Geek alert – I LOVE talking about cameras. I’ve basically grown up with them and, even today, treasure photography as one of my favorite pastimes. I’ll spend hours talking to other photography nuts about exposure, lenses, lighting, and the Nikon vs. Canon or the DSLR vs. mirrorless debate.
It all started when I inherited my parents’ old point and shoot back in high school. All I wanted to do was take “artsy” photographs of everything around – flowers, animals, sunsets, landscapes… I was the obnoxious picture-taker at every high school party and I thought I was the shit. One day, I dropped it and it fell flat on its lens. Needless to say, that was the death of point and shoot camera #1.
Then, for my 16th birthday, I got the now-defunct Nikon D40 with a kit lens. For those of you who remember that awesome 6-megapixel machine, it was SUCH A BABE. I started to learn the ins and outs of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, and all of that good stuff. I began experimenting with portraiture and self-portraiture. Additionally, I finally felt like I could now take photography somewhat more seriously since I was investing a lot of time into learning the technicalities.
Fast forward to about one year ago. At this point, I’d made the switch from my Nikon D40 to a Canon T3i to a Sony NEX-6 mirrorless camera, and I was about ready to take the plunge and purchase a full-frame camera. The challenge? I forced myself to use ONLY manual settings for many weeks while I scoured internet reviews and tried out all kinds of store models to find the right camera. Finally, for my 23rd birthday, after successfully using only manual settings for well over 6 weeks, I bit the bullet and bought my very first full-frame camera body.
At this point in my photography career, I’ve been through 4 point and shoots, 5 camera bodies (spanning Nikon, Canon, and Sony), over 15 lenses, probably a dozen or more SD cards, four tripods, and countless accessories. I’ve tested out a ton of different gadgets, cases, and shooting styles. Finally, I feel like I’ve come decently close to my ideal camera bag setup. Even though I will continue to upgrade my camera bodies and lenses as my needs change, I’ll probably stick pretty close to this current setup for a while. If you’re curious, here it is!
Choosing a camera body can be tough because they are pretty expensive and can be hard to understand. After checking out the specs, I chose to evaluate camera bodies by feel. Below are the reasons why I chose my beloved Sony a7.
Full Frame Camera – Sony a7 ($998)
I use the Sony a7 as my camera body. I’ve had it for close to a year now, and I absolutely love it. This is Sony’s most affordable full-frame camera, and it has all the bells and whistles I’d ever need to take professional-grade photographs. One day, I’d probably consider upgrading to a Sony a7rII or a newer version, but I’m happy with my a7 and will continue to be able to use it for a long time.
When I was living in Brazil, I wanted so desperately to take photographs with my then-Canon DLSR in the favela where I was volunteering. However, I didn’t want to seem insensitive to the amount of poverty and income disparity that exists there. In the end, I let my insecurity get the best of me and didn’t actually get that many photographs of a place I loved so much.
I promised myself when I got back to the states, I’d look into a more unassuming camera.
Cue the Sony Alpha mirrorless line. Back then Sony had just released their NEX line, and I forked out the money for the NEX-6, a lovely and tiny little mirrorless camera that packed a huge punch in terms of image quality. Once I got the NEX-6, I felt MUCH more comfortable toting it around, as I’d replaced the strap with a third-party one and covered the label with black electrical tape to make it much less conspicuous.
The reason why I like mirrorless cameras so much is because they are much more compact, lighter, and slimmer than DSLRs but with the same imaging capabilities. They’re less obvious than DSLRs, which helps when traveling in areas where locals may be particularly sensitive to that kind of thing. More selfishly, I have smaller hands and I love how they feel to hold and to use. One drawback, however, is that mirrorless cameras don’t actually have as wide of a range of lenses as, say, Nikon or Canon might. There are definitely trade-offs. However, the most important thing to do when deciding between a DSLR and a mirrorless body is to try them out in person. Go with the camera that feels best in your hands. For me, that was the Sony mirrorless line.
Lenses are quite possibly THE most important investment you can make in your photography kit. Having a nice body is great and all, but it’s the lenses that truly capture the photos you want and that bring your images to life. It’s important to choose lenses that mimic your style of photography – for example a sports photographer would not use the same lenses as a macro photographer or an astrophotographer. Below are the lenses that I take around with me, given that I enjoy landscape and portraiture the most.
For Landscapes – Sony 16-35mm F4 ($1,348)
Sony’s premier wide-angle lens (and arguably its best one) is the Sony 16-35mm F4. It’s a bit of a clunker in size, and costs a pretty penny new, but it is incredibly sharp and versatile. Although it is huge, this is usually what I have on my camera as a ‘walkaround’ lens. I bought my lens used and got a pretty good deal, so if you’d like to buy it but the price is a bit too high, definitely check the used options as well.
