Best travel camera 2019: how to choose the perfect camera for travel

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Picking the best travel camera to take with you on a trip is as tricky as working out what clothes to pack! Obviously you want something that takes great quality pictures but you also want something that's versatile enough for all sorts of subjects and is also as compact and lightweight as possible. (Why not check out our guide to the best camera bags and cases?)

If you're a keen photographer who sees the trip as an opportunity to get some amazing pictures, then we'd recommend a DSLR or mirrorless camera (the top) half of our list. The best cameras for beginners can also make very good travel cameras.

If you're more of a casual snapper and you want want to enjoy the trip and not spend your time fiddling with lenses, knobs and dials, then a compact camera might be better – and we pick some of the best compact cameras around right now for the second part of our list.

There is some overlap and you'll need to weigh up lots of pros and cons, so we'd recommend keeping an open mind about what camera would suit you best on your travels. 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, a DSLR or a more advanced compact camera.

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.?

3) Size and weight: A pocket-sized camera sounds ideal, but realistically will you be walking around with a shoulder bag or backpack anyway? If so, weight is still important, but you may not need to obsess about size – especially if you decide to take along 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. That doesn't mean you have to settle for a cheap point-and-shoot camera, though. All the cameras in our list have simple 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 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 travelling companion.

Read more: Best cameras for kids

DSLR and mirrorless

DSLR and mirrorless cameras can be perfect for travel. They're larger than regular compact cameras but they take interchangeable lenses, which gives you a lot more scope when shooting, they have big sensors for better image quality and they give you controls and options that many point and shoot camera don't have.

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1. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

A brilliant little mirrorless camera you can slide into a jacket pocket

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

Very compact body
Extensive external controls
Tiny 14-42mm 'pancake' zoom
Only 16.1 million pixels

Olympus has been pretty quiet recently as many of its rivals have been busy launching or announcing full frame mirrorless cameras. By contrast, Olympus is sticking with its Micro Four Thirds format, based around a sensor a little smaller than the APS-C format. The key advantage of this format is that both the cameras and the lenses can be corresponding 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

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2. Panasonic Lumix GX80 / GX85

Even smaller than the OM-D E-M1 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

Very compact with the 12-32mm lens
Good lens choice
Great value for money
Only 16MP

The Wi-Fi-enabled Panasonic GX80 has a small and light camera body, and the fact that it comes with such a dinky, retractable 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 G VARIO ASPH. kit lens – equivalent to 24-64mm in 35mm terms – means that the overall package remains compact. 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're going to be taking a lot of handheld low-light and night shots, a larger camera with an APS-C sensor will offer slightly better quality, but otherwise the GX80 makes a highly effective travel camera, with a good range of controls at a terrific price.

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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

Dual Pixel CMOS AF system
Massive lens choice
4K video
Small, but still bigger than mirrorless

Canon's most recent EOS EOS 2000D and 4000D models aren't quite the same step-up on previous models we may have hoped for, but the new Canon EOS RebelSL3/250D – the next model along in the line – is excellent. It's a replacement for the Rebel SL2/200D and it's physically much the same but adds much better live view autofocus and 4K video capability. Its body, while a little larger than those of many mirrorless models, is still very 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 and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC makes it ideal for sharing images on the fly. 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

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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

24MP sensor gives great quality
Bright and clear optical viewfinder
Rear screen is fixed not tilting
Live view autofocus not the fastest

It's Nikon's latest entry-level DSLR and it offers great image quality and access to Nikon's huge range of interchangeable lenses. 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 a bit of a bargain – especially with Nikon's excellent 24.2MP APS-C sensor.

Read more: Nikon D3500 review

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5. Olympus PEN E-PL9

Perfect for 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

Easy selfies with 180-degree screen
Super-slim 14-42mm kit lens
Great selection of Art Filters
No viewfinder

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 – but 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.

Compact cameras

With a compact camera you can't swap lenses so you're stuck with the one you've got... but compact cameras have other strengths, such as size, zoom range and ruggedness. We've picked five compact cameras perfectly suited to travel, all for their own particular reasons.

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6. Panasonic Lumix TZ200/ZS200

One of the few cameras to combine a long zoom with a good-size sensor

Type: 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

Big zoom for a pocket camera
High-quality 1-inch sensor
Built-in electronic viewfinder
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 ‘travel’ cameras get right, and the TZ200/SZ200 is right at the top of the tree. It replaces the older TZ100/SZ100, which is still on sale and one of our past favourites. The TZ200/SZ200 keeps the same 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor you get in many of the best compact cameras but adds in an even longer-range 15x zoom lens. This covers a 24mm wide-angle view right up to a long-range 360mm equivalent telephoto setting. It’s the longest you’ll get in a pocket camera with a sensor this big. 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.

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7. Panasonic Lumix LX100 II

Its multi-aspect Micro Four Thirds sensor makes this flagship Lumix unique

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

Multi-aspect ratio sensor
Fast f/1.7-2.8 lens
4K video, 4K Photo modes
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 mode DSLRs 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 is a brand new version of the original LX100 which was, admittedly, starting to show its age. The new model 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.

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8. Canon PowerShot G1 X III

A DSLR sensor in a camera that fits in your pocket AND it has a zoom lens

Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: 24-72mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 | Screen type: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting speed: 9/7fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert

Excellent image quality
Super-compact body
DSLR-level controls
Lens drops to f/5.6 at full zoom

If you can manage to stretch your budget a little further than the Panasonic LX100 II, you should take a look at this camera. We’re not quite sure how Canon crammed a DSLR-size APS-C sensor into such a small body, and then made a 3x zoom lens that retracts so far that the G1 X III easily fits into a coat pocket when it’s switched off. And yet this sensor and lens combination produces excellent sharpness right through the zoom range and right to the edges of the frame. You’d be thrilled to this image quality from a DSLR, never mind a pocket camera. There is a price to pay, though, both financially and in terms of this lens’s maximum aperture. It’s a handy f/2.8 at its widest zoom setting but this rapidly shrinks to f/5.6 at full zoom. So the G1 X III isn’t perfect – it doesn’t shoot 4K video, either – but for the travelling photographer who wants the best possible quality in the smallest possible package, it’s just superb.

Read more: Canon PowerShot G1 X III review

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9. Sony RX10 IV

Yes it's big, but the RX10 IV could be perfect for filmmakers

Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-600mm f/2.4-4 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in tilting, 1.44 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 24fps | Max video quality: 4K and Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Excellent, stabilised optic
Great image and video quality
Uprated autofocus
Big and expensive

At first sight, the Sony RX10 IV looks like a very big, expensive and not very unusual long-zoom camera, but you need to look closer, because what Sony has actually made is perhaps the world’s first ‘professional’ bridge camera – and if you can put up with the extra bulk, it’s the supreme tackle-anything travel camera. We're not just talking about stills here, but video too. It's a little big and expensive for amateur video, but for professional videographers and bloggers it could prove the ideal travel camera. It features a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor to deliver far higher image quality than the typical bridge camera, married up to a long-range 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens that doesn’t just offer a faster maximum aperture than a typical bridge camera, but uncharacteristically good image quality at its maximum zoom setting. This is where nearly all long-zoom cameras fall down, but the RX10 IV stays sharp right through its focal range.

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10. Olympus 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

Raw shooting and 4K video
Excellent tough credentials
Pocket-sized dimensions
LCD screen only 460K dots

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 adventures are either water-based or generally of the rough-and-tumble variety, 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.

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