The camera we’ve chosen to document our travels with for the upcoming years is the Sony a6500, Sony’s latest APS-C mirrorless camera.
One of the most important tools for our blog is what we use to capture the memories we make along the way, and I believe that the Sony a6500, with its combination of features, is the best travel camera at the moment. Keep reading to find out why.
Before that, however, here’s a condensed version of the article that should give you just enough camera-buying advice along with the main reasons we chose this camera.
Camera-Buying Advice for Everyone (TL;DR)
Choosing which camera to buy, in general, is never about choosing the most expensive camera, or the one that most articles point to as being the “best” camera.
“Best Travel Camera of the Year!” Yeah, but is it the best for you?
You need to consider two things when buying a camera.
What do I need it for?
What’s my budget?
And, always in that order. Avoid buying too much camera for what you need, because you’ll possibly end up confused, discouraged, and with more shoulder/back pain than necessary.
If you only want better photos than what your phone currently takes (maybe the photos it takes at night are crummy, for example), then you might only need a small point-and-shoot camera like the RX100 or RX100 Mk. III. I learned the basics of photography with one of those cameras that I purchased used. For more details on how I personally purchase my camera equipment, read the Crucial In-Between Detail!
If you want a camera that can produce professional results (photo and video), is lightweight, has ultra-fast focusing, and a range of lenses to choose from (from affordable to pricey), you can't do much better than the Sony a6500.
If you’re on a tighter budget and are still learning, or only plan on using the camera sparingly, the Sony A6000 is very similar and costs almost a third (check the current price here). This was my first interchangeable lens camera, and it produces extremely similar results to the a6500 on the photo side – get this one if you want better bang for your buck!
Crucial In-between Detail!
I'm not ashamed to admit that every camera I've purchased since I started taking photos has been used. My current a6500? Used. The a6300 and a6000 before that? Used and used, all through different retailers on the web. My first "official" camera, the original RX100 that I linked to up top, I found used on Craiglist at a laughably low price and used it until I realized I wanted a different camera to continue learning.
Even though we saved enough money throughout the year to purchase every camera item brand new, it wouldn't have been prudent to do so. I instead waited and found my current cameras used and heavily discounted, and then purchased the lenses on sale.
The amount of money you can save purchasing used is significant, so keep that in mind! I recommend Amazon, B&H Photo Video, and even Craigslist if it's a viable option for you and the camera doesn't look like it's been in a fight with concrete.
Sony a6500 — In Detail
The Sony a6500 is the camera we’ve chosen – but why? Given our budget constraints and my obsession with details, the reasons for this are plentiful. I’ve listed the main ones below.
Without further ado: what’s the first thing to think about when making a big purchase?
You don't always get more if you pay more, at least not when it comes to cameras.
In fact, depending on your level of experience and commitment, you could actually end up buying the most expensive camera only to find that now:
You’ve got a huge headache every time you use it (because it’s too confusing)
You’ve got a constant shoulder pain from carrying it around (or you’re simply not carrying it around from how cumbersome it is to take out)
You’ve got to get a new computer because your current computer can’t handle your cameras photos/videos very well.
So, you definitely need to figure out what you need the camera for (travel, sports, events, landscapes, etc.), and then buy within those criteria, relative to your budget.
Basically: Don’t overspend when buying a camera, even if you can! Plus, take into consideration the lenses (which you should generally spend more on) and accessories.
In our case, I chose to go with the Sony a6500 and premium lenses instead of a) blowing our budget and buying an expensive full-frame camera1 and its lenses, or b) buying a full-frame camera with cheaper lenses.2
[Pricing is relative. What’s relatively affordable for us, and for our blog, might not make any sense for you practically and financially – in which case, take a look at some of the cameras I’ve linked to up top. Furthermore, lenses are another world altogether and would bloat this article far too much. Look for more in-depth details on lenses in the future!]
Besides being in our budget, there’s a number of reasons I chose the a6500, independent of price. Let’s get into some of those.
Size and Weight
We travel, full-time. Therefore, my first consideration was always size. Plus, I personally like having my camera virtually everywhere I go, for both unlimited practice, and to document everything as I go along.
