Best Travel Cameras (2017)

Recommended lightweight and versatile cameras for travel

Last updated January 2017 — contributions by Rajib Mukherjee

Smartphone cameras may have come a long way in recent years, but they’ll never beat having a dedicated camera with a larger (or interchangeable) lens. There are some truly killer point-and-shoot and mirrorless cameras on the market today that will let you better capture your travel memories, and even do some serious travel photography.

Unfortunately, when you’re deciding on the best travel camera for you it’s easy to get lost in a dizzying labyrinth of specs and acronyms. Ever wondered what’s better: a BIONZ X image processor or an XMOR RS BSI CMOS? (Yes, that’s a real thing!) I’ve been down this rabbit hole a few too many times.

While the tech specs are important, so is getting the right camera overall. That could be a compact for you, or maybe you’d be happier with a mirorless or an action camera. There’s something out there for everyone, and in this guide I’ll try to help you find a suitable camera for your travel photography needs.

This is an independent post, i.e. no brand endorsements or sponsorships. 

What makes a good travel camera?

Travelling can be a great time to advance your photography skills, as you’ll have so many opportunities to take interesting photos every day. It’s usually a good idea to invest in something slightly better than you currently need, so that you can stretch into more advanced options if you want to.

Versatility is important. Travel photography can involve truly anything: andscapes, portraits, macro, wildlife, abstract, even action or sports. A good travel camera should cover many different scenarios.

That said, more zoom isn’t always better. Zoom is the first thing many people look for, but it isn’t the only spec that matters. Lenses with an extreme zoom factor are often compromised in other ways, leading to poorer image quality. Extremely zoomed in pictures often look bad anyway due to atmospheric effects or the (usually) slow speeds at such focal lengths. It’s better to go for a balanced lens. For example, a 10X compact can perform much better overall than a 30X, or a 24-70mm lens can be much sharper than a 24-300mm.

Weight and size are also key. Having a full-frame DSLR with a bag full of lenses might be nice at home, but you won’t have much fun carrying that gear up Mount Kilimanjaro. Compacts are lighter, and mirrorless cameras have become a popular alternative to DSLRs thanks to their thinner bodies and lower weight.

Types of travel cameras

While the lines between these can get blurry, broadly speaking there are the following categories of travel cameras to consider:

Camera Type Pros Cons
Smartphone camera
Easy sharing. Image quality can rival that of budget compacts. Tiny lenses, no optical zoom.
Budget compact
Zoom lenses. Usually better than phones in low light. OK for casual snaps. Only incremental upgrade from many smartphone cameras.
Premium compact
Best for beginner looking to upgrade
Better lenses & sensors, full manual controls. Can usually shoot RAW, not just JPEG. No changeable lenses.
Action camera (GoPro) Great for video. Protective housing and many action mounts. Crummy photos. (Read my GoPro review.)
DSLR Changeable lenses, full range of features. Larger and weigh more. Only incremental updates to popular product lines.
Mirrorless
Best serious multi-lens cameras for travel
Smaller, lighter, changeable lenses. Innovative tech. Can be pricier, at least for now.

Are you not too fussy? Then a cheaper compacts can do the trick, like a Canon PowerShot SX610 or a Nikon COOLPIX S7000. I used to shoot on a Canon PowerShot as a casual back-up camera, and they’re OK. A recent iPhone or Samsung Galaxy will have equal or better image quality though — so think twice if you already have a premium smartphone.

Want something better? Then you should go for either a premium compact (if pocket size is important) or a mirrorless with changeable lenses (for something more serious). Read on for a few up-to-date recommendations for best travel cameras.

Premium compact cameras

Small but powerful, these compact cameras will give you performance far beyond what any smartphone camera can achieve.

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

powershotg7

The PowerShot G7 X packs a ton of features in a small body, while producing stunning images in good light as well as bad light. The Canon HS system produces images that are cleaner even when using a high ISO number, something that even the best smartphone cameras fail to deliver. The lens also has a wonderful maximum aperture of f/1.8, which again means that it performs superbly in low light. With a 35mm equivalent optical zoom range of 24-100mm, you can take nice wide angle shots while also giving you a bit more at the long end than your typical zoom lens.

I recommend the G7 X model over the newer G9 X. While their internal specs are almost identical, the G9’s lens has a poorer zoom range, a higher max aperture (this is a bad thing), and has a fixed screen. Sometimes the newer model actually isn’t better!

The G7’s touchscreen tilts down and up which makes taking low angle or overhead shots much easier, and the screen even tilts all the way up for helping you pose for a selfie. Transferring files is easy with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. For just around $600 (or about £470 or €560), you have yourself a fantastic travel camera.

