Advice on what to pack in your camera bag for your next holiday trip.

For many photographers, summer holidays mean trips to exotic places, often specifically to take pictures, and the high Australian dollar has provided a powerful added incentive for holidaying overseas. But, even if you travel within Australia, there are decisions to make about what equipment to take.

So, before packing your bags, it’s vital to decide what will go into your camera bag. Consider the following:

1. Research Where You’re Going. When planning your trip, check out what photographic opportunities you’re likely to encounter and decide how you might best capitalise upon them. Different situations will require different types ““ and amounts ““ of equipment. Making the right choices dramatically increases the chances that you’ll enjoy your trip and come home with memorable shots.


Packing light is essential on trekking holidays. Choosing a small camera and extended range zoom lens, plus a holster-style camera bag that can be carried on your chest gives you freedom of movement without restricting your ability to take photos. (Source: Kata.)

If you’re going to a resort, or on a cruise, you should be able to pack a lot more gear than if you’re trekking in the wilderness and have to carry tent, sleeping bag, clothing and food in addition to your camera gear. Consider the likely weather conditions and choose waterproof equipment and/or a sealed camera bag if you’re likely to be caught in the rain or spray.

2. Know Your Equipment. Buying new equipment at the duty free shop in the airport or shipping terminal as you depart is a BAD idea. You won’t have time to familiarise yourself with its functions. If a malfunction occurs you’ll be unable to obtain a replacement quickly or get the device repaired. You may also find the item you want or need isn’t on sale.

If you really want to buy new equipment for the trip, make sure you do it at least a couple of weeks before you leave. Australians travelling overseas can take advantage of the Government’s Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), which enables them to claim back GST paid on goods valued at $300 or more (GST inclusive) purchased from one retailer within 30 days of departure.

You can unpack and use the equipment during this period. All that is required is to present a valid tax invoice to the TRS facilities located just inside the outward immigration processing facilities at your point of departure. You must also show your passport and international boarding pass as well as the goods covered in the invoice. Refunds are credited to your credit card or bank account or may be available as a cheque in any of several currencies.

Make sure you read the camera manual so you know where all controls are. Keep a copy on your laptop so you can check up on infrequently-used settings. (Most manufacturers provide complete manuals in PDF format on the software disk.)


A shoulder bag that holds an interchangeable-lens camera plus a notebook computer and basic accessories is a good choice when faced with tough weight restrictions. (Source: Lowepro.)

Should You Upgrade Your Equipment?

If you already have a camera kit you’re happy with, will you gain anything by upgrading to a new body or adding extra lenses? The only reason to upgrade your camera body is when a new model will give you something you don’t have in your existing camera or provide a significant improvement in image quality.

While it probably pays to upgrade camera bodies every second or third generation, think carefully about the following before you do so.

More megapixels won’t make you a better photographer; they will only allow you to print your photos larger. So, if you never print above A4 size, you don’t require higher resolution.

Although more megapixels provide greater flexibility for cropping shots, this is a lazy way to take pictures. Zooming with your feet (ie, walking towards or away from the subject) keeps the full image resolution but changes perspectives and inter-relationships of subject elements and usually produces a more interesting shot.

Additional equipment makes your camera bag heavier. This is an issue if you’ll be travelling by air (see point 4 below for information on baggage limits) or when you have to lug your bag any distance.

However, if you only have one camera body, buying a second body for back-up is usually a smart move. Choose one that can use the same lenses but provides something your main body doesn’t, such as lighter weight, a smaller sensor that provides a crop factor advantage with longer focal lengths, or innovative shooting modes.

How many lenses do you need? Even serious photographers can often get by with two lenses: a mid-range zoom and a telephoto zoom. Look at your current equipment and find out which of your lenses have been used to produce more than three quarters of your best shots. These lenses should be the backbone of your kit.

