Best Digital Cameras for Travel Photography — Reviews and Advice

the best digital cameras guide for backpacking and travel in Europe

Guide to Best Digital Cameras For Travel in Europe

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 with digital cameras — Point & Shoot, DSLR, and Micro Four-Thirds. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Point and Shoot Digital Cameras

point and shoot cameraAlmost everyone has a digital point-and-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 P&S cameras is pretty amazing.

Pros

  • 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 its 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).

Cons

  • Less control — Many P&S 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 anyways.
  • Poor In Low Light Conditions — If you’ve used a digital camera, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t take good pictures in low-light conditions. Although, many of the high-end P&S 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 for taking quality action shots.

 

Digital SLR (DSLR) Cameras

dslr travelThese 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.

Pros

  • 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 photographs of action is much easier with a DSLR because there is no shutter lag.

Cons

  • 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 their 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 P&S.
  • Expensive — A new DSLR starts at about $500 for an entry level, but goes up to $3000+
  • 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

mirco four thirds

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-and-shoot cameras. They are about the size of a point-and-shoot camera, but still take DSLR quality photographs.

Pros

  • Compact — They are bigger than a compact P&S, 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.

Cons

  • 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 you 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. Although, 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 cafes 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 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.

  • 14.1-megapixel resolution; 2.7-inch PureColor System LCD
  • 28mm wide-angle lens; 4x optical zoom and Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 720p HD movie shooting capability plus HDMI output
  • Smart AUTO intelligently selects from 22 predefined settings
  • New scene modes such as Miniature Effect and Fisheye Effect; Low Light mode for dimly-lit situations.

View the full Canon PowerShot Line

Sony DSC-W350 — 14.1MP

Sony DSC-W350— $152 (at Amazon)

  • 26mm equivalent Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with 4x optical zoom
  • Capture breathtaking images in Sweep Panorama Mode
  • 14.1-megapixel resolution; 2.7-inch LCD screen for easy viewing
  • Capture your videos in HD Movie mode (720p); Optical SteadyShot image stabilization reduces blur
  • Accepts Memory Stick Duo/Memory Stick PRO Duo/Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo (not included)

View full Sony Cyber Shot line

Panasonic DMC-FH25K — 16 MP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20K— $150 (at Amazon)

  • 8X optical zoom (4X digital zoom/32X total zoom)
  • 2-11/16″ LCD screen
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Sonic Speed AF for quick focusing on moving subjects

View full Panasonic Lumix line

Kodak EasyShare Z915 — 10MP

Kodak EasyShare Z915— $199 (form Amazon)

  • 10X optical zoom (5X digital/50X total zoom)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 2-1/2″ LCD
  • 35mm equivalent lens focal length: 35-350mm

 View full Kodak EashShare line

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)

  • 12.2MP Exmor R CMOS sensor for stunning low-light performance
  • 3.5 Touch screen for easy focus selection and photo viewing
  • Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x (25mm) optical zoom lens
  • 1080i AVCHD Movie records high-quality HD movies

View full Sony Cybershot line

Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS (Digital ELPH) — 16MP

Canon PowerShot SD780IS— about $230-$260 (from Amazon)

  • 12.1-megapixel CCD captures enough detail for photo-quality poster-size prints
  • 3x optical zoom lens with Optical Image Stabilizer
  • HD movie shooting capability plus HDMI output
  • 2.5-inch widescreen PureColor LCD II screen; Face Detection

View the full Canon PowerShot Line

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 — 12MP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7— about $250 (from Amazon)

  • 12X optical zoom
  • Built-in GPS function lets you keep track of your photos by location
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Recording Media – Built-in Memory, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card

View full Panasonic Lumix line

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)

  • 10.1-megapixel CCD captures enough detail for photo-quality poster-size prints
  • 3.8x F2.0 ultra-wide-angle 24mm Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens
  • 3.0-inch Intelligent LCD; Record HD videos in AVCHD Lite; Creative Movie mode
  • Venus Engine FHD image processor; hot shoe for easy accessorization

View full Panasonic Lumix line

Note: I have a Lumix LX-3 (the LX7 is the newer version of the LX3 and there is also the LX5) 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.

  • 10.0-megapixel sensor combined with the DIGIC 4 Image Processor creates Canon’s HS System
  • Capture 720p HD video in stereo sound; play back on an HDTV via the HDMI output
  • f/2.0 lens for low light conditions or shallow depth-of-field; control ring for intuitive manual control
  • 3.8x optical zoom; 28mm wide-angle lens; Canon’s Hybrid IS to compensate for angular and shift camera shake

Note: Check out the older (but still solid) PowerShot S90 if the S95 is too expensive.

