Mirrorless to Africa

In GEAR, Travel by David71 Comments


In a couple days I fly to Africa for almost 6 weeks. A week in Lalibela, Ethiopia, then to Kenya to spend 10 ten days in my beloved Maasai Mara to take my mother on her first safari, and then to Zanzibar for over two weeks to get my scuba certification and spend time with my camera in the water. And I’m doing it all with smaller mirrorless cameras. Not an SLR in my kit. I’m quite comfortable with my Fuji XE-1, and because I’m not one to chase fast-moving predators, I think the 55-200 lens will give me all the reach I need,  but I’ve also got a rangefinder that’s new to me and I’m already nervous about the learning curve. It’s a bit of a rag-tag kit, but I’m excited about how much lighter this is allowing me to travel, without having to sacrifice image quality.

What excites me is not just the smaller kit, but the change in process. There are advantages – strong advantages – to knowing your camera so well you hardly know it’s there, but the advantage that comes with switching things up for me is a fresh awareness of my decisions. I’m more careful about metering, pay more attention to focus, and in this slowing down usually comes more careful attention to my composition and choice of moments. For me the ability to do all this with smaller and smaller bags of gear means I can walk longer, and when I get tired it’s creative exhaustion, not the exhaustion that comes from not wanting to walk one more foot with all the gear. I’ll be walking through Lalibela and the ancient, rock-hewn, churches crowded with pilgrims, with  2 rangefinders and 2 lenses. A couple small batteries in my pocket. Maybe a spare lens in my bag, but they’re so small compared to my DSLR gear that I could bring 3 of them and still not take the weight of a 24-70/2.8. I can’t wait. Why else am I excited? My smaller cameras are almost silent, I feel much less conspicuous with them, and in the case of the waist-level finder on my Leica, there’s an ability to compose with a much less aggressive posture and that’s really important to me when photographing something so personal as a pilgrimage.

On safari I’ll still have two cameras, one wide and one the 55-200 (the equivalent of 300mm of reach on a 35mm frame). What excites me most is documenting my time with my mother, but for longer scenics, this telephoto ought to be fine. And then when I get to Zanzibar I’ll be mostly using my Sony Rx100 (Mark II) with a Nauticam underwater housing which is smaller and seems infinitely easier to use than the Aquatech rig I have for my Canon 5D, which will stay at home, enjoying its retirement. I got my housing at Backscatter – check out the amazing selection of housing for some of today’s most current compact cameras – including Olympus, Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic)

As a technological development, mirrorless cameras mean almost nothing to me. I still have my DLSR gear and love it. I still have 3 film cameras and love them too. But as the quality improves so does the ability to travel with, and work with, gear that allows us to expend our creative energies the way we want to. I can’t wait to do an around the world trip, or head back into the Indian Himalaya with this lighter gear.

What does this newer kit look like? For the geeks among us, I’ll put my packing list below. It’s astonishing how much lighter and smaller things are becoming compared to just 5 years ago. Questions? Put them in the comments. I’ll reply as I can.

As always, I’ll check in when I can, though I don’t imagine that’ll be for at least a week or two. Postcards as I can send them. Check in this Tuesday for a look back in words and images at 2013.

My packing list:

Fuji XE-1
14mm, 18-55mm, 55-200mm

Leica M (240)
21mm, 50mm, 75mm

Sony RX100 (II)
Water housing, mask, snorkel

Spare batteries, chargers
SD card reader, SD cards
11″ MacBook Air
Hard drive
Lee Filter kit, Singh Ray filters (10-stop, 3-stop, 3-stop grad, polarizer)
Gitzo Traveler tripod
Shutter release
Cleaning kit, repair kit
Plug adaptors & power strip

5 shirts
2 pants
2 shorts
1 sweater
1 raincoat
1 hat
4 each – underwear, socks.
Boots, sandals

Medical and first aid
Spare glasses
12 x Clif bars


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  2. Great that you travel with a bag like this.
    When I compare my “huge bag” from 4 years ago with my “huge bag” now, there also is a big difference.

