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packing lite for photography

I am a pro photographer with lots of equipment. Would like to have some tips regarding what to carry while we are in Italy this May.
we will be taking a 14 day bus tour from Rome to Venice. I need to travel lite because of limited space on bus and airlines.
Any tips or tricks would be most welcome.

Posted by
1597 posts

I am not a pro but a serious amateur. When we (my wife and I) went on a 30 day trip to Italy two years ago, in a medium size photo bag, I carried a FF DSLR and 3 zoom lenses covering 12 to 105 mm and had no trouble doing it. My bag was big enough that I carried our passports, various travel papers and a bottle of water in it. I could have left out the 17-35 but its IQ was better than the 12-24. I did "need" the 12-24 for maybe 5% of the shots. Lose the 5% and have better IQ for the others? Your choice if you only want to carry 2 lenses. I do not remember any instance where I really wanted something longer than 105 mm. I also brought along a small laptop to catalog and store my photos. I find I can not take a hundred or so photos a day and remember what they were when I get home. I must catalog/label them every night. Oh, by the way we traveled carry-on only.

Now a few months ago I carried just two zooms with the FF DSLR on a 3 week trip to SE Asia and the load was too much (age is catching up). I am now planning on purchasing a mirrorless camera and lenses. This will cut the weight by 1/2 or more

Posted by
5837 posts

Back in Galen Rowell's film camera days, he had an article about "travelling light and not so light", but then what is light for a professional differs from light as a tourist.

Galen Rowell’s Camera Bag

Mountain Light gets many inquiries from Galen’s fans wanting to know
what photo equipment he used to make his amazing images. In response,
we are pleased to present the following list of the equipment that
Galen was using most recently. Items in this list are marked with
colored dots to show how they were most often used:

Almost always in Galen’s general purpose camera bag (marked with red dot in website):

Cameras: Nikon F100


18–35mm ƒ3.5–4.5 ED AF-D

20mm ƒ4 AI

24mm ƒ2.8 AI-S and AF-D

35mm ƒ2.0 AF-D

55mm ƒ2.8 Micro AI-S

80-400mm ƒ4.5-5.6 ED AF-D VR

Often to be found in the chest pouch Galen would take on “fast and light” adventures (though not all at once). (Blue dot):

Nikon N80

Nikon FM-10 and FE-10

15mm ƒ3.5 AI-S

20mm ƒ4 AI

24mm ƒ2.8 AI-S and AF-D

28–80mm ƒ3.5–5.6 AF-D

35mm ƒ2.0 AF-D

70–300 ƒ4–5.6 ED AF-D

80–200mm ƒ4.5–5.6 AF-D

See Mountain Light website for explanations and Gallen's full camera bag contents.

Posted by
393 posts

What a photographer (pro or amateur) packs depends on what he/she shoots (landscape, street, indoor, etc.), and how the photos will be used (large prints, jpegs for monitors, etc.).

I'm an enthusiastic amateur who had transitioned from film to digital, shooting mostly on the streets and occasionally landscapes. I now pack a mirror-less body, a fast mid range zoom, a good point and shoot, spare batteries, memory cards, and a tablet, all fit in a day bag during transit. In my carry on bag, I have a carbon fiber tripod with ball head, an external hard drive, and chargers. On the streets I carry my gears on my shoulder and in my pockets without the day bag, and the tripod only when hiking.

The chargers, cables, external hard drive still take up quite a bit of space, and I am constantly looking for solutions to trim them down.

BTW, Galen had forgotten to pack film.

Posted by
196 posts

The key to me when traveling is weight especially if you intend to do a lot of walking. I use a lightweight backpack that I put dividers in to protect my equipment and this also allows me to pack a waterproof jacket, my IPad, a pair of dry socks (don't laugh, you may appreciate that someday!) and it has a water bottle holder on the outside. This is also my carryon bag on the plane.

