Best Digital Cameras for Travel Photography — Reviews and Advice
Picking the right digital camera for travel can be tricky because you want one that fits your travel style. My digital camera is the most essential thing I bring when I backpack through Europe. My photographs are my most cherished souvenirs from my travels. Luckily, digital camera technology is so good and there are so many great cameras to choose from… sometimes too many. This guide will explain all you need to know about choosing the perfect camera for you.
Features to Look For In a Digital Camera For Travel Photography
- Megapixels — Many people assume that more megapixels equals better photo quality. This simply isn’t true. Even budget cameras come with 10+ megapixels (which is way more than what most people need). Anything higher than 8MP should be fine. The real quality comes from a nice lens and sensor quality.
- Fast Lens — Lens aperture is measured in f/numbers, such as f/2.0 or f/3.5. You want as low a number as possible. Basically, the lower the number, the better it will perform in low-light situations.
- Zoom — Do you want a zoom? Some people love a nice zoom and some don’t care. It is a personal preference based on your shooting style. Either way, always look at the “optical” zoom. A “digital” zoom should be totally ignored.
- Lens Quality — A high quality lens separates low quality cameras from high quality cameras. The only way to find out about the lens quality is by reading reviews.
Choosing The Type of Digital Camera For Your Travel Style
Point & Shoot vs DSLR vs Four-Thirds — There are three major categories of digital cameras: Point & Shoot, DSLR, and Micro Four-Thirds. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Point & Shoot Digital Cameras
Almost everyone has a digital point & shoot camera, and this is the type of camera that most backpackers choose to bring to Europe. Personally, I recommend a high quality point & shoot camera over a bulky DSLR — and many photo geeks agree. In addition, the image quality of the nicer point & shoot cameras is pretty amazing.
- Compact — There is a saying about cameras, “The Best Camera is the One That’s With You.” When you’re backpacking, you’re much more likely to bring a camera that is small and easy to carry. These cameras continue to get smaller and the image quality gets better. I’m amazed that it’s possible to get near pro results from a camera the size of a deck of cards.
- Affordable — You can get a decent camera for about $160, but a really nice one will cost $300-$400.
- Easy To Use — Simply point it at your subject and shoot the picture (hence the name).
- Less control — Many point & shoot cameras don’t offer as much control as a more expensive DSLR camera. But, unless you are a total photo nerd, this shouldn’t be a huge deal. Most travelers are more comfortable using the automatic features of a camera anyway.
- Poor In Low Light Conditions — If you’ve used a digital camera, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t always take good pictures in low-light conditions. (Although many high-end point & shoot cameras do a pretty good job.)
- Poor Zoom — In general, as cameras get smaller, the zoom also decreases.
- Shutter Lag — If you’ve used a digital camera, you’ve experienced the lag between pressing the button and the time it takes the camera to actually take the photograph. This lag makes it difficult to take quality action shots.
Digital SLR (DSLR) Cameras
These cameras are often known as “professional” cameras, although most have an automatic mode that does all the work for you, so anyone can use one.
- Great Photos — You can take some amazing photographs if you know how to use the camera.
- Good Zoom — The choice of lenses for DSLRs means you can find some with a nice zoom.
- No Shutter Lag — Taking action photographs is much easier with a DSLR because there is no shutter lag.
- Big and Bulky — The worst thing about a big camera is the hassle of always hauling around all the extra weight and bulk. I know some travelers that bring a camera like this but then end up not using it much because they hate always taking it with them. Even many pro photographers choose a high-end point & shoot over their DSLR when they travel.
- Need Technical Know-How — To get the best photos, you need to know how to properly use the camera. An inexperienced shooter won’t see much improvement in photo quality when compared to a nice point & shoot.
- Expensive — A new DSLR starts at about $500 for an entry-level model, and can go up to $3,000+
- Fragile — Protecting a DSLR can be challenging — especially when you’re always on the move.
- Not Inconspicuous — If you want to take pictures of the locals, be prepared for them to shy away when you point one of these huge cameras in their direction. A small camera is less noticeable.
Micro Four-Thirds Digital Cameras
These cameras are fairly new to the market, but I believe they are the future of photography. They basically combine the best features of DSLRs and point & shoot cameras. They are about the size of a point & shoot camera but still take DSLR quality photographs.
- Compact — They are bigger than a compact point & shoot, but they are much smaller than a DSLR. They are small enough to carry around all day and not seem bulky. Unfortunately, these are still too large to be “pocketable,” but they will easily fit in a small bag.
- High Quality Photos — You can take DSLR quality photos if you have a basic understanding of cameras.
- Good Zoom — Depending on your lens, you have the ability to have a nice zoom.
- Minimal Shutter Lag — There is pretty much no (or very minimal) shutter lag.
- Expensive — Expect to pay around $600-$1200 depending on the brand and lens configuration.
