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It might seem basic to some, but to others knowing what equipment you should and shouldn’t spend your money on when it comes to travel photography isn’t so obvious. You’ll hear every photographer saying the same thing “the question I get asked the most is what camera do you use?”.
Which is fair enough, no one should be worried about asking for advice from someone more experienced.
So let’s get into it.
We might as well start with the obvious right?
I ALWAYS say mirrorless cameras for travel photography purely because they are smaller and more lightweight than conventional DSLRs. If your not sure what a mirrorless camera is then there are plenty of articles online explaining the differences between them and DSLRs but basically a mirrorless is just that, mirrorless. It doesn’t have a mechanical mirror inside that flaps up when you take a shot.
This gives you a whole bunch of benefits when comparing mirrorless cameras to DSLRs:
- Without the mirror system, mirrorless cameras are a lot smaller and lighter
- They often have a higher FPS (frames per second) speed which means you can fire off more shots in quick succession, especially in electronic shutter mode.
- What you see through the viewfinder is what you will get when you take the shot.
- Did I mention they are smaller and lighter? This is TRAVEL photography after all.
- Battery life is usually terrible, you will need to buy spare batteries.
- Although some manufacturers like Sony are now producing full framed mirrorless cameras, they are still not very common and can be expensive. So more than likely you’ll end up with a APS-C, or crop, sensor camera.
For me though, it’s mirrorless every time.
Like Chase Jarvis said “the best camera is the one that you have with you”, and you’re much more likely to have a camera with you when the moment to capture an amazing shot arises if it doesn’t make your arm feel like it’s about to fall off after an hour of carrying it around. Plus it will be easier to pack.
Click here to see my top 3 mirrorless cameras for travel photography. I had to write a separate article about it because I just had too much to say, otherwise this article would have turned into my own personal rant about why mirrorless is the future…
The reason I say ‘lens’ or ‘lenses’ is because we all know they are expensive, often more than the camera itself. We would all like a collection of lenses that all fit neatly into their own pocket in a dedicated lens bag, but let’s not get carried away. So if you can stretch to at least one good quality piece of glass then there are plenty of great lenses that will have your back in a wide range of situations.
The lens that may have come with your camera in a package deal is called a ‘kit lens’. Not bad but not great either. They tend to be very average, so to get great quality images you are going to have to upgrade.
Back to what I was saying before, if you can afford a collection then great! I’ve got some awesome suggestions, but if not then the perfect place to start if you could only get one would be around the 28-70mm mark for a full frame camera and somewhere in the region of 18-55mm for a camera with an APS-C sensor. These are great ‘all-purpose’ lenses.
Here’s where it gets a bit confusing though. If you already know about the differences between full frame and APS-C sensors feel free to skip down two or three paragraphs.
The two most common sensors you will find in mirrorless cameras are APS-C and Full Frame, so we’ll just focus on them for a minute. The main difference is the size.
An APS-C sensor is the smaller of the two and is what’s called a ‘crop’ sensor, meaning it magnifies the image it receives by a factor of roughly 1.5. So 18mm would actually be more like 27mm.
Like I said before, Full Frame mirrorless cameras aren’t as common and can be quite expensive but a lens with a focal length of, let’s say 50mm, would actually be 50mm on a FF camera.
Okay, so which kind of lenses do I recommend?
First of all get an ‘all-purpose’ zoom lens like I have already mentioned, it will be perfect for most situations. If you want to expand beyond that then a fixed focal length lens (meaning it can’t zoom in or out), or a prime lens as they are called. 50mm is one of the best you could go for, so that would be a 35mm lens for an APS-C camera to give you about a 50mm equivalent after the crop has been taken into account.
50mm is the same focal length as the human eye sees in so photos look very pleasing and everything will be in the correct proportions, especially when photographing scenes with people in them. Just ask any street photographer. Also, it being a prime lens means it will produce ultra sharp images.
Prime lenses that can’t zoom are generally considered to be sharper and produce better quality images than zooms do. The only problem is it’s just not practical to buy a prime lens in every single focal length. You would have to re-mortgage your house.
Get a good tripod. Honestly just do it. Don’t go through the same process 95% of photographers do when they start out (yes, I was one of them) where you think you can make do with a cheap one for $30-$50. You will end up realising it’s terrible and buy a good solid one at some point, so just save yourself the 50 bucks and go straight for a good lightweight one now. A good tripod will last you 10 years if you want it to so it’s a one off investment that your going to need at some point anyway.
I recommend this Manfrotto BeFree tripod as Manfrotto are the industry leaders when it comes to tripods and the BeFree is great for travel because it’s lightweight and folds up small enough to take on most airlines as hand luggage. Plus the one I just recommended comes with a Ball Head which often you have to get separately when buying good quality tripods (they can actually be quite expensive).
They are essential if you’re ever going to be shooting at night or shooting any kind of long exposure. You’ll never get moving water to look smooth and silky if you don’t have a solid tripod holding your camera up for that long exposure!
The number 1 thing that took my photography to the next level and that will do the same for you too are filters.
Again, don’t buy cheap, low quality, filters. Why anyone does amazes me. If you’ve spent a lot of money on a great camera and some top quality lenses then why would you want to put a cheap $10 filter on the end of it all and instantly downgrade your setup to average at best?
I recommend going with the Lee System. They are the best quality filters currently on the market and they have a huge range so you’ll always be able to find what you are looking for.
Buying good quality filters doesn’t cost loads more money than you will have already spent on a good camera body and lens so go for the best. At the very least you should have a polariser and a range of ND (neutral density) filters. If your going to be shooting a lot of landscapes, or even cityscapes, then graduated ND filters are highly recommended also.
Filters come in all different sizes, and the size of the filter you will need will vary from lens to lens. The best way to find out which size you’ll need is by looking on the inside of the lens cap, it will be written there somewhere.
Alternatively, you can opt for square filters which will require a special square filter system to attach them to your lens. I’ve got a whole separate resource about filters that goes into a lot of detail so check it out here if you are interested in finding out more about the technical aspects and benefits of different filter systems.
If your not sure about how to use them, I’ve written another article about how to take your photography to the next level. It focuses less on the technical side of different filter systems and more on explaining how, when and why you should be using different filters in your photography. It’s not just about filters though, it’s also full of other tips and trick on how to improve your photos. Click here to check it out.
To Wrap Things Up
The things I’ve mentioned are essentials if you are going to become a great travel photographer. They aren’t cheap but they are an investment in your future career, if that’s your goal. A builder will buy the best tools or the job and a software developer will have the best computer for the job. Photography is no different.
Buy quality, learn how to take care of everything and there is no reason why these things won’t last you for many many years to come.
Thanks for reading and I hope you found this guide useful!
I’m a professional travel photographer, and I’ve been living the digital nomad lifestyle since 2016. I make money by working on client assignments, selling stock photography and helping other photographers by sharing my experiences on this website. I move around at my own pace (I hate fast-paced travel) and like to spend a few months getting to know each place I base myself in. I’m always happy to connect, so feel free to reach out!