I finally figured it out! I now have a compact travel kit that I’m very happy with. This is something I’ve been working on for over two years, and I think I’ve got it—or at least I’m really close. Perhaps it will get a tweak or two, but I’m quite satisfied with it as-is. I used this kit while on a week-long roadtrip to California’s central coast, and it worked out really, really well.
In 2020 I traveled to Montana, and I brought the entirety of my camera and lens collection with me. I wasn’t sure what I might need, so I wanted to be prepared for anything. I think I had five camera bodies and about a dozen lenses (I don’t remember the exact number). After returning, I realized that lugging around everything was absurd, as I only used three cameras—but mostly just one—and the majority of the lenses stayed in the camera bag the entire trip, completely ignored. I didn’t need to bring so much, but since I did, all that unused gear just got in the way.
Previously, I had taken a couple of trips with just one camera and lens, and that was overall a better experience, but there were also times that I wished I had more options. I would have liked to have had more versatility, but didn’t. Oftentimes less is more, but sometimes less is just less.
What I needed was balance. A small kit that was Goldilocks: not too big and heavy with excessive gear that would go unused, and not too simple with limited versatility. Robust, yet small and lightweight. I set out to create a travel kit that didn’t contain too much or too little camera gear. It took some time to work it all out, but I finally did!
Let’s take a look at this ultimate travel compact camera kit piece by piece.
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I’m listing the camera bag first because it’s key to this kit. The one I chose is the National Geographic NG2344 Earth Explorer Shoulder Bag. The dimensions are roughly only 8″ x 7″ x 6″, yet I can fit everything that I need into it. It’s no big deal to carry around—I went on several short hikes with it last week, in fact, and it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable by the time I returned. The bag doesn’t get in the way or take up much space; interestingly, it fits perfectly into the middle console compartment of my car, allowing easy access to my gear while staying completely concealed.
I take the two velcro inserts and form a “+” in the middle, subdividing the large main compartment into four small compartments: two on the top level and two basement level. I’ll get to where exactly everything fits in a moment, but you can see in the photo above that both my Fujifilm X100V and Fujifilm X-E4 with a pancake lens fits quite comfortably in the upper two compartments.
The National Geographic NG2344 Earth Explorer Shoulder Bag has just enough space for all the gear I need when I travel. Because it is small, it never gets in the way. I’ve had this bag for more than two years and it’s been great—best camera bag I’ve ever owned. And it’s not very expensive. Currently they’re selling for $50, but I paid only $40 for mine.
The Fujifilm X100V is the ultimate travel camera, in my opinion. It’s compact (pocketable if you have large pockets). It has amazing image quality. It’s weather-sealed to an extent. It’s fun. It’s surprisingly versatile for a camera with a fixed 23mm (35mm full-frame equivalent) lens. What more could you want?!
If I could only take one camera with me when I travel, this is the one I’d pick. In fact, last week I used the X100V for about 50% of all the pictures I captured (more on the other cameras in a moment). Occasionally it’s not wide-angle or telephoto enough, so it’s good to have options, but most of the time the X100V is all I want or need. It sits in the upper-left compartment of the camera bag.
If you are lucky to already own a Fujifilm X100V, you’re well on your way to completing your travel kit. If you don’t own one, they can be difficult to find, and often at an inflated price. My copy was a birthday gift from my wife a couple of years ago when they were newly released.
The X100 series is great, but I’ve felt for a long time now that you really need an interchangeable-lens option to go with it. Most models are larger than the X100 series, but the X-E line is a similar size. In particular, I really like the Fujifilm X-E4, which was my most-used camera in 2022.
When paired with the Fujinon 27mm pancake lens, the X-E4 fits comfortably in the upper-right compartment of the camera bag. There are some other lenses (I’ll get to them soon) that can also be attached to the camera and it will still fit in the bag, but it is a little more snug than with the 27mm, so I prefer to pair the X-E4 with the 27mm.
The Fujifilm X-E4 isn’t weather-sealed. It doesn’t have all the features that the X100V has. It’s a minimalistic design, and sometimes a little too much so, but I feel that approach works well for travel where less is often more. The X-E4 is my second favorite Fujifilm camera. I used it for about 40% of my photographs on the coastal trip.
