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Family Travel Photos Home » Travel Photography Tutorials » Camera Equipment We Use For Travel Photography

Travel photography tutorials

Family Travel provides the following travel photography tutorial for photography and family traveler enthusiasts.

What Camera Equipment Do We Use for Our Travel Photography?

What Cameras, Camera Bags, Lenses, Media Cards and Other Photographic Equipment Do We Use?

As I assembled the trip reports I found that I was repeating most of the information about our photographic equipment over and over. Instead, I'll put the camera equipment general comments in one spot (here) and then limit the comments on the trip reports to those considerations unique to that particular vacation.

Our Cameras - I use a Canon Digital Rebel XTI. My wife uses the original Canon Digital Rebel. My brother used a Nikon Digital SLR camera, I don't recall the model. His camera is comparable to the next step up from mine.

What is a Digital SLR, or DSLR camera? It's a digital version of the regular 35mm single lens reflex cameras that allow you to take off one lens and put on another (as opposed to a point and shoot camera where the zoom lens is built in to the camera itself.) DSLR is actually an inaccurate description - digital cameras aren't really single lens reflex. But the 35mm cameras were called SLRs and it's just easier to call the digital ones DSLRs.

Before the trip to Italy I also picked up a Nikon Coolpix L18 for $129. I almost immediately regretted it and felt it was an impulse purchase because I was sure I wouldn't use it. I was wrong. We spent most of our time in Italy carrying around our primary camera equipment, but there were times when we didn't want to do that. I just stuck the Nikon in my pocket and we were off. I got pictures at restaurants, on trains, etc. that I probably wouldn't have bothered to take otherwise. This turned out to be a very good investment.

We also own an old Canon S3 digital camera. Even though it's a few years old, this is still a superior digital camera with an incredible zoom range. It's a little bulkier than the Nikon Coolpix L18 so it's not as convenient to carry around. It's a much more capable camera, however. I don't carry this camera because I think it may have electrical problems. I find that settings change on the camera on their own. If this happened in Gettysburg I'd attribute it to the ghosts. LOL Unfortunately it happened in Florida and in Texas, so I don't have full confidence in it.

Are you a photo novice? Are you terrified of all those lenses and other doodads? If you insist on using a point and shoot camera, I would recommend that you go with the Canon S-series digicam. I think the latest version is the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS. This camera delivers 10MP photos and has an amazing 28 mm - 560 mm (20x) zoom lens. The S-series cameras shoot great quality photos and the image stabilization works extremely well. You will not have the same capabilities with any point and shoot camera that you have with a DSLR, but the S-series Canon digicams are great. If the S-series camera is too pricey, look on Ebay for an earlier S-series camera, or go with a Canon G-series camera. Not as good as the S-series, but still a very good camera. (No, I don't work for Canon. LOL)

Our Lenses - Almost all my shots were taken with the 17mm - 55mm kit lens that came with my DSLR and a Canon 10-24mm ultra-wide angle lens. Probably 90% of my shots used those two lenses. Of the remaining 10%, almost all were taken with a Canon 28-135mm IS lens. I shot a very few pictures with my 70-300mm IS lens and if I were doing it again, I wouldn't bother to take this one. Most of the subjects were large - buildings, piazzas, etc. etc.

Also remember that the DSLR cameras have a "magnification factor" of 1.6 - meaning that because the sensor is smaller than a 35mm negative, the Canon DSLR effectively increases the zoom of your lens by 60%. A 100mm lens will behave like a 160mm lens on a Canon DSLR. My 28-135mm lens behaves like at 45 - 215mm lens, a very respectable zoom range. This is why it's tough to get true wide angle shots with a DSLR - a 28mm lens is almost a 50mm on the Canon. You need a 17mm at least to get the wide angle shots. Even a 17mm behaves like a 28mm, which isn't all that wide. A 300mm lens is more like a 460mm - that's a long, long lens.

Your style of shooting may be different from mine, but I just haven't found that many distant or tiny subjects to shoot on our vacations. I bet I didn't take 10 photos with that long lens on our trip to Italy, and it's pretty heavy to haul around all over the place. If I were going to Africa, I'd definitely take the long lens because I'd want to shoot pictures of wild animals without getting too close. If you don't mind the weight and you like longer shots, by all means take it. That's really a matter of your personal style and what you like to shoot.

Camera Bags - My brother and I use the Lowepro Slingbag 300 Camera Bag and my wife uses the slightly smaller Slingbag 200.

For the most part, Slingbag is excellent for travel photography. It fits around you like one of those old time ammo belts or the sash you see on beauty pageant winners, over one shoulder, across the body diagonally, and under the arm on the opposite side. You wear it like a backpack, and then simply slide it around when you want to open it and get at your camera or lenses. This distributes the weight all across your shoulders and back rather than just one shoulder like a traditional shoulder bag - and the difference is HUGE.