    In my present “huge back”, I have those items now:

    – Leica M8
    – Voigtländer 4.5/15
    – Voigtländer 2.0/28
    – Voigtländer 2.5/75

    – Fuji X-E1
    – Fuji 1.4/35
    – Fuji 18-55
    – Fuji 55-230
    – Samyang 2.8/14 w/ LensTurbo

    So, my appraoch is pretty similar to yours.
    It’s great fun and I can do everything I want with that set.

  3. Hi David,

    got a couple of your ebooks and enjoyed them a lot. Was send from the Fujirumors over to this post.
    I did travel Nepal and India in March/April last year and carried a Canon 7D with two heavy lenses around. We did the Annapurna circuit and my camery was so well stowed in the sleeping bag comartment of myy backpack that very often I refused to take it out to take pictures, a shame!
    Immediately when I got back to Germany I bought a 2nd hand X-E1 because in the future I want to travel light! In 6 weeks I’ll fly to South-Africa on a 4 weeks trip and the Canon will stay home 😉


  4. Pingback: miXed zone: Full Frame madness, XC 50-230: the forgotten one and more! | Fuji Rumors

  5. Have one great trip, David. I am yet to go to Africa, still trying to persuade my brother Cesar, who attended your latest workshop at Cinque Terre and introduced your work to me.
    Safe travels and happy shooting.

  6. Hi David – I’ll be watching for your reports on how your mirrorless adventure went, especially the Fuji X camera. I’ve been using an X-Pro1 and X100 for a couple years now and absolutely love them. There seems to be something “organic” about them that connects me more closely to the images I’m making…. Safe travels!

  7. Pingback: Mirrorless to Africa | David duChemin

  8. I´m a retired pro newspaper photographer from Sweden and I have got really tired of carrying equipment. I have always been carrying two pro houses with lenses plus a bag and now I have my XE-1 with 35/1,4 most of the time. I am thinking of getting the new 23/1,4 and the wait for the 56/1,2 and get another house so I don´t have to change lenses and with these two lenses I will be able to do most of the work I need to do. And another thing. I was wisiting Romania and photographing the situation of the Roman people there and it would have impossible with my big Nikon to take the pictures I wanted. Best regards from Bengt

  9. These are some of the precise reasons I’m seriously considering switching my kit over completely. If I can get the same (or better) quality of image with smaller, lighter kit – I can’t think of a downside. I’m really looking forward to seeing your results, as always. Thanks!

  10. Hi David,
    This sounds like a wonderful way to start the new year! Have fun with your Mom. I’ll be interested to hear about your experiences with these cameras.
    Regarding the Fuji XE-1, what size prints are you making from this camera and how large would you go?
    Happy New Year!

  11. A travel photographer, I won (and lost) a 2012 World National Geographic Contest and was Finalist at a Sony World Awards with a Mirorless. I only use Fuji X’s cameras which, BTW, as you have pinted out , are not the fastest instruments on hearth. I was a 5D owner and latelly a Nikon D600’s that was sold after three months.
    Let me take this opportunity to tell you that your work has been an inspiration before and today. Your proffesional approach is an example for all of us. BTW, I just came back from Lalibela three weeks ago. Enjoy your trip… Bets, Harry

    1. How do you (and all the others of course) carrying your Fuji/cameras, any special system? For me with a heavy rucksack I don’t like to wear any additional belt so I prefer my Lumix LX7 in my pockets – but not am completely convinced about the cameras quality…
      And you really changed your 5d against a mirrorless? What do you photograph, landscape or people/reportage?
      Thx adrian

      1. I carry two Fujis ( an XPRO-1 and an XE-1) on two TinkTank snall bags that I hang on a belt. I shoot 80% people and 20% landscape and, ye, I sold my 5D after trying the first Fuji X100. I even bouth at the meantime a Nikon D600, that was – again- sold to keep with my mirorless system. The only issue for me is mainly a ver small shutter/focusing lag (even with the newest software). It seems that the last Olympus is really fast.

