A recent photo enthusiast magazine, which I won't mention by name, recently published its travel photography issue. Amidst its photos of exotic locales, it featured an article on recommended equipment for travel photography. Their list included items such as a Canon EOS 5d Mark II full-frame DSLR, a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS zoom. All three are excellent pieces of equipment. Assuming a reasonable level of skill on your part and a great travel location, you should be able to get excellent photos with this kit, all day, every day.
There are just two problems with this recommendation. First, assuming you could afford such a collection of top-drawer pro equipment to begin with, you'd be committing to taking it all with you on a trip far from home, where you run the risk that unless you carry it with you at all times, it could be stolen from your hotel room, the trunk (boot) of your car, the train you're travelling on, the restaurant you're eating at, etc. In some countries you also run the risk of having your equipment stolen even if it's on your person. Thieves may not know the exact value of your gear, but they will generally assume that big equals expensive. More often than not, they will be right.
The second issue, closely related to the first, is weight. Your interest in security and photography means you'll be carrying your equipment with you practically everywhere you go. That 10 lb. (5 kg) shoulder bag that seemed so manageable when you packed it at home quickly becomes a torturous ball and chain when you have to lug it around at high altitudes, high temperatures, and high humidity. You may soon find yourself begging for some enterprising thief to relieve you of your burdon, or at least share the load.
All of the above factors are compounded if you have travel companions who are non-photographers. They won't understand why you brought so much equipment in the first place, why you're always stopping to take pictures of someone other than them, and why you always look so miserable and distracted.
In short, it's one thing to travel with a lot of heavy and expensive equipment if you're a pro who's either getting paid to lug it or paying someone else to do it. It's quite another when you are the beast of burden.
So what is the perfect travel camera? It all depends on what you consider "perfect" and how much you're willing to compromise. The three factors I consider essential include:
Size is, of course, relative, but the closer your camera and lens combo comes to being something you can carry in a pocket or purse, the better. Small cameras and lenses have the added benefit of looking less intimidating and/or valuable to others.
This too is relative. My limit is a kit that weighs no more than 2.5 lbs (approximately 1kg) including shoulder bag and strap. If I can get away with less weight, so much the better.
- Fast lens
I have yet to travel anywhere where the ability to shoot in low light without flash or a tripod hasn't been valuable. VR/IS/SR also help a lot, especially if combined with lens speed. If I have to choose between one or the other though, I'll go with lens speed because it helps keep shutter speeds higher and allows more control over depth-of-field. Unfortunately, fast lenses tend to be large and heavy. I never said this was easy.
Non-essential but nevertheless valuable is a zoom lens. I almost never use zooms when I'm practicing street photography because I find them bulky, slow, and unnecessary. When it comes to travel photography, however, a single wide-to-tele zoom reduces the amount of equipment I have to carry and keep track of. A zoom also reduces or eliminates the need to switch lenses, which in turn reduces how often the sensor is exposed to dust.
Total all of these factors up and you come up with a fairly short list of cameras, most of which are mirrorless and many of which are surprisingly pricey for what they are. I've already settled on one or two I think would be ideal for me. What about you? I'm particularly interested in hearing from any of you who have "been there, done that" and know from experience which camera/lens combos can get the job done with maximum enjoyment and minimum pain.