Putting together travel photography gear is a complex task that more and more amateur travelers are seeming to attempt these days. And we are not just talking about getting ready for a photo tour. More and more backpackers and travelers are deciding to invest their savings in acquiring photography equipment for capturing unforgettable moments while on their globetrotting journeys.
The travel photography equipment that we would acquire depends on the type of photographs we want to take and the message we want to show along with it. Our choice would be different if we want to photograph cities and architecture versus landscapes and nature, or even portraits of local people and animals.
In addition to cost and ease of handling, weight and volume are other very important factors when choosing photography equipment that we will use during our travels.
The possibilities in the photography world are very broad. In this article, we want to help you save time, money, and prevent unnecessary purchases by recommending the essential travel photography equipment to capture each one of your adventures around the world.
The cost, as well as the ease of handling, weight, and volume, are other very important factors when choosing the photography equipment that we will use in our travels.
The possibilities in the photography world are very broad. In this article we want to help you save time and especially money, preventing you from buying material that you do not really need and recommending the essential travel photography equipment to capture each one of your adventures around the world.
INDISPENSABLEs IN YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Equipment
We have created this navigation panel so that you can move easily through this guide to choose the best travel photography equipment:
- Camera: We compare different types of camera bodies to show you what technology to choose.
- Lenses: We explain the different parameters that you should know when buying a camera lens.
- Tripod: All the factors that you must take into account to find the perfect travel tripod.
- Accessories: Filters, backpack, remote shutter, lighting, batteries, memories, L-plate, leveling base, grip and cleaning accessories. Everything you need to complete your travel photography equipment.
the best CAMERA for travel
The latest generation of cameras are smart phones, compact cameras or sports cameras like GoPro. They can be used to take pictures during our trips. However, to achieve the highest quality shots, there is still no competition against cameras with interchangeable lenses. Therefore, we will focus on this type of cameras in this post.
DSLR VS MIRRORLESS CAMERAS
There are two types of cameras with interchangeable lenses: DSLR cameras and the innovative Mirrorless cameras.
DSLR cameras have been used for decades. This technology is fully developed and tested. Today, we can find a very wide range with fairly affordable prices for beginners as well as a large second-hand market. Its main counter is weight and size, which often ends with many people leaving them in the closet altogether.
The main well-known manufacturers of DSLR cameras are Nikon and Canon, although there are other manufacturers to consider such as Pentax, Leica or Samsung.
Mirrorless cameras are quite novel. The technology is still developing, although the image quality from the last generations is nothing to envy about compared to a DSLR. These cameras cost more and their second-hand market is quite scarce at the moment. The main advantage is the lightness of the camera body, and so they have gained popularity in recent years as travel cameras.
Regarding mirrorless cameras, the main brands that are heavily developing this system in recent years are Sony, Olympus and Fujifilm.
CROP VS FULL FRAME
Another important factor to take into account is the type of sensor since its size determines the resolution, luminosity and focusing speed varies.
crop frame (APS-C)
The crop frame is what most amateur and semi-professional cameras usually include, although there are exceptions. For generic uses, this sensor will not have limitation.
Compared to a cropped frame, a full frame camera sensor captures an entire image without cropping, is able to capture more light, and therefore produce greater image quality provided that all other factors are the same (i.e. same lens and photographic conditions). It is usually included in the vast majority of professional cameras.
For trips where you want to photograph night scenes or low light (aurora borealis in the Arctic) or where you need a high focusing speed (whale watching), it is highly recommended to have full frame photography equipment.
OUR SELECTION OF CAMERAS FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
These six camera models are the ones we usually recommend depending on the photographer’s level of skills and knowledge. We suggest two beginner models, two advanced models and two professional models in this list.
Keep in mind that using a professional camera is not going to mean better photos even if you have a better sensor or more megapixels. The use of these cameras is much more complex and maximizing the potential of this type of photography equipment for traveling requires time and perseverance.
In addition, the more advanced the camera, the more expensive it will be – not only the body, but also the rest of your photography equipment since compatible lenses and accessories tend to be more expensive.
