What makes the best travel camera and how do you choose? This can be a hard (or easy) question to answer, depending on who’s asking. This article aims to give you the definitive answer to this question no matter what sort of photographer you are. At the end of this comprehensive guide, you will find the perfect camera to take with you on your travels to capture all your epic adventures.
I’ve used various cameras both as an amateur and as a professional wedding photographer when I pursued the career religiously. Now that I’ve gravitated more into travel, my gear selection is, of course, focused on finding the best travel camera.
This guide will help you more if you don’t know what sort of travel camera you’re looking for. I will cover all the style types of cameras, and by the end of this article, you should have a clearer picture (so to speak) of what you need based on your particular needs or budgetary constraints.
I will cover cameras that you wouldn’t even consider to be real cameras, like a smartphone. Yes, some smartphones are truly capable of taking remarkable travel photos! I’ve owned a few (I’ll cover it below) and have even sold the photos professionally.
What to Look For in A Travel Camera?
Below are the various attributes that you should look out for when shopping for a travel camera. These are the definitive factors to pay attention to find the best travel camera suited for you.
This is governed by the number of Megapixels stuffed into the sensor of the camera (or smartphone). The bigger sensor size (generally), the more megapixels can be crammed into it. More often than not, the more megapixels you have, the better the image quality and be bigger the size you can print. Because there more megapixels (data), you’ll need a bigger hard drive and more memory cards to hold all those information captured by your camera. There’s a fine line you have to determine what’s acceptable, quality-wise, before deciding just to buy a camera with the most megapixels.
A smartphone can’t accommodate a massive sensor since taking photos isn’t the primary use of a smartphone. However, with modern technologies and newer sensors, I’ve seen 12 Megapixel photos from a smartphone that rival 20 Megapixel photos from older Point and Shoot cameras. Speaking of Point and Shoots, the sensor size varies from 28 sq. Mm in size to 1” (116 sq. mm).
My DJI Mavic 2 Pro has a Hasselblad camera with a 1” Sony sensor that produces 20 Megapixels images. The quality of the photos is simply outstanding, and I’ve sold these photos to various publications around the world without any complaints. Many modern DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras either APS-C sensors that measure 366 sq. mm or full frame cameras that measure 864 sq. mm.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
There are full frame cameras now that can deliver over 60 Megapixels of resolution. As mentioned, you’ll also need bigger hard drives and memory cards to retain such a big file. Not to mention, more RAM, better CPU, and better computer overall to process such huge images. Oh, you’ll also need better, more expensive lenses to resolve all that resolution. You need to ask yourself, what you want with your images before you jump into getting these behemoths.
- Are you printing large billboard-sized prints?
- Are you cropping your images a lot?
- Do you have a lot of hard drive space?
- Do you have powerful hardware to handle the big files?
These are all essential factors to consider. As somebody who’s worked on a lot of images from 17 MB to 1 GB file sizes, I can tell you that there’s a balance to this decision. I’m not telling you my opinions are better than other photographers since the advice you’ll usually get is: the more megapixels, the better. On the contrary, I find the best balance between proper usable resolution to be between 20 to 25 Megapixels.
Anything more significant is just pixel peeping. If you don’t ever see yourself printing large prints over 4 feet by 6 feet, then there’s no need to have extra megapixels. Do you have that much space on your wall to hang huge photos?
If you would like to get more in-depth about Sensor Size and Sensor Technology, this Wikipedia article should provide all the information you need. This guide, however, already takes this into account in picking the best travel camera.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the money in the world so you won’t be limited with the camera gear you can have? Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of us. The travel camera we can have will vary greatly with how much Benjamins we have in our pockets. The good news is, expensive cameras don’t always mean worse pictures. Talent beats deep pockets in the world of art.
Creativity will always trump money when it comes to photography. Don’t worry; you can still be an award-winning photographer even if all you have is a smartphone to take pictures with. With that in mind, you’ll want at least the best photographic equipment you can afford.
Remember, the more expensive the camera you get, the more costly other gear that has to accompany it. Keep in mind that you will have to set aside money for lenses and accessories too. Since you’ll be traveling, you will need to ensure your equipment also.
The more expensive your camera, the higher the premium. But it’s not something you should take lightly; take it from me. I broke my Nikon D800e during a hiking trip in Torres del Paine, and I didn’t have insurance. That was a costly mistake and something you don’t want to have to deal with.
Size and Weight
When looking for a camera to take with you on your next adventure, you’ll probably consider weight and size as a factor in your decision. If you have all the space in the world and you happen to be strong as an ox, this may not be an issue. However, for most of us, we have to be vigilant in our gear choices in terms of weight and size.
Generally, the bigger the camera is, the better the image quality. That’s because it can carry a bigger sensor and more hardware to process the image, and it gives more bells and whistles. You’ll have to set a standard in your mind of what is acceptable quality-wise that you can do without. As mentioned previously, there’s probably very little use for a 60-megapixel image unless the need calls for it. For general everyday use, 16-25 Megapixels is plenty to work with.
If you’re going with a DSLR or a Mirrorless camera system, you’ll also have to consider the lens and accessories you’ll have to carry. The lightest and most convenient system is a point and shoot camera with a huge zoom range, but it’s not going to compete with full-frame DSLR or a Mirrorless camera. We’ll cover cameras that put size, portability, and weight at the forefront of its features.
