What’s Your Best Travel Camera? 6 Tips
Of all of the questions I’ve gotten about travel, “JKev, I’m going to blahblah place, and I want to take good photos, what camera should I choose?” is probably the most asked question.
There are so, so, so many cameras on the market for the average Joe photographer, it’s really difficult to choose. And once you start researching it’s right down the rabbit hole of tech specs: megapixels, sensor size, weight, maximum aperture, display resolution…I’m exhausted already.
Every traveler has different goals for their photos and different levels of interest in taking them in the first place. The camera that works best for me might not be the best one for you.
So here are my recommendations, based on the types of people I’ve gotten questions from:
“I’m not a photographer but I want to have good photos for my next trip.”
Recommendation: Consider buying / upgrading your smartphone.
Consider how you take and use photos currently: Do you just take photos for sharing on social media? Do you print photos for your home or gifts for family/friends? Do you edit photos before you send them/print them? Investing in a new camera that you’re only going to use on the occasional vacation isn’t worth it, especially in the current age of smartphone camera quality. I bought a Google Pixel before starting my travels, and the camera is so good that sometimes I don’t feel like I want to/need to bring my big ol’ DSLR and extra lenses.
Some Examples: Samsung, Apple, Google, LG, Motorola all have phones with 12MP cameras with image stabilization, 1080p video (or better) and even depth of field technology. Here’s a Tech Radar article that goes through some of the top smartphone cameras in 2017
“I enjoy photography and I want to do more with my photos.”
Recommendation: Buy an entry-level DSLR
There are a variety of relatively affordable DSLRs (digital single lens reflex – the ones that you look through directly and it makes that satisfying clicking sound when you press the capture button) out there that give you complete control over your image: You can shoot RAW images, control the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, etc. These cameras don’t break the bank and will give you more control over your images.
Some examples: Canon Rebel Series, Nikon DX series, ranging from $400-$600 USD including lenses and accessories (memory card, case, etc). I bought my first camera bundle on NewEgg.com.
“I have a basic DSLR but I want a better one”
Recommendation: Upgrade your lens
The camera body contains the sensor that reads light information and turns it into a digital file. The lens is the only thing between what’s in front of you and what the sensor reads, so improving the glass that filters the light into your camera matters a great deal. An upgraded lens can improve the contrast, depth, color perception and general sharpness of your photos for less of an investment than a new camera body, and a lens can last you between different camera bodies.
Some Examples: Sigma and Tamron are two 3rd-party lens manufacturers that make quality lenses for multiple brands (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, etc) usually at a better price than Canon or Nikon directly.
“I don’t want to lug around my bulky DSLR on my next vacation.”
Recommendation: Look into mirrorless cameras
I’m part of this group at the moment. I’ve got a big, heavy DSLR with 2 lenses and a tripod, that takes up probably about 1/3 of my 40L backpack in weight and volume (check out how I packed for my 5 months of travel). I love taking photos with my camera and changing the settings on it is second nature by now, but the weight and bulk of my gear has definitely caused some difficulties and stress while traveling.
Mirrorless cameras have come a long way in both quality and price. They have the same sensors that entry and mid-range DSLRs have, and can take the same quality photos. The price has come down to below $1000 USD (I’ve seen as low as $600) for a mirrorless camera and lens.
Some Examples: I’ve seen so many Sony a6000 cameras in South America. I came close to trading in my current camera and lenses for this one before I left the USA. It’s affordable, has the same sensor as my Canon 70D, and weighs half of what my camera weighs (355g vs 750g)
“I want to make an upgrade for my next trip, but I’m don’t want to buy something I’m not sure about”
Recommendation: Rent camera gear!
There are a number of online services that you can rent any type of camera gear, from DSLR bodies, to lenses, video, tripods, etc. This allows you to experiment or feel like a pro photographer for your travels without breaking the bank buying an entire new camera system.
Protect your investment:
Nothing screams TOURIST! like a DSLR hanging around your neck, and many people feel like targets to theft while carrying big cameras. I have felt similarly many times, and that fear has sometimes kept me from bringing my camera into local markets or populated places.
But what’s the point of having that big, fancy camera if you don’t use it?
Travel insurance helps to ease that fear for me. I have World Nomads insurance, which covers just about everything on your trip, including camera gear. Your camera got stolen, broken, water-logged, or eaten by a savage Alpaca? World Nomads covers it, along with a lot of other high-adventure activities. Check them out here.
Quick note, I’m an affiliate of theirs, which means if you end up buying insurance through this link I will get a small commission.