Before I found the best travel camera, I turned the internet upside down. I read reviews, asked photographers, emailed travel bloggers and posted on several Facebook groups, but nobody could ever tell me: what is the best camera for travellers?! How was this possible? I knew I wanted a camera and I knew I wanted to become serious about my photography. I was prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money, only to lure others to my photography inspired Instagram account. The problem was...nobody would tell me what camera I should get.
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Best Travel Camera
And so, I embarked on a long, tedious and costly adventure, of finding my new best (camera) friend. Ever since I was young, I loved taking pictures and some were better than others. As time went by, I became better at taking photos but was never quite satisfied with the camera I owned. Quite frankly put, I couldn't afford a good camera, so all my experiments were done by crappy point and click or a smartphone with limited lens capability. But now, I was prepared to take it to the next level. I was a travel blogger and I wanted to really show you, my readers, how beautiful the world really is, should you take the time to look at it. Creating visuals was always my forté, especially since I became a freelance designer and the Creative Director for 42droids Ltd.
So what happened? How did I find the best travel camera? The short answer is: I didn't. In fact, I bought a camera which didn't live up to my expectations and made it frustrating for me to take photos. I bought a Sony a6000 because everyone kept raving about it on the internet, how it's the best mirrorless (I will get to what this means), the best travel camera, a revolution. It was...a revolutionary waste of money.
The reason why nobody can tell you what is the best camera for a traveller is that nobody knows what type of traveller you are or what type of photos you will want to take. So in order for me to tell you what camera you need to buy, let me first address these issues: what type of travel photographer are you? Also, what travel lenses should you get?
Cell Phone Travel Camera
What is this: This is perhaps the most widely used type of camera out there because pretty much every smartphone comes with it. It's easy to use, compact enough to carry and the images can be quite stunning if you are willing to work on your skills and angles. Once you understand how to use a good photo enhancer, you can have a rather killer Instagram feed, filled with your cell phone camera pictures.
Why buy it: Because it comes with the phone you will need for your trip anyway. It's easy to carry, it's versatile enough and it enables you to snap a pic at any time, as long as you have a battery on your phone. It might not push your boundaries as a photographer, but the iPhones nowadays can do a much better job than a lot of other compact cameras. Mark my word for it.
Budget: Up to you, but I would expect to pay anything from £350+ for a phone with a good camera.
Ultra Compact Travel Camera
What is this: An ultra-compact camera is relatively similar to the camera on your smartphone. Some ultra-compact cameras are still better than the cell phone camera, although not all of them. You can play around with the optical zoom but you have seriously limited control over them, most of them being fully automatic.
Why buy it: This is the best camera you can buy for a young traveller. If you travel with kids who are interested in learning about photography, an ultra-compact camera is definitely the way to go. They are cheap, easy to use, and they encourage the young ones to experiment. They won't take astounding pictures, but they are incredibly light and very easily replaceable.
Budget: Expect to pay anything between £50 to £200.
Compact Travel Camera
What is this: A compact camera has been designed to provide a great user experience for the avid traveller. These cameras are a fantastic option for travel photographers who want to snap pictures for themselves, social media and their blog, but are not keen photographers. A compact camera is affordable, easy to use and mainly automatic. If you are not a professional photographer but in need of a decent camera, a compact camera is definitely the way to go.
Why buy it: Buying a compact camera is a popular choice for travellers interested in photographing for the sake of creating memories, rather than eye-catching photographs. You can learn the basics of photography with a compact camera, which is easy to carry, super small and fits in your pocket / bag. They are also budget friendly.
Budget: £250 - £350
Large Sensor Compact Travel Camera
What is this: A large sensor compact camera is similar to a compact camera. It is easy to use but has more features including improved performance in low light situations. The overall photo quality is great and because of its size, a large sensor compact is an ideal camera for travel photographers.
Why buy it: If you are a travel photographer, chances are you will need a pocket camera with you as well. This is the ideal camera to have, as it will enable you to carry it anywhere and everywhere, whilst saving you space in the luggage.
Budget: £500 - £1000
Bridge Travel Cameras
What is this: A bridge camera is the best buy for the traveller who is ready to become a professional photographer, yet is not ready to move to a camera which allows interchangeable lenses. Before I moved to a mirrorless, I had a bridge camera and I absolutely loved it. I used it for over 3 years and snapped amazing pictures with it. Bridge cameras come with one single lens which can't be removed. My bridge camera had a single lens with a zoom performance similar to a super telephoto. I could use my bridge camera to photograph the moon (yes, the moon!!!) and wildlife.
Why buy it: If you want to photograph in the wild, but aren't ready to carry a bunch of lenses with you on your travels, a bridge camera is the answer. It's the perfect middle ground between a compact camera and an SLR. Bridge cameras take great quality photos, can be used to photograph wildlife and don't require several lenses for various jobs.
Budget: £300 - £1500
Compact System Travel Camera (also known as mirrorless cameras)
What is this: Compact system cameras or mirrorless cameras are smaller bodied cameras with an interchangeable lens system. This means you can have a relatively small camera and still be able to change your lenses according to the subject you want to shoot (e.g wide angle lens for a landscape or prime lens for street photo). A mirrorless camera doesn't have the optical pentaprism focusing assist system (hence there is no mirror between the sensor and the lens), which in turn makes the body of the camera much smaller.
