Vacation Camera Kit

Manfrotto Unica VII Messenger Bag

So, we have a week-long travel vacation coming up which always means having to decide what kind of vacation camera kit to bring along. (I actually like thinking about what to pack) In the past, I’ve had a few different kits I have taken and they basically break down to the extremes: either taking a single small camera, or taking the dSLR and three or four lenses. Here are the advantages of the minimalist vacation camera kit:

  • Less weight means no sore shoulders/neck.
  • Less space means not having to bring the camera bag.
  • No choice of lenses/equipment means not having to decide what lens to use, and not having to swap them. My personal experience is that less brainpower spent on gear choices means I can spend more energy “in the moment” and enjoy the experience.
  • Stealthier shooting. You look less like an otaku. If taking photos on the street, no one really gets self-conscious if you are using a tiny camera.
  • More apt to bring a small camera everywhere with you.

A few years ago I traveled to Osaka with my family. I decided to go minimal and just brought my Panasonic DMC-TS1 point-and-shoot. I had A LOT of fun. Sure, I took less photos than I would have if I had my dSLR, but my overall travel experience was more memorable and stress-free. I don’t think the lack of camera gear was the sole reason I had a fantastic vacation, but it was definitely a factor. I wasn’t concentrating on “getting the shot”; the camera was never in the forefront of my mind. Years before, when I did the trip with my dSLR, lenses, and camera bag, I was constantly thinking about the next shot, and what lens I should use, how much card space I had left, etc. It wasn’t as fun. Plus my bag was filled with several pounds of gear and I was sore by the end of each day.

The “big kit” is the other option I’ll mention in this post. It’s one that I have used quite a bit and I used it for my trip to SoCal and Yosemite. The advantages of the big kit:

  • You have the right lens for the situation.
  • Knowing you have “made your best effort” to get the good shot by brining everything. No regrets about wishing you had brought “the other lens”.
  • Quality of shots will be higher. Better glass will generally get you better resolution.

For a car-based trip, the big kit’s main disadvantage (weight) is nullified to an extent. For our California trip I knew beforehand what I would be shooting. I had done some research on Yosemite and knew what lens I would like to use for each location. But still, I had to carry all of that gear on the plane and on the trails. When I returned home, I had a lot of RAW images to sort through. It’s great to have all that material, but it’s a double-edged sword because I have to cull those down. Still, I have some shots that would have been impossible to capture with my point-and-shoot. (For instance, using the Sigma ultra-wide zoom at 10mm)

Of course, the two lists are based on the camera gear I own, so YMMV, and you might have noticed I did not list the cons, but I think you can just reverse the pros of one kit to derive the cons of the other.

With all this being said, I have begun to enjoy my vacations more because I learned that trips like these are not “photography gigs”. They are vacations first and foremost and it’s a frame of mind that I try to have every time I go on vacation now. This realization is something I actually discovered because of switching to the minimal vacation camera kit which freed me from focusing on taking photos. But now that I realize what the point of a vacation is (to me), I can apply that philosophy to when I am lugging around the full kit too! In fact, our trip to Disney was incredible, and I took my big camera kit. But I was more focused on the experience of traveling, than trying to capture everything with the camera.

You can expand the philosophy or technique of minimalist vacation camera kit to the rest of your traveling stuff too. (And I have) For instance, I now take less clothes, but those items are more versatile. Packing simpler streamlines travel, and streamlines my vacation experience. And that gives me more attention to spend on my family and enjoying each other’s company.

So for this next trip, I am going to go minimal this time and just take the Olympus E-PL1 camera with kit lens. But I might cheat a bit and also throw in the tiny body cap lens!

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