The Panasonic Lumix GF1 has to be a contender for one of the best cameras for travel on the market at the moment. It’s a great compromise of small size, excellent image quality, availability of accessories and lenses, and price.
A fully fledged DSLR is more flexible, but it also a lot bigger and heavier and a lot more intimidating to shove in people’s faces to do candid street portraits. A small compact like the Panasonic Lumix LX5 is a great little camera, but it has a smaller sensor and although feature-packed, still isn’t as flexible as the GF1.
Although you can get some great lenses for the GF1, I generally stick with the superb 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. There are times when too many options and too much zoom choice becomes a distraction, and I’ve always found it really refreshing to stick a 50mm prime on my SLR and heading out to shoot, leaving all the other lenses at home. It’s a great way to focus purely on the image and not be distracted by too many choices. The GF1’s 20mm lens (40mm in 35 equivalent) works the same way. If I want zooms and bells and whistles, I’ll pull out my DSLR. But there’s something about keeping it simple that can lead to better photographs. And although I’ll usually travel with at least two DSLR bodies as well, you don’t necessarily want to be lugging them around the whole time you’re out and about.
So, with the objective of keeping it small and minimalist, here’s the GF1 kit I’ve settled on.
Strap. I quickly found that the traditional strap that it comes with got in the way too often. For my DSLRs I’ve replaced the standard straps with BlackRapid RS-7 R-Straps and OpTech 6701062 SLR Wrist Straps. An R-Strap on a GF1 would work, but for me it’s overkill. The wrist strap, however, works like a charm. It’s secure, easily removable, and a very convenient way to carry the camera. The one catch is that the strap is too thick to attach directly to the camera, so I attached a small keyring and attached the strap to that.
Clip. I like to clip the GF1 to my belt or the outside of my bag. I got a solid keyring connector from a hardware store (some are more solid than others–choose a solid one) and attached a carabiner clip with a closed end. Standard carabiner clips can easily detach–choose one with a fully enclosed end. Outdoor stores like REI, hardware stores, or marine supply stores should have good ones.
Case. For me, having a bulky case would defeat the purpose of a small camera. After shopping around and not finding what I had in mind, I realized I already had the perfect case on hand–the infinitely useful Domke Wrap. I found a 10-inch wrap will work, but an 11-inch wrap works better. It provides reasonable protection when on, disguises the camera, and when you’re not using it, it just crumples up in your pocket. Of course, it doesn’t have any memory card storage etc, although it’d be possible to sew one if you needed it. This wouldn’t work as well, however, for any of the other lenses since they’re much larger. But with the 20mm lens on, it works a treat. And because the clip is attached to the camera itself, the “case” doesn’t need one.
Spare battery. This is a case where skimping doesn’t work. While I’m usually skeptical of manufacturer claims that using any other brand accessory might cause problems, in this case the GF1’s firmware actually enforces it and the camera will shut down when it detects a third party battery. So, like it or not, you have to stick to the official Panasonic DMW-BLB13 battery. And you’ll probably need a fully charged spare on hand–the GF1 drains the battery fairly quickly.
Spare memory card. Class 6 SDHC cards are recommended, especially if you use the HD video feature. By all means get a faster card like a Class 10, but you won’t see any benefit on the camera side of things (although you might get faster downloads to your computer if your card reader is fast enough). I’ve found the Sandisk Extreme 16GB and Sandisk Extreme 8GB work very well with both images and HD video capture. (If you really want to research the card options, head on over to Rob Galbraith’s exhaustive tests.)
Timer Remote Control. I’ve written about this in detail here, but options include the JJC TM-D Multi-Function Timer Remote Control, the RainbowImaging LCD Timer Remote Control, the RainbowImaging Wirelss LCD Timer Remote Control. It works great not just for night photos but also for shooting time lapse images. I wish it was smaller and went higher than 399 frames, but there’s not much I can do about that.
Neutral Density (ND) Filter. Hardly an essential filter, but I like to have the option of using slow shutter speeds in the middle of the day. There’s an official Panasonic one, but any 46mm (for 20mm lens) or 52mm (for 14-45mm lens) filter will work.
Circular Polarizer Filter. There are two Panasonic Circular Polarizers sold as accessories (DMW-LPL46 for the 20mm and the DMW-LPL52 for 14-45mm), but any 46mm (for 20mm) or 52mm (for 14-45mm) diameter circular polarizer will work. I’m partial to the German-made B+W filters, but Tiffen, Sigma, Hoya, and Nikon all make very good filters.
I’ve found that kitted out like this, it’s never a hassle to take my GF1 with me. And it’s hard to get the shot if you don’t have a camera with you.