The mistake of taking a DSLR camera with you on vacation

A beach near Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines
A beach near Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines

Earlier in 2008, I took a 3 month journey to Asia. Primarily visiting Kyushu in Japan, parts of the Philippines and exploring Thailand for the first time in my life. I was very excited and I was thinking that I should bring my good camera equipment with the expensive lenses I've bought.

Original article: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-mistake-of-taking-a-DSLR-with-you-on-vacation

So the Digital SLR was put in my luggage in addition to my ultra wide lens, my telephoto and my standard lens. Three lenses costing thousands of dollars not including the camera itself. Factor in the weight and my camera equipment took over a majority of the space in my carry-on luggage. My camera equipment took up so much space that I had to bring a shoulder bag for the clothes that couldn't fit in my carry on luggage. Even though for this trip I traveled light. Pants, shorts, underwear and some miscellaneous bathroom stuff I still needed that carry on luggage.

Here's my thoughts about being a tourist in another country.

Don't attract attention to oneself on the streets

I don't want to be seen as a tourist. That's hard when you are holding a big fat professional looking camera taking pictures of everything around you. People notice, they become alert and you lose that spontaneity that you wanted in your photos. Granted that camera takes beautiful pictures but when you can't become part of the anonymous crowd by carrying this big camera, you lose that local flavor.

Going on tour groups and seeing old temples, monuments or taking a boat ride down a river with your camera and being surrounded by other tourists with their big expensive cameras taking pictures is one thing, but walking in the city and feeling the vibe of the local people is an entirely different affair - in this situation, the last thing you want to do is bring out that big black box that just screams attention.

Original article: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-mistake-of-taking-a-DSLR-with-you-on-vacation 

I remember I was walking on Sukumvit road in Bangkok holding my camera looking for something interesting when I came upon two Bangkok police officers talking to a foreigner next to his motorbike. Probably giving him a ticket. I was right there. I could have brought up my camera and taken a shot. I didn't do it. I was too scared to bring that big fat camera and take a photo of the cops. The last thing I wanted to do was piss off some cops because this was my vacation, and I didn't want that hassle. Would I have used a small digital point and shoot camera? I don't just don't know.

A picture of Magellan's cross in Cebu, Philippines.
A picture of Magellan's cross in Cebu, Philippines.

Face it, holding a DSLR intimidates strangers or you might see a glimmer in someone's eye who decides to follow you a few blocks inside Intramuros in Manila for no reason at all. I'm paranoid for my safety, and my thinking is that anyone in Asia who has a big expensive looking camera must be rich, and if that person is a foreigner, well, he had the money to vacation right? So he must have money with him and the fact that he's a foreigner, well, he has to go home so he won't have time to file a police report and do the necessary procedures to catch the thief.

I still believe that DSLR cameras are incredibly great for taking beautiful pictures. However, for a vacation, I now believe that a camera should be as small as possible. What kind of cameras would I choose to go with me on a vacation?

In the high end point and shoot category, I would bring a Panasonic LX7 that came out earlier this year and has a big 3” inch screen, a very fast lens and it's really small but great for an enthusiast and easy enough with its automatic functions that a novice can use it off that bat. Sony has the RX100 and Canon has the G15 - all very good cameras. These cameras normally cost around $400 to $600. However, the LX7 was on sale a few days ago at $300, so expect the prices to drop a few months after they come to market! From my point of view, the low end cameras are being cannibalized by smart phone cameras which are good enough and can take surprisingly good pictures incognito!

Why buy a high end compact camera? Compared to their low end cousins, the high end cameras tend to be have better lenses, bigger sensors, better construction, more features and more manual controls. Things that makes taking a photograph a joy!

Original article: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-mistake-of-taking-a-DSLR-with-you-on-vacation

If I had to bring a DSLR, right now, it would be either a Micro Four Thirds or a Sony NEX camera. Both camera systems come with kit lenses that are small enough that you can basically carry the entire set in a small bag. However, the Micro Four Thirds lenses tend to be smaller and there is a greater variety of lenses geared for the Micro Four Thirds system.

Carrying multiples lenses bogs you down

I was given one of those photographers jackets and so I had all three lenses that weighed almost 10 pounds on me. It was pretty cool for the first few days wearing that jacket and all its pockets. Taking out a lens and looking like I was a photographer for National Geographic. Looking smug. That's how I looked. That's how I felt.  

