Friday 31 August 2012

A Return to Reality? The End of the Communication Blues

The 'Gothic' phone used to try and contact BT - see post for August 27

Driving back from yet another day spent in cafes using their 'free' wi-fi, with intermissions to contact BT from payphones to try and find out what was happening to my lightning blown phone line ("we apologise for not meeting the deadline"), I spotted a BT Open Reach van on the verge and a man standing with a bundle of cables in his hand. I swerved into a parking area and ran over. A real human being! Perhaps he could tell me when my connection might be restored. I gave my number. Working on it now, came the surprising reply. There'd been two faults on the 5 mile cable from the exchange and there was still one in my house. I'll be up there in ten or fifteen minutes, he said. And he was, to replace a blown connection box. Luckily the internet cable was detached so the router and PC were fine. Only a portable phone had been damaged. The engineer told me he was from Stornoway and had been over here for two weeks fixing faults - there were 60 or 70 in total in the area he said. That day the three affecting my phone were his work.

So now I'm back online and catching up with emails and other admin. My thanks go to all the BT engineers who are working seven day weeks mostly outdoors in often wet weather. Some people are still without phones sixteen days after the big storm. I just wish BT was better at actually communicating with customers as to what is happening. Always saying the fault will be fixed in three days time, isn't helpful, especially when two deadlines go past and it ends up as eight days.

Now that my PC and the internet have been reunited I'll replace the phone photos of the last few posts with better camera ones and add some more so if you're interested in my pictures keep an eye out for these.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Latest TGO: pyramid tents, stupid heavy/light backpacking, Pacific Northwest Trail photo-essay, Friedrichshafen show report

Belatedly, due to connection problems (see last post), here's a look at the September issue of TGO (well, it is still August). My main feature is a photo-essay on my Pacific Northwest Trail walk with a special offer on my book on the trip, Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams.In my backpacking column I write about the weight of gear and going stupidly light and stupidly heavy while in gear I review a selection of pyramid-style tents.And in the Hill Skills section I answer questions on looking after your feet in hot weather (not a problem often this summer in Britain!) and the advantages of 'technical' legwear. There's also a feature written with Daniel Neilson on the new gear we thought the most interesting at the Friedrichshafen OutDoor Show last month.

Elsewhere in this issue I'm delighted to see Jim Perrin praising Edward Abbey's wonderful Desert Solitaire, one of my favourite outdoor books.Vivienne Crow follows the River Esk in Cumbria from its mouth at Ravenglass to its source high in the hills at Esk Hause, an interesting route.Daniel Neilsen goes sea kayaking round the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales and climbs its two little hills, another interesting approach. The most exciting story comes from Hanna Lindon, who describes an unintended night out on the Cuillin Ridge on Skye. Luckily the weather was fine but even so it sounds quite an ordeal. This year is the 400th anniversary of the notorious Pendle witch trials and there have been a number of events marking this. For TGO Carey Davies describes a walk over Pendle Hill and considers this grim period of history. Other interesting features include Roger Smith asking if Scotland's national parks are doing their job well (whilst by no means perfect I think they are doing better than Roger does), a useful key for identifying birds of prey (I suspect an awful lot of buzzards are mistaken for eagles), John Manning's review of 15 mid-range waterproof jackets and Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the John Muir Trust, appealing for walkers to get involved in protecting wild land.

Monday 27 August 2012

No Phone, No Internet

Work station in The Grant Arms

Back from Edinburgh full of ideas and photos for blog posts, magazine articles and more I reached home to discover the phone wasn't working. A friend turned up soon afterwards. Big thunderstorm a week ago, he said. Lines melted, fused, destroyed all over the area. We were almost cut-off. In our fairly remote rural home the mobile signal is very weak - too weak for the Internet, except for occasional emails. The phone connection is very poor too, with calls constantly breaking up. Texts do work okay so that's been our main form of communication with the outside world for the last week. BT - our telecoms company - said the line would be operating again last Friday. The day came and went. No phone. BT's auto response was to apologise for missing the deadline but not giving us another one. I cycled out to the nearest call box, a couple of miles away. Brushing aside the cobwebs I ventured inside. It looked like something out of a Hammer horror film. A lonely call box set in woods far from the nearest house. I half expected to hear wolves howling and hear the echoing sound of horses hooves as a sinister black carriage pulled up. Cobwebs, dead flies, leaves and rust decorated the interior. No one had used it for a long time. Detaching the phone from its nest of cobwebs I was surprised to discover it still worked. All I got from BT was more apologies though. I noticed they had bothered to decorate the outside with a large poster advertising their sponsorship of the Olympics and the superfast broadband they supply (when it does work mine reaches a maximum of 1.1mb - average slow broadband would be nice).

