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Essential Travel Photography Gear

I often get asked what’s in my camera bag or basically what I think the best travel photography gear is if you want to travel light. Well relatively.

So I decided to distill that info into a post so I can easily send people here when I get that question again. Included are my favorite travel photography lenses as well as accessories.

So what gear do I take on my photo trips? Let’s dive in!

Travel Photography Gear Essentials

To start with, here’s my philosophy of travel photography – simplicity and versatility.

Simplicity and Versatility of your gear is the key to great travel photography

When I’m out and about, I really want to explore my surroundings and keep my eyes open. I don’t want to futz around with swapping out lenses every 10 feet.

So if I’m using my DSLR, I only carry one or two lenses. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just carry a point and shoot.

Depending on your personal situation, the right camera for you might be your phone if that’s the camera you’ll actually carry.

Sunset Photography Bagan

But if you want the best shots, it helps to bring the camera that lets you control the image and exposure to the best of your abilities.

When I use my phone, I always find myself irritated by not being able to adequately control exposure and focus. So when I I pack my travel photography gear, I do like to take my DSLR, even if I won’t use it everyday.

I don’t want a huge bag filled with tons of stuff that I have to worry about and barely use, so I only the one walkaround lens and one specialty lens.

This list won’t detail every possible combination you can take, but covers what works for me. This is the essential equipment I take on every trip.

Cameras

As I mentioned I take my DSLR for travel photography, but I like to have a P&S to carry daily, something small that fits in my purse.

So I’ll cover both options.

Best Point and Shoot Travel Camera:
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

I recently bought the Canon G7x mark II and I have to tell you, I’m loving it.

It’s a point and shoot with full manual control and a 1 inch sensor. The zoom range is 24-100mm and the aperture is 1.8 to 2.8 across that range!

That means great low-light photos even if you have to zoom in!

In addition, the Canon G7x mark II has all the neat perks you can hope for in a camera you plan to travel with:

  • NFC and Wifi to transfer the photos to your camera. (The NFC is to trigger the app easily)
  • Tilting screen for those awkward angles and sexy selfies
  • Integrated ND filter to get some of that sweet f/1.8 bokeh in the daytime
  • Four dials on device for fast control of the settings you need
  • Battery charges in-camera so if you forget your charger, you can use any micro-USB cable

I know that mirrorless cameras are very popular now and bridge the gap between point and shoot and DSLR. But they are simply not small enough to carry all the time.

If you want a small pocketable camera that’s there when you need it, the Canon G7x has you covered.  Check Price

 

DSLR For Full Control: Canon 70D DSLR

As I mentioned, I carry my trusted Canon 70D DSLR on most trips and this is the one I use.

I strongly believe that most DSLRs will serve you well, and ignore all the Canon vs. Nikon bickering.

I picked this one because I this camera handles higher ISOs and video very well for its price. It is very versatile and hits a good balance of price and features.

I recommend the bundle with the 18-135 STM lens (if you can find it!) because it is also my suggestion for a great walkaround lens, which is an important component of my travel photography gear.

But you can also buy just the body as well. Check Price

Lenses

I like to use a versatile zoom as my daily lens. When traveling, I don’t have the space to take a whole collection of lenses and more importantly, I enjoy the spontaneity of taking the shot as the moment happens.

And anyway, I don’t want to be changing my lenses all day long.

So, along with my main “walkaround” lens, I usually pick ONE complementary lens to take per trip. Which one depends a lot on the trip.

If I expect sweeping landscapes, I go with the ultra-wide. If I think I might shoot the milky way, a fast prime is the way to go.

I’ll also describe to you each of my specialty lenses and what they are good for.

But first things first, the walkaround lens.

Versatile Walkaround Lens:
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 USM

I recommend this lens or its predecessor on many of my posts. It’s because the STM version spends a lot of time on my camera.

It’s a great all-round walkaround lens. Nice sharpness, image stabilization, although definitely not the fastest. I find with the decent higher ISO capabilities of the 70D, it’s a great balance. Check Price

The range on this lens is fantastic – you’ll never take it off. You can shoot a wide landscape or zoom in to get more personal.

Greeen Hill Valley Elephant Photos

If that isn’t enough to get you excited, it’s an excellent lens for video – super quiet and advanced focus ability. Check Price

Next up, the specialty lenses. Now remember, you should really just pick ONE of the specialty lenses below on each trip if you want to keep things light.

Ultra-wide lens:
Canon EF-S 10-18mm STM

You know when you’re shooting that amazing Mayan pyramid from the perfect spot, except to get it all in you need to take 10 steps back and then you fall off a cliff?

Yeah, that’s exactly when the ultra-wide Canon 10-18mm lens comes in handy. A lot of awe-inspiring sites inspire the awe with their sheer size – so it’s hard to get it all in.

The definition of ultra-wide differs but most people tend to agree that it’s anything lower than 18mm, especially on a crop-sensor camera.

Take this lens if you expect large temples or pyramids and grand interiors. Check Price

Here’s an image I could not have captured without my ultra-wide.

Shwedagon Pagoda

One aspect of the ultra-wide lens that people forget, is that it really puts the viewer in the scene. You feel like you’re right there.

Read more about that shooting with these lenses.

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm is an affordable way to start taking some dramatic shots – why not check it out for your next trip? Check Price

Faster Walkaround Lens:
Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8

Another lens I like to take is something a little faster like this…

It comes in handy when you know you are going to explore a city, often times in the evening when it would be great to have a faster lens.

