of weight to lug up a mountain!  The net result was that my enjoyment of hiking suffered because of my photography.  It took a long time, but what I came to realize was that I am a hiker who wanted to use photography to document my adventures, but had been trying to be a photographer who used hiking to get great photos.  And it left me oddly unhappy. 

Once I realized this I set out to find a camera that would still take nice photos with full manual control, but that was also very lightweight and easy to carry.  Generally speaking cameras like this are known as compact enthusiast cameras as they're aimed at people who enjoy photography, but who abhor the price and bulk of professional gear.  A bit of research revealed a consensus that the Sony RX100 was by far the best camera in this class.  Newer versions of the same camera also exist, but they all have features unnecessary for hiking photography, so I picked up an original RX100 for a bit under $500.  I've used it exclusively since March 2014, so every photo on this site since then has been from that camera. Me and my RX100. Tiny and convenient!

After nearly 2 years I can say without a doubt that I love the RX100!  It really is the perfect camera for a hiker.  The camera and case weigh just 325 g, a whopping 1500 g less than my D90 setup, and it easily attaches to the shoulder strap of my backpack.  I don't even notice it when I'm hiking, but it's always there ready to take a great photo when I'm suitably inspired.  It's just plain easy and fun to use.  I still shoot RAW with full manual control and process in Lightroom too, so I have complete control over the photography.  There is, of course, a difference in photo quality between the D90 and RX100, however.  The RX100  photos have more noise, are a little less sharp, and have more chromatic aberration, but in order to see any of this I need to view the 20 MP image full size on my computer.  In any normal viewing situation I can't see a difference, so for me the pros vastly outweigh the cons. 

So if you've been wondering what camera I use, now you know!  If you were wondering because you liked the photos on this site and wanted a camera of similar quality, I strongly recommend the original RX100, which you can still get new for under $500.  But before you buy anything, consider whether you're a hiker or a photographer first.  It should influence what camera you get.  If you believe you're a photographer first, get a DSLR.  Nikon makes some great ones. 


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