What would we take into the mountains?

You are going into the mountains for three nights. This is not a dedicated photography trip, but an adventure with friends or family. You have packed your tent, your sleeping bag, warm clothes, cooking gear and food. Your pack is now pretty heavy, but you say something that astonishes your hiking (or bushwalking as we call it in Australia)  buddies: you are prepared to add 1.5kg of cameras and lenses to that! As they watch incredulously, you put into your pack……what?

We don’t know what you would do, but we can tell you what we typically pack.

David’s Choice

  • Sony A7rIII (650g)
  • Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 (394g)
  • Sony FE 2.8/50 macro (220g)
  • Carl Zeiss Tele Tessar T* 4/85 ZM (212g) (review coming soon)

I would probably take my A7rIII. I could save some grams with an earlier A7 series, but I don’t have one. And the latest series – the III series is nicer to use. likely I would add it it:

Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8:  Still state of the art for a wide, and it’s not so wide as be a special effects lens, yet wide enough for some exaggerated perspective.

Sony FE 50mm f2.8 Macro: This relatively unsexy lens is unusually light as well as sharp at every distance, and makes a perfectly acceptable infinity landscape lens, a very good macro lens for those alpine flowers, and the eye-AF works well enough for some informal portraits of my hiking buddies in the early days of the trip before they get too self-conscious about being dirty.

Zeiss ZM 85mm f4: It’s small, it’s super sharp, it has lovely sunstars, it’s light. I could save a little weight with the Zeiss G90mm, but I’d lose the sunstars, and I’m not sure it’s quite as sharp though it’s very good. This little lens is a top choice for almost no compromise optics when you need to pack light and speed is not needed.

What else would I consider: 

A zoom isn’t silly. If I had one the new Sony FE 24-105 might make sense, but I’d lose macro, lose 21, lose sunstars at the focal length extremes. I’ve sometimes hiked with the Zeiss (C/Y) 35-70 f.3.5 or  with the Sony 16-35 f4.

Phillip’s Choice

I considered my old a7 for a moment but the display has a defective contact so I can’t fully articulate it which is annoying and the FE 4/16-35 is prone to sensor reflections. That leaves the a7II.

The FE 4/16-35 isn’t that light and not great against the light but then it is only 120g heavier than a Loxia 2.8/21 and it offers a very handy zoom range, high contrast and very good sharpness so that I am usually very happy with the results.

I currently have my G90 modified by a very nice guy who transplants them into a real helicoids. After that it will be an E-mount lens which focuses down to about 60 cm and which weighs only 200g. That is spectacular for a high contrast lens with very good sharpness.

What else would I consider: I considered bringing my FE 2/28 and a Zeiss Planar 1.7/50 or just the Voigtlander 1.7/35 with its great sunstars an excellent flare resistance but I would feels that I would miss out on more dynamic compositions which require a shorter focal length.

Bastian’s Choice

I would pack my A7s to free up some weight for additional lenses (50mm 1.5). On top of that it gives me quite a bit more room for scenic available light shots.

Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8: Still the best wide angle lens for me and one that never let me down. I can also use it for some astrophotography if necessary.

Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 Nokton: Not the perfect match to higher resolution cameras but quite nice on the A7s. Stopped down to f/8 good enough for landscape and when it gets dark it will really shine in combination with the A7s.

MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4: Just too lightweight to pass on. Gives me a longer lens with great bokeh as well as color correction and contrast up to modern standards. Can also be used as a lens for panoramic shots in case I am missing any other focal length.

ms-optics aporis 135mm 2.4 fluorit jch japancamerahunter miyazaki sadayasu review sony a7rII a7riii 42mp
MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 with lens hood

What else would I consider: 

If I was on a multi day hike chances are high it would be to do some astrophotography. If that was the case I would pack Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE and Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 Ultron + 5m PCX filter.

Jannik’s Choice

Sony A7II with Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21

If I’m going into the mountains in the near future, it’s with my family. So I want a nice AF lens for photos of them which can also double as a sharp across the field landscape lens. The Sony Zeiss 1.8/55 is ideal for that; relatively light, very sharp, fast AF and nice bokeh. Other than that I’ll just take my favorite lens: Like David and Bastian I’ll take the Loxia 2.8/21 for it’s great performance, compact size, and lovely sunstars. For a body I’ll take the A7III – when it arrives!

What else would I consider: 

On the subject of things that haven’t arrived, if the new Tamron 2.8/28-75 is as good as they say, that might replace the Sony Zeiss 1.8/55.

And what about camera support?

