Best Travel Camera? Does such a camera exist? And, why should you listen to my opinion of what the best travel camera is? Well, I travel a lot, and I take a lot of photos. Sometimes I shoot professionally, most of the time I shoot for my own pleasure. Read on, and you will get a totally unbiased opinion – this list of camera’s will surprise you.
Up front, understand this – which camera you have is not as important as how you use it. You’ll get far more benefit spending time learning about what makes a good image , and learning how to use your camera, than from upgrading to a new camera. Put the same camera in the hands of two different people, and you’ll get vastly different results.
My Travel Camera Guidelines
When it comes to deciding which is the best travel camera, there’s a handful of useful, and somewhat timeless guidelines that I tend to stick to. Ignore the advertising fluff, ignore the hype. These are the key guidelines on how I decide upon the best travel camera:
1. Image Quality. Paramount for a Travel Camera.
I want the best image quality I can get – this is my primary consideration when choosing a travel camera. Most buyers understandably fall into the skilfully marketed trap of the “Mega-Pixel Wars”.Pixels are great, but you need to look beyond the number.
“IQ” - image quality – is about more than just pixels or sharpness. It’s also about the “look” or “feel” of an image. Every camera has its own unique IQ. Take a photo, and ask yourself : do the skin tones look right, the blue of the sky look real, do the colours captured appeal to me?
Another key component of IQ is “Dynamic Range“ – how well a camera captures the dark areas, as well as the bright areas in a single photo. If you take a photo of a high-contrast scene – a scene that includes areas of shadows as well as bright spots – the bright areas may blow-out and appear as solid white, whilst the shadowy areas become solid black. In both cases, detail in the scene is lost. Look for a good dynamic range in a travel camera.
2. Size Does Matter. Especially for a Travel Camera.
Ever lugged a DSLR and a few lenses around the world? I have. Great photos, but quite an undertaking to carry everywhere. Safely storing all that gear, protecting it from bumps on the road, as well as unexpected downpours – for me, a DSLR may just be too sizeable for travel.
The best travel camera is the one you have with you. The smaller the camera, the more likely you are to have it with you at all times. If you see something photo-worthy, the best DSLR on earth won’t help you if it’s back at the hotel room because you just “need a break” from schlepping it around.
3. Ruggedness and Reliability – Often Overlooked.
Perhaps the number one travel camera requirement, above all, is that the camera continues to take photos for the duration of the journey.
Considerations should include: how many shots does your travel camera get from a battery charge? What happens if the camera gets a little water on it? If you drop the camera, will it survive?
Without reliability, your travel camera will just be dead weight.
4. The Best Travel Camera at Any Price?
Price is always a factor. Fortunately, price really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all in what makes the best travel camera. No matter what your budget is, there is a great travel camera for you. Any budget. Don’t believe me? By the end of this article, you will.
So, What is The Best Travel Camera?
I get asked regularly, what camera do I use? Which lens? I will be taking the camera’s below with me on my journey around the world, starting in just a few weeks. Collectively, I’m calling them the best travel cameras of 2012. They’re the cameras that have won a hard-fought place to be in my backpack – I would be happy with any of them.
1. Fuji X Pro 1 – The Best Travel Camera on Earth?
The Fuji X Pro 1 is my new “daily ride”. Smaller than a DSLR with comparable image quality, the Fuji would fit in a jacket pocket, but definitely won’t fit in a shirt pocket. It’s reasonably light-weight. And hot damn, it looks good. With remarkable image sharpness and colour, do small travel cameras get any better than this?
Being a new model, the reliability and ruggedness of the Fuji X Pro is as yet untested. However, Fuji have made the effort to encase the camera in an all-metal body, so clearly they have some degree of ruggedness in mind. Time will tell on this point.
With a versatile set of sharp interchangeable lenses, absolutely stunning low-light performance, and a stealthy black paint job (great for street photography as well), I’m picking the Fuji X Pro as THE best new travel camera available in 2012.