Two days later, having patiently waited while BT managed to find a human being for me to talk to, and trying not to be irritated by the constant advice to go onto the BT website for information, I was finally told that the line should be working again 'in two or three days. We'll see. In the meantime TGO magazine final deadlines were approaching at great rapidity. How to send them my work, which was on a hardly portable PC. Transfer it to my netbook and find a wi-fi cafe to send it from. How do I do the transfer?? By wi-fi. Ah, but I haven't now got wi-fi. This was a dilemma my partner and I keep coming across, showing just how much we take internet communications for granted. I'll watch it on iPlayer, I'll look it up on Wikipedia, I'll get an online weather forecast. oh, I can't. Suddenly the radio and TV and DVD player take on greater significance. But these I realised are one-way only. You can't communicate directly with them, merely consume what they produce.

For my work dilemma I fished out an old memory stick and used that to transfer material from the PC to the netbook. Then I went into Grantown-on-Spey, five miles away, and settled into a corner of the very comfortable Grant Arms with coffee, egg roll and wi-fi, sent off my work and felt a great sense of relief. This will now be my workroom until the phone works again.

Monday 20 August 2012

Edinburgh in Festival Mode

Photos taken while wandering Edinburgh during the Festivals, all with the Sony NEX 7 camera and most with the Sigma 30mm lens, which is ideal for street photography.

Essential refreshment

Menus & Rain

Venues are Everywhere

Grecian Lighting

New Usage

Johnny Blues

Poster Man

Optimim on the Royal Mile

A Meeting of Minds

Empty Space, Crowded Space

In the Grassmarket


Famous Son


Sunday 19 August 2012

A Walk in the Pentland Hills


After a week in Edinburgh, roaming the streets from show to show, I was beginning to feel the need for fresh air, open space and the sounds and silence of nature rather than the undulating metal thrum of traffic, the closed-in hard lines of buildings and the agitated, constantly moving crowds. Happily, as well as the miniature mountain of Arthur's Seat inside the city Edinburgh has its own range of hills just outside, the Pentlands.

A half-hour bus journey at the ridiculously low price of £1.50 return took me out of the city to the foot of the hills. I then spent a day wandering through the glens and over the summits. The day was cloudy with showers and there were few people around - just a half dozen walkers on the tops and maybe twice as many anglers on the reservoirs that fill some of the glens. The hills are grassy but steep with distinctive summits and occasional tiny crags and patches of scree. There are steep-sided little valleys, rushing burns and attractive waterfalls. Overall the Pentland Hills are much more akin to the Southern Uplands to the south than the more rugged Highlands to the north.

The Pentlands aren't high, reaching just 579 metres on Skald Law and 576 metres on Carnethy Hill, the two highest summits, but they still have a wild feel and there is no doubt that you are up above the world as you look out over the flat patchwork fields of the lowlands to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. I walked the ridge from West Kip over Skald Law and Carnethy Hill to Turnhouse Hill and a fine rolling ridge it is too, with extensive views and interesting twists and turns. 

Refreshed, I caught the bus back into the urban bustle, ready for more shows and city streets. Having such hills on its borders makes Edinburgh a good city for outdoor lovers. Knowing you can be in the  Pentlands less than an hour after leaving the city centre is wonderful

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Edinburgh Festivals: Music

The cast of This Land giving an encore on the steps of the venue.

At my almost annual urban interlude at the Edinburgh Festivals ('almost' because other activities, such as the Pacific Northwest Trail, do sometimes intrude) I've been to several musical shows, my attendance at one of which surprised even me. All of them are worth seeing though only one is still on in Edinburgh. My review starts with this.

This Land: The Story of Woody Guthrie

Described as a musical rollercoaster this is an exuberant, enjoyable and inspirational celebration of the life of Woody Guthrie, undoubtedly one of the most significant figures in American popular music of the last century, from Interplay of Leeds. The versatile cast play a variety of characters and swap instruments regularly. All seven male cast play Woody at different stages of his life with the lone woman member playing everyone from his mother to both his wives to a BBC presenter. Using a basic but effective set the cast conjure up freight trains, hobo life, houses and hospitals. The music is great of course and much of it familiar -  I knew most of the songs despite not owning any Woody Guthrie music (a defect I have now remedied). The singing and playing are both excellent and really capture the feeling of a time when folk music really was popular music of the masses. Whilst mostly energetic and upbeat there are poignant moments - deaths, divorce, illness - but Guthrie is always shown as being strong and positive right up to the time when near his death after years in hospital he is shown handing on the spirit of his music, not this time to the next stage in his own life but to a successor - Bob Dylan.