  12. Thanks for the info and have an amazing trip. Can I ask which waist-level viewfinder you use or recommend for the leica? And who makes those beautiful leather bags?
    Happy New Year

  13. Just managed with the help of family purchase a Fuji XA1. Love my DSLRs but it was just not fun for short outings. My DSLR’s will be my event cameras and my little guy my fun camera. I also have six film cameras (still learning a few of them). Love the look of Fuji has a bit of an old film feel especially with the black and whites.

    Have a wondeful trip with your Mom! Happy New Year.

    Andrea Gimblett

  14. Hi David,
    Are you using Lightroom to develop your Fuji .RAF files or another product? The Fuji X cameras are intriguing, but I’d be hesitant to make the jump unless Lightroom’s handling of .RAF files from the Xtrans sensor is reliable. I would love to hear that Adobe has sorted out the ‘colour smearing’ issues.

    Enjoy your travels! Looking forward to more great images.

    1. Author

      Well, Bill, it shows you how current I am on some of this tech stuff. I have used Lr5 with my Fuji files and still have seen no problems. Wasn’t even aware of the issue. But I’m the last guy to talk about these kind of things – all I can tell you is if the issue exists I haven’t seen it in my images and my process with these images is the same as it’s been with the files from my Nikons.

  15. How do you find these mirrorless systems work for landscape and nature photos? Would you have been happy using them on your Hoikaido trip last year, or would you have missed the D800?

    Almost all of my professional work is best suited for a DSLR, but for a lot of my personal work — especially backpacking and long hikes — I’ve been thinking more and more about a lightweight setup (I don’t think I can bear to backpack with my 70-200mm f/2.8 again 🙂 ).

    1. Author

      I love the Fuji for landscapes, Martin. But for extreme weather – like Hokkaido, I’m not sure. I’m more confident in the weather-sealing on my Nikons. And for anything that moves fast, like grizzlies which despite their size can move pretty quickly, I’d also prefer the Nikons. But if I were backpacking or hiking, it’d be the smaller gear, for sure.

  16. Great snag on the Leica gear, lovely way of taking photos. Have fun in Africa. I have only been to Ethiopia and would go back in a heart beat.

  17. Pingback: anyone else thinking of going mirrorless? - Page 4

  18. Hi David, I am just back from the Myanmar WTF (missed you there 🙁 ) and I took along the D4 and the X-E2, I can see your point here, and I think moving forward I will just travel with the X system, maybe I’ll add a second body, the IQ is superb and there is no comparison to traveling light. But, why are you traveling with 3 different systems? Fuji, Leica, Sony… seems making more complicated what you are trying to simplify… I mean 3 systems means different battery types, chargers, lenses etc…. why not pick one a just get 2 bodies? Have fun in Africa!!!!

    1. Author

      Hi Daniel – It’s got to be 3 systems for me for this trip. For one, the Fuji has no underwater housing that I’ve found. So I’m taking the Sony, and it just charges with a USB cable. For another the Leica M is a full-frame 24mp body and Fuji doesn’t do that. But if I took the Fuji alone I’d still be bringing some of the Leica lenses, so I’m not losing much by bringing a second body from a mostly incompatable system. The chargers and batteries are so small compared to the one for my D3s bodies. It doesn’t feel complicated to me at all.

  19. Hi David, I am very interested to read your experience with your new less big and heavy gear, will it improve your work or change your work we here in Stone town Zanzibar follow your blog. And if you are in Stone town when you come to Zanzibar, visit our fine art photography gallery THE BEAUTIFUL EYES I treat you on a nice cappuccino in the best coffee house here hope to meet you.

    Hans Agterdenbos

    1. Author

      Thank you, Hans. I’m not sure we’ll make it Stone Town, but you never know. We’re north near Nungwi for 16 days. But I’ll look for the gallery if we take a day trip into Stone Town. Thank you for the invitation!

      1. Hi Thanks for your reply and I am sorry for this late one, have lay in my bed for a few day’s with the African disease with the big M. If there is time find to meet,find in our website the free printable pdf stone town map. Be Well.