Price: $699.00 $679.00   -3%  view at amazon  view at b&h

 


 

Sony RX100 V

sony-rx100

The Sony RX100 is a seriously impressive compact. It’s renowned for its large 1″ sensor size, and in what is a first for a single-lens compact, the latest Mark V version even boasts a phase-detection autofocus system (this is more advanced than the G7 X’s contrast detection AF). This does come with a higher price tag.

The fifth or the fourth iteration have a 24-70mm lens instead of the 28-100mm of previous models. This is a matter of preference, but I’d say the extra 4mm at the wide end are great for travel as this lets you take pictures of interiors or wide landscapes more easily.

A distinguishing feature of the RX100 is the pop-up viewfinder, which can make composing shots a little easier than looking at a screen. It also has an ultra-slow-motion video recording mode at 960 fps, 4K video mode, and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. Like the Canon Powershot, the RX100 has a fully tiltable screen.

Price: $998.00  view at amazon view at b&h

 


 

Panasonic Lumix LX100

lumix100

The Lumix LX series helped establish the premium compact category, and its latest Lumix LX100 edition remains an excellent choice. With a 24-75mm zoom with a f/1.7-2.8 maximum aperture range it’s perfect for travel. It’s not quite as slim as the RX100 or Powershot G7, but will still easily fit into a coat pocket. The slightly bigger size does also bring with it some great features, including an excellent viewfinder. The Lumix LX100 also distinguishes itself with its attractive design, available in both Black and Silver editions.

Price: $799.99 $699.99   -13% view at amazon view at b&h

 


Mirrorless cameras

Mirrorless cameras make a lot of sense for travel photography as they’re much lighter than the bulkier DSLRs (such as Canon’s classic Rebel series or Nikon’s D-series). All of the following mirrorless systems have changeable lenses.

Panasonic Lumix GX8

The Lumix GX8 is an impressive “it does everything” mirrorless camera for the serious enthusiast. It sits in the same category as Sony’s Alpha a6000 series, though the GX8 offers such features as a touch screen and in-body stabilisation at about $500 less than the a6500. It’s one of the few mirrorless cameras with a fully articulating screen, which is just perfect for unusual angles, selfies, or even vlogging. It’s also weather-sealed, making it less of a worry to take into dusty or rainy environments as you travel.

If you’re after an awesome all-rounder portable mirrorless, this might just be the best choice at the moment. If you’d like to know more, I recently did a full review of the GX8.

It does use the smaller micro four-thirds sensor format, which can have a few disadvantages (mainly with low light performance). One huge advantage is that micro four-thirds uses much smaller and lighter lenses. A 12-35mm zoom (24-70mm full frame equivalent) at a constant 2.8 aperture weighs just 300 grams (11 ounces). A comparable lens on the Sony Alphas, or on a Canon DSLR system, weighs over 1 kilo (2 pounds).

Price: $1,197.99  view  at amazon view at b&h

 


Sony Alpha a6300

sonyalpha6300

Sony’s Alpha a6000 series is quickly becoming a favorite among enthusiast travel photographers. The Sony Alpha a6300 features a 3” tilting LCD screen, weather-sealing, an electronic viewfinder, and an autofocus with a whopping 425-point detection system. It’s in a roughly similar category as the Panasonic GX8, though a key difference being that it has a larger APS-C sensor.

Videographers do complain about strong rolling shutter, though it offers 4K recording, external mic input, slow-motion video at 120fps, and s-log recording (which is usually a pro-level feature), making it a very capable video camera.

The camera is usually paired with a 16-50mm kit lens, but for better image quality, consider pairing it with a 35mm prime or a 16-70mm zoom.

A newer Sony Alpha a6500 has also been released, which adds 5-axis in-body stabilisation and a touchscreen, but is significantly pricier. Arguably, the a6300 gives better value for money at the moment.

Price: $1,148.00  view  at amazon view at b&h

 


 

Fujifilm X-T10

fujicamera

Fujifilm makes some fine mirrorless cameras, and if you love the retro design then this could easily be a decisive factor for you. The Fujifilm X-T10 is the brand’s mid-range model, smaller and lighter than their flagship X-T1 model while adding a new autofocus system. It has an electronic viewfinder as well as a tilting screen allowing you to more easily take photos from creative angles.

It pushes slightly fewer megapixels than its competitors at this price (specifically, 16 megapixels) and the video recording is at 1080p, but its attractive price tag and ease of use nevertheless make it a great choice for a travel camera. While you can get the X-T10 with a decent kit lens, Fujifilm’s 18-135mm zoom makes for a particularly versatile travel lens.

