My Travel Photography Gear

2014 update

I receive many questions with regards to what photography gear that I use. Up until April 2014, all of the photographs were taken on a small micro four third system. It’s a compact unit that enable sharp and DSLR like photo quality, but in a smaller camera body. It’s been an amazing kit to shoot with, but in April I decided to upgrade to a Nikon D610 full frame DSLR. It’s a full frame system.

Why the change you may ask? The main reason in a nutshell is that I just needed more megapixels as I want to eventually sell large prints especially for my landscape photos. The larger the prints, the higher the required megapixel count. Also the low light performance of the full frame sensor is far superior to that of the micro four third system. Now some of you may argue with it that statement, but I’m not here to argue and it’s worked for me to date,

What did I do with my Micro Four Third System?

I still have it, and I still use it. I carry it with me whenever I’m just out and about and don’t want to lug around the DSLR. For basic portraits, street photography and especially food photography it is perfect and it fits nicely into my pack.

So what gear do I lug around now?

Full frame system summary:

  • Nikon D610
  • Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 lens
  • Tamron 70-300m F4-5.6 lens
  • B&W circular polarizing 82mm filter
  • 7DayShop 82mm Variable ND Filter
  • Tiffen ND1000 10 Stop ND Filter

Nikon D610 – This is the entry-level full frame DSLR by Nikon. Despite the considerable weight differences (nearly 2kg!), it performs like a workhorse. It’s weather sealed so I don’t have to worry if there’s a bit of rain around and the construction is solid whereas I had to be careful of the Olympus system on where I took it and if it was properly secured in my bag.

In terms of image quality; in daylight and landscape photography, there’s no considerable difference between the Nikon and Olympus. They both have excellent image quality and sharpness. Where the Nikon outperforms the Olympus is in low light. Images appear sharper and with considerably less noise. Even with images that come out dark, I’m able to extract the detail in post processing without too much noise and versus the Olympus. Another aspect that I like with the Nikon is that dials such as ISO are easy to access on the camera body so I’m able to easily switch between automatic/manual ISO and easily dial in the amount that I need while still looking through the viewfinder. With the Olympus system, I had to go into the menu system to change these settings which took to do so.

Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 lens: This lens is an absolute beauty. I was looking at getting the Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 lens but at 40% less, and extensive list of positive reviews, the Tamron was proved to be better bang for my buck. The constant aperture F2.8 performs like a dream in low light situations and it’s my go to lens for 99% of the time now.

Tamron 70-300m F4-5.6 lens: I use this shot for the tighter landscape, some portrait and shots of the moon. The Nikon equivalent lens that I originally considered getting was the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 but at nearly five times the price and the amount of photos I take at that focal length, it wasn’t worth it. It’s not the sharpest lens but this can be fixed in post processing. Where it does stand up is the vibration control. In lower light, I can get sharp shots at a slow shutter speed of 1/15th of a second which is AMAZING.

B&W circular polarizing 82mm filter: This isn’t a cheap polarizing filter, but it does an amazing job of reducing glare and as a travel photographer, there will be a considerable number of shots taken during the day where this comes in handy. I keep this one the camera most of the time as it makes the colours in any subject pop out.

7DayShop 82mm Variable ND Filter: This is a variable ND (neutral density) filter which use to reduce the amount of light that comes through the lens. The main use for me is to employ a longer shutter speed to convey time and motion into a scene by: smoothing out water in lakes, oceans and waterfalls, creating light streaks in traffic and create motion in clouds.

It’s not the best ND filter in my opinion and at a higher stop value, it tends to produce a yellow cast. It can be corrected in Photoshop, but takes time away from being out and shooting. At $30, it’s pretty cheap vs $200+ that you can pay for the better brands which one day I’ll invest in when I go on a photographic trip where I’ll use an ND filter on most of my shots.

