Before we get started with this, an important disclosure.
Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter
The requirement for a rain cover in my travel kit comes from wanting to maximize my time and financial investment into a specific photographic trip. I can’t afford to go somewhere and not get any photos if it happens to rain or snow a lot, so it’s important to be prepared to make the best of bad conditions. There’s always photos to be had in poor weather, you just have to work a little harder. A rain cover is relatively inexpensive compared to my electronic equipment, and some of them take up very little room in a bag.
There’s currently two kinds of protective camera covers in my gear closet: Think Tank Hydrophobia and Vortex Storm Jackets. The Think Tank covers are bulkier, heavier and more expensive, but they do provide total protection and a better shooting experience. They are best suited for situations where you know you are going to get wet and need to shoot in the rain. If it’s a foregone conclusion, the Think Tanks are worth taking for the job. On the other hand, if you’re just taking a cover on the off-chance that it might rain, then the Storm Jackets are the way to go. These things are so small and lightweight that you can lose them in the corner of your bag and it’s really not a problem if you carry them around for weeks and never end up needing them. The Think Tanks are too big and heavy to do that, Take your pick!
I think it’s a great idea to have a good travel tripod in your kit if you’re somebody that really likes to clock up those Airmiles. Baggage limits are getting smaller every year, and a smaller tripod can make a significant weight saving in your checked luggage, or even it into your carry-on luggage if permitted by the airline.
My personal choice is the 4-section TQC-14 tripod from Really Right Stuff, but there are lots of other options out there to suit all budgets. So what makes a “travel tripod”, then? There’s no clear cut definition, but generally we are talking about tripods that have a much shorter folded length than a regular tripod, which makes them easier to pack into a suitcase or backpack. The two main ways to achieve a shorter folded length, yet still maintain a decent minimum height when extended, are to have a centre column and 4 or 5 leg sections. The more leg sections you have, the shorter the folder length, but be aware that this also reduces stability. A lot of travel tripods also have ingenious ways of folding the legs back around the tripod’s top plate as well to that the depth of the top plate is stored within the folded length of the legs.
A good tripod is a really important part of any photographer’s kit, and if you only have a large, heavy one, then there’s a good change that you’ll be tempted to leave it at home when you’re trying to pack your gear with the airline’s weight constraints. All of this is not to say that you absolutely need to have two tripods, either. If you carefully choose an excellent travel tripod, then those using smaller setups like mirrorless cameras, or small-bodied DSLRs, can comfortably use a travel tripod for everyday usage. I love my travel tripod and actually use it more than my larger one, but I keep a bigger one for wildlife photography with my large super telephoto lenses.
If I’m taking the time and effort to travel somewhere new, I want to make sure I maximize the number of different photos I bring back with me. One of the easiest ways to do this is to travel with a short prime lens that has a much faster maximum aperture than my usual zoom lenses. When you shoot wide open with something like a 24mm f/1.4 or a 50mm f/1.8, it can create a very distinctive look that can’t be replicated by a standard zoom like a kit lens or a 24-105mm f/4. This means I come home with a broader variety of images.
Since short prime lenses are usually quite small, they also make excellent travel companions. On top of the distinctive look to their images, the wider aperture also comes in handy for getting a faster shutter speed at night, or a lower ISO when you’re exploring dark interior locations such as a church. Whilst I’d never go anywhere without a standard zoom like a 24-70 or a 24-105, you’ll always find a faster prime lens in my bag as well.
Roller bags make a lot of sense for airline travel, particularly if you’re travelling with more than a couple of lenses and more than one camera. When it comes to the picking the best rolling camera bags, you need look no further than Think Tank Photo. Whenever you walk into the media centre at any major sporting event, it’s literally littered with Think Tank roller bags in every corner and locked to every desk. They make a pretty large variety of rollers to suit various national and international carry-on limits, although my favourite is the Roller Derby which is pictured above. They build these things for heavy professional usage and every feature is meticulously thought out, they’re just a real treat to own and work out of!
Note: Whenever you use my links to shop and spend more than $50 on the Think Tank website, you’ll be able to choose yourself an awesome free gift at the checkout.
A good shoulder bag is an important part of my travel kit because I always want to take advantage of as much carry-on allowance as I can. Most airlines stipulate that you can have “1 bag + 1 personal item” and this personal item can be a laptop bag. The great thing is that a laptop takes up relatively little room in the bag, and this leaves me space for additional lenses and other necessary accessories like hard drives and battery chargers.
My current picks for shoulder bags are the Think Tank My 2nd Brain 15 Briefcase, and the Peak Design Everyday Messenger. Both bags are a little different in their usage cases, though. The Everyday messenger is much bigger and is capable of holding cameras and lenses, although it doesn’t do such a good job at organizing smaller accessories. On the other hand, the Think Tank MSB15 is probably the best organizational bag I’ve ever seen for photographers, but it’s depth means it doesn’t hold cameras well at all, and any extra lenses you want to cram in it would probably be limited to one or two small primes. Don’t buy the Everyday Messenger bag if you’re only looking for a laptop bag, the Think Tank bag is a much better “portable office”. Equally, don’t buy the MSB15 if you want to have a multi-purpose bag that can also take camera gear when needed.
Note: Use code “SM10off” to save 10% from Peak Design, or get a free gift from Think Tank Photo when you spend more than $50 after clicking one of my links.
I think a good tabletop tripod is a great addition to any travel bag because these days you’ll almost certainly come across a “no tripods” zone where your larger tripod will be forbidden. The important thing is to make sure you have something that wil comfortably hold your typical setup. Before I shelled out for the reasonably expensive RRS TFA-01 (pictured above), I tried a few cheaper Manfrotto options and some generic brands, and found there to be a lot of poor products in this part of the photography market. Some that I tested in a store were pictured with DSLRs on the package, but would barely hold a point and shoot. You can take my word for it that the TFA-01 is brilliant, but if you want to go for something a little lighter on your wallet, just make sure you either try it in a store, read some trusted reviews or buy from somewhere like B&H Photo who have excellent return policies (I actually returned one of the cheap Manfrotto ones to B&H when it wasn’t up to scratch).
When it comes to using it, don’t forget that they don’t have to be used on a table! A lot of times I end up using mine to brace my camera against a wall or on top of some kind of railing.
I admit that this is a luxury item and probably not an “essential”, but I don’t go anywhere without them so they have to be on my list. Bose make a a variety of wireless Bluetooth headphones and ear buds and the first time I used a pair, I knew I could never go back to the pesky cabled ones. With many phone manufacturers doing away with 3.5mm headphone ports, these kinds of things will continue to gather popularity. The large over-the-ear ones are comfortable for hours upon hours of listening, and I also really like my weatherproof SoundSport Wireless earbuds as well for my outdoor adventures.
Got a gear question?
Leave it in the comments below!