Travel minimalism: one lens to go

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Canterbury in autumn. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

Every time I travel for personal purposes, I’m always torn between experiencing the place, and photographing the place. Photography is such a part of me that sometimes I feel that I experience and understand things more through trying to capture the essence of them. Or perhaps it’s because doing so forces you into conscientious observer mode, and this in turn makes one’s mind more receptive to things, and more willing to question what you see and find juxtapositions or contrasts.

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Canterbury Cathedral crypt. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

That aside one of the things which inevitably keeps me up the night before departure is trying to figure out what to bring equipment-wise. If it’s on assignment, then I bring everything I might possibly need, plus spares – to hell with overweight baggage, if you don’t have it, it could mean a lost job – on the other hand, if I’m traveling for myself, I’d rather carry as little gear as possible. Well, little enough that I don’t notice it after walking around for hours on end, but with sufficient coverage that I don’t get frustrated and feel like I missed a rare photographic opportunity because I didn’t bring along a wide angle. Or something along those lines.

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A Parisian in her natural habitat. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

My last personal vacation saw me bringing an Olympus Pen Mini, the 14-42 kit lens and a Panasonic 20/1.7 pancake. We went to the beach. Frankly this made the choice easy as I didn’t really want to expose any of the more expensive gear to moisture, salt and sand; the M9-P definitely would not have been suitable, and the D800 might have produced great landscapes, but it would also have worked fine as a boat anchor.

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Three conversations, Paris. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

I’ve been trying to fine-tune this over the years. I’ve been on trips where I did carry coverage from 14-450mm and a spare body; whilst I got some great images, I also had a sore back, and landed up leaving everything but one body and the 24-70 zoom in the hotel room for the last week. More crucially, I felt the images produced from that trip lacked focus; I brought everything, so subconsciously I was actually trying to capture everything. The upshot is a set of images that isn’t as strong as it could have been, and worse still, experiencing that slightly chaotic panicky feeling that you just might have missed a shot opportunity somewhere.

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Tate Modern yard, London. Ricoh GR Digital III

My preferred travel kit is a moderate wide, and a moderate telephoto – both fast – and one body. I might carry a spare compact or something similar as a backup, just in case. I’ve gone with the D700, 24/1.4 and 85/1.4 – this is an absolutely fantastic and hugely flexible combination – plus a spare compact, either the Fuji X100, Leica D-Lux 5, or my favorite, the Ricoh GR-Digital III. Most recently, I spent two weeks in Europe with an M9-P, 28 and 50mm lenses, plus the Pen Mini and 45/1.8 (giving me 90mm in a pocket). This was also an excellent combination, and in some ways better than the Nikon based setup due to weight and instant availability of the telephoto. However, it lagged hugely in low light performance. I think the next trip I take will probably be Micro 4/3 based; an OM-D and Pen Mini with 12, 20 and 45mm lenses will cover the vast majority of situations handily. And not weigh very much, either.

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Piccadilly Circus, London. Ricoh GR Digital III

So what’s all of this talk about a single lens?** Or single camera? There are advantages to this approach: firstly, you’re unencumbered and free to enjoy the atmosphere, people and culture without feeling like a packhorse; a small camera around your neck is probably much easier to manage than an entire backpack full of lenses. Also, you don’t have to worry as much about security – frankly, carrying several Leica f1.4 Summiluxes and a Noctilux around even safe Singapore made me pretty nervous.

**Let me clarify: I don’t mean going with a 28-300, though I suppose this might be a viable option for some situations. That lens has more compromises than strengths, and if you don’t know how to manage your perspectives properly, then you’ll land up with weak images too, because you’ll always be trying to ‘zoom in’.

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The Shard, under construction. Ricoh GR Digital III

The main advantage, however, is that it frees up your mind from having to think about what perspective to take for a scene. Do you find the essence in the details, or do you go for something wider and more encompassing, with context? Trouble is, there is often no right answer – and from experience, I know that inevitably you’ll land up trying to make both work and being satisfied with neither. On the other hand, if you’ve got just one focal length, then you can pre visualize what your frame will look like; with sufficient experience, your eye naturally looks for compositions that fit within the perspective and angle of view of the lens you’ve got. Thus: instead of wondering what perspective to use, you’re free to spent that mental capacity on fine-tuning the elements inside the frame of the only perspective you have. It can be liberating – providing you’re thinking about the photograph, and not about the equipment you left at home. There’s also the side benefit of not having to change lenses, and thus always being ready.