The Makropulos Case

I am not an opera lover. In fact it's fair to say that I've spent most of my life with a strong dislike of opera. So  my ever attending a full opera seemed unlikely. However a friend in Opera North was playing violin in a production of Janacek's The Makropolos Case at the Edinburgh International Festival so I surprised my partner, who does like opera, by saying I would go along, even though an opera about a legal case didn't  sound too promising. What I found was that actually going to an opera both confirmed and confounded my prejudices. The music was dramatic and thrilling with great dynamics. It surged and rolled and faded and really powered the production along. The singing was, well, okay. I didn't dislike it but it's not a style of singing I warm to - it sounds rather emotionless to my ear. The acting and melodrama conveyed the feelings well however. The sets were surprisingly interesting, given they consist of a lawyers office and a hotel. The story, which I didn't know, was strong enough to hold my interest. I appreciated having the words displayed as I couldn't always follow the singing and anyway sometimes I concentrated more on the music and let the words run as background. The audience and my companions were all enthusiastic so for those who like and understand opera it's obviously good. I guess I was pleasantly surprised but not so much that I'll be dashing off to more opera anytime soon.

Richard Thompson

If there was one performance I'd have been very surprised and disappointed if I hadn't found enthralling it was this solo show by one of Britain's greatest songwriters and guitarists of the last forty plus years. Somehow I'd managed not to see Richard Thompson since the early 1970s, on his farewell tour with Fairport Convention, so I was very pleased to finally manage to attend a concert and even more pleased that it was even better than I expected. Over the years Thompson's voice has grown in depth, range and emotional intensity and he is now a very good singer indeed, which was shown especially on the slower, sadder songs. As to his guitar playing, well, it's always been good but on this occasion it was really stunning, especially when he let rip on the uptempo numbers. At times I could swear I could hear bass, rhythm and lead at the same time, all from one acoustic guitar. The songs were a mix of old favourites from his now vast back catalogue and four good-sounding new ones from an album coming out next year. It was a good range of songs too - everything from the pathos of Beeswing through the rock'n roll of Valerie to the humour of Don't Sit On My Jimmy Shands. A brilliant hour and half's music.

Monday 13 August 2012

Edinburgh Fringe on Arthur's Seat/ Images of Arthur's Seat

One of the great joys of Edinburgh is the miniature mountain of Arthur's Seat. Anytime the traffic, crowds, buildings and urban intensity become too much you can wander up this rocky volcanic remnant and feel a touch of the wild. Usually you can escape the festivals too. But not this August as every day during the Festival Fringe, whatever the weather, comedian Barry Ferns is up there with his show This Arthur's Seat Belongs To Lionel Ritchie. On a sunny day it's a pleasant if surreal way to spend twenty minutes. In a storm it could be quite bizarre. To enter the 'venue' the audience passes through a wooden door frame then Ferns entertains with gentle humour, audience banter and some information on just where we are - sitting on top of a 350 million year old volcano. Then it's back through the door and the show is over.

There's no dashing off to the nearest bar or cafe though. There isn't one. Instead you have the crags, flowers, grass and sky of Arthur's Seat. Any outdoors lover who finds themselves in Edinburgh should go up there. I spent a few hours wandering round this surprisingly complex little hill reveling in the unusual feeling of being in wild nature yet with a city spread out before me.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Mists & Sunshine: A Day of Contrasts in the Cairngorms

 Sometimes having a companion means you venture out on days when caution and a reluctance to deal with stormy weather might keep you in if alone. Such was the case recently when my stepdaughter Hazel was visiting for a short while and keen to get out on the hills for a day. Forecasts for low cloud and heavy thundery showers with only a 20% chance of clear summits meant I would probably have stayed home but as each day seemed much the same we picked one and went. As Hazel had never been across the Cairngorm Plateau and up Ben Macdui we chose that route. Initially it did look as though it would be a compass exercise in the cloud. We left the Coire Cas car park in thick mist and followed the path into Coire an t-Sneachda where it was so dense that we couldn’t even see across the small lochans and the big cliffs at the head of the corrie were completely invisible. I can’t remember ever encountering such poor visibility here before.

