A Tale of Two Toolkits

If you're serious about photography or video, or even just passionate about it, you probably spend a little too much time considering (or panicking about, whatever) which camera to travel with. When I was planning my month abroad, I spent countless minutes weighing the pros and cons of taking my massive Canon 5D Mark II, complete with Sigma 28-70mm zoom lens, or my much smaller, lighter Panasonic GH2 with only one crappy kit zoom. 

The dilemma gnawed at me. I had nightmares. I talked the ears off all my friends and a couple strangers about it, and they were kind enough to act like they gave a shit. I made cost-benefit charts, and stared deeply into space weighing all the pros and cons.

I ended up taking the Canon, as by most standards it's the better camera, I had better lenses for it, and most importantly, I'm better and faster and more comfortable shooting with it. And being the ambitious, optimistic lunatic that I am, I had every intention of blogging and cutting videos while traveling (in retrospect: lol) so of course would need to also bring my laptop. And a hard drive. And a card reader. And some extra memory cards, and an extra lens. And an on-board mic.

All that netted out to a crippling weight of over 10lbs. Fortunately in addition to being an optimistic lunatic, I'm also a packing genius, and managed to pack all of this into a padded camera bag insert inside of a backpack, inside of a rolling duffle bag that could be carried on, to protect my excessively heavy, expensive gear from over-zealous airport baggage handlers.

And so while I am proud about how much stuff I was able to cleverly and safely pack in a way that allowed me to access and carry it all by myself, the final weight of my rolling duffle was nearly unmanageable.

At one point, I was forced to check it because it was overweight (damn you Germanwings) to the tune of roughly 65 Euros. Deep down I was relieved to pass off the bag, honestly I probably wouldn't have cared if someone tossed it into the ocean in that moment, because the notion of teetering onto my tippy toes yet again to (hopefully dear god) lift it over my head and cram it (lenses, laptop and all) into the overhead bin filled me with the sort of dread usually reserved for sober sexual encounters.

So perhaps you can imagine the waves of joy mixed with a pummeling whirlwind of regret that came over me when I fell in love with the Olympus OM-D EM5 II. So small, so compact, and so durable. A fantastic camera I am happy to have found, but if only it had been a few months earlier...

Not only is it nice and portable, but had this been my travel camera, I could've gotten away with leaving the laptop at home and just used the camera's wi-fi to beam photos directly to my iPad mini or iPhone for sharing, and with a few extra SD cards (and a bit of luck), waited til I got back to the States to backup my photos, seriously minimizing the risk of me toppling into the elderly woman seated behind me while boarding an airplane.

If I could do it all over again, I would've traded my massive, though more professional, kit, for this slimmed down arrangement, only 1/5th as heavy, in a heartbeat. In addition to its insane weight (which did eventually become the bane of my existence), the bulkiness of the 5D made it a hassle to carry around during the day, as well as an obvious target for thieves and a huge tourist indicator. And so, I stopped using it! Well, not entirely, but usage dropped sharply once I was traveling alone and almost strictly on foot. 

Anyone will tell you the virtues of packing light, but I'm sure any gadget freak will attest, it can be hard to part with your favorite toys, especially when faced with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to get amazing shots. But my experience with the mammoth gear bag from hell was the first-hand experience I needed to really internalize the notion that "less is more."

Le sigh. One cannot turn back time, not even Cher, to rectify their gear-packing mistakes. So I'll just have to go on another trip, ASAP, and see if I am right about the virtues of a lighter kit. 

And now for Jerry Springer's question of the day: what are your tech musts when going on a long trip?