The question Louise and I get asked more than anything else is “what kind of camera equipment do we use for our travel photography?“
I think it’s time we answered that question in as much detail as we possibly can. We’re going to do our best to tell you all of our dirty little travel photography equipment secrets, but I warn you now, we don’t travel light!
For me, taking great travel photos and being versatile is a higher priority than my convenience or comfort, so it’s not unusual for me to lug every last piece of camera equipment I own around the world (or up a mountain). Seriously, anyone that’s tried taking two cameras, a drone, a tripod, 3 lenses, a bag of wires and two laptops through airport security will understand me when I say there are easier ways to do travel photography.
To structure this as best I can and make sure I cover everything, I’ll try to methodically work through all the gear. I’ll also go into detail about why we purchased each item. I know that sometimes it’s helpful to understand the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’, especially when you’re starting out.
Here’s a quick run through of what I’ll cover (click links if you want to skip ahead):
Just a quick note before I dive in; if you’d like to buy any of the equipment I mention in this post, I’d be grateful if you’d consider purchasing them through the affiliate links I’ve include below. It costs you nothing and every purchase gives us a small commission that helps us keep our site up and running! And just to be clear, I use every piece of equipment I’ve included below and will be giving you my honest opinion on each item (for better or worse) – This post also isn’t sponsored or endorsed by any of the brands I’ve included.
We currently use a Canon 5D MKIII for the vast majority of our travel photography. When we first got started we used a Canon Rebel T6i with a couple of kit lenses, followed by the Mirrorless Sony a6000.
Canon Rebel T6i
I loved all three of these cameras for different reasons but let’s start at the beginning with the Rebel T6i. I think we bought it open box for about $700 CAD but can buy a new one now with a kit lens for approx $600.
Check out the Canon EOS Rebel T6i Digital SLR with EF-S 18-55mm IS STM Lens – Wi-Fi Enabled on Amazon
I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew I wanted a DSLR camera with a decent resolution and a couple of lenses without spending too much money. The T6i was a great starter camera; it’s relatively lightweight and it had a touch screen and wifi for easy focusing and transferring photos to our phone for social media etc. The T6i wasn’t great at astrophotography though and its low light capabilities were pretty terrible to be honest.
If you want a no nonsense camera to practise with and learn the art of photography then this is all you need. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that if you can’t take a good photo with a cheap camera, there’s nothing an expensive camera can do to help you.
The reason I upgraded the camera was because I really didn’t know an awful lot at that point and I was convinced that buying a better camera would improve the quality of my photos (false), and I was also tempted by the new shiny mirrorless technology.
So then I went out and bought the Sony alpha 6000 for our travel photography (approx $600CAD). This is a great travel camera and I still bring it along with me as a secondary camera. The mirrorless technology makes it super lightweight and easy to carry around, and I love how you can see the effects of setting changes in real time.
Skip to the end for an explanation of how Mirrorless Cameras work!
The Sony was higher resolution, and I loved how it can highlight whatever’s in focus. Eyeballing it with a DSLR isn’t always that easy.
I’d highly recommend the Sony Alpha 6000 as a starter camera and it’s a slightly more tech advanced version of the Canon Rebel T6i. It definitely felt like an upgrade and was more compact and convenient for travel photography.
But then Louise and I decided the resolution and quality still wasn’t good enough (still false – I’ll explain why at the end) and we really wanted a full frame sensor (I’ll also explain that at the end). We looked at the Mirrorless Sony ar7II but ultimately opted to go for the Canon 5D Mkiii.
The Canon was bulkier but seemed to be a lot more revered in the photography field. We also realised that if you buy a Sony mirrorless camera, you’re pretty much limited to Sony lenses (for now). If you buy a Canon there are a lot more reasonably priced options.
Again, skip to the end if you want to learn more about the difference between full frame camera and cropped sensors.
So after much frustration with the lack of sharpness and narrower field of view on our camera, we decided to come back to Canon for a full frame Canon 5D Mk III. The camera body retails for around $2600 CAD
It’s a fantastic camera with a brilliant sensor. The difference in noise from our astrophotography and low light photography is phenomenal and same with its ability to deal with bright highlights. I love this camera to bits and would happily recommend it to anyone as a travel camera. The upgrade definitely taught me a couple of valuable lessons though, and hopefully this will save you some time and money too.
Up until we upgraded to the 5D Mk III, I thought there wasn’t enough resolution in our other cameras to take great photos…. Yeah… that’s not true at all.
Even the most basic cameras now have more than enough resolution to create stunning and detailed photos. To be honest, the only time you’d ever need 20megapixels or higher would be if you were printing out a photo for a billboard. No, the problem was never the camera, it was the lenses.
