What gear to pack, or not to pack

Going on holidays with a slew of photographic equipment can be quite a challenge and a burden. Not only on your back but also for your travelling companions. If you go with the idea you are going on holiday just to take lots of fantastic photos, think carefully about what you are going to take as far as gear is concerned, how its packed, how easy is it transport (especially through airport security) and how all of these factors impact on your travel experience.

As I mentioned in the last post, taking two bags is a godsend. Having your main kit in a carry all bag and a little day pack to take on small excursions or where a large bag will be in the way, like on a tour bus, in busy streets and inside buildings.

Obviously your bag choice will depend on the kit you have, as some travellers will find they can fit a whole kit in a compact shoulder bag. When travelling with a large compliment of equipment it raises issues such as personal safety, gear safety, personal injury, sanity of you and others around you and the most important part the ability to focus on picture taking, not taking 3 minutes to fumble around mounting your special sharp lens, polarizer filter and Cokin ND Grad filter.

First up is your camera body. Something that has a reasonable performance in the high ISO department will be a benefit (mainly to limit use with tripods and flash), Mega pixels don’t really matter unless you want to print really big, but if small to A3 sized pictures are adequate, anything up to and around 12MP will be more than enough. The more mega pixels you have, the more hard drive space you’ll use on your computer and the files will take longer to transfer. There are some great DSLR cameras out now, including some with video capability, like the Nikon D90, D500 and the amazing Canon 5D MkII.

Lens choice is always difficult for travellers, just search a few forums and Flickr groups and there are many photographers stumped with this issue. Its easy if you grab a lens like the new Tamron AF18-270mm F3.5-6.3 XR Superzoom lens http://www.tamron.com/lenses/prod/18270_vc.asp and be done with it. It covers a monstrous zoom range (equivalent to 28-435mm on a 35mm camera) , fits in a small bag along with the camera body and it doesn’t make people run for cover when you pull it out. But some people are not content with a lens like this (I actually purchased a super zoom for my trip, a Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OS lens).

The problem with these super zoom lenses, whether they are optically stabilised or not, they are not the sharpest tool in the shed. The optical performance of the Sigma was below average (compared to the other lenses I have), especially on a 15MP camera. It maybe OK on a 6-8MP early DSLRs or for 11×14″ or 12×16″ prints, but not for big poster prints, which I regularly do and also for the fact I am a stickler for sharpness. The only super zoom on the market that I know will produce a decent result would be Canon’s 28-300mm, which is very pricey and Nikon’s 18-200mm VR lens which is a good well priced solution for the Nikon owners. So a compromise might have to be taken for the sake of travelling light (I did find taking just the 18-200mm for general travel snaps just fine, and saved the good lenses for when I sharpness was critical).

Besides the all in one zoom, other considerations are two zoom lenses, one standard zoom and a tele zoom. Again a myriad of lenses are available but on a cropped sensor DSLR (APS-C 1.6x Field of view) I’d recommend something as wide as 17mm up to around 70/85mm. Popular choices are the Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4.5, Tamron 17-50mm f2.8, Canon 17-85mm f4-f5.6 and for the Nikon owners the 18-70mm f3.5-4.5. If your budget can stretch it, the Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS, Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L or 24-105mm f4 L IS if you don’t mind missing out a little at the wide end. I’m not sure what premium offers Nikon has at the moment.

As for tele zooms, there are a couple of different focal lengths to choose from. Canon offers the 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS, 70-300mm f4-5.6 IS (also in the higher end DO series). There are numerous offerings in the Sigma, Tamron and Tokina camps for Canon, Olympus, Pentax and Nikon. Some of the photo nutters will like the 70-200mm ‘L’ lenses offered by Canon (the f2.8 IS being my favourite), as well as the fast options offered by Tamron, Sigma and Nikon. These lenses will cover all the important focal lengths for just about any type of photography.

As for specialist lenses like your macro lenses, super fast primes, super wide angle and tilt shift lenses, these are really left to the super enthusiastic amateurs of the pros on assignment. Every lens you take, along with its own range of filters adds unwanted weight. Saying that, I brought along a Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 for super wide landscapes and a 50mm f1.8 prime for my Canon 50D to round out the lens choice. I found I used the prime very little, but the super wide angle heaps, because I’m a bit of a landscape buff.

Other hardware you might want to consider is a speedlight (flash), but I found there was little opportunity to use it and it would have stuck out like sore thumb anyway.

I’m going to wrap it up for now, but in the next half of this chapter, I’ll talk about the camera bag essentials and accessories.

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