Best Travel Cameras: 5 Types to Consider

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travel-camera (7)-2-2

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Want the Best Travel Camera? Here are 5 Types to Consider

I think everyone can agree that pictures are invaluable when it comes to travel. You can’t have a successful road trip without taking silly pictures of your friends and family, right?

Depending on your budget and purpose for pictures will ultimately help you decide which “travel” camera is best for you during your travels. It may just be one or it may be any combination of the following options.

Let’s take a closer look at each option and weigh in on the pros and cons of each.

1. Smartphone

If you don’t own a dedicated camera, you most likely own a smart phone with a camera. And guess what? Smart phones are capable of taking incredible images! But they can also take some not so good images.

This rule will apply to every type of camera: work within your camera’s limitations. While sometimes bending the rules of photography can enhance an image, generally speaking you want to exercise within your camera’s limits to achieve the best possible image.

Since you’re not only purchasing a camera, but a pocket computer you expect to spend quite a bit of money on a Smartphone. A little more or less than $1000 for the newest models. (as of July, 2018)

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Currently the best Android camera built into a smart phone falls between the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2 as of July 2018.

Both of these phones offer the following:

  • 12 Megapixel Rear Cameras
  • 8 Megapixel Front Cameras
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Portrait Modes – Using Front & Rear Cameras
  • Fantastic Low Light Capabilities Thanks to Extremely Wide Apertures

Overall, the Galaxy S9 tends to produce warmer, brighter images with less noise while the Pixel 2 boasts cleaner contrasts with cooler tones and wider dynamic range. Both of these cameras are fantastic. Choosing between the two will depend on your shooting style and your preference between each phones automated post processing.

You can get a much deeper comparison between these 2 phones by reading Patrick Holland’s Galaxy S9 vs. Pixel 2: Battle of the best Android cameras.

I personally chose the Galaxy S9+ for several factors outside the camera. While the Pixel 2 may lean a bit more towards professional photographers and camera enthusiasts, the Galaxy S9+ comes packed with a lot of other sweet features like 6GB of RAM, a superior display (Super AMOLED), and 3.5mm headphone jack.

I don’t personally count on my phone as my primary camera so user ability and familiarity were equally important factors for my purchasing decision. With that said I still wanted a phone that could boast a top of the line smart phone camera in the current market (currently July 2018).

As someone who shoots with a DSLR, I feel the Pixel 2 hits home with better contrast and wider dynamic range. Because I shoot with a DSLR I saw this as an opportunity for me to get a phone with other valuable features while providing a different take on the images I would normally take.

Pros

  • Convenience – a camera already on your person at all times, especially while you travel
  • Ease of Use – produces professional quality images, no skills necessary
  • Weight – built right into your phone, no extra weight
  • Huge Display – your entire screen is your live display, much bigger than point and shoots, dslrs, and mirrorless cameras
  • Variety of Filters and Presets – for unique effects
  • Images are Immediately Available for Sharing – Social Media, Text, Email etc.
  • Inconspicuous – less likely to gain the attention of thieves or security flagging “professional photographers” during events

Cons

  • Control – the convenience of auto everything comes at the cost of individual control and creativity
  • Variable Focal Lengths – the S9 does boast 26mm and 52mm focal lengths, but no ability to interchange lenses like a DSLR or Mirrorless camera
  • Zoom – once digital zoom is being used image quality begins to suffer greatly
  • Image Quality – compared to DSLR and Mirrorless cameras
  • No View Finder – aids in isolating a desired composition

2. Point and Shoot

Smartphones killed the Point and Shoot Star

Smartphones killed the Point and Shoot Star

Pictures came and broke your heart

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Canon Power Shot ELPH 190 IS

Sound familiar? Well that’s exactly what happened. Smartphones have buried the point and shoot market, but point and shoots haven’t given up completely. By offering unique features unavailable to smart phones, point and shoot cameras live on and just might be the right camera for your ultimate travel packing list. A a consumer level point and shoot can start at just $100 and easily climb towards $1000. (as of July, 2018)

