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Best travel camera for beginners

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Hello, Sunshine! It’s been only a few years since I got myself interested in photography.  When I started looking for a camera, I read all the 3 249 677 posts about what is the best travel camera for beginners.  It turns out; there are no perfect best travel cameras.  That’s it! Best of luck with your researches!

pinnable picture How to choose the perfect travel camera girl taking a picture with a DSLR behind wild flowers
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Joke aside, there are no perfect cameras and photographers will tell you, it’s not the camera that makes the picture; it’s the one behind it.  There are no ideal cameras for travel, but there are excellent cameras for beginners. That being said, a good quality camera is likely to give you better quality images than your old iPhone 3 per se.   Therefore, here I am, rounding up the essential questions you should ask yourself before hitting the store, and some of my best picks for beginners will be shown in a second post.

Sunset at the beach
Sunset at the beach

Essentials factors to consider for a travel camera for beginners

Weight

In my opinion, the weight of the camera and the lenses to a certain extent is the most critical factor to consider when selecting a camera.  You MAY think you don’t mind carry an additional heavy item on your hike/walk/climb/visit, but trust me, you DO! Always remember that a camera never comes alone.  Indeed, you have the lens(es), stuff to clean the glass, filters, spare batteries, and so on.  The heavier the camera is, the more likely you are to leave it in your hotel room.

Ideally, aim for a camera weighing around 450g or less.

Iso

Secondly, the ISO of the camera should be a fundamental question.  If you are a real beginner like I was back then, you might be asking yourself: what the f*** is the ISO? Before furiously heading to Google, keep reading. In a straightforward explanation, the ISO is the sensor sensitivity to light.  When you are taking photos in a very bright environment, you want to lower your sensitivity, when shooting at night, you want to raise your ISO as much as possible to increase the sensitivity to light.  However, this sensitivity comes with a downside, the more you raise the ISO, the more grainy your image will be.  Obviously, most of your grainy photos can probably be saved post-processing, but it’s good to know that you should always keep the lowest possible ISO regarding the lighting circumstances.

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The capacity of any given camera to handle high ISO is different and largely depends on the sensor size.
A full-frame camera can take great photos up to 6400 or even 12 800, as opposed to my micro four-third, where pictures start to appear grainy as low as 800.

Sensor

Number of Megapixels

Speaking of sensor, let’s round up the relation between ISO, Sensor and Pixels.  Because of many people focusing mainly on the number of Megapixels, I thought it would be necessary to expose the information regarding the sensors and the megapixels. 

As a matter of fact, the number of megapixels doesn’t inform you of the picture quality you will be taking.  It’s mainly for the printing size. For instance, a 16 MP camera will allow you to print up to 11×16 in at 300ppi (pixel per inch), which is the general required quality for books and magazines.  Unless you plan a career change for tapestry production or if you plan to expose your photography in museums, I highly doubt that you will need more than 16MP.

Best travel camera for beginners
Washington Monument

Sensor size

Even so, the number of megapixels might not be so relevant; the sensor size matters.  Most men outside will tell you that size don’t matter but trust me, it does!

In this case, the sensor size will have an incidence on :

  • Low light performance
  • Pixels size
  • Focal distance

Before going into those characteristics into details, let’s have a look at the sensor sizes available on the market.

The smallest sensors you might face nowadays are likely your smartphone cameras’ sensors, which are typically around 1/3’’.  On point-and-shoot cameras, the sensor will usually be around 1/2.5’’.  If we focus on “grown-up” cameras, we have mainly three types of sensors

  • Micro four thirds
  • Crop sensor
  • Full-frame 35mm
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Full-Frame Sensors

Full-frame sensors are typically found on high quality super professional cameras. Repeat after me: I don’t need a full-frame camera.  Unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need to spend that much on a camera, plus they tend to be on the heavy side.  Full-frame cameras, on the other hand, handle low light situations beautifully.