Price: the Fuji X Pro isn’t cheap – at over $2000 US for the camera and a single lens, this is a travel camera for the enthusiasts (slightly insane enthusiasts).
2. Leica M6 – One of the Worlds Greatest Cameras
The Leica M6. It’s a film camera. In 2012? Hell yeah! I get more compliments on my film shots than my digital shots. People still have a deep response to the unique look of film that digital still can’t replicate.
The Leica M series of cameras and lenses are known for reliability, and quality. My first Leica M6 was unexpectedly filled with water – to the point that it was pouring out of the camera! By the next morning, it was taking shots just fine! (but the metering was never the same, which is why I ultimately replaced it).
Even if the batteries go flat – the Leica still functions, albeit, only at a single shutter speed. This is my “lost in a remote part of Africa” camera – as long as I have a roll of film – I can take a photo.
Size, reliability, and remarkable array of interchangeable lenses has given Leica the deserved reputation of being one of the worlds best travel cameras.
Price – an M6 can be had, used, for around $1000 and up. Non Leica branded, used lenses start very cheaply, and escalate to OMG/WTF prices.
3. Panasonic GF3, or GF5 – or just about any Micro Four Thirds camera
Phillipa, my partner in travel crime, has the Panasonic GF3. A compact, inexpensive, full featured camera, with superb image quality, great low-light performance, and interchangeable lenses.
Sitting in between point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, the “micro-four-thirds” format makes an extremely compelling case for a travel camera. Panasonic make a range of these cameras, as do Olympus.
Benefits of micro 4/3′s over “budget” cameras include the “upgrade-ability” of the lenses. Unlike camera’s with a built-in lens, you can purchase a new lens as your needs or wants change. Zooms, wide angles, sharp prime lenses, speciality portrait lenses, there is an enormous choice from many manufacturers.
Price: I have recently seen deals as cheap as $300 US for a Panasonic GF3 camera body and lens. Personally, I like the 14mm “Pancake” lens – it’s small and lightweight – making it the perfect single lens solution for travellers.
4. Cheap Ass Ricoh Film Camera – the R10?
Price? About ten bucks. I often have a hard time believing how good the images look for such a cheap camera.
Yes, it’s another film camera. But it fits in my shirt pocket, is extremely light-weight, runs for months on a single battery, and has survived some of the most challenging conditions I have been in.
There are many cheap pocket-sized film cameras available – I’m not suggesting this is the best, I’m including it here because it’s in my bag, and is an incredible example of how $10 can give you image quality that many new pocket-sized digital cameras can only dream of. This is the backup camera of Kings.
Price: you can get an old film camera for free. Look around, pick one up, shoot a roll and see how it goes. I paid a tenner for mine!
5. Cell Phone Camera – A Great Travel Camera.
When all else fails, you will probably have your phone. Just as small cameras are closing the gap with DSLR’s, phone camera’s are closing the gap with small cameras. I could travel a year with nothing but a modern cell phone camera. In the hands of the right person, the images can be stunning.
So, as far as the best travel camera goes, maybe the answer is – your phone?
Non-Believer? The Proof is Right In Front of Your Eyes!
There are eight photos above. The photos have come from the four different cameras mentioned (not the cell phone). Can you tell which photo came from which camera?
Considering the price range of these cameras varies from $10 (Ricoh) through to OMG/WTF (Leica M6 and lens), I believe I’ve made my point – the price of a camera, and the age of a camera, has nothing to do with how good (or bad) an image is.
Summary – The Best Travel Camera
You know what? There is no single one-size-fits-all “best travel camera”. We all have different needs, tastes, budgets, and requirements. I would be happy to have any of the travel camera’s mentioned above, in my backpack.
PS, if you already have a decent travel camera, and are “stuck in auto” – not able to get the images you expect – you need this ebook. It has already helped so many of my readers take their travel photography to the next level. I recommend it 100% – check it out here.