Price: $1,099.95 $899.00   -18%  view at amazon view at b&h

 


 

Canon EOS M5

EOS-M3

Canon has only cautiously entered the mirrorless market, perhaps not wanting to cannibalise their existing DSLR products. Their M-series hasn’t generally gotten amazing reviews so far, though the latest M5 is the first one to get some buzz. (I haven’t tried it yet, but thought I should include it here for completion’s sake.)

There are unfortunately only a handful of native lenses available for the system, though Canon does bundle the EOS M5 with its EF-M lens adapter ring, which makes virtually all existing EF and EF-S lenses compatible. Adapted lenses don’t perform as well as native ones, but if you already have Canon lenses (or wish to pick up some for cheap second-hand on eBay), then this could be an interesting argument in favor of the M5. For now, though, other manufacturers are still leading Canon in mirrorless cameras.

Price: $1,099.00  view at amazon view at b&h

 

Didn’t quite make the mirrorless list: the full-frame Sony A7 may be a favorite among professionals, but with price tags running into the multiple thousands for the latest models, and bigger lenses to pair with the bigger sensor, it may not be an obvious option for most people.

 

Budget SLR options

So far this list has been hugely focused on portability, with most attention given to mirrorless cameras which are smaller and lighter. But… they can also be quite a bit pricier. If you’re more of an entry-level photographer on a budget, maybe you just want an SLR with a kit lens.

In that case, have a look at either the Nikon D3300 or the Canon Rebel T5i / Canon 700D (these are two different names for the same camera). Most of the photos on my blog were actually shot using an earlier version of this Canon SLR. Both the Nikon and Canon are fantastic cameras, and safe options if you don’t need to be exactly on the cutting edge. You can get package deals including a decent kit lens for around $500.

Price: $539.99  view at amazon view at b&h

 

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22 comments

  1. Comment by Simon

    Simon Reply February 19, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Your information regarding Canon’s M5 is highly misleading. You mention “Its main advantage is lens availability and price.” In reality, February 2017, there are only 5 native lenses available, and all of them (except the 22mm f2) slow aperture lenses. Tony Northrup mentioned in his review that even no portrait lens is available at all.

    Second thing I noticed: for the Canon G7 X II you mention “a wonderful maximum aperture of f/1.8” – while the texts of other cameras with similar apertures do not show such “wonderful” words for it.

    Correction for the text of the Sony RX100V:
    “the fifth or the fourth iteration as these have a 24-70mm lens, which is a better focal length range for travel than the 28-70mm of previous models. ”

    The previous models RX100 I and RX100 II had a focal length of 28-100mm, not 28-70.

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply February 20, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Hey Simon. I appreciate your critical eye!

      I condensed my writeup of the M5 in the latest update which may have made things a little unclear now. My main point was that since it’s possible to use existing EF and EF-S lenses using the adaptor, it may make the M5 an attractive option for those who already have Canon lenses or want to start out with some cheap second-hand kit. Clearly that’s not the same as using native lenses. I’ll attempt to explain this better.

      I don’t discuss every aspect of every camera in order to keep the descriptions reasonably short. I didn’t mention aperture for the Sony RX100 V, though I did again for the Panasonic Lumix LX100. 🙂

      Fair point regarding the RX100 1 and II! That’s a mistake I’ll need to correct.

  2. Comment by Laurel Santos

    Laurel Santos Reply February 9, 2017 at 9:04 am

    This is very helpful! I’ve been contemplating on wat camera to buy for my travel photos. Thank you for this informative post. Hope you’d continue to share your knowledge

  3. Comment by yana

    yana Reply January 27, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Hi! Torn between rx100v and a6300. I own an rx100ii and im using it for years now. I’m still happy with it but I’m thinking of having an upgrade. Hope you can give me an advise. tia

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply January 27, 2017 at 11:56 am

      The rx100v is faster, has 4k video and much better autofocus than the rx100ii, but your older camera is not totally obsolete. If you’re still happy with it, you may not need to upgrade to a newer model in the same product range just yet, as it would be a step up but not a giant leap. Personally I’d be more tempted by the 6300a, as it gives you a nice upgrade path (with the option of putting different glass in front of it, either now or in the future), and a much larger APS-C sensor (which is better for low light and such), among many other things. Just my 2 ct though 🙂

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply January 3, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Very nice! Shot with the G7 X I see 🙂

  4. Comment by Ben

    Ben Reply December 27, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Must say great article. 🙂

    By the way, if you were to pick between a Nikon D3300 and a Sony RX100, which would you pick though? I’m a beginner in both photography and solo backpacking. I am personally leaning on Nikon D3300 because it’s way cheaper in my country. But what’s your take though?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply December 30, 2016 at 10:02 am

      Hey Ben. Technical nitpicking aside, both will get you high quality images. One argument in favor of the RX100 for me is the size: I’ve shot with a camera similar to the Nikon D3000 for years and along with a larger non-kit lens it’s just a bit cumbersome. But if that’s not a dealbreaker for you, the Nikon is a fine choice! You’ll also have a system allowing multiple lenses which is great if you want to get creative.

