Capturing photographs while traveling is a great way to hold on to memories. Memories of the first time you saw a giant waterfall, the Rocky Mountains, or even the unique site of wildlife playing in a mountain spring. Photos help you capture the colors, life, and atmosphere of your most recent journey. A great photo is also a way to help trigger your creative juices when writing your latest novel or short story. Buying the right camera for capturing those moments is important.
Price isn’t Everything
(Sometimes Smaller and Compact is Better)
I remember the days of dark rooms and large clunky cameras with multiple lenses, flashes, and film cartridges that you had to keep track of. [I still miss the smells of the dark room. Maybe too much.] The great thing about today’s cameras is that you really don’t need all that stuff. The digital compact cameras have almost all of the features you need in one package. For most travelers, there is no need to spend a lot of money on an expensive camera. Sure, you can still invest in the DSLR’s with multiple lenses. However, if you simply taking a family vacation or hiking in the woods do you really want to?
A more expensive DSLR or mirrorless camera can be a good investment in certain situations. For example, they are excellent for taking high-resolution panoramic landscape shots, sports action, and other moving photos. If you are planning on taking photos for book covers and internal spreads, a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is also highly recommended (but not required).
From simple point-and-shoot to the mirrorless and higher-quality DSLR cameras, here are ones that I have personally used and recommend.
Disclaimer. I do make a small commission of Amazon if you purchase through any of these links. This is at no charge to you nor does it impact my recommendations. I do try to recommend kits for the mirrorless and DSLR cameras so you that you get at least one lens to start with along with the necessary accessories. My biggest suggestion is to purchase the amount of camera that you actually need (not want) when going on vacation.
Best Option for Most Travelers
Your smartphone. This is especially true if you own a phone built within the past couple of years. Twelve megapixels are more than enough for your average user. The aperture is often more important but again, if you are not a photography buff, it doesn’t matter. You can easily transfer the photos to the social media outlet of your choice. You also don’t have to go out and buy another device. Here are some photos that I took on a trip to the Grand Canyon using an iPhone 5.
Here are three of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
- Samsung Galaxy S9
- iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus
- Google Pixel 2
However, there can be issues. One limitation of smartphones is the zoom feature. Yes, you can zoom in with your smartphone, but the problem is that the quality is lacking. Digital zoom uses what we call fewer pixels and it also limits your light. Huh? So, let’s say you use your camera to zoom in on a bird in a tree that is far away. Unlike optical zoom, it is using the same number of pixels so when you pull that picture up later, it is fuzzy. It simply enlarges the area in the frame and crops (trims) out the outside edges. It’s not a true closeup. Optical zoom, however, adjusts the lens to get closer. The photos will come out clearer and less fuzzy (aka pixelated). You are more likely to find optical zoom options with a standalone point and shoot. View Examples
One great option is to purchase an “add-on” camera, like the Insta360. It gives you the features of the more expensive point-and-shoot and DSLR. It attaches right on to your smartphone, so it’s less bulk to carry around.
- Insta360 Nano S 360 VR Camera, 4K HD 360 Degree Video Camera, Lifestyle Camera, 20MP Photos for iPhone X, iPhone 8 series, iPhone 7 series, iPhone 6 series
- ION360 U – 4K Ultra HD 360-Degree Camera and Smartphone Charging Battery Case for Samsung Galaxy S8 Charcoal Grey (other phones available)
Have an older smartphone and don’t feel like shelling out $800+ for a new phone just for the camera? I don’t blame you. You can get a variety of point and shoots for less than $500 that have optical zoom and are easily portable.
A point-and-shoot camera is a compact camera that has the lenses, exposure options, and flash units built in. They are great to use on vacation as they can easily fit in your pocket or on your wrist. Most also use optical zoom (to a point) and have swappable memory cards. Your smartphone (or at very least, iCloud account) may run out of memory if you take a bunch of photos and videos, but you can always swap out an SD memory card with your point and shoot or DSLR.
Here are my suggestions for the best point and shoot cameras.
When you are wanting to get into more advanced photography, a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the way to go. However, they can be cost-prohibitive compared to point-and-shoot cameras or smartphones.
