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Advice on camera/lens for trekking to Everest Base Camp


Seba66

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Hi everyone, I wouldn't want to bore you 🙃 with the usual request for travel advice, but I would have a fairly specific request that I have not found a trace of in this community.

Soon I will leave for the trek at Camp Base Everest and 14 days of trekking are waiting for me, in some moments very strenuous. I would be happy to receive advices from those who have had this experience or at a least similar one in the Himalayan range with multi-days trekking in altitude.

At the moment I own:

  • M10 with CV 28 f/2 Ultron and CV 50 f/1.5 Nokton VM II
  • SL2-S with Leica SVE 24-90 and Sigma 65 f/2 Contemporary

The number 1 priority is to contain the weight, both in the backpack and on the neck, since I will keep the camera almost always ready for use. Then accepting a compromise on IQ and flexibility.

I have already excluded the SL2-S + 24-90 kit which is my typical workhorse in travel. In accordance with the highest priority, the kit to choose should be M10 + CV 28 and 50. But my doubts about which I ask for an opinion with those with similar experiences are:

  • Would I miss a wider lens? In particular, if any of you have already done so, is a wider lens needed for the Everest viewpoint from Khala Pattar?
  • Would I need a moderate tele, like a 90mm, for panoramas from a distance?
  • Based on the previous two points, could a more balanced kit be 21+35+90?

As a body I should go on M10 and save almost 300 g. But in the choice of the M10 both the weather sealing and the possibility of charging the battery in progress with a power bank slows me down.

 

What would you do in my shoes?

PS. Please don't suggest that I leave everything at home and use an iPhone 😅

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My advice is worthless, since I have never been anywhere near Everest Base Camp.

Since you are willing to consider buying other kit, then in your shoes I would buy a MP (perhaps a spare battery, though probably not necessary), lots of film, and possibly a Q3. Generously, I would stick with your existing lenses: I rarely find it helpful to go wider than 28mm.

I told you my advice would be worthless! 

Edited by LocalHero1953
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You don't want to hear it, but why go for the extra weight? You are going to be oxygen starved, and colder than Hell anyway, but you will have your phone with you. To me that's a "DUH" moment.

 

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Bear in mind that some cameras which rely on battery power might fail completely at low temperatures.

Philip.

EDIT : I see Pyrogallo posted much the same thing as I was typing!

😸

Edited by pippy
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I hiked the famous Pico-to-Pico (from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo) tour on Madeira Island with my M11 + CV Ultron 28mm f/2.0 ASPH Type I + Leica Summicron 50mm IV + 2 batteries.

The altitudes of that hike (1862 meters) doesn't come near as that what are you are planning to do but let me tell you my experience and advise:

- I was changing lenses back and forth because of the composition and did that when there was an opportunity (as in time for it; reason for that see below)

- The foot traffic by all the hikers in both directions, combined with steep narrow hiking paths make it difficult to stand there for a long time (changing lenses, taking time for the composition waiting for clouds or clouds passing by (often you hike through clouds); the place is famous for it fast changing micro climate)

- The volcanic dust was quite nasty and changing lenses was a gamble getting dust into your camera or having it on the last glass element of your lenses when a gust or other hikers in front/above you whirled it up

- Even though the M camera with those both tiny lenses those still takes a lot of space and weight on you

- In retrospective reducing the camera gear for more water, electrolytes & (dried) food; everything quite important on those hikes; hence temperature regulation by removing and putting on layers of clothes (releasing heat to not starting to sweat and loosing salt & magnesium in your body and keep yourself warm when it gets windy/cold) and having enough energy & electrolytes for replenishing salt & magnesium; especially latter one to avoid cramping. On that hike I rationed my water and I drank the last drop on the lower part of Pico Ruivo. Fortunately there was a water source close to the cabin and I was able to refill my bottles for the last part to the very top and the rest of the hike.

- Every single gram you can save on the long hikes in the higher altitudes is a blessing; I didn't have any problems with it as I am used to that but probably I would have leave the Summicron 50mm in the hotel room as...

- ... the CV 28mm was more than enough especially the crop capabilities of the M11 sensor resolution 

- I was thinking during the hike if it wasn't a better idea either to leave the M11 and the lenses in the hotel room and just hiked with either a Q2/Q3 or to be more crass just take a Ricoh GR3 with me.

