Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

By Bradley Newman

My wife’s cousin invited us to her wedding at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I figured this might be a good opportunity for some fun photography, so I started thinking of what I could bring along which might supplement the work of the resort’s own photographer.

I broke down the four day trip, an easy three-hour flight from our home near Los Angeles, into three different photographic parts. First, I would use my digital camera (a well-worn Canon 6D with my super lightweight but ridiculously sharp 50mm f/1.8) for all the candid shots around the resort. Readers of 35mmc, however, don’t come here to hear about digital efficiency. Let’s move onto the self-flagellation portion of the story.

Packing light (not), meant for part two I brought my Leica M3, with a Summicron-M 50mm f/2 loaded with Portra 400. This would be for shooting when I had time to compose, could find interesting subjects and tasty Pacific sunsets. And for some artsy-fartsy, low-light wedding reception fun, I packed along my Nikon FE, with a Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 loaded with HP5 400 pushed to 1600. The third part of my packing insanity went to my trusty Olympus Mju ii loaded with Kodak Gold 200 which came along for snapshots.

Controlled Carry On Chaos. How many cameras can you spot?

I’ve had the Leica for just over a year, and am finally getting somewhat adept at using Sunny 16, and trusting zone focusing. What I’ve learned is when I trust the process, images are bright, sharp and well exposed. Despite experimenting with multiple film stocks, I have had the most reliable results shooting Kodak Portra400, exposing it at 200asa. For the times I’m not totally confident about the scene I’m shooting, the Keks KM02 meter I keep in the cold shoe of the M3 keeps me out of trouble.

Another lousy sunset captured on Portra400. I used the lantern to diffuse the sun. Leica M3, Portra400.
Leica M3, Portra400.

The Olympus Mju ii goes nearly everywhere with me. This camera is capable of spectacularly good results. However, its faults are many and well documented. The first problem, which is more of an annoyance, is the camera’s inability to hold settings such as flash-off, and spot metering-on when the user closes and reopens the lens cover. Add to this the fact that at least on mine, the battery meter always shows full, even when the oddball CR123/DL123a battery is just about dead. Paying closer attention to the sound of the motor winder will serve you better. I have had this camera die on me without warning at least twice now. Finally, I try not to use the flash as I have found it to be excessively bright, blowing out anything but shots where I’ve used it for filling in a backlit scene. Rereading what I’ve written, this really sounds like a pretty poor review. But, then I get my scans back and always find at least one image that makes me say, “Wow.”

Survivor VW Bus. Olympus Mju ii, Kodak Gold 200.
Wet street in Puerto Vallarta. Olympus Mju ii, Kodak Gold 200
I could’ve spent the entire trip documenting amazing Puerto Vallarta street art. Olympus Mju ii, Kodak Gold 200
Taking the mask for a test drive. Olympus Mju ii, Kodak Gold 200

Finally, since the wedding was right at dusk, I figured I might get a few black and white shots of the wedding reception with the Nikon. The Nikkor 24mm lens is as sharp as anything else I own, and pushing HP5 to 1600 asa was fast enough to allow me to shoot some of these scenes at f4 or above. Truthfully, some of the really low light scenes didn’t work as well as I had hoped. And, I think this is because I need to practice a bit more. Perhaps shooting wide open at a 30th would have worked better where most of the scene was very dark, but where an overhead light was illuminating a subject’s face.

Carlos explains his “no speech” policy. Nikon FE, Ilford HP5.
Poolside reception reflections.

A reasonable question you may ask is “Would you do it the same way again in the future?” The answer is a qualified “Yes.” Since we stayed in one place for the entire trip, safe storage of the cameras not in use was never an issue. But, I fully acknowledge carrying four cameras is a bit excessive. I could have easily done most of what I accomplished with just the Leica or Nikon. The advantage of using the Nikon is the fantastic metering. I still think it’s my most intuitive camera, metering-wise. The Mju’s superpower is it fits in a pocket and punches way above its weight.

In 2018, my wife and I traveled to Costa Rica. On that trip, I brought the Pentax 645 my dad gave me. My neck and back will never be the same after hiking with that brick slung over my shoulder. Maybe I’m growing. After all, at least this time I only traveled with one film format.

