I shoot with the full-frame Sony α7R II.
Not too big but has all the power and features of larger cameras. The perfect travel camera. This is my third full-frame Sony camera (RX1R and Sony a7S previously) and I love the size, build quality, full-frame sensor image quality and easy-to-use camera software. Not to mention Wi-Fi and mobile apps for sharing photo previews on the go.
I've had Canon DSLRs (way too big) and smaller Fuji mirrorless cameras (they're getting better but IMO worse build quality and image quality) — so I'm sticking with Sony and investing in more lenses. 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 and such I attend and want to shoot.
If you don't need something as advanced, expensive and large as the α7R II, I've heard great things about the Sony a6500.
Sony α7R II
42MP, 5-axis stabilization, 399 AF points
Sony HVLF60M flash
Big flash with LED light for video
You don't need an absurdly expensive camera and a bunch of lenses to get that perfect shot. But it surely doesn't hurt. 😍
That being said, 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.
I started with the 24-70mm and 35mm lenses. I spend most of my time on a trip with the 24-70 — such a great, versatile range during the day. If you're just starting out, that's the lens I would recommend. I use the tiny Sony 35mm when I want a lighter camera, usually when walking around at night.
Then I added the 16-35mm to quench my desire for wider shots of landscapes and architecture. The 55mm was added when I wanted better portraits (with more bokeh!) of my niece and nephew. It's a phenomenal lens but I personally use it the least — focal length is not ideal for me while traveling. It's just a little too long for my style of shooting most of the time. I use it mainly for product shots for this website or the occasional portrait.
And finally I got the 70-200mm out of my curiousity for better city skyline shots from afar. I've never owned a long lens like this so we'll see how I end up using it. It's a big lens for sure, but much smaller than the equivalent 70-200 for Canon DSLRs, so I might actually take this on a few trips.
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. I ended up with a two 400W strobe kit from Neewer along with a white cloth backdrop.
Neewer strobe kit
2x 400W lights & stands
Neewer wireless trigger
16 channel, 3 receivers
Julius Studio white backdrop
10x20 ft, muslin fabric
LimoStudio backdrop system
6 pack, 4.5-inch
Neewer light reflector
43-inch, super useful
With the a7r II pumping out massive 42MB RAW files, having enough storage on the go is not enough — you also need fast storage. I travel with many 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.
I began purchasing speedy UHS-II cards like the 280MB/s SanDisk Extreme Pro and 300MB/s Lexar Pro 2000x (Amazon · B&H). Eventually I needed a lot more storage and decided that the 1000x cards were still sufficiently fast for my needs and bought a bunch of them. While not many cameras support the additional speed of UHS-II cards (it has extra pins), you still get the benefit of faster photo importing when using a new UHS-II SD card reader. And if your camera does support it, this helps speed things up when you shoot bracketed shots for HDR.
128GB Lexar Pro
150MB/s SDXC UHS-II
ThinkTank Pixel Pocket Rocket
9 SD card holder
1TB Samsung SSD
This thing is tiny!
On my recent trip to New Zealand, I shot 848GB of photos and videos. I no longer had space on my 12-inch Macbook's internal SSD to backup SD cards. Fortunately I had a 1TB Samsung SSD with me. It's tiny, very fast and got the job done for me. I have two now — the original 1TB T1 model and the later 1TB T3 model. Though the new T5 model is out now so you should consider that one instead of the older discontinued models.
At the heart of my camera setup is a beefy four bay Synology DS415+ NAS that I have loaded with 4 3TB drives. I archive photos to the NAS from Lightroom and also backup the NAS to several cloud services for safekeeping. Storage for Photographers (Part 2) is a must-read.
The DS415+ is now discontinued. If you're considering a NAS now, you should look at the new DS416play model.
quad-core Intel Atom, 4-bay
UV, Polarizer & ND grad
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 don't get too picky about which brand to buy here but I tend to prefer low-profile B+W XS-Pro filters. Low-profile is ideal for wide-angle lenses so it doesn't get in your shot, especially if you plan on stacking filters.
I also get a 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. Polarizers also shouldn't be used 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. Though I might still keep a polarizer on a wide-angle lens but just rotate it so that it's not entirely "on" and the side effect is less visible.
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.
And sometimes I will get 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.
A new addition to my kit, the sheer diminutive size of this DJI Spark made it hard to avoid. No, it doesn't shoot 4K video. It doesn't have a 3-axis gimbal; merely getting by with a 2-axis gimbal. It also doesn't shoot RAW photos like it's bigger brother the Mavic Pro. But it's tiny and easy to toss in a bag that may also be accompanied with a camera, tripod and a bunch of lenses.
I opted for the bundle to get an extra battery and dedicated remote control for longer range (compared to flying only with a phone).
DJI Spark bundle
Polar Pro filters
Polarizer and ND filters
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.
