Taking a big trip soon? In the market for a new camera? A lot of people start seriously considering buying their first “real” camera before they take their first major trip. They want quality, memories, and lots of good pictures. There’s no upper limit to what you can spend in photography, and it’s easy to quickly get lost when you’re trying to find a good travel camera. I’ve been there; let me help you. I know you’re busy, so if you don’t want to read this whole thing let’s cut to the chase. I think you should get a DSLR.
You may not need a new camera after all
If you have a new(ish) iPhone or Android, you may be able to capture all you’ll ever want using only your cellphone. Don’t believe me? You should. These two people are masters of iPhoneography; they each have a great and unique eye, and they capture things on their smartphones that make me want to trade my ridiculously expensive, work intensive DSLR for something that cuts through all the bells and whistles and gets to the core of photography: taking good pictures.
The Blonde Gypsy – inspirational editing on these jaw-dropping iPhone shots.
Adventurous Kate – she’s taken iPhone pictures that have me giving the evil eye to my complicated DSLR.
There’s also an iPhoneography Flickr group:
The Flickr iPhone Group – anyone can upload photos here. It’s a good start to see what can be done with a smartphone.
Besides the fact that you can take great pictures, using your smartphone has a few more benefits. For one, you can put the money you’ll save to good use on your trip. Smartphones also have apps like Instagram that make taking pictures more fun than you’ll ever have with a DSLR. And smartphone cameras are easy: point, then shoot.
Leonardo Da Vicni tells us, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” When it comes to photography, he’s definitely right. Consider sticking with your smartphone, it may be all you need.
Point and shoots?
Camera manufactures still make point and shoots and people still buy them. My personal opinion? Don’t bother. Their picture quality is higher than cell phones, but without apps and internet connectivity they’re not nearly as much fun. For the money you’re better off spending a little bit more to get something with a lot higher quality. The only reason you might want a point and shoot is as a backup or second camera to a DSLR, or because you don’t mind the lack of apps and still want something small that fits in your pocket.
Introducing Mirrorless. Size matters.
Sensor size, I mean. Plain and simple, the bigger your camera’s sensor the better the quality. Mirrorless cameras are a relatively new entry into mainstream photography, settling into the middle ground between DSLRs and point and shoots. “Mirrorless” means the camera doesn’t have a mirror, but it’s a bad name because cell phones and point and shoots don’t have mirrors either. A mirror allows you to look through the viewfinder to see exactly what the camera sees. Cameras without mirrors are smaller and lighter, but you have to use the LCD screen to see what they see. Mirrorless cameras distinguish themselves from the others because they have the ability to change lenses and their sensors are larger than smartphones and point and shoots.
These cameras are a great choice for travel photography – they’re light and compact, and they offer a worthwhile step up in picture quality from smartphones. High end mirrorless cameras like the Canon EOS M offer identical picture quality to many DSLRs. If I was getting my start in photography today I would seriously consider going mirrorless, but then I’d decide against it. I’d get a DSLR instead.
The ultimate in quality and complication: DSLRs
There’s an overlap in picture quality between high end mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. There’s a price overlap, too, and if you don’t mind the added weight and bulk, you can buy a pretty great DSLR for less money than a high end mirrorless camera. For the most part, anything a mirrorless camera can do, a DSLR can do better. The autofocus is faster on DSLRs and there are more, better lenses to choose from. In photography, “more and better” always mean more expensive, and lenses for DSLRs are definitely more expensive.
Besides money, there’s another downside to shooting with a DSLR: complexity. DSLRs can be horribly complicated at times. I’ve shot Canon since I bought my first film SLR, and recently I had the chance to fool around with a friend’s Nikon. I could barely even get the lens off – apparently it unscrews in reverse compared to Canon. That’s just one minor complexity of the many that are inherent to a camera that has so many buttons and switches. I recently wrote a post about cutting through that complexity and setting up your DSLR as a point and shoot camera.
Despite the downsides to owning a DSLR, they still offer the best combination of usability and quality for those willing to put in the legwork to learn the ins and outs of their cameras.
What should YOU get?
Don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I give a non committal “get the camera that’s right for you” or some other nonsense. I think you should get a DSLR. You wont regret it. Good DSLRs are cheaper than high end mirrorless cameras, their quality is extremely high, and DSLRs are very good at doing exactly what you want them to do. That means you can take the pictures you want to take faster, easier, and better than with any other kind of camera. You probably came to this site because you’re serious about taking great pictures on the road. A DSLR will help you take great pictures. The biggest downside to having a DSLR? You wont be able to blame your camera when your shot doesn’t come out exactly the way you want.
Check out my best sub-$1000 DSLR post.
There are only two worthwhile reasons why you might not want a DSLR: you want to save weight and space, or you are traveling to an area where you think a fancy camera dangling from your neck will make you a target for crime. In that case, you really cant go wrong with any of the other choices – good photographers can take good pictures with any camera.