Choosing the Best Travel Camera: A Comprehensive Guide

What is the most often asked question about Travel Photography?

How do I choose the Best Travel Camera?

You know the situation. You are ready to hit the road for that next great adventure and you want to get great images to share with your friends, but you are not sure what is the best camera for your travels.

This is a common dilemma for many people. With the rapid advancement and the ever changing world of digital technology it is easy to get confused and frustrated when looking at all of the options out there.

I too have been in that situation. Spending endless hours scouring the internet for the latest and greatest camera's, pouring over the reviews and asking everyone what, in their opinion, is the best travel camera. After gathering this information I somehow found myself no further ahead than when I started. There was too much information, too many choices etc.

How I Choose My Camera Gear

camera for travel

Dave and his big lens for Safari

After many years of putting myself through the same routine, it dawned on me that I need to simplify the process. I started my search with a criteria already in mind. I sat down and analyzed what I really wanted out of my digital camera and how I could best adapt it to the specifics of traveling.

Buying a digital camera for use in your own back yard is one thing but buying one to trudge through the desert, summit a mountain or go on Safari is a different thing all together. After careful thought and looking at the experiences I had been through I came up with these questions that will give you a starting point when wading into the unpredictable waters of buying the best travel camera for you.

Questions to ask yourself before buying your next travel camera:

1.How do You Travel?

camera gear for travel

Camera Gear for Trekking

This is a big one. If you are going to a resort, on a tour or a supported trek you will be able to bring pretty much whatever you want. But if you are like me, always on the road, traveling buy local transport, trekking over mountains, through forests and interacting with local people you need to be choosy. In this case you should be looking for something that travels light and is not too cumbersome or awkward to handle. You might want to look at mirrorless cameras for this type of travel. Here are my recommendations:

Mirrorless Cameras:

Sony A Series

Fuji XT-1

2.Where are You Traveling?

how to choose a camera for travel

Dave photographing camels in the Gobi Desert

If you mainly travel to a beach resort, or a European City then construction and durability of the camera may be a little down the priority list. You could probably get way with a good Point and Shoot like the Sony RX 100 III or a prosumer level camera with a fixed lens. If you are going to be taking your camera into some pretty extreme situations like trekking through a desert, climbing mountains or trudging through a tropical rainforest, it needs to be able to withstand different temperatures, sand, precipitation and whatever you can throw at it. In this case, be sure to look at something that is durable, has reliable construction and can take a knock. The higher end DSLR's and mirrorless cameras move away from plastic construction and are made of more durable materials. I dropped my Canon 5D MK2 in the Galapagos on a rock and cracked the body. If it were a lower end camera, it would have shattered into pieces but the tough body kept it all together and I still use it today.

Point and Shoot Cameras:

Sony RX100 V

Canon PowerShot G7 X II ($429)

Panasonic Lumix LX10 ($698)

3. What is the end product of your photos?

choose a camera for travel

Dave's photo published in Lonely Planet Traveler Magazine

If you are using your photos for slideshows for your family and friends, the market is endless for economical cameras. You won't need all of the bells and whistles of a higher end camera ie: RAW capture, continuous shooting, high ISO capability because you will probably never use them.

Maybe you are just looking for social media sharing and posting photos where a smartphone might do the trick.

On the other hand if you are going to be printing hi-res prints for gallery shows, shooting sporting events and fast motion or if you take most of your photos in low light situations then you are probably going to want to go up the camera chain and spend more money on a higher end camera.

DSLR Cameras:

4. What do you photograph?

camera for travel

Holi Festival captured on a point and shoot camera

When searching for a camera for travel remember that different cameras are geared to different situations. For example; The person who loves to shoot spontaneously from the hip, like capturing festivals and candid moments will want to look for something that is more compact and quick and easy to use. Taking the time to set up the manual functions and change lenses could cause you to lose that moment in time.

Action Cameras:

The person who loves to plan where they are going to be, has a good idea of shooting conditions and knows exactly what they want to capture will want to go with the feature rich DSLR instead of a Point-and-Shoot. The DSLR gives you the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and a host of user-defined controls that allow you to set the camera up for any particular situation.

If you shoot a lot of wildlife look into a crop sensor camera, it will extend the reach of your lenses. On the other hand if you are a landscape photographer you should be looking at a full frame camera.

5. What do you have to spend?


You make think this is an obvious one, but let me tell you I know many people that have thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting unused at home that they are still paying for. So be realistic when going to your local camera store. Don't be influenced by all the new and latest things on the shelves. The best thing is to be practical. If you are a pro (meaning you get paid for your photography) or semi-pro, by all means take into consideration that $5000 camera body and the $2000 lens. But if you are like 90% of the world you can find a camera that both fits your needs and your budget.

The  Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS is around $2500 while the Sigma 70 – 200 goes for $899

With your answers to these questions you are now armed with the knowledge you need to start looking into the right camera for your travel. Do you have any tips?

For a complete list of the camera gear I use for travel, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide and if you are looking to take your photography to a whole new level check out The Best Landscape Photography Tutorial Ever

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