The Best Cameras for Hawaii
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I’ve narrowed it down to the best types of cameras for Hawaii and then to my top pick for each category. There are so many different ways to do Hawaii, so pick and choose the camera gear that fits the type of vacation you’re planning.
Click on a camera category to skip ahead to that section:
A few quick tips…
You can rent, instead of buy. Camera equipment can be a big investment. Heads up, it might be cheaper to rent camera gear near you and bring it to Hawaii rather than renting it in Hawaii.
If you buy a new camera, GoPro, or drone, get familiar with it before you go. Some of these have a bit of a learning curve.
Be strategic about how much equipment to bring. Whether hiking the rainforest or walking through Waikiki, you’ll want to travel light.
A camera phone
Whichever one you already own. An iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy are all great options for photography.
A little bit of everything — street photography, food, hiking, beach... It’s always there when you need it and easy to pull out of a pocket or backpack.
Photos and videos.
Situations with great natural lighting.
Quickly posting to social media.
Most (but maybe not all) smartphones today have the following which come in handy in Hawaii…
Compact and convenient.
Water Resistant. (Notice I said “water resistant” not “waterproof.”) Check your phone’s IP number. If it’s an IP68 or higher that means you should be fine if your phone gets splashed a little bit or falls in the pool for a second. But no phone is waterproof, so swimming with it isn’t a good idea.
Panoramas if you want to capture a wide expanse of rainforest or ocean.
Portrait Mode or Background Blur is great for travel portraits but also for food photography. (Nothing like a tropical cocktail with a blurred out background to say Aloha!)
Wide Angle or Ultra-Wide Angle Modes. You’ll want this for beach photos, crater hikes, etc. Basically anytime you want to make an expansive landscape look even more epic.
Camera phones don’t do great in low light, especially if you’re taking pictures of people who aren’t standing perfectly still. Things get blurry or grainy. Indoor photography can sometimes have the same issues, depending on the lighting.
They’re not waterproof. Yes, many are water resistant, but you don’t want to purposely get your phone wet (like by the pool or at the beach).
Taking lots of photos and videos drains your battery.
No optical zoom lens. Yes, you can enlarge photos by zooming in with your fingers but this is a digital zoom (not optical like with more professional cameras) so the quality goes down the more you zoom in.
Quality. If you’re just posting to social, then you’re good. But the sensors in a camera phone are much smaller than in higher end cameras (like a mirrorless). Bigger sensors can capture every little detail, which is great if you’re going to print your photos or look at them on a screen that’s bigger than your phone.
Selfie Stick. Yes, selfie sticks feel super touristy. But if you’re on an epic hike, looking like a tourist is a small price to pay to capture the moment. Trying to take a selfie at the top of Koko Crater I would have killed for one. Instead, my pics barely fit us into the screen and definitely did not do justice to us being on top of a crater. This one has a remote and can double as a tripod.
Compact Phone Tripod: Great for hands free and wide angle photos. Just make sure whatever you get is compatible with your phone
Power Bank. Taking lots of photos and videos will drain your phone. An external charger is a must.
Waterproof phone pouch is great for the beach and kayaking. This one lets you still use the touchscreen on your phone, even while it’s in the case. They won’t be as crisp as taking pictures without it, but better than ruining your phone. At the very least, it’s good protection until you want to take your phone out.
An underwater phone case can turn your phone into an underwater camera.
If you really want to take your phone photography to the next level, Moment makes all kinds of camera phone lenses (wide angle, telephoto, macro, fisheye, etc.).
A couple camera phone tips:
Turn off your flash. It’s not flattering and overexposes everything.
Don’t use zoom. It’ll make things grainy and less crisp and clear. Just crop things after you take the photo.
What is it?
A super rugged and waterproof camera that’s mostly known for outdoor adventure (hiking, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, you name it).
If a GoPro is on your wishlist but the price tag is out of range, you can either rent one for your trip (and you may save money renting it at home instead of in Hawaii) or stay at a hotel that offers free GoPro rentals to guests, like Turtle Bay Resort or The Royal Hawaiian.
