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Best Travel Cameras (2017) – Compact, Action & Mirrorless

September 4, 2017

When you’re looking for the best camera for your holidays or travels, it’s all about finding the right balance between versatility and portability.

Of course you want to be able to beautifully capture many different scenes, but you don’t want to haul a bunch of heavy gear with you either. This makes compact and mirrorless cameras (and to a lesser extent smartphones) ideal for travel photography.

Unfortunately, when you’re shopping for a camera you can easily get lost in a whirling alphabet soup of acronyms. Have you ever wondered what’s better: a BIONZ X image processor or an XMOR RS BSI CMOS? (Yes, that’s a real thing!). While technical specs are important, so is simply choosing the type of camera that lets you shoot the photographs you want — and this guide will help point you in the right direction.

This post will be focused on cameras for beginner to intermediate photographers.

 

Choosing the best camera for travel

There are several categories of travel camera, each with their pros and cons.

Smartphones are an obvious type of camera to take with you on your travels. They are lightweight, pocket-size, and sharing photos on these is by far the easiest. But not all smartphones have good cameras (far from it!) and even the best are ultimately still limited in performance due to their small lens and sensor sizes. Smartphones are also ergonomically constrained as they cannot provide a viewfinder or physical buttons. Some smartphones now have two rear-facing lenses — one for wide-angle and one for portrait view — enabling new creative possibilities. But apart from a few experimental phones, they don’t let you switch the lenses and don’t have zoom lenses either.

Offering convenience over features, a smartphone may well be all you need.

go to best smartphones

 

Compact cameras have lost much market share to smartphones in recent years. This is understandable as entry-level point-and-shoot cameras produce images of roughly similar quality to many smartphones. So if you’re going to buy a compact, consider going for something a bit more advanced, as this will give you image quality beyond what a phone can already achieve. As compacts become more specialised and upmarket they have seen increasingly better lenses and sensors, and many even come with full manual controls and RAW shooting mode. That said, they often do not offer interchangeable lenses, which some may find limiting.

A premium compact is a perfect choice for the enthusiast or beginner.

go to best compacts

 

Mirrorless cameras are the ideal type of camera offering a full set of features while also staying portable and lightweight. These cameras are an evolution of the older DSLR type camera and manage to be much more compact as they don’t have to house an optical mirror. The category has seen a lot of innovation in recent years, and while they can still be a bit pricier than conventional DSLRs, they are much-loved for travel photography. Mirrorless cameras often have lots of manual controls that let you make quick adjustments on the fly, as well as allowing interchangeable lenses.

Many of the ultimate travel cameras are in this category.

go to best mirrorless

 

Finally, if your trip will involve a lot of sports and outdoor- or water-based activities, you may wish to get a rugged action camera instead.

 

Best smartphones for photography

While smartphones will never be a substitute for a dedicated camera, recent models with two rear-facing lenses will give you much greater versatility than any regular smartphone camera. Two such dual-camera phones currently stand out:

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Price: Out of stock View on Amazon

This is Samsung’s first dual-lens camera. It has one wide-angle f/1.7 lens similar to what you’ll find on the Galaxy S8+, plus an f/2.4 telephoto lens. Having one normal wide angle lens plus a zoomed-in portrait lens allows you to take a variety of travel pictures at high quality. Unlike the iPhone 7 Plus, both lenses have optical image stabilization, which will help you to avoid blurry pictures. The Galaxy Note 8 can also create a simulated bokeh effect (deliberate blurry background) for stylish portraits and detail photography.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Price: $729.00 View on Amazon

This device originally introduced the concept of having two front-facing lenses. The iPhone 7 Plus features a familiar 28mm f/1.8 lens also found on other iPhones, but paired with an additional 56mm f/2.8 telelens. Only the wide angle lens has optical image stabilisation. Both lenses can be used in conjunction to create an artificial depth-of-field effect (blurry background) which opens up new creative possibilities for your travel photography. Some say Apple no longer has the very best sensors and lenses in the industry, but I was impressed by the image quality and low-light performance when using the iPhone 7 Plus.

Other dual-lens Android smartphones include the OnePlus 5 and the LG G6.

 

Best compact travel cameras

Compacts offer a great trade-off between versatility and small size. When it comes to premium compacts, three product lines are especially worth looking at.

1. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Price: $699.00 $679.00   -3% View on Amazon

I used to shoot with an earlier version of this camera before switching to a more fully-featured mirrorless. I recommend taking a look at the PowerShot G7 X if you need a camera that ticks most boxes while staying compact and affordable.

The lens has a wonderful maximum aperture of f/1.8, which means it will perform 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.

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. It doesn’t have a viewfinder though; you’ll have to rely on the screen only.

I recommend the G7 X model over the newer G9 X. While their internal systems 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 that doesn’t tilt. Sometimes the higher number doesn’t actually mean it’s better!

2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100

Price: $699.99 $647.99   -7% View on Amazon

When it comes to camera technology you’re often dealing with trade-offs. The Lumix DMC-ZS100, for example, prioritizes zoom range over other aspects. With its 10X zoom (or 25-250mm equivalent lens) you’ll be able to capture scenes that are far away, though with apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.9 this also comes at a sacrifice to speed and low-light performance.

But no matter. This camera is a wonderful choice if you’re looking for a great in-between balance of zoom range and image quality. While low light performance and background blur aren’t as nice as on the PowerShot G7 X, the level of optical zoom available will give you great versatility.

It also comes with many wonderful features. 5-axis image stabilization helps to ensure your pictures don’t turn out blurry very easily. And with a built-in digital viewfinder the Lumix DMC-ZS100 is also nicer to use than other compacts that only let you frame your photos using the screen.

It’s a fantastic compact for enthusiasts looking to capture subjects both far and near while also maintaining great picture quality.

3. Sony RX100 V

Price: $998.00 View on Amazon

The latest RX100 may not be the cheapest compact on the market, but its specs are seriously impressive. Its 1″ sensor is known for delivering higher image quality and less noise. In what is a first for a single-lens compact, the latest Mark V version even boasts a phase-detection autofocus system, which is more advanced than the typical contrast detection AF found on many competing products.

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 the extra 4mm at the wide end are great for travel as this lets you take pictures of interiors or wide landscapes more easily (personally I love shooting at 24mm).

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 a gorgeous 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.

The RX100 V is a great choice if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line compact that also includes some of the best video features for this type of device. I’ve seen absolutely stunning travel videos shot with this camera.

“Help, these are all too expensive!”

The above compacts are superb, though there are certainly cheaper and more basic compacts around. If you’re just looking for a good-enough small camera for travel, consider something like the Canon PowerShot SX610 or a Nikon COOLPIX S7000. They’re not particularly amazing, but they also cost a lot less.

 

 

Best mirrorless travel cameras

Mirrorless cameras provide a full range of features, as well as letting you put different lenses on them. They’re the most lightweight and compact “full cameras” that you can get, making them ideal for taking on the road.

1. Panasonic Lumix GX8

Price: $1,199.99 $997.99   -17% View on Amazon

The Lumix GX8 is the camera I currently shoot with and I absolutely love it. While there are many Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market, the GX8 ticked all the boxes for me. I chose it for its 5-axis image stabilisation as well as its fully articulating screen, which is perfect for taking photos from 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’d like to know more, I recently did a full review of the GX8.

The Micro Four Thirds sensor format is smaller than the APS-C format found on products like the Sony a6000 series. This means its low-light performance isn’t quite as good, but this is also outweighed by other advantages.

The key advantage of MFT is the low weight of the lenses. A 12-35mm zoom lens (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) — in other words the Micro Four Thirds lens is three times lighter. The extreme portability of the Micro Four Thirds lenses makes this a perfect system for travel photography, especially if you like to carry multiple lenses.

Keep in mind that with interchangeable lens systems, you often still have to buy the lens separately. The price shown here is for the camera body only.

I’m a huge fan of the Lumix GX8, though there are other less costly Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II.

2. Sony a6300

Price: $949.99 $898.00   -5% View on Amazon

Sony’s a6000 series has quickly become a favorite among enthusiast travel photographers. It’s a camera I’ve loved using on a number of occasions and nearly purchased for myself.

At the moment the Sony a6300 version has a great  balance of high specs and value-for-money. It features a 3” tilting LCD screen, weather-sealing, an electronic viewfinder, and an autofocus with a whopping 425-point detection system. A newer Sony Alpha a6500 has also been released, which adds 5-axis in-body stabilisation and a touchscreen, but it is significantly pricier.

This camera is in a roughly similar category as the Panasonic GX8, though a key difference being that it has a larger APS-C sensor, which results in less noise when shooting in low-light situations. If you’re often shooting at night or at dusk, this may be a more important factor to you. The a6300 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.

