I haven’t been overly secretive about our upcoming trip to Europe. It’s been circled on our calendars since we started school over six years ago and suppressing our excitement has become somewhat difficult.
Over the last few months, Jaclyn and I have planned all facets of the trip. We booked our flights, hotels, and train tickets online ahead of time, and we’ve written down our initial itinerary on a day-to-day basis. Fairly par for the traveling course, I’d say.
Where I’ve gone a bit overboard is in the technology planning for the trip. Like any good nerd, what we’re bringing along has become just as important as where we’re going.
And here is what we’ve settled on:
1. Sony a7II
This has become my workhorse camera since January and I’ve been fairly pleased with its output. Photos from the a7II’s sensor have a dynamic range that is second to none and I’m pleasantly surprised with the sensor’s resolution. The camera body is a bit bigger than some of Olympus’ offerings, but I feel the a7II’s full-frame sensor and relatively small body trump anything from Olympus and anything from larger DSLR makers for a trip like this. Overall, the majority of my shooting will be done with the a7II and I think it has all the right compromises for a travel camera.
Note: I am leaving behind the a7II’s vertical grip. The vertical grip allows for improved portrait shooting and also allows for housing two batteries at once in the camera body. However, I don’t believe the added size and weight will be overcome by ergonomic benefits when traversing Europe. I’ll be leaving the vertical grip behind for the three weeks.
I could eliminate all three of these lenses with the new Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens, but I’ve wanted to stay relatively small and light for the trip. As such, the Batis 25mm f/2 is my pick for wide angles. At 25mm, the Batis is neither a very wide angle lens nor a general walk around lens, so I may be able to use it for both purposes when the context seems right. The lens is also tremendously small and light, so I can’t lose.
The 85mm f/1.8 Batis lens will be the short telephoto/portrait lens of choice for the trip. It’s substantially smaller than the new Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM lens and provides most of the same benefits for a lesser price. I’m not sure how often the 85mm will be pulled out of the backpack, but I’m bringing it along for those specific instances where a 50mm portrait of Jaclyn just won’t do.
The 55mm Sonnar f/1.8 will be my general walk around lens. It’s a bit on the long end for general walk around, but I find myself more drawn to short telephoto travel photography than 35mm-or-wider photography. The tiny size of the 55mm only adds to its value for a trip like this, so I’d be surprised if this lens isn’t used for 90% of the three weeks of shooting.
I’ve traveled one too many times with a heavy camera around my neck, so the Luma Loop will join us this time around. The Luma Loop 3 is a shoulder sling that screws into the tripod mount of any camera, and then holsters the camera at the ready at your hip. The leather shoulder pad is comfortable to use and won’t pull down on my neck all day long. Even though the a7II and three lenses are relatively small and light, the Luma Loop should get rid of any other stress on my neck during our trip.
The MacBook is the one specific tool we’re bringing along to which we devoted the most research. This MacBook is the mid-range, Core M5, 512GB model. We could have brought along a secondary hard drive to store media, or we could purchase more internal storage in the MacBook and use the MacBook itself as a portable hard drive. Between the 100GB of storage between the SD cards and the 512GB of storage in the MacBook, I think our media should be safe from loss or corruption.
The MacBook isn’t the fastest or most powerful option for editing photos and it even requires adapters for USB devices and SD cards, but nothing can beat it in terms of portability. Over the last few weeks, this laptop’s tiny size has spoiled my wife and I, and I couldn’t imagine going on a trip with anything larger.
6. Extra Battery and Chargers
The Sony a7II’s battery is notoriously poor, so having an extra battery is an absolute must. In fact, one could argue a third battery is an absolute must. The way we travel should allow us to charge any dead batteries we have during the day sometime, so two batteries will almost surely be enough for our needs.
The other major setback of the a7II’s battery out of the box is the lack of external charger. Without an external battery charger, I’d have to wake up halfway through the night just to change the battery inside the a7II for charging. Instead, with the external charger, I can charge one battery inside the a7II body and the other in the external charger. This is a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist, but I expect there to be little hiccups along the way.
The OM-D E-M5 Mark II is my favourite camera and I don’t see myself parting with it very easily. Even though the a7II will be the workhorse of the trip, the E-M5 Mark II is coming along as a backup and as the camera Jaclyn will use most of the time.
There is also the Olympus battery charger and a lengthy charging cord that will need to come with, unfortunately. The cord takes up a surprising amount of space in the bag and I wish Olympus revisited the charger in general. It’s a better solution than the Sony but could still use some work.
The 15mm Pana Leica lens for the E-M5 Mark II nicely fits in between the 25mm Batis and 55mm Sonnar in terms of focal length. I like how the Olympus and Pana Leica so nicely complement the entire photography kit. Unfortunately though, the Pana Leica lens isn’t weather sealed, so I’ll have to worry slightly if the rain starts to come down.
Aside from the lack of weather sealing, there is little to quibble about with this lens for travel purposes. It’s extremely small and light and slips into a coat pocket with absolute ease. Combined with the E-M5 Mark II, the Pana Leica lens makes a formidable backup option.
This is where the whole thing changes. I love watching travel videos on Youtube and a vast majority of them are shot with GoPros. It just seems like the perfect travel video camera, so Jac and I dove in and are excited to give it a try.
