A Photographer’s Guide to Third Party Batteries


Camera technology is one of the fastest evolving in the electronics industry, and that evolutionary growth is paralleled by advances in camera power supply as well. With this guide from Adorama jogging our nostalgic memories, it was just over 10 years ago when electronically powered cameras such as early-generation digital point-and-shoots and instant film winders used low-discharge alkaline AA batteries. Nowadays, high-tech DSLRS and CSCs with their LCD displays, complex circuitry, built-in flashguns, and digital viewfinders are so power-hungry that it takes a lot of juice to keep these high-drain beasts going and going and going.

With all the selfie-taking, vlogging, and travel photography we put our digital cameras through, we expect to replace or recharge our batteries way more often than any of our other gadgets, except our smartphones. That’s why serious photography enthusiasts always have a few backup batteries or power supplies on hand to ensure they never miss out on that perfect shot. 

You’ve Got the Power

If you often find yourself with drained camera batteries and running to the nearest convenience store to grab a pack of non-rechargeables just when the sun is setting perfectly over the beach, spare yourself the trouble and get some high-quality rechargeable batteries instead.

When choosing replacement AA cells for your camera, not all of them are created equally. While you definitely won’t go wrong with buying an original manufacturerLithium-Ion (Li-ion) replacement battery pack compatible with your camera brand, it is notoriously expensive. This is why many photographers rely on cheaper, third-party alternatives.    


Whether you stick with originals or save money with third-party batteries, photography pros all agree that if you do decide to go with third-party backups, be discerning about what brand you choose, and especially where you purchase them from. Also browse reviews on both the brand and seller to see whether previous customers have had any problems.

Meanwhile, check out these premium third-party brands recommended by the experts:

Third Party Li-ion Replacement Battery Pack

Price: $4.99-$59.99 | Compatible Brands: Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Samsung | Capacity: 600mAh to 3600mAh | Output Voltage: 2.5V to 12.6V | Watt Hours: 2.3Wh to 14.8Wh 


One of the most favored third-party brands by photographers, Watson is compatible with most cameras, has fairly good build quality, has fast charge times, and has a comparable number of shots per charge. The biggest draw of this brand, however, is cost, averaging only half that of the original. Adorama has one for $22.

Rechargable LSD NiMH AA Backup

Powerex Imedion 
Price: $12.63 to $18.94 | Compatible Brands: Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Samsung | Capacity: 2400mAh | Output Voltage: 1.5V |


Powerex Imedion LSD (low self-discharge) batteries come-pre-charged and claims up to 1,000 recharge cycles, full-storage capacity for up to one year, and up to 1600 shots per charge.

Sanyo eneloop 
Price: $12.09 to $40.34 | Compatible Brands: Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Samsung | Capacity: 2100mAh | Output Voltage: 1.2V |


The pioneer in LSD NiMH batteries, eneloop by Sanyo has a cycle lifespan of 2,100 charges and claims to hold 70% of its capacity even after 10 years (unused). It has a low temperature rating of -4 degrees F (excellent for winter use) and is good for up to 1,500 shots on one full charge. It also has no memory effect.

Non-rechargable Lithium Backup

Energizer Advanced and Ultimate Lithium 
Price: $12.46 to $12.69 | Compatible Brands: Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Samsung | Capacity: 750mAh to 1200mAh | Output Voltage: 1.5V |


In cases where even your rechargeable backups run out (e.g., extended power blackouts) and you have no choice but to pick up emergency cells, these Lithium (not to be confused with rechargeable Lithium-ion) AA batteries are available at any retail establishment. Their only advantages over rechargables are the ability to be stored between 15 and 20 years (unused), light weight, and reliability in lower freezing temperatures than any other kind of battery (-40°F). 

Other external battery sources to consider for your camera include battery grips that come with extra shutter buttons or mode dials for easier handling in portrait mode and increased maximum continuous shooting rate; and dedicated flash power packs to conserve your camera’s internal battery.


