by Alex W.
When it comes to equipment, travel photography is a very fine balancing act. Your travel photography gear doesn’t just need to be high quality, but extremely portable and versatile as well.
While the landscape, wedding, portrait, or wildlife photographer can just pack all their gear into a bag and then grin and bear the ludicrously heavy weight, a travel photographer has other considerations.
Will this fit in my cabin bag?
Will they let me up the Eiffel Tower with this?
Can I lug this enormous backpack around 4 different countries without going insane?
These are all very important questions that the traveling photographer must ask themselves before packing their photography gear and heading to the airport.
Fortunately for you, after years of experience (read: mistakes) I’ve got my travel photography regime honed into a well-oiled machine.
Here’s the gear I wouldn’t live without, and this will all fit into an (admittedly large) camera backpack.
Then, during our conclusion, we can see just how much weight we’ve shaved off a traditional full-frame DSLR setup!
When I’m out on a landscape photography shoot, my go-to camera body is the exceptional Nikon D810. It’s a 36MP beast that is jam packed full of all the features I need.
You know what else it is? Heavy as hell and enormous.
Not the ideal combination for a piece of travel photography gear.
Over the years I’ve had a number of second (or sometimes third) camera bodies for those times when I don’t want to lug around a heavy full-frame beast. My current go-to is the…
The Fuji X-T20 is possibly one of my favorite cameras of all time. Not only is it stylish and retro, but it weighs in at just under 400g (almost a third of the weight of the D810) and is about a third smaller in length, width and depth.
The 24.3MP sensor offers stunning image quality, and Fuji’s renowned array of in-camera filters are awesome to play around with.
Ergonomically speaking, it’s a joy to use. The 3 control dials on top take you back in time to the days of film photography, and the whole experience feels like you’re doing real photography.
If coupled with the 15-45mm Powerzoom lens, this is actually small enough to fit into a large jacket pocket.
For me, the Fuji X-T20 is the ideal travel photography camera, offering the perfect balance between exceptional image quality and fantastic portability.
It comes with the typical array of added features too. A 2.36M dot electronic viewfinder, tilting LCD touchscreen, custom settings for AF-C, 4k video recording, 8fps continuous shooting, wireless communication, interval timer shooting and the aforementioned Film Simulation modes.
For me, all that is just an added bonus. The real reason I love the Fuji X-T20 is the wondrous combination of image quality, build quality, portability, and the retro feel of the camera.
Of course, there are plenty of other suitable options out there. The recently released Fuji X-T30 has some excellent reviews and is bound to be worth looking at, and anything from the below articles will be small enough to work in travel photography terms.
Below is a varied list of my personal favorites from my travel photography experience, ranging from tiny mirrorless options to the larger DSLR options.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk II
+ Light and portable
+ Huge selection of cheap and portable Micro 4/3 lenses
+ Retro aesthetics and ergonomics
– 16MP Micro 4/3 sensor rather than APS-C
+ Absolutely tiny
+ One of the best APS-C sensors around
+ Heaps of added features and video functionality
– Expensive system to invest in
+ Cheaper than mirrorless equivalents
+ Huge range of Nikon F Mount lenses available
+ Excellent quality images from 24MP APS-C sensor
– Much heavier and larger than mirrorless counterparts
Canon Rebel T7i / 800D
+ Cheaper than mirrorless equivalents
+ Improved autofocus over Nikon D5600
+ Wide range of affordable Canon lenses
– Much heavier and larger than mirrorless counterparts
Many of the lenses recommended for other genres of photography aren’t overly suited to your travel photography gear bag.
They’re often big, heavy, and generally too cumbersome to comfortable travel with. For example, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, which we have recommended on multiple occasions, simply isn’t a good choice when trying to travel light.
Another consideration you have to make is the versatility of your lenses. Sure, an ultra wide-angle from our Best Lenses for Landscape Photography is nice, but do you really want to carry five different lenses around so you can cover the entire focal range with the best quality glass?
All things said and done, there are three main factors I consider when choosing a travel photography lens: Quality, size, and versatility.
I try to travel with at most three lenses, and that requires some creativity and a few sacrifices. Here’s what I try to cover:
Superzoom lenses have a pretty bad reputation in the photography world, and in some cases that’s justified. Many of the truly budget options offer very poor image and build quality, but there are a few that are worthwhile.
The versatility that superzooms offer make a good one worth its weight in gold to a travel photographer. You can realistically shoot all day without needing to change lens, with the focal range often covering everything from wide-angle to medium telephoto.
As I’ve already mentioned, most of them are utter garbage in terms of image quality. It doesn’t matter how versatile a lens is if the images it produces are poor quality, so I’ve rounded up a few of the actual good superzooms below.
