Picking the best travel camera for travel is overwhelming.
There are hundreds of cameras on the market — from cheap $100 point & shoot cameras to $2,000+ professional grade kits with multiple lenses. But most people just want something that’s easy-to-use, not too expensive, and is going to take great photos.
That’s why we made this post — to help you choose the best travel camera to fit your travel style, skill level, and budget.
Features to Look For In a Digital Camera For Travel Photography
Before we dive into our favorite cameras let’s start with what kind of features you should look for in a camera.
- Megapixels — Many people assume that photo quality is determined solely by megapixels. This isn’t completely true. Even budget cameras come with 14+ megapixels (which is way more than what most people need). Anything higher than 14MP should be fine unless you’re wanting to print your photos very large. The real quality comes from a nice lens and sensor quality.
- Fast Lens — Lens aperture is measured in f/numbers, such as f/1.8, f/2.0, f/3.5, etc. You want as low a number as possible. Basically, the lower the number, the better it will perform in low-light situations.
- Zoom — A zoom lens is a nice feature to have since it lets you get closer to the action. But the bigger the zoom the bulkier the camera gets. Whether or not you want a big zoom is a personal preference based on your shooting style. Either way, always look at the “optical” zoom. A “digital” zoom should be totally ignored since it just makes your photos pixelated.
- 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.
- Size & Weight — A large and heavy camera is a pain to carry around all day — which means many people end up leaving it back in the hotel because they tire of lugging it around.
- Auto Settings — If you’re not a great photographer then you’ll want to read up on your camera’s Auto Setting performance. The best cameras can auto focus and get the right exposure quickly — so you won’t miss the shot.
Types of Digital Cameras
There are five main types of digital cameras. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
- Point & Shoot
- Smart Phones
- Action Cameras (GoPro, drones, etc.)
Point & Shoot Digital Cameras
Point and Shoot (P&S) cameras are the most user-friendly cameras because they don’t require any technical knowledge to operate.
P&S cameras range from the super budget (which take decent, but not great, photos) to fairly expensive high-end (which have advanced features that give excellent results). It all comes down to budget.
Personally, for most travelers, I think a P&S is the way to go. I recommend buying as high of quality P&S as your budget allows.
- 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. The high-end can cost $700-$1000.
- 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 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.
Honestly, we find ourselves using our smart phones all the time while traveling. Sure, the photos aren’t going to be as good as a digital camera but the photos from the latest generation phones are pretty solid. For example, we use an iPhone 6 and it we’re happy with the results. I have friends who use the iPhone 7 and the quality is pretty amazing.
- Always In Your Pocket — The best thing about your phone is that it’s always with you.
- Fairly Good Photos — Photos from an iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 are pretty amazing for a phone.
- Photo Apps — You can edit your photos on the fly.
- Instant Social Media — You can get your photos posted in real time.
- No Zoom — You’re not really going to get any zoom on a phone. Most will have a digital zoom but this kind of zoom results in blurry/pixelated photos.
- Not Great in Low Light — Moden phones do a fairly good job in low-light conditions but it’s not great.
- Limited Storage Space — My phone is in a constant state of being out of space.
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.
- Good Low Light — A DSLR will let you take good low-light photos (depending on the lens, of course).
- 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. You’ll want a camera bag.
- 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.
Mirrorless Digital Cameras
A mirrorless camera is essentially the same as a DSLR but it doesn’t have a mirror inside — this means it can be much more compact. They basically combine the best features of DSLRs and point & shoot cameras. They are just a little bigger than a point & shoot camera but still take DSLR quality photographs.
If you’re serious about travel photography then this is what you want.
- 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.
- Affordable-ish — There are some solid base-level options around the $500 mark.
- Great Video — These cameras have the ability to take amazing video.
- Expensive-ish — Expect to pay around $500-$1,800 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.
- Fewer Lenses — DSLRs have more lens options but unless you’re a pro shooter then this really isn’t an issue.
Other Things To Think About When Buying A Digital Camera
HD/4K 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. Some even have 4K capabilities — which is pretty amazing.
WiFi Enabled — Some cameras can sync up to your wifi network and can upload your photos instantly.
Important Digital Camera Accessories
Memory Cards — Don’t forget to bring enough memory cards. You absolutely don’t want to limit the number 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.
Luckily, memory cards are cheap so it’s easy to stock up on multiple cards. Personally, we prefer to spread our photos across multiple cards in case one card get corrupted — this way you don’t lose all your photos.
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
NOTE: We’re currently redoing this section. Check back soon.
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.
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.
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.
Best Micro Four-Thirds Digital Cameras
Looking for a camera that is small but packs a big punch?
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.
Handy Digital Camera Accessories
Adobe LightRoom 3 Photo Editing Software — I love Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 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.
No Funny Business
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Thanks! — Susan and James