Travel Photography Gear for Normal People - Less is More!
20191121 - Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand
No Hobbits or any other mythical creatures were hurt during the taking of this photo.
(For non-Lord of the Ring fans - Mount Ngauruhoe is famous as being the site used as Mount Doom, during the filming of LOTR.)
Tech Stuff - Nikon D7200 / 16 to 85 mm / f3.5 to f5.6 @ 16 mm
1/500th Sec / f7.1 / ISO 100)
Travel Photography for Normal People
Less Gear is More!
For the camera & lens(es) you take with you when you 'do' travel photography, (after the obvious constraint of cost), there is the issue of weight!
Travel photography often involves you being on your feet for much of the time and, presumably, you will have your camera in your hand ready to take photos. After all, that's the whole idea! The rest of the time it will be in your rucksack, on your back.
And the longer you hold that camera in your hand, hang it around your neck, over your shoulder or in your rucksack, the heavier it seems to become!
So, in an ideal world, you'd like a light-weight camera for your travels.
Plus, simply from a packing point of view, you would also like it to be quite small - all the better to get other holiday essentials into your day rucksack rather than just your big & bulky camera.
(Naturally, if you are travelling by air, it goes without saying that you never - EVER - put your camera gear in your hold luggage.)
So, as happy travellers, we are looking at a balancing act between camera performance v weight - and, of course, size and cost.
Now, don't get me wrong, this blog entry is for those of us who are going on a holiday / travelling and we want to be able to take some decent snaps.
(The intrepid professional travel photographer will always take along pro level gear that means they can get the shot they want in any conditions - because they want to be able to pay their mortgage each month. And to do that they will spend £££ on pro gear which is capable, reliable and physically tough (including weather resistant). Cost, size and weight are all important factors but performance and reliability reign supreme so a pro Travel Photographer will trade cost, size and weight for performance and reliability. And they will want all this to fit in a carry-on bag when they are travelling by air!)
1 - You might already have your travel camera - your smart phone!
If you are a digital-native, (ie you don't remember analogue phones, you don't think an Apple is a fruit and you sometimes forget that you can actually use your phone to talk to other people) then you may be quite happy using your smart phone to take your travel snaps. If you are largely looking to take urban & rural landscapes, with some people snaps, in pretty decent lighting conditions, outside, then your smartphone may well be all the camera you need. Just don't forget to upload your photos to some form of cloud storage every few days, in case you lose your phone or it ends up at the bottom of the hotel pool.
Certainly for general holiday type snaps your smartphone may well be all the camera you need. Just note it may well struggle in low-light / indoors but then smartphone technology is improving all the time.
2 - You might be happy with a compact camera
The phrase 'compact-camera' (give it a google) refers to a whole host of cameras that are on the market and are typically small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. They offer advantages over your smartphone in that
+ they have a larger sensor than a smartphone which means better performance in low light
+ they may well have a zoom lens which can be a real advantage
+ they come in a range of prices so can suit many budgets
Your compact camera has the brilliant advantage that you can probably keep it in a pouch on your belt and it's going to be small and light.
Anything with a sensor with between 16 to 24 Megapixels will be fine.
Beware of adverts that say 'massive zoom - from 28 mm to 1200 mm'. You want a lens that goes from fairly wide, say a 24 mm or 28 mm (full-frame equivalent) to say, 200 to 300 mm to let you get close when you want to. Any advert that says 'massive 600 mm / 1200 mm zoom!' is just trying to part you from your money.
(A warning to anyone who wants to take stunning wildlife on a budget camera - you can't. (Unless you visit a zoo!) My rule for wildlife photography is, no matter how long a lens you have, for wildlife photography you always want a longer lens! So the trick is to get close to the wildlife. If you want to take stunning photos of the wildlife on a 'once in a lifetime safari' you'll want good camera gear and the proven ability to use it. So for that 'once in a lifetime' trip in 2 years time, buy your kit now and learn how to use it.)
The disadvantages of your compact camera are
- Poor low light performance
- They generally don't have a viewfinder
- That little screen on the back can be really difficult to see in bright sunshine
and that's about it.
