Free PDF of this article!
Traveling with a GoPro vs DSLR
Believe me, I know exactly why you are here.
You’re clearly going to travel. But you don’t just want to travel and snap some pictures on your phone. You want pictures, and you want those pictures to be EPIC.
But you’re confused. You’re wondering what’s the best camera for traveling or which camera is best, GoPro or DSLR?
Don’t stress, because we’ve got it figured out for you. We’ve weighed the pros and cons of traveling with a DSLR vs GoPro and boiled it down for you, so all you have to do is ask yourself one simple question.
Once you do, you’ll know exactly which camera is best for your travels.
GoPro or DSLR? Which camera is best for travels?
I’ve personally traveled with a DSLR, AND I’ve traveled with a GoPro.
Having experienced both sides of the great camera debate I can say that they both have their pros, and they both have their cons. To make the decision that is best for you, you simply need to evaluate your personal style of travel, and see which camera best complements it.
When it comes down to it, the choice is very simple.
You only have to ask yourself one question.
How serious about photography are you?
GoPro Hero 5 Session
Simple and convenient
Stunning 4K video
Waterproof right out of the package
Made for travelers!
Canon EOS Rebel T5i
1080 HD Video
18.0 megapixel sensor
3.5 - 5.6 lens
Perfect for entry-level photographers
GoPro Session (Original)
Simple and easy to use
Small and compact
Con - limited features
When is a DSLR the best camera for traveling?
If the most important thing to you is getting the best pictures NO MATTER WHAT, then a DSLR is your best camera for traveling.
This is the easy part. If you are super serious about your photography and want National Georgraphic-esque photos of your world travels, then a DSLR is the camera for you. Case closed.
But it’s important to identify why you want high quality images, and just how high of quality you need those images to be… This is what I mean…
Quality of Image
Let me emphasize. If you’re number one goal as a travel-photographer is to capture the highest quality photos possible – go with a DSLR. A lot of the rock a DSLR, myself included at one point! DSLR’s are amazing pieces of technology, and will take your photography to another level.
My DSLR did for me!
My first backpacking extravaganza was accompanied by the Canon Rebel T3i. This affordable, dependable, and high quality piece of equipment accompanied me through five weeks of -> Portugal->Spain->Thailand->Cambodia->Hong Kong.
In that time I was able to capture some truly magnificent images, which showcases the indistinguishable attribute the DSLR has over the GoPro, and frankly any of it’s competition.
In terms of quality of image, the DSLR isn’t just the best type of camera for traveling, it’s the best type of camera, period.
If you want the best photographs possible, the DSLR is for you. Larger image sensors, pixel size, superior ISO and shutter speeds, and an enviable depth of field makes the DSLR king of the world of image quality. Look at these…
DSLR's will give you the highest quality photos (Angkor Wat)
This is a photograph I took in Cambodia. For an amateur photographer like myself, I think it’s a really good photograph! But what takes this photograph to the next level is the depth of field ().
Basically it’s the ratio of what is out of focus (Angkor Wat in the background) and what is in focus (the introspective monkey).
If I were to take this with my phone or GoPro, while it still would have been a great picture, it never would have turned out anything like it did with the DSLR. Hence the value of DSLR’s.
Let’s look at more examples.
DSLR = Depth of field = Awesome (Bangkok)
Again, another nice photo from Bangkok – highlighted by the DSLR’s impressive depth of field. Notice the sharpness of the images on the bottom, the depth of the photo, and the great colors. Add in a little editing, and BOOM. You’ll feel like a professional travel photographer.
More.Lisbon, Portugal is a DSLR dream land
DSLR’s are going to be able to handle landscapes/cityscapes way better than a GoPro can.
A DSLR will greatly improve your travel photos (Cambodia)
My personal favorite travel-photograph I’ve ever taken. Don’t expect your iPhone or GoPro photos to possess this “National Geographic” look.
But keep in mind – I’m not a professional photographer
And you might not be either, which is OK!
Just because DSLR’s will give you higher quality images than a GoPro, does not mean that the images on a GoPro suck. In fact, you’ll see they are still pretty damn awesome.
Bottom Line on GoPro vs DSLR
So this is the one question to answer your great debate – Are you are a professional photographer, have aspirations to be a professional photographer, take photography very seriously, or just simply want the best pictures you can possible take?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, the DSLR is your best traveling camera. Canon was the first camera I started with and they are highly recommended by most photographers. Check below to see the best prices on Amazon.
If the number one priority for your camera is to have the best quality of image? Stop right here, and get yourself a DSLR. You will not regret it.
When is a GoPro the best camera for traveling?
Now. Having paid fair tribute to the DSLR and all of it’s quality, let’s move on to my recommendation for best camera while traveling. The GoPro.
