Unless you are going on a trip specifically for the purpose of photography, leave the DSLR at home.
In a former life I ran a photography company with a friend of mine. This is not say that I was any good. It’s just to say that it was my job so I learned a bit about the field from a business perspective vs a family perspective. As an “artist” though (I use the term loosely) I was forever after “The Shot”. “The Shot” is that one great picture of whatever landmark, sunset, person, or other subject you happened to have your sights on or were paid to take. It needed to be original, and show a creativity and style like none other. Or at least that’s what the artist inside your head is yammering away at. Real photographers know that “The Shot” isn’t a passing whim. It’s not something that you generally happen upon. “The Shot” is something that takes a lot of time, careful planning, patience, practice and forethought. The perfect shot also takes a bit of luck. Sometimes the stars align around your planning and sometimes they don’t. This is part of the fun for a photographer. When the right light hits, or the weather is just right, or the subject just glows, you know that all that planning paid off. You get a feeling of excitement when the shutter clicks and you know you have something very special. Sadly this doesn’t put food on the table and is pretty much irrelevant without consistency. People nowadays buy “brands” and there are lots of great brands in photography. Walk into a Peter Lik Gallery for instance and you will see his vision of this, 6 feet wide, all over the gallery as well as some great marketing. What you don’t see is all that prep and planning. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an amazing photographer either. 😉 All I’m trying to say here is that these special shots generally take a lot of planning, forethought, focus and a little luck. The odds that the moons align while your children are asking you “are we there yet” every ten seconds is pretty low.
Photographers are an odd breed of artist. They have a sort of an “engineering quality” about their work, at least the ones who don’t make a living doing it do. It’s almost clinical the way they obsess over the technical details which are really irrelevant to what makes a good piece of art. If you want proof of this, simply read ANYTHING photography related on the web. The pixel peeping, the arguments about gear, the constant need to know what took the picture with what camera settings etc etc etc. Really it’s irrelevant unless the gear is being evaluated. No one ever asks what kind of paint brush Picasso used. Everyone is really on about sharpness these days, sharpness that can’t be seen even in a 3 foot wide print. Photographers spend too much time sweating the small stuff and not enough time enjoying the process or the art itself.
When we “Photographers” go on vacations with our families to far away lands we want to take “The Shot”. Once we have the mythical “Shot” we want to print it the size of a small airplane and hang it where people can bask in the glow of it’s artistic perfection. Most of us won’t do this of course. AS a consolation prize we post it on a forum somewhere where it can be “peer reviewed” for it’s greatness. At which point we obsessively check that forum all day long instead of doing our actual work so that we can feed the ego monster all feel warm and toasty inside about our artwork. Though, from what I have seen this often backfires and turns to a technical hate fest. Statistically, the photo isn’t going to do anything but sit on a hard drive. A hard drive that hasn’t been properly backed up. Sooner or later we will forget about that great photo and eventually it will be lost to the angry computer Gremlins that eat left socks and corrupt data on hard drives. Inevitably whatever the photo could have been won’t matter at all. But that neck pain… Oh baby, that neck pain will come back to haunt you.
If the goal is to take a photography vacation then by all means, go alone and bring your gear. The mythical “Shot” can be a reality and it may be glorious and a shaft of glorious light might shine down from the heavens onto your DSLR while a quire of angels sings its praises. However, the odds of that happening while you are chasing kids around the Pantheon with the angry security guards in tow yelling obscenities at you about the quality of your parenting, are pretty damn low. The odds are pretty high, however, that you will regret having 5lbs of DSLR dangling from your neck swinging too and fro knocking other peoples children out while you are trying to keep your 4 year old from face planting into the pavement or climbing Raphael’s tomb.