Photography Equipment For Sale

I’ve got some photography gear to clear out of the closet as it’s no longer in use.  Quoted prices do not include shipping unless otherwise specified.  See below for details:

Studio Lights & Equipment

(2) (2) Paul C. Buff White Lightning X800 Studio Lights
(2) Paul C. Buff White Lightning X1600 Studio Lights

All four units are in perfect working condition and include all standard accessories including reflector, protective shipping cover, carrying bag, sync and power cords, etc.

Buyer will also receive light stands for three lights, fabric background with stand, miscellaneous reflectors/umbrellas and a few small accessories if picked up in Moab.

Not willing to sell individually and would prefer pick up in Moab but will consider shipping if buyer pays shipping expenses.


Acratech GP Ballhead w/ Lever Clamp & Level

This is a new-in-box, never used Acratech GP Ballhead w/ lever clamp & level.  It’s the same model I’ve been using for years and can be used as a leveling head for panoramas or as a standard ballhead.

Acratech Ultimate Ballhead w/ Knob Clamp, Detent Pin & Level
$200.00 (Retails for $320)

This is a new-in-box, never used Acratech Ultimate Ballhead with a left side main control knob.

Black Rapid RS-Sport Sling Camera Strap

This is a new-in-box, never used Black Rapid RS-Sport Sling Camera Strap.

Black Rapid RS DR-1 Sling Camera Strap
$50.00 (Retails for $135.00)

This is a new-in-box, never used Black Rapid DR-1 Sling Camera Strap designed to allow the user to comfortably carry two cameras, one on each side of the body.  The model name is now “Double” but it is the same product.

Fotopro M-5 Mini Tripod
$50.00 (Retails for $115.00)

This is a new-in-box, never used Fotopro M-5 Mini Tripod.  I won it in a contest but don’t have any use for it.  It’s a very compact but sturdy tripod ideal for travelers who don’t have much room in luggage.

Black Rapid SnapR 35 Camera Case$15.00

This is a used but in great condition Black Rapid SnapR 35 Camera Case.  Fits many small, mirrorless cameras and point and shoots.  Includes shoulder strap with quick release buckles.

Clik Elite ProBody SLR Chest Pack
$40.00 (Retails for $90, if you can find it)

This is a used but in great condition Clik Elite ProBody SLR Chest Pack with harness.  I carried a Canon 5D MKIII w/ battery grip and an attached 24-105mm lens with this pack and it fit perfectly.  It was also quite comfortable.  I’ve switched to a smaller chest pack since my new Sony gear is considerably more compact.  It looks like Clik Elite has discontinued this product so it will be difficult to find.

Please contact me via email if you’re interested in any of these items.  My email is bret (at) bretedge (dot) com.


2016 Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour: May 13-15

Tukuhnikivats Arch Frames the La Sal Mountains at Sunset, Utah

Last year I ran my first official Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour and it was a huge success.  So, this year I decided to offer it again.  Join me in Moab May 13-15, 2016 for two solid days of adventure and photography as we explore some of the most spectacular off-the-beaten path locations in Canyon Country.

During our time together we’ll photograph varied scenery that may include arches framing snowcapped mountains, jaw-dropping canyon views, a wilderness of sandstone fins, colorful wildflowers in a sand dune below an imposing tower and a waterfall in a remote desert slot canyon.  The exact itinerary will be determined by the weather and conditions at the time of the tour but rest assured, your camera will get a workout and your memory cards will be full.

The Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour is only open to three physically fit photographers.  We’ll access each location via rough four wheel drive roads and/or strenuous hikes.  Participants must be able to carry all their equipment in a backpack over difficult terrain and should have some experience in the backcountry.  Most meals will be consumed in the field and are not provided.  Self-sufficiency is a requirement for participation in this photography tour.

One of last year’s Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour participants had this to say about his experience (copied from my Trip Advisor page):

“Toured the backcountry of Moab with Bret and two other photographers this past weekend. As promised we hiked through desert creeks to slot canyon waterfalls, traversed gnarly four-wheel drive roads to dramatic canyon views and discovered hidden arches while scrambling over sandstone boulders. Bret was great about helping us set up our shots and give us his professional advise to get the best shot. The weather was a challenge on Saturday, but Bret always had backup plans so we were never without options should Plan A not be viable. This was a great trip and I highly recommend a tour with Bret. He’s easy going and genuinely interested in helping you improve your photography.”

