Best DSLR Travel Cameras

DSLR camera

Photo by Chris Murray on Unsplash

If you see yourself as a pro photographer and compactness is not your first priority you will probably be more likely to invest in a DSLR camera. This will enable you to shoot like a pro.

Of course, you don’t need to be a professional travel photographer to make sense of using DSLRs. They are a good choice for everyone who is going to take photos in any conditions that could be a bit more challenging. Let us give you a few examples: in a wild, in poor weather conditions, when you need a robust camera, etc. You catch the point. In these situations, the robustness of the camera is in the focus.

Also if you want to have a bigger and heavier camera than mirrorless or point & shoot cameras are. The reason for this is because a bigger and heavier camera usually lies better in hand. They have a better and more comfortable grip.

The last but definitely not the least one is much better battery life than mirrorlesses or point & shoots. This is the good point of having an optical viewfinder instead of an electronic one. Basically, you do not need to turn off your camera, because when you don’t use an LCD screen DSLRs consume low energy.

We can say that it’s best to have one more camera besides DSLR to be a backup camera. A smartphone with a good camera system or point & shoot will be a good choice. The reason for this is because you probably don’t want to keep always your heavy backpack with a big camera and other accessories. You will, for sure, want to relax and be a lightweight at least some time.

In this article you will learn if a DSLR is good choice for travelers who want to have more advanced camera than point & shoot or smartphone. We will cover all the advantages and disadvantages of using DSLR cameras and go through 5 most important things you should pay attention to when choosing which camera to buy.

You will find our recommendations for APS-C and full-frame DSLR cameras that fit travel photography, and which additional accessories are a must if you want to leverage your camera’s performance and your creativity.

Table of Contents

P.S. If you don’t have a time to go through the whole article, below you will find quick overview of our favorite DSLR cameras:

Is a DSLR Good Choice for Travel Photography?

Without any doubt – yes. It’s a perfect choice for travelers who don’t want to shoot just snapshots.

If you are someone who likes to prepare and execute, DSLRs will be your favorite camera type.

With a DSLR you will be able to choice wide range of lenses. Even you will be able using some “good old lenses” you can even buy them cheaply in a flea market. Of course, we assume that flea market won’t be your primary way to invest into lenses. But it’s good to know that even this solution exists.

Advantages of DSLR Cameras

DSLR camera in hand

Photo by Christof W. on Unsplash

Robust design with good ergonomic

When built-in materials, a very good grip, and a professional look is a higher priority than the size of the camera you should choose DSLRs. Lot of professionals use DSLR camera when they are going to use it a bit heavy conditions. 

DSLRs are usually weather sealed and build by very good materials. Also no matter of their size and weight, DSLRs are pretty comfortable in hand holding because of ergonomic grips.

Easy accessible controls

For many of us it’s important that camera’s features are easy accessible. It’s also one of advantages of DSLR cameras over some compact mirrorless cameras. 

On DSLR cameras there is almost always more buttons on camera body and lot of stuff is easier to adjust than finding it in the camera menu.

Optical viewfinder

Optical viewfinder is another strong point on DSLR cameras. First, optical viewfinders don’t consume a battery. Second, in many cases those are more comfortable to use it than electronic viewfinders.

If you are someone who will use an LCD screen in any case, it would be so important to you. But plenty of us like taking photos through viewfinder, especially during sunny days. In these situations optical viewfinder is an advantage.

Very good battery life

As we previously said, optical viewfinders enable DSLRs to be pretty low consuming if you don’t use too much LCD screen on the rear.

Hence, you can count on very good battery life. However, we encourage you to buy battery as a backup solution of power.

Disadvantages of DSLR Cameras

Cameras and lenses

No matter of lot advantages which DSLRs will offer you, there are few things you need to, at least, be aware about it.

If you are worried about the size of gears, you should know that solid DSLR is not compact, nor lightweight. Especially if you are going to invest into full-frame camera. So, if you are prioritize the size of the camera + other equipment, you should evaluate and compare what you will get with other camera types instead.

Also, if you prefer taking photos using an LCD screen on the rear you won’t have advantages over mirrorless because LCD screen will drain battery more less the same on both types.

