The Best Kit for the Traveling Documentary Photographer

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It’s time to travel again! Parts of the world are opening back up, and folks are eager to explore again. Bringing along the right camera can sometimes be confusing. We’ve done a lot of traveling over the years, and we learned that some gear just holds up better to sudden changes than others. It’s fair to expect your camera gear to handle changing conditions the same way your phone can. And of course, it’s obvious that you’d want the best image quality. So, we put together a great kit for you that will have the documentary photographer covered for most situations.

Editor’s Note: This Essentials post is presented by Leica. We worked with Leica to choose the products listed here. But we wouldn’t have approved them if we hadn’t tested and reviewed them ourselves. This roundup consists of products that you can find full, non-sponsored reviews for on our website. And we use these very often.

Until September 1st, you’ll get a free Leica M to L adapter when you buy a Leica SL2 or a Leica SL2-s with the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-70 f2.8 ASPH.

Leica Q2 Monochrom: The Classic Look

No Reservations: The Leica Q2 Monochrom is a wonder to shoot with. After spending my initial time reviewing it, I got in again for this photoshoot. This astonishing camera is fast to focus, sports a super sharp 28mm f1.7 lens, boasts a unique black and white 47MP full-frame sensor, and is incredibly durable. Not every company is brave enough to give their cameras IP ratings, but Leica surely does with the Leica Q2 Monochrom. When you hold it, it feels like a natural evolution of an M-series camera but with a fixed lens. I haven’t been dissatisfied once with the images it delivers.

28mm is perfect for documentary photography. But better yet, if you want to do everything with a compact package, this is one of the best cameras to reach for.

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Leica 50mm f2 Summicron-M: An Understated Lens

No Reservations: The Leica 50mm f2 Summicron-M is a beautiful, affordable, and highly understated lens. As one of the most affordable in the Leica lens lineup, this isn’t their apochromatic or aspherical lens. Instead, it’s just a plain old 50mm f2. But there is no such thing as “plain” in the world of Leica. The colors from this lens remind me of lots of beautiful photos from the past decade. It renders rich, creamy bokeh, lovely skin tones, and boasts enough sharpness to satisfy most everyone. If you seek a lower barrier to entry into the Leica world, this is the lens I’d strongly recommend.

We advise shooting documentary portraits with it. The minimum focusing of under a meter will also make sure you’ve got a respectable distance. That’s surely a concern for a documentary photographer.

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Pro Tip: Zone focus is a key, critical component here. When shooting outside, go for f8 from maybe around six feet away at ISO 1600. You’ll get the photos you want for sure. Otherwise, use the autofocus on the Leica Q2 Monochrom. 

Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH: Perfect for a Documentary Photographer

No Reservations: The Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is one of our favorite lenses. First off, there’s a lot to say about 35mm lenses in general. But this specific lens has a metal exterior, smooth focus throw, and great image quality. Every time I pick this lens up, I feel like I’m coming back home to it. It’s also incredibly small. In all honesty, it’s one of the most perfect 35mm lenses on the market. 

Use this lens to cover whatever you generally need to photograph. It’s hard to go wrong with a 35mm lens as a documentary photographer.

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Leica M to L Mount Adapter: New Life

No Reservations: The adapter? Really? Yes. You might be wondering why we chose this instead of native SL lenses. Well, M mount lenses are very small, and make a smaller package overall when paired with the Leica SL2-s. So why not use it with a Leica M? The SL2-s is IP rated for durability. It’s also, in general, a whole lot faster to work with. The Leica M series is a set of very careful precision tools. This combo is a balance of both worlds.

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Leica SL2-s: The Reliable Companion for a Documentary Photographer

No Reservations: The Leica SL2s has fast become one of my favorite cameras to use. The image quality is stellar with the 24MP Back-side illuminated full-frame sensor at heart. Additionally, Leica gave it a firmware update to further improve the performance. This beast can shoot 25 fps with the electronic shutter and 9 fps with the mechanical shutter. Plus, it has dual SD card slots.

More than anything else, it truly feels great in the hand, and I can trust its reliability. I’ve used it in the rain with the M-mount adapter on it, and it never stopped working. I was shocked.

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Pro Tip: Leica M mount lenses have this stunning soft yet sharp look to them. It’s probably part of what adds to how nice the colors are from these lenses. For better colors, try white balancing to 3200K or 5200K. You’ll get a very cinematic, film-like look.

An Air Blower: Obviously

No Reservations: The essential piece of kit for every photographer! Of course, use one of these to blow out any dust you may see on the sensor. Hopefully, that won’t happen too often for you. It rarely is the case for us.

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Billingham Hadley Pro 2020: Documentary Photographer Time-Tested

No Reservations: The Billingham Hadley Pro 2020 bag has a few upgrades over its predecessor. And overall, I’m always surprised at how much I can stuff into this bag. This entire camera kit fits in it with room to spare. And it still doesn’t even feel all that large. What’s more, the front pockets are expandable to carry more stuff if you need it. Couple that with the optional shoulder pad and you’ve got a fantastic camera bag. I’m happy knowing that this bag could very well outlive me. And for a documentary photographer, it provides quick enough access while also being super comfortable.

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Vi Vante Matador Noir Strap: Unrivaled Comfort

No Reservations: The Vi Vante Matador Noir strap is one of my favorites of the bunch. It’s made with braided leather. And if you’re using a heavy lens on your camera, you won’t really feel the weight of it. This strap is also amazingly comfortable to use all day. What I really like is being able to wrap it around my wrist to shoot. It doesn’t cut into my skin.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.