Part One – Photographic Equipment and Clothing

I have recently returned from Japan where I travelled with ODP on their 2014 winter safari.

My expectations were high having seen some of the wonderful images taken during the 2013 tour and being a keen birder I was relishing the thought of seeing such amazing species like Steller’s Sea Eagle and Blakiston’s Fish Owl. Well, I was not disappointed and the trip far exceeded all that I could have hoped for.The 8 months from the time that I paid my deposit until we left could not go quickly enough but there was a lot to arrange so it actually passed quite quickly.

Firstly there was the camera equipment and after a discussion with Wim I settled on the following:

  • 2 pro bodies (Canon 1DX and 1D4)
  • 600mm f/4 lens
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 lens
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 lens
  • 16-35mm f/2.8 lens
  • 580 EX II Flash with pocket wizard remote triggers and a flash tripod
  • Gitzo tripod and Wimberley gimbal head
  • Benro B2 ballhead and skimmer plate
  • BlackRapid Double strap harness
     

All the above (except the tripod) went into a Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Bag which worked very well. Not only did it carry all the equipment but was extremely durable and the weatherproofing allowed for slow warming up of the contents so that fogging did not take place when coming in to the warm indoors from the freezing cold. I would also recommend adding some sachets of desiccant into the bag just to be safe. 

One last thing on the camera equipment – I would highly recommend that you hire what you don’t have, as this will be for most people a once in a lifetime trip and you won’t want to get to Japan and then wish you had a certain body or lens (or tripod). If I could do it again I would take (as a Canon shooter) 2 1DX’s or maybe a 1DX and a 5D Mk3. One lens to seriously consider is the 200-400 f/4 as this would have come in very handy especially on the boat excursions out of Rausu. Having said that, I would still take the 600 f/4 as my long lens but it will depend on your personal preferences and priorities. 

Then there was the clothing and I took the following:

  • Karrimor Snowfur II weathertite boots (these were warm enough and great in the snow/ice but are not waterproof as claimed)
  • A thin pair of wicking socks and a thick pair of insulating socks over that
  • Thermal long johns with polar fleece tights over them
  • First Ascent Avalanche ski pants which worked very well
  • Thin wicking t-shirt
  • Long sleeved thermal top
  • Thin polar fleece top
  • Hollow fibre jacket with hood (Paramo Torres overlayering jacket)
  • North Face Gore-Tex outer jacket
  • Beanie
  • Windstopper hood buff plus a polar fleece buff
  • Black Diamond Polar-Tec thick inner gloves
  • Mountain Hardware Epic waterproof gloves
  • Hand warmers – the “ultra” version worked very well. I kept them in my jacket pockets and they stayed warm the whole day. When my hands needed warming up I just put them in my pockets and held the warmers for a few minutes. I did try using them inside my gloves and although this made operating the camera a bit more tricky it is an option in emergencies.
  • Foot warmers – I was very disappointed in the performance of these and would not bother with them. I would just put on an extra layer of socks if needed.
     

Then, before I knew it I was in Tokyo meeting my fellow travellers and our local tour guide Shinji. Shinji was absolutely incredible and as the tour progressed I realized more and more how essential he was to its success. He had arranged all our accommodation, transportation and meals and everything went off like clockwork. He had even planned alternative things if the weather did not play along but fortunately the weather gods were with us and we never needed them. I also found out that he couriered his own suitcase back from Hokkaido so that the group could have 20 more Kilograms of “excess” luggage allowance as the internal flights only give you 20kg each and some of us had closer to 30kg. All these “little” things add up and I can safely say that without him this tour would not be half as good. 

 

Read the rest of the article in Part two (The first stop).