Before the 5D MK iii, the only lenses we were using were the cheapest possible kit lenses. The quality of those lenses relative to the higher end ones is extremely noticeable, especially if you use zoom lenses instead of prime lenses (e.g. 24-70mm vs. 35mm). They have significantly more distortion and colour aberrations as well as far lower clarity.
As soon as we upgraded I realized that I could have saved a lot of money by just upgrading my lenses first. The advice I always give now is to upgrade your lens first and then your camera (but buy a lens that can fit the upgraded camera). If your photos are still crappy with a nice new lens, then you know its your settings that need work.
The Canon 5D MKiii is designed for professionals and definitely isn’t really designed as a convenient travel camera. Either of the other two cameras I mentioned would be significantly easier to lug around.
On the plus side, it’s significantly more weatherproof, and is weathersealed, unlike the other two. The Canon 5D also has far fewer tech features compared to the others. I guess it’s designed for die hard photographers that don’t care about wifi or touch screens, and that would rather lie in the dirt than have a flip up screen. It’s definitely less user friendly.
I think Canon had a change of heart with the 5D Mk iv though, and included a lot of those features. I’m pretty sure it’ll be our next upgrade for our travel photography.
Overall, I’m very very happy with any of the cameras mentioned above and happily recommend them. My preference right now is obviously the Canon 5D Mk iii, but I do miss the convenience and tech features of the Sony and have been very tempted to switch on a number of occasions.
By the way, if size is your major consideration for mirrorless vs. DSLR I would do some digging around before jumping to conclusions. The camera body might be a lot smaller on the mirrorless, but unfortunately many of the lenses have to compensate for this by being bigger. In many cases the camera + lens ends up being the same size, except the mirrorless ends up being awkwardly front heavy.
Also, if you’re thinking of also using your camera as a video camera, and you’re thinking of doing arty slo-mo vids, consider the max frame rate of your camera. The Canon 5D MKiii can only handle 720p at 60fps, and crops the video, whereas the sony has a much higher resolution at the same frame rate and doesn’t crop the picture.
Woah, that was a long and round about way of talking about 3 cameras, but I figured understanding where I was coming from might actually be useful if you’re genuinely considering your options. Hope it helped!
Aside from the Canon 5D MkIII we also use two other cameras regularly. The Canon g7x mark ii for vlogging and the Gopro Hero 5.
The G7x mark II is the perfect vlogging camera for us, even though it’s not something we’ve done a whole bunch yet. Here’s why we love it:
Check out the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Digital Camera w/1 Inch Sensor and tilt LCD screen on Amazon
It’s kind of fiddly to hold and film at the same time, so I’d definitely recommend getting a Gorrilapod or something so you can hold it properly.
I’ve seen a lot of photographers shy away from Gopros but I think it actually makes some really amazing photos that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. People have often accused us of having a drone, simply because we’ve held the gopro high enough to make it seem like it’s flying above. It works really well when you’re at an edge and you can hold it above. It’s really awesome for creating a sense of scale and it’s definitely an important part of my kit.
We use the Gopro Hero 5 Black!
So in summary, here are the 5 different travel cameras we shoot with!
The first question I get asked is always, “which camera do you use?” But I think that’s really the wrong question to be asking. As I mentioned, most cameras are good enough to take great photos, it’s the lens that makes the real difference.
With travel photography, I think the best lenses are the ones that are able to be versatile. Although we have some prime lenses (lenses with a single focal length), for convenience sake we usually prefer to travel with generalist zoom lenses that can offer a range of focal lengths. This is great for a couple of reasons.
So we generally travel with two zoom lenses that cover a huge focal range.
The Tamron 24-70mm is a great all round lens for a bunch of reasons, and it’s our go to lens for travel photography. Here’s why:
1. It’s a generalist and if we’re travelling somewhere it can pretty much cover any focal distance. Zoomed in enough for portraits but zoomed out enough to be able to fit most landscapes. I’m thinking our next lens will be a 16mm to 35mm because we’re still missing out on that 16-24mm range that is perfect for super wide scenes like mountain ranges etc.
2. It’s weather sealed, so we can go to a humid/rainy/sandy country and not have to worry about the dust/condensation etc ruining any photos.
3. Cheaper than Canon lenses but rivals them in quality. Also doesn’t have that bright red ring around the lens that high end Canons have that might attract the wrong type of attention!
Check out the Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 G2 Di VC USD SP Zoom Lens (for Canon Cameras) on Amazon
The Tamron 70-200mm is also fantastic in certain circumstances. My favourite effect from a telephoto is the compressed feel, so if we have a scene with a really interesting backdrop in the distance it’s great for bringing it right up behind the subject. This works really well in mountain scenes for example. The downside is that to take this type of shot you usually have to be a long way away from your subject, so communication can be tough sometimes, and it won’t work anywhere busy because people tend to walk in between.
