Packing Photo Gear for Barcelona, Spain, and the French Countryside

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Just when I have the most time for and interest in photography is when I’m most limited with the gear I can take. That’s the quandary facing me now that I’m about to leave for five weeks in Europe.

Part of the trip will be spent with my family in my hometown. The other part will be a road trip from Holland via France to Barcelona, Spain, and back. I’m spending about a week driving, with stops for photography, and a week in Barcelona.

So, it’s a great time to try new gear that doesn’t get much use at home.

Problem is that I have to get on a plane to cross the Atlantic and that limits what I can take. Another problem is that I rather have less gear and more freedom to move around than more gear that tires me out and slows me down. Final consideration: Barcelona will be hot and in hot weather the rule of not having too much gear becomes even more important to me.

Still, with seascapes, landscapes, architecture, street and night time photography all calling to me, I do want to have a wide range of options available at appropriate times.

In short: the kind of challenge we all face as serious shooters. After going through several iterations of the contents of my bag, this is where I stand:

Ditch the DSLRs

I love my Canon stuff for bird and action photography, but there’s no way I’m going to carry a 1D X or even a 7D Mark II for days on end through a hot city. I don’t need the reach or the speed, so the DSLRs stay home.

That was easy.

Enter MFT

I have the most range with my Olympus micro four-thirds setup. FedEx delivered the new 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro, so my Olympus zooms range from the full-frame equivalent of 14mm to 420mm, with the 1.4x converter on the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro zoom.

I like my MFT setup and love the Olympus Pro line of lenses. Yet, that new 7-14mm is heavy for a MFT lens. I’ll take it to Europe with me, but I ordered the much lighter Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens at the last moment, so I have a lighter option in Barcelona.

Similarly, I think the Olympus 40-150mm Pro is a great lens, but in Europe I don’t need the reach it provides. So, in order to lower the weight and still have a great lens available, I bought the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 IOS lens. The larger Olympus will stay home.

For shooting in Barcelona, I’ll take two Olympus OM-D E-M1s, with various lens setups. Which lenses I mount will depend on what I plan for the day. Some day, I might use the zooms, other days the small primes I’ll take (12mm, 25mm and 45mm).

Add a Dash of Full Frame

Then there’s shooting at night, which I love to do. That’s where MFT falls a bit short. It also falls short when you want some extra resolution. So, I’m throwing in my Sony A7R for slow work and an A7 II for night work. The A7 II I bought second-hand, just for this trip. I figured it’s cheaper to buy and sell it than to rent one. I think the Sony zooms negate the small size of the cameras, so I only have the smaller prime lenses for the A7 series: the 28mm f/2, 35mm f/2.8 and the 55mm f/1.8. I will also use Sony for the family portraits we take every time we travel home. Most likely, after I get home, I sell both Sony cameras and after a while buy the A7R II.

Throw in a Bit of Fuji

Ah, the Fujifilm X100T. A camera I love and never use. So, it comes with me, as Barcelona will be a perfect hunting ground for this camera. Here at home, it always stays put because I take other cameras better suited for whatever I’m heading out for. The idea of always carrying a camera sounds nice, but somehow it feels funny taking a camera to pick up stuff in the supermarket. Plus, the leafy suburbs where I live aren’t exactly photogenic.

Mix & Match Accessories

I might well end up doing what I did in Paris two years ago, which was carrying two different cameras every day to see how they performed and share my experiences.

Of course, my setup leaves me with some redundancy, especially with the zooms. But it’s all relatively light and small, so the only times I carry everything are on the plane and in the car. I never have to carry a heavy setup when I’m out shooting.

It might be a bit like last year, when I took the Fuji X100S, an Olympus setup and the Sony A7R to Japan and Hawaii. The Sony never left my bag in Japan, while the Olympus and Fuji stayed put in Hawaii.

Odds & Ends

I usually don’t pack a tripod, but this time I will. I bought the Feisol CT3442 and I have an old Acratech ball head, both of which will go in my checked luggage. I plan to use them in France for landscapes and maybe in Spain to capture the flow of the ocean on the beach.

Thus I also pack a bunch of neutral density filters, including a Lee Big Stopper. In addition, I’ve bought circular ND filters for my Olympus prime lenses so I can use them at their widest aperture in sunny conditions to limit depth of field. Finally, I’m packing circular polarizer filters for all my lenses. I don’t use them much in the US, but I relied heavily on them when we lived in sunny Cyprus and I will need them again in southern Europe.

The cameras and lenses will – hopefully – fit into a Think Tank Airport Navigator, a great bag for air travel and hotel room storage.

Pickpocket Proof, Hopefully

One thing was new to me in preparing for this trip: the reputation of Barcelona as a haven for pickpockets. I don’t want to worry all the time about my stuff, so I bought two Pacsafe camera straps, which have metal wires inside of them and make it harder to cut through the strap and make off with a camera. I also bought a small Pacsafe camera bag, which features the same straps and a metal wire mesh in the bag, so cutting the bag is pretty hard as well. I never pack my cameras in a bag when I’m out shooting, so this bag is just for an extra lens or two.

These straps and bag allow me to focus on my photography without worrying too much about the safety of my gear. To further lessen my worries, I also did what I planned to do a long time ago, which was to remove my camera gear from our homeowner’s insurance policy onto a separate photographer’s policy. This provides much better coverage for a lower price.

All of this is a bit strange, as I live close to New York City and regularly carry more expensive setups than my puny Olympus gear into the city without thinking about special straps or bags. I guess that even though I might look like a tourist in New York when I’m taking pictures, I don’t feel like one. In Barcelona, on the other hand, I will feel that I’m a tourist and thus a potential target.

I’ll share my experiences with my various gear combos as I travel, provided I have decent internet connectivity.

Comments

  1. Faced similar issues in Ecuador, John. But the only alternative to my DSLR was my iPhone 5s. You’ll be much better equipped! Have fun.

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