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The doorway, Hanoi. Nikon D700, 85/1.4 G

I actually did this on several occasions. At the end of 2009, I made short trips to Oxford, Canterbury and Paris; for these I brought two lenses (21 and 50mm for the M8) but only used the 21. I did it again in 2010; the first trip saw me bringing a D700 and several lenses, plus the Ricoh GR-Digital III; I only used the Ricoh and its fixed 28mm because it was both much more convenient, as well as matching the way my eye was tuned at the time after my first Leica-M experience. I got wiser on the second trip and left everything behind except the GR-Digital III. Hanoi later that year saw me using only the D700 and 85/1.4 G.

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A Vietnamese stereotype. Hanoi. Nikon D700, 85/1.4 G

If you are going to try this exercise, I’d recommend going for a wide normal rather than an ultra wide or a tele; for the simple reason that these are the most flexible focal lengths to use. 35-50mm can appear wide or moderately telephoto depending on how you choose to use the foreground elements in your scene. And at some point, chances are you’ll probably want to take a photo of yourself or your traveling companion (or both of you, or your family…you get the point) – and it’s generally much easier with something wide or normal than say a 300mm.

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Prague castle and stars. Leica M9-P, 28/2.8 ASPH

Some people may find a telephoto easier to use in these kinds of situations because they can snipe from a distance; I’d personally advise against it because it’s very difficult to make images with context; and that’s one of the cornerstones of travel photography. The bokeh may be great, but if the background gives you no clue as to where the subject is, then the image could well have been shot anywhere – and that somewhat defeats the point of travel photography.

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A Viennese moment. Leica M9-P, 28/2.8 ASPH

Personally, if I had to pick, I’d go with either a 28mm, or a 35mm – depending on whether my images would likely be more people-biased (longer), or more location-biased (wider). And it’d have to be fast, too; I’d be using the lens at night, and anything slower than 2.8 wouldn’t cut it. Frankly, in some situations, even f2.8 may be a little borderline. Finally, it’d have to go on something small, light and unobtrusive; responsiveness is important because your ability to anticipate things will be a little bit diminished thanks to the foreign environment. Right now, my choice is probably between the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 20/1.7, the Ricoh GR-Digital III/ IV, or the Leica M9-P and a 35/1.4 ASPH FLE.

Give it a try. On your next trip, just use a 35 or 50 prime for at least a day or two; if it makes you feel better, bring along your zooms too, but don’t use them until you absolutely feel that you’re missing shots. MT

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Wat Arun and Boat, Bangkok. Leica M9-P, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE


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  1. I guess I’m not the only one that questions what lenses to bring! I’m heading to Peru for 3 weeks, including the Inca Trail. I have backpacks filled with gear…can NOT take. I have 17-35mm, 25-70mm, 70-300mm; also a Canon G15. Only need long lens for Ballestas Islands. What lens would you take? I mainly shoot architectural elements & landscapes.

  2. I’m leaving next month for 18 days in England. 35/1.4 FLE and 50/0.95 on the Leica M-D are all that I’m bringing. I might even leave the 50 at home.

  3. With my switch to mirrorless, I’m also more sensitive to lens weight and size, and primes are a natural choice. What kit is best suitable depends on where you go and what to expect – and of course your shooting style. For example, for a city trip, I’m very happy with only a 50 and a 35 mm. I could be happy with only a 35mm but the 50mm helps to work with some more depth and has some more reach. For landscape, I find a 21/24 and a 75/85 a nice combination. So, on a travel trip, I go for a three lens kit: my 21mm for wide landscapes, a 75 mm for portraits and close-ups, and something in-between.

    The problem for my next trip is the “in-between”. I’m torn between a 35mm and a 50mm. When I look at my shots, it’s a tie between both. On my last trip, I had the feeling, I lend more to the 50 mm. But rational says, I could crop a 35 mm easily and 50mm might be very close to 75. But for me, there’s a huge difference between 50 and 75 mm. With a 50, I could just step back a few steps or use the 21mm otherwise. With a 35mm, I had to get closer which I’m sometimes not comfortable with (e.g. streetphotography) … So, yes, I’m torn – and don’t want to bring 4 lenses with me.

    • There are 40 and 45mm lenses for FF, or the 20/1.7 (40) for M4/3.

      • David Keyes says:

        Ming, For my European trip starting Monday, I am taking: iPhone 6s and Sony Rx100 for my pocket, plus a Nikon D800 (we will be at Normandy, and you said they make good boat anchors) with three lenses: Zeiss 21mm f/2.8; Voightlander 40mm f/2.0; and Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. My “walkarounds” will be either just the iPhone and often the Sony; when I feel like carrying the D800, it will usually be with the 40mm. This is not “travel minimalism”–I might only have one lens for most of a day, but I “cheated” by bringing other stuff. I was going to just bring the 40mm, and yet I couldn’t resist the other two lenses.