Also, we can say that DSLRs are not so friendly for vlogging, especially big once. So, if you are going to make vlogs, you should count on not so great experience.

That’s all that we can say as a disadvantages or “disadvantages” because it’s depends on which type of photographer and traveler you are.

5 Things You Should Pay Attention to

DSLR Travel Camera

Image source: Canon

1. Sensor Size

There are 2 sizes of a DSLR camera sensor. Smaller one is an APS-C and bigger one is a full-frame. There is also medium format cameras, but we won’t cover them here (they are too expensive and made for professionals). Of course, full-frame sensors have some advantages over APS-C.

The bigger size means less noise in high ISO (better low light photos) and higher dynamic range. However, the bigger sensor means a bigger camera as well and more expensive and bigger lenses in many cases. So, if you want to have the more compact DSLR system, go to APS-C camera.

2. Lenses

Before you invest in a new camera you should have long-term and short-term plans for all the lenses you will buy.

If you use old lenses you need to pay attention to their compatibility.

Nowadays, no matter which producer you choose you will probably have a lot of choices regarding lenses, but the devil is in the details. So, before you buy a camera you should think about what your system will look like in 1-3 years.

3. Size & Weight

DSLR and additional accessories could be big and heavy if you buy them without thinking of actual usability. Also, you should count that if you go to full-frame camera, other stuff will also be bigger (lenses, backpack, etc.).

It’s important especially if you have old accessories which you use with lighter camera (i.e. tripod you use with a point & shoot).

4. Image Stabilization

It’s probably one of the most important things for all travel photographers.

There are 2 options: to use a camera with in-body stabilization which means that every lens you mount on becomes a stabilized lens, or to use lenses with optical stabilization.

The benefit is clear – you will be able to take sharp photos when the shutter speed is slower, which enables you to get better low light photos when you don’t have a tripod or want to use a camera in situations when tripods are not suitable. We encourage you to avoid investing in systems without either in-body stabilization or stabilization in lenses.

5. Video

Today’s DSLR cameras usually have good features for videos as well. But if you prioritize video you should pay attention to a few more things.

Some of them are: video stabilization, the ability to record 4K as well, whether the camera records 4K in full width or cropped, in which fps you can record in 1080p or 4K, does it support 120 or 240 fps – if you are going to create slow motion videos, does it support for 10 bit, can you record in H.264 and H.265 or only in H.264 and so on.

What to Choose as a DSLR travel camera?

If you are sure that a DSLR is an ideal travel camera for you, let us show you our favorites.

First, we want to uncover our methodology:

We outlined our recommendations of the absolute best and budget-friendly flags for APS-C and full-frame DSLRs. Namely, we wanted to give you 2 options for each category. So, you have the absolute best choices (where budget is secondary) and the budget-friendly choices (but not too expensive middleground solutions).

Absolute Best

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Image source: Canon

Overview

Canon EOS 6D Mark II is well-known and very popular among professional travel photographers. The camera is equipped with a 26 Mpix sensor. There is also a dual pixel autofocus system that works very fast even in low light conditions. 

In the continuous shooting mode, EOS 6D Mark II is capable of producing 6.5 images per second if you use an optical viewfinder, or 4.5 images per second if you use an LCD screen. The camera is not equipped with in-body stabilization, so you will rely on stabilization in the lens. The LCD touchscreen is pretty big and fully articulated (not just tilted as on some other cameras).

When it comes to video features, unfortunately, there is no support for 4K. You will need to fit videos in 1080p (60 fps).

The camera is made of pretty strong materials – aluminum alloy and polycarbonate in the chassis, while the cover is built with strong and durable polycarbonate. The camera is weather sealed so we recommend you to buy a weather sealing lens to have a fully capable camera for all weather conditions. This is a full-size camera so you will especially like the ergonomy and the large grip for comfortable holding.

If you don’t use an LCD screen with a live view too much, you can say that the battery life will be pretty durable, much longer than on plenty of mirrorless cameras that have a 3-4 times lower battery life.

There are a lot of options for wireless connections. There is support for wireless, NFC, and Bluetooth. Also, there is a GPS so your photos will be geo-tagged.

How it performs for stills?

The overall look of JPEG photos is excellent. The quality of colors, contrast, and sharpening are very good. In low light, photos have a very low amount of noise even in very high ISO.

