Minimalist Travel Photography
Canon SX210 at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Minimalist Travel Photography: 1lb of Gear

I snap a lot of photos and by a lot I mean, A LOT. Right now my iPhoto library has exactly 52,175 photos and 1,372 video clips. Although the numbers suggest otherwise, I typically embrace minimalism. In this case it shows through in my photo gear.

Weighing in at just over 1lb and occupying a single jacket pocket worth of space, I present to you my ultimate minimalist photography gear.

But First

Before I begin I just want to mention a couple updates to the site. If you haven’t noticed there’s now a Photos section where I’ve began to post some shots from our European adventure. Over the next several weeks I’ll continue to post more photos from Europe and some others from past trips so if you’d like to be notified when the new pics go up, both from the past and for future trips, enter your email address below and have all the photo goodness delivered straight to your inbox.

Speaking of email updates, if you’ve already subscribed to the site to receive blog post updates via email, you’ll want to resubscribe below. I’ve made some changes and moved our email notifications over to an actual newsletter system. Now instead of the automatically generated Feedburner email you’ll get a true email version of the post that looks just a good as the site does. Cool right? :)

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, on to the gear.

Pocket Gear

When it comes to having an ultimate travel photography rig the main requirement for me is that it be easy to use. By easy to use I don’t mean that the camera is in Auto mode all the time so I don’t have to understand how it works. By easy I mean that it’s compact enough to carry with me at all times, can handle most any situation I can throw at it and it’s easily accessible in a moments notice.

But just remember that photography, like most everything else, has little to do with the gear you own and everything to do with how you use it. Look at Everett Bogue. He has a thoroughly impressive Flickr account filled with photos taken with just his iPhone.

While my ultimate travel photography gear is more than simply an iPhone, it’s not all that much more. Mine weighs in at just over 1lb and takes only a jacket pocket worth of space, not too shabby.

The Ultimate Point & Shoot

First I’ll start with the camera as that’s really the most important part of my entire setup. I have a Canon SX210 which boasts some impressive stats for a point & shoot. It comes in at 14MP with a 14x optical zoom which is quite hefty for it’s pocket size and takes full 720p HD video. Although this camera is a bit larger than other Canon point and shoots, it’s still very much pocket sized and being able to use this one camera for both photos and video really comes in handy. Also with manual mode allowing full control over aperture and shutter speed this camera can do it all. In my opinion, control-wise, this is as close as you can get to a DSLR camera while staying in the point and shoot size and price range.

Just Keep Shooting

When you’re on a trip the last thing you want is your camera battery to die or your memory card to fill. That’s why I always carry a spare battery and a fairly large memory card. Once you get into the higher megapixel range it’s always a good idea to get a fast card. Although the Transcend card is definitely on the cheap side when it comes to SD cards, I’ve always had good luck with them. For speed I’d recommend a class 10 SDHC card.

One more thing to note is that there have been enough mixed reviews on Transcend cards that I wouldn’t advise relying on them too heavily. I’ve personally always had good luck with the cards, but I also backup my data and never leave photos on the card for more than a day or 2. Others haven’t been so lucky and have lost photos and video due to failed cards. When it comes to SD cards, at times you get what you pay for, but also I wouldn’t go spending an arm and a leg on the fastest, most expensive SD card you can find when a simple, cheap, affordable one will do the trick the majority of the time.

The Little Things

After the camera, the battery and the SD card, the rest of my gear is quite basic. First I have the case. It’s a Canon PSC-85 Soft Case. Right after I bought the camera I was searching Amazon trying to find a Canon branded case designed specifically for it. After I wasn’t able to find one I started searching based on dimensions and came across this gem. There couldn’t be a more perfect fit case if Canon designed it for this camera themselves. Since this case is meant to hold an old Canon camera it’s extremely affordable, which is just another plus.

