Why I’m Never Taking a Tripod on Vacation Again

I’m never taking a tripod on vacation again. Last year I took a lightweight compact travel tripod to Japan but never used it once. This was because shooting long exposures on the OM System OM-1 was a breeze. The camera boasts incredible 7 stops of image stabilization, increasing to 8 stops with compatible lenses.

In this article, I’ll show you examples of long exposures I took with the OM-1: I was able to smooth water, blur crowds, and create traffic trails in images—all handheld.

The Evolution of My Travel Kit

I've always traveled with two camera bodies ever since my film days. In the 90s, I traveled with two Canon EOS 500N cameras, a long zoom, a short zoom, and a bag full of Kodak Elitechrome.

In recent years, I've traveled with many of Fujifilm X Series cameras: every model from the X-T1 through to X-T5, and even the X-T10 and X-T20. I love telephoto lenses, but I must admit I got tired of lugging my Fujifilm 50-140mm f/2.8 on trips.

I became intrigued with the idea of using a Micro Four Thirds camera, all because of the smaller lenses.

My current Micro Four Thirds Travel Kit

My Latest Travel Kit 

For my November 2023 trip to Japan, I took

I don't usually like taking just one camera body as I hate changing lenses on location, but I'm pleased to say it all went smoothly.

Using ND Filters at Kurobe Gorge

Let’s start off with photos taken in the north of Japan, near the city of Toyama. Kurobe Gorge is a remote location that is absolutely worth the journey. A stunning narrow-gauge railway with bright orange carriages runs through the mountains and along the river. It’s particularly pretty in November when the Fall leaves start to turn orange and red. After a noisy, windy, one-hour ride, you arrive at the terminus. Here you are greeted by stunning river views.

OM-1 with 12-40mm f/2.8 II lens and ND16. 2 sec, f/9, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

Using the In-built ND Filters on the OM-1

Before the trip, I had never tried out using long exposures handheld with the OM-1, so I was keen to start. Shooting during the day, the only way to get shutter speeds long enough to smooth water was to use the OM-1’s in-built ND filters. These are found under the computational section of the camera's menu.

I spent 45 minutes taking photos of the same scene, trying all 6 of the ND filters, ranging from ND2 to ND64. I show all of those images in the video, but the key takeaway was that with my semi-shaky hands, I got the best results at ND8 and ND16.

OM-1 with 40-150mm f/4 lens and ND16. 1 sec, f/8, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

OM-1 with 40-150mm f/4 lens and ND16. 1/1.6 sec, f/8, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

I took the next two sets of photos back in Tokyo in dimmer lighting conditions, so there was no need for the ND filters.

Traffic Trails at Tokyo Tower 

Although I've taken thousands of photos of Japan, I'd never captured the iconic Tokyo Tower. Modeled after the Eiffel Tower, it first opened in 1958 and is a symbol of Japan's post-war recovery.

Arriving by Shinkansen bullet train from Toyama, the weather forecast was not looking good for the next few days. I had to get the shot on my first afternoon in Tokyo. Using Google Maps, I headed south of the tower, ending up with a good view along a busy six-lane road.

OM-1 with 40-150mm f/4 lens. 1/5 sec, f/8, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

Thankfully, there was a small median strip between the lanes. I was able to perch myself in the middle, with one leg either side of a metal railing. Although I was standing up, this helped stabilize my body. I started by taking some close-up images of the tower from this vantage point with the 40-150mm f/4 lens before switching to the shorter zoom for traffic trail shots.

OM-1 with 12-40mm f/2.8 II lens. 1 sec, f/9, ISO 400, © Matt Murray

Although these are not super long exposures, only a second or two, there is no way I would've even contemplated taking a photo like this handheld before buying the OM-1.

OM-1 with 12-40mm f/2.8 II lens. 1.3 sec, f/9, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

As dusk slowly gave way to night, the colors of the sky got more intense. 

Iconic Shibuya Crossing 

Shibuya Crossing (or Shibuya Scramble) is one place that’s high on many visitors' lists in Tokyo. I estimate at least 25% of the people crossing the road here were tourists!

OM-1 with 40-150mm f/4 lens. 1/1.6 sec, f/9, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

It was a rainy afternoon and all of the coveted vantage points were taken. I stood behind a bench that surrounded a tree. This gave me a slightly elevated position. There is a railway bridge in both shots—I made sure that I took images as trains whizzed by, creating a beautiful blur.

OM-1 with 40-150mm f/4 lens. 1/2 sec, f/11, ISO 200, © Matt Murray

Final Thoughts

I've been thoroughly impressed with the OM System OM-1 as a travel camera. It has excellent image quality and an IP53 weatherproof rating—but the real "cherry on top" is the superb image stabilization.

I never would've dreamed of taking long exposure images like the ones in this article and in the video handheld before now. It means that for the type of travel photography I do, I can leave my tripod at home for good. Although my best images were all under 3 seconds, I've heard of people getting incredible results with handheld exposures of 10 seconds or more.

