The Camera Gear We Used For Highline

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Shooting a film while trekking 104 miles over wild and rugged terrain meant traditional film making methods wouldn't apply.  We spent months narrowing down our camera gear to achieve  the best video and audio quality possible in the smallest and lightest form factor available.  Which meant we had to get pretty creative.

Here's a YouTube video Chris did with some tips on choosing camera gear for backpacking.

Chris's Camera Gear

Chris's Camera Gear

Chris's Camera Gear

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Primary camera Sony A6500 Unbeatable for the size and weight.  We shot in log format (slog2) to expand the dynamic range.

Primary daytime lens 16-70MM  Super versatile, small, and light.  

ND for mild sunlight 

ND for brighter conditions

ND for super bright conditions

Primary dusk lens This 30mm is small, sharp, and light.  The autofocus is "clicky" though and messed up some audio at times.

Evening 50mm lens 

Wide 16mm night lens for milkyway shots  Crazy sharp, high quality, near perfect affordable lens!  All the start shots were taken with this.

50mm Macro lens The autofocus is terrible.  But when used as a manual lens it works great for super close tiny stuff.

Super wide 10-18mm daytime lens  Crazy wide and sharp.  Suffers from lens distortion though, especially when panning.  It's not as noticeable with static shots.

55-210mm Telephoto  (it was kinda meh). The smallest lightest telephoto lens available for Sony cameras.  It works ok. Not great in low light though.

Best run and gun on camera mic It sounds great, and is cheaper, lighter, and has waaaay better wind resistance than the more expensive versions.

Tiny portable audio recorder for recording ambience and foley:  

Gimbal:  Crane M v1 (discontinued) Chris uses this now instead.

Smallest functional camera dolly This tiny car thing requires a flat surface.  Chris used a plastic sheet purchased from the hardware store. 

Lightest and best camera quick release plates 

Reliable SD cards

Baby tripod  There's a lot of gimmicky flimsy expensive mini tripods out there.  Most are awful and not weight optimized for backpacking.   This is the best I've found.  It's also really affordable.

Peak Designs Strap

This strap is minimalist, comfortable, and lets you quickly remove the strap for dolly or gimbal use. 

GoPro we used on trekking pole to simulate a drone.

Gimbal for GoPro on trekking pole.  Necessary to keep the horizon straight.  Even if your GoPro has good stabilization.

Insert nut for attaching to trekking pole:  

Male to male screw needed to attach to nut

Camera carry pouch By far the best way to carry a mirrorless camera on the trail (Pics under the backpacking gear list section)




Gordy's Camera Gear

Chris's Camera Gear

Chris's Camera Gear

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Primary Camera A7rii Bigger and heavier than the a6500, but takes high res 42MP stills too.   

Daytime 24-105 lens Sharp.  Versatile. 

Wide 18mm lens for day and evening Sharp, wide, distortion is manageable.

Evening 85mm lens  Good, but didn't use as much as expected.

Evening 50mm lens Great, sharp, cheap, but has clicky autofocus.

Best run and gun on camera mic Awesome.  

Formal interview and voiceover mic Expensive but great.  We used it with the Rycote WS9 wind screen.

Tascam audio recorder Clean, good for use with the mic above, and Gordy actually captured some good ambience with the built in stereo mics. 




OTHER MISC CAMERAS:


Sony ax53 handicam.  Matt carried this. Oddly enough it has a long stabilized zoom lens that proved to be invaluable for wildlife shots.

Cell phone Joe got a few shots with his iPhone that actually made the final cut of the film!  Especially during the storm sequence.  


Off Trail Camera Gear

Gear we'd use if we shot the film today

Gear we'd use if we shot the film today

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The primary light panel we used  This was a great dual color key light versatile enough for all our needs.  

Diffusion Cheap, light, and absolutely necessary.  

Manfrotto portable light stands The most portable I could find.

Supplemental lighting Surprisingly good.  We lit corners, walls, etc with these cheap little panels.

A cam a6500  Awe-shum. Except we had to stop every 15 -20 min or so to let the camera cool off.  

A cam lens 50mm Sharp, great shallow depth of field for interviews when used on an APS-C sensor

B cam A7rii Great camera.  We shot in Super 35 mode.

Rhino camera slider A little finicky at times but worked well.

Lightweight Slik Tripod Portable and light-ish.

Portable mic stand Folds up smaller than anything on the market at this point.

Portable mic stand boom arm For above.

Sennheiser 8050 HC mic  Expensive,but tiny and high quality enough to be used in some Hollywood movies. 

Tascam audio recorder Much cleaner pre-amp compared to the Zoom recorders.  The Zooms can get hissy, this Tascam however was clean and transparent.




Gear we'd use if we shot the film today

Gear we'd use if we shot the film today

Gear we'd use if we shot the film today

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We learned some lessons along the way, and a lot of cool innovations have come out since we shot the film.   Here's what we'd use if we shot the film today:

Primary trail cam for handheld and gimbal use:  The Sony A6600

This newer camera has improved color science, a flippy screen, and MUCH better battery life.


