How I Packed For The Lake District

A Brief Personal Story

This summer has been an adventure. Back in May, we had booked a trip back to the Lake District for the beginning of September. Lakeland is probably our favourite place on earth. The density of glacially carved mountains and lakes, and village cafe and pub splendour is unmatched. After publishing my review of the X-H1, I got to work on my XH1 vs. X-T2 article. It was coming along great, and as a bit of a spoiler, I was excited to finally shoot in The Lakes with Fuji cameras,1 and eager to put the XF 16-55mm F/2.8 WR to work on a stabilized body.

But in early June, one of our 4 cats got sick. Real sick. My wife and I spent 11 weeks exhausting every possible resource and sparing no expense trying to nurse our beloved cat back to health. After multiple opinions, and even more trips to veterinarian services, we decided there was no choice but to cancel our trip, believing we would still be getting Charlie back on his feet.

Things didn’t pan out that way, and sadly, we had to let Charlie go on August 19, 2018.2

A few days later, my wife and I talked about what we would do with the vacation time we had already booked off work. No way we could go away, right? But then, what were we going to do otherwise, sit around at home? We decided to look into what was still available, and incredibly, everything we had previously booked still was, so we will be walking the fells of North West England in tribute to Charlie.

Back To Photography Stuff

Now, with all that time lost, I had to figure out what the hell to bring. It’s been a bit of a scramble the last couple of weeks, but given I leave today I’m settled on my photographic gear selection.

In the grip section of my X-H1 review, I noted that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to deal with the heft of a gripped X-H1 and an L-plate. As it turns out, I ended up getting both. The convenience of 3 batteries was too much turn down any time I wanted to use proper support, but I knew a gripped and plated X-H1 would be too big to travel with. Not only is it big and heavy, the size also has an affect on potentially carry options.

Carry

The last time I was in the Lake District, I packed my Nikon gear in a newly acquired LowePro Photo Sport 200 AW → after quite a bit of agonizing. I still love this bag. It’s crazy light, super adjustable, and has superb straps, both for your shoulders, and your waist. It is an excellent bag for hiking. Note that this is the first version of the bag. I have not yet tried the LowePro Photo Sport 200 AW II, → but it looks like they haven’t fixed unbroken things.

Camera(s)

Based on the main camera compartment of that bag and my memory, the X-H1 with L-plate is fairly similar in size to the Nikon D700 I had in it before. It fits perfectly, where a gripped body would not.

I always thought when I traveled back to The Lake District, I’d bring something along the lines of my Invincible Landscaper kit. I’ll be bringing the lenses, but I won’t have a body dedicated to each. Instead, my second body will be an X-Pro2 with a weather sealed prime mounted for casual documentary shots.

Lenses

The X-H1 will mostly have the XF 16-55mm F/2.8 WR mounted on it. The section just below the main camera compartment in my bag is just large enough to hold an XF 50-140mm F/2.8 WR without the tripod collar attached. It’s not ideal, but it seems about as sturdy to have the camera mounted on my tripod as it would be using the rather flex-prone tripod collar.

The last time I took in these dramatic landscapes, I went wide with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2. This time around, 16mm on APS-C—24mm in 35mm equivalence—is the widest focal length I’ll have with me, and instead of going wider, I’m going much longer. This should open up my shooting possibilities a fair bit, but I am wondering if will miss the wide end.

Now, if this trip were happening a few months from now, there’s a very good chance I would repeat my focal length choice from last time with the XF 8-16mm F/2.8 WR.

The XF 10-24mm F/4 OIS sadly wasn’t even on the consideration list because weather sealing. If that lens came with those two magical initials, “W” and “R,” there’s a good chance I’d be bringing that lens instead of the XF 16-55mm F/2.8 WR along with a set of 72mm filters, rather than 77mm plus a step-up ring.

On my X-Pro2, it should come as no surprise that I’ll have the XF 35mm F/2 WR mounted. I’m tossing around the idea of leaving the second body at home, but I really think I would regret it.