As for equipment when traveling:

If shooting film: Nikon F100, Nikkor 28-105 & my favorite all time lens, Nikkor 180 F2.8. (I like Fuji 200 film as an all-purpose film especially for the skin tones it gives me)

If shooting digital: Nikon FF D700, Nikkor 24-85 & my trusty 180. There is such a difference in grain between digital ISO and film ISO in the 100-1600 range that I don't mind going out to 1600 (or higher) in digital. (Megapixels in digital don't interest me; the 700 is only 12mp but anyone who has used a D700 knows what an outstanding camera it is). I am also a fan of micro 4/3 & have a Panasonic GH3 with their professional 12-35 & 35-100 lenses (& a couple of primes that are really light). One half the weight of DSLR & lenses; a big deal as I am getting older. Highly recommended.

I always carry my pocket Canon G7X, my choice in a small camera for the sensor size (1 inch), range (24-100) & quality of pictures. I have found it helpful to have this small camera especially if shooting indoors or to be more unobtrusive if need be. Be advised today there is a sensitivity to carrying backpacks in some places but I find it more comfortable than a shoulder bag.

Posted by
1251 posts

"14 day bus tour from Rome to Venice. I need to travel lite"

I am going to take you at your word and express my opinion accordingly. I would recommend taking one DSLR body and only your favorite, sharpest prime lens and a decent compact camera with a good zoom lens. Ditch the camera bag. Buy a neoprene cover for when you toss your camera into a pack or luggage. Use a wrist strap instead of a neck strap; save bulk and camera is in your hand ready to shoot.

If you want or need to shoot pro photos, you will want or need to lug a lot of stuff. Think bag check-ins, need to leave extra equipment at hotel, on the bus, museum bag check-ins, make your companion be a sherpa, lagging behind the tour group as you swap lenses.

With just one lens, photography becomes challenging, in my opinion, in a good way. In order to compose a good shot you need to zoom with your feet instead of just standing in one spot swapping lenses. This will be your favorite, sharpest and probably fastest lens so you will be using it the majority of the time. And a decent compact in your pocket like the G7X will give ability to take the 10% of wide or tele shots that your one prime cannot.

Posted by
375 posts

I'm intrigued by your response. I use almost exclusively my prime lens at home, but, as we ready for our extended spring/summer trip, I had been thinking about getting a fast zoom lens. I'm wondering if the Canon G7 X, or something like that, would be a better idea and fit the bill.

Posted by
470 posts

Echoing Bob, "Not a pro but a serious amateur", here's what I did for my first trip to Europe:

  • Dumped the DSLR all together. I have a full-frame Canon 6D and some pretty nice glass. I left it all at home.


Because I didn't want to be messing around with camera settings / lens selection when I should be in the moment. Now, if I was going to sell my shots or wanted poster-sized blow ups, I might think about the DSLR since it'd be more a "business trip" than a pleasure trip, but I went to Europe to experience things, not to photo-document every moment of my vacation.

Instead of the DSLR, I opted for a pocket-sized Canon S-110.


  1. It was cheap. If I lost it / it breaks, I'm only out like $150.

  2. It has a good zoom and an acceptable macro. Sure, it's not going to beat a Canon L 500 for zoom or a quality macro lens, but it's going to come close enough, with my photographic skill bridging the gap between what the S-110 can do and the shot I want. It's the wetware behind the viewfinder and not the hardware in front that's going to determine the difference between a good and great shot.

  3. It has a good ISO range, and is pretty usable even up to ISO 1200, so I can shoot in churches / museums without needing to trigger a flash. To aid in low-light conditions, it has auto stabilization, which is generally good for a stop. Add to that the fast lens (f/2.0) and you're ready for pretty much any condition you can think of.

  4. 12mp sensor. That's good for at least 8x10 printed photos. Also, a 32 gig card holds about a bazillion photos. And they cards are CHEAP, too, so fire away at everything!

