How to Choose Right, Travel Light and Create Great Images
Can you really get by with just a camera, or do you need to also lug around a bunch of extra gear and accessories?
If you ask me, I think it’s definitely possible, and sometimes even preferable.
From what I’ve learned and experienced, it’s simpler to choose the bare minimum of gear that you need and learn to work with that. When you have too much stuff, it can become a burden, mentally, monetarily and physically.
But just how much is enough to be able to capture the moments and experiences of your life?
What Camera Do You Need?
The answer to this is as unique as you are. But I know that’s not helpful at all.
So in an attempt to overly simplify it to help you choose the right camera for your needs, I’ve whittled down every type of photographer into 3 (very broad) groups below. So based on which one you identify with most, hopefully you can better figure out what camera will suit you.
1) The Convenience Photographer
If you’re most interested in ease-of-use and portability, I’d say a camera phone is all you need.
Being able to take pretty decent photos with your phone – something you likely already carry around with you, anyway – is a huge benefit. And even though I currently have a full DSLR setup, I’ll admit even I rely quite heavily on my camera phone for taking everyday images.
- Simple to use
- Small and easy to carry
- You’re more likely to always have this with you
- Lowest quality images
- Minimal functionality
2) The Casual Photographer
If you’re looking for more than what a camera phone can provide, the next step would be to get a full-featured point-and-shoot compact camera.
While not as convenient as a camera phone, a compact camera is still an all-in-one solution because you don’t have to worry about buying separate lenses.
Plus, many compact cameras are able to capture really high-quality images, and some even offer many advanced manual options, mimicking those of professional-level gear.
- Still pretty simple to use
- Relatively small and easy to carry
- Increased image quality over cell phone cameras
- More advanced controls
- Cheaper than getting a camera body plus lenses
- Some manual features on point-and-shoot cameras are less intuitive and harder to find in the menus (than when trying to do the same thing on a DSLR, for example)
- Quality still falls short of more pro-level gear
3) The Avid / Pro Photographer
If you’re a more serious photographer, you may want to step it up even more and aim for pro-level gear. I would still keep it pretty simple, though, and I think all you’ll really need is this:
- A camera body (i.e. not a point-and-shoot with a built-in lens)
- A few lenses (1-3 will probably be enough)
- Memory cards
These items are basically all I ever needed and used when I was shooting professionally (you can read more details on my exact gear below) and I think if you want to keep it simple, this is likely all you’ll need.
- highest-quality images
- the most manual control
- more options for getting the “perfect” gear set up (I say “perfect” because you’ll probably find that it’s hard to get the exact combination of gear that you want)
- more expensive
- more complicated
- heavier and/or more gear to manage
What Accessories Do You Need?
I know I said “need” above, but I’m using that term loosely. In some cases you don’t really “need” much, if anything, extra.
If you’re in the first two groups above (i.e. a Convenience or Casual shooter), I’m not sure you’ll need anything besides a camera.
If you fall into the last group, the Avid/Pro, then you’ll probably want to consider some other accessories (and in the next section you’ll see a list of what I actually have and recommend).
But before you go out and add to your arsenal, be sure you’ve actually taken a moment to decide whether or not you actually need whatever it is you’re thinking about buying. Because remember, whatever you buy, you obviously have to pay for, but you also have to carry.
Let’s take, for instance, tripods.
While some would argue tripods are necessary, I never use them. Instead, I make use of whatever’s around me, like a wall. This absolutely beats having to haul a big, heavy-ass piece of equipment around with me all day (which is actually not really an option when traveling and walking for miles).
What Gear Do I Have?
So now we’ve come to the section where I lay it all out for you to see. I know when I started, I loved knowing “what’s in the bag” of other photographer’s (and usually it was a lot!).
My stuff below looks like a lot to me now, and truthfully it’s no longer a good representative of what I would get if I started over. But the reason I have this much gear is only because I purchased it when I was doing professional photography. Otherwise I’d definitely have a lot less (and actually I’m working on downsizing my gear as I write).
