View South from Glacier Blanc : Canon S95 1/1600 @ f8.0 ISO 400


So, this season’s Alpine trip was to be split into two distinct parts, a week on the mountain bikes and then a week taking on some of the peaks of the Southern Alps’ Les Ecrins region. Whilst the first weeks media focus was shooting film for an upcoming short based around mountain bikes, the second week did afford the opportunity to shoot a few frames whilst in the hills.


Approach to Ecrins Hit S95 1/100 @ f8.0 ISO 100

Interestingly, for me, all of this was done on the Canon S95, a compact camera I’d invested in last year as a compromise of size/weight and performance. I have to say I’m really impressed with the results, the image quality is excellent and the flexibility of use is exceptional, operating in much the same way as a SLR when needed.

A few thoughts then, since I know lots of people are pondering similar questions i.e. Do I take an SLR, or ‘make do’ with a compact? Whats the solution to having a camera handy but protected, and whats the fastest land animal (Airplane film quote fans)

  • Last year I carried my 7D up and down 400om of mountain. The principle issue with this, aside from the weight penalty obviously, is access. I had rigged up a chest pack to enable a quick carabina click to pop the camera out on a pre-attached sling. This worked reasonably well, but still took a few moments. Then I had to find a secure spot for a the lens cap, not drop the cap with my ‘Dexterity Inhibitors (TM)’ (Gloves to you) and then repackage everything once done. On top of that, a steady march and the simple scrambling usual for PD (beginner, more straight forward) routes may allow for a bulky chest pack but this season’s pitched climbs and AD (more involving and technically demanding) routes definitely required a less cumbersome solution.
  • For me that meant a compact or bridge. After much research I opted for the compact, (Lightest, no lens cap and the performance seemed comparable) and the S95 looked ideal, given it shoots RAW and has a Manual mode with the aperture and shutter controls you’d expect on a SLR. Further more the shutter lag is reasonable, it can handle macro work very well and has a number of useful focusing modes, essential for action shots. (Pre focus and then re-compose, disable re-focusing on shutter press, face finder, manual etc). Its only weak points are the fixed focus for video and lack of manual exposure controls for video, but the S100 improves on these.
  •  Climbing partners have come and gone but the discussion of how best to carry a camera remains (!) We have tried all sorts:
    • chalk bags,
    • hip pouches on rucksack belts,
    • mini-peli cases on chest straps,
    • carry cases clipped to slings,
    • helium balloons on a tether *
      * Went the same way as the seagulls on a leash idea unfortunately, but with less bird shit

View at dawn from Col Tuckett 1/100 @ f8.0 ISO 100

However, it turns out the best solution, as is frequently the case, is the simplest. The humble pocket. (not a euphemism) With the lanyard clipped to the zip-pull on the chest pocket, a single zip…pull action had camera to hand. Its weather protected by finest Goretext and since most of the time there are a couple of coils of rope being carried ,a little protection from a knock is provided too. And to be fair, after a fall with a hefty chest impact, your camera is least of your worries. In fact, with this plan the biggest worry is putting used engery gel sachets into the same pocket and then having to clean your camera so the buttons work again. As ever, I do these things so you don’t have to…


Early light on Barre Des Ecrins 1/40 @f2.0 ISO 400

 As for the trip, well, as with Alpinism in general, it was early starts and long days. Good for testing low performance on the S95. Usable up to around ISO 800 by the way, higher if your output is web only… But not so good for exhaustion levels. We successfully summited Pic D’Agneaux,completed the 9 pinacles of Ridge Des Cineastes and finally, made a early start (2:45am) to be first on the summit of the Barre Des Ecrins on the penultimate day.


Approach to Barre Des Ridge, in cloud, at just before 5am 1/100 @ f4.5 ISO 100

And then, down to the valley in Allefroide, possibly our new favourite location. Finishing the same way we started with ermm a beer or ten. In summary, after many many variations on taking cameras into the mountains I have concluded that for 90% of the time a high quality ompact in the pocket is the answer. The obvious exception is when specifically going on a shoot, but then its less likely to be at 4000m or mid way through a Grade V climbing pitch…


View across Glacier Blanc 1/800th @ f8.0 ISO 100

About The Author


Action and adventure photographer based in London, shooting commercial and editorial images that seek to capture the beauty in the lifestyles he loves

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