Wednesday, 18 January 2017

2016 Favourite Photos & Thoughts on Lenses & Focal Lengths

Camp on the Cairngorm Plateau, March 14. Sony NEX 7, 16-50 lens @ 16mm, ISO 400, f 6.3@15 sec, tripod

Last year I took 3,500+ images. Here are my 15 favourites - though at another time I might pick a different selection!

Whislt sorting through the pictures I remembered a lens review by Alex Roddie in which he wrote 'when I analysed all the thousands of photos I’d taken with my zoom lens, I found that most of them were at about the 35mm focal length (53mm in full-frame terms). It’s how I see the world.' What, I wondered, was my most-used focal length? Did I see the world in one particular way?

The Cairngorms, January 27. Sony NEX 7, 55-210mm lens @ 210mm, ISO 400, f8@1/1600 sec

Through the wonders of Lightroom I could find out. I knew that most images were taken on my 16-50mm lens as it's often the only one I carry and it's my main one when I take more than one lens. I wasn't surprised then to discover that over 2,800 pictures were taken with this lens. Of these just over 600 were taken at 16mm and at 50mm, which did surprise me a little. I hadn't realised I used each end of the zoom so often. That still left well over half the pictures taken at other focal lengths and here there's not much variation with the highest number being 108 images at 30mm.

Forest, mist & mountains, January 31. Sony NEX 7, 55-210mm lens @ 113mm, ISO 800, f8@1/80 sec

After the 16-50 lens my next used lens are the 10-18mm wide angle zoom and the 55-210mm telephoto zoom. The former I carry on most trips and it's a lens I like a great deal so I was surprised to find I only took 325 images with it, the most popular focal length being 10mm, with which I took 130 pictures. I really must use it more! In competition with the 10-18mm lens is the Samyang 12mm, which I bought for night photos as it's a f2 lens and so lets in more light than the f4 10-18. I took 50 images with this.

Cairngorms camp, February 27. Sony NEX 7, Samyang 12mm lens, ISO 400, tripod

With the 55-210mm lens I took 400 images, many of them of wildlife at or close to home - sometimes through a window! Unsurprisingly over half these were taken at 210mm.

Sparrowhawk, February 24. Sony NEX 7, 55-210mm lens @ 186mm, ISO 100, f6.3@1/250 sec

I also have a Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens which I hardly used, taking just 16 photos with it, and a Sony E 30mm f3.5 Macro lens, which I bought mainly for photographing old slides on a lightbox. I took 98 pictures with it. I intend taking many more this year, again of old slides.

Isle of Rum from Morar, May 13. Sony NEX 7, 16-50mm lens @ 50mm, ISO 100, f8@1/250 sec

My conclusion from this analysis is that I don't have a favourite focal length and that I like zoom lenses - which I already knew. It has made me determined to make more use of the 10-18mm lens though.

Anyway here are the rest of my favourite 2017 photos.

Evening in Glen Feshie, May 21. Nex 7, 16-50mm lens @ 27mm, ISO 100, f8@1/320sec

Rainbow over Victoria Bridge, Deeside. Sony NEX 7, 16-50mm lens @ 42mm, ISO 200, f8@1,000 sec

Glen Doll from Jock's Road, May 23. Sony NEX 7, 16-50m lens @ 17mm, ISO 100, f8@1/20 sec

Young chaffinch soliciting food from a greenfinch, July 5. NEX 7, 55-210mm lens @ 210mm, ISO 1600, f8@1/125 sec

Small tortoiseshell butterfly, September 7. Sony NEX 7, 55-210mm lens @ 210mm, ISO 100, f8@1/250

View from Red Peak Pass, Yosemite National Park, September 24. Sony NEX 7, 10-18mm @ 14mm, ISO 100, f8@1/250

Mirror Lake & Mount Whitney, Sequoia National Park, October 12. Sony a6000, 16-50mm lens @ 50mm, ISO 100, f8@1/250 sec

Guitar Lake & Mount Hitchcock, Sequoia National Park, October 13. Sony a6000, 16-50mm lens @ 20mm, ISO 100, f8@1/160 sec

Strathspey & the Cairngorms, December 27. Sony a6000, 16-50mm lens @ 28mm, ISO 800, f8@1/10 sec