Pros

  • Inexpensive – generally inexpensive and more easily replaced if lost or stolen during travel
  • Compact – far less bulky than DSLR, Mirrorless, and Film setups making point and shoots convenient for travel
  • Super Lightweight – no lenses or external accessories make these pocket friendly
  • Indestructible (virtually) – some are built to be weather, water, and shock proof, can’t say the same for other types of cameras
  • Inconspicuous – less likely to gain the attention of thieves or security flagging “professional photographers” during events
  • Saves Phone Battery – dedicated point and shoot keeps your phone battery juiced
  • Megapixels – 20 megapixels seems to be the standard for most point and shoots
  • Optical Zoom – huge zoom ranges from 24mm to 1000mm without the need to change any lenses
  • Broad Depth of Field – sharp images corner to corner

Cons

  • Inferior Low Light Capability – you may want more versatility to capture memories day and night while traveling
  • Inability to Swap Lenses – limited to the built-in optical length
  • Image Quality – lesser compared to DSLR and Mirrorless cameras with larger sensors
  • Small LCD – a compact point and shoot generally has an equally compact screen
  • Limited Control – while there’s more control than many smartphones they don’t stack up to DSLR and mirrorless cameras

Overall, I personally feel a point and shoot would best serve someone who wants a dedicated camera outside of their smartphone with features unavailable on a smartphone. As well as someone who doesn’t want to spend the money or energy learning to shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

With that said you can spend as little as a $100 on a point and shoot all the way up to a $1000.

3. Mirrorless

I’m personally excited to see where mirrorless cameras will be over the upcoming years. Shelby and I have been shooting with a DSLR since 2015 and just recently upgraded our gear to a more advanced DSLR. I hadn’t given mirrorless much thought until recently. There are a handful of pros and cons when it comes to a DSLR vs. Mirrorless cameras, but the consensus is that mirrorless will inevitably surpass DSLR cameras thanks to huge strides in technology.

Entry level mirrorless cameras start at around $550 and quickly climb up and over $3000. This is just for the body, not including lenses and accessories. (as of July, 2018)

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Sony A7R III Mirrorless Camera Body

Pros

  • Ultimate Control – from auto settings, to rule breaking, and complete control over image processing
  • Size and Weight – smaller and slimmer than DSLRs, but still heavier and bulkier than a point and shoot or smartphone
  • Electronic View Finder – seeing the (nearly) final image before you take the shot helps you adjust for the best image possible
  • In Body Image Stabilization – now any lens can benefit from IS thanks to image stabilization built into the sensor; sharper images and less shaky video
  • Shooting Speed – no mirror equals less actions equals more frames per second

Cons

  • Poor Battery Life – compared to any other system mirrorless eat batteries like a kid eats candy on halloween, carry several spares
  • Limited Lenses/Accessories – this will obviously change with time, but currently there are far less options for mirrorless owners
  • 1 Card Slot – as a safety net many DSLRs have 2 card slots, even smartphones have internal and external memory options
  • Low Light Autofocus – again this will improve with time, but for now DSLRs (and now some phones) can achieve better images in the dark
  • Attention Grabbing – you may be excluded from events if mistaken for a professional photographer, expensive to replace if stolen
  • Expensive – between body, lens, and accessories systems easily exceed $1000+
  • Learning Curve – while mirrorless cameras have automatic settings, the true potential is unlocked with manual operation and an educated user

4. DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex

I almost exclusively shoot the images for We Who Roam with a DSLR system. It all started with Shelby asking me about buying a camera capable of shallow depths of field. For many (before the advanced features of our current smartphones) a portrait of a person with a shallow depth of field was an indicator of professional photography. A feature only associated with those carrying camera gear worth more than your beater car.

To better afford any DSLR system you should learn these tips to save money and increase your spending budget.

