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Choosing the right travel Camera

Travel season is upon us, which means tons of vacation photos. In past blogs I’ve written about how to get the best results from your iPhone camera. The iPhone is still the most used and versatile pocket camera. With each successive Apple upgrade to the iconic camera/phone comes more and more megapixels and better features. But there are many amateur and professional photographers out there who are used to a certain amount of control and creativity when it comes to their photos. For these photographers, it’s good to know how to navigate the world of Prosumer travel cameras. In this post, I’m going to break them down a bit to help you find the right camera for you.

To choose the right travel camera, the best advice is to get a sense of which features are the most important for the type of travel you want to capture and photos you take. For instance – do you spend a lot of time in the water and need a waterproof camera? Do you shoot more video than photographs or do you shoot mostly landscape and architecture. Is your eye more tuned to shooting people and events?   Do you want a camera with interchangeable lenses or do you just want something small and compact that will fit in your pocket?

Small travel size cameras range in price from around $200 to $10,000, so it’s a good idea to come up with a price range that fits your budget.  Here are the basic types of travel cameras:

 

Point-and-shoot:

These are the most common and versatile type of cameras on the market and I’ll be spending the bulk of this post on this category. These cameras are all mirrorless cameras; when you look through the viewfinder of a traditional DSLR camera, you are actually looking into a mirror, which is angled so that you can look through the lens. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up to expose the sensor (or film if you’re shooting film). Smaller travel cameras don’t have mirrors. (The iPhone is a good example.) The image through the lens is electronically transmitted to the screen behind the camera.   Eliminating the mirror drastically reduces the size and price of the camera.

Point-and-shoot cameras have a staggering amount of options available, which is reflected in the huge difference in price. Here are a few features that you want to have if you’re just looking for a simple, easy to use point-and-shoot camera.

  • Built in Flash (most have them)
  • Fully automatic mode as well as manual modes – not all low-end cameras have manual modes
  • Shooting in Camera RAW files – you’ll have to spend more for this feature, most low-end travel cameras don’t offer it, but if you’re used to working on your photos in Lightroom and want the control over your images, it’s worth the extra money. Do your research if this is something you want.
  • Video Capability– Most have this function but some of the low-end cameras shoot in 24fps (frames per second) rather than the standard 30fps . If good quality video is something that interests you, you might want to splurge on a camera with better video capability.
  • Mega Pixels – 12 up to 30. A quick note about mega pixels as it relates to price point and file/print size: The sensor inside the camera will dictate how many mega pixels your camera is. The more mega pixels the larger the file size.  If you’re not planning on printing HUGE quality prints, then mega pixels aren’t that crucial for you and you can spend your money on more important features like video or waterproof cases. Many low-end point-and-shoot cameras have between 12 and 20 mega pixels and these work just fine for most vacation photos. Provided you don’t have to crop the image in post-processing, you’ll get a nice 8×10 or 12×14 print out of a 12 mega pixel camera.
  • Wifi-enabled – A feature that’s beginning to appear more and more often in both point and shoot and high-end digital cameras is the ability to connect to a WiFi network. When you can send photos wirelessly through your home WiFi network, it can greatly simplify the process of creating backup copies of your images, as well as sharing photos with others.  Some cameras allow you to make direct connections to Facebook or other social networking sites, too, which can be a great feature. Many WiFi-enabled digital cameras also now give you the option of uploading your photos to the cloud, which usually is a storage site that’s owned by your camera’s manufacturer. Using the cloud to store your photos is a great idea, as you’ll always have backup copies away from your home computer, where they’ll be safe from a fire or other natural disasters. The downside to WiFi-enabled cameras is that they can be a little difficult to set up and use on occasion. You will almost certainly need to understand a little bit about entering network passwords and knowing the name of your WiFi network before you can make the connection with your camera. If you’ve ever made a WiFi connection with your smartphone or with a laptop computer, you probably have the experience needed to make the WiFi connection with your camera. The wireless connection also can drain the battery more quickly than using a USB cable connection.
  • Zoom lens – A quick lesson in zoom lenses in point-and-shoot cameras: they are broken down into how far they’ll zoom in from the widest setting- 3x, 7x up to around 12x. For example, if your camera, fully zoomed out, is 24mm (a pretty standard wide zoom), then a 3x zoom lens will zoom in to 72mm, the maximum zoom for a 7x lens is 168mm and obviously a 10x fully zoomed in is 240mm. There is some loss of clarity with the higher zoom lenses but if you’re looking for the most all around versatile lens, you can’t beat a built in 10x lens.