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Animal tracks on a wet day: always something interesting in nature

In the mist and drizzle

Thawing snow, wet mist, drizzle, +5C. A dreich day. Chilly and damp. Even the nearby hills were hidden, the woods were hazy and dark. Two buzzards flapped slowly over the snow, silhouetted against the white ground. Rabbits skipped out of sight.
Rabbit food

Even on a day like this there is something to see, something of interest. With no views I looked down. Here were signs of the wildlife I was unlikely to see in the poor visibility. Tracks laced the ground  showing where rabbbits had searched for places they could scrape through the snow and find food.

Rabbit tracks

At the edge of the woods roe deer tracks appeared. None ventured out into the fields, where I often see them - no point when the grass is snow-covered.

Roe deer track

A fox had been out in the fields though, the straight line of its tracks cutting across the tangle of twisting and turning rabbit ones. I followed the tracks for a while but lost them in a snowfree area so whether it caught a rabbit or a mouse or maybe a pheasant - I saw tracks of several - I didn't find out..


An unpromising day then but still much of interest to see, as there always is in the natural world.

For identification of tracks and signs for over decades I've used Animals Tracks, Trails & Signs by R.W.Brown, M.J.Lawrence & J. Pope. There is much excellent information online now of course, including by Paul Kirtley on his blog.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Thoughts on Snow Trips Past & Future

Time for snowshoes

Today the snow was deep enough for me to try out some new snowshoes. I've been waiting quite a while to do this. Previous snowfalls haven't been deep enough but the recent snowfall is four or five inches deep everywhere and much deeper in many places where it has drifted.

Wandering the fields and woods in the snow I thought about future wintry trips and remembered previous ones. Next week I'll be heading into the Cairngorms for two nights with Peter Elliott of PHD to try out a winter version of the Sleep System I tried with him last summer (see this post) and then used with great success on my Yosemite to Death Valley walk last autumn. I'm hoping for really cold temperatures!

2016's Glen Affric igloo

Next month I'm planning an igloo trip with members of the Inverness Backcountry Snowsports Club. We did this last year above Glen Affric and had a comfortable night in an igloo in stormy weather. I wrote about the trip on this blog here and for The Great Outdoors. The latter piece has just been posted on the magazine's website.

Today the high Cairngorms were hidden in cloud. I hope to be up there in the snow soon and to have trips as memorable as this one last February. But for now the snow has made the fields and woods in the glens wilder and more exciting and tramping round them on snowshoes feels like a real winter adventure.

An elongated winter shadow        

View across Strathspey to the Cromdale Hills

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Lightweight Backpacking Collection

In the High Sierra last autumn

Over the years I've posted a few articles on lightweight backpacking. As these are scattered throughout this blog I thought I'd gather together the links so they can be easily accessed.

How New Is Lightweight Backpacking?

Backpacking: How Light Is Safe?

Ultralight, Lightweight, Traditional .... Or Maybe Just Backpacking?

Ultralight Backpacking? Some Thoughts

Thoughts On Lightening A Backpacking Load

Performance, Durability & Lightweight Gear 

Wild camp on the TGO Challenge

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Great Outdoors February Issue: mid-size packs, Yeti gaiters,Summiteer sleeping bag & winter skills

In the February issue of The Great Outdoors I review eleven 30-40 litre packs and the Summiteer Glow Worm 600 sleeping bag and write about Berghaus Yeti gaiters in the Classic gear section, for which I dug out my old very faded pair. Also in the gear pages is a discussion of socks by Outdoor Gear Coach.

Accompanying the magazine is a supplement on winter skills to which I've contributed my thoughts on what to wear and carry plus what to look for in ice axes and crampons. Also in the supplement Carey Davies goes on a winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge while Lodge instructors Giles Trussell, Jon Jones and Alan Halewood give advice on safe movement in the winter hills, ice axe and crampon use, and avalanche safety. There's also a cautionary tale of a stormy winter's day on the Black Mount by David Lintern and advice from Paul Besley, who suffered a serious accident when winter hillwalking in the Lake District.

