There’s no arguing that the smartphone has become the favorite camera for everyday casual shooting. But when you’re venturing hundred 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 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 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.
GoPro Hero6 Black
Why should you buy this: Excellent 4K/60p video and best-in-class electronic image stabilization.
Who’s its for: Extreme athletes and anyone who needs high-quality video in rugged environments.
How much will it cost: $399
Why we picked the GoPro Hero6 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 keep on ticking.
GoPro is the household name in action cams, and the flagship Hero6 Black is the latest and greatest. Like the Hero5 Black before it, it has a built-in touch screen yet is completely waterproof without an additional case. It also has some of the best specs of any action camera, with 4K video at up to 60 frames per second. And while you may not need that kind of speed and resolution, you will absolutely love the Hero6 Black’s greatly improved electronic image stabilization, which produces beautifully smooth footage whether you’re holding the camera by hand or mounting it to your mountain bike. A lot of the enhanced performance is due to a new image processor, the GP1 — a first for a GoPro camera.
GoPro also has some unique post-processing features that will be particularly useful for travelers. The GoPro app (iOS or Android) can create automatic edits of your videos — and even incorporate photos from your camera roll — using telemetry data to highlight all the best moments. Transfer your footage to your phone every night, and wake up to a short, polished edit of the previous day’s activities.
The best rugged travel camera
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5
Why should you buy this: RAW photos, great macro ability, rugged, and weatherproof
!!!! NEEDS PRODUCT CARD!!! Desc.: From hiking to skiing to snorkeling, the Tough TG5 can handle it all.
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 a helmet, bike frame, harness, etcetera. 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 continuous 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 at 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.
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: $138
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 less than $140, 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: $997
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 about $1,000 (after $200 instant rebate), 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, however, 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 is 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 will 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 stand-alone 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: $469
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 into the Lightning port and is controlled by 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.
While the DXO One remained an iOS exclusive for a while, an Android version is finally on the way.
The best interchangeable lens cameras for travel
Panasonic Lumix GX85
Why should you buy this: Top-notch image stabilization, 4K video, and compact design.
Who’s it for: Photographers who want a compact camera without sacrificing versatility.
How much will it cost: $598
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 Lumix GX85 to be the ideal traveling companion, with incredible five-axis sensor stabilization, crystal-clear 4K video, and a nice balance of size and functionality. It even fits in an electronic viewfinder, a welcome addition for taking photos outside on bright days.
While the newer Lumix GX9 has some key improvements, like a 20MP sensor, the GX85 remains an exceptional value. It is currently available for just under $600 (body only, after $200 instant rebate), making it a hard deal to pass up.
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, etcetera.