We noticed that the dynamic range of photos varies by ISO levels, and if you shoot on ISO 100 dynamic range will be lower compared with ISO 400. Of course, it’s not significant especially if you are not a professional photographer, but we want to mention it, too.

How it performs for video?

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is very good for video shooting as well. The overall quality of the video is excellent. Colors are natural, and image stabilization is fantastic considering that there is an electronic stabilization which is a substitute for in-lens stabilization and this combination works very well.

The touchscreen enables you to tap to focus, and the autofocus system has a very well implemented subject tracking. Unfortunately, there is no support for 4K video, so you will have to be satisfied with the 1080p.

Samples

Sample images:

Gallery of sample images on Flickr
Gallery of sample images on Imaging Resource
Gallery of sample images on PixelPeeper

Sample videos:

Straight from the camera videos
Low light video
Handheld videos with electronic stabilization

Pros as a travel camera:

  • Excellent JPEG images (color, contrast, and sharpening with default settings);
  • Low amount of noise even in very high ISO;
  • Well-integrated subject tracking in videos;
  • Electronic stabilization is a great addition to get smooth videos;
  • Fantastic ergonomy and comfortable grip;
  • Touchscreen and fully articulated LCD screen;
  • Very good materials + weather-sealed case;
  • Built-in GPS for geo-tagging.

Cons as a travel camera:

  • Much slower continuous shooting when using the LCD screen;
  • A bit lower dynamic range in low ISO;
  • No support for 4K videos;
  • No in-body stabilization.
Nikon D780

Image source: Nikon

Overview

Nikon D780 is a full-frame DSLR camera for experienced photographers and advanced hobbyists. It’s powered by a 24 Mpix sensor. Also, there is a fantastic autofocus system that is fast no matter if you use live view on LCD screen or through viewfinder.

In continuous mode, Nikon D780 is capable to make 7 images per second with the mechanical shutter, or 12 with the electronic. Maybe you won’t like that camera doesn’t have an in-body stabilization system, nor internal flash, but on the other hand, building quality is fantastic, plus the camera is completely weather-sealed.

The LCD screen is bright and big with 3.2”. It’s not fully articulated, but it’s tilting which is a good compromise if you will primarily use it as a travel camera, but without the need to make selfies or vlogging with it. The camera is also equipped with a dual SD card slot in UHS-II format. For easy backup and sharing, there are wireless connections and Bluetooth.

Video capabilities are also a strong point of this camera. It supports 4K video at 30 fps and 1080 up to 120 fps. Battery capacity is also another strong point of this camera. It’s capable to take 2200+ shoots (by CIPA rate). Plus you can easily recharge it on a go via a USB-C port.

There is also one thing you need to pay attention to. This camera isn’t light – actually, it’s pretty big if you compare it with APS-C DSLRs. So, if you move from a compact camera to Nikon D780 you should count that it’s probably 2 or 3 times bigger and heavier.

How it performs for stills?

For travel photography, Nikon D780 is an excellent choice because of its image quality. If you shoot in JPEG you will definitely like how Nikon handles it. RAW images are also fantastic and offer you a lot of space to post-process them later. It also provides you lot of space in low light photography because of the big sensor. All in all, for taking travel photos this camera is an excellent choice if you can fit its size (and weight).

How it performs for video?

This camera is a good choice also for video creators because of the fantastic 4K videos. In any case, we’d like to see 60 fps 4Ks for a complete experience, but it’s limited to 30 fps. But the good thing is that you will get full-width videos, without any crop. The good thing also is that camera is equipped with additional electronic image stabilization. EIS can not replace gimbal, of course, but it will provide you with stabilized videos when you need them. Also when you use EIS you will get slightly cropped video (1.1x), but it’s not so bad, because some cameras are much more aggressive in crops with EIS.

Nikon D780 is also capable to make nice slow motions in 120 fps mode (limited to full HD). For more professional videographers there is an option for 10-bit video output via HDMI to an external recorder. Of course, there are both microphone and headphone inputs.

