Cameras to Take Great Travel Photos

Cameras to Take Great Travel Photos

New Years is a great time for change, so why not commit yourself to taking better photos in 2012?  If you fail at your other resolutions, at least you will be able to look back and say, “wow, I got some great photos…”

To take better photos you probably need to buy a new camera. Why buy a new camera now? Because after-Christmas sales present spectacular deals, often the best prices of the year.  More importantly, digital cameras have come a long way quickly.  If your camera is more than two years old you’d be shocked by the features now available.  If your 2012 plans involve travel, adventure, or children, you’ll probably want to upgrade.  To help you decide, let me share with you some of the things I’ve learned after taking over 50,000 photos with an assortment of digital cameras.

Whether you decide to buy one of these cameras or a different model, here are a few things to know:

  • Buy a point-and-shoot. This is the biggest change in the last five years, camera makers figured out how to get photos you’ll love from tiny packages.  The lenses and sensors in high-end point-and-shoot cameras are better than budget dSLRs.  If you are considering a dSLR, test your eye on the photograph below and read more about dSLRs in the final section, “Going Pro”.  There are even great point-and-shoots for people that want to learn photography and may later graduate to a dSLR.
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  • Get built-in GPS. It may seem unnecessary but you will regret not buying a camera with GPS.  From sharing on facebook, to organizing, to simply remembering where you took a picture, having location information automatically inserted into photos is a huge advantage.  Any point-and-shoot camera worth buying today has GPS built-in.
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  • Panasonic currently offers the best camera lineup. Writing that still shocks me into thinking, “Panasonic makes cameras?”  Yes they do, and they do it well, very well.  That said, you can’t go wrong with a mid-range Canon.
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  • Avoid budget cameras. Spending an extra $50-100 will transform you pictures from “acceptable” to “wow”.  There is no upgrading a camera…if you later find your budget camera sucks you’ll have to buy a new one when you could have the first time.  After-Christmas sales are a great time to get a better camera than you normally would.
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  • Sensors, not pixels matter. Don’t get caught up trying to buy the most megapixels, in fact, the more megapixels crammed into little cameras the worse the photos may look (more info). Anything over 8 megapixel will print great up to 8×10″ (more info).  Let me ask you, when’s the last time you printed a photo larger than 8×10?

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POINT-AND-SHOOT vs SLR PHOTOGRAPHY TEST

One photo below is taken on our $3000 Nikon dSLR rig.  One is from our $350 Canon point-and-shoot.  The settings on both cameras were identical (manual mode, ISO: 100, f/8.0, 1.6 sec shutter).  Do you see a quality difference?  Click on the photos to look closely at larger versions, which photo is from which camera?  Most importantly, are the differences you see worth $2650 to you?

For us there is no question about which is better; we take the majority of our photos on the  Nikon dSLR. But, would you rather carry around a 4lb camera or $2650?  Don’t think that buying a cheaper dSLR will help you either, unless you are willing to spend real money on a good lens ($1000+) you’ll find a great point-and-shoot does what you need, very well.

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CAMERA TITANS: dSLR REPLACEMENTS

If spectacular photos are what you are looking for, look no further than the Canon S110 and Lumix LX5.  The LX5 was regarded as the best point-and-shoot, but the newly released S110 is one generation ahead.  Expect to see a LX7 soon with updated features such as GPS.  Until then, the best photo from a camera that fits in your pocket is from the Canon S110.

Both of these cameras include full manual mode and physical buttons to quickly manipulate the exposure.  The only thing you give up are some of the great automatic features of more mainstream cameras.

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CAMERAS FOR EVERYONE: GREAT PHOTOS WITH EASE

The cameras above are without a doubt the pinnacle of camera engineering.  For most people though, they are overkill.  Few people need the manual control and dozens of buttons. Understandably, most people just want a camera that they can literally point, shoot, and show off their photographic genius.  Camera manufacturers realized this and created the “compact travel zooms”, easy-to-use small cameras with massive zoom, GPS, and burst shooting modes. The best in class are the Lumix ZS-10 and Canon PowerShot SX230HS.

We have been using and raving about the Canon S90 (the S100′s predecessor) since it’s release in 2009.  After doing much research we decided to purchase a travel zoom, the Lumix ZS-10.  We realized that we needed a camera to complement, not compete, with our dSLR; the ZS-10 gives us additional range that will allow us to get shots we missed with our dSLR and S90.

Incense burning at Jade Emperor Temple in HCMC, Vietnam. Taken on a Canon S90 point-and-shoot.

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CAMERAS THAT WILL TEACH YOU PHOTOGRAPHY

After using our Canon S90 for years I realized something, this camera teaches photography.  In manual mode it displays the changes as the settings are changed.  What would the photo look like in f/8.0?  What’s the difference at f/5.6?  With the Canon S110 or it’s more feature-rich brother, the Canon G15, you can see how different settings (ISO, aperture and shutter speed) affect the photo.  Instead of having to take multiple exposures you can learn on-screen about different exposures.  Buy one of these cameras, leave it in manual mode and within a year I bet you’ll know a lot about how cameras work and what settings to use to get your desired affect..

