Best Photo Gear for Travel

Best Photo Gear for Travel

Ok, folks, here it is: I am officially shifting my photo blog here to the back burner.  I’m not abandoning it entirely, but I will no longer be posting regularly.  No, this isn’t a late April Fools joke.  And I hope you aren’t too disappointed.  I promise I have a really good reason, and I think you’ll all love it!

Aaron and I are going to travel the world for a year!

And here’s the other good news: I’ll still be blogging and sharing lots of fun travel stories and pictures from all around the world.  It’ll just be in a different place.

Boat disturbing the still waters of the Willamette in front of Portland at dawn | LotsaSmiles Photography

Our Travel Blog

I might have mentioned it casually before, but the time has finally come to make the official shift.  You see, the truth is we’ve been building a separate travel blog in preparation for our trip, and I won’t be able to maintain two blogs while we’re abroad.  As our lives will be focused on all things traveling, I’m consolidating my efforts to just the one blog.

If you love my photography (and if you’re following my blog, you hopefully do), and you’ve enjoyed reading about our various travels thus far, I encourage you to follow us over at BIG tiny World Travel.  There, we’ve been posting about some of our travels, where we’re going in the coming year, and how we’ve been planning for the big departure.  All of them are accompanied by my photos that you’ve come to know and love here!

Black Hole Falls in Washington | LotsaSmiles Photography

Some articles you might like:

We are also on all the major social media outlets, so you’re welcome to hit us up on your favorite – seriously, we would *love* to hear from you!

The Future of LotsaSmiles

Spring cherry blossoms along Portland's Waterfront Park | LotsaSmiles Photography

This website isn’t going anywhere!  And if I’m struck by inspiration to write about something particularly photo-centric, or I have an amazing image I just have to share (more than just on social media), you might hear from me here from time to time.  However, I will no longer be posting weekly.

I will still be sharing photos regularly to Instagram (at least once a week); I’ll still have pretty pictures to show off!  So you can keep up with me there.

And of course, I will continue to add new products to my store, with new images taken abroad!

Camera Gear on the Trip

Assortment of gear left on a car seat | LotsaSmiles Photography

So before I go, let’s talk gear for a moment.  Photography is clearly a very important aspect of my life, and you can bet it was one of the first things I considered when it came to packing for this trip.

Considerations

We’re going to be on the road for at least 14 months.  That’s a long time to cart around heavy equipment.  So one of the forefront considerations I have to keep in mind is weight.  I absolutely love my Sigma Art lenses, but those suckers are heavy.  And do I really want to cart around my honkin’ five-pound bazooka lens?

For many of the same reasons, size is a big factor.  We are keeping our luggage to carry-on (crazy, right?), so we have very limited space.  The more compact the gear, the better.

But ultimately, the most important requirement is that I have what I need to shoot what I want to!  This means having the lenses with the right focal lengths and minimum apertures.

The Camera

I have been shooting Canon for many many years.  However, there are a few things that have frustrated me with that system.  Most offensive is the lack of dynamic range.  I’m not really a big fan of HDR images; I prefer the simplicity and more natural look of a single-exposure shot.  But with a high-contrast scene, I either blow out the highlights or completely lose the shadows.  I tend to favor the latter.  Shadows are more-or-less recoverable; blown highlights are not.  However, in boosting the shadows, I get awful banding, discoloration, and noise.

Which brings me to my other complaint: at least with the cameras I’ve had, I have not gotten great performance in low light.  Seeing as how that’s what I primarily shoot, it’s grown into quite a pain point.  Many cameras these days boast astronomical ISO ranges, but in reality, anything above 800 is completely unusable on my Canon 7D.

I wanted something better for our trip, and I’ve been eyeing full-frame for a while.  I also enjoy astrophotography, so having that power in low-light situations is a huge win.  I’ve been drooling over the Canon 5D Mark IV, which promises to improve upon a lot of the issues I was having with the 7D.  However, it’s awfully big and heavy for travel.