Action video and photography.
Outdoor adventure (hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing… )
Beach and pool. You don’t have to worry about sand or water.
Hands free footage. You can mount it to all sorts of things (kayaks, bikes, surfboards, even yourself)
Dramatic wide angles of the beach or from the top of a killer pillbox hike.
Interior and exterior moving-vehicle footage.
It’s a pretty great family camera in Hawaii because you don’t have to worry about sand or getting splashed.
Super compact and lightweight.
Rugged and durable.
Waterproof and shockproof.
Quik App lets you see the images on your phone right away and share immediately
You can choose from narrow view (a little more cropped) all the way to Superwide for those sweeping views.
Single and burst photo options.
Shoot in RAW or JPEG.
Schedule capture lets you set a time to record. So you can set it up, go to bed, and it’ll catch the sunrise for you.
Can use your phone as a remote to control it.
GoPro Subscription will back everything up for you without you having to do anything.
It’s designed for video first, camera second (but I use it for both). It still takes cool photos, but the functionality is optimized for video. For example, I ended up using the timer to take selfies using an extender.
There’s a small learning curve. Definitely break it out of the box before your trip to get familiar with it. It’s not hard. It just takes a little practice to get used to it.
Not great for low light. It’s ok, but not great.
Battery life isn’t great (especially if you’re taking lots of video). Definitely have a backup battery on hand.
Can’t zoom or adjust aperture.
I’d get the bundle that comes with the case, 2 batteries, and a memory card.
A case so you can keep things together when you throw it in your backpack.
Micro SD card. It doesn’t hurt to have an extra one if you don’t think you’ll be able to backup and delete your photos and videos each day.
Selfie stick / extender to get epic video and photo selfies. (Tip: for photo selfies on an extender, you’ll have to set the timer for a few seconds and then extend the camera out for the shot.) I got the Shorty, which was great because I could fit it in my fanny pack when I was traveling light, but I kind of wish I’d gotten a longer one, like the MAX Grip + Tripod to fit more in the picture. Both double as a tripod which comes in handy if you want to shoot timelapses. If you’re going to spend lots of time in the water, the floating extender comes in handy.
Underwater Lens Filter Kit: 3 different lenses that snap onto the GoPro lens to make underwater blues and greens more vibrant. Great for snorkeling and scuba diving.
What is it?
If your phone camera is the most basic camera option and the next step up is a point and shoot camera, DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras are the next rung up. It’s like a DSLR in that you can swap out lenses and the photo quality is insane, but I prefer it over the DSLR because it’s smaller and lighter which is a huge bonus when you’re traveling. DSLRs used to be the way to go, but now mirrorless cameras have caught up in image quality, sensors, and speed. And mirrorless cameras are better for video than DSLRs.
Sony a7 IV is the cream of the crop. Sony a7 III if you want to save some cash. Both are amazing cameras and if you’re not a professional, the Sony a7 III has everything you need for about $500 less. (Pay attention when you’re buying your camera. You can get them with a kit lens which is a good starter lens or with no lens at all and then you buy the lenses you want. So when you see price variations, that’s usually why.)
Amateurs and pros alike. You can set everything to fully automatic or do everything on manual. You can use a kit lens (a basic starter lens that zooms in and out and can get the job done for most people) or invest in all kinds of specialty lenses for really specific situations.
Photo and video.
Way too many photo and video features to list them all here, but here are some of our favorites….
Full frame. That means it has a larger sensor and won’t crop the edge of your photo. Basically, you can fit more of what you’re seeing into the frame, without backing up. The bigger sensor also delivers more detail and resolution, sharper low light photos, and it does a better job creating a bokeh effect (where the background is blurred for portrait or food photography).
Smaller and lighter than DSLRs and won’t take up too much space in your luggage or backpack.
Sony’s Edge Mobile app lets you transfer images directly to your phone from your camera.