In Coire an t-Sneachda

On the Goat Track
Finding the rough path known as the Goat Track that climbs steeply up the headwall of the corrie we followed this, still in the mist, to the Plateau. Here we met two hikers who remarked on the changeable weather. It had, they said, been clear on Ben Macdui earlier. Encouraged we set off across the stony slopes, still unable to see more than a few metres. Soon though we came into an odd mist-free corridor. We could see mist not far away on both sides but we were outside it. Then as we approached Lochan Buidhe in the heart of the Plateau all the mists were left behind. Looking back we could see nothing. Across the Lairig Ghru pass the summit of Braeriach was cloud-covered. But ahead Ben Macdui was in sunshine. Soon we reached the summit and realised that we were in a small island of clearness. To the south the hills were shrouded darkly. It looked as though it might be raining there. Eastwards great white clouds towered into the sky and the hills were again hidden. North, from where we had come, the mist still lay. Westwards we could see the nearest peaks but beyond them was cloud.

On the final climb to Ben Macdui

The summit of Ben Macdui
 We sat on the edge of the summit overlooking the Lairig Ghru with the massive east face of Cairn Toul rising out of its depths and the huge scoop of An Garbh Choire – the rough corrie – cutting deep into the hills next to it. The sun was warming and it felt like summer yet not so far away clouds dominated. Returning back across the Plateau the mist retreated before us and the cliffs of Cairn Lochan were shining in the late sun as we descended past them. As we neared the car park a few evening bird watchers were wandering along the path. They were the first people we’d seen since the top of the Goat Track. In all we’d only seen four people high up and we’d had the Plateau and Ben Macdui to ourselves. Maybe no-one else had a companion to spur them out on what looked an unpromising day.

View across the Lairig Ghru

Cairn Lochan

Monday 6 August 2012

Guest Blog on SectionHiker

On the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon in 1982 - scan from a Kodachrome 64 slide.

Just published on Phillip Werner's excellent Section Hiker site is a Guest Blog I've written entitled Hard Lessons & Inspirations about my early backpacking mistakes and the books that taught and inspired me.

This is one of a series of Guest Blogs currently running on Section Hiker during August. Good ones have already appeared from Dennis Blanchard, Ron Strickland and Bill Walker and there are plenty more to come.

Saturday 4 August 2012

The Sony NEX 7: A Superb Camera for Backpacking and Hiking

Sony NEX 7 with Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens
I've had the Sony NEX 7 for six months now, during which I’ve taken nearly 3,000 photos, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the best camera I’ve used for backpacking and hiking, both in terms of images and in handling. I love using it and I love viewing the images. I had high expectations when I bought it. These have been surpassed.

It’s been two years and nine months since I began a changeover from DSLRs to smaller cameras with the Sony NEX 5. My thinking for this I described in this post. Basically I was looking for a smaller, lighter alternative to a DSLR that would produce the same quality images and my research suggested the NEX 5 was the best option. A year later I expressed my thoughts about the NEX 5 here, where I said that much as I liked the camera I was planning on replacing it with the even better NEX 5N or NEX 7 as my main camera and using it as a back-up. I read several reviews – especially those on DPreview, Luminous Landscape, Steve Huff Photo and DxOMark – and decided on the NEX 7 as the better of the two for my photography, giving my first impressions here. If you’re interested in technical details, comparative studio shots and comparisons with other cameras have a look at those reviews. Here I’m giving my personal impressions and views. 

18-55mm lens @ 39mm, 100 ISO, f8 @ 1/320
Most of my photographs are landscape and outdoors ones taken during hiking and backpacking trips, hence my desire for a small, lightweight camera. At the same time I need images for publication in books and magazines so high image quality is essential, which rules out compact cameras with their tiny sensors as these just don’t produce good enough pictures. So until mirrorless cameras with the same-size sensors as DSLRs appeared a few years ago I used one of the lighter weight DSLRs. When I changed to the smaller NEX system I wasn’t expecting better quality images than from my DSLR, just equivalent ones. The advantages for me of a mirrorless camera were the low weight and bulk. If these hadn’t been important I’d have stuck with a DSLR. The weight saving is significant for a camera that will be carried all day however. My old Canon 450D DSLR weighs 580 grams with battery, memory card and strap. The Sony NEX 7 with the same accessories weighs 376 grams. Being much smaller it fits into a smaller, lighter bag too and is less clumsy to carry.

