Tom Northenscold Photography | Bringing My Nikon D800 On A 500-Mile Walk

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Bringing My Nikon D800 On A 500-Mile Walk

August 22, 2015  •  1 Comment

FullSizeRender 2 In one month, I embark on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago. I will walk the Camino Frances, which begins in the French Basque village of St. Jean Pied du Port and covers 500 miles through northern Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela. I plan to complete my pilgrimage over five weeks, averaging about thirteen miles a day. I've been working hard to get my pack down to 22 pounds, including my camera gear.

Clearly, making photographs along the way will be a huge part of my Camino. The choice of camera is not an easy one. The factors I've considered in making this decision are listed below:

  • Image quality
  • Ability to capture RAW plus JPEG to an SD card
  • Battery life
  • Weather sealing
  • Weight
  • Lens choices
  • Handling

The two main choices I have are the Nikon D800 and the Lumix GH3. While I do plan to bring my iPhone 6+, I'm not considering it my main camera. In terms of image quality, there's no question that the D800 is way ahead of the GH3. The GH3 images are good. The D800 images are great. It's just not close. Most times the GH3 images are "good enough," but for such an epic journey, I want the best image quality I can get with the gear I have. The D800 gets a big edge here.

Both of these cameras can capture RAW plus JPEG, but the D800 can save a RAW file to the CF card and the JPEG to the SD card, whereas the GH3 saves both to the same SD card. The reason writing a JPEG to the SD card is important to me is that I plan to use the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive to move photos to my iPhone for subsequent sharing on Facebook and iCloud. The D800 gets a slight edge here based on the redundancy of having a CF card and SD card.

As far as battery life, the D800 is multiples better than the GH3. With normal shooting, I can get 1000 shots on a D800 battery and 400 on a GH3 battery. Based on testing I've done, if I turn off image review on the D800 and use manual focusing, I can stretch battery life to several thousand shots. Because the GH3 has an electronic viewfinder I cannot eliminate the battery drain from the EVF, but I can turn off image review. Regardless, the GH3 is going to go through several more batteries than the D800. I don't want to count on being able to recharge batteries during my trek, so I plan to bring enough batteries to cover the trip. For the D800 that is one battery in the camera and one as a backup. For the GH3 that would be one battery in the camera and probably five more in my pack. The D800 and GH3 batteries weigh exactly the same, 3 ounces. The D800 gets a big edge here.

Both my D800 and GH3 are weather sealed and I've shot with both in rainy conditions with no ill effects. I did notice some short term strangeness with the GH3 out in Glacier National Park after hiking in rainy conditions. The camera started firing away without me pressing the shutter release. Powering the camera off and then on again seemed to resolve whatever issue I was experiencing. The D800 gets a slight edge on this factor.

The D800 weighs one pound more than the GH3, so clearly the GH3 is going to win on this criteria as far as the camera body is concerned. My main walkabout lens for my D800 when hiking is the 28mm f/1.8 Nikon. For the GH3 my go-to lens is the 12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic. Those two lenses weight almost exactly the same. To cover more focal length range, I would add the 50mm f/1.8 Nikon lens for the D800. That lens weighs 8 ounces. So the D800 kit comes in 1 pound 8 ounces heavier than the GH3, not taking into account batteries. If you factor in the extra GH3 batteries required, the weight difference between the two kits comes out at 12 ounces, in favor of the GH3. Overall, the GH3 gets the edge here by a significant margin.

In considering lens choices, I am limiting myself to the lenses I already own. I am fortunate to have a nice selection of fast f/1.8 prime lenses for my Nikon camera. I don't have the same for my GH3. Don't get me wrong, the 12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic lens is a terrific lens, but I've found that the extra speed of f/1.8 primes can be extremely important when shooting inside dark, old cathedrals. To be fair, I do have the 20mm f/1.7 Panasonic lens, so I could cover the low-light situations with that lens, but at the cost of another 4 ounces. All in all, I'd call this close but give a slight edge to the D800.

The final factor I have considered is camera handling. This is bit more of an intangible, but after shooting with both systems for some time, I have to say that the D800 has always felt much more natural in my hands. I do like the GH3, but the D800 is like an old pair of jeans, it just feels more comfortable.

So, as counterintuitive as it might seem, I am bringing my heavy Nikon D800 on a 500-mile trek where every ounce counts. I'll let you know how it turns out.



Hi Tom, I couldn't agree more. Whenever I go on a trip I have the same problem. I own a Canon 6D and a Panasonic GX-7. If I were to walk the Camino de Santiago I would bring my ff 6D along with a my Samyang 2.8/14, Sigma 1.8/20, Canon 2.0/35 IS and 1.8/85 or 4/70-200. I probably would not be able to keep your 22 lb target.

Bon Camino!
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