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How-to's Travel Stories

Going lighter with an FX system

Rick Walker (walkerr)

Keywords: how, to, travel, fx, keepers, nikon, bodies, nikkor, lenses, primes, zooms, bag, camera, support, tripod, ball, head, accessories, paris, panasonic

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.


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Brett Coyle (DrBrett) on April 16, 2017

Hi Rick! Back from our trip to Italy and I just wanted to say thank you for the advice. I was unable to rent a wide angle zoom and so I bought a 20mm 1.8 to go with my 50mm 1.8, 24-120 f4 and D810. Also purchased the ThinkTank Retrospective 7 on your recommendation. Along with a CP filter, lens cloth and BlackRapid strap, that was pretty much my whole kit. Couldn't do a full size tripod as we were doing carryon only. Having a lightweight but still FF kit was very useful - got a lot of use out of the 20mm! Thanks again!

Brian M McNally (brianmm) on January 21, 2017

Great article Rick. Good food for thought.

Rob TURNER (BlackDot) on November 12, 2016

We travel a lot in our motorhome and have our full compliment of lenses aboard, so lenses can be chosen for whatever the day holds. However, having tried many combinations over the years, it is the D800 & 28-300mm that is the most used combination. I am OK with the weight and usually in a very small backpack. Less compromise I find. The D800 allows for cropping and while there are times I want a better lens - the 28-300mm is the most versatile. If I can cope with the weight it would be the 14-24mm & 70-200mm that are next most used. But always keep the 16mm & 24mm primes handy .... and they can trim down the camera/lens weight & bulk very nicely. A Canon G12 is handy, but seldom comes out. Much prefer to have a RAW file out of the D800 when I get to my computer and these days don't worry about large files as storage is fast & cheap.

John OConnell (Honorsfalls) on October 7, 2016

Thank you, Rick. I've just retired (semi) and we've always loved traveling: Italy, France, Israel, Tanzania, Barcelona, Nice, etc. I have always been DX, love the lightness of my D7200 and 18-200 + 50 1.8. Now that I will have time to shoot more, I am thinking of full frame, the D750, and will need an FX lens, so your comments on the 24-120 makes me think that's a good choice. I do have an old 35 2.8 which is FX, and a 70-200 VR1, but for travel the latter stays home. John

Brett Coyle (DrBrett) on August 4, 2016

Thanks so much for your help Rick! I'm a little concerned about 18mm being not wide enough inside churches etc, and I'd like the VR of the 16-35 in case I'm handholding, but I will certainly consider the 18-35. It's definitely lighter and that would come in handy. I might be bringing the 70-200 with me, but probably wouldn't be carrying it around much, rather going out at night or taking it with me for a specific shot. So I'll look at the 7. Thanks again!

Rick Walker (walkerr) on August 3, 2016

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Hi, Brett. Have a great time in Italy; it's one of my favorite travel destinations. If it were me and I wanted to go lighter, I'd consider renting the smaller 18-35mm instead of the 16-35mm. Both are good lenses, but the 18-35mm is quite a bit smaller. The 35mm 1.8 is a great lens - a nice complement to the others. Regarding the bag, the Retro 7 is definitely easier to work with. I find the Retro a bit tall unless you have something like a 70-200mm 2.8. That extra height makes getting equipment in and out a bit slower than I like.

David Cooke (Rawshots) on August 2, 2016

Excellent article Rick, thank you. I am wrestling with a kit list for a trip to Australia which will include city scenes, a wedding and the iconic Uluru. I fell foul of a "just in case" mentality last year when I went to Canada armed with my D810 and a plethora of glass, I could hardly lift my cabin baggage into the overhead locker! Your article and the comments are a great help in focussing the mind on the KITE principle (Keep It To Essentials).

Brett Coyle (DrBrett) on August 2, 2016

Hi Rick. Great article - thank you. I am going to Italy with my family for two weeks next March and plan to take a very similar kit - D810 (my only FX body) and 24-120 and tabletop tripod. I think I'll leave the 14-24 behind and rent a 16-35 - what do you think? I'm also considering rent or purchase of a 35 1.8 for a lighter nighttime walkaround lens. I have a Retrospective 20; would the shallower 7 be worth getting? I really enjoyed your podcasts years ago and the advice you gave never steered me wrong!

User on May 7, 2016

When travelling I take my little D3200, 35mm 1.8G, 18-200 DX and an aluminum tripod made for video that can fit into a handbag. Killer combination. I can carry all without worrying about weight or cost. If I had my D810 and more expensive lenses with me I'd be more worried about them than enjoying my trip.