        I’ve gotten good results with my 28mm, and I am always interested in your comments about the Ricoh and in seeing your results with a 28mm. But it has never been my only lens on a trip.

        David Keyes
        Houston, Texas

      • David Keyes says:

        On second thought, I think I will ditch the Zeiss 21 mm due to its weight and limited use as a “walk around lens” for a day–even though it should have gotten good perspective photos at the Normandy military cemetaries and on a large sailboat. I then debated the idea of just bringing my 40mm (it is a pancake lens and doesn’t add to the boat anchor weight of the D800 body). I will bring that, but I also decided to take my 85mm. So then I decided a compromise on ditching the 21mm would be to take my lighter and smaller (and faster) 28mm f/1.8.

        • I think a 28 has more practical use than a 21, too. But I personally don’t like the way the wider lenses call attention to themselves because of the perspective, no matter how you compose otherwise…

  4. Until recently, most of my travel photography was done in connection with business travel, so I had no choice but to travel with a minimal amount of gear. Although I own a fairly large amount of gear, I’m actually okay with that and my entire travel outfit, including a full-height tripod, weighs just over 5 lbs. and fits inside the messenger bag that does double-duty as a briefcase. Personally, I find it liberating to travel lightly and because I have chosen my gear carefully, it suits me and my somewhat unique needs (I do a lot of long-exposure nighttime photography) almost perfectly. I can’t imagine ever returning to the days when I lugged around an overloaded camera bag, full of lenses and accessories, so I could take any photo I potentially might encounter. Today, I happily focus my efforts on taking only those photos I enjoy most and let all the other opportunities pass me by, to the relief of both my back and my bank account. For me, when it comes to traveling with a camera, less has definitely proven to be more!

  5. jimtardio says:

    As many of you discovered, traveling with too much gear is a drag. I learned the lesson as well after decades of trying “cover all the bases” My last trip was 99% shot with a Fuji X100T. Works for me…

  6. stromboliddu says:

    I am looking for the best lense to take on a 3 week trekking in Chile and Bolivia, with some difficult volcanoes to climb. I have considered the X100T, but will stick with my D700 for now. I was also considering to take my 28mm AIS 2.8 and 85mm 1.8, glad to see that you also defend that 🙂 i am only hesitating to add a 20mm 3.5 for wider shots (i did some of my best shots with that one), but would really want to travel light. And one is always tempted to take the 50mm 1.8 along, and well here you have 4 lenses… What is your return of experience on that?

  7. Unfortunately, although I love the image quality in good light, a Sigma SD1 involves too many compromises. But a Canon 1Ds ii + 35mm f/2 EF + 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro is a great travel outfit for me and is not TOO different from your choice of fast 24 and fast 85. But it was all bought second hand – probably the whole lot for less than the price of one of your fast lenses – even second hand I could not justify the cost of f/1.4 primes when I rarely even use my slower lenses wide open.

    Fortunately I am no midget. The weight of the Canon DSLR, even carried all day, does not bother me at all.

    • I couldn’t justify the AF 1.4s either, which is why I’m using the AF 1.8s. Since they’re ~$400 each, I doubt the camera and both lenses would be that cheap…if I’m wrong, where can I get one? 😀

  8. Thank you for this post… I have been debating this in my mind for almost two months… I stumbled upon your post and gives me the confidence to just carry two lenses (24-70mm f2.8 & 50mm f1.4) on my trip next month.

    David Premier (

  9. The 50 Summicron is my favorite lens on the Leica M (currently using M Monochrom) and will use it and a 28 Elmarit for travel, but for casual outings I’ll force myself to use only the 35mm Summarit. The fast Summilux lenses are gorgeous, but with a Leica I prefer to carry the lightest lens possible, especially with the Monochrom’s high ISO capabilities.

    With an SLR (Canon 6D) I’ll usually just bring the 24-105/4 zoom, of for more casual and lightweight carry the 35/2 IS and call it a day.

  10. Hi Ming. Slowly going through your videos (Fundamentals, Outstanding 1, & PS Intro) and accompanying articles. About to head out on a trip to Thailand. Only the GR and K01 with kit lens, a 60mm equiv. I really appreciate how everything ties together – your videos, past articles, present posts. Looking at your GRDIII pictures, I am amazed. I was never quite able to get that same kind of sharpness and tonality. Anyway, thanks again.

  11. Megatron says:

    This is my fave article on your site so far! Thanks for the perspective. I don’t feel like hauling all of my [few] lenses with me all the time. Just bringing one 28 or 50 is perfect, and, after reading, I feel like 28 is the best for travel photography, and 50 will get a little less perspective while allowing me to grab some bokehlicious portraits if I want.

