Travel Photography Gear

Photography while you’re travelling is a balancing act. You want to bring high quality photos back to capture your memories and share with friends but you also don’t want to be lugging 20 pounds of gear all over the world. You need to balance being “in the moment” rather than looking at everything through the camera’s viewfinder. So of course, trade-offs have to be made based on your priorities. Here’s the list of travel photography gear that we use at Zen Travellers and why we chose each item. Ultimately, this is what we think some of the best photography equipment for travel is.

Zentravellers viewing the northern lights in canada
Viewing the Northern Lights – Taken with a Sony A5000 & Rokinon 12mm

Before we get started, let’s be clear on what this post is going to be. This is not a pixel peeping photography review where I’ll show photos of brick walls and what not to analyze the technical merits of each lens. If that’s what your looking for there are lots of other posts like that on the internet. This post contains real world examples of photos from each camera and lens, as well as a list of the photography equipment I take on my travels. I’ll explain why I chose each item, the pros and cons of that choice, and how they work for me. So if that’s what you’re looking for, read on!

The Best Camera for Travel

We travel with two camera bodies – a Sony A6000 and a Sony A5000. Both model numbers are getting a bit long in the tooth, but the A6000 especially continues to be outstanding value. There are newer versions that are nicer and have more features but the A6000 continues to be a competitive camera at a ridiculously low price tag.

Somewhere along the line we’ll probably upgrade the bodies (maybe one day I’ll justify the recently announced Sony A7III!) but overall these two cameras pack a good balance of high quality, low weight, and affordability. Both cameras are mirrorless, and pack the quality and optics of a DSLR into a much tinier, lighter frame. Sony has been doing some incredible things with their mirrorless technology to push it forward. You get serious features for a limited amount of money. For example, the A6000 packs in a 24 megapixel sensor, 179 autofocus points, and shoots at 12 frames per second. All in a package that weighs less than 500 grams. Not bad.

Last Light and Moonrise, taken with the Sony 55-210
Last Light and Moonrise, taken with the Sony 55-210

There are lots of other great mirrorless options out there from Fuji and Olympus but the Sony Alpha series leads the pack in features and value. Some critics complain that Sony cameras handle a bit more like a computer than a camera, but the value and size can’t be argued with. Camera technology has come a long way and for the most part, any mirrorless or DSLR is pretty incredible nowadays. We like active travel, and the A6000 meets our needs well. The combination of performance, value, and size makes a pretty compelling package for those who like active travel. Who wants to lug a DSLR around on a backpacking trip?


The Lenses We Use for Travel Photography

The reason we use two camera bodies is so that we can have two lenses for different situations at the ready. This saves constantly switching lenses allowing us to be prepared for different scenarios and capture fleeting moments. Switching lenses less often reduces exposure of the camera’s sensor and really, it’s just convenient as it takes you out of the moment when you’re travelling so we go prepared for a couple situations. When looking at lenses we consider the overall quality and sharpness of the lens, the size and weight, and we look to capture a range of focal lengths for different types of photos. We want to be prepared for a variety of situations – that epic landscape, local street life, and surprise wildlife encounters. The lenses that we take while travelling are the following:

This is our wide angle lens which we use primarily for landscapes and night shots. I love this lens and it lives on one of the cameras 80% of the time. It’s manual focus only, but that doesn’t matter too much with a lens this wide. The lens itself is great quality as it’s very sharp and at F2.0, it’s fast enough for quality astrophotography or shots of the Northern Lights. Even better, this lens is quite affordable so it was the first non-kit lens that we purchased for our camera. The only drawback is the lack of auto-focus but this is very easy to work with for the type of shots we take.

Starry Sky at Golden, BC. Taken on Sony A6000 & Rokinon 12mm

Starry Sky at Golden, BC. Taken on Sony A6000 & Rokinon 12mm

Another option is the Sony 10-18mm f4.0 but it costs about twice as much, isn’t as sharp, and isn’t as fast at f4.0. It’s easier to use and a bit more flexible with a range of focal lengths so it’s a tradeoff and certainly a capable lens, but we prefer our Rokinon.

Admiring the view at Twin Falls - taken with the Rokinon 12mm lens

Admiring the view at Twin Falls – taken with the Rokinon 12mm on our Ultrapod Tripod

35mm is typically considered an all-rounder and every day lens for photographers. The focal length is close to what the human eye sees so it’s great if we’re walking around the streets of a new city trying to capture some of the local flavor, this is the lens that I want. It also serves well for portraits (especially groups). The lens itself is sharp and with the ability to go to F1.8, this lens can create excellent separation from foreground to background making the subject pop, and has attractive “bokeh”. As a native Sony lens it makes use of all of the technology on our A6000 and focus is lightning quick. It has Optical Steady Shot (OSS) technology which minimizes the effect of shaky hands, allowing the use of lower shutter speeds when photographing without a tripod.

  • Margarita Photo taken with Sony 35mm
    The Sony 35mm f1.8 works well for your drinks too!

The Sony 35mm also works for taking photos of your drinks!The other option (and I went back and forth on this quite a bit) would be the Sigma 30mm f1.4. I probably read all of the reviews of each lens on the internet before deciding which to buy! While the Sigma 30mm lens is one stop faster, a bit wider, and a bit cheaper some report that the autofocus performance isn’t as fast, the lens is quite a bit larger and heavier, and it doesn’t have stabilization technology. Given we are using this primarily for travel we decided the Sony was a better choice and haven’t looked back.