To learn more about or register for the Undiscovered Moab Photo Tour please click here.  You’ll also find a slideshow of gorgeous images from some of the locations we may visit.

2016 Utah Scenic Wall Calendar Now Available

2016 Utah Scenic Wall Calendar

It’s that time of year again – my 2016 Utah Scenic Wall Calendar just arrived and is now available for sale.  This large format, 11″ x 14″ calendar features thirteen of my favorite images from throughout the great state of Utah.  From now until the end of July we’re offering free shipping to anywhere in the U.S.  Put one up at the office and each month you’ll be able to drift off into a daydream about a different Utah location when you should be slaving away.  Buy one for you boss and he or she can do the same!

Click here to order your 2016 Utah Scenic Wall Calendar.

Review: Michael Frye’s “Landscapes in Lightroom 5: A Step-by-Step Guide”



California landscape photographer Michael Frye recently published his latest ebook, “Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide“, and it’s a good one.  I mean, really good.  I’ve been using Lightroom for seven years and I’ve read countless books and online tutorials, all of which have contributed significantly to my proficiency with the software.  Michael’s ebook is as good as they come.  In a nutshell, here’s why I think it’s well worth the $15 investment:

An ebook is no good if it isn’t easy to buy, download and use.   ”Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide” was easy to purchase on Michael’s website and is delivered as a PDF that downloaded to my iPad without any hiccups.  Most importantly, it is laid out in a logical, easy to use and attractive format.

There’s a lot of content here, folks.  Really, really  good content.  Some “how-to” books are too basic while others cater to those who are experienced users of the software.  Michael strikes a good balance of both and as a result, you’ll find value in the ebook regardless of your proficiency with Lightroom.

To many, myself included, the tools in Lightroom’s “Develop” module are a bit of a mystery.  Sure, we may have a pretty good idea of what they are and how to use them, but each new version of Lightroom brings new tools and updates to old ones, some of which are significant.  Michael did his research and is able to explain each tool in depth, but in a way that the average person can easily understand.  I learned things about several of the tools that I use daily, and I think having that knowledge will make me more adept at using each tool.

We’re all unique and we each learn best in different ways.  For some of us, just reading about a new technique is sufficient while others may pick it up quicker by watching a video.  Michael recognizes this and has included several video tutorials that cover some of the more complex topics.  I found the video tutorials to be very helpful.

Yet another way people learn is by doing.  Michael has included sample workflows wherein he walks you through step-by-step as he processes six unique images, each with different challenges.  He even provides a link to the actual DNG files for each image so you can download the unprocessed RAW files and import them into Lightroom so you can edit them yourself.  This is huge.  It’s almost like getting a one-on-one Lightroom workshop with Michael.  This alone would make the ebook worth $15 (or more, actually).

Landscapes in Lightroom 5: A Step-by-Step Guide” is an excellent ebook for all photographers.  If you’ve never used Lightroom I recommend you start with another book, Nat Coalson’s excellent “Photoshop Lightroom 5: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process“.  Nat’s book begins at the ground level with importing and organizing your images in Lightroom and then delves into the editing and other features of the software.  Once you’re comfortable with the basics, “Landscapes in Lightroom 5: A Step-by-Step Guide” will be a great supplement to your library that will help you fine tune your processing skills.

Gear Review: Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone Lens

Olloclip Macro Lens Sample Image 2

Many of you know how much I enjoy the simple pleasures of iPhone photography.  It’s uncomplicated, allowing the user to enjoy photographing a fleeting moment without fussing over aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings, among other things.  As much as I appreciate the sheer simplicity of using a camera that literally requires only one action to make a photo – pressing the shutter button – there are times I wish for a little bit more flexibility.

Along comes Olloclip, an easy to use 4-in-1 clip on lens system for the iPhone (and other camera phones).  The Olloclip includes two macro lenses, one wide angle lens and one super crazy fisheye lens.  The Olloclip is compact and comes with a small bag in which to carry the lenses.