The GoPro can give travel photography so much energy (Bali with sister)
And excluding quality of image, I personally think a GoPro is ten times a better choice in camera for travelers. Let’s break it down category by category, as I’ll show you real instances that will affect you while traveling that other bloggers don’t always mention…
While I recommend GoPro across the board, this is definitely the most influential factor.
Traveling can be rough. You have heavy bags, crammed with stuff, moving from location to location to location. Do you really want to add another five pounds of heavy clunky DSLR to that?
The best way to travel is to travel light as a feather. It relieves stress because you have less weight to carry and less stuff to worry about. The small, compact nature of a GoPro ensures that you’ll be stress free and traveling as light as possible.
DSLR’s are big, clunky, and heavy.
GoPro’s are compact, manageable and light. It’s a great way to cut the fat.
Discretion (Point One)
This is a really, really close second for me, and not enough travel bloggers talk about this.
As previously mentioned, when I travel, I prefer light, but I also try to be as low key as possible. What would you rather? A) To blend in, mind your own business, and most importantly, not attract too much attention to yourself? Or B) to stick out like a sore thumb?
I think you’ll go with option A.
No matter how you are traveling, we all like to blend in and attract as little attention as possible. It will give you a more authentic experience, and keep you safer from theft. When traveling to foreign countries, it’s good to be out of the spotlight.
And sometimes, dragging around a shiny, expensive looking DSLR, does the opposite, and points a big old spotlight right on you.
Traveling with a DSLR can draw some attention (Bangkok)
While not the highest quality photograph, it was taken with a DSLR in Bangkok, and I think definitely sums up the lack of discretion that the camera has. It’s a big, expensive piece of equipment, and like the two gentlemen on this bus in Bangkok, people take notice.
It’s hard not to. Not only is it expensive, but there’s an element of intrusiveness to it. People see the equipment, and register that photographs are being taken. And if the DSLR is pointed in their direction, they are aware that photographs are being taken of them.
Now please, hear me out.
I’m definitely not trying to make you fear traveling with a DSLR. Don’t be afraid! Tens of thousands of people travel with DSLR’s – myself included at one point! But it is a point worth making, and an important one for my personal travel preference – being stress free. I can’t emphasize this enough.
GoPro's allow you to take photos incognito (Rome)
Discretion (Point Two)
Now this is where it gets exciting. The whole discretion-thing works two ways. If you travel with a GoPro, not only are you attracting less attention to yourself, but the GoPro’s petite structure enables you to go incognito and capture shots that would have otherwise been much more challenging.
Sure, you will be noticed here and there, but you will be ten times more stealthy, which will enable you to get better photographs, like our handsome-but-stern Police Officer in Rome pictured above (who also kindof looks like a younger version of the Captain from the film ‘Titanic’, right?).
Or our talented street musician on the edge of the Hong Kong harbor pictured below (also ).
Not as high of quality as a DSLR, but it comes with less stress (Hong Kong)
This doesn’t just work well and Rome – it works well everywhere!
To get these photos, . To do this, keep the GoPro accessible, preferably in a pocket of some sort (hoodie pockets work the best), and any time a visual strikes your fancy, keep the GoPro hip-level, aim, and start snapping away.
No set ups, no viewfinders, no natural poses… just capturing the world as it happens.
50% of the “Hip-shot-photos” will be blurry messes, 30% of them will be crap, but the other 20% will be amazing photographs that were captured in an incognito-ninja-like-fashion.
This is one of the coolest aspects to traveling with a GoPro, and not only can you not do this with a DSLR, but this is something that is difficult to do even with a camera phone!
DSLR’s size make it so obvious when you’re trying to photograph something or someone. To me, it ruins everything. in my opinion, GoPro is a far preferable solution.
Obviously the GoPro wins here. While DSLR’s can be surprisingly durable, they are high tech, professional equipment, and are quite fragile.
They are not meant to be dropped. They are not meant to handle water. They are meant to be handled like delicate glass porcelain dolls.
But your GoPro??? Have your way with it. These things were intended to be bounced around like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert.
I know this bc in my research for this piece, I came across a plethora of videos testing just how durable the GoPro actually is. You can watch a GoPro , , , And if you were wondering to yourself, “But I was really hoping for a video of a GoPro being shoved into an enormous nest of vicious wasps”, don’t worry, .
This is really, truly important to travelers of every kind, and ties into the stress factor mentioned above. Do you want to take your DSLR to the beach, trying to snap great pics, and constantly be terrified of sand, salt water, beers and volleyballs?
Or do you just want to chill, be stress free, and let the GoPro work it’s magic? The GoPro’s durability is a gift to backpackers, ESPECIALLY when you put one the protective cases on and let the camera shoot in land or water.
Speaking of which…
Being able to take videos and photographs underwater is just… amazing. Some of my personal favorite travel (and life in general) memories involve the ocean, and it’s very special to have pictures to help reminisce.
