On a recent workshop to Cuba, we spent a lot of hours on our feet walking the colorful streets or hiking through scenic valleys in the Vinales tobacco region. Add to that hiking up and down steps to our lodging and waiting hours in airports…just about the norm when you explore and photograph a new country. How do you pack light, and yet bring enough camera gear to cover the trip? Take a look at the photo at top. Just over 14 pounds of gear, and I could even reduce it more if needed.
Here is my gear list:
-Lowepro Flipside 400
-2 camera bodies (2 D810s or 1 D500 and 1 D810); one extra battery
-18-35mm F3.5-4.5 lens
-24-120mm F4 lens
-70-200mm F4 lens
I start with bringing two bodies, generally 2 D810s. Can’t say enough about how great this camera is. If I need a faster frame rate, I will bring a D500. This introduces a 1.5x crop factor so my angle of view is narrower with my lenses, but this helps with distant telephoto images. Next are my lenses. As you can see, all my lenses are F3.5 or F4. Using F4 lenses greatly reduces weight, and these lenses are optically excellent (comparable in many ways to their F2.8 counterparts). You lose the 2.8 bokeh and faster focusing, but your back will be happier. Then there is the SB5000. Smaller, lighter and more powerful than the SB910, you hardly know this flash is in your pack. Finally, the Flipside 400 is the perfect travel pack in my mind. The pack is slim yet easily holds all the gear mentioned and more, and this pack has a ‘real’ hip belt to shift most of the weight to your hips, not your shoulders. I also love how this pack opens on the backside to prevent unwanted prying hands unzipping my pack in busy markets. This backside opening also allows me to switch lenses and gear without having to put the pack on the ground.
If I have a camera in my hand, my pack will weigh around 10 pounds, very light and something I can easily carry all day long. There is enough redundancy in the lenses that if one breaks or is stolen the other two will help cover part of the zoom range. Since 14 pounds isn’t much, I also often bring a fast prime like the 35mm or 85mm 1.4. These are great travel lenses, and terrific portrait lenses. I would also take a small umbrella and some Rouge gels and Flashbender for portraits.
The above mentioned gear is my lightweight travel photo kit. I do bring other gear for different types of trips that might focus on wildlife or landscapes (I’ll mention those in another post). In addition to excess camera gear, another area you can lighten your load is ‘the other stuff.’ Everyone travels with a computer, so choose a light one, not a big 15 inch laptop. I use a Macbook Air 11″. Sure, the screen is small, but I can put this in the back pocket of my Flipside 400. This computer has plenty of power for Photoshop and Lightroom, and can be used to connect external dives to for backup. The Macbook Air is fine for the simple editing I am doing on the road. I save the heavy editing until I get home on my large computer. Suitcase…find one that weighs under 10 pounds unpacked. My normal travel clothes are almost entirely nylon, much lighter than bringing cotton pants and shirts. With my suitcase packed for a 9 day trip with a lightweight tripod inside I normally come in around 30 pounds or lighter. Add 14 pounds of camera gear and one light computer and my total weight is around 46 pounds.
Okay, I admit I like to take a cotton shirt or two, and love a good pair of jeans. And everyone likes to bring their iPad and other electronic gadgets. But if I am planning on a long travel trip with lots of walking and many stairs, I go ‘ninja style’ super lightweight. I’m not tired carrying my pack all day, and more importantly, I have the gear I need to make great images, not weigh me down and result in my missing images!