There’s no arguing that the smartphone has become our favorite camera for everyday casual shooting. But when you’re venturing hundred or thousands of miles to see something new, there’s no beating a traditional camera. Whether it’s a rugged model that can withstand water, snow, and sand; a superzoom that lets you reach a distant landmark without schlepping there; or an interchangeable lens model with image quality that will hold up for making large prints of your favorite memories, dedicated cameras bring extra tools to the table that can pay dividends on vacation.
The camera you pick depends on the type of travel you’re planning to do. You can go for an all-purpose model that covers the basics, or a niche camera designed for precisely the activity you’re doing. Maybe you need a camera that can keep up with a high-speed adventure and rough-and-tumble lifestyle. Or perhaps you prefer to take your time setting up to capture the perfect sunset. Either way, there’s an ideal camera for you to bring along on your next vacation — and you can likely find one that won’t break the bank. We’ve compiled a list of some of some of our favorite travel cameras below, organized by category.
GoPro Hero5 Black
Why should you buy this: Waterproof, integrated touch screen, 4K video.
Who’s it for: Extreme athletes and anyone who needs high quality video in rugged environments.
How much will it cost: $400
Why we picked the GoPro Hero5 Black:
The size and weight of action cams is a no-brainer for travel. In fact, many are small enough that they take up hardly any room in a carry-on. Their wide-angle lenses capture more of the view, Wi-Fi lets you share photos via a smartphone, and operating them is as simple as pressing a single button. Plus, you can subject them to all kinds of abuse and they’ll keep on ticking.
GoPro is the household name in action cams, and the long-awaited Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session models have expanded on quality and ease of use. Both feature 4K video and are waterproof without a case. While the compact, screen-less Session is just $300, we think the $400 Hero5 Black is well worth its higher price. It adds an integrated touch screen for simple set up and use and can also shoot RAW photos for better image quality.
The best rugged travel camera
Olympus Stylus TG-4
Why should you buy this: RAW photos, great macro ability
Who’s it for: Enthusiast photographers who need a camera that can survive the elements.
How much will it cost: $379
Why we picked the Olympus Tough TG-4:
Rugged point-and-shoot cameras are similar to action cams, except they put still photos first, video second. Perfect for beach trips and snorkeling, they are meant to be shot by hand, rather than mounted to a helmet, bike frame, harness, etc. Such cameras are also waterproof, dust-proof, and freeze-proof without requiring a separate housing, as is sometimes the case with action cameras.
It’s been out for nearly two years now, but the tried-and-true Olympus TG-4 offers several advanced options not normally found on this type of camera, like the ability to shoot uncompressed RAW photos. It also has a stellar macro mode and even an optional macro ring lite that will allow you to photograph objects as close as a hair’s width in front of the lens. At $380, it’s one of the more expensive options out there, but it packs a lot of power at the price.
The best budget travel point-and-shoot
Panasonic Lumix TS30
Why should you buy this: Low price and ease of use.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a basic camera to handle the sand and surf.
How much will it cost: $145
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix TS30:
If you are looking for a model that is affordable and easy to use, look no further than the Panasonic TS30. With its basic still and 720p video modes, it won’t be winning any image quality tests, but it’s still waterproof down to 26 feet, can shoot at eight frames per second, and even features a “torch light” for improved underwater videos. At just $145, it’s an easy choice for your next beach getaway or trip to the slopes.
The best travel superzoom
Panasonic Lumix FZ2500
Why should you buy this: Fantastic still image quality, equally great video
Who’s it for: Enthusiast photographers who don’t mind the size (or price).
How much will it cost: $1,200
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix FZ2500:
The superzoom is more or less a point-and-shoot camera with a very long zoom lens. Some have a DSLR-like body, while others are more compact. Many offer advanced shooting modes and manual controls, but most still use internal components typical of smaller, entry-level cameras. A few, however, are built around larger sensors and even offer RAW photos and, therefore, better image quality.
The Panasonic FZ2500 has just a 20x zoom, not nearly as long as some other cameras in this category. However, it uses a much larger, 20MP, 1-inch-type sensor, and can shoot in RAW, so it has vastly superior image quality. It also shoots continuous bursts up to 12 frames per second, records video at 4K resolution, and has a built-in ND filter.
All of this tech does come at a rather high price of $1,200, so the FZ2500 is aimed at enthusiast and professional photographers who need an alternative to bulky interchangeable lens systems when traveling. If you’ve got the money to spare, you won’t be disappointed.
The best premium travel compact
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V
Why should you buy this: Great stills and video, impressive speed.
Who’s it for: Enthusiasts after a compact camera that won’t sacrifice performance.
How much will it cost: $998
Why we picked the Sony RX100 V:
The smartphone has pretty much annihilated the pocket camera, but there’s a special breed that phones cannot touch: the premium compact. These cameras may be small on the outside, but they are bursting with power on the inside. Loved by casual shooters and professionals alike, a premium compact camera may be a worthwhile investment for your next serious vacation.
The RX100 Mark V is the latest in Sony’s long line of RX series premium compacts. It offers fantastic image quality thanks to its 20MP, 1-inch-type sensor and fast 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Capable of focusing in as little as 0.05 seconds and shooting bursts at speeds up to 24 images per second, you’ll easily capture every perfect moment. It can also handle your video needs admirably, thanks to support for 4K resolution. Of course, all of that performance comes at a price of nearly $1,000, so this isn’t the camera for everyone.
The best travel camera that works with your iPhone
Why should you buy this: Smaller than a standalone camera, better image quality than your phone’s camera.
Who’s it for: iPhone users who want the smallest possible way to improve image quality.
How much will it cost: $499
Why we picked the DXO One:
If you don’t want to give up taking pictures on your iPhone, then the DXO One can significantly improve image quality without adding much bulk. It plugs in to the Lightning port and is controlled from an app (it can also be controlled remotely over Wi-Fi). It uses the same 1-inch-type sensor as the Sony RX100 and is paired with a 35mm f/1.8 lens sharp images even in low light conditions.
The only real downside of the DXO One is that it’s iPhone only at this time, so if you’re an android users, you’re out of luck.
The best interchangeable lens cameras for travel
Panasonic Lumix GX85
Why should you buy this: Top notch image stabilization, 4K video, compact design.
Who’s it for: Photographers who want a compact camera without sacrificing versatility.
How much will it cost: $698
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GX8:
The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format is a great option for a travel camera. The smaller sensor size (compared to APS-C) allows for equivalently smaller lenses, great for anyone who wants a lighter overall package with the performance and picture quality one expects from an interchangeable lens camera. We found Panasonic’s new Lumix GX85 to be the ideal traveling companion, with incredible 5-axis sensor stabilization, crystal-clear 4K video, and a nice balance of size and functionality. At $700 (body only), it provides abundant value for the money.
How we test
When testing a camera, we look at its features and tech in the context of real world use. For models we haven’t fully reviewed, our opinion is based on what hands-on experience we have as well as the general public reception. When it came to selecting models for this list, we specifically focused cameras that combined strong feature sets with portability.
When shopping for a camera, perhaps the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting something you will actually use. You could spend $2,000 or more on a top-of-the-line machine for your next vacation, but if you never take it out of your hotel room because it’s too big and heavy, it’s basically worthless.
If you already shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have a good idea of what you’re willing to use. If, however, you currently shoot with just a phone, you should consider in what ways your phone is most lacking before making a choice, such as low light image quality, the ability to shoot all-weather conditions, resolution, etc.