One of the questions that I get asked above all else is ‘I’m looking for a camera that is under (a dollar amount). What do you recommend?’. I can’t think of many questions that I get asked more!
In order to not have to explain in detail every time, I thought that it would be a good idea to create a resource that I can refer people to. In publishing in on Seoulinspired, I am hoping that it might be able to help some of my readers also!
Table of Contents
I began photography with a Canon camera. Perhaps the most famous camera brand out there, Canon is known to all. After a while, I wanted to upgrade though, and I eventually moved to a Nikon model – I wasn’t very invested in Canon and just had beginner gear. From there, I moved up to the Nikon D750 – a great camera. However, it wasn’t for me.
I wanted something that had a higher resolution. Since the vast majority of my photography fits into the categories of cityscapes, landscapes, and portraits, a high resolution was of the most importance to me. Speed (which is often needed for sports and wildlife photography) wasn’t essential. As such, I soon after moved to the Sony A7R2.
Since most of my photography is of city-scapes I chose the high resolution Sony A7R2.
At one point I seriously considered selling it – I was doing more professional work and really needed double SD card slots. I hired the Sony A7M3 on multiple occasions and was going to buy one. I couldn’t handle the drop in resolution though. I then considered the D810, and I was at the store selling my A7R2 when I suddenly decided I wanted to keep it (to the more-than-slight annoyance of the shop owner). To this day I use the A7R2 and I love it.
The Sony A7R2 is my own (current) camera and a camera that I love. Nearly all of the photos you can see on this blog have been taken with it.
Why am I telling you this? Well, like everyone, I am biased. I don’t mind admitting that! However, I wanted to explain my story to show that while I have most definitely not used every camera or camera brand, I do have a relatively large experience with both beginner and professional cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony. I am by no means someone who has experienced every camera and knows all of the ins and outs. But since I get asked this question very often there must be some people who are interested in my opinion!
As with everything (looking at you anti-Apple and Apple loyalists) there is a LOT of brand loyalty with cameras. However, the most important thing to take away from the camera brand argument is this: EVERY brand has upsides and downsides. EVERY brand has some decent cameras, and in the end, it’s your choice.
My preference is most definitely Sony, however. For a few reasons – I am a true mirrorless supporter (and currently Sony has the best mirrorless systems out there), Sony tends to offer the most features for the price, and Sony cameras are often true hybrids. That is to say, that they are fantastic at both photo and video – something which many other brands still struggle with. As this article is discussing the best cameras for travel, it is important to have a hybrid camera. On top of that, size is far more important when traveling. For these reasons, I stuck to mirrorless cameras.
While there are other great cameras out there, I will mainly be discussing Sony cameras for these reasons. You could argue with the points above (and many will!), but this is my opinion and experience after all.
This post assumes two things: firstly, that you are getting into photography for your first time. You have no investment in a brand, and you are free to choose any camera you want. Secondly, that you have no focus in mind (or have a broad focus). For example, if you want to photograph birds, there are cameras that are made specifically for these kinds of work – the Canon 7D and Nikon D500 for example. If you want to photograph high resolution landscapes, then there are also far stronger choices – the Sony A7R line and Nikon D8xx line for example.
While all of the cameras I have listed will do all jobs well, they aren’t highly specialized like those above. They will get the job done, and even do the job very well! But they aren’t made for a single specific purpose.
Budget-Friendly Option (under $500)
While by no means super-budget or very cheap, the first camera that I want to recommend is great for anyone looking to get into photography and to not spend a massive amount. The Sony A6000 is a camera that is a few years old now, but it still performs fantastically. I used an A6000 for a few months last year, and I can say with certainty that it is an amazing camera. It is incredibly fast and in no way feels like it is an older camera.
Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and Olympus all have camera offerings in this price bracket, but I chose the Sony for a few reasons. Firstly, it has INSANE autofocus for the price. The autofocus system that it uses is far more advanced than what the competition offers – even on their most recent beginner cameras! On top of that, no camera in this price range can compete with the 11FPS (11 photos per second) that the A6000 has.
This means that while the A6000 can handle any job, it is great for fast-moving objects also. In terms of performance, it can outperform even some professional level cameras in regards to speed and auto-focus.
The biggest downsides of the A6000 are the battery life (which is rather poor) and the sturdiness of the camera body. The battery life is rated to last 360 photos, and as such, you will often need to carry spare batteries. While this isn’t the end of the world (I’ve lived with it!), it can be annoying at times. Since the A6000 is a very small camera, it doesn’t feel as sturdy as its DSLR counterparts from Canon and Nikon. I’ve never dropped any of them, but I feel like the A6000 would come off far worse if it was dropped. However, the small form-factor of the body is also a great advantage in many cases. Especially when traveling!
Mid-Range Options (Under $1000)
Coming in at (often) under $1000 is the Sony A7M2. While the price for this camera fluctuates a lot with sales, it is relatively easy to pick up at a discounted price since the A7M3 is now released. I recommend this camera as the best mid-range option for a few reasons.
It is one of the best price-performance full-frame cameras on the market right now. Since the camera is full-frame, you will get access to a much larger variety of lenses – and also lenses of better quality. This makes it much easier to upgrade cameras in the future if you so choose, as all of your lenses will already be full-frame.
