Friday 5 August 2022 – In a couple of days’ time, my wife and I embark on our most ambitious overseas travel – a major holiday crossing Canada from left to right and taking several weeks to do so. You can read the details in the Travel Blog pages of this site, if that’s your bag (I hope it is). But this posting is among the Photo Blog pages, since I’m using it to express my (usual) angst about the agonies of packing photo gear for such a major endeavour.
You’d have thought by now that I would be able to work out what gear to take on a holiday. After all, relatively recently we travelled to South America for 6 weeks, and gear wasn’t a problem then, was it? Not entirely a rhetorical question. Since I still chucklingly described myself as a pro photographer back then, I had a larger selection of cameras and lenses to choose from – and even then had to buy a particular lens for the trip. In the end, I took a ridiculous number of cameras with me – a DSLR with a general-purpose travel zoom lens (27-450mm equivalent), a backup compact camera, a Tough camera for snorkelling, and an Osmo – a camera-and-gimbal setup for video work. I managed to cram all of this into a MindShift 26-litre backpack, along with an Android tablet, two power banks, a sensor cleaning kit, rain sleeve, power adapters and cables. This was my carry-on bag and (whisper it) was far too heavy, even though it was within the airline carry-on size limits. No-one ever queried it, fortunately.
This was fundamentally a sound set of choices, but not perfect. For example, I had no strap or sling for the camera, as I fondly imagined that the backpack would come with me wherever I went. Good as it is, the backpack was occasionally too cumbersome, and so I had to hand carry the camera, which was also cumbersome, but less hassle than dealing with the backpack every time I wanted to take a shot. Also, I put a tripod in my main suitcase but I never used it. A little serious thought would have told me that it wasn’t appropriate for the sort of trip we were planning.
I only have one “proper” camera now:
The lens (24-200mm) is a great general-purpose travel lens. However, the actual equipment I feel I need to take with me looks like this:
Here’s what I’m going to pack
- Big Camera. As above., but since part of the trip will be attempting aurora photography, I need to include a wide-angle lens and a tripod.
- There will be wildlife opportunities, so I need a telephoto lens (see below).
- Video setup. I have quite low standards as to what constitutes acceptable video quality, so I will use my Samsung Galaxy phone. Experience in Jordan shows me that the Samsung’s stabilisation is really rather good, so strictly speaking I probably don’t need to take a gimbal with me. But I have a small gimbal, so I’ll take that, too.
- Laptop, for processing the photos and writing this blog. And a tablet, but that’s mainly for reading the papers in the copious spare time I probably won’t have any of. With luck.
- Other stuff. Backup drive, power bank, cables, filters, card reader, mobile hotspot(s)
- Oh, and a drone. This is a big change from even a year ago, when flying a drone was beset by rules and regulations that made it largely impractical without doing a huge amount of preparatory (paper)work. There have been two key recent developments: firstly regulations allowing much more flexibility if the drone in question weighs less than 250 grams; and (unsurprisingly) the arrival on the market of highly capable drones that meet that restriction. I have swapped the DJI Mavic I had for 5 years in favour of a DJI Mini Pro 3, with which it should be possible to get some really good photos and video, weather permitting. I won’t be able to fly it everywhere, particularly not near wildlife, but it’s a very capable piece of kit which I hope will give me the chance for some great aerial images.
I don’t have the option of entrusting any of this to a suitcase, as Li-Ion batteries are not allowed in hold luggage. So I have to try to get it all in a lug it about on my back.
Packed, it looks like this:
(Laptop, tablet and mains brick will go in the back pocket.)
Two stone. 28 pounds. Nearly 13Kg. Please don’t grass me up with the airline….
I’m almost certainly making my life more difficult than I need to; it may be that the general purpose lens is up to the wildlife job. But then again…..I am a little anxious about getting decent wildlife images; a 200mm focal length is not really quite powerful enough and there are bears of both grizzly and polar sorts to be photographed. I have a very good wildlife lens (200-500 f/5.6) but it is huge and weighs a ton (well, 2.3kg, anyway) which disqualifies it from coming to Canada. Reading an Amateur Photography magazine article gave me an idea for something almost as good: a Sigma 100-400 lens. It is 1 kg lighter and considerably smaller.
(it’s the one on the right, here, wearing the FTZ adapter necessary to fit it to my Z6.) Courtesy of Wex Photo, I managed to acquire one second hand. Technically, it works well and – this is of critical importance to me – my RAW processor of choice, DxO Photolab, understands it; image quality therefore is maximised and all I have to do is to nail the composition. That’s all. Wish me luck….