Best Travel Camera of 2012 : Travel Cameras Reviewed From $10 to OMG

Best Travel Camera - Example 1

Best Travel Camera? Does such a camera exist? And, why should you listen to my opinion of what the best travel camera is? Well, I travel a lot, and I take a lot of photos. Sometimes I shoot professionally, most of the time I shoot for my own pleasure. Read on, and you will get a totally unbiased opinion – this list of camera’s will surprise you.

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Up front, understand this – which camera you have is not as important as how you use it. You’ll get far more benefit spending time learning about what makes a good image , and learning how to use your camera, than from upgrading to a new camera. Put the same camera in the hands of two different people, and you’ll get vastly different results.

Example 2 - Best Travel Camera 2012

 My Travel Camera Guidelines

When it comes to deciding which is the best travel camera, there’s a handful of useful, and somewhat timeless guidelines that I tend to stick to. Ignore the advertising fluff, ignore the hype. These are the key guidelines on how I decide upon the best travel camera:

1. Image Quality. Paramount for a Travel Camera.

I want the best image quality I can get – this is my primary consideration when choosing a travel camera. Most buyers understandably fall into the skilfully marketed trap of the “Mega-Pixel Wars”.Pixels are great, but you need to look beyond the number.

“IQ” – image quality – is about more than just pixels or sharpness. It’s also about the “look” or “feel” of an image. Every camera has its own unique IQ. Take a photo, and ask yourself : do the skin tones look right, the blue of the sky look real, do the colours captured appeal to me?

Another key component of IQ is Dynamic Rangehow well a camera captures the dark areas, as well as the bright areas in a single photo. If you take a photo of a high-contrast scene – a scene that includes areas of shadows as well as bright spots – the bright areas may blow-out and appear as solid white, whilst the shadowy areas become solid black. In both cases, detail in the scene is lost. Look for a good dynamic range in a travel camera.

Best Travel Camera 2012?

2. Size Does Matter. Especially for a Travel Camera

Ever lugged a DSLR and a few lenses around the world? I have. Great photos, but quite an undertaking to carry everywhere. Safely storing all that gear, protecting it from bumps on the road, as well as unexpected downpours – for me, a DSLR may just be too sizeable for travel.

The best travel camera is the one you have with you. The smaller the camera, the more likely you are to have it with you at all times. If you see something photo-worthy, the best DSLR on earth won’t help you if it’s back at the hotel room because you just “need a break” from schlepping it around.

Travel Photography with a Travel Sized Camera

3. Ruggedness and Reliability – Often Overlooked.

Perhaps the number one travel camera requirement, above all, is that the camera continues to take photos for the duration of the journey.

Considerations should include: how many shots does your travel camera get from a battery charge? What happens if the camera gets a little water on it? If you drop the camera, will it survive?

Without reliability, your travel camera will just be dead weight.

Travel Camera Article Image

4. The Best Travel Camera at Any Price?

Price is always a factor. Fortunately, price really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all in what makes the best travel camera. No matter what your budget is, there is a great travel camera for you. Any budget. Don’t believe me? By the end of this article, you will.

Travel Camera Photography

So, What is The Best Travel Camera?

I get asked regularly, what camera do I use? Which lens? I will be taking the camera’s below with me on my journey around the world, starting in just a few weeks. Collectively, I’m calling them the best travel cameras of 2012. They’re the cameras that have won a hard-fought place to be in my backpack – I would be happy with any of them. 


Fuji X Pro1

1. Fuji X Pro 1 – The Best Travel Camera on Earth?

The Fuji X Pro 1 is my new “daily ride”. Smaller than a DSLR with comparable image quality, the Fuji would fit in a jacket pocket, but definitely won’t fit in a shirt pocket. It’s reasonably light-weight. And hot damn, it looks good. With remarkable image sharpness and colour, do small travel cameras get any better than this?

Being a new model, the reliability and ruggedness of the Fuji X Pro is as yet untested. However, Fuji have made the effort to encase the camera in an all-metal body, so clearly they have some degree of ruggedness in mind. Time will tell on this point.

With a versatile set of sharp interchangeable lenses, absolutely stunning low-light performance, and a stealthy black paint job (great for street photography as well), I’m picking the Fuji X Pro as THE best new travel camera available in 2012.

