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Photography Gear for Travelling Light: A Love Affair with Cameras

What camera do you use? How do you get the smooth water effect? Isn’t all that camera gear heavy? What is the best compact zoom camera? What is the best small camera for travel?

These are just a few of the questions we get asked.

Full frame, DSLR, Four Thirds, Mirrorless, point and shoot, dual lens, RAW, JPEG, Macro. Talking about cameras and photography is like learning a whole new language.I will try to keep it simple and share my passion for camera technology with you.

 Every photographer's fantasy

Every photographer's fantasy

Let me start out by saying that you can lavish $10,000 on a camera and lens and still take pretty average photos. The flip side of that is that you can have a cheap date with a $100 point and shoot and produce some fantastic images.

It’s not all about the camera; it’s the person handling the camera that counts. 

Being able to see something uniquely, capturing the unexpected, having an eye for composition. These are the key things to taking anything other than snapshots. 

Now an all singing all dancing digital camera can help you to take some super shots. For example, long exposures for shooting the Northern Lights, super quick shutter speed to capture fast-moving objects, sharp focusing to grab that cheeky smile or macro mode for close-ups of insects and flowers.

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Yesterday - My First Love

 Be still my beating heart....

Be still my beating heart....

In days of old before digital cameras came along, my very first love was an Olympus OM10. This was Olympus’s first mass-market camera. If the Olympus OM1 or OM2 was a little out of your reach, then this was the camera for you. 

Now you can pick these great cameras up secondhand for less than $50. Of course, you almost need a second mortgage to get the film developed these days.

 

My youngest daughter, Katherine, has a little of the retro blood running through her veins. Not only does she love spinning vinyl, but she takes some mean photos using a film camera.

 Pancake Rocks, New Zealand. photo by Katherine Ford

Pancake Rocks, New Zealand. photo by Katherine Ford


Fast forward to the digital world. Before we started travelling full time I had a full-on love affair with Canon cameras. My favourite girl was a Canon 6D. This is a full frame (the size of the sensor) camera in a prosumer body. It gave me 85% of what the pro-Canon 5D does at less than half the price.

Now every girl loves a little bling. So I splashed out for the following lenses for my girl: 

I loved this camera and its lenses in a way that would send shivers down the spine of a non-camera user.


Today - Travelling Light with my Mistress

The total weight of the Canon body and lenses combined came to 3.22kg (7.10lbs). Or put it another way, 23% of my total backpack weight.

So with a heavy heart, my Canon girl and lens was ditched and replaced by a new love, the Fuji 100S. I also carry a compact zoom camera. These two cameras come to just 0.7kg (1.5lbs), less than 5% of my backpack weight.

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The Fuji 100S is my uber-cool mistress. I adore her retro looks. It’s palm-sized (for me anyway) meaning it’s pretty discreet, great for candid photos.

If you are into sport or wildlife photography, then this not the camera for you as the lens is a fixed 23mm (pretty much what the human eye sees). Street photography and landscapes are where the 100S excels.

One of the great features of the Fuji 100S is that it has a built-in ND (neutral density) filter. Meaning I trick the camera into believing it’s darker than it is. This allows me to use a slower shutter speed which is great for getting that smooth water effect with waterfalls. No extra filters to carry.

 Slow shutter speed equals silky smooth waterfalls.

Slow shutter speed equals silky smooth waterfalls.

 Columbia River Gorge, heaven for waterfalls.

Columbia River Gorge, heaven for waterfalls.

How to get close to wildlife or sport? I’ve chosen to go down the compact superzoom route.

I started with a Sony DSC-HX60V (24-720mm zoom) and have upgraded this recently to a Panasonic TZ80 (24-720mm zoom) mainly because the Panasonic allows me to shot in RAW mode and it also does 4K video. Images below where shot with the Sony DSC-HX60V

These pocket rockets don’t produce the sharpest of images but do help tell a story when needed.


Tomorrow - A New Love Affair

 Fuji 100F same gorgeous retro look.

Fuji 100F same gorgeous retro look.

As much as I love the Fuji 100S, she’s coming to the end of her life. After three years on the road, the dust of Burning Man and salt of Bolivia have taken their toll on the old girl. Some of the buttons need an extra little push to work, and the cost of repair is just not viable anymore. The latest version of the Fuji 100S is the Fuji 100F. Same stunning retro looks, improved kick ass sensor and wifi. I’m sorely tempted.

 

But there’s a new girl in town! How u doin’, (use your best Joey from Friends' voice) Sony a6500. The latest version of the acclaimed compact ‘a’ series. Reviewers have raved about this camera, the super fast focus, incredible true to life colours and skin tones, small and compact size. 