Support

I’m pretty shameless about going overboard on the support side of things. Luckily the tripod is one area that has gotten considerably smaller, and lighter. The TVC-23 and BH-40 I had for the full frame DSLR, protruded from my backpack a ridiculous amount. The TQC-14 I have now is much better suited for travel. I’ve thought about moving to the TFC-14 for travel for less weight, even more compactness, and to get closer to the ground, but the Quick Column is extremely convenient for quick (yes, quick) adjustments to height without having to reset 3 tripod legs and my composition. When it comes to getting low to the ground, I have one of Really Right Stuff’s Pocket Pods. And finally, when a tripod with won’t fit or isn’t allowed, I also have their Travel Clamp, which is proved to be remarkably versatile. Finally, I have a mobile phone clamp for capturing time lapses from fell tops and or while shooting long exposures.

Accessories

I’ve stepped the XF 50-140mm F/2.8 WR up to 77mm via a Breakthrough Photography 72-77mm step-up ring so I can use a single set of 77mm filters— also from Breakthrough—for both Red Badge zooms. 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop NDs as well as a Circular Polarizer are all in a tiny Tiffen filter case. They say it’s only for up to 58mm filters, but I get 77mm filters in there no problem.

The step-up ring means I need to go hoodless with the XF 50-140mm F/2.8 WR, so I won’t be able to use it if the rain goes sideways. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

Hiking

One of the main reasons for our trip is to seriously get our hike on. For that, a good pair of boots, waterproof jacket, an accurate set of maps, and a compass are imperative. I’m new to Harvey “Superwalker” maps, but I already like them better than the OS maps I’ve used before. I find them so much clearer. For guided navigation, and to avoid the bother of a working smartphone, we use a Garmin Oregon 600, which has served us very well on trips to Europe in the past. We’ll see how it fairs on the minor road in the Lakes.

The Whole Kit

Fujifilm

Really Right Stuff

Breakthrough Photography

Other

  1. My last trip to The Lake District with DSLR bulk on my back was the impetus for wanting to downsize in the first place. ↩︎
  2. Charlie was our first pet together, and if I may, the best little cat you could imagine. He would come when called, speak when spoken to, and often when not, and if we were sitting, it wasn’t long before Charlie was sitting with us.

    90% if the content produced for this site was with Charlie on my lap for at least some of it. I’d say “Charlie, time for work.” and he would dutifully hop on and keep me company. He was an awesome cat, and we are still very sad to lose him at only 13 years of age.

Thoughts On Lens Categories

With the latest Roadmap update, Fuji has officially categorized their lenses into 6 key categories: Ultra-fast Prime, Compact Prime, Macro, Red Badge Zoom, Zoom, and Cinema Zoom. That they have separated the primes into two categories is interesting to me, as it highlights gaps in each.

Can we expect an “Ultra-fast” 18mm in the future? The XF 18mm F/2 isn’t exactly slow, but I can’t see anyone being disappointed by say, an XF 18mm F/1 WR with better optics, a clutch manual focus ring and engraved depth of field markings.

What about a compact 14mm F/4? The XF 14mm F/2.8 is the lens I would have had the most trouble categorizing. I’m not sure I’d call it “Ultra-fast” as primes go, but then it might be just large enough to be outside of “Compact” territory despite being about equal to the XF 50mm F/2 WR in size and weight. A weather sealed option by way of an XF 14mm F/4 WR would be a great addition for fans of 21mm who are not keen on a lens as large as the XF 8-16mm F/2.8 WR.

Likewise, might we see a compact ~90mm? Knocking a stop or two off the XF 90mm F/2 WR would certainly make engineering a smaller lens possible, and without all that glass to shove around, they could do away with a linear motor or two.

The “Red Badge Zoom” seems to be the only category one might call complete since Fuji have decided to categorize their exotics like the XF 200mm F/2 OIS WR under “Ultra-fast Prime.” We’ve only got 8-140mm covered at F/2.8 though. I could see another big, fast telephoto in this category’s future. I suppose one day we might see Fuji take another page out of Nikon’s playbook and release a second generations XF 16-55mm F/2.8 WR with OIS built in. They better not think about moving to a 82mm filter thread though.

I’d love to see Fuji release a “Mark II” version of some lenses to address build quality consistency (loose aperture rings, anyone?) and weather sealing on old favourites like the XF 14mm F/2.8, XF 23mm F/1.4, and XF 56mm F/1.2. I’d add the XF 35mm F/1.4 to that list, but with the XF 33mm F/1 WR announced, that effectively is a Mark II in my mind.

September Announcements

Now that Fuji seems to be getting themselves back in gear, I figure it’s a good time for me to do the same.