Tiffen 82mm ND1000 ND Filter: I picked up this unit so that I could take one minute exposures in daylight. This things is like putting on really dark sunglasses over your lens so it takes a long time for a balanced exposure to be taken. It’s great for dead flat water effects and also eliminating people or traffic from your photos. There is a slight colour cast and vignetting when using it but it all can be corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Micro Four Third System summary:

  • Olympus OMD EM5 kit with a 14-42mm and
  • Olympus Zuiko 12mm super wide lens
  • Olympus 17mm Zuiko lens
  • Olympus  Zuiko 40-150mm lens

Camera Body Olympus OMD EM5: The construction is solid and the camera feels well-balanced in the hand. It has a 16 megapixel camera, high-definition OLED screen and a crystal clear electronic viewfinder and has one of the fastest autofocus systems out there. I prefer the electronic viewfinder on this system over the DSLR as it tells me in real time how the image is going to look. The downside to all of these mirrorless systems is that the electronics drain the battery pretty quickly, so it helps to have a spare battery handy.

Olympus OMD Camera Update: There’s now a new model released called the Olympus OMD EM1. It’s the same 16 megapixel goodness as the previous model but now has a SLR like group for a better fit in the hand, an increased maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th sec, built in WiFi (instant instagram photos!), faster frame per second burst rate and in camera HDR. If you want a camera and lens combination then the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 lens is the perfect combo to get for speed and that creamy blurry background on portrait shots.

olympus 12mm wide angle lens

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture plenty of detail in the foreground, mid ground and background to give you a great landscape shot

Lenses

I’m a fan of fixed focal or prime lenses. The pros with this is that you will always have the sharpest photos possible as you won’t be cropping the image when zooming in. Also using a prime lens in street photography makes the reader feel like they are in the shot itself.

Olympus Zuiko 12mm F2.0 super wide lens:  I’ve probably used this baby for 95% of my shots. The wide-angle on it is incredible and sharpness is unmatched.

Olympus Zuiko 17mm F1.8: This was a Christmas present to myself. I needed it to fill in the focal length gap between the 12mm and the 25mm, but now I find myself never taking it off. It’s perfect when I take it out with me of social occasions and I can use it to take portraits or landscape photos.

camera lens

The lower the F stop (F1.4 in this case) the better performance in low light and the better the blurry background effect.

Olympus  Zuiko 40-150mm lens: This lens came with the camera and whilst it isn’t as sharp as the other three that I have, it still does a great job. If I was taking more wildlife shots, then I would look at upgrading it.

espanol galapagos islands

Taken at full zoom and cropped further in Lightroom

 

GoPro Hero2: I’ve used this for many underwater shots and video. It’s so compact and the quality is pretty awesome. You can also use it to clip onto helmets, surfboards or pretty much anything.

Turtles in Akumal

The first turtle I ever saw in Akumal, Mexico

UPDATE: I’ve had quite a few emails about the gear and what a more affordable and compact alternative would be for a beginner. For the camera body I would recommend something like an Olympus EP-5 body with the above 17mm lens. It’s the perfect combination that will allow you do fit it into a small bag and allow you to take nice landscapes as well as portraits. If you want to take portraits of your loved ones then consider the 45mm lens. You will get razor-sharp images and that perfectly blurry background and separation of the subject and background.

Other important accessories

Nikon SP700 speedlight: I bought this in case I was going to do any portrait shows but it hasn’t had much use. Hopefully I will do more as it’s a nice unit and much better than the on camera flash.

Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch small tablet: I love this unit as it allows me much more freedom and accuracy with intricate retouching work in Photoshop and Lightroom. Some photographers prefer to use a mouse but I don’t carry a mouse and this comes in handy if im processing a lot of photos to save my index finger from getting RSI from using the trackpad too much. It’s touch sensitive like a real pen so I have more control over all of the editing.

Memory Cards: Most of the time I am taking multiple shots in burst mode especially for portrait and street photos and pick the best from the few that I’ve taken. If you have a slow camera then it will spend some time buffering and saving to the memory card which is frustrating. There’s also nothing worse than running out of space so get at least an 8GB card. Because I shoot in RAW format which produces image file sizes of 25MB on the Nikon, I can easily fill 8GB in one day if I’m taking photos of places like the Galapagos. I make a habit of downloading all of my photos from the memory card onto the computer at the end of each day.