Aside from mirrorless cameras, DSLRs offer the user the most control over their images. You can expect to pay around $365 for an entry level DSLR body, excluding lenses and accessories. The Nikon D850 body below is priced at a cool $3297, obviously a pro level DSLR. (as of July, 2018)

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Nikon D850 DSLR Camera Body

Pros

  • Ultimate Control – from auto settings, to rule breaking, and complete control over image processing
  • Image Quality – larger sensors generally equate to better image quality, more detailed and clear
  • Lenses & Accessories – nearly limitless, companies have created every lens, bell, and whistle you could ever want for a DSLR system
  • Battery Life – without an electronic view finder and the ability to keep the lcd off, you can really stretch the life of your camera on a single battery (we still recommend spare batteries)
  • Weatherproof/Durable – many DSLRs are weatherproof and made with durable materials to withstand some user abuse
  • Auto Focus – fast acquisition of your target, great for wildlife and action sport photography
  • 2 Card Slots – on middle to high end DSLRs you’ll find 2 card slots for extra storage or backup

Cons

  • Expensive – between body, lens, and accessories systems easily exceed $1000+
  • Big & Heavy – unlike phones and point and shoots you will always be conscious of a DSLR on your body, especially when traveling
  • Attention Grabbing – you may be excluded from events if mistaken for a professional photographer, expensive to replace if stolen
  • Learning Curve – while DSLRs have automatic settings, the true potential is unlocked with manual operation and an educated user
  • Phasing Out – not for a while, but it’s predicted that mirrorless cameras will replace DSLRs in the future

5. Film

Now this is out of my territory as I’ve never shot with film, but based on my research there are generally 2 types of people who shoot with film. Those who like the aesthetic at a consumer level and those who are intense enthusiasts who participate in the art of film photography.

For travel purposes I’m going to lean on the consumer level mindset. There’s something special about taking pictures and waiting till the film’s been developed to see all the memories you’ve captured. An array of film cameras can be purchased used for prices ranging above and below $100. The instant Fujifilm Instax 90 below can be had for around $125. (as of July, 2018)

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Fujifilm Instax 90

Pros

  • Imperfectly Perfect – some of the best travel memories are the unexpected ones, same goes for the random pics taken with film
  • Aesthetic – film has a unique aesthetic that most just love
  • It Slows You Down – you’re limited to a couple dozen shots per roll of film and film isn’t cheap
  • They’re Permanent – each shot is preserved, developed, and a physical piece of material
  • Cheap to Buy – film cameras are generally affordable; it’s the film that gets expensive

Cons

  • Expensive – film is expensive when a single SD Card can cycle thousands of images for years to come
  • Limited – if you’re not a pro, you probably don’t have the patience or knowledge for “perfect” compositions
  • Space – at the rate we take pictures you’d need a separate pack to carry your film, not so ideal for travel
  • Bulky – film cameras are generally larger than smartphones and point and shoot cameras
  • Delayed Gratification – this can also be a pro, but for many a con that you have to wait and have film professionally developed

The Search for the Best Travel Camera is Almost Over!

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Now that you know a little bit about the pros and cons of each type of camera you can best decide which category will provide you with the best travel camera! It’s time to narrow it down to the system that will best suit your needs while you travel.

With varying types of travel for every lifestyle, there’s a nearly perfect travel camera for everyone.

I personally enjoy shooting photography as a hobby. It’s a bonus that it’s used for our blog and social platforms. Having a great camera on your smartphone goes a long way as well for those moments a DSLR or camera of equal size is just inappropriate.

For a more expansive run down on DSLR photography and travel photography, be sure to read up on our detailed post of 16 pieces of gear you need for travel photography.

Do you use 1 or more of these 5 types of cameras? What is your favorite camera to shoot with? We’d love to hear your camera systems in a comment below!

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About the Author

Nathan Bernal is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. As a life long adventure and gear enthusiast Nathan combines fun and expertise when out exploring the natural world. He's here to share his knowledge and inspire the adventurer in you.

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