- Image Quality Not Quite DSLR — If you’re a photo nut and need the best image quality possible, then you’ll notice the image quality difference. But, 99% of the population will never know the difference. In fact, many pros would gladly give up a little quality for the increased portability.
Other Things To Think About When Buying A Digital Camera
HD Video — A lot of new cameras can take high quality video. If you would like video from your trip, make sure your camera has HD video capability.
Batteries — Batteries are incredibility important. I prefer cameras that come with rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries. I think cameras that use traditional batteries (AA) are annoying because they are pretty expensive in Europe. However, some people prefer traditional batteries, so this one will come down to your personal preference.
Important Digital Camera Accessories
Memory Cards — Don’t forget to bring enough memory cards. You absolutely don’t want to limit the amount of photographs you take because of limited memory card space. On my first trip I didn’t bring enough memory cards, so I had to constantly look for internet cafés so I could upload my pictures to my flickr account.
Extra Batteries — I bought an extra battery for my digital camera off eBay, and it worked great. It was nice not having to worry about running out of battery.
Recommended Digital Cameras For Travel
There are many cameras on the market, and I have broken them down into different categories here, so you should be able to find the perfect one for your style of travel. Note: Cameras are listed in no particular order.
Best Budget Digital Cameras
Do you eat Ramen noodles for every meal? Check out these sub-$200 cameras that still perform well.
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS — 14.1 MP
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS— $199 (from Amazon)
You can’t go wrong with a Canon. This camera is tiny and takes nice photographs.
Sony DSC-W350 — 14.1MP
Sony DSC-W350— $152 (from Amazon)
Panasonic DMC-FH25K — 16 MP
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20K— $150 (from Amazon)
Kodak EasyShare Z915 — 10MP
Kodak EasyShare Z915— $199 (from Amazon)
Best Compact Cameras
Want a super small camera that can fit in your pocket? Look no further. Be aware that ultra compact digital cameras can get kind of pricey.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 — 12.2MP
Sony TX Series DSC-TX9/H— about $299 (from Amazon)
Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS (Digital ELPH) — 16MP
Canon PowerShot SD780IS— about $230-$260 (from Amazon)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 — 12MP
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7— about $250 (from Amazon)
Best High-End Point & Shoot Digital Cameras
These cameras are compact but take great quality photographs. These cameras have manual controls so you can get much more creative with your photographs — but they also have an automatic mode for less experienced users. These cameras also perform well in low-light conditions. All of these cameras can also shoot in RAW format.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 — 10MP
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7— about $450 (from Amazon)
Note: I have a Lumix LX3 (the LX7 is the newer version of the LX3), and I love it. It is a little larger than the Canon S95, but it takes slightly better photographs.
Canon PowerShot S95
Canon PowerShot S95— about $370 (from Amazon)
This is a great camera that takes amazing photographs, and it is tiny.
Note: Check out the older (but still solid) PowerShot S90 if the S95 is too expensive.
Best Micro Four-Thirds Digital Cameras
Looking for a camera that is small but packs a big punch?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 — 16MP
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 — about $1000 (at Amazon)
Olympus PEN E-PL1 — 12MP
Olympus PEN E-PL1 — about $450-$500 (from Amazon)
Olympus PEN E-P2 — 12MP
Olympus PEN E-P2 — about $750 (from Amazon)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 — 12MP
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2— about $500-$550 (at Amazon)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2— about $700 (at Amazon)
Best Digital SLR (DSLR) Cameras
Looking to drop some cash on a DSLR? These are some well-reviewed entry-level cameras. Caution: Photography is an expensive hobby, so be prepared to spend a lot of money to fund your new addiction.
Canon EOS Rebel T2i — 18MP
Canon EOS Rebel T2i — about $780 (from Amazon)
Probably the best DSLR under $1,000.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i — 15MP
Canon EOS Rebel T1i — about $675 (from Amazon)
Good entry-level DSLR
Nikon D3100 — about $560 (from Amazon)
Handy Digital Camera Accessories
Adobe LightRoom 3 Photo Editing Software — I love Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 for editing my photographs. My photos are so much better because of LightRoom. They have a student version for $80 and the regular version for $299.
Memory Cards — It is essential to have enough memory cards. These new cameras take really high quality photographs, but that also means the file sizes are very large. The last thing you want to do is run out of card space while you’re traveling. Don’t buy a bargain brand of memory card because they have a higher chance of having errors.
Also, memory cards are rated by class. The higher the class, the faster the card performs. I recommend getting one rated at 8 or above. Luckily, memory cards are pretty cheap.
Extra Batteries — Don’t forget the batteries! I like to bring an extra battery just in case one runs out of juice during the day. Check eBay for cheap third-party batteries.
Gorillapod Tripod — I used my Gorillapod Flexible Tripod a lot on my trip. It is a handy little accessory that doesn’t take up a lot of room.
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