Gear Up for Vacation!

Published June 25, 2012

One of the things that is often great (but sometimes terrible) about working at Lensrentals is that you get to talk to lots of photographers all across the country.

This time of year, we get tons of phone calls asking for gear recommendations for the big summer vacation. Sadly, we also get a few post-vacation phone calls from customers, where they tell us what they wish they had known before heading out for their trips.

We’ve gotten Tim and Roger to pool their collective knowledge on what they feel are some things you really should consider before your next trip. The items they are recommending today are not all the most popular items to rent, in fact most of these items are often overlooked for vacation use.

So before you board that cruise ship, safari tour jeep, or station wagon for the wildest 17-hour drive of your life to visit the Corn Palace, let us help you pick the right gear!


The Griswold Family, National Lampoon's Vacation. Photo Credit:

Second Camera Body

First off, there are two very different types of vacations in this world: civilized and wilderness (or uncivilized, as Roger likes to say). And they each can require very different types of preparation and equipment.

We’ve had almost 20 customers who have gone on African safaris and come home with no pictures because their own camera broke on day one or two. That’s why we say have a small, light back-up camera body (that’s not your cell phone).


Don't be this guy. Photo credit:


If you are a Canon user, try a Canon EOS 60D or a T-Series camera (like the Canon EOS T3i or brand new T4i). If you are a Nikon user, try a Nikon D7000 (Roger’s pick) or a Nikon D3200 (Tim’s pick).

Make sure you get a back-up body that is compatible with your existing lenses (and, hey, if you’re not sure about this part, just let us know which lenses you want to take on your vacation with your rented camera body, and we’ll make sure everything will work together.).

Vacation “Everything” Zoom Lens

Most people want to travel fairly light. As far as lightweight vacation lenses go, the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS is both Tim’s and Roger’s personal favorite. Roger pretty well doesn’t leave home without it—or rather, when he does leave home, he doesn’t leave without it. It’s just so useful, and it’s so nice to have one lens that does most things.

Many people have a tough time choosing between this lens and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L. It’s true, they’re both great lenses!  But when it comes to vacations, Roger always goes with the  Canon 24-105 f/4L IS. Just look at the advantages—smaller size, greater range and image stabilization—all of which make it perfect for walking around or taking on vacation.

If you plan on renting this lens, though, consider this: it’s pretty wide on a full-frame camera. But if you are shooting with a crop-frame camera, this is not a very wide lens. You should think about taking a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/2.5-4.5 to go with it. Or, as Tim suggests, you could rent the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM by itself, since it’s a wide lens that is better suited for a crop-frame camera.

If you’re shooting with a full-frame Nikon, try the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G AF-S VR (Nikon’s version of the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS). And for the crop-frame cameras, the Nikon 16-85mm  f/3.5-5.6G VR DX  is Nikon’s equivalent to the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM.

Lightweight Prime Lens

On every vacation there are going to be times that you are inside, where the lighting is poor. This is when you need a wide aperture lens. And again, you’ll want something lightweight like the Canon 50mm f/1.4 or Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S. These are both great lenses for vacation since they’ve got faster apertures for indoor shots and night shots of the city.

Tim throws in the option of the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S, which is pretty much the same lens as its f/1.4 brother except that the f/1.8 is half the weight!


Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S


Handy Telephoto Lens

Ahhh, the Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS —nice sharp lens, very good range, not too heavy, excellent image stabilization—all things that are very useful on vacation trips. It’s also a fair amount smaller than any of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses or Canon 100-400mm 5.4-5.6L IS.


Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS


On the Nikon side, it’s more difficult to find an equal. Roger says their 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR is just OK; their 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 ED AF VR is very weak. With a Nikon he often says take a 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II plus a teleconverter or a Sigma 50-500mm HSM OS for Nikon.

If you are thinking safari this summer, then go with Sigma 50-500mm HSM OS (for CanonNikon, or Sony). It is a great range, nice and sharp, and with optical stabilization can be handheld . . . for a while anyway.

