Over the years, I have posted “What’s in My Bag?” about various trips. On the last two trips, I have traveled with both digital and film cameras, and I wanted to do a separate post on traveling for hybrid shooters. As you might expect, it’s easier to travel with digital. Memory cards are small, and you don’t have to worry about the effect of x-ray machines at security checkpoints. I also feel more comfortable experimenting with digital. You can try new techniques, and the only loss is your time. However, I find that there are times when I prefer film over digital, and it’s worth the extra effort. There are more and more hybrid shooters these days, as film has made a bit of a comeback. If planned correctly, you can carry both systems without too much additional load.
First, the bag. I have traveled with the Think Tank Airport Airstream for five years now and it is, in my opinion, the perfect travel bag for photography. It meets all international guidelines for size, but still holds all my gear. If traveling on airlines where weight is an issue, be mindful that it can hold so much that you can exceed weight restrictions. While traveling to Ireland on Aer Lingus, the weight of the gear it held was double the weight permitted. It has a built-in cable and lock for security when needed, and I can pile another carry-on on top so I can wheel both around the airport. I own quite a few Think Tank products. They are well-built and designed for photographers, and are the best bags I own.
Here’s how I filled up my Airstream for both digital and film photography.
The Basic 35mm Film & Digital Kit: Canon 5D MkII & Canon 1v
The leanest way to travel with both digital and film is to have camera bodies which share lenses. My Canon 1v 35mm film camera and my Canon 5D Mark II digital camera both use Canon EF lenses. Thus, I get the best of both worlds with the same set of lenses and can travel super light. My go-to lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. On every trip, it gets the most use by far. It’s not a lightweight, clocking in at 33.6 ounces, a little over two pounds, but I’ve used it so much, I have grown accustomed to the weight. I add in the Canon 135m f/2, my favorite portrait lens, and the Canon EF 1.4x III Extender, and I’ve pretty much covered the field from 24mm to 189mm.
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 33.6 ounces 950 grams
Canon 135mm f/2.0 26.5 ounces 750 grams
Canon EF 1.4x III Ext 7.9 ounces 225 grams
Canon 5D Mk II 32 ounces 907 grams
Canon 1v 34.6 ounces 982 grams
TOTAL: 134.6 ounces 3814 grams
8.4 pounds 3.814 kg
If I wanted to go even lighter, I could have packed the Canon 7n, a consumer level 35mm film camera made with loads more plastic, which saves you a little over a half pound, clocking in at 20.5 ounces (580 grams). If I could commit to a 35mm lens rather than the 24-70mm, I could swap out the heavy 24-70mm for the 35mm f/1.4 and save a third of the weight (20.5 ounces, 580 grams).
The Medium Format Kit – Mamiya 645 Pro TL
I wanted to work with medium format on this trip, which will add to the weight as it requires and entirely new system. Not only that, but the medium format systems are not lightweights. They were built for professionals and built to last. These lenses are tough, with metal components, and with the weight to match. As far as size, however, my Mamiya 645 Pro TL, breaks down really nicely, making it easy to pack in my bag.
Mamiya 645 Pro TL Body + 120 (HA401) or 220 Film Back (HB401) + AE Prism Finder (FE401) + Power Drive Grip (WG401) + Mamiya 80mm f/1.9N = 80.5 ounces 2270 grams* (Over five pounds!)
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9C 19.75 ounces 560 grams*
Mamiya 45mm f/2.8 17.75 ounces 505 grams*
Mamiya 150mm f/3.5 15.5 ounces 445 grams*
Mamiya 210mm f/4 26.5 ounces 750 grams*
That’s one real machine! If you’re going to travel with this kit, you really need to give some thought as to the lenses you really want to use. When you’re adding at least one pound per lens, choose carefully. When we travelled to Anguilla, Antigua, and Barbuda, I took along only the 80mm and the 45mm. Looking back, I would probably just take the 80mm and leave the wide angle shots to my digital. My favorite shots were with the 80mm and I wouldn’t miss those I took with the 45mm, although I know some people love their 45mm. It’s a personal choice and what you take should be determined by what lenses you are comfortable with, what you like to shoot, and what you expect to shoot at your destination. Additional film backs will add 14.25 ounces (410 grams) of weight*, and additional inserts (in the original plastic cases), will add 6 ounces (170 grams)*. With the full digital and 35mm kit above, I was able to fit in the basic Mamiya 645 kit plus extra lens into the Airstream.
Don’t forget your light meter! I use the Sekonic L-358. Although the automatic metering on the Pro TL is pretty reliable, there are some tricky lighting situations where I’m glad to have my light meter. It’s particularly good for nailing the exposure on flash portraits, with the Pocket Wizard radio transmitter module inside.
The Compact Medium Format Kit: Mamiya 6
This year, I am considering traveling with the Mamiya 6 medium format rangefinder instead of the Pro TL. The advantage of the Mamiya 6 is the size. The bellows of the camera retracts into the camera, making it extremely compact.
Even though it is compact, it is solidly built. The body plus the walking around lens, the 75mm f/3.5, clock in at over 2-1/2 pounds.
It only has three lenses, but I can’t imagine needing any more with this system. The disadvantage is learning to focus with a rangefinder. With the Pro TL, you are looking through the lens to focus. With the Mamiya 6, you are looking through a viewfinder, and you focus by lining up two overlapping images of your subject. I have been experimenting with this camera to see if I can focus. I’m having trouble focusing in low-contrast situations. If I can get the hang of it, I can save a considerable amount in terms of weight and still shoot medium format film. That has yet to be determined. I took it to New Orleans with me recently, and found that I could not focus quickly enough given the walking pace of my family members, so there I’ll see if the slower pace of the islands will fit.
Basic Kit: Mamiya 6 Body + Mamiya 75mm f/3.5 = 42.5 ounces 1205 grams (a little over 2-1/2 pounds)*
Mamiya 50mm f/4 11.8 ounces 335 grams
Mamiya 75mm f/3.5 8.8 ounces 250 grams
Mamiya 150mm f/4.5 18 ounces 510 grams*
It really is compact. The camera, 75mm and 150mm lenses, light meter, plus film, all easily fit inside a Think Tank small Travel Pouch (dimensions: 6.7″ W x 10″ H x 2.5″ D (17 x 25.4 x 6.4cm), a mesh bag I use to separate items inside my camera bag.
So, you can shoot both, but you’ll have to plan carefully to avoid the hassles of a super heavy, and super large, carryon.
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* These weights came from my kitchen scale. All other weights come from the manufacturer’s specifications.
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