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You'll learn to plan effectively, choose the right gear, interact with the people you meet, take photographs efficiently, and—most importantly—create the mental space and time to actually enjoy your journey. David visits some nearby interesting destinations, proving that a great travel experience is not always about a far-flung destination. Along the way, you'll learn how to "decode" any city as a true traveling photographer.
Ready to explore more exotic locales? Check out The Traveling Photographer: Hong Kong.
- Thinking like a photographer while traveling
- Choosing gear wisely
- Balancing travel with photography
- Taking time to craft an image
- Being a chameleon
- Meeting people
- Managing photos from a trip
Skill Level Intermediate
Okay, let's talk about gear. Finally getting into some of the gearhead wonky stuff. And first of all I've got a, I've got a confession to make. You may hear me speaking in kind of hushed tones right now. I'm sitting at the kitchen table and it's after midnight and everybody else in the house is asleep and instead I'm, like. talking gear with you guys. And I'm kind of okay with that, honestly, because I've always enjoyed photo gear. But what I want to do is to kind of go through a progression from, like, high end down to, down to low end, and help you decide, like, what is your, what's your point? What, what's your sweet spot? And it's going to be different for different people.
I'm going to explain to you why mine is where it is and then kind of let you come to your own conclusions. But let's start over on my left, and your right. This is a phase one camera. It's, this is the camera, when, when quality is like the only thing that really matters, this is the camera that you want. The chip in it is about that big. It's remarkable. You know, 16 stops of range, just big, fat, juicy pixels, 25 megapixels. And I know there are SLRs that do more than that.
But they still cannot touch that big chip. It's huge and it's just creamy and it's an awful camera to travel with. I know because I've done it like, one time. If you're going to be going someplace and shooting a billboard, this is your camera. If you're not shooting a billboard or shooting something where quality is the only thing, you don't want to take it. And very few people have one of these, but if you're a landscape photographer for instance and you travel, this might be the camera that you take, because this is sort of like today's equivalent of the old four by five. I mean, it's the camera that you put on a tripod, lock everything down, and the quality is just outstanding.
So moving down the scale, this is a Nikon D3, it's a full-frame image 35-millimeter full-frame, 24 by 36 millimeter chip size, which is a gorgeous big chip. This is a professional DSLR camera. This is a rational choice to travel with and I see a lot of people do it. It's heavy. The lenses are heavy and you might have a second body or more than one lens or flashes and it adds up very quickly. If you're going to travel just with this camera and just with this one lens, you're already dragging around a lot of weight.
Here's something else to consider. Depending on the country that you're visiting, you might be carrying around more than the typical person's annual salary, and that presents a temptation for them and a security risk for you. It's just something to think about. I mean, if you're going to Japan, you're not going to stand out with this. If you're going to a country where the average net income might be, you know, $3,000 a year, or way less than that, that's going to be a temptation and it's going to be something you need to worry about. And, you know, culturally, that might not be the coolest thing to do too.
Moving down the scale a little bit, this is also a DSLR camera, but it's a small-chip camera. It's an APS-size chip, very good quality. It's a little smaller than the bigger cameras. I like that it's lighter, it's less expensive, it's less intrusive, and this is actually a really good, compromise for a lot of people, and I think frankly this is mostly where the photo enthusiast crowd hangs out when they travel. And I traveled with this camera a lot and it's a good camera. I mean, it's not what I've chosen lately, but it's actually not a bad choice at all.
Moving down the line a little bit, this is a mirrorless camera. This is a Fuji X-E1, and you can actually interchange these lenses, just like you can on the SLRs and the Phase One. What I would say is this is a wide, to normal, to telephoto, slightly, zoom. This is sort of the equivalent of this as far as focal lengths. It's one stop slower, but these cameras see really well in low light. But the size and weight difference is tremendous. So, for me, I tend to think a little more down the weight scale and down the quality scale sometimes because I'm not shooting billboards.
With this camera, I can make a gorgeous 20 by 30 print, so that's a fine quality point for me to hit. But still, this is even more than I want to travel with sometimes, which is, it's kind of crazy because I'm a photographer. But moving down the line a little more, this is another, mirrorless camera. It's got a fixed lens, and if you look at it, it kind of looks like the old Lyca M-Series cameras that maybe your, your grandfather used. I'm an old guy and I've actually used Lyca M-Series cameras a lot, and this feels very natural to me. So this is what I'm traveling with more than anything lately.
I tend to hang out here and we'll talk about that more a little later. If you hang out here that's fine. But you're carrying around a lot of money and a lot of weight. That's cool if you want to do it. I sometimes, I go the other way. Going down the line further, this is, a typical, like, built-in zoom point and shoot. This is a Canon G9. And these are great everything cameras. They do video. Just like, you know, these do video, too, obviously. They have an Achilles heel and that Achilles heel is anything low light. You can't shoot with these cameras without a tripod in low light.
And that's such a shame because they're actually pretty decent cameras in the daytime but when the light starts dropping, as we're going to find out, that's when the light gets gorgeous. This camera can shoot in almost any light that you can see. This camera can shoot in almost any light that you can see. This camera, no, it needs a lot of light. That's another reason it's a bad travel camera. This camera needs a lot of light. That's another reason it's a bad travel camera. The reason it needs a lot of light is, is, is, as much as anything, because of the pixel density in the chip. Remember we said this chip was, like, this big? This chip is, like, the size of your pinky fingernail.