  12. jlmphotography says:

    When I travel that is always my dilemma: What to bring? What will I miss if I don’t bring this or that. For a destination wedding I shot in Old San Juan Puerto Rico I pretty much was obliged to take everything — all my dSLR gear, plus lighting, speedlights etc. Prior to that, about six months prior I was in the same area scouting out shooting locations for the bride and groom and travelled only with with my Panasonic Lumix LX5. That was one of the most enjoyable trips ever. It was the first time I travelled without my dSLR’s since getting my first back in 2001 — the venerable Fuji Finepix S1Pro. Walking around town with just my Lumix, an extra battery and my filters was exhilarating to say the least and the images proved it!
    Great article.

  13. hi there, just wanted to thank you for taking time to write this. i was puzzling over what camera to bring with me on my upcoming trip to a place with sand and sea when i came across your article. you’re right. i have most fun with just my GRD II and me.

  14. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    I Just Travel Witerry my x100. End of The story!!


  15. Great article Ming! I love your blog and your photos, they are inspirational! I’m intrigued that you took the D700 + 85mm as a travel combo, was that because you knew what kind of photos you wanted to get beforehand and what the location had to offer? I may be going to Las Vegas in December and wondering if my only AF lens – the 50mm AFS 1.4 will be enough. I also have the 28mm AIS 2.8 and a 80-200mm Ai 4.5.

    • Thanks. Yes, it’s a mix of knowingly at gear produces what look, guessing in advance what FLs will fit the potential subject matter, and your familiarity with the focal lengths. If everything is new to you when you travel, then you’re going to struggle a bit and your images will lack that little something – let’s call it intuitive framing.

  16. Michael Greer says:

    Strangely, I never did learn this “minimalist” lesson. In ’94 I trudged around Europe for 3 months breaking my back with an F4 kit and countless lenses and swore I’d never do it again. But I have, again and again – secretly fearful that I’d miss that “once in a lifetime” shot. But 3 years ago, I decided enough was enough and after 50 years of lugging 20 kgs of SLRs, dared to return to my first love: Leica – and this time, an M9. Great – and with no regrets whatsoever.
    But somehow, I still didn’t learn and continued to travelled with “the works”: M9, 28, 35, 90 crons and a 50 lux – and even the occasional M3 or IIIf. And although now much lighter, wondered why it still frustrated the hell out of me.
    So thanks for such a timely wake up call – I’m about to head off into SE Asia for a few weeks. Surely it must be possible to teach an old dog a new trick? Sure! So to accompany the M9 I’ve tossed up between the 28 and 35 – the 35 cron has won by a whisker.
    One body, one lens.. and hopefully one happy camper. Thanks for such a well reasoned article Ming.

    • So did you ever get that once-in-a-lifetime shot with the lens you brought along and used once?

      On an earlier trip to Japan I brought a D3, D90, 14-24, 24-70, 70-300 and 50/1.4; by the second week, it all stayed in the hotel except the D3 and 24-70. I was much, much happier that way. Self resolution thereafter: master one or two focal lengths, focus on knocking one out of the park with those, and don’t bother with the rest.

  17. Nice set of photos there. The M8 black and white images look great. I have an M6 and am waiting to see what Leica – or anyone – bring out next. I hope an affordable, quality, full frame camera for Leica M lens is available soon.

    • Thanks Simon! I don’t think we’re going to see that from Leica, they’re already selling more than they can make, but who knows, Epson *did* do the RD-1…

  18. Reblogged this on Photography Re-Blogger.

  19. parameteres says:

    Great article… i do have the habit of bringing at least 2-3 systems on a trip but from 2nd day onwards, just using 1 camera 1 lens.. last trip i even limit myself to only a PnS (and enjoyed the food and clubbing) 🙂

    • Once we get small enough cameras with big enough sensors, I think DSLR sales are probably going to drop off – think a GR Digital with a larger sensor.

      • Yeah, I have been wondering more and more about smaller cameras. My first were point and shoot film and digital cameras. Have a small canon dslr now and am considering going with only the 50mm (80mm equivalent) and kit lens (for wide) on an upcoming trip to Hawaii and maybe Europe.

        Or spending a little money on a 28mm f2.8 (50mm equivalent lens).
        Or a micro four thirds camera with a 28mm equivalent and having a wide angle in the pocket and 80mm on dslr.

        And here’s me trying to keep it simple.

  20. OC Mike says:

    But Ming, you said it more elegantly! You are the Master!!!