Versatile cameras are the best kind of cameras. Travel photography entails shooting images in a wide assortment of conditions, and sometimes unexpectedly. If you’re purchasing a point-and-shoot, a camera with a broad zoom range is optimal–this is one of the reasons we favor the Panasonic ZS200 (24-360 mm) within the Canon G7 X Mark II (24-100 mm).
Besides, super-zooms have become increasingly popular, which pushes the boundaries concerning the zoom range. For example, the Canon SX720 HS includes a huge 24-960 mm of range while weighing only 9.5 ounces and using a very reasonable $274 price tag. What’s? The image sensor is modest, and the lens is slow in terms of aperture, both of which are extremely real trade-offs.
It is worth noting that the kit lenses can get you out the door and shooting photos at a fantastic price, but their optical quality typically is limited. If you’d like better sharpness and bokeh, and reduced distortion and vignetting, it is well worth spending up for higher-end zooms or primes (more about this in our travel lenses segment below).
There’s nothing worse than losing a camera due to a slight drop or a few raindrops. Not all cameras a built equal. If you want a camera that can withstand the elements and survive a few tumbles, then it will have to be durable. Weather sealing and magnesium alloy bodies are the domain of professional cameras costing in the thousands.
Some mid-level prosumer cameras are starting to place weather sealing and robust materials to camera bodies, and we’ll review those here as well. An adventure/action-oriented camera like a GoPro is built for being splashed around with water and withstand a few shocks here and there. Some smartphones are capable of being dropped 5 meters underwater without being damaged.
Be wary of the basic point and shoot cameras marketed as rugged cameras. You’re paying a lot for the protection and losing a lot of the functionality and quality. The truth is most cameras carry some level of protection. Unless you’re taking your camera white water rafting, you won’t need the level of protection these cameras imply.
Most modern digital cameras now come with capable video features. Some are even good enough for professional-level productions used in Hollywood films. It’s up to you to figure out how important this feature is. Are you going to use the camera mostly for video? A Mirrorless system is likely going to offer you the most versatility.
I’m seeing more and more cameras offering 4k video with 60 FPS (frames per second) as a standard feature. My DJI Mavic 2 Pro delivers 4k videos at a decent 30 FPS, and my Sony A7 III can deliver 4k videos at 6 FPS. Do I use it? Do I care? I rarely use it since my primary purpose for a camera is still images. However, it’s a nice feature if I do decide to take high-quality videos.
The most important question you must ask when looking for your next camera is, what will I use it for? We’ll assume it is for travel since that what this article is about – the best travel camera. But will you use it for other subjects? Portraits maybe? Sports? Underwater? Maybe you want to shoot aerial footage? How about astrophotography with the Milky Way in the backdrop?
For sports, you need a fast shooting Mirrorless or DSLR camera. For underwater, you might need a GoPro Hero or an underwater housing for your DSLR, which will costs you thousands of dollars. You’ll want a drone camera if you want to shoot above. Unfortunately, no one camera can function as a one all camera. You’ll have to make concessions as to what you will be using it most or go with multiple camera systems – I, for one, have a Drone, a DSLR, a Mirrorless, a Point and Shoot, and a Smartphone to cover most situations in terms of photography.
Modern cameras use Phase or Contrast detection or a combination of both and other things. There’s a motor attached to the lens, and it will try and give you the best plane of focus.
Some auto-focus system isn’t as good for latching on to the target on low light situations; some are only great during daylight. Newer cameras have vastly improved auto-focus systems that can’t tell which one is better from the other.
In DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras, the lenses bear most of this function, so performance is nearly dependent on the lenses you put on the camera.
For other systems, like smartphones and point and shoot cameras, it’s already built-in. When shopping for a new camera, do a test drive on how well it auto-focuses on dark areas, especially indoors. You’ll be able to tell right off how well the auto-focus is after a few shots.
You will want the most zoom range out of your camera to cover all your basis. I’ve often found myself wishing I had a longer lens during my travels when limited to the current zoom coverage I have. Some cheap Point and Shoot cameras have extreme zoom coverage, but you’re still limited to the built-in lens.
Modern smartphones have several cameras mounted on the phone with various focal lengths to provide broader zoom range, but they’re limited compared to DSLR and Mirrorless cameras where lenses are detachable.
Mirrorless and DSLR cameras have a big advantage when it comes to Zoom Range, but the bigger the lenses, the more glass it has, and then you’ll start to have bulkier and heavier equipment. It’s good to strike a balance between what’s convenient vs. what you can achieve with having such long zoom ranges.
For most photographers, having a camera that can accommodate various lenses is the holy grail. You really shouldn’t be limited to a focal range and left wishing you had a wide-angle or telephoto zoom. In this regard, a Mirrorless or DSLR system offers the best solution.
DSLRs have the advantage of being in the market longer, so it will have more lenses to choose from. However, Mirrorless cameras are hot on the trail, and a few years from now should have an equal amount of lenses and accessories to choose from.
Other Features to Consider
The last thing that you need when travel is handicapped by anxiety about taking or using your camera. In urban areas, by means of example, it may be uncomfortable and somewhat insecure about having an expensive camera and a bag of lenses when someone else in a crowd is checking it out, waiting for the opportune moment to snag it.
When traveling in third world countries, it would be weird to have a $3k+ camera hanging around your neck when everyone else around you can only afford to make $1 a day. The main takeaway is, it’s better to have a camera you will feel comfortable using rather than leaving back home.
Mirrorless cameras generally look less expensive than massive DSLRs but are just as capable. DSLRs look the most expensive because of their size, but that shouldn’t deter you from using or choosing one; you just have to be more vigilant about its use.
