After less than a year we again returned to the USA for vacation. Three amazing weeks in the South West. It seems we just can’t get enough.
Las Vegas – Bryce Canyon – Monument Valley – Arches NP – Vail/Beaver Creek – Colorado Springs – Pikes Peak – Santa Fe – Holbrook – Phoenix – Joshua Tree NP – Carpinteria – Santa Barbara and back to Las Vegas.
Last year I left my Canon full frame gear at home because I haven’t fully recovered from a broken collar bone and a slip disc. I just took my Fuji X-T1 plus X-Pro1 plus several lenses. This year I went back to full frame but my most used camera wasn’t my Canon 6D. My main camera was a Sony! Again. Just like on my first trip to the USA where I took most of my shots with the than new Sony NEX 5.
This year it was the Sony A7R. My Canon EF16-35/4 L IS USM was practicably bolted on the camera. On the Canon 6D I used the Canon EF24-70/2.8 L II USM but mainly the EF70-200/2.8 IS II USM.
Than I also brought my trusty Fuji X-T1 plus the XF 14/2.8 R and the XF 27/2.8 for all occasions where I did not like to bring the big gear. And finally my wife’s Fuji X-M1 plus kit lens but we ended up to use the Sony A6000 plus kit lens most of the time i.e. for the out of the car shots. So we traveled with 5 cameras and a bunch of lenses and on top of that I also took my small Gitzo travel tripod with me. And of course my 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro.
In short: way too much gear! Next time I need to downsize.
So the question is what worked and what didn’t. What to leave at home on my next big vacation? Here are some statistics.
1. Lets start with the cameras:
As mentioned before I took about 40% of all shots with the Sony A7R that I just bought one week prior to the trip. I waited as long as possible in anticipation of the A7R II but the camera was not even announced before I left for my trip.
Originally I planned to get a Canon 70D because I love to have two camera bodies to avoid the need to switch lenses. One camera with a wide angle zoom and the other one with the tele zoom is a very convenient way to shoot. And it is also a good way to avoid dust on sensors especially in the desert. But to be honest I didn’t like the idea to get an APS-C DSLR and a second full frame DSLR was not an option too. I also was a little jealous regarding the high resolution, high dynamic sensors from Sony in Nikon and Sony cameras.
And than I put 1 and 1 together and got the Sony A7R for my wide angle landscape shots and made my Canon 6D my tele zoom camera.
I have to admit that I didn’t like the idea to use an adapter but it worked fine. I got the one from Metabones because it allows communication with the camera and IS still works. AF also “works” but only theoretically. The Canon EF 16-35/4 IS L USM becomes a manual lens on the Sony A7R. Good thing is that the zoom in function is perfect and makes manual focus a breeze. Of course DOF on a super wide angle lens is deep if stopped down so focus is not critical. I used the EVF in bright sunlight but I also enjoyed to use the tilt screen to shoot in medium format style (from the hip).
Talking about medium format: The Sony A7R did not disappoint. Crisp sharp images with tons of detail. It’s not that the Canon 6D or the Fuji X-T1 don’t produce sharp images but the difference is striking. The IQ of the Sony is in a different class. And of course there is the high dynamic range that really can make a difference sometimes. In short: I’m very happy with my decision.
Conclusion Cameras: Very happy with the A7R and Fuji X-T1. The Sony A6000 will replace the Fuji X-M1 in the future because it is much faster which is nice for out of car shots. I will use the Sony 18-200 OSS in the future instead of the kit lens. The Canon 6D is the lightest full frame DSLR but it is still heavy compared to a Sony A7R or its successor, the Sony A7R II. Combined with the new Zeiss Batis 2/25mm the Sony A7R II could replace Fuji X-T1 too. Tempting.
2. What lenses?
But the even bigger question is what lenses to bring on a vacation. In the past I tried everything. From a 20kg backpack full of gear to one single superzoom to cover everything or even just the Fuji X100 (a big sensor compact with an integrated prime lens). I love to travel light. On my business trips I take nothing but my Fuji X-T1 plus the 14mm and the 27mm lens. But a vacation in the South West of the USA is a different story. Everything is close to the car so no need to carry around the camera.