Another note on safaris: Roger will tell you that there is nothing like having one lens-camera combination around your neck and another at your side if you need it. So if that giraffe you are shooting half a mile away is one thing and suddenly there’s a lion 50 yards away, you can change lenses real quick. That’s a really cool thing to have (or, if you are going somewhere that your tripod rig might get eaten by a bear, you’ll have the second camera around your neck to take pictures of the carnage).

It’s also a really cool thing to have on “civilized” vacations, like when you are taking pictures of your family making sand castles and then see the most ridiculous tan line/swimsuit combo on the other end of the beach (and you don’t want to get caught lookin’).

Good Walking-Around Camera

Tim emphasizes this the most. He’s done the whole mega-backpack loaded down with equipment on vacations. But nowadays he just wants the lightest, most convenient way to go (not the highest quality). After all, he says the majority of the pictures he takes on vacation aren’t meant for blowing up on the wall—most of the time it’s just a 8×10 frame or going on Facebook.

The Fuji X10 and Canon Powershot G1 X (like their Canon Powershot G12 but fancier) are both good walk around city/wilderness cameras. Both are fairly small in size and even have zoom lenses! The Nikon 1 V1 or Nikon 1 J1 are somewhere between a Canon Rebel camera and a point-and-shoot. Image quality-wise, they are closer to a Canon Rebel, but you have about the same control as a point-and-shoot. Bottom line: they’re easy to use and easy to print a quality 8×10 phot0.

Underwater (and Worry-Free) Camera

The Canon Powershot D20 Underwater Camera is a fun alternative if you are going to be near water. If you have never taken your SLR to the beach, you don’t realize what an incredible pain it is trying to change lenses and keep your camera dry and sand-free. It’s worrisome.

Still take an SLR on vacation, but on the beach itself take the Canon Powershot D20 Underwater Camera. Jump in the pool with it, take underwater pictures of the kids playing, go out on a boat, go snorkeling—you can do all of that without having to fuss with an SLR. It’s still not going to have nearly the image quality of an SLR, but it’s great for JPEGs online or a 4×6 print for a little frame.


Canon Powershot D20 Underwater Camera


Another wonderful thing is that it fits in your pocket. Roger says there have been many times he and the family have gone out to a restaurant and taken the D20 because nobody wanted to carry the big cameras.

Tim thinks this is a strange idea. He says leave the underwater camera for well, the water, not the restaurant. Take the good walking-around camera for that instead.

Listen up though, divers: if you are diving and are trying to get really good pictures, it’s worth bringing out the big guns like the Sea&Sea DX-1G or DX-2G Underwater Kit (consider them interchangeable) and a Sea&Sea YS-110 Underwater Strobe Kit.  Flash underwater doesn’t work the same way that it does above water, and the little bitty flash on cameras like the Canon Powershot D20 would only be enough to light up to three feet in front of you.

And, no, we don’t rent underwater housing: their failure rate is low but it’s real, and there is no hope for your camera if the housing does so happen to leak on you. Not to mention there’s really not a good way for us to test the housings at 200 feet to see if they’re working properly. So, unless you can afford to replace the camera you’ll put in it, please don’t do it. Roger tears up just thinking about it—all those beautiful SLRs that were never even given a chance. 🙁



A Flash

There are two really opposite reasons you will want a flash on your vacation:

  1. On vacation you do tend to do a lot of stuff at night, and you’ll need a flash to give proper lighting to the campfire roast or the amusement park off the beach or your cruise-ship-dance-off-winning Worm move.
  2. The sun is so strong during the day. You’ll get really stark pictures with the sun glaring on one side of a person’s face and the other side totally dark and shadow unless you have a fill flash. It makes a huge difference.
We suggest the Canon Speedlite 430EX II or Nikon SB-700 Speedlight—both are small but still quite powerful.

Ultra-Wide Angle Lens

The lens people usually forget is ultra-wide angle. When you go on vacation, there is usually beautiful, huge scenery that you can’t capture with a regular lens, and you need something really wide. Roger says if you take one, it will only be 10 percent of the pictures you bring home, but it will probably be your favorite 10 percent.

For Tim, it’s simple: the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (for Canon or Nikon) is the ultra-wide angle of choice. Roger, of course, rambles on this subject.