Why buy it: In my opinion, this is the best camera for a traveller who is serious about photography. You can get a small enough camera and still have the option to change lenses according to your needs. If you are willing to invest time and learn how to be a great travel photographer, I would definitely recommend a mirrorless.
Budget: £450 - £1200
SLR-style Mirrorless Travel Camera
What is this: Think of the SLR-style mirrorless cameras as an upgrade from the Compact System Cameras. They look a bit bulkier to give a more professional look and feel. They are a step up from the CSC cameras with a few extra features.
Why buy it: These cameras are meant to deliver creative perfection. The image quality is meant to be fantastic and they come in with a larger variety of features than the Compact System Cameras. If you are an established travel photographer, this is a great choice, but one that could really hurt your pocket as these cameras don't come cheap.
Compact DSLR Travel Camera
What is this: I'm going to start by telling you that DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. Compact DSLRs are the most affordable cameras which can produce professional results and still allow users to make the most out of a heavy feature set.
Why buy it: If you are not a fan of mirrorless cameras, then a compact DSLR is probably your next best bet. I had to decide between a DSLR and a mirrorless and to be it seemed logical to go for a smaller body with similar photographic capabilities. However, for travellers with a serious interest in photography, a compact DSLR could be a great choice.
Budget: £500 - £750
Medium DSLR Travel Camera
What is this: A medium DSLR is essentially bigger than your ordinary compact DSLR. It comes with a variety of professional features, including a second LCD and the ability add a battery grip. They are usually weather sealed and are made of magnesium alloy. These types of DSLRs also contain a full frame sized sensor. To explain a bit further, a full frame camera is a fantastic performer in low light conditions and has the ability for an outstanding depth of field.
Why buy it: These cameras have the ability to create those incredible photos we all love to marvel at. Being a phenomenal camera which performs well in low light conditions, you can use this camera to really set your travel photos apart. This is the best camera for travellers interested in selling their photography.
Large DSLR Travel Camera
What is this: This is the dream for a professional photographer. It essentially lacks no features, performs incredibly well in extreme conditions and caters for all needs in every way. And yes, they are more expensive than a round-the-world plane ticket, so unless you make your money out of photography, you should probably seriously consider if this camera makes sense.
Why buy it: Because it's amazing. These cameras are a traveller's dream. Large DSLRs perform incredibly well in all situations. They are quite bulky and they require further investment in a variety of lenses, but if you are a (professional) travel photographer, you should definitely invest in our of these
Medium Format Digital Travel Camera
What is this: A bad-ass camera which has a larger size digital sensor (larger than 35mm). This means you can create higher resolution imagery. These cameras are usually prohibitively expensive. Unless you have an unlimited amount of resource, I would probably recommend putting down a deposit for a beach house instead of investing in one of these. For the sake of argument, I wanted to include this camera here, although this is definitely NOT the best camera for an ordinary traveller.
Why buy it: Because you don't want to invest in the deposit for a house.
So what is the best camera for a traveller? There are a few steps in determining what is the best camera for you and your travelling needs, now that you know what camera options you have. First, you need to establish your budget. No point wanting a camera which costs £5k if you only have £500 available to spend. Once a budget is determined, you need to establish your skill set. Are you a professional photographer? Do you just want to take snaps of your travels for your friends and family? Do you want to become a professional photographer? And finally, I need you to establish where do you want to use your camera? Is it wildlife you want to photograph? Want to take street photos in Tokyo? Do you want a versatile camera which fits in your pocket whilst hiking the Machu Picchu?
My personal verdict
I don't want to confuse you, I want to reiterate that what is good for me, might be terrible for you. Take my example, I thought I need an a6000, which turned out to be a disaster. I hated it. But I know plenty of photographers who love this camera, and hey, that's fantastic.
Here is how I decided to buy my camera. I decided I have £1000 to spend on a camera body and two lenses. I knew I wanted something portable. I also knew I wanted to be able to interchange the lens according to my needs. I am getting better and better at photography and keen to develop this skill set. Because I wanted something small and portable, it was clear I need a compact camera. Because I wanted to interchange my lenses, I couldn't go for a bridge camera, so the next best available option was to go for a mirrorless, which was a perfect fit for my budget. So I started searching for the best mirrorless out there. Unfortunately, my first choice didn't work out for me, so after returning the a6000, I decided to go for a Fujifilm instead. I knew I wanted a Japanese brand, so it seemed like the next best choice.
And so, I bought my Fuji, the camera which I love and take with me everywhere. I purchased the 16-50 lens for my day to day travel photography and an XF35mm prime lens for street photography. I am planning on getting more lenses as I go along once I can afford to. (Photography can sure by an expensive hobby). Two years later, I bought myself a Fujifilm XT2 which I still use today.
Overall, the best camera for a traveller can vary from an iPhone camera, through a mirrorless, to a fantastic DSLR. For my needs, I decided to go with a mirrorless which was the best decision ever. I love my Fuji and when the time comes, I will upgrade to a better Fuji camera, but will definitely stick with this brand.
Over to you now, what is the best camera for your travelling needs? What do you mainly use your camera for? Tell me all about it in the comments section below, and I will help you should you have further questions.