Edited by R4p70r
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I will go on the second half of May, in that season we expect that the temperature will be above zero, well above most of the path. So I don’t see the need to rely on mechanical cameras. I'm more worried about the rain with the M10 than the SL2-S. Although with M lenses the SL2-S can also be critical.

I want to reduce the weight as much as possible but I’m pretty confident that I can do with less than 2 kg, better close to 1 kg, of gears. 

I was looking more on advice on technical aspect, how much wide, how much reach, eventually which type of gear, but thanks anyway for the other recommendation you gave me😅

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24 minutes ago, Seba66 said:

I will go on the second half of May, in that season we expect that the temperature will be above zero, well above most of the path. So I don’t see the need to rely on mechanical cameras. I'm more worried about the rain with the M10 than the SL2-S. Although with M lenses the SL2-S can also be critical.

I want to reduce the weight as much as possible but I’m pretty confident that I can do with less than 2 kg, better close to 1 kg, of gears. 

I was looking more on advice on technical aspect, how much wide, how much reach, eventually which type of gear, but thanks anyway for the other recommendation you gave me😅

You've left out some important information.  What is your experience?  Are you an experienced mountaineer?  Have you done high-altitude hiking in the past?  If so, what is the highest elevation you've hiked in, how much weight did you carry, and how much equipment did you have with you then?

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35 minutes ago, hepcat said:

You've left out some important information.  What is your experience?  Are you an experienced mountaineer?  Have you done high-altitude hiking in the past?  If so, what is the highest elevation you've hiked in, how much weight did you carry, and how much equipment did you have with you then?

Yes, I have experience of hiking at that elevation. I have been over 4000 many times and over 5500 one time. I used to have with me Nikon Df with 16-35 in those occasions. We will have porters so I will carry only a backpack with camera gears and small quantities of food, water and clothes (there are many teahouses along the way so don’t need to carry much food), so no more than 1-1.5 kg more than gears (body, lenses, one spare battery, power bank)

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What an amazing trip! It sounds like a real adventure.

The most strenuous high-altitude anything I've done is going over a few twelve-thousand-foot passes in the High Sierra. Before and after those passes, there was a lot of strenuous climbing and trekking over fairly rough terrain. It was cold at night, below freezing. We were out for maybe four days. So, easy compared to what you'll be doing, but not entirely unrelated.

After thinking a lot about the gear beforehand and debating among my various bigger cameras, I settled on taking a Ricoh GR III with three spare batteries (each the size of a match book). That's a 28mm lens. I found it to be versatile enough to cover a lot. It was a good default focal length. During the trip, I found that I didn't want to go wider, but I did wish I could have gone tighter. The problem with 28mm is that it pushes the background further away; it makes the mountains look puny, even when they're huge. This makes it difficult to convey scale from certain angles. It worked better from high up looking down, and was less effective from lower down looking up.

What I liked about the GR III was that I could keep it in my trouser pocket. I never had to stop, open my pack, and unpack it. When I was considering taking bigger cameras, I'd been thinking about a fanny pack or Peak Design clip on the front strap of my backpack. But as it turned out, I was often scrambling on my front up steep rocky slopes, or sometimes descending or traversing hand over hand while facing the rock, and I'm really glad that I didn't have to worry about damaging a camera while moving that way. Instead, I could retrieve the camera from my pocket one-handed, while holding my trekking poles or the rock in the other hand, take a picture, and then return it to my pocket. We didn't do much dilly-dallying; we were always trying to make time, getting from one place to another. The convenience of this small, pocketable, always-ready camera was a big deal. But that idea has receded with time, and when I next do something similar, I think I'll probably spring for a GR IIIx (40mm) to carry in my other (zippered) trouser pocket. Or I'd bring a Q2 (I prefer a viewfinder).

