Do You Still Need a Camera for Travel Photos?

Short version – yes.

Longer version. I have a decent “super-zoom” camera –  the Canon 20IS (the 50IS is the latest model). I’ve had it for several years and am not planning on replacing it. But I know more and more  travellers are ditching their point and shoot cameras and just using iPads or phones to take their images.

So Let’s Go Experiment!

So before our upcoming trip, and taking advantage of some extraordinary good weather I took my camera and iPad mini for a walk around Wellington’s waterfront.

The quality of a “normal” scene in good light is not bad:

2014-04-05 13.29.21

Taken from the iPad Mini

At first glance the same photo taken from the same position with the Canon looks like a similar quality:

Taken from the same position using the Canon

A Taken from the same position using the Canon

But look at the left of the picture – see how there are several more buildings visible – that’s why wide-angle is cool for travel photography!

Using the zoom though shows up the poorer quality of the iPad:

2014-04-05 13.24.21

Zooming in with the iPad on the action at the temporary skaing rink – blurry

Compare that with the approximately similar zoom from the Camera, taken from the same place.


And the same distance zoomed with the Canon – much better!

And just to show off just what detail a zoom will give you –  remember this is an  optical zoom – not a digital zoom – which is just software being smart -with consequent loss of clarity.


Zoomed in detail with the Canon

Some other things were also apparent:

Being able to see is very useful when taking photos!

I’m a fair weather traveller –  and I couldn’t see much in the tablet’s screen in the full sun! The Canon has a view finder and this exercise reminded me why having the option of a viewfinder is a “must have” when I’m looking at cameras.

The iPad is awkward to get out to take a picture.

You can’t just walk around with an iPad in your hand, not even a mini, it’s a bit awkard, and too easy to drop. The camera hangs around my neck just fine. Plus the camer a is designed to be held securely – the zoomed photo above was done with no camera shake just my pressing my elbows to my sides and  holding my breath. Trying to do the same thing with the iPad is a helluva lot harder – as you have to one-handedly zoom on screen while trying to hold the tablet still with the other hand.

The iPad is Useful

I’m not saying leave the tablet at home – in fact I’m happy to leave my phone at home and just travel with the iPad – it’s very useful and being WIFI only can NEVER cost me a fortune in international roaming charges! If I need to take a quick picture of something pragmatic: the condition of a rental car on pickup, the number of my room in a large hotel, the prices and exact name of somewhere I want to write about. All very useful.

But it’s not a camera substitute.

Disclaimer – all images taken on an exceptionally sunny day in April in Wellington. This weather is not typical. If you arrive and it’s raining and a cold southerly- it’s not my fault!


  1. Michelle on April 8, 2014 at 11:54 am

    My camera is my traveling companion since I often travel alone. However, my friend used her ipad while in Hanalei, Kauai on a beautiful day and her photos were stunning. I love taking pictures, but I know a lot of people who are more than happy to just take a quick pic with their cell which isn’t for me, but good for them 🙂

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      I understand that Michelle – I travelled for many years solo – just me an my camera- and a whole lot of film! I just think a lot of people will be sorry about the quality when they look back on those memories – that is if they can even find their digitial originals!

  2. Anita on April 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Great topic for debate! Since I’m a long-term, full time traveler I have to come down in favor of the camera vs. the tablet. My husband and I each carry a Panasonic Lumix (point and shoot) that takes acceptable quality pictures for our blog and to send back to our friends and family. The best part about the camera is that, because it’s so small, one of us always has it so we don’t miss out on interesting photos. Another plus in its favor is that it doesn’t have the STEAL APPEAL that an i-pad or tablet might have.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Good point re the thieves – you have to be determined to get a camera worn around the neck – not so much a tablet. Yeah if I had to replace I would scraifice the convenience of AA batteries for a smaller camera. I’ve heard good things about the Lumix – but you do need a decent optical zoom – so that’s never tiny.

  3. Nancie on April 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    When I see people running around taking photos of everything in sight with their Ipads I want to smack them! (at least literally). In a pinch, okay, but it was never meant to be a camera.