I spent several weeks with an Olloclip, using it on my iPhone 5S throughout autumn in Moab.  Although all of the lenses were enjoyable to use, I found myself most intrigued by the two macro lenses, both of which allow extremely close focus.  The results were remarkable.  Macro photography has never been my thing.  Still, it didn’t take long before I was seeking out opportunities to slap on one of the macro lenses.  Doing so is easy; you simply unscrew either the fisheye or wide-angle lens to reveal the macro lens hidden beneath.  Brilliant design!  In practice, I found the macro lenses challenging to use only because the focus distance is so limited that any movement of the camera or the subject resulted in out of focus images.  Ideally, you’ll need to mount the phone on a tripod that you can move incrementally closer to the subject until you reach the perfect focus distance.  Of course, this does somewhat kill the spontaneity of phone photography.  When you get it right, though, the results are astonishing, revealing beautiful little scenes that you never knew existed!

Olloclip Macro Lens Sample Image 1

The other two lenses, the wide-angle and fisheye, were also fun to use.  The fisheye results in a circular vignette around your subject that I preferred to crop out.  The wide-angle lens provided a significantly wider field of view than the native iPhone camera lens, but at a cost.  In several photographs I found pretty severe chromatic aberration along high contrast edges.  Speaking of edges, the top and bottom edges of all photographs were blurred, almost as if I’d used a tilt-shift lens to create a limited depth of field.  At first I thought that maybe I didn’t have the lens properly seated on the camera but in fact, I did.  Am I being picky? Yes, I am. I know, it’s just iPhone photography but as a professional photographer who strives to create images that are free of any technical defects, it bugged me.  The average user probably wouldn’t notice it and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care.

The entire lens system is incredibly easy to use.  All four lenses are contained on one “clip” that slides over the phone camera.  No special apps are needed to make images with the Olloclip.  On one side is the fisheye lens, on the other is the wide-angle lens.  Unscrew either one to reveal a 10X or 15X macro lens.  That’s it.  If you use a phone case, as I do, you’ll need to remove the case prior to attaching the Olloclip.  How frustrating you find this will depend on which case you use.  My iPhone resides in a waterproof, drop-proof case that isn’t easy to take off or put on, which meant that I had to really want to use the Olloclip before I’d resign myself to removing the case.  In all fairness, Olloclip does make the Quick-Flip Case that allows attachment of the lenses without removing the case but I’m a bit of a klutz, hence my water and drop-proof model that keeps my iPhone relatively safe from, well…me.

The Olloclip 4-in-1 lens is available on their website for $69.99.  Other lenses are also available, though I did not have an opportunity to test them for this review.

Eight Things I Love About Being a Nature Photographer

Dramatic storm light pierces through clouds to illuminate a formation known as The Castle above Sulphur Creek in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. (Bret Edge)

Dramatic storm light pierces through clouds to illuminate a formation known as The Castle above Sulphur Creek in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. (Bret Edge)

Being nature photographers gives us access to things most people will never see and experiences many will never understand.  A brief exchange about such things with two other photographers on twitter led me to ponder on this for a while.  I came up with eight things I love about being a nature photographer.  I know there are more, and I’m sure you’ll all have some excellent additions to the list.

1. Seeing the natural world around me in a more intimate way than those whose eyes don’t appreciate the nuances of light, texture, shadow and form.
2. Sunrises and sunsets in the mountains, canyons and deserts.  Nuff said.
3. Being able to share the visual beauty of those sunrises and sunsets with those who weren’t able to enjoy the moment with me.
4. Getting excited when I hear a good storm is headed my way.
5. Sitting alone, in the middle of the most beautiful nowhere anyone has ever seen, watching shadows lengthen and waiting for those few glorious moments when the light is just right for making an image.
6. Knowing where and when to find the best wildflowers, the best fall colors, the best waterfalls, the best mountain views, the best alpine lakes, the best wildlife, the best…ah, you get the point.
7. Meeting all the really amazing people I never would have met if I hadn’t been addicted to nature photography.
8. All the amazing places I’ve been that I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t on the prowl for new and exciting locations to photograph.

So, there’s my list.  I’d love to hear some things you love about being a nature photographer.  List ‘em in the comments below!

To Make a Photograph…Or Not?