  20. A Fuji X- camera is high on my to-do list for 2014, probably one with changeable lenses.

    Have a good, safe trip!

  21. Hi David,

    Have a great trip and Happy New Year to you! I’m inspired by your choice to go mirrorless (and to read of similar decisions from other posters here). Are you also shooting for clients or otherwise on some business during your trip? Just wondering how you finance major journey. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Thanks Dean. The first week in Lalibela is a tour I lead with Jeffrey Chapman, so that covers costs to get to Africa. The rest is personal work but all my images end up contributing to my bottom-line – either in my books, stock sales, or something else. But to answer your question, I just saved my pennies. Many, many of them. 🙂

  22. David –

    love the kit, using similar… nice change up and I agree, a much less noticeable approach. I have been based in Nairobi working for MSF in Kibera for the past year and visited Ethiopia, Masai Mara and Zanzibar several times. If you have extra time in Addis, be sure and spend an afternoon exploring the Mercado – it is a vibrant place that will not disappoint! The Mara you know well, north conservancy and the Masai there are my favorite. While in Zanzibar take a morning (as the afternoon heat will be stifling) and visit the farthest southern village on the island – Kazimkazi. Ask for Rasheed, who is one of the village elders and he will proudly give you a walking tour of the village including the school. This is a peek into a culture that is normally very photography shy, but you will repeatedly hear “jambo picture” from the children there… Lastly, if you have any challenges be sure and drop me a note, I am in Nairobi through April.

    ~ safe travels

    1. Author

      Thanks, Jeffrey. Appreciated. This is my 7th trip to Ethiopia and truthfully Addis does little for me, so it’s in and out! 🙂

  23. Hey David,

    Leica M- $6,950, Leica 21 mm super-elmar f3.4- $2,995.00, Leica 50mm summicron f 2- $2,295.00, Leica 75mm summicron f2-$3,795.00, Fuji kit, sony kit accessories- $12.000,…..

    Taking your Mother on an African Safari- PRICELESS

    You continue to inspire and create wonderful contemplative images, push the envelope and force those around you to elevate their game. Hope you enjoy the MasterCard humor 🙂

    Have a great trip and an even better 2014!!


  24. Hi David

    Great to read about you spending time with your Mom. Precious time – good for you. You’ve really been pushing out a lot of stuff this past year or so. Go to Africa and make some photographs. Have fun.

    Oh – and Mom knows best. Right?

  25. Hi David, thx for sharing and enjoy your trip. I am also thinking for a while to change to a mirror less system. But as I am focusing on active volcanoes I don’t think any mirror less camera can beat my full format Canon Mark II 5d. And while traveling/trekking I use my Panasonic Lumix LC7 as it fits into my trouser pockets. What do you think, am I right or should I try any mirror less one? Thx adrian

    1. Author

      Honestly, Adrian, I don’t know. Every camera does some things well and some things less well. It depends what your needs are for the images you make on the trips you now take your 5DII on. But I’d put some of the new mirrorless cameras up against the big boys for much of what I now do.

      1. David, thx again. Did you already took some long time exposure pics at night using a remote control (cable), especially with the Leica? Any experiences? thx adrian

  26. Pingback: Some new Fuji X links… | A Lens a Week Blog

  27. David, enjoy your trip! I switched to mirrorless completely at the end of 2012 when I sold all my DSLR gear. I bought the Fuji X-Pro1 and three prime lenses. And during a four-week journey through Tibet I only used the Sony RX100-M2 which was also a real joy to use.

  28. Hi David,

    This sounds like a truly wonderful trip and experience to have with your mother. I am looking forward to hear about your triumphs and challenges with these particular cameras. I have a D800 and use mainly prime lenses, but I recently got a Fuji X100s and I’m having fun learning a few new things with it–so far, I really like it! Also, I would say 12 clif bars (only 2 per week) is not going to cut it…ha! At least try a box of 24 (it gets lighter as you go…and I’m assuming that your going to share with your mom in Kenya, ha!) Thanks again for the inspiration, and do travel safe!

