A traveller's guide to digital cameras


The range of cameras and accessories is simply staggering, and at first glance can be confusing. What appear to be very similar cameras in terms of size, megapixels and lens can be more than US$1000 apart in price. Some digital SLR cameras come with one lens, others with two, and others are advertised 'body only'.

So how do you choose the right camera for you?

The quickest way to make sense of this is to remember the adage, 'you get what you pay for'. It can certainly be applied to camera equipment. Higher prices should buy a camera with more features and better quality components, construction and optics. In the digital world it also means more pixels, larger pixels, larger sensors, more in-camera computer memory and increasingly sophisticated and faster in-camera image-processing software.

The key things to keep in mind are:

  • How much you want to spend
  • What kind of pictures you want to take (eg. holiday snaps or considered images)
  • What you want to do with the pictures. Will you view them on a personal computer or sell them to the world?
  • How much involvement you want in the capture process (fully auto or lots of personal input?)
  • What priority you’re going to give to photography on your travels. Will you shoot as you go or plan in advance?
  • How involved you want to be in the postcapture digital process. Do you want to be an image-editing master, or would you rather have no involvement?

The quickest way to get a sense of what’s out there and how much you’ll need to spend is to go online. The internet is a great resource, especially once you’re comfortable with the technology and the terminology. There’s a heap of information on every aspect of digital imaging, including test reports, camera comparisons, technical specifications, price guides, personal opinions, sample images, manufacturers’ propaganda and lots of valuable and up-to-date information on buying and using digital cameras.

It’s also a good idea to visit a large retailer. A good salesperson will quickly match your needs and budget and come up with a shortlist of possibilities. Spend time handling these cameras and take photos with them in and around the shop. It’s the only way you’ll discover which cameras fit comfortably in your hand, feel balanced, are easy to use, are too heavy or too light, or too big or too small. You’ll also be able to determine if the controls and menus are easy for you to access and operate, and if it feels comfortable to take, review and delete images. You should be able to access all key controls with fewer than three clicks of a button, or toggles of a switch. Here are some other things to take into account:

  • If this purchase may be a stepping stone to a future upgrade because of the lens-factor issue
  • Shop around because retail prices can vary considerably, especially when a model is about to be superseded
  • Always check the warranty. This is particularly important if buying on the internet or outside your own country.
  • Make sure it covers your home country and those you intend visiting, in case you require repairs while travelling
  • No matter where you buy your camera, leave yourself time before you travel to use it intensively for a couple of days so that any problems are detected immediately and can be sorted out

Need more information? Here are some handy websites to start researching equipment online:

This article was first published in October 2010. This article was refreshed in September 2012.


This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Photography by Lonely Planet photographer Richard I'Anson. It has many more great tips!