Price: the Fuji X Pro isn’t cheap – at over $2000 US for the camera and a single lens, this is a travel camera for the enthusiasts (slightly insane enthusiasts).


Leica M6

2. Leica M6 – One of the Worlds Greatest Cameras

The Leica M6. It’s a film camera. In 2012? Hell yeah! I get more compliments on my film shots than my digital shots. People still have a deep response to the unique look of film that digital still can’t replicate.

The Leica M series of cameras and lenses are known for reliability, and quality. My first Leica M6 was unexpectedly filled with water – to the point that it was pouring out of the camera! By the next morning, it was taking shots just fine! (but the metering was never the same, which is why I ultimately replaced it).

Even if the batteries go flat – the Leica still functions, albeit, only at a single shutter speed. This is my “lost in a remote part of Africa” camera – as long as I have a roll of film – I can take a photo.

Size, reliability, and remarkable array of interchangeable lenses has given Leica the deserved reputation of being one of the worlds best travel cameras.

Price – an M6 can be had, used, for around $1000 and up. Non Leica branded, used lenses start very cheaply, and escalate to OMG/WTF prices. 


Panasonic GF3

3. Panasonic GF3, or GF5 – or just about any Micro Four Thirds camera

Phillipa, my partner in travel crime, has the Panasonic GF3. A compact, inexpensive, full featured camera, with superb image quality, great low-light performance, and interchangeable lenses.

Sitting in between point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, the “micro-four-thirds” format makes an extremely compelling case for a travel camera. Panasonic make a range of these cameras, as do Olympus.

Benefits of micro 4/3’s over “budget” cameras include the “upgrade-ability” of the lenses. Unlike camera’s with a built-in lens, you can purchase a new lens as your needs or wants change. Zooms, wide angles, sharp prime lenses, speciality portrait lenses, there is an enormous choice from many manufacturers.

Price: I have recently seen deals as cheap as $300 US for a Panasonic GF3 camera body and lens. Personally, I like the 14mm “Pancake” lens – it’s small and lightweight – making it the perfect single lens solution for travellers.


Best Cheap Travel Camera

4. Cheap Ass Ricoh Film Camera – the R10?

Price? About ten bucks. I often have a hard time believing how good the images look for such a cheap camera.

Yes, it’s another film camera. But it fits in my shirt pocket, is extremely light-weight, runs for months on a single battery, and has survived some of the most challenging conditions I have been in.

There are many cheap pocket-sized film cameras available – I’m not suggesting this is the best, I’m including it here because it’s in my bag, and is an incredible example of how $10 can give you image quality that many new pocket-sized digital cameras can only dream of. This is the backup camera of Kings.

Price: you can get an old film camera for free. Look around, pick one up, shoot a roll and see how it goes. I paid a tenner for mine! 


iPhone - The Best Travel Camera?

5. Cell Phone Camera – A Great Travel Camera.

When all else fails, you will probably have your phone. Just as small cameras are closing the gap with DSLR’s, phone camera’s are closing the gap with small cameras. I could travel a year with nothing but a modern cell phone camera. In the hands of the right person, the images can be stunning.

So, as far as the best travel camera goes, maybe the answer is – your phone?

Travel Photography -  Cambodia

Best Travel Camera - final example

Non-Believer? The Proof is Right In Front of Your Eyes!

There are eight photos above. The photos have come from the four different cameras mentioned (not the cell phone). Can you tell which photo came from which camera?

Considering the price range of these cameras varies from $10 (Ricoh) through to OMG/WTF (Leica M6 and lens), I believe I’ve made my point – the price of a camera, and the age of a camera, has nothing to do with how good (or bad) an image is.

Summary – The Best Travel Camera

You know what? There is no single one-size-fits-all “best travel camera”. We all have different needs, tastes, budgets, and requirements. I would be happy to have any of the travel camera’s mentioned above, in my backpack.



PS, if you already have a decent travel camera, and are “stuck in auto” – not able to get the images you expect – you need this ebook. It has already helped so many of my readers take their travel photography to the next level. I recommend it 100% – check it out here.