Tokin11-16mm f/2.8


If shooting with a crop-frame camera, Roger says they’re all good: Sigma 10-20mm EX DC HSM (for Canon or Nikon), the aforementioned Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 or the Nikon 10-24mmf/3.5-4.5G DX.

If shooting with a full-frame camera, it’s a different story; there just isn’t as good of a selection of ultra-wide angle lenses. For Canon, there’s the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II. For Nikon, the 14-24mm f/2.8 ED is the best, but the 16-35mm f/4 VR is what Roger usually takes. It’s nearly as good, a lot smaller and has vibration reduction.

Ultralight Tripod

Small enough to tuck anywhere. Great for landscapes. It’ll let you get sunsets, the night sky, the lights of the city, and self-portraits. One year, Roger even set up a  tripod in the corner of a room and set the camera to take a picture every 30 seconds. They’d play games, sit around and talk, eat, so on. Those were some of everyone’s favorite photos of the trip because of how candid they were.

Roger says you only need a tripod if one of the main purposes of the trip is to take photographs. If you are looking to just document a vacation, a tripod isn’t necessary.


You also don't need a tripod if you're this guy. Photo credit:


As far as picking which one, the Benro Ultra Light is the best choice. It’s super cheap and (of course) lightweight. The Gitzo Traveler Ultralight is awesome, but it’s twice as expensive and only a half pound lighter. The Giottos Compact Tripod/Monopod is another great, much more cost effective choice than the Gitzo.

When you need the stability of a tripod, but you don’t want to carry the thing around, a Gorillapod is a fun, convenient alternative. They’re much smaller, lightweight, more compact and can fix on to pretty much anything with their bendable legs. Just make sure to get the right size: for point-and-shoot cameras you’ll need a large, and for SLR-size cameras you’ll need an extra-large. Roger LOVES Gorillapods.


Large Gorillapod



Extra batteries and memory cards are always a great idea for vacation. And you should always always take something to back up your photos. Whether it’s your laptop/ iPad and a card reader or several smaller memory cards (like four 8G, instead of one 32G), you will thank yourself later.

And don’t be that person who gets all this sweet gear and then leaves it in your hotel room the entire trip because it’s “too much” to walk around with. If you are really going to carry camera equipment around all day, a backpack makes that much easier.

Roger advises to take the backpack that fits your spouse, not you, so he/she has to carry all the stuff. Roger has a backpack that is slightly too small for him, and he travels (well his wife, Erin, travels) with that all the time.


Our last recommendation is the GoPro HD HERO2 Action Cam!


GoPro HD HERO2 Action Cam


There are all sorts of mounts for whatever adventure you want to take this baby on from chest harnesses to handlebar mounts.

If you are going somewhere cool and you are going to be doing active things, the Go Pro is a great idea. If you’re going on a cruise, you don’t need a Go Pro. Well, we guess it depends on what you are going on the cruise for, but there are probably some cruises that we don’t really want to know about…

We advise that this item is mostly for vacationers under 30, who think heli-snowboarding and mountain climbing are relaxing. Once you get over 30, and your ideal vacation consists of sitting, sleeping, eating, and muttering the simple command “beer!” video documentation isn’t all that important 🙂


Whatever you do with your summer, enjoy it! And if you need anymore help figuring out what to take on your trips, just let us know. We are always more than happy to help you out!


Caroline Bishop

June, 2012

Author: Caroline

Posted in Equipment
  • VPR

    This was good and fun-to-read. I’m surprised you didn’t get a bevy of comments.

    If ever you get a hankering to do an update, I’m sure that at least a few of us would appreciated it

  • Esa Tuunanen

    Definitely curious how m4/3 is skipped without even mentioning it.
    Sure CDAF can’t do proper focus tracking like PDAF but otherwise it works well and things like landscape don’t move that fast.

    For example Lumix G 7-14mm is very travel friendly sized 14-28mm field of view UW zoom.
    From 4/3 side there’s also rarer Panasonic Leica D 14-150mm which actually delivers high corner to corner quality at all aperture/focal length combinations unlike other ultra zoom lenses.

    Adding standard tele zoom like Lumix G 100-300mm wouldn’t add that much weight.
    Similar optical quality lenses for that range with full frame DSLR would weight lot more. Again APS-C super zooms tend to be real mediocrities with roller coaster performance along aperture/focal length combinations.