For me the weight and size of the NEX 7 are enough to justify changing from a DSLR on their own. However using the camera I have discovered that there are many other advantages.

18-55mm lens @ 55mm, 400 ISO, f8 @ 1/20

I didn’t find the menu-based controls of the NEX 5 as much of a hassle as many reviewers did but I had to admit that they weren’t very intuitive and did take a little time and thought. I quickly got used to using the screen rather than a viewfinder too, discovering that holding the camera against my chest with the screen flipped up was at least as stable as holding it to my eye. I didn’t really miss a viewfinder and I liked having the histogram and exposure settings visible on the screen so I could adjust them before taking a picture (I mostly use manual exposure and use the histogram as a guide not what the camera says is the “correct” exposure). The NEX 7 however has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that shows all that information plus three dials that control the shutter speed, aperture and ISO so all can be altered with the camera to the eye. This is a lovely system that works really well. I find there’s rarely any need to delve into the screen menus. I have read criticisms that the top two dials can’t be identified by touch but I haven’t found this a problem as I can tell which is which from their position in relation to the shutter button. The EVF itself is excellent in bright light though a little grainy and dark with details hard to see in low light. I still use the tilting screen a great deal, especially when taking low or overhead shots when it’s much easier to use than the viewfinder, but for many shots I have returned to the viewfinder. I wouldn’t want a camera without both now.

The NEX 7 has a good handgrip and feels secure held in one hand. I can switch it on, alter settings and take pictures one-handed too, though I rarely need to do this.

The Sensor and Image Quality

18-55 @ 21mm, 800 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/20
The NEX 7 has a 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor, which is twice as many megapixels as the Canon 450D and four times as many as my first DSLR, the Canon 300D, both of which have sensors the same size. I was concerned initially about all these pixels as the standard wisdom was that cramming more onto a sensor made images noisier, especially at high ISOs. Perhaps, I thought, the 16mp NEX 5N would be a better choice. Once reviews of the camera appeared I was reassured though, as they all said that high ISO results were okay - slightly noisier than the 5N but not significantly so. I also realised that as I rarely shoot at anything more than 400 ISO, and mostly stick to 100, this shouldn’t be a major concern for me anyway. I didn’t think I needed 24mp but I didn’t think it would be a disadvantage.

Once I started using the camera I quickly realised that 24mp actually had one big advantage and that was that I could crop pictures and still have high quality images. And for backpacking and hiking being able to crop pictures is a great boon as it means telephoto shots can be taken without a heavy telephoto lens. I now often take pictures with the intention of cropping, knowing that the results should be fine.

18-55mm lens @ 55mm, 100 ISO, f8 @1/100

Crop from image above
Just how good the sensor is compared with other cameras I can’t say from my own experience, other than that it’s far superior to the 12mp Canon 450D one, which isn’t surprising as that’s now an old camera. DxOMark however measures sensor qualities and publishes comparative lists. Their findings place the NEX 7 as equal 10th of all the cameras they’ve tested, with the same score as the much heavier and more expensive Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR and better than most other DSLRs. The NEX 7 also gets a higher score for dynamic range than the EOS 5D, which is important for landscapes. Where the big DSLR wins out is in high ISO low light performance, which is less important for me. Now I would never have a considered a camera as heavy, bulky or expensive as the Canon 5D anyway but it’s good to know that the NEX 7 can produce images of the same quality.

55-210mm lens @ 210mm, 100 ISO, f8 @ 1/250

Crop from the image above
The NEX 7s ISO settings run from 100 to a ludicrously high 16,000. My unscientific findings are that up to 400 images are virtually noiseless and that 800 and 1600 are still very good. At 3200 noise is visible, though not that intrusive. At 12,800 noise is very visible but images are still okay if not cropped or blown up much and if the subject matter lends itself to a grainy look.

3200 ISO, 18-55mm lens @ 55mm, f9 @ 1/40

From left: Ultra Wide Converter, 16mm, Sigma 30mm, 18-55mm, 55-210mm
A big complaint about the NEX cameras has been the lack of choice in lenses and the mediocre quality of those available. My preferences have always been for three zoom lenses - wide angle, mid-range and telephoto. This is what I used with my film and digital SLRs. When I bought the NEX 5N only a mid-range zoom was available and for a year I used this. When I wanted wider angle or telephoto shots I used the Canon 450D, which effectively became a back-up to the NEX, an unsatisfactory situation due to its weight and bulk. I did try a converter that allowed me to use the Canon lenses with the NEX but I lost any control over the aperture and there was no autofocus so I decided that for outdoor use it was unsuitable.