You choose whether to do things fully automatic or manually adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.
Scene selection modes automatically optimize things for the type of photo you’re taking — portrait, landscape, night, action, and even sunset or animal.
Interchangeable lenses. You can swap out lenses for different scenarios. Wide angle for sweeping landscapes, macro for food photography, and so on. (Skip ahead to Extra Lenses to see our recommendations.)
Excellent image quality and autofocus.
4k HDR video. There’s even livestreaming (with USB cord) for vloggers.
Subject Tracking lets you lock the focus on something and keep it in focus, even if it’s moving around — like a surfer or your kid playing in the sand.
Burst Mode lets you take a bunch of photos in rapid succession. This is great for action shots (when things are happening really quickly), but also portraits (when it’s easy to miss an expression). Basically you capture several photos of the same thing, one right after the other, and then have a better chance of getting the perfect shot.
It’s fast. Especially if you’re used to shooting with your phone or a point and shoot.
Timelapse is cool for capturing cityscapes, clouds moving overhead, sunsets, and more.
It has an Electronic Viewfinder (instead of an optical one). The benefit here is that it will display what you’re looking at the way the photo is going to turn out (taking into consideration lighting, shutter speed, etc) rather than just what you would see with your naked eye (like with an optical viewfinder). So you can tell right away if you need to make adjustments, even before you take the photo.
Shoot in RAW or JPEG
The Sony Imaging Edge app lets you control the camera remotely, from your phone.
These cameras don’t come cheap. You get a lot for your money, but it’s quite an investment, especially if you start buying additional lenses. DSLRs tend to be less expensive than mirrorless and are a great option if you want to save some money.
Battery life is a little less than a DSLR because it’s got to power the sensor and LCD display, viewfinder, but it’s not bad. You can carry an extra battery if you think you’ll be shooting a lot.
Not waterproof. They’re not ideal for wet conditions and you’ll have to be careful around the pool and beach. When it comes to snorkeling or taking a camera into the water, a GoPro is better equipped.
Extra Battery and a Battery Charger. The Sony A7 IV and the Sony A& III both take a NP-FZ100 battery. The camera comes with a cord to charge your battery, but it attaches to the camera itself, so you can’t use the camera while you’re charging your battery. This charger can plug into a USB so you can charge it in the car or with an external charger when you’re on the go too.
Memory Card. You may want an extra one on hand if you’re shooting a lot of videos or can’t upload your photos every night to free up space.
A Circular Polarizing Filter is a must for Hawaii. It gives you deeper, more vibrant colors. You can either remove or emphasize reflections. Take the glare off the water or show the sky and clouds reflecting in it. Make the jungle greens look more green by reducing the glare from wet leaves. You just rotate the filter until you get the look you want. If you’re photographing the ocean or the forest, you’ll want this. (Heads up that the lens reduces the amount of light coming through, so you’ll either have to increase your shutter speed or your ISO.) Here’s a guide to filter sizes for different Sony lenses.
Natural Density FIlter (ND) is good for shooting moving water in bright light or for long exposure sunsets. It reduces the amount of light coming in so you can get away with a longer shutter speed. Here’s a guide to filter sizes for different Sony lenses.
A tripod comes in handy if you’re taking any longer exposures like with waterfalls or dramatic sunsets. This one does everything you could ever want and also folds up nice and compact. This one is more affordable and portable and can work with your phone too.
Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Wipes are good for cleaning your camera and lenses (or phone and glasses for that matter), especially when it’s humid. After wiping them down with the wipes to get rid of any dust, you can go over it with a microfiber cloth to make sure there are no smudges.
These deserved their own section. Lenses can be swapped out for different types of photography.
A quick lens crash course:
You can buy your mirrorless camera with a kit lens, which is a great starting point. It’s a 28-70mm lens that can zoom in and out. This will let you do a little bit of everything.
