Why should you want a minimalist set of travel photography gear? For the same reason as me, I expect. It’s more fun because it’s more comfortable. Learning to shoot with minimal gear reduces the weight you need to carry and stops you from worrying about the ‘what ifs’ of having other equipment. It’s the human need for ‘just in case’ which prevents people from carrying what they really need and keeps them carrying what they want.
Figuring out what you need to shoot with is tricky and often takes some experience, and to get there, you often need to put your practical head on and find peace in understanding you can only get what you can get with the kit you have chosen to carry. My days of travelling with minimal kit started a long time ago – back in 2014, to be precise, and this is how it began.
I’d travelled to Paris with a fully laden professional Nikon DSLR kit. It weighed around 10kg, and I barely used most of it. It was, by and large, an unpleasant experience dragging it around everywhere. Fast forward a few months after I’d been on the hunt for a reasonably priced camera that was small and light, and I came across the Fujifilm X-T10. This was to be the start of a beautiful relationship. I’m still shooting on Fujifilm in my personal time, and I’ll tell you more about that shortly.
I’m a professional photographer in my day job and shoot on Canon R5 cameras. Two of them, in many cases. They are full frame, larger and heavier than my Fuji, and come with impressive but heavy glass. There is no denying that they are great cameras, but I would not choose them based purely on their size and weight, which brings me nicely to my minimalist travel photography gear list.
Minimalist Travel Photography Gear
This is a tricky article to write because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to my minimalist travel photography gear, and depending on how I feel and what my intention is, I will take one of two lenses or even both. So, my kit is usually limited to the six or seven items on this list, and I’ll explain the use of each as we progress through the post.
I have built a comprehensive list of travel photography gear over the years. However, a few standout gear items are used more than the rest, and when travelling, form my minimalist travel photography gear. The basis of the kit is always the same – Fujifilm X-T5, strap, battery, and two memory cards. The bits that change are only the lenses. I don’t carry spares. Read on to find out what spares I don’t carry.
It’s a tough job trying to minimalist your kit. As humans, we usually have a ‘just in case’ attitude, and I’ve had to put that consideration to one side and consider what I need and cannot do without to achieve a set of pictures I will be happy with.
1 | A Camera
First up is a camera, of course. I’ve been with Fujifilm for a while and feel invested in the X-Series lineup. I’m on my third body now and have a fair amount of lenses. That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever change, but it meets my current needs. Those needs are a small, robust and light camera that performs well. The Fujifilm X-T5 meets all those needs and is my current camera of choice.
The X-T5 is a mirrorless camera. There is no way I would step back into the world of DSLRs. The future of DSLR cameras is bleak, and mirrorless cameras usually win in the size and weight category, which makes them ideal as a minimalist piece of travel photography gear.
I’ve put together a full Fujifilm X-T5 review, where you can get the full low-down on the camera. Plenty of other cameras on the market will meet your needs other than Fujifilm. However, the Fujifilm range includes some favourites among minimalist photographers, such as the X100V. It features a fixed lens, which isn’t something I’m not keen on. I prefer the flexibility of being able to change lenses. Having said that, I can see the appeal for the hardcore minimalists. Anyway, if you’re looking for a camera to suit your minimalist needs, I recommend sticking to a reasonable interchangeable mirrorless camera and avoiding DSLRs altogether.
2 | A Lens
This is the hardest part of all the sections to write about stripping down your camera gear to the absolute essentials. This is where I try to strike a balance – a balance which changes based on mood, need, location, and what else is in my daysack. Striking the balance between size, weight, and need can be tricky, but my two favourite and most used lenses are below. Almost without exception, I will have one or both of these with me.
Any camera can take a picture that meets most people’s needs for use online, but the glass is the significant bit. Without the right glass, you can’t achieve what you want to.
For example, depth of field is an essential consideration for me. I’m not content shooting at smaller apertures because, in some cases, they don’t provide the visuals I want. Shooting a full frame 50mm 1.4 will give a shallower depth of field than a 50mm (equivalent) 1.4 on a cropped sensor, such as on Fujifilm X-Series cameras. However, I am willing to compromise on the trade-off between size, weight and depth of field.
FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R
In the true sense of minimalist travel photography gear, this is the only lens that matters.
The Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 is my second most used lens and has long been one of my favourites, if not my favourite. It’s a solid performer, has a wide aperture, is versatile despite being a fixed focal length lens, and has a character unlike any other lens I’ve used. Optically, it’s imperfect, but it’s small and light, which lends itself well to minimalist travel photography, and it has a wide aperture to suit my style.
If there were only one lens I could ever shoot on again, it would be the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4. It’s a classic focal length (50mm full frame equivalent) that people have been shooting on for generations and developed long before variable focal length lenses were a thing and the perfect pairing for my camera.