The Sony a6300 is a highly capable video camera as well, offering 4K recording, external mic input, slow-motion video at 120fps, and s-log recording (which is usually a pro-level feature). This makes an attractive camera even for experienced videographers.

While I think the Micro Four Thirds format is more attractive due to its portability, if you’re looking for an APS-C sensor mirrorless (which is a sensor equivalent to entry-level DSLRs) then the Sony 6300 is a perfect choice. The manual control and digital menus on the a6300 can be a bit more fiddly than on other cameras, but it’s the tech inside that really impresses.

3. Fujifilm X-T20

Price: $899.00 $799.00   -11% View on Amazon

Like the Sony a6000 series the X-T20 is also an APS-C format camera, though with arguably better ergonomics. The Fujifilm X-T20 feels closer to a traditional SLR-styled camera with a few more manual control dials and a larger and more comfortable viewfinder. Not that looks are always important, but its retro design is quite attractive as well! Its build quality is worth noting too, with a design using magnesium alloy over plastic, though unlike the mirrorless cameras mentioned previously it is not weather-sealed.

It has a built-in touchscreen, a feature that’s lacking in the similarly priced Sony a6300. The tilting screen helps you take photos from different angles, though it is not fully articulating like the Panasonic GX8.

The video features on the X-T20 aren’t quite as good as on the Sony a6300, but if you’re looking for a still photography camera with an APS-C sensor and with a more traditional design and operation, this may well be your best bet.

“Waaaait… are there any cheaper mirrorless cameras?”

This list focuses on some of the best travel cameras available but understandably they may not be in everyone’s budget. If that’s the case for you, consider previous models in these series such as the Fujifilm XT-10 or the Sony a5100. Some of the features are outdated but they’ll still do the trick. Invest in some nice lenses and you can still upgrade the camera body in the future.

 

Best action travel camera

If you are planning an active trip, you may be more interested in an action camera. But no longer used just for filming extreme sports, action cameras can also double as a half-decent all-purpose travel camera.

GoPro HERO 5

Price: $399.00 View on Amazon

GoPro is the go-to action camera. It’s built to take a beating and benefits from a huge ecosystem of accessoires that lets you strap the camera to pretty much anything. A GoPro is the best camera for adventure travel but it honestly isn’t ideal for taking normal photos of tourist sights and the like.

You can check out my impressions of the pros and cons in more detail in my full review of the GoPro.

I have been travelling with a GoPro since 2014. To me it serves mainly as a specialised video camera for when I’m mountainbiking, paragliding, jumping off cliffs, and other such shenanigans. It’s also an amazing underwater camera and so I end up using it a lot when scuba diving, or when I’m in tropical countries (such as in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia) where I spend a lot of time in and around the water.

 

Key things to consider

While I’ve shared with you my personal picks above, let me round up this post with some general camera buying advice.

The following are some key things to keep in mind when choosing the best travel camera for you.

Versatility

Travel photography can involve truly anything: landscapes, portraits, macro, wildlife, abstract, even action or sports. A good travel camera should therefore cover many different scenarios. On a compact you’ll probably want a lens covering a wide zoom range, and on an interchangeable system you’ll either want a lens covering a versatile zoom range or a set of specialized lenses.

That said, more zoom isn’t always better! Lenses with an extreme zoom factor are often compromised in other ways, leading to poorer image quality. Extremely zoomed-in pictures often look bad or blurry anyway due to atmospheric effects or the (usually) slow speeds at such focal lengths.

It’s often better to go for a balanced lens. For example, a 10X compact can perform much better overall than a 30X, and a 24-70mm lens can be much sharper than a 24-300mm. Don’t assume more zoom always means it’s a better camera because the opposite is often true.

A prime lens (without zoom) doesn’t have to be bad either. It can give you beautiful background blur and encourages you to move around and get more creative with your shots.

Size and portability

Having a full-frame DSLR with a full bag of lenses might be nice at home or in a studio, but you won’t have much fun carrying that gear up Mount Kilimanjaro! Even a smaller DSLR may be too much bulk to bother with for the casual photographer just wanting some nice holiday snaps.

I used to have a lot of heavy kit and I kept leaving it at my hotel because I couldn’t be bothered to carry it all the time. This made me miss a lot of spontaneous moments. I later switched to a compact and then a mirrorless, and these let me happily carry them all day long without complaints.