X-E3

I’m a little surprised to see some write-ups about this camera hardly mention the lack of a D-pad. That said, I can understand the decision, and it’s interesting to see how Fuji has decided to rework the X-E series of cameras within their lineup. The X-E2S had almost nothing unique about it outside of being rangefinder-style. Fuji is constantly struggling with how to compete against the smartphone on their lower end. They will never beat the smartphone, but making their cameras work with smartphones as seamlessly as possible is nothing but the right move.

The Bluetooth connectivity is something I’m eager to try, and is a feature I think could single-handedly make the X-E3 one of Fuji’s best-selling cameras for photographers who want instant access to their Instagram accounts with their photos.

XF80mm F/2.8 LM OIS WR Macro

This is a lens that many had hoped would be released this time last year, and with a longer focal length. My understanding is the size was getting out of control, and if I had to guess, it became what we now know as the GF 120mm F4 OIS WR Macro.

With weather sealing, f/2.8 aperture, proper 1:1 macro, and a linear motor (just one based on Fuji’s marketing materials) for faster AF, only the budget and/or size and weight-minded will consider the XF 60mm F2.4 Macro anymore, and unless the AF speed of the XF 90mm F2 WR is significantly quicker, or you really need that extra stop of light gathering/bokeh vs. OIS, the XF 90mm F2 WR could find itself getting dusty in inventory.

XF8-16mm F/2.8 WR

Yours truly called the focal length back at the last roadmap update. I’m pleasantly surprised to see the f/2.8 aperture. I’m also pleased to see Fuji say it is most suited for architecture. This suggests to me that distortion will be kept to a minimum. If that is the case, the XF 10-24mm F/4 OIS will be off my lens consideration list faster than you can say “WR”.

GFX Stuff

I have to admit that after my initial buzz around Fuji’s new format faded, my interest in it did as well. The GFX has simply proved to be much too costly for me to really get into. Perhaps once I can get my hands on a review unit again I will add more GFX content, but for the time being, X Series is where my money, interest, and review effort is going. I’d be very interested to know how my readers feel about that.

Medium Format Telephoto

I’d be interested to know how many medium format shooters are pining for telephoto capabilities. And not just telephoto, but teleconverted telephoto. Time will tell I suppose.

FUJIFILM X RAW STUDIO

In addition to the new gear announcements, Fuji also announced some software as well. When I saw “Fujifilm X RAW Studio,” my interested was piqued. X Processor Pro on my iMac? Sweet! Then I saw a camera needs to be connected to the computer. I suppose this could come in handy for RAF shooters who want to batch process, but is this software going to change any Lightroom or Capture One users’ habits? Heck no.

I continue to hope and dream for the day Fuji gives us real Fuji processing on our computational devices.

Firmware

And finally, all of Fuji’s current cameras will see a firmware update. Key features include enhanced AF tracking algorithms for the X-Pro2 and X-T2, 4K video support for the X-Pro2—something Fuji once claimed wasn’t possible due to heat tolerances—and the ability to backup and restore camera settings.

I am by far most excited about that last one. I switch cameras so often I often don’t bother adjusting settings far from their defaults, but being able to restore them will definitely encourage some customization. I’m very curious to see how they handle the transfer of settings from different models of camera, particularly where a function is bound to a specific button.

Recommended Kits, Early 2017

My Early 2017 Recommended Kits have been posted.

Last year’s kit recommendations were awkwardly straddling two generations of sensors and processors. This year, just about the entire X-Series has caught up and is now on equal image quality footing.

A Note About Formats

What could be more awkward for kit recommendations than bodies with different sensors? A whole new format and system, natch, and that’s exactly what Fuji’s gone and done.

While I will be sure to compare the GFX with the X-Trans III sensor, it’s really not appropriate to consider medium format when building out an APS-C kit. Plus, those who need medium format know that they’re getting it already. So, apart from casual mention and perhaps an exclusive category or two, this kit building piece will focus mostly on X-Series.

A Note About Lenses

The breakneck pace at which Fuji has been releasing lenses seems to have finally levelled off a bit, but I still have a lot of catching up to do on my testing and review. Thus, a couple lenses are recommended based on preliminary testing, and have been noted as such. This page will likely see an update in the second half of this year.