The only downside with my current travel setup is that there's only one camera body. I don't have the funds to buy another M43 body yet, but I will consider it in time. I'm planning a trip later this year, and at this stage, I think I'll go with the OM-1 twin lens kit along with my Ricoh GR3 again. Not only could I leave the tripod behind, but also my ND filters.

Have you used the OM System OM-1 as a travel camera? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Matt Murray is a travel and portrait photographer from Brisbane, Australia.

Matt loves shooting with compact cameras: both film and digital. His YouTube features reviews of film cameras, film stocks, and travel photography with the Ricoh GR III, Fujifilm X100V, and Olympus OM-1.

See more of Matt's photography and writing on his Substack.

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Should be marked as an advertisement.

Why? I bought the camera and the lenses myself. I've also sung the praises of Fujifilm and Ricoh in the past.

I use the OM-1 for travel along with the Olympus 8-25mm Pro lens. It is a light setup and I lean towards wide angle photos. I have several telephoto lenses I could also take depending on the reach I will need and how light I really want to travel on a particular trip. I like the weather sealing as well, so the rain is no problem.

Very cool Ed! I've heard good things about both the 8-25 and the 7-14. Both on my wishlist but I'm still testing the camera with the 3 lenses I have. I also have the 60mm macro, got it as a freebie when buying the OM-1. Thanks for reading!

Matt. I used to have the 7-14 and it was an excellent lens. But it was a little heavy and would not take regular filters. So I sold it and got the 8-25 which is lighter and takes the same 72mm filter that I can use on my three telephoto lenses: 12-100, 40-150, and 100-400. (I like to use a CPL filter from time to time.)

Oh cool, good to know Ed thank you! 8-25 is a handy focal range, you have me thinking about it now... ha ha

Even though it wasn't your intent, I agree with Jason that this comes across as salesy. I think your article would have been better titled as a product review.

Regardless, as an aging photog, I appreciate the spirit of your article. Modern technology (hardware and software) has allowed me to time blend and stack photos without always needing a tripod. I've yet to get slower shutter results like you without spraying + praying, but it's good to know that it's achievable.

FWIW, I dig the look of the shots you posted. A timeless quality to them, particularly with the sort of authentic images that have been trending for some time now.

Fair point to both of you... my intent was to show how amazed I was at how far cameras have come in the 30 years I've been taking photos. I never would've dreamed about taking photos like this handheld a few years ago. I am working on a review of this camera (it has both pros and cons you'll be pleased to know, and sadly I'm not getting any kickbacks from OM System!) but this article was just about the IBIS and ND filters mainly. Thanks for reading!

Disagree - seems to me the author's points would extend to modern IBIS systems across manufacturers, I appreciated his point about being able to pull long exposures without sticks.

Yes that's true... keen to try out the IBIS on the X100VI soon. Thanks for your reading!

There are often boring comments like this on fstoppers. It seems nobody can write they like one camera without someone else complaining that its like an advert. YAWN!

It's a positive review because it is a good camera. Most cameras are good, if they were not they would not still be on the market. The exception is the R5 that we got rid of from my studio because they fall apart.

I'm certainly, not going to make a blanket statement like that. Every trip is different and every trip unique. My most recent trip, I took both the Peak Design CF tripod and a monopod. I used the tripod once, but was glad to have it. A previous trip I took the PD tripod and used it once, again glad to have it. Since I primarily print my work, I'm not willing to leave everything in the hands of VR. My travel camera is a Nikon Z8, no slouch when it comes to VR (I only use Nikon Z lenses).

Yes every photographer is different, every trip is different, agree 100%. For the types of shots I take and how often I'd actually use a tripod on vacation, it's mostly true for me... I say mostly true as I'm actually considering doing some astro on a trip to a remote Indonesian island later this year...so never say never!

I've done quite a few long exposures but usually at the waterfront and only recently started experimenting with crowd movement and light trails. I never quite understood how photographers got those shots of the light trails ,(which I call lasers), so I tried it out from one of Tokyo's tall towers looking down at the street. But those were all at 1/4-1/6 seconds, that's the median timing I've gathered from tons of examples over the last few years on various photography websites and reviews. It also produced the most lengthy light trails however they were still small and thin compared to what I've seen in other people's work. Try try again.

So I'm kind of shocked that you can get this movement look out of one to two seconds. The handheld part I've been able to do that for quite some time with my cannons, but now I've got to go and check out this timing again. It's fun and I'll get the recipe soon enough.

Even after my latest month shooting in Tokyo I feel like there's still so much to do, I'm itching to just buy a ticket right now and just get out of here LOL. Cheers all.

I was only there 5 months ago and I'm itching to get back to Japan too! I was lucky in that in that street there were multiple lanes of traffic, with some lanes moving quickly and some cars were stationary. Keen to try it out some more! Thanks for reading :)

As a senior, I've settled on the Olympus OM-1 with the 12-100 Pro lens. Light with a broad spectrum of focal lengths. Still can't get down below about 1/8 second handheld. My bad.