If you don’t know what a fast lens is, it’s one that has a wider aperture that lets in more light. Because this results in a faster shutter speed for any one scene, these are often called fast lenses.

This can help you get some beautiful city scenes or indoor shots with people.

The f/2.8 gives you 2/3 of a stop more light than the widest end of the walkaround lens mentioned earlier, which was f/3.5.

If that’s too much math for you, just know that you can get handheld shots with this lens with less available light. Sound good? Check Price

Fast Prime Lens:
Canon 50mm f/1.4

Need even more light?

You can also sub this one out with a fast prime such as the 50mm f/1.4 which is an excellent lens. No zoom but tack sharp with buttery bokeh. Check Price

Accessories

It’s always a good idea to carry backups for some essentials. You just never know when a battery is going to die on you.

I’m terribly forgetful so I actually need to put these on my packing list or I WILL forget.

SanDisk Ultra SD Cards

SD cards are a really important part of the equation. Should you buy one huge one? Or lots of little ones?

I’m in the lots of little ones (16GB these days) camp. Because it’s safer to spread the risk over several cards.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you accidentally corrupt or lose the one card you have, all the shots from your vacation are lost.

But if you have smaller cards you can spread that risk across the cards. If someone steals your camera, hopefully you’ve lost just some of your shots.

You can also stash away the filled cards somewhere extra-safe like your passport case.

These Sandisk Ultra cards are excellent, Class 10.

They ensure that my camera can shoot as fast as it’s rated for without slowing down to write to card. Click here to buy!

Canon 70D Replacement Battery

One time I went to Mexico and on the first day my charger died. I spent the next few days of the trip seeking out a charger for my Canon DSLR batteries. No dice!

Luckily I found a shop that would charge the batteries I had. I was so thankful that I had taken 3 batteries with me and got them all charged up.

Had to be a bit stingy with shooting but sometimes that can be a good constraint! Plan your shot.

Spare batteries can save your trip, what’s a few dollars compared to the cost of that flight? Definitely an important part of any essential travel photography gear list. Check Price

If you are willing to be bold (as I am), you can buy off-market ones from a reputable brand like Lenmar or Sterlingtek.

Honestly, I’ve never had an issue with these batteries. And I’ve always been really glad to have them on hand. Check Price

Canon G7x Mark II Replacement Battery

The G7x is awesome but the one con is – the number of shots on one battery is a bit low.

So you need another battery. You just do. Check Price

Hoya HD Circular Polarizer

This is an optional addition – but very useful to carry and doesn’t add much to the weight or bulk of your bag.

This particular one uses a special hardened glass which means it’s extra protective to your lens. Of course, you don’t want it on all the time, but I like that it means I can throw it in my bag without having to baby it. Check Price

Dolica Ultra Premium Travel Tripod

I actually do not currently carry a tripod so this is seriously optional. But there are many times where I really wished I had.

The general recommendation is to buy the best tripod you can afford, since they are long-lasting pieces of equipment.

This tripod won’t break the bank but is compact, very well made and does the job.

It also has a detachable monopod for when you want to go even lighter. Check Price

Travel Camera Bag

So in addition to what’s in your camera bag, it also matters what camera bag works for you.

Every trip and photog is different so I have a couple of recommendations here.

Some of the things you want to think about selecting a bag are design, weight, and style.

By design I mean how usable it is, how are the compartments organized and accessed, does it allow you to carry souvenirs or a laptop – the user interface design of the bag.

Lowepro Passport Sling III

This is my go-to bag these days because it looks good and has space for a bottle of water, wallet, phone and any small purchases you might make.

It looks quite nice on both men and women – my husband carries it for me often with no complaints – and doesn’t scream camera bag. Check Price

I do find that for a long hike, having all the weight on one shoulder is a bit tiring for me.

Manfrotto Street Backpack

Having the weight spread across both shoulders makes a huge difference. This travel camera backpack is useful for both travel and shooting.

I gotta be honest here – I actually have a Kata bag I bought like eight years ago. It’s a relatively unheard-of company but I love the details in the bag.

It has separate compartments for day stuff and a laptop, easy access to the gear without taking the backpack off, and external loops for your tripod.

I would link to that one but as it turns out – Kata got bought by Manfrotto and are now putting their excellent features into Manfrotto’s lineup.

This Manfrotto Street Backpack has all the good stuff I just mentioned, can be converted into a regular backpack, and has a stylish, urban look.

Seriously awesome.  Check Price

BYOB 9 Camera Insert

Finally one pro-tip! A camera insert is a great way to turn the bags you have already into a camera bag.

You can take this insert and put it into any purse or backpack and immediately have a camera bag for the occasion.

I do this if I want to take my DSLR to say, a wedding where I’m a guest. Put it in a medium-sized purse and I’m good to go with a stylish camera bag.

Be sure to get the size that works! I recommend BYOB 9 which should fit a DSLR with lens and one extra lens. Size up or down if you prefer to carry a lot more or less. Check Price

Pack Your Bag!

So that’s the gear I would recommend today. You don’t have to carry a ton of stuff – just understand how to use all your gear and you should be good.

As you can see this post is rather Canon heavy – that’s just what I use. You can totally adapt the same planning philosophy to come up with a Nikon or Sony lineup.

My final recommendation is to make a packing list! That way, when you’re packing to go, you won’t forget any must-have gear.

Do you see something I am missing? Let me know!

This post has affiliate links. If you use the link, you don’t pay anything extra but Sidecar Photo gets money for another glass of wine!

 

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