If I had your gear, I would probably bring the M10 with the 28mm, and stow the 50mm in my pack. (It doesn't weigh that much.) I'd put the camera on an adjustable shoulder strap and use a carabiner to secure the lower end to my belt loop; I'd then cinch the strap tight so that the camera wasn't swinging around. (There's a Red Dot Forum video called "Keeping It Simple" where one of the guys demonstrates this setup with a digital CL.) I'd keep the 28mm on the camera by default, but sometimes switch to the 50mm. What I wouldn't do, probably, is change lenses frequently, exposing the sensor to dust and moisture. I'd think strategically, when I was resting, about what lens I wanted to use until the next stop.

More broadly, I think there are two questions you have to answer. The first is, What kind of gear will help me get the images I want? The second is, How much do I care about getting perfect images? In my case, my trip was so spectacular and memorable that I'm happy with the images I happened to get—essentially, snapshots. So, overall, I'd err on the side of being very simple and light. But you may feel differently, and want to attempt to craft proper landscape photographs. It all depends on your goals.

On the way down from the pass, 28mm:

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If you are going to trek for 2 weeks, then how will you be able to recharge batteries?  

When I was younger I travelled, hiked and climbed mountains all over the world. In those times film was the only way to go. So I had one film camera with two zooms and a whole stock of film rolls in my backpack. I sent my exposed rolls to my brother in Switzerland where he would have them processed for me and I would discover my pictures sometimes months after I took them. But there was some kind of magic to it. 

Trust me, you will hate to change lenses in the middle of a hike just to take that picture. Your M10 will be ruined before you know it... And you won't be able to clean its sensor correctly while on the way. The M is not weatherproof... To me the M is definitely not the camera to bring on a trek. The War reporters using M cameras during Vietnam war were using film cameras !

If you will have access to a power supply during the trek to charge batteries, then you should use the Q2 or Q3. That's what I use when hiking and climbing with my friends in the Swiss alps now. Single hand usable. Lots cropping possibilities from 46MP sensor. And some degree of weatherproofing....

 

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2 hours ago, Seba66 said:

I will go on the second half of May, in that season we expect that the temperature will be above zero, well above most of the path. So I don’t see the need to rely on mechanical cameras. I'm more worried about the rain with the M10 than the SL2-S. Although with M lenses the SL2-S can also be critical.

I want to reduce the weight as much as possible but I’m pretty confident that I can do with less than 2 kg, better close to 1 kg, of gears. 

I was looking more on advice on technical aspect, how much wide, how much reach, eventually which type of gear, but thanks anyway for the other recommendation you gave me😅

Ah, okily dokily. 

Are you familiar with the British photographer Thomas Heaton? 

In the past he did the Everest Base Camp hike with the porters carrying all the other stuff and himself a backpack with the necessary stuff plus camera gear. 
Even though he isn't using Leica gear but you can look at his camera gear he was taking there: 

Thomas Heaton Everest Base Camp trekking videos 

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Hi,

I have been there in 2011.

My Everest area trekking included Gokyo lakes, Kala Pattar (but not the Everest base camp itself) and Island Peak which is much higher (at 6100m). The itinerary was well balanced, with progressively higher nights (one of the main things to get used to altitude is to try to avoid sleeping much more than 400 m/1200 ft higher every day). At that time, I was using a Canon DSLR system. I took a 5D, with 17-40/4, 24-105/4, and 70-200/4 lenses. I used all the focal ranges, but I just looked at the pictures, and I think I could have done most with a 24-90. The Kala Pattar view would work with a 28mm or 35mm unless you want to compose landscape pictures with a decent foreground.

If I were to go again with Leica equipment, I would probably take the SL2s with 21, 35 and 90mm primes. But that is probably just a question of style. The 24-90 should cover a lot of things. You might sometimes miss a few mm for some landscape shots with a foreground that you would like to include in the composition. In the long end, not having more than 90mm means some "landscape pattern" pictures become difficult (for instance, glacier patterns).

A couple of other comments on using cameras there:

I never had any DSLR failure there and would expect M or SL bodies to just work. Temperatures get cold and the M body can be a bit of a pain when it becomes very cold (I remember getting headache using my M9 in northern Japan and realised the headache was due to the camera being just so cold... of course good clothes would help!).

Energy is a problem. If you stay in lodges, you should be able to charge quite often but not every day. Batteries can go down fast in cold weather. The DSLR just worked well, but I would expect both the M and SL to be more problematic. So carry extra batteries, and charge whenever possible. Consider a portable solar panel (I never tried, but see some can be put on your backpack so as to get some energy during the day; I would probably try to see whether that could work before going).