  21. Really great photos!

  22. I’ve recently upgraded from an M8 to M9, and was so pleased to get the full frame look back – my 50mm 1.4 ASPH could fully sing again. I then analysed my images to see which lens (18mm, 35mm, 50mm and 75mm) had produced my keepers. In short I used the 50mm more often and of its shots kept more as keepers in percentage terms. This is probably driven by my reportage style, with a love of portraits. So then I decided to do a little experiment.

    With the safety of all four lens with me in the bag I challenged myself to stick to the 50mm during a 10 day trip to Cuba. I am very happy with the whole process and results. Firstly no more lens swapping – less chance to drop a lens, knock the focus alignment or get dust in the sensor, but in someways more important I never worried about which lens I wanted to use. More time to “photograph” and also a push to be more creative.

    As you said you just start to see in your chosen focal length. Of course I must have missed some shots that would have better suited to another focal length, but as I wasn’t looking out for those opportunities I never minded. As the saying goes what you don’t know about you don’t miss.

    In fact I feel my photography improved – sorry can’t share the results at this moment as not quite finished with the post production work. I spent more time thinking about framing, composition and structure. And really enjoyed it. I know that I can become a little overwhelmed by too many options – part of the reason why I moved to rangefinders nearly 10 years ago from an SLR with all the features. Sticking to one focal length moves onto the next level.

    I imagine it’s not for everyone. I am a convert though. The 18 and 75mm were sold, left as the 35 as a backup.

    • Hats off, Phil – I don’t think I could ever do it all the time because of my commercial work, but even for personal work I struggle at times. I do like the 28/85 combination, though.

      • Larry Miller says:

        I’m about to go on a 4,000+ mile road trip. Three lenses and three only will make the trip. The Voigtlander 28/F2.8, the 40/F2 and the Nikkor 85/1.8D. That should be light enough for this trip. No crappy, weighty zooms!! I like the 28/85 combination as well. However the 40/F2 is too good leave behind..

  23. Radientlite, you’re not going to believe the four reasons why I wanted a 85G. Ming is far more qualified to explain the technical differences or advantages. “I was raised a poor country boy” but my first reason was my love/hate relationship with the sun shade. As you know, it screws in and it doesn’t flip around for on-the-lens-storage. I always seemed to temporary lose it or I’d leave it at home or I would curse the space it would take up in my luggage which was overpacked with clothing that I’d never end up wearing. How could such a lightweight item cause me to have such strong emotions towards it? I do not understand it but I disliked storing the shade on the lens when I wanted to be incognito. The second reason is that I have been trying to learn how to (eventually) become a better than average photographer. Tips that I have learned from Ming, Rock, Thom, et al is that you crop when you click the shutter. Sure, you can always do it at home but that means that the brain is not engaged when you’re doing one of the most important steps that Ming teaches: composition. So where is this going, well, I have come to prefer portraits that leave empty space in the frame as it just seems to make the subject pop when there is more than a sliver of bokeh; actually much more, almost as much blank space as the subject themselves… even if I truncated or cropped out part of the subject too. As a side note,I strongly prefer landscape orientations for bokeh portraits. So, I use a single point focus which makes me move the focus dot with a click, click, click motion on the button at the back of my D700. I suspect that this should be the first part of the camera to wear out from use. So, the focus point is on “the near eye” but this is nearly alway NOT in the center of the frame where the 85D excels! The G should improve the focus on “the near eye” that always seems to be “over there” and not even close to the center of the image. The third reason is that the D has become my “single travel lens. ” I feel so strongly about this that I would encourage newbies to not spend money on a “wide tele” and a supersharp “midrange tele” and a venerable 50mm and a mandatory 70/80-to-200 tele and INSTEAD buy 1 lens and learn to use it at its many, many limits., i. e. the 85G. Sure, I have a wide tele but the proper use of this lens is NOT to get it all in but rather to have something very close in front of the wide shot… but I hardly ever use it. This “hardly ever” is what I would like to imprint in the mind of any potential newbie! Wait, save and get a G because using a lens at its many, many different limits will do more to teach you about photography than anything else. And my fourth and final reason is that it is “The Bokeh King. ” Money is always in short supply when you’re a beginner but if you had yo buy only one lens to do EVERYTHING, can any other lens be better than a lens that the collective mass of professional photographers call The King? Why would you buy the same lens twice? Buy once, buy smart, by gosh buy a single travel lens that will teach you things that you couldn’t possibly imagine as a newbie but relish for years and years of memories as you go back and relook at old pics. Which is a good seque to read Ming’s article on redo’s of old RAW pics!

    • Your logic makes perfect sense, though. I never used the hood on the D for that reason, and the G’s cross-frame performance wide open is why I got one in the first place.

