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.


3. Portability 

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. 


Hiking to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) in Colombia


4. Price 

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.


6. Purpose

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 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


I’ve been shooting with my Sony Nex-6 for over a year now and love it. This little camera packs in some pro features and high image quality. It’s so light that I even forget it’s around my shoulder! 

Canon 1100D

Canon EOS 1100D
Antonio has been using his Canon 1100D for a few years now. It’s a good entry-level camera if you want to initiate yourself in the DSLRs world. It’s quite easy to learn which makes it a fantastic choice for beginners. 

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


Great DSLR Cameras


Do You Have Any Other Considerations When Buying A Camera?

Share Them With Us!

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43 Responses

  1. Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine

    What a helpful post! I’ve been looking for a good camera for travel. DSLR seems to be the popular “good photography” choice, but you are so right. I don’t want to lug that thing everywhere! Now my goal is to find a mirrorless camera that won’t completely break my budget bank. 🙂 Thanks for the round up!
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine recently posted…Traveling While In CollegeMy Profile

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Great to hear you found the post useful Amanda! An popular option for people who want to go mirrorless but don’t have a big budget is the Sony NEX 3. I’ve never shot with one myself but I met someone on a hike recently who had one and loves it. Let me know if you have any questions, I love talking about cameras 😀

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Thanks Piritta! The NEX-6 has a viewfinder. One of my favorite features is that you can preview through it, which is perfect for sunny days when it’s hard to see the LCD screen. My old Olympus EPL-1 didn’t have a viewfinder but now that I have one, I wouldn’t buy a camera without one (unless it’s a point-and-shoot). How do you like the OM-D EM-5? I was so close to buying one but decided to give the Sony a try instead.

      • Piritta Paija

        Hi again, Amanda.

        I’d like to try some of the Sony Alpha A7 series, so many have said that they’re great. Actually, I haven’t used the Olympus EM-5 that much, as that’s primarily Niina’s camera (my other half of our blog), but what I have used it I’ve found it pretty great. The only thing that has given me a bit of a headache with it has sometimes been the autofocus. Sometimes it just doesn’t focus to the point(s) I’d like to. But maybe it’s just me not knowing how to use it properly.. 😉

        My own camera is the Canon EOS 700D, which I’ve loved so far. I actually considered the 1100D, too, but then decided to buy the 700D. How have you liked the 1100D?
        Piritta Paija recently posted…Tarangire National Park – the Best Place to See the African Elephants?My Profile

  2. Jane M

    I used an Olympus OM-D EM5 mirrorless for our epic bike trip.

    The small size and the relatively modest shell made me feel much less uncomfortable about whipping it out in the middle of tiny villages in the middle of nowhere where the people had almost nothing. It was also the perfect size to fit comfortably in my handlebar bag.

    But, I’m not sure the picture quality is up to scratch. I still can’t decide if it’s just that I need to become a better photographer, need better lenses, or need a different camera though. I’m working on number one first. Eventually, I’ll get more expensive lenses and see if that helps.

    Jane M recently posted…How to Save Money for Travel the Grown-Up WayMy Profile

    • Amanda Zeisset

      That’s a huge benefit of the smaller mirrorless cameras, it’s much less “in your face” than big DSLRs. I too feel more comfortable using it in villages in markets than I would a bigger camera. Sometimes though, I do wish I had a tiny point and shoot I could just put into my jacket to be even more discrete in those situations.

      I still use the kit lens that came with my camera and wonder too if upgrading lenses would take my photography a push forward. Are there any lenses you’re looking at?

  3. Rajesh

    Can i know which location is the water falls in one of the photos please.?

  4. Jen

    Great article! I don’t think I’ll ever ditch my DSLR entirely (I lugged it AND two heavy lenses, a tripod, various filters, etc … on the entire Kalalau Trail … and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!) BUT I am loving my little mirrorless camera these days. I got a FujiFilm X100T and it pretty much never leaves my side these days. After hauling around a big, heavy SLR all the time, this thing is like a dream! I totally agree that mirrorless is quickly becoming the way to go for travel/adventure photography!
    Jen recently posted…A Morning With a Moose at Brainard LakeMy Profile

    • Amanda Zeisset

      That’s some real dedication Jen! We just went on a hike and met a man who also has the Fuji X100T, he too loves it. It’s an exciting time for camera lovers, every year they just get better and better.

  5. Angel Moreno

    Those are some amazing tips! I got my Sony a6000 about 4 months ago, and I love everything about that camera. I’m used to carry a full DSLR, so when I swap from my Canon to the Sonya6000, I loved how small it is, and how good it performs.
    In particular during those backpacking trips, when weight makes a big difference. Not just the size of the camera, but all the lenses, and the microphone too.
    Angel Moreno recently posted…Why Wool is the Fabric of AdventureMy Profile

    • Amanda Zeisset

      The size and weight is a huge plus for me too. We just got back from a 8 day trip and I don’t think I would have made it up those steep mountain passes with anymore weight. After packing in camping gear, clothes and food, there’s no way I would take a big SLR. The mirrorless option is definitely the way to go for long trips. Which lenses are you using on your a6000? I’m considering investing in one or two soon.

