I get asked a lot what kind of camera gear I use and the short answer is: it depends.
I am going to spend a little time talking about what cameras I use and why. Hopefully, it will help you if you are looking to make a camera purchase in the future.
Camera Gear Misconceptions and Choices
But first, let me clear up some misconceptions:
- The camera does not make the photographer.
- There is no best camera, there is only the best camera for the moment.
- Megapixels are not the be all, end all of digital camera specs.
- There is always a compromise when it comes to cameras. Always.
- For my older readers: the camera on your new iPhone is better than the five-year-old point and shoot camera you bought on Black Friday for less than $100. It is. Recycle that thing.
The first thing you should consider when it comes to a camera for travel is what are you going to use it for? Are you looking to shoot wildlife? Birds? Landscapes? Selfies in front of every landmark you visit?
Next, how do you travel? Are you a hard-core backpack around the world type? No checked luggage kinda person? Seventeen wheeled bags with your own personal porter? Do you road trip and have plenty of room for a full set up? This is a huge consideration in terms of camera selection.
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Updated May 2019
I travel with two, often three cameras on every trip. For road trips, I take a Canon EOS 7D MkII.
I chose this camera as an upgrade over my old and broken Canon EOS 40D for a couple of reasons.
One, the camera has GPS. I really like having a GPS record of where I took my shots. I know there are other devices which can accomplish the same thing, but why carry another device if you don’t have to.
Two, this camera is an upgrade in terms of all of the major specs of the camera over the 40D and its most recent successors. The shutter is faster, the sensor is better, the controls are better and more customizable and it has weatherproofing.
I use this camera when I am on road trips, shooting wildlife, or anything that requires a tripod. While I rarely fly with this camera, I do have a backpack which I can use in conjunction with other luggage. Basically, it means I must check a bag.
The camera performs like a champ. It has three custom features, which I have set up for wildlife shots, high dynamic range photography and low light photography.
I typically buy my camera equipment from Amazon. One, they have an outstanding return policy and, two, as a Prime member, I get free shipping.
I was able to find a good kit through Amazon, which included a pair of memory cards, a portable hard drive and a camera backpack. Here is an example of another kit:
One piece of advice when purchasing electronics or other appliances: if you have a Citi credit card, check to see if you have Price Rewind and their two-year extended warranty.
Once you register the purchase, Price Rewind will scour the web for lower advertised prices and refund you the difference. I was able to save a lot of money using it. Add in the two-year extended warranty and it more than outweighs the benefits of using a different credit card.
Disadvantages of a DSLR
The three big disadvantages of a DSLR, any DSLR, are cost, weight and amount of space the system takes up. DSLRs are expensive, costing at least a $1,000 for a quality camera body, and the lenses just add on to the cost. Getting professional quality lenses add significantly to the cost.
My advice: once you pick a system, camera-wise, stick with it. Reason? Lenses. Lenses cost thousands of dollars and are where your money is really invested. A good lens will last you a lot of camera bodies.
While lenses do retain some resale value, switching camera systems (going from Canon to Nikon or Sony) will cost you a lot in the long run.
The best part about a DSLR is there is no limit to your selection of lenses. You can pack whatever lenses you need for your specific purpose.
I typically carry a wide-angle lens, a mid-range or walk around lens and long telephoto lens for wildlife. Usually, I also carry a 50mm prime lens for low-light photography. If you are unsure about which lens to buy or if it will work for you, I highly suggest you rent the lens first before you buy it!
In terms of weight, you will quickly figure out that a DSLR plus lenses will occupy a lot of space in your bags and will weigh even more. That’s why I don’t backpack with my DSLR.
This Canon bag holds all three of my cameras plus all of my other camera gear. It makes for a very convenient one bag to grab and go.
Going on the Trail
Going in the backcountry with a DSLR requires a different kind of camera backpack. The Click Elite has a hydration sleeve and is good as a day pack if you are going into the backcountry to shoot wildlife.
I hiked a 17-mile trail in Yosemite carrying my DSLR with this backpack and it performed like a champ.
Remember when I mentioned that there is always a compromise? DSLRs get great performance and image quality, but at great cost, greater weight and needing to check a bag just to haul your gear.