As nature photographers it is often our goal to seek out unspoiled wilderness and pristine subjects to share with the world through our imagery.  Many of us like to think that in doing so we are helping to create awareness for these areas and potentially increasing conservation efforts.  Is it possible, though, that our images have exactly the opposite effect?  Could it be that our photographs increase traffic, which in turn raises the environmental impact upon an area?  If so, is that a reason not to make an image or at least, not to share that image with the world?

These are questions to which I don’t have the answer.  I ask them now as a result of events I experienced last year upon discovering a small Native American ruin in Arches National Park that even the rangers didn’t know existed.

I was off exploring a vast wilderness of slickrock well away from the roads and crowds and iconic locations within the park.  While scrambling around I quite literally stumbled upon a small granary tucked into a secluded alcove.  Unlike most granaries in the Moab area, which are crumbling into decay, this one was nearly perfect.  Mud mortar still held together red sandstone rocks comprising the walls and every stone was in place – not one had fallen.  A large black widow web covered the small opening, glistening in the mid-day sun.  I shined a headlamp through the portal, revealing several small, dried corn cobs scattered about the dirt floor.  Imagine the thrill!  I immediately extracted my camera from its pack and began working the scene until I was satisfied that I’d created a portrait worthy of this neat little ruin.  I quickly packed up my gear and headed back to my truck, anxious to download the images and share my bounty with friends, strangers and the rest of the world on a few internet photography forums I frequent.

I made a pit stop at the visitor center to inquire about the ruin.  I showed the photos to several rangers, none of whom were aware of it’s existence.  What a jewel I had found!  Out the door I went, still in a hurry to show off my latest find.

At home I downloaded photos and chose the best image to post online.  Within a week of posting the photo I received no less than a dozen emails from other photographers asking me to disclose the location.  I had no intent of telling anyone where to find the ruin.  Not because I wanted to keep it to myself.  Rather, I have seen how other ruins have become, well…ruined, when their location is published and oft-visited by hikers and photographers.  I didn’t want the same to happen to this perfect little granary, perched high on a cliff overlooking a beautiful canyon.

I began to feel a bit disgusted with myself.  Did I post the photo for an ego boost, a sort of “look what I found and you didn’t”?  Was my photo going to be the reason for the demise of the granary now that people knew it was out there, waiting to be discovered?

I decided then and there that occasions arise when maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t make an image.  Or, at the very least, if we choose to press the shutter button we don’t do so with the intent of creating a photograph for public consumption.  Perhaps it is best to let some images live in our memory or on our hard drive, waiting to be rediscovered only by us.

Are there times we should choose to put away the camera or just not share an image with the world?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the “comments” section below.

Long-Term Review and Comparison of Four Backpacks for Outdoor Photographers

If you’ve been an outdoor photographer for more than a few minutes you’ve likely already encountered the conundrum faced by almost every single one of us: how do I carry my photo gear while hiking?  Do I wrap it in a jacket and stuff it in my daypack?  Do I wear it around my neck and then work out the kinks later at the chiropractor?  Maybe I should pack it into a rolling suitcase and tow it down the trail?  Don’t laugh – I’ve seen it.  While you could settle for any of these solutions there are far better alternatives available to us these days.  In the last couple of years an assortment of backpacks have been brought to market that allow outdoor photographers to carry camera gear in an organized and protected manner while also providing room for hiking essentials like water, snacks and extra clothing.  So now the dilemma is, which photo backpack do I choose?  Well folks, I’m here to help you answer that question.

I obtained backpacks from four of the premier manufacturers of photography packs: f-stop gear, Lowepro, Clik Elite and Mountainsmith.  Each company agreed to provide me with a backpack to use, abuse and review.  That was six months ago.  Since then I’ve loaded up each pack with my camera gear and used them in the mountains, canyons and deserts of Utah and Wyoming.  I didn’t feel like I’d get to know the packs if I only used them once or twice.  I wanted to put in some time with each pack, hence the extended review period.

There are no winners or losers here.  Backpacks are a subjective thing and for me to say that you should all run out and buy pack “X” would just be silly.  We’re all built differently and we have different needs, so the point of this review is to help you identify a pack that is most likely to satisfy your individual requirements.