Just be aware that compact cameras will generally struggle in low light ie indoors anytime or at anywhere at night. (And no, that tiny little flash it has isn't going to save you.)
So, if most of your photos are going to be taken outside, during the day, in good light, then your compact camera should be fine.
3 - A bridge camera - the next step
It is a photographic truism that generally, more money, more weight and a larger physical size essentially buys you better low light performance.
(For more on the relative size of various camera sensors google 'size of camera sensors'. In the world of camera sensors bigger is better in terms of low light performance.)
A bridge camera is essentially a compact camera in a body which is similar to a Digital SLR. (Just google 'Best Bridge Cameras' and see what comes up.) Once again a sensor with anything between 16 to 24 Megapixels is fine and largely ignore the claims of 40 times zoom etc. The picture quality often greatly deteriorates at the long end of such a 'massive' the zoom.
The main advantage of a bridge camera is the larger body often allows easier direct access to various controls - shutter speed, aperture and ISO. But this is no real advantage if you always shoot on 'Auto' all the time. However, if you want to get a better understanding of how your camera works and have more control over what the camera does, a bridge camera can be a good place to start.
+ Often has a viewfinder - a real advantage
+ Can allow easier control of various settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO
+ Good for someone who wants to learn how to control what the camera does
- Larger and heavier than a compact camera
- Almost as large and heavy as the smaller Digital SLRs but with poorer performance, especially in low light.
4 - A Digital SLR - Micro Four-thirds size or APS-C size sensor
Our journey from smartphone to here is one of increasing sensor size, and the bigger a camera's sensor the better its performance but at the cost of size of the camera, its weight and its price. However, once you get to micro four-thirds sensor size or the larger APS-C size sensor then the camera performance is really very good. A number of professional travel photographers use micro four-thirds sized cameras with marvellous results.
(My 'sweet spot' is an APS-C sized sensor camera body, fitted with a 16 mm to 85 mm zoom lens. This gives me the equivalent in full-frame sensor language of a 24 to 127.5 mm zoom. I like the wide 24 mm end as that allows me to capture wide vistas. The 127.5 mm telephoto end just gives me some flexibility and some telephoto range. If I had to, I could do 80% of my travel photography at the 24 mm setting.)
So, micro four-thirds and APS-C sized sensors
+ Very good camera performance
+ Used by a number of travel photography professionals
+ Can sometimes have inter-changeable lenses
- larger & heavier than compact cameras & bridge cameras
- can be very expensive
As I mentioned above, by the time you get to this category many of the cameras take inter-changeable lenses. I'm a big fan of good quality zoom lenses and would generally suggest you get a general, good quality zoom as your first lens. (If you have a special interest, say wildlife, then more bad news, you need to get saving for some very expensive, good quality, long telephoto lenses!)
So, if you want more from your photography, and are prepared to learn how to use your camera properly - rather than shoot on Auto all the time - then for travel and general photography, a micro four-thirds or an APS-C sized sensor is a good place to start. For many like this, a camera body which takes inter-changeable lenses, with a general, standard zoom lens is the answer.
Get to know your camera and lens combination and learn how to get the best out of them. But never forget, as Ansel Adams (google him) said
'The single most important component of a camera is the
twelve inches behind it!'
I'm afraid none of us can buy our way into being good photographers simply by buying good kit, we need to put in the effort to understanding our craft, and that never stops. And the fact that the learning never stops is part of the attraction.
So, if you are happy shooting on Auto, outside, in good light, then your smartphone or a compact camera is possibly your best choice.
If you want a bit more performance and are prepared to put in the effort to understand this photography thing, then a camera with a micro four-thirds or APS-C sized sensor with a general zoom lens is a good place to start.
If you are undecided, try a bridge camera.
My own story - Started with a compact camera, moved onto a bridge camera (which I loved!), moved onto an APS-C sized sensor camera (which I still use for client work) and now also use full-frame sized sensor bodies for client work such as weddings, sports, events - especially when the larger sensor size of full-frame lets me work in really dark conditions. For travel photography I use my APS-C camera body fitted with a 16 mm to 85 mm lens which for me hits a sweet spot of performance versus weight - which is where this blog entry started!
Keep taking those pictures!
And never stop learning!
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