April 18


What Camera Would Galen Rowell Use if He Were Still Alive Today?

By Dan

April 18, 2016


Galen Rowell was undoubtedly the father of modern day adventure and outdoor photography. He pioneered the style of going light and fast with small cameras in the mountains and paved the way for guys like me.

Having started his career with manual Nikon F bodies, he later moved up to the higher end pro Nikon SLRs like the 8008, N90, F4 (sans grip) and the F100. However, he wasn’t a huge fan of the F5; he considered it too heavy for fast and light use since it didn’t have a removable battery grip. (Here’s a complete list of his preferred camera gear.)

Unfortunately, his untimely death in 2002 meant that he wasn’t around to see the photography world move to digital. Ironically, he was once quoted as saying:

“Small, portable digital cameras that exceed the performance of an off-the-shelf Nikon using 35mm slide film are further away from current reality than the proposed NASA manned Mars mission, although I expect both to happen sometime during my lifetime.”

Well, we haven’t gone to Mars yet, but small, portable digital cameras that exceed the performance of film-shooting Nikons are the norm today. The reality is that just about every digital camera on the market these days out resolves film.

As someone who has been heavily influenced by Galen over the years, I’ve often wondered how he would have navigated the digital camera world. For years, I always assumed that if he were still alive he’d be shooting with Nikon DSLRs. After all, he was a longtime Nikon guy.

However, Galen was also a huge Fuji guy. Anyone who’s familiar with his work knows that Velvia was his favorite slide film; he loved the bold color palette and rich blacks it produced.

You can see where this is going, can’t you…?

Given his style, what do you think that Galen Rowell, the father of light-and-fast photography would think of a camera like the Fujifilm X-T1? (Or the brand new, updated X-T2). It’s small, rugged, weather-sealed, highly capable, simple to operate, with its top-deck dials and SLR-inspired body, it takes gorgeous, incredibly sharp photos and has a Velvia film simulation mode built right in.

I’m betting he’d be pretty intrigued.

As a former mechanic, constant tinkerer and creative visionary, Galen wasn’t the kind of man to remain beholden to any one brand, he used Nikon SLRs because that was the best gear available during his time.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he would have always stayed with using Nikon gear in perpetuity. After all, he once switched from Kodak to Fuji, so it’s entirely plausible that he might have switched camera systems at some point if he found something that better matched his style.

So here’s my question, and I’d love to get reader input on this. If Galen Rowell were still alive today, what do you think he’d be shooting with? More importantly, if the digital photography industry had evolved with him still in it, what kind of influence do you think he would have had with regards to innovation and modern camera design?

Here are the options I’ve come up with. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Scenario #1: He’d Still Be Shooting with Nikon Cameras

Given their current lineup, my guess is that in this scenario, Galen’s camera of choice would be the Nikon D750. It’s their best non-battery grip full frame DSLR, it’s lightweight and has a number of pro features. For some subjects, like wildlife and extreme telephoto sports, he might even use the new DX sensor D500, although the D7200 is WAY lighter, and it still has lot of pro-quality features.

Scenario #2: He Would Have Switched to Fuji Cameras

Given the size, weight and performance of the Fuji X Series cameras and lenses, and the fact that the cameras have Velvia built right in, it’s easy to see why Galen might be really attracted to a camera like the X-T1. Or even the new X-Pro2, which has an even higher megapixel sensor.

And don’t discount the X-T10, which has the same sensor and image processor, and most of the same features as the X-T1, but in a smaller, lighterweight body. Or even the X70, which has the same APS-C X-Trans sensor as all the higher end models, but in a body that fits in the palm of your hand and has a fixed wide angle lens.

It’s well known that Galen often ran with his camera inside his Photoflex chest pouch. Some of his favorite images were shot during his quiet morning runs when he carried just one body and lens. He also loved using wide angles, so how could he not like a camera like the X70, or even the X100?

There are a lot of reasons why Galen might have been drawn to the Fujifilm X Series cameras, and to mirrorless cameras in general. This brings me to my next point.

Scenario #3: He Would Definitely be Shooting Mirrorless

Even if he still used DSLRs, my guess is that Galen Rowell would be very intrigued by mirrorless cameras. Not only are they smaller and lighter, they offer a number of very useful features, including a full-time Live View LCD screen. As someone who often shot in tricky light, he would probably appreciate the benefits a live view screen offers. It’s quite possible that he would have used both DLSRs and mirrorless cameras, each for different activities.

And if it weren’t Fujifilm, maybe he would have been drawn to another system. In my mind, Sony would be the next logical choice, although Sony cameras don’t have Velvia mode. Still there’s no question that Sony cameras and sensors produce high quality imagery.

That said, even if you mirrorless with a full frame Sony A7, your lenses don’t really get any smaller, so you’re not going as fast and light as you could. At any rate, I just don’t see Galen switching from Nikon to Sony. And Olympus cameras have even smaller sensors than APS-C, so unless you can think of another option, we’re back to Fuji.

…Which brings us to my last point.

Scenario #4: Galen Would Have Influenced Nikon to Build a Better Mirrorless Camera

Galen had a huge influence when he was alive, and I think that if he were still around, he would have pushed Nikon to come out with a mirrorless camera that would fit his style. At least something way better than what they currently offer, none of which seems to appeal to very many serious outdoor and adventure photographers.