That’s why on this page I’ve focused on lightweight and portable devices only. Consider getting either a good smartphone, a compact camera, or a mirrorless camera, as all of these categories are known for their low weight and high portability. A regular DSLR will be bulkier than a mirrorless and you should consider this only if budget is of key concern (as they are still a bit cheaper).

Discreetness

This goes hand-in-hand with portability. A smaller camera will attract less attention, which is comforting especially when visiting countries that are poor or where theft is common.

A smaller camera is also more suited to street photography or taking natural portraits. When you point a big chunky lens at people’s faces it inevitably makes their behaviour change, as they will treat you like you’re a professional photographer, but a less-assuming camera will get you a more natural look.

Durability

Travel can put you in situations you don’t ordinarily find yourself. A sandy desert is a bad place to be if your camera isn’t weather-sealed (as sand can easily get inside the electronics). Any situation involving water can be problematic too; for example, after shooting the epic waterfalls of Iguazu in Brazil, my Canon DSLR crapped out because of all the water vapor in the air.

If you are going to do a lot of extreme stuff then an action camera inside a protective casing, such as a GoPro, will be the most suitable.

That said, even for ordinary use it’s nice if your camera is weather-sealed. Not all cameras on the above list are, though realistically this is fine as long as you keep your camera away from heavy rain, extreme dust, and so on. Still, it’s very nice not to have to worry about these issues, so you may wish to go with a camera that is not so easily affected by adverse conditions.

Best travel cameras

List of cameras mentioned on this page:

  1. Canon PowerShot G7X
  2. Lumix DMC-ZS100
  3. Sony RX100 V
  4. Panasonic Lumix GX8
  5. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
  6. Sony Alpha a6300
  7. Fujifilm XT-20
  8. GoPro HERO 5

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links with earn me a small commission if you decide to buy a product (more about this here). This post is independent, without any brand endorsements or sponsorships. Thanks to camera reviewers Rajib Mukherjee and John Scott for contributions to this guide.

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17 comments

  1. Ana Celia Casorso Reply September 16, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    First I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
    I love taking pictures all my life and had many kinds of cameras, but my brain is not wired for reading and understanding instructions and have always hard time to understand the speaking terms of using cameras, I had even taking lessons and… Nothing register in my brain, so my question for you is: what is the best compact digital camera that will be fast shooting, good quality pictures in bright or low light, with out having to move any controllers or settings, zoom is not as important as the other qualities, my range money is around 500.00 Canadian dollars. I will appreciate your advice. Tank you! Ana

    • Marek Reply September 17, 2017 at 11:31 am

      It’s a tough question! Honestly, cameras do need some manual operation to get the most out of them, so some of your money may be wasted if it never gets out of AUTO mode. Maybe it’s worth looking at some of the older models of the Sony RX100 (like the Mark II or Mark III) as these should be close to your budget but they still have low aperture lenses that work well in low light (this is not something many cheaper compacts have). But perhaps you would be interested in a camera with a touchscreen (or a smartphone) so you can choose focal points or exposure by tapping an area of the screen instead of using buttons.

  2. JADE Reply September 6, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for this! I needed a post that listed just 2-3 options. Having a post with too many options leaves me with a lot of info, but no decision at the end of it all.

  3. Mike Lee Reply June 29, 2017 at 11:58 am

    While I have a DSLR I really am tempted to invest in a mirrorless right now. This really helps with most of my questions and thanks for such an extensive and detailed post on all types of cameras. Most people I know are going with the Sony, but I do like the body of the Fujifilm. Should be interesting to see Canon get into the market properly.

  4. Brandon Reply May 9, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Ah I am going to Europe for my honeymoon and can’t decide if I should get a camera like the Canon G7X or a Canon T6i… any thoughts?

    I am entry level and want to use the camera for both video and photos! Not sure I will do much editing of them, but it would be nice to be able to touch up my photos and edit them a little bit.

    I love the portability of the G7x, which is why I am leaning that way, but I just don’t know!

    Please let me know what anyone thinks!

    • Jonny Reply May 30, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Personally I would go with the Canon G7X, as I think it’s an all-round better camera for vlogging and traveling in my opinion!

  5. 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

  6. 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

    • 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 🙂

    • Marek Reply January 3, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Very nice! Shot with the G7 X I see 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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

    • 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 impressive. I like how at this size you can do a lot of sneaky candid street photography very easily as well. 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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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