If you are a hybrid shooter, you will like that this camera offers separate settings for photo and video modes

Samples

Sample images:

Gallery of sample images on Imaging Resource 
Gallery of sample images on Photography Blog 
Gallery of sample images on Onfotolife

Sample videos:

Sample video
Low light sample video
Color graded video

Pros as a travel camera:

  • Excellent JPEG images out of camera (+very rich RAW files);
  • Fast autofocus system;
  • Excellent quality of 4K and 1080 videos;
  • Effective electronic stabilization for smooth videos;
  • Very well built + it’s weather-sealed;
  • Very good ergonomy and comfortable grip;
  • Battery life is excellent + ability for recharging via USB-C.

Cons as a travel camera:

  • No in-body image stabilization;
  • No 60 fps in 4K;
  • No fully articulated LCD screen;
  • It’s a big and heavy camera.

Budget-Friendly

Canon EOS Rebel SL3

Image source: Canon

*We need to stress out that EOS SL3, EOS 250D, and EOS Kiss X10 are the same cameras and the names are different because of Canon’s policy to name them differently for different markets.

Overview

This camera is one of the most affordable Canon DSLRs with an APS-C sensor. The camera is equipped with A 24 Mpix CMOS. The autofocus system is one of the best for cameras in this price range and is equipped with dual-pixel technology. In continuous shooting mode, you will be able to take 5 photos per second which is just enough for plenty of situations. 

If you want to make videos as well, this camera supports 4K but with a 1.7x crop. We were pleased to see a fully articulated touchscreen LCD on the rear and an excellent and user-friendly guide on the LCD screen for people who may not be so experienced with photography. Because of the touchscreen, there is a option for a tap to focus.

The camera is pretty small in size when you compare it with other DSLR cameras. So if you want to shoot mainly with an optical viewfinder and long battery life is your priority, but you don’t want to buy a big and heavy DSLR camera, Canon EOS SL3 (EOS 250D / EOS Kiss X10) is your go-to model. The grip is also very comfortable so you don’t need to worry about holding the camera in hand.

There are 2 options for a wireless connection for photo/video transfers to your smartphone: build-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. We need to mention that you can use your smartphone for remote camera control (with Canon’s application installed on your smartphone). There is also a socket for an external microphone.

Battery life is one of the strongest points of this camera for travel photographers. With a single charge, you will be able to shoot 1000+ photos (with optical viewfinder). There is no USB charging which could be a disadvantage for some travel photographers.

All in all, if you are not a professional photographer, but want to leverage the advantages of DSLR cameras (optical viewfinder, longer battery life, comfortable grip) but at the same time you don’t want to invest in a full-frame camera or just don’t want to walk around with a full-size camera in hands, Canon EOS SL3 will become your best friend on your trips.

How it performs for stills?

This camera is equipped with a newer image processor so JPEG images that this camera produces in default settings are excellent. You will be satisfied with a very good color range (a bit more saturated and with a vivid look which is great for casual shots on vacations or whenever you don’t want to edit RAW images), dynamic range, and exposure.

One of the strongest points especially for people/family shots is a very natural tone of skin color that this camera produces without any additional adjusting. Low light photos are also very good with the low (or better to say reasonable) noise level.

How it performs for video?

On the other hand, for video shooting purposes, Canon EOS SL3 is just average. We don’t want to say you should avoid this camera for videos, but you shouldn’t expect a lot of control and advanced modes. 

The quality of videos is OK. There is a support for 4K, but with 1.7x crop. However, if you are someone who just wants to shoot a few videos from time to time you probably won’t consider it as a disadvantage.

Samples

Sample images:

Gallery of sample images on Flickr
Gallery of sample images on Imaging Resources
Gallery of sample images on Onfotolife

Sample videos:

4K sample video
Low light video in 4K
Another sample video (edited in cinematic style, but still quite natural)

Pros as a travel camera:

  • Small in size (for a DSLR camera) but with very good ergonomics and a comfortable grip;
  • JPEG photos are excellent, especially for vivid color lovers;
  • Very good autofocus system;
  • Extremely good battery life (1000+ photos in single charging if you only use a viewfinder);
  • Support for the external microphone;
  • Fully articulated touchscreen LCD;
  • Guide mode is an in-camera photo tutorial that is very useful for beginners.

