Choosing a camera can be very frustrating. I can vouch for this. I spent hours, days, maybe even weeks researching different cameras and trying to find the perfect one for our travels. This article is a combination of my own thoughts and experiences and information pulled from other sources. The sources can be found at the bottom of the post. I may add or change things to this post so be sure to keep checking for updates and as always, please feel free to leave feedback or ask questions.
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.
First of all, 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.
Mobile Phone Cameras (Point & Shoot)
A lot of mobile phones these days come with great cameras. I use a Samsung Galaxy S7 and the camera on it is fantastic. It even has a professional mode built in. The results are outstanding for a phone camera. It’s very quick and easy to use, it fits in your pocket and there is some brilliant software you can download to edit your photos. However, I think it is a good idea to have a dedicated camera as well as your mobile phone. Your mobile phone is your mobile phone after all and you need it for other things as well as photographs.
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.
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 compact cameras, but less expensive than DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
This is what I ended up going for. 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 real-time 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.
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.
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, which is why I hesitated about switching completely to mirrorless.
However, there are a few zoom lens options out there for mirrorless cameras, just not as many.
Choosing a DSLR means you will have more lens options, faster focus (although mirrorless is following close behind), and a slightly longer battery life. People believe that eventually DSLR cameras will become obsolete, but we are still a little way off from mirrorless replacing traditional DSLR cameras entirely.
Underwater Travel Photography
You can’t go wrong with a GoPro or Xiaomi yi. These cameras are built and designed for extreme situations. They are perfect for capturing underwater action or in situation where using a regular camera is simply to inconvenient or too risky. They come with many attachments such as chest harnesses, head straps, selfie sticks and much more.
What do I use?
My main camera is my Olympus OMD EM10 MK2 which is a mirrorless camera. I chose this due to the size and weight. I am an amateur photographer and still have a lot to learn but this camera just looked and felt right for me. It has a lot of power packed into a small body. It also has the classic, vintage / retro look that Olympus is famous for and I fell in love with it. I got the camera with both a 14-42mm + 40-150mm Lens.
I also use my Samsung Galaxy S7 for point and click photography. The Samsung Galaxy S7 is not only a great phone but the camera on it is incredible for a phone camera.
As mentioned earlier in the post it comes with a Professional mode and the results are better than a lot of cameras that I have tried and tested. I often get asked what camera I use and when I tell them I actually shot them on my mobile phone, they get a shock. It is thin and lightweight and can easily fit my pocket.
I use a Go Pro Hero 4 and a Xiamoi Yi for my action shots. The GoPro Is renowned for it’s durability under extreme circumstances and the Xiamoi Yi is the Chinese, cheaper alternative which comes with very good quality and is very good value.