Huge difference, they cram those pixels together, and what you get is noise, especially when you start to yank up the ISO. You know, this is a sweet spot for quality. This is a sweet spot for quality. This is sort of a, it's a red herring, because it can take really good pictures until the light gets gorgeous and you want to take amazing pictures, and then it kind of doesn't work. At the bottom end of the scale, you know, this is a legitimate travel camera for someone who is mostly into snapshots. This is maybe all they'll ever need. And, and, and for a lot of you, this is all you'll ever really need to travel with if you're not a very serious photographer and you're not going to be putting stuff up on the wall, it's more about your Facebook or your Instagram or, or, you know, just your website or sharing pictures or making a small photo book, this might be all you need.
And the beauty of this is it's also a computer so you can take your pictures, you can do your post-processing on your pictures, you can transmit your pictures, all right from your phone. So it's a valid choice. All of these are valid choices. I tend to hang out here lately because these are kind of like, these are too much for me to carry. If you're going to carry a full system, and this doesn't give me enough low-light, capability. For instance, this camera, I'm remembering right now, I shot, I shot in Dubai, just a few weeks after I got, well maybe a week after I got this camera, and it had shot at ISO 800, and it shot wide open at F2, this is an F2 lens, and I shot it, like, at an eighth of a second.
One thing that this camera, and this is a Fuji X100S,does not have that these guys have, is a shutter that flops around. It's got a leaf shutter. It opens like that. And therefore it has almost zero vibration, which means I can shoot handheld at an eighth of a second and get really sharp pictures. So I'm standing over this, rooftop bar and I'm looking out at this village in Dubai, and it's just gorgeous but the light's almost all gone, so, you know, give it a try. Eighth of a second, wide open, ISO 800, and the picture is gorgeous.
In fact here it is right now. We'll take a look at this for just a minute. So having a camera this small that allows me to take pictures like that in low light. It doesn't look like much of anything, like I'm not a target for theft. You're a target for theft with this. That's a sweet spot for me, so that's where I'm hanging out for the last couple years. And frankly where I see myself going forward. So here's the thing. 90% of what I shoot when I'm on the road, it's going to be with this camera. I might take this as a backup, because the other cool thing about these two cameras is they've got the same chip, like the exact same chip in them.
So when I switch back and forth between them, I get different capabilities and different cameras but my pictures all have the same palette. I might take this camera with a wide to slightly portrait length telephoto zoom. But it might never come out of my suitcase. I'm going to use it, when, like, if I get this camera stolen. Yeah, I'm going to use this. I'm going to use it when maybe I'm approaching someone, and I want to look like a serious photographer. A couple of cameras around my neck. Maybe an ID hanging from my neck. And I'm immediately going to connote, a person who's shooting pictures seriously.
There are times when you want to look like that, there are times when you want to look like a tourist, yeah, just this guy. There are times when you don't want to look like a photographer. You can tuck that behind your arm and it's no big deal, it's just kind of gone. So there are lots of reasons for choosing different kinds of camera, cameras, and all of these are valid choices. You know, I'm not going to say you should never travel with this. You should never travel with this, but if you're shooting landscapes, this is probably going to be your camera. It's a five digit camera, but it's an amazing camera. You know, great quality, a lot of weight, medium quality, medium weight, frankly, these are the same size chips, all these cameras.
So, this, these chips are newer. So, this is like higher quality, less weight. And that's my sweet spot. Less weight, can't shoot in low light. And this is kind of the do-everything. So frequently, I will take this as my only camera, and this as my backup. And this is a slightly wide-angle lens. It's a 35-millimeter lens. This is roughly a 32-millimeter lens equivalent, so I keep that same field of view, and that's sort of how I see as a photographer. I will tell you, I feel a little nervous if this is my only real camera and this is my backup.
But if something happens, you know, I've still got a camera. And this is also the backup for my computer. So, we'll talk about, like a light-gear pack and a, and a, and a heavy-gear pack. In fact, let me throw up for a second, here is a collection of cameras that I took to Costa Rica in 2009. So, as you can see now, I've got, I've got, like, this kind of a camera, this kind of a lens, I think I had this camera as a backup, and I had three flashes and a laptop. And I've got, like, a ring-flash adapter and clamps and remotes and cables, and, and the thing is I thought I was travelling light.
And when I put all that stuff into a bag and it wouldn't fit into a bag, I was hurting. I mean, it was, like, heavier than my suitcase and this was like a significant trip. So I've since learned that carrying less is fantastic for so many reasons. Number one, if you carry just one camera, like you know that camera. It's like the back of your hand. You use it all the time. Obviously the weight issues are fantastic. There's less of a security issue. If you taking this and this, you can take them both on your shoulders all the time, or you're going to leave one in the hotel room and hope the maid is honest.
You know, you'd like to think, but what if she comes in and she see, sees a camera sitting there that is, literally, more than she makes in a year. That's a temptation. I don't want to introduce those kinds of things into a culture. I like this, okay? I think the right approach for travelling gear, travelling with gear rather, is to find your weight-to-quality balance, stick with that, and really drill down on your camera. You really should know it like the back of your hand. I feel comfortable in any situation with this camera because I've shot with it for five years, but also with this camera.
Which one am I taking? If I'm going to be shooting a big production, it's probably going to be this one. If I'm just traveling and shooting, it's probably going to be this one. They're both valid choices. The important thing is to make the choice consciously, not take everything you own, and really get to know what you do take.