How to choose a camera for travel as a beginner?
Simple Tips + Selection 2020

Written by Ophelie
Updated 3rd of Dec. 19
Will take 5mn to read

While traveling, you might find new passions… If one of them happens to be photography, I give you some tips and ideas on how to choose a camera which will be your perfect travel mate.

Tip 1 - Get rid of false ideas about travel cameras!

How to choose a camera: NOT according to its price!

The more expensive, the better: NO! It all depends on how you use the camera. If you stay in automatic, you’ll get with a compact as good images as with a thousand dollars reflex…

The myth of the Mega Pixels

High number of megapixels = better image quality. That’s a myth! What is camera resolution? The resolution plays a part in printing, cropping the photo, displaying the image. However, it does not necessarily improve the image quality. What are megapixels? A Megapixel is made of millions of colored dots. A high number of megapixels can actually make your photos worse by displaying too many colored dots. That’s why the camera’s lens, its sensor and skills in lighting and composing a photo are far more important than the number of Megapixels. Detailed explanation on this photography website!

Tip 2: Know the camera types out there - Compact, mirorless, DSLR

To buy a camera is a process… sometimes, a long one for those who want to choose their travel camera carefully! Because the word ‘camera’ hides others: let’s sketch quickly what camera types exist out there. And which one will be the most suitable travel camera for you!

Travel camera made extra light and easy: the point-and-shoot camera

Point-and-shoot or the ‘no headache’ camera: if this camera type suffered a bad reputation in the past, it’s now different! Compact cameras deliver nowadays acceptable quality. They are best for traveling, due to their pocket format. And above all, easy to use. If you want to start out with a first travel camera without investing much, the point-and-shoot is definitely the best option. High-level point-and-shoots even offer semi-automatic modes to start taking risks as a beginner!

Why to choose a point-and-shoot? The Pros: small and light (in your pocket, less risks to be stolen) | easy to use (featured modes, automatic) | more advanced features on high-range ones | cheap

In which case not? The Cons: low lens quality | difficult to take pics in low light situations | they don’t allow you to take the control of your pictures: no manual mode | lower quality of the photos in general

Mirrorless camera, or how to feel professional as beginner photographer

This camera type is kind of a hybrid in the world of travel cameras. It already has got a real power in terms of performance. The mirrorless has almost nothing to envy to its bigger brother, the DSLR. A mirrorless travel camera allows you to change lenses, to practice with manual, aperture and shutter modes. To discover the joys of manual focus.

But then, what’s the difference between a mirrorless travel camera and a DSLR? The mirrorless camera type is essentially lighter and mechanically simpler than a reflex. Because the mirrorless travel camera doesn’t have a complex mirror system like DSLRs do. In my humble opinion, choosing such a travel camera as beginner photographer is the most suitable compromise between budget, quality, ease of use and weight!

Choose a mirorrless as travel camera? The Pros: light and easy to use (when you know the bases of photography) | automatic, semi-automatic, manual modes | viewfinders | affordable prices | ideal to make your first steps in professional photography and video.

The Cons: you’ll need to buy accessories like bundles, camera bag, tripod and further lenses (telephoto lens or wide-angle …) | compatibility of lenses: depends on each camera | focus can be less performant than on DSLRs

Travel camera to go serious with: DSLR or reflex camera

Reflex camera or DSLR: they are intimidating terms beginner photographers. Bascially, a DSLR is a single-lens reflex camera which typically uses a mirror and prism system (hence “reflex”, from the mirror’s reflection). 

The biggest advantages of a reflex travel camera are probably the superior image quality and the wider range of available lenses to put on the camera (aka, a wider lens compatibility than mirorrless cameras). The downsides: often heavy and pricey, a DSLR travel camera is already a big investment and pressure to learn how to use complex settings. Maybe too much for a beginner photographer?

Choose a DSLR as travel camera? The Pros: professional equipment

The Cons: heavy | complex to use for beginners | pricey

Now, how to choose a camera among all of this as a beginner? Tip 3 – Your goals, budget, type of travel

How to choose a camera based on your own goals

And if how to choose a camera was as simple as… what you want to do with the camera! Before you start browsing at camera buying guides and their long lists of camera selections, ask yourself a few simple questions. It’ll reduce the scope of your search.

Are you just curious about photography and want to get a taste of it while traveling, without headache? A point-and-shoot could do the job. Or do you already feel that photography might be more than a hobby? If you aim to dive seriously into photography, a mirrorless or a DSLR travel camera will meet the expectations. It’ll bring challenges but the learning curve will be way more interesting!

Think also about how long you want to practice with the type of travel camera you choose. A point-and-shoot can be changed with no big investment. Mirrorless and DSRL are long term companions.

Think budget to guide you while choosing a camera

Photography equipment is expensive – it’s hardly a secret. Deal with it… the clever way. When it comes to how to choose a camera, budget is best to be defined according to your needs. Don’t overspend – as said, the expensive travel cameras won’t necessarily give better results. Take the goals you set for yourself as a beginner. And decide your budget upon them – a simple point-and-shoot, a mid-range mirrorless, an entry-level DSRL?

Tips on how to choose a camera, with low budget: look also for cameras from the past 2-5 years | compare prices on market places (amazon, ebay, techradar, digitalcameraworld) | buy second hand

What to include in the budget to choose a travel camera? Think of the photography equipment you want to get – tripod, camera bag, cleaning kit… I use myself around 10 items along with my travel camera, as a beginner. I gathered them here, in a complete list for beginner photographers.