Your pack now weighs 1.5kg more than everyone else’s. David’s hiking buddies sometimes do something very generous: they say “We will get the benefit of nice photos of our trip, so if you ask really nicely one of us will take a light camera support given you are carrying all the other gear”

He can’t persuade them to carry a heavy tripod, or even a relatively light but serious one like a series 1 gitzo or equivalent with a decent ballhead. Nor would he carry that much additional weight yourself on this trip. What are the alternatives?

David has carried a Sirui t-025x from time to time on these trips. It’s a bit annoying: a fiddly head, too many lock rings, and you have to remove the central column for it to be stable. But the result, while not tall, is nonetheless a real tripod and a lot lighter than that series 1 with decent ballhead.

Another possibility is a tabletop tripod. One we like is the Feisol TT-15 Mark2. It’s only a couple of hundred grams, and it really is a decently built miniature tripod that actually works. Of course this means you have to find rocks, logs,  cliffs or whatever to place it on. But with a 25mm ballhead like the RSS B-25 you get something a lot lighter even than the Sirui setup, although of course with more restrictions on placement.

Bastian might take one of the above options, or at very least will always take along a little Manfrotto MP3D02.

Phillip has a slightly different perspective: he values the spontaneity and lighter weight of going tripod free, especially on hiking trips. Here’s what he says:

Whenever Bastian, David and Jannik start to geek out on tripods in our team-chat my role is that of a spectator. I am a very reluctant tripod user so I own just one affordable Sirui ET-1004 which I use very rarely. I can handhold my FE 4/16-35 down to 1/2 second which is usually more than long enough and the G90 can be used with very little compromise at f/2.8, so there would be few situations where I would need a tripod.”

Jannik also won’t be taking a significant tripod hiking (though it might be in the car) at this stage in life: too much family gear to add a tripod! If there is a realistic chance for long exposures on a hiking trip, he would take his light and small Sirui T-005X (the aluminium version of the carbon fiber t-025x discussed above) without the wobbly middle coloumn. Most of his serious photography at the moment is in the studio or on specific location. Hiking trips are for fun!

Conclusion

Of course exactly what you will take on a trip like this depends on many factors. Will you be mainly photographing people against the mountains, or is it a landscape trip? Will your companions give you time to set up a tripod at dawn or dusk, or will it be hand held? Will you have time for dedicated photography before or after the days walking, or is the only time you will have while actually on the move? All these factors, plus of course personal taste, no doubt influence everyones choices. Still, putting together all our recommendations I think you have a great palette of choices from which to select your ideal three day hiking lenses!

If you plan to buy any them, and have enjoyed this article or our reviews of the lenses, you can buy them via the following affiliate links at no extra cost to you, and it’ll give us a tiny commission to make it possible to provide this site, which is a labour of love (not in any way our day job).

 

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David Braddon-Mitchell

David Braddon-Mitchell is a keen landscape and environmental portrait photographer. In the last decade of film he was a darkroom practitioner and worked with Olympus OM SLRs and various medium format cameras. He switched to Canon DSLRs when digital imaging improved, and made a move to Sony bodies as soon as the A7 series was born. He enjoys using a mixture of legacy manual lenses, modern manual lenses, and E mount AF lenses.

59 thoughts on “What would we take into the mountains?”

  1. Here in Himalayas, i always want a 200mm or 300mm lens.
    Mine:
    24-105 (on a7R3)
    55

    I own the 21, But i am not sure about the difference between 24 and 21mm. My 24-105 is coming soon then i will know. I hope 24 is not too similar to 21.

    Have a nice trip.

    1. Yes in those sorts of places (well the Pyrenees and the NZ alps are the closest – not close to the Himalyas really ) if I am on a more dedicated trip rather than with friends I take Apo Lanthar 180 but a compact zoom would make sense.

  2. Guys, I have trouble to believe that anyone who’s hiking any kind of distance on foot would ever carry 1.5Kgs of photo gear into the mountains, or use multiple lenses. You wouldn’t have the space in your bag, and your companions would never wait long enough for you to start changing lenses anyway.

    You’re overlooking the obvious choice: take an A7 + FE 35mm 2.8 Zeiss. Yes, you lose the bragging rights, but gain a capable combo that weighs ~650 grams total – no more than a A7 III without the lens – and fits anywhere. The best set is the one that you’ll have on you, the kit left behind in the car doesn’t count…

    1. Well I’ve done it lots of times! And usually with roughly that sort of gear.

      I did take the FE 2.8/35 on ten day walk on the West McDonnel Ranges in central Australia. Almost unsupported except for a food drop half way after five days. But I also took the Loxia 21 and the C/Y Zeiss 35-70 f3.5 vario tessar!

