What Camera Should You Take on the Camino?

camera for the camino de santiago

The pilgrimage to Santiago is an adventure rich in breathtaking views and unforgettable moments. Still, some travelers prefer to completely unplug from the noise of civilization and leave all the tech gadgets behind. Others, like me, can’t resist documenting whenever possible.

Whether or not you decide to disconnect completely and leave the camera behind is a matter of personal preference. I didn’t find it technology that distracting. In fact, I am glad I captured the special moments. You see, memories tend to fade and the Camino is definitely not short on capture-worthy moments.

camera for the camino de santiago

So, as you make your way through Spanish countryside and cross path with other pilgrims, a good camera comes in handy. The question is, though, what is a “good” camera for a pilgrim conquering at least 20 km a day with a heavy backpack?

Smartphone Camera

There are very few people left who have not succumbed to the allure of smartphones and most of those little intelligent things come with an integrated camera. If you are an obsessively light traveler as I am, the smartphone camera is an ideal choice. The iPhone 5 was my faithful companion on the Camino Francés and, truth be told, it didn’t disappoint.

Pros

  • It allows you to reduce the number of electronics and keep your backpack light. It’s small and easy to keep at hand to capture even the most spontaneous moments.
  • If you have one of the newer models (like those from Apple or Samsung), you are in for an impressive image quality – better quality than in some smaller or older compact cameras.
  • It’s a dummy-proof option, even for the most inexperienced photographers. Things such as lighting and focus adjust automatically; there isn’t more to it than tapping the screen.
  • You can download various editing apps or buy yourself some small gadgets such as an external lens. An inexpensive and lightweight way to improve image quality!
  • If you like to share and keep your family and friends up to date about your adventures, there is literally no easier way.
  • You don’t need to worry about running out of storage space or losing the images since you can upload all images to the cloud once you are online.

Cons

  • The infamous battery life! While smartphones indeed are very smart, they tend to die pretty quickly. An all day photo shoot can drain your battery and leave you stranded without a phone when you actually need to use it. My phone never died on me during the day, but I had to fight for sockets relentlessly as the phone would not last more than one day.
  • The photo quality of newer models is great but still not as great as that of a professional camera. Also, if you have an older or cheaper smartphone, the pictures can turn out to be quite disappointing.
  • If you are looking to get away from the world of social media, hanging out with your phone all the time can make it quite difficult.
  • Only digital zoom, which lower the quality of the pics.
  • Slippery little things! You are going to be walking across all kinds of terrains and if you are not careful (like me) the phone will drop through your fingers, make a brief thud with the rocks under your feet, and there goes the screen! Not something you want to deal with on the Camino.

Compact Camera

In my humble opinion, compact cameras are an excellent choice. Of course, not all of them are equal, but if you do a bit of research, you can get a good value for your money. The only reason I didn’t get one for my Camino was that I tried to keep my expenses to the very minimum and since I already had a decent phone, I went with that.

Pros

  • Affordable!
  • Still pretty lightweight and easy to pack, carry and keep at hand.
  • The battery life is significantly longer compared to smartphones. Plus, you can bring an extra battery to avoid charging every night. It saves you time and worries, especially in busier hostels.
  • Compact cameras give you a bit more creative freedom letting you play with focus and lighting.
  • Most of them offer very high image quality and (if you get a hybrid) the option to switch lenses (they can make a huge difference while they are not as gigantic and bulky as DSLR).

Cons

  • You need to do a careful research or have somebody advise you if you are new to the world of compact cameras. While you can find a good value for money, it’s not a cheap investment.
  • SD card storage limitations can be a pain. A lot of people end up taking more pictures than expected (trust me, I’ve been there) and run out of space. So, if you can afford it, get a card with a larger memory or take two.
  • SD cards are sneaky little devils if they are not safely sitting inside your camera. It’s incredibly easy to misplace them, particularly since you pack and unpack on a daily basis. It has happened before, and it will happen again. There is nothing worse than walking 900 km only to find out your photographic efforts have been lost.

DSLR Camera

DSLR cameras are without question the most qualified candidates for capturing the incredible beauties of the pilgrimage. Despite their size, it’s not uncommon to meet pilgrims carrying these tech beasts on their backs. Many are ready to sacrifice comfort for a few envy-inspiring photos.