Don't try to take an underwater photo with a DSLR (Bali)
There really isn’t much else to say here. GoPro’s shoot world class images underwater. DSLR’s don’t. Next.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is another important element in the GoPro vs DSLR debate. While they aren’t quite 100% out of the box ready to use, GoPro’s are fairly easy to learn how to use, and after a few minutes of reading the instructions, you’ll know about half of everything you’ll ever need to know.
In contrast, a DSLR can be a complicated piece of equipment. DSLR’s point and shoot capabilities can be simple enough, but the more complex stuff can come with quite the learning curve. This is a good thing for hardcore photography enthusiasts as it gives them more options and features. But for the casual traveler, it’s just more of a headache, and isn’t there enough of that while traveling?
The GoPro is simple. Point. Shoot. Repeat.
While not initially intended for video, DSLR’s have incredible video features, and have become a favorite for budget DIY filmmakers. So in terms of quality of video, DSLR takes the win.
But for the traveler, the GoPro’s video capabilities are as good as it gets. You won’t need anything else. Whether walking through the streets of Copenhagen or swimming through the waters of Indonesia, the GoPro will amaze you.
Watch the Intro Video on the . Half of the video is Go-Pro shot. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The final, and arguably coolest aspect that separates the GoPro, is all of the neat features the camera possesses. Including, but not limited to; burst photo, continuos photo, built in wi-fi, night photo, auto image rotation, and much more.
As mentioned, DSLR’s have a lot of these capacities, but they come with a learning curve, and are intended for more professional-type photographers.
GoPro’s ease of use is what separates it.
One of the coolest features the GoPro possess?
Time lapse with your GoPro means you can place it somewhere, and it will take photographs every .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds, depending how you set it. What is commonly then done, is the images are put together, and sped up, to create the facade of time moving faster.
For example, below is a montage of every time lapse used in all five seasons of Breaking Bad.
Personally, I’ve yet to stitch my time-lapses together to create something this awesome, but even without putting the images together, the images themselves can be badass, and it gives you a ton of options to easily up your travel-photography game.
Like this one time in the Philippines. Nomads Nation contributor Bernie and I set up the GoPro on time lapse and starting performing a series of acrobatic stunts and maneuvers. We just let that baby roll as we threw our bodies around like sugar-induced kids bouncing on a trampoline. The results were quite cool…
GoPro photos can have so much energy! (El Nido, Philippines) Disclaimer - No one was injured during this photo shoot (El Nido, Philippines)
Pretty cool right?
And if you don’t feel like tapping into your inner Simon Biles, just set up the GoPro on time lapse anyways. hiked Machu Pichu solo and wanted some pics. So I wedged the GoPro into one of the stone walls, enabled the time-lapse, and let it work it’s magic while I stood there and tried to cope in the majesty of my surroundings.
Wedge your GoPro somewhere and let the good times roll! (Machu Pichu, Peru)
Is it the highest quality image? Nope. It’s nice, but it won’t win any awards, that’s for sure.
But that’s why you want a GoPro. Not for National Geographic, award winning images – but for convenience, versatility, durability, and peace of mind (all while still taking some pretty sweet shots!)
Which GoPro is best for traveling
This is another one of those topics that we could make super complicated – but let’s not.
You are here because you want to travel and take great photos/videos. But traveling isn’t cheap or free, and we at Nomads Nation want to give you some bang for your buck – which is exactly why we recommend the GoPro Session Hero5 Session.
Why? The GoPro Hero5 Session is made for travelers. Sure, the Hero5 Black and Hero6 Black are amazing, but at 0 and 0 respectively… they aren’t cheap.
We think for the price, the Hero5 Session is the best. It gives you an incredible range of photos and videos to take, at a price that won’t leave you penniless while in other countries.
It is simple and easy of use while having ultimate durability and being light and compact. It is the perfect combination of ease of use, price, and quality. There is simply no better camera for travelers. Check below to see the best prices on Amazon.
To me? The debate of DSLR or GoPro for traveling comes down to a simple question – how seriously do you take photography?
If the answer ‘very seriously’, then you should seriously consider a DSLR.
But, if the answer is anything less than ‘very seriously’ and you value having a stress free travel experience, I think you’ll be very pleased with the GoPro.
There’s no right or wrong answer for which camera to travel with. Traveling with just your phone is more than sufficient. But if you want to step up your photography, there are plenty of options.
Just evaluate your personal needs and style of travel, and see which piece of equipment best caters to that.
For me, it’s undoubtedly the GoPro. Are the images as great as a DSLR? No way. But it’s the best camera for my traveling style and will be my go-to for the foreseeable future.
For additional reading,
What do you use for a traveling camera? GoPro? DSLR? Something else? Comment below!
Disclosure Nomads Nation makes the best recommendations for our users and is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. If you want to support the site, we will receive a small commission when you purchase on Amazon through the above links. Thanks dudes!