How To Take Better Travel Photographs: Choosing a Camera

This post was last updated on July 24th, 2014

This is the first post in a new series: How To Take Better Travel Photographs. Recently I’ve received a lot of great feedback about my photography (thanks, guys!) with requests for tips and tricks on how anyone can take better travel photographs. Well, you ask…we answer!

Even if you have no upcoming travel plans, you can still benefit from this series. 

 

We’re going to kick things off with the most basic aspect of photography: choosing a camera. It can be a daunting task, but I’m going to help you narrow down your options and find a camera that’s right for you. Let’s get started!

 

Mobile Devices

You probably already have a camera that you carry around with you everyday. I’m talking about your smart phone. Surprisingly enough, these pocket-sized cameras may be all you need (depending upon your photography goals). There is an amazing Flickr pool dedicated solely to iPhone photos, and looking at those masterpieces sometimes makes me want to chuck my big complicated DSLR out the window. Photography is about creating a powerful image, which a phone is more than capable of doing, hassle-free. But if you want to take your photography to the next level, then you’re going to want something with a little more flexibility and customization that a mobile device just can’t provide…yet.

 

Point-and-shoot

Honestly, if you are looking to buy a new camera, a point-and-shoot isn’t going to be much of an upgrade from your smart phone. Sure it’s got more zoom and better picture quality than your phone, but the quality and affordability of today’s DSLR cameras makes point-and-shoot cameras a middle ground you don’t really want to mess with. Unless you’ve got some excess dough laying around to grab a high end point-and-shoot, you may as well go for an entry level DSLR. You may want a point-and-shoot as a backup for your more powerful camera or maybe all you want is something you can pull out of your pocket to snap a selfie at the Eiffel Tower. But then again, you could just use your phone. Before I was brave enough to enter the realm of DSLR photography we used the Canon PowerShot and we loved it. We actually used it for many of the photos taken on our Vietnam cycling trip as it was much more manageable from the biker’s seat.

For all the times we have been in and around water, we wish we had had something like the Nikon 1 AW1; it’s the first waterproof camera with interchangeable lenses.

 

The DSLR Difference

If you’re really looking to take meaningful and lasting photographs that you can boast about to your friends and family, a DSLR is the way to go. You’ll pay a bit more, but for the quality you’ll receive it’s a wise investment. The only downside to DSLRs is the learning curve. Don’t worry; we’ll be continuing this series with tips and tricks on how to use your new DSLR.

 

Choosing a DSLR Camera for Beginners

I made the switch to DSLR when we first moved to Taiwan. I knew I wanted to take lots of high-quality pictures to remember our time there. I was recommended the Nikon D3000 (the exact same camera with which our engagement photos were taken) and I can’t imagine the transition from point-and-shoot to DSLR being any easier. Although the D3000 has more buttons than my grandmas sewing kit, it comes with a built in Guide Mode. If you scroll through the menu and hold down the ? button, the camera will actually tell you what the setting is and the ideal time to use it! I’ve heard the newer Nikon D3200 is even better. With 24 Mega-pixels (the little dots that make up your pictures) it has more than enough power to capture every detail, and is currently the most powerful DSLR in the entry-level market. The shutter speed tops out at a rate of 4 photos a second. It’s also got 11 auto-focus points to make sure the subject you want is in picture perfect focus. As a bonus it comes in at less than $500 so you’ll have more cash to take your sweetheart out to a nice Christmas dinner. Don’t forget to bring the camera!

 

You’ll notice I talk a lot about Nikons. That’s because it’s what I started out on. Canon is another household name when it comes to photography, and although I have not owned one, I have no reason to believe that they are anything less than awesome. (I prefer to stay out of the Canon vs. Nikon debate, as I don’t think one brand is necessarily better than the other.) That said, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is another good beginner camera at a comparable price, but with the addition of an articulating LCD screen for avid videographers.

Canon t3i

 

What I Use

I’ve sort of fallen into photography—something I certainly didn’t expect to happen. So after a few years using the Nikon D3000, I knew it was time to take my photography gear to the next level. I chose to upgrade to the Nikon D7100. With 24 Mega-pixels, a boosted 6 frames per second and a whooping 51 focus points that calculate everything from light and dark contrast to subject distance, this camera is like the D3200 on steroids. It takes pictures faster, crisper and requires less light than other cameras of comparable price. Some other features I’ve been playing with that take this camera above and beyond are the in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) and advanced movie settings like slow motion and time-lapse sequences. Coupled with the kit lens, this camera also provides sufficient zoom to capture your subject without disturbing it. I’m still learning new things about this camera everyday, which is awesome.