Perhaps Nikon would have gone back to their “F” roots and pushed them to innovate in an entirely different direction. What about a digital back for their film cameras? Swap out the film door for a digital back and you suddenly have a 16MP digital FM2, F3 or even FG. This could actually create a huge market for all the people out there who still have their film cameras tucked away on shelves, unused for decades. I’ve always thought this would be a smart move.

He might have pushed them to invent something more like the X-T1, which actually looks and feels more like an FM2 than all the little Nikon 1 models they keep coming out with. At the very least, perhaps the Df might have been a better camera.

Or, perhaps he would have worked closely with Fuji and influenced the design of the X-T1. At any rate, his presence in the industry would have undoubtedly made a difference, at least with Nikon.

Then again, maybe not.

What do you think?


About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • Think he’d be shooting Fuji. Love how he used to break handles off toothbrushes to save weight.

  • I love the question… first off I often wondered why no-one made a digital back for my beloved Nikon F4S… It has a lot going for it as sensors advance so the backs advance. It hasn’t happened so no point crying over it.

    I’d like to think he’d have brought pressure to bear on Nikon to innovate, however it is hard to move away from a winning formula. DSLRs will be around for a long time to come.

    Fuji now here is a thing… Yes, he’d have a Fuji but he’d be frustrated… he’d be of the mind set… “why didn’t you put a flip screen on the back of the X-Pro2!” and he’d be sat there with his Nikon like I am saying “the X-T2 better be way better than the DSLR!”

    I tested a continuous light in a review and used the X-Pro1 and a D610… neither have awesome low light AF capability but the hit rate is better with the Nikon… IF the X-T2 is better and I mean way better than a D750 then maybe Galen and I would be in the same camp doing a switch to Fuji… otherwise a D750 it will be!

    Great process for choosing my next camera 🙂

    Thanks Dan…

    Best regards,


  • Galen traveling light? I reckon it would have been the Panasonic GM5 with the 14mm F2.5 and then the Panasonic 35-100 F4-5.6.

  • Probably Fuji or Sony.
    I like DSLR, but they are dinosaurs and way too big for what they deliver. I’ve likely bought my last one.

  • I”m wondering what his digital workflow would be like. I remember he described his film workflow, and how he named and numbered photos, etc, in one of his books, but I can’t remember which one… but his digital workflow would be different.

  • If not an FX format Nikon D6 for flat-land landscapes, maybe a Nikon Z7 II mirrorless for adventure photography. He did like his Nikon’s. I was using an F4 when I met & shot with him and my wife and I attended his mountain photo seminars/shoots here in the Smokies. I have adjusted to the current FX format Nikon D cameras and lenses as well. Galen and me.

  • I agree, if Galen were still alive and still with Nikon, it’s likely that he would use the Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras. However, when I wrote this post a few years ago, Nikon had not yet dipped there toes into the mirrorless world, so my speculation was based on whether he would have followed Nikon for the legacy camera system, or Fujifilm for their Velvia color technology, which he was deeply enamored with.

  • I think he would be using a micro 4/3 or aps-c mirrorless camera. The small, light mirrorless cameras and lenses would give enough (and better than 35mm film) of image quality and would be light enough. Maybe for lens options or other reasons he would use a full frame mirrorless.

  • *I* was brought up on him, and still own a set of his Singh-Ray filters. The camera I have on me most often is a Sony APS-C, and it’s superb at what it does. But by the time Galen Rowell became Galen Rowell, he wouldn’t have been shooting for Instagram, he would have still been shooting for double truck spreads and very big prints. I think he would have stayed full frame for anything that wasn’t personal (though if the resolution plug ins for PS work, maybe not). I love the idea that he would have ushered Nikon into some new directions, and I think they might have been willing to listen to anything that has a big profit margin, never on DX bodies. Fuji is a real idea, would have hated Sony ergonomics, maybe stayed with a Rowell-influenced Z6.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your insight on this!!!! We will speculate until the end of our own times what camera Galen might have used, given the constantly changing technology we keep seeing.

  • I still reflect on (and appreciate) this blog post. Its goes beyond ‘what camera he would he use’ to how he would have leveraged all the new technology for his work. Would he even care about the particular colors a camera natively produces or would he instead focus more on processing (e.g., creating custom LUTs)? Just an example. As for the camera, I believe he would be embracing a micro four thirds setup, especially now that image stabilization and hand-held high resolution features largely avoid the need for tripods. The newest OM Systems even has a built-in split neutral density filter. I believe the size would outweigh (pun intended) the higher quality and low-light performance of full-frame, for most of his applications. Obviously just speculation and my opinion only.

  • Jay, I just saw this comment. It was stuck in the moderation queue for quite a while. Anyway… Yes, I shot this photo of Galen during my Nepal trip with him in April 1993.

  • Tom, thanks for your insight here. All worthwhile and believable speculations. I’m sure that Galen would be attracted to the small size of M4/3 cameras, and the modern Olympus/OM models certainly have good resolution and useful creative features, as pretty much all modern cameras have. Didn’t know about the built-in OM Split Grad ND filter. Either way, I agree that he would have been very successful in transitioning to the new technology, and I think he would have been on the forefront of helping influence and inspire numerous aspects of digital photography.

  • Val, I’m of the same mindset. I think he would have liked the combination of size and quality that APS-C and maybe even M/43 would give.

  • Robert, that’s good question. I’d like to believe that his influence would have helped companies like Adobe, or someone else, to improve on the software choices and workflow options and features we have today.

  • I can’t help but think Fuji, for the size and the colors, since he loved the colors of Fuji slide film so much.

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