Shopping for a new digital camera can be confusing, tiresome and frustrating. There are so many choices of point-and-shoot, ‘prosumer’, DSLR and hybrids from all manufacturers.
When people ask me which camera and lenses they should buy, especially for travel, I ask them three questions:
- 1) How serious are you about learning photography?
- 2) What’s your budget? and
- 3) What do you like to take pictures of?
The answer to the first often tells me in advance what the second answer will be be, just from experience of asking these questions over and over. The third helps me determine which lenses to suggest.
The answers typically fall into three groups:
- “I want a camera that’s easy to pack and simple to use,”
- “I’d like to learn to take some cool shots and not just postcards,” and
- “I plan on really diving into photography and want the best.”
I want a camera that’s easy to pack and simple to use
For this crowd I would suggest the entry-level of DLSR cameras. These are the ones that typically start around $500 for a camera and kit lens. For most heading out on a trip, this camera will work fine if you want something above a point-and-shoot.
Most kit lenses are in the 18-55mm range and my overall suggestion for travel is to get an 18-200mm range which will serve you well.
The most frustrating thing about the cheaper point-and-shoot cameras is battery life. You might save $60 by going with a particular model but might spend another $30 just for batteries on a trip! (Remember: AA batteries at tourist destinations are never as cheap as at home.) Go with a camera that has a rechargeable battery and at least a 4x optical zoom. Also pick a camera that feels good in your hands, as manufacturers are still fiddling with the grip on these small point-and-shoot units.
I’d like to learn to take some cool shots and not just postcards
If you think you want to stick with learning some photography and work past using the Auto mode, it might be a good idea to spend a bit more and get a higher-quality camera. Photography is thankfully one of those hobbies which sees a direct correlation between price and quality.
Mid-range is around $1000 for camera body, maybe up to $1500 depending on the disposability of your income. These cameras focus faster, shoot faster and generally meter light better than the entry-level units.
Lenses open a wide variety of options. I still suggest the 18-200mmlens (either by the manufacturer or by Sigma) if the camera has a 1.6x crop sensor. Also an option is to purchase a couple of lenses to cover a wide range, especially if you plan to go to a specific place to shoot, like on safari in Africa. In that case I’d suggest a longer 100-400mm type lens and a wide angle option, such as a 10-22mm. An all around 24-135mm type lens is handy as well if you only want to take one.
The cameras in this range get a bit bulkier than the simple point-and-shoots listed above. This is because they pack better optics and can even zoom to 12x and beyond.
Some have manual controls if you know enough to play around with shutter speed and aperture for certain effects. Others will record in RAW format to ensure maximum creative control when editing the image in a computer. Most will have video modes with some pretty advanced high-resolution options.
Expect to pay in the $200-$500 range for these types of cameras.
- Canon Powershot G12
- Kodak Easyshare Z981
- Nikon Coolpix P500
- (Note, Craig and Linda use a Sony DSC-HX5V which falls into this category.)
I plan on really diving into photography and want the best camera and lenses
This group of buyers need not bother with point and shoot options. Chances are money might even be burning holes in pockets! If that is the case, a high-end camera is in order. But more important than the camera body, is high-end lenses.
If you have the money and want the best, go for Canon’s L series of lensand Nikon’s ED series. These lenses can be very pricey but you get what you pay for.
While the top-of-the-line Canon and Nikon cameras might seem like the optimal choice, there is still a need to consider a couple of items.
Will you want video? Not all top-of-the-line cameras have it. Can you handle the bulk? These cameras tend to be large and heavy. Couple that with a heavy zoom lens (weight in camera gear often equates to quality) and the option might not look so tempting.
Moving back a few models to a version with more composites can make the difference between loving a camera, after a day of wandering and shooting, and hating it.
But not to be ruled out:
Choosing from the myriad of camera options available on the market today can be perplexing. Armed with some of the options listed in this post, go forth and find the gear you need to bring back the pictures you want from your next trip. Happy shooting!
Editor’s note: We’ve attempted to match Peter’s recommendations with links to Amazon.com for ease of further research and purchasing. Especially when buying lenses, double-check the lens works with your model of camera. Indie Travel Podcast gets a commission if you buy through these links, and we like that.