Best travel camera in 2017

How do you choose the perfect camera for travel? Whether you’re embarking on an epic road trip or cruising the seas, it’s good to travel light. But there is more than one type of ‘travel’ camera, and some tricky choices to make if you want to balance convenience and quality.

First up are superzoom compact cameras, with built-in lenses that can take you from wide-angle to extreme telephoto focal lengths. But for greater versatility, a lightweight interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) enables you to swap lenses to suit different shooting scenarios, while maintaining a traditional layout, and this can include both SLRs and mirrorless CSC (compact system cameras). 

For greater space-saving potential and a dash of style you can swap from the DSLR-type design to a rectangular rangefinder-style camera, which removes the viewfinder protrusion up on top. Finally, there’s the option of going for a high-end compact camera with a fixed lens, which combines a purist approach to photography with premium image quality.

We tackle all four camera types in order so that you can figure out which is best for you.

Spoiler alert

Even with four distinct categories on offer, it’s surprisingly easy to pick an outright winner.

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 II combines a compact but tough body with its small but clever 14-42mm EZ lens – and there are plenty more lenses in the system. Handling is a joy, image quality is great and the kit is terrific value.

While the Micro Four Thirds format is nice and compact, some will prefer a camera with a larger sensor. Our top choice is the Fujifilm X-Pro2, which makes use of its APS-C format to enable a tighter depth of field.  

For superzoom compacts, the Panasonic Lumix TZ100 easily beats the Canon PowerShot SX730 HS, even if its outright zoom range is more modest.

In the fixed-lens compact stakes, the Fujifilm X100F is our pick as a modern-day classic, although the Ricoh GR II is well-suited to street photography and only about half the price.

Read on to find out more about each one of these cameras.

1. Canon PowerShot SX730 HS

A typical travel compact with a big zoom range but big compromises too

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens: 24-960mm f/3.3-6.9 (equiv.) | Screen type: 3.0-inch tilting screen, 922,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5.9fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Pocket-friendly, in both size and price
Huge 40x zoom range
Small sensor restricts image quality
LCD only, no viewfinder

The compact Canon PowerShot SX730 HS superzoom boasts a 40x optical zoom range, equivalent to 24-960mm in 35mm terms, with a digital-zoom boost in reserve. ‘Intelligent’ image stabilisation helps keep things steady, and while there’s no viewfinder, the LCD screen is reasonably clear even in bright sunlight, and its 180-degree tilt facility is ideal for selfies. Images lack fine detail and can look pretty noisy too, even when taken under good lighting and ramping up the sensitivity from ISO 80 to just ISO 200. It has a massive zoom range, but the loss in quality from the small sensor is too high a price to pay.

2. Panasonic Lumix TZ100

Smaller zoom range than the Canon, but the bigger sensor makes it better

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 27-270mm f/2.8-5.9 (equiv.) | Screen type: 3in tilting screen, 922,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

1-inch sensor brings better quality
Electronic viewfinder built in
Costs as much as a DSLR
Viewfinder quite small

The Panasonic packs a 1-inch image sensor much larger than the 1/2.3-inch sensor in the PowerShot SX730 HS. The 10x optical zoom has considerably less range than the Canon's, equating to 25-250mm, but is still perfectly respectable. The TZ100 boasts an electronic viewfinder, although it’s quite small, with a fairly meagre pixel count (1.17million dots) too. Around the back, the LCD touchscreen is fixed but has no tilt facility. Image quality is much more detailed and far less noisy than from the Canon. The TZ100 doesn’t offer the same zoom range as smaller-sensor compacts intended for travel, but the increase in quality more than makes up for it.

3. Nikon D5600

Nikon's smallest DSLR is travel friendly but bulky next to the rest

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen type: 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

24MP APS-C sensor gives great quality
Bright and clear optical viewfinder
Bigger than rival mirrorless cameras
Live view autofocus not the fastest

The Nikon D5600 looks and feels bulky compared with other cameras on test, despite having a reputation as a relatively small and travel-friendly DSLR. We tested it with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens, which has a space-saving retractable design though much larger than a pancake zoom. The D5600 benefits from a fully articulated touchscreen and Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth. The 24.2MP APS-C sensor, EXPEED 4 processor and 39-point phase-detection autofocus system deliver good performance, and while contrast-detection autofocus for Live View and movie capture is fairly slow but not too shabby for a DSLR. Image quality is very pleasing, with punchy colour, impressive dynamic range and good retention of detail.

4. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II

The pint-sized E-M10 II is powerful and affordable – we love it

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen type: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Very compact with a great EVF
Powerful and responsive
Smaller sensor than APS-C rivals
Battery life doesn't match the Nikon's

The OM-D E-M10 II packs a Micro Four Thirds image sensor, one that’s bigger than those in most compact cameras but smaller than the APS-C sensors found in other interchangeable-lens cameras. Olympus's dinky little EZ 14-42mm kit lens is the perfect match and has an effective focal range of 28-84mm (in 35mm terms), and is furnished with a motorised zoom that works well for both stills and movie capture. The retractable lens automatically extends for shooting, and retracts when the camera is switched off. The overall package is super-slim for a camera with a conventional layout. Even so, there’s a tilting touchscreen, as well as a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, together with a pop-up flash plus a hotshoe, and even built-in Wi-Fi.

5. Fujifilm X-Pro2

Power, performance, heritage and style – but at a price

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen type: 3in pivoting touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Brilliant hybrid viewfinder
Premium lens range
Expensive for casual users
Designed for handling not size

You can fit any X-mount lens to the X-Pro2, but we reckon the with 23mm f/2 prime lens is a good match as a fixed focal length travel lens. The X-Pro2 is bristling with advanced features, including a hybrid autofocus system, a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder and both a mechanical and an electronic shutter. There are a couple of slimline 18mm and 27mm prime lenses available along with a 23mm f/2 lens, with its moderately wide viewing angle, (35mm effective). However, the X-Pro2 lacks a tilting LCD screen, internal image stabilisation and a built-in flash. The 24MP APS-C format image sensor teams up well with the latest X-Processor Pro image processor to deliver superb image quality. It’s no lightweight and it’s pretty expensive too, but the X-Pro2 is a real connoisseur’s choice.

6. Panasonic GX80

The GX80 offers a rangefinder-style photography at an everyday price

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.0MP | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Screen type: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Very compact with the 12-32mm lens
Good lens choice
Smaller sensor than APS-C rivals
High-ISO images are noisier

The GX80 sports a small and light camera body, and the retracting 12-32mm kit lens usually sold with it adds little to the dimensions and weight. In short, you can squeeze the GX80 into a large pocket. This downsizing is partly enabled by the Four Thirds sensor. Most controls are accessed via buttons and menus, rather than dedicated dials. The camera has built-in Wi-Fi and a tilting screen with touch-sensitivity, and a pop-up flash alongside its hotshoe. High-ISO images are on the noisy side and long exposures are limited to a maximum of two minutes. The GX80 is small and neat and you can get a good range of lenses.

7. Fujifilm X100F

Superbly traditional styling and controls but at a premium price

Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens: 23mm f/2 (equiv.) | Screen type: 3in fixed, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Exposure controls on real dials!
Excellent hybrid viewfinder
Fixed focal length could be limiting
Autofocus a tad sluggish

The X100F looks and feels like a classic, high-end compact film camera. It features all of the same ‘hybrid’ attractions as the X-Pro2, right down to the clever parallax error correction in the optical/electronic viewfinder. There’s no image stabilisation, though, and obviously no facility to fit an alternative lens which has this built in. On the plus side, ramping up the ISO setting to maintain fast shutter speeds gives little degradation in image quality. Images look very similar to those from the X-Pro2 – the APS-C format image sensor and processor are basically the same –but wide-aperture sharpness is less impressive.

8. Ricoh GR II

A big APS-C sensor in a pocket-sized body, but it's not all good news

Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 16.2MP | Lens: 18mm f/2.8 (equiv. to 28mm) | Screen type: 3in fixed, 1,230,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast

Small size but big sensor
Great 'snap focus' feature
Images lack vibrancy
LCD only – no viewfinder

The Ricoh GR II is small and unassuming, and certainly won’t attract attention. The APS-C format image sensor gives the fixed prime lens an effective focal length of 28mm. The GR II’s megapixel count is 16.2MP and the controls feel basic. Given the ‘street’ suitability of the camera, the ‘snap focus’ facility is great. It enables you to set the focus to one of a range of preset distances, complete with depth of field indication. With no viewfinder, no touchscreen control and no LCD tilt facilities, it feels basic. Images look less vibrant and high-ISO noise is noticeable – the GR II is small, but that’s all.