I used to carry all my gear with me on vacation because I didn’t want to miss “The Shot”. There were one or two good opportunities on each trip, but it wasn’t worth all the extra stress and weight. My Canon gear is big and heavy. My large aperture lenses are several pounds in weight. My, tough as nails, 70-200 2.8IS MKII is 3.5 pounds all by its lonesome. Coupled with the 5dMK3 and a short zoom, 24-70 f2.8L MKII and my wide angle 16-35 MkII I had every range covered and also toted around an extra 15-20lbs of camera gear. Of course you can’t get a great steady shot in front of a waterfall or a fountain without a tripod so I need that and some flashes as well. As it turns out most places won’t let you set up a real tripod anyway. Either way my back no longer appreciates carrying all this weight. My neck hurt by the end of a day of running around chasing children and keeping them out of harms way.
More importantly, I was missing great opportunities to spend time with my family because I was parked behind a camera. I am in very few of the family vacation photos. My wife has no desire to learn about these cameras, I never trusted a passerby and even when I did I had to set the camera to auto and the shots were generally mediocre. Of course this wasn’t always the case. Every so often I saw another photographer who took a very nice shot but I was still missing out on life and my kids and I was none the better for any of it.
In addition to this I have seen a lot of videos of theft and or violence surrounding high ticket items like watches and camera gear. The idea that the DSLR made me, even if just, a larger target for crime was a risk I wasn’t willing to take with my children. This was doubly true in some of the poorer nations I wasn’t very familiar with. Feel free to search for videos of lens theft on YouTube or the like. There’s also the fear of the theft in an overhead bin on the plane, or the back of a train car where the baggage is.
I was forever slowing down my family and ruining their experience trying to take photos of things. This of course led me to stop setting up so much for the photos and my expensive gear was being used for quick snapshots. What a waste this was. It was disappointing to come home and look at these photos.
I also wasn’t being realistic. Was I really going to be printing gigantic pictures of my children standing with Mickey Mouse? Probably not. In fact, definitely not. The biggest prints I have printed of them to date are 20X30 and I have very little wall space left. In reality I didn’t need to be carrying any of this stuff, especially my huge DSLR. I can get some great 10 to 12” photos out of a camera phone. Honest to god after editing and printing something in a photo-book you can’t really tell the difference anyway.
Finally on our latest European Vacation my wife told me to go buy a small camera. She wasn’t going to have anymore of this DSLR nonsense. Naturally I resisted and did what any good husband would do. I completely ignored her and tried to convince her that “This time would be different”. My wife is a very smart woman. In the end, she won the battle (wife 500, husband 0). I begrudgingly did the next best thing to winning the argument and having it my way. I went camera shopping! It was very, very hard for me to be looking at “point and shoot” style cameras. I couldn’t do it. I ended up looking at some small Canons and Nikons that I could at least adjust the settings on appropriately. I looked at the Fuji’s that all the photographers rave about and they just didn’t do it for me. I really liked being able to change lenses at will, I like the depth of field on a full frame sensor especially with a wide aperture on a long lens. I liked the control and the creativity I thought that these things brought me. I was an idiot (not the first time).
In the end I purchased a small mirror-less camera. I bought a 28mm f2.0 lens and some f4 lenses for it and off we went. I haven’t taken the 28mm lens off this thing since. My neck is happier, my back is better. My wife and kids are thrilled. I learned to spend less time looking for the “Shot” and more time playing with my kids. I don’t carry any other lenses anymore. The prime lens has forced me to be more creative and its wide enough to get the kids and their surroundings which I have found really tells a nice story. The f2.0 is fast for indoors and it’s tiny and light. The small camera and lens combination allowed me take shots I wouldn’t otherwise get because they are unobtrusive and people don’t freak out when it’s pointed at them. It doesn’t change my children’s behavior either. They don’t stop what they are doing and pose unless I ask them to now. I can drop it instantly by my side or jam it in a jacket pocket and chase my children. I couldn’t do that with the DSLR weighing me down and swinging around like a wrecking ball. There are plenty of better photographers than me living in the places I visit. Lots of these people have taken far superior pictures of the things I’m going to see. They have devoted lots of time and effort and maybe have “The Shot” already. I shouldn’t be trying to surpass these people or even try to match them on a family vacation. I should be spending time with the kids, and so should you.
If you are looking for a second opinion I recommend Steve Huff
You can check out my review of the camera I did Purchase Here