Electronics for A CYTC

It is a monumental task. Choosing electronics for a CYTC has that many aspects, it would justify having a dedicated technician who would improve your gear every two weeks. Unfortunately my budget does not allow for such a service. At least I had enough time now during the travel ban (caused by the pandemic and a measure I supported)  to collect useful pieces for an easy to use electronic environment. 

As always I start with the question, what do I want to do out there? Of course taking pictures and if possible video, to remember it ten years later. To feed Instagram and TikTok and Youtube and potentially be able to blog, even for a magazine, who knows. 

Already at this stage you need to hit the brakes hard. I still try to hike lightweight. A full frame photo camera, let’s say a Sony Alpha, weighs a lot and it is bulky. There are a lot of lenses for such systems but if you want the ability to zoom with more than 80 mm, it will set you back north of 5k (for the entire system including storage cards and so on) and it can only be justified if you have a professional background in video editing. For example Elina “Tip Tap” Osborne has just that. On her thru-hike of the Te Araroa in 2021 she decided to carry a Sony Alpha including a DJI gimbal. Even with her professional background and her hunger for the best raw material, she eventually decided to ditch the gimbal. Needless to say that she left the bigger lenses at home from the beginning. 

Some years ago, a bunch of extremely talented video people (John Zahorian who has since turned his YT videos to private, Maria “Dirty Avocado” Nunez or Cotezi on IG) took raw material with the Sony RX100. For what this camera is able to deliver, it is nearly free. I bought one and tested it. And I sold it again. Because of it’s tiny sensor, Iphones and Google Pixel phones are now able to deliver better pictures in low light because they have better computing power. The only advantage of this camera is the optical zoom of 200 mm but the mechanics of this camera are flimsy.

It is common to go through several examples of the RX100 during one hike on one trail. In 2020 most people switched to bigger cameras or used just the Iphone. A hiker with the name “Spielberg” demonstrated the abilities of the Iphone 12 in 2021. There are a lot of people who will never reach his level, regardless of whatever camera they will use. His trail name is no coincidence; the best picture quality doesn’t help a lot when there is no story telling or you decide to film boring content. The fact that you are on trail is not news worthy. Also what you order in a restaurant is not that important. Most likely it is a burger anyways.

Unfortunately the type of camera determines the type of the editing surroundings. I decided to try to improve on the stills compared to the Iphone but still going lightweight and ditching the zoom capabilities. It is an expensive path. First of all, there is exactly one camera with a fixed lens but a full frame, high pixel sensor. There is also just one camera with an industrial designed and robust body. The company who produces these cameras unfortunately knows this as well. So they ask a premium in the 4 digits area. You get a camera with no external connections and no lightweight, always ready cover available on the market but still professional photographers use it in their spare time. Gear testers describe it as a near perfect camera.

If you want to have the SD card port accessible in combination with the Peak Designs capture clip, this will require a special plate. Novoflex from Germany thankfully is designing one for me.

I had to turn to a specialist local sewing shop for the cover. I found a shop by chance in my neighborhood but still my jaws dropped. First of all about the sewing machines. I have no idea about sewing machines but the machines in this shop are from a company called Dürkopp Adler. The owner handcrafts courier bags for the ever growing bicycle courier fleet here in Zurich. No, not for Uber and others but for the more sustainable ones like Dabbavelo and for Flash.

A selection of vintage camera straps hopefully takes away the unwanted attention from the camera. There are not many Minolta straps on Leica cameras and probably even fewer ones with Peak Designs quick release system. Minolta stopped production of cameras in 2006. Maybe this strap has the opposite effect, who knows. As I write this post, Leica announced a special reporter edition of the Q2. They claim that the lack of a red Leica logo on the front should make the camera more stealth. The color is however super flashy everyone who does not live under a stone will immediately recognize this camera. I used good old tape to mask the logos.

Once I stomached the camera purchase, I still needed blogging capabilities. Apple will sell you an Ipad Mini. Logitech has the keyboard to match, if you have a lot of patience and you train to use it before sitting in a shelter on the AT. So far I haven’t found a lightweight case for the Ipad.  

Of course you need more accessories. The loading device that comes with the camera is an insult, there is a much lighter option for half the price from Nitecore and it comes with integrated temperature control for your battery. If you spend this kind of money, you don’t want to ruin your setup with an inferior power brick. Nitecore also does the best power brick on the market. I carry two of them, so I have hopefully enough power to charge everything. 

Needless to say, you need a satellite device for security purposes. I stick to the Garmin InReach Mini, although this hardware is dated and this forces me to carry a MicroUSB cable. The InReach Mini is of course not compatible with Garmins own temperature sensor, the tempe, although it supports the ANT+ standard.  

Thankfully, the Apple universe is split up at the moment between USB-C and Lightning. If you want to operate an SSD drive on your Iphone, you would need an additional power supply, since lightning alone can not transmit enough power. Two SD card adapters for me, once USB-C and once Lightning. Therefore an additional cable doesn’t break the weight limits. 

With my headlamp the choice is clear: Lupine Penta. I have had it for one year and will continue to use it for at least five years. If you ever walked half a mile with it, you prefer to stay at home if there is only a Petzl or a Blackdiamond available. Yes, it is heavier compared to the preferred Nitecores but it delivers usable light patterns even in its lowest setting.

It’s built to last; you can replace everything separately, if the battery dies after some reloading, you can replace it yourself. With the plastic fantastic ones you would risk breaking the housing and Petzl will not sell you some parts separately.

Lupine lights ask a premium but they are by far the best light source you can carry. Mean people will use the word “overengineering”. They will sell you lights so powerful they are forbidden on public roads so you can only use them as a professional mountain bike race driver.

You need navigation: This is done by using the FarOut app. I have extensive experience using it and during the pandemic they polished their app further. I have an Iphone with an Otterbox case. The case was upgraded from a Pitaka case made out of Aramid fiber. While extremely cut resistant the Pitaka case offered no bump protection. Maybe your phone gets bullet proof but if you let it fall, you risk damaging the housing.

So far so good. I enjoy my camera a lot and I try to get as much practice in as possible. The handling of this camera is something you can’t describe. Once you had the opportunity to take a picture with it, everything else feels clumsy. Having access to such a camera is as much a curse as a reason for joy. You use this kind of equipment always with a kind of guilty conscience.

Others spend less for their entire thru-hike of the AT. I know that my buying power is not at all a result of thousands of hours of hard work. It is more the result of a financial sound system and politicians who understand something about financial management. I was born into a financial powerhouse called Switzerland. We pay a lot of taxes but so far it seems to work. And my buying power will not last for long.