How do you choose the best travel camera? If you're planning a trip, a vacation or some extended travel, you're going to want to take pictures, but you won't want to be weighed down with equipment or, even worse, miss the shot of a lifetime because you don't have the right gear!
Ideally, your camera should be light and easy to carry around, but it should also give good results in a range of different lighting conditions, and should be able to keep up with fast-moving subjects. One really key factor, though, is lenses. Will you need to capture wideangle shots in narrow city streets and huge, spectacular interiors, and will you want to take telephoto shots of landscapes, sunsets and cityscapes (we're guessing probably both).
Compact cameras vs DSLR and mirrorless
Choosing a mirrorless camera or a DSLR with interchangeable-lens options comes with plenty of advantages beyond just being able to swap lenses. They have bigger sensors for better image quality and more control over camera settings and creative photography techniques. DSLRs and mirrorless camera's aren't necessarily that expensive, either: we've started our list with our picks of the best DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for travel right now, and we've taken price into account when making our choices.
Alternatively, if you're more of a casual snapper and you want want to enjoy the trip and not spend your time fiddling with knobs and dials and instruction manuals, then a compact camera might be better. A fixed lens gives you a tidy, all-in-one shooting package, and we've picked some of the best compact cameras around right now for the second part of our list.
Intimidated by all these options and just want something simple? Fret not: some of the best cameras for beginners are also well suited to travel photography, so these are worth a look if you're a newbie. And whatever camera you pick, for ideas on transporting and carrying them around, see our guide to the best camera bags and cases for some ideas here.
For the ideal travel camera you need to weigh up lots of pros and cons. Here are the things you might want to think about:
1) Image quality: You may be going to to places that you might not get the chance to see again, so you’ll want to take a camera that does them justice – otherwise, you might just as well snap away with a smartphone. The best camera phones are really pretty good, but you may want a step up in quality you can only get from a camera with a bigger sensor, typically a mirrorless camera or a DSLR.
2) Zoom range: Will you need a camera that can shoot a whole range of subjects in a whole range of conditions, from a sun-baked beach to a dimly-lit market, from distant mountains to close-ups of exotic cuisine? With a DSLR or mirrorless camera you can do this with extra lenses, but that adds weight. If you don't want this, the best bridge cameras have a huge zoom range but they're big and bulky, so we'd recommend looking at some of the long-zoom travel cameras in our list.
3) Size and weight: A pocket-sized camera sounds ideal, but will you be walking around with a shoulder bag or backpack anyway? If you're carrying water, food, clothing, maps and other daily essentials, you might have room for a camera and a couple of lenses too. With the right bag you might have room for a good travel tripod too.
4) Simplicity: If this a camera for the whole family, you need one that can be used in a simple full auto mode. A cheap point-and-shoot camera might sound like the simplest solution, but all the cameras in our list have simple full auto modes that anyone can use, so you can still take a 'good' camera.
5) Price: The cameras in our list have a range of prices, but if this is your main criterion for choosing a camera right now, why not take a look at our guide to the the best cheap camera deals.
Each camera on our list is ideal for a particular type of photographer and a particular style of travel, and we reckon one of these cameras will prove to be your perfect traveling companion.
Read more: Best cameras for kids
DSLR and mirrorless
DSLR and mirrorless cameras are a little bigger and heavier than regular compact cameras, but they give you much better image quality and have the extra flexibility of interchangeable lenses. This is especially useful for ultra-wide-angle shots of famous landmarks and amazing interiors. They also produce much better pictures in low light, both indoors and on evening excursions when you want to capture bright lights and floodlit buildings. Choosing the best travel camera may mean compromising on size and weight to make sure you don't miss out on memorable imagery.
1. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
A superb little camera that's also surprisingly powerful
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.04million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Max burst speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Olympus cameras use the Micro Four Thirds format, which uses a sensor a little smaller than the APS-C format. The key advantage of this format is that both the cameras and the lenses are smaller – and the OM-D E-M10 III is a little gem and one of the best mirrorless cameras out there. Despite its small size, it packs in a twin-dial control layout that enthusiast will admire, 5-axis in-body stabilization, 4K video and a wide selection of Olympus’s rather good. Art Filters – perfect for adding a little atmosphere and an Instagram-ready look to your photos. Make sure you get this camera with the 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ lens, though, not the cheaper but larger ‘regular’ 14-42mm kit lens. The EZ lens offers a 3x zoom range in a super-slim barrel and is the perfect complement to the E-M10 III.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M10 III review
2. Panasonic Lumix GX80 / GX85
Even smaller than the OM-D E-M10 III and terrific value for money
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.0MP | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Screen type: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The Panasonic GX80 has a small and light camera body styled like a traditional rectangular 'rangefinder' camera. Make sure you get it with Panasonic's retractable 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 G VARIO ASPH. kit lens. This is equivalent to 24-64mm in 35mm terms, offering a slightly smaller zoom range than a regular kit lens but in a much smaller package. You can even squeeze the GX80 into a large pocket, a downsizing that's partly enabled by the Micro Four Thirds sensor. Most controls are accessed via buttons and menus, rather than dedicated dials, although physical controls include a tilting screen with touch-sensitivity, and a pop-up flash alongside a hotshoe. If you can find room in your bag for an ultra-wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens too, you'll be ready for anything.
3. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D
The perfect Canon DSLR for travel, with touchscreen control and 4K video
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000K dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner
There are cheaper Canon EOS EOS 2000D and 4000D models but we think the new Canon EOS RebelSL3/250D is worth the extra expense. You get a regular DSLR optical viewfinder and a fast and responsive live view mode with the rear screen, too, thanks to Canon's excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF autofocus tech. Canon's new DSLR can even shoot 4K video. The EOS RebelSL3/250D is a little larger than many mirrorless models, but it's still very small for a DSLR, and if you're carrying your camera gear around in a bag rather than a pocket, you may not even notice the difference. Lots of people say DSLRs are old tech and mirrorless is the future – well, here's one DSLR that can do just what a mirrorless camera can AND comes with an optical viewfinder.
Read more: Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D review
4. Nikon D3500
This compact DSLR is travel friendly and cheaper than the Canon SL3/250D
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
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 travelling 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
5. Olympus PEN E-PL9
Perfect for travel blogging and vlogging and a great smartphone alternative
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.04million dots | Viewfinder: No | Max burst speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
Serious photographers might not approve of the E-PL9’s lack of a viewfinder, but if you’ve just upgraded from a smartphone you won’t miss it one bit – and you will love the E-PL9’s touch-sensitive screen and the way it can flip through 180 degrees for easy selfies. This is the perfect camera for Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, and is equally at home snapping landmarks, night scenes, pets, cityscapes and cocktails on the beach. Beneath that fashion-conscious exterior, though, there’s a powerful little camera with proper auto, semi-auto and manual exposure control, interchangeable lenses and a very decent Micro Four Thirds sensor with in-built image stabilization. The E-PL9 can also shoot smooth 4K video. It takes the same lenses as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III at the top of our list, but it's a little smaller and neater and looks a little less obvious when you're out shooting. Rumours from Olympus suggest that the E-PL10 is on the horizon, which may mean that this model will experience a price drop in the near future.
Compact cameras have pros and cons. They are smaller and lighter than mirrorless and DSLR cameras, but they generally come with smaller sensors too, so the image quality is not usually as good. Many of them come with much longer zoom ranges than a single mirrorless or DSLR camera lens, but bear in mind that compact camera lenses aren't interchangeable, so choose carefully as you can't change the lens later. The fixed lenses mean you may be more restricted in narrow streets and interior shots too because they don't got as 'wide' as ultra-wide-angle lenses on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
6. Panasonic Lumix TZ200/ZS200
One of the few compacts to combine a long zoom with a good-size sensor
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
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. If portability and versatility are top of your list, this is one of the best travel cameras out there right now
7. Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
A classy compact for quality-conscious travel photographers
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
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 is a dream camera for enthusiasts and experts.
8. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX99
If you want big zoom in the smallest possible package, the HX99 is for you
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
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.
9. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
You won't find a smaller zoom compact with a 1-inch sensor
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
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 offers a lot of portability and image quality for a pretty affordable price.
10. Olympus Tough TG-5
A super-tough camera for adventure-addicted travellers
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
So we round off our list with something very different. For some travellers, the only thing that matters is a camera that can stand water, ice, dust, rain and even impacts. The Olympus TG-5 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-5 is probably a better fit. With its waterproof, crush-proof, shockproof and freeze-proof design, the TG-5 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 the previous model to make it produce better-quality images with lower noise. It was a brave move by Olympus, but a refreshing one too. Olympus has since released the Tough TG-6, a successor to this camera. However it represents a very minor upgrade, with the same sensor/lens combination and weatherproofing, the only major additions being new Microscope and Underwater modes. We reckon the TG-5 still represents better value for money.