Travel photography is something I thoroughly enjoy, and to me, foreign countries are fascinating from a photography standpoint. My fascination probably has a lot to do with having a chance to see things I don't ordinarily see in the U.S. I live in a relatively small town and I don't have the chance to wander around large cities with nothing to do but snap photos of anything that catches my eye. But when I travel abroad with my family, it's always to large cities with museums, cathedrals, old buildings, and lots of people. I end up with thousands of images simply by walking around with the family on our daily treks from cathedrals to palaces to museums to our apartment.
Deciding what photo gear to take with me when we travel abroad is always a dilemma for me. As I try to pick among camera bodies and lenses I have to keep reminding myself that I simply can't take everything that might conceivably come in handy for one thing or another. So, it becomes a delicate balancing act between packing what I know will get a lot of use as opposed to what might get a little useI would like to take, making sure the final selection will take a manageable amount of room in my carry-on bag.
So what do I take in the way of gear? In a perfect world with no limitations I'd love to grab my 400mm f2.8 prime lens, my 80-200mm f2.8 lens, my 17-35mm f2.8 wide angle, 15mm f2.8 fisheye, a 1.4X Teleconverter, and my 35-70mm f2.8 lens. I'd grab a couple of D3S camera bodies and my D800E, batteries, chargers, and load everything up in a roll aboard. But I can't get all this stuff into a bag that I can carry onto all planes and I refuse to check my photo gear, especially for international travel. So, I have to walk the tightrope and pick gear that will take as little space as possible. Here's my compromise.
This is my new best friend. It's a Mountainsmith camera case. It will fit inside any airline approved carry on bag, backpack, or messenger bag with room to spare. If Regional jets are in the cards, I can carry it on all by itself and it will easily fit in the overhead compartment of even the smallest Regional jet. The bag is a mere 14" wide, 11" tall, and 6" deep and comes with a bunch of velcro dividers, but more often than not I don't use them as they just take up space.
As a test for our upcoming trips I spent some time scrutinizing what gear I really, really wanted to take. I then set out to see if I could get all of it into this case. Success. Everything that I know I will use fits perfectly inside the case.
Here's what's included, starting at the top and working my way from left to right:
- Three camera straps, each with dog leash-style attachment clasps that attach to the camera bodies with Black Rapid fasteners screwed into the tripod threads - easy way to clip the cameras on and off when not in use
- 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens for the D800E - if I'm heading out with one camera/lens and size is not an issue, this is usually my choice - low noise, great zoom range for walking around and shooting people and things without having to get close, plus wide angle coverage for landscapes, etc.
- 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 lens - for both the D800E and either mirrorless camera body - longer reach than the 18-200mm and when used with the mirrorless bodies it becomes a 189-810mm monster but easily carried in a bag.
- 35-70mm f2.8 lens for the D800E - if I'm heading out in the evenings when light will be low, a good all around, small lens for the D800E
- Nikon D800E camera body with battery pack - for those 36 Megapixel landscape shots or super low light images where noise might be an issue
- 15mm f2.8 fisheye - one shot, super wide angle images inside cathedrals, palaces, etc. with the added uniqueness of the curvature the lens creates. That can be easily removed in post processing if I want a more conventional wide angle look
- 30-110 f3.8-5.6 Nikon1 lens - 81-297mm equivalent on either mirrorless body makes this a great alternative to the D800E/70-300mm combo while fitting in a jacket pocket
- Dust bulb/brush & cloth
- Battery charger for the D800E batteries
- 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 Nikon1 lens - 27-81mm equivalent on either mirrorless body makes a great alternative to the D800E/35-70mm combo while fitting in my pants pocket
- 10mm f2.8 Nikon1 lens - 27mm equivalent for either mirrorless body, a great alternative to the D800E/15mm fisheye inside cathedrals, palaces, etc. while fitting in my shirt pocket
- Nikon1 V3 and Nikon1 V2 camera bodies - small, mirrorless bodies that can be set to silent mode so no one knows you're shooting pictures, 50 frame/sec capability, 18.4 & 14.2 Megapixels respectively, and a whopping 2.7X crop factor for lenses
- Battery chargers for the Nikon1 V2 & V3
- Tenba Toolbox 8 case for the mirrorless gear
- Lens converters for the Nikon1 V2 & V3 which allows any Nikon lens to attach to the mirrorless bodies
If I decide to do the minimalist thing and pack all my photo gear into one carry on bag that includes my laptop, passport, tickets, reading material, etc., then this is what I've decided to do.
For example, we went to the bullfights one night in Madrid. I was able to take a variety of shots, including wide angle ones to capture the pageantry of the event, mid zoom shots, and good, tight action shots, all with camera gear that fit in a very small, inconspicuous bag. That included the equivalent of 800mm focal length shots that were handheld, using the VR feature of the 70-300mm lens to help me with image stabilization.
The Nikon1's also did pretty well when just walking around Madrid and Barcelona taking a variety of shots, from indoor low light images to people images to scenery. The VR feature included in all the Nikon1 lenses made low light photography a snap, and when the necessary shutter speed was too slow for VR to make an image possible, I used some of my typical tricks to avoid camera shake (resting the camera on a column, chair, the floor, etc.)
I'll be shaking off the travel photography rust off with a long weekend in Montreal later this summer. That will give me another chance to put this gear through its paces before another jaunt across the pond. Hopefully someday technology will take us to the point where the small mirrorless bodies will rival the image quality of the large DSLR's. Unless the Montreal trip gives me any reason to question the results from Spain, I hope to be satisfied with what I've settled on while at the same time avoiding the nightmare of lugging around a ton of gear.