When I learned photography in 2010, I shot on the Nikon trilogy, which was like the holy grail of lenses, with a focal range from 14mm to 200mm, all at f/2.8. And the interesting thing is – despite the range, the wide angle was rarely used, and the 24-70 was the boring but safe choice. It wasn’t until I started shooting on prime lenses that I realised their value stretches beyond that of most standard variable focal length lenses in the 24-100mm range. A decent variable focal length lens produces impressively sharp results these days because, optically, there isn’t much between them.
But there is one thing they can’t compete with – the aperture. This means they can produce results you can’t achieve on variable aperture lenses. Not yet, anyway. The Canon 28-70 f/2 comes close, but it weighs a whopping 1.4kg. Get that in your minimalist travel photography gear! Having said all that, I have a soft spot for one variable focal length lens.
FUJINON XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR
It’s hard to pick one lens, which is why the Fujinon 50-140mm f2.8 is on here, too. If I’m on a general day out with no intention of shooting anything specific, I’ll take the 50-140. And if I’m travelling overseas, this is usually with me. After searching through my archive to write a review about the lens, I discovered it is, by far, my most used lens. Surprisingly versatile, it’s a solid performer and meets my shooting style.
It may seem controversial to suggest carrying a rather large lens on a minimalist travel photography gear list, but it can do a lot, and it’s the reach I love. And, after all – the kit I choose to take has to be the best balance between the smallest and lightest combination I am willing to accept on any given trip to capture a set of pictures I’ll be happy with. The Fujifilm 50-140mm is a pleasure to use, a great performer, smaller and lighter than its full-frame counterparts, a lens I trust optically, and f/2.8 all the way through.
3 | A Phone
The gap between cameras and phone cameras is closing. Companies are investing a lot of money into developing better cameras, and they are quickly catching up. I bought a Google Pixel to complement my minimalist travel photography gear because it saves me carrying a wide-angle lens and saves me a lot of money buying what is quite a specialist lens. That’s because the Google Pixel has a super wide-angle lens, shoots in raw format, provides satisfactory results, and I always have it with me. It’s a no-brainer, and I’m doubtful I will ever buy a wide-angle lens because of the ability of phone cameras and their wide lenses.
4 | Strap
You don’t need a strap, but it’s more comfortable, and I suggest you use one. Haha. The strap that came with the camera was suitable, but I thought I’d snazz my camera up a bit with something more of my style. In my case, I bought a hand-crafted leather and paracord strap from a little camera shop when I was in Porto. It’s fitted with Peak Design Anchor Links, which proves handy when I want to take the strap off without the faff of removing it from the camera strap lug rings. When shooting in portrait orientation, they get in the way a bit, but I can accept that.
5 | Cleaning Cloth
This should go without saying, but it’s on the list anyway. I’d recommend carrying a cleaning cloth to help keep your lens clean, and they are helpful if you get a spot of rain on the glass. Anything else is a waste of space, like a lens pen. A cloth will do just fine, and they screw up pretty small in your pocket. They are cheap to get hold of, and I recommend looking for microfibre cloths.
6 | Nit-Core Stick-it Wrap
This one might be controversial, but I don’t use a camera bag. When I travel, my camera kit goes in the backpack with everything else I’m taking. That’s because camera bags are bigger than I’d like. We don’t use checked baggage; we only travel with backpacks.
Camera bags tend to come with a ton of padding, which is a bit of a waste of space when space is at a premium, hence the wrapper. I can wrap the camera in the wrapper and put it in my bag, knowing it’s safe from getting scratched. However, the camera is around my neck most of the time, too. After all, keeping your camera out is one of my top travel photography tips!
What I Don’t Carry
Now the main list is out of the way, here are the things I don’t carry:
- Spare battery
- Memory cards
- Memory card reader
More controversy, I know! That’s because the Fujifilm X-T5 battery will last long enough to take all the pictures I could wish for in one day. This means I will charge it when I retire to the accommodation at the end of the day. The batteries are small and light enough, but I don’t think I need to carry extra ones. I’ve never once run out of battery, and believe it or not, when I travelled to Ibiza with my old Fujifilm X-T2, I forgot spare batteries and a charger. I couldn’t charge it via USB, and it lasted long enough for a few days away.
I also don’t carry a battery charger. The X-T5 can be charged via USB-C, like my mobile phone and MacBook. So, I will top up the camera when the phone or laptop isn’t being charged or used. I don’t carry any spare memory cards, either. I have two in the camera body, and they have served me well. They are big enough to never fill them up on a shoot. And finally, I don’t carry a memory card reader. Because the camera takes USB-C, I can use the MacBook charger to connect the camera to download the imagery. Again, these items are small and light, but they all start to add up.
No doubt you might be cursing me now, but remember: this is about minimalist travel photography gear, which means – what is the least amount of kit I can carry to take pictures I will be satisfied with? It’s not about belt and braces and carrying things just in case – it’s about carrying the absolute minimal amount of gear to get what you need, and, in my opinion, chargers, cables, batteries, and memory card readers are unnecessary at this stage of my photography life. That doesn’t mean to say I won’t take them in future, but they don’t need to be taken on trips right now.
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