Initially I just used the 220 gram 18-55 f3.5-5.6 mid-range zoom with the NEX 7. I wanted more lenses though so I could carry the NEX 5 as back-up and not bother with the 450D. I ordered a Sony 55-210 zoom, but had to wait several months for it to become available. In the meantime I purchased a second-hand Sony 16mm f2.8 lens from eBay, second-hand because reviews suggested it was a poor lens so I didn’t want to splash out the full amount and find this was correct. In fact for my usage it’s fine. However 16mm is only slightly wider than the 18mm of my standard zoom so I soon added Sony’s Ultra Wide Converter, which turns it into a really wide 12mm lens. Because the converter can be quickly twisted on and off this gives a two-focal length unit, though in practice I nearly always use it at 12mm.  The 16mm weighs a mere 66 grams; the converter 129 grams.

Ultra Wide Converter/16mm, 100 ISO, f8 @ 1/320
Another complaint about the NEX 7 has been that there’s a magenta cast with wide angle lenses. I haven’t found this to be so. I’ve found there’s a purple cast. I first noticed this with some grey clouds, though, oddly, only on one side of the image. As I always shoot raw it’s no problem removing this when processing the images in Lightroom. At first I did adjust the magenta, assuming this was the problem due to the reviews I’d read, but it did nothing. Adjusting the purple then quickly removed the cast.

Eventually the 55-210 lens did arrive. It’s much bigger and heavier than the other lenses (379 grams) and not one I’d carry on a long distance or multi-day walk unless I felt I really needed it. However for day hikes and shorter backpacking trips it’s useful and the results are good.

Of these lenses only the 16mm lens is really small. With it attached the NEX 7 can be slipped into a large pocket. With the Ultra Wide Adapter or the zoom lenses this isn’t possible. 16mm is too wide for general use for me though so I was on the lookout for a more standard length lens when the 145 gram Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens appeared. This is a delightful little lens; small, light and capable of excellent results. I’ve found myself using it surprisingly often and if I only carry one lens to keep the weight down this is it even though it isn’t a zoom and doesn’t have image stabilisation, unlike the other lenses (I think this more important with focal lengths over around 40mm anyway).

This collection of lenses covers most of what I need though I would like an equivalent to the 24-70mm zoom that was my most used lens with film cameras. In fact I’ve wanted such a lens since I changed to digital DSLRs so I’m pleased that Sony are said to be bringing out one in the next few months, a 16-50 (equivalent to 24-75mm in 35mm) pancake lens that will hopefully be lighter as well as smaller than the 18-55. It could be the lens for trips where I only carry one. 

30mm lens, 400 ISO, f8 @ 1/800

At present I’m carrying the NEX 7 in a LowePro Apex 100 W padded case (232 grams). This has room for the camera plus any lens but the 55-210 and will also hold a spare battery and memory cards. It has an effective rain cover and is quite compact. However I’d rather have a click buckle fastened lid than the zip round one as the latter is a little awkward to use. The lenses are carried in Zing neoprene pouches in the pack.


Is the Sony NEX 7 the best camera for backpacking and hiking? I don’t know. It must be one of the best though, given the low weight and bulk and high image quality. It’s definitely a camera for photographers who want the best results and who are likely to make large prints or have images published. To get the best from it you need to shoot raw, watch the histogram and take care with the processing. If you don’t want to be bothered with any of that then a simpler, lighter, less expensive compact or even one of the better camera phones should be fine. But for committed photographers who venture into the wilds the NEX 7 is excellent.

Addendum: Criticisms

I've been asked if there are any flaws with this camera at all.  For me there are two minor ones, both complained about, sometimes loudly, by other reviewers as well. The first is the video button which is positioned so it is easily pressed accidentally. I've shot a few short boring videos by doing so. It can't be locked, something Sony should address. The second annoyance concerns the EVF. This comes on when you put it to your eye, which is excellent. However if you carry the camera slung on your chest it also comes on, and eats up battery life. Until I realised this was happening I was puzzled at to why the battery was losing power quickly even when the screen was off. Now I switch the camera off when there's going to be more than a few minutes between taking pictures.