5 Reasons to Travel with a Smaller Camera on Family Vacations

When traveling on a family vacation, it’s tempting to pull out your big SLR and all your favorite lenses.  Trust me, I’ve done this on some trips in the past.  The upside is you may get some portraits of your family, and if you are on a road trip, you can pack whatever you want in your vehicle. I love having full control over my images, and an SLR definitely helps in that area too.

But, if you are flying or moving around a lot, here’s four reasons you may want to leave behind your SLR and big lenses and travel with a smaller camera on your next family vacation:

1. Oh no – Potential for gear to get damaged, lost, or stolen. I have never had any gear get stolen, but I do have a Canon 70-200mm lens cap ($50 to replace) floating in the Atlantic Ocean.  It fell in while taking photos of my kids while on a boat.  Also in many weather conditions, it’s hard to switch lenses quickly without letting in water, dust, or other elements.  If photography is the main purpose of your trip, you likely can set aside the time to carefully take care of your equipment and do proper lens changes, but on a family vacation, you often have seconds to grab the shot.


2. Ouch my aching back – Weight of the gear slowing you down. While you can get used to the sheer weight of the equipment, carrying around a Canon 5D MKIII and a 70-200 lens, plus additional lenses in a camera bag, can weigh you down.  Again, if your intent is portraits of your family, or breathtaking landscapes, weight may not be an issue for you.  But if you are sightseeing, hiking or doing any number of activities with your family, quick mobility and a lighter camera bag may help you enjoy the moments more.

My husband took this picture of me using my Canon 5D MKIII with Tamron 150-600mm lens.

3. Snobbiness – Not enough time to take the type of pictures you normally would. This is the main reason that I started leaving my SLR behind on most trips, other than some car trips.  If I bring it, I expect each and every photo to look professional.  My husband referred to me as a “photographer snob” in the past. When I use a point and shoot or most recently my Olympus OMD EM1 with the 12-40mm lens (a 24-80mm equivalent), I feel free.  I still get some great images, but I also feel like I have an excuse. Silly – maybe.  But, I can take pictures in a more care-free manner.

Rainbow over St. Lucia – edited with Enlighten Lightroom presets:

st lucia


4. Peek-a-boo – As a photographer, it’s rare to get in pictures with my family, especially if I am using an SLR.  It’s much harder to hand over the camera, either for fear of theft or because many won’t know how to move focus points, expose correctly, or operate the camera to your liking. When the SLR is out of the equation, there’s less to control and you may get in a picture with your family that you love. On our recent vacation, my kids took some of the pictures, and I would hand the camera to a tour guide or stranger and have them snap some too.  These photos, while they may be imperfect photographically speaking, are far more valuable than impeccable composition or background blur.  Don’t you agree?

A kind stranger took this one:

onboard adventure of the seas_-10

One of my kids took this one of my husband and me:

san juan-39

I never had inline skated in my life – so… when I did it, on a moving ship, I wanted proof!  Well, if we just had an SLR, I likely wouldn’t have this image.  My kids were on skates too. I would’ve been way to scared that they’d crash, camera in tow.
onboard skating and more-11

5. Improvements in technology– Non-SLR cameras have gotten very good. While they are not ideal for fast action, or blowing up images mural size, if you find a travel camera that can shoot raw and possibly that has a few lens choices, you may love this freedom for your next vacation.

Care-free on the beach in St. Maarten as my daughter got her hair braided:


Ultimately you will need to decide the focus and importance of having an SLR on each trip you take.  For Alaska, I couldn’t imaging leaving behind my heavy gear, but for the Caribbean, it’s a no brainer now.  I prefer travel light. When we take a car trip to Northern Michigan, I usually bring both, but 90% of the time use my lightweight set up, and for a special few times on our week-long vacation, I pull out the SLR.

I hope these thoughts help you on your next vacation.

A few more vacation photography tips:

How to edit quickly after a vacation.

What to pack for vacation.

How to turn vacation snapshots into works of art.




  1. 1

    Belva says

    Funny you should write this blog post. I just got an Olympus omd-em1 for the exact same reason. It was a great camera for tooling around France and Iceland this summer. While I was wishing for my mark iii yesterday during our whale watching expedition, i would have been miserable carrying it on our glacier hike the previous day, and is was awesome for farmers markets in the south of France.

  2. 2


    Thank you so much Jodi for this story! It really helps a lot knowing that a real pro photographer would rather travel lightly than SLR-packed! If it’s not too much to ask – what compact camera would you recommend? our straight-out – what’s your go-to light camera? I’m really looking for a compact good one and your article is right on time! Thank you so much for your help!

  3. 3


    I agree with Cecilia, could you give us a few examples? I definitely find myself using my cell phone more now that I finally have a smart phone (and I specifically got one with the best camera!) But like this fall I’m going to Sweden alone and I’m taking my good camera, no questions asked!

  4. 4

    Elizabeth says

    You completely SOLD me on the idea of leaving the Mark III at home for Disney. Wondering if you have any other (besides the Olympus) suggestions that might be a tad more budget-friendly (I mean, we pretty much shot our budget for a family-of-6 going to Disney and we haven’t even gone yet! Ha! :) for light-weight cameras? Thanks so much!

    • 5


      Oh, Gosh, Elizabeth! Why the O-word? ^_^ have you not seen the price of it? it’s really the heaviest light cameras I’ve seen ^_^ I was hoping (read praying) for a lighter option, also budget-wise – there must be something, right?

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