About 15 years ago I became interested in larger DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon, most recently shooting with a Canon 5DMk3. They did the job well but were so large and bulky that it was hard to resist the migration to mirrorless cameras as they became more capable. I had become familiar with old Sony point and shoot digital cameras in the early 2000s, then moved to an APS-C Sony NEX-5 camera in 2010 and began to like mirrorless. Eventually I went back to Sony with the full-frame RX1R, Sony α7S, Sony α7R II, Sony α7R III and now the Sony α7R IV.
The Sony α7 formula is simple: use a high-quality sensor with extremely high dynamic range and built-in sensor stabilization then pack it with features rivaling or besting larger DSLRs. It's a fantastic travel camera system. I love the size, build quality, image quality, insanely high resolution (
42MP 61MP!) as well as the Wi-Fi connectivity to Sony mobile apps for sharing photo previews on the go.
Sony α7R IV
61MP, 5-axis stabilization, 567 AF points
Sony HVLF60M flash
Big flash with LED light for video
Newmowa dual charger
Extra Sony batteries
I got 3 extras
Sony glass screen protector
I last upgraded from the α7R II to the α7R III. While the upgrades seem incremental, for me this latest revision is a game changer for two reasons: it uses a much larger battery and it has two SD card slots. The previous generation used a small battery that was so insufficient I used to travel with handful of batteries. On my most active day of shooting while on a safari game drive in Tanzania with the α7R III, I barely got close to using 2 batteries. As for the double SD card slot situation: while on a trip I can set them up to mirror the cards for redundancy if I'm not traveling with a laptop or larger hard drive to backup the shots.
I rarely shoot with a flash (and never travel with one) but ended up getting Sony's largest flash for the occasional nighttime indoor events, team outings and such that I attend and want to shoot.
When it comes to looking for lenses I don't obsess over every professional review. I am not a professional photographer. I do this purely for fun. It's my passion. My photos end up on this website downsized and compressed so I don't exactly care about a bit of lens distortion, chromatic abberation, edge sharpness or any of the other things professionals fret over. I want something I will be able to trust to get the job done while traveling.
24-105mm G OSS
90mm Macro G OSS
70-200mm G OSS
100-400mm GM OSS
One of my first lenses, the relatively lightweight 24-70 has been my all-around performer for years. It provides a versatile zoom range that suits the vast majority of my travel shots. If you're just starting out, this is among one of the lenses I would get first if you're looking for a general purpose do-it-all lens.
Fast-forward several years and Sony added the higher-end 24-105mm G lens. While it's more expensive and heavier than the 24-70, this thing achieves sharper images. But mainly I like the improved zoom range. That extra 35mm of zoom is very noticable and appreciated.
This is about the closest you can get to a slim pancake lens on the a7 system. I use the tiny Sony 35mm when I want a lighter camera, usually when walking around at night exploring a new city or when I'm not sure if I'll need my camera and just want to have it in my bag. And at f/2.8, this prime is fairly capable in low light situations as well. That being said, it's a fairly unremarkable lens. You don't have the zoom range of one of the lenses above, nor do you get the lovely depth of field achieved by the 55mm. As such, if I was just starting out with an a7 camera, this would not be my first pick.
After a few trips I ended up wanting a wide-angle lens to capture more of some dramatic landscapes and architecture. While there are plenty of wide-angle primes that are faster, I opted for this 16-35mm zoom to reduce the need to change lenses while out shooting. At the furthest reach of 35mm, this can almost pass as general purpose travel lens to have around.
The 55mm was added when I wanted better portraits (with more bokeh!) of family. It has become one of my most used lenses due to its compact size, sharpness and good low light performance and now I find it handy for everything from product shots to general walking around shots while walking around a new city.
I then added the massive 85mm GM lens to add on to this interest of portraiture while at team outings and while shooting product shots for this site. It is a very heavy lens so I unfortunately rarely travel with it.
One of the most recently added lenses to my collection, I got this for close up product shots. I wish I had it when photographing some items in my Lightroom PC post, so when I began writing my next post I made sure to get it.
