The ultimate guide to buying a camera for travel photography

Travel Trip Map Direction Exploration Planning Concept

 

The question I am being asked the most asked is what camera do I shot with. Here is the short answer: a Nikon D3300 and a 35mm f/1.8 lens. I like to travel light!

Since I have met a lot of people asking me for advices on buying a travel camera, I thought I should make a guide to help people decide on what is best for them. There is a good news and a bad news.

Let’s start with the bad news. No solution fits all. If you are currently thinking about buying camera for travel photography, there is no such thing as a unique answer. However, the good news is that you have a lot of option!

First thing first. A camera is composed of a body and a lens. There is mainly two kind of bodies. The ones with an APSC sensor and the one with a Full Frame sensor. If you reading this article, you are most likely to be interested with an APSC sensor. The only one difference between both is the size of the sensor ; the second one being much more expensive.

The second most important thing is the lens. A lens has 3 main factors: flexibility, quality and budget. Unless you have a high budget, you will need to decide between flexibility and quality!

 

WHAT MEANS FLEXIBILITY?

 

Flexibility is the ability to use a single lens to shoot different kind of scenes: landscape, architecture, street, portrait and so on. In technical terms, it is called the focal lengh which is expressed in millimeters.

Flexibility is also about the weight of the lens.

Commonly, we assume that Zoom lenses are flexible and that Prime lenses are not.

 

WHAT MEANS QUALITY?

 

Quality obviously means the quality of the images you can get from your camera. A lens is the thing that impact the most the image quality, not the body of the camera itself.

Quality also concerns your ISO ability of your camera body. ISO is a metric which impact the ability of your camera to shoot in low light environment.
The depth of field is the ability of your lens to seperate a subject from the background by blurring out-of-focus areas in your picture. These blurred areas are technicaly called Bokeh. The depth of field is impacted by the aperture of your lens which is expressed in f/. The lower the number, the better is depth of field. The picture illustrate the depth of field. You can notice that the background is blurred.

 

DSC_0328_taman_negara_malaysia

 

Commonly, we assume that inexpensive zoom lenses have a bad image quality but that expensive zoom lenses have a good image quality. However, inexpensive prime lenses have a good image quality.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ZOOM AND PRIME LENSES?

 

A zoom lens allow you to zoom in and zoom out. It means that you have a lot of focal lenghts therefore you can cover different types of photography: landscape, architecture, street, portrait and so on.

A prime lens is a fixed lens. It means that you only have one focal lenght therefore you can cover one main type of photography. It does not mean that you will not be able to cover other types of photography but it will be much harder.

 

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN INTO LENS OPTIONS

 

Below are three main options depending on your budget.

High Budget = High Flexibility + High Quality
Commonly used lenses: 17-55mm f/2.8 (APSC sensor) or 24-70mm f/2.8 (Full Frame sensor)

Low Budget = High Flexibility + Low Quality
Commonly used lens: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (APSC sensor)

Low Budget = High Quality + Low Flexibility
Commonly used lenses: 24mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.8 (nb: a 50mm on an APSC sensor will be extremely tough to handle for traveling).

 

DO YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC STYLE OF PHOTOGRAPHY?

 

Below are a few additional options based on your style of photography.

Landscape and architecture:
Commonly used lens: Every zoom or prime lenses that range from 10mm to 18mm.

 

DSC_0794_sapa_vietnam

 

Portrait:
Commonly used lens: 50mm, 85mm, 105mm and 70-200mm.

 

DSC_0766_sapa_vietnam

 

Street:
Commonly used lenses: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 16-35mm.

 

DSC_1086_bangkok_thailand

 

WHAT DO I USE AND WHY DO I USE THIS GEAR?

 

I use a Nikon D3300 and a 35mm f/1.8 lens. I like to travel light!

 

35mm-dx-lens

 

My style of photography is more oriented to street photography. Since I am traveling, I have to cover every kind of photography: landscape, architecture, street and portrait. This is a real challenge as I can not always frame the way I want. I have to be really creative and it is really frustrating sometimes not to get the flexibility of a zoom lens.

You might asked yourself why I choose a prime instead of a zoom. The image quality and especially the depth of field are a million times more important than the flexibility in my opinion. I use a 35mm on an APSC sensor which is close to a 50mm on a Full Frame sensor. This is the closest focal length to what the human eye capture. It is sometimes boring to always get the flat look of a 50mm compared to the dynamism that a wide angle lens provides. However, I aim to show the beauty of every single plave I visit in the closest way to what I have experienced myself.

On top, weight is one of the most important thing when traveling in my opinion. This is why I only travel with a single lens. Plus I find it annoying to change lenses all the time. As I can not afford an expensive zoom lens with a good image quality, the choice was quite straight forward. I wish a 24mm prime lens existed for Nikon as it fits better my style of photography.

 

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON BUYING A CAMERA?

 

I have seen a countless number of travelers with camera gear worth over 3000€ shooting manual mode. Despite photography is more about the composition than the technique itself in my opinion, I find that spending this much money without knowing what you are doing is like throwing your money out of the window.

Keep in mind that it is the photographer that makes the photography. It is all about what you see and observe in the first place. Gear does not matter … this much.

Most standard camera kits go for under 600€ or 700€. It would probably be half price if you buy a secondhand camera.

 

WHAT CAMERA AND LENS SHOULD YOU BUY?

 

If you are a beginner in the photography world, I highly recommend buying a DSLR or Mirrorless camera with a standard 18-55mm kit lens. These go for quite a fair price and will allow you to cover 99% of the photographs you will take while traveling.

If you can add a few coins, try to buy a body with an excellent ISO ability.
If you really get into it, you will want to upgrade your gear later. The best option is actually buying a secondhand camera.

I hope this guide give you more information and advices on which camera gear should you buy for travel. Let me know in the comment section if you have any questions!

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