A few years back, I took my Nikon D7000 on a fishing expedition down the Deschutes River here in Oregon. We were in a boat as opposed to a raft.  On the Deschutes a boat ride is a much drier experience than in a raft. Even when navigating some fairly serious rapids, boats designed for rivers, aka drift boats or dories, are designed to keep passengers dry, except for the occasional blop of water that splashes over the side when green water turns white.

Since the D7000 is a “splash proof” camera, I had no problem leaving it out on the front deck of the boat; I wanted it there to catch whatever caught my eye as we floated down the spectacular river.

That was a mistake. Bad stuff can happen fast in fast moving water. We entered a rapid at the wrong spot, and before we knew it, we were underneath the boat, and my splash proof camera was somewhere on the bottom of the Deschutes.  As far as I know, it still is.

This year we floated the Smith River in Montana. Even though the Smith is known for being “low and slow” throughout the season, my Deschutes incident changed  both how I handle photo gear when on the water, as well as the kind of equipment I took on the trip.

Logic would tell anyone but a dyed in the wool photographer to skip an expensive camera altogether on a river expedition; but that’s not me.  I took two along for the ride.  The following is what I took, and why:

Nikon D750- For “roots and rocks” shooters, nothing beats a full-frame sensor camera. The pixel depth and dynamic range is just too good to pass up for images that hopefully will end up on a wall or in an ad someday. When quality counts, a good professional grade digital camera cannot be beat.  The difference this time was, unless I was actively using the camera, it snuggled safely and securely in a waterproof/shockproof case fastened to the raft.

Trouble is when a camera is sequestered, it’s impossible to grab those potentially great shots that appear and disappear in seconds.  I wanted a camera that could be readily at hand when those moments arose. That’s where the Olympus TG-4 came in.

This little guy filled the bill for quick and easy to use. Since it’s waterproof to 50 feet and shockproof from 7, it was the perfect camera to have by my side at all times. The sensor is small, but then again so is the camera.  The 16 megapixels combined with a sharp lens and the ability to shoot in RAW make it a natural and easy to use camera when easy is what’s required. The amazing macro made grabbing shots of bugs and flowers a breeze.

For the “big” shots near camp when the boat was beached, the 750 was my able companion. I took my time, and I took my tripod, and I’m more than satisfied with the results.  Nikon’s 16-35 f4 came along, and it’s a new favorite. It was the perfect tool for capturing the stunning high walls that line the narrow river canyon. The other lens, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 was good for people candids, late night work, wildlife, and long looks down the lush and dramatic canyon.  It was a great choice for ‘serious’ shooting.

During our float, we had an opportunity to hike to a huge sandstone cave about 1200 feet above the river containing petroglyphs dating back thousands of years. I considered taking the D750, but the trail was dauntingly steep, covered with loose dirt and scree.  Each side was lined with large patches of poison ivy. It was going to be a careful dance to get to the top. I didn’t want to risk my health or any expensive gear getting there.  I decided to pack just the Olympus.

Taking only the TG-4 turned out to be the right decision.  At the top of the steep and slippery trail, a rock face 20 feet high had to be scaled to reach the cave.  I’m no rock climber, and there were no ropes to assist. It took all the courage I could muster to climb hand over hand, one tiny foot hold at a time to reach the goal. The little Olympus slid easily into a pocket of my shorts, and I never gave it another thought until I was safely at the opening of the cave.

The images tell the story. It was a spectacular place. I’d never experienced anything quite like it. The TG-4 was the right tool for the job.  Would these images been better if shot with the D750? I have no doubt in my mind that they would. A full frame sensor camera combined with some of Nikon’s best glass is a tough combination to beat; but I probably would not have climbed all the way to the cave if I’d have lugged it along. I’d be too concerned about my safety and that of the equipment.

In the end, both cameras produced images that more than met my expectations.  Utilizing both cameras and taking full advantage of their distinctive strengths added a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure to a very memorable trip.

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