At some point I got the 70-200mm out of my curiousity for better city skyline shots from afar. Despite being a long lens it's still fairly compact and I really got to love the range (and the lens compression effect) when I took it to Newport, New York and New Zealand.
There is a larger and heavier version of this lens that is f/2.8 but I already have a hard enough time trying to pack light and a telephoto like this isn't always a requirement to pack so I figured I should stick with the lighter one that I would be more likely to travel with.
This one probably needs the least explanation and just speaks for itself. I got it for my trip to Tanzania where I was shooting wildlife out of a safari vehicle for days. Sometimes we would get fairly close to the animals but often were were quite a bit of distance out. I wanted to avoid having to change lenses too often in such a dusty environment while on game drives and the 100-400 was such a convenient range. The pictures were just stunning.
I also purchased a 1.4x teleconverter for this that I used when shooting the Super Blue Blood Moon we had in San Francisco in early 2018. That made the 400mm closer to 560mm.
While my Sony a7R IV is a phenomenal powerhouse that can take on just about any challenge, it does fall short in one category: size. Paired with full-frame lenses, the Sony rig can get a bit heavy and bulky. I find this a bit funny as I came from even larger Canon DSLRs and thought the full-frame Sony cameras were a breath of fresh air.
It wasn't until I moved to New York that I found myself wanting something smaller, even at the expense of performance and image quality. A camera I could casually have in my bag that wouldn't weigh me down, just in case I see interesting things throughout the city.
Enter the Fuji X-T30. It's one of the smallest interchangeable lens cameras Fuji makes and I'm loving it. It's the perfect size to always have in my backpack and not worry about. It's doesn't have the horsepower of its big brother, the larger X-T3, which has a higher quality EVF, faster continuous shooting speed and the ability to record 60fps 4K video. But the goal for me was a compact and light camera and at under a pound, the X-T30 was just the ticket!
Fuji X-T30 mirrorless camera
26MP, 4K30 video, tiny
Fuji 23mm R WR lens
Fuji 35mm R WR lens
Fuji XC15-45mm lens
Kit lens. Electric zoom feels slow and gets annoying. ƒ/3.5-5.6
Fuji lens hood
Classic style and more protection than included hoods. Fits 23mm & 35mm
JJC lens hood
Bayonet style for 35 f/2, 23 f/2
JJC release button
Makes shutter easier to click
ultra-thin optical glass
B+W circular polarizer
43mm, HTC Kaesemann w/ MRC
B+W UV filter
43mm, UV haze w/ MRC
I purchased it with the relatively small-for-a-zoom XC15-45 kit lens but quickly learned I did not like its sluggish electric zoom, so I strongly advise not getting that lens as part of a kit. I quickly added on the 23mm f/2.0 and 35mm f/2.0 lenses. I purposefully did not go for the higher end f/1.4 versions of the 23mm and 35mm that Fuji sells for a reason: they're larger and heavier.
The 23mm and 35mm f/2.0 feel exceptionally well-built and sturdy. And I absolutely love the aperture control ring. The only lens I am considering for the future is the XF 18mm f/2.0 R pancake lens for something even smaller. However, that lens has been out for a long time now and there have been rumors that a new model may be around the corner, so I'll wait and see what happens.
I haven't owned the X-T30 for too long but I only really have one annoyance with it so far: low light performance. It isn't great; autofocus speed in particular. But honestly, my perspective is coming from a much more expensive full-frame camera, so I'm not exactly sure what I should expect for a sub-$1000 camera. It's not a huge issue though and for the most part the X-T30 autofocus performance is very solid, especially at finding faces.
While Fuji cameras are known for their great straight-out-of-camera JPEG image quality with built-in film simulation modes, editing the RAW files from Fuji cameras is another beast entirely. Long story short, Fuji cameras use what they call the X-Trans sensor (the X-T30 uses X-Trans 4). This sensor uses a 6x6 filter array to capture RGB light. Conventional CMOS camera sensors use a simpler 2x2 "Bayer" filter array. Most third-party raw processing engines, in particular those by Adobe, are only good at demosaicing Bayer sensor data to create the final image.
