This article is mostly made for photographers who are currently setting up their analog travel equipment. Experienced photographers will most likely already know most of the things I mention but you never know, you could learn something new 😉
Are you travelling solo?
If yes, then travel photography is much easier for you, not needing to mind your fellow traveller(s) lets you carry around more equipment and take more time for photography. If not, it is most likely that your fellow travellers aren’t as into photography as you are. Craving to take the best shot possible, time doesn’t matter to you as a photographer but the inverse is true for everyone who accompanies you. Nobody is so patient that they will pause for you each time you want to take a picture. Everyone will be annoyed and walk on without you. So if you don’t want to be left back you need to be fast when taking pictures.
What type of photographer are you?
I think there are two approaches to how to take photographs and correspondingly two types of photographers. The first type is kind of a snapshot shooter. He/she aspires to capture as many impressions of the voyage as possible and fills film rolls swiftly. I would call them the typical travel photographer. Not each image is a piece of art but that’s also not their claim. It doesn’t take long for him or her to take a picture but they still put effort into each one.
The second type puts a lot of work into each picture, and it usually takes some time until they have taken one, so they can squeeze as much quality as possible out of every shot. Thus, they often shoot medium format or larger, which further means fewer pictures in general and leads to them principally shooting the best opportunities where their company also wants to wait longer. If you don’t have countless pictures to take you won’t shoot semi-good or generally unpleasant scenes. That’s why your fellow travelers won’t get too annoyed.
In the end, both types are more or less equally annoying. It becomes frustrating for your company if you mix both types because you’re wasting too much precious time of your trip.
Which type of camera fits best for traveling?
If you classify yourself as a photographer of the first type I would suggest you shoot pocket or small format film. Taking pictures using those formats is quick and straightforward: lightweight and compact cameras, easy handheld shooting, no need for a tripod, often build-in light meters, possible quick lens changes, only a few adjustment options, automation modes with newer cameras, and so on.
A normal snapshot with a bit thought regarding composition usually takes me around 5-10 seconds with my Olympus OM-1n and the built-in light meter or Sunny 16. Your company presumably won’t mind resting for 5-10 seconds and if they do, catching up again is easy because your gear is lightweight and a 5-10 second lead isn’t that much. Furthermore, a kit with cameras like this is most suitable for hiking because your gear is lightweight and once you begin hiking you don’t want to wait too long to take a photograph otherwise, you would interrupt your hiking flow. A small and lightweight kit is more comfortable to carry around and more natural to access from your bag.
Some could argue that shooting medium format could also be done quickly and easily and if you have a light camera like a Fuji GW690, for example, this could be done. But with something heavier like a Pentax 67, I would classify you as a photographer of the second type. Speaking of it the second type, medium format cameras and larger are advised. But also pinhole cameras or other cameras with just very tiny apertures should be shot like the second type because they usually have to be used with a tripod which is commonly longer to take pictures with.
Which particular cameras do I recommend?
Concerning the first type of photographer again, a classic single mirror reflex camera (SLR) will work completely fine. I would recommend one with some sort of help concerning exposure so you don’t have to use an external light meter and be faster in general. Rangefinders will do too but if you want to work with something really, really compact and fast, point and shoot cameras are your pick. In general, it doesn’t matter which of those cameras you prefer but I wouldn’t recommend something too huge like a Nikon F2. They should be reliable, flexible and sturdy.
Moving on to specific recommendations: After a lot of research I settled on the Olympus OM-1n as my go-to SLR because it is lightweight, inexpensive, compact, has some nice features, and the small lenses are exceptional. If you want something different I would suggest you pick a camera out of the 70s to early 80s because this was the golden era of mechanical SLRs which are generally more reliable but still highly functional. There are great lists about the best SLRs like this one from Japan Camera Hunter.
As a shooter of the second type, your camera doesn’t matter. But still, it shouldn’t be too old because older cameras can be unreliable, so probably no 100-year-old folders. If you still want to take a large folding calera with, you Intrepid might be worth a look.
For other cameras, I would prefer a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera like a Rolleicord or Yashica-Mat 124 or a medium format SLR like a Hasselblad 500CM or a Pentacon Six because they seem to be quite sturdy and reliable. But as I stated earlier, as a second type photographer you have more free space and time to shoot hence your camera is completely up to your choice.
None of the less I would advise everyone to get their camera checked or CLA’d before every trip!
Lenses € – €€€€€
For a small kit, zoom lenses are your friend and faster lenses make shooting by hand more comfortable. I mostly use normal and wide-angle lenses while traveling because travel photography is essentially documentary, street, landscape and architecture photography. I used my tele lens for one photo in a whole week of hiking in the alps which made it only a burden. I would still take a tele lens with me for portraits and wildlife photography.
Bag €€ – €€€€€
Obviously, you are required to carry your gear in some kind of bag. There are also suitcase-like bags but the common ones made from textiles or leather are easier to carry. There are too many offers to write them all down, from affordable ones from Amazon to high-quality ones from Billingham. Waterproofness is essential when it comes to bags and it’s always best with them if you compare their size in an offline store. I finally purchased the Lowepro Nova AW II for around 50€ because it suits my gear perfectly and is comparatively small.
Cleaning kit € – €€
My equipment constantly gets dirty quicker then I think, hence I frequently have to clean it. To have all your cleaning gear by hand fast there are cleaning kits in varying sizes and prices. They mostly include a microfiber cloth, q-tips, a lens cleaning liquid, and an air blower. Mine is from Rollei.
