Equipment: What To Take Travelling

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Every photographer's dilemma when planning to travel - what equipment should I take? For my first overseas trip I went with the logic that more is better and brought along as much as I could carry. The second time I decided to just take one small camera. It wasn't until my third trip that I learnt from previous experience, did some research and planning and felt like I had gear that suited my style of travel photography.

Pura Besakih temple complex, Bali, Indonesia. July 2016. Taken with a Sony NEX-5T and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART.
Ultimately, every time you travel your needs may be different and that is the most important thing to think about. The first question you should always be asking yourself is "what is the purpose of my photography?" Working on digitisation projects in the cultural sector always begins with thinking about the end-use. With a range of different capture devices available, this influences your decision on the type of equipment that will suit your needs. Are you just planning to post your photos on social media? Do you want to print the photos, and if so how big? Are you shooting for a client, and if so what are their needs? This is your starting point where you begin to look at camera vs. quality.

My first overseas trip was in 2011. I had just finished my photography degree and had been using a Canon 5D MKII with an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L I USM lens for everything. I also had a Canon G12 so I could have manual control in a smaller camera. These were the two cameras I packed for my seven week adventure around the United States of America. I thought about taking a tripod with me on this trip but decided against it as I already had a lot of weight with the DSLR and L series lens. Of course I captured some great images on this trip, but I found the weight of the DSLR and trying to decide which camera to take on day trips to be frustrating. Riding a bicycle from San Francisco to Sausalito with a 5D hanging from my neck is not my idea of fun!

New York City, USA. May 2011. Taken with a Canon 5D MKII and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L I USM.
My next travel locations were Singapore and China in 2012. This time I opted for a smaller camera and purchased a Fujifilm X10. I found it great having a small camera that shot RAW, had manual functions and didn't involve thinking about lenses. Unfortunately when I returned home I found that I was not quite as happy with the image quality.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China. September 2012. Taken with a Fujifilm X10.
In 2015 I travelled through Japan and this time decided to do some research and think seriously about what I wanted. I knew from previous experience that carrying around a big, heavy DSLR can be uncomfortable and that some of the smaller cameras with fixed lenses don't provide the quality I have come to expect. I had already ditched the X10 before this trip and had made the switch to a Sony NEX-5T so my choice was between that and the Canon 5D MKII.

Arriving on Teshima by ferry, Japan.  November 2015. Taken with a Sony NEX-5T and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART.
This 18 day trip was going to involve a lot of travel so I wanted to make sure I only had what was necessary and that I would be comfortable shooting with it in various situations. I had to think about what the differences were between the two and what would suit my needs. The Sony was great because it was small and less conspicuous for street photography where as the Canon was much bigger but had more resolution. Ultimately I decided I was only going to be using the photos for social media and small prints, and that the Sony would provide me with the resolution to do this. The next step was deciding on an appropriate lens.

Different photographers have their own preferences regarding lenses. I did some testing with what I had, which was the kit lens (16-50mm) and the 50mm f/1.8. I found that the image quality on the kit lens was not good enough and that the 50mm resulted in great quality photos but the focal length was impractical (with 50mm equating to 70mm on a cropped sensor). There are a lot of opinions about the 'nifty fifty' due to its low cost, versatility and how it forces you to physically move about to achieve the right framing. With that in mind, I looked at my options, read some reviews and settled on the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART Lens.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan. December 2015. Taken with a Sony NEX-5T and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART.
Prior to my Japan trip, I had not had much experience using a 50mm lens. I found it to be a very versatile focal length and, although I did bring the kit lens with me, decided to keep it on the camera at all times. There were definitely moments where I wished I had a longer or wider focal length but overall I found it quite adequate and I was very happy with the results. It also changed the way I photographed because of the limitations on framing and I found that I captured that 'decisive moment' more often. It was very easy to point the camera and know whether I could get a decent photo or not.

After I had decided on my camera and lens combination the next thing to consider was a tripod. I knew that I did not want to carry around something big because of all the travelling, but also because I don't often use a tripod outside of the studio. I looked at the Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom on the recommendation of a work colleague and decided that this would most likely suit my needs. I will admit that I did not use it a lot but it definitely came in handy for some circumstances. This includes the above photo taken at Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto during the last night of the autumn night viewing. Even though you think you might not need a tripod, something like this is great to have just in case.

Pura Besakih temple complex, Bali, Indonesia. July 2016. Taken with a Sony NEX-5T and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART.
I recently travelled to Bali, Indonesia, for a relaxing holiday and didn't need to think about what equipment to bring with me. Even though this was a very different holiday where I spent most of the time relaxing at a resort, I knew there might be one or two days where I would want to explore and take photos. Previous experience from my Japan trip determined what would be suitable.

While I have been happy with the NEX5-T, I think the next time I travel I will look at upgrading to a newer or different model. Again, this is where I will do research and look at the requirements I have for my own travel photography. My future needs may be different and I may end up taking a DLSR instead of a mirrorless camera with a cropped sensor.

So what photography equipment do I have in my bag while travelling? For my past two trips I have kept it down to a minimum with the following:

Equipment I have in my bag while travelling.

  • Sony NEX-5T with a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN ART lens which I store in a small camera bag to put inside my backpack
  • Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom with Ball Head Kit
  • Several memory cards
  • LensPen
It is very important to carry something like a LensPen while travelling, particularly when going to locations with a lot of rain, wind and dust. The last thing you want is return home and look at your photos only to find dust spots all over them.

You can find more of my travel photography on my instagram account @matthew_burgess