I just wrapped up a nice 5 day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, which gave me a great chance to become familiarized with the new Intrepid 4x5" field camera. If you're not familiar with the Wind River Range, it's a huge area with over a thousand alpine lakes and deep wild valleys surrounded by lofty granite spires that attract climbers from around the world. It's also known for lengthy hikes to most of the locations that keep the day hikers out and make it a great backcountry destination. Just about all of the good spots in the Winds are a minimum of 10 miles from the nearest trailhead.
I've still got some film to develop, but most of the slides are ready so I will talk some about the trip, some about the camera, and share shots from the trek throughout this post. At the end I will have a little video review that we made on the spot in the backcountry so don't miss that!
While I've certainly backpacked plenty of times with my trusty Toyo 4x5 camera, when you want to go deep into the wilderness it can really be nice to shed some weight off your back. While I'm notorious for not weighing my gear (people ask me all the time how much my pack weighs and honestly I have no idea), it still feels great to carry a camera that is less than 1/3rd the weight. On top of just a lighter camera, I also decided to really pare down on equipment by only bringing 5 film holders and just one lens. I had been to the Winds last year and knew that I could get away with just one very wide lens, my 75mm. Like I said - I never weigh my stuff because I'm too busy trying to cram it into a pack - but I can tell you that loosing three lenses, 5 film holders (those things are surprisingly heavy), and just using a tiny wooden box means I cut out at least two-thirds of my camera weight. With a more reasonable camera I was able to get away with a smaller tripod. A lighter pack means I'm more likely to crawl out of my tent in time for sunrise because I'm not totally destroyed from hiking overloaded.
As for the hike, my good friend Lance Roth (Check out his awesome pinhole work here) and I set out with the goal of seeing the dramatic Cirque of the Towers and adding on a bit of a loop beyond that. After an awesome breakfast at the Cowfish in Lander, Wyoming, we got to the trailhead and started hiking about 1pm. Earlier would have no doubt been better with 10 miles to do the first day, but we both had a 7 hour drive to get there and the breakfast stop was a must. We were both weighed down with way too much food in our packs but the first 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake were a breeze on level surface, followed by a 3 mile up and down climb to the top of Jackass Pass which had us racing the clock to get into the Cirque before dark. Most of the first day had been stormy and we found a place to camp in the trees and hang a bear bag just before sunset. As soon as we took off our packs we both looked out of the forest and found the sky was barely starting to glow. We were really wanting to dive into our taco dinner but there was a sunset to shoot first! I'm glad we made it into the valley in time for this shot below, it was quite a nice welcome from the Winds.
We wanted to give ourselves a few days in the Cirque, which means we didn't have to load up the packs and move every night. We had plenty of leisure time to find compositions and explore the valley and a better chance of getting some good light in there. On our last morning in the Cirque we were treated to wonderful sunrise light before heading out north of the valley over the incredibly steep Texas Pass.
Let's talk a bit about the new Intrepid Camera. I had only received the camera a few weeks before this trip and had the chance to use it for a few quick sunrise sessions. I've never liked the idea of taking a huge trip with a fresh piece of gear because I haven't become acquainted to its operation and quirks. It's why I generally don't like the idea of purchasing new stuff because I feel it's best to master what you have and let the gear get out of the way so you can create. That said, this isn't really all that different than the field camera I've been using for a decade. It's just lighter, smaller, and a bit cheaper.
How much lighter? Well, Intrepid has been able to keep the weight at 900 grams which is just barely under 2 pounds. That is less than three 4x5 film holders and certainly lighter than many digital cameras with much smaller sensors. Toyo says the field camera I was using is over 6 pounds (whoops, I said almost 8 in the video so please forgive me!) which means this is a pretty big weight savings and is certainly the lightest field camera I've ever heard of. It feels like nothing in your hands. The Toyo feels like a brick - both in your hands and in the backpack.
How much cheaper? Well we can talk about the cost - which was under $400 with three lens boards shipped from the UK - and we can talk about the build quality. The price is hard to beat for a new camera with a growing company that can actually support their product and has the intention of improving it with each design. The build quality is a work in progress and to be honest I expect some quirks with a camera this inexpensive and lightweight. The camera is made from birch plywood which is light, durable, and doesn't look half bad. The knobs are a combination of metal and plastic and there are a few metal brackets to hold things like the front an rear elements in place.
As far as the operation of the camera, I recommend watching the video at the bottom of this article. I don't usually make these kind of videos but they are the best way to help you visualize the movements, rotating back, ground glass and other features of the camera. Here's a few written thoughts to go along with the video:
- The camera is super light.
- Quality is quite nice for the price.
- Set up is rather quick, aside from having to remove and reinstall the knob on the bottom completely.
- The rotating back is awesome, super quick and easy to go from landscape to portrait orientation
- Has plenty of movements for most landscape situations.
- Front element tilts at the center, which resulted in much less refocusing after adjusting tilt when compared to my Toyo.
- The focusing system works pretty well.
Quirks worth noting
- The ground glass is held on by elastic bands. Some people called these rubber bands but they are much more durable than that. With a new camera like mine they are quite stiff, only time will tell how they hold up but I suspect they will last a good while.
- The knob for the front element must be removed entirely and reinstalled to set up the camera. I believe other backpacking cameras also have this design (I believe Charmonix and Shen Hao do but don't quote me on that), but it means it's a little tricky with gloves and you could easily drop the knob in a river and never see it again.
- Care must be taken that the ground glass is all the way in its "notch" or you may be focusing incorrectly. It's very easy to make sure it's in right and this is explained in the video.
- I was not entirely thrilled with the ground glass and decided to use a spare that I had for my Toyo. The grid was quite nice but the glass seemed dim and it was easier to see the hole in the lens on the glass than the actual image. I also really like clipped corners and would love to see that as an option from Intrepid in the future.
- I would recommend placing gaffers tape on the bottom of the front element to prevent unwanted swing, also explained in the video.
- Mine was not 100% light tight at the front of the bellows. Close, but I could see a flashlight shining through barely. A quick gaffers tape fix.
- If you have a wide lens and have to move the focus rail backwards, you won't be able to rotate the back without moving the focusing rail forwards. It just means you can't quickly change orientation without refocusing. This could be solved with recessed lens boards but I found the Linhof style recessed boards to be impossible to use. My fingers don't fit in them and the shutter levers jam up on the boards, and I don't have big hands.
Now back to the hike! After heading out over Texas Pass which was quite steep and occasionally hard to follow the trail, we made our way to the back side of the Cirque. This side also has rather dramatic views but a much different feel, and during this trip it had many more mosquitoes! The weather patterns were starting to change and they days became warmer and cloudless with strong afternoon breezes. Right at sunset the wind switch turned off each night and I was able to get some blue hour reflections like this one.
We continued out of that valley near Shadow Lake then made a turn at a junction, headed a few miles down a trail then left the established trail altogether. I'm going to pass on mentioning the name of this valley so as to give you the chance to get lost and explore the Winds on your own without direction and keep its presence on the web more of mystery. The Cirque is a popular and well known destination but this valley doesn't receive nearly the same attention and I hope it stays that way. All I will is that I need to return here many more times to do it justice. These peaks tower thousands of feet over a giant gorge and reflected perfectly in the morning twilight.
Now for the video review. Again, I will disclaim that this is not something I normally do so hopefully it's not all that bad. This is something Lance filmed entirely on a cell phone and then put together for me after the trip. It's rather impromptu so I apologize for any bad cuts. The goal is to help you understand how the light and affordable Intrepid camera operates.
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