Buying a Digital Camera: How to Choose

Choosing a Digital Camera for Travel Photos

Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)

Travel takes you around the world to a wide range of scenes and vistas, and consequently the photographic situations you’ll encounter on travel will run the gamut from social scenes and portraits of your friends indoors to sweeping panoramic landscapes to candid street photography. Travel photography requires a little bit of everything, so the ideal travel camera is a well-rounded camera that covers all the bases.

Some ideal features you’ll want to look for in a travel camera:

Wide-angle lens: A need you’ll often encounter on your travels, no matter where you go, is a wide-angle lens that can take in the whole scene. Whether it’s a towering landmark, sweeping landscape, or cramped building interior, standard camera lenses that start in the 36mm range simply can’t capture the whole picture like wider-angle lenses that start in the 28mm or wider range.

35mm vs. 28mm

The wider the angle the better - many cameras feature lenses that start in the 28mm range, and some newer models go as wide as 25mm. For SLR cameras you have a huge selection of lenses - most will start from 28mm, better ones will start at 24mm, and if you plan on shooting many landmarks, landscapes, or interiors, give some strong consideration to an ultrawide ~16mm lens (factor in your camera’s “crop factor” for these numbers)

Versatile zoom range: Because you’ll be encountering such a diverse array of scenes on travel, a camera with a large zoom range comes in handy - you may go from capturing wide shots of a cathedral interior one moment to zooming up for a close-up of the detail on a stained glass window the next, and you’ll need a large zoom range to do so. Most cameras have a 3x or so zoom range, but you’ll want at least 6x and ideally 10x zoom or more.

Wide angle: 27mm Telephoto: 416mm

Low-light capabilities: Just as you’ll encounter a variety of subjects in your travels, travel photography is also prone to a wide range of lighting situations. Because of this, you should be prepared to take photos in low-light. You can read the low-light article for more details (link to low-light), but an ideal low-light camera would include features such as image stabilization to avoid camera shake and good high ISO capabilities to freeze moving subjects.

Outdoor Nighscape

Compact size: Camera sizes can vary wildly. Unless you’re committed to turning your trip into a photo trip, bulk trumps everything when it comes to travel - there’s no point in bogging down your trip with a heavy camera. In addition, the big camera tends to get left in the car or hotel room more often, so even a small lightweight camera that only takes mediocre photos beats no photos at all when it comes to capturing special moments and remembering your trip. Look for at most a compact-size (less than 2” thick) camera.

Battery life: Depending on where you’re going and how many photos you take, battery may become an issue on your trip. In an urban setting where you can recharge every night, battery life isn’t a problem. However, if you’re traveling out to some place without outlets, you’ll definitely want to look for a camera with longer battery life that can last you several days. Taking casual snapshots might be a few dozen photos per day, but an avid photographer can easily burn through 100+ photos, so factor this into how many days you plan on traveling. Of course, you can always purchase extra batteries for a camera - something that should factor into your budget, but by no means a dealbreaker for any particular camera.

Conclusion

The ideal travel camera is a versatile one that can handle a variety of situations, since you’ll never know what you’ll run into next when exploring a new place. A versatile zoom range and low-light abilities are the two most important attributes. At the same time, make sure you moderate your choice with a reasonable size and weight, so you can actually enjoy your travels while you’re there!

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