My Photography Equipment
Travel Photography Camera Equipment
What Camera Equipment Do I Use for Our Travel Photography?
What Cameras, Camera Bags, Lenses, Media Cards and Other Photographic Equipment Do I 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.
Updated January 2015
Our Cameras - After many years with Canon DSLRs, I have made the jump to the Nikon line. I did this because the Canons were less reliable for metering and focusing than the Nikons were. I parted ways with my Canon Digital Rebel 4Ti and 3Ti and now shoot with a Nikon D5300. I love it! My brother used a Nikon D7100. His camera is essentially 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.
Somewhere along the way I have lost that Nikon. I decided to upgrade my point and shoot capabilities and purchased the Sony DSC-RX100. This is a terrific camera. They have issued two newer versions . . . all three cameras are available for purchase online and all three are great cameras. If you look at our Caribbean Cruise photos and videos, all the shots taken in Grand Caymen were done with the Sony as were many other photos throughout the trip. The DSLR camera will ultimately take better shots, but you won't be disappointed with the Sony.
We also own the Fuji Finepix XP60 - this is a piece of crap, but it does take pictures underwater. That's why we got it. The quality of images from the XP60 is about what you get from a cell phone. If you want underwater capability, get a GoPro. You can shoot stills or video with it and it goes down to 131 feet with the waterproof housing that comes with the camera.
My Lenses - I have the Sigma 10-20mm ultra-wide angle lens, the Nikon 18-140 lens and the Nikon 100-300 lens All are wonderful lenses. I use the Sigma and the Nikon 18-140 lenses most often. Typically I don't need the additional reach of the 100-300mm lens, but it's nice to have in the bag when I do need it.
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.
I bet I didn't take 10 photos with my 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.
Video - I used to shoot with a Canon Vixia mini DV video camera, but that has been retired. I'm now fully digital. The Nikon D5300 does an outstanding job of shooting 1080p/60 video. (That means it shoots video up to 1920x1080 resolution at 60 frames per second, or fps.) If you watch the Christmas videos I did this year, all of the fixed (tripod-mounted) video was taken with the Nikon.
For mobile video I love my GoPro Hero 4 Black. This camera is amazing. It's about the size of a small box of paper clips, but it shoots remarkably good video up to 4K resolution at 30 fps. At 1080p this camera will shoot up to 120 frames per second, which is four times as fast as what your DVDs play at. This means you can slow your video down to a quarter of its original recording speed and still have 30 frames per second of video . . . and that means you can create incredible slow motion video. Thanks to GoPro Studio (a free program from GoPro) and its amazing Flux feature, you can produce astounding slow motion video even when you slow the original down to less than 30 fps.
Here is a video that shows a few examples of slow motion mixed in with regular speed footage:
I can't say enough about the GoPro. I have avoided video almost entirely until I got this thing, but that is a thing of the past. The GoPro has totally changed the way I engage in photography. It literally dares you to find creative new ways to shoot video. There are an amazing array of accessories you can get for this camera that allow you to shoot video while skiing, riding motorcycles, scuba diving, jumping out of airplanes. You can stick the camera on your car roof and record car races from the driver's perspective, or strap it on your dog for some humorous Rover-cam recordings.
Now, all that being said . . you won't find me leaping from airplanes, snorkeling around shipwrecks or four-wheeling through mud pits any time soon. That doesn't matter. The GoPro has a permanent place in my camera bag as a travel photography tool with tremendous value. It doesn't matter that I'm more a pedestrian than a path-blazer. The GoPro gives me the ability to shoot an incredible variety of videos that fits my less-frenetic but still touristy lifestyle. It's primary value to an older traveler like me is the ability to walk around and get video as I go. The resolution and quality of the video it shoots is now good enough to make me want to take it with me to capture the places I wander around on vacations.
An important point must be made. To me, the main value of video over still photography is motion. Sound is another benefit, but the ability to capture motion - the motion of what I'm shooting and MY motion as I walk through a setting - makes video so exciting. That said, video's biggest challenge, and the reason why I have avoided it for so many years, is that video is much more difficult to shoot WELL. Filming your vacation with a video camera typically results in a bumpy, twitchy mess that induces motion sickness instead of fond memories. It is extremely difficult to shoot smooth video unless you're on a tripod, and I don't like lugging a tripod around to shoot video when existing light allows me to take good quality hand-held still images.
This was the reason why I avoided video for so long, and why I was extremely skeptical of the GoPro. The GoPro has no image stabilization and I believed unless I had it on a tripod or mounted some place, it would generate nothing but nausea-inducing jitter flicks that weren't worth the effort. The fact that the camera is so tiny made it even more of a risk for getting smooth footage in my opinion.
One additional piece of equipment that I've picked up (pictured to the right) has solved this problem. The device is called a hand-held gimbal. A gimbal is a device that is designed to keep an object horizontal. The device I'm using is a three-axis electric gimbal, which means that it has three motors and pivot points that adjust as the camera moves. As you walk along with the camera, the gimbal counteracts the motion caused by your strides to keep the camera steady, which results in a jitter-free video.
Thanks to this miracle device, I can now capture video as I walk through a museum, stroll along a sidewalk, even climb stairs, with the confidence that my video will be smooth and comfortable to watch.
It's hard to describe what the gimbal does - much better to show you with a couple videos.
Here is a video of the gimbal itself. This shows how the gimbal keeps the camera stable, even during some extreme motion. Notice how the camera remains pointed at one spot even as the person holding the gimbal goes through all sorts of crazy movements:
While the above video is amazing, the real test is what kind of footage you capture with the gimbal. Here is a video that shows three scenes taken with and without the gimbal. You will be amazed by the smoothness of the video with the gimbal compared to the non-gimbal version.