  29. Greetings and best w. On the planned trip!

    I have fuji GAS for some time now. The weight alone is temting but I’m afraid of going back to a cropped sensor after “tasting” full frame. You just simply cannot achieve the look / feel that you get on a bigger sensor. I guess the same applies to medium format and so on. Once you “taste” them you cannot go back.

    Another thing. Tilt shift. No tilt shift lens for mirrorless… and I don’t think the ghetto tilt shift method works like it does on dslrs.

    A third thing would be the weather sealing or the lack of that on mirrorless cameras vs a canon 5d.

    Any th. On these matters David?

    Can’t wait to see, read about this trip!

    Take care and good luck! 🙂


    1. Author

      Blasko – I’m not sure there’s one camera that does it all. Some of the mirrorless cameras are more sealed than others, and when the weather gets REALLY bad, you grab a sealed DSLR. I don’t used T/S much but when I do, again, I grab a DSLR. For the bulk of the work I’m doing now the DOF is less crucial and I’m often at f/8 so less need for a /1.2 lens. More important is that you know how you like to work, you know your needs, and you choose the gear accordingly. Is the day coming when I only use mirrorless? Probably. But not yet. Some trips, absolutely, but not all of them.

  30. I sold my Nikons this year after a month on safari with the Olympus E-M5. I now have the E-M1 and a clutch of new glass for it and I couldn’t be happier. I’m done with big gear.

  31. Will eagerly await your reaction to going mirrorless. I’m watching this all very carefully and am likely to follow others who have traded the heavy gear for the lighter mirrorless. (Wish I could keep both, but I want to stay married…) I find myself hiking with camera and lens, maybe tripod for hikes of any length. Just cannot lug the full kit any significant distance anymore.

    Will be particularly interested in what you really missed from your mirrorless kit…

    Safe travels, David!


  32. Hey Dave- just a quick “shout out” to you-I thought long and hard before getting a new camera- listening to you for the “Vision is more important than the gear” talks really hit a nerve with me.
    After years of carrying lots of gear to assignments, hauling backpacks for every occasion- I really wanted to make sure I was not reaching for a new “Crutch” with the Fuji ex series-then it hit me- Just because I shot with the same type of gear for years doesn’t make it the “Best” for me- it was just the best at the time. I’m all about the lighter, more compact camera kit now; and it has allowed me to really get back into making solid photography decisions and less “what to take with me” decisions- sometimes less is indeed more. Thanks for being the “voice of reason” in my head….( well, I dunno…..maybe my voices just SOUND like you….:-)
    Have a safe trip and interesting travels!

    1. Author

      Happy to help. When the voices get too loud I suggest you find a doctor to medicate you. Or a glass of wine, which works for me. 🙂

  33. Enjoy Africa for us. I’ve worked for about 5 years in West Africa and I must say I miss it so much. The people, the landscape, the sand storms, the morning and evening sun… such beautiful memories.
    Next will be to go back with my new fuji system!
    Have a wonderful and amazing trip!

    Can’t wait to read your reflections and see your pictures.


  34. Sounds like a very exciting trip David. Can’t wait to see what you bring back. Thank you for your constructive critic on my photo on your Craft & Vision podcast. You gave me new visual building blocks which I will use. Happy and safe trip to Africa!

  35. I hope you will blog about the trip when you get back. I will be interested to hear how the lenses performed in capturing the animals, and if you encountered any challenges.

    1. Author

      I dunno, an old solid state drive that came out of my 11″ MacBook Air and went into a tiny little USB 3.0 case. It’s just for backing up the most important stuff. I have enough SD cards to both import all the images and not format the cards until I’m home.

  36. Love the size of the Fujis, but I won’t give up my full frame sensor, even if the sensor performance is as good. I’ll haul my DSLRs anywhere, it’s an aesthetic thing 😉

    Have fun getting SCUBA certified and playing in the water, warm water and a reef to explore sound awfully nice this time of year. And as Thomas said, send us a wallpaper or two!