  5. It weighs next to nothing and fits perfectly into your pocket (which you're not going to do, right?)

  6. Built-in wireless for quick transfer of photos to cloud services.

  7. It shoots RAW. I cannot emphasis this enough. You want to shoot RAW if you're even a little serious about getting good photos in challenging conditions. Expose to the right, recover in Lightroom to the left. So many photographic sins can be corrected in Lightroom, PROVIDED YOU SHOT THEM IN RAW. Overexposure, underexposure, weak contrast, washed-out colors: all can be corrected in minutes, if not seconds. A few minutes of post-work in LR and you'll have shots that will drop your jaw to your knees. Again: shoot RAW, shoot RAW, shoot RAW. You're welcome ;)

For quick shots and movies, I opted to use my Galaxy S6 cellphone (in fact, the best shot I took in Paris I took with my cellphone). The phone takes HDR shoots beautifully and the movies it takes are fantastic. If it's not a trophy shot you're after, just a quick pic of something interesting/fleeting, there's no reason (apart from the RAW issue I mentioned) not to use your cellphone.

Anyway, my 2 cents. Enjoy the heck out of Italy, and remember to spend more time with a glass in front of you than in front of the glass!

-- Mike Beebe

Posted by
724 posts

Although I am not a professional photographer, I take my photography seriously when I travel.

I took a 14-day Rome to Venice tour with my mother a few years ago, and all I took was a Panasonic LX7 and my iPhone. (Nowadays, I would pick an LX100 instead of an LX7.) Overall, it was liberating to travel that light, and I was pleased with my images. The thing is, a lot of days I walked 10+ miles, even though we went by bus from city to city. Sure, I missed some shots because the focal length was too short or the light was too low, but at the same time I got a lot of shots walking around that I would have missed if had been tied down with a lot of heavy gear.

On later trips, I have taken M4/3 gear, and I have found it to be a nice compromise between weight/size and functionality.

My recommendation would be to set a weight/size limit. What are you comfortable carrying for 10 miles or 10 hours without a break? For me, that limit is whatever I can cram into a Billingham Hadley Small -- usually two M4/3 bodies with two or three lenses, depending on the lens size. For you, the limit may be very different.

Overall, you need to cover the 24-70mm range really well, and you need some speed for churches and interiors. Something like a 24-70mm f2.8 or faster would be ideal. Everything else is optional. Occasionally it's nice to have some extra reach, but you can get by without it.

I generally do not bother with flashes or tripods for this kind of trip. Almost all churches and museums prohibit them.

A polarizing filter is good to have on hand, too.

Oh, and ditto what other folks have said. Make sure your camera shoots raw, and cables and batteries and accessories always take up more space that one expects.

Posted by
2261 posts

funpig said: "I would recommend taking one DSLR body and only your favorite, sharpest prime lens and a decent compact camera"

I agree. Last long trip I took DSLR with 16-85 and a 35. The 35, the Nikon G version which is well priced and lightweight, was a great choice. I highly recommend the Sony RX100 series of "point and shoots", extremely capable for low light and a great lens. These, plus the iPhone, and I'm set. I will consider skipping the DSLR next trip, or perhaps just leave out the zoom and keep it simple(r).

Posted by
3240 posts

In the past I've taken my DSLR and a 50 mm lens. This time I'm bringing my DSLR and a 15-85 lens. If I only wanted tourist snapshots then a point and shoot would be fine, but I don't. Part of my vacation is taking photographs, and I believe, it helps me see where I am even better, with a more detailed eye. As I walk around on my own I study, compose and shoot. If you just shoot, shoot, shoot, then a point and shoot is fine because you are taking snapshots not photographs.

Posted by
5837 posts

RE: BTW, Galen had forgotten to pack film.

Not really. Discussion was about Galen's "camera bag(s)". In the film days, professionals consumed film by the brick and commonly sent back film daily or weekly depending on logistics for processing. Film isn't equipment, its a consumable.

One story about National Geographic professionals reported:
“A photographer shoots 20,000 to 60,000 images on assignment. Of those, perhaps a dozen will see the published light of day”.

On the other hand, Ansel Adams used sheet film.

During my film camera days as an tourist, I budgeted a 36 exp roll per day. Isn't digital great?

