Sony α7R II
42MP, 5-axis stabilization, 399 AF points
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 tweeting photos on the go.
I've had Canon DSLRs (way too big) and smaller Fuji mirrorless cameras (worse build quality and image quality) — so I'm sticking with Sony and investing in more lenses.
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.
UHS-II is the new normal
With the a7r II pumping out ~42MB RAWs, 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
Extra storage while traveling
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 this 1TB Samsung SSD with me. It's tiny, very fast and got the job done for me. It does get a little hot when transfering hundreds of gigs at a time but I haven't seen any issues arise from that.
I purchased the T1 model a while ago and loved it so much I also recently purchased the newer USB-C T3 model.
1TB Samsung SSD
This thing is tiny!
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.
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.
I have searched everywhere for the perfect camera bag but eventually realized I already had it: my trusty 3 year old Timbuk2 messenger bag. I just needed a padded camera liner for it so I got two different sizes of the Timbuk2 padded camera insert.
When I don't need to carry around my camera I can just pull it out and resume to using it as my daily work/laptop bag.
padded bag insert
For when you need to carry more than a few lenses
While a simple messenger bag with a padded camera insert is my preferred way to tote my camera around town, there are times when I need more space. Much more space. Such as on my recent trip to New Zealand where I brought a tripod, 4 lenses, et cetera. The Incase DSLR Pro does the trick for me and 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.
My only complaint 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 have to reach around for.
Incase DSLR Pro
customizable camera dividers
A huge backpack for traveling
Up until recently I've always flown with a small 22-inch suitcase, but 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. This thing will be accompanying me on many trips to come.
34L, Special Forces-grade materials
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.
tiny travel 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.
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.
light carbon fiber tripod
larger quick release plate
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
No longer a toy, a must-have travel accessory
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 and find it a must while traveling. I use it for capturing effortless timelapses the most.
GoPro HERO4 Silver
12MP sensor, touchscreen
I opted for the Silver versions since it has a touchscreen on the back to make it even easier to use on the go without fiddling with the mobile app. As with all GoPros, there's never enough battery life so I got some extra batteries and chargers.
What good is shaky video?
Before heading off to my recent trip to New Zealand, I picked up this Feiyu Tech G4 3-axis gimbal (similar to the gimbals found on quadcopters) for my GoPro. 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. I've posted an example video below.
Feiyu Tech G4
3-axis handheld gimbal
Getting this gimbal has made me use my GoPro so much more. It just makes it ridiculously easy to get great shots. Really changed my perspective on GoPros in general. There is also a newer and more expensive G4S model that sports complete 360 rotation as opposed to just 320 degree rotation (Amazon · B&H).
And a few GoPro accessories to aid shooting in any scenario:
small GoPro polarizer
twist lock suction cup
attach to backpacks & more
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