Nepal trip - Tiji festival

Started May 28, 2010 | Discussions thread
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aikiburner
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Nepal trip - Tiji festival
May 28, 2010

I recently returned from a trek in Nepal and wanted to thank forum members for the help I received in planning my trip, particularly re lens selection. The thread commenced by tominbabylon was particularly helpful, along with his wrap at http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1029&thread=34783673 .

The main purpose of my trek was to attend the Tiji festival, held in Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang over three days. This is an annual religious festival of the local townspeople, held to drive away the demons. Upper Mustang is a restricted area within Nepal, requiring a special (read: expensive) permit for visitors.

I had never travelled in a third world country before, and while the trip in itself was an eye-opener, the people and the scenery were breathtaking.

I had purchased a 5d mkii a few months prior to the trip, having upgraded from my old 20d. Initially I wasn't sure what lenses to take with me. I was conscious of the advice I read here, and was also worried about the impact of weight and altitude on my ability to trek.

I knew I wanted both wide and long lenses. I managed to get myself confused, however, as I was also determined to experiment with the video capability of the camera and wanted my lens selection to accommodate that experimentation. It wasn't until I was actually walking and using the camera until I realised that photography came first, with the video a long way behind. I would have been better to focus my planning solely around the photos, and not let the video consideration influence my thinking. As it was, I found it difficult to juggle the walking, the photography and video - for example, I kept forgetting to turn off the image stabiliser on my lens when using the video, and then to turn it on again when I wanted to take photos.

In the end I took with me the 17-40mm f/4, the 24-105mm f/4, a 1.4x TC, and the 135mm f/2. As the trek bags were strapped to mules, I chose to carry the body and all the lenses in a 32 litre day pack on my back, along with a few litres of water and various odds and ends such as a rain jacket.

I have a 70-200mm Sigma f/2.8 and had thought seriously about taking it instead of the 24-105 and 135 lenses. Ultimately I decided to leave it behind as (i) I wanted the faster speed of the 135, (ii) I was concerned about the intrusive size of the much bigger lens, and (iii) I was concerned about the weight of the lens, both in terms of carrying it and in terms of using it for video.

The 17-40mm lens on the full frame sensor was fantastic on the trek itself, as we passed through some incredible countryside. I had bought the 135mm for the trip and found it great for the portraits. The extra couple of stops were helpful on a number of occasions, particularly given the absence of any on board flash on the camera. The lens that was on the camera most often, however, was the 24-105.

This in part was due to the environmental conditions - we were dealing with incredible amounts of dust on a daily basis, which made changing lenses fraught. On more than one occasion I was grateful for the self-cleaning capability of the camera, which worked very well.

The TC meant that the 135 became approximately 190 at f/2.8 - close enough to my 200. The combination worked well when I needed length beyond 135mm. I was surprised how often this actually was, and I was also surprised by the number of times I wished I had 300mm available to me - that was in part, however, because of the festival which meant I was unable to get closer to my subjects.

Before I left I weighed my camera gear, including the bag, Feisol travel tripod and accessiories at between 7 and 8 kgs - a lot given I had an allowance of 15kg on the internal flights. In the end I carried all the camera gear as carry on, and did the trek with all the weight (other than the tripod) along with a couple of litres of water and the other bits and pieces.

The weight while walking was noticeable and there were a few times I wished I was walking with nothing on my back. However, back at home looking at the photos makes me happy I took the additional lenses and persevered with the weight. The highest we hit was around 4,100m (or around 13,500 ft) - less than half Everest's height but still very high (and very noticeable) for someone who lives at sea level (although manageable through measured walking).

If I was to go again, and I plan to one day, I would probably take the 70-200mm for the additional flexibility it offers, regardless of its size and bulk. I would also take the 17-40mm, leave the 24-105mm (in spite of it being the lens I used most) and consider taking a 50mm prime for the days when I was going to focus on portraits and when I was going to need speed (for example, inside the few temples where photography is allowed).

I've put a few photos below, and some more at http://www.burner.smugmug.com which gives more flavour to the actual walk itself. Thanks again for all your advice, which was gratefully received.

Mark

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