Until recently, the biggest hassle and hurdle for me with respect to traveling with camera gear has been flying. In preparing for my upcoming trip to the American south west, I’ve started having to contend with a much bigger problem; hiking.
Before I go on, do note, these show notes are notes, not a complete transcript of the podcast. I do try to hit on the major topic areas and provide relevant links and pictures, but I do not make an effort to verbatim cover every part of the topics discussed.
While flying poses a number of challenges, the carry on limits, especially weight, are generally high enough that you can travel with a lot of gear. In the past, the travel part as been my biggest concern, making sure I fit in the size and weight constraints of the airlines. However, in running up to this trip, I’ve had to seriously consider the weight constraints imposed by me. Specifically how much weight I can, and am willing, to carry for extended periods of time.
I’m carrying my gear in an F-Stop Gear Ajna backpack. I’ve discussed this previously in episode 4. I’m normally very much a ThinkTank Photo guy, but the design of their backpacks makes them much more attractive for urban users or when you’re working out of a more fixed location.
Additionally, as I noted in my Ajna first impressions podcast, one of the major features that attracted me to the F-Stop Gear bags is their use of removable Internal Camera Units. These modular components make it possible to refit the back to hold more or less camera gear (freeing up or consuming space for hiking gear), as well as provide a compact way to yank equipment in the event someone balks at the whole back as a carryon.
The primary reason for a hiking pack, of course, was better weight distribution. However, one place I think F-Stop Gear Dropped the ball was in their shoulder straps. They included thiner, less padded shoulder pads on the Ajna, compared to those on the next model up (the Tilopia). If this was a pure hiking pack, I might have agreed with this, but given that it’s a camera bag, and camera gear tends to be denser and heavier than clothes and food, the lack of padding is notable.
Moving away from weight, one major frustration I’ve run into, not just with the F-Stop Gear ICUs but with most camera bags as a whole, is that they’re not designed to fit lens hoods.
Almost all of the marketing imagery shows lenses sans hoods. It doesn’t matter who the manufacturer is. In fact, in a lot of cases they don’t even have caps on the lenses in the marketing image.
In practice, serious photographers use lens hoods. They provide benefits for increased contrast and flare rejection, so better image quality. But the fact that they cover and recess the font element, also provides a level of protection against impacts that even a protective filter can’t provide.
Like most camera bags, packing hoods in my Large Pro ICU is problematic at best. Stowing them on the lens often makes it near impossible to put the lens in a slot, and stacking them around another lens poses similar problems. Moreover, on a long lens laying down, the hood cants the lens at a wonky angle because of their increased diameter of the hood.
Suffice to say, packing hoods is not a solved problem for me.
There are two places where I’m taking what could be called redundant gear. I’m taking a backup body, in my 5D mark III, and 2 lenses with very similar focal lengths (my 24–70 mm f/2.8, and my 24–105 mm f/4 IS).
The backup body is largely for piece of mind. I don’t really expect to use it, but if I do need it I have it. The alternative is that if my primary body goes down, and I’m still very much in the early failure part of the bathtub curve, I end up without a camera at all. On the other hand, not taking a backup body frees up 3 pounds (1.36 kg) out of the 25 pounds (11.34 kg) of gear I’m taking.
The other aspect is the overlapping lenses. I have good reasons to take them, at least in my mind. My 24–70 has much better image quality than my 24–105 does, especially in the corners.
However, one of the things I’ll be doing out west is a doors off helicopter flight. I’ve never done one of these before, and I didn’t really shoot much last time I was up in a doors on helicopter. Given that, and that I know I won’t be taking 2 bodies and I can’t change lenses in flight, I want the extra reach of the 24–105 for that flight.
The long and the short of it, is that I’m finding it increasingly necessary to weigh the weight of gear versus the perceived need. I could save about a pound (0.45 kg) if I don’t take one of the two overlapping lenses. But is that pound savings worth the counter points in image quality that comes with it.
As an aside, the 24–105 is an especially sticky point for me. The following image is one I shot with the 24–105 in Alaska in 2015. And I personally really like the image, except that the corners lose a lot of detail due to the corner softness of the 24–105. This alone is one of the primary reasons I decided to take the 24–70 with me this time, instead of leaving it at home like I did when I went to Alaska.
There are a number of other factors that can play into things as well. Taking a flash, for example, requires taking AA batteries, and potentially taking another battery charger.
An additional consideration is battery grips. I shot with gripped bodies, and the way Canon does stuff the grips hold 2 batteries. Leaving the grip off my backup body saves a small amount of weight (about 1 lbs. / 0.45 kg) but also eliminates the built in battery storage for a backup set of batteries.
The long and the short of it, is that there are a lot more complicated tradeoffs to consider when it comes to packing for hiking, or when you have to carry your gear all day, then there are when you’re just packing to work out of a remote studio or on location.