The bag isn't perfect and I must include this very significant warning; the clip for the strap is located right at the point where the strap meets the bag. When you reach back to grab the bag to slide it around, the clip is a natural place for you to grab. This means that it is very easy to squeeze that clip and cause it to release accidentally, allowing the bag to fall off of your torso. This happened to my brother in Italy, and his primary lens was broken when the bag hit the ground.

Another warning: The Slingbag is very convenient for getting at your camera but not as convenient for getting into the pockets where the lenses are stored. When you spin the bag to the front, the camera spot is on the top of the bag but the lens portion is on the front - so you have to take care that the lenses don't fall out when you open that cover.

As long as you are aware of those limitations, the bag is great for walking around with.

In some cases I don't have to walk around as much, and in those instances I use a standard camera bag. My wife also uses a smaller standard camera bag when she isn't taking a lot of equipment with her.

Tripods - If you're a serious photographer and if you want to do night shots, take a tripod and a remote shutter release. On our trip to Italy, I tried to get by with a monopod with little tripod legs and it just wasn't up to the task. My brother tried to get by with one of those mini tripods that wrap around things (like fence posts) and it wasn't good enough either.

If you don't want to haul a tripod to Italy, just buy one there. My brother bought a cheapo tripod in Florence; it was a little more expensive than what he would have paid in the U.S. but it worked out well for him. In Rome you can often find the street vendors selling a variety of tripods. I looked over what they were selling and they're extremely poor quality. I can only imagine how much these pieces of junk were going for.

I took a Monopod and sadly discovered that this wasn't up to the task for shooting night photography. Since I wasn't using an ultra-long zoom lens that needed extra stabilization, this ended up being a wasted purchase and dead weight in my suitcase. The cheap tripod we brought for my wife was far better for the Italy trip - and far less expensive.

Many museums will not allow you to bring a tripod in. I can understand that - one guy sprawling out in the middle of an exhibit with a tripod is going to disrupt the pedestrian traffic flow considerably. In this situation a monopod might be a much better solution. I don't know if the security people at the museums will differentiate between a monopod and a tripod, but as long as you can get it past security your non-flash pictures in the museums will probably benefit from the stability a monopod would offer.

Flash Unit - I really hate lugging my big heavy external flash around, but if you use the ultra wide angle lens (like a 10-24) indoors with a flash, I need it. If you use the built-in flash with this lens anywhere from 10mm to 14mm with the Rebel XTi, you'll actually get a shadow on your photo. The flash is too close to the lens, and with that wide of an angle the top edge of the lens blocks some of the flash. The problem is even worse with earlier versions of the Canon Rebel.

Media Cards and Storage - The amount of storage capacity you need depends on where you're going, how long you'll be there and your photo habits.

I always carry two 8GB cards and two 4GB cards in my camera bag. My brother carries a comparable amount of capacity in media cards. Note that we shoot in RAW mode rather than JPEG. (No, we don't shoot IN the RAW, we shoot RAW format photo files.) RAW files are significantly larger than JPEGs (3x to 5x the size). My wife shoots in JPEG mode, and she can fit over 1000 pictures on a 4GB card. She carries two 4GB cards when she travels.

In Italy, we took a notebook computer and an external hard drive for photo storage. While in Italy my wife, brother and I shot a combined 10,000 shots. We knew we'd be photo hounds so the external storage made sense to us. We're also computer nerds and have previously learned (the hard way) that we want backups of our files. So we had pictures on the notebook, then duplicated to the external hard drive. If I hadn't had the external storage, my four media cards would have been filled on the trip.

I don't carry external storage for domestic travel. My vacations in the United States aren't typically as long as the Italy vacation was, and if I do run out of storage space I can usually find a Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart or some other store close by where I can buy more. Media cards used to be outrageously expensive but they've gotten very cheap in the past few years. My camera uses Compact Flash (CF) media cards, which are becoming harder and harder to find. All the new cameras use SD cards now. I will probably pick up another 8GB card or two in the near future for this reason.

I would encourage you to get as much storage capacity as you can. What if you shoot lots of pictures? What if one of your cards fails? Stock up on media cards now - 133x speed or better, preferably - and then go crazy and fill them up. LOL If nothing else, you can sell extra media cards on Ebay when you get home and recoup some or all of what you spent on them. I also suggest that you have more than one card. Instead of a 16GB card, get to 8GB cards. Any media card can fail, and you don't want to be forced to quit shooting because your only card is on the fritz.

Here's the bottom line. Your most expensive photo is the one you don't shoot. I hate thinking, "I wish I'd shot such and such . . . " It would cost me $10,000 to go back to Italy now and get shots I missed or didn't take. Better to get them the first time, while you're there. Shoot lots of pictures, bracket your shots and fill up your cards. You can always delete what you don't want, but realistically speaking, you can't go back and get shots you didn't take.