      • Ming, I finally took my 85G out of the box. I have tears in my eyes. Colors are more vivid and clarity spans outside of the center portion. You see this immediately. It doesn’t hunt and it kind of has this quick short buzz instead of racking or hunting. You hear this immediately. Focus is “comparatively ” instantaneous. But the reds just pop! I have no proof but if the Rock says there’s no coma and owners are picking thenslves up off the floor… well, I am stunned! Realize that I used the 85D as my single solitary travel lens and I love that lens, but, but, but I’m speechless! The 85G is not describable to humans!! Mortals cannot comprehend its power unless you compare directly to the King Of Bokeh 85D… I’m in total disbelief! If this indeed has no flares off of night lights (coma) then everyone should sell off their lens for this one. ps: B&H filters are similarly better than its peers too!

  24. OC Mike says:

    Traveler’s Minimalism, what a simply great subject for an article. I own a quiver of lens just like any D700 owner and like the article subject: lugging is just impossible when you’re on a trip (vacation or business). This May 2012, I had a business trip to Cape Canaveral followed by a vacation to the island country called Turks and Caicos, specifically to Providenciales. My go to package for lightweight travel is my shirt pocket Sony with underwater housing. Just unbeatable. On this trip, I needed a 200mm f2.0 w/ 1.7x teleconverter for distant shots of a rocket launch. Used a polarizer inside the lens and a combo of both a ND Grad with a Reverse ND Grad… all simultaneously. It was an experiment on my part with “no do overs. ” Logically, it all made sense to me. But I was disappointed in my post launch review. My attempt to knock down a light source brighter than the sun while simultaneously trying to keep the dynamic range of billowing white exhaust clouds with their dark whites and bright whites… all in a sea of green indigenous shrub. Lesson 1: I was soon to be blown away when I got home and adjusted the RAW file to find that I probably was the only photographer to get a perfect post-photoshop photo because the darkened photo was corrected in brightness but I had every single highlight saved in the file. If I had not done all of that gymnastics, I would have had a. blown out rocket flame, a blown out exhaust and a blown out sky. What a shocker to me! Continuing this tale, my go to single lens is my 85mm 1.4 D. It was my perfect lens for everything on any trip. Post trip, I just got a 85mm 1.4 G and I look forward to the comparison testing. So, I used both the 85 and 200 on my beach vacation as well as my shirtpocket Sony for underwater and movies. The ability for the Sony to adjust focus on a moving movie subjects is legendary. So, how does this all relate to the subject? Question: which camera lens created the wow-photos? Lesson 2: Given that I love my 85mm D lens (I had not yet bought my G lens yet) I was shocked, stunned and blown away with the 200mm 2.0. And it’s not exactly what you’d think. My “keeper shots” were not just bokeh shots. For example: 1. A moon shot (it was super close to the earth) adjacent to a bird in a tree, 2. A sunset shot in bright orange light with a sailboat in silhouette with people discernable above the sun’s long reflection, a bokeh shot of an Amazon Tablet cropped over the shoulder with blue, green & white pool reflections bokeh’d out and numerous traditional bokeh portraits with only existing light. The bokeh of the 200 makes the 85 Bokeh King look like a Bokeh Serf. I was shocked. Conclusions: are having hundreds of “non-keeper shots” justification to leave the heavy lens at home. Or is the “keeper shot” something that I will cherish for the next twenty or thirty years? Prior to this I’d say NO. Now, I am a little wiser… I will just have to take a Nepalese mountain carrier on my vacations because I almost broke my back carrying this one additional 200mm with its pounds of paraphernalia.

    • The 85G is a lot better than the 85D on the D700, so it’s a worthwhile upgrade. 200/2 is a very specialized lens, and personally I don’t own one…can’t deny that the optics are awesome, though.

      • radiantlite says:

        I own 85mm f1.4d. What i dont like about it is the af speed in low/back light.
        Plus chromatic aberration. But overall, its still my fav lens for portrait. Love the metal body, the sharpness and out of focus blur at 1.4

        Beside af-s motor, what are other improvement compare to 85D?

  25. In a recent trip to Paris, I brought just my Pen E-P3 with the 17mm f/2.8, the 14-150mm and the voigtlander 50mm f/0.95 (because I expected shooting inside dark museums and catacombs). It all fit in a small bag, it didn’t break my back, and I’m very happy with the results ( The m43 format is brilliant for travel.

    • I think you must mean the Voigt 25. I’m finding it a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it is sharp at 0.95, other times, flare/ internal haze just makes it soft and robs edge acuity. It’s great by f2, but if I’m going to have to stop down that much, I might as well just use my 20/1.7. I like the tactility and close focus, but so far that’s about it.