If you have money to spend, be my guest, but if you are in the hunt for a travel camera for beginners, a full-frame is definitely not for beginners.

Crop sensors

Crop sensors are likely the most popular choice amongst photography enthusiasts.  Found on entry-level cameras on brands such as Sony, Nikon and Canon, they make an excellent choice for beginners.  Nikon DX and Sony E lines tend to have a slightly bigger sensor making them just ever so slightly better at handling low light situations than Canon.  Photography is basically physics at the arts’ service.  Therefore, the sensor size will have an incidence on your lens focal length.  Every photographer is head over heels about the 50 mm lens, remember that the crop equivalent for a 50mm is around 35mm.  This equivalence is called the crop factor and is about 1.5.

Micro four-thirds sensors

Apart from the crop sensors, we also have the micro four-thirds sensors, which are a unique type.  Found exclusively in Panasonic and Olympus, micro four-thirds cameras tend to be the smallest “professional-looking” device you can purchase.   The sensor is quite more modest than the crop option discussed above, making the micro 4/3 not so good at handling low-light situations, on the other hand, the crop factor being 2; the lenses are small and light.  The micro 4/3 50mm equivalent being 25mm, we can assume, as a rule of thumb, that glasses are about half the weight compared to a full-frame camera. Even so, it’s harder to get ultra-wide lenses because of the crop factor, in you are into landscape photography, the micro 4/3 might not be a good option.

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Although, because of the total weight and small size, I genuinely believe that micro 4/3 is a beginner-friendly option for a travel camera.

TimonWithNoise
Very little processed picture with high ISO 8000
TImonLuminance
Same picture, ISO 8000, processed with noise reduction

Lens variety

When choosing an interchangeable lens camera, one thing to check prior purchase will be the ease with which you will be able to grow. If you go for a DSLR Canon or Nikon, they have been around for about the past century; therefore, the lens selection is HUGE! If you choose a mirrorless Canon or Nikon, these models have been around for the past couple of years only; I would get additional information on the lens availability before committing.

TropicalFeel
Lens with wide aperture can help achieve the blurry background, because of the crop factor on micro 4/3, it’s a bit harder to achieve.

Mirrorless or DSLR

DSLR is the oldest technology available; it is robust and reliable.  Mirrorless technology is the newest kid on the block, might be a little bit slower to focus on moving subject, but they are lighter and smaller than the DSLR because, as their name indicates, they don’t have a mirror nor prism inside to capture the image.

DSLR will be faster and likely cheaper than mirrorless, but heavier and bigger.

panda

Take home message

If we focus on a travel camera for beginners, it all depends on the type of photography you plan to master.

Sports or wildlife photography

Micro 4/3 would be best since your lens will give you more “reach”.

Landscape or architecture photography

Crop sensor devices will be perfect for your needs.

Nighttime photography

It’s hard to get very good lowlight photography without a full-frame sensor, but as you could see with Timon’s pictures, I could achieve not so bad results post-processing the image. So please, refrain from purchasing a 4000 $ camera!

I hope these characteristics descriptions can help you round up your needs for your best travel camera for beginners, next post, I will share the best finds with you.

In the meantime, have a drink, stay for a while!

pinnable picture How to choose the perfect travel camera girl taking a picture with a DSRL in a city
pinnable picture How to choose the perfect travel camera with olympus camera and Lumix camera
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Comments

  1. Emma says

    This is really helpful. I’m pretty new to photography and have learned a bit over the last year but this helps too and gives me more to work with. I love taking photos but up until recently had no idea what half of the terms meant

    • Audrey says

      I always take my big purchase super seriously and dive deep into all the details, except for a car and a house, I let my husband handling those cases!

  2. Fiona Mai says

    This is such a useful guide for beginners. It’s also good that you’ve explained clearly some misunderstandings that beginners might have, such as the number of megapixels actually needed for your camera. My sister is 18 and has just started her travel blog. I’ve forwarded it to her to help her choose a suitable camera. Thanks for all your tips 🙂

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