My Kit

For the TL;DR folks out there, here is what I choose if I could only have a selection of 3 lenses:

DSCF8943.jpg

Favourite Lens By The Numbers

I brought a lot of gear with me on my last trip. I wondered which, if any lenses would have been better left at home. Looking at my catalogue, here’s how many selects were captured with each of the lenses I brought:

  • XF 10-24mm F4: 12
  • XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR: 68
  • XF 16mm F1.4 WR: 58
  • XF 35mm F2 WR: 236
  • XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR: 82
  • XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 WR: 105

Analysis

What follows is a brief analysis of each lens, as well as a small selection of images from each. Click for a larger view.

XF 10-24mm F4→

This is the lens I was closest to leaving behind, so I’m not surprised it’s the lens that came away with the fewest selects. Of those selects though, ¾ of them were captured at a focal length wider than any other lens I had with me. I suppose that’s sort of the point of having an ultra wide angle zoom, and I could have worked around not having it, but it’s interesting to me nonetheless.

If it was weather sealed,1 I would have brought only it, and left the XF16-55mm F2.8 WR behind. Let’s see if that would have been the right choice.

XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR→

41 of the 68 selects were within a couple millimetres of either widest or longest ends of the focal range, and of those, ¾ were zoomed in towards 55mm, suggesting my plan to leave it at home if the XF 10-24mm F4 was weather sealed would not have been a good one. Sure, I could have covered the 50mm mark with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR, but that’s a significantly larger lens, and one that I didn’t have much interest in hauling up to the top of Table Mountain, or hitting a family member in the face with in a small restaurant.

Is bringing an extra lens worth 68 decent photographs? I think so.

XF 16mm F1.4 WR→

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to use the XF 16mm F1.4 WR for astrophotography nearly as much as I had hoped. Nighttime on the game reserve was not a time to wander off without an escort. I did get one starry image I’m happy with at The Fernery, a remote lodge along the Garden Route.

Otherwise, the f/1.4 aperture came in really handy in places like the Cango Caves, Featherbed Nature Reserve, and dimly-lit restaurants. I opted for the 16mm prime over the XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR when both were handy for landscapes as well. Such a great lens.

XF 35mm F2 WR→

No surprise here. With the X-T2 out, there will be little, if any reason for this lens to leave my X-Pro2. The overwhelming majority of my candid, documentary, and street photography was captured with the XF 35mm F2 WR. I even nabbed a couple landscape panos and long exposures by just holding my 77mm neutral density filter flush against the front of the lens.

This is the lens I thought was my favourite, and data shows I was correct.

XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR→

Only about ⅓ of my animal selects came from the XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR; 55 images or so. I would have expected a more even split, and I think if I were to visit another game reserve, I would spend more time in this focal range. I felt so compelled to get closer, but I would often realize and force myself to capture more of the environment. Closeups are great, but they can come from a zoo. Seeing animals in their nature habitat is what makes visiting game reserves so special.

The XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR also came in handy for the odd portrait of family members, and even some far away landscapes along the Garden Route.

XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 WR→

This, along with the XF 2X TC WR Teleconverter→ was essentially my animal lens. The reach it gets you compared to the XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR can’t be overstated, and for the most part, I was perfectly happy to take a hit on ISO because of the smaller aperture in favour of the extra reach.

Of the 105 selects with this lens, just 4 were not of animals. This is a lens that would have no business in my bag for just about any other travel, but am I ever glad I had it with me. I can’t believe I had considered not bringing it. I’d have been doing a lot more cropping. Again though, I probably spent a little bit too much time zoomed right in. 59 of the selects are at 400mm.

Hit Rate

My average select percentage for the XF 10-24mm F4, XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR, and XF 16mm F1.4 WR is in around 12-13%. The XF 35mm F2 WR was a bit higher at 18%, and the two telephoto zooms were comically low at just over 3% for the XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR, and barely over 2% for the XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 WR.

Now, this is calculated using total number of frames, and does not account for bracketing, panos, or the fact that I was popping off 8 frames per second fairly regularly with the telephoto lenses mounted. With more practice anticipating the moment, restraint and just being a little less excited, I bet my hit rate would be higher with the telephoto zooms. This isn’t to say that upwards of 85% of my photos are crap either—at least I hope not—but 1,913 Picks with around 500 images to share out of 9,900 from a two week trip with a big family seems alright. Getting through those bursts took a lot of time though, and isn’t something I’d want to do often. It has me exploring Photo Mechanic again2 as Lightroom is just so slow at times.

