Things to consider when purchasing a photography kit for travel:
So you love to travel, or you’re taking off on the adventure of a lifetime, and you’re putting together the photography kit that you think is perfect for your next trip.
There are so many different things to consider in this venture – from your bag, to your accessories and of course, your camera and lenses. Let us start by outlining what we carry and why, then we’ll give you a guide to what to look for for each element.
Ok, we’re travel photographers… we love it and it’s what we spend our hours behind the camera doing. So here’s what we use and why!
We use a Nikon D750. It’s a full frame system and one of Nikon’s best. It also happens to be more compact and lightweight than its bigger brothers the D810 and the D3. We call this a win in the travel column.
We have 4 lenses in total but generally only two lenses make the cut for our travels. First off, we have the Nikon 35mm f1.4. This lens is stunning – it’s wide enough on our full frame system to be a good wide-angle substitute and with our kiddos (we have two small ones) it is perfectly wide enough and fast enough to capture them in almost any situation. Like on a beach in Hong Kong, or in an Acquarium in Toronto.
Secondly we carry the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8. It’s a beast – heavy and the complete opposite of compact, this lens must be good. And it is. It’s sharp, fast and with the most delightful image quality. It provides all of the zoom we could be bothered to carry and with the quality we expect for our photos. It is perfect for photographing our kiddos indoors or for capturing beautiful street scenes from a distance.
We leave behind our Nikon 50mm f1.8. This is a beautiful, high quality and compact lens – but we hate switching our lenses out unnecessarily and we also hate carrying extra weight. So we leave this one behind in favour of our superior 35mm. Do we miss it? No, not really.
We also leave behind our Nikon 18-35mm f3.5. This is a brilliant wide angle lens and it takes some truly spectacular photos. If we were to be more dedicated travel photographers we would likely bring this baby along for some astrophotography. But we’re neither dedicated enough or well rested enough (thanks to our 1 and 4 year olds) to be awake at those hours.
- A second battery. We prefer this option to the bulky camera grips – remember we are going for lightweight and compact. If you’re worried you may not have reliable power where you’re going we would suggest 2 or even 3 backup batteries. They’re really not that big.
- Depending on our location, our ND1000 filter. With this filter you can do anything with enough time and a tripod.
- And if we’re taking our filter, or just going somewhere with great night scene potential (that we can’t shoot handheld) we’ll take our tripod (we’ve opted for the more compact Mefoto line). Don’t forget to pack in your handy shutter release as well ?.
- Our lens hoods. We really appreciate the added protection these give our super expenses lenses ?.
- Some spare lens cloths. These are so very handy for when it rains.
We have two bags depending on the destination.
For those trips where we’re expecting to be outdoors and hiking, we actually utilize a very high-quality backpack (note we did not say camera backpack). It’s exactly what we would choose to hike with even if we didn’t have a camera, with plenty of adjustments and ventilation for the back. With great care and some good impromptu padding, you don’t need the extra features of a camera backpack for this purpose.
For those trips where we’re expecting to spend plenty of time in the city, we have a messenger bag that we have, one again, added some impromptu padding to and converted into an easy-access and very flexible camera bag. One that adjusts to the different combinations of lenses and add-ons.
We generally keep our tripod separate until we have a specific use for it (so for us it’s usually packed in our luggage until we need it) so we’re not carrying it around unnecessarily.
So that’s what we carry around with us on a regular basis, but there is clearly a lot here to consider, and we’ve opted to leave a whole lot behind too – you may feel differently about these decisions and remember that your situation is different from ours, so be sure to consider the options carefully – there really is nothing worse than feeling unprepared because you forgot something.
Choosing a camera:
Honestly, if we started all over we would seriously consider a mirrorless system. They have come a long way since we first purchased our full frame system and the image quality for some of the crop sensors are close to some full frame traditional DSLR systems. The Mirrorless market is booming and we believe this is the future of SLR photography.
So what are we looking for and why do we think Mirrorless would be good? Lightweight and high quality are the two things you really need in a travel camera. We’re particularly big fans of the Fujifilm XT series but Sony makes a gorgeous (if expensive) full frame Mirrorless system and we’re excited to hear more about Nikon and Canon’s Mirrorless systems too! The Olympus OMD setup is also really lovely and we do like the Panasonic Lumix Mirrorless systems too!
How to choose? We generally suggest heading to a reputable camera store and giving them a try – there’s nothing quite like holding a camera in your hands to see if you like it. A good store will also be able to talk you through the advantages of each system and give you some good recommendations based on your needs.
One final thing to note about camera systems – make sure you’re happy with the selection and cost of lenses.
Choosing your lenses:
For travel photography we love prime lenses. Why? They’re lighter and generally much higher quality than a zoom lens of an equivalent cost. Particularly for wide angle lenses we would highly recommend picking one or two focal lengths and making them work. Worried about losing your zoom? We admit it’s a bit of an adjustment but our composition improved the most when we sold our zoom lenses and switched to exclusively prime lenses for a time. It’s worth it just for simplifying how much choice you have when you’re shooting.
A really good quality zoom lens will set you back some $$ but it might be worth it. There’s nothing like shooting with our 70-200mm f2.8. With that 2.8 we have so much more flexibility and use our ISO a lot less as well. But this lenses does cost a lot, so it’s not for everyone.
Remember that the more zoom you have in a lens the higher the f.stop is and generally the poorer quality it is. BUT there are great advantages to purchasing something like a 18-300mm lens in that they’re not too expensive and they’re (relatively) light.
Here are our suggestions for travel lenses:
1. Wide angle prime – depending on your system somewhere between 18 and 35mm is a great prime option.
2. Ditch your 18-55mm and replace it with a 50mm 1.8. It’s way better quality and not all that expensive. It’s also one of our favourite travel lenses. Ever.
3. Consider your zoom options – how much does photo quality matter to you when weighed with cost and weight?
Choosing a Bag:
- Comfort first. It had to be something you can carry around ALL DAY. So make sure it’s comfortable to wear and carry.
- Ease of access. Make sure you can access your camera really easily – and without having to take your bag off (remember you may be trudging through the mud at a temple with nowhere to put your bag down).
Choosing your extras:
Keep it simple. Choose a simple tripod. Choose to buy some extra batteries instead of a bulky battery grip. Choose to leave your excess equipment at home. And make an honest assessment about what you will and won’t use. For example, we’ve only ever taken our Macro lens on one trip – when we went to Victoria Island to visit the Butchart Gardens. Otherwise the likelihood of us busting it out in Hong Kong or Myanmar are pretty low so we leave it at home. And remember in a pinch you can likely improvise with the equipment you have on you.
Finally – just remember that photography is great and capturing special moments is important – but not as important as enjoying the moment. So don’t spend your whole holiday behind the lens – you want to create some amazing and lasting memories too.
What do you pack in your bag? We’d love to hear from you!