Fuji Xpro2 travel kit, backstreets of Kathmandu.

Decisions. Decisions. Unable to decide what photography gear to pack? Looking at specifications like weather sealing, maximum focal range, fast apertures for low light, battery life, weight and thinking “I’m making too many compromises?”

As photographers we always agonise over just what gear we should buy next and then once we’ve got it we’re always wondering what to pack for a specific assignment or trip. For the amateur travelling photographer that decision on what to pack is made even tougher when you are trying to travel fast and light.

Just how do you prioritise all of those requirements to make sure you always have the right gear with you when travelling and what gear do you really need for travel photography?

Let me start by saying what follows are just my thoughts and my choices based on my own experiences. I see all too often forum posts titled “what camera/lens should I get for travel photography?” or “Which lens should I take travelling?”. These are never easy questions to answer. In fact, they’re usually followed up with a slew of questions – “What are you going to shoot? Where are you heading? What time of year?”. Because of course, with the answers to all of those questions, it makes it much easier for others to make recommendations.

But wait… what if you the answer to all of those questions is “I have no idea!”?

I’m about to head out the door with a backpack on and a one way ticket to some far flung destination and I’m not sure at all what I’m going to shoot, where I’m going next or what season it will be when I get to whatever destination. What do I do?

This is exactly the dilemma I have had planning what to take with us when we left the comfort of our 9-to-5 jobs and embarked on an 18+ month round the world adventure – we just don’t know what’s around the corner.

In preparation for this huge trip I decided to take several different sets of gear on smaller trips and see what I preferred.

I’ve always been a Nikon shooter, and so for travelling I usually picked up my full frame Nikon D750 and a few lenses – a wide angle zoom 18-35mm, a fast 35mm or 50mm prime and a light telephoto. For the size and weight this a pretty capable set up. Scratch that – regardless of size and weight it’s just about as good as it gets, this is a stunning little machine that I’m exceptionally fond of. I love it and its made some great images on our travels and performed flawlessly for thousands of shots in just about every condition possible.

I also purchased a little Fuji XE2 some time ago when looking for something smaller that I could slip into my bag wherever I went and quickly fell in love with that – also an amazingly capable little tool with great image quality and lenses for a tiny fraction of the weight of the Nikon kit. Later I gave into a bout of “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” and added a Fuji Xpro2 – slightly larger and heavier but still considerably less than the DSLR.

Then there’s even smaller again – like my wife’s Sony RX100 III. Senseless menu system aside,  The quality and features crammed into something that weighs less than 300 grams is nothing short of amazing.

So what to do? They’re all great, they all have their pro’s and con’s.

During my test trips two observations stood right out and these are my two primary factors that influence my travel gear selection from now on:

  • Weight, or lack thereof, is hugely important. Some trips I just wasn’t coming back with as many shots, I think partly due to not taking the camera bag everywhere if it was a little heavy. Subconsciously I think I just didn’t want to lug the kit around and stuck to only the more planned shots, essentially, opting out of carrying the bag when possible. Less is most definitely more.
  • You absolutely have to love shooting with whatever tools you take. You need to feel comfortable and confident in that tool. While I do love the Fuji XE2, and it’s a highly capable camera I just didn’t feel 100% confident in how responsive I could be in every situation – at least compared to a D750 shooting reportage at wedding receptions or grabbing quick street shots. Now this was probably all in my head, but that is exactly my point here – you’ve got to feel 100% comfortable with your camera. On one trip I took the XE2 and the Xpro2 just to see which one I grabbed more – I came back with 10 times as many shots on the Xpro2. It was heavier, nowhere near the D750 setup, but its more responsive feel obviously won out here.

And ultimately, that’s it. Decision made. I could continue to agonise over it but even when I consider other secondary factors such as weather sealing, the above should be heavily weighted in your decision process, at least in my opinion.

One that note, weather sealing – I consider this a nice to have, I’ve never had any trouble with anything not weather sealed. Although, having said that, I have seen some abominable weather even in otherwise usually tropical sunny climates, even if you’re not shooting, jumping on and off boats, riding motorbike taxis down dusty street or just moving between 100% humidity and air-con rooms this can be a bonus and a definite confidence booster.

Let’s face it, I’m not going to waste time with mirrorless vs DSLR arguments, or advanced compact vs CSC, or Canon vs Nikon, there are great products from all the main manufacturers – sorry it’s a cop out – take what you love most!

For me the choice was clear – it’s the smaller size but great quality and snappy, responsive Fuji Xpro2.

Body/system chosen – what about lenses?

Again less is more, although I’m taking four lenses with me, this is really overkill and I could get away with just two or even one if push came to shove. But, given the weight savings of this smaller system that’s big on quality, I’ve gone for lens options rather than absolute weight:

  • Start with one lens, If I was taking just one, it would be a 35mm full frame equivalent (23mm on Fuji or Canon/Nikon APS-C). The 35mm equivalent prime might just be the only prime you ever need. Some would prefer an 18-55mm “kit” lens. Truth is these lenses are often pretty decent and give you a nice focal range.
  • If I am taking two lenses, it would be the 35/85mm combo that I love for just about anything except animals and wildlife. In my case actually a 50mm F2 (75mm equivalent, but its close enough for me) which is still fantastically small and light. Some would opt for 18-55mm and 55-200mm or similar to cover just about every focal range you’d ever need.
  • Next if you have the space and it’s not too heavy I’d add a wide angle for sweeping landscapes.
  • Lastly, if you do want the extra reach and didn’t go for the two lens zoom combo a lightweight tele-zoom is a versatile addition.

