The best travel camera is a constant companion that doesn't get in the way but can still capture memorable images. Your travel camera should be small and light enough to carry around, but versatile enough for any kind of subject. Travel cameras also need to produce a decent level of image quality, so a bigger sensor is always better.
This means you need to balance a few different requirements in a camera for taking on vacations and trips. You may find a small mirrorless camera or DSLR is just what you need. Some of the best cameras for beginners are well suited to travel photography. We include mirrorless cameras and DSLRs on your list, and for ideas on transporting and carrying them around, see our guide to the best camera bags and cases for some ideas here.
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 – and we pick some of the best compact cameras around right now for the second part of our list.
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 travelling 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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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
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 see 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
9. 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.
10. 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. Fortunately the lens is optically stabilised to help compensate for this. For colour, exposure accuracy and dynamic range, however, the G9 X II is excellent, while fine detail capture and low light performance rival the best cameras equipped with a 1-inch sensor. But it's not just the G9 X II's size that's small - it's also very keenly priced and is currently quite a bargain for the performance it offers.
11. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA
Sony's high-powered compact is great for 4K video, but it's pricey
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 | Screen type: 3in flip-up touchscreen, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 0.39in | Continuous shooting speed: 24fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/expert
Sony’s RX100 line is now in its seventh version, but many of the older models remain on sale at lower prices, and this makes the RX100 VA quite attractive for travel photography. The RX100 VA has a 24-70mm-equivalent zoom range that's a little lower than the newer versions, but you get a much faster f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture, and a built-in 3-stop ND filter that’s ideal for exploiting the high-quality 4K, 100 Mbit/s video to the full. It has Sony’s excellent 315-point phase-detect AF system, rapid 24fps continuous shooting, and a 1/32000s electronic shutter. This VA revision of the RX100 V is a subtle update that adds a new image processor and firmware. The results are an increased image buffer depth (150 to 233 shots), a new Zone AF area mode, and an option to save 720p video alongside 4K footage for speedier editing. The RX100 VA edges ahead of similar 1-inch sensor cameras like the Panasonic TZ200/ZS200 and Canon G9 X II for image quality, thanks to its superior fine detail capture, but the Panasonic TZ200 thrashes the Sony for value.
12. Sony RX10 IV
It;s big, but the RX10 IV could be perfect for travel video, not just stills
Type: Superzoom bridge | 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
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.
13. Panasonic Lumix TZ95 / ZS80
4K video and 30x zoom makes this Panasonic a tempting travel companion
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens: 24-720mm f/3.3-6.4 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in tilting, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 0.21in | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video quality: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Like its larger 1-inch-sensor sibling, the TZ200, the TZ95/ZS80 gets a 4K video mode along with the same 4K photo extraction and clever post-focusing feature. Its 30x zoom lens gives a 24-720mm-equivalent focal range, and though image quality at the long end is a bit soft, at shorter focal lengths the TZ95 resolves plenty of fine detail. You often see this with long-zoom lenses, unfortunately – just remember that this is still a small 1/2.3-inch sensor, so don't expect stellar low light performance. The TZ95's main rival is Sony's HX99, and while the Panasonic comes very close for sensor and lens performance, it can’t match the Sony's portability. You do get a flip-forward screen for easy selfies, and, unlike the Sony HX99, the TZ95’s EVF doesn’t need to be popped up before use.
14. 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
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.