How to create a lightweight landscape photography setup
As landscape photographers, we’re always having to carry all of our gear around. While the idea of having a person to carry our equipment is nice, it’s not a reality for most of us. Whether you like to shoot photographs in the backcountry, on your travels, or even just a few feet away from the car, you’ll find this information useful to prepare a lightweight setup for landscape photography.
Need for Lightweight Landscape Photography Setup
There are so many reasons why a lightweight photography setup can help you as a landscape photographer. First off, we aren’t all in our peak physical condition anymore. Not everyone can carry 30 pounds of photography gear on our backs. As we get older, our strength diminishes and it’s not practical to think that you’ll be able to carry all of your heavy equipment at once. This is even more applicable when you must hike to a location. Many great locations require short hikes to reach. The longer the hike, the more the weight on your back takes a toll on your body. Lastly, many photographers want to create the lightest setup possible in order to allow them to travel deeper into the backcountry, often on multi-day trips.
In general, weight and size usually go hand-in-hand, so a lightweight setup is also a small setup. As landscape photographers, we usually travel far to locations, often on planes, trains, and buses. Having a small setup allows us to fit everything in our luggage much more effectively.
When picking out a lightweight setup for landscape photography, it’s important to know what to look for. It’s a common misconception that the quality of lightweight gear can’t match that of heavier cameras and lenses. However, I’m going to share my lightweight setup, as well as what I recommend you look for when purchasing new lenses, camera bodies, or tripods.
How to create a lightweight landscape photography setup
As of writing this, most mirrorless setups beat out DSLR’s in terms of size and weight. I personally use a Sony a7rii, which weighs in at just under 23 ounces. When picking out a camera, look for something under 24 ounces (a pound and a half). In general, you’ll want to look for something mirrorless, or a crop sensor DSLR. Most full frame DSLR’s weigh nearly two pounds each.
For Sony users, look at picking something up in the a7 series. If you prefer a crop sensor, look into the a6000 series. Canon users will want to check out the EOS R mirrorless camera, while Nikon users will want to look at the Z7 mirrorless camera. Fuji users should consider the XT3.
If possible, the total weight of all of your lenses should be kept under 32 ounces (2 pounds). This can be considerably hard when some of the most popular landscape lenses nearly meet that weight in just one lens. The 16-35mm f/2.8 is one of the most popular lenses for landscape shooters among Sony, Canon, and Nikon shooters. While each brand makes their own version of this lens, the weight is usually right around a pound and a half for each. As nice as this lens is, if you’re truly after a lightweight setup, I would not include this on my list of lenses to purchase.
Since I shoot the Sony a7rii, all of my lenses are FE-mount (for Sony). I use the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 for wide angles. This lens weighs a mere 11.6 ounces. My next lens is the Samyang 35mm f/2.8. The Samyang is featherlight and tiny at just 3.5 ounces (it’s very affordable too!). Next, I use the Sony 55mm f/1.8, which weighs in at just under 10 ounces. This is an amazing weight for an f/1.8 lens, which is great for night photography and portraits. Lastly, if I’m going somewhere where I anticipate the need of a telephoto, I have the Sony 70-300, which weighs 30 ounces. If I pack the telephoto, I will generally leave my 55mm lens to save some weight. Unfortunately, there isn’t a very lightweight telephoto, but 30 ounces for a 70-300 is not bad.
Prime Lenses vs. Zoom Camera Lenses
Generally speaking, prime lenses are going to be lighter than zoom lenses. A prime lens is a lens in which the focal length is fixed. For example, a 55mm, as opposed to a 24-70mm, which would be considered a zoom. These prime lenses are often times lighter and smaller than zooms because they have far fewer elements in the construction of the lens. It’s also easier to find a f/2.8 or wider aperture on these lenses for a more affordable price than on a zoom. I recommend purchasing between 2-4 prime lenses for your landscape photography outings.
When picking out lenses, realize that for most landscape photographers, wide angles are very important. If possible, stick to a prime lens under a pound. After you’ve got a wide angle, you’ll want 1-2 lenses to cover the mid-range. Find something really light here, preferably around 8 ounces. Then, many landscape photographers opt to carry a telephoto. If you do, this will put you outside of the recommended 32 ounce lens weight limit, but that is okay. If you decide carry a telephoto, consider leaving one of your midrange lenses at home.
A common misconception is that the heavier a tripod, the sturdier. I strongly believe that the strength of your tripod is about how you pitch it! It’s important that you start with something reputable, but by setting it up the correct way, you can increase the stability.
When I’m focused on creating a lightweight setup for landscape photography, I prefer to use the Slik CF-633 tripod. The tripod itself weighs 32 ounces, which is incredibly light for the fact that it can extend to 64 inches high. When purchasing a tripod, I recommend looking for something that is 40 ounces or lighter, but not lighter than 24 ounces. Once you get lighter than this, tripods tend to lose a lot of stability, or they don’t extend very high. You’ll want to look at carbon fiber tripods rather than aluminum, as carbon fiber is much lighter.
When setting up a lighter tripod, there’s a few things you can do to ensure the safety of your camera gear. First, spread the legs further. When you spread the legs of the tripod, making it lower to the ground, you greatly increase stability. If you can’t afford to lose height to achieve your envisioned image, you can skip this step. Next, it’s crucial that you hang something on the bottom of the tripod. Most tripods have a hook on the bottom that allows you to hang a backpack or camera bag to weigh the tripod down. This is one of the most underutilized tools in landscape photography. Lastly, don’t extend the neck of your tripod unless you have to. The higher the camera is above the base of the tripod, the less stability and the more top-heavy the tripod is.
Lightweight Camera Bag
Many photographers opt for a designated camera backpack, but often times these can be limiting. First off, they’re generally pretty heavy. Second, they usually don’t have much room for other necessary things. For that reason, I opt for a camera insert bag, and pair that with my most comfortable backpack. I prefer using the Peak Design Camera Cube, in the medium size for my camera insert bag. Depending on how much equipment you have, you may want to purchase a smaller or larger version. F-Stop & Shimoda makes insert bags as well.
Once I have my gear in my insert bag, I like to pair that with the REI Trail 40 pack. The camera cube fits perfectly inside the backpack with plenty of room for other items. I’d recommend going to your local outdoor store and trying on backpacks to find out which one has the most comfortable fit for you. Also, look for backpacks with room for a tripod either on the bottom or on the side. The Trail 40 fits my tripod perfectly in one of the drink holders, and I can fasten it down so it doesn’t fall out.
While I’ve given a lot of weights not to be exceeded, it’s important to know that these are just general suggestions. It’s critical to assess your own fitness and ability level and pick out gear that way. If you follow my advice, it’s a realistic goal to get your photography equipment under 10 pounds total. With a comfortable backpack, you should be able to carry your equipment as far as your legs will take you. Even though most people don’t have thousands to fork out on new gear, it’s worth buying things one item at a time to work towards a lightweight setup for landscape photography!