This is still quite a lot of stuff. However, I feel I’ve got everything covered for every eventuality in a remarkably light kit – but there’s always room to go lighter and I won’t be surprised if I ship a lens or two home partway through the trip!

This is just me of course, everyone will have their idea or opinion on what’s best, but I do feel the most important things you should consider for travel are by far: weight and confidence in the tool in your hand.

Take less, enjoy more! 🙂

3 Comments

  1. Adrian Davies says:

    Hi Alex & Gem –

    I’ve been hoping to make a trip to EBC for some time – and thoroughy enjoyed watching your informative adventures to Gokyo and EBC. I was particularly impressed by the beautiful video footage of a sunset from Kala Patthar. Your tips on photography are very helpful – and I agree – familiarity with equipment and low weight are primary factors.

    I hope to travel solo – for the independence and flexibility it offers. One of probably quite a few downsides is the back pack will be bigger/heavier than with a guided/portered trip. Perhaps in an attempt to distill my thoughts you could advise on a few points. If I may take the liberty of listing them.

    1) Which vantage point did you feel was ‘best’ for views of Everest/Lhotse etc – Kala Patthar or Gokyo Ri ? While the Gokyo route after Namche is appealing – especially the lakes – from what I’ve seen Kala Patthar seems to offer the better mountain photography opportunities. Also – I suspect the Gokyo option – would be more demanding physically.
    2) Were your excellent video clips shot with the video feature of a ‘stills’ camera? And/or – did you take a dedicated video cam eg head mounted Go pro or hand held handy cam type. My Canon 550D (APSC) stills camera has a video feature but I may also want the convenience of a ‘hands free’ head mounted option – or a handy cam if that offers other advantages – would an external mic be recommended – what do you think?
    3) Focal length needed for the Kala Patthar viewpoint. I plan to take ‘kit’ lenses permanently mouted on dedicated bodies – an 18-55 on the 550D and a 55-250 on a canon 450D – although those lenses are perhaps not the last word in quality they are pretty good and very lightweight. I’ve done some very rough calculations and it seems that 18mm in landscape aspect will just about capture both the valley floor glacier and the peaks but I’m not sure. If 18mm won’t be sufficient I’ll take a 10-20mm wide angle zoom. Can you please advise?
    4) Tripod for panorama stitches and low light – I have a tiny Cullmann weighing in at 820gms and a panorama head. Again any advice would be appreciated either on tripod type or none at all.
    5) Camera access on the move. I would like to be able to use a camera without having to remove a backpack to access it – thought about back pack front strap camera mounts – but there would be no physical protection for the camera itself – I have neoprene covers that would be better than nothing but not ideal – perhaps a large ‘money belt’ would do it. How did you manage?
    6) Filters. Polariser and ND – any thoughts here. My success with polarisers on sky scenes has not been great – better with water etc.
    6) If push came to absolute shove I could only take the 550D 18-55 combo and hope for the best – but don’t want to be filled with remorse after wards.

    Finally thank you for posting those excellent videos. Enjoy your world travels – way to go.

    Best wishes,

    Adrian.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Adrian,

    Really sorry for the huge delay in responding! We’ve been enjoying a couple of weeks holiday with Gem’s parents and managed to almost completely switch-off for a change.

    I’ll try to answer your questions as best as possible, if I miss anything please let me know.

    1) Kalar Pattar definitely provides the very best views of Everest and Lohtse. Actually watching that sunset on Everest from Kalar Pattar was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Which seems weird to say as I don’t consider myself particularly emotional! It just blew me away, incredible. Some say go for sunrise but I’d much rather see Everest and Lohtse bathed in evening sunlight than back-lit during the morning.
    Gokyo Ri is much further away, and while you can see Everest from there it is fairly distant. However, its equally as spectacular, with the glaciers below and the turquoise blue lakes its just as stunning but different.
    We took advice from our guide regarding the prevailing winds in the valleys at the time we where there. He felt that if we went to Gokyo first it would be easier than if we’d gone to EBC first as we’d have spent many days walking straight into the wind which may have been more strenuous. I don’t think any one route is more strenuous than the other, with the huge caveat that you need plenty of acclimatisation time – I can’t stress that enough. Either route should be fine for those that are hill fit and well acclimatised.

    2) All our video was shot on either my Fuji Xpro2 and 23mm prime (with no stabilisation, sorry for the shaky footage!) or Gem’s Sony RX100 compact. Both produce pretty nice video files but the Sony looks a lot better when it is stabilised. I also have a stabilised 18-55mm for the Fuji which I didn’t take and I think that was a mistake. for a mix of stills and video it would have been a better overall choice. I opted for minimal weight savings though. Next time I would only take 18-55mm. A longer lens for telephoto landscapes could also make some incredible shots if you have enough space and weight allowance available in your pack – more on that shortly.

