I travel infrequently enough that I have had a different camera gear setup for almost each trip. I began traveling when I was in college, which is right around the same time I was getting used to being a DSLR user and getting to know more about lens and gear choices. Because of the spaces in between them, for each trip I took, I was a noticeably more mature photographer and person than the previous time (not saying I am an expert now, but rather that I was a true newbie at the beginning).
Obviously different gear setups have different pros and cons, and you can get sucked into Google searching for hours or days trying to determine what is “best” and being no more sure afterwards (I’ve done it countless times). Choosing your travel gear is a very personal decision, and you have to just find your answer through trial and error over multiple trips. That’s about the stage where I am now, and while I’m inching towards my answer, I’m still finding myself unsure.
Our trip to Norway is only a few months away now. As I try to figure out what gear I will want to bring and if I need to buy anything, I thought it might be a nice time to go back over my past camera/lens decisions, and analyze the goods and the bads of each.
2006 | Unknown point-and-shoot | Family trip to Florida and Disney
Let’s go way back to my beginning. My first camera came from Santa Claus, and I had nothing to do with picking it out. I don’t even remember if I had wanted a camera at that point. I remember nothing about it that could help me identify the model now; I just remember that I both loved and hated that thing.
Pros: First camera, yay! Taking pictures is fun! Other than that, I suppose the colors/saturation were okay.
Cons: Many of the pictures had weird anomalies – most memorable was that straight lines could appear really wavy. The quality was ridiculously inconsistent – the resolution would sometimes be extremely poor without warning. Also the power button never depressed well, so it could be difficult and timely to turn on.
2008 | Nikon D40, kit lens | London Study Abroad
My mom hates flying, so this was my first time out of the country, my first time traveling on my own, and my first trip with my new Nikon D40 that I’d bought myself for high school graduation. That camera and I had a grand time, and it’s what cemented my love of travel photography.
Pros: After using that horrible electronic camera, everything about this one was great! I don’t think I started using manual right away, but I enjoyed the improved picture quality and photo-taking experience.
Cons: Not many at the time, but I guess that the kit lens didn’t afford me the delicious shallow depth of field that I love now. Also obviously heavier than the point-and-shoot.
2013 | Nikon D40, 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 | Mediterranean cruise (first half)
This was the last trip with my baby, my D40. She took her last breath somewhere off the coast of Mykonos, in a beautiful foreign setting like she would’ve wanted. But that was a pretty selfish place for her to kick it, as it left me heartbroken and scrambling to replace her.
Pros: The longer lens afforded me improved quality and longer reach for faraway details.
Cons: A much heavier lens that takes up a lot of room. Still not a very shallow depth of field available.
2013 | Nikon D90, 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 | Mediterranean cruise (second half)
The day after the D40 abruptly left me hanging without a camera in one of the most beautiful regions of the world, our cruise ship docked in Turkey. We had a private tour guide scheduled to take us to Ephesus, and afterwards she was kind enough to find us a camera store, where I purchased a used Turkish Nikon D90.
Pros: 1.5 yr newer model – In a comparison of specs, the D90 wins, but none of it was super noticeable to me, so my quality was consistent, which I may as well consider a pro.
Cons: A little heavier than the D40. Overpaid, as it was the only Nikon to be purchased for miles, apparently. Although not the camera’s fault.
2016 | Nikon D90, 35mm f/1.8 | Week in New York City
I had begun to really love shooting with my one and only prime lens, so I decided to try it out on a domestic trip first before taking it anywhere abroad.
Pros: Really enjoyed the prime shooting experience. Able to use my beloved shallow depth of field when desired. Able to shoot in lower light without raising the ISO too far. Great food shots and portraits.
Cons: Harder to shoot architecture and wide shots inside buildings.
2016 | Nikon D5000, 35mm f/1.8 | Week in London
The death of my D40 had scarred me, so with buying a used camera I was a bit on edge that it too would die unexpectedly. I felt that I needed a backup camera, so I bought another used DSLR from a coworker with lower shutter actuations.
Pros: Lighter than the D90. Still great to have an f/1.8 lens.
Cons: This is around the time I started to feel like I was missing focus more often; I wasn’t sure if it was the camera or me (still not sure). For this trip, the 35mm view felt more limiting than last time; Perhaps we were inside more often – I usually felt I wanted something wider than what I was getting. I think this is also the time I started to have trouble with pixel-peeping too much, and for whatever reason, I felt something was a bit off about the quality.
2017 | Nikon D5000, 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 | Australia/New Zealand Cruise
Feeling slightly disenchanted by the prime lens from the London trip, I decided to go back to the 18-105 for this trip. I stuck with the D5000 for the lighter weight and fewer shutter actuations putting it in less danger of crapping out on me.
Pros: The telephoto end was great for animal photography, and the wide angle was superb for the landscapes, the fiords especially.
Cons: Still miss my f/1.8 whenever I don’t have it. Wasn’t impressed by the quality of this combo for certain shots – I missed the creaminess of my 35mm lens.
2017 | iPhone 6 | Las Vegas group trip
I started this one with a real camera, but quickly grew frustrated. Everything interesting was indoors in the dimness, and I’ve never loved my Nikons’ low light performance. Worse, it was one of Las Vegas’ hottest weeks that summer, and even though we were only outside to get between the buildings, even that was too much to wear a camera backpack. So I switched to a tiny purse and phone combo almost immediately, which made me much more comfortable while I was there. But the lackluster-ness of the photos will live on forever.
Pros: Portable, lightweight.
Cons: Low quality. No choice of DOF. Photos not very memorable.
UPDATE: 2018 | Fujifilm X-T10 and 23mm f/2 | Week in Norway
When I originally wrote this post, I was desperately trying to figure out what camera combo I should take to Norway. Well it’s been over a year since I’ve touched a Nikon and I’ve gotten very used to my Fujifilm X-T10, so that’s what I brought. It served me very well.
Pros: Small size, shallow depth of field, wider angle is great for landscapes and general travel shots.
Cons: It’s a mirrorless camera, so it’s arguable that the quality is not the same as a DSLR. But for me, it was fine! Would definitely use this combination again!