How do you choose the best 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. The majority of these are styled like DSLRs and have built-in lenses that can take you from wide-angle to extreme telephoto focal lengths.
For greater versatility, however, a lightweight interchangeable-lens camera allows you to swap lenses to suit different shooting scenarios, while maintaining a traditional layout. These can include more traditional DSLRs or the newer breed of mirrorless cameras, also known as compact system cameras.
We tackle these camera types in order so that you can figure out which is best for you.
The best compact camera for travel in 2018
1. Panasonic Lumix TZ100
A massive 1in sensor and strong zoom lens inside a small body makes the TZ100 shine
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 27-270mm (equiv) 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
The Panasonic TZ100 was very much a breakthrough camera. Whereas most pocketable compacts either opt for a big sensor and relatively short lens or a tiny sensor but an all encompassing optic, the TZ100 was the first compact camera to manage both. The 1in sensor provides significantly better image quality than the average compact, while the 10x optical zoom may not be class-leading in scope, but certainly well suited to capturing much of what you may come across on your travels. The built-in viewfinder, even if it is on the small side, is something many people find helpful when shooting in strong light, and while the LCD screen can't be physically adjusted, it maintains very good visibility at all times – critical when travelling through sunnier destinations. It's recently been updated by the TZ200, but for now this still represents better value for money.
2. Sony RX10 III
Like what you see above but fancy a stronger zoom? The RX10 III is hard to beat
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-600mm (equiv.) f/2.4-4 | Monitor: 3in tilting screen, 1.23million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots | Continuous shooting: 14fps | Movies: 4K and Full HD | User level: Enthusiast
Much like Panasonic's TZ100, Sony's RX10 series of cameras also started an exciting trend for cameras that looked similar to what we'd seen before, but concealing a much more powerful set of innards. The original RX10 was the first bridge-style model to sport a 1in sensor just behind a strong zoom lens, and while the series is now on its fourth camera, the Sony RX10 III is still our top pick. Why? It combines a powerful and stabilised 24-600mm (equiv.) f/2.4-4 lens with excellent 4K video quality and great handling, and it's still significantly cheaper than the newer Mark IV version. The fact that it's often subject to cashback makes it an even greater steal. That said, the Panasonic FZ1000 (below), which you can still find new, offers something quite similar at a significantly lower price.
3. Panasonic FZ1000
A superb set of specs – and a staggeringly good asking price
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in type | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-400mm f/2.8-4 | Autofocus: 49-area system with DFD | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2.36million dots | Screen type: 3in vari-angle touchscreen LCD, 1.04million dots | Max burst speed: 12fps (up to 50fps at reduced resolution) | Movies: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
The Panasonic FZ1000 is Panasonic's answer to Sony's RX10-series models, and if there's one thing it excels at it's delivering a superb set of specs for a staggeringly good asking price. The fact that it's based around a 1in sensor and 25-400mm f/2.8-4 lens (equiv) makes it clear that it's aimed at a more discerning user, one who requires quality as much as they do flexibility, but the further additions of 4K video, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, flip-out LCD screen show it to be delivering in every key area. Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC make it ideal for sharing your images with your social followers when you're travelling, while the Power O.I.S. system should ensure that you're still getting stable shots as you zoom to telephoto compositions. Our reservations are minor; the lens isn't quite as consistent as the RX10 III's above, and the fact that it's not weather-sealed is a pity, but for this kind of money it's hard to think of a superzoom compact that delivers quite this much. It's recently been updated by the FZ2000/FZ2500, but as the FZ1000 delivers so much of that camera's spec sheet for so much less, it's still the better buy right now.
4. Olympus TG-5
If you need something that will withstand water, knocks and general bashing around, this is the answer
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
It might not have the zoom range of the cameras above, or the large sensors of the cameras below, but if your adventures are either water-based or generally of the rough-and-tumble ilk, the TG-5 is probably a better fit. With waterproofing, crush-proofing, shockproofing and freeze-proofing on board, 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.
Read more: The 10 best waterproof cameras right now
The best DSLRs for travel in 2018
5. 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
The Nikon D5600 looks and feels bulky compared with other cameras here, 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.
6. Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / 200D
A more serious option than Canon's most junior DSLRs, with plenty to keep the travelling photographer happy
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000K dots | Viewfinder: Yes, optical | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Canon's most recent EOS 2000D and 4000D models aren't quite the same step-up on previous models we may have hoped for, but the Canon EOS 200D – the next model along in the line – is a decidedly sweeter propositions for the photographer on the move. Its body, while a little larger than those of many mirrorless models, is still small for a DSLR, and the flip-out screen is clear and very sensitive to touch. With Dual Pixel CMOS AF on board, the camera focuses brilliantly when using live view or when shooting videos, with smooth focus transitions in the latter shooting mode. The presence of Wi-Fi and NFC make it ideal for sharing images on the fly too, and the fact that you get in-camera Raw processing means that you can make multiple edits of your images without needing to lug around a laptop. It's a shame it doesn't offer 4K video, but it's an understandable concession on an otherwise highly capable camera.
Read more: Canon EOS 2000D review
The best mirrorless camera for travel in 2018
7. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The pint-sized E-M10 III 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: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III 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 models. Olympus's dinky little M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 EZ 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.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III review
8. 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
The Panasonic 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.
9. Fujifilm X-T20
With former-flagship power at a decidedly mid-range price, how could you not love the X-T20?
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C format | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2,360K dots | Max burst speed: 14fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
The Fujifilm X-T20's key draw is that it blends specs from the more senior X-T2 with a smaller, cheaper and lighter body – and in many ways it's a perfect travel companion. The body, despite not being weather-sealed, features many metal details and top and bottom plates made from robust magnesium alloy, while the Film Simulation modes include the landscape photographer's favourite Vivid/Velvia option among others. Videos are recorded in glorious 4K resolution, while the tilting LCD screen lets you grab frames or footage from the most awkward angles. The EVF also lets you frame up your shots in sunnier conditions more easily, and with an ever-growing lens collection alongside you can easily swap between lightweight, pancake-style prime lenses and bigger zooms to suit whatever it is you want to shoot.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T20 review
10. Panasonic GX800 / GX850
Tiny, cheap, well connected and with 4K video on board. Just make sure to bring a spare battery
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3in tilting, 921,600 dots | Max burst speed: 5.8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
If you're planning on covering lots of ground, the diminutive Micro Four Thirds Panasonic GX800 makes plenty of sense. Despite being an interchangeable-lens camera, it will quite literally fit in the palm of your hand with its 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 G VARIO ASPH. kit lens attached, the combination weighing just 336g/0.75lb. The flip-up LCD makes it ideal for capturing a selfie somewhere picturesque, and with Wi-Fi on board you can make your social-media followers jealous even faster. There's even a Creative Panorama mode that'll let you capture a gorgeous vista in its full glory. The Micro Four Thirds system to which the camera belongs now has a number of compact, lightweight lenses to choose from, so you can cover a range of focal lengths without burdening yourself. On the downside, there's no viewfinder and the 210-shot battery life is on the low side, but then a camera as small as this means the battery needs to be small too. It's hardly a deal-breaker, though; simply grab a spare battery or keep the camera juiced up through its USB port using a powerbank that you may already have on you for your phone or tablet.