The gimbal I use is the PilotFly FunnyGo from copter-rc.com. Please, do not buy a FunnyGo gimbal from Ebay or any other source. Some imitators have created knock-off copies that don't work properly. Get the FunnyGo directly from copter-rc.com. I've received a lot of help from Yanher at copter-rc.com and you can trust that it's a reliable company.
Another brand of gimbal is the FeiYu Tech G3 Ultra. This is very similar to the FunnyGo; I chose the FunnyGo only because of very minor differences. FeiYu has come out with the FY-G4 which looks to be an excellent product, and is priced similarly to the FunnyGo.
The gimbal is typically very easy to use. We recently went to the Dallas World Aquarium. I handed my wife - who has no interest in photography - the GoPro on a gimbal and told her to shoot to her heart's content. She ended up shooting an hour's worth of video and had a ball with it. The GoPro is a fun camera and the gimbal makes it even more fun.
The hand-held GoPro gimbals are very new technology and can be touchy at times. You have to calibrate them regularly and the firmware updates are extremely geeky - not friendly to the average Joe on the street. These will continue to improve in terms of ease of use, I have no doubt. Given their incredible impact and reasonable $350 price point, they will become very popular in the next year or two and that will drive innovation and improvements. That said, you can buy a gimbal right now that will improve your GoPro videos 1000% and give you amazing freedom of motion. It's a great innovation for any video shooter, but it's an absolute no-brainer for someone who wants to shoot travel video on the go.
Camera Bags - For DSLR cameras, my brother and I use the Lowepro Slingbag 300 Camera Bag.
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. In the near future I will gut this camera bag and re-line it with dividers and padding in a configuration that better suits a blend of DSLR and GoPro equipment. I'll post a video on that when it's finished.
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. But they worked.
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 10-20) indoors with a flash, I need it. If you use the built-in flash with this lens anywhere from 10mm to 16mm with the D5300, you'll actually get a shadow on the bottom of your photo. The flash is too close to the lens, and with that wide of an angle the top edge of the lens blocks actually some of the flash. It's like a lens eclipse on your picture, and it isn't pretty.
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 four 32GB SD cards, a 64GB card and two 16GB cards in my camera bag. I have two high-speed 32GB cards I like to use when shooting video or when I'm at an event where I'm shooting in continuous mode. 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 - my RAW file may be 23MB where the JPEG would be 9 or 10MB. For cameras that only shoot JPEG files, this kind of capacity is overkill. You can probably fit over 1000 JPEG pictures on a 4 TO 8GB card.
I also have a 64GB and two 32GB micro-SD cards for the GoPro - these are all high speed micro-SD cards. If you don't use a high speed card you will have problems with the GoPro HERO 4 camera when shooting at higher resolutions.
Whatever your needs, you should always have your storage in multiple cards rather than just one. For example, rather than one 32GB card, you should get two 16GB cards or a 16GB and two 8GB cards. The reason is simple - media cards can fail. You can have a card go bad at any time. If all your storage is on one card and it goes bad, you lose everything you've taken up to that point and you can't shoot any more. On our cruise, I swapped media cards every day even if they weren't full. If the card went bad or I lost my camera, I was only out one day's worth of photos.
Some times you just can't have enough cards. 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 SD media cards.
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 %bay when you get home and recoup some or all of what you spent on them.
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.
Long Term Storage - If you follow my advice you will shoot lots of pictures and your hard drive will soon fill up. If you shoot video, this will happen five times as fast. What do you do?
Many people delete most of their pictures and keep only a few. That's insane. How do you know what pictures you'll want in the future? How do you know what technological advancements will be made in the future, allowing you to modify bad shots and make them better? There's nothing wrong with deleting duplicate shots, but never delete files simply because you think you won't "need" them.
I used to back up all my photos to DVDs. I got to 300 backup DVDs and realized I had 40GB of more images to store from one vacation, and realized I had to come up with a better way.
The solution is to buy external hard drives and use them to store your photos and video. I keep files on my main drive while I work on them. When I'm finished, I move the RAW file and the finished JPEG file out to an external drive. I use a naming convention for the folders like "2014-11-14 - Dallas World Aquarium" so they're automatically sorted by date and the subject matter is evident in the title.
What happens when your external drive gets full? Get another one. External hard drives are really cheap anymore. You can find 2TB drives for under $100 from tigerdirect.com and other sources. It's a small, small investment to store your files for future use.
Do I practice what I preach? Yep. In fact, I believe in a double-backup system. That means I have each picture backed up twice, on two separate hard drives. When I move files from my primary drive to backup, I copy them to two separate hard drives - let's call them backup A and backup B. If backup A goes bad at some point in the future, I'll immediately buy another and create another backup A by copying the files from backup B. I have over 16TB of external drives for photos and videos, and they were worth every penny.
Warning: Based on my personal experience, I would encourage you to NEVER buy a Seagate brand drive. I have had FOUR Seagate drives die, even though they were not heavily used drives. You will find that Seagates are typically the cheapest drives you can buy and there's a reason for that - they're cheap, poor quality drives. My opinion is that you can't trust them for your priceless photos. Other brands are available for about the same price and they're much more reliable.
Like I said, it's my opinion. But I once asked the guy who works on my computer about Seagate hard drives. He said, "Oh yeah, I have a bunch of them. I use them for paperweights and door stops." He said he replaces more Seagate hard drives that have failed on their owners than all other brands combined.
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