I’ve also found it can be useful occasionally for doing detail shots where you want to bring a lot of things into focus at once. It’s a super useful lens but it’s huge so it’s not normally our priority.
Check out the Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2 for Canon EF Digital SLR Camera on Amazon
If I feel like I can get away with carrying them around, I like to pack some prime lenses too. Prime lenses are a lot sharper and are really useful in certain situations. The primes we use are:
The Sigma 35mm is the perfect portrait/lifestyle lens for me. I think it’s rated one of the best portrait lenses on the market and considering how cheap it is relative to other 35mm lenses, it was a no brainer. It makes portraits incredibly soft (but tack sharp) once you get down into that F1.4-2.0 range, and it has a really nice bokeh. F1.4 is unreal.
It’s kind of difficult to use in very bright conditions at that kind of aperture, but it comes into its own in lower light/sunset shots. I don’t often pull it out when we’re trying to capture everything in a scene, because it’s not very wide and its strengths are at a very narrow depth of field. Whenever we need to shoot products, lifestyle or portraits though, I usually try this one first.
Check out the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART DG HSM Lens for Canon on Amazon
The Rokinon 14mm is super super wide, especially on a full frame camera like the 5D. We’ve found it to be an incredible astro photography lens (which is why we bought it), and occasionally it’s been really useful for scenes where we want to emphasize the enormity of a landscape but still want someone in the foreground (or if I can’t back up very far behind the subject – back against the wall etc).
The lens has a lot of distortion (almost like a fisheye) so it takes a lot of tinkering but can make for some awesome effects. It’s also less than $300, which makes it an absolute no brainer to have in your arsenal. The only downside is that the lens is manual, meaning you have to focus it and adjust aperture by eye – it makes astro photography much harder.
Check out the Rokinon FE14M-C 14mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Lens for Canon on Amazon
To summarize, these are the lenses we’re using right now (click links to see prices on Amazon):
We have the Mavic Pro and love it to death. It doesn’t have a super long battery life but man is that thing fun to fly. I haven’t found it to have any problems except perhaps handling strong winds and needing to update every time I switch it on in the middle of nowhere.
If you plan to shoot video, make sure you purchase the ND filters and you might even want to look into a spare battery and the low- noise propellers.
The only issue with living in the Rockies is that we literally can’t fly it anywhere. You can bet it’s the first thing I pack every time we go abroad though!
Check out the DJI Mavic Pro on Amazon here.
Aside from camera gear, we also travel with a bunch of other little gadgets that make our lives easier. They’re not essential but definitely come in handy for certain situations!
The intervalometer was a big game changer for our travel photography. If there are only two of us around, it was always a really long winded process of either using a self timer or a remote. This obviously doesn’t work if you want to do anything further off into the distance, or if you want to take multiple exposures (Canon 5D MKIII doesn’t allow you to take more than 1 photo at a time on self timer…).
The intervalometer allows you to take as many photos as you want, continuously, for as long as you want, and have them take at any time interval. For my recent proposal, I was able to capture the whole thing just by using tripod and the intervalometer set to take one photo every second. Such an awesome tool, and it’s also great for astro photography if you want to take composite shots over a long time period.
Check out the Neewer Timer Remote for Canon on Amazon. Make sure you check the compatibility with your camera before purchasing!
I use a Mefoto Globetrotter tripod. I think most travel oriented tripods do the same job but this one works really well for me. If I could do it all again I would have spent the 100 extra dollars on the carbon fibre version because believe me, it all adds up on a long hike.
If you’re looking for a good one, make sure you grab one with a hook to attach extra weights. I also have a Manfrotto lightweight tripod which cost an arm and a leg and doesn’t have a hook. It blows around in the wind and can’t really support a heavier lens. Make sure to compare your lens/camera weight with the tripod’s max capacity.
We bought one of these for our Gopro to try to explore the half above/half below type of photo. Turns out you can’t take one of those without a dome port (well apparently you can make one out of a goldfish bowl but you run the risk of drowning your camera). I like taking photos with it, but to be honest, with a Gopro it’s a little too wide to get any decent shots, especially if you’re somewhere murky. Here’s the dome port we use.
We don’t really use the stick for selfies. We do use it to lift the Gopro as high as possible to create drone style shots though. Creates an awesome shot in certain situations. There are a million different companies out there but just make sure you buy one with a Gopro attachment.
UV filters protect the camera from UV, but are also a protective barrier for your lens. I’ve dropped lenses a couple of times and I’d rather smash a $100 filter than a $1500 lens.
ND Filters are essential for daytime long exposure shots. I like to use a 9 stop or 10 stop, but I’ve also used variable ones successfully in the past. Up until now I’ve had mixed success with screw on ND filters but have learnt the hard way that cheap ones give you nasty colour casts. Next big purchase is likely to be a LEE filter, but they are super expensive and fragile and don’t travel well I imagine.