Sony a6000 camera | LotsaSmiles Photography

I also acquired a small commuter camera a while back, the Sony a6000.  As I’m now familiar with the Sony layout, and I’m pleased with its small profile, I took a look at the Sony options.  I landed on the Sony a7R Mark III.  Its dynamic range is miles better than that of the Canon 7D, it has a much higher threshold for usability at high ISOs, and it is much lighter and smaller than the 5D.  As a bonus, it also has dual SD slots (perfect for in-camera instant backups), and the battery life is surprisingly good for a mirrorless.  And because it has built-in wireless, I can easily sync to my phone for immediate sharing while on the road.

Knowing I wanted to downsize, I also did consider the Fuji line.  I have a friend who shoots Fuji, and I borrowed his gear for a day to get a feel for it.  While it is much lighter than Canon gear, it was awkward for me with all the external dials and unfamiliar menus.  Besides, I already had the Sony a6000, so keeping my camera bodies down to two brands was convenient.  If I were prepared to completely replace all of my gear, and I could spend the time adjusting to the new system, Fuji would be a great, compact choice for travel.

Ultimately, I decided on bringing the Sony a7R III and the Sony a6000.  This allows me both a full-frame with the higher quality and a cropped sensor for a built-in “zoom” and to serve as a backup should the primary fail.

Lenses

Canon telephoto lens | LotsaSmiles Photography

Now for the fun part!  Once I figured out the cameras, it was time to think about lenses.  I knew to cover my bases of the various uses, I’d want at least three lenses: a wide, a mid-range zoom, and a telephoto.

With Sony cameras, I had the choice to buy Sony lenses.  These would natively work very well with the camera bodies, and I wouldn’t need adaptors that will slow autofocus.  However, I already own Canon lenses.  I also still have my Canon 7D, and I’m not quite ready to part with it.  For backwards-compatibility’s sake, I opted to stick with Canon lenses.

Wide

I love shooting wide.  Most of my landscapes are shot with a wide lens, and the Canon 10-22mm was almost always on my camera …so much so that it saw more than its share of bangs and bumps.  Unfortunately, it’s incompatible with the full-frame camera, so it’s time to upgrade.

Enter the Canon 16-35mm, the effective equivalent on full-frame.  This comes in an f/4.0 or an f/2.8, with the faster lens being more expensive, of course.  The 2.8 then also comes in three versions, Mark I to Mark III.  The higher Mark denotes both higher quality and higher price, so it’s been a difficult decision to pick one of these four lenses.  Do I really need the extra stop?  Can I sacrifice slightly lower quality for a better price?  What’s actually available used?  All four of these are really solid lenses, so there aren’t a lot of folks selling them (and I don’t want to pay for new gear).

This last bit will probably ultimately sway my decision.  I have a friend selling the f/2.8 Mark II, which might be a good choice.  It isn’t as expensive as the Mark III, but it’s better quality than the Mark I.  I’ve read the f/4 is sharper in the corners, but the f/2.8 would make shooting wide inside of dark buildings easier.  Provided that pans out, I will be taking the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark II to fill that wide requirement.

Waterfall along Siouxon Creek in Washington | LotsaSmiles Photography

Mid-range

With my 10-22mm out of commission, I’ve been lacking in an all-purpose lens to walk around and shoot with.  I have some primes, but those can be limiting.  I did some research on the most useful lenses, and hands-down, the most recommended is the Canon 24-70mm.  This likewise comes in an f/4.0 and an f/2.8 version.  The 2.8 also has a Mark I and Mark II version, with a similar pricing spread.  My need for the extra stop in this case would likely be influenced by my decision on the wide angle lens.  I certainly shouldn’t need both lenses to be faster, and I only have so much money for these lenses.

Of course, shopping for both the wide and mid-range at the same time, I didn’t know which I’d buy first or what I’d end up with.  I figured I’d try for the 2.8 on the mid-range, as that extra stop would get more use there.

