The Backpacker’s Dilemma: What Kind of Camera Should You Take Traveling?

Your packing list for an upcoming vacation or study abroad trip is probably long enough already, but one thing that you can’t leave behind is a quality camera to capture the scenic views, delectably exotic meals, and “wow I can’t believe we just did that!” moments. Your standard cellphone camera isn’t going to cut it – so what camera will?

In recent years, there have been a lot of improvements to camera and video technology, and with expanded choices for camera equipment, you might be a little overwhelmed if you don’t have lots of experience with photography or videography. Our software helps university libraries and AV departments rent out camera equipment for a wide variety of projects, ranging from documentary film making to public access television products, and we make sure to stay up-to-date on the best camera types for any situation. So when it comes to renting or buying camera equipment for your travels, our infographic below lays out your main options:

The best types of camera for travel, point-and-shoot, DSLR, mirrorless and GoPro compared

Most travelers will find themselves looking at four different types of camera:

  • A point-and-shoot camera, a relatively cheap ($200 or so) camera that your non-tech-savvy parent could figure out without getting any more gray hair.
  • A DSLR camera, the fancy camera that your wedding photographer uses, with entry-level lens and body kits starting around $550.
  • A mirrorless camera, the in-betweener option costing around $500.
  • A GoPro camera, the camera of choice for daredevils and X Games winners, which costs around $400 for a new model or $200-300 for older versions.


Depending on your style of trip, durability will be a big deciding factor for choosing a camera. Point-and-shoot cameras can handle a drop on the carpet (or beach, if that’s your scene), but a tile floor will shatter both the camera and your heart. DSLR cameras are very fragile as well, while mirrorless cameras are a little lighter than DSLR so slightly (very slightly) less likely to break. GoPro cameras, on the other hand, will probably survive the zombie apocalypse and be able to record the human race’s new start.

Learning Curve

You may also want to choose a camera that’s scaled to your photography skills. Point-and-shoots have their name for a reason, while DSLR and mirrorless cameras have automatic modes to get you started but require practice to master the perfect shot. GoPros tend to take a few minutes to get the hang of but are easy to use afterwards. If you’re thinking about taking video too, note that DSLRs, mirrorless, and GoPros shoot great video, and the GoPro is especially great for slow motion, while point-and-shoots have video but don’t allow for shallow depth-of-field.


Also, make sure to consider how portable you need your camera to be. Point-and-shoots don’t have interchangeable lenses and are about the size and weight of a cell phone, making them easy to cart from place to place. DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a wide variety of interchangeable lenses that you may want to carry with you; DSLRs are also pretty big and heavy, so they might not be ideal for a bare bones backpacking trip, while mirrorless cameras are about the size of a point and shoot with smaller lenses than DSLR lenses. GoPros, meanwhile, are tiny and portable, with no extra lenses to carry around and only a fixed fisheye lens for your use.

Picture Quality & Battery Life

Finally, two of the most issues when choosing a camera to be your travel buddy: overall picture quality and battery life. Point-and-shoots have pretty great image quality, and their battery life is usually about 190-250 pictures before a full charge is needed. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have big sensors and interchangeable lenses, giving you really high quality still images; for battery life, DSLRs can shoot stills all day before recharging, but the battery runs out extremely quickly if you’re shooting video. Mirrorless cameras tend to die extremely quickly since the LCD screen is always on when you’re shooting, and you’ll either need to carry a spare or plan your days around charging your battery. With GoPros, it’s difficult to get the exposure and white balance right, but they’re good for time lapses and can take about 2.5 hours of continuous video.


Want it summed up? Grab a point-and-shoot camera for better pictures than your cell phone without a huge commitment to learn new tricks. Use a DSLR camera if you want your camera to be an extension of your arm on your trip, and use a mirrorless camera if you want something in between the two. If you want a camera that can go from a beachside café to an actual surfing lesson in the water, the GoPro is your camera.

No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, there’s a camera that will fit your needs and skill level- it’s just a matter of figuring out which one and then saying “Cheese!”


Creative Commons Images:

Nikon Coolpix from Wikipedia

Canon Rebel T5i from Wikimedia Commons

Sony Alpha ILCE from Wikmedia Commons

GoPro Hero 3 from Wikimedia Commons

14 thoughts on “The Backpacker’s Dilemma: What Kind of Camera Should You Take Traveling?

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  5. Good points on here.

    I personally think a mirrorless camera is the way to go. I’ve been using the Sony NEX6 for the last 2 years and I am really pleased with its performance. Highly recommended.

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