A minimalists hobby camera kit

A personal story of how I learned to stop caring about the gear and start obsessing about the picture.

Camera Kit

I’ve always loved photography as a hobby and my camera is always close by at the ready or packed securely for any day trip or weekend away, especially so after starting a family. Being in tech and loving everything about gear from the researching phase, to nitpicking specs, to trying out the latest and greatest, photography provides endless opportunity to indulge in all those verticals.

Like many I started out with a Canon DSLR. I then transitioned over to the mirrorless world with Sony and then went full in on Fujifilm gear with the introduction of the excellent X-T3. Like my taste in music I love all genres of photography which also means having many types of lenses. From my go to primes to telephoto to macro, I love having the versatility and options that an interchangeable lens system provides.

What I learned over time, especially as I honed in on my minimalist ideals, what I’m not a fan of is the bulk, heft and complexity that camera gear brings along. I would try out all types of camera bags to try to find that one perfect one and then realize that I actually needed 3 based on the specific circumstance. Agonizing over which lens to bring and which to leave at home got old and anxiety inducing very quickly. This all led to leaving my camera at home more and not enjoying the process of actually taking pictures.

At the beginning of 2019 I got kidney stones. For a few days I was in extreme pain as it worked its way through which yielded me horizontal in bed in various fetal positions cringing in agony. One of these various positions gave me a straight view of a table which happened to have all my camera gear sprawled across it. Many great and expensive lenses had layers of dust on their protective caps from the last time they were touched months ago. In that delirious moment I would have given anything to just be out with my family in the yard taking pictures of my kids laughing and playing. I didn’t care about the new X-Trans sensor in my X-T3 or the fact that it could do 20 FPS burst with it’s electronic shutter. I didn’t care which lens I would have grabbed if I was able to run out with one. In that moment absolutely any would have done. Whether it was the kit lens which many online reviewers look down on or the coveted fast bokehlicious 35mm F1.4 prime. I vowed as soon as I was able to I was going to sell all my camera gear. Bags, slings, filters, flashes, tripods, cleaning kits, straps, adapters, all of it. It just didn’t matter anymore and I realized I was letting the gear and the obsessions that came along with it discourage and reduce the joy that got me into photography in the first place. My plan was to find something simpler, smaller, lighter and cheaper that I wouldn’t hesitate to throw in any bag as I went out the door. I didn’t know what that would be but I knew that what I currently owned wasn’t it.

In between taking pictures of my gear and writing up descriptions on eBay I casually considered what I might replace them with. For a brief period I thought the new Sony RX100 VI with it’s telephoto 24-200mm range would be sufficient but quickly came the realization that while much simpler and obviously lighter I would miss the flexibility of using multiple lenses. Perhaps going back to the Sony a6xxx series would work but I just wasn’t impressed with the lens selection. I wasn’t concerned so much on the specs. ISO performance and focus points meant little. I was looking at form factor, weight, comfort and gear that didn’t require babying it around. I knew I wanted a telephoto lens but it didn’t have to be the fastest or sharpest. My favorite focal range primes of 50mm and 90mm didn’t need minimal barrel distortion or chromatic aberration.

Over a 3 week period I was lucky to sell every single piece of my gear. All of my lenses retained their value and a couple even sold for more than I purchased them for. I was very happy to get about a 90% return on my investment. Oh the glorious space I had back! No more corner of a room with a mountain of camera bags. No drawer full of spare batteries. No shelves of empty lens boxes. There’s nothing like a clean slate to grow and mature as a person.

I decided I needed four lenses to complement whatever camera I was going to purchase:

  1. A 50mm equivalent prime as my go to
  2. A 90mm or higher prime for portraits
  3. A moderate telephoto to get that compression and some casual wildlife
  4. A wide zoom for the rare landscape or street style scenarios

After extensive researching the Micro Four Thirds systems peaked my interest mostly due to their extensive lens lineup and more importantly the lenses smaller form factors. The drastically cheaper prices compared to APSC equivalents was icing on the cake. In October of that same year I purchased a Panasonic Lumix GX85 bundle with two lenses. A 12-32mm and 45-150mm which equates to 24-64mm and 90-300mm 35mm equivalents. I paid $573.74 USD brand new. At the time of this writing you can get it for $497.99.

Oh the size! The gloriously cute compact pocketable 12-32mm was a revelation! This was basically my Fujifilm 16-55mm replacement. Was it just as good in optical quality. Of course not! Not even close. But it didn’t matter because it was more than adequate to capture a moment. I could bring this with me anywhere. I could go on a hike with the 45-150 attached and have this in my pocket if I needed a wider shot. It was nothing short of a photographic life changing moment. For the first time in a long time I was spending most of my efforts on composition instead of stopping awkwardly to fumble with lenses or zooming in on an eyeball in Lightroom to see if I had nailed focus. I don’t make money from my photos. I’m not tagging posts on Instagram or printing out poster sized prints. I take photos for me and my family and I look back with more than a little embarrassment and slight disgust at the overkill kit I once owned.

After about a week I was convinced that I had made the right decision so I picked up the two remaining lenses to complete my kit. The infamous pancake 20mm, F1.7 which is actually a 40mm equivalent but whose focal length I’ve grown to absolutely love and my favorite lens of the four a 42.5mm, F1.7. I personally love the 90mm focal length and comparing this lens to my favorite Fuji lens the 90mm F2 is comical especially since the optical quality of the 42.5 is more than adequate for my needs.

