What photography equipment should I take to Europe?

Gordon Smith eating dinner
Gordon Smith enjoying dinner in Paris
 Unlike a road trip from one state to another state in America, a trip to Europe requires more selective packing. When I traveled there for 3 weeks with my family, we decided that we would be traveling very light. Everything that we took to Europe and everything that we brought home had to fit in our carry-on backpack.

Besides the usual requirements of shirts, shoes, pants, socks and shaving equipment, I was most interested in knowing what camera equipment I could bring. What would fit and how heavy would it be to carry? My camera is a Canon 1Ds Mark 3. An all-purpose lens such as the 24-105 f/4 L IS is a no-brainer. If I could only take one lens, this would be it. I took the majority of my photos using this lens. The architectural wonders of Europe also made me want a wider lens with perspective correction. The 17mm tilt-shift lens fit the bill. This lens is very big and heavy but nothing else can do what it can. It made the cut. The 70-200 f/4 L (without IS) is light for it's focal length. This extra length allowed me to focus on some distant details. This gives more creative options when shooting landscape and travel photos. This also made the cut only after I'd packed all my stuff in and decided I could squeeze in a little bit more!

To shoot longer exposures and night shots, a tripod was necessary. Gitzo's traveler series GT1542 with a Markins Q10 ballhead supported my kit just fine. I took lots of memory with more than a dozen 16, 32 and 64 GB flash cards and compact flash cards. The Canon 1Ds saves two images simultaneously so I had a backup for all my shots as I went along. I have 3 rechargeable batteries and a charger that also went. And that's all I took. No filters, no timers, no other lenses. I certainly could use all those things but they wouldn't fit my packing requirements.

This is how the weight added up:
1Ds Mark 3 camera: 1400 mg
17mm f/4 tilt-shift lens: 820 mg
24-105mm f/4 L lens: 670 mg
70-200mm f/4 L lens: 710 mg
2 extra lithium batteries: 400 mg
battery charger + cord: 200 mg
Gitzo GT1542 tripod: 1000 mg
Markins Q10 ballhead: 490 mg

Grand total: 5690 mg = 5.6 kg = 12.3 pounds
Packing things away for a move from one town to another.
My backpack is green, my wife's is red.
Not all backpacks are made equal. I actually got a backpack (from Rick Steves) and tried taking a full load to the British Virgin Islands. That backpack was extremely uncomfortable and I would not recommend it to anyone. The backpack I found and now love is the Mountain Smith Approach 40. This is comfortable and can be carried onto a plane. It's just the right size: not too small, not too big.  I had a flimsy day-bag for trips around town or to a museum.  I typically had my camera around my neck and an extra lens in the day bag.

With my tripod, ballhead, 3 lenses, camera body and all my ordinary stuff (clothes, guidebook, etc) my pack weighed 25 pounds. In comparison, my youngest daughter's pack (same Mountain Smith Approach 40) weighed 12 pounds with just her smaller clothes, iPad, book and a point & shoot camera. You can see the difference was that 12.3 pounds of photography equipment I hauled along.


  1. Hello Gordon
    I saw on your blog that you have in europe. When and what country? I am French, if you come to Lyon, two hours by train from paris, I'll be happy to make your acquaintance.

  2. Hello Pierre. I loved visiting your wonderful country. As for my future plans, I hope to return to France as soon as possible and enjoy more of that wonderful place.


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