I am often asked what camera gear I carry on my adventures. The answer really depends on where I'm going and what I'm looking to accomplish. If I'm shooting candid travel scenes in a crowded urban area, I'm going to take a different setup than I'd pack for an expedition or a commercial location shoot. Here is a description of what I regularly carry for travel photography and why.
When quality really matters I use my favorite camera that I've yet owned, Nikon's D810. I love to make really big prints and I often use it's incredible sensor and dynamic range to create massive multi-image panoramic merger files. The D750 is my backup and comes in handy for those situations where I want the flexibility and handling of a DSLR, but I don't need 36 megapixels and the extra weight. The D750's 24 megapixel sensor also has mind-blowing dynamic range and detail. Both of these cameras rock in low light and produce amazing video as well.
When I'm traveling light, especially when shooting urban street scenes or candid people photographs, I love my Fuji X100s. It is small, intuitive, unobtrusive, and creates stunning images with it's 16MP sensor. People don't feel as self conscious when a camera like this looks their way. It's also a nice change to shoot with a fixed lens and the fast 35mm equivalent is just right for this. You use your feet to zoom in.
I include my phone, because it is always on me; it also has 16 megapixels and shoots RAW. Crazy! The GoPro is always handy for those shots you can't get a bigger camera in position for...
- Nikon 14-24mm F2.8
- Zeiss 35mm ZF.2
- Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 VRII
- Nikon 50mm F1.8
- Nikon 24-120mm F4 VR
- Nikon 70-300mm F4-5.6 VR
- Nikon TC-17E II 1.7x Teleconverter (for the 70-200 F2.8)
- Nikon 16mm F2.8D Fisheye
- Nikon 400mm F3.5 ED IS AIS (no longer produced)
- Nikon TC-301 2x Teleconverter for the 400mm F3.5 (no longer produced)
When packing lenses for my Nikons, I am rarely without the first four on the list above. Despite their size and weight, I love the optical quality of Nikon's fast 14-24 and 70-200 glass. The Zeiss 35 and the Nikon 50 are excellent primes to fill the gap between 24 and 70. They are also sharp, fast and light. Often I use them for panoramic mergers.
If I'm doing an extremely physically demanding trip where weight is a major consideration, I will take the 24-120 as an all purpose lens and the 70-300 for it's lightweight, long reach. I usually still pack the 35 and 50 primes for panoramic work on wide angle landscape scenes.
Because of it's versatility and surprisingly good image quality, I increasingly find myself hiking and skiing with the 24-120 on the camera and accessible. It is my general purpose "one lens kit" when needed.
The 16mm fisheye has such an insanely wide field of view and interesting distortion. It's an otherworldly way to compose a wide scene, and I love having this little gem in the kit.
My 400mm F3.5 "antique" manual focus Nikon lens and has served me extremely well on multiple wildlife shoots from Rwanda to Patagonia. If my subjects are moving then I have to be careful with manual focus, but a brighter, clearer, sharper, easier to focus lens would be very hard to find. I absolutely love it and get razor sharp images even using the TC-301 to convert it to an 800mm F7.
I spend a lot of money on my lenses because of their optical quality, therefore I am very picky about what glass filters I consider placing in front of them. I recently wrote a blog post about why I use these Hoya filters. I keep the HD-3 UV filters on all my lenses to protect them especially in dusty, windy and wet locations. When it comes to polarizers and ND filters, I recommend buying one ultra-high quality filter in the size of your largest lens's filter threads, then buy cheap step-up rings to adapt those filters to your smaller lenses.
- Gitzo GT3542XLS with Sachtler FSB-6 Fluid-head (10 pounds total)
- Induro LFBC333 with Manfrotto MVH500AH lightweight fluid head (7 pounds total)
- Acratech GV2 Ballhead (1 pound head holds 25 pounds!)
If I can manage to carry it, I bring my big carbon fiber Gitzo GT3542 with the Sachtler-fluid head. This tripod extends so high I can walk under it without ducking. It's rock steady and the fluid head is super smooth for video and stills with nice touches like an LED-lit bubble level on board.
When weight becomes an issue I switch to my new carbon fiber Induro legs. They aren't as tall as the Gitzo, but they are light, amazingly designed and an incredible deal. Depending on my needs I pair them with the Manfrotto 2-pound fluid-head or the ultralight Acratech ball-head.
One thing I don't want in a tripod is a center post. Center posts rob you of stability when raised and keep you from getting low to the ground when lowered. I much prefer longer legs like these with a bowl mounted head that levels easily with a tension knob beneath. I love using these easy-to-level fluid-heads for getting the camera properly positioned to create Panoramic Mergers.
To protect my tripods from light damage when strapped to my pack, I keep the legs wrapped in road bicycle grip tape. It is also nicer to hold with gloves on chilly dawn shoots than the raw carbon fiber. (Note: the Induro comes stock with nice foam wraps on the outer carbon fiber along with a sweet carrying case).
A Bag to Pack it In:
- F-Stop Sukha with Large and Small Pro ICUs
- F-Stop Tilopia BC with Large and Small Pro ICUs
- Kinesis C600 Holster for when I want to carry the 70-200 on my chest
- F-stop Navin for when my 24-120 is enough on the chest
I've spent years trying to find a bag that adequately protects my gear, carries the rest of the things I need in style and doesn't destroy my back. The F-stop Sukha is by far the best I've found yet. When I'm headed on a big expedition, then I pull the lightweight ICU (Internal Camera Unit) out and carry it inside my big Gregory expedition pack filled with extra lenses and gear while my camera rides in either the F-stop or Kinesis holster on my chest.
Mirrorless and thoughts on the Future:
I think it is fascinating to watch where the modern trends in digital photography are heading. I'm particularly impressed by Sony and Fuji's mirrorless offerings. Many of my pure landscape friends have switched to the Sony A7 series of bodies, often adapting their current lenses to work with these incredibly powerful little cameras, and I tested them myself alongside my D810 last summer in Europe.
Of course I'm excited to drop some weight from my pack, but so far these mirrorless bodies are not weather sealed or built for the conditions I like to shoot in. In addition the batteries have about 1/5th the life of my Nikon's. The mirrorless cameras also fall behind when shooting fast action, panning moving subjects at slow shutter speeds, and locking autofocus on small moving objects in low light. For me these mirrorless cameras aren't quite there, but with each new generation they get closer...