Margaret Brown’s tips and advice to ensure you pack the right camera gear for your next holiday.

Packing a camera bag for a holiday trip is a personal matter and depends on the type of trip you’re taking. People staying in one place will want different things from those on the move throughout their vacation. Serious photographers and videographers will have different requirements from casual snappers, who may be able to get by with just their smartphones. Matching your device to the shooting conditions is important.

Cameras with good environmental protection are the best choice when travelling to areas with challenging environments. (Source: OM Digital Solutions.)

Those holidaying by the sea need gear that can withstand salt spray and sand, while those going inland should provide dust protection for their equipment. Weather-resistant cameras and lenses are good ‘take anywhere’ choices – but make sure you understand the limitations of the protection.

Unfortunately, IP (Ingress Protection) ratings are seldom provided by camera manufacturers. This international standard is the most widely used standard for rating environmental protection for all types of equipment. The system is explained here:

‘Weatherproof’ cameras and lenses often fall into the IPX1 rating category, where the sealing provides protection against ‘vertically falling droplets, such as condensation, sufficient that no damage or interrupted functioning of components will be incurred when an item is upright’. You’d expect to find the major joins between moving parts have narrow rubber gaskets between them and there’s a similar band around the rim of the lens mount where it fits onto the camera.

Only equipment with IP53-rated weatherproofing can withstand direct water sprays from up to 60° off vertical. (Source: OM Digital Solutions.)

IP53-rated weatherproofing has much more thorough sealing that should provide 1) Partial protection against dust and other particulates, such that any ingress will not damage or impede the satisfactory performance of internal components; and 2) Protection against direct moisture spray at angles up to 60° off vertical. This is what you should look for if you plan to take photos and record videos in wilderness environments, particularly in places like Tasmania and the Wet Tropics.

Travel light

Light gear frees you up to engage in a wider variety of activities. It’s also best if you’re flying since most airlines restrict carry-on baggage to a maximum of 14 kg. Many reduce that to 7 kg when you’re flying on a smaller plane. Make sure your camera bag will fit easily into the overhead locker or under the seat in front of you so it’s easy to access during the flight.

Two different kinds of compact, lightweight camera bags. On the left is a shoulder bag that can accommodate a camera plus some accessories, while on the right is a holster bag for carrying a camera with a lens attached (but little else). (Source: ProMaster by Camera House.)

Weight restrictions are strictly policed for smaller planes so you need a backup plan in case you encounter resistance and/or situations that exceed the strict limits. If your carry-on kit is too heavy, the airline staff may require the heaviest item to go into checked-in luggage – where it runs the risk of rough handling.

A small, lightweight camera body plus an extended-range zoom lens should provide the versatility you need for visiting most tourist locations. (Source: iStock by Camera House.)

Even the lightest camera bag takes up roughly one-quarter of your airline carry-on allowance, but with careful gear selection you can add a backup camera body and/or a spare battery. Base your kit on a camera body plus an extended-range zoom lens. If you have spare capacity, add a wide-angle lens for landscapes and cities or a telephoto lens for sports and wildlife.

Will your smartphone be adequate?

Smartphones are convenient because they’re the camera you always have at hand. If your phone is a recent model with more than one camera module, it may be ‘good enough’ to use in certain situations.

Smartphone cameras are convenient to use and make it easy to share photos on the spot as you’re travelling.

‘Good enough’ is a subjective decision that is strongly influenced by how you view your photos (and, to a lesser extent, videos). It’s also much easier to post images online directly from your phone than from a regular camera.

Images from recently released smartphones are sometimes ‘good enough’ for normal sharing via social media and viewing on TV sets. They can also tolerate some editing and be printed at up to A3+ size. Smartphones are also convenient to use, particularly in cities where you’ll spend a lot of time walking around.

Smartphones also make it easier to capture panorama shots, but watch out for angular distortion and other smartphone camera shortfalls. The main proviso when taking photos with a smartphone is to remain within its inherent limitations. Most smartphones work best with static, fairly well-lit scenes and with their main moderately wide-angle lens module, which usually has the largest sensor behind it.

Some smartphone cameras have impressive zooming capabilities, as shown in this illustration, although the end results can be disappointing. The red rectangle outlines the area covered by the highest zoom magnification, which is shown below the main image. Both images were recorded with the default resolution and quality settings and both files are similar in size.

Image quality begins to deteriorate once you zoom into the telephoto range and while the computational bokeh can create an illusion of background blurring, it’s never as good as the ‘real thing’ from a fast telephoto lens. User interfaces and ergonomics also fall well short of a proper camera because you’re totally dependent on the screen for both viewing and controlling the camera, and it may be difficult to read in some situations.

Adjustments aren’t as easy to access or apply and, even though flagship phones may support raw file capture, the optical limitations of the small sensors can be obvious in unprocessed files. Smartphone images and videos also often look over-processed and HDR effects often result in totally unnatural colours which may look ‘cool’ but aren’t true to life.

Even a fixed-lens camera should give you a larger sensor, easier user interface, and greater control over the eventual image and video quality. One that takes interchangeable lenses will provide the best results when image quality and versatility are paramount.

Buying new gear

Many people use an upcoming trip as an excuse to buy a new camera – and there are some advantages in doing this. However, if the equipment you already have does the job it doesn’t make sense to replace it unless it provides new and improved features you know will improve your photography.

Your local camera shop can explain the requirements and procedures for the Tourist Refund Scheme, which lets you purchase and try out new equipment and have the GST refunded when you leave the country. (Source: iStock by Camera House.)

If you’d like to upgrade one or more items in your kit, Australia has an excellent Tourist Refund Scheme that provides a tax refund on purchases up to 60 days before departure. This gives you plenty of time to become familiar with your new gear before you leave. Conditions that apply to purchases made under the scheme are as follows:
– You must be prepared to take all your goods on board as carry-on luggage.
– You must spend at least AUD300 in total (including GST) from a supplier with a single Australian Business Number (ABN).
– You must get a valid paper tax invoice in English with the required personal and retailer information.
– You must declare any goods you bring back to Australia, for which a TRS claim was made.
– You can remove your goods from the packaging and use the goods before you depart as long as the officer can verify the goods against the corresponding tax invoice when the TRS claim is processed.

TRS refunds can be claimed at special facilities at your point of departure and you’re advised to allow at least 90 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your aircraft for the processing to be completed. Full details of the scheme can be found at

Make informed choices
No matter how tempting a camera or lens may appear ‘on paper’, you should never buy any piece of equipment that doesn’t feel comfortable in your hands; it’ll only end up being left in a cupboard. Heavy gear can tire you quickly when you’re hiking or walking through a busy city. Exhausted photographers seldom take good photos.

Visit your local camera shop to see what’s available. Well-informed staff can explain the advantages and disadvantages of different cameras and lenses and let you handle a wide range of different brands and camera and lens types. It’s also wise to check out independent reviews of products that interest you.

Useful links

Camera gear reviews

Travel camera choice

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Travel Photography 4th Edn pocket guide.

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House