Best Compact Point and Shoot Cameras for Travel
Compact point and shoot cameras might just be the perfect travel camera to take with you. If all you’re doing is capturing personal travel moments with no intention of selling or taking your photography to the professional level, then a Point & Shoot is your best bet. That’s not to say these cameras can’t produce professional-quality imagery, quite the contrary. The only knock is that the optics are usually built-in, and you don’t have a range of lenses to choose from compared to other systems.
Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II
Canon’s updated PowerShot G7X II takes what made the first G7X so attractive a streamlined form factor, large 1″ sensor, and versatile 4.2x optical zoom lens and then introduces a vast array of new features and improvements that make it a perfect Point and Shoot Travel Camera. While the 20.1-megapixel 1″ CMOS sensor and 24-100 mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens are the same, much has changed using the Mark II.
The refreshed Canon G7X II gets an updated exterior design as well as a faster DIGIC 7 picture chip. It is a quicker, more capable premium compact camera that still captures excellent images across a wide range of ISO’s. The Canon G7X II aimed to address the performance-related shortcomings of the first.
There are few downsides and disappointments, but overall, it is a fairly pleasing premium compact camera. There is now a small front grip on the camera that hurts the ergonomics. Absent about the G7X much to some users’ dismay, the Mark II’s new front grip can also be rubberized for additional grip and comfort. It won’t be the cheapest camera on this list at $699 at the time of listing. For most travelers, the Powershot G7X could be the only travel camera ever needed.
- Excellent image quality for a 1″ sensor
- Decent zoom range for the price
- Wi-Fi connection
- No 4k video option
Panasonic Lumix FZ80
The FZ80 can cover a lot of range – 20-1200 mm (35 mm film equivalent), to be exact. That’s a lot of focal range that even professional DSLR owners with a huge lens selection envy. Equipped with a 1/2.33-inch sensor that delivers 18 Megapixels and can take 4K videos, you’re getting a lot for a sub $300 camera. It can also capture images in RAW format, which is missing in some cheaper Point and Shoots.
There is a built-in image stabilizer for those who like to shoot handheld and during low light situations; that’s a good thing since the smaller sensor means a noisy and grainy photo when shot with high ISO’s. OK, so you have 1200 mm, which is technically a 4800 mm lens (compared to 35 mm focal); that’s a very long reach that won’t be available to DSLR or Mirrorless travel cameras unless they carry lenses that are ten pounds in weight.
Downsides aren’t much, and as already mentioned, the small sensor means noisy images if you pump the ISO up. The long-range focal points aren’t going to be useful for 4k video unless you’re using a tripod, and the camera is equipped with a fixed LCD. There also no EVF eye sensor. Overall though, for the price, the camera has plenty to offer the occasional traveler.
- Great optical zoom for a compact camera
- Image stabilization
- Fast autofocus
- No EVF eye sensor
The Sony DSC-WX350 packs a massive 20x optical zoom in a very compact Point and Shoot body. Sony claims the camera is the smallest and lightest camera with 20x optical zoom in production. It’s a fact that is very likely true as I’ve not seen camera this size go long and wide in focal range.
The camera comes with a healthy 18 Megapixel sensor and can deliver 1080 P movies. It can shoot at 10 FPS and has a built-in Wifi with NFC. It’s a pretty nicely packaged camera for the price. The camera is also equipped with an optical stabilizer, so those handheld shots will stay sharp in lower light situations.
For a pocket-sized camera, there isn’t anything much to complain about. This little wonder-cam packs a punch. The downsides are the noise performance as expected from a small sensor. However, if you don’t shoot in low-light conditions often, this camera will shine. The lens edges are a little soft if you shoot wide open as well. Its inconspicuous form makes it ideal for capturing street scenes or in a crowded place without being noticed.
- Great zoom range
- Optical image stabilization is spot on
- Extremely compact
- Soft on the edges
Best Mirrorless Cameras for Travel
Mirrorless cameras have made a big splash in the photography industry. It made do without the Reflex Mirror of the DSLR that allowed it to shed some bulk and weight off the camera body. It’s not without some shortcomings, but there is no doubt that it’s here to stay and improve the overall offerings to professional and enthusiast photographers.
Since the system is still relatively new to the market, look for the selection of lenses and accessories. While it’s clear that Sony has a head start in this department. Other manufacturers like Canon and Nikon are catching up. Weigh the pros and cons with each and decide on which ones to get. For example, ff you already have a collection of Canon lenses, then perhaps a Canon Mirrorless is right for you.
Sony A7 III
Yes, there are cameras with bigger Megapixel Count and faster burst speeds. For travel, however, the Sony A7III is simply the perfect camera (to date). The 25 Megapixel images it produces are right on target. The dynamic range is spectacular. The noise performance is better than the already excellent predecessor, the Sony A7II.
The lens selection from Sony improved significantly, and there are now many to choose from to meet just about everyone’s needs. The A7III is equipped with a 5-axis Image Stabilization sensor that can get you up to 2-3 stops further than you can be hand-holding the camera. I rarely hand-hold cameras when I shoot and opt instead to mount it on a tripod, but with the Sony A7III, I find myself shooting without one more and more.
A touch screen has been added, and the burst speed has been upgraded to 10 fps. The battery life sucked on the A7II, but Sony addressed this in the A7III with a larger Z-Type battery. They’ve also added a Dual SD Memory card slots and a newer USB 3.1 Type C port. For the price, this is the camera to get for travel. If you’re serious about photography and considering a professional quality camera and still have the money to fly to the next location, then the Sony A7III is a no brainer.