Posted by
1251 posts

Edgar, i remember those film days! Carrying and limiting my daily use of film so that my supply could last the whole trip. I had to really take care to take a good shot and not waste film. And then the wait until about a week after i got home to see the shots. I was probably a better or at least more thoughtful photographer in the old days. Now i just blast away because i have a good sized memory card.I keep 200-300 shots a day. And for every one that i keep i erase at least 1 or 2 on immediate review and re-shoot because of crooked horizon, blur, somebody's eyes closed or some stranger walking into the background, etc.

My current go to camera for travel is the Canon S120. I wished i owned the now discontinured Canon G7X or the Sony RX100 or maybe a mirrorless like the Canon M3. However, i try to discipline myself not to spend anymore money on photography... or fishing... or golf... etc.

I finally broke down and recently bought the 24mm f2.8 STM pancake lens. I plan to the lug the DSLR with this one lens on my next trip. Nothing makes you feel or look like a serious photorapher than bringing a big blob of plastic and glass to your eye. I will have my S120 in my pocket just in case the novelty wears off and i get tired of the inconvenience.

Posted by
393 posts

“A photographer shoots 20,000 to 60,000 images on assignment. Of those, perhaps a dozen will see the published light of day”.

On the other hand, Ansel Adams used sheet film.

During my film camera days as an tourist, I budgeted a 36 exp roll per day. Isn't digital great?

I took a lot more shots with digital than with film. But I don't end up with more real keepers. Just more time and effort to store, sort and edit. I should consider carrying only a tiny memory card and a single battery.

Posted by
5837 posts

...real keepers.

An interesting contrast are Ansel Adam's one negative "Moonrise over Hernadez" and Galen Rowell's two rolls of film "Rainbow over Potala Palace".

Ansel Adams captured Moonrise over Hernadez with a single image:

Realizing as I released the shutter that I had an unusual photograph which deserved a duplicate negative, I quickly reversed the film
holder, but as I pulled the darkslide, the sunlight passed from the
white crosses; I was a few seconds too late! The lone negative
suddenly became precious.

On the other hand, Galen Rowell used two rolls of Kodachrome 64 to capture Rainbow Over Potala Palace and almost ran out of film before the famous image. He wrote in his 1993 book "Galen Rowell's Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography":

...I ditched my bag in a bush and grabbed two rolls of Kodachrome 64
plus a Nikon F3 with a 75-150 zoom.... I began running [at 12,000 feet]...for nearly
a mile before the rainbow lined up.... After I began shooting...a
hole opened up in the clouds and a spot of light poured down on the
palace. I was nearly out of film and only captured a couple of frames
of this scene.

Posted by
393 posts

... a Nikon F3 with a 75-150 zoom ...

That 75-150 zoom remains my all time favorite lens. On Nikon film bodies, on DSLRs, and now on my mirror less with an adapter.

Posted by
32244 posts

I'm not a professional photographer but a serious amateur, and am constantly fine-tuning the gear that I pack along every year. A few thoughts that may help....

  • Camera: I always take my 7D dSLR as it allows me to get the results that I want in a variety of conditions. I also pack at least one P&S camera as well as my iPhone for "snapshots".
  • Lenses: I've found over the years that the lenses that work best for me are a 24-105 medium zoom and a 10-22 wide angle. I use the wide angle quite a bit. I have packed along a compact 70-300 zoom in the past, but hardly ever used it.
  • Filters: I've found that at least a Circular Polarizer is often useful.
  • Flash: a lot of places won't allow flash photography (galleries, churches, etc.), so that's probably not essential (although could be useful in some situations).
  • Tripod: I do often pack a compact Manfrotto Tripod along, but not on every trip. Even though it's small and relatively light, it still adds to the weight. I have found it indispensable on a couple of occasions for night shots.
  • Accessories: at least one spare battery and several memory cards for each camera are a good idea, especially if you're not taking a Laptop of whatever to back-up your photos at the end of each day. I have enough larger capacity memory cards to almost last for the whole trip, so I don't have to erase them during the trip.
  • Luggage: that's something I'm still working on. In the past I've used a larger Pack (checked during air travel), a Daypack (used for carry-on) and a separate small camera bag to hold the basics. I've been trying to combine the carry-on and camera in one bag, but still have a bit of work to do on that.

Good luck!