The best kit for the traveling documentary photographer

ByDavid M. Conte

Jul 8, 2021

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It’s time to travel again! Some parts of the world are opening up again and people are eager to explore again. Bringing the right camera can be confusing at times. We have traveled extensively over the years and have learned that some equipment is more resistant to sudden changes than others. It’s fair to expect your camera to handle changing conditions the same way your phone does. And of course, obviously you would want the best picture quality. So we have prepared a great kit for you that will cover the documentary photographer in most situations.

Editor’s Note: This Essentials post is brought to you by Leica. We worked with Leica to select 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 for which you can find full, unsponsored reviews on our website. And we use them very often.

Until September 1, you will receive 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 marvel with which to shoot. After spending my initial time seeing it again, I went back to participating in this photoshoot. This amazing camera is quick to focus, sports a super sharp 28mm f1.7 lens, has a unique 47 MP black and white full frame sensor, and is incredibly durable. Not all companies are brave enough to give their cameras IP ratings, but Leica surely does with the Leica Q2 Monochrom. When you hold it, it looks like a natural evolution of an M-series camera but with a fixed lens. I have not once been dissatisfied with the images it provides.

28mm is perfect for documentary photography. But best of all, if you want to do it all in a compact body, this is one of the best cameras to achieve.

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Leica 50mm f2 Summicron-M: a sober lens

No reservations: The Leica 50mm f2 Summicron-M is a beautiful, affordable and very discreet lens. As one of the more affordable lenses in the Leica lens line, it’s not their apochromatic or aspherical lens. Instead, it’s just an old 50mm f2. But there is no such thing as “simple” in the world of Leica. The colors on this lens remind me a lot of beautiful photos from the past decade. It delivers rich, creamy bokeh, pretty skin tones, and offers enough sharpness to satisfy almost anyone. If you are looking for a lower barrier to entry into the Leica world, this is the lens I highly recommend.

We recommend that you take documentary portraits with it. The minimum focus of less than a meter will also ensure you have a respectable distance. This is surely a concern for a documentary photographer.

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Pro tip: Zone focus is a key and critical element here. When shooting outdoors, go for the f8 from around six feet away at ISO 1600. You’ll get the shots you want for sure. Otherwise, use 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 of all, there is a lot to be said about 35mm lenses in general. But this specific lens has a metal exterior, smooth focusing, and excellent image quality. Every time I take this goal I feel like I’m coming home. It’s also incredibly small. In all fairness, this is one of the finest 35mm lenses on the market.

Use this lens to cover anything you typically 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? Is that so? Yes. You might be wondering why we chose this lens over native SL lenses. Well, M mount lenses are very small and make a smaller package when paired with the Leica SL2-s. So why not use it with a Leica M? The SL2-s is IP rated for its durability. It is also, in general, much faster to work. The Leica M series is a set of very neat 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 quickly became one of my favorite cameras. Image quality is exceptional with the 24MP back-illuminated full-frame sensor at the core. In addition, Leica provided it with a firmware update to further improve performance. This beast can shoot 25 fps with the electronic shutter and 9 fps with the mechanical shutter. In addition, it has two SD card slots.

More than anything else it feels really good in the hand and I can trust its reliability. I 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 soft yet crisp look. This is probably part of what adds to the beauty of the colors of these lenses. For better colors, try white balance at 3200K or 5200K. You will get a very cinematic, movie-like look.

An air blower: obviously

No reservations: The essential kit for any photographer! Of course, use one of them to blow off any dust you might see on the sensor. Hope this doesn’t happen too often for you. This is rarely the case for us.

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Billingham Hadley Pro 2020: the proven documentary photographer

No reservations: The Billingham Hadley Pro 2020 bag has some improvements over its predecessor. And overall I’m still amazed at how much I can fit in this bag. This whole camera kit fits with it with room to spare. And it doesn’t even look that big yet. Plus, the front pockets are expandable to carry more stuff if you need it. Add to that the optional shoulder pad and you have a fantastic camera bag. I am happy to know that this bag could very well outlive me. And for a documentary photographer, it offers fairly quick access while being super comfortable.

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Vi Vante Matador Black bracelet: unparalleled comfort

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

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