Larger cameras with larger sensors need larger lenses – all of which are simply heavier. There’s no way around it. And while they might take microscopically cleaner photos (it’s typically not very noticeable at normal viewing distances), it would come at the expense of weighing us down, financially and literally.
Plus, I enjoy having my camera and my entire set of lenses (3 in total) at my side, in a messenger bag. It’s the quickest, most convenient way for me to shoot while having access to all of my tools.
Why not something smaller then?
Photo and Video Quality
We photograph, full-time. The quality of the photographs – specifically, the RAW3 files – was of utmost importance to me when choosing a camera.
One of the main pillars of our blog is the quality of the photos we can produce for our audience and our clients. Whenever I take a photo of a landscape/cityscape, a hotel room, or locals speeding swiftly through the city, I want to be sure that the photo is good enough to sell to a tourism company (digitally or printed, no matter the size) as well as good enough to quickly edit and post to our blog or social media.
Then there’s video. Or in this case, stabilized (more on this below) 4K video. This is an area that we plan on exploring in the coming months, and having that capability available was important. From our limited experience with this camera’s video quality and my extensive knowledge on it (i.e. I’ve read every article there is to read on this camera), the video quality is superb and does not disappoint.
All things considered, I believe that the Sony a6000 series of cameras is the ultimate combination of quality, portability, and value, with the best in the series being the a6500.
So what kind of details make it the best?
We document, full-time. Fast and accurate focusing can be the difference between getting that split-second photo in a new city we’re visiting – one that shows exactly how hard the locals work or exactly how much fun they’re having as the sun is setting – and not getting it.
Not all of our photos require a fast-focusing camera (landscapes don’t even require autofocus at all), but it’s great to have when needed, like street photography and video.
Then, there’s the speed of operating the camera. This is something that’s personal and subjective, but nonetheless important to mention.
I’ve been using Sony cameras for a few years now, so the controls and menus all make sense to me – muscle memory has developed. If necessary, I know I can quickly make 4-5 adjustments to the camera before taking a specific photo, all in a matter of seconds.
Additionally, I shoot differently than most other photographers4, and the camera’s ergonomics conform to my hand.
[After my time with the smaller point-and-shoot cameras, I continued learning photography with the a6000 series of cameras, so this definitely affects my opinion of them and how comfortable I am with them. That being said, if I was able to learn quickly with these cameras, so can anyone else!]
Alright, so the a6500 is fast to focus and easy to operate. Got it. What other little details make it a winner?
Little Details That Make it a Winner
There’s a touch screen. It might seem ridiculous to point out that top-of-the-line gadget in the 21st century has a touch screen, but in the world of “professional” cameras, you’d be surprised at how rare they are. The touch screen is there for choosing where the camera will focus once you take the photo; this speeds up the operation of the camera and is something I use for most of the photos I take. It’s useful and quick, and I love it.
I also love the “in-body stabilization” that the a6500 model has over the a6300 and a6000 cameras, along with most other cameras in this price/size range. As a travel photographer, this sensor-based stabilization makes it:
Easier to take certain photos without a tripod (and hence less weight to carry around)
Easier to take higher-quality (i.e. cleaner) photos at night
Easier to compose photos (especially with longer lenses, i.e. “zoomed-in” lenses)
Easier to record smooth 4K video on-the-go
Needless to say, it makes a world of difference. It’s a small detail that goes a long way in making every step of the photographic process better.
Photos are Memories
And everyone deserves to have clearer, better memories to look back on for whenever our memory fails us.
Choosing what to record those memories with can be difficult – especially when it comes to traveling, where you find yourself exploring vastly different worlds from your own, all of which are constantly changing. Whatever camera you have with you will help you create memories that will never occur again in quite the same fashion.
Although phones nowadays can take amazing photos, there are certainly some situations where a phone’s camera simply isn’t an adequate-enough tool.
In sum, based on my experience, knowledge, and use-cases, the best travel camera available right now is the Sony a6500.
It's one of the few cameras currently available that provides portability, speed, and professional results, all while including state-of-the-art features that will consistently help you in the ongoing process of capturing memories.
If you’re looking to get into an a6500 of your own, check current prices out here! And remember to always look at used options either through Amazon and B&H.
Thanks for reading! What does your perfect travel camera look like? Do you prefer a different camera or brand? Let me know in the comments!