I’m not here to convince you to let go of your full frame camera and constant f2.8 zoom lens or that you’re crazy to have all that gear and equipment in your possession. Like anything in life there’s a spectrum of photographers and photographic needs but I personally know of a handful of hobbyists that spend a bit too much time and energy on gear and not nearly enough on enjoying the craft and learning their camera. I no longer zoom in on my pictures or worry about the grain on my 1600 ISO shots. I’m trying to capture a moment and feeling that I can look back on with fondness and relive a moment. Any camera you can purchase these days is more than capable of being able to accomplish this. I have more than a handful of photos on my Apple TV screensaver slide show that I took with my iPhone. Every single time I happen to catch one I smile.

The most iconic photos we’re familiar with were taken many years ago on cameras with capabilities far less that what we have available today. In 2020 I’m using a camera that was released in 2016 and I’m perfectly content with its output. I don’t worry about leaving it out in the open or getting it scratched up. The feel of the plastic exterior of my lenses discourages overly protecting it from bumps and scratches which make me more apt to actually grab one and use it. For those interested the full details of my kit are below but I encourage you to find what feels good in YOUR hands. What buttons YOU feel have a nice click to it. What aesthetic makes YOU want to grab your camera instead of dreading the complexity or heft of it. My entire kit fits nicely into a $25 Lowepro case that measures 7.9” x 6.5” x 3.7”. It can easily fit into any type of bag I happen to be traveling with whether a backpack for a day excursion or duffel for a long weekend. I no longer worry about which lenses to bring since it’s so easy to just bring them all.

Photography is a wonderfully fulfilling endeavor that always surprises and delights. Go out and steal a moment and let the gear just melt away.

My kit:

Thunderbolt Jeans – 1 Year Recap

Another six months have passed since my original 6 Month Review of the Thunderbolt Jeans so I thought I’d drop in with a quick follow-up.

They’re still going strong. I still wear these almost every day and they still perform and look as good as ever. Being so impressed with the first six months I’ve been more tough on them over the winter months. I’ve played with my son in the snow, sledding, snowblowed the driveway after storms (so much better doing this than in my old denim jeans!), did yard work, tore down an old swing set and helped friends move. I’m at the point now that I don’t consciously think about whether I’m being too hard on them and they always come away looking no worse for wear.

I tossed my last couple of denim jeans in the basement just to get them out of the closet and I don’t think I’ll be needing them for any reason at all. I anticipate at some point they’ll be donated or given away.

The pockets are still sturdy and strong with no holes or signs of wear. The bottom cuffs don’t show any signs of fraying either. The belt loops were my main concern originally but amazingly they haven’t stretched out or come undone.

There’s really not much more to say which is exactly they way I like it. These jeans are amazing. They hold up fantastic and I’m confident they’ll look the same come this time next year.

Get a pair here.

Travel towels and the joy of linen

timthumb-phpA towel may seem a luxury and a waste of precious space in a travelers one bag and for some time I thought so too. Why deal with having to pack a towel that may still be wet when most places you would stay at provide them? If most of your traveling involves hotels I would tend to agree. These days I primarily stay at Airbnb’s, short term rentals and friends places. Every now and then I’ll find myself at a hotel and even then I’m thankful for having my own towel on hand. Having access to a towel at all times comes in handy especially in hot climates. Being able to wash my face mid day or after a hike and drying off with your own towel makes traveling just more pleasant and enjoyable for me.

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Lems Boulder Boots

Update: I swapped out the included laces with these and turned my Lems into slip-ons.

I’m happiest when I’m barefoot. The less constraints on my feet the happier I am, especially when I’m on my feet or traveling all day. As such I always seek out the lightest most comfortable shoes I can find that don’t sacrifice on durability all while keeping a sleek minimal look. Something that I’ve realized is surprisingly hard to find in my journey to find the best versatile footwear. Having said that, boots don’t really come to mind when you’re looking at those specific criteria. I’ve never really been a boots kind of guy, always preferring low profile shoes in order to keep weight to a minimum. However I’ve recently been traveling more often to colder climates as well as places with more opportunities for extended outdoor hiking activities that had me wondering if I could find something that I could use to trudge through snow and slush lined streets while at the same time looking simple enough to walk around town or even do some moderate hiking in.

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Thunderbolt Jeans – A 6 month review

There’s a good reason jeans are so universally popular. They’re durable, can be dressed up or down, and are globally accepted. For my one bagging minimalist lifestyle there are drawbacks I’ve discovered over the years that had me searching for an alternative. Jeans pack heavy, especially for a 6′ 4″ guy. A rolled up pair of jeans in a Synapse 25 takes up precious space. Additionally denim jeans dry mind numbingly slow. Get caught in a morning downpour and you’ll still be damp by dinner time. And forget about sink washing them with the intention of air drying them in a day.

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Why the iPad Pro 9.7 is my favorite reading device

Having owned several iterations of the Amazon Kindle over the years I was able to make the switch to consuming books on this new digital medium… albeit reluctantly. It took a while for the software to catch up to the fantastic e-paper display hardware for me to truly appreciate the benefits of being able to carry as many books as I wanted, have all my notes and snippets with me and organized, and being able to read a book instantly. Physical books will always have a special place in my heart but I’ve moved on and fully embraced this new digital medium.

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Allbirds – A 2 month review

Update: Be sure to also check out the 6 Month Review Video.

When I first heard about Allbirds and their Wool Runners I immediately placed an order knowing absolutely nothing about them. To say I’m obsessed with merino wool would be an understatement considering the majority of my wardrobe is made up of it. A year ago I actually jokingly mentioned to my wife how I wished someone would make merino wool shoes and here we are!

Order placed I learned more about Allbirds, their story and motivation, and my eagerness to try them out only increased exponentially. A mere 3 days later I slipped them on and… Wow.

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