    I use my iphone a lot, particularly for quick food shots in restaurants. Also, if my main camera runs out of battery I am not stuck without a camera.

    I recently changed DSLRs. I went from a Nikon D90 to a Fuji X-E1. My first digital camera was a Fuji, and they have a hard to beat color management system. The other reason was size. I loved my Nikon, too, but it was starting to feel too big to cart around.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      My first ultrazoom was a Fuji – but I got the Canon nearly new at a second hand price – and I’d probably stick with Canon now – I really like them. I guess it’s like in the old days we had favourite film types – because the colour was different between films. At least now it’s easy to fix!

  4. Doreen Pendgracs on April 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I’m glad you did the comparison. I do see the difference, although I’m wondering if the high retina iPad would fare better? I do love the convenience of the iPad. I love being able to look at the larger version images while travelling, and to show friends when I get home.

    And by the way, there is an iPad strap. A fellow had one when we were in Hawaii and it was terrific.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      I think it’s a slightly better camera on the retina – but for the price you could get quite a nice camera! I travel with a laptop for reviewing photos and basically running my business. Though there are options with the iPad it’s expensive because the lack of ability to just plug in additional storage – an Android tablet would be better for that.

  5. noel on April 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I like taking pictures on both, the variety and quality on the dslr and the convenience and speed of a cell phone…love seeing the pictures and your explanations, well done.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Thanks Noel – appreciate that coming from a “real” photographer!

  6. Suzanne Fluhr on April 8, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    The camera on my android Galaxy S4 smart phone seems to do better on close ups than my husband’s point and shoot digital Canon. However, the superiority of the camera is readily revealed for photos using a zoom lens. Unless one is a professional photographer, size probably does matter. 😉

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 8, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      The idea for this post was from a non-blogging friend who complained about the quality of her camera – I’m afraid that the problem was really with the operator 🙂

  7. Irene S. Levine on April 9, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Agree totally but the trade-off is convenience so we usually take cameras when we are traveling and take advantage of our phones on local jaunts.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 14, 2014 at 9:06 am

      I often forget to take my phone anywhere – and normally have the camera 🙂 I just don’t like phones very much!

  8. Patti on April 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Interesting post. We travel with my digital camera (Nikon coolpix) and my husband’s phone, which I can’t remember what kind it is right now. I love my camera, but I admit, just being able to stick your phone in your pocket is so much more convenient than lugging a camera. I also have a pocket camera that slips right into my tiny travel purse. All 3 modes of photography work pretty well, but it truly is amazing the quality of photos that come off of my husband’s phone/camera. Technology!

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 14, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I must admit to never buying a DSLR because they are just too heavy to carry around – I guess that’s part of the appeal of camea phones. I do know a lot of serious” photographers who miss shots because they have too much get to carry around all the time.

  9. Neva on April 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    My daughter is a professional photographer and she would agree that sometimes pulling out the phone gets the picture that is only there for a nano second. The comparison was really interestingly put together.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 14, 2014 at 9:10 am

      I agree – one of the reasons I’ve never owned a DSLR – it just doesn’t work for travel, if you need to carry your camera every moment you are out of your hotel room!

  10. Donna Hull on April 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

    I agree that using an iPad mini or the full-sized iPad as a camera is difficult in bright sunlight, although I see plenty of fellow travelers using them. But I am using my iPhone more and more to take photos, especially when I don’t have time to set up a shop with my good camera. So you’ll usually see me shooting with both. It’s quite the balancing act. I enjoyed your comparisons and you certainly make a good case for a regular camera.

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on April 17, 2014 at 7:08 am

      iPhones cost more than my camera – even my dream upgraded camera! I guess the superzoom is the best of both worlds – if I want a quick snap I turn it on toss of the lens cap and take the snap in auto. That’s actually quicker than finding the ipad or phone putting in the security code – finding the app and pressing snap! And I am more likely to remember to have a camera with me than a phone!

  11. Alan Butterworth on September 12, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Hi Lis. I love your blog – full of very helpful information and ideas. Just a bit of a correction though – on the iPhone, you just switch on, flick the camera icon and shoot, so just 3 clicks for a picture.

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