Ask LH: Should I Take My DSLR To A Conference?

Ask LH: Should I Take My DSLR To A Conference?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m travelling to the US for a conference in a couple of weeks, and I’m trying to work out two things. Firstly, what sort of bag should I use for carry-on luggage? I’m not sure if my normal messenger bag is up to the task. Secondly, is it worth taking my DSLR for a 5-day trip for a conference? (This will influence my bag choice.) Thanks, Pack Animal

Dear PA,

Let’s start with the second question first. There was a time when I would routinely take my DSLR everywhere, but these days I’m increasingly reluctant to do so. It takes great pictures, but it’s a massive pain to lug around. If you have a relatively modern smartphone, the odds are good that you’ll be able to grab the photos you want without all the excess gear. There are three key factors to consider:

  • Is it a place you have visited before? If ‘yes’, then there’s no way you’ll need the DSLR.
  • Do you have a lot of free time? If your conference experience is largely going to be in the hotel or conference centre, a bulky camera is more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Is it in Las Vegas? A frequent conference choice, Las Vegas is a city where a DSLR makes a difference; it’s much harder to capture street lighting, fireworks, giant buildings and all that jazz with your phone. It’s the one place I might make an exception and pack the DSLR.

So in most cases I’d say “no”. That in turn influences your baggage selection. If your messenger bag fits your laptop and you’re used to it, I’d stick with that. Space for baggage is always tricky to find on US flights, so travelling with a larger bag is often more hassle than it’s worth. Checking into international flights with only hand luggage attracts attention (and often results in your luggage being weighed), so you might as well pack what you need in your main luggage (leave room for cheap clothes) and just stick to the essentials in your carry-on.

That’s my take, but I am merely one traveller. Alternate reader perspectives are welcome in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Most conferences I’ve attended have left me flat out finding time for sleep, much less looking for photogenic scenes worthy of a DSLR (and ‘Yes’, I’m a halfway serious photographer).

    I tend to agree with all 3 of Angus’s points.

  • It depends on the conference and how much free time you can wrangle. The thing which makes the difference for me is making the camera as inconspicuous to carry as possible. You want it to be there when you need it, but you don’t want to be a slave to it and have to cart around a bag that’s bigger than you’d otherwise use.

    Forget about neck straps, those just guarantee that the camera will get in the way. I’ve made a Spider Holster type belt holder for mine (I couldn’t justify the expense of the real thing, though the Black Widow version is reasonably priced) and it makes for a very unobtrusive carrying method. I’ve gone with a small wrist strap on the camera for when I’m actually using it.

  • I lugged my DSLR to San Fran this year for GDC. It was a huge pain as I kept it in my carry on luggage. In the end I only used it for one day, the rest of the time I was too busy attending the conference or exploring San Fran’s night life.

  • I have a carry on wheelie bag and the dslr, expensive lenses and laptop go in there all together. I have taken mine a few times, but I would decide what I wanted from the trip before packing anything, little alone a dslr. I would think about how much time I alocate to photograpghy on the trip and that will tell you whether the pain is worthwhile.

  • I never try to make phone calls with my SLR or to take great photos with my phone. Bring the SLR, unless you have a decent compact you can take instead. My motto is always be prepared to capture a great photo. My SLR came with me to LA for a conference and I took some amazing pics, I’ve never had any regrets traveling with an SLR.

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