As a result, editing Fuji RAW files in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW can tend to feel a bit less sharp than it should and may require more fiddling on your part. Adobe had a recent software update to improve this, but there are also other viable options like Fuji's own RAW converter app, Capture One, RawTherapee, or a converter called X-Transformer (can be used as a Lightroom plugin).
With the a7R IV pumping out massive ~60MB RAW files (even more for uncompressed RAWs), you need to have gobs of storage at hand, especially if you want to have backup redundancy while traveling. I shot 848GB of photos and videos on my New Zealand trip alone! But having enough storage on the go is not enough — you also need fast storage. I travel with a ton of SD cards since I never empty the cards while traveling: I always have a copy on the card and on my laptop for redundancy until I can back them up to my NAS. While only a few cameras support the new UHS-II standard for the next generation of faster SD cards, there's still a benefit to using UHS-II cards: you can import photos to your computer much faster.
However, there are times when I need to travel light and can't take a tablet or laptop (that I could otherwise use to backup photos to local and external SSD storage). My Africa trip was like this — due to weight restrictions on some of the tiny planes we took between Serengeti camps I left my laptop at home. Since the a7R IV has dual SD card slots I configured it to save a copy of each shot on both cards. Then when I filled a card up, I would put it in a separate SD card holder that I kept either on me or in a different bag for redundancy.
There are purpose-built portable hard drives for this task that can backup SD cards entirely on their own without connecting to a computer. I purchased one such device: the WD My Passport Wireless Pro. While it seems like it can get the job done I actually had to leave it at home too. It was a bit too heavy and bulky to bring along with me.
I have something like 15 or 16 SD cards totaling over a terabyte. There's a handy website dedicated to in-depth SD card benchmarks so it's always worth looking up any card before you buy it, especially if some time has passed and I haven't updated this section in months.
On my last trip I shot with two SD cards in the a7R IV mirroring each other. If you're looking for the best of the best, at this moment it seems like the SanDisk Extreme PRO 300MB/s UHS-II cards and the Sony SF-G UHS-II 300MB/s cards are the leaders here.
Since I've purchased some of my SD cards over time, I have a bunch of older discontinued Lexar cards as well as some of these newer ones.
128GB SanDisk Extreme PRO
300MB/s read, 260MB/s write, UHS-II
128GB Sony SF-M
260MB/s read, 100MB/s write, UHS-II
Pelican SD card case
Holds 12, rugged & waterproof
ThinkTank Pixel Pocket Rocket
9 SD card holder
1TB Samsung SSD
This thing is tiny!
Satechi USB-C SD card reader
High-quality, supports UHS-II cards
As for having an external SSD, well it's just very likely I'll run out of space backing up SD cards on my laptop if I'm traveling with one. Samsung's USB-C SSDs were just what I was looking for: tiny, lightweight and fast. I have two now — the original 1TB T1 model and the later 1TB T3 model. Though there is a newer T5 model out now.
But if I were looking for such a drive today, I would be considering a Thunderbolt 3 supported NVMe-based SSD like the Samsung X5 or do-it-yourself with an external enclosure.
At the heart of my camera setup is a Synology NAS. I use this to archive photos from Lightroom with my desktop PC, as well as back up those local files to several cloud services for safekeeping. My first foray into Synology NAS devices was with a 4-bay DS415+ that I originally wrote about at length in Storage for Photographers (Part 2). That one had four 3TB drives and upgraded RAM.
However, in recent years desktop 3.5" hard drives have gotten much larger (at the time of this writing there are now 15TB models available) so I decided to downsize to a smaller 2-bay model with two Seagate Ironwolf 12TB drives.
I also prefer the smaller DS218+ over other models because it uses a simpler and smaller power brick than other Synology models. I really hated the older style power brick they used that did not make a snug fit. One nice feature of the DS218+ is that RAM is user-upgradeable (previously you had to take apart the whole NAS). As such, I installed an 8GB RAM stick for a total of 10GB of RAM.
2-bay, dual-core 2GHz, upgraded to 10GB RAM
quad-core Intel Atom, 4-bay
For my heavy photo and video editing I built a water-cooled and overclocked 5.2GHz 6-core Windows 10 PC and wrote about it in detail in my longest article yet: Building a Lightroom PC.