Primary Daytime lens for this cam:  16-55MM

This lens is sharper, and offers better low light performance than the 16-70mmF4.   It's heavier which is a bummer, but worth it.


Primary trail cam for handheld use Sony A7III

This has improved color science, better battery life, and WAAAAAY better low light performance that would have improved our night shots.  The stabilization works better too.


Wide lens for landscape and milkyway astrophototography Sony 20mm

This new lens is sharp, great for low light, and light/small enough for outdoor adventures.


Off Trail Slider: ROV Pro

This slider is smaller, lighter, and much cheaper than the one we brought.  Gosh darn it!  


Wildlife camera:  Sony RX100

This tiny thing has a 200mm telephoto reach and fits in your pocket.  It's quick to pull out and use, and also serves as a backup camera.


Off trail camera:  Sony FX9

This new high end camera is not cheap.  But the added color depth would have added a HUGE step up in quality.  We probably would have rented this.



A minimalist kit we'd recommend for Youtube or FIlm

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If carrying 11 lenses on the trail is too crazy for you, here's a minimalist kit that will offer you enough video and audio quality to make a film, shoot  super high quality youtube videos, or take excellent still photos.

BASIC KIT

CAMERA:  Sony A6600

Compact, lightweight (17 oz with battery),  great autofocus, lowlight, a flip up screen for vlogging, can achieve everything from amazing still photos, to cinematic video, and spectacular milky way shots.


LENS:  Sigma 16mm F1.4  Reasonably compact and light.  (16oz) VERY sharp.  This wide and sharp 16mm lens lets you capture landscape, milky ways shots, vlog, and if you get close enough to the subject you can achieve an almost macro look so vary your shots.  The coolest part is the F1.4 aperture makes this great for low light.  Super affordable too!


MICROPHONE:  Rode Video Micro  This tiny, 3 oz affordable mic fits on top of the a6600 and has the best wind resistance, and the quality was good enough to be used in a feature film.   In our tests, the more expensive videomicPro and Pro+ were terrible with wind, and pretty muddy sounding.  So stick with this cheaper / better one.  This is best for dialog.  If you want to record nature ambience, birds, water, etc, unplug it and use the native stereo mics on the a6600.


EXTRA BATTERIES:   Rav Power FZ100 2.65 oz each These are much cheaper than the Sony brand and work great.  Burn rate really depends on usage.  I'd say 1 battery for 2 days of moderate shooting of video and stills.  For Highline  we would have burned 1-2 of these per day per camera.


NECESSARY ND FILTER:   B+W XS-Pro MRC NANO 1.8  To achieve a "film look" it's important to shoot at 24P (frames per second) and keep your cameras shutter speed at 1/50.  During the day, this would look terrible and overexposed.  Even with your ISO all the way down, and iris cranked at F16.  So ND (neutral density) filters are a necessity.  I know I know...$100 for a little piece of glass is expensive.  But these are scratch resistant which is important for the outdoors, they are thin, which means less vignetting (unnatural darkening of the corners), and the higher quality glass and coating won't create weird color shifts like many cheap filters.  


SD CARD:  Sandisk Extreme Pro Reliable SD cards that can handle 4k footage are essential for the outdoors.  The 128G cards lasted for a full day of fairly heavy shooting.  Most people taking only a dozen or so shorter video clips can probably get away with 1 for every 3-4 days.


CAMERA STRAP:  Peak Designs Strap

This strap is minimalist, comfortable, and lets you quickly remove the strap for dolly or gimbal use. 


BABY TRIPOD:  Pistol Grip Tripod 3.7oz This affordable lightweight mini tripod is the only one that doesn't seem terrible in my opinion.  Many others are twice the weight, price, and are flimsy.  This one is stable and super cheap.  It has a pistol grip function too...though I never used that part it could be useful for some.


CAMERA POUCH:  Zpacks MultiPack  Only 2.9 oz!!!!  There's no competition for lightweight camera bags.  You can mount this on your chest, or just keep it in your pack.  Plenty of room for everything in this kit. It's affordable too.  Line the inside with reflectix if you want padding.


The above kit is versatile enough to cover MOST of the average hikers shooting needs.  If you prefer  to add mid-range and telephoto to your kit, see below:


MID RANGE ZOOM LENS:  Sony 16-55 F2.8 This sharp lens can be used from morning until dusk and lets you zoom from wide (16mm) for landscapes, to midrange 55mm for portrait.  Its not so good for wildlife though.

This shares the same filter thread as the Sigma 16mm, (B+W XS-Pro MRC NANO 1.8) so no need to buy a separate ND.


TELEPHOTO:  Sony 70-350mm  22oz.  Honestly I kind of hate telephoto lenses. Most are expensive, heavy, bulky, and are only useful for distant subjects which are usually fleeting.  By the time you drop your pack, pull out the telephoto lens and get set up...the moose in the distance has already left, or eaten you.  This 70-350mm offers the best weight to telephoto reach and is what I would use if I was purely interested in wildlife. Something to note is that despite having OSS (optical steady shot) this lens is hard to keep steady at the 350 end.  So a tripod would many times be necessary.






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