The best travel cameras have to do one crucial thing: be better than your phone. After all, your phone is almost certainly going to be in your pocket anyway – and it's almost certainly got a great camera.
That means the best travel cameras need to combine compactness with image quality, advanced features with simple operation, and ideally the ability to get your files onto your phone, tablet or laptop quickly, to share your holiday photos and vacation videos. Having a camera that's safe to take on the beach, in the snow or even in the sea could be another key consideration!
Even though the best camera phones can produce great images, you just don't get the same quality as you would if shooting with one of the best point-and-shoots or best mirrorless cameras. Smartphones are restricted by smaller sensors offering lower still and video quality, reduced low light performance and minimal control over depth of field (for those blurry backgrounds).
The type of camera you pick comes down to personal preference and budget. To help you decide which is best, we've split the guide into two sections. First, we'll look at mirrorless cameras that offer better image quality and more versatility than compact systems but at the cost of increased size and weight.
Secondly, we'll look at compact cameras that are pretty much pocket-sized, perfect for keeping on you at all times, won't weigh you down, and are really simple to use – although they have smaller sensors and fixed lenses.
Best travel camera: Our top picks
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.
Best waterproof camera
Planning to use your camera in blistering heat? Heavy rain? Dusty deserts? Frost and snow? Sandy beaches? In the sea? Somewhere it might get dropped, crushed or bashed? Then forget everything else – you need a tough camera, and they don't come any tougher than the Olympus Tough TG-6.
Best for most people
The Fujifilm X-S10 is one of the best all-around APS-C cameras you can buy right now. It's got a fully-articulated screen and generally handles very well (despite having fewer external control compared to the Fujifilm X-T4 and Fujifilm X-T30 II) and also has in-body image stabilization.
The best travel camera in 2023
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Best mirrorless travel cameras
Mirrorless cameras might be a little heavier and larger than compacts, but they deliver better quality (through larger sensors) and the option to change your lenses. The best lenses for travel give you 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.
Best Micro Four Thirds system
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-but-still-powerful Micro Four Thirds sensor.
While this has some slight disadvantages in terms of low-light capabilities, it effectively doubles the focal length of any lens mounted to the camera; so a 50mm will behave like a 100mm. And the best Olympus lenses include positively tiny lenses that go a long way for travel photography, helping you keep your kit and weight 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, and its impressive 4K video. It's a terrific all-around camera.
Read our full Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review.
Best for most people
The Fujifilm X-S10 is one of the best all-around APS-C camera you can buy right now. It's got a fully-articulated screen and generally handles very well, despite having fewer external control dials and buttons compared to the Fujifilm X-T4 and Fujifilm X-T30 II. Having in-body stabilization is also a huge bonus, making it easier to shoot handheld with slower shutter speeds – which is hugely useful for low-light work and using longer lenses.
As with all Fujifilm X bodies, the JPG are stunning straight out of camera and it features a variety of different film simulation modes if you want to add a little something to your pictures. In terms of APS-C cameras, we're hard-pressed to think of one that offers a better balance of features, performance, and price than the Fujifilm X-S10, and that's why it's one of our top picks.
Read our full Fujifilm X-S10 review.
Best for vintage styling
If how your camera looks is really important to you, you can't go wrong with the Nikon Z fc. It comes in a choice of vibrant colors including mint green, coral pink, and dark orange so, no matter what your preference is, there will be one you love.
When this camera was first released, it was so popular that Nikon struggled to keep up with demand. And no wonder; this compact camera isn't just a beauty on the outside, as its 20.9MP APS-C (DX) sensor delivers super high-quality images that you can transfer on the go thanks to built-in Bluetooth and WiFi.
One of the biggest downsides to the Z fc is the lack of native DX lenses available, however. Nikon and other third-party brands are slowly bringing out more, but you might need to use much heftier full-frame glass to tide you over until then.
Read our full Nikon Z fc review.