As one final note, I get asked a lot about the consequence of sending film through X-ray scanning equipment in airports. Leaving Los Angeles, there was such a crowd, there was no way I could have requested hand checks; further most of the film was unexposed at that point. On the way into Mexico, their customs officers completely ignored my request to have them hand check my rolls of film. As a result, the whole camera bag with six or seven rolls of film got zapped. On the return trip, the security agents were very friendly when asked, and shepherded my plastic bag full of exposed film to the end of the line, making sure we were reunited after they’d examined them closely. In spite of the trip through the scanner in Mexico, I noticed no fogging or waves in any of the film. Perhaps this is more of a problem in checked luggage, which I believe is subjected to much more powerful X-ray, and for film faster than 400asa.

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About The Author

By Bradley Newman
Financial professional, vintage auto racer, and hugely amateurish photographer located somewhere close to Los Angeles, California.
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Comments

Jay Dann Walker on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 20/02/2024

Nice snapshots. Good compositions, excellent and thoughtful use of lighting. The two skeletons scared the bejeez out of me, but I'm at that age where the bone orchard is only a short distance away. Not intending to be anything other than respectful, did you really do anything with your quartet of nice shooters that you could not have done with one camera and maybe two lenses? I leave you to answer that one. For me, I know the answer. Would I do the same? Never ever. This said, I once went to Indonesia with a N ikkormat and three lenses, a Rolleiflex TLR, and a Linhof 6x9 with three lenses and two, yes, two film backs. And a Linhof tripod. To quote myself, never ever. Lesson learned. One of the guiding principles of my life has always been, being human as I am, it's okay to make mistakes, but I have to try to not repeat the same mistakes. For me, travel first and foremost is now about the experience of traveling. Not looking at everything I see through a viewfinder. Okay. To end all this on a positive note, you did so some fine visual work with your arsenal, and I commend you for it. As at least one other has commented, you seem to have done our best with your M3. Amazing what one camera and one lens, the standard 50, can do when you have to work at it. Looking forward to your images from the next trip you take. I suggest Hawaii or Southeast Asia, but in the latter case, please, not four cameras... Best from Dana in Melbourne
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 20/02/2024

Dana from Melbourne, Thanks for the nice words. Your comment about prioritizing experiences over shutter clicks resonates with me. Part of the reason I dragged all the gear along was the opportunity to shoot the wedding party and be in a single location for most of the time. Earlier in '23, my wife and I went to Europe, and for a lot of the trip I just shot digital photos on "Auto," so as not to be distracted from those moments. It made me feel like an actual grownup. As for future trips, I think I have a couple coming up which we will both enjoy - assuming I bring the right camera(s).

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Röd White on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Nice article and photos Bradley, thanks for sharing. Love the colours and that HP5 pushed is also really nice. I think many of us will resonate with the packing light story. Much to my own dismay, I do it on every trip, working out multiple combinations of film cameras and a digital backup drives me mad, but I'm glad to say on the last few trips and after weeks of stress trying to work it out, I've changed my mind at the last minute, to just 1 camera and one lens, a Leica MP with a 40mm Voigtländer f1.2 and 6 rolls of film, 5 in a metal case marked up 'Camera Film - Do Not X-RAY' and one in a plastic canister. I've personally never had any issues with fogged film in the past and more recently have found security staff quite helpful when it comes to hand checks. I don't usually take more than 6 rolls of film though and always make sure my camera is empty, outbound and return. On my last trip I'd shot 5 exposures on some lovely Kodak Vision 3, so I wound it out of the camera and reloaded it the other end, taking care to wind on to exposure 7, deliberately missing one. I was told at one UK airport that the camera always has to go through the X-Ray whether it has film in it or not but only because I asked. The camera was empty anyway. Seeing as I roll my own film, I'll make up some small test rolls of different stocks next time I travel and let them go through the X-Ray machines. If nothing else, it might make for an interesting article on here. Again, thanks for sharing.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind words. We're off on a couple adventures later this year, so I would be very interested to see how your test rolls fare.

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Alan Peres on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 02/02/2024

Lina Bessanova just did an amazing study of the effect of airport scanning on both 35mm and 120 films. Check her YouTube channel.
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Alan replied:

Comment posted: 02/02/2024

Maybe I'm just cynical, but I wasn't convinced her astonishingly clear outcomes weren't contrived simply for better YouTube clicks and more hits on some conveniently placed affiliate marketing links for lead lined bags. It would be very easy to replicate her results in Lightroom - and very uninteresting for everyone if her results had been simply inconclusive.