  • For a long time my only camera was Canon G11 and still enjoy it a lot for family travel. I have added a 270 ex flash with a flash dufuser cap witch make bounce flash really nice with some forward light. The other thing I got is the Canon under water housing witch is very competivly priced and not risking my SLR taking the camera to the beach. My wife also fells comfortable with this rig and it fits into two belt pouches.

  • Lester

    Brilliant! I was feeling guilty that my backpack is deliberately sized so my wife can carry it, but now feel validated (wry grin). Two comments: I run the Oly OM-D system at present, having been there/done that with Canikon, and find weight really does matter (smile). And (probably ‘cos I snap away in rainy UK or rainy Thailand), weather-proofing is an issue, I could never get clear statements from Canikon blurb about their lenses on this aspect, while Olympus (and Pentax) is refreshingly up-front. For a two-lens vacation kit, I always suggest a 24-200 (equiv) and a 50 f1.4…

  • My EF-S 17-55/2.8 has been an awesome vacation lens. Still oughta be an “L”, even it if only works on the small sensors. The 70-200/4L is light enough to take with you and super sharp, but the one time I used the 70-300 DO, it struck me as a great compact vacation lens, much lighter and smaller than the 70-300L, and still a pretty good lens.

  • No mention of the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II DX as an all around vacation lens?

    Sure, if you’re a pro, it’s not the best, but otherwise this lens is great for covering the whole range you might encounter on a vacation. You won’t need to bodies to capture that tan line.

  • ShooterMcGavin

    Well… I fall into the “really wish I’d read this before I went on vacation last week.”

    I went into the trip thinking, “Eh, this bag isn’t so bad to lug around…” I clearly misunderstood how much walking we were going to be doing. In town where I take my car everywhere, it’s no big deal to lug a shoulder bag with a pro body, Nikon 2.8 trinity, full size flash, 50 1.4, and maybe a 24 or 80 1.4 to boot. I would have killed for a 24-120 or 28-300 on this trip though. It would have made my back a lot happier.

  • I’ve got to agree with Chris – a micro 4/3 system makes a great lightweight travel kit! And the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 has DSLR quality.

  • Bob Panick

    Good article, one lens that you left out though was the 18-200 DX or 28-300 FX. I’ve been debating what to bring on my vacation to Hawaii, both civilized and wilderness on the same trip. I considered my D7000, 12-24, 24-70 and 70-200, as well as a 60 macro; vs. 12-24, 28-300 and a 60 macro. I’d love to have the faster glass but I realized I would be lugging a backpack with the 2.8 lenses vs. a much smaller messenger bag with the slower glass. So I’m going with the recommendations of the Scott’s here (Kelby and Borne) and going with the slower lighter glass.

  • Chris Nichols

    To write a column about travel photography these days and not really touch on mirrorless as a major category is to miss the biggtest single development in equipment in the last 2 years. My primary photography application is travel photography and I have searched for years for just the right combination of cameras, lenses using the options discussed here. This year, canon and big sony are staying home in favor of nex 7 and OMD M5; in fact I’m busy selling big rigs and lenses to help pay for this newly discovered perfect travel category of equipment. I’d suggest a follow up article.

  • Good advice … and as someone who has been on a couple of Safari’s (and actually leaving for Kenya soon), I’ll echo the recommendation to bring two bodies with a telephoto lens on one and something wider on the other. Another advantage is you minimize lens changes, so reduce the chance of getting dust on the sensor. Having said that, another handy thing to consider bringing along is a Teleconverter, especially if you have something like the 70-200/2.8v2 … because during the middle of the day, you should have plenty of lights so shooting F/5.6 (140-400 with 2x TC) is quite doable at decent shutter speed and low ISO.

    Lots more could be written – for instance, have extra batteries since you don’t always have access to power – maybe an idea for a future post from Roger?

    Love the picture of the dude with the cell phone snapping the picture of the lion!

    P.S. Roger wrote that the dual setup is helpful if you see “the most ridiculous tan line/swimsuit combo on the other end of the beach (and you don’t want to get caught lookin’).” – is he going to share any of those pictures with us?!? 😉

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