Like those commercials that ask “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asked what equipment I pack when I travel. The answer would definitely be, “It depends.” Depends on where I’m going, how I’m travelling, why I’m travelling, who’s going with me and what I want to photograph. Let’s see how these parameters play out.
There are few times when I don’t carry the DSLR with me. But only when I need to travel very light or I will be in meetings the entire trip. On almost every other trip I have my Canon with me. When I don’t have the big gun, I do have my iPhone and usually my iPad. So then the answer is, “I don’t travel without my camera.” Whenever feasible I do take the DSLR with me. Control is important from lenses to exposure.
I have a selection of lenses from 24mm to 200mm with a 2x convertor taking me to 400mm. Then there are the specialty lenses: a 100 mm macro and a Lensbaby kit. The selection of lens(es) is really a question of weight and bulk. If I am travelling light then I usually stick with the 24-105mm lens and body. This is the lens that came with my DSLR, but unlike many kit lenses it is a great piece of glass. The Canon EF 24-105mm 1:4 L IS USM lens is very sharp. It offers wide angle (at 24mm) to a moderate telephoto (at 105mm) range. When I am travelling with weight restrictions then this is the lens that comes along.
When weight is not a factor, then I’ll add the EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS II USM lens. This is one of the world’s finest telephoto lens. With the Canon 2x convertor its range extends from 70-400mm. That is about as far as I’m interested in extending. I don’t do a lot of birds and small wildlife so I’m simply not into lugging really long lenses.
The telephoto is an essential lens. When I pull my lens usage statistics I find that the 70-200mm is used for about 35% of my photographs. That is higher than I would have first expected. But upon reflection I’m not surprised. It was a beast to master but a delight to use.
If I’m not worried about the weight then the 100mm macro and Lensbaby kit come with me as well. If I am expecting to do closeup work then the macro goes for sure. The reason that this lens is number 3 in selection is that both my 24-105 and 70-200 lenses cover the 100mm range. It is only needed for close up and macro work.
Sometimes if you have a travelling companion they will be willing to carry some of the accessories with them that you do not want to check in luggage. The second or third person certainly can help the weight issue.
A few years ago I remember being up near the airport in Sedona, AZ waiting for the sun to start illuminating the sky and the amazing red rocks that surround Sedona. I was shaking in the sub-freezing wind. But I knew that my photographs would be fine with my tripod supporting the camera rig. Now I had the 70-200 and the 2x convertor on the tripod. So there would be no hand-holding this rig in the faint early morning light. Another would-be sunrise photographer showed up a little before dawn. He looked at me and said he wished he could have had a tripod too. But he had flown in from back east. I gently explained that I had flown in as well, but my packing choice had been to bring the tripod and leave some clothes at home. This is my usual choice. The tripod goes before more shirts.
My current tripod is a beautiful carbon-fibre model from Really Right Stuff. You’ve heard it said when you buy the best you only have to buy it once. Well the tripod is a good example. Find a sturdy set of legs that you’re willing to carry and buy them as early in your photo career as you can. You will not be disappointed. If my DSLR is coming then my tripod will be right with me.
All of my lenses have circular polarizers on them at all times. If I don’t need it then I’ll take it off that lens while photographing. I also carry three Lee Filter graduated filters and the Lee Big Stopper. These all attach to the camerawith a Cokin ProZ holder. The Cokin is an all right holder, but I will no doubt upgrade it for a Lee system soon.
There are four Compact Flash cards attached to my camera strap. I carry 24 GIGs of cards with me. These have always been sufficient to handle my needs. A few times I’ve downloaded photographs at lunch time to my backup hard drives, but that is rare for me. The cards hold over 700 RAW images when all are full. If I will need to download files I carry my laptop, card reader and cables.
I also carry a few other “essentials”:
- plastic cover for inclement weather that goes over the camera and any lens I have,
- Gloves and toque or hat for cold mornings.
- Hand warmer pack for really cold mornings.
- Cable release.
- Multi-axis bubble level that fits the camera’s hot shoe.
- Flashlight for early morning and late night shoots where you need to see the camera settings.
- Spare camera battery and charger.
- Filter boxes to hold the circular polarizers if they need to come off and spare UV filters.
- X-rite Colorchecker Passport for colour balancing scenes.
- Wimberley Plamp. This is a versatile clamping arm that is indispensable when doing macro photography. It clamps onto the tripod and holds the subject still in the breeze. The plant end is a very gentle clamp with the ability to attach with velcro or a pipe cleaner to hold the plant or subject without damage. You can see it in action in the photo to the right.
- Panorama bar from Really Right Stuff for creating panoramas. I have created a no parallax position chart for both my 24-105 and 70-200 lenses for panoramas.
- Bottle of water.
- Granola bars.
- Backpack style camera bag is my bag of choice. Sometimes if I know I will want to just carry my DSLR for part of the trip I will pack a smaller carrying bag in my luggage to use on those days. This is usually stuffed with socks and such in my suitcase so it takes up almost no room and it has little weight.
- Lens cleaning cloths, air blower and sensor magnifying glass to clean the camera.
- Business cards for when someone you meet on the trail wants to contact you later.
- A very small fold up stool for those low to the ground shots.
Now you won’t need everything I take with me. And I’m sure you will have other things that you couldn’t think of travelling without. That’s fine. I seldom take everything. Pack what you think you need and what you are willing to carry. Travel by automobile certainly gives you more options, but flying gives you more destinations. Ah, photography: always a balancing act.