How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for Traveling

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Some people love to go camera shopping and others dread it.  Some find it fun, others find it difficult.  The simple truth about finding the best digital camera these days is that almost any will do for most people.  But there are some things to consider if you are a traveler and if you can spend a little extra time deciding on the best digital camera, you can find one that stands out above the crowd.

The good news about digital cameras is that while the market has created hundreds of modern models, the quality has become top notch.  Just about any digital camera will take perfectly acceptable photos out of the box for nearly every user.  But what can you look for if you’re a traveler?  There are certain things travelers demand out of cameras and taking time to consider these can be very beneficial.

Megapixels

Several years ago the megapixel war started.  Manufacturers started squeezing more and more megapixels out of their sensors and consumers were swayed by the higher ratings.  Don’t fall for this marketing push.  Chances are you won’t notice a difference between 6mp or 8mp, or even 10mp.  You probably can’t purchase anything below 6mp these days but for printing, I wouldn’t go any lower.  Anything above that is overkill so don’t let yourself get fooled into paying more for a camera just because it has a slightly higher megapixel rating.

Lens

Most people will never take a second thought about the lens on their digital camera but travelers should consider finding a camera with a wide-angle lens.  Most wide angle lenses have a focal length of 28mm as opposed to the standard 35mm.  It may not sound like much, but it is very noticeable and can mean the difference between fitting that entire statue in your frame, or cutting off its head or feet.

You’ll often find yourself in places where you have no control over whether or not you can move to get a different view.  A wider lens will allow you fit more in your frame whether you are indoors or taking pictures of landscapes.  Once you shoot with a wide lens, you’ll never buy another camera without one.

You should also take a look at the optical zoom range of a lens.  3x is pretty standard but higher is nice, although it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Always ignore the digital zoom rating of a lens.  Digital zoom is another marketing tactic and results in a terrible looking photograph.  Turn off digital zoom in your camera and never use it (it is typically marked by a line in your zoom meter on the camera’s LCD screen).  Manufacturers will often put a ridiculous zoom rating such as 12x or higher on their packaging to entice customers who aren’t knowledgeable about digital cameras.  If you accidentally use your digital zoom, you’ll be very disappointed once you look at the photograph on your computer and see that it is unusable.  All a digital zoom function does is increase the size of your pixels to the point that they look like big ugly blocks.

Battery

Some budget priced digital cameras will use replaceable AA batteries which many people like since you can find them anywhere, but those same people haven’t tried shopping in a souk in Morocco.  Most digital cameras made today include a rechargeable battery.  I’ve never had one last less than 2-3 days of moderate use which is respectable.  They all come with their own battery chargers which, from my experience, are always multi-voltage.  The only thing you’ll need is a plug adapter to plug it in to foreign outlets.

Weather-resistance

Over the past couple of years manufacturers like Olympus and Pentax have been producing waterproof models that can not only get wet, but be fully submerged in moderate depths of water.  They don’t cost much more than an equivalent camera so these are good options for travelers who enjoy snorkeling or other water sports.

I have used and enjoyed both the Olympus 1030SW and the 1050SW. Amazon typically has some great prices on these models so check them out. The new Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 is pretty enticing.

Pocketability

I just made that word up.  I don’t know if it really exists or not but it describes the final thing that you should consider when buying a digital camera for travel.  Size.  I use professional digital SLR equipment for lots of things, but not travel.  I find it too difficult to carry it around so I found a camera that has all features I need and also fits inside my pocket.  It’s convenient and will let you take photos when you might have otherwise left your camera behind.

The good news is that most cameras now are relatively small and easy to conceal.  Check if the lens protrudes from the body when not in use.  There are also a few models out there that have a grip on the right side of the camera which make it difficult to slip into your pocket.

Recommendations

It’s hard to recommend specific models since new ones are released every few months.  For my money, I always look at Nikon and Canon first.  They’re all I use for my professional photography and I have found their compact digital cameras to be just as good of quality as their higher end models.

If you have any questions or recommendations on digital cameras please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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11 Replies to “How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for Traveling”

  1. Thanks for this article. I agree with you, I only look at Nikon or Canon cameras. I currently have a Canon which I’m very pleased with. One factor I also look for is an image stabiliser, handy if you’re taking a picture from a moving vehicle or if you have shaky hands!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Great post,

    I’m looking at the moment myself. I’m surprised the Panasonic Lumix range haven’t been mentioned though, considering they received the best travel camera in the world award for the last couple of years. Sorry, i don’t have the time to find the link to the awards but a quick google search should point you there.

    Anyhow, the top notch one is the TZ7 (link below)
    http://panasonic.com.au/products/details.cfm?productid=7160&contextID=6

    Though the TZ6 is perfectly adequate for most people, the only difference is a 2.7 as opposed to a 3.0″ LCD screen and 10mp as opposed to 12mp. it costs around $100-150 less. (link below)
    http://panasonic.com.au/products/details.cfm?objectID=4898

    For the rugged camera (waterproof, dust proof, shock resistant), Panasonic have just released this little beauty, which uses the same award winning Lumix technology and wide angle Leica lens. (link below)
    http://panasonic.com.au/products/details.cfm?objectID=4956

    Hope that helps!

    Cj

    1. CJ,

      You’ll hear no knocks about Panasonic’s from me. From the browsing online I’ve done they seem top notch but to be honest, I don’t know anybody who has owned or even used one. They have some enticing models that are worth checking out.

  3. 2 cents:
    I think Panasonic point and shoots are GREAT. For the money, I would put them at 2nd on my list of pocket cams. Number one is Canon. IMO

    I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of Nikon in the point and shoot area as I find the image detail a bit blurry, and the LCD screens are a joke. Sounds strange from a guy that ONLY shoots Nikon DSLRs huh? I have used and know a few people with Panasonic Lumix pocket cams which go all the way up to a 10x Optical zoom and shoot really, really well in low light.

    My newest pocket cam (2 weeks old) is a Canon SD780. It packs some serious features into a VERY small package. A 12.1 megapixel (just in case you want to make a poster of your image) automatic ‘scene’ detection … if you’d prefer fully full auto. And my FAVORITE thing about this camera…720p HD video function! The quality of the video capture is BETTER than my Flip MinoHD cam, and considering this camera ALSO shoots beautiful still pics, you can leave your video camera at home. Brilliant!

    One more thing! Don’t forget to purchase an EyeFi Explore Wireless SD card for your new camera. If you are a traveler, and you wouldn’t be here at havepack.com if you’re not, you’ll LOVE the geotagging feature, and new wireless video uploading to flickr and other photo sites!

  4. Great post! Also enjoyed your 10 Travel Photography Tips. I actually just received a Canon PowerShot SX10 for a birthday present and am loving it. I’m no pro tho, so I’m still trying to figure out how to take great sunset/sunrise photos with it. Or scenery in general. I always seem to mess up some settings and what not..

    What I do enjoy however, is the Super Macro and the 20x Zoom Lens. Sounds like overkill actually, and it probably is, but it’s a lot of fun!

    Tips would be appreciated =)

    Cheers,

    -Nik

  5. I have the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ25 and I love it! The zoom is strong at 10x and above all the colours are true. That was the main reason why I chose it rather the others with similar characteristics. And very important when you are shooting in places with a great light like on the Amalfi Coast.
    Great tips and blog overall!

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