I tested four packs for this review: f-stop gear Tilopa BC, Lowepro Rover Pro 35L AW, Clik Elite Contrejour 35 and Mountainsmith Borealis AT.  For reference, I’m 5′9″ tall with a 32″ waist, 30″ inseam and a 19″ torso, which is the most important measurement when determining correct pack size.  I don’t travel light.  On any given day hike I’m usually lugging around a 25-30 pound backpack.  Finally, I always carry my camera with one lens attached in a Clik Elite chest pack.  I carry the rest of my gear in my backpack, including three extra lenses, a 550EX flash, a set of Pocket Wizards, three filters, extra batteries. a HoodLoupe, a collapsible 5-in-1 reflector, and a few small, miscellaneous items.  This set-up provides me with immediate access to my camera without first having to remove my backpack.

Before we dig into the comparison, let’s review some terminology and things to know when shopping for a pack.  The suspension is the overall system that attaches the pack to your body, which includes the shoulder straps and hip (or waist) belt, as well as whatever structure connects all the straps to the pack.  Some brands use plastic sheets while others use aluminum or plastic rods.  The hip belt is a belt (usually padded) that wraps around your hips and buckles in the front at a point that is typically just below your belly button.  A good backpack suspension system will transfer the majority of the pack weight to your hips – not your shoulders.  For a more in depth look at backpack technology and a great tutorial on how to properly fit a pack, check out “Backpacks: Adjusting the Fit” on the REI website.

Lowepro Rover Pro 35 AW ($299)

Lowepro is the grandfather of the photo backpack business.  They’ve been manufacturing packs for over 40 years and have outfitted some of the most influential photographers in modern history.  However, until the recent release of the Rover Pro 35AW and its bigger brother, the Rover Pro 45AW, I didn’t feel their packs truly met the needs of outdoor photographers who spend hours trekking through difficult terrain with camera gear on their back.  I’ve logged many miles with the Rover Pro 35AW and I’m here to say, Lowepro’s got a keeper.  The single most important factor in determining whether I love or hate a pack is how my back feels after a long day on the trail.  The Rover Pro 3AW fits me well and afforded a very comfortable carry.  An adjustable shoulder harness allowed me to fine tune the fit but the pack won’t provide an optimal fit for those with torso lengths greater than 19″.  The Rover Pro 35AW ships with one modular removable camera case that includes a second, small pouch for accessories such as extra batteries or filters.  On the downside, the camera case was too small to carry ALL of my extra gear.  An integrated rainfly is included and stows into its own compartment on the bottom of the pack.  It is easy to access and deploy.  A tripod attachment system on the side of the pack provides a stable method of transport for that critical piece of nature photography equipment.  If you prefer to carry your tripod in the middle of the front of your pack, you’re out of luck as there’s no good way to do it.  There are small bungee straps on the front panel that allow you to stow trekking poles or an ice axe when not in use.  If you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing an ugly pack, fret not: the Rover Pro 35AW is quite handsome without drawing undue attention to itself and your expensive gear.  The pack includes a dedicated pocket on the side for a water bladder, which is cool, except that it will only fit a small bladder.  Pockets on the waist belt for the win!  I honestly don’t know why every single backpack on the market doesn’t have pockets on the waist belt as they are the perfect place to carry small stuff that should be easy to access like snacks, lip balm or even a point and shoot camera.  There’s even a stretchy shove-it pocket on the front of the pack.  A few things I wasn’t crazy about: the hip belt straps are excessively long and hang down to my knees when the belt is cinched tight.  The lid pocket is so small that it’s pretty much full with only a headlamp, a couple granola bars, a pair of gloves and a Leatherman stuffed inside.  Accessing your camera gear via the front panel requires you to lay the pack on the ground with the back panel and shoulder straps in the dirt, mud or snow, guaranteeing that you’ll get your back dirty when you put the pack on again.

All things considered, the Rover Pro 35AW is a top performer with many great features from a respected company with a reputation for building high quality gear.  The adjustable harness means this pack will fit a wide variety of photographers, excepting those who are really long in the torso.

