The “Week of Always Having The Wrong Lens” Lesson

Greetings, once again from the Frankfurt Airport—-I’m between flights again, but now I’m on my way back home.

This was an eye-opening trip for me in so many ways (which I kind of expected), but what I didn’t expect was how it would change my mind about how I shoot going forward. In a post earlier this week, I made a joke how this was the trip where I always had the wrong lens at the wrong time, but it wasn’t a joke—it was the one thing that marred an otherwise amazing experience.

The shot above (taken moments ago by Jeff Revell ) shows the inside of the LowePro Backpack camera bag I took with me (It’s an older model—I’m not even sure which one, but Jeff Revell had a newer LowePro backpack I like better).

Here’s a quick tour of the bag (From L to R).

  • Top row: Monfrotto mini-tripod, and a hard-shell case for my memory cards. A Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Wide Angle zoom, the double-battery charger that comes with the Nikon D3.
  • Middle Row: Nikon D3 body with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens attached; A canon closeup lens in a plastic case, and an Epson P-5000 photo viewer.
  • Bottom Row: Another memory card case (soft sided), the di-GPS unit for Nikon cameras, and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

In the zipper compartments I had a 77mm polarizing filter, a neutral density gradient filter, and on the outside of the bag I had my Gitzo Traveler tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead.

Here’s what you can’t see—the weight. All together, it weighs nearly 35 lbs. It’s OK when it’s on your back, but when it’s not, it really feels like a load (it was heavier than my luggage by far).

So, I had all this gear with me, but it was such a load, and so cumbersome, when I’d head out for a shoot on the beach, or in the desert, or I’m chasing camels around, I’d pick the a lens I thought I’d need for that shoot, and invariably—I was wrong. I’d be out there, and I’d think—“Rats, I wish I had my…..(fill in the blank),” but I wasn’t going to hike back through the desert to find our driver, switch lenses, and hike back out there in the desert heat. But it wasn’t just in the desert—-it was everywhere we went. So, sometimes, I’d bring the whole backpack, but that was even worse, and just switching my lens just became a hassle, so I’d wind up shooting with a lens I knew wasn’t the right one, but it was easier than switching.

Worse yet (and I’m not making this up), it appears my brother Jeff got a hernia lifting my camera bag. It’s not a joke—he’s in some serious pain.

I had just bought a Think Tank holster system, and I was really starting to think I should have brought it, but I’ve come to another decision that I know a lot of you are going to disagree with, for my summer trip to Italy—I’m just taking my D300 and one lens; my Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6mm (That’s a DX lens, so I won’t get the advantage of it with my D3, so I’d have to take my D300).

That way, I can take a tiny camera bag, one that weighs 8 lbs when fully loaded, and I will always have the lens I need (wide angle, portrait lens, 50mm length, or 200mm zoom).

I did this for my trip to Sweden in 2006, where I just took that one lens, and wound up getting some of my all-time favorite photos with that lens. As you might imagine, the photos are really important to me, but so is enjoying the trip. The frustration of hauling all this gear around, and never having the right lens when I didn’t, really put a damper on the whole trip. I fact, I had to return to shoot location, and miss shooting a beautiful Mosque, because I didn’t have the right lens the night before.

If I stick to my guns, and actually go to Italy with just the 18-200mm, I’ll be able to really compare the experience of always having the right lens, and traveling light, but the lens not being as fast as I’d like. There’s always a tradeoff, eh?

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this is because travel season is almost here, and I hope you’ll pause for a moment and consider really “going light” for your trip, and not bringing the photographic “kitchen sink.” Hey, it’s just a thought.

Now, if I could only get Nikon to make a 14-200mm f/2.8 then…… ;-)

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