How much gear should you take with you when travelling? The answer is as little as possible and only what you need, but working this out can be a challenge.
Here’s a look at my camera bag for a recent overseas travel assignment in Chile. I’ve read many articles over the years and most of them made eminent sense, but still I struggle to pack the perfect camera outfit – one that’s light and missing nothing! If I take everything I want to take, the camera bags are too heavy. But if I take a camera bag that is a good weight, it usually means I have left something behind.
Of course, this is one vote in favour of the new mirrorless system cameras, given they are smaller and lighter. However, the DSLR still has many operational benefits such as speed, accuracy and versatility, and if you look carefully at the DSLR camera ranges, they have some small, lightweight models as well.
Many readers will jump on a plane when travelling, whether for an interstate trip or an international one. This produces some real limits to what you can take: maybe just 7 kilograms on the plane and 23 kilograms in your checked luggage (and yes, these limits vary depending on where you fly and what you’ve paid for your ticket).
I find my suitcase has very little clothing and lots of extra camera accessories which quickly add up, so I keep a small set of scales in my study at home so I can weigh my luggage before I go.
Qantas flyers may have seen my article in The Australian Way magazine in January. I travelled to Chile to do a landscape feature and stayed at the amazing Explora hotel group in three incredible locations: the Atacama Desert, Patagonia and Easter Island. I was away for a little over two weeks.
So what did I take? The photographs accompanying this article show my choice of equipment, broken down into the three bags that went with me.
Often your choice of equipment is determined by the job at hand. Now I realise I am in a very envious position because I have comprehensive Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Samsung and Phase One camera outfits.
Over the years I have collected lots of cameras and lenses because that’s my passion. However, for many photographers, it’s just the one camera system and so the decisions to be made concern the lenses and system accessories.
The requirements for the Chile job were high quality landscape photographs. In the past, The Australian Way editor and picture editor were very enthusiastic about my medium format files – and so was I! Shooting these locations with 80-megapixels is the ultimate photographic experience.
However, medium format isn’t suitable for everything and in the future, I know I will be asked to shoot both stills and video for jobs like this. To cover the video side, and to have a smaller, more accessible camera for situations that medium format isn’t appropriate, I took along the Fujifilm X-T1. A number of the Fujifilm files were used in the magazine as well.
On other trips I have travelled with the Phase One and my Canon outfit, the Phase One and my Nikon outfit, and most recently, just a Canon outfit down to Antarctica. What I love about the DSLRs are the super wide and long telephoto lenses, with my two favourites currently the Canon 17mm f/4 tilt-shift lens and the massive Canon 200-400mm f/4 tele with its built-in 1.4x converter. These lenses were rarely off my camera bodies.
Although I normally don’t take two Phase One camera backs (usually I only have one camera back for the two bodies), I always like to travel with a backup. So that’s two camera systems, or two camera bodies.
In my mind, the decision about what you take is relatively easy. First, work out what you are wanting to photograph and what the best equipment is for the job. Sometimes you have to photograph everything from landscapes to portraiture, wildlife to macros, in which case answering this question isn’t all that helpful! However, your main objective might be landscapes or perhaps it’s wildlife: this will direct you.
Then, if you can carry it and it won’t hurt your back or body, take it. I put the essential gear into my main backpack (which I carry on board the plane) and the less essential gear into my travelling suitcase. If the suitcase doesn’t get to the other end, I still have everything I need with me in my backpack.
I also find most airlines and most planes will allow passengers to take a second small item, such as a laptop computer. I put mine into a generously sized computer bag and slip in a few other accessories. And I quite like leaving it at my feet so there’s no chance of it dropping out of the overhead compartment when we land!
The third decision is the hardest: what happens if you have too much weight, either for the airline or your body? Then compromises have to be made. I find I leave behind the macro lens and take an extension tube instead, or I leave my wide-aperture lenses behind. But I am never completely happy.
However, the one thing I no longer do is stack up my camera bag with so much gear it hurts my back. If I do that, I don’t enjoy myself and I don’t take good pictures either!
Main Camera Bag (above)
This equipment fits into a ThinkTank Airport Commuter. For flights, I usually add my battery chargers as well – just in case my checked luggage doesn’t make it to the other end. I won’t have a tripod, but I have everything else I need to do the shoot.
TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Phase One 645DF medium format camera with IQ180 80-megapixel back and 55mm Schneider lens, Alpa TC camera with 23mm Rodenstock lens and IQ250 50-megapixel back 240mm Schneider f/4.5 lens, Lens bracket for 240mm lens, Hoodman viewer, selection of ND and polarising filters
BOTTOM ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujifilm 10-24mm f/4 lens, Fujifilm 55-200mm f/2.5-4.8 lens, Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lens, Dust blower, Memory card holder with Sandisk Extreme Pro 32GB and Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB capacity cards, mainly ND Filter for 240mm lens and spare batteries for Phase One.
Checked Luggage – Travelling Suitcase
This equipment fits into a small Lowepro Slingshot 200, except for the tripods
TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Phase One camera battery charger, Head torch, USB cable, Power board with adapter
2ND ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Fujifilm X-T1, battery charger, Assorted USB cables, Torches, Spare lens/body caps, Allan keys, iPad adapters, Coins for tightening tripod plates, Screwdrivers, Spare cards, screws, card adapter.
3RD ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Power cord, Spare sync cable for Alpa Electronic, cable release for Phase One, International plug adapter, Spare USB card reader, Lens cleaning cloth, Lens cleaning brush and tissues.
4TH ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Phase One IQ180, battery charger, Spare AA batteries, Spare Phase One battery holder, plus AAA batteries, Datacolor SpyderCube
Computer Bag (Hand Luggage)
This equipment fits into a Targus computer satchel with more pockets than you know what to do with
TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Suunto Ambit watch and USB adapter (GPS functionality), Earphones for iPhone, Card reader, USB Cables, 3x Backup drives for storage
2ND ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
Computer charger, cord and adapter, Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 Professional computer – 8GB RAM, 512GB SS hard drive, Windows 8, loaded with Capture One, Photoshop and lots of other stuff, Wacom pen, Wacom Bluetooth keyboard
.3RD ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT
iPad, Bluetooth keyboard for iPad, Cables for iPhone and iPad Mouse.