All About Cameras for Travel: Compact vs DSLR

Cameras for Bicycle Touring and Travel

People assume that if they buy a DSLR, they will be able to take good photos. Wrong. You have to nail the photography principles first. Read all about them HERE.

Compact cameras are awesome these days…

The way I put it to most people is that DSLR cameras will allow me to produce 10% better photos over my compact. Compact cameras offer really, really good sensors and adjustability these days in a super lightweight and bulk free package. Rarely are they over about 250 grams and never cost over about $800AUD. Most high quality compacts can record video in HD as well!

My current five favourite compact cameras for travel are:

1. Sony RX100: Although I haven't used this camera, I can only assume it is amazing; it gets a hell of a lot of praise in photographic circles. This camera has the biggest sensor of any compact camera, meaning higher quality photos, and a faster camera as more light is able to be used. It's light and adjustable, the sweep panorama is a great feature too.

2. Panasonic LX7: I use the older version of this camera, the LX5. I use it in conjunction with a filter tube and polarising filter. It is really light, fast and adjustable and has a great quality wide-angle Leica lens. It is able to produce images with a short depth of field (f/2.0). The images and video are fantastic, check for yourself on our Flickr or YouTube pages!

3. Olympus XZ-1: The Olympus is also really fast and adjustable, using a lens with the shortest depth of field available on a compact (f/1.8).

4. Canon G15: The G15 is probably the most adjustable camera of the lot. It has a really useful fold-out screen so that you can take photos above or below what you'd normally be able to.

5. Canon Powershot S110: The S110 is the smallest and lightest of the lot. It is still really adjustable and takes great quality photos and videos.

Tough-compacts: Kat uses a tough-compact. We liked the fact that her camera can be used for water sports such as snorkelling and diving, in rain and just generally in horrible conditions. It will be really cool to record what it's like to get caught in a sandstorm if that ever occurs! Check out Sony for our favourite tough compacts, but also Panasonic, Olympus, Nikon and Canon.

The things I miss most travelling without a DSLR, in order, include: shooting in low light, a really short depth of field, ISO above 400, the crispness and clarity of the photos and the ability to switch lenses.

Micro Four Thirds Cameras

A relatively new style of camera are the four thirds type. They are essentially half way between compact and DSLR, offering a bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses over a compact. They are still quite small and are pretty great for travel. If I were to quantify the difference compared to a DSLR, I'd say the DSLR can take a 5% better photo over a four thirds.

My view on four thirds is that you may as well go a DSLR if you're wanting a bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses over a compact. It's really all or nothing for me.

Check out Sony, Nikon, Panasonic and Olympus for a few awesome four thirds cameras.

DSLR Cameras

If you are going to go all the way to a DSLR for the best shots, the most important feature of the camera is the lens. Lenses are what give you the best photos; the bodies have much less of an influence. In my opinion you should be spending half your money on the camera body and the other half on the lens.

DSLR Camera Brands: I like Canon and Nikon cameras, but Olympus and Sony also do some pretty good stuff.

The most useful lens for travel: A lens between 18-100mm. Unless you are doing particular types of photography, a zoom lens will gather cobwebs. I don't even own a zoom lens for my DSLR!

Get yourself a nifty fifty: The Canon 50mm f1.8 is incredibly good value lens ($150AUD) which produces better photos than lenses 10x it's price. You cannot zoom with it, but it is fast, light and crisp. The photos you see where the image is blurry in the background and the subject super focused can be produced with this lens.

Good value DSLR lenses: If you can't afford, say, the top end image stabiliser or “L” series lenses from Canon – I can highly recommend lens options from Sigma and Tamon.


Whether you're satisfied with a compact camera or wanting to use the best DSLR, there are so many great cameras out there. Most have amazing automatic sensors, so if you still aren't taking good photos – it's not the camera, it's you…

For travel photography and especially when bike touring, check out the latest crop of compact cameras. They rock!


  1. Hi Caroline. For sample images you best check out websites like DPReview which will show you lots of photos with every camera at different light levels and settings. Alex

  2. Mirrorless cameras can now offer DSLR sized APS sensors and quality lenses for almost the size of Micro four thirds cameras. Fuji are really great in this area, with easy control of camera settings, high resolution and beautiful colours (video is not great though)… X100 has fixed 35mm (equivalent) lens, or XE can change lenses. X30 is smaller and XQ smaller again… both use compact 2/3″ sensors but have fast zooms. Good choices for travellers more into photos than video.

Comments are closed.