The basics of camera equipment – Best camera equipment for travel photography

“If I could tell a story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug a camera” Lewis Hines

Lewis’s quote is relevant to most of us these days.
It’s far easier to document something visually than to describe it in words.
But to do it well and consistently you do need a ‘decent’ camera. 

Despite those who say its’s not about the gear, you need a camera that will suit your style and objectives.

So, if you’ve read my last 2 posts: An Introduction to Travel Photography and Different types of Travel Photography, you are probably wondering what is best camera equipment for travel photography.
Or maybe you are not.
Either way, when you are travelling or going on holiday, you want to come back with photos that you are proud of.
So it’s worth the 5 minutes of your time to read this.

Smartphone Cameras

These days everyone gravitates to their smartphone for most pictures. 

Originally, they were mostly used to document items, like a sign or an extract from a newspaper or even a product you were looking to buy. 

Only occasionally were they used for happy snappies or selfies.

Fast forward to today and most smartphones are used for selfies first and then general photos of all types second.
On my travels, I see lots of people using their smartphones to take travel photos.
But are they the best camera equipment for travel photography?

Smartphone Capabilities

Today’s smartphone cameras are better than some of the compact cameras that have been or are available.

But, and you were waiting for the but, weren’t you? They are limited. 

Think about it. Physics dictates that, whilst lots of things are becoming smaller and retaining quality, optics are still a way behind.

A smartphone camera has a small lens and that means you are restricted on what it will do well. Especially compared to mirrorless or a DSLR camera. 

Even with the new software and multiple lens of the latest offerings you still have limitations.

If you are happy with that, then that’s absolutely fine. 

But if you want more flexibility, then consider either a mirrorless or a DSLR.

What a smartphone camera can’t do well.

Well the first thing is it doesn’t perform well in low light. Let’s say you are taking photos with a Smartphone Camera inside a Basilica somewhere in Europe. Unless you are using a tripod, which is often banned in some public places, you will find your images will appear blurred. That’s camera shake. 

For more about that go to 5 Ways to Eliminate Camera Shake and How to hold a camera correctly

Even if you are using a tripod, Smartphone Cameras find it hard to replicate the details in low light. 

Now I know that will improve and I understand that the Samsung S9 is a lot better in low light than previous models.

But unless you are on a plan that allows you to get the latest model, you will have to find at least $1000.00 to get that in your hot little hands.

Half of that will buy a camera that will perform much better. 

Of course, it won’t have a phone or the rest of your life in apps like email, internet, health and fitness etc. etc. 

But it will mean you have options.

Women grieving in San Miguel de Allende's parroquia crypt
Women grieving in San Miguel de Allende’s parroquia crypt

Optical and Digital Zooms

A smartphone struggles when zooming in, losing not only quality but also resolution. 

That’s because it is a digital zoom not an optical one. 

The difference? 

Well, a technical explanation is not what I want to give you. But I will give you an analogy. 

It’s the difference between cropping an image on your computer screen to a smaller picture size. For example, a photo that measures 1000 x 1000 becomes 500 x 500 Pixels. Zooming in optically retains the size and therefore the resolution.
Why should you care? Well cropping digital images means to see it at a good size or to print it you must blow it up and that’s when you see the faults. 

As the technology of these cameras improves there won’t be such a differential between larger cameras and smartphone cameras.

Having said all that if you want to just take a smartphone camera with your and nothing else then knock yourself out. 

Just be aware that you are restricting yourself. So my advice would be to concentrate on taking photos of subjects that a smartphone cameras do best.

Compact Cameras

Ok so now I’ve dismissed your idea of only having a smartphone, what is the best camera equipment for travel photography?

Well if we start at the bottom. Compact cameras are generally the same these days as smartphone cameras. So there’s no point in you taking one of those. Unless of course you don’t have a smartphone.

However, having said that, there are a few high end compact cameras that have great optics and sensors. Ones like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III and Fujifilm X100F come highly recommended but will set you back $1100.00 plus. See DP Review’s take on it.

Mirrorless Cameras

After those we are looking at Mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds cameras. 

What is a mirrorless camera? 

Well DSLR’s have a mirror protecting the sensor. 

When you are looking through the viewfinder you are actually seeing the mirror which is reflecting your subject to your eye. When the shutter button is pushed the mirror lifts up and exposes the sensor to light and the subject. 

Having a mirror takes up space and so nearly all DSLR’s are quite big, chunky and relatively heavy. 

The mirrorless cameras don’t have a mirror – hence the name “mirrorless”. 

Not having a mirror reduces the size and weight of the camera body. 

Now I could go into lenses etc now, but I’ll cover that in another post.

Different types of Mirrorless Cameras

Not all mirrorless cameras are equal though. 

Some have larger sensors than others. 

That doesn’t mean that the larger the sensor the better the quality. But it does mean that it correlates to the size of the lens. 

So, the larger the sensor the more likely the lens will be larger and heavy.

Mirrorless cameras do give you a lot more flexibility than compact or smartphones. Because they all have removable lens you can vary your lens according to the subjects you want to photo.

And as I’ve mentioned they are much smaller and lighter than most DSLR’s, which makes them more ideal for Travel.

DSLR Cameras

So, what about DSLR’s? Well in most people’s eyes DSLRs are synonymous with quality.
When I take out my DSLR, I get lots of people comment on how I have such a good camera, so “I must take good photos”.
The only comments I get on my mirrorless is that they look “cool” as they have a sort of ‘retro’ look. 

These days with, the exception of the very high-end models, differences in quality between both types are negligible. 

Personal choice. 

I do like the feel of my Canon 5D MKII and I often use it for local shoots. 

But when it comes to travel that’s when I reach out for my Olympus OMD1 MKII. 

It’s so much lighter and even with the pro lens I have, it takes up so little space in comparison.

Of course, if money is no object then the Leica models are lightweight and small and come with fantastic quality. Or if you don’t mind lugging around a big DSLR then the high-end Canon or Nikon cameras will also give you great quality. 

But with both you will need to use the same wheelbarrow that you carried the money to pay for them, to carry them around.

Tour de Mont Blanc Path near Les Contamines, France
Tour de Mont Blanc Path near Les Contamines, France


It’s often quoted that the best camera equipment for travel photography is “the one you have with you”. 

But I would challenge that. Unless you are travelling to the same destination over and over again, it’s quite likely that where you travel to next will be a once in a lifetime trip. 

Do you want to trust your photo creation equipment to a restricted device when there are so many better options on the market today?

For more about buying a new camera check out these posts:

Why selecting a new camera is like selecting a new date (or TV)

Buying a new camera? Then read this

Why having the right camera equipment is important – or is it?

Buy a Camera in 15 minutes with these 5 Questions

Plus if you want to know more about the features of a camera then you can download my free

Camera Features Guide

Just click on any of the above images to view a larger version and for other options

Categories: Buying a camera, travel photographyTags: , , ,

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