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The best travel camera in 2021: capture amazing images wherever you go

Included in this guide:

The best travel camera in 2021: see the world and capture amazing images
(Image credit: PeopleImages)

Using the best travel cameras, you can record your globetrotting adventures like never before. Whether you want to shoot photos, video or a little of both, you'll find that a dedicated camera gives you a wealth more options compared to a smartphone. There's loads of choice out there, including many different types of camera, and we've picked out the best models for travel right now.

Best travel cameras: 5 things to look for

1) Image quality: Don't get us wrong, we love a good camera phone. However, they're just not going to do your once-in-a-lifetime trip justice like a mirrorless camera, DSLR or premium compact camera could.

2) Zoom range: Don't limit yourself with a purely wide angle lens. Pick kit that will enable you to shoot a variety of situations, such as a long-zoom compact or a mirrorless camera and a couple of lenses.

3) Size and weight: If you don't want to drag a bag around, you might want a pocket-sized compact camera. However, if you're going to be using a shoulder bag or backpack anyway, a bigger DSLR or mirrorless camera will tend give you better results.

4) Simplicity: Not everyone wants to worry about messing around with camera settings when they're on holiday. All of the cameras on this list have simple full auto modes that anyone can use.

5) Price: The cameras in our list have a range of prices, but if this is your main criterion, check out our guides to the best cheap cameras or the best camera deals.

So why is a travel camera better than a camera phone. Well, even the best smartphone camera is restricted in a number of ways, most glaring of all, sensor size. Smartphones have smaller sensors than cameras simply due to their physical design limitations, and this restricts their image quality in all sorts of ways. It makes them perform worse in low light as they capture less dynamic range, and makes it harder to vary the depth of field in an image.

Cameras, whether DSLR, mirrorless or compact, can also make better use of optical zoom lenses, giving you real reach and versatility with your shooting. Want to get pin-sharp image of a distant monument? It's much, much easier with a camera; indeed, with most phones, it isn't possible at all.

Then there are also the practical considerations. If you're out travelling, do you want to be running down your smartphone's battery with images and videos? Does your phone have enough storage for all the records of your trip? However you slice it, a travel camera makes much more sense. Travel cameras also tend to be light and pocketable, so it won't weigh you down.

So, which to pick? We've split this guide up into two sections: first we deal with interchangeable-lens cameras, including mirrorless models and DSLRs. These give you more versatility as you can use any lens you want that fits the mount. However, this adds to the bulk of your setup, and tends to be more expensive. Therefore, we've also added a section for compact cameras, which have a fixed lens. These cameras are less versatile and tend to have smaller sensors (though still larger than that of a smartphone), but they're cheaper and more convenient. 

If you're shopping for your first camera, you may also want to consider the best cameras for beginners, as many of these user-friendly models are also great choices for travel. And if you're shopping for a family holiday, our guide to the best cameras for kids may be of use, as the brightly coloured and hard-wearing cameras in this guide are ideal for letting kids experiment with image-making. And if you're looking for something geared towards extreme sports and vlogging, then our list of the best action cameras is worth a look.

Whichever travel camera you pick, you'll need something safe and secure to transport it in – take a look at our guide to the best camera bags and cases for some ideas in this department. 

The best travel camera in 2021

DSLR and mirrorless

They might be a little heavier and larger than compact cameras, but DSLRs and mirrorless cameras not only give you better image quality, you'll also have the additional flexibility of interchangeable lenses. This means you can have the ability to capture ultra-wide-angle photos of famous landmarks and also zoom in on the beautiful details in the distance. You'll also find that they perform better in low light or challenging lighting situations.

