The Evolution of a Camera Bag – Gear Fit to Travel
01.01.2016 - by wanderlustaddiction
In a few weeks time, I’ll be embarking on a thirty hour journey to Asia with only two carry-on bags… one for my camera gear and one with enough clothes and personal items to sustain a trip to about a half dozen countries.
This is not how I have always traveled. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even possible a few years ago. Shooting mirrorless has allowed me to change the way I travel and shoot.
Fujifilm X System / Retrospective 7 (current)
XF 16mm f/1.4 R
XF 23mm f/1.4 R
XF 35mm f/1.4 R
XF 56mm f/1.2 R
Tiffen Filters (ND .6/.9/1.2, UV, Circular Polarizer)
BlackRapid Wrist Straps (2) / R-Strap Shoulder Strap (1)
thinkTANK Pixel Pocket Rocket
thinkTANK DSLR Battery Holder (4 batteries)
8 SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro 95MB/s
Mindshift Filter Nest Mini Pouch
Pelican LED Tactical Flashlight
1 Battery Charger
iPhone Accessories / Passport Book / Pen
What I pack to travel and capture images has changed so much and so often, that I thought I’d share the evolution. If you are starting out or you are thinking about optimizing what you carry, hopefully my experience may be of some use.
When I took up photography five years ago, UPS delivered a new Nikon D90 and 18-105mm 3.5-5.6 zoom. Back then, I carried only that one lens and one camera body to destinations like Sri Lanka.
That turned out to be the lightest I would travel for several years to come.
I spent the next three years building a DSLR system. I first upgraded my lenses, adding each of Nikon’s professional zooms one by one (14-24mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200 mm 2.8). I loved how wide apertures enabled me to isolate subjects using shallow depth of field. I also liked how they allowed me to shoot hand held in low light and keep my ISO settings as low as possible. Once I had fast glass, I upgraded the D90 to a D600 for the full frame sensor. And finally, I added a single prime 50mm 1.4 and a teleconverter for my 70-200mm.
My shoulder still remembers the first time I carried all that gear through the countryside of Cambodia back in October of 2012. I used the full suite of lenses on that trip, shooting superwide to as long as I could get. While I was very happy with the results, it was hot, and I moved slowly carrying all the heavy equipment. I know this statement is relative – I can only imagine the reaction of a film photographer (or someone who grew up in a era before DSLRs and modern day equipment) as they read this.
My first trip carrying the full frame D600 was in February of 2013. It was a short trip which kicked off with a red-eye flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. After a single night in Kathmandu, my good friend Mississippi Dave and I set off on an over land route from Kathmandu to Pokhara through the mountains. The D600 was exactly what I wanted for such a road trip – a light full frame body with a powerful sensor. While it lacks some of the durability of Nikon’s other full frame options, it’s weight definitely makes up for it.
A few years later, I made a trip to Bahrain where I met a Filipino photographer carrying a film camera and a Fuji X100. Watching him work, I was hooked. On the flight back to Qatar, I made the decision to see what mirrorless was all about.
Already having a zoom system, I decided for the new system I’d go as light as possible and challenge myself to learn to shoot primes. I picked up the Fuji X-E2 and a 35mm 1.4 prime to get started. It wasn’t long before I added the 23mm 1.4, 56mm 1.2, and 16mm 1.4 (in that order).
In 2014, I made a second visit to Cambodia. Having just acquired a mirrorless system, I wasn’t yet comfortable leaving the DSLR behind. So, armed with two systems, I wound up adding gear vs lightening the load. There was however, one significant difference. I now carried two camera bags. This meant, for the first time, I had the option to pack what gear I needed for an outing and leave the rest back in my room.
I always get a good laugh when I see the image of me standing around the temples of Angkor loaded down with camera gear. That shot was captured by my good friend Neal, or as he’s more often called, Big Woody. He jokingly referred it as “the Gunslinger.”
Fast forward a year, and I had settled in to traveling with only my Fuji kit. In a year’s time, I added enough lenses to my Fuji bag to cover the style shooting I do.
While I’m mostly talking about weight and size, I also think it is worth mentioning the unintended benefit of having built a new Fuji kit with entirely light weight prime lenses. Shooting only primes, I suddenly needed to spend additional time and effort to swap lenses. Knowing that, it encouraged me to be more conscious of my decisions on lens choice and focal length before capturing an image. That consciousness helped me better see the impact of focal length on my photography.
I think carrying an all prime Fuji system made me a better photographer.
The weight and size difference of my two systems was significant. Now able to go back to carrying my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 (much smaller and lighter than my Retrospective 40), I was no longer concerned about trouble at the airport or having to check my equipment. While shooting, I find the smaller equipment is less intimidating on the street and is more inconspicuous. Moving from one destination to another is easier for me, whether that’s changing a hotel or shooting over more ground.
How small is my Fuji set up? If I’m carrying my Domke RuggedWear Shoulder Bag, I can fit the entire bag packed with gear into an in room safe. That saves me from removing all my larger gear to try and strategically fill the safe due to limited space.
It is probably worth making one last disclaimer. Having now described my travel bag’s transition from a single DSLR and zoom lens to a heavy two system bag and back to only a small, lightweight mirrorless system, I don’t want to suggest that better gear makes better photography. I believe gear is nothing more than a tool for the job. While its not always easy, whatever I decide to carry, I strive to focus on my photography and not what’s in the bag.