Each one of these is among the top choices for their respective lens mounts, so it all depends on what camera you’re taking on your adventure. The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 is available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony Alpha mounts.
For what it’s worth, the Fuji offering is the best of these that I’ve come across, and it even made our list of best Fujifilm X-Series lenses!
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. The phrase “prime lens” doesn’t belong anywhere near the word “versatile”, but hear me out.
Yes, you do lose the ability to zoom with prime lenses, but get one at the right focal length and the benefits outweigh this small downside.
It depends what you’ll be shooting for the most part, but I find focal lengths between 30mm and 90mm to be wonderfully versatile across all different genres.
Generally speaking, prime lenses in this range offer a perfect storm of features for travel photographers: Small size, low weight, super wide aperture, excellent image quality, and low cost.
Still wondering what all the fuss is about? Read this article on prime lenses and prepare to be converted!
Obviously there are dozens of different prime lenses you could choose here depending on what camera system you’re invested in.
I’ve included some of my personal favorites from down the years, but I will say this: The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G remains one of my favorite ever lenses! I love it even more than my trusty Nifty Fifty lens, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a Nikon APS-C DSLR.
The final lens I pack in my travel photography gear has to be a wide-angle. For one, I’m a landscape photographer at heart and we all know how great wide-angle lenses are for landscapes.
However, wide-angle lenses aren’t just limited to landscape photography. They’re also excellent for cityscape photography, architectural shots, and for injecting a more unique style into your street or portrait photography.
A lot of the top of the range wide-angles are pretty heavy and bulky though, but we’re shooting with APS-C cameras or lower here, which significantly reduces the size, weight and cost of the best lenses out there.
The Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 below is the best wide-angle zoom I’ve ever used that was designed for APS-C DSLRs in mind, so I’d highly recommend that for Nikon or Canon shooters. However, if you want to go even wider the Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 is a very viable option and offers an insane 12mm equivalent focal length.
The Fuji 10-24mm f/4 is a pricey offering, but the image quality is offers is absolutely superb and the convenience of being able to zoom (over their many prime options) is well worth it at this focal range.
Similarly, the Sony E 10-18mm f/4 is a little more expensive than the DSLR offerings but, as with pretty much all Sony lenses, offers excellent build quality, image quality and features.
Travel photography throws up all sorts of opportunities, and the last thing you want is to miss out on a great photo opportunity just because you didn’t come prepared.
A tripod might not be necessary for all trips, but when that perfect astrophotography opportunity comes along or you find a composition perfect for a long exposure, you regret neglecting your travel photography gear.
Fortunately, the photography industry has recognised our growing need for lightweight, compact and innovative travel tripods that can globetrot around the world with us.
You might want to take a look at our Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Tripods here for more detail, but here are some key considerations when looking for a three legged companion for your travel photography gear bag.
Material – Carbon fiber tripods are becoming more and more affordable and generally offer massively reduced weight over their aluminium counterparts. Not only that, but they’re also more rigid.
Folding Size – Innovative leg folding systems have reduced folded tripod size to minuscule proportions over the last few years. This is a key factor in whether your tripod will fit in your cabin bag or not.
Weight – Obviously important when you’re trying to travel light.
There are countless knock-off travel tripods out there, so be very wary when considering the generic no-name brands out there. Often, it’s worth spending a bit more to get something you know is good quality.
Of course, how much you spend is entirely dictated by your budget. If you want the best of the best in travel photography gear, look no further than the stunning Gitzo Series 1 Traveler tripod.
Gitzo are known as one of the leading brands in high quality tripods, and if you can afford one in the first place it could well last for the next decade or more.
The Gitzo Series 1 Traveler uses their innovative Carbon eXact tubes to bolster stability while keeping weight to a minimum. In fact, the tripod weighs just 3.2lbs overall, and its reverse folding legs make for a folded length of 14″. Considering this is a tripod that can extend nearly 60″ high and has a load capacity of 22lbs, it’s very impressive.
However, if you don’t have nearly a grand to shell out on a small tripod, there are good quality and affordable options out there. One such example is the Vanguard Veo 2 Carbon Fiber range, which is the baby brother of our favorite tripod the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+.
The reversible center column and 3-angle independent leg positioning make it almost as versatile and flexible as the Alta Pro 2+, but with the added advantage of being incredibly small and light.
The Vanguard Veo 2 235CB weighs in at 2.33lbs and folds to a minimum length of under 13 inches. Admittedly, the 8.8lb load capacity is far inferior to the Gitzo, but it also costs nearly 5 times less.
Another budget option that I’ve tested and was hugely impressed by is the Sirui T-1205X.
The Sirui T-1205X falls in a similar price range to the Vanguard Veo2 above, weighing slightly more at 2.8lbs (with ballhead) and folding to a marginally longer 13.4 inches.
