Mt. Waterman and the search for a new camera

View from Mt. Waterman Trail, taken with Sony Nex-5N.
View from Mt. Waterman Trail, taken with Sony Nex-5N.

Well, I wasn’t looking FOR a new camera on Mt. Waterman. I was testing one to replace my several-years-old Panasonic Lumix, which doesn’t focus anymore.

Yup, most of the photos I’ve been posting on West-centric are from my iPhone 5, which takes admirable shots, but I’m dearly missing image quality, especially in low light and when using the zoom. And as much as I’m tempted to jump to a digital SLR, I like to be able to shove my camera in the pocket of my hiking pants or shorts or attached to my belt, so lugging a big camera around isn’t a great option for me.

So I borrowed my friend the Fix-It Dude’s Sony to see if I wanted to go the mirrorless/interchangeable lens route. Mr. Fix-It in fact repaired my Lumix after I dropped it at a trailhead, but I think it’s now beyond fixing. According to Digital Photography Review, mirrorless cameras use their imaging sensors to handle focusing, and focusing speeds often meet or exceed those of DSLRs. Sounds good to me.

I took the Sony to Mt. Waterman, which is such an enjoyable hike. It’s in the Angeles National Forest, and at 8,000 feet in elevation, is no slouch. In fact if you squint hard enough, it almost seems Sierra-like. There was even a bit of snow on the trail, remnants of a weeks-ago storm. The photos I’m showing here (before more recent snow) were taken w/the Sony and I didn’t do any processing on them. Below, I’ll post some iPhone photos I took on the same hike.

On the Mt. Waterman Trail, taken with Sony Nex-5N.
On the Mt. Waterman Trail, taken with Sony Nex-5N.

The trail is fragrant with incense cedars, firs and Jeffrey and sugar pines. This is Angeles High Country at its best. The route ascends over long, well-graded switchbacks, reaching a saddle on a ridge, where the views really open up. To the south, you see the San Gabriel Wilderness, and north to the western Mojave Desert.

Boulders, pines and first line the Mt. Waterman Trail; Sony Nex-5N photo.
Boulders, pines and first line the Mt. Waterman Trail; Sony Nex-5N photo.

Enroute, you pass the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Buckhorn Ski Club, a tiny members-only nonprofit “resort” with a single rope tow run by a do-it-yourself engine. We’ve passed this backcountry oddity before, and it wasn’t til I just Googled it that I realized it was still open. And with 5 inches of snow this past weekend, it’s up and running. According to their website, you can try it out for $10/adult, $5/child; a family membership is $175 per season.

Summit of Mt. Waterman; Sony-Nex-5.
Summit of Mt. Waterman; Sony-Nex-5N.

Anyhoo, once at Waterman’s summit, about 2.5 miles in, things get a little confusing. There are three big piles of boulders….the highest one is the 8,038-foot summit. You have to boulder-crawl to find the summit benchmark, which says “Twin,” meaning it’s part of the Twin Peaks USGS quad. Actual Twin Peaks is another 3.5 miles from Waterman.

Mt. Waterman benchmark, taken with iPhone 5.
Mt. Waterman benchmark, taken with iPhone 5.
View from Waterman Trail, using iPhone 5 camera.
View from Waterman Trail, using iPhone 5 camera.

As for my camera evaluation, I think the Sony performed very well. I kept it in its small case attached to my belt, and it was a snap to use. I thought the images turned out great and the colors were really vivid, but I did miss my Lumix’s zoom. Going with one of these mirrorless jobbers is going to mean stopping to change lenses (and parting with a boatload of cash), so I’m still debating.

I’m absolutely no expert on cameras, and have been trying to read up on which ones are compact and rugged enough for outdoor travel. I started a spreadsheet comparing some new Panasonic Lumix cameras, some fixed-lens Sonys and the Olympus mirrorless models, which are getting good reviews.

I like the Digital Photography reviews, but my head started to spin trying to make sense of mirrorless, micro four-thirds sensors, ISO, full-frame, etc. I do know I’d like something weather-sealed but that may be out of my budget. If only I could decide on what my budget is exactly, and whether I’m willing to change lenses out on the trail.

So if anybody out there in hiking/backpacking/kayaking/skiing/fishing land can offer any camera advice, I’m all ears!

And here are a couple more shots comparing the Sony Nex-5N to my iPhone 5:

These are Sony shots:

Sammy:Sony

Beach:Sony

Sunset:Sony

And the same sunset, zoomed in with my iPhone 5:

Sunset:iphone

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One thought on “Mt. Waterman and the search for a new camera

  1. Steve Hymon February 4, 2014 / 4:05 am

    Nice post. That is an excellent hike. You could have asked me about your new camera, as I happen to live with you and I like photography! I suggest the Sony RXII so you don’t have to hassle with lenses. Or perhaps the Panasonic GM1 with the kit lens and maybe one telephoto you could easily carry in your pack.

    Your other option — and one that I think is very good — would be to purchase me a Nikon D600 full frame camera with the 16-35 wide angle lens that is great for landscapes. This will only cost you $3200 or so and I’ll take all your photos for you. On second thought, this is an AWESOME OPTION!

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