Craig Menzies (foamfollower) on November 25, 2015

You're definitely right about the D810 and a sizeable lens such as the 70mm-200mm F2.8. It's a hefty load. I have some heavier lenses as I shoot wildlife as well, and then add a tripod and well I'm getting muscles on my muscles! I don't always have much choice about gear in that case. However for non-wildlife, my D600 or D7000 with say the 50mm F1.8 or F1.4 is like being in a completely weightless environment in comparison. An older 50mm F1.8 is a great lens despite it's relative cheapness. Yet I have to say even those I find a little bulky for the quick grab & run. In the end for that I decided on a Fujifilm X-T1.

Bob Damato (Damato) on November 22, 2015

Your article was very instructive. I agree with the D750 with the 24-120 f4. Good show.

Malcolm Berry (mexberry) on November 21, 2015

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Your thoughts and mine are very similar. I carry my 610 mostly with a 24-120 atrached and this takes care of most situations that I like to photograph. I do see some photographers with a large lens attached to a tripod. My wife would not be happy walking around with me carrying all that type of equipment and it also gets heavy after a few hours!

Jim coyne (Isnapu) on October 13, 2015

Great article. A close solution to an unsolvable problem!

Martin Hvam (mhvam) on October 11, 2015

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I find my D800 and 24-70 2.8 covers most of my photography when traveling. If I want to travel lighter my D7000 with my 18-200 Nikkor zoom is even more flexible. If even that seems a burden I just pack my tiny Fuji X-10. I think a lot of us are obsessed with equipment. Don´t forget to enjoy your trip!

User on October 7, 2015

Good advice, how many of us carry too much because we are to frightened to be missing something, when the chances are we won't use half of it. That's why zooms are so popular.

Tom Schellin (guitarbts) on October 7, 2015

Thanks for a great article Rick! I use my D750 with the same lenses you mentioned and love the results. Cheers!

David Lewsey (boxbrownieUK) on September 24, 2015

I having retired a couple of years ago (professional photographer) have only recently decided to cull my equipment and see what I can get away with as a minimum, I must admit for two years I have not even opened my camera cases and only recently upgraded my P&S to a Leica D-Lux (Panny LX100), having sold my D3X and D800 when I retired this is an interesting article, I recently (two weeks ago) on the spur of the moment bought the D7200 as I had been not sure I wanted or needed FF. I had decided on just two lenses, the 16-80DX and the 80-400VRII, I already have the 16-35 but think maybe the newer to be a better lens? Also have the old 80-400 and used it for work when the occasional long reach was OK, it just got away with it but by all acounts the new version is a big step up. Having read this article and used the D7200 for a bit I feel I might have been better buying a FF, I really do miss the bigger OVF (but not the heft) so your article has made me think again, thanks matey........more expense maybe! Just a bit worried the 750 is not that much better than the 7200 picture wise.........if only the Df would be updated with a 24mp chip and I reckon I would be more than happy, old fart control layout for an old fart photographer, and not to big either. Ho hum........should I sit on the 7200 and wait? It's got to come eventually, surely?

User on September 23, 2015

Rick, Nice article and helpful. I travel a great deal and am confronted by your situation regularly. I usually take the FX 28-200 f3.5-5.6 G produced in the early 2000s and the 35mm f 2.0. I will look into the non- pro zooms mentioned in your article. I am currently in China and am heading to Sri Lanka and, in addition to the lenses above, brought my 24-70 f2.8. It has not left my bag yet. My lightweight FX body is a DF. it just makes me happy when I press the shutter. Cheers!

Kivis Shapero (kshapero) on September 13, 2015

Lovely equipment but still sounds heavy to me.

ANAND KUMAR (aanand63) on September 9, 2015

I would like to add some more interesting this over here as I played with Iphone 6 plus while venturing in the Northern Ireland (Coastal Trek) and found it amazing and many places even better than other cameras. I also used Nikkor 20 mm cute lens for shooting detailed and vast geological formation (Columnar Basalt features in Giant Causeway and nearby areas)

ANAND KUMAR (aanand63) on September 9, 2015

Normally I use 24-120 and 50(1.4) with my D800 and keep with me Nikon waterproof little wonder camera with wifi and other feature. It was very handy during my recent visits to Maldives, Ireland and Scotland