Conclusion

For the most part, I feel pretty good about my gear choices. Looking at the selection of photos above, and excluding animals, I’m happiest with images from the primes. I probably should have left the XF10-24mm F4 at home, and likely will do next time I travel. 24mm is about as wide as I like going for the most part, and the XF 16mm F1.4 WR is just awesome.

My typical travel camera and lens setup going forward will likely be and X-Pro2 with the XF 35mm F2 WR permanently affixed, and an X-T2 with XF 16mm F1.4 WR and XF 90mm F2 WR.

Have a look at your own numbers. What lens do you find yourself gravitating towards? Is it actually the lens you get the highest “hit rate” from? Or are you constantly cropping to get to the composition you want? Your catalogue of photos is full of data you can learn from. See if your assumptions are correct.

  1. Have I said that too much? ↩︎
  2. But that interface, yikes. ↩︎

Prepping for South Africa, Part 2

The response to my Prepping for South Africa post has been incredible. No other blog post on Fuji vs. Fuji has generated so much thoughtful feedback so quickly. I really appreciate it all, and as I catch up on my email, I am seriously rethinking my gear selection yet again. Here’s the latest.

XF 100-400mm

Well, readers are decidedly in favour of me bringing the XF 100-400mm. Tweets, Facebook Messages and emails all say bring it. This prompted me to do a bit of my own reading about the lens, which lead me to this fantastic piece by Daniel J. Cox about mirrorless telephoto zooms. Fuji has an awfully impressive showing.

I certainly won’t mind the chance to do a little testing of my own with a lens like this, but I want to do what’s best for the trip, first and foremost. So, the current plan is to see how things fit once my Airport Essentials arrives. That should help determine just how many zoom lenses I’m going to bring.

XF 50-140mm

Now of course I’m asking myself if I really need the XF 50-140mm f/2.8. In some ways, it could be indispensable. The faster aperture might do wonders during dawn and dusk game park drives. But it’s another big telephoto lens with at least some overlap (depending on which teleconverters I have mounted) to haul around.

It could also necessitate yet another body thanks to…

The Wide Angle

Given how close we could get, there’s no way I can go on a game drive with 50mm being my widest focal length.

Readers also reaffirmed what my research indicates, dust will be a real problem when driving along the dirt roads in the game park, so lens changes are almost certainly going to be impossible. That got me thinking about a lens I don’t think about very often, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8.

One of my big summer comparisons is going to be this lens pitted against primes in its range, but it might just be the perfect companion to one of, if not both of the big zooms. Standard focal range, weather and dust resistant, 77mm filter thread. Suddenly a lens I wasn’t even looking at before is in the running. This trip could be an all red badge affair.

Minimal or Maximal

In truth, when I bought the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, it was with the intention of using it almost exclusively as a travel lens. Visions of trudging through the rainy lakes, dales, and moors of England came to mind. My sole reason for not considering it at first was my desire to travel with as little gear as possible. I wanted to minimize.

I’m now in danger of bringing way more gear than I was hoping. Here are some contending options:

Original Kit

Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR*, XF 35mm f/2 WR, XF 50-140mm f/2.8*

Minimal Zoom Kit

Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, XF 16-55mm f/2.8*, XF 100-400mm*

I would have a really hard time leaving the XF 35mm f/2 WR behind, and probably won’t, but it’s covered by the XF 16-55mm f/2.8.

Maximal Zoom or “All The Things” Kit

Bodies: X-Pro2, X-T1, another X-T1 or X70/X100T
Lenses: XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, XF 16-55mm f/2.8*, XF 35mm f/2 WR XF 50-140mm f/2.8* XF 100-400mm*

*Denotes gear I’ll bring on the game drives.

Ugh. I really don’t want to have to do this, but if I had both the telephotos along, I feel I would almost have to bring a third body of some kind along to cover the wide end.

Going X70 has the added benefit of my wife having an “adorable little Fuji” at her disposal, but there could be a risk of dust contamination during the game drives, and it means another set of charger/batteries to bring.

Going with a third interchangeable body means I have to actually get a third, weather sealed body. That presents its own set of issues (WAF, space in the bag, batteries, WAF, etc.)

Thanks!

Thanks again so much to everyone who wrote, tweeted and messaged me their feedback. It’s been immensely helpful, and I’ll be sure to post more as I continue to sort this out. I’m hyper aware that this is an awesome problem to have, but the struggle is real, and it continues. More to come.