Best low cost for video and stills
Travelers don't just shoot stills any more! For many of us video is just as important as still images, if not more so, and it's these vloggers and content creators that the Lumix G100 is aimed at. It makes it easy to capture high-quality video and stills with its approachable button layout.
But even if you are uninterested in the technicalities of capturing great-looking videos, you will be able to get still images with this camera. There’s an inherent risk of dumbing things down too much when creating a camera for social media creatives, but Panasonic has avoided that pitfall with the Lumix G100.
This is a great camera to start with if you're just as interested in vlogging as you are in regular photography. It's also a super-small, super-cute camera with a wide range of Micro Four Thirds lenses available – though its autofocus uses Panasonic's cruder contrast-detect technology, which is notorious for "pulsing" and "hunting" during video.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix G100 review.
Best for vloggers
The Sony ZV-E10 is one of the cheapest vlogging cameras yet, and combined with its slim dimensions this makes it a perfect choice for travelers 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 a point worth mentioning is that, while the ZV-E10 may be optimized for vlogging, 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 traveler's camera.
Read our full Sony ZV-E10 review.
Best compact travel cameras
If you really want to save on weight and size, you would be best off investing in a compact camera. Generally, they have smaller sensors than DSLR and mirrorless systems, so the image quality won't be quite as good and they won't always be quite as effective in low-light scenarios, but that doesn't mean they can't take great pictures. While they do have fixed lenses, lots of them have impressive focal ranges – which means that you'll never have to worry about carrying a heavy bag of kit.
Best compact vlogging camera
Aimed at vloggers, the Sony ZV-1 might just look like another variant from the Sony RX100 range but in reality, it's so much more. If you've used one of the RX100s, the sensor and lens will probably be quite familiar. Where this camera excels is the controls, rear screen, and body.
It also has a popular equivalent zoom range of 24-70mm, with a variable aperture of f/1.8 - f/2.8. The SteadyShot active stabilization maybe isn't the best, but the autofocus is very impressive. It has a vari-angle rear screen, which is perfect for recording yourself or taking selfies, and it comes with a microphone windshield so its audio quality even with the built-in mic is still pretty good. It's a great little compact camera for video and stills photography equally, and delivers good quality.
Read our full Sony ZV-1 review.
Best for built-in zoom
The Panasonic TZ200 / ZS200 benefits from a larger 1-inch sensor and it also has a 15x zoom, which zooms all the way to 360mm on a full-frame sensor. You can shoot in JPG if you want to use the images straight out of the camera or RAW if you prefer to edit your images first. For those who love documenting holidays through video, it can shoot in 4K and it also has a 4K Photo Mode that can extract 8MP still images from a burst sequence.
If you're looking for versatility, portability, and advanced features without the fuss of interchangeable lenses, look no further.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix TZ200 / ZS200 review.
Best waterproof camera
The Olympus Tough TG-6 might have relatively conservative 12MP resolution, it makes up for this by packing a sensor that's back-side illuminated. This means that a) there are less pixels, but each one is larger to capture more light, and b) the sensor design is more efficient at gathering light in challenging conditions.
This is important because the TG-6 is a camera that can take pictures and video underwater – where there is obviously less ambient light. It can also take pictures and video in the dust, sand, snow, and heat – and it's drop-proof, crush-proof and freeze-proof. No more having to baby your camera, or not take it with you to the places where you're going to get the best photos!
Even if you're not going to be hiking, climbing, swimming or otherwise putting your camera in danger, the Tough can capture RAW photos and capture 4K video, and has brilliant built-in macro and microscope modes for ultra close-up shooting. And since it's near indestructible, it's one of the best cameras for kids, too!
Read our full Olympus Tough TG-6 review.
Best for low light photos
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 that you really need to hold one to appreciate just 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 that you don’t get an electronic viewfinder (but then many EVFs on ultra-compact cameras are 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 full 84mm-equivalent max zoom, this has shrunk to a meager 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.
Read our full Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II review.