Nikon D7100

 

If you’re into Canon they’ve got a similar model by the name of the Canon EOS 7D which also produces amazing quality images. This is another great camera for real enthusiasts or semi-professionals looking for a solid camera that will keep your creative photography juices flowing for years.

 

I’ve stuck with Nikon and have had no reason to switch, but if you prefer Canon then the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is also getting a lot of positive chatter these days…once you get past the price tag. At a hefty $3,299 for just the body and no lens, it’s really an investment for those serious about getting the best. This camera is in a class all it’s own.

Canon 5D Mark 3

 

Our Christmas Wish List

If there is one camera purchase we will be making this year it will be the newest edition of the GoPro. If you’re doing a lot of outdoor adventure activities, then this is the camera for you.  It pretty much dominates the action market, and for good reason. It’s small, durable, easy to use, and produces great photos and videos. What more could you want?

GoPro

With Black Friday coming up in just a few days, we hope this list came at a convenient time. As a note: all the above links are our affiliate links. By making a purchase from the links above, we will make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

While choosing your camera is an important step, it’s only the beginning. Stay tuned- next up we’ll be talking about composing the perfect photograph.

 

There are tons of cameras out there and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to hear from you! What camera do you use for your travel photography? Will you be upgrading to a new camera soon?

 

Further Reading

Natural Light: Explains the different qualities of natural light and how to use them to your advantage.

The Exposure Triangle: Discusses the 3 parts of the exposure triangle and how they affect your photos.

Understanding the Histogram: Learn how this graph can inform you about everything in your image.

Composition: An introduction to the artistic side of creating an eye-catching photo.

Dan R Moore Photo Shop: Discover and purchase photos from around the world.

 

29 Comments

  1. Yay! I’ve been waiting for some tips from my favorite published photographer! Thanks for doing this series!

    Reply
  2. I’m sure a lot of people will find this post a great primer, Dan! Choosing a camera is just about the hardest part of photography these days.

    A couple of things I think are worth mentioning though… First, I don’t think point and shoots still dwell in quite the no man’s land as you say. I would agree and say most any point and shoots will give better quality than a cell phone, because, for the most part their lenses are far better (read: not plastic) and this makes a lot of difference. And this is before you even look at large sensor “advanced” point and shoots like the Sony RX100. The quality and range of modern point and shoots is getting, frankly, impressive (look at the Fuji x100s, the Ricoh GR and the Panasonic LX-7 for starters), and while some might not be quite as good as a DSLR, they’ve gotten astonishingly close (though some use the same size sensor, so they actually are just as good…) and would make a great choice for most anyone, especially if they find DLSRs intimidating, or just aren’t THAT into photography. It’s a rare day that I would recommend that anyone use a cellphone as their primary camera.

    Also, you included the Nikon 1 in the point and shoot category, but it has interchangeable lenses, meaning it’s not actually a point and shoot, but that’s just me being picky :)

    The last thing: I’d say the Canon 5d MIII is a pretty big jump up from the Nikon D7100, since it has a bigger sensor and is considered to be one of the best DSLRs on the market, maybe the Canon 7D would be a better parallel?

    Anyway, I used to shoot Nikons (among others) back when I shot film, then switched solely to Canon when I went digital. However, before our trip I sold all my Canon gear in favor of the micro four thirds system, and haven’t looked back since. In my opinion, the newest micro four thirds cameras provide nearly the same image quality as the much heavier, bulkier APS-C DSLR cameras, and are so much easier on my neck (currently my entire kit weighs less than my old Canon and one lens) :) Plus, some of the best lenses on the market are made for this system. I really think it’s a system that is worth looking into if you’re a traveler who wants to take great photos, but wants a discrete, easy to carry camera. I’d say that for the best ratio of convenience to quality, mirrorless cameras like the micro four thirds or NEX system can’t be beat. As to upgrades, currently I’m dreaming about either the Panasonic GX-7 or the Olympus EM-1. I’ll need a benefactor first though :)
    Tony @ 20yearshence.com recently posted…Celebrating 15 Months of Travel: 10 Things We’ve Done Wrong & 5 Things We’ve Done RightMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks for all the feedback Tony! I really appreciate you sharing your expertise. :-) It’s good to know that there are still proponents for the point-and-shoot category. I will be interested to see how they evolve in the future in terms of image quality. Unfortunately it looks like the really good point-and-shoots are pretty expensive, even more so than a DSLR! We were actually talking to a staff member at a local electronics store who was under the impression that even DSLRs will soon be a thing of the past while mobile device cameras will dominate. I still bought the D7100 :-p