  37. I am currently in Africa ending my time in Zanzibar after a ten day safari through the Serengeti, Tarangire, and the Ngorogoro Crater and surroundings. I worked off of a mirrorless Olympus OM-D EM5 and thought it was the best for traveling light without sacrificing image quality. The weatherproof body and lenses and having a shorter 100-300mm lens (200-600mm equivalent) were amazing especially compared to my husband’s Canon Mark III kit. It’s definitely about the eye behind the camera that makes the image and not the tools. 🙂 But I know I prefer my smaller and lighter kit for long and rough traveling.

  38. David,
    I am curious how you find cleaning the sensor on the Fuji X cameras. I have a NIkon D700 and I am constantly having to clean the sensor and it is a difficult sensor to clean. It seems to be a magnet for sensor dust & dirt. How often are you cleaning your Fuji XE-1 sensor? Also what about shooting in RAW & RAW processing with the Fugi X cameras?

  39. You will love it. Mirrors are dead 🙂 I just sold my one before last DSLR to step up from an OM-D E-M5 to an E-M1 (mostly for the smaller AF points) and I’m loving the process every minute.

    Getting awesome quality out of such small and light gear is a dream come true! And I would have never guessed that I am even using JPEGs straight out of the camera more and more – they are so good. With EVFs you have so much control over the result, many times I even expose for the looks (like 0.7 stops under to get better saturation, like in the old slide film days!).

    Enjoy your trip and bless us with a few screen savers 😉

  40. Welcome to the club David! I sold my D800 this spring and went all in Fuji.

    This year I made three trips with only Fuji X-Series cameras. I traveled to Iceland, Norway and Tokyo. Did I miss the D800? Not a single moment! Traveling light is a bliss.

    When you come home it would be very interesting to hear if you noticed any changes to what kind of images you did make on this trip, compared to trips with DSLR gear. I sure have noticed a change in my style of photography after i switched to mirrorless. A change to the better.

    Safe travels!

  41. Enjoy the trip along with your mother David. Earlier this year I got a X Pro 1 and I love it. What I will be waiting to hear is if you will ever sell the DSLR gear 😉

    Mind you over Christmas I was taking family shots with the D700 fitted with the 85 f1.4D. It was hard to beat!

  42. Cool stuff David. I checked out the Fugi XE-2 the other day. It’s a cool camera. I can’t justify buying one on my budget so I’m a bit jealous 🙂 I was wondering how it performs in really cold temps. I enjoy winter photography and in Edmonton it seems like half of the year is winter. If you take it anywhere cold you will have to write about it.

    1. Thanks, Charlie. I’ve no experience yet in the cold. Perhaps Hokkaido in early 2015.

    2. Hi Charlie

      I work in Nunavik (Northern Quebec) and I mainly use a Fuji X-Pro1. The autofocus doesn’t like the extreme cold and the battery drain out pretty fast at -20. Care has to be taken to keep moisture out. But even if I have a Nikon to be sure the work is done, I use the Fuji most of the time. I hope these info help.
      Cheers and David, have a nice trip.

      1. Thanks Marc-André Pauzé 🙂 I was worried about that. It’s not as bad as I thought, but it’s also not what I was hoping to hear. My only other issue about mirror-less systems is battery life. How many batteries do you need to carry with you? I wonder how much of a pain the old rangefinder where to compose?

  43. Nice to see others traveling small. I am looking to go mirrorless on an upcoming photo trip to India. I traveled to Europe on a non-photo related trip last summer and was ok with 2 Fuji X bodies and several lenses. Now I’ve got a Sony a7. Do you carry the cameras in a shoulder bag or backpack? Best to you and your Mom too!

    1. Hi Lisa – I usually use a two bag system. One bag to get my gear to where I’m going, usually a backpack like the Gura Gear Bataflae, then another to work out of, which is usually a satchel of some kind, like the Think Tank Retro 30.

  44. Have a great trip, David, and enjoy your time with your mother. I have just acquired a Fuji X-E2 and love it – the Nikon D800 spends most days gathering dust on the shelf.

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