Cons as a travel camera:

  • No in-body stabilization (you are forced to use a lens with optical stabilization, if it’s a priority for you, i.e. for low light photos);
  • 4K videos are cropped;
  • No USB charging. 
Nikon D3500

Image source: Nikon

Overview

Nikon D3500 is an entry-level DSLR camera dedicated to beginners. So, it means that D3500 is perfect if you used to shoot only with a smartphone or point & shoot camera and want to start learning more advanced photography skills.

It’s powered by a 24 Mpix CMOS sensor. Autofocus system is not the latest technology and it relies on 11 points if you use the viewfinder. Considering it is an entry-level model, you shouldn’t be surprised with relatively slow burst mode – only 5 images per second. Also, there is no support for 4K videos, but you can shoot in 1080 up to 60 fps.

The most important advantage for travel photographers is that this camera is pretty compact if you compare it with other DSLRs. LCD display is bright and clear, but it’s fixed (without tilting) and it’s not a touchscreen. On the LCD screen, you can always access Guide Mode which is a manual and how to guide implemented in-camera.

Regarding connectivity, there is no support for wireless transfer, but you can export photos using Bluetooth which is a slower option. Battery capacity is very good and you can count on at least 1550 shots with a single charge (rated by CIPA). Unfortunately there is no option to charge a battery via USB.

How it performs for stills?

No matter it’s entry level model, we are pretty surprised with the quality of the photos. Colors and contrasts are excellent. On higher ISO settings noise starts to be unacceptable, but it’s not unusual for APS-C cameras. All in all – very good, especially if you are not so experienced photographer.

How it performs for video?

As we previously said, there is no support for 4K, but you can count on 1080 at 30 and 60 fps. Video quality is solid. It’s obvious that this camera is not dedicated to content creators or vloggers. But if you want to take footage from time to time, and don’t have too high expectations, you will probably be surprised.

Samples

Sample images:

Gallery of sample images on Imaging Resource
Gallery of sample images on Photography Blog
Gallery of sample images on Onfotolife

Sample videos:

1080 60 fps sample video

Pros as a travel camera:

  • Very good quality of photos;
  • Beginners friendly;
  • Pretty compact for a DSLRs;
  • Excellent battery life.

Cons as a travel camera:

  • Autofocus system is not latest implementation;
  • LCD screen is fixed and it isn’t touchscreen;
  • No support for 4K videos;
  • Only slow Bluetooth connection, without support for much faster wireless connection.

Travel Accessories for DSLR Cameras

When choosing your ideal DSLR camera you definitely need to evaluate additional accessories in order to leverage the full performance of your camera.

For Easy Storage and Power Backup

Photo by Samsung Memory on Unsplash

1. Make sure you have enough storage: memory cards + external storage for backup

Nowadays, it’s better to have as much free space as possible on memory cards, even though JPEGs are much larger in size than they used to be.

If you record a lot of 4K videos there won’t ever be too much free space. You will probably take a lot of duplicates before you begin editing, so it’s better to have enough space for all of them instead of deleting some photos before the end of your trip.

Let’s say that 64 Gb of memory is a minimum. If you have a camera with dual card slots think about simulating the use of 2 cards in order to always have a backup copy.

External storage (HDDs) are cheaper, so think about getting one if you don’t want to keep a few memory cards with you and want a reliable device for a backup.

2. Make sure you have enough power: spare batteries + external charger + power bank

There is no need to explain it except to remind you of times when you wanted to use your camera but ran out of battery. So, make sure to have 1 or 2 spare batteries on you while traveling.

Most of today’s cameras come with an internal charger which means that you need to recharge a battery that needs to be in your camera. If you have just a single battery it may not be a huge problem, but if you have additional batteries and need to charge them one by one, it can be pretty inconvenient.

So, it is always better to have an external charger in order to charge all batteries at the same time. Eventually you could consider buying a power bank if you have a camera with USB charging to continue with shooting if your battery is low and you don’t have any spare ones.

To Get Better Photos

Camera on tripod

Photo by Yash Prajapati on Unsplash

1. UV, ND and CPL filters

A set of filters is absolutely necessary for travelers who want to get great photos and to protect their lenses from scratches.

Let’s start with protection. You should first buy a UV filter.