We purchased the HERO4 Silver solely because of the backside touchscreen. The HERO4 Black is definitely the better option for higher quality 4K video, but the touchscreen just welcomes an easier to learn user interface. Our videography experience is extremely limited — nearly non-existent — so the difference in video quality won’t matter much to us.
Along with the HERO4 Silver came an extra battery (we purchased on eBay). I’ve read enough reviews that say you need many GoPro batteries for extended travel shooting, so I’m hoping two batteries is enough. I may pick up an external battery charger yet before we leave to make the charging process a little smoother.
It didn’t take much research to realize how shaky GoPro video can be without stabilization tools. Paul Stamatiou’s camera gear page is quick to heap praise on the Feiyu Tech gimbal, so we gulped and purchased the G4S for the HERO4 Silver. The G4S is largely the same as the less expensive G4 but comes with a thumb joystick and can spin the entire 360 degrees. The user interface is a little convoluted so far, as the five different panning modes are switched via a single function button, but after a little practice I’m sure this gimbal will make whatever video we capture that much better.
The little waterproof casing included with the HERO4 Silver begs to be used, so we looked for a GoPro eBay auction which included a waterproof grip of some sort. The Handler is GoPro’s official waterproof grip and will likely be used sparingly during our trip. We have two hotels booked with pools and hot tubs, so we’ll be sure to pull out The Handler during one or both of those stays.
10. GoPro Clamp
This simple clamp also shipped with our GoPro purchase and will be used to attach to a backpack strap while walking around. In all honesty, I’m not sure this clamp will come with us, as we already have the gimbal for extra-stable walk around video. Regardless, the clamp is small and light enough to hardly be noticed in our luggage, so whether or not it accompanies us on our travels will be a game time decision.
11. SD Cards and Micro SD Cards
It seems like you can never have enough SD card and Micro SD card storage for a trip like this, so we picked up a few extra cards.
- PNY Elite Performance 64GB SD Card
- SanDisk Extreme Plus 32GB SD Card
- SanDisk Extreme 64GB Micro SD Card
- Samsung 64GB EVO Plus Micro SD Card
This gives us about 100GB of photography storage for the a7II and OM-D E-M5 Mark II and 128GB of storage space for GoPro videos. I’m hoping this will be enough for the three week trip. If not, we’ll either purchase extra cards on the trip or hope our MacBook isn’t stolen if its our only backup solution.
12. iPhone 6s
No trip is complete without an iPhone at your side, and Apple’s Live Photos makes it one of the most indispensable travel photography tools on the market. I’ll likely shoot Live Photos with the iPhone that can be viewed later in Photos on the Mac, and I’ll shoot simple photos to be added to my Day One journal. Aside from the photography aspect, having Maps and Apple Pay all housed in the iPhone make this an absolute must for us.
As mentioned, the MacBook’s only major setback (in my humble opinion) is its single USB-C port. With our load out here, we’ll need an SD card slot, a Micro SD card slot, and a few USB ports to plug in and transfer when necessary. This Satechi USB-C Hub comes with a passthrough option to allow charging while still providing two USB-A ports and SD and Micro SD card slots. This hub was seemingly built for traveling MacBook users, so it was the easiest accessory to buy on this list.
This travel converter comes straight from The Wirecutter’s recommendation for the best surge protector for travel. It’s not even the actual recommendation actually, but it’s the best option for converting foreign plugs to the North American standard. The PowerCube has four outlets and two USB-A outlets for charging of six devices at once. It’s also rewirable, meaning the plug can be swapped from a North American plug to a UK or a European plug with ease. I’ll likely keep this PowerCube even after our trip and use it as a power bar around the house.
15. Field Notes, Hobonichi Techo, and Fisher Space Pen
This may not be chalked up as a set of photography tools, but I’ve written down a bunch of photo locations ahead of time that I’d like to visit. And, of course, I’m going to log our visit in the Hobonichi each night.
The MeFoto Backpacker is the poor man’s Sirui T-025X travel tripod. It’s made of aluminum instead of carbon fiber and its build quality isn’t to the same level as the Sirui’s, but I’m not too worried about the tradeoffs. It folds up quite nicely and won’t take up too much space in our day bag, all while providing the benefits of long exposure photography while out and about. I’m not sure how often we’ll use the tripod, but I’m sure a few opportunities will arise.
17. Allen Wrench
With a tripod comes an allen wrench. Simple as that.
And here’s what we’re going to carry all this stuff in. There have been many Isar reviews around the internet, two of my favourites being Thomas’ and Andrew’s. The Isar combines a roomy laptop compartment (nestled securely behind the backpack straps, might I add. This should add a little extra security while wearing the backpack during our trip.) with a fair sized duffel bag. There is more than enough room to cram a rain jacket, an extra pair of shoes, a water bottle, and all the above accessories all at once.
And it can’t go without being said: The Isar is a good looking backpack to boot. Jaclyn and I expect to take a plethora of photos during our trip and we thought the Isar would look just a little better than our other backpack option. With all the room, the extra security, and the unique design, the Isar seems like the perfect daily carry backpack for our three week trip.
We could shore up a few aspects of this photography and videography kit for our trip, but I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. I’m extremely excited to shoot some video with the HERO4 Silver and G4S gimbal, and I’m grateful to have a tiny laptop to store and process everything in. If I can find room for the tripod and not have to switch lenses every few minutes, our photography kit should serve us nearly perfectly.