Using the best travel cameras, you can record your globetrotting adventures like never before. Whether you want to shoot photos, video or a little of both, you'll find that a dedicated camera gives you a wealth more options compared to a smartphone. There's loads of choice out there, including many different types of camera, and we've picked out the best models for travel right now.
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.
So why is a travel camera better than a camera phone. Well, even the best smartphone camera is restricted in a number of ways, most glaring of all, sensor size. Smartphones have smaller sensors than cameras simply due to their physical design limitations, and this restricts their image quality in all sorts of ways. It makes them perform worse in low light as they capture less dynamic range, and makes it harder to vary the depth of field in an image.
Cameras, whether DSLR, mirrorless or compact, can also make better use of optical zoom lenses, giving you real reach and versatility with your shooting. Want to get pin-sharp image of a distant monument? It's much, much easier with a camera; indeed, with most phones, it isn't possible at all.
Then there are also the practical considerations. If you're out travelling, do you want to be running down your smartphone's battery with images and videos? Does your phone have enough storage for all the records of your trip? However you slice it, a travel camera makes much more sense. Travel cameras also tend to be light and pocketable, so it won't weigh you down.
So, which to pick? We've split this guide up into two sections: first we deal with interchangeable-lens cameras, including mirrorless models and DSLRs. These give you more versatility as you can use any lens you want that fits the mount. However, this adds to the bulk of your setup, and tends to be more expensive. Therefore, we've also added a section for compact cameras, which have a fixed lens. These cameras are less versatile and tend to have smaller sensors (though still larger than that of a smartphone), but they're cheaper and more convenient.
If you're shopping for your first camera, you may also want to consider the best cameras for beginners, as many of these user-friendly models are also great choices for travel. And if you're shopping for a family holiday, our guide to the best cameras for kids may be of use, as the brightly coloured and hard-wearing cameras in this guide are ideal for letting kids experiment with image-making. And if you're looking for something geared towards extreme sports and vlogging, then our list of the best action cameras is worth a look.
Whichever travel camera you pick, you'll need something safe and secure to transport it in – take a look at our guide to the best camera bags and cases for some ideas in this department.
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
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. While this has some disadvantages in terms of low-light capabilities, it effectively doubles the focal length of any lens mounted to the camera; so a lens that's the shape and size of a 50mm will behave like a 100mm. In travel photography, this goes a long way, helping you keep your kit 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, its impressive 4K video. It's a terrific all-around camera.
Readers in Europe and the UK take note: Olympus has also recently come out with the Pen E-P7, a stylish take-anywhere camera that inherits a lot of tech from the E-M10 Mark IV. We've not included it here as it's unclear when or if it's coming to the US, but it's worth considering if your budget stretches far enough.
Read more: The best Olympus cameras
The Nikon Z fc has wowed a lot of photographers; so many in fact that the firm has struggled to fill out the order demand over the first few weeks of shipping. It's not hard to see why, as this super-cool retro-styled mirrorless camera is perfect for travel. It uses Nikon's sophisticated 12-pin Z mount, enabling faster-than-ever communication between camera and lens, and the image quality from its APS-C sensor is superb.
The line-up of DX-format Z lenses could do with filling out, but that's something that will come in time. The Nikon Z fc is lovely and lightweight, but with the kind of capable versatility that makes it ideal for travel. If you don't care about looks at all, the the Nikon Z50 is basically the same camera for a lower price, but for us, the classical styling of the Z fc wins out every time.
The Sony ZV-E10 is one of the cheapest vlogging cameras yet, and this combined with its slim dimensions makes it a perfect choice for travellers 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 that's a point worth mentioning: the ZV-E10 may be optimised for vlogging, but 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 traveller's camera.
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 traveling 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.
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 relatively and still generally on sale at or close to 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 travelers, 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 lingering in some stores.
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