Travel: You don't need to bring big cameras anymore
Updated: Mar 18
Good news before you pack your travel bag: You don't need to bring your big Canon, Nikon, Sony or Fuji camera with you on vacation. Your smartphone can do the trick for about 90% of what you want to achieve while you are away, unless you're on a safari, need super closeups of people or buildings, or are aiming for super high resolution and want to blow these images up to poster and billboard size.
For the rest of us, our smartphones will do just fine, and our necks and backs will appreciate that you left the big guns and backpacks at home. That, and you don't have to worry about theft either. Walking with a big camera and lenses is a sign that you have at least $4,000 around your neck, or more, depending upon how much you bring.
As you probably know, I explored Paris for two weeks recently with just a pair of iPhones and accessories, and as I write this, am planning to head out to Japan shortly with the same gear in my backpack.
My iPhone 14 Pro Max can shoot 48 megapixel stills, 4K video, and can go from 13mm to 77mm, ultra-wide to medium telephoto, and do everything I need to do while traveling, from big street scenes to wide shots and closeups.
I don't know about you, but when I travel, I usually leave the hotel room first thing in the morning, and won't return until after dinner. That means I'm carrying a big camera and them some around my neck all day long. Two phones in the pocket. Much more comfortable.
Let me tell you about the 4 most important things in my bag: phones, cables, selfie stick/tripod, and power bank, as well as bonus for those of you making video, my mobile microphones. And a backup plan from the road.
(In the above video, I talk about six cameras in my travel bag. Six? Yes, but they don't weigh very much. More on this below*
In 2023, this is now your most important item. No cables=no re-charging of your gear! I like to bring extra cables with me, just in case, even though, let's face it, you can buy these pretty much anywhere you go. I like to have two extra USB A (the old USB cable with the fat silver tip) to Lightning (for charging iPhone) a USB-C (the new kind, with the thin tip) to Lightning, as well as two USB-C to USB-C cables. This way I'm covered for all possibilities, as you'll see when you keep reading.
Also, you'll need to pack some of those little wall chargers to plug into the wall. Who knows if your hotel room will have those cool new lamps with USB slots. Be prepared.
Selfie Stick/Tripod + Smartphone clamp
I swear by the Insta360 Selfie Stick that doubles as a four foot tripod. In fact, the number one question I now get is "Who makes that grip you're always holding?" The accessory helps me make steadier video shots on the iPhone for PhotowalksTV, doubles as a cool way to get group shots, self portraits and has me prepared to make a timelapse video on a dime.
But aren’t selfie sticks illegal? asked my friend Sean. If so, I haven’t gotten the memo. Some European museums apparently frown on selfie stick use inside, (the issue of poking people in the head) but then, I have little desire to shoot inside a crowded museum with it. I’m very happy with the outside, thank you.
And I don’t think there are any rules about not using selfie sticks on the street. If there are, I’ll just put it away and make do, somehow.
This unit costs $25 and can fold up and fit in your pocket. Buyer beware: make sure you get the unit with the built-in tripod. Insta360 (which also makes those wacky 360 cameras) also sells a plain vanilla Selfie Stick, without any bluetooth add-ons like shutter control. Don't buy this one: https://amzn.to/3JrW46O
(To connect your phone to the stick, or a tripod, you'll need a smartphone clamp. These cost from $10 to $30. I like the Manfrotto version, as it's sturdier than others I've used. Sturdy, in that other phones have cracked on me.) You can also use a filmmaking cage for this, which I do. Most travelers won't need it, but for filmmakers, this tool houses the phone, connects directly to the tripod, without the clamp, and gives you places to put your microphone and lighting. My cage comes from SmartRig.
To answer another frequent question, what about just getting a gimbal like the DJI OM Mobile 6 for steadier video? My experience is that the the gimbal is such a pain to set up and balance, and hard to fit in your pocket, that the minor benefits don’t turn into a positive. I think I just do better with the selfie stick.
(Because I'm out producing a video show with my iPhones, I also need a traditional, taller, steady tripod. I bring along the Manfrotto Element Mark II, which sells for around $120. It fits in a suitcase and I love it.)
I don't know about you, but I usually run out of power by around 11 or 12 when I'm out shooting for a PhotowalksTV episode. The juice goes much faster when you're in a video mode. So a power bank is an essential part of the bag. For $20, you can pick up one from Amazon that will give you an extra 8 hours. I’ve got three of them in the bag.
First, you need to charge them up before they can be used, and then, when your phone starts running low, you connect a cable to the phone. Make sure you do a test with the cables before you leave home, and that you have the right cable. (See above, for cables.) Do you use old USB-C or USB-A?
This may sound like insane geek talk, but trust me, if you buy the power adapter, you need to know which cables need to be attached.
Reader alert: the good folks at Belkin have offered one of their power bank/charger combination devices as a giveaway for the next edition of the Photowalk Talks LIVE stream that we do on Thursdays at 2 p.m. PT. The next episode is scheduled for April 6.
(The unit is called the BoostCharge Magnetic Power Bank 5K + Stand and sells for just under $60. You get a power bank, wireless charging and a little stand to help you read on the phone or live stream.)
How to qualify? Submit your best mobile photo to our Flickr group. (If you're not a Flickr member, sign up---it's free, upload a photo, and assign it to the Group.
If you lose your phone while on vacation, you've lost all your images as well, if you don't have a backup plan.
Online backup choices are plentiful---Google One, Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, SmugMug, Mylio Photos. I would recommend you select one, and upload your images to them every night while you're away. Plus, spring for the SanDisk iXpand, a flash drive (selling for around $60) which connects to iPhones and other models, and lets you back up everything physically while you're on the road. That, or you could spring for a small external hard drive ($100 on Amazon for 1 TB SSD drive with no moving parts) and have your laptop ready for transferring everything. If I had the choice, and the laptop with me, I'd do the hard drive,. It's more economical and you'll get a lot more room to play with.
Are you making videos while on the road? The internal microphones on smartphones are fine, except that they pick every sound imaginable. If you're talking into the camera on a busy street, the internal mic will also get the bus going by, the pedestrians talking to one another, the car horns, you name it.
You need a good mic for great audio, and luckily, the folks at Rode make the best mic for travel photography. It's called the Wireless Go II. One part connects to your phone, the other is a little box with a built in mic that you pin on your lapel. You can buy this basic setup for $199, or $299 to get two mics (great for interviews.)
Two iPhones (one for video, the other for stills) two GoPros (because I have them. Walking shots look better on GoPro than on iPhone. The average traveler doesn't need to bring them for an international trip) And two Insta360 cameras. Again, because I have them. The Insta cameras has two lenses on it which sees all sides while you're shooting. Walk to the busy Dotonbori district in Osaka and you can get a shot of you walking through the electric streets, while also seeing the action on the other side.
(That same Insta360 that makes my beloved selfie stick. In fact, the company calls it the "invisible" selfie stick, as its software erases the stick from your hand when you're shooting on the Insta360 camera. Amazing!)
I never throw old phones away, as you can always use them for webcams, a second angle on video, a dedicated timelapse camera, etc. I can come up with a million use cases, and I like to put them to work for PhotowalksTV.
For the rest of you, a phone, cables, power charger, selfie stick/tripod and a backup plan is all you need.
Questions? I'm easy to find on Gmail, AT JeffersonGraham. And don't forget the live show is every Thursday at 2 p.m. PT. Except when I'm traveling. So see you on April 6th!