Fujifilm X-E1

When you are traveling, you come across moments with strong visual impressions. Some of us stay with that impression and try to burn it to our memory; others, well, many of us probably, reach for a camera and clicks. It is not always the same as what your mind’s eyes saw, but we cannot help the urge to record it. Until somebody develops a technology to capture what our senses actually saw, that gadget is about the best thing we have for the time being.

As a photographer, I get a question from time to time – what camera do you recommend, for my next holiday? These days my answers are pretty much the same. But I was not so sure before.

Were you travelling in the days before digital cameras? Do you remember packing half the in-flight bag with the X-ray protect bags full of films?


My first SLR – my father bought this for me when I was 15. I used to take this, a couple of zoom lens and a 24mm wide-angle (which I still use regularly today with my digital camera), and sometimes a flash, when I went travelling. It made my bag heavy but when your passion is photography, there is little choice.

Canon EOS Kiss III

The cameras became smaller and lighter, made mostly with plastic, which was fine for non heavy-duty use.

Then came the digital cameras. I had a small Sanyo 1.5 mega pixel camera, which I took everywhere, every day. It took pictures with good colours and I loved it. Then inevitably that was not enough so I got my first digital SLR.

D70s front

My friend had one of those, and I got to play with hers at somebody’s wedding when she sat next to me. It was not a particularly heavy camera, but with a larger sensor and glass (lens), of course it made much better images than my old compact Sanyo.

When I was in the photography school, I kept pushing this Nikon, saying that it was my skill that needs improving, before I can justify investing in a better camera and lens. Some of my friends at school had a professional camera that cost 3-4 times more. I was still convinced I was doing the right thing by focusing on my creative skills. An easy trap is to fall for an illusion that a better camera, or more like better lens and larger sensor, may make your photos better. Trust me, it’s not gonna happen. Sure, you may get a softer blur (bokeh) if you invested in a nice old German lens. There are images only macro lens can produce. Sure. But over all, you can better spend your money by going to art gallery and watching fine movies and training your mind’s eyes. Then you might use the spare change for going to photography course. You can take full control of your camera, and you can also learn to improve your imaging.

Canon EOS 7D

Half way into the studies, though, I realised my Nikon had a problem due to my lack of proper care, and I had to replace it. With additional lens, it was again quite a bit of weight to carry with you every day while traveling. Also, since I carry a camera every single day, it was becoming tiring. Then these new types of small digital cameras came out.

Panasonic GF1

I got this little Panasonic towards the end of 2010, when I was visiting Japan. I made a short visit to Seoul in South Korea, in freezing cold December, and took all images using only a 20mm pancake lens on this camera. I was very satisfied with the outcome. If you can find the 20mm Panasonic pancake lens, grab it. And put it on one of those newer Panasonic G series camera. That’s one of my suggestions. Remember – in photography, lens matters. That’s where the image is made. Without good lens, good camera is nothing.

In the cold winter, you’ll probably be thinking about…

1. Keeping your camera warm

Batteries perform poorly when it goes below the expected range of operating temperature.

2. Keeping the temperature difference to minimum surrounding your camera

When you walk from the cold sub-zero temperature to inside a warm building where the fireplace is inviting, you find the spectacles fog up quickly. With specs you can just wipe and that’ll be fine, but imagine this happening inside the front lens on your camera. There is air inside the lens and it has moisture in it. When the temperature surrounding camera and lens drop quickly, when you go outside, the moisture can cause condensation. You basically now have a pool of water inside your camera. This can cause: a) short circuit on your electric circuit, b) wash dust across optical space (on lens and sensor) and let it stick on surface when it’s dried, and c) mold or fungus on optical space. You might also consider the possibility that your camera’s components may expand or shrink a little, if the difference is big. Scary?

This applies to traveling in a hot and humid region as well, where you may walk into a cold air-con building.

So what can you do about it? Put your camera in a large plastic bag, blown with air. Tighten to make it like a balloon with camera inside. Put that in your shoulder bag when you go through the door. Do not open it for the first 5 minutes after you go through the door, on either direction. The air takes time to warm up / cool down. At the very least, put your camera inside a bag, close the flap, and keep it away from the heat when you come inside.

3. Keeping your hands warm

With shaking hands in sub-zero environment, you probably cannot operate your camera. Even if you pressed the shutter, maybe the camera was shaking and you come home with another image that wasted your memory card. You can find various camera that may fit your hands well, keep them very warm, while still allowing to operate your camera. In that sense, if you need to operate the camera with gloves on, you probably want to make sure you do not buy a camera with buttons too small, doors to battery or memory card not too tricky to operate, etc. If you use mobile phone as your travel camera, you can buy leather gloves with some material built in so that you can touch screen even with gloves on.

4. Keeping your camera dry

This is actually more important than you may think. Those digital gadgets hate the water. But unlike our digital wrist watches, most of our devices and cameras are not designed to be used when it is drizzling outside. Think rain jacket – one that fits your camera. Rubber bands and lens hood come in handy.


So come back to the question of what camera is good for traveling. It depends on how important photography is for you, and how much control you require over your camera.

Option 1:

If you need your big camera and your best lens, with stable tripod, you probably won’t be reading this because you know what camera you need to achieve your photography.

Sydney October 2011

Option 2:

Small but pretty serious camera. You can control your shutter speed, aperture, have a decent view finder, but does not weigh you down. My little Fuji, for example. But there are quite a few to choose from in this ‘mirror-less’ cameras from most manufacturers. So you choose what suits your needs (and which colour you like).

If you are thinking about buying one, please use this link. You pay the same amount, I get a few cents for introduction 🙂 Fujifilm X-series camera

Fujifilm X-E1

A couple on bike_7597

Option 3:

Small, rather serious compact camera, with lens fixed (cannot be changed). I have not owned one in this category because I live with option 1/2 plus 4 (see later). But this is actually not a bad idea at all. I added a couple of such products in the B&H link below.

Canon S120
Sony RX-100 II

I see many people use a small Canon S top end models. They seem to produce beautiful images. Sony’s RX cameras seem to be very good as well, and RX100 comes with a zoom lens, which gives you more variety of angles than their top end model which comes with a very high quality but non-zoom lens ( Sony DSCRX1R ).

Think for a moment, though. Why do you need a zoom? You can take a few steps forward and get the same size in your frame. Or you can go home and use your computer or Facebook tool to crop only the centre of the picture. It is the same. The only real reason to use a telephoto is to suppress the background into a thin space. You can read about that in photography tutorial if you don’t follow this, but all I’m trying to say is, you can take perfectly beautiful and happy travel photography without a zoom button on your camera.

Option 4:


You might have guessed this, but sure, why not – it’s your mobile phone. Mobile phones these days come with pretty high quality cameras. Of course, it will not quite match the quality of those other options when you enlarge, but all you do with your pictures is to blog and Facebook share, then you wouldn’t know the difference.

Aireys Inlet

What sort of camera do you use for your travel photography?

Memory card and batteries