If you have a full frame camera, you need a full frame lens. For the Sony a7 IV or Sony a7 III, look for FE (Full-frame E-mount). An E lens, on the other hand, is compatible with Sony cameras, but not with the full-frame ones.
Prime lenses can’t be zoomed in and out. You need a zoom lens for that. Photographers like prime lenses because the image quality is even better. The downside of course is that you’re limited to one focal length, so you may need multiple lenses, whereas a zoom lens might be a little more versatile.
The lower the mm lens number, the wider it can go (think expansive landscapes where you want to fit a lot into the frame). The higher the mm, the more zoomed in it can get (like getting the close up of a bird that’s perched on a far away tree).
The smaller the mm, the smaller the size of the lens.
It’s insane (and a little overwhelming) just how many different types of lenses there are, so I narrowed it down to the ones I think are the best for travel.
50mm f/1.8 for portraits and food, but can also hold its own with landscapes and street photography.
It’s a fantastic portrait lens.
It’s small and light, so it’s a great travel lens
It can give you that bokeh effect (with the blurred out background).
It’s not a wide-angle, but you can use it for tighter landscape photos. It’ll crop out some of the scene, so you’ll just have to be more selective about what your’e shooting.
It might start to feel a little cramped in tight indoor spaces where you can’t get a little space between you and your subject.
Works well in low light, so it’s great for indoor photos, like restaurants.
35mm f/2.8 for portraits and street photography, but can also be used for landscapes and architecture. An alternative to a 50mm.
Good for intimate portraits.
While the 50mm does a great bokeh effect (blurred background), the 35mm keeps more of the background in focus.
Better for landscape and architecture than a 50mm because you can fit more in the frame. But it’s still not a wide angle lens so you won’t get as an expansive a shot as you would with a smaller mm.
Easier to use indoors than the 50mm because it’s a little less zoomed in. You can fit a little more in the frame without having to back up.
Very small and lightweight.
Good for low light.
24-70mm f/2.8 — A medium zoom lens that’s great for landscapes and architecture, but also good for portraits and macro photography (food, plants, etc.)
A great lens for rainforest hikes and expansive beaches where you want a wider angle (aka more epic) shot.
It’s a good portrait lens too.
There are lenses that are even wider (meaning they can fit even more of a landscape into the frame), but I like that this one is more versatile. You can still use it for portraits or to zoom in on far away objects. It’s a little wider than your kit lens.
A great walk around lens. One you can throw onto your camera at the beginning of a trip and not need to swap it out. If you’re only going to take one lens with you, this is a versatile one.
70-200mm f/4 — A telephoto lens that’s great for wildlife, sports, and events, but also works for portrait and landscape.
This is a good one to rent. It’s a bulky lens, so you’re not going to leave it on your camera for the whole trip, but it’s great for getting those far off shots.
It’s a telephoto lens so it’s meant to bring you closer to the action. There are lenses that can get you even more zoomed in, but they’re even pricier.
This is the lens for when you want to focus on something far off — like surfers or whales.
It’s a great portrait lens, but keep in mind that you’ll have to back up a bit from your subject. I wouldn’t buy it specifically for portraits, but it’s a nice bonus.
It puts some space between you and your subjects. You won’t be as close up as you would with a 50mm or 35mm.
It can work for landscape, but keep in mind that you won’t get the super wide angle, sweeping views. They’ll just be a little more cropped and zoomed in.
What is it?
A drone is like a flying robot that you can control with a remote and take pictures and videos from the sky.
DJI Mini 2. It’s great for beginners as well as experienced photographers and videographers. It’s light enough that you don’t have to register it with the FAA (although for Hawaii, you’ll still have to register it with the FAA). It’s inexpensive by drone standards. If you’ve got a bigger budget, get the DJI Mavic Air. It’s got obstacle avoidance and sharper 48-megapixel images (vs. Mini 2’s 12-megapixel, which is still great). But know that it weighs more so you’ll have to register it with the FAA no matter where you use it in the US.
