Simple/affordable camera and lens for travel?
March 17, 2021 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I want to take some nice pictures on a trip to Europe this fall. However I tend to fall down long rabbit holes when researching new electronics and I don't have the time or energy to spend. Please recommend a basic, "good enough," affordable DSLR camera and 1-2 lenses that will be good for cityscapes, landscapes, and nice portraits of each other in front of said vistas.

- lightly used or refurbished is okay
- looking for something light and comfortable to carry while walking a lot
- can't emphasize enough how little I want to think about this: I don't want lots of buttons and options and settings, I just want to shoot on automatic (or maybe manually adjust focus and other settings on automatic) and have the photos turn out decent
- I had/have a very old Canon rebel and 50mm prime lens and sorta know my way around digital photography but it's been a long time. However I am an artist and I do care very much about composition and beautiful lighting in a more "capture the moment" way.
- no gear. I don't want to carry any gear at all beyond the camera and a max of 2 lenses.

Thanks so much!
posted by ohsnapdragon to Technology (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I came to recommend an old Canon Rebel. Now even more so. Use what you have!
posted by aniola at 9:14 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: aniola, I mean REALLY old, like I bought used almost 15 years ago and I think it has something like 8 megapixels? Maybe less? I don't trust it to work smoothly since I haven't touched it in years, and last I checked the built in flash was broken, and I don't want to put money into refurbishing something that old.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2021

Got it. They still make 'em. Figure out how old you do consider acceptable/ how many megapixels you need, and then get one used.
posted by aniola at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2021

I know it's not really your question, but have you tried a relatively recent phone camera? If you're mostly shooting on auto, I can't see any reason for a DSLR; given your wish to minimise gear, a good phone camera should fit the bill nicely. I have a recent-ish Nikon DSLR and a couple of different lenses, and I'm sad to say that it's been collecting dust since I upgraded my phone.
posted by pipeski at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit, one more response: I have an iPhone 10 so the camera is pretty good. However, I don't think it really compares to say a wide angle lens or the ability to have depth of field?
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:34 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If light and comfortable is at all a priority, you want a mirrorless rather than a DSLR; see this recent question.

Not sure what your budget is, but here's one option; body is about $200; for lenses, I'd just get a telephoto, especially if you are traveling.

Also, remember that over the past 15 years, cameras have gotten so much better that virtually any camera released in the last few years will blow yours out of the water. So ignore the gear heads; it's like people who are arguing whether to get a new BMW or Mercedes, when you're used to a 1972 Pinto. Even a 2017 Honda Civic would amaze you.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Any modern DSLR is going to have an Auto setting that does what you want as far as interface goes. In your shoes of wanting a decision made I walk in to Costco and buy the option that meets my price threshold because they have a no hassle return policy. They are selling Canon DSLRs at the moment and the lower level option from them is fine for your use.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: If you want small, skip DSLRs altogether and go mirrorless.

Depending on your budget, a Fuji X-E3 or X-E2 with the Fuji 18-55 lens will have you covered. Very small, yet powerful camera that can be treated like a point & shoot, but will let you be as manual as you want.

Also, the Fuji X20 or X30 might fit the bill.
posted by kpraslowicz at 9:42 AM on March 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

Nth that a DSLR may not be the best choice for travel or vacation. For better opinions that I can give look up "street photography".

The PetaPixle web site has good stuff on this subject.

Happy photography on your vacation
posted by Raybun at 9:51 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

What you want probably is a Sony RX100. Pocketable, excellent full auto settings, good lens, shoots in raw, charges over usb, has full manual options too when you want to play with the settings, it even has a little pop up viewfinder which is nice for sunny days and feeling like you're shooting a DSLR.

I have a couple of DSLRs & a Sony Mirrorless as well as the Sony RX100 and I would say that the RX100 covers most travel situations where you don't need exotic lenses (ie 500mm zoom or 8mm fisheye or f/1.2 50mm). Basically you get most of the power of a DSLR/Mirrorless but don't have to deal with the weight.

A DSLR is never going to be light and comfortable to carry. You won't forget that it's on your shoulder. Carrying/changing lenses is always going to be annoying. (And this is coming from someone who nearly always has a DSLR/Mirrorless on my shoulder on trips.)

I would buy from KEH, it's one of the largest used camera gear companies, they've got a 180 day warranty on the gear they sell.
posted by gregr at 9:55 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're set on interchangeable lenses and the Fuji isn't small and light enough for you, look at the Olympus OM-D E-M10 series. Drawbacks: the sensor is a bit old and low res compared to other manufacturers' current models, and Olympus cameras have an overwhelming number of options and configurable settings if you want to get away from the defaults. Pluses: huge lens selection, overall a really small and light package, and the defaults are actually quite good. I have to work really hard with my photo editor to do better than the JPEGs that come straight out of my Olympus cameras. That said, the Fuji is probably the sweet spot for an interchangeable lens camera right now.
posted by fedward at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2021

I used to shoot DSLR for hobby purposes like you are wanting to, and honestly, so much of a photo is about composition and lighting and not what you are shooting with. I'm very happy using my iphone X to take photos of almost everything, and it's always close by, saving the luggage/additional need.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I always traveled with a giant camera and lenses in a big bag. For 25 years it was a constant companion (and annoyance) on my trips. Camera phone has now improved so much, I do not have to make that sacrifice anymore. Probably not for everyone, but I am very often complimented on my photography and asked what camera I use. It was just a pixel phone.
posted by beccaj at 10:18 AM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Me again

Look up "Street Photography masterclass with Nick Turpin" on YouTube.
posted by Raybun at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your old camera has a hot shoe and it otherwise works fine, see if you can get a reasonably inexpensive flash for it, assuming you actually need flash. The main thing that newer cameras will do better at than your old one is doing low light photography without super long shutter speeds.

