Travel Camera Gear Guide

I recently read "Rock Your Travel Photography: Camera Gear Guide" from Ashlea of A Globe Well Travelled and it got me thinking about what my ideal travel photo camera gear setup is. Ashlea has some great tips for getting started with cameras for travel and this list is meant to build off that. And if you haven't checked out A Globe Well Travelled do so. Lots of great tips, tricks and reviews for the avid traveller. Easily one of my favorite travel blogs and some great video blogs too.

A 3.5" Digital Beginning

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The first digital camera that I ever used was a Sony Mavica that stored all of its imaging data on a 3.5" floppy disk. It was about as big as a sandwich box and looked nothing like what a camera was supposed to look like. I mainly lugged it around on field trips, to basketball games and making would be selfies at my house. At the time, the 0.3 megapixel images were stunning and oddly large in size when compared with the RAW image files I shoot today. It was the beginning of a love affair and pretty much replaced my collection of disposable cameras.

Since then I've tried all types of digital cameras big and small. Here's what I recommend for the budding travel photographer.

Travel Camera Gear Guide

In this guide I'll cover options for DSLR, mirrorless and smartphone cameras. I don't have a lot of experience with action cams like the GoPro Hero 5, which I'm told is the best, so if you're looking for one, that's probably the best choice.

DSLR

When it comes to DSLR's I've been a pretty loyal Nikon guy for years now. I started with a Nikon D3200 that was excellent for travel photo and video. That's now been replaced with the Nikon D3400, a compact entry DSLR that boasts a 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor. The trade off between the D3400 and my favored Nikon D750 is all in the size of sensor. The D3400 uses a cropped sensor that basically zooms in from what you actually see. So if you're using a 24mm lens, you get the equivalent of a 36mm lens view due to the 1.5 crop factor. For most people, this won't make a difference at all. The pictures are still crisp, clear and beautiful, just exposed on a slightly smaller image sensor.

 Taken with my Nikon D3200.

Taken with my Nikon D3200.

The 18-55mm kit lens that comes with the D3400 will work well for most travel photography and covers the major basics for video as well. Speaking of video, the D3400 captures 1080p HD video at up to 60 frames per second for excellent slow-mo video. Some of the best video shots I've taken have come from entry-level DSLR's, meaning you don't have to have all the bells and whistles to get good footage.

Early last year I upgraded to the aforementioned Nikon D750 and I absolutely love it. The full frame FX image sensor allows for much better low light photography, especially when paired with a super fast prime lens like the 50mm 1.4G. Basically, the larger image sensor allows  more light in to expose the frame so even when shooting at night I can get sharp, beautifully lit images. One thing that I've really enjoyed is the expanded options for videography that the D750 allows for. With a HDMI out, mic in and headphone port I can record better audio in camera or from an external video recorder like the Atomos Ninja 2.

 Taken with my Nikon D750 in downtown Houston.

Taken with my Nikon D750 in downtown Houston.

For an in between choice, the Nikon D500 offers all the options of the D750 with added support for 4k video and the best autofocus system I've yet to use in a camera. The price is steep for a DX style camera, but it should future proof you from having to upgrade as quickly. Another great thing about the D500 and it's DX sensor is that lenses for DX cameras tend to be cheaper and easier to find used.

Mirrorless Cameras

If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably have started with buying a mirrorless camera for travel. The ultra compact size and ability to handle low light make it almost unbeatable when looking to build a small, portable kit. Since they don't have an angled mirror in body, mirrorless cameras fit into a smaller form factor, sending light directly from lens to sensor. My favorite mirrorless camera is the Sony A7SII as I've talked about before. It's ability to record beautiful images and video make it a travelers dream.

If you're looking to spend a little less money and don't mind the smaller image sensor, the Sony a6300 with a 16-50mm lens is a great choice. With internal 4K recording and a 24.2 megapixel sensor, it should be able to cover everything needed on even the most demanding of trips.

I purchased the newly released Fujifilm X-T20 mirrorless camera recently and it's everything I hoped it would be. The retro stylings and the ability to apply film simulation in frame to achieve a super stylized look really make it a great option. The internal 4K and versatile autofocus settings more than make up for its smaller sensor size. At $1,200 with an 18-55mm 2.8-4.0 lens it makes for an ideal travel camera.

fuji x-t20
fuji x-t20

One thing I really had to get used to on the X-T20 was the electronic viewfinder. Coming from a traditional Nikon setup, the EVF on the Fuji threw me off a little bit. The digital blur definitely takes a bit of getting used to but I love how the touchscreen shuts off every time I bring the camera up to my eye. I've been really impressed with the quality of color and depth that I've gotten out of this little sensor. Using the Provia, Acros and Neg. Hi. film simulation settings, I'm able to get some really cool images with very little post processing.

 Shot with my Fuji X-T20 in downtown Houston.

Shot with my Fuji X-T20 in downtown Houston.

My favorite part about the X-T20 is the physical aperture ring around the 18-55mm lens. It feels like I'm actually manipulating something with my hands, even though it's all electronic. The buttons and dials make it feel like you're recreating that film shooting experience and it makes me think about my shots more before I take them.

 Shot with my Fuji X-T20 in downtown Houston.

Shot with my Fuji X-T20 in downtown Houston.

Smartphones

I've always said the best camera is the one that you have with you. You never know when a moment is going to happen so having a smartphone with a good camera can be key to capturing those moments. I currently use an iPhone 6 with the Filmic Pro app for video and the VSCO app for images. Filmic Pro allows for more customization when filming and can really enhance your travel videography.

A smartphone camera is better than a point and shoot because it has basically the same functions and you're more likely to carry it with you. So instead of getting a point and shoot, just invest in a better phone like the new iPhone 7 (I'm dying to try out the new Portrait Mode) and you'll be happier and your bag lighter.

Find What Works For You

Having a good camera setup really depends on what you prefer and the type of use. I like to shoot a lot of video so I emphasize that in my gear. If you're more of a still shooter, then I'd say invest in some really good zoom lenses for whatever camera you use. I tend to work more with prime lenses (50mm, 85mm) because of the swirly bokeh and ease of use in video but a good 16-80mm can really make life a lot easier when traveling, covering all your bases. I used my Nikon D750 and a single 50mm lens in Paris & Amsterdam and loved the experience of not having so much gear with me.

Remember, travel photography is about having fun and capturing moments. Build a camera kit around what feels good and how you plan to shoot, because when you're happy you see the world differently. The camera is simply there to catch that happiness in frame.