  5. Comment by Melanie

    Melanie Reply December 27, 2016 at 3:45 am

    Hey great blog, would the first cannon be good for vlogging as well as blogging?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply December 27, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Yes! Well, one thing to know is that it doesn’t have a mic input, so you can’t add an external mic, which is something that the more dedicated vlogger will want to do. But if that’s not a dealbreaker, the flip screen and wide focal length make it perfect for vlogging. 🙂

  6. Comment by Vinz Salvador

    Vinz Salvador Reply December 20, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I bought Sony RX100 V and I was very happy with my decision. I’m using it during my travel around Asia. It was perfect.

  7. Comment by Marie

    Marie Reply December 5, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Really awesome guide. I have been thinking of upgrading to a better camera for a long time. It has just been so confusing and for a long time I just ended up not buying anything because I didn’t know which one to choose.

    Thanks for a great post!

  8. Comment by RX100IV

    RX100IV Reply October 28, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Top review Marek.
    Nice to see a down to earth viewpoint. I love the fact you recommend the A7 over the newer models.
    I started my trip with Fuji x100t. Great stills but very limiting.
    I switched in late 2015 to a Sony RX100IV. A true pocket camera and without a bulky charger too. I’m constantly amazed at the quality of photos this camera can take. Video is amazing too with superb stabilisation.
    I have been tempted by the a6300 though.
    Pete

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply October 28, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Yeah the RX100 IV is pretty amazing given that it’s pocket size! I’ve used a friend’s for a while and the image quality is pretty impressive. I like how at this size you can do a lot of sneaky candid street photography very easily as well. 🙂

  9. Comment by Larisse Espinueva

    Larisse Espinueva Reply October 6, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for this! I’m actually weighing down my options between the Fujifilm X-T10 or the Canon EOS M3. Depends on the budget, I guess. Cheers!

  10. Comment by Edward

    Edward Reply August 10, 2016 at 5:35 am

    It’s really nice and meanful guide! After reading this blog and researching on other sites of camera reviews, I will buy Sony A7ii. Thanks for the help!

  11. Comment by Aaron

    Aaron Reply August 2, 2016 at 10:23 am

    I’ve been doing the GoPro/iPhone combo for a few years now, but an upgrade might be in order. Sony A7 sounds quite tempting….
    Thanks for the post!

  12. Comment by Korinna

    Korinna Reply June 27, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Hey Marek,
    all of the mirrorless cameras stated here seem to be really expensive. I currently use a Canon EOS 1000D (around 5 years old) and if I remember correctly I bought it for around 500€ incl. a lense at that time. But as you said, it’s really heavy to carry around and inconvenient to take it out quickly. I also read a lot of good things about the Sony RX100 series. I guess I have to go to a store and actually get the feeling of it. In my mind compact cameras don’t give you the same quality as DSLR but a friend of mine brought one to our last trip and I found that his camera took better pictures than mine! Would you recommend it to someone that really wants to improve his/her photography skills?
    Kind regards,
    Korinna

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply July 26, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Korinna. First of all, apologies for my slow reply – your message got lost in my comment filters somehow.

      I’ve found myself in a similar position as you, as I’ve shot for years with a Canon 550D. This is just my personal experience, but I used a Canon PowerShot for a while and then sold it. I also used a friend’s RX100 for a while, which was fine but left me wanting more. I do recommend these cameras here as different people have different requirements, but after the 550D (with great viewfinder, interchangeable lenses, great ergonomics, etc.) I craved something just a bit more substantial.

      That said, they always say it’s not the camera but the photographer that takes great pictures, so you can improve your skills using any camera. Maybe try the compacts in a store, as you say, and get a feel for it…

  13. Comment by Salt in our Hair

    Salt in our Hair Reply June 21, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Wooow, what a great guide! Thank you for the help!

  14. Comment by Piotr Kulczycki

    Piotr Kulczycki Reply May 19, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I really like your brief review! Although I’m no longer a begginer 😉 I think it is really useful for people who are starting their photography adventure! Cameras market is really broad now, so it may be hard for them to find their perfect new friend 😉 Waiting for your next tips! Cheers!

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