And here are the lenses I used during the trip:
As you can see I did not shoot the Canon EF 24-70/2.8 II L USM a lot. The reason is simple: weight! Same is true for the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 II L IS USM. It was in between 40 to 47 degrees Celsius when I was there. A massive heatwave! On the longer hikes in the Bryce Canyon NP and Arches NP I decided to take just the Sony A7R plus the Canon EF 16-35/4 IS L USM and replaced the other lenses with water bottles.
Lens number two was my favorite lens from Fuji, the Fuji XF 14/2.8. The reason is simple. On city trips or in museums I prefer the Fuji X-T1 that I carry around in a small ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag. The 14mm lens is fantastic. Sharp, wide and zero distortion but still small and light. Perfect!
Lens number three was the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 II IS L USM. This is an absolutely fantastic lens. It is crazy sharp wide open at all focal lengths and colors and contrast are excellent too. Thanks to f2.8 it capable to separate the subject from the background. A big advantage over the f4 version. BUT the lens is a monster and that’s why it stayed out of the bag more often than I liked. As a consequence I missed a lot of shots. I have no doubt that I would have taken the f4 version on a lot of those hikes.
Conclusion Lenses: Very happy with the Canon EF 16-35/4 IS L USM and of course with my Fuji XF 14/2.8. The two f2.8 zoom from Canon are a mixed bag. They are fantastic but size and weight is too high. I think the massive Canon 70-200/2.8 IS L USM is even easier to justify because it can be combined with converters to give a relativeliy fast 280mm lens. At least on a Canada or Alaska trip it is a no brainer. Just for landscapes I think the also very good f4 IS version from Canon is the better option or maybe even the Canon 70-300/4-5.6 IS L USM. But the Canon EF 70-200 II IS L USM is such a fantastic lens. Just click on the image above.
The Canon 24-70/2.8 II L USM is one of the nicest lenses I ever shot but since 24mm is not wide enough for landscapes I preferred the 16-35 most of the time. The simplest recommendation for travel photography is this: If your focus is on people/portrait take the 24-70. If focus is on landscape take the 16-35. Don’t take both unless you get paid for your pictures.
An amazing result. I shot more than 75% of the images at ISO 200 or lower. ISO 200 is base ISO on the Fuji. With todays cameras everything below ISO 1.000 can be considered low ISO. So only 10% of my photos are high ISO shots. Is good high ISO overrated? I don’t think so. This time I did not spend a lot of time in dark museums or dark aquariums or on the street at night. I shot mainly at daylight. And there is plenty of light in the South West of the USA. In my business trips to Asia it is different. In Asia I shoot mainly after working hours or in dim lit cities. High ISO is very important there.
Conclusion ISO: I knew it before. On the average USA vacation high ISO is meaningless for me. There are some occasions i.e. aquariums, museums, … where good high ISO comes in handy but most of the time it is not important at all. For you it can be a different story but I recommend to look at the ISO statistics of your Lightroom catalog. I think a higher dynamic range is more useful most of the time. My business trips in Asia are a completely different story though.
What will I change next time?
Less gear! The tripod most likely will stay at home. I will also reduce the number of cameras. Five is definitely too many! And finally I’m not so sure about the heavy f2.8 zooms and the rather heavy DSLR.
I don’t know if I will change my current cameras but if I would start from scratch I would consider something like this:
- Sony A7R II
- Sony A7R
- Sony FE 16-35/4 OSS
- Sony FE 70-200/4 OSS
- Zeiss Loxia 21/2.8 (to replace Fuji X-T1 plus Fuji XF 14/2.8 for vacations)
- Sony FE 35/2.8
- Sony A6000 plus 18-200 OSS (out of car, snapshots)
Help me! I just can’t get enough.