Okay, the best travel cameras aren't racking the air miles like they used to at the moment. Still, whether you're looking for a camera to take on a socially distanced weekend trip, or you're planning a post-pandemic holiday and want the best kit ready to roll, you'll be needing kit that takes great shots without being huge or heavy – and that does a better job than your phone!
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.
This is where cameras with crop sensors, such as APS-C or Micro Four Thirds formats, come into their own compared to full-frame systems with bigger bodies and lenses.
The Canon EOS M6 Mark II, for example, is a tiny yet powerful camera with a clip-on viewfinder and a front-facing 180° screen – particularly useful for vlogging and taking selfies. On that note, the Fujifilm X-T200 has the biggest vari-angle touchscreen we've seen, measuring 3.5 inches. It's so compact, stylish and travel-friendly that it's sold out in many places right now!
Arguably the ultimate bag- and pocket-friendly format, though, is Micro Four Thirds. The Olympus PEN E-PL 10 doesn't just feature a slim body, but its lenses are svelte and stylish as well – making it perfect for travel, street, vlogging and blogging.
Of course, if carrying around a body and several lenses while traveling sounds like a nightmare, then you might want to have a look at one of the best compact cameras instead. These sport a fixed lens that will retract into the camera when it's not being used, which makes it perfect for carrying around in a pocket. If you like capturing details in the distance, there are some fantastic long-zoom compacts that you might want to take a look at. Adventure seekers might also want to consider one of the best action cameras to take on their travels.
Some of the best cameras for beginners also make the best travel cameras, especially if you're a newbie who wants to take some nice images on the move. And if you're taking your youngsters with you, they can document their trip as well with the best cameras for kids. And whatever camera you pick, you'll need something safe and secure to transport them in – so check out the best camera bags and cases for some ideas here.
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
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. With its combination of size, versatility, features and image quality, this is the best travel camera right now.
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.
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. It's the best travel camera for DSLR fans right now.
Read more: Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D review
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
Note: The Fujifilm X-T200 has sold like hot cakes and is out of stock in many places!
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 brand new and still on sale at 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-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 find in stock in some stores.