When it was time to move to New York in early 2019 I decided I wanted to downsize a bit and ended up building a small form factor PC to take over my desktop computing needs. I built this water-cooled and delidded 8-core Windows 10 PC with a beefy Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti graphics card.
Read about my other computer gear on the Stuff I use page.
The first thing I do with any new lens is put on a UV filter. This is mainly to protect the lens from any accidental scratches or drops. I'd rather replace a cheap filter than the lens. I tend to prefer low-profile UV filters when I can find them as they're ideal for wide-angle lenses so it doesn't get in your shot. However, that usually means the lens cap doesn't quite fit as well and more easily falls off.
I also get a circular polarizer for each lens which I use when shooting outdoors with anything involving reflections (like buildings), sky, water or anything with glare. In a nutshell, it will cut through haze, increase color saturation and make sky shots more vibrant. When I'm traveling, most of my shots are outdoors so I usually entirely take off my UV filter and only leave the polarizer on for the duration of the trip. With a polarizer you always need to rotate it to get the desired effect and this depends on your direction with respect to the sun. It'a also advised that you try to avoid using a polarizer with wide-angle lenses as it can cause a weird effect where only part of the shot is polarized where the rest is less polarized (but I still use them on wide-angle lenses sometimes).
One more polarizer caveat: You usually want to take it off if shooting through a helicopter window. They tend to be plexiglass and any slight scratch in the plexiglass would be very apparent when using a polarizer. Also speed matters when you're moving that fast and you might prefer a faster shutter speed than polarizer effect.
I used to also travel with some ND grad filters to reduce the brightness of the sky in landscape shots on bright days. Graduated neutral-density filters look like a gradient and put your entire composition into the dynamic range of your camera by reducing clipping. Though I've found myself shooting more bracketed shots for HDR to fix this rather than carrying and putting on an ND grad filter.
So what brands to I typically purchase for my filters? There is a bit of a religous debate with respect to how much to spend on a filter in the photography community. The typical argument is that if you just spent a thousand dollars or more on a high-end lens you should not degrade the image quality by putting something in between the glass and the outside world; or that if you do, it has to be a pristine high-end filter as well. I definitely lean more towards the latter.
I have typically purchased B+W filters with multi-resistant coatings in the past. However, on my latest trip I tried out a relatively new brand called Breakthrough Photography. They boast some impressive claims and reviews seem positive but they are very expensive at around $150 each. The only issue I have with mine is that the ring on one of them is a bit larger than normal and it makes it hard to put the lens hood on for one of my lenses.
The one part of my gear that seems to change more frequently than anything.. my travel and photo gear bags. As much as I'd love to find one do-it-all bag, I really think they are all task-oriented and I won't be able to get away from having a few depending on what I'm up to.
16L, simple, cheap
Peak Design Everyday
34L, Special Forces-grade materials
Patagonia Black Hole duffel
45L, lightweight, weather-resistant
Patagonia Black Hole duffel
60L, lightweight, weather-resistant
Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350
Incase DSLR Pro
customizable camera dividers
Minaal Carry-on 2.0
After moving to New York, I began wanting something a bit smaller and more stylish for my daily commute to work where I only need to carry my laptop and a few minor things—much less than this 20L backpack.
I'm still on the hunt for that perfect daily bag, but in the meantime I couldn't resist this well-built, affordable, simple and small 16L Bellroy backpack. It doesn't quite have as many internal pockets as I would have liked but it gets the job done and still has enough room for me to toss my small Fuji X-T30 in to have around daily.
This is the workhorse bag. It's the bag I pick when I go on any kind of trip with my camera. It's rugged and the bag has a bit of structure to it (somewhere between soft and hardshell) so I trust it to keep whatever cameras I have inside safe, especially when tucking into a tight compartment underneath the seat in front of me on a flight.
I initially disliked the adjustable internal compartment system because I felt it left my lenses too loose and free to roll around compared to my former Incase DSLR Pro Pack but I have come around to loving it. The handy magnetic flap and waterproof construction makes it great for weathering the elements. I also like that it has some straps that you can extend to attach other gear to the bag, which I commonly use when lugging around my tripod.