Polarising filters are great for reducing glare off clouds and water. Really useful if you’re shooting near any water.
If you buy a screw on filter, make sure you buy the correct diameter filter for your lens!
We use an off-brand camera strap rather than the standard Canon one. They just draw less attention to you and they usually are more comfortable as well. I’ve been thinking of buying a slash proof one like this with a metal wire running through the middle. I currently use a Peak Designs strap, but the rubber grippy pads on it seems to melt onto everything in hot weather.
If you’re choosing between one big card or a few smaller ones then it’s a good idea to use the smaller ones. If the memory card fails then at least you don’t lose ALL of your photos.
When you’re planning to shoot a fashion style shoot, consider using a compact flash memory card (Canon 5D mk III takes them), because you can take a lot more photos before the camera starts buffering (30 vs 8).
Also, if you’re shooting 1080p video or better, make sure your SD is a class 10 with a fast write speed.
For shooting video we’ve experimented with a GoPro Gimbal for stabilisation and found it to be really useful. If we get more into video then a stabilising gimbal will be an absolute necessity. We’ve used this one and have found it to be fantastic:
Spare Batteries, Car chargers and an External Hard Drive to back up photos (we particularly like the tough ones that Apple sells – Lacie).
I use the Macbook Pro for all my editing at the minute, but am considering getting a desktop that can handle all the processing I need to do.
In terms of processing, we use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, which I also use alongside Illustrator and Indesign to make Pins. I’d seriously recommend getting the Adobe Creative Suite subscription if you’re want to take your creative work to the next level. Click here to check out their programmes!
In case you’re interested; traditional DSLR’s (like the Canons) have a mirror that blocks the sensor while you’re framing your shot. While you’re not actually taking the photo the light is instead reflected into your viewfinder so that you can see what you’re shooting. When you take the photo, the mirror lifts up and the sensor is exposed to the light in the scene. The mirror lifting up doesn’t necessarily coincide with or affect the exposure of the shot but will stay up until after you release the trigger button.
The way this is set up has two consequences;
A mirrorless camera has no mirror and the light is therefore constantly hitting the sensor. A digital image is then transmitted and displayed to you via the viewfinder. The consequences are the following:
For those of you that want to know the difference between cropped sensor and full frame cameras, I’ll try to give a brief and simple explanation. It’s pretty simple but there seem to be hundreds of over complicated explanations out there that muddied the water when I was trying to understand.
Basically, a camera’s sensor is a big rectangle. A cropped sensor is just a smaller rectangle relative to the larger “full frame” sensor. How much smaller is usually defined as a crop factor, relative to a full frame camera.
If you put the same lens on both cameras (let’s say a 50mm lens), the bigger sensor on the full frame is going to be able to capture more light from the same scene.
To use a metaphor, if you imagine the scene as a wide bordered picture frame hanging on a wall (like the one below), the frame bordering the picture is the area you’d lose on a cropped sensor (the black frame). How big that frame is depends on the crop factor of that camera
Ok so now we get to the crop factor. This basically means how much smaller the sensor is on the smaller camera compared to the full frame sensor. If the crop factor is 1.6x it means that any focal length on a crop sensor camera is going to be 1.6x whatever it is on a full frame. For all intents and purposes, this means it’s going to be 1.6x more zoomed in.
A smaller sensor always means more zoomed in – or cropped, to be more accurate.
So following that logic, a 50mm on a full frame might become an 80mm lens on a cropped sensor. The lifestyle lens on a full frame just became a portrait lens on a crop sensor.
Phew, ok, made it. Hopefully that makes sense!
The reason we wanted a full frame camera was because we spend a lot of time in very wide landscapes. If every lens we bought cropped out the outer edges of our photos, we were never going to be able to capture the whole scene we were after.
Most cheaper cameras are crop sensors, but they’re not necessarily a bad thing if you have no need for a full frame. Unless you’re really desperate to take professional style travel photos, a full frame is just a luxury.
One thing I would really recommend is to make sure the lenses you buy for the cropped sensor also fit on a full frame. If you ever decide to upgrade then you’ll still be able to use the lenses. Many lenses don’t so you’ll have to go out and buy brand ones. This particularly applies to kit lenses that come with the camera.
If you’re going to buy a new lens, shop around and see if there’s an option that fits both. We bought a Sigma ART 35mm f1.4 and fortunately it worked on the T6i and the Canon 5Dmkiii which saved us from having to buy two lenses. This was part of the reason that we decided to go for another Canon. We knew all of our lenses already Canons, so ultimately it was a less expensive transition.
If you liked some of our technical explanations, you might also like to read our article on tips for travel photography!
Hope that addresses all the questions about our gear and that you find it useful! Happy shooting!