My Travel Photography Kit

April 13, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Roissillon, Provence.  36 mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens)


Last summer (2019) my family made our first trip overseas to Europe. We spent eight days in Avila, Spain taking part in the first Avila International Music Festival, then we ventured over to the south of France for another eight days in Provence, and we finished our trip with three days in Paris. Landscape photography was not my main objective on this trip-I did not intentionally wake up early for sunrise a single time. What was important to me, however, was having the ability capture beautiful, excellent quality, memorable photos of my family visiting these historic places and landmarks without having to lug around a tremendous amount of gear.

Reillanne, Provence. 18 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)
This image is a composite of a 2-shot pano of the background and another shot with the girls. I was standing against a stone wall on the other side of the street and could not step back far enough to get the whole arch in the frame.

 

My Sony mirrorless kit proved to be fantastic. With the collapsible 16-50 mm kit lens mounted on the a6500*, I had a lightweight and unobtrusive package that I could sling over my shoulder and carry all day. I saw a lot of other tourists carrying full-frame DSLRs, and even a few with large zooms (you know, the big white ones with the red stripe), and every time I was thankful that I was not carrying one of those.

Muralla de Avila, Spain. 35 mm, 15 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)
One of the few images that required use of a tripod.

 

For this trip, I limited myself to taking only what would fit in my regular camera bag which mainly meant that I could only pack three or four lenses. (I took four, but only used three of them.) In addition, I had two camera bodies because I wanted to have my regular Sony a6500 and my infrared-converted a6000. The infrared camera also necessitated bringing lens filters that otherwise could have been left at home. I brought my regular tripod with me-it stayed in my suitcase for most of the trip although I did use it a couple of times.

Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain. 20 mm, 1/200 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100, 590 nm infrared. (Sony a6000 with SEL18105G lens)


Here's a list of what I took and how it proved most useful:

Sony a6500 APS-C Mirrorless Camera (or any a6000 series): APS-C mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than their full-frame or DSLR counterparts and provide exceptional image quality. Apart from the small size, the features I found most useful were:

  • In-body image stabilization (IBIS) for handheld shooting in low light;
  • Silent shutter which allowed me to take hundreds of bracketed shots inside the cathedrals without being obnoxious;
  • ISO invariance which allowed me to shoot handheld at low ISO (refer to my other post for more info); and 
  • Articulating screen so that I could hold the camera up high over my head to get above the crowds or minimize architectural distortion.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. HDR Panorama from 12 frames, 2 bracketed exposures per frame. 12 mm, 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens.)
I captured this 12-frame panorama while holding the camera as high above my head as I could reach. I cropped out the 200 or so people standing in front of me holding up their cell phones.

 

Sony 16-50 mm Kit Lens: This lens is definitely underrated. When powered off, it is very small and makes for a compact package mounted on the a6500. I have absolutely no complaints about image quality or sharpness, particularly in the context of a lightweight lens for walking around all day.

Near Vachere, Provence. 50 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100. (Sony a6500 with 16-50 mm kit lens.)
This shot is slightly out of focus, but good enough. After I finished taking her portrait in the lavendar, she picked the stem and started running towards me with a real smile on her face. I pulled the camera back up and hit the shutter button just in time to get my favorite photo of the entire trip!

 

Samyang 12 mm f/2 Manual Wide-Angle Lens: After this trip, I consider this to be an absolutely essential lens for travel. I don't use the wide angle all that much for my regular landscape photography (typically 16 mm is wide enough), but it is my standard lens for astrophotography. I found it to be fantastic for indoor shooting in the buildings we visited. These were typically very dark inside, so having a wide aperture was helpful. Manual focus was also useful. I usually set the aperture and pre-focus on the lens, and with the camera in manual mode, set the ISO to 400 and shutter speed to 1/40 second. Then I could walk around the building focusing on composition without worrying about exposure settings (see comments above regarding ISO invariance and IBIS).

Avila Cathedral, Spain. HDR composite of 4 images. 1/25 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with Samyang 12 mm f/2 lens)

 

Sony 18-105 mm f/4 Zoom Lens: I used this lens almost exclusively on the infrared camera. For most tourist situations, I felt like it was too big and heavy to carry comfortably, and I didn't typically find that I needed longer reach than the 50 mm of the kit lens. The exception was for recording my daughters' violin performances at the music festival where the relatively fast f/4 aperture and longer zoom were essential.

Glanum, Saint-Remy-de-Provence. 23 mm, 1/640 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100, 590 nm infrared. (Sony a6000 with SEL18105G lens)


 

Sony Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8: This one stayed in the hotel room safe for the entire trip-it should have stayed at home. While this is my favorite lens to use indoors at home, I just didn't find much use for it on the trip.

Porte Notre Dame, Reillanne, Provence. 18 mm, 1/320 sec, f/9.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)

 

Google Pixel 3a Smartphone: Probably any smartphone camera released in the last couple of years would suffice for quick snapshots in good light while traveling, but I found the Night Sight feature of the Pixel to be incredibly useful, and not just for night shots. I used it whenever I wanted to get good image quality in "lower" light settings, such as inside cathedrals or twilight outdoors. I even used the Pixel instead of the Sony a lot of times when indoors because I knew Night Sight would give me a better quality image that would not require as much post-processing work. Night Sight combines multiple exposures (and does a lot of other processing) to produce an image with very little noise and good detail, and it can produce images as DNG raw files for additional post-processing. The Pixel was also fantastic for the times I didn't want to carry the larger camera but still wanted to take good photos, like when walking to dinner. This is the first phone camera I've had that can produce images good enough to replace my actual camera in a lot of situations.

Paris. 1/35 sec, f/1.8, ISO 360. Image captured from a moving boat with Pixel 3a in Night Sight mode.

 

Tenba Messenger DNA 11 Bag: This bag is the perfect size for my uses. I was able to fit all of the above gear (except the tripod) in the bag along with a water bottle, but it was small enough to put inside my suitcase on the days we were changing destinations. I've also been using it for more than three years and it still looks like new.

Reillanne, Provence. 105 mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. (Sony a6500 with SEL18105G lens)

 

Summary

While I am currently devoted to Sony cameras and would not hesitate to recommend them, the larger point I want to make is that a compact mirrorless camera is a fantastic travel photography tool. With larger APS-C and full frame sensors, these cameras provide exceptional image quality, but they are much smaller than equivalent DSLRs.

*The Sony a6500 was released in the fall of 2016; I bought mine pre-owned in May 2018. In 2019, Sony released the a6100/a6400/a6600 as the successors to the earlier a6x00 models. To my knowledge, everything in this post applies equally if not moreso to these newer cameras. Note that only the a6500 and a6600 have IBIS, and not all of the models have an articulating screen or silent shutter. But in terms of image quality, they are all excellent.

Note: I originally wrote this post 8 months ago but held off publishing it until I had more images from my trip processed. But months later, I'm still working on the images, so I've decided to publish it now with the images I have processed, and update those later on if I have others to share.
 


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