In case of very cold temperatures, leaving the battery in the camera when not in use sounds like a bad idea. In fact, I would often keep batteries warm (in a pocket) and put them in the camera right before use...

Last, weight can be mitigated with a good carrying solution. I used a beltpack with my DSLR and that meant the weight was on my hips and not my shoulders. Also, no effort was needed to access what I needed during the day. That saved me a lot of effort.

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I've not been to those altitudes, but I'll add my comments since it sounds like such an interesting trip and you already have a lot of experience.

I have been North of the Arctic Circle in winter at -40 C, but we had dogs for the longer trip. Given what you've said, I'd bring the M10 and a 35mm lens or the 28mm if that's what you've got. Changing lenses can require glove changes and if you have the luxury of a warm resting place, there's a huge risk of condensation which will then turn into ice instantly when going back out. Eye lashes can also get covered in ice if you breath while exiting from a warm place. Your temperatures may not be so extreme, but it is something to keep in mind. I thought the blurry shot from a compact was one of the more memorable ones. Like another posted said, it depends on what you want from your pictures. You'll have great memories no matter what.

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I took the Lukla to Base Camp trek in 2016, and wandered around with a D800 and a 24-70 lens. If I knew then what I know today, I would have used only a 28 prime lens, and then a 50 or 75 for some headshots. I shot almost everything at 24 - 30, most of the time. I think most people, like me, would want to capture the entire scenario. You can look forward to a truly grand experience. Physically, I didn't find it as hard as I expected - you will gasp for breath, but a short break gives you your breath back and you are ready for the next move. My knees were what hurt the most, and when there are only squat toilets, it's a challenge. You will have a guide with you... it's not feasible without one, and he will gladly carry a backpack for you. If you can choose a guide and he's still active, ask for Ming - The Ice Man; with him, you're in the best hands. But by all means, go for it - it's an amazing experience.

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It's been years since I've been to Nepal (re-visit overdue!) but in the past I've been with Canon 1ds mk2, multiple lenses and 40 rolls of slide film! I've not done base camp as been up Langtang valley and other treks. This gets to about 12-13,500 feet.

There are battery charging sockets in every tea house going up to base camp according to my bro who went about 10 years ago. I'd take the M10, 28 + 50. You can stitch the 28/50 shots as panos when you get back. I think it is good to have a portrait lens, I took the canon 70-200 zoom and it was great but weight wise if you're trying to be a weight weanie big zooms are a no and the 50mm will do.

I'd also suggest you consider a porter +/- guide. It's an important part of the local economy as much as anything else. Don't do what some do which is stay at one tea house and eat at another, they set their prices based on guests staying and eating. If you're going to get a porter book one direct on site in Kathmandu.

It's my favourite place on earth. Amazing scenery and a beer and curry every night for dinner, what's not to love;-)

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2 hours ago, Seba66 said:

Yes, I have experience of hiking at that elevation. I have been over 4000 many times and over 5500 one time. I used to have with me Nikon Df with 16-35 in those occasions. We will have porters so I will carry only a backpack with camera gears and small quantities of food, water and clothes (there are many teahouses along the way so don’t need to carry much food), so no more than 1-1.5 kg more than gears (body, lenses, one spare battery, power bank)

Well done.  You have more and more recent experience than I, which precludes me from offering anything of substance for you.  You already know what you're facing and what you can do.  Best wishes for a successful trip!  I hope you'll post your photos when you return!

 

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My last hike topped 11,000 ft and I was carrying a Nikon DSLR...but wisely I used a zoom lens so I never had to change lenses. Since you're fixed on taking a camera body, I'd suggest you go with, and mostly use a wide angle lens to capture the grandeur. Best of luck on the hike. If you take medication make sure you bring along an adequate supply. The night before we began that hike, I met a physician from the US in a bar and discovered he was part of our party. He boasted that he had all the meds anybody in the party would need. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't complete the hike, he got altitude sickness the night before the final ascent, and had to rely on his wife to regale him with the hike details.

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let the fun start 

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