The Best Camera for Travel Photography
After visiting 30 countries, I should probably feel disappointed in myself for not having ever carried a large camera with me. I should probably beat myself up over the fact that I’ve never set up a tripod or waited for the right moment to take a sunset photo in an exotic location. I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve seen some amazingly photogenic locations and if I were a professional photographer, I’d probably have a crisis about all those missed opportunities. But then again, maybe not. If you’re contemplating whether or not you should take a big camera and a heavy load of equipment with you on an international trip, you might actually regret it, even if you are a professional photographer.
I have a friend named “Kim” who is a professional photographer. She has quite a large stash of photo equipment and she knows how to use it. She waits for those magic sunset moments. But when she travels, she often feels conflicted. There’s something about the weight of the camera bag that makes her feel like an authentic photographer…a pro. But she has to admit that the weight of the bag is also a bit of a drag when she’s trying to have one of those unforgettable travel moments as mere human. So does she travel as a human? Or as a professional photographer? These days, she can do both.
The cameras on today’s mobile phones take high-quality photos that are just as good if not better than what an expensive digital camera can take. Mobile phones lack zoom functions and certain filters, but they make up for that with simplicity and user-friendliness. The lightweight portability of mobile phones makes it easier for travelers to snap photos or videos even when they weren’t expecting to even need a camera. And, on a smartphone, uploading and storing the photos is easy too. Camera technology has changed when, where and how photos are being taken in a way that’s even altered how professional photographers regard their heavy gear.
Is it better to take a simple photo using your phone? Or no photo at all? Is it better to take a photo using a special lens, a tripod, and other gear? Or could the mobile phone photo be modified later to achieve a similar effect? A big, expensive camera is more conspicuous than an iPhone when you’re walking down the street in Siem Reap, Cambodia or Mcleodganj, India. Are those awesome photos from the big camera worth it if you’re going to be targeted by pickpockets? These are questions that each traveler must answer for themselves. But for most of us, the answer is clear: leave the big camera at home and use your mobile phone camera instead.
Smartphone Lenses and Gear
If you’re conflicted because you like to have some zooming capabilities and you like to be creative by using different lenses when you take travel photos, consider purchasing some of the mobile phone camera lenses that are available online. I recently purchased a set of Insignia mobile phone lenses and a small tripod with my smartphone right before a trip to India last summer. The lenses and tripod take up very little space in my purse so I can take them with me anywhere. There’s a fish-eye lens and a panoramic lens in the kit as well as a macro lens to make tiny things seem big. A light is included for darkened spaces as well as a microphone and a bluetooth remote for taking photos of yourself from a distance (works well with the tripod). It all fits inside a bag that’s about 3” x 4” x 2”. I also have a 6 x 18 mm telephoto lens on my smartphone and I love it! Again, I’m not a professional photographer, but as a traveler, I enjoy having some extra lenses to add some bling to my special travel moments.
Photo Uploading and Storage for Travelers
If you decide to take your smartphone and use it as your one and only camera while you’re traveling, then photo uploading and storage will be a breeze for you. There’s no need to carry a lot of heavy gear with you if you plan to take travel photos on your smartphone. You don’t even need a laptop. All you need is an Internet connection and access to cloud storage to make sure you don’t lose all your photos as you make your way from here to there.
I speak from experience in terms of losing photos. Several years ago, while traveling in Mexico, our family was robbed. We were asleep in a vacation rental when someone broke in and stole all our laptops, John’s phone, our passports, and a few other small items. Obviously we lost all of the photos that were stored on our laptops and John’s phone. We learned from this experience to always get our photos off the hardware and onto the cloud as soon as possible when we’re traveling. If I can just upload our photos to Facebook, I know they’ll be there when we get home. John and I also learned to hide our laptops and phones in an unlikely location when we’re out and about or sleeping soundly. But the real lesson here is to use the cloud when you’re traveling. This is a better option than carrying a hard drive with you or a laptop that could get destroyed, stolen, or otherwise damaged in some way while you’re en route to your destination. If you don’t need to carry a laptop, by all means, leave it at home. We use iCloud and Dropbox when we upload our photos, but there are other cloud storage solutions available too. If you have an Android phone, get yourself an SD card to increase the number of photos and videos you can store.
So in summary, my opinion is that the best camera for travel is your smartphone. Always travel light, especially if you’re traveling to a third world country. A big camera around your neck or in your bag makes you a target when you’re trying to fit in with people who are poor and sometimes desperate. Big cameras weigh a lot and they can seriously subtract from the fun and adventure of traveling in third world countries. And you can get amazing photos on your smartphone. But ultimately, it’s up to you and only you can decide.