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48 thoughts on “Best Travel Camera of 2012 : Travel Cameras Reviewed From $10 to OMG

  1. Even though I am all about iPhone photography, I do have to give props to my Canon Powershot G12. I almost always have my iPhone in my hands due to the “luck” factor but there are situations when I am so glad I have both (for example, low light). Nothing wrong with having one in each hand, I’m just saying…

    Most important thing that you mention is that one-size does not fit all. It’s all about finding your groove. Sure, I would love higher quality images sometimes, but I know myself. I know that even if I had all the money in the world that I would not feel comfortable traveling to some of the places I go with a camera that is WTF expensive and/or heavy. I’m clumsy and lazy as hell.

    P.S. Total shot in the dark but my guess is the train and Cambodia photo might be from the Ricoh film camera? For the sake of this argument I am hoping one of those turns out to be a DSLR.

    1. Hey Larissa!

      Your iphone photos are incredible, and your site is a great example of how a cell phone camera is more than good enough these days. Also, I’ve never had a Canon G, but yeah, they’re kind of legendary now for small size/great features and quality.

      Now…Cambodia photo, yes, that’s from the cheap ass Ricoh. But the train photo isn’t…


        1. No, it’s the Leica. Film, to me, is absolutely unbeatable – even in 2012. IF you need the convenience of digital, and can’t afford a digital Leica, to my eyes the Fuji is the best image quality available today.

  2. Thanks for this! I traveled through Europe for 6 months and got a lot of good shots with my little Canon Powershot but have been thinking of upgrading. I just don’t want a great big DSL to lug around either, so there are a couple here that would fit the bill for me.

  3. I like how you’ve chosen small sized cameras. Although I still shoot with a dSLR – my most recent body features literally double the megapixels, double fps and shoots video. The best part of all is that the body is slightly smaller than the previous model I owned.

  4. I’ve been using a dslr now (previously a point and shoot) for about a year and have fully enjoyed the image quality, dynamic range and depth of field. Sometimes it does get a little heavy carrying it around everywhere, but just always want to be prepared and ready to shoot. Thanks for writing up your thoughts and suggestions, I think my next purchase will be something similar to Fuji X Pro 1 or perhaps an Olympus Pen.

    1. Hey Mark hows tricks! There is no denying that in general, DSLR’s are the top of the line as far as image quality goes, but as a fellow blogger/traveller, you understand that it can be a heavy thing to carry around the world.

      The smaller options are really compelling – make sure you check them out before buying your next camera.

    1. Hey Ayngelina, happy birthday for the other day!

      You raise a really interesting point – I actually considered getting a new entry-level DSLR, as they can be reasonably compact, and the quality is fantastic.

      However, with a set of lenses, they are still pretty sizeable.

      Close, but no cigar ;)

  5. You’ve hit the nail on the head Nate! What you say is absolutely right and it’s exactly what we say at Pocketstock: the best camera is always the one you have with you.

    Sure, a high end dSLR is always going to be superior but that doesn’t mean you can’t take great images on cell phone cameras or pocket cameras. I actually work for a new stock photo agency that’s about to launch and we actively accept content shot on those devices because we recognise it’s not the kit – it’s the content.

    If you – or any of your readers – are interested, we’re always looking for new contributors but equally, if you’re just interested in tips on how to take great travel images, feel free to check out and our Academy where we have lots of video tutorials.

    Again, great post… and some lovely images!

  6. Wonderful list Nate
    For a small but amazing camera I love the Canon G12 but I love my 7D for my real photo work. I have a great companion list to this for all types of travel gear and tips.
    The Best Tips, Tricks and Gear for Travel Photographers
    www balifornian com/blog/2012/2/10/the-best-tips-tricks-and-gear-for-travel-photographers.html
    Id love to hear your thoughts and I am glad we are now connected.
    Warm regards,

  7. Great post and you are so right: “You’ll get far more benefit spending time learning about what makes a good image , and learning how to use your camera, than from upgrading to a new camera. Put the same camera in the hands of two different people, and you’ll get vastly different results.” Sure a DSLR will get you much superior result, especially if you are only shooting in Auto. But if you know how to use your camera and understand lighting and composure, then you can also get a good result from a point-and-shoot, or cell phone. The main difference at the end of the day will be apparent in what you intend to do with your shots, as lower quality will hamper your options for enlargements once you get home.

