If you’re planning on going away, then one of the toughest decisions you’ll need to make is what photographic kit to take and what to leave behind.
I spent half of 2016 travelling around South-East Asia and Australia with the sole intention of taking great photographs. The camera equipment you take on a trip like this comes down to your shooting style and whether you like to travel light or pack everything but the kitchen sink. I opted for the latter, carrying a photo backpack with my DSLR, four lenses and travel tripod, as well as a travel rucksack with all my clothes and necessities in. If I had the choice to pack my bag again I’d swap my full-frame DSLR for a more compact mirrorless camera such as one of Sony’s A7 series. One thing I don’t regret taking was my Vanguard VEO 265CB travel tripod – it allowed me to get fantastic shots. And as most tourists don’t take a tripod, it can help your shots stand out from the crowd.
You will, of course, need to remember travel essentials such as clothes, sun cream and your passport, but here we’ll just look at the types of cameras and tripods to consider.
As a general rule, when it comes to your camera the bigger the sensor size, the better it’ll handle digital noise at high ISO values, so the cleaner the images. But obtaining a big full-frame chip often means having a much more cumbersome camera than a point-and-shoot compact. You need to weigh up the benefits of a smaller, more portable system or a larger camera which is capable of outputting cleaner shots. Bear in mind that saving weight and space in your bag will help you travel further as you’ll become fatigued less easily.
DSLRs have great image quality and provide flexibility when teamed with a versatile set of lenses. They’re quite large and bulky, so depending on how much equipment you take, you may need an entirely separate bag to carry a DSLR in. Think about the photos you want to take while you’re away. If it’s wildlife you’ll need a telephoto lens like a 70-300mm, if it’s street candids you’ll need a wide focal length like a 35mm. Then work out how you’re going to carry all of this equipment around comfortably and securely.
Mirrorless cameras, also called CSCs (compact system cameras) have large sensors, and some even boast DSLR-sized APS-C or full-frame chips. But unlike DSLRs, they don’t have an optical viewfinder or mirror and this allows many models to be much smaller and more portable. Mirrorless cameras are interchangeable lens systems, so you can attach different lenses, adding extra flexibility. Many models have a tiltable screen, so are useful for shooting street photography discreetly at waist height.
Bridge cameras are extremely versatile. They look like DSLRs and have many of the same functions, but they’re smaller and boast a fixed lens with a huge zoom range. This means bridge cameras are just as good at shooting wide landscapes as they are at shooting details far away in the distance. The trade-off for this long zoom is image quality. Images are usually comparable to those from a compact camera, as the sensor in many models is a similar size. Overall, bridge cameras are great for general pics but you can’t attach your own lenses and image quality can suffer from the smaller sensors.
The portability of a compact is ideal for travel, however many photographers think you’ll get better quality from a system like a DSLR. But some prestige compacts, such as Ricoh’s GR II, have massive DSLR-sized sensors. So it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. Most models have a fixed focal length prime lens, so you can’t zoom or switch lenses. But this may be a trade-off you’re happy to accept. You can, of course, still zoom by moving closer or further away from your subject – you just may have trouble trying to snap details that are far away in the distance.
Underwater housings for DSLRs can run into thousands of pounds, so an action camera like a GoPro can be a great addition to your bag. Many models shoot broadcast-quality video and have the ability to be submerged underwater. They’re brilliant for snorkelling with. The underwater housings also offer protection from knocks and dings. If you like the idea of documenting your travels and a camera that can take a thrashing, an action cam is for you!
Travel tripods are much smaller and lighter than full-sized ones. They fold down to a compact size, which makes them easy to lash to the side of a backpack. Carbon models are also worth considering, as they are lighter than the aluminium models. I thoroughly recommend Vanguard’s VEO collection (which includes aluminium and carbon models), as I took the VEO 265CB on my travels and it handled everything I threw at it (which was a lot!).
The SLR Gorillapod is just 25cm tall, so is very easy to travel with. Its legs are constructed from articulating ball joints, so can be wrapped around all manner of surfaces such as railings and lampposts. It’s a little on the pricey side (you can find them online from £30), but with its ball head attached you can support up to 3kg of equipment, so if you want some stability that fits easily inside your backpack it’s definitely one to consider.
Manfrotto Pocket Support MP1 & MP3
The Pocket Support MP1 and MP3 from Manfrotto are small devices that let you frame up and lock off your camera. The camera screws on to the plate and then you can adjust its three feet to change the angle and your composition. It’s a fairly basic gadget, but lets you fine-tune your framing much better than just laying your camera flat on a surface. It’s extremely portable, but doesn’t offer the full flexibility of a tripod.
Dan Mold is a professional travel and wildlife photographer and a regular contributor to Practical Photography and Digital Photo. He has recently returned from an epic adventure around Asia and Australia. See more of his work here.