Like the Fujifilm X100V, the Fujifilm X-E4 can be difficult to find and it might be at an inflated price. I preordered my copy on the the day it was announced, and I’m glad that I did. Unfortunately, Fujifilm recently (and inexplicably) discontinued the X-E4, which might make it even more challenging to get your hands on one. The Fujifilm X-E3 is a good alternative if you don’t mind buying used.
Ricoh GR III
The Ricoh GR III was included in the kit simply because it fit—in fact, the GR models are the smallest APS-C cameras you can buy. The GR III is a one-trick-pony, but it does that one trick very well. When I needed a wide-angle option, the GR III was in my pocket eager to go.
I laid the X100V and X-E4 camera straps across the top of those two models in the camera bag, and placed the Ricoh GR III on the straps to protect from scratches. The camera is so small that the bag still zippered, no problem. Whenever I stopped somewhere to capture photographs, I simply shoved the tiny camera into my pants pocket, where it easily fit. The GR III is one that you can carry everywhere and it’s never in the way or uncomfortable.
I would have preferred my Fujifilm X70 over the GR; although it is quite small, it was just a hair too big for the bag. I probably could have forced it to work, but the Ricoh GR III did so quite comfortably, so I went with it instead. Even though I had the GR III with me more than any of the other cameras, I only used it for about 5% of my pictures; however, I was happy to have it when I needed it.
The Samsung ST76 is a tiny point-and-shoot digicam from 2012. I paid $18 for mine about six months ago. Despite being old and cheap, I actually like the ’60’s and ’70’s color film vibe from this camera when using the Retro filter, which reminds me of old prints I’ve seen in my grandparent’s photo albums. It was a last-minute decision to add it to the camera bag.
The Samsung ST76 is so tiny that it fits into the bag without any problems. I could have placed it most anywhere, but I put it into the lower-right compartment. I only used it for about 1% of my photography on this trip. If I had left it at home I wouldn’t have missed it, but I did capture a couple of images that I was happy with, so I’m glad to have included it.
That’s it for cameras, now let’s talk glass!
Fujinon 27mm f/2.8
My favorite and most-used lens is the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 pancake. Because it is so small and lightweight, it’s especially perfect for travel photography. This is the lens that I typically keep on my Fujifilm X-E4 as my everyday-use glass, and I only replace it with something else when I need to. When I do take it off the camera, I simply place it in the bag where I took the other lens from, which will either be bottom-left or bottom-right, and then place it back on the camera when I’m done.
The 27mm f/2.8 is slightly wide-angle, but, with a 40mm full-frame-equivalent focal-length, it’s pretty close to a “standard” lens. While the maximum aperture is not impressive, I only occasionally find it to be a hinderance. I like the way this lens renders images, and that’s what matters most.
Fujinon 90mm f/2
My second favorite Fujinon lens is the 90mm f/2. It just renders pictures so beautifully! It also gives me a solid telephoto option for when I need a longer reach.
Because it has a 135mm full-frame-equivalent focal-length, it can be challenging to use sometimes; however, the bigger challenge is fitting it into the travel camera bag, since it is a larger lens. The trick is to take the lens hood off and place it backwards over the lens body, which allows it to fit into the bag. I kept it in the lower-left compartment underneath the X100V. I used the Fujinon 90mm f/2 lens frequently on this trip. Did I mention that I love this lens?
Fujinon 18mm f/2
The Fujinon 18mm f/2 is Fujifilm’s “other” pancake lens, although it is larger than the 27mm. It’s not my favorite option (although I do like it), and the Ricoh GR III made it less necessary, but including it in this kit seemed like an obvious choice since it is small.
I didn’t use the 18mm f/2 nearly as much as I did the 27mm and 90mm, but I did use it on several occasions. I placed it in the bottom-right compartment underneath the X-E4 with another lens and the tiny Samsung camera.
Meike 35mm f/1.7
The Meike 35mm f/1.7 is a cheap all-manual lens with some good character similar to some vintage lenses. This one is especially small (similar in size to the Fujinon 18mm f/2), which makes it ideal for travel photography. The 52.5mm full-frame-equivalent focal-length is slightly telephoto, but still pretty much a “standard” lens, which means that I have two lenses (this and the 27mm) to serve that purpose. The advantages to this one are a slightly longer reach and a significantly larger maximum aperture, which does occasionally come in handy.
