When I got the 400th message asking, “Which camera is best for both travel and home?” and “How do I get great photos as easily and affordably as possible?” I knew it was time to write an article on the topic instead of continuing to individually answer each query. I hope this post helps you on your photographic journey!
The answer to which camera is best for YOU depends on how you plan to use your gear. Below, I lay out a range of options based on my own camera progression, as I’ve steadily upgraded my photo goods each year since starting this site in 2009, and thus have experienced several levels of equipment. Some links here are affiliates, and any purchases support this site at no extra cost to you. Enjoy!
4) The Tiny, Affordable Camera:
The Canon PowerShot ELPH (See on Amazon) (See on Canon’s site) was what I used and loved from 2009 to 2011, and clearly it served me well, providing the first thousand photos for the early years of this site! It’s extremely small and inexpensive (you can usually find it for under $200, plus or minus some loot depending on additional features), but it still provides quality photos. This is an excellent point-and-shoot starter choice.
3) The Most Convenient Camera:
The iPhone and Samsung Galaxy (See phones on Amazon) burst into my life in 2011, and opened the world of mobile phone photography. The saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you” is deeply true with smartphones, as I’ve caught some of my favorite pictures because I was able to whip out my phone instead of hunt for the “big camera.”
Sure, the quality isn’t up to par with a “real” camera, but in good light, or with newer phone models, it sure comes close, and the fact that you always have it with you means you can frame those precious moments in time. My guess is that if you’re reading this, however, you already have a phone that you take tons of photos with, and you’re looking to add a nicer quality camera into the mix. Sweet! Read on.
2) The Superior Quality Point-&-Shoot Camera:
I got the Canon G9X (See on Amazon) (See on Canon’s site) in 2012 when my website took off as a business, and I craved a camera upgrade. The G9X is still a point-and-shoot (no interchangeable lenses), and is compact enough to fit in a purse, but the capabilities and image quality are exceptional.
As I began to shoot in RAW format and edit my photos with professional software, Lightroom, I swooned at the quality improvement. And this camera isn’t just for amateurs — I know several prominent travel bloggers who use and recommend the G9X for many levels of photographer.
1) My #1 Camera Pick for Travel and Home:
The Sony a5100 (See on Amazon) (See on FocusCamera) has made me extremely happy since I purchased it in 2014, providing professional photo capabilities in an easy-to-use, affordable, not-too-large package. This is the camera I most recommend to people who want a big step up from point-and-shoot cameras without the bulk, complexity, and expense of a DSLR.
In fact, these “mirrorless” cameras with changeable lenses are becoming the hot thing with professionals and amateurs alike. I’ve also heard great things about another affordable mirrorless, the Sony a6000, but it doesn’t provide a flip-up selfie screen like the a5100, and I want my selfies!
DON’T FORGET These Essential Camera Add-Ons:
At this point, you may have picked a camera, but don’t stop there! A few dollars more can save you a whole bunch of trouble. (Yes, I learned the importance of each of these camera add-on features the hard way.) Consider getting the following.
- A larger memory card is absolutely vital for travel, no matter which camera you have. You do NOT want to run out of room on your card right as you step into the Taj Mahal!
- A Lens Pen (I love these) or other quality method to keep your camera clean is so worth the few bucks it costs. A grucky camera lens can trash all your vacation photos.
- Camera bags and/or lens cases make a world of difference in keeping your equipment safe. I realized this the day I smashed my first Sony a5100 on the steps of the White House!
- A FREE boost: Every few months, camera companies release what’s called a firmware update that you swoosh into your camera by plugging it into a computer. Periodically do an online search for this so your camera remains updated. (Yes, I went 8 years of intensive photography without realizing this essential element of camera ownership. Once I updated my Sony, it started focusing much more quickly.)
Lens Upgrades: The Key to Better Photos…
Now that I have a camera that allows lens changes, I’m realizing just how important that snout is. The 16-55mm zoom “Kit Lens” that the Sony a5100 comes with is quite good, and I’d recommend sticking with that at first as you get the feel for the camera. It’s particularly good for wide-angle landscape and architecture shots, and for anything with good light.
When you’ll want to upgrade the lens, however, is when you’re ready for super-sharp close-ups with artsy blurred backgrounds (“bokeh”). For this, I am rapturously enjoying my 50mm f1.8 fixed prime lens (which doesn’t zoom and isn’t great at big-picture landscapes, but is stunning for portraits and food photography). I used it to take the following picture of my daughter that makes me go, “WHAAA!”
The other lens that is a nice upgrade to the Sony Kit Lens is any serious telephoto zoom. I just got a 55-210mm zoom lens because I found a refurbished one on super sale, but if money were no object, a 24-240mm lens is what my photography mentor most recommends, since you can get the wide-angle landscape shots much better with the 24mm end, meaning that for big-picture photography, you wouldn’t have to switch back to the kit lens (or another zoomed out glass) like I still do.
Dec. 2018 edit: I now use a Zeiss 16-70mm lens that I LOVE which I found on sale, used, at a local camera store.
Other Tips for Excellent Photos:
- The more practice you get with your camera, the better photographer you become. It’s a mathematical fact! To experiment with more high-end cameras or lenses without buying, try borrowing from friends, or using a service like BorrowLenses, a photography equipment rental site my chums rave about. Renting is perfect for big trips like safaris, which need one-time-only intensive equipment.
- Explore using online software to edit your photos, even briefly. I use and love Lightroom through the Adobe Creative Cloud monthly subscription, but you may prefer something simpler or free.
- Back up photos. I use both Amazon Drive (free photo storage with Amazon Prime) and a large External Hard Drive… but I’m obsessive about keeping all my pictures safe!
- Periodically print photos and photo books to decorate your house and give as gifts! The service I use the most is CVS Photo (just make sure to choose the highest quality printing option), but I also dig AdoramaPix, Canvas World, and Walgreens Photo.
An Even Higher Level of Photos:
Sure, there are way more expensive cameras than the ones I’ve recommended, but consider: might it not make more sense to just periodically get great photographers to take photos of you and yours with their ultra-fancy equipment? Sometimes friends or family will do this for free, as my photographer cousin did with the photo, below, snapped with his swanky Canon 6D. We also hire local professionals to photograph us every few years, which are always so worth it.
But… what if you want awesome photos while you’re traveling? Enter a new service that I was so excited to learn about: Flytographer, a professional photographer who meets and photographs you AT your vacation destination! I haven’t tried it out yet myself, but all the results I’ve seen from others who’ve used it have been incredible, and make me eager to sign up.
Phew! That was a lot of information, and I do hope it’s helpful. I’m glad to have taken the time to type it all up in one place so that when people ask for camera and photography advice, I can now just send them this link. Efficiency! And now, allow me to leave you with a sublime moment of hair fashion that only my spiffy mirrorless camera and upgraded lens could capture right…
Now, bear in mind that I am a self-taught photographer who is not yet an official “professional” in the field (though I do estimate that I’ve taken and published tens of thousands of photos over the past eight years of running this blog), so I still have a great deal to learn, and there are many great cameras out there that I haven’t yet tried. However, as a traveler and parent, I sure know the importance of an easy, affordable, quality camera, and bet you do, too. I welcome your questions and thoughts in the comments section. Do share!