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I Used to Travel With a dSLR. Not Anymore.

My brother (and only sibling) and his family were over at our house for New Year’s Eve. Among the many topics we talked about was travel. Mostly, about how climbing up to some photo-worthy spot has become too much effort. In China, he said, he had no previous idea about the long climb to reach the Wall to walk on it, and he was carrying so much photo gear.

I sympathized and understood. That’s why I don’t bring a dSLR anymore when I travel. I’m 55, he’s a year younger, and it’s not like we’re gym buffs who train physically and mentally for trips like climbing Mount Everest. We’re just photography-obsessed tourists. And he has always been more serious about photography than I ever was. How we both ended up as lawyers, I’m still trying to comprehend.

There was a time when it wasn’t possible to take good quality photos without a big camera. Generations that grew up in the Age of Instagram probably won’t believe it, but we who had been taking photos long before mobile phones with good cameras became de rigueur used to travel with tons of photo equipment.

Pre-dSLR

When our daughters were much younger, summer vacations often meant going to the beach. I had a Pentax SLR which was rarely without a roll of film loaded in it. We also had a Sony video camera.

Photography back then was an expensive hobby. Not only was the equipment expensive, so was film processing. But when you’re a parent with young children, well, you want to capture every moment. We still have shelves and shelves of photo albums from those years. I ambitiously dreamed of scanning the photos once but, gee… Perhaps, when I’m too old to travel, I’ll get back to the scanning project. But not now. Not just yet.

The transition to digital photography

When the first affordable digital cameras hit the market, I was ecstatic. Finally, no more rolls of film and, more importantly, no more expensive film processing.

My first digital camera was not a dSLR. It was point-and-shoot Olympus. It was with that camera that I started a food blog toward the end of 2002.

A digital camera made learning photography guilt free. The subject (often, my girls and, occasionally, our meals) could be photographed from different angles and, unlike shooting with film, mistakes did not add to the cost. Bad photos could be deleted instantly and the experiment could be repeated until the perfect shot was taken.

Two point-and-shoot digital cameras later, food blogging was a career. My husband, Speedy, bought me my first dSLR, the Canon EOS 350D. Over the next five years, I upgraded to the EOS 40D and, finally, the 5D Mark II.

The dSLR addiction

Traveling with a dSLR. Panay Island, 2008
Me and my daughter, Sam. Panay Island, 2008

I always brought my dSLR when I traveled. When I went on a cruise, I even brought two cameras: a dSLR and the smaller Canon Powershot G10.

Heavy, yes, but it had become a habit. By the time the girls were in high school, we were all photo junkies in the family. You probably won’t believe the amount of photo gear that we used to bring on trips. Each of us carried a camera bag with at least one extra lens, battery chargers, lens filters… On road trips and even on vacations that required plane rides.

(If you think that’s too much, you ought to hear about the equipment that my brother brings when he travels. He brings his tripod too.)

But early in 2014, Speedy and I drove to Baguio for a wedding and I purposely left the dSLR behind. It wasn’t an easy decision for me. A dSLR had always been a necessary component of every trip in the past. But wearing formal clothes and carrying a dSLR around at the party didn’t seem like a good idea. Besides, by that time, I had been using the G10 for a while and I was confident that it could take good enough photos even in low light. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the summer of the same year, girl friends and I flew to Bacolod and I did it again. No dSLR; just the G10. A few months later, I was off to Boracay with only the G10 in my bag.

It was like rehab and I was getting over my dSLR addiction. Slowly but surely, I learned to rely on the heavy camera less and less. In time, I was using the dSLR exclusively to shoot photos for the food blog. At home.

When I went to Hong Kong with girl friends, I went a step farther. I couldn’t find the G10 (my daughter borrowed it weeks earlier) so I left for the airport with only my mobile phone. A Sony Xperia with a kickass camera.

I realized that travel without a heavy dSLR camera was quite a liberating experience.

Today, I travel with a Canon EOS M100

Looking back, there are two things that made me decide a dSLR is not necessary for travel.

Traveling with a Canon EOS M100. Nara, Japan. 2018.
Traveling with a Canon EOS M100. Nara, Japan. 2018.

First, digital technology has progressed so much and so fast that many mobile phones today have truly remarkable cameras. And, for those of us who want more control than mobile phones can offer, there are compact mirrorless cameras with full manual control and interchangeable lenses that don’t weigh a ton. I bought a Canon EOS M100 and brought it to Japan. The M100 and iPhone were all I needed.

Second, and this is what really started this post… I’m 55. There are things that are easy for a 35-year-old mother of toddlers that aren’t so easy for a 55-year-old. Carrying a heavy bag of photo equipment is one of them. My dear brother should think about that.

Written By

I travel to eat, drink and learn new cuisines. Between trips, I write travel stories and share travel-inspired recipes. That is my idea of retirement with purpose.

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