A lot of people like to bounce around the VR specs of different cameras, but I don't seem them as anything more than just numbers. There are a lot of things at play when talking about using VR; what VR mode, how steady the camera is held, what the ultimate use of the image is going to be (internet, printing, etc.).

3 seconds was the longest shot I got hand held, though I may have had quite a lot of coffee that morning ha ha, must've given me the shakes. I've heard people getting sharp images 10 seconds and over hand held.

This article should've 100% been labelled as a sponsored ad for Olympus.

I'm not so much bothered by that. People tend to talk about what they like and use.

It's not. We label any sponsored article as such.

Why? Because I like a certain feature of a certain camera? I've also wrote about how I love the Ricoh GR3 on Fstoppers but those articles didn't receive any comments like this, kinda baffling.

Its always people compaining that positive articles are adverts. Its a well written balanced article with lovely pictures that prove the point. It'#s a great camera too. We use them in my studio.

Great article and images. It's unfortunate all too often it compels these trolls in the comments to equate a favorable review to being sponsored. It's like all they want are disparaging reviews so long as it's not about their brand.

Thanks so much Black Z Eddie! Appreciate your support! :)

I took an excellent, light-weight mini tripod to Seattle. It cost less than $40, was a complete aluminum build with an arca qr release plate, and had an aluminum ball head. It was also compatible with my Peak Design standard plate. It weighed less than 8oz. I never got to use it once, not because I didn't want to, but because it was stolen while I was in a crowd. So yeah, not taking a tripod on vacation again.

Oh gosh, so sorry to hear that :(

Yeah I was annoyed, there were several places on my travels that I could have used it to get sharper photos than hand-holding. Fortunately that was my only loss, my camera and lenses were stored more securely.

The last of the Olympus cameras and these new OM System cameras make me want one. I have the original Olympus E-M10 and it is nice for an entry level camera. But, I'd have to sell all my current cameras and lenses, and I'd still fall short of what I could afford to get into the OM System. May in a few years a used body and couple of lenses. :) I'm already selling several lenses to help pay for a Sigma 100-400mm I just received.

I don't the comments about this being an advertisement. This site features many articles about specific equipment that are not sponsored, and they don't get the negative comments. This is just one photographer's point of view about a couple features in a camera and lens combination. That isn't an advertisement. That's just one person saying I find this feature helpful.

Thanks so much Mike!

We bought some of these for my studio after we got rid of the R5s that failed. These and the Hasselblads now. My staff love them. Thanking you for a very good and interesting article.

Thanks so much Tessa! Very cool that you're using them alongside the Hassies!

All true about the OM-1. I love mine. But... for travelling I use my OM-5, which is smaller and absolutely fine if you don't need the more specialist focusing features of the OM-1. A good compact lens combo for travelling is the Panasonic 9mm, OM 12-45 and OM 40-150. Or swap out the 9mm and 12-45 for the OM 8-25, which is fantastic. Wondering what the OM System version of the E-M10 IV will be like.

Thanks Philip! I've never used the OM-5 but heard good things about it. That's another vote for the 8-25 too!

The best tripod to take on vacation is the Slik Mini Pro III, after all this tripod is far more appropriate for taking pictures outside, a full-height tripod is better used inside:

I have been traveling with Olympus/OM cameras since 2013. Although I agree that the built in ND capabilities of the OM-1 are fantastic, I really enjoy 60-90 second exposures. Therefore, I travel with this tiny (6-inch high) and sturdy little tripod that came with Move-Shoot-Move Rotator. I can attach a 6 or 10 stop ND to the camera, put the little tripod on a trash can or similar, and capture longer exposures. The only place I was ever yelled at was in Times Square. No surprise there.

Took this two second exposure at 82mm without a tripod or IS, I was just positioned my camera on some rocks. Would have preferred the tripod but this was taken on an unexpected extension of a walk

Make a 17x25 print and see what you get ...

I expect a 17x25 sharp print of the image. The original file on the monitor was really sharp. I wouldn’t expect otherwise, the camera was stable and I used a 10 second timer.

So what do you say to the authors of all those amazing tripod reviews? One trick for scenic shots especially, is to take multiple images and blend blurry moving bits with still bits. One or two shots at fast shutter speeds and one at a slow shutter speed. Focus errors and camera shake don't show up as dramatically in water and similar motion blurs.i seldom carry a tripod around, but frequently carry a monopod.

Tripods are fantastic, I have a Manfrotto one I still use that I bought 20 years ago. It all depends on the type of photography you want to do.

Interesting perspective. If I am trveling to an area where there are dark skies,Tokyo obviously not one of them, I carry a tripod. I never let an opportunity go if I get to take some photos of the milky way. I do agree that with modern IBIS and OMD high resolution shots we really do not need a tripod.

Just depends on the type of photography you'd like to do. If you're into astro, you need one for sure :) Thanks for reading