LENSES FOR OUR travel PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
Once we have the body, now we need the “eyes” that will make our camera see in one way or another.
The focal length is the distance in mm that exists between the lens and the sensor of our camera. This will determine the field of vision and the proportions of the elements we photograph. We will need longer focal lengths if we intend to photograph elements that are far away from our camera, and smaller focal lengths for capturing close-up elements.
It is normal to have different lenses that cover a wide range while traveling. For this, we can use variable focal lenses (zoom) or fixed focal lenses.
The fixed focal length lenses are characterized by a specific number in millimeters (mm) and does not vary. If we want to change the perspective or zoom in and out, we will have to move closer or further away from the element being photographed. The highest possible quality can be achieved with this type of lens at a certain distance, and are much lighter than the zoom / variable focal lenses.
The variable focal length lenses allow us to regulate the focal length within a certain range. These lenses have great versatility since we can change the focal length with a simple zoom wheel without having to change the lens itself. Although it is more expensive than the fixed focal lengths alternative, we can save a lot of money by not having to buy different lenses for each focal length of the range. However, these lenses are usually heavier and often result in lower quality photos compared to those taken with a fixed focal length lenses.
Amongst the variable focal point lenses, we find the so-called all-in-one zoom lenses since they cover a very wide focal range. These lenses can be used to take many types of images, from wide landscapes to portraits or photos with distant details. Although these lenses are very versatile, they are quite heavy and lower in quality compared to lenses of more specific focal length.
Fisheye lenses are ultra-wide lens with a field of vision covering up to 180 degrees at a focal length of 7-15mm. They have the broadest focal lengths. We can capture practically the whole scene that’s in front of you with these lenses. They are ideal for time-lapse or creating original photos.
WIDE ANGLE lenses
Wide-angle lenses have a focal length from 10 mm to 24 mm. With these focal lengths, we can capture a large area of the scene, making it ideal for landscapes and creative close-up shots. Also ideal for architecture, although we will have to be careful with the geometric deformations that it produces.
Medium focal lenses
These lenses have focal lengths ranging from 24mm to 70mm. In this range we will find the classic focal points more similar to our eye, such as a focal length around 35 mm, which is perfect for taking street photography. We can obtain even more detail with longer focal lengths at around 50 mm, making it ideal for portraits and the like.
LONG telephoto lenses
They are lenses with longer focal lengths, also known as telephoto lenses, with a focal length of more than 70 mm. We will find long focal lengths used mainly to take photograph with lots of details such as wildlife and sports, although some could also be used for portraits.
Another factor to take into account when buying a new lens will be its luminosity, measured by the symbol “f“. Average quality lenses start between f 4-5.6 while more luminous focal points can be as low as 2.8, 1.8, or even 1.4.
The lower the f value, the “brighter” the lens (it lets more light in to the sensor), and the higher the price. But, we will be able to obtain greater clarity as well as the ability to photograph in low light conditions (night, twilight, auroras …).
For long focal zoom, lens with image stabilization can be of great help, especially if we do not use a tripod. This way, we can achieve clarity even when we photograph elements that are far away.
OUR SELECTION OF lenseS FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Because lenses are so different between brands and models, we cannot generically recommend them. However, we do not want to end this section without giving you some examples of the different lenses while choosing good travel photography equipment.
We will be recommending different lenses for the Nikon D750. The following are the 3 lenses that we usually carry on our trips.
We need stability for many types of travel photography, especially landscape photography and night photography. Therefore, it is essential to have a tripod equipped with a matching ball head.
Choosing a tripod is not an easy task. Finding a balance between weight, size, stability, and price is an arduous task worth pursuing to have the best possible travel photography equipment.
They are small, ultralight tripods that are ideal for trips that don’t involve serious photography adventures or long trips where weight is a determining variable. We will need to use what’s available at the photography site to compensate for the lack of height this tripod provides for our camera.