Sule Paya at sunset in Yangon, Myanmar. Taken on a Canon S90 point-and-shoot.

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MIRROR-LESS CAMERAS

Mirrorless interchangable lens cameras (MILCs) are the future.  Though they are currently squeezed between point-and-shoot cameras and digital SLRs, they will eventually replace mirror-based dSLRs.  When people in rural India changed from elephant travel to motorcycles/cars, they probably realized carrying over the hardware from elephants was silly.  Camera manufacturers though made such a big technological change, from film to digital, but kept the mechanics the same.  They kept the mirror that was needed to protect film when it wasn’t needed with a digital sensor.  Currently companies are simplifying designs by removing the mirror, hence mirrorless cameras, but keeping the flexibility of interchangeable lenses.

The benefit of these cameras is size, removing the mirror and associated complexity, they can be much smaller than SLRs. Currently though many manufacturers are installing smaller sensors than in their dSLRs, making them inferior to dSLRs.  Sensor size is arguably the most important quality difference between point-and-shoots and dSLRs, so you want to make sure you get a premium sensor on a MILC, otherwise it’s hard to justify buying one.

I have very little experience with these cameras, but have found the ones I used lacking the manual control buttons that I want.  Instead, many rely on touchscreens that substantially slow use compared to manual buttons. If you’re interested in these cameras, check out the “micro 4/3″ cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, the NEX cameras from Sony, and the Nikon 1 series.

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GOING PRO: dSLR

Irregardless of what I’ve said or shown above, for some people a dSLR is the right choice.  If you answer yes to the following then it should be for you too.

  • You can define the terms and relationship of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
  • You intend to print many of your photos in large sizes.
  • You know and intend to primarily use the manual mode.
  • You travel with a tripod.

It’s simple.  If you know the technicalities of photography, want to control them and are willing to take the time to take great photos (such as using a tripod), then you and I both know you should get a dSLR.  In fact, I am wondering why you don’t have one already.

Vishnu at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo taken on a Nikon D90 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 dSLR.

For most people though, the weight and cost make a dSLR overkill.  Given the great point-and-shoot cameras available today, most people’s photos would be improved with composition classes.  Classes are available through community education or a photo store near you.  After learning the basics a dSLR may indeed be in your future.

The best dSLR setup available today is from Nikon.  The Nikon D7000 body is way ahead of it’s competitors and priced reasonably enough that it’s hard to justify saving the money for something drastically inferior.  The key to any dSLR though is not the body, it’s the lens.  If you are going to save money on something, skimp on the camera body and get a quality lens.  We shoot with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and can’t imagine using anything else.  We also travel with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 prime lens that is great for low-light situation and when we want a more maneuverable camera.

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SUPPORT LIVINGIF

If you decide to purchase any of the cameras discussed above please do so from the links in the text or below.  You get the same great Amazon.com price and I get a commission.  We write LivingIF for your enjoyment, but your support would be greatly appreciated.

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BEST AVAILABLE POINT-AND-SHOOT CAMERAS

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COMPACT POCKET TRAVEL ZOOMS: THE BEST CHOICE FOR MOST PEOPLE

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A PERFECT dSLR SETUP FOR SERIOUS PHOTOGRAPHERS

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Comments

» Donna :
Dec 19, 2011

I love these techy articles, particularly when you’re talking cameras. The biggest problem I have with the point and shoot cameras is their lack of a viewfinder. As I get older and lose some of the youthful stability in my body, holding the camera out away from my body just seems like asking for blurry pictures. Short of carrying a tripod or monopod around with me all the time, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that whole idea of tossing the viewfinder off cameras. I understand that many lenses come with a stability feature … but can they compensate for senior shakes? Maybe I’ll have to try it and see, eh?

Good article! Wondering where you’ll be on Christmas Day … I know where I’ll be!!! :-)

Donna

[Reply]

thinkCHUA Reply:

Lack of viewfinder actually gets easier as you use it. Instead of holding it up to your eye and squinting you can hold it comfortably and see the shot. The key is to hold with ONE hand and hold it like a steering wheel, firmly, but not white-knuckled. Give it a try with other people’s cameras during Christmas. We’ll be in Singapore with family, heading there tomorrow.

[Reply]

» BKA :
Dec 19, 2011

Another option is to travel with “professional photographers ” and bring a memory card to have them download all of there photos for our personal viewing pleasure…..that is my plan “downunder”……..peace……bka

[Reply]

» James Cook :
Dec 19, 2011

I agree about Panasonic being an amazing brand i own one of their point and shoots and it is great. I disagree about having the GPS. I would rather save the battery for taking more photos. I understand why it is appealing for some people though.

[Reply]

thinkCHUA Reply:

James, definitely agree the GPS burns batteries. We carry three batteries per camera, making that a non-issue. Having photos geotagged, especially when we’re on a motorcycle trip through the middle-of-nowhere certainly outweighs the work of keeping extra batteries charged.

Stay tuned for a future article on camera accessories we can’t live without (including extra batteries).

[Reply]

» d. heir :
Dec 29, 2011

Hi Chua,
im wondering about the Sony Nex 5 or nex 7 camera vs a dslr. can you advise if i should get it? whats the best place on the web to get one?

[Reply]

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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