There are quite literally hundreds of camera options out there. Maybe thousands. And I’ll be the first to admit that picking just one, and not just any one, but the perfect one for travel, is no easy task. Especially when you’re as nitpicky about your gear as we are. So in an effort to sift through all the hype and flashy gadgets and colors, here’s a handy guide to picking the perfect camera for travel. From us to you. Of course it would be silly to list brands and models as these change and upgrade on what seems like a weekly basis, but hopefully, we can give you an idea of what to look for when gearing up for your next adventure.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when hitting the camera store (or more likely, the World Wide Web).
The Great DSLR/Mirrorless/Point-and-Shoot Dilemma.
First things first. You gotta pick a camera type before you go any further in deciding what fancy functions and settings you want in a camera. And they all have their pros and cons. Do you want the flexibility and impressive options of a digital SLR with lenses you can change and full manual settings but that weighs a ton and takes up a lot of space? A mirrorless camera with much of the same but a smaller profile but less protection for the camera’s inner works and often more expensive? A point and shoot with fewer settings but that is more packable? Once you decide what the camera will be used for and weigh the pros and cons you can settle on the type.
Are you a full auto kind of person or do you like to have some control over your images? After too many disappointing photos from disappointing point and shoots, I’m a full manual kind of girl. But if you don’t know the difference between aperture and ISO, manual features are going to be a worthless and sometimes pricey upgrade. Most casual shooters will prefer a camera that just has scene modes (think sports, night portrait, landscape modes).
You probably won’t need this if all your excursions take you to the woods, mountains, or desert, but if you think you might ever want to take it to the beach, or snorkeling, or kayaking, it’s probably worthwhile to seek out a good waterproof cam or waterproof housing.
If all you’re doing is taking pictures of the beach out of your window, the amount of zoom a camera offers may not seem like a big deal. But if you happen to be an avid birder or safari enthusiast, a camera with anything less than a 200mm zoom is going to be pretty much worthless to you.
Personally, I find a wifi function extremely helpful in a camera. It negates the need for too many cables and cords, can send photos to a phone or iPad for posting to Instagram (you know you need to keep your followers updated!), and is just generally helpful.
I’m not one of those people who needs to know the exact coordinates where every photo I’ve ever taken was, well, taken, but if you are, you’ll regret the decision to get a camera without it.
Ok, so I’m guilty of erroneously believing that this is an unnecessary feature, but I must admit that photos of mountains not in panorama are supremely disappointing. Sure you can stitch pics together in post-processing software, but if the camera can do it for you it’s just easier.
If you like that really edgy, high contrast look to your images, a camera with an auto HDR (high dynamic range) setting will come in handy. Like panoramas, you can obviously do this after the fact, but that’s just too much work if every third photo you take is shot in threes (or fives, or sevens…). And if you’re anything like us, it’ll never happen.
Megapixels and Sensor Size.
I’m gonna blow your mind here and tell you that the newest camera with the most megapixels isn’t necessarily the best one out there. Image quality also depends largely on sensor size. A larger sensor with fewer megapixels > a small sensor with more megapixels. Check out the chart below for a visual, and keep in mind that a full frame sensor will almost exclusively be found in pro and prosumer cameras (i.e. expensive).
Weight and size.
If your camera is going to be used almost exclusively for backpacking or constantly shoved into the dry hatch of a kayak, a small, lightweight camera will be preferable and you’ll want to check the weight and dimensions of the camera before you buy. Just don’t compromise quality in other areas for less weight or bulk. I like to pack light as much as the next guy, but trust me, you’ll regret it later.
So get out there and get yourself a new toy and don’t miss the moments you want to remember for a lifetime! Wander on!
Alisha is a freelance outdoor journalist and photographer based in Ogden, UT. She loves backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and snowboarding (even though she’s terrible at it). She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com