Having worked as an editor and a freelance travel photographer – and being a member of a very active travel blogging community – I get the opportunity to talk about cameras a lot. People often ask me, “What are the best travel cameras?”
That is a complicated question. The answer is different for everyone. The best camera for a person depends on their photographic needs, their budget and the conditions they expect to shoot in. Over time, however, I’ve found that that there are four of the best travel cameras I end up recommending over and over for different types of photographers.
These are the four main of types of travel photographers and the cameras best suited to them.
The Aspiring Travel Photographer | Canon S120
These days just about everyone is interested in learning photography. Unfortunately, most people think they need to buy a bulky expensive DSLR so they have a ‘proper’ camera to learn on. They don’t realize that there are a number of point-and-shoot models out there that are cheaper, smaller, have nearly all the functionality of a DSLR and still take great photos.
Most professionals – myself included – carry one of these little cameras as a backup for situations where a big camera is inappropriate. I carry a Cannon G-Series, but it’s even a bit too bulky to carry comfortably a pocket, so to new photographers I recommend the slimmer Cannon S120.
This little bundle of photographic fun, which runs around $350, has a 12 megapixel camera, raw photo capability (raw files are the ones the pros use for editing), a 24-120mm lens and a variety of automatic and manual controls to match those on any DSLR.
Grab a cheap mini-tripod and you have yourself an affordable, quality camera setup that fits in your pocket and enables you to experiment with a broad range of photographic techniques.
The Adventurer | Sony 4K Action Cam LiveView Bundle
In the same way the iPhone became the standard among smartphones, GoPro has dominated the action camera market. The result for consumers has been the same; a group of industry-leading companies are scrambling to gain market share by outdoing the dominant product in performance and price. This has resulted in some top-notch and reasonably priced action cameras.
The leader of the pack right now is the Sony 4K Action Cam ($370). GoPro and the Action Cam are nearly indistinguishable when it comes to performance and picture quality. The main difference here is who the camera has been designed for.
GoPro works with a lot of professional videographers and athletes to create all those amazing videos, and it appears they’re increasingly designing their cameras for those people. As a result, GoPros tend to have lot of settings and functions the average consumer won’t use.
The Sony 4K Action Cam, in contrast, is designed for the average user. It has a better microphone, an easier-to-learn interface, image stabilization and an automated in-camera Highlight Movie Maker function. The wristband remote camera viewer (It’s a screen on your wrist, how James Bond is that?) is simple and nearly impossible to lose. These features all make the 4K Action Cam friendlier to the weekend adventurer.
The Sony 4K Action Cam was, at time of writing, being sold by Sony on Amazon for $370 as compared to $500 for the comparable GoPro model. Sony is taking a run at GoPro and now is a great time to take advantage of it.
The Street Photographer | Fujifilm X100T
This reasonably priced, classy, little bundle of photographic beauty is made with a retro metal and faux leather synthetic resin body, tack-sharp 23mm f2 prime lens and ultra-high ISO capabilities. So, although the FujiFilm X100T doesn’t have the versatility to handle every situation, it handles situations it was created for – street photography, close-quarters, landscapes, and low-light – better than any other camera even remotely near the same price range (around $1300).
For those unfamiliar with the above technical specs, they basically mean 3 things:
- The lens has no zoom. It’s fixed at 23mm, which combined with the camera’s cropped sensor creates photos similar to the journalistic 35mm standard.
- Because the lens is fixed, it’s incredibly sharp.
- The aperture opens very wide enabling the camera to perform well in low light conditions.
Ken Rockwell, the most popular independent camera reviewer online, shares my opinion. He says the X100T is “the world’s best digital camera because no other camera has its ability to capture great photos perfectly in any light, all usually on the very first shot.”
This is a photographer’s camera and is only meant for a certain type of photography. It’s definitely not for everyone. If what I’ve told you about it so far hasn’t made you want to rush out and buy it, then it’s probably not for you.
The Photographer Who Wants It All | Nikon 1 AW1
I travel with three or four cameras and a half-dozen lenses to make sure that I’ll be able to take good photos in every possible situation. This is, of course, impractical. I’ve thought many times (while lugging a 20kg camera bag up a mountain) about how I could lighten my load.
If I could only carry one camera it would be the Nikon 1 AW1. It’s not particularly amazing at anything, but can do just about everything you could ever ask of a camera.
The AW1 is the world’s first waterproof and shockproof interchangeable-lens camera. As far as technical specs are concerned, the Nikon 1 AW1 is a middle-of-the-road mirrorless DSLR. That’s not necessarily bad. An average camera these days is still pretty versatile.
The real usefulness in AW1, however, is that you can take it just about anywhere in any condition without worrying about breaking it. It’s waterproof up to 50 feet, shockproof for drops up to 6 feet, and freeze proof to 14°F. That means no more worrying about rain, splashes, drops or accidental knocks as it hangs from your neck. Want to take photos from the deck of the boat and then jump into the water without missing a beat? This is the camera for it.
The AW1 is a first-generation product, so it’s not without limitations. For starters, there are only two waterproof lenses available. The battery life is also shorter than those of comparable non-waterproof cameras. But, at just under $700 including a low-medium zoom lens, the AW1 is cheaper and smaller than a buying a comparable camera with waterproof housing, and is the closest thing out there to the camera for every situation.