      I’m glad you mentioned the Canon 7D as it was the alternative I was looking at before deciding on the Nikon D7100 (and actually the one Casey was pushing for). I honestly meant to include it as the comparison in the list, with the Canon 5d MIII in a league of its own, and I’m not quite sure how I forgot. I’m going to edit it though to include the Canon 7D-thanks for pointing that out!

      I decided not to include the various mirrorless options as I have never had the chance to get my hands on one. But I see how they can be the perfect option for traveling as they are much lighter and more discrete than your typical attention grabbing DSLR. I haven’t heard much talk about them either, so I’m really glad to hear that you’ve had a great experience with them! Maybe that will be how I expand my collection… haha I hear you on the benefactor thing!

      Reply
  3. Interesting article and thanks for the insight.

    I spent about a year travelling around the world with an SLR and a compact and to be honest it was such a pain lugging around the SLR. Yes there were great pictures but it was bulky, more luggage and often got in the way or required a shoulder strap.

    I much prefer a compact which I can hide in my pocket and use as and when. Compact cameras have come on a long way in the last decade. I do have a DSLR but it is a long time since I used. I will gradually upgrade my compact since the higher the price range the higher the potential.
    The Guy recently posted…Review Of TAP Portugal – A Story Of Two FlightsMy Profile

    Reply
    • The size of DSLRs can definitely be a drawback if you’re looking to stay ultralight. Casey usually packs a suitcase and a half so I’m left with whatever’s left. Usually that involves camera space and a change of clothes :-p You should check out Tony’s comment about mirrorless cameras- maybe those would be of interest to you :-)

      Reply
    • You can probably tell that I’m a huge fan of DSLRs :-) If you’re going to make an investment, then in my humble opinion a DSLR is your best choice.

      Reply
    • Welcome to the DSLR world! Glad you’re enjoying it so far :-) Hopefully the rest of the series will help you get those good photos you’re after more frequently.

      Reply
  4. When I started travelling I was using a very small portable and bad quality camera and I remember going to Beijing and not being able to capture the moment properly. After a month I bought a new camera (Sony Alfa Nex3, 16-50mm power zoom lenses which is small and handy, just perfect for my travels). I agree, the proper photography equipment is crucial for travel bloggers.
    Agness recently posted…Lisbon For Less Than $25 A DayMy Profile

    Reply
    • When I look back at photos from my first travels the quality is so sad compared to what I am able to capture today. I’m so glad I am now able to accurately portray the beauty of our travels :-) How long have you had the Sony Alfa Nex3?

      Reply
  5. We have a Canon Powershoot, and Zab has recently convinced me that we should upgrade to a DSLR. My only reservation is the weight; I don’t want something heavier to carry! So, he’s on a misson to find the least bulky, lightest possible option!
    Sam recently posted…Finding Beauty in…GuayaquilMy Profile

    Reply
    • I love my DSLR (as you can probably tell :-p) and the size doesn’t bother me at all. I have had no problem carrying it around in my hand while hiking, but if you’re looking for something a bit smaller Sony’s NEX series seems to be impressing lots of people these days. I’ve never used it myself but it might be worth looking into :-)

      Reply
  6. I am already Cannon and was about to upgrade to the EOS70D when I began looking at the micro 4/3 cameras, still allowing me creativity, yet smaller and lighter for travel. Just curious if you looked at the Olympus OM-D EM-5?
    Rhonda Albom recently posted…Celebrating Two NaNoWriMo Winners in the Family!My Profile

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried out the micro 4/3 cameras which is why I haven’t directly recommended any. For me, I rely on my optical viewfinder for nearly ever picture I take. The d7100 includes a digital live option on the LCD screen but can lag and is very difficult to see in bright conditions. I believe that seeing what my camera sees (not a digitally constructed image) is a big advantage which would be lost using a mirrorless camera. But then again I’ve never actually tried one :-)

      Reply
    • I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been to timid to take my DSLR on boats and dive trips. I’ve got friends who have captured some amazing footage with the waterproof housing on the GoPro.

