Anyone who travels knows how important it is to capture memories from your trips. Not only for yourself, but to share with family, friends, or anyone who might not have the same opportunity. Capturing memories can be anything from images to written words in a note book. In this post, our focus is on the visual memories, and to do that you need a camera. It’s important to have the right camera for you, and I hope that my travel camera buyer’s guide will help you find a perfect fit.
What do you plan on doing with it?
I think this is the logical first question to ask yourself. Knowing how you plan on using your camera will steer you in the direction you need to go when selecting a camera.
Set a Reasonable Budget based on your needs.
I say reasonable because more often than not people will want more camera than they are willing to spend money on. My best advice is to think of this as an investment. Spend the money now and get what you want rather than skimping and then outgrowing your purchase and having to spend more money only a few months later.
Camera Modes and What They Mean
Before I dive into the different types of cameras, I wanted quickly review some of the camera modes that you may come across and how they benefit you.
As you may have guessed, Manual mode gives you full control over everything. If you have any desire to do creative shots like long exposure, or star photography, this will be an important mode to have. It can be found in all DSLR, and Mirrorless camera’s as well as some point and shoot cameras. You are unlikely to find it in a smartphone.
This mode is crucial for those who plan on shooting time-lapse or long exposure photography longer than 30 seconds. Bulb mode is exactly like manual mode expect that the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold the shutter button or remote button down. This will allow you to create very long exposures. This mode works best with a remote trigger.
This mode allows you to chose how much light your camera takes in via the aperture, everything else is adjusted automatically based on that. This allows you more creative freedom without having to think a whole lot about camera settings. If you know you want to get a certain look that is achieved by having the aperture opened to a certain point, this will be the mode that allows you to do that quickly. I do most of my shooting in this mode.
Much like aperture priority, this mode allows you to adjust one setting and the camera does the rest. In this case that setting is shutter speed. This mode is great if you know you need a certain shutter speed to achieve a look. For example, if I was photographing a skier and I knew I wanted to freeze the action, I would use this mode to set a higher shutter speed so that the skier was frozen in place in the shot.
This mode allows you to adjust any of the settings and the camera will automatically adjust the other settings. This works great if you want to be able to change any of the settings on the fly, but don’t don’t want to go full manual, or bounce between shutter priority and aperture priority.
This mode does everything for you except compose the photo. Use this mode if getting the shot is the only thing that matters. I only use this mode when i’m handing my camera to a non-photographer to get a shot of me.
Some cameras offer modes other than what I mentioned, but many of them are gimmicky and don’t work all that well. In my experience, anything i’ve needed to do with a camera was able to be done with the modes I mentioned above. For that reason, I suggest using these descriptions as a guideline to determine which modes you may need and use that information when purchasing your next camera.
The Digital Single Reflex Lens camera, or DSLR for short has been synonymous with “Professional Camera” for many years, but it isn’t just pros that flock to these cameras. Their tried and true design attracts Pros and hobbyists alike. A DSLR works by using a mirror to allow you to look directly through the lens and see what the camera sees. This allows you to accurately compose your shot and focus the camera on your subject. There are many manufacturers that make DSLR cameras, but the more notable ones are Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax.
Long Battery Life
Quickly declining in price
Trusted, time tested design
Large collection of available lenses for most systems
Lots of choices
For the sake of this article, I am going to make a good, better, best recommendation based on research and what I know. For the DSLR category, I know Canon very well and will be making recommendations for them since I know them well and can speak to their quality. That being said, there are comparable models in the other manufacturers such as Sony, Nikon and Pentax. If you are biased toward one of those brands I encourage you to figure out what you need based on this article and then research your chosen brands offerings accordingly.
Mirrorless cameras are starting really build steam currently and I for one am a fan. These cameras are quickly catching up to and even surpassing digital SLRs in both performance and features. Not only are they often lighter weight than their DSLR counterparts, they also include features that would be impossible on a traditional DLSR. Features like a heads up display built into the electronic viewfinder that allows you to display overlays and other data as well as review photos without ever taking your eye away from the eyepiece. This can be especially helpful on bright days.
Heads up display
smaller form factor in most models
Short battery life
Smaller collection of available lenses
Electronic viewfinders not yet as crisp as optical viewfinders
If you are looking for a balance of compact size, a full set of features and image quality, mirrorless is probably the path you will want to head towards. The portability aspect alone is very appealing for a travel or adventure photographer, that being said, there are some hang up such as battery life and a somewhat limited lens selection, but for some, that may not be enough to break the deal.