A mirrorless camera is a more advanced camera that doesn’t require a reflex mirror and exposes the imaging sensor to light always. In simpler terms, it gives you a digital preview of your image either on the LCD screen or viewfinder. The main difference between these cameras and a fancier DSLR is the size. They are much smaller than DSLR cameras because the mirror box does not take up as much space inside the camera body. They may have worse battery life than a DSLR camera so keep that in mind. Most point-and-shoot cameras are also considered mirrorless, but they come with fewer functions and features.
When you hear the term mirrorless camera, most people are referring to the larger cameras that come with detachable lens and flashes. You often have to purchase the lenses separately. I try to recommend kits for that very reason.
Here are a few suggestions for the best mirrorless cameras to use.
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
- Panasonic Lumix G80 / G85
- Fujifilm X-T2
- Sony Alpha A7R III
- Canon EOS M50
A digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is a more advanced camera that combines the features of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor. Inside the camera is a mirror that reflects the light coming from the lens into an optical viewfinder by way of a prism or additional mirrors. You can see in real time the exact scene you are going to capture via the viewfinder. You’ll notice that most of the point and shoot (and even mirrorless cameras) are lacking that viewfinder but instead have a screen that you must view. They also usually have better battery life because the viewfinder uses less power than the screen used by the other types of cameras. Like the mirrorless, the DSLR has interchangeable lenses and flashes to allow you to take a variety of pictures from landscapes to fast-moving telephotos.
Here are a few of the ones that I highly recommend. I prefer to get the kit when trying out a new camera because they come with a lens already attached. This will allow you to get used to the camera before purchasing additional lenses. You can sometimes buy just the body for $150 less but then you still must go and purchase accessories.
- Canon EOS REBEL T7i EF-S 18-55 IS STM Kit
[The great thing about the Canon Rebels is that they can last for years. I have one that is eight years old and it still performs flawlessly.]
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- Nikon D500
- Nikon D7500
- Nikon D850 FX
My current go-to camera that I take everywhere at the moment is the PowerShot SX730. It has enough features, especially megapixels and aperture settings, that I can take photos for a blog post or a magazine spread. It also handily fits in my pocket or purse. With the 40 times optical zoom, there is no need for me to bring along multiple lenses.
I went downtown in Olathe, Kansas, to capture a scene using three different cameras. I took along an iPhone 8+, a point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot SX730, and a Canon Rebel XSi DSLR Camera with a standard EF-S 18-55mm lens. In short, it’s a standard one you get in a kit and is small enough to take in a camera pack that I don’t mind hiking with.
Location #1 Old Courthouse Square
I stood in the exact spot for all three photos and took them right after another. I did this to simulate an average traveler wanting to take a picture of the town square without having to get into tripods and lens adjustments and so forth. I did three takes. One from a distance, one getting the clock tower, and one trying to get the clock. The DSLR lens didn’t have enough zoom to get the clock so that comparison only has the iPhone and the Point and Shoot. All of the images have been resized to 92 dpi with a width of 2000 pixels.
The first set of photos are taken from regular 1x, no zoom. What you see is what you get. Here, there isn’t much difference in the quality of the image, except for some slight differences in lighting and so forth. What’s also interesting is the amount of image captured–the PowerShot, for example, gives more of the trees than either of the other two.
Zooming in to the Clocktower (2x)
Zooming even further into the Clocktower face (3x). The lens I had on the Canon Rebel would not zoom in as far as the other two, so the 2x shown is pretty much it for the DSLR I had.
Location #2 Mill Creek Park, Olathe, Kansas
For the second shoot, I headed out to the beautiful Mill Creek Park not too far from downtown. This time, I left the DSLR in the backpack since I was beginning to regret the lens and lack of lighting that I took. I felt that it wasn’t a fair comparison. So, here are two shots of the creek. One is a 1x, stationary peek at what you would be looking at. The second grouping is a 2x zoom.
My verdict is for the Canon PowerShot as the auto adjustment for the lighting and zoom lenses clearly win out when you are traveling and want to get a higher quality photo. However, for general travel where you are just wanting to post to social media and not win any type of photography prizes? A smartphone is fine.
What’s your favorite camera for taking on the road?