    3) As above, I only took 23mm prime (35mm eqv.) and found it to be a very versatile focal length. There were times I wanted wider, 18mm would have been enough, and longer, 55mm would probably have done the job. Less is most definitely more on these hikes. Both me and Gem have both said we would be brutal in cutting down our packs and what we carry if go again. At those altitudes carrying three lenses could feel hugely over encumbered.

    4) Personally I would never carry a tripod up there unless its a paid assignment with a particular shot in mind. If your primary goal is to enjoy the experience and capture memories of that experience I definitely wouldn’t take a tripod at all. Everything is about compromises up there and I think an 820g tripod will feel more like 3kg 😉
    This might sound excessive, but if I was doing it again I would want to keep my day pack under about 5kg and that has to include 2L of water (2kg) all my waterproof and insulating layers and camera gear. You really will enjoy it more with less to carry.

    5) I was terrible with this… as it was quite a small setup I just left my camera on a shoulder strap over my head and across my body. I clicked the shoulder strap into the hip belt of my daypack to stop it swinging around too much. It got battered, dinged, scratched and generally took a beating but its a tough little body on that Xpro2. I kept a lens cap on and it all held up perfectly, glass unscathed. You’re right that the last thing you want to be doing is taking a pack on and off to take a picture. You’ll be jumping onto the verge to avoid Yak trains at short notice and there can be great shots to be had.

    6) I think I touched on this already but this would be my first choice, single body and lens. Its such a tough environment I honestly believe that it could be the other way around – wishing you hadn’t tried to carry all that gear up there, that is more likely to lead to remorse in our experience. It would be a huge shame to find carrying all the gear so tiring and strenuous that it spoiled a once in a lifetime trip. Being light is so important.
    I’ve looked at some of my shots and thought I might have had a better composition a little wider or longer but I was constrained to a single focal length. An 18-55mm would have given me that, and there would have been even less shots I wanted wider/longer. Ultimately I’m so happy I didn’t take any extra gear because when we got back to Kathmandu we were already planning how much less we’d take “next time”.

    Hope that helps!

    Thanks,

    Alex

  3. Adam says:

    Hi,

    I would also like to compliment the quality of the videos of your EBC/Gokyo trek and all of the great information provided! I’ll be going to Nepal in October 2019 to trek the Annapurna circuit and Everest Base Camp. I’m debating about Gokyo Lakes and Cho La Pass. With both Annapurna and EBC adding Gokyo Lakes and Cho La may be asking too much of myself – despite how amazing it looks.

    I did want to add an item that might help the original commenter, Adrian. To protect the camera and lens while trekking, I found that the Think Tank Digital Holster works well for me while hiking ( https://www.thinktankphoto.com/collections/shoulder-bags-digital-holsters ). It’s easy to sling over your shoulder and pull out as needed. It’ll keep dust and rain off and protect from bumps. It does add a bit of bulk but might be something to consider.

    In 2014 I did the Kilimanjaro trek with a Canon T2i and the 17-55mm f/2.8 lens and didn’t feel like I was missing much. My 70-200mm f/4 was left, reluctantly, at the hotel for use on safari. It’s easy to get bogged down in gear and forget the point of the trip is the trek and views itself.

    Having said that, and having upgraded my gear over the years I’m considering bringing to Nepal: Canon 5D MK IV, 16-35mm f/4, 24-105mm f/4 (walk around lens) and 70-200mm f/4. The first lens I’d ditch is the telephoto. Also considering a tripod but am quite leary as I don’t think there will be a lot of time to set up shots and the added weight. I might get a Gorilla Pod 5K. Also, was looking at something lightweight for video with a zoom lens (like the Sony RX100).

    Fortunately, for Annapurna, I’ll be trekking with a photography group which will have extra porters to carry additional camera gear but on EBC, it’d just be me carrying my gear.

    One area I’m finding difficult to get answers is digital storage and backup. How did you manage your photo and video storage and backup while trekking? Also, do you have an estimate of how much data you used? I’m estimating about 500GBs for photos for each trek. Not sure about video yet.

    I’m considering shooting to 1-2 CF Cards (I have a 128GB and a 64GB) and backing up in-camera to SD Card. When the cards are full I’ll copy the CF Card to a new SD Card. I’ll store one SD Card in the Sherpa bag and one in my daypack. I’ll wipe the CF Card and use a new SD Card. So I’d go with 2 CF cards and 8 SD Cards (for ~512GB of data). I was considering a Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro or SSD but just realized it’d be cheaper and lighter to just go with enough SD Cards for 2 backups. CF Cards are too expensive to use a backup. Not sure what I’ll do about video – may just chance it with the one copy.

    Finally, how many batteries did you find you needed? With charging available at tea houses I’m thinking I’d want enough battery for 2-3 days and charge along the way.

    Thanks again for all of the great info. Hope some of the detail in this message helps others.

    Cheers,
    Adam

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