Epic aerial photos and videos. Perfect for places like Kaneohe Sandbar and Halona Beach Cove which are pretty from the ground, but breathtaking from the sky.
Compact and lightweight.
RAW images and JPEG.
Level 5 Wind Resistance means it can stay stable with winds of 19-24mph. (If you see small trees swaying, this is probably in this range.)
Still Photo Modes include panorama, sphere, 180°, and Wide-angle.
Beginner friendly Quickshot Modes take videos in different patterns for you. Rocket Mode flies straight up into the air, pointing the camera at a subject that you selected. Helix flies upward and then gradually spirals around your subject. Circle circles around your subject. Boomerang cuts an oval path back and forth around your subject. Dronie basically takes a selfie as the drone flies up and away.
Smart Return to Home brings your drone back to you.
QuickTransfer lets you download 4k videos faster.
Trimmed Download lets you select a smaller segment of footage to download. Great if you want to share something from your phone right away.
Your phone mounts to the top of the controller.
Battery lasts for about 30 minutes of flight.
No obstacle avoidance sensors. These sense obstacles and avoid collisions during drone flights.
Less automatic flight modes than other drones (like the DJI Mavic).
Good to know…
Get familiar with the drone laws in Hawaii.
Federal law requires all recreational and commercial drones in Hawaii must be registered with the FAA and affix the FAA drone registration number to your drone before you fly it.
Drones are not allowed in Hawaii state parks.
Always check whether drones are allowed. Some places, like Byodo-In Temple do not allow aerial photography.
There are a few to choose from but I like the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11. The Instax film is cheaper to buy than the larger Polaroid film. Plus they come in fun colors. It’s pretty compact and can easily fit in your travel backpack.
Instant souvenirs to bring home.
Natural light and golden hour.
So easy to use.
Instax film comes in all kinds of colors and prints.
Selfie Mirror helps you see what you look like.
A flash for indoors or dim lighting.
Be careful around sand. It’s totally fine to take it to the beach but make sure you don’t get any sand around the lens or in the camera.
It’s sensitive to heat. You can still have lots of fun with it in Hawaii, but just be aware of how hot it is. Instax does better with heat than other Polaroids, but if it’s getting into the 90s or 100s, you should put it away.
This won’t be your sole camera. It’s more just for fun.
Film can get overexposed in bright lights.
A sharpie if you want to write or draw on your polaroids.
Good to know…
This is definitely not a “need to have” in Hawaii. It’s purely a “fun to have.”
No matter what, you want to be able to get to your camera quickly. Ideally your bag has a side pocket so you can reach in and grab it.
It should have inserts and dividers to protect your camera inside the bag. Usually you can reconfigure the dividers to fit your gear.
I like padded shoulder straps for comfort.
Best for hanging out in the city.
It doesn’t look like a camera bag. It’s a total city backpack.
The bottom half is for your camera and top half for everything else. You can fit an extra set of clothes and accessories in the main compartment.
Easy access to camera from front and side zippers.
Hidden passport pocket that’s hard to pickpocket.
Tripod holder strap on outside.
A laptop pocket fits a 16” laptop.
It comes in a bunch of different colors.
Great for hiking or outdoor adventure.
Photographers freak out about this bag because it was designed by photographer Peter McKinnon.
It’s actually a cube that can be thrown in another bag or you can unzip the cube and expand it into a day bag.
Durable and Water resistant.
PRVKE Travel Camera Backpack 21L (It comes in a 31L too.)
Great for hiking or outdoor adventure.
Removable camera cubes with adjustable dividers. You can choose how much space to use for camera gear and how much for clothes, snacks, sunscreen, etc.
Rolltop expands to give you 5 extra liters of space if you need it.
Side access gets you to your camera fast.
Fleece lined tech pocket for your sunglasses, phone and other quick-access items.
Padded back panel and straps for comfort.
Hidden Passport Pocket and key clip
Laptop / tablet compartment.
SD card organization built in.
Water bottle / Tripod pocket.