Fit for Travel / by Michael J

My passions include travel, photography, design, and productivity. And on some days like today, writing. I've attended fashion shows in Paris as a manager at Chanel, participated in prototype testing off the coast of Yucatan as a team leader at Patagonia, taken a train ride from the equator to the arctic, and designed a productivity tool for the first iPhone that is still on the app store, nearly a million downloads and nine years later. Now I manage a modest UX design and development studio with offices in Seattle and Saigon. 

So yes, I travel. A lot. 100,000 miles this year on United alone.  United is not my favorite airline but being a lifetime million miler does have its perks - as well as a nagging sense of guilt at all the fluorocarbons that I've been responsible for. Oh well. Hopefully something I'm doing is offsetting that, for example helping people to be more efficient, and living and working here at QSpace where my daily commute is three flights of stairs. Actually it's much more than once a day, given how many times I forget where I've placed things. But that's another story.

Photography helps me survive these long trips. And because I'm obsessed with UX, I'm always looking for ways to minimize the amount of camera gear that I carry while maximizing both flexibility and quality of photos.

It has become clear to me that by improving the user experience of any task or hobby, you will achieve better results.  For example, choosing a camera. Forget about whether Canon/Nikon/Sony is 'better.'  Those are commodities. Focus instead - no pun intended - on which camera intuitively feels better in your hands. If you like the feel, the ergonomics, and the menu system, then the camera will be in your hands that much more often. You will enjoy the experience more. And you will be able to react more quickly to changing photographic conditions. Voila. Better photos. And more fun.

My requirements for a better 'travel photography' experience are:

  1. All gear must fit in one diminutive pouch or sling bag.
  2. All gear must be instantly accessible.
  3. Changing lenses must be quick, dust-free, and done as little as possible.
  4. My feet can get tired from walking, but not from the weight of excessive gear.

One of my favorite photographers and friends travels with just one camera - a Sony A7Rii - and just one lens which she never changes - a 24-240 zoom. So with one camera and one lens, she more than meets all of the requirements I've listed above and comes up with photos that I totally envy. Check out her IG http://ipovi.com/lisapanderson-1979045554 .

But, alas, I'm a gear hound.  So I travel with more. But it still has to fit into a diminutive bag that gives me instant access. This pretty much narrows it down to only one bag - the ThinkTank "Turnstyle" series that I have been using for the past several years. I've written about this bag elsewhere but in short, it keeps my gear out of the way when I need it out of the way, but without having to remove the bag, I can slide it around to my front, open the bag, grab a camera, and even change lenses with it sitting right on my front. No other bag can do that.

The next challenge is which combination of camera and lenses to fit into that bag. When I went to Afghanistan two years ago, I was able fit two Olympus cameras, each with an attached lens, into one Turnstyle. But since I've switched over to Sony, the size and weight has increased a bit (still much less than other DSLR's).  So my current setup is

  • Sony A7Rii
  • 16-35 f/4
  • Batis 85 f/1.8
  • Nikon 300 f/4 PF with Vello AF adaptor
  • Extra battery

Why the Nikon 300? Because it's my favorite lens and it's the only long tele prime that could possibly fit in a small sling bag, even with the required adapter.

So I've chosen a few photos taken with each of these lenses on recent trips, just to illustrate the breadth of shots that I'm able to get with a relatively diminutive camera bag and three lenses.

Let's start at the long end. 

Candids, Action, Landscapes: 300mm prime

Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

That's a long name for a small lens that packs a punch. Well it's not small, but for a 300mm prime,  its lilliputian.  I use it for all my sports photography on my Nikon and recently I've been carrying it with me in the Turnstyle sling. And it fits. Just. 

Seoul | hot summer day

Saigon | "I can't look"

Harper, WA | Fauntleroy ferry

Harajuku | esplanade


Portraits and Candids: 85mm prime

Batis 85mm f/1.8 

Small, light, sharp.  Beaucoup bokeh with crema de la creme.  This lens is on my camera much of the time.  Sometimes, in candid situations, I wish it had a tad more reach. 

Saigon | Exercise Man


Landscapes and Crowded Places: 16-35 zoom

Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS is smaller and lighter than its name, that's for sure.  This is an excellent bridge for simple street photography at the 35 end, and landscapes at the 16 end. 


Last But Not Least - iPhone X

Let's not forget that other camera that sits in the pocket much of the time. My iPhone has become part of my daily workflow and the iPhone X is definitely getting more court time.  More on this item later but here are a few snaps taken during the past few days.