Another Metal Hood

In addition to the 2x Teleconverter, Fuji also quietly added another metal hood add-on accessory, this time for the XF 23mm f/1.4, the Lens Hood LH-XF23. I don’t know about you, but I’m perpetually in “persuit of premium quality to multiply the pleasure of ownership.”

Truthfully, I do really like the metal hood for the XF 16mm f/1.4 WR. It’s noticeably heavier than the plastic hood that comes with the lens, but significantly more compact when ready for use. A worthwhile trade off in my opinion. The hood that ships with the XF 23mm f/1.4 is also much too large for me to ever want to attach it to my lens.

I think we can expect this trend to continue from now on. It’s shame because these hoods aren’t cheap, but they’re so much nicer.

One Wide Angle Remaining

The XF 14mm f/2.8 comes to mind as being the next lens due for a new metal hood. As I’ve mentioned, the plastic hood for the XF 14mm f/2.8 is a clone of the hood for the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, which leads me to believe it hasn’t been terribly well optimized for the former, since it was released after the kit zoom.

Prepping for South Africa

As my Twitter followers might know, I’m getting ready for a pretty big trip to South Africa, where I’m fortunate enough to be going on a Safari.1

I’m incredibly excited to have this fantastic photographic opportunity ahead of me, but it has thrown a wrench into my usual travel/packing strategies, in addition to making a couple photographic purchases necessary. I thought it might be of interest to do a bit of a travel diary, which has already been of some help to the process. This post has already been revised a few times as my packing strategies change.

Support

As ever, it’s important to start with a solid foundation. Game reserves present a unique challenge when it comes to keeping your camera steady. Most of what I’ve learned on the topic is from (re-)reading this piece from Thom Hogan, and another more recent piece. A key problem to solve is how to support your camera when you’re in the vehicle. I opted for Really Right Stuff’s new Travel Clamp Kit to affix to the rails of a vehicle like so:

 Really Right Stuff’s Travel Clamp Kit with removable Flat Surface Adapters

Really Right Stuff’s Travel Clamp Kit with removable Flat Surface Adapters

It’s a pretty solid piece of equipment and isn’t having any trouble holding my camera steady. I’ll do more of a write-up on this item after my trip.

Thom also advises a monopod, which I considered, but there’s a limit to how much I want to bring when it comes to support, and since I also plan to bring a compact tripod and pocket-sized tripod→ as well. It’s always a balance between wanting to travel with as little as possible while still making sure I have what I need. The game reserve will only take up a few days of our trip after all.

Camera Bodies

Interchangeable

Had this trip occurred last year, I would have been perfectly happy to buy a second X-T1 keep my XF 50-140mm f/2.8 glued on one of them (probably with an XF 1.4x Teleconverter attached), and a wide angle lens on the other.

The X-Pro2 presents a bit of a wrinkle. I know I’m going to be constantly juggling whether or not to make the most of my available megapixels, or using the tilt screen of the X-T1. A second X-Pro2 is always a possibility, but I really think I’d notice the lack of a tilt screen when the camera is attached lower than eye level. If only there was a camera that provided the best of both worlds…

Anyhow, I've all but settled on bringing both the X-Pro2 and X-T1. The X-Pro2 is the camera I want with my all the time, and the X-T1 will end up being my “Safari camera.”

Fixed

I was all set to leave the fixed focal length X100 at home for this trip. The X-Pro2 has resulted in my X100T sitting dormant for the last few months. Then my wife saw the X70 and is seriously considering that as being her camera for the trip as opposed to her iPhone.

I think I’ll try to talk her out of it actually as bringing a fixed focal camera results in a whole second set of batteries and chargers to contend with that might not be worth the hassle.

Lenses

Another wrinkle, the XF 100-400mm. Thom writes:

In the Serengeti and other parks where you can’t leave the road, you tend to need longer lenses than in the places where you can (e.g. the private reserves in South Africa). I’m going to assume that you’re not going to one of the latter places, as the lens needs there are far less extreme and easier to meet. We’re going to assume the worst case here...

... Thus, we need flexibility and reach. Flexibility means a zoom lens; reach means pixel density.

As it happens, I am going to a private reserve in South Africa, so I was really struggling with whether or not I’m even going to need a lens with as much reach as the XF 100-400mm. That’s a lot of extra lens to pack for me (more on that in a minute) and it has other implications as it relates to things like filters (more on that in a minute too).