• See also: The best lenses for travel

(Image credit: Olympus)

It's built like a mini-DSLR, with compact lenses to match

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds
Megapixels: 20.3MP
Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.04million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Max burst speed: 8.7fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Improved 20MP sensor+Tactile controls+Snappy, precise autofocus
Reasons to avoid
-No mic port

When picking the best travel camera, we're focusing on portability, and the dinky but mighty Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV is one of the best portable cameras around. Not only does it have an incredibly lightweight body, with tactile dial-led controls, but it also uses the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor. While this has some disadvantages in terms of low-light capabilities, it effectively doubles the focal length of any lens mounted to the camera; so a lens that's the shape and size of a 50mm will behave like a 100mm. In travel photography, this goes a long way, helping you keep your kit size down. We haven't even talked about everything else that's great about the E-M10 Mark IV: its snappy burst shooting, its accurate autofocus, its impressive 4K video. It's a terrific all-around camera. 

Readers in Europe and the UK take note: Olympus has also recently come out with the Pen E-P7, a stylish take-anywhere camera that inherits a lot of tech from the E-M10 Mark IV. We've not included it here as it's unclear when or if it's coming to the US, but it's worth considering if your budget stretches far enough. 

Read more: The best Olympus cameras

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon pairs retro style with excellent, up-to-date image quality

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 20.9
Lens: Nikon Z
Screen type: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Viewfinder: 0.39-in 2.36-million-dot OLED EVF
Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
Max video resolution: 4K UHD
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Super-cool looks+Sophisticated Z mount
Reasons to avoid
-Z50 is cheaper-Few native DX-format Z lenses

The Nikon Z fc has wowed a lot of photographers; so many in fact that the firm has struggled to fill out the order demand over the first few weeks of shipping. It's not hard to see why, as this super-cool retro-styled mirrorless camera is perfect for travel. It uses Nikon's sophisticated 12-pin Z mount, enabling faster-than-ever communication between camera and lens, and the image quality from its APS-C sensor is superb. 

The line-up of DX-format Z lenses could do with filling out, but that's something that will come in time. The Nikon Z fc is lovely and lightweight, but with the kind of capable versatility that makes it ideal for travel. If you don't care about looks at all, the the Nikon Z50 is basically the same camera for a lower price, but for us, the classical styling of the Z fc wins out every time. 

Best travel camera: Sony ZV-E10

(Image credit: Sony)

The best travel camera for vloggers

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Sony E
Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 921,600K dots
Viewfinder: None
Continuous shooting: 11fps
Movies: 4K UHD
User level: Beginner to intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Excellent autofocus, inc. video+Clip-on wind muffler
Reasons to avoid
-No viewfinder-Some rolling shutter effect

The Sony ZV-E10 is one of the cheapest vlogging cameras yet, and this combined with its slim dimensions makes it a perfect choice for travellers who want to shoot a little video. It comes with sophisticated built-in mics and a clip-on windshield for noise reduction, making it much easier to get clean audio on your vlogs even outdoors, and the 4K UHD video it produces is of excellent quality. As we've come to expect from Sony, the autofocus is best in class, whether shooting video or stills. And that's a point worth mentioning: the ZV-E10 may be optimised for vlogging, but it's still a capable stills camera with 11fps burst-shooting in the tank, so don't worry about restricting yourself with it. The ZV-E10 makes for an excellent traveller's camera.

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon's entry-level DSLR is small and light and takes excellent pictures

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen type: 3-in fixed, 921,000 dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+24MP sensor gives great quality+Bright and clear optical viewfinder
Reasons to avoid
-Rear screen is fixed not tilting-Live view autofocus not the fastest

The D3500 is Nikon's latest entry-level DSLR. Compared to the Canon EOS Rebel SLR/250D, it lacks a few features, notably a vari-angle rear screen and 4K video, but it's a lot cheaper, and for many users these differences won't matter. If you choose the D3500, make sure you get it with Nikon's excellent retracting 18-55mm AF-P VR lens (some dealers may offer cheaper, less desirable alternatives), and if you're going traveling you might want to consider Nikon's inexpensive and lightweight 10-20mm AF-P lens too – it's brilliant for narrow streets, expansive interiors and tall landmarks.  The Nikon D3500 is limited to full HD video rather than 4K, and its live view autofocus is a little less sophisticated than the Canon EOS Rebel SL3/250D's, but if you're mostly interested in stills and you use the viewfinder more than the rear screen, the D3500 is real bargain.

