What’s in my camera bag?
Travel photography gear I always carry around
“I love the photos you take. What cameras do you use?” I have been asked this question more times than I can count. Of course, it's flattering—and it’s nice to know that my photos are being admired—BUT, my photos have A LOT to do with the gear I use. Put simply: good camera gear is key to taking good photos. Shooting your travel photos with sub-par equipment is akin to playing tennis with one hand tied behind your back—you can do it, but it’s not as pleasant and you just can’t ever be as good as you would be with the use of both arms. So give yourself a break and start with the best equipment you can afford, and the rest will fall into place.
There is this notion that if you do not have the latest and most advanced camera equipment at your disposal, you are not ready to be a photographer. But that, to me, does not make any sense. You can use reasonably priced camera equipment to get the job done (if it’s good quality) and you do not necessarily need to have the latest and greatest version each and every time. After all, camera equipment (like all electronic gadgets) is constantly improving and evolving. This is probably why I have been uncertain to write this blog for a long time. However, while I do like to upgrade my equipment from time to time, I do not have what I would characterize as professional-grade equipment and most of what I use is approachable enough for a novice photographer such as myself (for those of you who don’t know, I am a lawyer, not a professional photographer).
In the end, the answer to “What photography gear do I use?” is nothing but a bunch of objects – tools of the trade; tools that are simply there to help me bring my ideas to life. So, do not get worked up if some of this photography gear is not in your budget or it does not make sense for the type of photography you do or are interested in. This is just a list of photography gear I generally take with me when I travel – because it works out for me!
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As a travel blogger, I cannot understate the importance of having a camera that takes high-quality photographs. So, after doing a lot of research, I reached a decision that the Nikon D750 was the right camera for me. This 24-Megapixel shooter offers an overwhelming amount of tweaks to make it easier to find the perfect camera setting. I also fixed on this camera because of the many features it offers – like its 6.5 FPS continuous shooting speed, built-in Wi-Fi and extremely durable construction.
One of the reasons why I fell in love with this camera is because of its ground-breaking and advanced autofocus. Its 51-point Multi-CAM 3500 FX II autofocus system works like a dream… It is what helps me capture sharp, in-focus pictures 99% of the time. For someone like me who doesn’t know how to use 75% of the features on this thing, its ability to do most of the work for you is something that is really a draw to me. Plus, it’s a pretty affordable version of a semi-semi-professional camera. The camera itself is robust enough to where all you need to do is upgrade your lenses and you then have a professional-quality camera. All things considered, Nikon D750 is an excellent performer and comes in a compact package; perfect to carry around on all of my travel adventures.
I just recently got myself a mirrorless camera, after hearing people rant and rave about the benefits of shooting with a mirrorless camera – particularly for travel. I have to be honest: I am not yet sold on this camera yet.
I purchased this camera because of its size and weight. The idea of being able to carry a semi-professional quality camera in my purse, without having to lug around a separate camera bag like I do with my Nikon, really appealed to me. My Nikon – with the big lens – weighs so much that after a day of carrying it around on my forearm, I notice that my arm actually hurts. And sometimes you just don't need to be lugging around a big professional camera. That's where a mirrorless comes in.
The Sony a6400 shoots 25mp images and 4K video, but weighs just 14 ounces (less than a pound). Another benefit, of course, is the price point. The cost of the camera base is about half that of my Nikon. So between it being so lightweight, compact and still having pretty decent photo capabilities, you would think it would make me want to leave the Nikon at home and just travel with this thing. Well, unfortunately that's not the case.
My biggest issue with this camera is that I don't feel the colors are as vibrant. They all seem to look much more dull and gray compared to the exact same photo taken on my Nikon or even my iPhone. But with edits of course (I always shoot in raw so I can edit anyway), the photos still turn out pretty good.
I'm also still learning my way around this camera and it's extremely possible it's mostly operator error. So the jury is still out on this one. I will be sure to update this post once I get a better grasp on it.
GoPro Hero 8
I also have a GoPro Hero 8 in my backpack. I can fall back on this amazing, heavy-duty action camera in situations where I am likely to get wet, need an extra wide angle or want to film a quick, high-definition video. I am obsessed with tropical destinations so I do a lot of diving and need a camera that can not only shoot underwater but withstand extreme humidity. It’s also great for rainy day hikes or situations where it could get bumped around and needs to be durable. It is also super small; I often just toss it in my bag and leave for my next adventure.
Sure, this is a practical, indestructible camera – but is it even a good camera? Well, Y-E-S! It has many features that can put even some top-tier digital cameras to shame. This little thing has the ability to shoot 4K video! Features such as a crazy 240fps shooting at 2.7k, voice command, burst photos and being completely waterproof make this little device a great multi-purpose camera for photos and videos. The 240fps shooting option is a great feature for super slow-mo and capturing extremely fast packed subjects… But this is not actually my favorite feature of the Hero 7. That honor goes to HyperSmooth. This feature allows buttery-smooth stabilization of the video footage. Other impressive features of this action camera include: TimeWarp for automatic stitching and editing of time-lapse and a pimped out HDR photo mode called Super Photo.
Year after year, I am astonished by how GoPro manages to improve the quality and resolution of their new camera models. This is one thing that is worth the upgrade each time a new one comes out. And at $350, it won’t break the bank to get a new GoPro each time a new model is released. GoPro even has this really great program where you can trade in your old GoPro to get a discount off of a new one. It’s a win-win!