I had the original charcoal version but unfortunately after a year or two I had some premature wear on one part of the bag so I purchased a new black version at a discount with the warranty.
I never check my bags when I fly anymore, and try to fly with only a backpack when possible. I've always wanted to pack lighter and fit everything into one backpack. After a bit of research, it seemed like this Goruck was the one for the job. Extremely durable, tons of compartments and add-ons that can be strapped into the MOLLE webbing system. I also have the padded GR2 field pocket add-on. I've taken this on countless short work trips and I lived out of it for a month while traveling through New Zealand. The GR2 is fairly no-frills, heavy and rugged.
I originally purchased a 45L duffel as I needed something lightweight and soft for my trip to Africa, where it would have to be squished the cargo bay of a small Cessna (we had a strict 33lb limit for all bags, including camera gear so I thought the GR2 was a bit too heavy and rugged). The Black Hole duffels are affordable and versatile enough to be worn like a backpack and crumpled down to a tiny size when not in use (they fold neatly inside themselves).
I found myself using the duffel on other trips afterwards and ended up adding a larger 60L model as well. I still use them as carry-ons.
I typically prefer to have my camera straps only mount from the bottom screw position using one point. I just do not like straps that attach from the side as I feel like it gets in the way. My favorite camera strap of all time was the original Luma Loop that mounted on the bottom, had a swivel and also a super nifty quick disconnect feature. Unfortunately that model is now discontinued and after years of trusty service, I ended up losing mine.
When it came time to find a replacement I ended up going with a few BlackRapid models. First off is the wrist strap that I've had for over 5 years now. I use it when I'm using one of my smaller lenses and just going out for a night on the town while traveling and don't want to look like a super tourist with a bulky camera strap.
BlackRapid wrist strap
Soft nylon strap
BlackRapid shoulder strap
BlackRapid Cross Shot strap
The other two straps are basically identical except for length: one is meant to be worth across the shoulders. I typically prefer to shoot off of one shoulder due to ease of taking the camera off and getting the strap out of the way quickly. However there are times when I'll use the longer strap, such as when hiking or out somewhere where I think it would be too easy for someone to grab the camera off of my shoulder and run away.
You need this. Buy it. Right. Now. It's a tiny, hyper-versatile tripod that's sturdy enough for even a big DSLR. I've taken this on numerous international trips. It fits in a bag, in a jacket, hanging off of a belt loop, et cetera. It's all I need for a quick night timelapse shot while walking around a new town. I recently added the slightly larger but expandable PIXI EVO model.
tiny travel tripod
Manfrotto PIXI EVO
expandable, tad less tiny tripod
While the tiny Manfrotto Pixi is my versatile city and street tripod I needed to complement it with a larger tripod on longer photo journeys. I needed something relatively small and lightweight and I'm also not a professional so I didn't want to spend $1,000+ on a tripod and ball head.
I eventually settled on this Sirui T-025X. It's just about the smallest tripod I could find that could extend a few feet and still collapse and fit inside my backpack and not require being strapped outside. This tripod also has a center column that I removed so that it packs down even smaller.
light carbon fiber tripod
larger quick release plate
It also has a little carabiner under the camera mount so you can attach additional weight to further steady the tripod. I ended up just attaching a water bottle to it most of the time and this did a good job and keep it steady when shooting in the wind.
One thing I didn't like about the T-025X was the tiny mounting plate it came with. It required using a tool to screw into the camera. Too slow for me and I would quickly lose the tool. I purchasing a larger quick release plate which has enough room to use a D-ring screw so I don't need any tools to mount it to my camera.
While this tripod is fantastic for traveling, it's really not a flawless all-around tripod. Even with a solid weight attached to it, it was still a bit shaky during breezy conditions while trying to shoot the moon with my heavy 400mm lens. But you just can't expect a lightweight travel tripod to excel in those conditions.
This was a new one for me. I had been researching shooting on a safari game drive for my trip to Africa and there seemed to be two common ways to shoot, depending on the type of vehicle. For some vehicles that are more open it seemed like one of the most favored things to do was shoot with a large sand bag (travel with it empty and fill locally with beans usually) that you can rest on top of the vehicle or the window sill.
