Alaskan Camera Kit

You may be curious what I traveled with in my camera kit while in Alaska.  I had to plan for both a 9-hour flight out and back, during which I would want to keep the whole kit in my carry-on bag, and for two weeks in a minivan, where I’d have plenty of room for gear.  I wasn’t sure what sort of conditions I’d encounter, nor what types of photos I’d be most interested in taking.  So here’s what I took.

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix G5
  • Lens: Lumix G-Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 wide zoom
  • Lens: Olympus Zuiko 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 long zoom
  • Lens: Canon FD 50mm f1.8
  • Tripod: Gorillapod Hybrid
  • Filters: Circular polarizer, ND8 for the Lumix and Oly lenses
  • Bag: LowePro Adventura 140
  • Bag: Think Tank Lens Changer 15
  • Bag: Kelty Redstart backpack

Pretty small kit, eh?  For the plane ride, I stowed the Gorillapod in my checked baggage, along with the filters.  All the rest of the camera gear went into the Adventura bag, which fits neatly in the bottom of the Kelty Redstart, which served as my “carry on”.  Into the Kelty also went my Kindle, paperback books, medicine, emergency toiletry kit, snacks, and everything else I would want for the long flight out (total 18 hours travel time!!).

Once we arrived in Anchorage, I rearranged things.  This is where the Think Tank pouch earned its keep.  95% of the time I was switching back and forth between the 14-42 and the 40-150 lens. Whichever one wasn’t on the camera was in the pouch.  The 50mm stayed in the Adventura bag along with the rest of the camera gear that wouldn’t be needed that day.  The Gorillapod moved to the Redstart’s shovel pocket, where it stayed handy but mostly unused.  This was the basic setup for the bulk of the trip.

For the boat trip at Seward, the train ride at Skagway, and the bus tour at Denali, we loaded the Redstart down with jackets, sweaters, and snacks. I carried just the camera, the two AF lenses and the Think Tank pouch.  I took 750 pictures that day, so the camera spent very little time stowed, but when it did get stowed, it was usually in the Redstart’s “shovel pocket”.  I kept the filters handy in one of the Redstart’s bottle pockets.

Most days were driving days. The Adventura bag would be stored with the luggage, and the Redstart between the front seats.  The camera would be nestled in the top of the Redstart, ready to grab at a rest stop, or for the front passenger to take quick shots along the road.  The Think Tank stayed clipped to my belt pretty much the whole time.

At all times, I kept a spare battery and memory cards in one of the Redstart’s organizer pockets.  I had the battery that came with the kit, plus two third-party backup batteries.  The backups did their job, but unfortunately despite their higher mA-hour rating they didn’t seem to last as long as the Panasonic branded battery.

On the return trip, we packed everything away the same as on the outbound leg, and it made the return trip quite safely.  Of course I also took a few shots with my iPhone, either to share in real time with my Facebook friends, or because I was temporarily away from the main camera.

In all, this setup worked very well for me.  The Think Tank pouch was priceless and did its job quite well.  I adapted it by using a carabiner to clip it to my belt loop, but its regular belt attach system also works well with a regular pants belt.  The “15” size is more than big enough for both of my Micro-4/3 lenses and most smaller standard lenses (it practically swallows my FD 50mm).  I can’t say enough good things about this little gadget if you find yourself switching lenses frequently.

In retrospect, a super-zoom lens like the Oly M.Zuiko 14-150 f4-5.6 or the Panasonic 14-140 f4-5.8 would have been a real boon, as it would have eliminated all the lens switching, but they are both very pricey.  Another nice-to-have would be a 300mm prime, but that would have been a lot to lug around on the plane for only a few shooting opportunities.

The only disappointment of the trip was the spare batteries (“Wasabi” bought on Amazon.com).  I had two. One was definitely a dud, and lasted maybe half as long as the Panasonic. The other lasted longer, but I don’t think it lasted the 33% longer than the Panasonic that it should have.  But they did their job, in that they kept the camera going on the long shooting days, so even with them, I think I got my money’s worth.

I’m very happy with how this all worked out, and I’m looking forward to further refining the kit on future trips.

ETA: I forgot to discuss shooting settings. I started off shooting RAW using (mostly) aperture priority, but when I realized the sheer number of shots I would be taking, and the fact that I was more interested in recording the trip for my family than in getting 100% “good shots”, I switched the Lumix to Program Mode and hit the “Intelligent Auto” mode button. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I reserved my “semi-manual” shooting for those times when I had a chance to “just take photos”, rather than relying on my beginner camera skills to hit-and-miss those crucial family moments. All of the pics I am posting here are straight out of the camera, with no post processing. I’ll be sure to mention if that changes.

If you travel, what kit do you travel with? What do you leave behind, and how do you set up what you take?

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3 Responses to Alaskan Camera Kit

  1. Interesting post. We’re always keen to know what gear others consider essential. These days, our two favorite lenses are a Nikkor 24-70mm and a Nikkor 200-400mm. We mount these on a D800 and a D4, and since we both shoot this allows us to cover a lot of situations.

  2. I said “200-400mm.” Oops. Although we shoot with this, we far more frequently shoot with a Nikkor 70-200mm.

    • bgtwindad says:

      Nice setup. My dad has used the equivalent (28-80 and 70-210, I think) on his Canon for decades, and that’s pretty close to what I was carrying, if you factor in the 2x crop of my camera (14-42 -> 28-84 and 40-150 -> 80-300). I would really like to have been carrying a 400 or 600mm equivalent for the wildlife hunting, but I don’t have one yet. My bird shots were useless, and there were numerous occasions where I could have gotten a much better shot of a whale or moose with 400mm of reach. Having two bodies (and two shooters!) is certainly a help as well.

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