- Fantastic image quality at an affordable price
- Awesome noise performance
- Improved battery life
- Limited touchscreen controls
Panasonic Lumix GH5
If cameras are like cars, the Lumix GH5 packs tons of horsepower rolled into a rugged chassis. This weather-sealed upgraded to its predecessor has a new 20 Megapixel sensor that’s noticeably better than the previous version and has better per-pixel sharpness. Although only packing a 4/3″ sensor, it has a better dynamic range and better noise performance than its predecessor.
The camera is also equipped with a new autofocus motor that’s able to latch on to targets in very dim lighting. The 255-point auto-focus works well with stills and video. Speaking of video, the camera can capture the full width of the sensor at 4k and up to 60p. There’s an in-body stabilization, dual UHS-II card slots with hot-swap, and comes with 5/2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE.
There are too many features that come with the camera that warrants its $2,000 price tag. Though expensive, if you compare it to other pro-level cameras, it’s quite a steal. Being to record video formats to the separate SD cards simultaneously would have been a useful feature, but that’s being nit-picky. This camera is a hit.
- Great 4k video features
- Very bright EVF
- Weather-resistant body
- Image quality not as good as the competition
Nikon has been slow to adapt to the Mirrorless revolution, but they’ve made some stride with the Z series cameras and their new line of lenses. The Z6 might not upstage the Sony Alphas, but at least it’s giving it a run for its money. Able to use the extensive line of current Nikon SLR lenses, but the new Z line is up-and-coming. I’ve always been a fan of Nikon for their optics, and their Z lenses are tack sharp.
Being new to the Mirrorless department, the Z6 needs some polish. The auto-focus isn’t as fast or as great as Sony’s offerings, but the camera offers comparable features such as 4k video capture, 12 fps continuous shooting, in-body image stabilization, 24.5 Megapixels, and much more. The Z6 is an all-around camera and like the Sony A7III, a great travel camera. When the Z line matures (more lenses coming), I would be hard press not consider Nikon again in the future.
- Excellent in-body image stabilization
- Superior ergonomics
- 11 fps burst speed shooting
- Lack of native lenses at release
Best DSLR Cameras for Travel
DSLR cameras have dominated the marketplace for decades, having its roots from SLR film cameras of old. The newer crop of DSLRs coming out on the market is a thing to behold. They’re competent cameras and with a huge selection of legacy and new lenses, a very capable system for any levels of photographers.
What to look for in a DSLR? There’s a plethora of DSLR selection in the market. Some have built-in image stabilization, and this would be a great place to start. You can also go with established brands like Nikon or Canon; you can’t go wrong with either. Eventually (or already), you’ll have to lens collection, and it’s best to stick to that system rather than switch to a different one because of a small feature you like.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
I’ve owned and used several of the EOS 5D cameras, and the current iteration continues the renowned series. This time around, the sensor gets an update to 30.40 Megapixels with a ton of other upgrades. The design, look, and feel is kept to a few modest tweaks; why break what’s already working, right? 4K video is added with a new and faster processor that offers excellent high ISO performance, and burst speeds up to 7 fps.
Every new iteration of the 5D improves up its predecessor, and the Mark IV is no exception. It’s a great camera and would make an excellent travel memory capturing tool. If I was to pick a negative, it would be that the JPEG files aren’t as good and kinda soft at default settings. However, you shouldn’t be shooting in this mode anyway. You should always shoot at RAW and process the files at your leisure. Overall, if you’re looking for a travel DSLR, you should take a serious look at the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
- Great RAW image quality
- High ISO Performance
- Fast Autofocus
- Dual Cards slots are different formats
The Nikon D750 is a great update to the already awesome D700. The camera is aimed for enthusiasts, but any pro can pick it up and be just as happy if they chose it over much more expensive “pro-level” cameras. The 24.3 Megapixel full frame sensor will capture an image just as good as cameras costing thousands more.
The D750 lies somewhere between a D600 and the D810 and boast some features from the super expensive D3. While it doesn’t have the Megapixel count or the shooting speed as the other models, it’s a very capable full-featured camera that most photographers would be happy with. Some downsides, Optical Viewfinder coverage is only 97% of the frame. It’s a little sluggish with the auto-focus in Live View mode, and it has a weak Anti-Alias filter. Outside the few quips, I highly recommend this camera if you want to use the excellent Nikon lens system for travel.
- Amazing Dynamic Range at Low ISOs
- Excellent burst speeds
- Great AF even in low light
- Sluggish Live View mode
Pentax’s DSLR offering is impressive. The K-3II is an APS-C sensor size camera that’s weather-sealed and has in-body image stabilization. Gone is the pop-up flash from the previous version, but they added an in-camera GPS – it even has the added capability to freeze stars (Astrotracer) in Astrophotography. The camera delivers top-notch picture resolution with its Pixel Shift technology and better overall performance from an APS-C sensor.
The camera feels great in the hands, compact enough for travel, and a very large Optical View Finder that’s quite bright. The downsides: it would have been great if they left the pop-up flash (carrying a flash adds more weight and bulk to our luggage). The Astrotracer is cool but isn’t as refined as it should be, and the battery life could be better. Overall though, the camera is highly recommended.