      • Yes, I meant the 25mm. I agree that it’s not perfect wide open, but I like having the possibility of using it if need be. I find it useful in 3 ways: it’s a sharp 50mm equivalent stepped-down, it’s very useful in extremely low-light situations if absolute sharpness is not essential, and it’s practically a macro lens because it focuses so close. The lens’ flaws also sometimes give an interesting character to some pictures.

        • It feels like a vintage lens. Can’t really describe it any other way. To be honest, I’m not very happy with any of the 50mm equiv solutions for M4/3 – maybe it’s because I’m not really a 50mm kinda guy in the first place.

  26. “I’m always torn between experiencing the place, and photographing the place. ”

    I know exactly what you mean, and have been having similar internal discourse (and external – The Missus!) these last few weeks. Having just started becoming interested in photography, it was an interesting realisation that it has fundamentally changed my interaction with my environment.

    At the moment I am restricted to the X100, which on the whole does a great job. I do notice the lack of reach though, at times. I still have the D800 on order, but am definitely thinking hard about the OM-D though. How does its dynamic range compare to the X100?

  27. I use to have similar struggles when I first picked u photography in 2004. Since I got my Leica, I’ve pretty much traveled with an M9 and a 35 f1.4. It’s been a liberating experience. One camera, one lens. Nothing else to think about but making pictures. My backup camera these days it’s the iPhone and I really enjoy shooting with it. A few weeks ago I got a 50 f1.4 that it’s a focal length that I really like, specially when shooting street like work. So I might take two lenses on my next trip. Here is a sample of the work I was able to do with the M9 and the 35 while in Havana:

  28. In my last trip, I brought Nikon D700 and only two lenses with me : Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR and 50mm. It works great. and everything fits on my shoulder bag. I heard Nikon D600 will be full frame camera in a smaller body. It will be great.

    Before, I carry big telephoto lens 70-200mm f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.4 with me, and have to use backpack to carry. It is a pain everytime I need to change lens. Now it is a lot simpler.

    Love Ricoh GRD IV for carry everywhere camera, but it is hard to find one here in Indonesia. I look forward to the next gen. hopefully it will have 1″ sensor like Nikon 1 and Sony RX100.

    • I’m hoping for a much larger sensor in the GRD also. They somehow managed to cram a roll of film – full frame – in there, so hopefully with a bit of rework and not too much more size, we can see APSC or larger…

  29. Ah, btw: how about that (I´ve found it just 5 minutes ago):×225.jpg ?

  30. I have traveled extensively since I pickup photography. At the beginning I struggled with this dilemma as well. Since I got my M9, I travel with it and a 35mm f1.4. I don’t even have to think, it’s one camera, one lens and make the best I can with it. I got a 50mm f1.4 a few weeks back, since I miss this focal lens specially for people on the street, so this might add another lens when I travel. Here is an example of a trip with the M9 and 35mm lens only ( Thanks for sharing Ming. It’s always appreciate it to see your work.

    • I get stuck between 28/50 or 35 on the M9 – both are great – out of laziness or desire for greater available light capability, I usually go with the 35.

      • 28/50 is my go-to combination on the M9. I’d say 80% of my shots are from one of these two lenses. 35/70 if traveling somewhere with a little more space.

        Now with the X2, it’ll probably be more 35mm :).

  31. This is the reason I went Leica in the first place, less gear to carry around . My choice of lenses is quite easy as I only have 3 for it, and 2 of them are more curiosities that pratical ( elmarit 135 and elmar 90) so Its always the M8+cron 50/2 combo for me . Now I need to start just carrying the camera and leaving the bag in the car 🙂

    The other advantage to using the same lens often is after a while I find I can guesstimate the exposure and focus even for f2 quite readily and the shots come out just how I want them to!

    Another great article MT , I cant believe you dont have a column on someones webpage/magazine

    Cheers from Canada


    • I always found 50 on the M8 very intimate, but not good for providing context because it’s too long. If you pair it with a 21, now you’re talking…

      I don’t need a column because I have my own webpage 🙂 Other than that, I did use to be editor of a magazine in Malaysia, and responded to the DPReview ‘call for contributors’ several times – but never heard back from them. Oh well, their loss, I suppose.

  32. You are born for the 28 mm Full Frame equivalent! The “Parisienne in her natural habitat” and the “viennese moment” shows me that it is not to wide for street photography! The Prague castle and stars: Beautyful! Is it a kind of Light Room Trick (Guess its a kind of HDR from just one RAW file)? How would such a photo look, if you would treat the stars and the buildings in Post processing in the same way? Could you show us an example?
    Well, and of course: GREAT ARTICLE!