TRIPODS FOR ORDINARY REFLEX CAMERAS
Tripods designed for day-to-day photography. They must be robust and stable but at the same time not extremely heavy or uncomfortable to handle, variables undoubtedly difficult to reconcile. We can find quite competitive prices and can be very useful for studio photographs even for road trips where size or weight is not a determining factor.
These tripods are lighter and more compact than the ordinary ones. There are many types of different materials, including hybrids between travel tripods and normal tripods. To be considered as a travel tripod, it must be packable into a handbag (less than 50 cm long) and weigh less than 2 kg.
Heavier than others but much cheaper at the same time. We found a wide range of aluminum tripods such as Benro, Manfrotto, Sirui, Vanguard, etc.
Lighter but much costlier compared to aluminum. Many brands manufacture both aluminum and carbon fiber tripods, such as Manfrotto or Sirui, while others like Gitzo only manufacture carbon tripods.
Many basic tripods, especially those that are given with the Starter Kit, have flimsy plastic components. We do not recommend this type of tripod as we find cameras and lenses too valuable to trust a plastic tripod.
SECTIONS IN THE LEGS
The number of leg sections will also be a factor to consider. They usually have between 3 and 5 sections. The more sections the legs have, the more the tripod can be folded, but in turn, more sections also mean thinner legs and less stability.
lock tripod legs system
An important point that many people overlook is the mechanism for folding / unfolding the legs. Currently, we can find flip or twist lock tripod legs systems on the market. Flip systems are reputed to be more durable, although the deployment is slower. Tripods with twist lock systems facilitate and speeds up the adjustment of the legs.
My experience is that once you try a twist lock tripod, you may not want to use the flip system anymore.
Finally, the element almost as important as the tripod is the ball head, as it will also hold the weight and facilitate the movement of the camera. The most common ones are pan head and ball head.
Ball heads are most commonly used; with various adjustments to regulate friction and restraint. Some ball heads also include a level.
The pan head has several adjustable levers that help adjust the camera with greater precision. They are heavier and more voluminous than ball heads.
TRIPOD WE RECOMMEND FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
We have tested four different tripods in the last two years since we could not reach a balance between weight, stability, and reliability. Finally, we found one that met all the requirements we looked for in a travel tripod.
This is the tripod and the ball head that we usually recommend for your travel photography equipment. Also, we leave you a Gorilla pod that could be useful for certain occasions.
ACCESSORIES FOR THE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY equipment
With the elements listed so far, we have put together a functional travel photography equipment set. However, depending on the type of photography, we may also have to include other accessories.
Essential for some landscape photography, especially ones involving long exposure. The main filters we can find in the market are:
UV PROTECTING FILTERS
They are transparent protective glasses since they do not add or remove any element of light. We are not very fond of them as we see it unnecessary to make an investment in a good lens, and then cover it with another piece of glass that reduces sharpness or add dust spots to your photograph.
NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
Our favorites. They reduce the amount of light passing through the camera lens without changing the color of the scene. It is usually needed to take longer exposures when daytime lights are harsh. There are several types depending on the amount of light we want them to restrain. The main ones subtract 3, 6 or 10 light stops.
Graduated Neutral Density filters
They will help to gradually subtract light, ideal for scenes where we see high dynamic range with strong lights and shadows.
After testing different types of filters, we now only use Lucroit as we found them to offer the best quality on the market. In addition, we collaborate with them and our readers can benefit from a 10% discount by applying the CAPTURETHEATLAS coupon at the time of purchasing.
The most convenient way to transport our equipment is a photography backpack, for both short and long trip.
It is important to consider the purpose of a trip before picking a backpack since we could be carrying our equipment for hours if we plan to hike.
As a minimum requirement, a camera backpack should have the following characteristics:
- Have enough space to store all the photography equipment that we have discussed so far, with space for some clothes and food if we are going to do some trekking.
- Be made of resistant materials that offer security in case of hits and falls.
- Be Impermeable or have a waterproof cover to prevent water damage.
- The main compartment should open from the back to avoid theft.
- Have sternum and waist fastening straps to distribute weight on the hip to protect our back.