Then I started the mountain treks, the long city walks, the multiple tours and found myself getting sweaty and tired and really uncomfortable wearing that jacket and the additional weight! Anyway, I found myself using the standard lens for most of the photos I took. 

Original article: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-mistake-of-taking-a-DSLR-with-you-on-vacation

Things took another turn when I got a small case of diarrhea. It was pretty bad for a few days and so my camera gear was placed in safekeeping until I got better. It wasn't the end of the world, but I sure hell wasn't going to carry that much gear on me, wearing me down as nature called. 

One other thing is that when you're alone with no one else with you, I tended to be extra careful and found myself not enjoying my surroundings. I was more worried about my equipment being stolen, breaking or falling. There were so many times when I had to sit on a bus and I took off my jacket with my equipment and placed it on the seat next to me. I felt relieved because of the heavy weight was off me. The last thing I wanted to do was to leave my gear in the hotel, I might use one of them this time I always thought, and I did change lenses at times, but not too often.

Carrying a small camera would have engendered me to take more random street photos and I would have probably have been more cavalier in my attitude in taking more street shots. So instead of thinking of taking out this DSLR and then finally taking the shot, with a small point and shoot camera, I wouldn't have to think much about taking the camera out and taking a few quick pictures and then walk away like a any normal tourist without being noticed as out of place.

The lake on top of Mt. Pinatubo, Philippines
The lake on top of Mt. Pinatubo, Philippines

Remember, you're on vacation!

You're not a photographer on assignment. Most likely you have no financial incentive to take pictures. These are your memories your taking photos of and it won't be on the front page of a glossy magainze.

For most Americans, this is only 2 weeks of the year where you are able to go to another location and relax. To get away from responsibility and have fun. If you like taking pictures, even better, but don't let it distract you from taking in the sights and sounds of a foreign land with your own two eyes instead of through the view finder of a camera.

The last thing you want to do is to think, should I take this picture? You shouldn't think at all about taking a photo, just point... and shoot!

So next time I go to Asia on vacation, I'm bringing a small camera, which should let me get more of that local flavor, whether it be a high end point and shoot camera like the Panasonic LX7 or a mirrorless DSLR like the Olympus OM-D. I should be ready to go, and I'll be able to pack a few more underwear this time!

NOTE: I can get the LX7 or an OM-D, but I still have my trusty LX3 which has served me well for the last few years in addition to my bulky DSLY. However, after seeing that LX7 and the price drop, I might switch to the latest and greatest LX model from Panasonic!

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Comments 19 comments

lisakprice profile image

lisakprice 7 years ago from Ohio

That is a right smart article. I am glued to my DSLR and have a hard time NOT taking it with me everywhere I go. I often times wish I had a point and shoot, but I know when I got home, I would probably be disappointed in my pictures, so I lug my DSLR - and all three lenses, and flash, etc. - around everywhere. Thanks for the post.


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 7 years ago Author

I felt the same way. But then I found that I got those thoughts more frequently... you know the thoughts... the ones a few hours later, when you start thinking... I should have taken that shot. I was always hesitant to bring out this big camera and was never comfortable having it hang around my neck. So I bought an LX3. Been terrific so far, and it will be my primary camera on my next trip.

If you want something more DSLR like in a small frame, try the Olympus EP1 or Panasonic GF1.

The thing is I don't ever print my photos. They basically go on to an image gallery or seen on a computer monitor.

Next time I trek into a mountain, no more DSLR gear that included an ultra wide, a telephoto, and a normal lens. Just killed my back, and by the time I got up there, the first thing I did was take a long sit down and rest.

Yea, my LX3 will do the job just as well.


Katelyn Weel profile image

Katelyn Weel 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I'm going to Mexico soon, and I've been debating whether or not I should bring my Rebel.. it's not that big or fancy, but it was expensive and I don't want to be paranoid of losing or breaking it the whole time. You made great points about enjoying the vacation with your own eyes and not through a lens, it's so true. Hmmmmm decisions decisions. Thanks for a great article.