      Reply
  7. I also have a Canon EOS Rebel T3i, and I love it, as it isn’t as heavy as other DSLRs. I also have a point and shoot and use my iPhone all the time, so I am a bit of a photo geek. I would love to get my hands on a go pro one day too though. Am I obsessive?
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…My packing list for Everest Base CampMy Profile

    Reply
    • Not at all! You never know what the occasion will call for :) We’ve only heard good things about the GoPro, so I think it’s a great investment!

      Reply
  8. I just returned from three weeks in Thailand and used my Sony RX100 point and shoot almost exclusively over my Nikon D7100 SLR. The much smaller Sony was easier to carry around, fit in my purse or pocket and I got pictures I am proud of.
    Joanne Joseph recently posted…20 interesting things I learned about ThailandMy Profile

    Reply
    • Even if the Nikon D7100 is a bit bigger I still take it with me everywhere I go. I’m glad you were able to get some good shots with the Sony RX100 :-)

      Reply
  9. Loved this! I agree on so many aspects. I’ve been dreaming about the D7100 for quite some time now! I’m so jealous! :D

    I use the Nikon D40 – an older camera that I’m starting to get a little annoyed with. It only has 3 focus points and no video recording option. I’m also not getting the best quality of photos with it. I have three lenses: the 18-55mm, a 50mm f/1.8 and just got a 55-300mm just yesterday!

    I will upgrade soon to the D7100. Great thing is that I can just use my lenses with it! Can’t wait. Love to take photos. :)
    Celia recently posted…Photo Essay: My African Dream – Part 2My Profile

    Reply
    • Awesome! That’s really great that you can still use the lenses on the upgrade. Yea I love my D7100- definitely recommend it!

      Reply
  10. Hey Dan,

    Good write-up ! I’m loyal to Nikon too, and have been shooting with my D80 for the longest time, and am about to plunge into the world of full frame cameras and get a D610. Gulp! As you already know, it’s a slipper slope when it comes to investment ;)

    One thing that I would like to add is that although the camera plays an important role, I feel the choice of lenses (and of course the photographer’s technique and eye) is what really brings out the best. For the first 2 years, I used the kit lens, which was good but didn’t bring out the best in my camera. I then switched to prime lenses, and the difference was amazing. For versatility though, zoom lenses still remain a favourite.

    Nice one!

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Glad to hear there’s another Nikon fan out there :-) I’d love to hear how the move to full frame goes for you! I haven’t had the ability to experiment with a wide range of lenses and the thought of carrying around multiple lenses while traveling can be daunting for many. For me the performance of Nikon D7100 kit lens has been remarkable. I think a quality zoom lens will be my next upgrade though. Any recommendations? Thanks for sharing! :-)

      Reply
  11. What a great post! It certainly is a confusing decision to make when you’re bombarded with all these choices… Sometimes I just default to my iPhone. We bought a Cannon T3i and the learning curve has been steep. Fortunately our son helps us out…

    Our son’s business is in-studio video (for small business) but as a hobby he travels and does videos for non-profits. He’s been using the Cannon T2i and a GoPro. Just recently he bought a Black Magic Cinema camera. (that’s w-a-y-way-way beyond what my hubby & I would try)

    I’ve subscribed to your posts so we can learn more from your tutorials! Thanks for providing them…

    ps – I had to laugh at your “about” page. My hubby and I met when we were 15 & 17… got married at 19 & 21. Our intention was to travel. However. Two kids, and a career got in the way. Now – 30 years later, our kids are grown and in 2014 we’ll be starting our travel adventure! Better late than never, huh? :-)
    Lori recently posted…Words to EncourageMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the comment and subscribing Lori! That’s super exciting you’ll be off exploring the world in 2014! I can’t wait to see what you find :-)

      Reply
  12. Hello Dan,

    I just stumbled across this article (a little late I know). Nevertheless it still applies and I found it very interesting. One thing that you did not seem to mention (unless I missed it) is the new kid on the blog…..the ‘System Camera’.
    I was wondering what you think about them and whether they are worthy when it come to choosing a camera?
    I read on http://www.geofflawrence.com/choosing_a_camera.html they are about the same price as some DSLRs and the lenses are interchangeable, but they are closer to the size of a compact camera.
    What are you thoughts on the subject when looking at the price, size and quality?

    Alex

    Reply

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