    When we did our recent 12 month trip with 2 kids in tow i too, didn’t want the hassle of lugging around a DSLR. I got a Canon S90/95 and was really happy with the results as well as it’s compact size. (My 12 x 18 enlargements turned out well too) However, the camera turned out to be rather delicate and I had the dreaded ‘lens error’ after just over 5,000 frames in 3 mo :(

    1. You raise a good point – for enlargement options, a higher number of mega pixels/crisper image to begin with, may be important. However, these days, not many people seem to be printing photos out at all! (which, IMHO, is a real shame – photos look so much nicer on paper, than on screen).

      Still, these days, as you point out – even a small camera like an s90 or s95, does a great job, even when creating larger prints from the files.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your insight and kind words.

  8. Never underestimate the power of a camera that is easy to carry, after a while of travelling even things that seem to be pretty light can add up quite a bit. I enjoy a rugged Panasonic Lumix TS10, light, ton of battery power and surprisingly great pictures for the price.

    1. Hey Will… I once took a rugged camera into the surf, and watched it fall off my wrist and plunge to the bottom of the ocean… but that’s another story. I totally agree, rugged cameras are a great pick for a travel camera, unbelievably versatile and ummm….rugged. I wish the pictures were *slightly* better, and there would be no competition imho.

  9. I have been traveling with a Canon 60D and three lenses and started leaving it at home to use my iphone. I finally decided to sell it and just bought the Olympus OM-D E-M5, it is so much smaller and lighter. But now I just need to figure out how to use a four-thirds camera!

    1. Hey Ayng, that was my second choice (the OM-D) when I bought my Fuji. It’s an amazing camera, I think you made a really good decision. One of the really practical features of the Olympus is that it’s weather-sealed, I’ve seen somebody throw a bottle of water all over the OM-D and it was fine! I look forward to seeing the images you take with it.

  10. I always wanted a DSLR not only to travel with, but to enjoy the quality of the photos you can get with in every occasion.
    I still have a compact camera with me (Canon IXUS 117 HS) which can get good shots but it’ll never feel the same as a DSLR.
    I just thought the DSLR was too big to travel with and easier to be spotted by cheeky muggers.
    I might change my mind while on the road..

    Thanks for the tips! :)


  11. Finally! Someone who agrees with me!! I was recently in the market for new gear and felt the pressure from fellow pro bloggers and phloggers to invest lots of cash in a bulky DSLR. So I bought one, but ended up returning it the same week. It was just not travel friendly. I went with the new mirrorless Sony NEX F3 with full flip LCD screen (kick ass for solo travellers) and interchangeable lens. The entry level DSLRs are getting better in a much smaller package :)

    1. Hi Cristina…there is a movement growing, you’re not alone ;) Really, Camera’s like the NEX are just amazing tools that will do everything a blogger needs. IMHO, you made the right choice – smaller, cheaper, great quality, and you don’t get tired of carrying it around with you! Nice one.

  12. Hey Nate,

    I’m intrigued as to why you didn’t consider the OM-D considering its weather sealing, compact size, and good quality images?

    I’m considering selling up all my cameras (including my absoute favourite x100, and NEX) in favor of a OM-D rig for when i leave to go backpacking.

    I’d love the idea of being able to leave the house and drag around a camera through rain, hail, dust, and not once get distracted from my surroundings because I have to baby my equipment.

    Given your experience with the x-pro1, do you think the fuji would handle a world trip by backpack?


    1. Hey Dane,

      The OM-D was my number two pick – purely due to the weather sealing. However, the image quality, and the layout of the Fuji X-Pro, won my dollars. I’ve been back packing for several weeks so far with the Fuji, today I took it up onto a glacier in the rain, and so far, so good. Really happy with it – but I dare say, I would be happy with the OM-D as well.

      My mind may change on the Fuji if/when it breaks due to the rain! ;)

  13. Awesome post! Massive fan of point and shoot photography especially when travelling.
    Good to see an article like this about it. Loved the photos in it as well.

  14. I have a Canon Powershot SX30 but want a smaller camera for a trip. I have been looking at Sony Nex 7, Sony Cyber shot DSC-RX1, and Olypmia OM DE M5. Which one would you say is a better camera.

