eric kim selfie
Ha Long Bay, 2017

Dear friend,

If you’re about to go on a trip and thinking about buying a new camera— I want to give you some personal advice on the ‘best’ camera to have for travel photography.

1. Why are you shooting travel photos?

Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject
Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject

First of all, the question you want to ask yourself is: “What do I want out of my travel photos?”

Do you want to photograph your life experiences to remember and cherish?

Do you want to make a lot of good photos, so you can share them on social media, and get a bunch of ‘likes’?

Do you see travel photography as your once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the world, and make incredible photos you couldn’t get back home?

First identify what your goal is in your travel photography, and then you can determine what is the best camera for you.

2. Just stick with your smartphone

eric kim street photography tokyo-0000545
Tokyo, 2016

If your goal is to just document your travel experiences to share with friends, family, and to remember it for yourself— I would just recommend using a smartphone.

Why? The smartphone is the ultimate tool to quickly share images, to easily charge, to keep your photos backed up to the cloud, to easily post-process and edit your photos, and it is small, light, compact, and fits in your front pocket.

I would recommend the iPhone as the best smartphone camera. It doesn’t have the highest specs or megapixels, but the Apple team spends millions of dollars in design, development, and software for their camera app. In-fact, the iPhone is the most commonly used camera in the entire world.

The great thing about the iPhone is that the colors are quite true-to-life, the camera is responsive, and the camera is always with you.

The biggest mistake photographers make before traveling is investing in an expensive DSLR setup— with huge lenses, tons of batteries, and accessories; and end up hating their travels.

I know for me personally, I did my first backpacking trip through Europe as a student with a Canon 5D (original) and a 35mm f/2 and 24mm f/2.8 Canon lens. It was a pretty minimalist setup, but I hated it. The 5D was too big and heavy for my travels, and honestly, I wish I just brought a point-and-shoot instead. I did get a few good photos, but I dreaded carrying my camera with me, especially in the summer heat. I learned much later the importance of traveling light.

The lighter you travel, the more you can walk, and the more you can enjoy your travels. The lighter your bag, the fewer issues you will have with your baggage being too heavy (issues at airport). The more simple and minimalist your camera setup, the more you will have the energy to shoot.

3. My favorite travel photography camera

eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000358
Tokyo, 2016

 

If I could have done my entire backpacking photography trip through Europe again, I would have just advised myself to use a point-and-shot camera.

As of early 2017, my personal favorite travel photography camera is the Ricoh GR II. The camera is small, compact, has amazing image quality (it has a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor), fits in my front pocket, can take very good photos in dark situations, and you can charge it via your smartphone charger.

A good runner-up is the Fujifilm x70 camera, which also has a DSLR-sized image sensor (the same as the Fujifilm x100T). If you prefer the smallest, most ergonomic camera, I would recommend the Ricoh GR II. If you want a camera with really nice JPEG images and color, I would recommend the Fujifim x70 camera.

4. Why I don’t recommend DSLR cameras for travel photography

Dalat, 2016

The biggest practical advice I would give against are DSLR cameras for travel. I think DSLR’s are great for commercial and wedding photographers, but horrible for travel.

Once again, DSLR cameras are bulky, heavy, and obtrusive to your travels.

Not only that, but if you buy or bring a DSLR camera, you will probably get suckered into buying and bringing a bunch of lenses. I always feel bad whenever I see people bring a wide-angle lens, a few prime lenses, and a telephoto lens.

5. What if I want to zoom?

Kyoto, 2016

The Ricoh GR II and Fujifilm x70 don’t have zoom functions.

A lot of travel photographers want to have a zoom lens, because they might want to photograph strangers, or photograph zoo animals.

But in truth, if you want to make better photos, you want to use a prime (non-zoom) lens. The benefit of a non-zoom is that you force yourself to be more creative. By not being able to zoom, you have to use “foot zoom” to get closer to your subject. And by getting closer to your subject, you will do a better job of filling the frame, of crouching down and using different angles and perspectives in your photo, and incorporate more diagonals into your images.

Using a non-zoom lens is a good example of a “creative constraint.”

6. My travel photography gear

Kyoto, 2016

As of now, this is the current travel photography gear I own:

As a blogger, having a laptop for me is essential. I blog much better on a physical keyboard, and it is nice having my laptop to easily import my photos to share online.

Because I am a slave to the laptop, I need a photo backpack that can hold a laptop. For me, the ThinkTank Perception 15 is the perfect camera backpack bag.

As for you, if you don’t make a living from blogging or your laptop, I don’t recommend bringing a laptop along. It will slow you down, weigh you down, and keep you up late at night (because you will spend each night reviewing your photos from each day).

Instead, I recommend taking the simplest, lightest, easiest camera bag as possible. If you just need a simple camera shoulder bag, I recommend the ThinkTank Retrospective 5— small, compact, and doesn’t look like a professional camera bag.

To learn more, see My Travel Equipment, Winter 2017 >

7. How about the iPad?

Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject

For travel photography, I don’t recommend the iPad. Just bring along your smartphone. As of now, the iPhone can do everything the iPad can do. Most travelers will always bring their smartphone with them, therefore a tablet is superfluous.

8. Travel photography clothes

As a general rule, the best travel clothes don’t have cotton. Stick to synthetic materials (nylon, polyester, etc). They are lighter, dry quicker, and less bulky.

If you really want to travel light for your photography, you only need 1 change of clothes. When I want to travel light, I only travel with 2 changes of under-wear clothing (one on my back, and one in my backpack).

The best travel underwear is from ExOfficio. They make underwear for both men and women. I personally swear to the ExOfficio Men’s Boxer Briefs, and if you’re a lady, check out the ExOfficio Women Sport Mesh ‘Hipkini’.

As for shirts, I recommend the UNIQLO Airism V-Neck mesh shirt. It is ultralight, folds up small, and if you wash it in the sink/shower with shampoo or soap, wring it out, and hang-dry it — it will be dry the next morning. If you have a bit of a belly, just get the ExOfficio V-Neck shirts, as the UNIQLO Airism shirts are a bit too thin.

For pants, get non-cotton pants to stay dry when on the road.

The best investment for yourself as a traveling photographer is to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. I currently recommend the Nike Free RN Motion Flyknit — the most minimalist, light, and flexible shoe I’ve discovered so far.

9. Backing up photos on the road

Hanoi, 2016 eric kim street photography hanoi
Hanoi, 2016

When you’re a traveling photographer (with a laptop), if you want to travel light— I don’t recommend bringing along an external hard drive. Too heavy and too much weight.

Instead, I would recommend backing up your (favorite photos) saved as JPEG images on Dropbox, Google Drive, or any other cloud-based photo storage system you use.

If you do really want an external hard drive for your photos, I recommend picking up an SSD hard drive (solid state hard drive). They are much lighter, and can copy/import your photos much quicker. The best bang-for-the-buck SSD hard drive is the 500 GB Samsung Solid State Drive.

10. How to shoot travel photography

Eric kim hanoi street photography
Hanoi, 2017

If you plan on going on an epic trip of a lifetime, I recommend you to read these travel photography articles:

See all travel photography articles >