      Of course the gear you have with you is better than gear in the car. So don’t leave it in the car.
      Another important lesson I’ve learned, which is why i like small lenses, is that for me many of my best phographs are take four days walk from the car. So there’s no point having great gear that isn’t used for the great photos.

    2. I totally agree with you if you have to keep up with a group of sportsmen. Or if you don’t want to have trouble with your wife and family. After reading the teaser of this post I was considering: Only the Zeiss FE 35 mm 2,8. Nothing else. It is small, it is fast, it is reliable in all respects. But on a mountain-tour you need more often a tele-lens. More often I take the FE 85 mm 1,8 with me, knowing of its weakness with direct light and flare. Question to the fantastic team of Phillip Reeve. How can the mount of the G90 be changed to E-Mount. I own two of this incredible lenses and would like to have a better helicoid. At least fixed on one of them.

  3. Great post! Difficult question though. I usually carry
    A7R3 (650g)
    Batis 25 (335g) or Loxia 21 (394g)
    Sony 50 f2.8 Macro (220g)
    Aporis 135 (420g with adapter)
    Gitzo Traveler (900g)
    BH-25 Head (221g)

    All for a comfy 2.7kg which I can use for selling prints rather than just for personal use. I always carry between 2.5-5kg of equipment for mountain photography so I have to lose lots of weight on other stuff, very light backpack, tent and quilt, carry less clothing so I can stick to under 15kg of total equipment and walk comfortably.

  4. I took entirely too much weight on my last backing trip. Including a sturdy tripod that got very little use and a huge bag of heavy lenses)

    This time I’ll probably still take far too much glass. But if I had to reduce weight as much as possible I’d carry my RX10M4, A7R, Loxia 21 and Zony 55 or Loxia 50 (depending on whether I needed to photograph a lot of people moving). The RX10 gives me wildlife in a reasonable package, the A7R is a lot lighter than my R3.

  5. My choise is Sony A7 + Nikkor 24 f2ais + 50 1.8 + 100 2.8 series E + two adapters Nikon – nex (another as macro ring). Or, if crop is no problem, any NEX camera + Sony E 16 2.8+Nikkor 35 f2D+Nikon 100 2.8 series E.

  6. I always hike with 2 cameras. Sony A7ii with Loxia 21 and a Canon FD 50mm f1.4 or maybe Tamron Adaptall SP 90mm 2.5 Macro. I then have my Sony A6000 with a Canon FD 100-300mm f5.6L.

    Gives me landscape and nature cameras always ready to shoot.

  7. Wow… I tip my hat for the strength of your respective backs and legs – and the patience of the people you’re apparently traveling with! Respect. Love the pictures that come about this way.

    I usually ride at least part of the trip by motorcycle two up, no way in hell that I’d be able to pack that much gear – can’t even find enough space for clothes or food. Then again, I’m not in the illusion that I’d ever be able to sell my pictures, just in it for my own enjoyment 😉

    1. Everyone has their own levels of enthusiasm and tolerance for weight.
      I want through a phase of taking compact cameras with me on long likes (GR-10, LX3, CanonS90 among others) for a few years, and leaving my FF Canon gear behind. I really really regret that now: I have some lovely images that show their compact ancestry easily on screen and don’t make decent prints of any size.
      I then switched to micro 43. Much better, but I feel that A3 is the largest size I can really print well.
      Sony FF was the answer for me. With smaller lenses it rivals M43 for compactness, and with larger lenses at home or non hiking travel it replaces my Canon gear. And being a one system person is much easier.

  8. Interesting article! I brought the a7s, Loxia 50/2 and Voigtländer Heliar 15mm with my on a hiking trip in Montenegro. I took the Rollei c5i as my tripod. Unfortunately the landscapes near my hometown are a bit boring, it is so flat in the Netherlands. Germany is much nicer haha 🙂

    1. As we say in the Canadian prairies, the mountains just get in the way of the view. Currently pondering a7r2, OM24/2.8,MD50/2 & R4M+CV25/4 scale focus for Paris this month.

      1. That OM 24 / 2.8 is truly tiny, and I highly recommend it for travel as long as you are not bothered by vignette and don’t mind shooting at f11 if you need sharp corners.

        It also works well with a tilt-shift adapter.

