Photographs are an important part of the travel experience. Your budget is a key part of choosing the right camera for travel. There’s no point dreaming about a high-end camera if you only have a couple of hundred dollars to spend.
Budget is a personal consideration, but there are a few things to remember that folks sometimes forget:
First, the accessories. When you buy a camera, you’re going to want to pick up a high-capacity memory card ($20–40), a case or bag ($10–200), a spare battery ($10–50), and maybe filters or a tripod. If you buy an interchangeable lens camera, think about the cost of any extra lenses as well.
Second, remember that travel can sometimes be risky. Things can be lost or stolen, and you need to think about what value of equipment you’re comfortable having with you. It’s also worth checking what your travel insurance will cover — most policies have relatively low single-item limits, so for high value equipment, you might have to consider specialty insurance.
There are good camera options at a variety of price points. For under $400, look at a compact point-and-shoot or an action camera like a GoPro, or spend that money upgrading your smartphone. The sweet-spot budget of $400–800 really opens up more possibilities, including some excellent mirrorless and entry-level DSLR options.
Above $800 and you are venturing into “prosumer” and professional territory. Unless you’re planning on going pro at some point, or want to really focus on night or action photography, you don’t need to spend over $800 on a travel camera.
Camera equipment ranges from the “slip it into your pocket” portability of a smartphone or point-and-shoot to some backbreaking professional lens setups.
As photography is my thing, I carry about 20 lbs. of camera equipment and accessories. That is definitely too much for most users, though.
The most important decision regarding weight is only to invest in a camera system that you are going to want to carry with you. You need to be honest with yourself here. Having a camera that lives in your hotel room while you’re out traveling is a poor investment.
If you’re one of those “passport and a toothbrush” style of travelers, then you’ll want the lightest option possible — either your smartphone, a small point-and-shoot, or an action camera like a GoPro.
A top-of-the-range DSLR or mirrorless camera is capable of taking great photos, but if you don’t know how to use it, you’ll probably get better results from a smartphone.