The other option seemed to just be shooting with a monopod. Tripods are a non-starter in this situations with limited room between seats; it would just be a massive hassle. But do you even need such a thing like this if you're shooting during a bright day? Yes! Aside from some vibration reduction, I found the main purpose to be more about shooting with comfort. Shooting with a heavy lens for hours at a time can get very tiring, so I welcomed anything to take some of that burden from time to time.
Sirui P-326 monopod
6 section, Carbon fiber
Sirui tilt head
with quick release plate
I opted to stick with Sirui and go for their carbon fiber model. Then I got their tilt head to make it easier to manipulate camera position. I appreciated the massive knob the tilt head has to adjust the tilt. The last thing I wanted was a tiny knob that would make my fingers sore after adjusting it countless times per day. The only complaint I have is that there is no way to set the end positions for safety. If you're not careful and the dial is even a bit loose, you'll have your camera tilt all the way up or down in an instant. That happened to me quite a few times.
While you can just have the camera always on a shutter release timer to reduce vibration from pressing the shutter button before beginning any long exposure, I find using a wireless control to be much easier.
Foto&Tech IR remote
While the Sony model works extremely well and has solid range, it is quite a bit larger and requires putting an external IR sensor on the camera. Sometimes I just want to toss something in my bag quickly on the off chance I'll need it or when traveling and for that the tiny Foto&Tech remote works fine. It does not have the best range and is hard to operate from behind the camera until you find the right angle but it's pretty cheap. That being said, Sony released a newer wireless commander remote that is Bluetooth-based.
On more than a few occassions I've ventured out to take sunset photos and had trouble hiking my way back in complete darkness aided by just my phone's weak LED light. I've since added a flashlight to my standard set of camera gear. One that I can charge via USB, lasts for hours and bright enough to light up a path on long night hikes.
1000 lumen, USB-chargeable
Small, 360 lumen, USB
While I got the larger MH12 model for hiking in New Zealand, I ended up adding the much smaller TIP and Tube models for more everyday use and having in my bag at all times just in case. The TIP model in particular came in handy in various situations on my trip to Africa where I needed something basic to get between tents in the evenings.
I use Level Frames to quickly frame some of my better travel photos to hang around my house. I have about 8 so far and love the quality and simplicity.
I have also started making simple photobooks of my trips using Google Photos. I've got a small collection so far and really love making new ones for each trip.
Like any gadget there comes a time when I don't really need or use it anymore. Sometimes I'll give them to other family members that might use them, sell them online or they'll just gather dust in a closet until I get around to selling them.
Unfortunately, traveling with a drone is a hassle. You have to do your research and see if it's even legal to bring it into some countries and learn where you can fly safely. Drones add a fun perspective but it ended up not being worth the hassle for me. I sold my Spark in 2019 before I moved to New York. If I ever really want a drone for a certain trip, I'll just rent one.
While the vast majority of my shooting is outdoors I have been curious about a basic studio setup for product shots and tinkering with flash portraits. I have little experience in this realm so I just wanted something basic to start with but powerful enough to still create some solid product shots (like on this Lightroom post). I ended up with a two 400W strobe kit from Neewer, wireless triggers along with a white cloth backdrop and large reflector. While it did come in handy numerous times, I couldn't justify bringing it with my move to New York.
there's something very satisfying about shooting reflective things with bright studio lights pic.twitter.com/5WZWTTynms— Paul Stamatiou 📷 (@Stammy) December 20, 2017
I first got a GoPro when writing Getting started with drones where I had a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a GoPro and FPV setup. But then I began using the GoPro much more on its own on trips: for underwater usage, easy timelapses and car-mounted video. When I went to New Zealand I found it extremely fun to use the GoPro with a 3-axis gimbal to produce stable video in all conditions.
I had the old GoPro Hero 4 Silver and while I think action cameras like it are a great travel companion, I don't use them nearly enough to justify keeping up with the latest models. For my trip to Grand Cayman island I just rented the latest model. If I was considering a model now, I would likely buy or rent the DJI Osmo Action or Osmo Pocket (integrated gimbal).