I’m flying out of town on a week-end business trip. I used to fret a lot more when going on these short jaunts, the main question being: do I load down with gear or travel light?
Because a different locale always presents fresh subjects I have the urge to load down. Photography isn’t the trip’s main purpose, however, so I have to ask myself: how much time can I realistically devote to it?
I said I “used to fret” because a similar trip I took this spring answered some questions for me. It was the first time I tried travelling light. That decision was hard because I was going to be smack in the action of Manhattan, a couple of blocks from Times Square — a gigantic ongoing photo op for sure.
However, I’d purchased a Micro Four Thirds camera a few months earlier (an Olympus E-P1). The trip seemed like a perfect opportunity to test the notion that with such a camera I could travel light, but not give up a lot in image quality or versatility.
The first thing I noticed was that I became a true one-bag traveller. The camera and pancake lens easily slid into my jacket pocket and the 14-42mm and 40-150mm zooms took up less space in my carry-on than a couple pairs of sports socks. Likewise a GorillaPod easily found an unused crevice in the bag. The E-P1 and three lenses weigh just under 1kg — that’s what my SLR weighs without a lens.
I considered that trip a successful experiment. I got some great shots, but noted a couple of other side benefits as well. First, a one-kilogram camera kit is a joy. You don’t get as weary carrying it for extended periods, plus the reduced bulk makes it easier to negotiate the crowds, which can get quite intense around Times Square. Second, the camera looks benign compared to a honkin’ big SLR, so people don’t take notice. I felt I just blended in with the other tourists with their P&S and smartphone cams.
Camera enthusiasts have long understood the value of a quality compact. No one wants to schlep a big rig everywhere, but that’s where one-of-a-kind photos unfold — everywhere. Travelling light gives you the opportunity to capture them. It reinforces that old adage: the best camera is the one you have with you.