Russ Glindmeier (russg) on September 9, 2015

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Great article, Rick. I've been using a Sony DSC-RX10 as my go-light camera when I don't feel like lugging around the D800E and its lenses. The RX10 has a fixed Carl Zeiss 24-200 equivalent zoom lens with a constant f2.8 aperture. It uses a 1" sensor similar to the Nikon V series (and the RX100 you mentioned), which does mean a certain amount of sacrifice in low-light high-ISO situations. If you can live with the inevitable compromises when compared to an FX system, it's a pleasure to travel and shoot with. In terms of size and weight, it's a bit like using an entry-level DSLR (think D3200) and a kit lens. But this camera is all about the lens. The 1" sensor allows for the f2.8 24-200 lens in a very compact and lightweight form, and it just happens to be very sharp. Such a lens for a DX and especially an FX body would be very large and heavy. If I need to go even lighter, I have my Coolpix P7100.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on September 8, 2015

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Rick, thanks for your thoughts. I tend to travel almost exclusively now days with my Fuji X-T1 or X-E1 given they are so light with a couple of versatile lenses with Fuji X100 and my Nikon P7000 as backup. However, you thoughts and my recent experience in the Rockies with the D750 are causing me to think that the D750 sine grip, a 20mm f1.8 prime and 18-300 is all I need traveling and let the X-E1 or X-T1 with a 18-55 f2.8-4 (great for the streets). Again, I thank you for your is always nice to see what others are thinking.

David Bowers (LensOnSport) on September 8, 2015

Very, very good article. A number of great points worth considering. Thank you. For plane travel, I never take more equipment than I am permitted to actually have in the cabin with me. OK, I'll pack a tripod in a suitcase, but otherwise, it's with me en route. I use a D750 professionally doing sports photography, but for vacationing, I bring a modest set-up: D7000, 35 mm DX prime for walkabout, Tokina 12-24 for landscapes, plus Manfrotto tripod and polarizing filter.

Mel Lim (mel_klim) on September 7, 2015

Great article and it pretty much confirms my current travel equipment, except I bought a used DF as my travel body. Did 3 weeks in Japan using primarily the DF+24-120mm f4 combo.

KENNETH JACKSON (f5titan) on September 7, 2015

A very good article. For my four week trip visiting Greece, Turkey, France and New York City a D800 (body only) with AFS16-35mm f4 and AF28-105mm f3.5-4.5D lenses made for a manageable kit. (It took me THREE weeks to decide on my kit!) I seldom had to change lenses on-the-go.

User on September 6, 2015

Ok, I am new to Nikonians but a long time Nikon shooter. I travel a bunch. In fact most of my photography is travel. But one thing I don't have is the budget to own multiple bodies and the luggage space to carry more than two lenses. I just purchased my first full frame after owning a D-40, D-5000 and D7000 but when I upgraded to a D810 my first move (as it was with all the rest of those upgrades) is to sell the previous camera in order to pay for the next one. How on earth could I afford to own multiple bodies. I know that most of you posting here make your living from photography but unfortunately I don't.

Natraj Sitaram MD (focus16) on September 6, 2015

Thank you Rick for an informative article. Just returned from a trip to Turkey with my d810 and 4 lenses but the only two that got any usage at all were the 16-35mm and 24-120mm that were used for outdoor panaromas, street and portraits and indoor mosques/palaces.

Egbert M. Reinhold (Ineluki) on September 5, 2015

I have been in Greece at the moment and I have my D4, the 16-35/f4, the 24-70/f2.8, the 50/1.8 G and the 70-200/f2.8 VRIi with me. No problem with weight during the flight. No problem choosing the right lens while shooting .

User on September 5, 2015

I've just come back from holiday in Crete and this was the first time I took my D810. I travelled light and only took my 24-70 2.8 and my 50mm 1.8. These two pretty much covered what I needed but it would have been nice to have had something a little longer. Next time I think I will ditch the 50mm 1.8 and take a 70-300 instead.

Chris Moore (Photogcam) on September 4, 2015

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Rick, A well thought and informative article. Thanks.

Tom Egel (tegel) on September 4, 2015

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Thanks for the article Rick. Deciding what to bring on a trip is certainly a common dilemma and you've provided some useful things to consider. To go even lighter, MF primes could be used where AF is not needed (cathedrals, night shots, etc...). My travel setup is a Df with 24-85 for daytime/walkaround (I found the 24-120 to be a bit too bulky) plus an assortment of MF AIS primes (20/2.8, 50/1.2, 105/2.5). The TT Retro 7 is also my favorite travel bag and can comfortably handle these. Neoprene pouches can be used to safely double up lenses in the bag compartments. Whatever you decide to bring, I would recommend taking your bag out for extended photo walks around town prior to the trip. You will quickly learn what you can live without during your travels :-).