These filters prevent UV lights, which is important in film photography because UV lights could have effects on films, but it’s not the case in digital photography. The good side of UV filters is that they won’t affect your photos and videos in any way (of course if you don’t buy the cheapest filters on the market). Because of that many photographers use them to protect lenses from scratches – and you should, especially if you travel somewhere where you can have dust and sand in the air, or you need to clean your lens often.

ND and CPL filters are not protective but their role is to make your photos and videos look nicer.

ND (Neutral Density) filter is used to reduce the amount of light your sensor will receive.

When you are shooting in the noon of a sunny day you may not be able to get the results you want because of the strong light – ND filter is a solution. Also if you want to add a moving effect when you shoot a river in the forest you can use it to reduce the amount of light and use longer exposure. When you want to take photos with wider apertures to get shallow depth of field, you will also use ND filters.

CPL filter is a must for any travel photographer because of their advantages for landscapes and outdoor photos.

It will help you to get a better sky color, eliminate reflections from glossy surfaces and windows, and get better colors of plants and more transparency of water. Overall your landscape photos will look better with a CPL.

All we mentioned will work for videos as well.

2. Tripod

If you are going to shoot in a lot of low light and long exposure conditions, it’s essential to make your camera stable.

If you are going to take HDR photos (to make 3-5 photos with different exposure and combine them manually to get a real HDR photograph), or want to shoot stable videos, you need to have a tripod.

Considering you will be on the move, you definitely need to aim for a lightweight tripod in order to be able carry it with you.

3. External flash

These days more and more DSLR cameras are available without a built-in flash, which is actually good, because a built-in flash can make your photos look worse. However, things are a lot different when you use an external flash because it provides you more flexibility.

Once you learn how to use it you can take really great photos without overburning, red eyes ,and dark background. Of course, it’s not essential for travel photographers, but if you are going to shoot indoor photos and have some free space in your backpack, you should consider it.

To Get Better Videos

Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

1. External microphone

Built-in microphones in most cameras are not so powerful. You will often hear unwanted sounds like the sound of the wind or autofocus and whenever you touch the camera with a finger it will also be recorded. Plus, the sound reproduction is pretty basic.

These are the reasons why you should invest in an external microphone. You will get a much better sound quality and no unwanted sounds.

2. Gimbal (if you are a real video enthusiast)

Of course, gimbals are not for everyone, but if you are a video enthusiast and want to record as smooth videos as possible, gimbals will help and work better than any in-body or in-lens image stabilization systems. For the average traveler they will be too uncomfortable and too big, though. So, you should consider a gimbal if you really want to use it.

To Carry and Protect Your Gears

Lens protected by divided storage in a bag

1. Bag or backpack

Your camera is bigger than your smartphone and you definitely won’t carry it in your pocket. Also, you probably don’t want your keys to leave scratches on your camera. Considering you have a camera, lenses, and other accessories you should think about a bag to carry all of them.

2. Protective case

If you want to protect your camera for accidental scratches, the best option is to buy a protective case. It’s made of silicone and will protect your camera in the same way as silicone cases protect your smartphone. It doesn’t mean that the camera will be resistant to drops, but at least scratches won’t be a problem.

3. Cleaning set

From time to time, you will need to clean lenses to get rid of fingerprints and/or dust. Also, if you change lenses, the chance is that dust will get inside the sensor. This is the reason why you should have a cleaning set in your bag. At least you should have a lens pen, cleaning spray, air blower, and a microfibre cloth.

Conclusion

With DSLR camera you will get a powerful gear if you are either willing to invest in your photo knowledge, or you are already knowledgeable photographer. Furthermore DSLR cameras are perfect choice for travelers who value more robustness and battery life over compactness.

We are aware that mirrorless cameras cut the market of DSLRs in last 5-10 years. More and more travelers instead of DSLRs buy mirrorless camera systems. But DSLRs still have some things that mirrorless cameras don’t have. Two of them are the most important: optical viewfinder and better battery life.

However, the same as with mirrorless cameras, you can also afford DSLR camera without spending a fortune and can start with a KIT lens, and then upgrade the system over time.

Today’s DSLR cameras are most powerful than ever, so your choice is if you will go to “heavyweight” category or go elsewhere.

What’s your ideal DSLR set for traveling? Can you share your tips with us? Is there anything else we forgot to mention?

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