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Alan on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Nice photos and story! I particularly like the pink flamingo one. It is quite humorous - and has great colours! I'm guessing this was Portra 400 with the M3? I routinely take waaay too many cameras with me when travelling. My last trip to Peru involved 7 cameras (and around 20 rolls of film). They are all different tools for different jobs, that's the way I look at it anyway. It does add somewhat to my stress levels though, which is something I might want to reduce for my next trip! Regarding airport security with film. I've travelled with stacks of film all over the world through many dodgy looking airport scanners and never had a problem at all. I cannot ever imagine asking for a 'hand-check' from airport security - I'd feel like such total tosser asking for this! I suspect some of this X-ray worrying is perhaps a little overblown in people's minds, at least from my experience anyway. I had to check my carry-on luggage in the hold once - and inadvertently left all my films in the bag. No problems with the films whatsoever.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Thanks, Alan. You nailed it: M3 and Portra for the win! Six cameras. Oof!

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Baladino replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Have you been to Heathrow recently ? Many airports have been outfitted with CT scans. Instead of lugging film, i get my agents to purchase film from warehouses and courier them to my destination. With labels saying film inside, do not scan. Fogging is a real thing. Especially when high resolution scans are done for magazine work or special jobs.

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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

We are traveling to Europe later this year. I'll confirm we're not going through Heathrow. We went through Frankfurt, Nice, Naples and Zurich Spring of '23 with no issues. Thank goodness I do this for fun. I can't imagine how stressful it would be if it were my profession.

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Alan replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Been through Heathrow loads. Never been a problem.

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Geoff Chaplin on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Nice images and story - I particularly like the sunset shot. I've put many films over the decades through the hand luggage scanners and never had a problem. Checked luggage scanners are killers - very heavily fogged film and not really possible to recover decent images. An accident not to be repeated (I hope).
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

Thanks, Geoff.

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Stephen Meese on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

*Carlos gives a speech on his no speech policy
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2024

So, you've met Carlos...

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Ibraar Hussain on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

You’re brave and hats off to you man! Lovely work too
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Thanks, Ibraar. Greatly appreciated.

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Marc on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Nice article & photos. Glad you didn’t have to carry all 4 each time out. Please do consider an article of your digital camera. 35mm does have a small nice section with old & newer digital cameras. As you can see now in January 2024 there is a series called Jankuary featuring old smallish mp cameras.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Thanks, Marc. My 6D has literally traveled the world with me. I'll keep it in mind.

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Gary Smith on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

I doubt that I'd ever travel with 4 cameras however I understand your logic and I certainly can't argue with your results! I particularly love your shot of the street art wall mural. Nice article.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Thanks, Gary! I appreciate the kind words.

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Paul Quellin on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Really enjoyed this Bradley and so glad other people have the same notions of 'packing light'. To my eternal shame, I have rather more insight than I would like to admit regarding airport screening equipment and effects on films. I have worked with these technologies even being involved in some of the milestones in their development. A lot of misinformation has resurfaced a couple of decades after the traveling public came to accept explanations and even manufacturer's guarantees about film safety. It all went quiet of course with the rapid rise of digital. Hold Baggage Screening technologies led us down a problematic path for film, but just at a point when film was in decline. Now those same technologies are spinning off into carry-on screening there are things to fear. The state of play is currently rather confused. There is still a lot of equipment out there that really won't leave any noticeable effects, even after being cycled through a machine enough times to get bored. Knowing what the airport is using is of course problematic, likely to change and something they should be reluctant to discuss for good reason. I plan to deliberately try to damage some film with CT in the near future to show what to look for. Happy to provide more information by messaging if you like.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Great information. Thanks for sharing. My experience has been hit-or-miss regarding security agent's willingness to handcheck. I suppose it's just a risk we take traveling with film nowadays.

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Gillian Kirby replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

I almost had a meltdown at Heathrow when, despite emailing beforehand to check what the policy was before turning up with a bag full of film, I was told I couldn't have anything under 800iso hand-checked. 'Oh, I can see the email says it's fine, but I think they got it wrong, because we can only do it for 800iso and above?' I went through six other security checkpoints on that trip and none of them had a problem with hand-checking film at all.

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Gus on Traveling. Light? 4 days, 4 Cameras

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Beautiful photos, my favourites are the lantern at sunset and the rainy street! I also love my Nikon FE, but I struggle to read the shutter speeds from the match-needle meter in low light.
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Bradley Newman replied:

Comment posted: 31/01/2024

Thanks, Gus. I recently invested in a Gossen Digisix-2 handheld light meter. Hopefully, getting better at metering for incidental light in tough situations will help a bunch. But, you're exactly right. The match needles are impossible to see. Further, since the metering is center-weighted, I'm not sure how effective it would be metering for a complicated, high-contrast, low-light scene.

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