If you are like me, there are times where you tend to bring more equipment with you, but also times where you want to go light. Full frame or FX equipment is wonderful from an image quality perspective, with a wide dynamic range, lots of resolution, nice opportunities for subject isolation, and the ability to shoot at ISO’s that are just plain silly. Unfortunately, it is also easy to load yourself up with so much equipment that it is a detriment to your shooting and becomes counterproductive. Fortunately, it does not have to be that way.
The inspiration for this article is based on an upcoming trip my wife and I are taking to Paris. For me, photography is something I enjoy doing while I am traveling. It is not something I want to avoid, and I do not want to come away solely with snapshots made with my phone. I would like to do a bit better than that. In addition, while I am very aware of mirrorless options and own some of that equipment myself, I prefer using my Nikons for a variety of reasons. I also know that when I factor in lenses, accessories, etc. and plan ahead, the difference in weight is not dramatic. Given that, this will be oriented to FX equipment and how I make it work for me on a trip like this.
I have been to Paris before and shot in many European cities on other trips, so I have a pretty good handle on what I prefer and what I will use. I know that I will do most of my shooting at focal lengths between around 16mm and 135mm or so. If I have something wider or longer, I will likely use it for a few shots, but most of my “keepers” will be in a narrower range. I know that I will do a fair amount of photography in decent light, but I will also photograph cathedral interiors and do some “blue hour” photography at dusk or later. I will not be photographing any action, but I will be photographing architecture, parks, monuments, my wife, people in their environment, and a mix of detail shots. I know that we will be walking many miles during a given day, and that we will usually go farther than it will appear on a map.
When photographers think about size and weight, there are usually two things they think about: 1) what they are carrying on their shoulders or back and 2) what they are shooting with in their hands. Both can matter, but in different ways. Weight on your back or shoulders is pretty obvious, but it is worth thinking about the weight in your hands, too. If you are in a crowded environment with other tourists, it is good to minimize bulk. You might be in a relatively cramped van at times or being jostled around in a crowd. Having something lighter that is not going to smack into something or someone else is a good thing. It also reduces your fatigue over hours of shooting and walking. Given all that, let us get into this in more detail.
First, there is a difference between what I will bring on the plane and what I will have with me on a given day or shoot. For the latter, I will always try to think through what I am likely to use and more importantly, what can be left back in the hotel in a safe spot. I am almost always taking things out of my bag or replacing them based on the requirements of the shoot.
Next, let us break down the equipment into categories: bodies, lenses, bags, accessories, and camera support. I will also talk about how I process images on a personal trip.
I love my Nikon D810 and D4, especially when I am out photographing landscapes or wildlife, but they are not my first choice when I am traveling. For that, I like using something a bit smaller – think D750 or D610. They may not have the resolution or frames per second of the bigger equipment, but they have exceptionally good image quality and are smaller and lighter. For this trip, I will take my D750. It will handle anything I throw at it, and I save between 150g and 500g. It is also less bulky and has Wi-Fi (more about that later).
In addition to the D750, I will also take a small, but competent point and shoot, but I will never have both cameras with me at the same time. I am currently using the Panasonic LX100 for this need. The image quality is nice, and the handling is a step up from most of its competitors. If my D750 breaks down, I could survive with just the LX100 (but I obviously would not be pleased). Previously, I used a Sony RX100 for this, and it was also very good. The controls just were not quite as friendly.
I am very fond of my fast f/1.4 primes and f/2.8 Nikkor zooms, but this is not the time for them. Instead, I will think about the slightly slower, but really good f/1.8 primes and slower zooms. Nikon is making a great line of f/1.8 primes these days, with 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses available. All of them are really good. They are also very light. If you shoot with a Nikon D4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 for a while and then switch to a D750 with a 35mm f/1.8, you will be shocked at how much lighter it is. It is not a trivial difference, and the quality is great. Similarly, there are some very nice slower zooms out there. The ones I gravitate to for travel are the 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S G, the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-S G VR, and the 24-120mm f/4 AF-S G VR. The 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S G VR is popular with many photographers, but it is not my first choice. I find it a bit bulky, slow, and I usually do not need the long end on a trip like this.
For this situation, I will take the 18-35mm and 24-120mm Nikkor zooms. I will also pack the 35mm and 85mm lenses, but will never have all four with me when I am out shooting. The 18-35mm and 24-120mm will get the most use. The 35mm will come out when I want to go very light and have a single lens, and the 85mm is perfect for portraits and detail shots with shallow depth of field.
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