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There is an unspoken truth that most newbies to travel photography are generally unaware of. It’s a secret camera stores avoid mentioning when fresh faced photo enthusiast consider the purchase of their first “serious machine”. Size (and weight of a camera) matters when taking pictures. It matters especially when travelling, too.

First Purchase

Blinded by the promise of great dynamic range, high ISO settings, amazing pixel count, focus speed and more, budding photographers often walk away from camera shops with a new, entry to mid range DSLR dangling from neck or shoulder.

However, extended travel, has the ability of making one come to terms with a minimalist and low key approach to many things. For example, it forces one to accept and deal with the limited space of back pack, a suitcase or a pair of motorcycle saddle bags (panniers). The space available must be managed wisely with convenience and comfort in mind.

The learning curve here can be harsh. Throwing away grandmas hand knitted socks while on the road is heart breaking and so is trashing costly “good to have” but never used gear. There’s no room for extras in a rug sack and that includes souvenirs, books and laptops.

Camera with lenses
Camera with lenses

Minimalist approach

Experienced travelers want light, small, tough, versatile as adjectives for their travel stuff. From clothes to sleeping bags to tents the mantra never changes. It makes sense then to go by the same rules when selecting camera equipment to carry around the globe. Light, small, tough does the job and it’s here that the flaws of the capable but cumbersome DSLR camera become clear.

DSLR cameras are bulky, to say the least, especially with any lens greater than a 50mm prime. DSLRs are also loathe knocks, drops, dust, sand, water and moisture. They’re often heavy as well, especially when extra lenses are part of the kit. Furthernore, DSLRs are also perceived as expensive desirable items that can draw the wrong sort of attention occasionally.

DSLR cameras and their accessories are a burden. They’re such a burden that sometimes they’re willfully left in hotel rooms, or car trunks rather than carried around like bricks on a strap.

Compact Systems

But, technology comes to the rescue. Over the last seven or eight years the photo industry has delivered a new line of smaller cameras known as CSCs (Compact System Cameras) or simply “mirrorless” cameras.

With comparable picture quality, many mirrorless devices offer the advantage of notable reduction in size and weight compared to their DSLR counterparts. Mirrorless also machines offer the advantage of “shoot as you see” technology that does away with histograms, chimping and reduces the number of repeat shots, to get an image “just right”.

Travel Cameras
Choose a good travel camera and use it.

Is it all good? No, in reality, as with all things newish, there are flaws in the new system to overcome. The availability of lenses, has hindered the appeal of CSC systems at large (as of 2017). Also, image quality, some argue, is still better in an old style machine than a CSC, but not by much and hardly noticeable to the untrained eye.

Regardless, size when traveling is paramount and small, packable cameras trump bigger and bulkier ones even at the price of lower image quality. Six mega pixels is all the National Geographic require to publish a picture. This is way below what most entry level cameras are capable of today and certainly any CSC.

When you’re “out there” in the field with all things being acceptably equal, the most important feature of your camera will be whether you can carry it comfortably all day or not

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