Airlines seem to be making it increasingly difficult for us to travel with our camera gear these days, especially on budget flights. Most of us want to keep our precious cameras and lenses with us in our carry-on bags and yet the size permitted for those bags continues to decrease, as does the amount of weight we are allowed to pack into them.
I have been packing today in readiness to co-lead a workshop tour with David Ward to the Hebridean island of Harris and Lewis. The carry on bag size for the flight to Stornorway is a paltry 40cm x 35cm x 18cm, not exceeding 6kg. Imagine packing a bag that size with a pro-DSLR and a set of lenses. Even if they would fit physically, I’m sure they would exceed the weight restriction.
Enter the Fuji X system. When I need to travel light I can carry all I really need and stay well within even the meanest of baggage restrictions. So what does my ultra-light kit consist of?
I take an X-Pro 1 body as my main camera. If I have space I also carry an X-E2 body as a backup, but if space is limited I risk travelling with just the X-Pro 1. On the X-Pro 1 I have the 18-55mm f/2.8 lens and on the X-E2 the 55-200mm. By travelling with just these two lenses I can shoot almost any type of image I want and have the added advantage of not even having to have to switch lenses – I just grab whichever body has the right lens from my bag. It means I can work at speed in the field. I carry the cameras wrapped in SkyeSkyns chamois leathers for protection. The chamois also have loads of other uses including acting as rain covers, cleaning my gear and so on.
The cropped sensor of the X series cameras means 18mm end of the 18-55mm lens is equivalent to a 27mm on a full frame sensor. Ideally, I would like something just a little wider with me, perhaps closer to 24mm equivalent, but traveling light is all about compromises and so I have learned to work with what I have with me.
I put my tripod in my hold luggage (if I am travelling with hold luggage – if I am only taking a carry on bag, I forego the tripod and handhold). My tripod for the Fuji is a small lightweight MeFoto unit with a ball head I loath. (The head, not the tripod. Another compromise I have to accept) I also tend to put my Lee 5evern Filter system and my Hoodman Loupe into my hold luggage to reduce weight and bulk in my carry on. The Lee kit comprises of filter holder and adaptor rings, sets of soft and hard grads along with 2, 3, 6 and 10 stop ND filters and a polariser. Spare batteries and memory cards come with me in the hand luggage, along with my head torch, another multi-purpose essential for travel and landscape photography.
My choice of carry on luggage bag is probably a bit unusual for a landscape/outdoor photographer too. I know most like to use modern high-tech rucksacks and the like. I understand why, waterproof fabrics, strong webbing straps, lots of pockets, hydration tanks, oodles of padding, body shaped ergonomics, Kevlar, – these things could go into space and survive. I find myself being a bit old fashioned. I use a leather bag from ONA (a rather lovely gift from my wife, the ONA ‘BRIXTON’). As soon as it arrived I removed most of the padding and dividers and it suits me just fine. Although ONA say it doesn’t, it actually takes my 15″ MacBook Pro. I can also get my full Fuji kit in, or, when travelling light, my cut down Fuji Kit along with chargers and a few other travel essentials I want on the flight.
I like the thick leather. I like how simple it is and that it doesn’t look like a camera bag. I like the way every time I go on a trip it gets scratched and distressed a bit more and this adds to the patina of the leather. I hope to grow very old with this bag (with my own personal patina aging in harmony;) ) The size is ideal for these restrictive airlines. When loaded with my MacBook, cut down Fuji kit and other flight essentials the outside dimensions are 37 x 27 x 18cm and thats without doing the ‘luggage rack squeeze’ 😉 Because it is small it stops me trying to take too much stuff. It makes me work hard to rationalise between what really is essential and what I just think is essential. (Like Twitters 140 character limit – its amazing how much you can say in 140 characters when you are forced to). So it suits me. Yes, its not as waterproof as modern fabrics. It won’t stop a bullet and on a long schlep into a location my shoulder aches. But I don’t care. I love my bag and it stays.
So, in a couple of hours I set off for Manchester on the first leg of my trip (for a glamorous night in a Premier Inn near the airport – its just a high rolling life for us photographers). I plan to head via Hathersage and see if some colour is lingering in the heather for a few pictures before I settle for the night and my early start in the morning. I just hope I have remembered everything…