Posted by: kerryl29 | September 16, 2019

Equipment Shouldn’t Be an Encumbrance

I prepared this entry during the final stages of planning for a photo trip—I left for Hawaii less than 48 hours after I finished writing this back on September 8—that will involve quite a bit of hiking, much of it over steep, uneven terrain.  On at least one of the days when I’ll be on location, I anticipate hiking from shortly after sunrise until shortly before sunset.  The point is, I have to carry everything I need—clothing and other accessories, food, water and (of course) photo equipment—all day long.  Given the grueling nature of the itinerary and the lack of options, I’ve had to spend some time thinking about what to bring and how I can enforce reasonable weight and space limitations without negatively impacting the point of the exercise—picture taking.

Red Creek, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia


I’ve had some experience doing this (I’ve discussed photo trip planning in a previous post on this blog; I wrote specifically about limiting photo gear on challenging hikes in another entry), but I want to cover the subject in more general terms.

Basically, no matter what kind of photography you’re engaged in, regardless of the place, the first rule of photo gear is that it shouldn’t get in your way.  There have never been as many quality options with regard to photographic systems as exist today, so there’s almost certainly an option that best fits the specifics surrounding your shooting experience.  For instance, all things being equal, the ideal system to take on a jaunt similar to the one that I mentioned above is either a high-end point-and-shoot with a large zoom range lens and a very light tripod to support it.  This arrangement takes up minimal space and weighs very little.

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Du Page Country, Illinois


For something with a bit more technical control, any one of a series of mirrorless camera system packages will fill the bill.  The camera bodies that provide the foundation for these systems are tiny—many of them fit in the palm of your hand—and the lenses are small as well.  A three-lens outfit, plus the camera itself, takes up about as much space as (and weighs less than) a pro-level DSLR and a single wide-aperture mid-range zoom.

If you already have a DSLR body, a do-it-all variable aperture zoom lens might be just the ticket for you.  It’s heavier and takes up more space than either of the options mentioned above, but it’s well within the limits of many hikers.

Atlantic Afternoon, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland


What will I be doing?  Well, I normally carry four heavy lenses and two camera bodies and I’m cutting that typical load a bit—two cameras, three lenses (with two of those lenses mounted). That will allow more room for everything else I bring and will lighten the load somewhat below the normal weight of gear that I normally bring with me.  This will make the hike modestly less burdensome and allow me to focus more of my energy on the reason for the hike—photography.  And that’s always how it ought to be.

I’ve used the example of photographing as part of a strenuous hike, but the point is applicable to any form of photography.  Say, for instance, you’re interested in street photography, which involves a lot of walking around with your camera in your hands and/or around your neck while making candid images of people.  Anything other than a camera that’s light, fast to autofocus and small and unobtrusive enough not to attract attention is going to get in the way of what you want to do.

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee


What could be more absurd than your photo gear getting in the way of your photography?  It’s a simple principle: if your equipment is inhibiting your photography, you have the wrong equipment.  Don’t let this happen to you.


  1. Marvellous photos x

  2. Very true…. we should all ask ourselves….. Do we need to take all the gear (and did we need it in the first place?) OK, on long trips I travel with a camera body and one zoom, one filter, light tripod…and of course extra memory cards, spare battery and charger. Sometimes I do say to myself “I wish I had such and such” but not often. Having travelled light on long trips I have honestly tried to do the same when locally. Sadly I still add that extra lens, etc. just in case and carry far too much.

    • A bit of foreshadowing, as I will detail the hike itself in a future post. It was a 12-mile slog, and I ended up paring things down even further than is described in this post–a single camera body and two lenses. While it was a bit of an inconvenience (I didn’t miss having the extra lens at all, but did find the lens swapping a bit annoying on several occasions) it was absolutely the right decision. The hike was difficult enough without an extra five pounds of gear.

  3. Definitely the lure of the lightweight mirrorless systems is ever present. Switching full time to mirrorless would mean a lot less time agonizing over which lenses to carry because the whole kit would weigh so much less.

    • I didn’t really get into this in the post because I was concerned it might have a “missing the forest for the trees” effect, but the size/weight benefits of mirrorless can vary greatly depending on which mirrorless option you go with…that’s true for cameras and particularly true for lenses.

      APS-C crop sensor mirrorless cameras are indeed much, much smaller and lighter than DSLRs (particularly full frame DSLRs) and, for the most part, even an apples-to-apples full frame comparison sees clear size/weight benefits compared to a comparable DSLR.

      Lenses…that’s where things get a bit cloudier. Keeping the comparisons in the apples to apples department–same focal length range, same maximum aperture–the lenses designed specifically for mirrorless systems are typically only slightly smaller and lighter than their DSLR system brethren. However, as a means to emphasize the supposed size/weight benefits, many camera makers have released versions of lenses (a 24-70/f4, for instance) that more or less mimic their DSLR offerings in terms of focal length. These lenses are often far smaller and lighter than the closest DSLR option, but at the cost of having a narrower maximum aperture (and are sometimes compromised in terms of optical quality as well).

      In sum, it IS possible to save a lot of size and weight by going mirrorless, but it’s important to be aware of exactly what you’re getting compared to what you already have.

  4. I love your photo Sparks Lane Morning. Fantastic. Thank you for posting.

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