- Great detail from Pixel Shift Resolution
- Geotag of images
- Very bright viewfinder
- No built-in flash
Best Adventure/Action Cameras for Travel
Not to be confused with Sports cameras, the ones with 20 fps burst modes, and above, these action cameras are meant to capture your adventures. Both waterproof and rugged, the cameras can withstand some abuses outdoors and indoors. The GoPro system is the established brand in this section, and you can’t go wrong with going with it. However, some manufacturers have entered the fray and may offer something the GoPro does not.
GoPro has been a staple for action and adventure photographers and Instagrammers for over a decade now. This is a little gadget that is a favorite in the Social Media world. It’s small, compact, and very lightweight frame makes it easy to carry anywhere and everywhere. It’s a got a fixed super wide-angle lens with an extreme angle of view that allows you to capture nearly everything.
The GoPro is very good at capturing all your activities and adventures, especially in the third person and first-person views. Its extreme niche makes it very good at what it’s supposed to do, but for everything else, it’s very limited. It’s not your ideal everyday camera for travel. It would serve well as a supplement to your Point and Shoot or DSLR camera.
This iteration of the GoPro adds 4k video capabilities. Improved stabilization and a SuperPhoto mode that takes great stills. However, compared to its predecessors, the improvements are minor, and the upgrades aren’t particularly spectacular. Still, a GoPro is always a great addition to a travel photographer’s arsenal, and the new Live Streaming feature will pad your ego when you’re sharing your latest adventures on Instagram Stories!
- Very smooth video stabilization
- Amazing 4k video quality
- No case needed for waterproofing the camera
- Battery still lags
Sony RX0 II
When you see the Sony RX0, you can’t help but make a direct comparison to the GoPro line of action cameras. The question is, is it good enough to challenge the king of the hill (the GoPro)? From the get-go, this camera would make a great vlogging camera, and it’s more than rugged enough to be an action camera. When I say rugged, I mean it looks like it can withstand a bomb. Unlike the GoPro and other offerings, the Sony has a metal alloy body that Sony touts to be crush-proof and shockproof.
It’s got a tilt screen like most modern point and shoots and Mirrorless cameras and is fitted into one of the smallest camera body on the planet. The camera has a lot of features to allow for manual tweaking, which is a welcome feature to any professional photographers. However, this has to be accessed in such a tiny body and screen; tweaking, it is somewhat cumbersome in practice.
The video and stills are good, and the image stabilization is also good. I say good because the competing GoPro 7 has a slight advantage in this department. It’s even more expensive than the platform it’s trying to compete with. Overall, I think Sony has aimed this camera towards professional videographers who want to tweak the exposure values of the camera.
- Great video quality
- Flip out screen is very handy
- Durable metal body
- Software stabilization is very poor for the price
There is very little doubt that GoPro owns the action camera market segment. Any challenger has an uphill battle trying to capture a share of the pie, and Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi is seriously giving GoPro a run for its money with the YI 4K. The GoPro clone offers some serious features and is even easier to use than the Hero4 (black). The 2.2 inch LCD screen is covered with a Gorilla Glass for protection.
The housing is waterproof up to 40 meters and allows you to connect via Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi. The lens is a 155-degree wide-angle with an f2.8 aperture. The sensor is sourced from Sony 1/2.3″ 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor able to capture 4K videos at 30 fps. The image quality produced out of the camera is awe-inspiring, though I’d have to give a slight edge to the GoPro in terms of color.
The image stabilization of the camera is good as well, and the battery seems to keep going even after using the camera in various situations for hours. Though it comes fairly priced around the sub $200 price range, it doesn’t come with a waterproof housing and sports clips; you’ll have to purchase these separately. Other than that, the YI 4K is a serious alternative and competitor to the GoPro.
- Awesome image quality
- Very affordable
- Good image stabilization
- Fiddly control for underwater use make it hard to use
Best Smartphone (w/ Camera) for Travel
Smartphones have come a long way with their built-in camera technology. I’m simply amazed at the photos my smartphones have been able to produce in the last several years. While I wouldn’t go so far as it supplanting modern DSLR’s or Mirrorless cameras in terms of quality, it certainly is a must companion to any photographer’s arsenal.
Still, if you’re serious about photography and want to make some extra income from it, I would point you to modern Mirrorless and DSLR full-frame or APC-S cameras. With that said, I can make sell some of my smartphone photos (with success) via Eye-M, which allows you to sell photos captured with a smartphone in their marketplace – also tied to Getty Images.
Google Pixel 3/XL
If you plan on using a smartphone for photography, the Google Pixel line is your best bet. I’ve owned one since the release of Google Pixel 2 and never looked back. The dynamic range this baby spews out is insane. It’s got a very smart processing capability that takes a very high contrast scene and does the exposure blending for you, something unheard of even inexpensive DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras.
Backed by a 12.3 Megapixel sensor with a constant f/1.8 aperture, the photos produced by the phone is nothing short of amazing. I take a lot of food pics with the camera dangle what I ate for lunch with my Facebook buddies. The detail is so good; you can see the grains of salt. Portraits come rendered with extreme details too, much to the chagrin of people who have a zit or a pimple.
The front camera comes equipped with two cameras, one for wide-angle and the other portrait, useful for selfies and such. I’m not going to go into further details on the other features of the phone’s camera, but from the time I’ve used the phone to take photos, I don’t think any other phones in the market can match its prowess except for the two brands mentioned below.
- Great image quality
- Excellent low light performance for a small sensor
- Decent resolution
- No expandable memory
Google Pixel 4
As I was writing this article and enjoying my recently purchased Google Pixel 3, Google decided to announce (and release) the Google Pixel 4. Talk about having gear envy; now I know what to ask for as a gift on Christmas! What’s improved? The Pixel has always been the class leader in smartphone photography, and Google didn’t shy away from this one. Right off the bat, it’s advertised as being able to shoot the Milky Way (astrophotography), which is something I know smartphone couldn’t do.