Point and Shoot
Since the advent of the compact mirrorless camera and the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, Point and Shoots have started to loose their share in the market. That being said, there are still a handful of great cameras to be had in this format if you are looking to bridge the gap between a more complex camera and a smartphone.
Less complex than mirrorless or DSLR cameras
Non removable lens
In my opinion, the world of point and shoot cameras is all but dead. There are just so many other affordable options that do the same thing or more. Be that as it may, some people still like the idea of a device that is simplified and does only one main thing, and there are still a few good products on the market if point and shoot is the route you choose to go.
Action cameras have blown up immensely in the past few years thanks in part to the GoPro Hero which seems to have dominated this market until recently. There certainly are other players in this space, and cheap knock-off’s have been surfacing seemingly overnight.
Very small and lightweight
Many mounting options
Ease of use
Limited camera settings
No Screen(on most models)
First I want to start by saying that I strongly recommend against using an action camera as your main camera. I feel that they make a great compliment to a more traditional camera, but they are missing some key features for every day shooting such as a viewfinder and the ability to shoot in RAW. Even though that is my opinion, keep in mind that the best camera is the one you have with you, so having an action camera is certainly better than no camera at all.
GoPro HERO4 BLACK
It’s no wonder why this is one of, if not the most used device to take a photograph with. The majority of people have one, it’s virtually always with them, and for the most part, they take great photos. Not only that, but the ability to easily and instantly share your creations to any web platform you can think of is unparalleled.
Ability to instantly share
Good battery life(phone dependent)
No RAW capability
Personally I am an iPhone guy, it’s the platform I’ve been with the longest, I know it inside and out, and i’m getting results im happy with. iPhone may not be the platform for you and there certainly are more capable phones out there in regard to photography, but that is a decision you will need to make. In the end, it comes down to personal preference and for the reason, I’m going to forgo making a good, better, best suggestions. My advice for you is to get out to the cell phone stores and try out a bunch of phones. Find a phone that is easy to use as a camera. Maker sure it feels good in your hand, and take plenty of test shots to see if you like the results. Chances are, if you can create fairly clean images under artificial light in a store, you will be happy with the results outdoors.
Having the right tools to supplement your camera can help tremendously in getting the images you want. The difficult part may be knowing what accessories you need, and what ones don’t add much value. Below is a few recommendations on both specific accessories and more general ones.
Most of the time when I find myself shooting action and adventure style photography I am shooting off hand, but there are a lot of situations where a good tripod is critical to getting the shot, Landscape and night photography especially come to mind. Keep in mind that not all tripods are created equal. Price will more often than not dictate weight and build quality, so remember to be mindful of that when purchasing a tripod.
Carrying all your camera gear around would be a major drag if you didn’t have a place to store it. You could carry it in any old bag, but that isn’t ideal. Having the right bag that is designed for carrying camera gear not only protects your investment, but makes it easier to use by organizing everything so it is more quickly accessible. I personally love camera backpacks, but many people use messenger style camera bags, the choice is yours.
Fstop Brand Bags – FStop bags are modular which makes them great for a variety of uses. I personally use there Tilopa bag with a Large ICU. ICU’s are modular inserts that safely store your gear. Since they are easily removed, you can swap out different sized ICUs based on your needs for a given day of shooting. (Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Fstop, I just really love there stuff.)
Think Tank Bags – If you spend less time in the mountains, and more time traveling from location to location, Think Tank offers a great selection of bags geared for the extensive traveler.
The amount of photography accessories out there is incredible, some of them are great, but many of them are unnecessary. When buying accessories, give thought to scenarios where you might use it, if you can’t come up with a solid use case, then it probably is a good idea to pass.
Peak Design Capture Pro – These things are great. When I am hiking or spending time in the mountains, one of the biggest reasons I miss shots is because my camera is stowed away. Using the Capture Pro, I am able to securely attach my camera to the strap of my backpack and easily release it with the push of a button. I can literally go from stored to shooting in seconds.
Goal Zero 41022 Guide 10 Plus Solar Recharging Kit – Being able to recharge phones and other devices while in the field is invaluable. This solar kit from Goal Zero will keep you going.
Remote Shutter Release – If you have any desire to shoot long exposure or time-lapse photography, having a remote shutter release will be crucial. These are camera specific so make sure to find a model that works with your camera. I have had good luck with the budget priced remotes available on Amazon. Search for your camera model followed by “Remote shutter release” and you will find numerous low priced options.
Well folks, there you have it! My guide to buying a camera for adventure and travel. This piece will be updated frequently to keep up with changing trends in the industry, so be sure to check this space periodically for the latest and greatest advice regarding camera and related items.