Film case € – €€€
I usually store my film in translucent plastic bags in the freezer, but when I’m away from home and need to carry multiple films I like to use my plastic 35mm film case from Japan Camera Hunter. JCH also has leather versions available. Japan Camera Hunter isn’t the only retailer of these, Fotoimpex also sells the plastic ones and there are loads of other retailers who offer other leather film cases.
Straps € – €€€€
Like with bags there are countless options for straps. There are cheap ones out of cloth to expensive handmade ones out of leather. Often you even get the original ones with your camera (I use the original one on my Olympus OM1). I don’t know which strap I would purchase in the future but I like the approach of the straps from Peak Design. On the other hand, I would also like to directly support the community through purchasing a handmade strap, like one from Roman Romanov. If you don’t like straps, you should take a look at ever-ready cases.
Filters € – €€€€€
It doesn’t matter which filters you use while traveling. I highly recommend using UV-filters to preserve your glass from scratches and your shutters from burning. I use a simple and inexpensive one from Hoya.
Tripods € – €€€€€
Even if you’re a photographer of the first type you sometimes need a tripod for long exposures or architecture photography. Unfortunately, most of them are heavy and huge (needed for heavier cameras). I acquired the cheapest one I could find used for 5€ which is enough for my Olympus OM-1. It’s not very lightweight and small but because I’m a photographer of the first type I don’t take it with me when traveling. If you still need one, a Gorillapod might be enough for you, otherwise, there are dedicated travel tripods from diverse companies like Rollei.
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If you need them, don’t forget to bring them with you! It’s easy to run out of them without additional supply. And don’t overlook to put them into your hand luggage when flying.
Motor drives €€-€€€€
If you want to shoot even faster and if you want to shoot events that only last a few seconds, like an erupting geyser, a motordrive is your answer. Because it is a relatively expensive (~100€+) investment, and because it is large and heavy, I would only recommend using it if it’s essential for your shooting style.
Development on the go €€€
When going for a longer voyage you want to develop your film on the go to prevent any damage to your film. The best way to do so is to use small development tanks like one from AP or Paterson (cheaper than JoBo), or something like the LAB-BOX from ars-imago, and your chemicals in small containers (<100ml is the max liquid container size for flying) or as powder concentrate in translucent plastic bags (better for flying) or their original bags. A powdered Monobath developer is also an excellent option.
Rain bags €
When going outdoors good or bad weather isn’t always predictable and sometimes you just want some rain for your pictures. To prevent your gear from taking damage through water a rain bag is highly recommended. They have a hole for your lens so you can still take photographs and also they’re inexpensive and can be self-made. So why not?
Shutter buttons €
There are petite shutter buttons available in hundreds of designs, colors and materials that you can screw on your shutter button (assuming it has a thread for a shutter release cable). A neat little accessory for every camera.
You don’t always shoot your film at box speed, sometimes you push or pull it and sometimes you use even crazier techniques like shooting your film as redscale film. To remember all this I recommend a black waterproof pencil, not only to write down notes on your film but also because a pencil is always helpful.
Film diary €
Another use for your pencil. Film diaries are used to note what you shot and how you shot it. Not mandatory but helpful to have. You can make one by yourself by just using a plain notebook, but you can also buy a few different ready-made ones.
There is an app for nearly everything, even for photography. To get the right exposure if you ran out of batteries, your light meter isn’t accurate enough, or if you find another reason why you need to use an app for it, I recommend “Light Meter – Free” (Android) but there are many others out there.
Photography is all about light, furthermore to catch the best light there are apps like “PhotoTime” (Android) telling you when the sun rises, when blue hour is, and so on. Resting our view at the sky, there’s a need for an app like “Star Walk 2” (Android) to know how and where to take your milky way shots. If you’re developing your film on the go, I advise you to install “Film Developer Timer” and “Dev it!” (Android).
What sort of film to take when travelling?
Again it is entirely up to your preference however if you want to be faster and want to care less about your exposures I would recommend you fast film (ISO 400+) which lets you use shorter shutter times even when it’s getting dark so you don’t have to use a tripod.
When you are just shooting in bright daylight, lower sensitivities are of course also possible but traveling also means exploring unexpected spaces (for me) which could also mean dark environments. An alternative is pushing your film which may not be fitting for your color film because it changes its look radically.
That’s why I think Black/White film is most desirable for travel photography because it is more flexible: Higher exposure latitude and pushing or pulling is easier.
Things to watch out for when travelling with analog camera equipment
When travelling by car, bus or boat there’s is nothing to watch out about except to just store your gear carefully and to pack compact. However, when packing for a flight you need to think twice what you take with you because your luggage is limited to a specific weight and size if you don’t want to pay more (your gear presumably cost enough).
Don’t overlook to put your lens cleaning liquid with the other liquids in a see-through plastic bag. Furthermore, when going through the safety scan process you need to take some safety precautions for your film. Luggage scanners work with X-Ray technology and emit radiation which could expose your film and leave some fog on it. Hence to avoid this I always put all my film in a see-through plastic bag and ask the staff if they could check it by hand.
Most of them react helpfully and do so without complaints. One time, when I was letting my film be reviewed by hand, one of the staff members, who was a former analog photographer himself, told me that the radiation only becomes a problem with high sensitivity film with an ISO of around 1600 and higher, which means that you can send your 800 and lower ISO films through the scanner without problems (I didn’t test that yet).
In the end, I want to thank you for reading my first article here on EMULSIVE. I hope you liked it and if not tell me in the comments. I’d also like to hear your suggestions on how I’ve could done better.
Now go out and shoot some film!
P.S. All gear recommendations are based on personal experience and no company told me to recommend their product.
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