A lot of travel photographers are going to mirrorless cameras to cut size and weight. Unfortunately, Canon has not released a mirrorless DSLR which will take my existing lenses without an adapter. This is technology I am keeping a close eye on, but my choice for travel/hiking camera is even lighter than a mirrorless camera.
The Bridge Camera
For international travel and for hiking, I use the Canon SX40HS, a bridge camera or superzoom. The camera is a hybrid between a point and shoot and a DSLR, with a fixed 35x power zoom lens. The newest model of the camera, the SX70HS, has a 65x zoom. Bear in mind, this is all optical zoom. Digital zoom is a no-no.
Here is what I like about the form of the bridge camera: the controls are fairly familiar, it is very versatile for the cost (around $500) and it is lightweight! The camera weighs less than 1.5 pounds, compared to nearly 2 pounds for the camera body alone on a DSLR. That makes it really easy to take on a long hike.
The zoom lens on the camera is a marvel of optics technology and gives great images. No, it is not as good as a professional lens, but it also doesn’t weigh or cost as much either. The image quality on the SX40HS is very good, not as good as the 7D MkII, but it does turn out some very nice shots.
My only other gripe is the electronic viewfinder… not a fan at all. I end up using the back screen as opposed to the viewfinder.
I am looking at the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV. Both the lens and sensor would be a huge improvement over the SX40, even with the sacrifice of some of the zoom capability. That said, it weighs 68 percent more (39 oz vs 23 oz) and costs about $1,000 more.
Camera Bag for the Bridge Camera
I would love to recommend a bag to you for the SX40HS, but sadly, Lowepro no longer makes the particular bag I have. The closest I can find is the Nova 140 AW.
One other thing you should consider when getting the bridge camera: replacing lens cap. I replaced mine with a Swarovski 643-936 binocular attached lens cover. It works like a charm… Just be sure to take the cover off before you turn on the camera.
Honestly, for most travelers, this camera will meet all of your needs and will not add a lot of weight to your pack or force you to check a bag. It is a very good compromise between the quality and versatility of a DSLR and the lightweight, easy to travel with nature of a point and shoot.
We recently got a waterproof camera for a kayaking trip we didn’t end up taking. Since then, I have been looking for an excuse to use our Fuji FinePix XP120. We finally got our chance in the Bahamas.
The camera has a 5x zoom lens in a waterproof up to 65 feet package. The camera is small, easy to pack and performs well. I am still getting the hang of it but the price is not bad at all.
We also got a waterproof float strap for it in case we dropped in the water. The strap will keep the camera afloat.
The Camera on Your Phone
The last camera I have is my iPhone. We make a point to keep our iPhones relatively up-to-date. Why? Because I always have it with me. Out to dinner with Bonnie? I have my phone. On a hike? The same.
Pro Tip: One of the best pieces of advice when it comes to cameras: the best camera is the one you have with you.
I have found the iPhone to be one of the better landscape cameras you can carry, especially when you consider the panoramic mode. Add in a plethora of camera apps and even lens attachments which expand the capabilities of the device further.
The addition of a telephoto lens to the newer iPhone models has made it even more versatile. We have the iPhone X and it has a 2x zoom as well as a wide angle lens. We are able to get great portraits and really nice wildflower shots with it, not to mention being able to zoom in on a subject with a phone.
While the iPhone (or most high-end smartphones) are highly-convenient and lightweight, the lack of versatility and the lack of dedicated physical controls prevent them from being a true camera replacement for wildlife or advanced photography.
Here are a couple of camera accessories I use on a regular basis:
I use the Q Quick Strap for both my DSLR and Bridge Camera. It is outstanding, especially for the price. One thing I like is it attaches to a plate which has a tripod mount built-in. Very handy! Unfortunately, they are no longer sold in the US. As a replacement, I found this strap but I have not tried it out. Still, I like the neoprene shoulder padding and the quick-release buckle.
I use a great monopod for steadying my shots. This is essential for wildlife photography with a long zoom lens. I got a ball head which matches my new tripod.
I just got a new Neewer tripod. It is light, easy to use, inexpensive and steady… what more could I ask?
I am always looking for better gear for my photography and my travels. I will be sure to update this page in the future as my gear changes.