So, you’re getting ready for your next big trip and want to bring home some incredible photos. Only one problem, the only camera you own is your phone. You’ve probably poked around a bit online searching for “the best camera for travel” but with so many options out there, making a decision is seriously overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of articles talking about the best cameras for beginners, backpacking and travel bloggers.
I’ve been there. I understand the stress. What if you make a bad choice and you never get those great shots you dreamed of? That’s why I’m writing this quick guide to break down the process and help you make the best choice for your needs.
How To Choose The Best Camera For Travel – 7 Steps
1. Type of Camera
The first step is to choose which type of camera is best for you. There’s 4 types of cameras to choose from: Point-and-shoot, action camera, mirrorless and DSLR. It can be easy to get caught up on which one to choose so lets go through each one in detail.
- Point-and-Shoot: These are small, relatively cheap and easy to learn. Perfect choice for snap shots and can fit into your pocket.
- DSLR: This is the largest and heaviest of the 4 options. DSLRs used to be the standard for professional photography but that is quickly changing with the improvements to mirrorless technology.
- Mirrorless: The hybrid between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR. They’re compact but offer great quality due to the fact the have large sensors and interchangable lens.
- Action: Small, waterproof and durable. Great for water sports and mounting for action shots.
2. Photo Quality
My guess is that you are looking at buying a camera so you can capture those awesome travel moments. The places and people that you might only have the chance to see once in your lifetime. Choosing a camera that can take high quality images is an important factor.
But what does photo quality even mean and how do I know if the camera will deliver? Don’t get hung up on megapixels. This is where most beginners fall into the megapixel wars trap and choose a camera just because it has more than the others. People assume more megapixels is better. That isn’t always the case, lens and sensor quality have a lot more to do with it.
While point-and-shoots have come along way in terms of quality, they have small sensors and a fixed lens. The bigger the sensor means the more light the camera is capable of capturing, more light means less noise (graininess). If you are looking to step your photography up a notch, look at getting either a mirrorless or DSLR.
Size and weight are two big factors for travelers. Only the committed photographer is willing to lug a DSLR and various lenses without wanting to through it into a ditch every now and then. If you don’t fit into that group, consider the alternatives.
The more portable your camera is, the more likely you are to take it with you and use it. If you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, weight is a real concern. If you’ve ever tried to hike up a 12,000 ft mountain with a heavy camera bag, you know what I mean.
Between flights, accommodation and food, travel expenses can add up quick. Not everyone can afford to drop a ton of cash on a camera. Aim for the best value for your budget. Sure, you can find a point-and-shoot for under 100 bucks but is it going to meet your needs?
The truth is, purchasing a camera is an investment. It’s about finding the balance between quality and price. A great starter camera that I personally own and recommend is the Sony Nex-6 or Sony a6000 (the newer version of the Nex-6). The body of the a6000 costs under $600 and the kit lens package (camera + lens) is priced at $698. More about this camera in a bit.
5. Learning Curve
How much do you know about photography? If you don’t know much, then how much are you willing to learn? There’s no point in buying the best camera in the world if you don’t know how to use it and aren’t going to invest the time in learning how.
DSLR and mirrorless cameras have automatic modes to get you started but if you want to take full advantage of these cameras, you’ll need to learn how to use the manual modes. Want to learn travel photography? Look into the MatadorU Travel Photography course, which can help you improve your skills and take some killer shots.
The best way to choose the right camera for you is to consider how you are going to use it most. Snapshots, sweeping landscapes or scuba diving? Do you aspire to be a professional photographer and one day sell your photos?
For those planning to spend most of their time shooting action shots while mountain biking or scuba diving a GoPro is an excellent choice. If you want to take great quality underwater photos, consider buying an underwater housing for your camera.
If you’re looking to take mostly snapshots of landmarks, food and friends that you want to take for your memory, a simple point and shoot or even a phone with a decent camera will do.
Want to take spectacular photos of landscapes or portraits? Look into investing in either a mirrorless or DSLR camera and a lens or two.
7. Try Before You Buy
The only way to truly know if a camera is right for you is to try it out. If you live in the US, a great way to do this is with LensRentals.com where you can select a camera online, its sent to your house, you try it out and send it back when you’re done.
The Cameras We Use
Sony Nex 6
GoPro Hero 3
We use a GoPro Hero 3 for diving and action shots. It’s great little bulletproof camera that delivers quality video. GoPro’s are an awesome addition to you kit if you’re planning on doing any canyoning, kayaking, mountain biking or scuba diving during your travels.
What Do I Recommend?
We often receive emails from readers asking what camera we recommend for travel. In all honesty, I recommend a mirrorless camera for travel. Heck, even pros like Colby Brown and Trey Ratcliff have ditched their bulky DSLRs for these lightweight powerhouses. I’ve owned two, an Olympus EPL-1 and a Sony Nex-6.
Great Point-and-Shoot Cameras
Great Mirrorless Cameras