We found many options in the market, and recommend these two models based on activity levels of your trip:
For landscape photography, a remote shutter is essential in addition to a stable tripod to achieve the greatest sharpness. This enable us to operate our camera without touching it, thus avoiding trepidation.
An external flash is convenient to have if you enjoy taking portraits. It can also be used to illuminate scenes in night photography. Youngnuo and Neweer are brands with quality and affordable external flashes. Take into account space and weight before including them in your trips.
We need our hands free to be able to handle our photography equipment with comfort for night photography, and a headlamp comes in handy for this. There are many types of headlamps offering different features and quality depending on the budget we have.
If we want to carry a lightweight flashlight that provides quality lighting, it is better to carry this type of flashlight.
Having several batteries in our photography equipment is essential for traveling, especially on trips where we may not have as much access to electricity or trips where low temperatures reduce the life of our batteries. If we also want to take long night exposures or time-lapse, it will be important to have more spare batteries.
We always carry a minimum of 3, and more depending on the type of trip. For example, on our trip to capture Northern Lights in Lofoten, long exposures and subzero temperatures at night quickly discharged the batteries.
If you are going to take a road trip with multi-day hiking on the itinerary, we also recommend taking a USB charger so you can charge using the cigarette lighter or a battery power bank.
As with batteries, we will need variable amounts of memory for taking and storing photos depending on the duration of our trip.
We recommend taking several cards with less space than one or two cards with a lot of memory in order to avoid problems in the case of loss or damage.
The main types of memory cards include:
- SD Cards: Common cards that we can use in all reflex and compact cameras.
- Compact Flash Cards: Cards that we can use mainly in most advanced and professional cameras. They have a higher writing and reading speed and are more resistant.
For panoramic photographs, an L plate holds our camera on to the tripod horizontally and vertically, providing a fixed point for shooting precision.
In addition to the L-plate, a leveling base is useful for making micro-adjustments to stabilize the camera without fully depending on the tripod.
This accessory helps us handle the camera more easily when shooting vertically, at the same time it adds more battery power to our camera body. It is used mainly in portrait photography and long exposure photos (such as star trails) that consume a lot of power.
Due to its weight and size, we do not recommend taking it for travel unless we have to do long portrait or time-lapse sessions.
To obtain the clearest and cleanest photos it is important to keep our equipment in the best conditions, our gear would have to be cleaned both before and during the trip.
We will not need to carry cleaning accessories with our backpack, although it is advisable to carry at least:
- Microfiber cleaning cloth: To clean both lenses and filters. If we are going to take waterfalls or maritime photographs, it will be convenient to have several on your hands.
- Air pear and cleaning brush: To avoid scratching our lens, blow on the surface with an air pear and then remove all dirt with a brush before cleaning with microfiber cloth.
- Cleansing wipes: Our favorite cleaner, to quickly clean any lens or filter.
Many of these products can be purchased together in packs and affordable prices.
SAVE money WITH YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY equipment
These are all the necessary elements for a good travel photography equipment. However, no need to get frustrated if you cannot afford it all or be obsessed with having the gear of your dreams from the start.
Apart from acquiring mostly second-hand equipment, we regularly use photography equipment rental services which save a lot of money.
There are two cases where I recommend renting photography equipment.
First case, rent before buying an expensive new item such as a camera body or a lens. Renting allows you to test the equipment and help decide if it is really necessary to avoid spending a large sum of money on something that ends up collecting dust in the corner.
The other case where I always recommend renting is when going on a trip where special camera features are required only on occasion. For example, it is unnecessary to buy a powerful telephoto lens for a Safari if it is unlikely to be used again. Instead, you can use that money toward renting the best telephoto lenses available in the market and still save a significant sum of money.
In case you’re wondering, yes, renting camera gear is much cheaper than you think. Our last equipment rentals were made with Fragmáticos who operates in Spain and Portugal. We will tell you about the whole experience here.
AND FOR YOU, WHAT are your quintessential travel photography gear?
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