 

Recommendations for Point-and-shoot cameras:

Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS – $225

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  • 20 mega pixels
  • Built in flash
  • 12x optical zoom
  • 1080p video at 30fps
  • Wi-Fi enabled
  • NO RAW shooting

Review and specs for the Powershot 

 

 

Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70 – $250

The Panasonic LUMIX ZS50: The ultimate all-round travel camera, boasting enhanced low light performance and powerful optical zoom (PRNewsFoto/Panasonic)

  • 13 mega pixels
  • Built in Flash
  • 4x digital zoom
  • Fully automatic plus manual modes
  • HD video at 30fps
  • RAW shooting

Review and specs for the Lumix

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V 20.1 – $900

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  • 21 mega pixel
  • Built in Flash
  • 3x optical zoom
  • 4k video at 30fps
  • Automatic and manual modes
  • RAW shooting

Review and specs for the Cyber-Shot

 

 

Action Cameras:

This would include the GoPro line and any shock or waterproof cameras. They’re used mostly by people who’s vacations are a bit more adventurous and want to capture more physical activities. I personally own a GoPro camera. They’re really fun little cameras. I’ve mostly used them for motorcycle trips or camping where there is an opportunity for some fun with water. If I’m being honest, it’s more of a novelty than a necessity when traveling. They’re purely for fun. But if you love to swim, rock climb, kayak, water ski, sky dive, ride a bicycle or motorcycle or any dynamic activities like that, then get yourself an action camera and have a blast!

 

Recommendations for Action Cameras:

GoPro Hero 5 Black –  $400

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  • 12 mega pixels
  • No flash
  • Waterproof case included
  • HD video 30 fps
  • Raw Shooting
  • Focus free
  • No Zoom

Review and specs for the GoPro Hero

 

Nikon Coolpix AW130 – $350

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  • Nikon Coolpix AW130 $350
  • 16 mega pixels
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • Built in flash
  • Underwater depth 98 feet
  • Auto modes only
  • HD video at 30 fps
  • NO RAW shooting

Review and specs for the CoolPix

 

Canon PowerShot D30 – $300

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  • 12 mega pixels
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • Built in Flash
  • Auto modes only
  • NO RAW shooting
  • Waterproof up to 80 feet
  • NO Raw Shooting

Review and specs for the PowerShot

 

DSLR and high-end mirrorless cameras:

This is the larger and heavier option of the three and used mostly by more serious photographers. Bringing a big heavy DSLR on vacation does defeat the purpose of having a light, easy to use travel camera. But, if photography is your passion and your art, then finding the right DSLR, one that you’ll use often, is important.

I shoot Canon and right now I have 3 canon cameras in my bag. Very rarely do I bring one of my big 5D’s with all of my lenses when I’m on vacation. I’ve tried, but lugging a big heavy backpack all day while you’re on vacation is a drag and I end up not using it very often.  PLUS, my work cameras don’t have built in flash so I’d have to bring a Speedlight flash unit if I just wanted to take night shots with my friends.  I end up looking and feeling like an ‘event photographer’ , so my vacation starts feeling like I’m at work.  I have a smaller Rebel that fits the bill and takes great shots. It has a built in flash, has all of the functionality of the high-end DSLR’s, and if I take one versatile zoom lens with me, I never have to change lenses.  There are a number of really great smaller DSLR’s on the market today; they’ll give you lots of options and won’t slow you down on your travels.

Recommendations for DSLR and high-end cameras:

 

Canon EOS Rebel T6i – $900 lens included

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  1. 24 Mega Pixels
  2. APS – C Sensor (not full frame)
  3. Optical LCD screen
  4. ISO – 100- 12,800
  5. Kit lens 18-55mm  – I recommend upgrading to a 24-105mm
  6. Full auto/manual modes
  7. Video capable at 30fps
  8. Built in Flash plus hot shoe for external
  9. Wi-Fi capable

Review and specs for the Rebel T6i

 

 

Sony Alpha A77 II – $2,000 kit with lens included

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  • 24 Mega Pixels
  • APS-C CMOS sensor (not full frame)
  • Full auto and manual shooting modes
  • Tilting LCD screen
  • 1080p HD video at up to 60 fps
  • ISO 100-26,000
  • Built in Flash plus hot shoe mount

Review and specs for the Alpha A77ii

 

 

Leica TL – $1,600 -body only. Lenses run between $1,500 and $3,000

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  • 16 mega pixels
  • APC-C Sensor
  • Fully auto and manual modes
  • Lens not included
  • Built in Flash – no hot shoe mount
  • ISO 100-12,500
  • HD 1080p 30fps video
  • Wi-Fi and smart phone Apps

Review and specs for the Leica TL

If you can, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CAMERA STORE.  You can find these cameras on-line for a great price, but many local camera stores will match the online price. I’m a big believer in shopping locally if you can.  Plus, there is a certain tactile satisfaction in going to the store and holding the camera.  If you’re in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Santa Barbara, I recommend Samy’s Camera – they also have a great online selection and will ship tax free in many cases.   But, if you don’t have a  store near you – B&H  photo (based in New York) has great prices.

Happy Shooting!

 

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