One of the conundrums I always face before a trip of any sort is the question of what gear to bring. It isn’t so much of a problem if I’m on assignment, because what I need is dictated by the brief of the job, but it’s a completely different story when I’m teaching, or worse, travelling for myself. I suppose it’s a problem faced by anybody who’s got more than one complete set of gear. There was a time when I used to simply take every (or nearly every) lens I owned – whilst this would ensure that you’d never miss an opportunity, it’s also a great way to rack up chiropractor bills and ensure that you really don’t enjoy your trip. Lugging everything from place to place becomes a chore, and taking photographs turns into a burden rather than a joy.
Needless to say, I’ve since travelled as light as possible – first with a D700 and a couple of fast primes; lately with a compact and one system camera. In fact, the majority of my recent workshops have been done with this setup – typically an OM-D, the 12/2 and 45/1.8 primes, and something else to fill the pocket for quick grabs. The trouble is, I’m starting to become accustomed to the image quality of the D800E and Hasselblad systems; my recent trip to Fukuoka brought this home in a big way. Whilst I loved the compactness and flexibility of the D-Lux 6, (and that thing has one amazingly good lens) the image quality at anything above base ISO (80) left a lot to be desired; not only were the files pretty small, but the pixel quality simply wasn’t there. Is there any reason why you couldn’t produce great pictorial results with this camera? Absolutely not. It was satisfying to use too, but I could never quite shake the feeling of wishing I’d had something with a bit more resolution instead.
My upcoming USA trip is going to be a mix of teaching and personal shooting; both requirements are flexible enough that I could pretty much use anything, with the caveat that I’m going to be carrying it around in my hands for 16 days, so every superfluous ounce is eventually going to make itself noticed (and probably regretted). The contenders looked like this:
- Nikon FX body (D800E or D600) and AFS 24-120/4 VR
- Nikon FX body, AFS 28/1.8 G and AFS 85/1.8 G primes
- M4/3 system
- A compact of some sort
- Hasselblad 501C, 50/80mm lenses, film
- Hasselblad 501C, 50/80mm lenses, CFV-39 digital back
- I want to say Leica M and 28/50mm lenses, but I don’t have one yet.
As much as I’d love to take the ‘blad, using film would be solely for my personal work, which means that I’d have to still carry another digital system of some sort. Plus the number of airport scans I’d have to go through – I estimate about a dozen based on the airports I’m familiar with – would mean risking fogging on return. Not to mention having to carry a lot of film. For similar reasons, I’m not considering 35mm film either. Borrowing the CFV-39 digital back again is an option (and I’m thinking about trying it out again now that the previous focusing issues have been resolved) – but it’s not hugely practical, or stealthy. Not to mention heavy and very power-hungry; scratch that.
On the same rung for image quality is the Nikon FX option; the trouble is, I laid out both zoom and prime kits next to the ‘Blad while packing for Fukuoka, and guess what: the ‘Blad was lighter and smaller. No denying that the 24-120 would give me the most flexibility, at the expense of a couple of stops of light. Primes would give better image quality and more light, at the expense of bulk and a bit of weight. I’m still not a big fan of the ergonomics of the D600, and as far as I’m concerned, that takes it out of the equation. The D800E needs all the shutter speed it can get, so it would be a prime solution, and perhaps paired with a tripod, too.
This is beginning to sound like the gear I’d take for an assignment.
I’d love to go with the new M, but since nobody seems interested in selling me a camera (several of my readers in the region reported being very annoyed that Leica Singapore auctioned off all their early stock instead of fulfilling their back order list) that really isn’t an option, either. In the meantime, my M lenses go unloved. Guess what: this brings us right back to what I usually pack – the OM-D and 12/45 or 12/60 primes. I actually haven’t shot with this combination in a while, so I should probably spend a bit of time reviewing files and making sure that I’m not going to experience the same disappointment at opening the D-Lux 6’s images. I would have rounded things out with a compact – either the Fuji X20 or Coolpix A, but neither review unit arrived in time. I have a feeling the latter might land up replacing a lot of things if it’s fast enough: my compact, my 12/2, my 28/2 Summicron, and my GR1v. A large-sensor pocket 28mm camera has been on my wish list as long as I can remember.
I don’t think I’ll bother bringing a tripod (since every time I do, I never use it) or film (scared of the X ray machines still); the laptop and Wacom are both a given since I’m teaching, along with a spare hard drive, batteries and memory cards – but that’s probably going to be about it, I think; just enough to fill out a couple of jacket pockets nicely. And my wife says I complain about her clothes packing decisions…MT
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