For Portraiture – Sony 55mm F1.8 ($998)
Although the wide-angle lens takes awesome landscapes and far-away self portraits, the bread and butter of Sony’s prime portrait lenses is the Sony 55mm F1.8. At a focal length quite close to the original ‘nifty fifty,’ this lens takes absolutely INCREDIBLE portraits, with sharpness through the roof. It’s also much lighter and more portable than the wide-angle (though it’s still somewhat large). If you like taking photos of people, especially in low light, this is a must-have.
For Casual/Walkaround Photography – Sony 28mm f/2 ($448)
Sometimes, I don’t want to lug around a giant lens or something extremely expensive when I’m out, say, taking photos at a bar. Instead, in these cases, I’ll use my Sony 28mm f/2, which is the smallest, cheapest, and most versatile lens I own. It’s not quite as optically sharp as the other two, but it packs a huge punch given its tiny size and affordable price tag. When I’m looking for something that is wide enough to use for landscapes but can perform well in low light conditions, this is my go-to.
On my wish list – Rokinon 14mm F2.8 ($268)
Recently, I’ve wanted to learn more about astrophotography, and for that, the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 can’t be beat. Even though this lens is fully manual, it is arguably the industry’s best astrophotography lens. Once I save up enough money I might pick up one of these babies and start stargazing more.
Tripod – MeFOTO Backpacker Tripod ($140)
After lugging around a tripod that felt like twice its weight, I recently got the MeFOTO Backpacker Tripod as a present and haven’t turned back. It’s a little lighter than most tripods (so not a great thing to use in high winds), but it is perfect for 95% of the photos I need to take. As someone who travels long term from place to place, having a lightweight travel tripod is definitely a great option.
Camera Bag – Koolertron Waterproof Leather DSLR Camera Bag ($37)
I love my camera bag for two reasons. One, it is super stylish and cute. Most people don’t even know it’s a camera bag! Two, it comes with a removable camera insert that I can take out of the bag and put into any other bag I’d like. So if I want to go backpacking for a few days and can’t bring my stylish messenger bag? No worries, I just pop out the insert and my camera gear stays protected in any situation.
Filters can help retain rich color integrity in your photos, and at the very least protect your lens from scratches. I use Tiffen circular polarizers which range from $30-60+ each, depending on the size of the lens. There are a ton of different brands out there and I can’t really recommend one over the others.
In order to take photos, you need an SD card. I usually carry 2-3 with me depending on the day. These range in size from 1 GB to 64+ GB. They’re always cheaper if you buy online, and they can last forever if you take care of them. Always have a backup just in case.
Wireless Remote – Foto&Tech IR Wireless Remote Control ($11)
To take pictures of myself and look like a crazy person while traveling solo, I use an older version of the Foto&Tech IR Wireless Remote Control. This basically prevents me from having to use self timer and run back and forth to my camera. Worth $11? To me, it was.
Extra Batteries – Wasabi Power Batteries (x2) and Charger ($27)
With mirrorless cameras especially, battery powers goes super quickly. The best way to combat that is with extra batteries in your bag. Before my trip to Patagonia, I bought Wasabi Power batteries since I knew I wouldn’t be able to last the entire five days on just one battery charge. Having three fully-charged batteries was more than enough for the many photos I took on the trails, and my purchase even came with a nifty charger that I like more than the original Sony one.
External Hard Drive(s) – Samsung T3 Portable SSD 500GB ($170)
My heart has only broken once in the past several years, and it was due to my old Seagate hard drive breaking upon impact. I lost over 5,000 photos from my 5 months in Southeast Asia and Iceland from that drive, which I was quoted $1700 to repair (more than the cost of another flight to Southeast Asia!). After that, I vowed not to mess with cheap external drives anymore.
Following this incident, I purchased the Samsung T3 Portable SSD 500GB because it is extremely lightweight and more durable because it is a solid-state drive. I accompany that with a subscription to Smugmug to ensure that my photos are double-backed. Knock on wood!
For post-processing, I am a Lightroom lover. I don’t really think Photoshop is necessary for photographers unless you’re doing some really complicated shit like vectors and manipulations. For the typical photography editing suite, Lightroom has everything you need.
I always bring a few Micro USB cords in the event that I need to charge my camera on the go. I also carry a microfiber cloth or two so I can clean any smudges or specks off my lenses that come up while traveling (they always do). It’s probably a really good idea to have a carrying case for all of the small things (batteries, tripod mounts, hard drives, cords, SD cards, etc.), and I use one that I picked up at a street market in Guatemala.
So, if there’s anything we’ve learned from this post, it’s that I carry around a ton of stuff. Who knew?
What camera equipment do you bring with you when you travel? Leave a comment or shoot me a line on Facebook!
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