The attention to detail when it comes to developing professional-level capabilities for the phone is top-notch. Kudos to Google for advancing the genre ever so closer to having all your photography gear fit in your pocket.
The level of lowlight details (from samples) this phone can capture is beyond impressive. DXOMARK got it rated as one of the best smartphones for photography. It, however, doesn’t have an ultrawide lens like the iPhone Pro, which knocks it down a notch. Outside of that, things have been improved from the previous Pixel 3, and that should be more than worth the price of entry.
- Great image quality that’s been improved more
- Excellent low light performance
- Excellent resolution
- Still no expandable memory
I’ve always been super impressed with iPhone’s camera capabilities. I once attended a gallery in San Francisco with photos captured only with an iPhone, and I was blown away by the print quality. While I may not be an Apple fan, I have to give props with props are due. My wife is a big fan, however, and I bought her the latest version of the iPhone.
The phone’s camera system is equipped with a 12 Megapixel 1.4 Micron sensor that has better noise handling capabilities than its predecessors. What’s more, there are two lenses built-in; one is wide-angle and coupled with an f/2.4 telephoto. It’s a speedy camera too; I’ve taken thousands of shots for my wife just holding the shutter, and off away, it captures every movement.
How does the image quality hold up? Very good. I can’t tell the difference between the photos taken with my Google Pixel and the iPhone. I would have to give a slight edge when it comes to taking nighttime photos to the Android, but that’s a matter of debate and preference. It just so happens that I like how the Pixel renders the photos at night vs. the iPhone. Overall, if you’re an Apple fan, the iPhone XS/XR has a very capable camera system and should capture most of your travel moments.
- Dual Camera
- Excellent optical stabilization
- Improved dynamic range
- Low light performance mediocre and not as good as the competition
iPhone 11 Pro
The new iPhone 11 Pro aims to take power away from professional photographers and give it to regular folks with iPhones. It might just succeed in that endeavor! The phone is equipped with a three-lens system camera that allows you to take super-wide, normal, and telephoto angles. The biggest deal is the 13 mm, 20-degree ultra-wide lens, which in travel scenes allows you to take very close shots with your subject while still including much of the scene.
Distortion and other forms of optical flaws (just plain physics) are controlled by its powerful processor. It now has an improved night mode that addresses the previous model’s issues. There’s a lot added into this phone to make it an only tool for photography. For the average person, it might render the normal Point and Shoot cameras useless and seriously challenges the notion of having a DSLR or a Mirrorless camera around.
The phone is capable of doing time-lapse videos and panoramas. For the most part, the high contrast scenes are well controlled with it’s HDR capability. The phone isn’t cheap as expected from iPhones, but if you consider that you don’t need to spend a few hundred dollars for another camera, it might just be a very sweet deal.
- Ultrawide capability
- Better low light performance
- Photography focused phone
- Heavier than previous versions
Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus has five cameras in total. The rear camera, the ones you will use to shoot like a regular camera, has an optically stabilized 12 Megapixel camera that has an aperture that shifts from f/1.4 to f/2.4. There’s also a super-wide 16 Megapixel f/2.2 camera/sensor with a stabilized 12 Megapixel sensor for zooming like a telephoto.
The phone as plenty of options when it comes to using it as a travel camera or for quick shots when you’re too lazy to reach out for your heavy Mirrorless or DSLR. The photo quality is superb. It produces sharp and colorful photos when the lighting is favorable. It’s not quite there when compared to the Pixel 3 during low light or challenging lighting conditions.
Where this smartphone shines is the versatility of its focal range, something that gives it an edge over the other two mentioned above. These are the optical focal range, just to be sure. It’s not the digital zoom that should be abolished from all cameras (and phones).
- Versatile camera
- Sharp images
- Image stabilization is good
- Image quality not as good as the phones above
Best Drone Cameras for Travel
It might not come as a surprise for most people that this category is dominated by DJI made drones. But for drones to be used for photographic purposes, there is no competition. I’ve used everything from Parrot drones to Autel Robotics, but there’s simply nothing in the market that can match DJI.
I’ve held off buying and using a drone for the longest time, and after 53 countries, I wished I had one to capture images from a different perspective. For most people, having a drone is probably overkill, but if you want to see a landscape or a cityscape in a whole new view, a drone will do just that.
Some countries, like Morocco, for example, ban drones outright. Always check any drone laws associated with the country you are visiting so you don’t risk your equipment to get confiscated. The drones I’ve listed here are the best for travel, but if you’re just starting and don’t make money from photography, check the DJI Spark – it’s a nice and compact drone that can capture good images.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
I’ve had the joy of using the DJI Mavic 2 Pro for nearly a year now, and while it’s not the top drone in DJI’s lineup, its more than capable of capturing professional-quality imagery. Any travel photographer who wants to up their game should purchase one and leave everything else in the dust. It’s compact enough to take just about anywhere without sacrificing quality.
Equipped with a very impressive Hasselblad camera, a 1 inch Sony Sensor, and a 28 mm adjustable aperture lens, this drone is a force to be reckoned with. The camera and gimbal allow you to attach a polarizing lens or a neutral density filter – which is the main staple of most professional photographers. It’s capable of capturing 4k videos at 30 fps and has a nifty panoramic feature that allows you to capture images much larger than its proclaimed 20 Megapixels.