  6. Jackie

    Thank you so much for all this camera information. I’m actually in the market to buy a new camera and it’s such a tough choice. I do love Canon cameras, but after reading your post, I’m going to look closer at some of the mirrorless options out there. Thanks again!
    Jackie recently posted…16 Photos to Transport You to Angkor WatMy Profile

  7. Karilyn

    I also have the Sony Nex and love it! Although I have to say that the best lens on it has been my 35mm (50mm equivalent). The kit lens takes ok photos, but the 50 is amazing!

    My other go to these days is actually my iPhone! On our last trip I found that many of my best photos actually came from my phone! I use it for wide shots and my 50 for close ups!
    Karilyn recently posted…Grand Canyon in the Summer: How to Beat the HeatMy Profile

  8. Laura

    I haven’t talked myself into getting a DSLR yet. I don’t like reading instruction manuals, so if i can’t figure it out on my own, I just ignore half the features. I’d do a huge disservice to a nice camera. Maybe you’ve convince me to try one out!
    Laura recently posted…Summer Dreaming: Stunning Hotel PoolsMy Profile

    • Amanda Zeisset

      I agree Laura. I need something that is intuitive. Another thing I love about my Sony Nex 6 is that all the features are briefly explained on the screen.

    • Amanda Zeisset

      I just recently found out about Lens Rental as well. If I’m in the states next time I buy a camera, I’ll definitely give it a spin before buying.

  9. Vaughn Fragassi

    If you’re shopping for lenses instead, take the same factors into account that you would for choosing a camera. Fixed focal length, or prime lenses, are generally less expensive than zooms, but can also be somewhat limiting depending on how they are being used.

  10. Tom Devlin-Mahoney

    I use a Sony DSC-RX100M II Cyber-shot which is fantastic. It has enough features to fiddle with when taking specific types of shots but for general point and shoot the intelligent auto function is terrific. I have this paired with a GoPro for water/action shots but also because of the wide angle lense. Trying to fit a whole mountain, canyon, laguna etc is not possible with the Sony so there is that to think of too when buying.

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Tom! I too love the intelligent auto function, it’s great, especially when don’t have time to fiddle around with the settings. Very true about the GoPro, it’s perfect for those wide angle shots and watersports. Thanks for sharing what you use 🙂

  11. Giovani Amanda Sari

    Such helpful tips! I have been considering to get a mirrorless camera for a while now, to be use mostly for travels. This post has helped me so much in giving me the confidence to go with my choice in getting the Sony A6000. Thank you so much. Best regards from Singapore!

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Giovani! Happy to hear the post was useful for you and that we are now camera twins 🙂 Looking forward to hear what you think about the a6000.

  12. Jay Walton

    Hey Amanda,

    Nice share!!

    Thanks a lot for sharing such useful tips with us. I love travelling and usually hire a camera while going for a vacation.

    Recently I visited Spain with my family and hired a Canon 5D MK11 DSLR camera. The picture quality of this camera is astonishing.

    I seriously had some amazing shots with it!

  13. Monica

    Totally agree with your choice! Mirrorless makes a lot of sense — travel photography doesn’t happy if you can’t be bothered to bring your camera with you. I have a Fujifilm mirrorless and couldn’t be happier with that + the lightest lens offered (a “pancake”, 27mm f/2.8). Though, having never spent time with a DSLR, I really wonder how it could offer me more than the mirrorless. How do you decide to bring your DSLR instead of the mirrorless camera? Portability, or other factors?

  14. Kristien

    Interesting read! I’m comparing mirrorless cameras at the moment as a treat to myself for my upcoming 25th birthday and to take with me on my next travels. Loving the specs on the Sony A6000 and the lighter A5100 (only the lack of viewfinder is stopping me from clicking the “buy” button for that last one) but I’m wondering if it isn’t getting a bit out of date given that it’s been out there for more than two years already…

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Kristien,

      Funny coincidence, I treated myself to a new camera for my 25th birthday as well. I currently use a Sony NEX – 6. It’s great for the type of photography I use it for (outdoors & adventure).

      I really love the viewfinder and use it all the time. One of my favorite features of the sony’s is the preview through the viewfinder. It’s great for checking out your shots in camera.

      If I were to buy a new camera today I would go for the Sony a6300 ( If you’re on a budget the a6000 ( is still a great option. Like you said, the a5100 is a tab bit lighter but I don’t think it would make a significant difference.

      I hope this helps you on your camera shopping mission! Let me know if you have any specific questions about the cameras.


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