 How u doin'

How u doin'

I have admired this gorgeous gal in store on several occasions. You may call it stalking.

Crazy I know but if Sony produced this camera with the same retro looks of the Fuji 100S, I would buy it in an instance. Yep, it’s all about the looks for me. 

So what’s holding me back?

Money and Weight The Sony a6500 is a system lens camera, Meaning that you can swap out the lenses. 

 Meet the potential new wife and kids....

Meet the potential new wife and kids....

Knowing me, that would mean I would end up buying at least three lenses, (wide angle, zoom and prime lens). An expensive relationship, not sure I’m ready to commit just yet. The camera body is around the same price as the Fuji 100F, but the lens would add another $2,000 to the overall cost. 

Then there’s the additional weight to carry. The camera body is small and super light, but the weight of those lenses would soon add up


In your pocket

They say that the best camera is the one you always have with you. In our case, this is an iPhone. Who buys a phone these days for making phone calls? It’s all about the camera.

Being an ex-employee, Apple is in my blood. In fact, I was in the auditorium when Steve Jobs announced the very first iPhone. Yep, I’m an Apple fanboy. 

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Julie and I both started out on our travels with an iPhone 6. We went with the largest capacity so that we would have no issues storing thousands of photos and hours of video.

Last year I upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus. The camera on the 7 Plus is excellent. The dual lens system allows you to get some great portrait shots. The video quality is outstanding. 

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And yes I’ve been drooling over the new iPhone X.

We are getting closer and closer to the day when the smartphone will make compact cameras redundant. But will they ever replace system lens cameras? 

Great question. With the help of some cool apps and add-ons, you can reproduce much of what a consumer Canon or Fuji camera can do. But there still the issue of the tiny sensors in smartphones.

There are great lenses that you can buy to expand the repertoire of the iPhone.There are a lot of folks capturing stunning images on an iPhone or Android device. 

But for me, there’s something quite tactile about fiddling with knobs and dials.


Accessories

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Tripod. If you are serious about night photography or capturing waterfalls at super slow shutter speeds, you are going to need a tripod. I recently change my tripod out (birthday pressie) for this lightweight Manafrotto. It’s only suitable for lightweight cameras like the Fuji 100S. If you have a more meaty camera like the Canon 6D, you are going to want something like the Manafrotto 290

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Gimbal- my new toy. The Zhiyun Smooth-Q motorised grip holds my iPhone steady for getting professional looking video shots. Still very much a new relationship as we get to know each other. 

iPhone Tabletop Tripod & Mudder - I’ve been carrying this since we left NZ. Great for time lapse photos, and Skype calls with the family.

Wacom Tablet - Bought on a whim when last in NZ to help with the photo editing. Don’t tell Julie but I've hardly used it.

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Moment Lens - You can buy some super cheap additional lenses for the iPhone and Android smartphones, but don’t waste your money on cheap ones. Moment lenses use great glass, and for lenses, it’s all about the quality of the glass.


So that, in a nutshell, is all the camera gear we are carrying. I would love for it to be more, but long-term travel means sacrifices. 

 Time for one final date.

Time for one final date.

I’m so sad that the relationship with the Fuji 100S is coming to an end. Travel and time have taken their toll. Maybe this is the opportunity to take a long hard look at who will be my next camera sweetheart.

If we were static and back in the workforce I certainly would start dating the curvaceous Canon 6D once again.  

If you are looking to take your first steps with digital photography, you can’t go far wrong with a system kit from Canon or Nikon. These are a perfect starting point. 

But, be warned, photography can get very addictive and before long you may find yourself lavishing more and more on your new love.


The language of love, camera style

  • Sensor - captures the light coming through the lens when you press the shutter button.
  • Full Frame - the sensor is roughly the same size as the old 35mm film camera. Great for capturing super sharp images. 
  • APC - cropped sensor that is roughly half the size of a full frame sensor. Found in most consumer digital cameras from the likes of Canon and Nikon.
  • DSLR - Digital Single Lens Reflex, posh name for a camera where you can swap out the lenses.
  • Four Thirds  - smaller version of a DSLR, also known as mirrorless. You can get Four-Thirds cameras where you can swap out the lens, i.e. Sony a6500 or the mirrorless fixed lens version like the Fuji 100S.
  • jpg - compressed image that the camera decides is the best for the scene shot.
  • RAW - all the data from the camera sensor with no compression. Ideal for those who like to edit their own pictures.
  • Mudder - small clamp that can screw onto a tripod and hold a smartphone. 
  • ND Filter - filter that screws on the front of your lens and reduces the amount of light hitting the camera sensor.
  • Gimbal - handheld motorised stabilisation grip.