Clik Elite Contrejour 35 ($359)

The Clik Elite Contrejour 35 is the only pack in this review that provides two ways to access your camera gear: from the side or via the back panel.  Side panel access allows you to keep the pack slung over one shoulder as you swing it around to retrieve your camera.  I didn’t use this feature because I carry my camera in a chest pack but for those who don’t, I can see how this could be a useful feature.  With no adjustable harness the pack is more limited in the range of torso sizes it will fit.  It was borderline too small for me as the waist belt had a tendency to ride up and off my hips while hiking.  The Contrejour 35 is rated at 29.5 liters (which is strange given the 35 in the name) but it seems much more roomy with a large, padded camera bay, a seemingly bottomless main compartment that can be accessed from the top or the side, a large front pocket with two memory card pouches and yet another small, zippered pocket in the main compartment.  There’s an integrated rain fly on the bottom of the pack for when the weather turns wet.  A dedicated bladder compartment on the back panel holds large bladders and is easy to access for refills but my Camelbak 100 ounce bladder gave it an odd, semi-rounded shape when full of water that made for an awkward fit.  I think a different bladder brand with a wider profile might mitigate this issue, though.  My Induro CT213 tripod carried well along the side of the pack with the legs tucked into a deep, stretchy mesh pocket.  If you’re a skier or snowboarder, the Contrejour 35 has straps on the front for attaching skis or a board.  There are no pockets on the waist belt nor is there any good way to carry a tripod on the front of the pack.

If the Contrejour 35 fits you I think you’ll be quite satisfied.  Access is the name of the game as all pockets and compartments are easy to get into and two of them even provide two ways to get to your gear.  Materials are top-quality, there’s a ton of room for camera gear and hiking essentials, and it’s all assembled into a nice looking package.

Mountainsmith Borealis AT ($189)

At $189, the Mountainsmith Borealis AT is the most affordable pack in this review.  The design team at Mountainsmith has learned a thing or two about how to make a good backpack over the last 30+ years and they’ve infused much of that knowledge into the Borealis AT.  It’s got the best tripod carrying system of the bunch with a fold-away reinforced pocket that seems indestructible.  The camera compartment is located at the bottom of the pack, is heavily padded to protect your gear and opens in a unique clamshell design that provides totally uninhibited access to your equipment.  But, since the tripod is carried on the front of the pack you have to remove the tripod to access your camera gear.  I appreciated that the interior is bright yellow, making it nearly impossible to lose small parts.  The Borealis AT has a padded laptop compartment and several additional pockets that will make even the biggest organization geek happy.  Sadly, none of these pockets are very big which means I can’t recommend this pack for all day epic outings.  I tried stuffing my Mountain Hardwear puffy jacket into the biggest pocket and after a bit of cursing it finally fit, but it took up the entire space.  My biggest misgiving with the Borealis AT is that it simply doesn’t fit my torso.  The waist belt wrapped around my belly – not my hips.  On a positive note, there are two small pockets on the waist belt and it is well padded.  The Borealis AT fit my wife’s 16″ torso perfectly, so it could be an ideal pack for anyone with a small torso.  The Borealis AT comes with a rain fly that fits neatly into its own pocket at the top of the pack but is a little more challenging to deploy because of a narrow zippered opening.  There’s no dedicated bladder pocket but the laptop compartment (without a computer in it!) worked just as well.

Bottom line: if you’re short of torso or budget you should take a hard look at the Borealis AT.  Very high quality materials, a super stable tripod carrying system, a reasonable price and several other thoughtful touches make this pack a worthy competitor.