Backups Hard Drives: I’m quite paranoid about losing my photos and data. I started off with just a 500GB portable HDD but since then I have bought two 1TB Seagate HDDs. I use the 500GB to back up my entire computer on Time Machine once a week. On the 1TB drives, I backup all of my older photos onto both drives so that I have a duplicate copies in case one of them fails.

Tripod:  If you want sharp photos and shoot at night then a tripod is a must. Some hardcore photographers spend thousands of dollars on carbon fiber tripods but went a long time using a cheap and flimsy tripod which broke when I sat on it and I now have a beautiful scar across my arm as a result. I ended up investing a bit more money into a MeFoto tripod and now realise that a good tripod is worth investing in especially when there is a tiny bit of wind involved.

I’ve since added a Joby Gorilla Grip tripod to my kit. I use it mainly when I’m walking around the city and I want to save a bit of space that my other main tripod can take up. It’s great to use when you’re in places that may not allow tripods in, as I can be slightly sneakier.

Laptop 13.3 Macbook Air, 4GB RAM and 500gb Solid State HDD: I love this baby. It’s so light and does everything I ask of it. I upgraded the storage on this system to a solid state hard drive meaning that there are no moving parts on it so it’s less susceptible to failure and also it is SUPER fast! There’s some lag when I process the larger DSL files in Photoshop especially working with 5+ image panoramas (the total file size can be 1GB). If you intend on processing a lot of high res photos then I’d recommend a Macbook Pro with 16GB RAM.

iPad Mini 16GB: I use this mainly to watch movies and to read books. It came in handy especially on the 24 hour bus rides in South America. The 16GB is a bit of a stretch especially with so many movies coming in high-definition and if you like using a many apps then it can take up precious space as well. Go for the 32GB version is you don’t like to keep an eye on space too often.

Post processing software  A lot of people tell me, “Wow you must have an awesome camera!”. To be honest, the majority of the work is done after the shot is taken. I’ve been Adobe Lightroom for just over 2 years now. It’s a photography workflow and editing  software that I use to organize my photos as well as make adjustments to them such as alignment, fixing white balance, sizing, sharpness, temperature and quite a few others that you’d get bored with me listing.

I know a couple of people who are anti post processing, but the reality is that by setting the camera in automatic mode or if you’re shooting in JPEG format, then the in camera is still post processing the image after you take the shot. The camera is processing the image based on what it thinks the shot should look like, not how you saw it. Secondly, the camera cannot see the world in the way a human eye can see and most of the time it will create an image with areas within an image look great but the areas in shadows will be black whereas in real life you could see the detail. This is why in my opinion you should post process if you want to be on control of the art and want the best out of your pictures.

perito moreno glacier

Do you have shots that turn out like this? In order to get get the right exposure off the glacier, the camera applies the same setting to the trees, thus a darker image in the shadows

Perito Moreno Glacier

To make it like how I saw it, in Lightroom, I increased the detail in the shadows as well as made some minor cropping to the image

Photoshop CC. I’m still a newbie to it but I’ve been using it a lot for stitching together multiple shots to create panoramic images and I think it does a great job. I also use it to remove small objects from the edge of the shot that may distract the viewer’s eye from the main subject. My goal is to become more proficient in it and as I develop my site more, I want to be able to make those aesthetic changes myself rather than rely on somebody else for a favour.

At the end of the day, to me the most important thing in photography will always be the fundamentals of composition. It’s sounds simple but if you can’t get the composition right then all the expensive kit and software can’t polish a turd.

Valley of the Moon

This is a 5 photo panorama shot that I stiched together in Photoshop

Transporting it all

All up, my everything weighs around 13kg which is half of the total weight that I travel with. I used to fit micro four third system, lenses and laptop into a small back pack, but now I transport most of it in a 20L Lowepro backpack. In it I carry: Both camera bodies; all five lenses; the nikon battery pack; 2 x filters; 1 x backup drive; Wacom Tablet, passport and other documents; Macbook Air and charger; iPad and charger; and iPhone charging cables. The remaining gear I store in my main pack to be checked in at airports or on busses.

