My passion for photography started when I was a teenager. And despite the fact that much of my college years were spent inside lecture halls rather than darkrooms, my interest in photography has extended into my adult life and my travels.
Now, photographing the world around me is one of my favorite things to do, and one of the most common questions I receive is about the camera gear that I’m shooting with, and what I think is the best camera for traveling.
Despite what many people think, I’m not using a top-of-the-line, professional camera that costs $2,000, or even half that. The body of my camera actually costs less than a quarter of that price.
RELATED: My Recommended Travel Gear
Because I travel so often, I’ve had to find a way to balance the quality of my equipment with size. As someone who travels a lot, the oftentimes bulky equipment that so many people travel with just doesn’t make sense for me.
And for some reason, I see so many people walking around with expensive, unwieldy camera equipment that they don’t know how to use. Here’s the deal: unless you’re a professional photographer, it’s entirely unnecessary to spend all that extra money on a big, shiny camera.
Spending more doesn’t mean you’re getting better quality images—it just means you’re getting more advanced features. And unless your skill level has developed beyond the technical capabilities of your camera, there’s no need to spend more for the sake of these top-of-the-line features.
With all of this in mind, I set out to find the best camera equipment I could, at the best size and price. Sure, mirrorless cameras are one way to go, but they’re also much more expensive.
My research brought me to the conclusion that the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 (also known as the 100D in the UK) is the best DSLR camera for traveling. It’s the same size as a mirrorless (maybe even smaller) and it's very affordable. I’ve been shooting with it for nine full months, and I couldn’t be happier.
Every photo in this article was taken with the SL1.
How Big is the Canon EOS Rebel SL1?
There are multiple factors to consider when purchasing a camera for traveling, but the most important to me is the size. I travel carry-on only everywhere I go, and I’ve been able to do so partially by keeping the size of my camera gear to a minimum.
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is the world’s smallest and lightest DSLR camera. It’s 4.6 inches wide, 3.57 inches tall, and has a depth of 2.74 inches, excluding the lens.
To put this into perspective, it’s about as wide as an iPhone 4 is tall, and it’s about as tall as a cigarette lighter. This comes together to form a camera that is both extremely small and has a wide range of functionality.
And let’s not forget get that body of this camera weighs just 14 oz (less than a pound).
What are the Most Important Features?
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 boasts an 18 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a DIGIC 5 Image processor. There’s a 3” touchscreen LCD on the back for shooting or previewing, and it records full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second (fps).
In layman's terms, it has a sensor and an image processor which are both of excellent quality, with many other features that will rival any other professional camera on the market.
In fact, this camera is exactly the same as the famed Rebel T5i, with a few modifications to make it smaller. It doesn’t have WiFi or a flip-screen and it does have a slightly slower shooting speed.
Unless these are features that you absolutely need, there’s no reason not to pick the SL1. Oh, did I mention how small it is?
Visit the Canon product page for more information.
The Crop Frame vs. Full Frame Sensor Debate
One thing that people often debate over, especially in the travel photography field, is whether to use a camera with a crop frame sensor or a full frame sensor (the EOS Rebel SL1 has a crop frame sensor). Despite this debate, the answer to “which is better?” is very simple: neither one. They’re different.
A full frame camera has a 35mm digital sensor, which is the size which has been accepted as the standard gauge of film since 1909, mostly due to its balance in cost and image quality. In the digital age, there is no particular reason why a full frame sensor is better or worse than a crop frame.
A crop frame sensor is smaller than 35mm. This essentially crops the edges of the picture from the field of view and slightly zooms in on your image. So with a full frame sensor you have a wider field of view, and a crop frame sensor effectively increases your focal length.
If you’re a professional photographer, there are very specific reasons why it might be beneficial to use a full frame or crop frame in various shooting settings. However, for most people, the difference is trivial. I consider myself a semi-professional photographer, and I've been shooting with the Canon EOS Rebel SL1, which is a crop frame.
Frankly, if you have the right lenses, it’s not going to matter.
It’s also worth noting that full frame sensors are a whole lot more expensive, which is part of the reason why the crop frame Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is such a great deal.
How Much Does it Cost?
Especially given the number of features, this camera might be one of the best-priced pieces of photography gear I’ve come across. It’s extremely affordable, and retails for $700 USD.
However, on Amazon, you can buy the full camera kit (body, 18-55mm lens, and accessories) for $500.
If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is. Plus, at this price, you’ll be able to put your extra dollars toward the thing you’ve actually been saving for: travel!
My Favorite Lenses
No travel photographer’s kit is complete without extra lenses. In fact, the lens usually makes more difference than the body. The standard 18-55mm lens that comes with the SL1 is wonderful and versatile, but if you want to take your photos to the next level, here’s what I recommend.
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Ultra Wide Angle Lens
Especially for shooting landscapes, a wide angle lens is a requirement for any travel photographer's kit. The Tokina 11-16mm UWA is my favorite lens, and I never leave home without it. It’s made specifically for crop frame cameras, and it’s an absolute must for shooting large, panoramic vistas.
I had also considered the Canon 10-22mm, but that lens is an f/3.5, meaning it doesn’t do as well in low light. This is something I wasn’t willing to sacrifice. Tokina is a great brand, the lens is built extremely well (no plastic mount!), and it's very, very crisp.
Especially for the price (about $435 USD, marked down from $1,360 retail), this wide angle lens simply can’t be beat.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Fixed Focal Length Lens
The crisp quality of a fixed length lens is remarkable; the Canon EF 50mm is particularly great for street photography and portraits of people. Commonly referred to as the “nifty fifty,” it has become favored by photographers all over the world due to the quality to price ratio.
The lens has a plastic body and is very lightweight, so it's not exactly durable. But it's only $110 USD and the photo quality is surprisingly amazing. It's also so small that, when attached to the SL1, the whole setup feels like a point-and-shoot. I've traveled with this lens for almost a year and I absolutely love it.
In fact, I've used this lens to take some of my favorite photos, like the one below.
Final Takeaway on the Canon EOS Rebel SL1
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 isn't a top-of-the-line camera, but it doesn't need to be. It's very small, takes high quality photos, and is extremely affordable. Given the size to quality to price ratio, the Rebel SL1 is definitely the best DSLR camera for traveling.
You can see from my photos that many shots taken with this camera rival any other professional camera. I use Adobe Lightroom to post-process all of my photos, and I'll talk more about this in a future article, but if you're looking for a camera to take with you on your next trip, I don't think you could pick a better one than this.