Airplane photo taken on sony 35mm

Taken with A6000 & Sony 35mm
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This is the combination we throw on for our wildlife photos. The Sony 55-210 can often be purchased in a package with the A6000, and while there are certainly better lenses out there, long telephotos can cost a small fortune and weigh a tonne. Someday we’ll upgrade but for now the options for super-zooms with an A6000 are limited unless you start adapting glass. This suites our needs as with the Olympus teleconverter you get a total focal length of 357mm. Not bad, especially on a crop sensor camera, giving an effective focal length of 535mm. (210 * 1.7 * 1.5) Sorry about the math, last time in this post, I promise! The length allows us to get in close for shots of tiny birds and up close to wildlife without disturbing them or putting us at risk.

Snow Owl taken with Sony 55-210 and TCON-17x

Getting up close to a Snowy Owl with the Sony 55-210 and Olympus TCON-17x

The Sony 55-210 & TCON-17x combination allow you to get up close to wildlife.Take the Olympus TCON 1.7x Teleconverter off and you still have a capable zoom. On the shorter end you can use it for interesting landscape shots that really shows the size and scale of the location. It’s still capable for wildlife but you will have to be quite close.


Taking in the view at Spray Lakes. Taken with the Sony 55-210

Taking in the view at Spray Lakes. Taken with the Sony 55-210

The Best Camera Bag for Travel

After trying and returning several bags such as the Domke F2 Shoulder Bag I landed on the Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L as my camera bag of choice. When picking this bag I was looking for something that could hold all of the above mentioned gear (Two camera bodies, three lenses, and a teleconverter). I had to have protection to keep the gear safe, be comfortable, and look good enough that I could carry it around every day.

The toughest piece of gear to fit in the bag is the A6000 with lens and teleconverter attached and the Peak Design bag is long enough to accommodate it all. It has flexible dividers that can easily split up cameras and lenses so that they’re knocking against one another.

The bag itself is waterproof which has proven handy on more than one occasion (such as touring the Amazon) and overall is designed smartly for real world use. It has pouches for your batteries, SD cards, etc, and they’re colour coded so that you can easily separate the new ones vs the used ones. These also come in handy for travel as I use it as a day bag, throwing some cash and a debit card in the bag and keeping everything in one place.

For travel, another handy feature is that the bag’s zippers tie together to prevent wood-be thieves from getting into the gear easily. It’s not a cable lock like some Pac-safe bags, but it’s enough of a deterrent that you’d notice somebody trying to break in.

Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the bag’s features, it’s the perfect size for my needs, and I’ve been carrying it every day for the past two months (and expect to for 12 more!) It’s not the cheapest bag around, but camera bags get a lot of use so I think it’s worth splurging on.


Photography Accessories for Traveling

Lenses and bodies certainly make up the “big” items that we take traveling with us but a lot of different accessories keep the camera running or make things easier.

Sitting by a campfire. Taken with the Rokinon 12mm

Sitting by a campfire. Taken with the Rokinon 12mm

This is a tiny little travel tripod that packs up small and holds the camera stable. It is stable and adjustable to allow you to get those shot. It has Velcro to attach to trees or poles but admittedly I haven’t got to the point where I trust that enough!

Every photographer should have one of these. It’s simple, but it blows a powerful blast of air at the lens to knock off any dust or grime without physically touching the lens. It’s also great for blowing at the fragile sensor if anything lands on it.

I use a Peak Design Slide for carrying the A6000. This strap feels burly, looks attractive, and is easy to take on and off (for instance, if you’re putting the camera on the tripod you likely want to take it off). After a near miss with the factory Sony strap I swear by this strap!

For the tougher jobs, we use a lens pen to clean off any dust, grime, or finger prints on the front element of the lens. It’s got a brush to knock off any dust and a carbon fibre tip to take off fingerprints.

For the really tough jobs we always have a few of these on hand!

One of the frequent complaints about mirrorless cameras is that the batteries don’t hold up. This is easily solved by carrying a couple extra with you. Wasabi batteries are cheap and do the trick. When I’m out shooting the northern lights or astrophotography in the cold I’ll keep extra batteries in my jacket pocket to keep them warm.

Cozy cabin under the stars outside of Whitefish, MT taken on the Rokinon 12mm lens

Cozy cabin under the stars outside of Whitefish, MT taken with the Rokinon 12mm. It was -30 Celsius this night!

It doesn’t get much cheaper than this. At only $10 this does the trick and it’s more reliable than using the Playmemories app through your phone. Great for shots of starry skies or the northern lights!

Various sizes of Sandisk SD cards live in our cameras – typically a 64GB in the main A6000 and a 32GB in the A5000, along with a few backups in the bag. I honestly don’t know if the “Extreme” version is required – but at the very least it seems to make a difference when shooting on burst mode at 11fps.


Stuff I’m Still Trying

This thing comes with rave reviews from various photography and reddit communities. The idea of just being able to clip your camera to a backpack strap or belt sounds amazing so I hope it lives up to it’s billing. I’ve been talking about it for months so I bit the bullet and it’s supposed to arrive any day now….

I’m anticipating using this for the Sony 55-210 Telephoto & Olympus TCON-17x and waiting for it to arrive. Should be any day now!

Spirit Island, Taken with Sony A5000 & Rokinon 12mm
Spirit Island, Taken with Sony A5000 & Rokinon 12mm