The only real downsides to the A7M2 are that it can struggle to autofocus in low light situations and that it shares the same battery issues (lack of battery life) as all of the other Sony cameras minus the most recent generation.
Other than that, the A7M2 is a great camera body that will serve you well. It is capable in both photo and video and will allow you to enter the world of full-frame Sony cameras.
Let’s say that you want a smaller camera though. Or that you want a camera that is fantastic at video. If this is the case, the A6500 and A6400 are great choices. While the A7M2 provides (slightly) better image quality than both of these bodies, both a6xxx models feature better video capabilities.
The A6400 and A6500 are very similar cameras. The A6400 is actually newer and tends to be a bit cheaper than the A6500, and that is due to the lack of in-body stabilization. In-body stabilization means that you will get less blur in images that require a slower shutter speed.
In layman’s terms, your hand shakes. No matter how steady your hand is, it moves, and this means that the camera also does. Stabilization helps to counteract these small movements by keeping the sensor inside the camera steady. Not only does this help with images, but it means that your videos will be more stable also.
On the other hand, the A6400 features a flip-up screen, meaning that you can see yourself while taking videos and photos. This makes it perfect for vloggers and people interested in taking selfies. The a6500 is often considered the better photography camera, with both of the cameras being nearly identical in video (as you will usually use a gimbal anyway). It’s really up to you to determine what is more important to you!
Otherwise, the A6400 and A6500 share many of their features. They are small and compact, and both offer advanced auto-focus systems with great photography capabilities. Both of these cameras will serve you very well.
High-End Options (Over $1500)
High-end cameras can cost upwards of $15,000 once you get the right lenses to go with them. However, thankfully these days most camera manufacturers also produce a ‘jack of all trades’ camera at around the $2000 mark. Sony blew everybody away with the A7M3 when it released – a camera with really no flaws for a reasonable price. Since then, Nikon and Canon have both released competing cameras.
However, I have no experience with either of these new Nikon and Canon cameras, and I don’t have that much of an interest in them. After hiring the A7M3 on multiple occasions I can say with certainty that it is a wonderful camera – one that I almost purchased myself.
This camera is very similar to the A6xxx cameras in that it doesn’t really excel at anything – but it does everything VERY well. The issues that existed with Sony cameras of the past (such as the battery and overheating) have been removed with the A7M3, and there are only really two issues that still remain.
The weather-sealing on the camera still lacks compared to rival cameras. That is to say, while most professional bodies (such as those from Canon and Nikon) can withstand very harsh weather, the Sony A7M3 can still have issues. The second issue is the form-factor. While the camera being small and light is great for travelling, it also makes it very hard to hold comfortably with bigger lenses or for longer periods of time. While this never bothered me, there are a lot of people who refuse to use Sony cameras because they are uncomfortable.
Otherwise, the Sony A7M3 is a brilliant camera. It will not limit you (maybe other than the price of the lenses!) creatively, and it can perform well in all situations. From sports shooting to portraits, this camera can really do it all.
Cameras I Considered
As I mentioned earlier, this list is for Sony cameras. This is because this is my opinion – if someone asked me what camera they should get; these are the suggestions I would give. In saying that, there are some cameras that I thought about including but didn’t for some reason or another.
I wanted to include this in the mid-range section but chose not to as I could find consistent pricing for it. While it does sell for around $1000 at times, the standard price with a lens is around $1100. As such, this brings it to a higher price than the A6400 and even A6500. At this price, I can’t really justify it over both of those cameras.
Canon and Nikon both have options under $500, but they really can’t compare to the A6000. The advantages that they gain in ergonomics and battery life are quickly lost when you compare their AF systems, burst rates, and other technical specifications. I don’t think either of these brands really has a low-end camera that can compete with the A6000.
In the midrange category there are more options available. Canon has the great x0D series (70D and 80D) and Nikon has the D7xxx series (D7000, D7200, D7500) which are also fantastic. I owned the D7500 for a while and while it was a great camera, the video performance was terrible. As I am recommending travel cameras, there is an emphasis on being hybrid. The Canon cameras are capable in both photo and video, but again, they just get beaten by the A6500. Other than ergonomics and battery life, the A6500 (and by extension the A6400) are superior in nearly every way.
For the high-end options, it was much harder. Recently many companies have produced fantastic hybrid mirrorless cameras. I kept this list to mirrorless due to the size. I know that many people will argue that what mirrorless loses in body size, it gains in lens size, and this is true. But only partly. Mirrorless cameras CAN be just as big as DSLRs, however, with the right lenses, they can also be far smaller. Putting a 28mm, 35mm or 50mm prime on a mirrorless camera will result in a smaller camera than the comparable DSLRs.
Other than Fujifilm and Sony I have not much experience with the new mirrorless systems. Fujifilm cameras are great, but they don’t offer the upwards growth (with lens variety and full-frame) that Sony offers in its ecosystem. If you have experienced Fujifilm cameras and know that you like them, then go for it! But for beginners, I would recommend a bigger system due to future possibilities.