Authored by Mark Condon
You’ve probably heard the old adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. For most of us, that means our best camera is our humble mobile phone.
Modern mobile phones do a decent job at taking a pretty picture, but they do have their limitations. If you want to get creative with your photography, or get that envious ‘blurred-background’ look, you’re much better off investing in an inter-changeable lens (ILC) camera, or at least, a good compact camera.
Buying a decent camera doesn’t mean breaking the bank – there are plenty of great cameras available for under $500 and some great dSLR lenses which cost much less than you’d expect.
What I will say though, is that by stretching your budget a little further, you can get a camera that will serve you well for many years to come. But let’s first decide what makes a good travel camera. Here are my criteria:
What makes a good travel camera
- Camera must be small & lightweight
- Camera must be inconspicuous
- Camera must have good image quality
- Camera must be rugged and durable
- Camera must be a pleasure to use
For me, the ideal travel camera should be small enough to fit into a handbag, light enough to carry around a neck all day, non-flashy looking to avert unwanted eyes, take a great photo, not break when bumped, and above all, must be great fun to use!
Cost is of course another major factor when choosing a camera, so below I’ll recommend a few cameras for travel at different price points.
The Best Travel Cameras
The Budget Option
Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS
Type: Compact Camera
Sensor Size: 1/2.3 inch (6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 12x zoom (25-300mm eq.) f/3.6-7
Weight: 147g (0.32 lb / 5.19 oz)
Price: Approx $195Click to View on Amazon
Canon has had a long history of making well-built, good looking compact cameras. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS isn’t a particularly new camera, but for it’s price, it’s such a great performer.
Packing a 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilizer into such a small, slim body is pretty impressive!
A 12x zoom equates to roughly a 25-300mm lens, meaning that you can go from wide angle (for shots of large groups, wide panoramic vistas and city-scapes, for example), all the way to distant shots of wildlife, all in the press of a button!
The aperture range of f/3.6-7 doesn’t make the lens on the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS particularly ‘fast’ (i.e. one that can let in a lot of natural light), but the optical image stabilizer does help you achieve a sharper image when the sun begins to set.
A neat feature of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS is the Intelligent IS mode, which helps even the most novice photographer capture clear, steady images, even in lower light. The Intelligent IS automatically analyzes camera movement and applies the ideal shake correction method for the shooting situation, allowing you to focus more on framing and capturing your shot.
Make no mistake – there are many better cameras than the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS, but none that are this good value for money. If you’re on a strict budget, it’s a great option to get a photo that’s a step above one that even the best mobile phone can produce.
The Mid-Priced Option
Sony Alpha a6000
Type: Interchangeable Compact Mirrorless Camera
Sensor Size: APS-C (23.5 x 15.6mm)
Weight: 0.76 pounds
Price: Approx. $648Click to View on Amazon
The Sony a6000 uses a combination of a 79-point focal plane phase detection AF sensor, 179 AF tracking points and 11 fps (frames per second). Thanks to this machine-gun like shooting ability, you’re sure to get the shot you want.
Remember one thing though – the more photos you take, the less present you are in the moment… not to mention, the more photos you’ll have to ‘cull’ through later!
Aside from impressively-fast autofocus, the focus on the Sony a6000 is no slouch either, using contrast-detection and something called Spatial Object Detection to achieve autofocus speeds of 0.06 seconds – definitely among the fastest performance of any camera.
My two favourite features of the Sony a6000 are to do with how you view the image. A 1.4m dot OLED electronic viewfinder delivers 100% frame coverage and am impressively fast refresh rate. This means that you can preview exactly how your image will look through the viewfinder, before you press the shutter button.
Electronic viewfinders are specific to a genre of camera called ‘mirrorless’. I’m a big fan of mirrorless cameras, and always recommend them to beginner photographers in particular. Why? Well being able to see how shutter speed, aperture and ISO affect your photographer in ‘real time’ is so useful in understanding the components of exposure.
Another great feature of the Sony a6000 is its 3″ tiltable LCD screen which allows you to get creative with your angles. I always recommend cameras with tilting LCD screens as they’re so good for getting unusual angles.
Low light performance of the Sony a6000 is also impressive, with a range of 100-25600. You’ll get some ‘noise’ (basically specks of white) when really pushing up the ISO, but this is normal for most cameras at this price point. However, there’s always the pop-up flash to rely on, ensuring you won’t miss any of the action when light falls.
As for recommended lenses to use with the Sony a6000, I’d advise you to start off with the 16-50mm power zoom lens which covers a useful focal range and isn’t too heavy or bulky.
The High Priced Option
Type: Interchangeable Lens Mirrorless Camera
Sensor Size: APS-C (23.6mm x 15.6mm)
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Price: Approx. $899Click to View on Amazon
As I mentioned before, I’m a big proponent of mirrorless cameras. Keeping up pace with bulkier and older dSLRs, mirrorless cameras use the latest technology to produce high quality images in smaller bodies.
The Fuji X-T20 uses a 24MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor, which delivers gorgeous, vibrant, clean and crisp images that rival even the best dSLR cameras.
The Fuji X-T20 offers a speedy start-up, meaning that as soon as you turn the camera on it’s ready to shoot.
Autofocus speeds are also excellent, and there’s very little shutter lag time or shot-to-shot delay. All this means that this camera won’t get in the way of you capturing your shot.
Speaking of the auto focus, 325 selectable AF points deliver some of the fastest and most accurate focusing capabilities ever seen on a mirrorless camera at this price point.
Fuji offers a range of excellent lenses to pair with the X-T20. I put together a selection of 10 of my favourite Fuji lenses here, which should serve as a helpful starting point for investing in your first lens.
For travel, a lightweight zoom lens provides the most flexibility, but for the ultimate in compactness, you should consider a prime (fixed focal length) lens.
The Fujifilm X-T20 is a great value mirrorless camera, especially when you consider that it offers many of the features that its ‘big brother’ the (much more expensive) X-T2 offers. If you want to invest in your photography, the Fujifilm X-T20 really is a great travel camera.
Now You Choose
So there you have it – 3 cameras for travel at 3 different price points to choose from. Whatever you decide, remember that a camera is an important investment in the preservation of your memories!
I should also say that even with the best camera gear and gadgets, investing in education is the fastest way to improve your photography skills. I wrote a big post on the best photography books that may be a good starting point for you to delve deeper into this wonderful art.
Travel Photography Academy has a brilliant course led by award winning travel photographer Gary Arndt. It takes you through improving your photography skills (including photo critiques by pro photographers). Learn more about what’s included in the course.
Now get out there and start shooting!
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