  9. Great article.
    One question remains: how do you actually carry your camera so you have it ready real quick but without having it dangle around your neck?
    I oftentimes use the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180° backpack which makes the gear pretty well accessible. But especially when you’re on tour with friends who are not taking pictures it’s sometimes good to have the camera readily available at all times. But carrying a camera dangling around your neck isn’t such a good idea when walking in the mountains or on a bike. For small MFT compacts I use a small bag (e.g. lowepro dashpoint), fastened to the strap of my backpack – but for a FF camera…?

    1. When mounting a longer lens to my A7ii, I use an L-bracket which has a slot to attach the strap at the lower right corner of the camera. This allows the camera to naturally point down and lay flat against my side or chest with the strap slung around my shoulder. It’s exposed, but remains unobtrusive while walking and easily accessible.

  10. For me, A7II (more recently the A7RIII) go into the backcountry with the FE55/1.8 and 28/2.0. Sometimes I add the SMC Pentax M 135/3.5, especially if I think there might be some wildlife.

    I’m as tripod-averse as Phillip. I’ll sometimes take a mini tabletop tripod if I think I’ll have the energy to be awake for astrophotography in the backcountry. But I usually just stick with the 68g Manfrotto MP3-BK “Large Pocket Support”, which is almost always on my camera. Sitting on a rock or flat ground, I’ve gotten nice long exposure shots; and, it is small and light enough to always be on my camera.

  11. Very interesting article, and perfectly describing why mirrorless cameras (not mobile phones) are the DSLR killers 🙂

    For me, it is:
    – A7R2
    – CV 12/5.6 v2 (so small and light it always fits in the bag)
    – Loxia 21
    – Sony 55/1.8 (nice to have an AF lens)
    – Leica Telyt-R 180/3.4

    P.S. Awesome photos, everyone.

  12. I love all the recommendations but it all changed for me when I got my hands on the G-Master 16-35 f2.8. First thing I did was go downtown and do some comparison shots against the Batis 18 and Loxia 21. It has Wonderful color and contrast to boot. My only nicks against it would be sunstars and size. The sunstars it produces are not as nice as what the loxia 21 can produced and the lens is almost bigger than the camera.
    So I use the 16-35 2.8 and the 55 1.8 when I’m backpacking or on long hikes.

    1. Jeez, I forgot to mention above that the 16-35 G-Master produced images that were sharper in the corners and edges compared to the Batis 18 and Loxia 21 at all apertures.

  13. Nice challenge 🙂

    I’d bring the A7RIII, Loxia 21 and Contax Zeiss 35-70. Probably slightly over 1,5 kg so I’ll regret it on the second day.
    If any of my friends are gullible enough to carry for me I’ll add the Contax Zeiss 100/3.5 for a little better reach and a small Manfrotto Pixi Evo Mini tripod.

    1. That is EXACTLY the kit I took on a ten day hike in Central Australia a year or so ago!
      (except rII obviously, and a little Sirui tripod)

  14. I own A7rii and FE 16-35mm f4 oss, and mostly some Canon fdn and Minolta md lenses.
    The wideanglezoom is great, but I would maybe just get Minolta md w Rokkor 28mm f2.8 and Minolta md macro Rokkor 50mm f3.5, I just love 28mm and macro, and the manual handling of the older lenses. I would also consider to exchange the 50 macro for Minolta md zoom 35-70mm f3.5 macro and 75-150mm f4.

    But for really light weight , I would consider my lovley
    Fujifilm X-T1 (440g)
    Fujifilm xf 18-55mm f2.8-3.5 LM OIS (304g)
    16+19mm af macrotube (70g)

  15. Thank you very much!
    A7R3 with Zeiss 55mm f1.8…, I use it most of the time for landscapes, street and portrait.
    Such a nice combi.
    Sometimes I think of a Loxia 50mm…,but I did not buy it. Will it bring me more?
    Have a Canon fd 50mm F1.4, but it’s only good stopped down.
    85mm Bâtis…, sometimes but not sure I would buy it again. The Sony 28mm f2… Sometimes when I need it but that’s not often. Same for the 70-200mm f4
    If you know something really better in the 50-60mm range, that is as light and small as the 55mm…? It’s so nice to travel light and have nothing to change.
    Abram, France

    1. Loxia 50 is maybe (MAYBE) a touch ahead in sharpness stopped down to f8; but FE 1.8/55 is definitely ahead from wide open to f4.
      On the other hand Loxia has the nicer manual focus experience, and nicer sun stars.
      Unless you are a bit obsessed (like I confess to being) I see no reason to have both.
      If you want an small, light, fast but but not ultrafast 50ish lens the 1.8/55 is still king.
      1.4s are all much larger, the 2/65 CV is much much larger (and also longer of course).
      I don’t know how well the Leica APO Summicron f2 adapts to Sony, that’s the only thing that might be preferable, but I by no means guarantee that it is, and it’s absurdly expensive.
      I think there is definitely a market for another fifty — both an update to the Loxia that is like the Apo Summicron or better, and an update to the 1.8/55 with more contrast and less CA.
      Despite all the jokes on forums about the number of 50mm lenses!

