The camera equipment you travel with will no doubt be defined by the amount of weight you are prepared to travel with or the amount of photography you intend to undertake. To help you come to a decision on what to pack into your camera bag (or whether you need to take a camera bag) it is worth researching the destination and the locations you expect to be visiting.
For the casual traveller who wishes to travel light but have a degree of flexibility may want to take a compact camera that offers manual overrides. Having a compact with a decent zoom lens range is always handy but keep in mind that the lenses are usually optically slow and are therefore of most benefit when taken photos outdoors with decent light levels.
There are not so many of these cameras around these days as they tend to compete with the very budget consumer DSLRs but they have their benefits. The hybrid cameras generally offer a similar feature set to a DSLR but don't offer the same level of image quality and the lens is not interchangeable. Despite the non interchangeable lens they offer a good level of flexibility and are usually able to tackle a wide range of subject matters.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras
This is a relatively new breed of camera taking in the advantages of both the digital compact and the DSLR. These cameras (Olympus PEN series and Panasonic Lumix G series) have an image sensor similar in size to that used in DSLRs but without the need for a mirror mechanism resulting in a more compact camera body. As a result there is no optical viewfinder and the LCD screen is used to compose the pictures. The camera is essentially being used in Live View mode only. As with a digital compact camera autofocusing based on contrast detection technology rather than the faster phase detection technology although contrast detection speeds continue to increase with each generation of camera. The interchangeable lenses are smaller and more compact.
The DSLRs offer the highest level of flexibility and so are adaptable for contending with a variety of photographic situations. Some are built to be as lightweight and small as possible where others are built to be more robust to withstand the elements. They generally tend to operate more quickly and have faster autofocus systems.
It is very tempting for a photographer with a sizable camera system to want to pack as much equipment as possible but this could end up as a burden when travelling around. Careful thought about considering the destination and the subject matter expected to tackle will help to determine the best kit to take.
The standard zoom lens: Depending on the zoom range, it may be all that is needed. Most typical subject matters can be adequately handled with a lens that covers an equivalent range of 24-120mm with a high standard of optical quality.
The super zoom lens: If you really wish to take only one lens that you can leave on the camera body all the time and maintain a certain degree of flexibility then the super zoom is worthy of consideration. The optical design of these lenses seem to be improving with each generation and some high quality results are possible. However, it must be kept in mind that there are a number of optical compromises that will dictate under which conditions the lens can be best used. It is not uncommon for there to be a higher degree of distortion at the wide angle end and greater optical softness at the telephoto extremes. Understanding the characteristics of the lens will help to make the most of situations but a certain level optical issues may be compensated for with a decent image editing application.
The Prime Lens: The prime lens has taken a back seat for some as zoom lenses have improved in quality and offer greater flexibility. The prime lenses have the advantage of generally offering sharper edge to edge images, higher contrast, and can be optically faster (which is a benefit to autofocus systems) aiding low light shooting. Perhaps the best use of these lenses is when a clear idea of the subject matter is in mind. This would reduce the chance of ending up with the wrong lens on the camera body for a given situation resulting in lost photo opportunities.
The telephoto zoom lens: This is where significant weight may be added to your camera bag. A typical telephoto zoom lens for a digital camera (using an APS-C imaging sensor) covers the range of 70-300mm, which is effectively a 100-400mm zoom lens. The size of these lenses varies depending on the optical design but will take up significantly more space in the camera bag. These lenses are typically optically slow (from f/4.5 to f/5.6 across its range) and so are best suited for shooting in outdoor conditions. If an optically faster lens is required that usually falls to the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (effectively a 100-300mm lens on a camera using an APS-C sensor). Its zoom range is shorter but it usually offers a higher optical quality, better build quality and more weight. It is best only to travel with this type of lens when it is certain it will be used. It is a lot of weight to carry around on the off chance it may be used and it requires a great deal of space in the camera bag.
The macro lens: With standard zoom lens generally offering some degree of close-up capability, the macro lens may not be necessary. It could be seen, like the prime lens, only necessary to pack where you have clear subject matters in mind for its use. It does have the added benefit that it can make a decent portrait lens if the occasion calls for it (depending on its focal length).
Flashgun: It may at first sight seem pointless to take a flashgun when travelling to a destination know for its sunshine.
Batteries: With the modern camera (and depending on usage of course) it is possible to get through a whole day on one fully charged battery. However, it is always prudent to have a spare battery. For the more demanding photo shoots where a vertical grip is being used on the camera then it is worth considering having 2 spare batteries. A charger that can charge two batteries at a time should be considered if you need to ensure that you have two fully charged batteries for a days shoot on a regular basis. This makes it straightforward to have your batteries charged overnight.
Memory Cards: With memory cards with capacities presently up to 32GB storage is seldom an issue but it would be unwise to have a whole series of shoots on one card. Have some smaller cards that have sufficient capacity to allow you get through your typical shoot without excessive card swopping.
Cleaning Kit: It is handy to have a lens tissue to keep your optics in order as well as a blower to keep the sensor of a DSLR clear of dust as well as to blow dust particles from lenses.
