Summer vacation usually does not take me southward, where so many Central Europeans bask in the hot glow of the Mediterranean sun. Instead, I book a flight, or a ferry passage out of a Baltic port towards Finland.
My mother was born in Finland. She grew up there, and she still has ties. She never gave up her Finnish citizenship, and thus also conferred it on me and my brother. But more importantly, she instilled in us a love for the Finnish countryside in summer. Summer in Scandinavia is a time when even the most sober among people admit that magic may be real. It only lasts a few short months, but during these months the sun hardly sets, and the climate makes you forget how close you are to the Arctic circle.
After going at least every other year from when I was a toddler until the late 1990s, and not having been back during most years as a student (not once from 2003 to 2010), I went again in 2014 and 2015. And luckily, I had rediscovered the joys of film photography by then. In 2014 I left home with two camera bodies, one of them a heavy Minolta SR-T, several prime lenses, a standard zoom, and a tele zoom. I also brought along two point and shoots (one for color, and one for black and white), and loads of film. It was fun, and I got a lot of great shots, and even the ones that weren’t great were still wonderful memories.
This time, that wouldn’t be possible. In the ever-increasing race to inconvenience flyers around the globe, our airline had decided just a few months before Carrie and I were to join my parents in the family refuge in the South of that Nordic country, that checked luggage was no longer something that customers deserved. Unfortunately, they had not deigned to inform ticket bookers of this, so we found out about it the evening before our departure, with bags already packed. You could pay a fee, sure, and be allowed that privilege, but since we were headed on a summer vacation without much need for formal dress, that seemed ridiculous to us. Yet, having decided to carry on, a very obvious problem presented itself: How was I going to travel across half of Europe with clothes, toiletries, books and camera equipment all stuffed into one bag that could not weigh more than 8kg?
A frenzied night of Tetris-like repacking and re-repacking followed, accompanied by several weigh-ins. Out went the wireless keyboard I had hoped to use with my iPad to get some writing done. Out went extra pairs of pants and a second week’s worth of t-shirts, socks, and underwear. Out went extra pairs of shoes. I would bring just one, the one I was going to wear on the plane. Out went several books (though I couldn’t possibly bring less than two!). But the elephant in the room sat on my shelf; shiny, heavy, big. It had become clear that my assortment of cameras had to be cut down to size.
I don’t like airline baggage restrictions, but I do like a challenge. And I did like that it forced me to be honest to myself: which camera would I trust to capture two weeks worth of vacation memories? Which lenses would I bring so that I wouldn’t miss any photo opportunities? Did I need filters? What film would I want? Fast? Slow? And if the latter, how would I deal without bringing a tripod?
I didn’t have to think for all that long. Panic mode set in, and I realized that I would just have to go to my go-to. So I grabbed my Minolta X-700, put the smallest prime I had, a very useful 45/f2, on it, clicked a 28/f2.8 lens onto a 2x teleconverter (this would give me a nice stepping of focal lengths: 28 – 45 – 56 – 90, essentially a standard zoom, but with better image quality and better low light capabilities), put a circular polarizer on the 45, stuck a close-up lens in my bag, loaded the camera with Agfa Precisa 100 slide film, and put another 10 of these films in one of those egg-box-like multiple film roll cases. At ISO 100, there wouldn’t be the slightest worry about airport x-rays fogging the film, and the sharpness of the emulsion (rumored to be a repackaged Fuji Provia or Sensia or the like) would enable me to take pictures of things that were farther away than my lens selection reached, and later crop without problems. I put a lens cleaning cloth, an old Agfa flash and an UltraPod mini tripod into the bag (really a very handy little thing), and looked at my selection. Done. Well, almost. I really couldn’t be without a backup – not just my iPhone, which I would use extensively for Instagram shots, but a film camera – imagine seeing a beautiful scene and not being able to capture it on film!). Since another SLR body was too heavy and big, I put the Minolta Riva Mini in my jacket pocket.
Then I went on vacation with one carry on bag weighing less than 8kg, feeling much like a normal person going on vacation, and not like the obsessed photographer who can’t leave anything behind I had been the previous year. I shot all 11 rolls, and I never missed another camera – even when the Minolta’s frame counter gave up halfway through the vacation and I couldn’t tell anymore which frame I was on for the rest of the rolls. It really is true: Traveling light is freeing.