  15. I say, as long as you get the pictures you like, the difference in brands is just minute details. I shoot w/ a Canon T1 (which I down-graded from my 40D due to the fact it had HD video). My iPod Touch shoots crap but I still use it a lot for those moments when I need to whip out something quick.

  16. Nate
    I enjoyed your words and pictures on photographing abandoned buildings. I used to live in upstate New York which has its share of abandoned structures and I have photographed a few. When you are in the buildings alone you can almost hear voices from the past. Speaking of things from the past, I recently purchased a Fuji X-E1 with the 18-55mm zoom lens. This camera reminds me of the years I spent with my Nikon F3 and Leica M6 before I got hooked on the digital reflex cameras. Can you hear me singing “Happy days are here again”. I have not had the camera long enough to form my own judgement but from the works of professional photographers using the camera, the colors and sharpness are outstanding. Of course, this includes your work with the Fuji pro. This summer I am going to Europe starting in Copenhagen and traveling to Germany, Poland, the Baltic States, St. Petersburg and winding up in Stockholm. My new toy is going with me. To me going to these places, which i will never do again considering my age, I want to bring home the best photos I can. The point and shoots are nice for their size but the Fuji glass is fantastic and the camera lets me go out of auto to create the best photos I can and the size is about the same as my old film cameras. I also like the fact that Fuji is coming our with new lenses including a 21mm. I am a happy man.

  17. Hi Nate! Thank you so much for this post. I’m saving money for my first DSLR camera, and this post was just what I needed – something from a traveller’s point of view. Often people just write reviews on the “best” and “newest” camera out there, not really taking into account what you want to use it for.

  18. So what would you say today. I have a Nikon D60 and wanted to upgrade or take a different camera for my upcoming trip to Italy which might be lighter and still take awesome photos and movie if possible. The camera should also be able to take a number of shots quickly. I am attending a wedding and I want to take pictures there.
    Appreciate any input.

  19. Hi, Many thanks for an interesting site. I mainly use compact cameras. Digital and analogue. I have one dslr and it produces excellent results Three Olympus SLRs and a couple of manual only SLRs… I prefer my P & S cams They are so convenient. My latest is an Olyympus ZX-1 That camera is quite amazing. 10mp and 4x zoom but what a lens.. Highly recommended and not toooo pricey. and for travel I have an Olympus SZ31 It has the most useful zoom.. Charles

  20. Hi Nate!

    First of all, congratulations for your photos (they are REALLY good), and for the website as well, it is so inspiring, as I am about to start my new life on a long-term trip in a few months! It really helps to see how people like you are enjoying it and your tips are really helping!

    I’ve got a photo-related question though, I recently acquired a fuji x-t1 and I am trying to set up my travel photography kit (I used to have the fuji x100 which was great but I needed an update and the possibility of changing lenses). Can I ask you what lenses do you use? I am getting a prime 35mm for sure and was thinking of a 14mm for landscape and environmental portraits. What do you think?

    Thanks a lot and again, good job!

    1. Hey Alex, thanks for the kind words.

      I have used only the 18mm lens for every photo during my travels. I need to travel light, and I prefer to use only one lens. Although the 18mm is considered by some to be the weakest in the range – take a look at the photos and judge for yourself. As for you, the 35 and the 14 are both great lenses, and as a combination that sounds pretty ideal. If you do need something in-between, that 23 1.4 has me slightly drooling ;)

      Good luck with your journey, hope you can stay in touch.


      1. Hey Nate!

        Your pictures convinced me, I got the 18mm (as the 14mm might be too wide for everyday shots and I already have a fish-eye), and the 35mm. I have some of my previous travels pics on my website if you like to check..

        I subscribed to your mailing list, can’t wait for a new post!

        I’ll start a new blog with my trip, I’ll let you know.

        Thanks so much again!


        1. Hey Alex! Glad you responded… I did check your website yesterday, loved the photos from India in particular. Really nice! I was scrolling through them, thinking “it looks like Fuji colours, but it also looks like a 35mm (full frame)… I wonder what lens he’s using on his XT1… DAMN I WANT THAT LENS… it must be the 23…. ”

          When I got to the bottom, and saw it was the X100, it all made sense. I’m soooo tempted to go for the 23, I just can’t decide between 18 and 23, if only there was a 20 ;)

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