The dream of about 50% of Instagram users is to become a travel photographer, paid to wander the globe taking photos. By that logic, there’s around 400 million of you looking to take amazing travel images. But your smartphone camera, however mind-blowing it is, just isn’t going to cut it to compete with the best.
Try putting an ultra-wide lens, telephoto lens or taking a long exposure on a smartphone, you just can’t! If you’re looking to find the best mirrorless camera for travel, then you’re in the right place.
For years, everyone used DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras, but as technology evolved, photographers slowly started to seek out lighter and more advanced cameras. This article serves as a guide to help you choose the right mirrorless camera for a frequent traveller.
How Does a Mirrorless Camera Work?
As the name suggests, a mirrorless camera is one that doesn’t use a mirror. The traditional SLR cameras have a mirror inside that reflects light up through the lens and into the eyepiece. As a result, they need to be much larger, and heavier.
Mirrorless cameras have since evolved to combine the best of both worlds. The power and performance of the DSLR in a smaller body. They project the image directly onto the sensor, which is then displayed on an electronic viewfinder. This allows for you to see the final image (as the camera sees it) rather than exactly as your eye sees it. Potentially improving the number of keepers you can take away from a shoot.
How to Choose a Mirrorless Camera
We’ve all been there, standing, staring at a wall of digital cameras wondering which one to buy. In your head bouncing between the price tag, image quality, battery life, 4k video and weather sealing. There are so many options, basically, we just want the best camera without breaking the bank!
Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best mirrorless camera for a travel photographer:
Weight and Size
Since these cameras have no mirror inside, they are much lighter and smaller than their predecessors, which makes them perfect for travel. The best camera is the one you have with you and if it’s light, you’ll have it with you a lot more!
Bad weather can kill your camera quicker than you’d like to think. Weather sealing varies from camera to camera so make sure to read the instructions carefully. But generally speaking, it means that the camera is dust, sand and rain “resistant”. For me, it’s always been an essential feature as I just want to focus on taking shots, not the 2 drops of rain on my lens.
Swapping a mirror out for an electronic viewfinder doesn’t come for free. As a result, they generally have a lower battery life than their canon Eos DSLR counterparts. I recommend keeping at least 3 batteries on you if you’re out shooting. One for now, one for later and one more just in case there’s a problem, or something amazing happens.
Some modern mirrorless cameras come with in-camera image stabilisation. If you don’t have image stabilised lenses, this is essential. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to use a tripod, or shoot at high shutter speeds. For video, some sort of stabilisation is absolutely necessary.
Mirrorless cameras generally come in three sensor sizes, full frame sensors, APS-C, and the micro four thirds. There are larger medium format sensors, but as these are bulkier, I am not recommending them as a travel camera. Not to mention, they have a pretty hefty price tag. The larger the sensor, the easier your camera can absorb light and the better the images.
Travel photography involves you shooting different scenarios. From macro to landscapes and as the light fades you want low light shots, oh and the whole time you’ll be needing to shoot video. Easy! Right? Well unless you’re Elon Musk you’ll probably need to decide where you want to sacrifice a little to save some money!
4K video was once a feature found in select, premium cameras. Nowadays, it seems this is par for the course. Video is essential to telling a story in today’s day and age. Things like autofocus tracking, framerates, the LCD screen and external mic inputs are important to check too!
Advantages of Using a Mirrorless Camera
Mirrorless cameras are relatively a new development in the photography world. They are smaller, lighter, and more portable than their predecessors, but also offer the benefits of DSLR such as interchangeable lenses, manual controls, larger sensors, and superb image quality.
As they generally are newer, and the companies are iterating models faster. Mirrorless cameras are evolving fast. A lot of photographers have a number of lenses from a specific manufacturer and are hesitant to give it all the extra weight for a smaller, lighter mirrorless system.
But, as we see Canon and Nikon entering the mirrorless camera market to compete with Sony and Fuji these people can use their older lenses on a new smaller, more advanced body. I have been very tempted myself and that’s why I analysed the top 5 mirrorless cameras for travel. I’ll be making the switch sooner than I think now!