Best for zoom reach
Most of us want to travel as light as possible, and the featherweight 242g Cyber-Shot HX99 enables 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 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.
How to choose the right travel camera
These are five key things to look out for when choosing the right travel camera for your needs.
1) Image quality: Ask yourself how you will use any photos or videos you capture. If you only plan to share content online on social media then any of the above cameras will be suitable. If you plan to print your pictures, though, then mirrorless cameras with larger sensors and higher megapixel counts will produce better-quality results.
2) Focal range: What kind of range do you need for your traveling activities? Compact cameras can have impressive zoom ranges, but to achieve their tiny size they often lack quality compared to mirrorless cameras. For mirrorless cameras, what lenses are available? So-called standard zooms are a great option for all types of travel, but they can also be large and heavy. A wide-angle lens might be best for capturing cities and landscapes, or if you are going to see wildlife or a sporting event then a compact telephoto lens might be best.
3) Size and weight: If you're going on vacation then the last thing you want to take is a heavy kit – especially given things like baggage restrictions when traveling. With that in mind, both your camera and lens(es) need to be small and light. If you want something that can fit in your pocket, get a compact camera – but if you don't mind taking a bag, a mirrorless system with one or two lenses could be more versatile.
4) Simplicity: Don't want to get bogged down with camera settings? Most modern cameras have a range of auto modes – especially compact cameras, which take away the stress. Advanced modes and complicated controls don't usually mix with spur-of-the-moment snaps, so decide what is important to you and pick your camera based on that.
5) Price: The cameras in our list have a range of prices, and we try to include cameras that suit every budget. The price of a camera usually reflects its capabilities, although all the options listed here will take great images and video – so try to strike the right balance between what you need in a camera and what you can afford.
How we test travel cameras
Want to find out how we test and review DSLR and mirrorless cameras? We trial cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests will generally measure resolution, dynamic range, and signal-to-noise ratio, which gives us a benchmark by which to compare cameras.
Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. Our compact camera evaluations are based on real-world testing alone.
For our real-world testing, our reviewers spend time with each camera, testing it in a variety of shooting situations and providing their qualitative thoughts on how the camera was to use and evaluating the images and video it produced. Here's an example of how we literally take a camera on vacation to evaluate it!
How we choose the best travel cameras
When we are reviewing cameras, we carefully think about what scenarios each camera could be used for. When considering which cameras would make ideal travel cameras, we judge each camera on how small and lightweight it is for easy packing and transport, as well as carrying for long periods of the day while out exploring.
We also consider the technical capabilities of each camera, and how suitable they are specifically for travel photography scenarios from beach vacations to safaris, to city breaks. Finally, we consider the price of the cameras to select options that cover a range of budgets and requirements.
We use our real-world experience with each camera and our in-depth camera knowledge to determine a final selection of top cameras that we would recommend as the ideal camera traveling companions.
Is it better to use phone or camera for travel?
We covered this a little bit at the start of the article, but the answer is that it is always better to use a camera for stills or video when possible. So the question really becomes, "Do your travel plans make using a camera possible?" Phones are so small and quick to use that they go where cameras are too bulky and slow to shoot. A great compromise is a compact camera – or the Olympus Tough TG-6, which is a weather-proof camera that goes the places that you wouldn't dare to use your phone!
Is a DSLR or mirrorless camera better for travel photography?
As a travel camera, mirrorless cameras are usually the better choice for most people. They are much small and lighter than DSLRs, and also usually have a selection of smaller and lighter lenses to match. This makes traveling easier as it takes up less space and weight in increasingly restricted carry-on bags. Mirrorless cameras also are generally newer than DSLRs and most likely have more modern technology, making photography and video easier to capture and of better quality.
What size camera lens is best for travel?
Again, this comes down to what your travel plans entail and what you plan to shoot. The kit lens that comes bundled with many cameras will cover the most commonly used focal ranges, so that's a good place to start (though kit lenses do not deliver the best image quality). We recommend checking out the best lenses for travel photography to see what's right for you.