The drone body has several sensors that will allow it to avoid obstacles in tight spots. I’ve owned a Parrot Anafi without one, and it’s quite prone to hitting trees if you’re not careful. The Mavic 2 Pro is one of a few drones that are capable of taking awesome nighttime shots with slow shutter speeds. The image quality is simply awesome. The only downsides I can think of is that it doesn’t have an optical zoom feature like the Mavic 2 Zoom below. You can swap the cameras between the two, but it’s a bit cumbersome to do and not as practical when using in the field.
- Professional image quality and video from the Hasselblad camera
- Decent flight time
- One of the consumer drones
- Expensive and no zoom feature
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
The Zoom is the alternative to the DJI Mavic 2 Pro above. As the moniker implies, the drone is capable of optical zoom from 24 mm to 48 mm. It does it with a smaller sensor capturing high-resolution images at 12 Megapixels and 4K videos. For most people, the Zoom is likely more ideal than the Pro 2 because of its versatility. Like the Pro 2, the drone can hover at nearly 30 minutes before you’ll have to change or recharge the battery.
While only able to capture 16 million colors compared to over 1 billion on the Mavic 2 Pro, the photos produced from the Zoom is simply amazing, the Zooming feature is a first in any drone, and these regards give it an edge over the Pro 2. The ability to zoom optically gives you capabilities not present in the above, like compressing the perspective with the background looming at great speeds. You can do the Dolly Zoom effect like in those Hitchcock films.
If you’re doing more video than stills, go ahead and take this one over the Pro 2. There are simply many more features and creative possibilities with the zoom lens than the 28 mm the Pro 2 offers. The quality is on par when it comes to videos, as well.
- Good image quality and video
- Zoom feature is the best in class and first of its kind
- Excellent video features
- Megapixel lower than Mavic Pro
DJI Mavic Air
If you’ve got limited space in your luggage and want to pack a drone, the DJI Mavic Air just might fit the bill. Compared to the models above, this drone is tiny and pocket-sized. Like the professional drones mentioned, it’s equipped with a stabilizing gimbal and can shoot 4k videos and captures 12 Megapixels with its 1/2.3 inch sensor at f/2.6 (24 mm lens). At this point, it’s already similarly specked to the first generation Mavic Pro.
The flight time on this micro-drone is around 21 minutes, which isn’t as great as the drones mentioned above. However, the drone is doing it on a much smaller soda can-sized body. There’s a lot of smart features, as well as being able to use your hand to control the landing and take-off of the drone. Some gesture recognition features allow you to take photos with your hands as well. If you’re not selling photos professionally, the Mavic Air is the better choice for travel than the aforementioned models.
- A very compact drone that you can carry anywhere
- Decent image quality
- 4k videos
- Image quality not as good as the above
Best Budget Cameras for Travel
Good cameras don’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a tight budget and would still like to take home great quality travel images, these cameras are your best bet. If you’re on an even tighter budget, consider buying the previous iteration of the camera you’re planning to get. For example, the Sony A7II is still a very capable camera with comparable image aesthetics as the new A7III.
Sony Alpha A6000
The A6000 is an all-around budget travel camera. It has the feature of a compact point and shoot while having the ability to exchange lenses. Particularly, Sony’s E Mount Lenses. It’s compact enough to fit on any luggage and light enough to carry around as an all-day walking camera. The camera has easy to use features, and just about anyone without prior photography knowledge can pick it up and start taking good photos with it.
Indeed, if you’ve used any of Sony point and shoot cameras like the HX50V, this will be very familiar territory. There is an auto HDR setting that takes an AEB photo and combines them to create an image with High Dynamic Range. I have to do these manually in Photoshop with my more expensive DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras! If you’re looking for a very compact camera but capable of professional quality photos, the A6000 is the camera for you.
- Great image quality in a pocket-sized package
- Eye autofocus feature
- Excellent image stabilization
- Low light autofocus not as good
Canon PowerShot ELPH 180
If you’re looking for a cheap no-frills very compact travel camera, then look no further than the Canon PowerShot ELPH 180. It can zoom up to 224 mm, has auto face detection, image stabilization, and equipped with a 20 Megapixel sensor that you can purchase for well under $150. The market segment that the camera was intended for is for busy photographers who don’t have time to process the photos themselves, and as such, it doesn’t offer RAW capture.
Its pocket-sized frame means you can carry it anywhere just like you would your smartphone, albeit with a much longer zoom range. This camera would work well for those candid street travel scenes where you would want to be as discreet as possible. There’s no 4k video feature to speak of here, but it does capture up to 1280 x 720 at 25p MPEG. If you don’t need or want all the frivolous features of other cameras, then the ELPH 180 is the camera for you.
- Cheap 10x zoom that’s very compact
- Optical stabilization
- Wi-Fi and NFC connections
- Video up to 720p only
Panasonic Lumix ZS50
The Panasonic ZS50 is an impressive pocket camera with a 30x optical zoom capability. The 1/2.3 inch sensor delivers 12.1 Megapixels of resolution, which went down from the 18.1 Megapixels from its predecessor, the ZS40. Why the downgrade in resolution? Simple, to offer better noise performance and cleaner images overall. I applaud Panasonic for this; from experience, higher resolution doesn’t mean better-looking images. 12.1 Megapixels is plenty and more than the average photographer ever needs.
