Written by: Nicole Chan
Fewer people have stepped foot in this cave than on Mt. Everest and in space. Less than 1,200 have completed this expedition. This year, the Vietnamese government allowed us to climb the Great Wall of Vietnam. My husband, Jason Loeb, and I are the 112th and 113th people in the world to do so.
To be accepted as a participant for the Son Doong cave expedition, I submitted an application, listing the recent mountains I’ve summited, my weekly workout routine, and medical history. The cave guide organization puts Son Doong at its highest level of physical strenuousness – level 6. It’s a combination of scrambling large bounders, rock climbing, steep declines on muddy and slippery rocks in the central Vietnam jungle, and plenty of full-body harness rope work.
When selecting a camera for this expedition, I wanted it to be a piece of gear that I could rely on. Here are five reasons why I chose the Sony A7R and the 16-35 f/2.8
1. Size Matters
Sony A7R iii – 22.5 oz / 1.4375 lbs
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 – 24 oz / 1.5lbs
Total: 2.9 lbs
Every pound that I carried mattered. The porter team carried the expedition tents and food while we all carried daypacks with essentials – including all tech, camera gear, and technical climbing gear. Though the trek was only 50km in total, much of it was challenging terrain – slippery, muddy, and steep. Throw in several dozen hungry leeches, multiple river crossings, and steep rock formations, and you can understand why weight and size was important.
I wanted to capture the grandeur of the cave, but also needed something with flexibility in case I didn’t want every image distorted at 16mm. I also didn’t want to swap out lenses too often because the environment I’d be in would be inevitably dirty, dusty, and wet. I landed on the 16-35mm f/2.8.
Other than my water and my technical gear (helmet and headlamp graciously sponsored by Petzl), my camera gear took up the majority of my pack.
2. Higher resolution at 42 megapixels
I have plans for making large prints with these images. The Sony A7R III is a resolution monster at 42 megapixels. For my wedding photography, such a high megapixel count could be overkill for the albums and wall art collections for my couples’ homes. For the large prints that I envision, I look forward to having the flexibility of as much data as possible.
3. Pixel Shift technology
I was most excited to use the innovative Pixel Shift technology. It would increase the resolution of the image by 4x. I was most excited to see the difference in color and sharpness.
4. Use of a lighter tripod
Jason and I shared the use of the MeFoto Carbon Fiber tripod (3lbs 2oz) with leg spikes to stabilize it. Its maximum weight is 4lbs which would probably have done fine for the Canon counterparts, but when assembling it at home, the Sony seemed to have a better fit.
5. Durability: Weather sealing and dual card slots
I also own the Sony A7S. I’ve loved the innovation of the Sony mirrorless system, but was frustrated at the lack of dual card slots and weather sealing in the A7S. Sony has fixed all of these issues and more in the A7R III.
Even though the camera is weather sealed, I still packaged both the body and the lens in a lightweight 4L Sea to Summit drybag to protect it from the river crossings and the mud of the Vietnam jungle. The accessories (extra batteries, lens cleaner, remote, etc) were stored in a separate 2L drybag. Both dry bags were double protected within one larger heavy duty 13L drybag, and then put into a 25L backpack.
Interested in trying out the Sony A7RIII? You can find it here, along with lots of other lenses, tripods, and accessories for your next adventure.
About the author:
Nicole is a Boston commercial and lifestyle photographer, specializing in colorful and authentic story-telling images.
She left a corporate career to follow her photography passion. Her previous life in management consulting got her addicted to excel and thinking in bullet points. This addiction still lives on.
You can usually find her with her Siberian Husky, Sledder. She’s always on the search for sushi, fried chicken, and dark chocolate.