No matter how much (or little) camera equipment you are travelling with is it important to have a decent camera bag. Cameras are essentially precision instruments that can be knocked out of alignment if mistreated and repairs can be a very expensive business. A well padded bag will protect your equipment as well as keeping them in order and easily accessible.
There are three typical bag designs: the shoulder bag, the back pack, and the sling bag. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages and which design you use is down to personal preference.
The shoulder bag: This is perhaps the most familiar of the bags and at one time the most popular. Its compartments are customisable to suit your equipment and usually allows quick access. Some of the modern designs now include a compartment for a laptop. The main disadvantage of this type of back is that if stocked with a lot of heavy equipment weight is not distributed on one side of your body and can become very uncomfortable.
The backpack: When comfort is high on your priority level then the backpack design is hard to beat. It evenly distributes the weight of your equipment evenly across your back to make it easy to walk for prolonged distances with minimal discomfort. Your kit is contained in a more orderly manner than the shoulder bag. Once again, some of these bags provide a compartment for a laptop. Where is type of bag is at a disadvantage is when it comes to speed of access. The bag has to be removed from your back and opened in order to get at your kit. You will have to decide if this matters to you. Some more recent designs have added security in mind. Access to equipment is on the back rather than on the front which means that no one can get at the contents of the bag whilst it is still on your back.
The Sling bag: This is essentially a hybrid of the two former bags. The sling bag sits across your back in a similar way to a backpack but can be moved around to your front to allow you to quickly access your camera. Accessing the rest of your kit may require you to remove the bag as the items are packed deeper down in the bag. Although weight tends to be better distributed than with a shoulder bag if your equipment is very heavy its effects will become obvious.
A good tripod can be invaluable item to have but doesn't fit into your camera bag and may be a bit weighty. Of course it can always be carried in your suitcase (if you are travelling with one) but a light weight tripod is a must as it's more practical for travel purposes. It can be argued that the need for a tripod has declined with the advent of image stabilisation in cameras (or their lenses). Tripods can get in the way and so are not always welcome or practical in some shooting environments. However in situations were long exposures are necessary they cannot be beaten.
If at all possible it is worth researching the places you intend to visit so you have some idea what to expect as it will help in your planning. Once there take the time to just look around before taking any photos to get a feel of the place if time permits. This is one reason why escorted tours and travel photography don't mix. Make a note of the lighting conditions such as the quality of light, the direction of the light and subjects (or objects) you intend to photography. Get an appreciation for the lighting conditions to determine the best time for to get the photos you want. This may not always be possible but it is worth doing.
Environmental conditions can be tough on a camera. Hot and humid conditions can cause electronics to over heat with prolonged use. Care should be taken when taking your camera from one environmental extreme to another. An example of this is when staying in a well air-conditioned hotel and then going outside in the heat to take photos. This will lead to condensation developing within the camera and its lens. The camera will recover from this but it will delay you taking photos. To avoid this it is necessary to try and control the environment of the camera and subject it to a slower transition in climate. Keeping the camera in its bag would help do this so when exposed to the heat the camera will get warmer inside the bag at a slower rate.
Spare the time to check that your camera is functioning correctly. This applies whether you have had the camera for some time or if the camera is new. For DSLRs check for dust on the sensor by setting the aperture to say f/22, point the camera at a plain light surface and take a photo. If dark spots are shown on the captured image even without applying any magnification then cleaning must be immediately instigated. After cleaning has been carried out take another photo and magnify the image to check the remaining dust particles have been removed.
A growing number of cameras have built in dust reduction systems, some are more effective than others and they all tend to activate automatically either when the camera is switched on or when the camera is switched off. If your camera does not have this feature then a blower can be effective in removing dust particles. Ensure that the camera body is faced downwards when blowing air on the sensor to help the dust to fall out of the camera.
It goes without saying that care should be taken when changing lenses and that dusty environments should be avoided if possible. Also note that extra care should be taken when changing lenses in fields where there are flowers as pollen particles are often in the air and if they get on the sensor they can be difficult to remove.
If you are staying in a decent hotel it will have a good electronic safe which may come in useful if you are travelling with a lot of equipment. It will provide a place to store the equipment you don't wish to carry with you when you are out and about.
With the large number of photos you may take during the course of your travels it will be necessary to have some method store the photos in order to free up the memory cards. The most portable of devices is perhaps the digital media viewer. They consist basically of a high capacity hard drive, memory card slots and a high quality screen. They provide an easy way to quickly transfer your files from your memory cards to the device whilst you are on the move and to review them. They also have the added benefit of being able to store and place mp3 and mp4 media so you can keep entertained during the quieter moments during your trip.
Laptops are not as convenient to carry around but offer greater flexibility than the media player. It allows you to not only view your photos but to edit them (but make sure the screen is set up correctly if colour accuracy is important). With many hotels now offering internet access (wifi or via an ethanet cable) there is the added bonus of being able to upload photos to your favourite online service or perhaps to your own website. Connect an external hard drive that has added protection against knocks to back up your images if the internal hard drive of the laptop is not sufficient.