View the full Canon PowerShot Line

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)

  • 16.05-megapixel multi-aspect Live MOS Sensor; Micro Four Thirds format camera
  • Kit includes 14-42mm Hybrid Lens; high-quality photos in 3D with optional lens
  • Full HD video capability; Fast Light Speed AF for quick, clear photo capture; Advanced iA (Intelligent Auto) mode
  • 3-inch Free-Angle Touch Screen LCD for intuitive touch-control shooting
  • Compact, lightweight design for ease of use and portability

View full line of Panasonic Lumix Mirco 4/3 Cameras

Olympus PEN E-PL1 — 12MP

Olympus PEN E-PL1 — about $450-$500 (from Amazon)

  • 12.3-megapixel interchangeable lens digital camera; Micro Four Thirds format
  • Includes 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 digital zoom lens; features built-in flash
  • 2.7-inch HyperCrystal LCD with Live View function; Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) tracking system
  • Capture HD video with high-quality audio; new “Direct Button” for easy recording
  • New Live Guide interface simplifies great photography; capture images to SD/SDHC cards

View full line of Olympus PEN cameras


Olympus PEN E-P2 — 12MP

Olympus PEN E-P2 — about $750 (from Amazon)

  • 12.3-megapixel interchangeable lens digital camera; Micro Four Thirds format
  • Includes 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko digital zoom lens; optional Electronic View Finder not included, sold separately
  • 3-inch HyperCrystal LCD with Live View function; Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) tracking system
  • Record HD video with high-quality audio; Full Manual Control of shutter/aperture in Movie Mode
  • iEnhance to automatically adjust color and contrast for a more dramatic effect
  • Capture images and video to SD/SDHC memory cards

View full line of Olympus PEN cameras


Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 — 12MP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2— about $500-$550 (at Amazon)

  • Touch-screen operation with 3-inch free-angle LCD and Contrast AF system
  • Includes Lumix G Vario 14-42mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. lens
  • Dual Full-time Live View for LCD and LVF
  • 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor and Intelligent Resolution technology
  • HD Movie in AVCHD Lite and HDMI compatibility featuring Viera Link

View full line of Panasonic Lumix advanced cameras

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2— about $700 (at Amazon)

  • 12.1-megapixel multi-aspect Live MOS Sensor; Micro Four Thirds format camera
  • Kit includes 14mm lens; capture high-quality photos in 3D with optional lens
  • Full HD video capability; Venus Engine FHD enables Intelligent Resolution technology
  • 3-inch free-angle touch-screen LCD; newly-designed Touch Q-menu allows focus to be set, or shutter released, with just a touch
  • Built-in flash; compact, lightweight design for ease of use and portability
View full line of Panasonic Lumix advanced cameras

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 1000.

  • 18.0-megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor; DIGIC 4 image processor for high image quality and speed
  • Kit includes 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens
  • ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12800) for shooting from bright to dim light; enhanced 63-zone, Dual-layer metering system
  • Improved EOS Movie mode with manual exposure control and expanded recording 1920 x 1080 (Full HD)
  • Wide 3.0-inch Clear View LCD monitor; dedicated Live View/Movie shooting button
  • New compatibility with SDXC memory cards, plus new menu status indicator for Eye-Fi support

View full line of Canon DSLR cameras

 

Canon EOS Rebel T1i — 15MP

Canon EOS Rebel T1i — about $675 (from Amazon)

Good entry level DSLR

  • New 15.1-megapixel CMOS sensor with DIGIC 4 Image Processor
  • Includes Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens
  • Full HD video capture at 1920 x 1080 resolution; HDMI output
  • 3.0-inch Clear View LCD; Live View Function for stills (Quick, Live and Face Detection AF modes) and video

View full line of Canon DSLR cameras

 

Nikon D3100

Nikon D3100 — about $560 (on Amazon)

  • 14.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS image sensor; 3-inch monitor with One-Touch Live View shooting and movie capture
  • Includes 3x 18-55mm Zoom-NIKKOR VR Image Stabilization lens
  • Full 1080p HD Cinematic Video with full-time autofocus and sound
  • Easy-To-Use Nikon Guide Mode with intuitive controls and on-board assistance

View full line of Nikon DSLR cameras


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 anymore.

I recommend the Transcend 16 GB Class 10 SDHC Flash Memory Card that costs about $28 (at Amazon). In fact, I like all Transcend Brand media.

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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  • http://www.alexbutts.com/ Alex

    I took an Canon Rebel EOS last summer and was so glad I had it, the pictures are just way better than a point and shoot can ever deliver. I had a cheap point and shoot for going out at night, which was great because I wanted my SLR safe while still capturing every moment.

    If you are going to bring an SLR, the perfect day bag is the key. Tip for getting pictures, if you need someone to take one for you, look for someone else with an SLR to avoid the hassle of explaining how to use it.

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  • http://www.locationless.com Nick Laborde

    I have the Lumix GF1 which I purchased because I wanted a DSLR but not the size. I love the camera, it takes great shots and it’s portable. I would like to upgrade to a Nikon eventually but I’ll probably keep the GF1 for everyday use.

    • Anonymous

      It is a great camera. In fact, I really like the entire Lumix line.

      I know a lot of photography buffs that carry a smaller camera (like the GF1 or something similar) just because it is so much more convenient for everyday use.

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  • Samzara

    Excellent article. The exact information that I was looking for. Really useful. Thank you so much!!!!!

  • Alyson

    I have to disagree with your choice of memory card. I’ve always had the best luck with SanDisk class 10. Some of them even have some software that will help you recover your lost data if anything ever happens to the card (aside from being stolen).

  • zed44

    I am about to go on a Eastern Europe tour and is contemplating buying a bridge camera instead of slugging my canon 40d 18-200mm along. I am thinking of getting a Panasonic Lumix Fz200 but isn’t sure the zoom is enough considering many bridge camera go super zooom 50x or 60x. Should I consider bringing my canon 40d or buy a bridge camera?

  • Kevin

    Really, no mention of the Sony RX100? It’s arguable the best camera you can fit in your pocket.