David Lintern also has a piece in the magazine, an account of an Alpine mountaineering introductory course in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, and a fine and atmospheric photo taken on the snow-covered summit of Bynack More that shows the Cairngorms at their most wild and glorious. There are also equally fine wintry photo spreads of a rainbow over the Langdale Pikes from Blea Tarn by Dave Fieldhouse and Loch Achtriochtan in Glencoe by Graham Bradshaw. Elsewhere in the magazine there's an account of an icy round of the Snowdon Horseshoe by Dan Aspel; an exciting snowshoe and bothy trip over Carn Dearg and Sgor Gaibhre from Corrour station by Alex Roddie; a wander round a snowy High Cup Nick by Mark Sutcliffe; and a consideration of the Great Langdale hills in winter by Ronald Turnbull. All these articles are illustrated with wonderful mouth-watering photos.

Away from the snow and ice Ed Byrne canoes down the River Spey, an entertaining article containing the wonderfully understated 'our third capsize was more annoying'. Carey Davies enjoys woods rather than hills in his column; Roger Smith looks at the campaign to save the Scottish wildcat; and Jim Perrin describes Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Outdoor & Nature Books Review 2016

Here are brief reviews of the outdoor and nature books I enjoyed last year. I'm happy to recommend all of them.

Walking Man: The Secret Life of Colin Fletcher by Robert Wehrman

A book I'd been looking forward to for several years Walking Man is a fascinating biography of my favourite writer on backpacking and hiking. See my full review here.

Inglorious: Conflict In The Uplands by Mark Avery

A very readable damning indictment of the driven grouse industry Inglorious is packed with information and detail. An important book.

The Wood For The Trees: The Long View of Nature from a Small Wood by Richard Fortey

Fortey is one of my favourite popular science writers (Earth: An Intimate History and Life: An Unauthorised Biography are both superb). In this intriguing book he describes nature and the British landscape from the perspective of one small wood in the Chiltern Hills.

Hidden Histories: A Spotter's Guide To The British Landscape by Mary-Ann Ochota

The opposite of The Wood For The Trees this book is a guide to understanding the British Landscape and is packed full of useful information. A reference book for long term use.

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard

An updated and expanded edition of Chouinards story of Patagonia and how he sees the company as a means for promoting environmental campaigns and ethical business.

The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf

Excellent biography of a neglected but important figure.

A Mountain Before Breakfast by Alan Rowan

The first of two somewhat exhausting books on the Corbetts. Not exhausting for any negative reasons but for how they left me feeling! In this case the round involves many night walks, as you'd expect from the author of Moonwalker, and many long drives plus masses of excitement and entertaining events.

The Corbett Round; A unique continuous traverse of 219 Scottish mountains by Manny Gorman

In 2009 Gorman ran round all the Corbetts in a record 70 days. Reading the exciting story involving wild weather, injuries really brings home just how astonishing an achievement it was.

The Rainforests of Britain and Ireland: A Traveller's Guide by Clifton Bain

A useful reference guide to every remnant bit of rainforest left in Britain and Ireland.

Mountains and Rivers: Dee Valley Poems from Source to Sea by Brian Lawrie

A lovely little volume of hill and river poems.

The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland: A Companion Guide by Clifton Bain

A pocket size compact version of the excellent The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland for field use.

Wild America: A personal celebration of the National Parks by David Muench & Roly Smith

Last year was the centenary of the US National Park Service. Packed with wonderful photographs and tempting descriptions this book shows just why the national parks are so valuable.

The Range of Light: Night & Day On The John Muir Trail by Nick Foster and Scott Lange

Spectacular and dramatic photos by two astrophotographers from their hike along the John Muir Trail.                                                                                                                                                      

A Belated Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone! Belatedly!

A bad cold has rather delayed the feeling of a new year beginning. I was visting friends and family in Edinburgh but spent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day coughing and spluttering in an armchair rather than being sociable. Only now, a week into 2017, is my head and chest clearing and thoughts of the outdoors seeming a little more real. I have a number of plans for this year, including long walks in the Highlands and Scandinavia, of which more soon.

In the meantime I'm hoping for snow - the hills are pretty bare at present - and trips like the one in the photo, which was on the Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms last February.

May everyone have an exciting, adventurous and safe 2017.