Today’s world of digital cameras is this endless maze of strange and seemingly arbitrary acronyms and designations. There are so many different makes and models that claim to do the exact same things. For someone relatively new to photography, navigating this landscape can be pretty time consuming. I’m Jonndre- Matador’s staff content creator, here to share my thoughts on travel setups for those looking to capture more than your standard tourist. I’m not going to talk specs or features, rather just give you some reasoning to sort out the options.
“The best camera is the one that you have with you.”
This saying has proven true for me time and time again. Some of my all-time favorite photographs were taken with smaller, older generation cameras. when it comes to travel photography, keeping cameras strapped and ready to go in the moment is half the job; all those tech specs and megapixels won’t automatically get you the shot.
The key is to find balance between cost, performance, and overall size. How can you pack lighter? The lighter and less bulky your set up is, the more likely you’ll take it with you on every single adventure you find yourself on. You won’t capture anything if the camera’s safe in your pack or you straight up left it at the Airbnb.
Go mirrorless; Mirrorless cameras are small, light, easy to use, and just powerful as their DSLR ancestors. In no particular order, the popular mirrorless lines go as follows: Sony Alpha, Canon EOS R, Nikon Z, Olympus OM-D, and the Fujifilm X-Series, these are all great offerings from each company but, as with everything photography, there are pros and cons to consider.
I’d break these camera systems into two weight divisions: the crop sensors and the full-frames. I want to preface all this by mentioning that I shoot with both types. On professional shoots, I typically carry a (full frame) Sony A7RIII + 24-70mm f/2.8. When it’s work, It’s worth it to lug around the extra bulk and regularly gamble with close to 4K worth of plastic and glass. In exchange, I get the peace of mind of coming home to the best possible image files. My personal travel go-to is usually a (crop sensor) Fuji XT-2 with either a 16mm F/1.4 or a 35mm f/2. A now depreciated, older generation body that is still quick, compact, and can absolutely hang even by today’s standards. I keep it around and enjoy it for travel is because it’s proven reliable and I don’t feel bad taking the older body into risky situations. It’s already on borrowed time; if it were to fall into a volcano, I’d probably nod in agreement. I cannot say the same about the Sony. For me, travel photography is more about how far you can take the camera than it’s resolving power. Ultimately what makes travel photography impactful are the unique situations that you’re able to bring a camera to. I’m not saying buy an old camera; but if 5 years from now the camera you buy still holds it’s own, consider keeping it around.
The Full-Frames- Sony A7, Canon R, and Nikon Z series: Pretty much the best image quality you’ll find in this zone and it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Full-frame bodies, and particularly their lenses, are comparatively larger, weigh more, and (because they’re so expensive) you will feel much more anxiety taking these guys into any risky business. I would consider these cameras more for the professional photographer. That being said, should you go with any of these, you will be carrying with you more photographic power than basically everyone, short of a professional.
The Crop Sensors- Fujifilm X-Series, Olympus OM-D Series, Sony A6 Series: If you’re going lightweight, this is the stuff. You get all the amenities in a much smaller, more affordable package. For general travel shots a 20-something megapixel crop sensor is more than enough resolution. In addition to lightweight bodies, ASP-C and Mirco 4/3 lenses are more compact and better suited for travel. A smaller sensor will mean slightly less low light capability and depth of field but with today’s sensor technology and lens options, these down sides are negligible to the average hobbyist. In the end, you’ll be left with a camera that’s less likely to weigh you down when you’re on the move while still offering you the power, control, and lens interchangeability of a serious tool for photography.
Travel Lenses- As with all of this, there is no right or wrong answer here; everyone finds their own style. Personally, I’ll grab two lenses if I’m traveling: a fixed prime and a compact zoom. For walking around town, I prefer the wider end of fixed focal lengths. Around 16mm, 35mm, to 50mm, with as wide an aperture I can find, while remaining compact. Simplicity is key when it comes to choosing a camera to run and gun with. If I’m out somewhere where distance of my subject is uncertain or varying, I’ll opt for the compact zoom; Just something to get me through those focal lengths above. I steer clear of traveling with anything longer than your average kit lens.
When it comes to travel cameras, it’s about having the right tool for the job. Consider the logistics of taking this big ol’ picture brick with you on an plane, a boat, a crowded subway, a rickshaw, potentially a mule. I implore you to look past the specs and assess the actual day to day use of your future camera. What can you live without that would allow you take the camera further? Remember, “The best camera is the one you have with you”.
Check out more of my travel photography here: @jonndreking
And once you pick out your camera, check out the Camera Base Layer for the best way to protect it without weighing you down.