We have all heard the saying “the best camera is the one you have with you”, and it’s very true!
I have always traveled with my DSLR and my cell phone, finding myself using my cell phone for the majority of photographs. My real camera only coming along only if I knew of a specific reason to bring it that day. Typically, I like having a small day bag on me, and my DSLR, even with just a pancake lens on it, is too bulky. Someone slap me because I can’t believe I’m even saying these words- but my cell phone may be the best travel camera I own!
Of course, you can always go and buy a new camera before a trip, and I see this often. In fact, I once was this person! Get a good camera and you’ll have good pictures, right?
The Camera You Should Take
I’m not going to sit here and compare cameras for you. I won’t be showing you a Canon and a Nikon and listing out their specs. There are plenty of websites that do that, but this isn’t one of them. Instead, I’m going to impart some wisdom on you, again – giving advice from mistakes I’ve made!
So what is it I believe? Simply put, the best camera is going to be one you already know and are comfortable with.
Otherwise, fiddling and messing with a new camera can cause you to miss the shot, or worse, see Europe through your viewfinder instead of in person. If you find yourself fiddling around with the camera, you can also find yourself in a heartbreaking slump when you load all your pictures to the computer and realize that none of them were actually in focus! (Raises hand).
In my personal experience, a trip to Europe (or any big lifetime event!) is not the time to try to learn a new camera! Even if you are familiar with how cameras function and have no problem using a camera in manual mode, upgrading to a new camera can take time. The buttons are in new spots, the dials do different things, etc!
This was my huge mistake on my trip in 2007.
I thought my tiny, portable, point and shoot wasn’t sufficient for going to Europe (I mean, it was only 5 MP!), so I went online and purchased a camera I had never seen in person. I thought “How hard can it be? You push a button just like on any other camera!” It came in the mail the day I left for Europe, and the very first photograph I took was in Paris. A blurry picture of the Eiffel Tower. Followed by another blurry picture of it. Followed by another.
You see, no matter what I did with this camera, I couldn’t figure out how to make the photographs clear. So there I was, in another country for the very first time ever, with a camera I couldn’t take a decent picture with. It would take me probably a good week and a half of constantly taking pictures before I would learn how the focus motor felt when it found its mark!
What camera do I take now?
My cell phone (LG G6)! In fact, of all the prints I have in my house, all but two of the framed photographs I have were taken with my cell phone! I’m actually a professional photographer, so I am more than familiar with print quality and camera quality. However, having a 13MP camera on me which can shoot both normal and wide-angle photos, easily fits into my pocket and doubles as an MP3 player, map, and photo editing station in one sometimes just can’t be beat.
In fact, on my trip last year, I only pulled my DSLR out once, and it was for a sporadic portrait session in Amsterdam! I didn’t even touch it a single time to document my trip! This year, my DSLR is staying at home and buying me about five extra pounds of souvenir weight!
I should take this moment to admit that I am a camera phone snob. I will spend hours in the cell phone store, browsing every single cell phone, checking out the megapixels, the abilities of the camera, and then spend another hour debating between two cell phones with very similar features before finally caving and picking one.
Controlling Your Cell Phone Photos
I am using the LG G6, which- get this- photographs in RAW, just like my DSLR does! If you are unfamiliar with photography terms, think of RAW like this: When you take a photograph, it normally will automatically save as a JPEG. The camera is basically saying “Hey, everything looks good on my end, let’s squish the file and make sure all the data can’t be moved around.” When you photograph in RAW, your camera says “Whoa! That’s a lot of information on this picture. Let’s keep all the layers separate so the creator can alter the image before we compress it into a JPEG”. This allows me to really dig into the photograph. As you can see in the below example, the original photograph has a completely washed out sky, however, in the edit, I was able to recover the clouds.
In addition to my cell phone photographing images in RAW, it also has manual controls. I can change the white balance, the shutter speed, and even the ISO. What does all this mean? It means that I can have the same full control over of my photographs using a lightweight cellphone as I could if I carry around a hefty and bulky camera and lens.
The majority of cell phones at this point don’t have the RAW feature yet. However, there is still some level of control making it easy to focus your photo and adjust the exposure. If you can’t figure out how to do this with the built-in camera app, I recommend OpenCamera. It’s a free app (for Android) and gives you a lot more control over your photos.
So what is the best camera then?
The best camera is the one you are familiar with and which fits your needs (weight, size, abilities) the best! If it’s a film camera, go for it! If it’s a DSLR, go for it! A cell phone? Go for it! Hopefully, the mistakes I’ve made will help you to have a better trip, and better photography to remember it by! It is important that you are able to enjoy seeing the world, and not just through the lens of your device. So grab what you are comfortable with, whether it be a point and shoot, D/SLR, or your cell phone- and go have fun exploring!