One thing that is absolutely key if you want to shoot underwater photos is to get a good underwater housing case, and especially a dome port. While GoPros ARE waterproof, my experience (after having literally close to a dozen GoPros over the years) is that they tend to wear down faster if you use them in the water without a good case. Saltwater in particular can really do a number on a camera, waterproof or not. And if you want to shoot those super trendy half underwater, half above-water photos, you NEED a dome port. I use the SHOOT Dome Port Lens for the Hero 8 and love it. I've also linked similar products below:
Dji Mavic Drone(s)
I debated for years whether or not to invest in a drone to film the spectacular places I explore. Not only because it is really fun (which it is), but also because drones help find new perspectives and add diversity to photography. For the longest time though, I fought with myself over whether I would even use a drone enough to make the investment worth it or if I could even have the ability to fly the damn thing. But on a recent trip to Hong Kong—where the DJI flagship store is—I walked into the store and asked one of the sales associates what would be compact enough to travel with, is easy enough for someone like me to be able to use, and still shoots high quality video. With all that in mind, he recommended that I try the DJI Mavic Air… and after a quick tutorial I was smitten. Most importantly, it has all these great auto features that are essentially “idiot proof”—you basically just press a button and it does it all for you. It is easy to maneuver and comes in an impossibly lightweight package that I can easily fold and fit into my camera bag along with the rest of my gear.
The DJI Mavic Air is easily one of the best drones on the market right now for people looking to get their feet wet in the drone market. It owes its reputation to its incredible portability, unprecedented performance and long-lasting battery life. In addition, there are several advanced features that make this drone the best; features such as SmartCapture that allows you to fly the drone with simple hand gestures, QuickShot flight modes that record short video clips while tracking a subject, 720p-resolution view from its camera from up to 2.4 miles, Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems for better obstacle avoidance and 4K recording that produces sharp videos loaded with fine details.
Sadly, after putting one in a tree in Switzerland and another in the falls at Havasupai (yes, I know you're not supposed to fly there--serves me right I suppose), I no longer have the Mavic Air. But this really is a perfect drone for the first-time drone buyer who wants something a little more robust than a toy-sized drone (more on that later).
My "new baby" is the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom. And let me tell you: it's incredible. It has all the features of the DJI Mavic Air... and more obviously. The Ken Burns effect is a new auto mode that I love and the ability to zoom in on your subject is really important in the things I like to shoot. You really can zoom in pretty significantly without jeopardizing the quality. It shoots stunning 4K video at 100mbps and has incredible new sensor technology that makes it more difficult to crash. It also can take hyperlapse videos (which are really cool!) and has a much longer battery life, clocking in at 31 minutes.
I also have the DJI Mavic Mini. I purchased this on sale about a year ago to use both as a test flight drone and to throw in my bag on trips where I'm not 100% certain I can or will be shooting drone footage, but want to have something on hand "just in case." It's so light that it's technically considered a toy, so depending on where you are, you can sometimes get around the no fly drone bans. It still shoots 4K video and also has some of the auto features that I love, like Dronie, Helix, Rocket, Circle and Boomerang. It folds up SO SMALL that it can fit in most standard purses. And if you're considering getting a drone for the first time but are scared to pull the trigger on the more expensive Mavic Air, consider getting the Zoom first to try it out. At just $450 (and sometimes you can get them on sale for as low as $350), it's hard to pass this one up.
iPhone 12 Pro Max
This is the one exception to the rule where I said earlier that you don’t need to always have the “latest and greatest” technology. I will candidly admit that as soon as a new iPhone comes out, I am always the first to buy one. The primary reason for this is because they are always upgrading the quality of the camera, and it’s gotten noticeably better each and every time I’ve upgraded. So of course, when the newest iPhone 12 Pro Max came out, I was the first in line for it.
I noticed this recently when I compared some photos I took the year prior at é by josé andrés, where the dishes remain largely unchanged from year to year. I dined there in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and when I went back through my photos over the years, there was a significantly noticeable difference between the photos I took with my iPhone over the years.
The iPhone camera has actually gotten so good over the years that if I am trying to travel light and need to save space in my luggage, I am finding that I am increasingly choosing to leave my bulky Nikon at home. I would not be able to do this but for the fact that the quality of the iPhone photos is just that good.
Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit: I have a love-hate relationship with this device. The abilities of the GoPro Fusion are pretty incredible—it shoots 360 degree video and essentially allows you to hold it wherever you want and will record each and every angle. You don’t even have to point it at what you want to shoot, you just turn it on and hold it. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it’s great in theory until you have to actually download the footage or try to export it off of the device remotely. While my Nikon, DJI Drone and GoPro Hero 7 all export the photo and video footage directly to my phone through their own apps, completely wirelessly, the Fusion does not have this feature. While you can view the videos and take screenshots of what you want, it currently does not have the feature to download the footage to your phone; you can only export to Facebook or YouTube, which I typically don’t do. So what that means is that you have to be connected to a computer to actually download the raw images.
Problem number two is that it takes FOREVER to download these videos. The footage is high quality and literally recorded every 360 degrees, so you can imagine how large the file formats are. Once they’re downloaded they’re great, but I have waited as long as 2 days just to download five or six videos from a trip. That is not something I have time to do, so what ends up happening is that I either never take the time to download what I’ve recorded or I just stop bringing it on trips with me because I get so frustrated with getting the photos off of it.
With all that said though, it really does take incredible shots. No complaints there—the quality is insanely clear and it offers a really different, unique perspective since it records a spherical image.
So… there you have it. These are the four “tools” I always have in my camera bag. That being said, you do not need a drone or a super expensive camera to be a good photographer. All you really need is a vision, the drive to make it a reality and a lot of time behind the lens.
The videos at the bottom of this page show some examples of photos I've shot with each of my different gadgets.
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