Peak Design Everyday
Incase DSLR Pro
customizable camera dividers
34L, Special Forces-grade materials
Minaal Carry-on 2.0
Peak Design Everyday — A recent addition, the Everyday has quickly become my daily backpack for taking my laptop, sketchbooks and various items to work daily. I initially disliked the adjustable internal compartment system because I felt it left my lenses too loose and free to roll around compared to the Incase DSLR Pro Pack below. However, I still use the Everyday for light camera work when I only need to lug a lens or two around. The handy magnetic flap and waterproof construction makes it great for weathering the elements.
Incase DSLR Pro Pack — While the Everyday backpack is made for photographers in mind, the 20L size I got can only easily house a few lenses and items. For the times when I need to carry a lot more gear and have it well-protected, I turn to the Incase DSLR Pro. Such as on my recent trip to New Zealand where I brought a tripod, 4 lenses, et cetera.
It's still smaller than other professional camera backpacks. The top has a quick unzip section so you can quickly stow your camera away without having to completely flip the backpack upside down to access it. I've also hiked miles with this thing on without issue.
One complaint I have with this backpack is that it's not weatherproof and you always have to carry a waterproof cover in case it might rain. Another issue is that there are not enough zipper sections inside the main area where you put your laptop and other gear. This means you have a lump of stuff hiding near the bottom that you continually have to reach around for.
Goruck GR2 — I no longer own a suitcase. Between this GR2 and the Minaal bag in the next section, I only fly with a backpack and never check it as luggage. 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. Compared to the Minaal, the GR2 is fairly no-frills, heavy and rugged.
Minaal Carry-on 2.0 — Now you may be asking what purpose the Minaal has if I have the similarly-sized GR2 backpack as well. That's a good question and I do tend to use both backpacks interchangeably. However, the Minaal is a bit more feature packed for frequent use: even more compartments, support for any laptop/tablet size, the ability to completely hide the straps, lockable zippers, side handles, compression straps and more.
My complaint with the Minaal is that the outer pocket holds most of the volume of the backpack. As such, I find opening it a bit cumbersome because you have to make sure all your stuff doesn't fall out as you look for one thing since stuff is now split half in the outer flap and half in the backpack. It's also a big awkward to use the laptop compartment since if you have any stuff there it will just apply (in my opinion too much) pressure on it without the rear section being too rigid. And finally, if you have lots of clothes and stuff in it, the rear tends to curl away from your back. Compared to the GR2 that has a very rigid plate on the back so it's always flat.
Don't leave home without it.
After an exhaustive search for the best camera strap I landed on the Luma Loop 3. I use it to have my camera hang upsidedown on my side for quick access.
It has large carbon reinforced slides to make it easy to adjust length on fly. The large screw knob makes it super easy to completely detach not needed.
Luma Loop 3
premium sling strap
My #1 must-have travel item.
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
My #2 must-have travel item.
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.
A nice-to-have for any tripod use and long exposures.
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.
For getting around during night shoots
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 flash LED. 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. This one will operate at the highest brightness setting for about 2 hours and much longer on other settings. It also lets you put it into strobe and SOS flashing modes.
1000 lumen, USB-chargeable
I first got a GoPro when writing Getting started with drones where I setup a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a GoPro and FPV setup. But I began using the GoPro much more on its own. I now have the GoPro Hero 4 Silver (the Hero 5 is out but the difference seems negligible to me as it uses the same sensor).
GoPro HERO4 Silver
12MP sensor, touchscreen
Feiyu Tech G4
3-axis handheld gimbal
small GoPro polarizer
twist lock suction cup
attach to backpacks & more
Before heading off to my trip to New Zealand, I picked up a Feiyu Tech G4 3-axis gimbal. I had realized that the last few times I used my GoPro I really didn't end up using the handheld-shot footage since it was so shaky. After spending a month using this gimbal daily on my trip I can definitely say it is absolutely necessary if you plan to do anything handheld with your GoPro. You can run with this and your video will still be smooth. The model I purchased is a bit old and a few more models from various manufacturers have popped up, including GoPro's own Karma Grip.
However, if I'm being completely honest I am a bit over GoPros and other action cameras. I think I may just be a bit more prosumer and focused more on quality than size and convenience. As I was editing all of my New Zealand videos I kept being disappointed with the quality that came from the GoPro. It was suitable for a few clips here and there but compared to the 4K video from my Sony camera it just looked like garbage. I know they are completely different beasts, but if I was going to consider a small camera for footage I would definitely be looking for something a tad less wide-angle and with good 2.7K or 4K footage. The new Sony RX0 seems interesting but I wish it shot 4K internally.
I use Level Frames to quickly frame some of my better travel photos to hang around my house. I have about 5 or 6 so far and love the quality and simplicity.
I always get a few extra chargers and batteries with every new camera so I can charge multiple batteries simultaneously each night while on a trip. I tend to go through anywhere from 2-4 batteries on a full day of shooting.
I also like having various lightweight pouches like this one from SDR Traveller to keep all these little things organized.
Made with cuben fiber
Sony NPFW50 for a7R II
Sony BC-TRW charger
Tenba padded wrap
for lenses and more