The camera has a built-in Leica lens that can zoom from 24 mm (full frame equivalent) to 720 mm. That’s a lot of coverage for such a tiny camera. There’s an in-body image stabilizer, and it can shoot up to ten fps in burst mode. There are also a few features that will satisfy the enthusiast with Manual mode, Shutter & Aperture priority modes. It can take 4k videos and has a built-in Wi-Fi connectivity feature. For the price, this camera might just be your travel camera of choice.
- Compact and 30x zoom range
- Decent image quality
- Wi-Fi connection and NFC
- No 4k video capture
Best High-Resolution Cameras for Travel
For those looking to print their travel photos into giant prints, the cameras listed here should fit the bill. These are the cameras with bleeding-edge sensor technologies able to capture super-high-resolution images. If you get one of these, you will have a lot of leeways when it comes to composition cropping.
Canon EOS 5DS R
50.6 Megapixels. Believe it. The EOS 5DS R has crossed the threshold over to Medium Format territory. There’s no 35 mm based full frame camera that can even come close. The amount of detail this camera can capture is nothing short of impressive. The print quality coming out of such high resolution is amazing. The camera’s focus is mainly resolution, but it does have a built-in intervalometer and time-lapse movie mode.
For such a high-resolution sensor, the camera has a decent high ISO performance. It has a decent dynamic range and good burst rates for such big files. The AF is not as good as Canon’s other pro offerings, and dynamic range isn’t as good, comparatively. It’s not the cheapest camera out there either, but if you’re looking for the resolution king, look no further.
- Excellent high-resolution image quality
- Weather sealed body
- Dual memory card slot
- Limited ISO range
Sony A7R II
The Sony A7R II packs a 40.2 Megapixel sensor and is the standing king of resolution in the Mirrorless world. While it packs a massive pixel count, it doesn’t skimp on all the other features, either. Everything in the already great A7R has been improved – speed, image quality, battery life, and video recording has been upgraded. It’s also fast enough to capture action and sports with improved Auto-focus. The dynamic range and 5-axis in-body image stabilization have been improved as well.
I’m personally not after a massive pixel count, but if I was, I would get on this camera on a heartbeat. It’s just as good as my favorite Sony A7 II but with upgraded pixel count. The downsides? It’s expensive, and they’ve removed the optical low pass filter – that means some moire in some shooting situations. The UHS-II only supports one card slot. There’s no perfect camera, but this one comes close if you want the megapixel count, speed, and features.
- Good high resolution and excellent image quality
- In-body image stabilization
- High-end 4k video
- Battery performance lagging
The Pentax 645z is a true Medium Format Digital Camera (4 x 33 mm) that packs a 51.4 Megapixel sensor. Make no mistake; this is the Megapixel king on this list and the market today. The bigger sensor gives it a definite edge on ISO and noise performance. The image quality is sharp and outstanding, coming from its sensor. This is all packed in a rugged and weather-sealed body. The viewfinder is very bright, and its autofocus system works well, even in low light conditions.
The 645z is a huge camera even compared to a Full Frame DSLR, and it’s noticeable when you take it out on a crowd. It’s a very specialized camera than fills a very specialized need, so as such, it doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back upwards $8k+, and that’s not counting the lenses you will need for it. Still, if money isn’t an issue and you want the best imagery possible, get the Pentax 645z and leave everyone else in the dust.
- Super high-resolution images
- The excellent high ISO performance
- Big bright viewfinder
- Very bulky
Best Travel Camera Accessories
- Tripod – Whether you like it or not, you’ll eventually face situations where you’re going to shoot long exposures. You simply can’t do it without a way to stabilize your camera, and the best accessory to do that is a tripod. Modern tripods are cheap and compact. Read all about my guide on the Best Travel Tripods Under $100.
- Filters – I have Neutral Density filters and Polarizing Filters for my cameras and even my drones. Filters are great items to enhance your images, especially polarizing filters. Read my guide on Polarizing Filters and Why You Need One.
- Hard Drive – Always carry an extra hard drive with you and back up the photos on your laptop and SD cards. It’s always a good habit to back up your files physically and also online via a Cloud.
- Carry-On Bag – Protecting your camera equipment while traveling should be one of your priorities. Leaving your gear at the mercy of baggage handlers is a recipe for disaster. You should always try to handle your gear yourself, and that’s why having it all on a carry-on is ideal. Read my Guide on the Best Camera Bag or the Best Carry On Luggage for Under $100 to get started.
- Extra Batteries – Having extra batteries around help with longer shooting sessions and convenience. You don’t want to miss a shot because you ran out of juice.
- Cleaning Accessories – Never leave home without one. A lens pen is an indispensable tool to clean your lenses. It’s usually included with a pressure blower when purchased as a cleaning kit.
- Waterproof Case or Cover – Sooner or later, you’re going to be caught in a downpour. Protect your equipment with a waterproof case or cover. You can get one for your DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras, Smartphone, and GoPro.
Further Reading on Photography and Camera Gear
- Choosing The Best Full Frame Cameras for Travel
- Choosing The Best DSLR Cameras for Travel
- The Best Point and Shoot Cameras for Travel
- The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Travel
- Adventure Travel Photography Tips
- The Best Lenses for Sony E Mount
- The Best Lenses for Canon E and EF-S Mounts
All Your Essential Travel Camera Questions Answered
This article is one of the most comprehensive travel camera resources I have written. Whether your just capturing moments to look back on your adventures or making a few bucks from travel photography. You should have found the best travel camera suited for your style of travel after reading the article. Shoot me a comment on the form below if you have any other questions.
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