Take your best vacation photos: the must-have gear you need

Your summer vacations can provide amazing opportunities for budget travel photography. And with powerful cameras built into phones like that iPhone 13 Pro max and the Galaxy S22 Ultra, along with a plethora of amazing mirrorless cameras from Canon, Sony and Fujifilm, getting great pictures doesn’t mean taking a huge bag with you when you travel.

Here, I’ll walk you through the essential gear you need to take with you on your trip, whether it’s flying a jet to a tropical island, hiking snow-capped mountains, or spending a long weekend in your local area.

I also recommend some extras to consider if you want to return home with some creative artwork instead of just simple holiday snaps.

Continue reading: I’ve traveled the world for years. These 7 things are always on my packing list

Choose the right camera

Choosing the right camera is basically a balancing act between overall image quality and the physical size of the camera. Your phone, for example, is small and fits right in your pocket, but while top-end phones have multiple lenses and can take amazing shots, the enthusiasts among you will probably want to upgrade to a proper camera system that allows for lens swapping. If you decide to go with just your phone, then be sure to stop by CNET’s Telephone Photography 101 page for a variety of shooting tips.

A person carrying a camera bag

Katie Collins/CNET

Traveling photographers now have more choices than ever as mirrorless cameras offer much smaller body sizes than the traditional DSLRs of years past. Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Fujifilm X-S10 are easy to wear around the neck and quick to operate so you never miss a shot. I like to shoot with full-frame cameras, which have larger image sensors that offer better dynamic range – ideal for pulling back the lights in sunset shots or lifting the shadows in those night shots overlooking old Italian avenues.

My favorite option is the Canon EOS RP, a full-frame camera with an incredibly compact body size that’s ideal for keeping in your backpack. Paired with a 24-105mm f4 lens, it can take wide-angle shots of expansive landscapes and also zoom in to focus on smaller details. A wide-angle zoom lens means you can likely do your entire trip with just one lens and not feel weighed down by extra gear.

If you want to travel exceptionally light then Canon’s latest 50mm f/1.8 lens (often referred to as the Nifty Fifty) is incredibly small and light and combined with the EOS RP makes for superb road and travel travel -Setup with a fast aperture that makes for beautiful bokeh. If possible, take a look at the camera you are considering at a camera store and see how it feels in your hand or when you have it around your neck. If you hike a lot or take long walks in the city, every little weight counts.

A person with a Canon EOS RP

Canon’s EOS RP offers full-frame quality but in a very compact size, especially when paired with the tiny 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The best travel tripod

A tripod isn’t essential for all travel photography, but when the light gets dimmer and you need to slow the shutter speed down to several seconds to get a good exposure, you’ll need one to secure your camera. You’ll definitely need a tripod if you want to capture those nighttime shots overlooking a beautiful bay, capture the stars over those snow-capped mountains, or capture those artistic long exposures of waterfalls.

A bridge over water with wispy clouds in a blue sky background

Using a stable tripod allowed me to slow down the shutter speed to capture the movement of the water and clouds over the Forth Bridge.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Again, size matters, and you should be looking for a compact travel tripod that will easily fit in – or attach to the outside of – your backpack. Modern materials like carbon fiber keep the weight down, but they also tend to be more expensive, so you’ll have to decide how much you’re willing to shell out.

As the name suggests, the Peak Design Travel Tripod is a great travel tripod thanks to its small size when folded and light weight. I’ve been on all-day hikes with this strapped to my back and barely noticed its presence – something I can’t say for most tripods. Be sure to check out my full roundup of the best tripods to buy in 2022. Or, if weight is really an issue, you can even try using your own DIY tripod.

A person carrying a backpack style camera bag

Katie Collins/CNET

A real adventure backpack

A dedicated camera bag should be at the top of your list – after all, you don’t want your fancy new gear to be tossed around and broken, do you? A good bag has compartments to keep your camera safe and secure, but also gives you quick access. It’s also important to find one that also offers plenty of space to store other items that you may need on the go.

If you’re going to be carrying it all day, I recommend a backpack with two shoulder straps instead of a crossbody bag with one strap. It distributes the weight across both shoulders and keeps you comfortable for longer. Look for things like side entry zips so you can quickly get your camera out when inspiration strikes; lots of extra pockets for batteries and snacks; weather-resistant materials; and attachment points for carrying your tripod.

I’ve done a lot of hard work for you by rounding mine up Top photo backpacks for 2022. There are opportunities for all types of photography, from short city breaks to multi-day hikes with lots of equipment. Read it through and make sure what you’re taking with you is appropriate for your goal.

Passers-by in the foreground of a beautiful cityscape

Keeping your camera handy means you’re always ready to shoot whenever you see a good opportunity.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The important extras

The list above is really the essentials to take with you. How much more you bring depends on how seriously you take your photography. Always remember to have several spare batteries and a charger with you, as even the best cameras tend to only give you a day’s worth of photos. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a nice afternoon destination only to find you’re exhausted in the morning. If you have a spare in your pocket, you can swap it out and continue shooting into the evening.

If your goal is to capture stunning landscape views, filters called neutral density graduated filters are worth considering. These only darken the top half of a photo – to control overly bright skies – and allow you to capture an evenly exposed scene. Look for square filter sets that allow you to use adapter rings for a variety of lens sizes.

A marker in the water

By using a neutral density filter I was able to blur the movement of the water until it became a smooth and silky surface.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you want to experiment with long exposures, take advantage of solid neutral density filters. These dim the light throughout the scene, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without completely washing out the photo. The Lee Filters Big Stopper is an excellent filter that is dark enough to allow you to take photos for several seconds – or even longer – in broad daylight. For capturing cloud trails rippling across the sky, it’s worth trying, although it’s not cheap.

Looking for more photography tips? Check out these Five cell phone camera tricks to add some flair to your Instagram. Here is our summary of the The best action cams of 2022plus the best free and paid photo editing apps for iphone and android. Take your best vacation photos: the must-have gear you need

Chris Barrese

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