    • Thanks Thorsten – the trouble is, I haven’t found a 28 for FF I like except the Zeiss 2/28, and that’s too slow to use for street photography. Trialling the 28/1.8G at the moment, we shall see…

      Prague castle is a single frame HDR with extended recovery from the shadows and highlights; the latter were deliberately overexposed a bit (to the limits of what I know the raw file and converter can recover) – what do you mean by ‘treat the stars and buildings in pp the same way?’

      • Ah, I was right! I mean: How would such a file look without the HDR Trick? Will the stars completely dissapear, if the buildings are well proceesed? Ah and next question: Is there a need of other Programms with this single frame HDR, or can lightroom alone do this also? You see: I am a beginner! I was very impressed of that file.

        • Ah, you’d lose the blue sky – stars and buildings are about the same luminance, but they’d all be on a black background. I use photoshop/ ACR for everything, so I don’t see why LR shouldn’t be able to do the same…

  33. Gregorio Donikian says:

    my X100 is all my need, i just arrive from a week in Peru and i love it !! my other companion was a Lumix Gf1 and the 20m 14mm and 45 mm but is just o much, with only one camera and one lens i may not have all the opportunities to get the perfect shot but i have infinity possibilities to get it that is enough for me.

    Gregorio Donikian

  34. After much Travel with many combinations I’ve settled in M9 with a 35 f1.4. If I am going to to a lot of people I then might bring the 50 f1.4. The iPhone acts as my second camera and I’ve found I really enjoy it. Here is a sample of a trip to Havana with only the 35:

  35. Matt from Missouri says:

    This is something I can relate to. I’m faced with the decision every time I fly from the US to Singapore. This time I brought a D800, 24mm/1.4g, 50mm/1.8g, 85mm/1.8g, and a Tokina 100mm/2.8 macro, along with a smörgåsbord of filters and a beaten up SB-600. So far I’ve limited myself to the 24mm/1.4g and 85mm/1.8g when going out by myself into the streets (or jungles) of Singapore, Malaysia, or Indonesia, which is the majority of the time. When going out to eat with friends I bring the 50mm/1.8g, and when collecting seaside specimens I bring along the 100mm/2.8 macro and the flash.

    That’s the absolute best I can do at this point, I’m afraid. I’m so used to lugging around a DSLR, filters, flash, and 3 or 4 lenses in a messenger bag, in tropical heat no less, that bringing at most the DSLR and two lenses on photo outings is a breeze. Yet I dream of the day I’m confident enough to bring one body and one lens for overseas trips, period. I’m just not there yet. Bringing only primes was a big step for me. Next time maybe I’ll only bring a DSLR and a Zeiss 25mm/2, which is sufficient for street photography (if pre-focused and determined, and if not disheartened by all the misses), landscapes (though it’s not as impressive at infinite), and performs surprisingly well for portraits. (I could kick myself for not bringing it along instead of the rented 24mm/1.4g.)

    Sounds like I’m talking myself into paring down even more, doesn’t it? I guess it is a process after all.

  36. Sweet. Thanks. I actually meant the e-pm1, not e-p1. I hate their naming system.

  37. Totally with you on this post. My favorite combo in my analog days was an M-6 with a 28 and 90. Now I use an X-100 (love the image quality and low light performance) even though it’s not quite as wide as I’d like. I’m thinking of pairing it with an e-p1 and 45mm for a Small, light travel kit, although I don’t know if I’ll get the shallow depth of field I crave from the 45. First-world decisions. 😉

  38. billmccarroll says:

    Some very good thoughts here Ming. Personally with a constrained wallet, these choices have to be made well before any situation where I have to decide what I’m going to take with me on any given day. I’ve committed to an M9-P and a Fuji x100. Right now I have a 50mm for the M9 and of course the 35mm equivalent for the Fuji. Sometimes knowing the constraints causes one to adjust and in fact forces me to think more creatively to get the shot I visualize. Great post.

    • Life is actually much easier if you’ve not got a lot of choices – you make it work. Leica M is actually one of those times, if I’m going all M I’ll just take a 28 and a 50, or just a 35. But then you sacrifice a lot of opportunities – I think there are other options that are just as light or lighter, don’t give up much in the way of image quality, and can still give you more flexibility. For my Japan workshop I thought about just using the M9-P and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE, but I think I’ll be going with an OM-D and 12, 45 and 75mm lenses.

      There’s also another tradeoff I just thought of – the amount of gear you carry is inversely proportional to how much you enjoy the trip vs being a pack mule…


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