Being a photographer and running a website on photography and photography equipment, I come across a lot of camera gear. I also travel a lot, both with my family and professionally. Most recently, we mixed work with pleasure, with a family world-tour guided by the countries I had wedding shoots in; the UK, Sweden and Canada. As well as bringing along my professional camera gear (two bulky dSLRs and an assortment of lenses and flashes), I also brought with me a selection of smaller cameras to narrow down the best travel camera and photography equipment for beginners. Here are some simple rules to help you choose the best option for you.
Rule #1: Your Smart Phone Has Its Limits
The smart phone has come a long way with regards to photo quality, but there’s still a lot that it can’t do when compared to a dedicated camera. Even though the latest iPhone has features such as ‘portrait mode’ which helps to blur the background behind your subject, investing in a camera and lens that can do this properly will make your photos look 10x better. In addition to this, when the light begins to fall, your smart phone will always struggle. If you resort to the tiny flash on your phone, the photos will usually look terrible. Invest in a camera which is able to shoot in ‘higher ISOs’, or in ‘faster’ lenses (i.e. ones with smaller aperture numbers, like f/2.8, f/2, f/1.8 etc), to be able to shoot after dark without the need for a flash.
Rule #2: Stay Small and Light
It used to be true to some extent that the bigger the camera, the better the quality of the image. This was largely down to the size of the sensor; the bigger the sensor, the more image data. However, times have changed and thankfully for travellers you can get a great camera that’s not much bigger than the average smart phone. Having a smaller, lighter camera is always a more enjoyable experience, especially while travelling. I’d recommend you handle the camera first before buying though, as how the camera feels in your hands is also important.
Rule #3: Don’t be Tempted by Accessories
I love gadgets and gizmos, especially ones for photography. However, when I’m travelling, I choose to take the bare minimum; one spare battery, one lens (attached to the camera), and sometimes a strap. If you invest in an inter-changeable lens camera (like a dSLR), it’ll be tempting to bring along a whole assortment of different lenses. I’d strongly advise against this.
Stick to your kit lens (usually a mid-range zoom like an 18-55mm), or even better, invest in an all purpose ‘prime’ lens like a 50mm or 35mm to cover all your bases. Prime lenses are usually ‘faster’, lighter, smaller, offer better image quality and teach you the fundamentals of composition much quicker than zoom lenses. Having less accessories will make your camera lighter and more agile, but it will also make you a better photographer in the long run. By limiting your options, you’ll learn to react faster, and anticipate your shot.
Rule #4: You Can’t Afford to Buy Cheap
I’m all for getting a bargain, but there are some times when it’s best to invest a little more and buying a camera is one of them. You don’t have to break the bank, but if you want a camera that yields better results than your expensive smart phone, it’s usually wise to spend as much, or more than the price of the phone. For a decent camera to carry in your backpack, don’t opt for something too cheap or you’ll be buying another camera next year when you realise your photos look awful.
Rule #5: Don’t Worry if it’s Not Waterproof
Do you know what the perfect travel camera is? Clue: it doesn’t even exist. For a camera to be perfect, it would need to offer all the usual features, plus a lot of other ones that aren’t necessary all the time, but may help in 1% of situations. Features like being waterproof. Of course, I’d love for all my cameras to be waterproof. Unfortunately, this will never be the case, simply because, to make a camera waterproof, certain compromises need to be made. Most notably in image quality. So, whilst the latest compact underwater camera might look tempting for you as the avid traveller, take my advice and steer clear. Invest in a regular compact camera, mirrorless or dSLR instead. If you happen to go snorkelling and just can’t stand not taking photos, buy a waterproof disposable one.
Rule #6: Have Fun
What I mean by this is choose a camera that you enjoy picking up and using. Whether that means choosing a small, light weight camera, or one that looks all retro and funky, it’s important that you want to take your camera out with you. It’s too easy to fall back on the “Oh, I’ve got my iPhone” excuse to not pack your camera in your handbag, but if you choose a camera that you can’t bear to be without, this will never be the case. The best travel camera I have found is the Fuji X100F. It’s not in everyone’s budget, but for the image quality, looks and durability, I highly recommend it. It’s also the camera I reach for first, as I love using it.
Taking great photos whilst on holiday isn’t about having great gear. I know as well as anyone that photography is about much more than just the camera. Having said this, having the right tool for the job will make your life much easier whilst travelling, and buying a good camera to be able to document your trips with is a great investment.
Mark Condon is a Sydney wedding photographer covering weddings all over the world.
Mark runs the website Shotkit, and is the author of LIT, More Brides, Lightroom Power User and the Shotkit Books.