The backpack reviewed was a 2012 model.  A new version is now available that is claimed by Mountainsmith to address some of the issues I mentioned. I have not tested this new pack and can not confirm their claims.

f-stop gear Tilopa BC ($405)

The f-stop gear Tilopa BC is the biggest pack in this review at a monstrous 48 liters.  At that size, you’re bound to see the pack weight skyrocket as you stuff it full of gear.  Luckily, the Tilopa BC is up to the task of carrying ridiculous loads in comfort – if it fits.  It’s a perfect fit on me but it’s way too big for my wife and since the harness isn’t adjustable if it doesn’t fit, you’re out of luck. The Tilopa BC utilizes a modular Internal Camera Unit, or ICU, to carry and organize camera gear.  Available in a range of sizes this modular approach allows you to customize the pack to suit your needs.  Access to your camera gear is through the zippered back panel, which helps to keep the area of the pack that contacts your body free of dirt and debris.  The lid pocket is big enough to hold most of the “Ten Essentials” and what doesn’t fit there, will surely fit in either the huge main compartment, the large front pocket or the other, smaller front pocket.  There’s an integrated bladder pocket on the inside of the main compartment and MOLLE straps on the hip belt that make it easy to attach extra pockets.  The bottom and front of the Tilopa BC is lined with Hypalon, an extremely durable and abrasion resistant material that stands up well to rough granite and slickrock.  Tripods can be carried on either side of the pack or the front but the side pockets are so shallow that my tripod feet frequently slip out.  There are two small bungees on the outside of the front pocket that allow you to carry trekking poles or an ice axe.  A small pocket on the bottom of the pack is designed to stash a rain fly, which does not come with the pack, but can be ordered for an additional $15.  Honestly though, when you’re paying $405 for a pack, I think it should come with a rain fly…and waist belt pockets.  Maybe even a llama to carry the load.

The Tilopa BC is a full featured pack that carries a ton of gear and heavy loads in comfort – if you’ve got a medium to long torso.  It’s well made, durable and offers many options for customization through the use of interchangeable ICU’s and additional pockets that can be added to the waist belt and shoulder strap.  If the price doesn’t turn you off, the Tilopa BC is an exceptional pack.

With all the great pack options on the market today it’s easier than ever to carry your photography gear into the backcountry.  I hope this post helps you find the right pack that helps you get even more enjoyment out of photographing nature!

Moments and Memories

Squaretop Mountain Reflecting in Green River at Sunset, Wyoming

Squaretop Mountain reflects in the Green River at sunset as an afternoon storm clears in the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming.

Last summer my family and I packed up our travel trailer and headed north to Wyoming.  We had no plan, no itinerary.  Only a few vague ideas and a whole mess of maps and guidebooks.  We wandered through Dinosaur National Monument and then followed a lonely highway across rolling hills that eventually gave way to the Wind River Mountains, a range easily equal to the Tetons in rugged beauty but without the national park crowds.  The Winds, as they’re known to locals, invite exploration.  Dirt roads penetrate flanks of the range from the east and west, winding through fragrant sagebrush meadows and climbing higher past stands of aspen trees to alpine lakes and frigid mountain streams.  In summer, colorful wildflowers dot the landscape below skies that begin each day clear and blue before afternoon thunderstorms arrive with dramatic ferocity.

We followed a dirt road a few miles before stumbling across an idyllic campsite.  A warm creek fed by a nearby hot spring cascaded over ledges before emptying into the Green River, itself surrounded by grassy meadows so green they looked fake.  We parked the trailer next to a fire ring left behind by previous campers and continued up the increasingly corrugated road to Green River Lakes.  According to my topographic map, granite peaks rose dramatically above the lakes and would certainly create interesting opportunities for photography.

Almost to the lakes I spotted a calm section of the river just below the road with views of Squaretop Mountain and other nearby peaks catching late afternoon storm light.  My own personal philosophy for landscape photography holds that one should never pass a sure thing for a maybe thing.  This was a sure thing.  I parked the truck and scrambled down to the river’s edge, all giddy with excitement at the scene before me.  My wife chased our son around in a futile effort to prevent him from taking an unintentional dip in the river.  I hurriedly set up my tripod and used my borrowed Nikon D800 (thanks BorrowLenses.com!) to make the image you see above.

I discovered the photo again recently while digging through my archives.  Upon seeing it, I was immediately transported back to that moment, swatting at mosquitoes in the chill evening air, listening to my son laughing and, eventually, splashing in the river, the happy sound of a solid shutter click.  That’s the great thing about photographs.  They allow us to remember those all-too-rare special moments in time when nothing of the outside world is of concern.  No bills to pay, no errands to run – leaving us to relish the enjoyment of time well-spent.