The case is a perfect fit for the camera, and the zipper front pouch is the precise size of 1 spare battery, a lens cloth (I use the Apple branded cloth that came with my Macbook Pro), the Gorillapod quick release clip and a screw driver to tighten the clip (a US Nickel). I would go into more detail on those items, but other than the Gorillapod I think they’re self explanatory.

The final item in my ultimate minimalist photo gear is the Gorillapod. It’s a tiny little tripod with bendy legs that can wrap and contort to fit many different shooting locations. I may not reach it often, but it is convenient little guy to have around.

One added little plus of the tripod is that it makes for a simple makeshift steadycam. No, of course this tiny tripod is in no way capable of keeping your camera steady as you pan and walk with it, but by pointing the legs outward and loosely gripping the ends you’re able to create somewhat less jerky motion than you might experience by hand holding the camera. That said, I believe I’ve only done this once.

Beautiful Simplicity

I consider this setup to be the ultimate in minimalist travel photography. Sure I could go all hardcore and just carry a camera phone, but for enthusiast level photography AND HD video, this rig can’t be beat.

In thinking from a purely minimalist perspective I would actually consider eliminating the Gorillapod. Although it’s an excellent, portable, and tiny tripod that can double as a little makeshift steady cam, I simply don’t use it all that often and don’t have to have it in my permanent carry gear.

The Extras

After jotting down the gear that I carry with me at all times I realized I was leaving out a bit. One obvious necessity is the battery charger. Now the SX210 has excellent battery life, probably better than any of the other point and shoot Canons that I’ve had, but there’s no getting around the fact that I have to recharge battery eventually. The plus side though is that the charger is something that simply stays in my bag or back at the hostel while I’m out so it’s really not an inconvenience at all.

Optional Gear

There is one important thing to keep in mind when doing anything with important data. You must back it up.

I can’t begin to count how many people would approach me at work, back when I was an IT guy, and come to me in a panic asking if I can recover their crashed computer, specifically all their precious family photos. Hard drives, memory cards and thumbdrives all crash. It’s less of a question of if they will, but more one of when they will. Do yourself a favor, if you have anything in a digital format that you don’t want to lose, back it up.

This brings me to travel photography. While keeping a minimal amount of gear you may overlook backing up your photos while on the road. But especially on a long term trip you won’t want to lose any of those digital memories so making regular backups is vital.

While we traveled I of course had my 13″ Macbook Pro with me since I was working while traveling. This meant that every night, when we were back at our hotel, our hostel or our bed & breakfast, I would transfer all the day’s photos to my laptop. Now in all honesty I would like to say that I followed my advice of backing up my photos by doing this, but in preparing for the next day I would actually delete those files from my memory card once they transferred.

Instead of using it as a backup I chose to simply use it for storage and I was lucky that I never lost anything, but before you do the same you have to determine if losing your photos is a risk you’re willing to take.

Now if you’re traveling with a minimal amount of baggage, which I highly suggest, you probably won’t have a laptop with you, but you do have a couple options for backing up your photos. First, specifically in Rome I noticed a few places offering SD card to DVD services. You go in with your card, they burn a DVD and you’re on your way. Although they promote this as a way to clear your card and take more pictures this is also a great option for getting a backup. I would never suggest going crazy with this, but if you’re on a several week or several month trip it wouldn’t hurt to backup your photos every couple weeks or so.

Now for those of you with money to burn I’ve also heard great things about the Epson P-3000 40GB Multimedia Storage Device. This is basically a self contained SD card backup device. On the positive side you don’t need a computer, but the downside is that it’s pretty expensive.

Alright there you have it, my ultimate minimalist photo gear. So what do you think? This is my ultimate camera setup for home and abroad, what does yours look like? Whether you have a point and shoot that you just throw in your bag or a full DSLR rig with multiple lenses let us know in the comments.

For the Skimmers

I know not everyone will read the post, sometimes you just want the details. Well skimmers, this is for you :)


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