The Meike 35mm fits in the same bottom-right compartment with the Fujinon 18mm f/2. The Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-4 does fit in lieu of the 18mm and 35mm, and could be an alternative, but I personally prefer primes over zooms.
Pergear 10mm f/8 Fisheye
I included the Pergear 10mm f/8 Fisheye because it fits so easily into the bag, it would be a shame not to bring it. I don’t use it often, but every once in a blue moon it comes in handy. Plus, it’s sometimes just a fun lens. I barely used it on this trip, but I did use it. I kept the lens in the front zipper compartment of the bag.
Pergear 10mm f/8 Fisheye — Amazon
Xuan Focus Free 30mm F/10 Body Cap
The Xuan Focus Free 30mm f/10 Body Cap lens is actually a Kodak Funsaver disposable camera lens that’s been attached to a Fujifilm body cap. It produces soft dream-like pictures that you might either love or hate. For a retro lofi rendering, this is the lens to use! I brought it, keeping it in the front zipper pocket next to the Pergear 10mm, but I barely used it.
Xuan Focus Free 30mm F/10 — Amazon
Pentax-110 50mm f/2.8 & 24mm f/2.8
Just because they fit, I included in the bag my vintage Pentax-110 50mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/2.8 lenses, which are actually the smallest interchangeable lenses ever mass produced. They were made for Pentax Auto 110 cameras in the late-1970’s through the mid-1980’s, but, with an adapter, will surprisingly work on Fujifilm X cameras. They’re oozing with great character, but are challenging to use because the aperture is fixed at f/2.8.
While the 24mm is redundant, the 50mm lens does provide an option that’s in-between the 35mm and 90mm lenses, and so it does have a practical purpose, even if just barely. These lenses are fun and I love to use them, and that’s why I included them in the kit. They also fit into the front zipper compartment.
The Other Stuff
Of course, cameras and lenses aren’t the only things in the bag. Attached to my Fujifilm X100V was a 5% CineBloom diffusion filter. I had two spare Fujifilm NP-126S batteries, which conveniently fit into the upper-right velcro pocket. My favorite battery charger, a Nitecore FX1 USB charger, nicely fits into the upper-left velcro pocket. In the front zipper pocket, along with the four lenses mentioned above, I fit two spare SD Cards, a short USB-C cable, a Lightning SD Card Reader, and some lens wipes. Yes, all of that fit!
The one camera that I didn’t mention is my iPhone. I never put it in the camera bag, but I always had it with me. I used my RitchieCam iPhone camera app. Approximately 4% of my pictures on this trip were captured with my iPhone (just a few less than the Ricoh GR III). Although it was not a part of my camera bag, it was a part of my travel photography, so it’s worth mentioning.
Into such a small package I was able to include so much!
A few of the lenses were perhaps excessive, but they’re so small and lightweight that it didn’t make any real difference. I think excluding the Ricoh GR III and the lenses in the front zipper pocket would simplify the kit and it would still be equally as functional, but it would probably be a little less fun (and fun is important). I could have also replaced two of the smaller lenses—perhaps the two Fujinon pancakes—with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom, but I’ve always preferred primes over zooms. Ideally I’d replace the Meike 35mm with a 50mm, but I haven’t found one small enough that I like—if I find one, I might just do that. Otherwise, I’m very happy with this compact camera kit for travel photography, and I don’t think that it could be improved upon by a whole lot; however, I’m sure I’ll continue to refine it and make it even better—even if just a little—as I take more roadtrips.
To simplify the kit, if you want an even smaller setup, you could travel with just a Fujifilm X100V, Ricoh GR III (or Fujifilm X70), and your cellphone. The X100V would hang around your neck, and the other two would fit in your pockets. No camera bag needed! Keep your few accessories—spare batteries, cords, etc.—in the glove box of your car. That would cover most of your needs, and for the rest, you could simply use the limitation to take a creative approach to the scene.
But if you would like to have at least some gear options when you travel, the “ultimate” kit that I used last week, which I described above, worked very well for me. Perhaps something similar will work for you, too.