Then I spoke with another photographer friend, and he recommended I didn’t need f/2.8 on either lens because I already have some fast primes I could use.  Furthermore, I should opt for the Canon 24-105mm instead, as it is that much more versatile.  This only comes in an f/4.0 version, with both a Mark I and Mark II.  This is a bit more affordable than the 24-70mm.  I found a decent deal on the Mark I, so that’s what I wound up with: the Canon 24-105mm f/4.0 Mark I for the mid-range.

Telephoto

This is perhaps the easiest one, primarily because I already own it.  For jungle tours and African safaris, I know I’ll want something long.  A friend tried to convince me to get the Canon 100-400mm, but that seems overly excessive.  Sure, I’d get pretty close to those cheetahs, but that would be one more lens I’d need to buy.

Fortunately, I already own the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and it’s a fantastic lens.  I love it and use it all the time and had already planned to bring it (despite its size).  Paired with a 1.4x extender, and put on my a6000 (with a 1.5x crop factor), I would get an effective maximum reach of 420mm.  True, I could get a crazy 840mm with the 100-400, but it’s not worth buying yet another lens when the one I have should work very well.

Therefore, to fill the telephoto need, I’ll be bringing the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II.

Crescent moon poking through spring cherry blossoms along Portland's Waterfront Park | LotsaSmiles Photography

Primes

Finally, for times when I really need that low-light wide aperture, I have a couple primes.  This partly influenced my decision to primarily look at the f/4 versions of the other lenses.  These are good for extremely low light situations and can even be used for astrophotography.  Though they lack the flexibility of the zooms above, the quality is unparalleled.

I already have a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens.  Without a wide, this has been spending the most time on my camera.  It’s a beautiful lens, and it’s probably the most versatile of my primes.  The one downside is it is heavy.  It’s very solidly made, and it feels it.  With limited space and weight in our bag, I’m not sure it’s a wise choice.

The other is kind of a no-brainer: the Canon 50mm f/1.4.  This is so compact and lightweight, I might as well just bring it, even if it probably won’t get as much use as the 35mm would.  So the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is almost a certainty for my bag, and the question is if the 35mm is worth also bringing.  If I get the 16-35mm f/2.8, I can probably get away with leaving that one at home.  Given the weight, it likely isn’t worth the extra two stops.

Other Camera Gear

Pile of toy planes | LotsaSmiles Photography

As a landscape photographer, a tripod is also imperative.  I don’t have the space or weight to lug around my full-size tripod, so I’ll instead be opting for a versatile GorillaPod 5K.

We will be visiting tropical areas where snorkeling will be a must.  I have an underwater casing for the a6000, so I’ll want to take advantage of it.  However, I don’t want to cart that around with me everywhere, as we’ll only need it in certain areas.  We’ll probably have this 40m Underwater Housing shipped to us mid-trip.

Finally, for many reasons, we don’t want to walk around in certain areas with a camera bag – especially if it looks like a camera bag.  I want my gear protected and accessible, but I don’t want potential thieves to know I’m lugging around a bunch of camera equipment.  Therefore, I picked up the Wandrd Camera CubeThis insert turns any bag into a camera bag, providing organization and padding without screaming “Lowepro.”  And I also like that it has a side zipper entry so I don’t have to pull the entire thing out to access my camera.

The Perfect Lineup

To summarize, money being no issue, here’s my perfect, around-the-world gear lineup:

This might still be too much, but I’m a tad obsessed with my photography – can you blame me?

The sun rising over the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland | LotsaSmiles Photography

Farewell for now

I’m not going far (digitally), and I hope you’ll all continue to follow our journeys over on our travel blog.  I’m super excited, and I can’t wait to see what the coming year brings!

When you travel, what do you always make sure you bring with you?


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The Best Photo Gear for Travel | LotsaSmiles Photography | What do you bring when you're traveling the world long-term? Click to read all about my perfect lineup and how I made my picks! | #photoblog #photogear #travel #cameras #longtermtravel #photography

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