Pros

  • Image quality
  • An optical zoom that is incomparably better than in the other options. The difference between the optical zoom (created by the lens) and digital zoom (generated by the software) is huge. Optical zoom does not deteriorate the quality of the image.
  • Complete creative freedom.
  • Some models are not that big and cumbersome.
  • The significantly wider range of settings allowing you to capture incredible shots even in bad conditions.
  • You can but don’t have to get an extra lens as often the one that already comes with the camera is usually good.
  • Perfect if you are going to use the images in official publications such as blog, magazine or a book.

Cons

  • It’s impractical and bulky. It takes up a lot of space in your backpack and can be a pain to drag around all day.
  • The price! DSLRs are expensive which doesn’t exactly make it the camera of choice for low-cost travelers.
  • Because of the price, there is the constant worry about breaking it or being stolen.
  • If you have never worked with DSLR, it’s a waste of money as you won’t be able to use the camera to the fullest right away. The learning curve requires a bit of time, so avoid last-minute buys.
  • Possible SD card issues (same as with compact camera).

Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing the best camera for your pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, there is no universal answer. It comes down to your needs and preferences.

Low-cost travelers who value practicality will be just fine with a smartphone camera. Despite breaking the screen in the middle of the Camino, I can’t complain. I ended up with over a thousand images and videos.

Of course, if you have the money to invest (or your phone simply sucks but still want to take pictures), a decent compact camera is pilgrim’s best friend. In my opinion, you don’t need a DSLR unless you are a crazy photography enthusiast or a pro who will probably publish the photos in one form or another.

What about you, what camera did you take or planning on taking?

3 replies
  1. muirm
    muirm says:

    Good information and ideas about taking a camera. I have walked several Caminos with different compact cameras and my current favourite is a Nikon S9900, with excellent macro and telephoto capabilities. For anyone who takes along a camera, I would add that you should set it for the highest possible resolution and quality to get the best photo possible, and take along lots of memory cards, as those better settings will take more space on the card.

    Reply
  2. Chris Marshall
    Chris Marshall says:

    I have been a photographer for 40 years and a serious one and since I bought my first SLR in 1977 I have always had an SLR and still do. But planning on doing the Camino last fall I was faced with what to bring for a camera. I had my Canon SLR but only with a 18-55mm lens but I wouldn’t take it without my 200mm zoom lens but adding the weight of both they were too heavy and bulky and would have to keep stopping to take it out of my pack. I’ll tell you for me it was not practical. I wasn’t doing the Camino for photographs as I have many photos of Spain but not the Camino. I was doing the Camino as a pilgrimage but still needed to take some kind of photos, it’s what I do and who I am. So I researched and decided on a compact with wide angle and zoom capabilities. There are so so many on the market, not bulky and not heavy. I decided on the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and gives me wide angle and about 600mm zoom. I have had photos enlarged and are excellent. In fact I use this more than my Canon for convenience. My camera card at a high resolution enabled me to take about 1000 photos, can’t quite remember and would recommend this type of camera to anyone. I met a beginner photographer on the Camino who thought he was a photographer and had all the bells and whistles although I hardly saw them, he basically told me what equipment he had and his pack was so heavy and he had foot issues and completed the Camino with a lot of public transport. I completed my 800 km all on foot, no physical issues. Thanks Panasonic.

    Reply
  3. Alan James JOHANSON
    Alan James JOHANSON says:

    A compact “point-and-shoot” style camera is a good choice – but make sure it has decent zoom capability! Most, however, are able to digitally zoom well beyond the optical limit with little detectable loss (assuming you’re only interested in emailing the shot).
    If you’re considering a DSLR, I’d say buy instead a Superzoom, which is half the weight of just a DSLR body and eliminates the need for accessory lenses. My wife & I will be on the Camino in a month and a half, toting a Canon SX60HS (up to 1350mm) & a Canon SX50HS (up to 1200mm). This is not to say that we’ll be stopping every half-kilometer for pictures, but we do lots of wildlife photography and these cameras have all the flexibility we require for “the decisive moment” (to quote Cartier-Bresson) without loading us down.

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