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 6 years ago Author

Yea, I do suggest you bring a camera to capture the moment. I'm just unsure about bringing one's DSLR and pack of lenses if it ruins that moment... or in many cases, just not capturing that special moment.


dvx 5 years ago

That's why I carry 2 cameras: a Canon 60D and my old Ganon G9. When it comes to taking photos where photographs aren't allowed*, or where it might frighten your subject, I just whip out the G9 :)


Hazel 5 years ago

Great to know you went to The Philippines (that's my country)! And cool shots! :) It's true that carrying a big fat camera attracts attention especially if you go on vacation on a foreign country. About what happened to you in Sukumvit road in Bangkok, if it had happened in The Philippines and you wanted to take a picture, I think it would be okay 'cause cops won't get angry anyway...it's like you're a news reporter. Haha.


Mina 5 years ago

If you could afford something like a Leica M9, it really helps because you can still take great quality (sometimes even better than a DSLR) shots, and people would be none the wiser, since it looks like a typical point-and-shoot. Of course, nothing can beat a DSLR with a super-special wide angle or zoom lens, but sometimes you gotta go with the flow.


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 5 years ago Author

The Leica M9 cost around 6,000 to 7,000. I'd use that money for a better trip.. better hotel, better plane ticket, better food! That's me.

Currently, if I wanted a fixed lens solution, I'd consider a Fujifilm X100. Still expensive, but palatable for me. If I want something with a bit more flexibility, I'd consider one of the mirrorless cameras from Sony, Panasonic or Olympus.

If I want something smaller... then a Panasonic Lumix LX5. I have an LX3, so I'm a bit biased!


Hugh 5 years ago

Good article. I have felt that way many times. However, when I return home and look at the high quality shots my high end dslr give me, I have no regrets. Remember, you will appreciate the photos far longer than remembering the irritation of carrying better equipment with you. Happy travels.


David 4 years ago

Just got a Canon T2i with 2 lenses. Drooling to take in on a vacation. Planning a trip to Spain. Bought a travel book. Several pages into the book, the author says, "Thieves target tourists,"..."break into cars, snatch purses, pick pockets". I guess I will bring my Casio Point and Shoot. The Canon will just have to have a siesta.


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 4 years ago Author

Yea, there are thieves, but they are everywhere. You just have to be wary of your environment at all times when on vacation. Haven't had my stuff stolen yet - knock on wood!

Just don't think that a Casio Point and Shoot will be less likely stolen. If it looks easy to steal, I think thieves will take that opportunity to take it.

If you want better quality than a Compact, why not try the new Canon G1 X whenever its out. If not, the latest Panasonic Lumix L5 or the Olympus XZ-1 should give better quality than your average Compact camera.

Beyond that would be one of the Micro 4/3 cameras from Olympus or Panasonic and the Sony NEX 3, 5 or 7 cameras.

These are all fairly small and they don't have that DSLR form.

Have fun on your vacation!


travel-O-grapher profile image

travel-O-grapher 4 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

good write-up... and looks like you learnt your lesson too!! "looking smug and being a NG photographar" lol... but i guess all photographers' go through that phase at some time or other...


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 4 years ago Author

I was more worried about being a target and looking like a tourist.


jasper 4 years ago

Great article. I have same thoughts on this. I just sold my d90 and d7000 with the lenses except my 50mm prime. I Will use it on my new olympus epl-1 with a converter. i like the large sensor 8x bigger than PS camera and interchangeable lense in a compact body. Its also cheap. 280-300 bucks on amazon.


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 4 years ago Author

Wow. I was just looking at that same camera on Amazon a few minutes ago! It's really cheap! Check out some of the Olympus primes!


jazz 4 years ago

Nice article! I especially love the photo you took of Palawan.

I am also often reluctant to bring out my dslr here in the Philippines, but sometimes the places with the best scenes are also the most dangerous ones, like Quiapo.

Thanks for sharing your experiences! :)


gbrgn profile image

gbrgn 4 years ago Author

Yea, you just have to watch your environment!


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

Great hub! I enjoyed reading it. We have to act like a local when travelling for our safety. You have been to Cebu as I could see in the photo above. The last time I went to Cebu, I was hold up with the rest of the jeepney passengers on our way to Santo Nino Shrine. I did not even bring a big camera with me. Thanks for sharing.Voted up and useful.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 12 months ago from Southern California, USA

I have not even purchased a DSLR camera yet, but I have taken a few good pictures in my day. I would like to get one, but the price sort deters me. I think the DSLR cameras are a must for people doing photography professionally, but if you just are a photo blogger, you can get away with a good digital camera.

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