What’s your current setup for taking travel photos?

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Comments

My Travel Photography Gear — 12 Comments

  1. Some nice shots! I shoot the EM-5 too, though I’m on body #2, as I ruined the first one in Cambodia when a motorcycle spooked and popped a random wheelie when its throttle stuck. I briefly thought about replacing it with either the Panasonic GX-7 or the EM-1, but they were pretty expensive, and the bottom line (the sensor) wasn’t really much better, if at all. That, and I found a killer deal on a new EM-5 in Bangkok, so it was meant to be. Again.

    I post process my images too, though I do tend to favor a lighter hand than some. I mostly just pull down highlights and pull up shadows, a little sharpness, a little clarity, good to go. I don’t consider using auto mode a form of post processing though, since you’re always using the camera’s settings unless you pick your own and then guess and check :) But you are right, cameras do change JPEGs, but they also change raw files a little bit too. I guess I feel like it’s not worth worrying about, because if you’re happy with the shot, who cares how it happened?
    Tony @ 20 Years Hence recently posted…In Over Our Heads to Head Over Heels in HCMCMy Profile

    • Good to see you got a good deal on an EM5 Tony. Know what you mean about not worrying too much about it. I just like being able to go back and re-look at the files at a later date and make any other changes from an artistic point of view

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  4. Love your blog- it speaks to me where I need to hear.
    I’m Shooting the moon is a lamb one – ED – M1 I’m not sure how to put all that together maybe the way the auto dictate pronounces it is just as good but it is an Olympus and it’s their latest body. I am not 100% satisfied and maybe it’s because it’s too much camera for me.

    I started out way before you were born with my own darkroom and all I had was a Nikon F2 and a 50 mm F1 .8 lens and I was happy as can be. Unfortunately that was all stolen and I was out of the photography game for number of years. I supplemented using contacts and MT 167 and legs the lenses of course but had no clue of creating a system.

    As the Olympus is my number one camera with the most lenses I was curious if you could recommend a second camera and I was thinking Nikon 5300 or D 7100 and maybe just 35mm lens
    I also like the new Fuji 100 Probably the S as there is the best price point available. I shoot family dogs sunsets etc. personal Pleasure primarily and I am the official boys got photographer. Could you recommend a second camera based on what I told you your help is greatly appreciated my cell phone is 214-315-0415. I’m in Dallas Texas feel free to email me or text me or whatever is the easiest thank you so much I’ll be in touch

    Sincerely Lonnie Schwartz

  5. Hi Jimmy, love the site! One of my favorite posts was of Atrani. Such a beautiful post. I am starting my first solo ATW trip this year. I will also have a blog. I’m a photographer and designer. So I will be using my laptop to retouch and edit. I have yet to buy it yet though. I’m curious as to how it is using photoshop and editing on a 13 inch screen? Do you find it difficult on the small screen? I’m coming from a huge iMac so am torn which laptop is best for me. I won’t be doing huge panoramas, but I will be editing and compositing in photoshop a lot. And possibly editing videos in iMovie. I’m planning on carrying one backpack as a carryon and my camera bag as a personal item. So I have to consider weight and size. But also have the laptop function well for my use. I love the lightweight macbook air, and my shoulders will too, but am wondering if it will be ok for my use. Any tips would be appreciated. :) Thanks!!

    • Hi Sheri. I just updated to the macbook pro loaded with 16gb ram and 1tb SSD. It’s a beast and makes my air seem like a snail in comparison. The Air was good for lightroom editing but compositing in photoshop does drag it down if you’re dealing with 1GB files. I don’t do movies yet but if so then consider at least a macbook pro then.

  6. I’ve just read this nice detailed article! These are all wonderful shots! How much did all this equipment cost you (the camera, the lenses etc)?! Thanks

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