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II
- iPhone 4s
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (my favorite – and cheapest!)
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
Accessories – Recommended
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
- UV Filter – (the B+W 77mm Clear UV Haze is one I own) – these help protect your lenses from getting scratched and also help prevent the lens from breaking if you drop it accidentally – it’s much easier to replace a filter than a lens!)
- Comfy Strap – OP/TECH USA E-Z Comfort Strap – Black – since most straps that come with cameras are really uncomfortable, I think it helps to have a cushier strap (and after hours of walking around your shoulders will thank you!)
- Memory Card Holder – Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket – I love that I can keep *all* of my memory cards in one place. It holds 8 CF cards comfortably.
- Memory Cards – SanDisk Compact Flash Memory Cards – I don’t take chances with my memory cards and always make sure to buy trusted name brands. I’ve been happy with SanDisk and use them for both my 5D and compact camera.
Accessories – Optional
- Extra Battery – Canon LP-E6 – most people probably won’t need an extra battery, but an extra battery can be useful if you’ll be out shooting for a long day and there’s a chance your battery will lose its charge
- Polarizer Filter – B+W 77mm Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating – helpful for taking shots of reflective subjects – like water and glass – and also for deepening the color of the sky
- Giottos AA1910 Medium Rocket Air Blaster – Dirty lenses and sensors require special cleaning techniques and, along with the microfiber cloths, this blower does the trick.
- External Flash – Canon Speedlite 580EX II – Sadly the 5D doesn’t have a built-in flash, so you may decide having an external one is preferable. This one is great and I used it a lot when shooting weddings.
- (4) Standard AA Batteries – for the flash mentioned above
- Flash Diffuser – Stofen OM-EY Omni-Bounce – if you’re using the Speedlite flash, this small and compact diffuser can help soften the harsh light.
Bags & Inserts
- Backpack – Lowepro Fastpack 250 Camera/Laptop Backpack – Backpacks aren’t the nicest looking bags ever, but they’re much easier on backs. This was my first – and only – backpack specific to camera gear and I used this when I traveled a lot. It took up very little space, protected my lenses with its padded camera area and also held my laptop & a few other things like books and music.
- Padded Insert – I’ve started to prefer carrying bags that aren’t camera-specific as those can be like wearing a sign that says expensive-camera-gear-inside-please-steal-me. So now, I usually tend to put this padded insert into my other regular shoulder bags or backpacks. It helps protect my gear while also being more inconspicuous.
So that’s the pretty complete list of all the camera gear I used regularly since I started doing photography in 2008, and it’s also pretty much all I need to shoot everything – from weddings and portraits, to dogs and travel photos.
And for those rare times when I needed additional gear like an extra camera body or lenses (which was mainly just when I shot weddings), I did the simplest thing possible: I rented. This way I didn’t have to worry about dropping a huge chunk of change for gear I rarely needed or used.
What Would I Buy Now?
Now that I’m trying to pare down my belongings and move towards a more minimalist lifestyle, I really just want to have the necessities. The other stuff just gets in the way and I’m tired of spending a lot of money on gear.
So if I was to re-buy TODAY (and, actually, once I sell the gear above, that’s exactly what I’ll need to do), I would get something like the following:
- A smaller camera body (probably a mirrorless – the DSLR is just too big, bulky and heavy for me now)
- A prime lens similar to my Canon f/1.8 50mm (which is my FAVORITE lens and would love to replicate the results with something like it)
- A zoom lens, preferably in the range of something like an f/2.8 35-100mm (though I’m not even sure something like this exists – I haven’t done the research yet)
And as far as accessories go, I’d also keep my current strap (if it fits the new camera) and memory card holder since those things make my life easier.
If I had any more gear than this I know I won’t want to carry it around. So why spend the money on it?
I hope that gets you started on figuring out what you need. Good Luck & Happy Photographing!