Want to travel light but still come home with great images? Matt Golowczynski shows how to lighten your load while raising your hit rate with his travel photography tips.
- Primary camera
- Compact camera
- All-purpose zoom lens
- Wide-aperture prime lens
- Polariser or ND grad
- Travel tripod, Gorillapod or similar support
- Lens hood(s)
- Memory cards and storage
- Card reader
- Hard drive or flash drive
- USB cables
- Lens cloth or lens brush
- Spare batteries
- Travel adapter
If you have ever travelled with the intention of taking photographs, you’ll no doubt already appreciate that what you do and don’t take becomes a much greater concern than normal. Your existing gear may be ideal from a technical perspective, but it may be too heavy, valuable or in some other way impractical to use when you’re away from home. A more portable set-up may serve you better in many ways, but this will typically come with its own limitations.
Achieving the right balance can sometimes be difficult, but today’s travelling photographer is better served than ever. With cameras, the ratio of performance to size continues to grow for the better, while cleverly designed lenses and space-saving bags can maximise what you can take with you. Even just the right couple of accessories can render otherwise essential kit as optional.
Cameras and lenses
There’s no one ideal set-up for travel, as much of what matters depends on where it is you’re going, together with your shooting style. Weather-resistant cameras, for example, can provide reassurance if you’re heading out into the desert or trekking up a snowy mountain, but for a city break during the summer this protection isn’t as important.
Still, for most people, a smaller and/or lighter body to the one they normally use will be the priority. The most common options here stretch from relatively advanced compact cameras through to mirrorless models and DSLRs based around an APS-C sensor.
High-performing compacts that retain a pocket-friendly form and a zoom lens include those within Sony’s RX100 line, Panasonic’s LX models and Canon’s various PowerShot G options. Most of these incorporate relatively large sensors, although their zoom ranges will be more limited because of this. One alternative that successfully breaks this convention is the Panasonic Lumix TZ100, which blends a 20.1MP 1in sensor with a 25-250mm (equivalent) zoom lens.
Superzoom cameras styled more like a DSLR used to be overlooked, partly on account of their small sensors, but more recent models such as Sony’s RX10 series and Panasonic’s FZ1000 and FZ2000 models have upped the standard by including 1in sensors with more moderate focal ranges.
Most mirrorless models, and in particular those that aren’t fashioned like a traditional DSLR, would probably be small and light enough to be considered in place of a bulkier DSLR, so it’s perhaps best to think about other key criteria – such as the lens and sensor combination – when it comes to making your decision.
For example, for some types of photography, the Nikon 1 system could be ideal. The system has produced some very compact models to date, and is one of many to use a retractable design for some of its lenses that makes them more portable when not in use. Furthermore, the crop factor of its sensors combined with the size and weight of its optics makes it possible to achieve effective telephoto focal lengths in a much more practical form than with an APS-C or full-frame system.
However, equally important is whether a lens you might want to use with it actually exists as a native option and is within budget. In this instance, the much more populated Micro Four Thirds line of optics could make this system a realistic proposition without compromising too much on size.
It’s also important to consider the size and weight combination of the camera and lenses you plan to take away with you, as one will naturally affect the other. Full-frame cameras, for example, range in size right down to Sony’s compact Alpha 7 line, but with a compatible lens that provides the focal range you require, you may not see too great a size advantage over a different camera/lens combination from another stable.
Superzoom-type lenses that span a range of focal lengths for convenience are commonly targeted towards travelling photographers, and while some perform better than others, these are generally geared towards convenience rather than image quality. With the further disadvantage of a relatively limited aperture range, these lenses are quite easy to dismiss. If you do decide to opt for one, however, consider a small and light wide-aperture prime lens as a travelling companion to make it easier to capture images with a shallow depth of field where necessary.
Travel Photography tips – Cameras to consider
Panasonic Lumix TZ100 – £528
The TZ100 combines a 20.1MP 1in sensor with 25-250mm (equivalent) lens inside a body that fits inside a jacket pocket. The sensor/lens combination delivers far better images than would ordinarily be expected at this level, and it even manages to find space for an electronic viewfinder. The f/2.8-5.9 maximum aperture may put some off, though.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II – £449 body only
The most junior of Olympus’s OM-D models boasts a 2.36-million-dot viewfinder and five-axis image stabilisation, so it’s great for shooting in dark conditions. The crop factor of its sensor potentially makes it better suited to those capturing more distant details, although the wide choice of Micro Four Thirds optics leaves plenty of wideangle options, too.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III – £1,399
With a 20MP 1in sensor, an optic that offers a focal range equivalent of 24-600mm in 35mm terms and image stabilisation, the RX10 III is one of the most tempting all-in-one solutions. It’s the priciest option on this list and quite bulky, but its excellent performance means it could serve as your main workhorse.
Panasonic Lumix GX800 – £429
Panasonic hasn’t updated its GM line of diminutive G-series CSCs for some time, although the most recent GX800 is only marginally bigger than the last model, the GM5. It doesn’t have the GM5’s viewfinder, but it does have a tilting LCD, built-in flash and 4K video recording.
Pentax K50 – £389 body only
The K50 may be one of the cheapest DSLRs currently available but, in true Pentax form, it offers a number of useful features that’ll cost you more elsewhere. The weather-sealed body will appeal to those using the camera around water, while the pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage is a rarity at this level.
Nikon D5300 with 18-140mm VR Lens – £699
Nikon’s more recent D5600 might be a touch smaller and lighter than the D5300, but the earlier model makes more sense for someone looking for a complete package for travel. Unlike the D5600, it includes a GPS system, and it’s currently bundled with a 18-140mm lens for the same price as the D5600 body alone.