 Read more: Nikon D3500 review | Nikon D3500 vs D3400

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

Fujifilm’s novice-friendly X-T200 is fantastic for travel and vlogging

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Screen: 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 2,760K dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360K dots, 100% coverage
Max burst speed: 8fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Satisfying handling and control+Big vari-angle touchscreen+Clean, classic styling
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive at first

We loved the Fujifilm X-T100 because it brought sophisticated handling, all the manual control you'd expect and a satisfyingly large viewfinder. And now the X-T200 is here, and it ups the stakes with a big, vari-angle touchscreen, vastly better 4K video features and improved autofocus. Fujifilm is aiming this camera at first time users, but it’s powerful enough to give mid-range DSLRs and mirrorless cameras plenty to think about. As you'll have gathered, we like the X-T200 a lot. Right now, though, it's relatively and still generally on sale at or close to its lofty launch price, so it's actually not a whole lot cheaper than the more advanced Fujifilm X-T30 model, which has been out for a little while. Once the prices settle, though, we think the Fujifilm X-T200 will be a real winner.

Compact cameras

Compact cameras can be a great option, but they do have their downsides. While they're smaller and lighter than interchangeable lens cameras such as DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, this also means that they generally come with smaller sensors as well. This means that the image quality unfortunately won't be quite as good. A compact camera also has a fixed lens, which means that you can't change your focal length from what comes in the box. 

Best travel cameras: Panasonic Lumix ZS200

(Image credit: Panasonic )

6. Panasonic Lumix TZ200/ZS200

It's the classic long-zoom compact travel camera

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1in
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 24-360mm f/3.3-6.4 (equiv.)
LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.24 million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Big zoom for a pocket camera+High-quality 1-inch sensor+Built-in electronic viewfinder
Reasons to avoid
-Sharpness falls at full zoom

If you’re going travelling, the last thing you want is to be weighed down with kit – but at the same time you’ll want a camera that can capture any kind of subject and get as close as possible to the quality of a ‘proper’ camera. That’s what the best long-zoom compact travel cameras get right, and the TZ200/SZ200 is right at the top of the tree. The TZ200/SZ200 has a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor like those in many of the best compact cameras but adds in a long-range 15x zoom lens. This covers a 24mm wide-angle view right up to a long-range 360mm equivalent telephoto setting. The TZ200/SZ200 produces excellent JPEGs images straight from the camera and has the option of raw shooting and and 4K video. A macro mode lets you focus on subjects just 3cm away, and Panasonic’s 4K photo mode can generate 8K images from burst sequences shot at 30 frames per second. With the 4K Photo mode you can even choose your focus point AFTER you’ve taken the picture. This is the best travel camera for those who want quality and versatility, but without the fuss of interchangeable lenses.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

7. Panasonic Lumix LX100 II

A shorter-zoom compact for quality-conscious travel photographers

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Megapixels: 17MP
Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 (equiv.)
LCD: 3in fixed, 1,24 million dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 11fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast/expert
Reasons to buy
+Multi-aspect ratio sensor+Fast f/1.7-2.8 lens+4K video, 4K Photo modes
Reasons to avoid
-Only 17 megapixels

The trouble with big sensors is that you need big lenses to go with them, so there goes any kind of pocketability – except that Panasonic has really hit the sweet spot with the LX100 II. It combines a Micro Four Thirds sensor not much smaller than the ASP-C sensors in most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, with a compact body and miniaturised lens assembly that powers down in to a camera body slim enough to carry around anywhere. The LX100 II has a 16-megapixel ‘multi-aspect’ sensor, which means that you can use its native 4:3 aspect ratio, the 3:2 ratio used by most DSLRs and mirrorless models or a 16:9 ‘wide’ format without cropping the image and losing pixels. With a bigger sensor than the TZ200/ZS200, an external shutter speed dial, lens aperture ring and aspect ratio switch, the LX100 II one of the best travel cameras for enthusiasts and experts – you sacrifice zoom range, but gain image quality and features.