It also doesn’t extend as high as the Veo 2, but it’s main advantage is the fact that it can match the Gitzo with a 22lb load capacity. If you’re intent on taking heavy camera gear traveling, this could be the tripod for you.
Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to just one tripod. Why not take two and make sure you have all your bases covered?
You can afford to with this next piece of essential travel photography gear.
The Joby Gorillapod revolutionized the world of tiny tripods when it launched, and Joby’s products are just an incredible now as they were then.
The jointed and flexible leg system makes it the ultimate in portable tripods. The flexibility and grip offered by these legs means you can attach it to almost anything, be it branches, fences, or railings. Not only that, but you can wrap it up so small it will fit in a large pocket!
Believe me when I saw the Gorillapod comes into its own when visiting cities.
Many world famous landmarks don’t allow tripods to be used in or around them, but the Gorillapod is so small that nobody has ever confiscated it or even attempted to stop me from using it.
It comes in a variety of models that mainly relate to its weight bearing capabilities, but I’ve found the Joby Gorillapod 3k kit is perfect. It can hold up to 6.6lbs with ease, and it’s unlikely you’ll need more than that if you’re traveling light. For example, a Nikon D5600 with Sigma 10-20mm attached comes in at well under 5lb.
We’ve already cut down on size and weight as much as possible with our camera, lens and tripod choices, so it would be criminal of us to ruin all that hard work by lugging along every photography accessory known to man!
For this reason, I’m always on the lookout for versatile camera accessories that offer space and weight saving without compromising on quality.
Remember, we’re still trying to fit all this travel photography gear into a single bag, so every inch and every pound makes a difference.
Lens filters are an essential part of my travel photography kit, but I’m very selective when it comes to deciding which filters to take with me on a trip.
I also don’t want to be carrying around multiple different filters to suit each lens’ filter thread size. For this reason, I always start with my base filter kit – That way I only have to take two or three filters along.
Which filter kit is best, you ask?
I’ve reviewed the Kase K8 holder in detail before, and it’s still my go-to filter holder.
In fact, after reviewing the Kase K8 above and sending the review sample back, I instantly bought my own copy to replace the NiSi V5 holder.
There really isn’t much negative to say about the Kase K8. It utilizes an innovative magnetic polarizer that makes removing it a breeze, and the slimline build makes it one of the smallest filter kits on the market.
I’ve long stressed the importance of a polarizing filter, so this kit takes care of both that and the filter holder.
These are the only other filters I take with me on a travel photography outing.
Leave the Grad Filters at home and save some space by bracketing your shots.
Neutral Density filters aren’t something I’m willing to leave behind though. The opportunity for long exposure shots is just too great to risk missing out, so I always make sure to pack a couple of ND filters in my bag.
To further tilt things in Kase’s favour, their Wolverine range is also shatter and scratch resistant, as you can see in the review above.
The Kase Wolverine filters may be tough, but not so tough that I’m going to let them rattle around in my camera bag for weeks on end.
That’s where this handy filter pouch comes in handy. This NiSi offering is the best I’ve found in terms of size and carrying capacity, and is easily big enough to slot the Kase K8 filter holder in as well.
Without the filter holder jammed in there, this will hold up to four 100mm x 150mm rectangular filters.
We’re getting down to the little details that can make or break a travel photography adventure now.
These are things you definitely don’t want to be stuck without. Believe me when I say that I speak from experience.
Nothing takes the wind out of your sails quicker than having to manually delete photos on the back of your camera (while halfway up a mountain) because you didn’t pack enough SD cards.
And on that note…
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Pack enough SD cards for your trip, and when you think you’ve put enough in add an extra couple just in case.
On a similar note, please don’t scrimp on memory cards. Going with off-brand photography gear is perfectly savvy in some areas, but not with something as fragile as portable storage.
Always go for one of the bigger name brands like SanDisk or Lexar, or the risk of randomly corrupted cards and eternally lost photos is increased greatly.
I’ve spoken on numerous occasions about ditching the branded strap that comes with your camera.
This is arguably even more relevant when talking about travel photography gear.
Firstly, advertising that you’re shooting with an expensive Nikon, Canon, Fuji or Sony is never a good idea.
Secondly, the added comfort and usability of an upgraded camera strap is vital when you’re traveling around with your camera.
This OP/TECH Sling Strap is the first one I got after ditching my original, and it’s still my favorite. Carrying your camera by your waist on a sling is just another level of comfort compared to carrying that weight on your neck and having it bounce off your stomach with every step.
It also allows for quick, one-handed access to the camera, which can be swiftly removed from the rest of the strap via the quick disconnects.
