There’s no arguing that the smartphone has become the favorite camera for everyday, casual shooting. But when you’re venturing hundreds or thousands of miles to see something new, there is 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 camera that will let you make detailed prints of your favorite memories, a dedicated camera brings extra tools to the table that can pay dividends on a 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 is 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 compiled a list of some of some of our favorite travel cameras below, organized by category.
At a glance
|Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5||The best travel camera overall||4 out of 5|
|Fujifilm XF10||The best premium travel camera||Not yet rated|
|Nikon Coolpix P1000||The best travel superzoom||3.5 out of 5|
|Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI||The best premium travel compact||Not yet rated|
|Olympus PEN E-PL9||The best interchangeable-lens camera for travel||3.5 out of 5|
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5
Why should you buy this: RAW photos, great macro ability, rugged, and weatherproof
Who’s it for: Enthusiast photographers who need a camera that can survive the elements.
How much will it cost: $399
Why we picked the Olympus Tough TG-5:
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 something. Such cameras are also waterproof, dust-proof, and freeze-proof without requiring a separate housing, as is sometimes the case with action cameras.
The Stylus Tough TG-5 continues Olympus’ dominance in the rugged camera game, and 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 incredibly easy-to-use light-painting mode, perfect for some nighttime creative fun on your next camping trip. At $399 (after $50 instant rebate), it’s one of the more expensive options out there, but it packs a lot of power for the price and should last for years to come.
Our full Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5 review
The best premium travel camera
Why should you buy this: Large-sensor image quality in a compact form factor
Who’s it for: Street, food, and landscape photographers
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the Fujifilm XF10:
The XF10 blends Fujifilm’s classic style with the ease of use expected of the smartphone generation. It foregoes physical controls in favor of touchscreen operation and a streamlined exterior. At 28mm equivalent, its fixed, non-zoom lens matches the field of view of most phone cameras, but it’s 24-megapixel APS-C sensor is up to 14 times larger than that of the average phone. That gives it vastly superior light-gathering ability, meaning better performance in low light without resorting to the computational trickery employed by modern phones.
At $500, the XF10 is relatively affordable for the quality, but not everyone will be content with a lens that doesn’t zoom. This is a good camera for street photography, or for snapping shareable pictures of all the amazing food you plan to eat on vacation, but if you need the flexibility of a zoom lens, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Nikon Coolpix P1000
The best travel superzoom
Why should you buy this: It has a 125x zoom
Who’s it for: Birders, or sports fans stuck in the nosebleed seats
How much will it cost: $997
Why we picked the Nikon Coolpix P1000:
The P1000 is overkill in the best of ways. Its crazy 125x zoom offers an equivalent focal length range of 24-3,000mm, a bonkers super-telephoto that was simply unheard of before it. Even though it’s technically a point-and-shoot, the massive optics required for that lens pushes the camera to over 3 pounds. Yeah, that’s not exactly portable and pocketable like other options on this page, but you won’t find anywhere near that much zoom power anywhere else.
Don’t expect superior image quality from the P1000’s relatively small sensor (more or a less a requisite for fitting such a long lens), but Nikon has done an admirable job with the image stabilization, so you can at least handle that lens without requiring a tripod — provided you have enough light, and a little patience. At nearly $1,000, this isn’t an impulse buy, but if you need one camera that can shoot everything from wide vistas to close-ups of birds, this is likely your best bet.
Our full Nikon Coolpix P1000 review
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
The best advanced compact camera for travel
Why should you buy this: Great stills and video, good zoom, impressive speed.
Who’s it for: Enthusiasts after a compact camera that won’t sacrifice performance.
How much will it cost: $1,198
Why we picked the Sony RX100 VI:
Sony somehow fit a 24-200mm f/2.8-4 lens into this pocket powerhouse. The RX100 VI is the latest in a growing line of advanced compact cameras featuring 20-megapixel 1-inch-type sensors that boast superior image quality to most point-and-points. This one also has the longest zoom range of the series yet. While this has also made it the most expensive model, you can’t beat the versatility of that lens in such a portable form factor when it comes to travel photography.
The RX100 VI is also fast, capable of focusing in as little as 0.03 seconds and shooting bursts at speeds up to 24 images per second. It can also handle your video needs admirably, thanks to support for 4K resolution and a host of advanced options that will sate the appetite of even professional videographers.
If you can get by with a shorter lens, the older R100 V has an 8x zoom with a brighter f/1.8 aperture for shooting in low light. It also comes at a cheaper price of $998.
Olympus PEN E-PL9
The best interchangeable lens camera for travel
Why should you buy this: Good image stabilization, fast performance, easy to use
Who’s it for: Photographers who want a compact camera without sacrificing versatility.
How much will it cost: $699 (includes kit lens)
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GX8:
This svelte and stylish mirrorless camera is about as close as interchangeable-lens cameras get to smartphones in size, and that makes the E-PL9 very appealing for serious travel photography. Its fully articulating screen is great for family selfies, and the responsive touch interface makes using it a breeze. Its Micro Four Thirds sensor sits between the 1-inch sensor of the Sony RX100 and the APS-C sensor in the Fujifilm XF10 in terms of size, helping it achieve good image quality without scarfing too much portability. The included 14-42mm kit lens is also designed for maximum space savings, retracting into itself when not in use.
While the camera is compatible with the full line of Micro Four Thirds lenses, enthusiast photographers may not appreciate the E-PL9’s dumbed-down physical controls, which make the camera harder to use in manual mode. Such users may be happier with the more advanced, but slightly larger Olympus OM-D E-M10 III.
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’ve had, as well as the general public reception. When it came to selecting models for this list, we specifically focused on 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 in all-weather conditions, resolution, etc.