Second, think of lenses before buying your travel camera. On mirrorless and DSLR cameras, the lenses are interchangeable. But every camera brand has its own range of lenses, often suitable for a limited type of travel cameras. Better explained: if you buy a Sony A6000 (like me), you’ll cry when looking for new lenses to buy (like me!). Sony lenses are expensive and the choices are more limited than for Canon or Nikons cameras. That said, I love my Sony 😊 But that’s for sure the mistake I made on how to choose my camera. I went for a camera without researching enough about lens compatibility.

How to choose a camera based on your type of travel

This question means a lot on travel since you’ll have to carry your travel camera in your luggage. Weight, number of lenses, camera protections… are of huge importance. Do you plan a hiking trip? A travel for months? Will you travel as backpacker, being often in hostels? Based on your type of travel, you’ll need a super light camera, a resistant one to bad weather, a discreet one… All of these answers are guidelines for you on how to choose a camera completely adapted to you!

What travel camera to buy as beginner – Quick selection 2020

The list below is thought for travelers who want to begin with photography without breaking the bank and without carrying kilos of equipment.

Top 4 affordable quality point-and-shoot cameras.

1. Sony W830 – 120$

Sony W830 - Compact travel camera for beginner
  • Level: Beginner compact camera
  • Pros: great image quality | program mode (semi-automatic mode) | 8x optical zoom | 20.1 MP | f=3.3/6.3 |HD Video
  • Cons: no WIFI connectivity

2. Canon PowerShot Elph 180 / IXUS 185 – 130$

Canon IXUS 185 - front of the compact camera
  • Level: Beginner compact camera
  • Pros: easy to use | lens 28-224mm f/3.2-6.9 | 8x Optical zoom | 20 MP | Program mode |  Creative filters
  • Cons: small LCD with low resolution | Limited in perf, outside of auto and program modes

3. Panasonic Lumix ZS70 / TZ90 – 380$

Panasonic Lumix TZ90 front of the compact camera
  • Level: Beginner to intermediate
  • Pros: super light | lens 24-720mm, f=3.3-6.4 | 30x Optical zoom | 20.3 MP | Selfie function (rotative LCD) | RAW shooting | good also for videos
  • Cons: viewfinder very small

4. Canon Powershot G9X Mark II – 500$

Canon Powershot G9 X - front of the point-and-shoot camera
  • Level: Beginner to enthusiast 
  • Pros: easy-to-use and really tiny camera | high image quality | 3x optical zoom | lens 28-84mm, f=2-4,9 | 20 MP | WIFI connection
  • Cons: No viewfinder

Mirorrless cameras: a selection of upper entry-level cameras

1. Sony a6000 – 500-600$ with lens kit
Sony A6000 Alpha mirorrless camera for beginner photographers
  • Level: Beginner to enthusiast
  • Pros: easy to use | lens kit 16-50mm, max. F=3.5 | 24.3 MP | electronic viewfinder | Great all-rounder 
  • Cons: Not very performant in low light conditions | limited lens compatibility
2. Fujifilm X-T30 – 920$ Body only
Fujifilm-X-T30 mirorrless camera advanced beginner photographer
  • Level: Intermediate, Enthusiasts
  • Pros: Small and quite easy to use | 26 MP | Lens mount Fujifilm X | Electronic Viewfinder | Powerful autofocus (sometimes the pain point on mirrorless ones) | All-rounder for video fans + photographers
  • Cons: Pricey | No lens kit included.

3. Olympus OM-D E-M10 II – 450-850$ – Body only

Olympus-OM-D-E-M10-Mark-II mirorrless camera beginner photographer and enthusiast
  • Level: Beginner or enthusiast
  • Pros: large lense compatibility (Olympus, Panasonic, Sigma, Voigtländer) | 16.1 MP | Lens 14-42mm, max. F=3.5 | OLED viewfinder | Great image stabilization | Tilting screen

4. Panasonic Lumix GX80/GX85 – 390$

Panasonic-lumix-GX80-85 mirorless camera beginners
  • Level: Beginner
  • Pros: Easy to use | Also advanced features | 16 MP | Lens mount Micro Four Thirds | 4K video recording | Electronic viewfinder | GX85 : with a retractable ‘pancake lens’ 12-32mm | Small size and good price | Very good as travel camera

Reflex or DSLR cameras: top 3 affordable travel cameras

1. Nikon D5500 – 600-700$ With 18-55mm lens
Nikon D5500 DSLR camera beginner photographer and intermediate
  • Level: Entry-level+, intermediate
  • Pros: model, 24.2 MP | tilting touchscreen | Added features at a good price
  • Cons: lower performance at video making
2. Canon EOS 1300D – 400-600$
Canon-EOS-1300D-DSRL camera beginner photographer
  • Level: Beginner
  • Pros: Easy to use  for a DSLR | Optical viewfinder | WIFI
  • Cons: fixed rear screen | slow focus in live view | 18 MP
3. Pentax K-70 – 850$ With 18-135mm lens
  • Level: Enthusiast
  • Pros: 24.2 MP | Weather resistant | Built-in image stabilization | Perfotmant in low-light conditions
  • Cons: Limited lens compatibility

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