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Keeping your equipment clean and in good working order is essential when you’re traveling, otherwise you could end up stranded in an unfamiliar country with an unusable camera.
Now, I’m starting to realize that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my photography career.
Once again, believe me when I say that you don’t want to end up sat in a hotel room desperately trying to clean saltwater and sand off your lens with toilet paper.
So, take a cleaning kit.
It doesn’t have to be a big, industrial type of affair. Just a dust blower, a fine brush, some lens cleaning fluid and a pile of microfiber cloths will do the trick.
You’ll be using your camera a lot on this travel photography trip, right?
Then don’t get caught short without any power – Grab yourself a couple of extra batteries and save yourself the heartache.
Funnily enough, running out of battery is one of the very few mistakes that I haven’t made so far. That being said, I did once go out on a landscape shoot without even packing a battery, but that’s another story.
I tend to shoot quite a lot of timelapse videos when traveling, simply because they’re an absolute joy to watch when you’re back home. They transport you back to the moment and bring all those memories flooding back.
Many cameras these days come with built in intervalometers for shooting timelapse sequences, but even so I still make sure to pack a dedicated remote shutter release / intervalometer.
Why? Because being able to release the shutter without actually touching the camera is absolutely vital for long exposure photography.
Plus, these are cheap, small and light enough to never actually leave my camera bag.
Our travel photography kit bag is getting pretty full now, but there’s still a few extra necessities we can fit in there.
These are items that aren’t necessarily related to photography, but they definitely come in handy for travel photography.
You’re packing a few batteries like I recommended, right?
Even so, the chances are that you’re going to run out of juice at some point. When that does happen, it will undoubtedly come in the most inconvenient location.
Enter, the trusty power bank.
As long as your camera can be charged via the USB port, this Anker PowerCore is a fantastic little accessory to carry along with you.
The ultra high capacity 20100mAh is one of the best in its class and could charge your camera from empty to full up to 10 times on a single charge. The PowerCore weighs under 1lb as well, so there’s no excuse not to take one.
If you’re taking your laptop along on your travels (and I recommend that you do), then having somewhere to back your precious images up to is crucial.
And when it’s being carted around multiple countries, durability is a key characteristic you want from your external hard drive.
This 1TB beast is just as the name suggests – Rugged. It is drop resistant from up to 4ft, resistant to rain can withstand being run over by a 1-ton car.
I mean, I’m not sure why you would run your HDD over with a car, but it’s good to know that your photos would be safe afterwards!
After putting in this much effort to craft the perfect set of travel photography gear, you don’t want to scrimp on what you’re actually putting the equipment in.
Not only could a cheap bag lead to inadequate protection, but there’s your comfort to think about too.
You’ve assembled an equipment portfolio that offers the perfect compromise between quality, size and weight, so don’t spoil it at the final hurdle.
Think Tank are renowned for their excellent quality and innovative camera bags, and the Airport Roller Derby is basically a camera backpack on wheels.
It meets most international and US carry-on requirements, and it uses this space very wisely. Customizable separators allow you to pack your gear in any way you please, and it includes pockets for a laptop and tablet and a tripod pouch too.
You’ll easily fit all your travel photography gear in, and you’ll have peace of mind that your equipment is well protected.
If you’ve got enough space left over in your suitcase, I’d highly recommend taking a more portable camera bag for certain occasions.
Sometimes you know that you’re not going to need all your travel photography gear that day. For example, a day out in the city will rarely require a tripod, ND filters, shutter release and external HDD.
In addition, carting a huge camera backpack around a crowded city results in sore shoulders and a lot of very annoyed passers-by. Not to mention a few knocked over drinks.
That’s why, if at all possible, I always try to squeeze my trust Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag in.
It’s featured in my article on best camera bags for photographers, and it’s there for good reason.
The Everyday Messenger is comfortable, stylish, versatile, and surprisingly spacious. The MagLatch system keeps your gear secure while you’re out and about, and the interior comes with little origami-esque folding dividers for organizing your travel photography gear.
It’s just perfect for those casual days out where you know that a camera and a couple of lenses will be more than enough.
You’ve got pretty much everything you might need from a travel photography point of view, and all of it will fit comfortably inside a standard piece of carry on luggage (preferably a Think Tank offering.)
Here it comes then… Was all the research and effort to assemble the perfect kit worthwhile?
The final weight of my current travel photography gear setup came to a very respectable 4.8kg / 10.58lbs.
This included the below kit (minus the bag).
Struggling to visualize that weight? Let’s put it into perspective then – Just a single part of my current landscape photography setup (Nikon D810 with Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 mounted on a Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ tripod) weighs in at 4.3kg or 9.47lbs.
Add the filter kit onto that and you surpass the weight of my entire travel photography setup.
Enjoy your travels!
About Alex W.
Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.