Rather than obsess over it, I decided to contact to the actual game park to get a sense of how close they typically get to the animals. They sent back a couple of images for reference:

That’s pretty close!

Close enough that I’m thinking I’ll be able to leave the big lens behind. Traveling with the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 is already going to be new territory for me, but in reality, it isn’t that much larger than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 I used to travel with. Traveling with only a carry-on wasn’t really an option in my DSLR days though.

Astro

I have to admit that one of the first things I thought about for this trip was the opportunity for some good astrophotography. Given I managed to capture the Milky Way with my X100S in the country-side of France, South Africa should offer much less light pollution, and even more visible stars. For that, I’ll be bringing along my XF 16mm f/1.4 WR. With its wide angle and fast aperture, I should be able to get some nice exposures.

Documentary

This is a big family trip, so I’ll also want to document it to some degree, and capture some images while on the streets of Jo’burg, of course. For that, I’ll have my XF 35mm f/2 WR mounted on my X-Pro2.

Cameras In Summary

For now, that’s a total of two bodies, three lenses, a teleconverter, one compact tripod, one pocket-sized tripod, one travel clamp, and a whole whack of batteries.

Filters

Despite what Tony Northrup says in his video that starts off like an infomercial,2 filters can still be pretty important tools to photographers, especially those who like to capture things in camera. That’s not to say that I’m against post processing, but as time goes on, I find my desire to sit at a desk is waning rapidly.

If the XF 100-400mm does stay at home, I don’t have any reason to go larger than 72mm with my filters. This is one of the very rare times I’d consider the use of a lens like the XF 100-400mm, and the only other lens Fuji currently makes at 77mm is the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, which hasn’t been mounted on my camera to take photos in almost a year. In all likelihood I’ll stick with the 77mm as the standard, and add additional sizes as needed, and when funds allow.

A notification that the new 77mm X4 CPL and ND filters and step-up rings I ordered from Breakthrough Photography entered the country popped up on my phone just last night. I’m eager to try Breakthrough’s latest release to see how it stacks up.

Packing

Here we have the biggest hurdles in two parts:

  1. My collection of bags to date doesn’t accommodate longer lenses well.
  2. I strongly prefer carry-on-only travel.

My carry-on bag of choice is Osprey’s Farpoint 55 (S/M) which is already a couple inches longer than airlines typically allow for carry-on, but I haven’t had a problem with it so far.

My strategy is to pack my camera gear and a few clothing items in the Think Tank Airport Express bag I just ordered—that at least two people agree is the bag to get—and pack it along with the rest of my travel needs in the Osprey, hoping for the best. If I get nabbed on the size of the Osprey, I’ll check it and bring the Think Tank as my official carry-on. This will depend entirely on whether or not I can fit the Airport Express in the main compartment of the Osprey with room to spare or not.

Pre-publish Update

I haven’t received the Think Tank bag yet, but I’m losing confidence that it’s going to fit in my Osprey with much, if any room to spare. I’m now pondering whether or not I can get away only the Airport Express and a “personal item.” I’ll have to do some serious layering on the plane, but if I can sneak an item or two in my wife’s carry-on, it just might work.

Happily, I just received notification that my bag has shipped, so once it arrives I’ll test out a few packing strategies.

Other Considerations

I have as much a bag addiction as any photographer has, and I’d love to get myself a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 one of these days. Sadly, I don’t think this is the trip for it. I’d have a hard time getting longer lenses in there, and the lack of a frame like the Osprey has to transfer weight to the hips will be a problem. Mirrorless gear is far from heavy, but it’s still more than just clothes.

To Be Continued…

That’s all for now. I hope to write more as the trip draws nearer and I get all my photographic quandaries sorted.

  1. My new South African family actually mocks us a little when we call it “a Safari.” To them, it’s a “game park” or “game reserve.” ↩︎
  2. Really Tony, a whole minute?

    I honestly can’t believe he’s telling people to just do it all in software to save a whole “100 bucks.” Setting aside the fact that I seem to value my time more than he does, and the enjoyment of the creative process, there are things a polarizing filter can do that software can’t replicate, like reducing reflections from the waxy coating on leaves.

    On top of that, his struggle with the filter is laughable, his water reflection example is horrendous, and the idea that capturing 10s of images instead of one is less time consuming or cost-effective (storage for all those RAW files costs money, after all), is ludicrous.

    I will give him that UV filters are worthless though.