More megapixels simply don't matter unless you plan to get very big enlargements printed. My old 6MP Nikon D50 was plenty good enough for 8x10s. Still would be if I could find the damn thing.
posted by wierdo at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2021

I say this as someone with 5 DSLR bodies and a collection of very nice lenses.

Based on the general description of your trip and level of experience with photography, if I were you, I would think very, very hard about just taking one of the pocketable cameras like the Fuji X100 or Ricoh GR series. A DSLR is overkill for most people's purposes at this point. Unless you're sure that you need something wider than a 24mm equivalent, they're more than capable of describing the shots that you described wanting to get (other than maybe having to walk closer than you might want to get a closeup portrait).

DSLR (and larger mirrorless) cameras are a pain to carry around all day and often not worth it unless you're a really dedicated photographer. They also mark you as a tourist and regardless of what you get, I'd encourage you to check out the street crime rates for the area you're looking at. Friends of mine had an expensive lens lifted off their DSLR in Spain - the criminals knew exactly what on the camera body to press to disengage the lens from the body and ran off with a red line Canon lens in less than five seconds of interaction with them. Others will happily cut the strap and take the entire thing. If you're going to have a DSLR out in certain cities, you have to have a good amount of situational awareness.

A smaller, simpler camera is more likely to be something that you have with you, less likely to be stolen, and fine for at least 90% of the shots that most people want to take. It's also easier to sell an integrated unit if you get back and find that you just don't use the fancy camera all that much. Unless you're willing to also bring a tripod and spend a bunch of time setting up shots, nicer gear has diminishing returns.

There's plenty of professional photographers that will have photos of the sites that you'll be seeing that will be better than what most people can take (this isn't a slam on you, they just have better equipment, more experience, and the luxury of time to wait for the perfect shot) - buy some prints from them and focus on taking pictures of each other than will be more meaningful than generic scenery.
posted by Candleman at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've done the traveling with two lenses thing. It was with (35mm equivalent) 28mm and 60mm lenses. That gives you wide angle and portrait. The big sacrifice is that you don't have a long lens, so you are left frustrated with not being able to photograph things that are far away. Although I missed that feature, I really thought that lens combination worked well. They can fit in a small bag.

At this point, camera technology has gotten so good that whatever brand you choose will be better than 95% of what was available to photographers before you. I would suggest that you just make a choice and go with it.
posted by Quonab at 12:37 PM on March 17, 2021

Being a total camera amateur, I agree with the consensus... You don't need a DSLR, which would be big and awkward. You need something smaller, a pro-sumer or even just a consumer camera, that you can always keep it on you, that you'd use it to snap something without thinking. Something small and hangs on a wrist-strap around your hand would be ideal, if you won't settle for a smartphone photo.
posted by kschang at 1:34 PM on March 17, 2021

In the situation where I had only the two lenses I described, I also would occasionally use a teleconverter on the 60mm lens. Sometimes it would look good, other times it did not work out at all. However, a 1.5 teleconverter does not take up much space. I would not waste my time with a 2.0 teleconverter, though.
posted by Quonab at 1:35 PM on March 17, 2021

When I look back on pictures of vacations past, I have *lots* of beautiful scenery and few of the people I went with. The scenery is probably still there, even though the people are no longer with us. Don't be me. A year, a decade from now, you'll appreciate the shot of your friends/family with a couple of iron bars behind them more than the most perfectly timed shot of the Eiffel Tower.
posted by kate4914 at 1:51 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I like the SONY A6400.

It is not a full frame DSLR and it is a smaller mirrorless.

I get what people are saying here that most of the time the iPhone is great but having the iPhone 12 at hand I still find it useful to have a great camera from time to time.

With that being said, if you don't know how to use it, it may not be worthwhile (it does sound like you do know what you are doing so feel free to disregard)..

Also while in Europe some places like Spain suffer from high levels of watch out..however northern Europe and what not you should be ok (for the most part).
posted by The1andonly at 4:36 PM on March 17, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, especially those who suggested mirrorless instead. I honestly was not familiar with those. I ended up grabbing a Fuji X-T100 and 15-45mm lens from KEH for about $500. Excited to test it out!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you want to buy an affordable DSLR, then you can go for any one of the Nikon D3 series or the D5 series as these are good for entry level. As you mentioned, you only want to have a camera and a couple of lenses and not more anything, you can buy the lenses of NIKKOR 18-55mm and the 70-300mm kit lenses. These lenses would be a good choice but you will need to change the lenses according to the type of photography you want to do. These lenses are good for any photography of landscape and cityscapes as well.
These cameras are known for their point and shoot ability. They are also good for photography of far-off targets like wildlife and birds. You will save a huge amount of money on the lenses and you will never feel like “Oh-i-can’t-shoot-these-type-of-photos”.
You might get confused with the D3 and D5 series as there are lots of entry-level DSLRs,, but the best option is the D3500. The battery life of this camera can go up to 1,550 images which is far ahead than any DSLR at this price range. The 24MP sensor provides high image quality.
posted by chocolatenights at 7:19 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

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