(Image credit: Sony)

8. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX99

If you want big zoom in the smallest possible package, the HX99 is for you

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 18.2MP
Lens: 24-720mm equivalent f/3.5-6.4
Screen type: 3in flip-up touchscreen, 921,600 dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 0.2in
Continuous shooting speed: 10fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Good image quality from small sensor+Huge zoom+Incredibly small and light
Reasons to avoid
-Small buttons and controls-EVF very small and fiddly-Average low light image quality

Most of us want to travel as light as possible, and the featherweight 242g Cyber-shot HX99 lets you do just that. It's also amazingly compact at 102.0mm x 58.1mm x 35.5mm, yet somehow Sony has managed to squeeze in a 24-720mm-equivalent zoom lens. Of course this feat is only possible thanks to the use of a small 1/2.3-inch sensor, but Sony’s 18.2MP back-illuminated Exmor R sensor performs well for its size. It just beats rival cameras like Panasonic's TZ95/ZS80 for fine detail capture, and low light performance is also respectable given the titchy sensor. Extras like 4K video and Sony’s very effective Eye AF focus mode help sweeten the deal, as does a built-in EVF. This is very small, however, and you’ll have to pop it up from inside the camera before use, but at least the camera automatically turns itself on in the process, saving you some time.

(Image credit: Canon)

9. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II

You won't find a smaller zoom compact with a 1-inch sensor

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1in
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 28-84mm equivalent f/2-4.9
Screen type: 3in flip-up touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting speed: 8.2fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Incredibly small and sleek+Well priced for its sensor size
Reasons to avoid
-Pared-down controls can confuse-No 4K video or EVF-Slippery design

Canon makes several compact cameras with a 1-inch-size sensor, the G9 X Mark II being the smallest. At 98.0 x 57.9 x 31.3mm and 206g, it’s so compact you really need to hold one to appreciate how small this camera is. This does mean that the rear panel is dominated by the 3-inch screen, so physical buttons are few and they don’t include a typical 4-way navigation dial. The pared-down dimensions also mean you don’t get an electronic viewfinder, but then many EVFs on ultra-compact cameras are very small and uncomfortable to use, so you may not be missing out too much. Another space-saving compromise is the 3x zoom lens. Its f/2 maximum aperture is respectable, but by the 84mm-equivalent max zoom, this has shrunk to a meagre f/4.9. But if you don't mind the limited zoom range, the G9 X is the best travel camera when you want to spend less but still get the image quality of a 1-inch sensor.

(Image credit: Olympus)

A super-tough camera for adventure-addicted travellers

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 12MP
Lens: 25-100mm (equiv.) f/2.0-4.9
LCD: 3in, 460k dots
Waterproof: 15m/50ft
Shockproof: 2.1m/7ft
Freezeproof: -10ºC/14°F
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Raw shooting and 4K video+Excellent tough credentials+Pocket-sized dimensions
Reasons to avoid
-Mediocre 12MP resolution

So we round off our list with something very different. For some travelers, the only thing that matters is a camera that can stand water, ice, dust, rain and even impacts. The Olympus TG-6 might not have the zoom range or the large sensors of other cameras in our list, but if your travel photography is based around adventure rather than sightseeing, the TG-6 is probably a better fit. With its waterproof, crush-proof, shockproof and freeze-proof design, the TG-6 will withstand a lot more abuse than the average compact, but it's not only its tough credentials that impress. Raw shooting and 4K video recording are two rarities on waterproof compacts, while the 12MP sensor had its pixel count deliberately lowered over earlier model to make it produce better-quality images with lower noise. It was a brave move by Olympus, but a refreshing one too. New Microscope and Underwater modes improve the spec over the older TG-5, which you may still lingering in some stores. 

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Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.