How to Choose the Best Camera for Travel
Over the past ten years, I’ve scoured the internet and tested camera gear in order to find the perfect travel photography kit. When readers and members of our Instagram community ask us what camera we use, I always tell them that what works best for us won’t necessarily be the best fit for them. Choosing the best travel camera is more about finding one that allows you to shoot the photographs you want.
Choosing the best camera for travel photography is different from choosing a professional camera for things like wedding photography and portrait photography, or even just everyday use at home. With so many camera options on the market, it can be a little intimidating when you start your new camera search.
Consider the Best Type of Travel Camera for Your Needs
There are several types of travel cameras on the market (Point and Shoot, Advanced Compact Cameras, DSLR, Mirrorless) and each one has its own list of benefits. First, and most importantly, you should consider what is most important to you – size, weight, price, ease of use, etc. Below, I’ve listed the benefits and limitations of each type of camera as well as the top cameras in each of those categories.
Compact Digital Cameras (Point & Shoot)
If your main concern is price, weight, and purchasing a travel camera that is easy to use, then you will want to look at purchasing a Compact Digital Camera. This type of camera won’t weigh down your luggage and it will easily fit in a small backpack or purse.
Compact Digital Cameras are perfect if you don’t want to be hassled with too many controls and you want the least expensive option. Nowadays, you can still find a Point and Shoot camera that takes great photos. That’s not to say you should pick just any Point and Shoot because they are not all created equal. Here are the best travel cameras under $300.
* Best Compact Cameras for Travel
Advanced Compact Digital Cameras (High-End Compact)
Advanced Compact Digital Cameras are similar to Point and Shoot cameras, but they come with a few more bells and whistles. They are the high end of compact cameras with built-in lenses.
Advanced Compact Cameras are similar in size to the above mentioned ones and they offer full manual mode in addition to auto mode. (Note: Both of the cameras listed in the above section offer manual mode as well.) They also usually have the ability to capture photos in RAW format — which is important if you plan to make any edits to your photos once you upload them to your computer.
These cameras tend to be slightly more expensive than the regular compacts, but less expensive than DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
* Best Advanced Compact Travel Cameras
If image quality, size, and weight is the most important factor, you will want to look at purchasing a mirrorless camera. What is a mirrorless camera, you ask? Unlike a Digital SLR, this type of camera does not have a mirror reflex optical viewfinder — hence, the name mirrorless. This type of camera is perfect for people who still want an interchangeable lens without the weight of a DSLR.
Another plus for mirrorless is the electronic viewfinders because you can view the realtime effect of aperture and ISO adjustments, unlike a DSLR. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of your photography, then mirrorless is the way to go.
* Best Mirrorless Travel Cameras
Digital SLR Cameras
Mirrorless cameras have come a long way and many photographers have decided to ditch their bulky DSLR cameras for this lighter option. I completely understand why travelers would choose a mirrorless over a DSLR, but many photographers, including myself, are not quite ready to toss out their Digital SLR cameras.
DSLR cameras are better suited for sports, wildlife, and other types of action photography. If these types of photography don’t interest you, then you will probably be fine with a mirrorless. I often travel to photograph wildlife and I need a capable zoom lens (I use the Canon 70-300L lens).
Choosing a DSLR means you will have more lens options, faster focus (although mirrorless is following close behind), and a slightly longer battery life. I’ve also compared the low light capabilities of my Canon 5D Mark II with mirrorless cameras and I don’t feel they can quite compete in that respect yet. Eventually, I’m sure DSLR cameras will become obsolete, but we are still a little way off from mirrorless replacing traditional DSLR cameras entirely.
* Best DSLR Travel Cameras
The following DSLR camera is great for entry level or intermediate photographers who still want the benefits of more lens selection, longer battery life, great low light capabilities, and faster focus. If you are looking for a more professional kit and you are not as worried about weight, check out our post that lists all the travel camera gear we use.
Underwater Travel Photography
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention underwater photography. If you are anything like us, then you love to play in any body of water and who doesn’t want to get the best underwater photos on vacation?
We’ve tried a handful of point and shoot underwater cameras, which have taken decent photos, but ever since GoPro came out with their Hero4 with LCD screen, this is now our favorite underwater camera for travel. The issues I had with the Hero 3 (fogging, no LCD screen, ultra wide angle lens) have all been fixed on the Hero 4. It’s great for action selfies on land too!
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