The Best Mirrorless Camera for Travel
People are very passionate about their brand of camera. This list is aiming to provide the best mirrorless cameras for most travellers at a reasonable price. Meaning we won’t cover the extreme ends, just the best value camera for your trip. Here is a list of the best models to get you started:
Sony offers the best value camera with the Sony Alpha a6500. It has a range of specifications, including 5-axis image stabilization to keep shots nice and sharp, 24.2 megapixels, APS-C sensor that is a great choice for creative travellers looking for an alternative to big and heavy DSLR, 11fps continuous shooting, and 4k video. The alpha a6500 also comes with several features such as a tilt-angle touchscreen, bright viewfinder that makes it easy for you to see when the image is sharp and correctly exposed, a touchpad mode that allows you to quickly change AF points and control rack focus speed with a touch of a finger, weather-sealed body, impressively-fast autofocus, not forgetting built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity that allows you to share images.
- Fast performance
- Excellent electronic viewfinder
- Made from a weather-sealed and durable magnesium alloy, which offers durability
- Comes with a very capable autofocusing system
- Some users cited overheating when shooting a video for an extended period of time
- Larger lenses feel a little unbalanced
- Low battery life
Fujifilm’s X Series cameras are generally ideal for both beginners and professional photographers. But, the X-T20 is by far the best budget camera for travelling in the series that still offers high-quality images. Some of its key specifications include 24.3 megapixels, APS-C sensor format, X-Processor Pro Image Processor, 8.0fps continuous shooting, and 4K Video that comes with different drive modes like panoramic shooting. The X-T20’s manual controls allow you to experience the old fashioned way of taking pictures, capturing images as you see them. Some of its key features include: advanced filters to create unique images, film simulation modes that are available even while shooting 4k video that creates versatile video effects, Versatile AF modes, The X-Trans CMOS III sensor that allows you to capture gorgeous, vibrant, clean, and crisp images even in low-light situations, and AF-C custom settings that makes it easier for you to accurately track a moving image.
- Offers rich and detailed images
- Excellent speed
- Very little shutter lag time, which means it won’t get in the way of you capturing precious moments
- Excellent build and design
- No weather sealing
- Some users reported that the camera is a bit slow to operate after long hours of use.
Fujifilm has been perfecting their X Series, and the X-T2 is one of their major flagship models with the biggest improvement of all being the autofocus system (325 AF points, 169 of which offer phase detection). This digital camera is hugely popular among amateurs and professionals. The X-T2 carries a lot of similar features as the Fuji X-T20 like 24.3 megapixels, X-Processor Pro image processor, and the X-Trans CMOS III sensor, which begs the question of why it’s a bit costly. Well, it comes with more distinct features over its predecessor like weather resistance, dual card slots, a faster maximum shutter speed, and better ergonomics. It also features a full-frame sensor that offers superb quality images.
- Polished handling
- Extremely well-built
- Comes with a wide range of lenses to choose from
- Fast autofocus
- Quick startup
- No touchscreen
- Some users reported overheating while using the 4k video for an extended period of time
Sony might have released several newer models, but the Sony Alpha a6000 is still the best budget camera for travelling that delivers quality images. Generally, you can get one with a basic lens for less than $600. This mirrorless camera is focused on speed, featuring the world’s fastest autofocus and an APS-C sized sensor that allows you to take up to 11fps. And, with 24.3 megapixels you can easily capture moments in a blink of an eye. Some of its key features include fast autofocus with an incredible facial tracking, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC that allows instant sharing via Smartphone, 1080p video, and a tilting screen.
- Has a wide range of lenses to choose from
- Comes with easy and intuitive controls to help you shoot like an expert
- High image quality
- Lacks modern features like weather resistant, 4K video, and in-body image stabilization
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II has the ability to take stunning, sharp images; however, what makes it the best camera for travelling 2018 is its rugged magnesium alloy weatherproof body, which allows it to withstand elements during travel photography. Unlike Sony and Fuji, Olympus uses Micro Four Third (MFT) sensors. This camera offers 2x crop factor that come in handy while shooting sports or wildlife. This mirrorless camera comes with impressive class-leading specs and features, which include an advanced silent electronic shutter that’s capable of capturing 60fps in S-AF Mode and 18 fps in C-AF Tracking Mode, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 4K video, quick & sharp autofocus system, dual SD card slots, and a tilting touchscreen LCD that makes it easier to shoot in difficult positions.
- Fast shooting
- Longer battery life with 440 shots
- Loaded with a lot of functionality
- Impressive image stabilization
- Needlessly complicated menus
The mirrorless cameras mentioned above are just but the tip of the iceberg. Generally, when it comes to travel cameras cost and size/weight are probably the primary guiding factors. All of the above picks offer great results with a few distinct features. The Sony Alpha a6000 provides the perfect budget-friendly option. If you’re looking for an impressive camera with more features check the Fujifilm X-T2. For those who want the ultimate in travel photography, check out the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II.