160716 Road Trip - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

I apologize: this is A Gear Post. It rambles.

I'm trying to decide what to take on a road trip next month.

In early August my favourite person and I will be flying up north for a long weekend. Once there we're renting a car and heading out for a couple of days, spending the intervening night with family in an RV, and then spending our second night in a hotel before an early-morning flight back home. This means limited opportunities to recharge batteries, and the days will likely go long.

Documentation is important, but this is primarily a family and sightseeing trip, not an intensively photographic one. I'll have time to explore and play, but it's not part of a larger project, and I have no expectations for Great Art.

I don't usually travel by car, so being able to have separate bags for cameras and luggage is something of a luxury, as is not having to carry absolutely everything with me all of the time. This makes size and weight less important when choosing what gear to bring, but it still all has to fit in my Thinktank Retrospective 7, which is my most accommodating lap-sized camera bag. I'll still have my camera bag with me always, both for security and impromptu opportunities, so it needs to be easy to live with.

So what will go in the bag?

Two items are without question: a Sony audio recorder, probably the better-but-bigger PCM-D50, and my silver Coolpix A-IR. This leaves enough room for a couple more big items, and maybe just a bit more. 

I suspect that my choice will come down to either my Fuji or Nikon systems.

The sensible thing to bring would be my Fuji XT10 and two XF zoom lenses. Superb versatility and very good quality; not too heavy, loud, or intimidating. Its huge 28-300mm zoom range would be perfect for impromptu and changeable circumstances. I may even have enough batteries to make it through the trip without recharging, but I would carry the charger and want to find an A/C outlet at some point just in case.

The less sensible thing would be to bring my D800 and 35/Art and 60/2.8G macro. Superb quality, limited versatility; too heavy, loud, and intimidating. But the D800 is majestic, and never worrying about power levels and its thoroughly familiar and dependable controls are strong advantages. And while working with just my pair of 35/60mm primes is limiting, sometimes limits can be clarifying.

Carrying the XT10 opens up the opportunity to use my Zeiss prime lenses via the Fuji M adapter, making it about as flexible as the D800 kit, but slower. If I'm carrying my M lenses anyway, then maybe I should also bring my Zeiss Icon and a couple of rolls of film. And the photos I take with those Zeiss M lenses are invariably among my favourite, whether on digital or film. But this runs into the dual problems of being too big for the bag, unless I ditch the zooms, and being generally impractical.

Overcoming the D800's limits can be done with the Nikon V1, which is generally a miserable camera but has the advantage of sharing the same battery. I can cover the same 28-300mm-e range as my Fuji, with less quality, but the fast normal prime is decent and the whole thing can be a decent small camera option for when I need silence and discretion. But once again this is too big for the bag unless I leave something else out.

There is also another light-weight option that I can consider.

My GR is a handy camera for travel. It charges via USB, and not only will I be carrying a booster battery, I own seventeen of its dedicated batteries. That's because my Sigma Merrills use the same ones, so I could bring those three cameras instead of something with interchangeable lenses. I'd have enough power for about 800 photos from the Merrills, which is more than I'd want to process through their dedicated software, so using the GR to do double duty as a charger isn't really a limitation. What it gives up in flexibility and versatility it makes up in lighter weight — batteries excluded — with daylight quality that rivals my D800. Outside of daylight, or for anything that moves, not so much.

There are other options as well, but realistically it's almost certainly going to come down to my Fuji XT10 or Nikon D800. Whichever of those systems I choose I'll have some regrets… which leads me to another outlandish idea.

Right now my brilliant plan is a combination of my two main candidates. I like the D800 for its quality and operation, and the XT10 for its range. So I'm considering carrying both of them.

The best lens for my D800 is the Sigma 35/1.4, which I can crop substantially and still have pixels left over. This can supplant the standard 18-55 zoom that would be my main lens if I was carrying the Fuji system. But it's the 55-200 that really makes the Fuji stand out when there could be boats and wildlife involved, and it's that extra reach that's especially tempting when choosing what to carry.

Happily I have just enough room to fit both the D800+35 and XT10+55-200 in my bag.

So I could use the D800 and its one lens for most of my photos, and use the Fuji and its one lens for long shots. Switching between such different styles of cameras isn't ideal, but it's no harder than switching lenses on a single body, and I definitely have enough batteries to make it through the trip this way. The A can still do wide IR landscapes, and might be okay for somewhat quirky results in situations when I don't want to take out the D800, but maybe the XQ1 or GR will come along as well.

This four-camera hybrid plan does mean that my bag weighs almost eleven pounds even before I start adding my phone, minipad, GPS, extra batteries, USB charger and cables, wallet, and flashlights. When I'm away from the car I'll also need some capacity for a whistle, water, and snacks. That's a lot, but it's possible.

But who knows if this is what I'll do, or if some other combination will occur to me tomorrow. Realistically, I'll probably pack and repack my bag, mentally and physically, all the way up to the evening before I leave. But it's an interesting exercise, so there's no reason not to enjoy it for as long as I can.

And what I learn this time might be useful for a longer trip this autumn. Everything we do is practice for what we'll do next.


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