  16. Thank you David Braddon-Mitchell!

    So room for a new modern design 50mm Loxia…, or a Bâtis 50mm F1.8…

    The Sigma Art lenses are much to big and heavy, not what I hoped for when the CEO was talking of special glass for the FF E-mount.

    I bought the 55mm F1. 8 in 2014 with the A7S, and I still use it now on the A7R3.
    For me it’s a very good combination under most circumstances. Yes Manual Focus by wire is a pain! That’s the only reason I look around, but I’m not convinced of the Loxia 50mm…

          1. What about a Sonnar 50mm 1.5 ZM? The most important drawbacks are focus shift and the minimum focus limit of 0.9m. Both are no problems on the A7 series (Focus Shift is not important when used at working aperture like with a mirror less body and the minimum focus distance can be reduced if used with a helicoid M-Adapter).

            The Sonnar is very light and compact, still f1.5 und very Sharp stopped down.
            I would fancy a review, cause I’m thinking about buying one for myself 😉

  17. For those who is looking for a small lightweight tripod (as i did for a long time), there is Slik Sprint Mini with a ball head that weights only 780 g and has a collapsed length of only 35 cm.
    You can even remove the central column extension and win another 40 g or so (what i always do when travel).

    It’s obviously not the best tripod, but i’m quite happy with it. Because of its weight and size i can take it more often with me as a my previous tripod.

  18. It would bee nice to have lenses like leica m, compact manual lenses with nice optics. Most of leica m doesnt work Well, but maybe the 50mm f2?

  19. Lightest and most cheap.
    A7 + E 16-50 only APS
    or
    A7ll + Canon EF 40/2.8 STM working AF with good adapter..

  20. A7ii, Vivitar Series 1 90/2.5 macro, and Olympus OM 24/2.8. Just under the weight limit, and the Vivitar can be used as a club if attacked by wildlife.

  21. I wonder why none of you considered a A6000 (someone of you had a A6500, I know). Pair it with a tiny Voigtlander 15/4.5, the Sony 35/1.8 or 24/1.8 for walkarounds, and some light 85 or CZJ 135/3.5 for tele shots, and you have your compact kit.

  22. For aps-c loxia21 is a good lens, so it will be about 32mm. I also use loxia85 with good sharpness on aps-c and supplemented with extender tube for macro. Unfortunately, the lens is too heavy and in my opinion too long focal length on aps-c for landscape photography. Instead, I reject aps-c lens Sigma60mmArt (sharp but lacking Zeiss contrast) that is very light but poorly built. Tripod I recommend Siriu T-024X in carbon fiber with four leg sections. Do not use center pillar and replace Siriu heads (which does not work in cold weather) into a simple Novoflex model

  23. My experience in mountains is that I like a tele both for animals (they are rather shy…) and for landscape. So, thus would push me to APS-C (with a 420g MD 200mm f4 eq, angle of a 300mm or a 75-150 mm for those having one or a compact modern zoom). I suppose a focal reducer for wide angle lens would be a quality compromise too far for many people on this pro/geeks excellent website so a 10-18 mm Sony would complement with a macro lens.

  24. The Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2 is another great ‘table top’ tripod option. I like Phillip usually just hand hold, but the Pixi is light enough that it occasionally makes the hike (I always ended up leaving my ultra light ‘real’ tripod behind).

  25. I would take A7 (smallest, lightest but still FF) and… infamous FE24-70. It’s small and light (not like 24-105). Has AF (manual focusing when exhausted and sweaty is irritating; sometimes I also use walking sticks so being able to use the camera with one hand can be really comfortable). Has zoom in the most used focal lengths (changing lenses in mountains can be risky, takes time and can be frustrating). It it weather sealed. I can take only one polar filter if I need. OSS means that I don’t need v2/3 A7 and still can photograph in bad conditions. And having one lens means that I don’t loose extra weight on bags for other lenses.

    I could add to the kit a macro ring and peakdesign for the camera. And maybe 15/4.5v3 or Om135/3.5 depending of what I predict to photograph more.
    But A7+samyang 35/2.8 could be also nice;) Or rx10v2, or rx100v3, or rx1, or a6000+10-18+55-210…

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