Robert Horner (Broadway Bob) on September 4, 2015

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Rick, Excellent article, especially since it confirms that my wife and I made some good decisions on our recent trip to Scotland. I took my D750; my wife her D600. For lenses, the 18-35, 24-120, 35 f/1.8, and 85 f/1.8! Also took my V3 as backup and when I wanted to just do some casual stuff. We shared lenses and had very few "fights" if we both wanted to use the same lens for a specific shot (of course, my wife usually won!). One question - what did you do about backing up your RAW files? I took my Microsoft Surface and a small external hard drive - a little more weight but I felt better having the backup. Thanks again for sharing your expertise! I always enjoy and respect your comments in the forums. Bob

Kivis Shapero (kshapero) on September 4, 2015

I agree on the 1.8 primes. I have traveled to many countries 3 primes on my D7000. The 35/1.8 G, 24/2 AiS and a 105/2.5 Ais. The 24 I can hyper focus and the 105 is my tele, but the 35 gets the most use. It is a pretty light kit.

Doug Nickle (fivesense) on September 4, 2015

Thank you Rick- I enjoyed your informative and useful article. Lots of practical information.

James Gaston (gaston) on September 3, 2015

Sorry for the lack of paragraph breaks in my post - they were all stripped out.

James Gaston (gaston) on September 3, 2015

Thanks for the thought-provoking article Rick. Since I am prepping for a trip I'll share my thoughts, too. My travels are photo-centric - not so for my travel partner - and they are also all via mass transit or foot. I pack two carry-on-size bags, one to check, one to carry. Both strap on as backpacks or can be carried as bags. IN one is my camera plus a subset of my motley collection of lenses: d800e, 24-120/4, 15, 50/1.2, and 20/2.8d. I'm spoiled by my dslr so I pack my uber camera. It is what I have, I’ve no d750 or d600. And I don’t want to take my older smaller body, the d300, even though it is wonderful. As to lenses, it is all about what you like to photograph. Flowers or insects? Take a macro. People? Take an 85. Wild animals? Take a telephoto. For me it is street scenes and landscapes and trains and walking around. Taking photos of places I visit is how I got into photography. How best to remember scrambling Macchu Picchu or hiking the Dolomites or wandering Paris? A lot of people share my like of the 24-120/4. And with VR and the d800e’s high iso abilities I can even get great night shots. A lovely lens though a bit too much presence at times. Sometimes I want to carry something smaller and more low-light centric so I add a 50. And I always have a fisheye: it captures the feel of a small space, a sweeping landscape, and a street scene. I just wish the sigma 15 was a small as the lovely Nikon 10.5. And for walking around old towns in the evening Nikon’s old 20/2.8d is very light and very small. So that is how I pack. Like everything it has compromises. I dream of a Tardis-like magical backpack but haven’t found one yet at REI or B&H. I also want a small light camera that does ultra wide and fast and long and that does all this with the instantaneous performance and easy flexibility of the d800e. But I’ve not read a review of that one either. In the meantime, I set aside half my carry on for my Nikon gear. What I have works for me as I’m happy with the photographic results.

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on September 3, 2015

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Last week, I needed to do some work with my D800 and needed to use a small prime lens. I also took off the grip that held the extra battery I usually use on the thing. Suddenly, my camera was light as a feather! With the grip on it that had the extra battery, and a big zoom on it, the thing was like carrying a brick around. I'm very seriously thinking of switching away from zooms because this was just so much easier to carry and use. So it's pretty funny this article came out right after this experience. I couldn't agree with it more. I just don't need all this extra stuff that really takes its toll on me after a couple of hours.

User on September 3, 2015

Thanks for this article. I am a big fan of leaving as much weight at home as I can! I'm excited to bring my Df and 24-120mm on my next trip along with a couple of primes and an SB-400. So I think your selections are excellent! I hope you have a wonderful trip and get some excellent shots! :)

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on September 3, 2015

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Excellent article Rick. You've given me some things to think about on my next trip with my wife that won't necessarily be photography-centric.

Rick Walker (walkerr) on September 3, 2015

Awarded for his con tributed articles published at the Resources Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in multiple areas Master Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art and science of photography   Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

John, yes, that would be lighter, but so would a point and shoot and many other things. The article is focused on using FX equipment when traveling and how to lighten your load.

John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on September 3, 2015

The D750 is indeed pretty light and a great camera. But a D90/D7000/D7100 with a 18-200mm is lighter, more compact (fits in a small bag), and gives the same quality image results except for extreme circumstances...and if you drop it in the Seine or it gets stolen by grabby hands on the Paris metro you're only out $500 instead of $3000 (including lenses).