Replace existing lenses when updated models provide quantifiable advantages (a wider maximum aperture, stabilisation, faster and/or quieter AF motors or lighter weight). Add lenses ONLY if they will enable you to expand your photographic options with respect to angle-of-view coverage or close focusing, or if you decide to specialise in a particular genre (macro, portrait, landscape, wildlife).

3. Plan Ahead. If you’re planning a tramp in the New Zealand alps or the Overland Track in Tasmania, a moderately high level of fitness is required. You’ll need to train for several months beforehand and be very selective about what you take with you.

Alternatively, if your holiday is in a resort or on a cruise ship, you may not face significant physical demands. However, you should still find out what picture-taking opportunities will be available and how you can take advantage of them.

Study your itinerary and determine how much walking, hiking or climbing you’ll be doing and tailor the weight of your bag to match your carrying capacity.

If you’re going to a cold place like Antarctica, get dressed up in plenty of layers of clothing then put on your thick parka and see whether your camera bag will fit over it.

Try walking along an uneven terrain and stopping to take out your camera to shoot pictures. You may find you need a new camera bag more urgently than you need a new body or lens!

4. Pack What You Can Carry. Find out the airline’s weight restrictions for carry-on baggage well before you fly and keep your camera bag within the limits. International luggage allowances can be different from domestic ones, so for multiple flights, pack to the most restrictive ““ which may be as low as one carry-on bag only, weighing a maximum of six kilograms (as it is on Icelandair, for example). Such restrictions are decidedly photographer-unfriendly.

You may be able to meet this limit with a single DSLR plus an extended-range zoom lens and a netbook. But that will also restrict your shooting options and the amount of image editing, organisation and storage you can access while travelling.


A lightweight bag, such as Lowepro’s CompuDay Photo 150 messenger bag can hold a small DSLR with kit lens attached and a laptop with up to a 15.6-inch screen, plus accessories and personal items. (Source: Lowepro.)

If you take a hard-sided check-in bag, you can wrap some of the equipment in clothing and pack it in the centre of the case for added protection. Lenses have been transported successfully in this way and we’ve also had a laptop travel in checked-in baggage several times without being damaged on flights between Iceland, Greenland and Denmark.

But there’s no guarantee your case won’t be subjected to impact damage or lost in the baggage handling system. And the extra weight could make it exceed the 20 kg checked-in baggage limit.

Sort equipment into items you can’t do without, things that are nice to have and non-essentials and pack using your priorities. Study the Kit Suggestions and decide which category you fit into. Then use the suggestions to assemble equipment that will meet your needs.


If you’re visiting a cold place like Antarctica, make sure your camera bag fits over your outer clothing ““ and choose a camera bag that makes it easy to reach your equipment, even when you’re wearing gloves.

5. Extras: Multiple memory cards are a must ““ and make sure you have somewhere safe to keep them and a way to separate cards containing images from unused cards (stick-on paper dots work well). Spare batteries are mandatory for each camera body. (You can save weight if the same charger will charge both batteries.)

Although a tripod can be useful, you can do without one if your lenses are stabilised and/or your camera performs well at high ISO settings. Lighter alternatives include monopods, table tripods, clamps and beanbags, and you can often improvise by setting the camera on a table or window ledge and triggering the shutter with the self-timer.

Off-camera storage if necessary for trips longer than a couple of days. Taking a laptop or netbook computer plus a USB-powered hard drive on longer trips is usually a good idea, even though it adds weight to your carry-on baggage.

A portable external hard disk drive will provide facilities for backing up shots as you travel. It can be packed in a different bag from your laptop to minimise the risk of losing your images if the laptop is lost or stolen.

Look for the best ‘bang for the buck’ when shopping for a drive as you may find only a few dollars’ difference in price between, say, a 320GB and a 500GB drive. The longer your trip, the more back-up capacity you will require.

Finally, a lens hood is one of the best ways to ensure your shots are plucky and printable. Flare can dramatically reduce image contrast and introduce artefacts that can be difficult (or impossible) to remove. Even wide-angle lenses benefit from properly-designed hoods.

This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 50.

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