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The best travel cameras for 2020

Everyone loves to take pictures of their travels, whether you’re visiting the beach or headed down the trail. But when cloud-based storage isn’t available and phone space is at a premium, you want a way to snap your pictures without weighing yourself down. A good travel camera is the best solution to your quandry. The best travel cameras are small, light, and easy to pack, which makes them ideal for almost all traveling situations.

But which travel camera is the best choice for you? For enthusiast photographers, nothing beats the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, a compact mirrorless camera with built-in image stabilization so good you won’t need a tripod — even for long exposures. Of course, not everyone needs to take such a high-end camera on vacation. If that’s you, a simple point-and-shoot or action camera might be the better choice. To help you choose the best travel camera, we’ve compiled a list of cameras with features you’ll love.

At a glance:

The best travel camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Olympus OMD E M1

Why you should buy this: Plenty of photo and video power, all in a system that easily fits in a carry-on

Who’s it for: Serious travel photographers and enthusiasts

Why we picked the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III:

Many mirrorless cameras are compact and portable, but few travel as easily as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III. The body itself may not be much smaller than other mirrorless options, but relatively small Four Thirds sensor means the lenses are. With a 2X crop factor, a 150mm lens has the same reach as a 300mm lens on full frame, which allows you to pack more zoom in less space, perfect for wildlife photography.

Compared to larger full-frame and APS-C sensors, image quality takes a slight hit on the E-M1 Mark III, but the 20-megapixel sensor still captures excellent photos in most conditions. And when those megapixels aren’t enough, a handheld high res mode boosts resolution to 50 MP (albeit, for stationary subjects only).

One of the biggest space savers, however, is the camera’s stabilization system. Rated up to 7.5 stops with some lenses (7 stops with others), it’s good enough to take handheld long exposures around six seconds or so — more if you have very steady hands. Except for shooting photos of the stars, we didn’t use a tripod on a four-day trip with the E-M1 Mark III, even for long exposures and night shots. As some popular tourist locations don’t allow tripods, this is a huge plus.

With built-in neutral density filters, the E-M1 Mark III also makes it easy to take longe exposures during the day, which is a big help if your travels include visiting a waterfall, ocean beach, or other body of water.

There’s more to the E-M1 Mark III than compact lenses and rock-solid stabilization. Performance is also good, with fast and accurate autofocus and even a new mode to use autofocus on astrophotography. Cinema 4K video is also a plus, and the fully articulating monitor means you can easily record a travel vlog.

If you want an interchangeable lens camera that packs light but still delivers high-end performance and image quality, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is an excellent option.

Read the full Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review

The best waterproof travel camera: Olympus Stylus Tough TG-6

Olympus Tough TG-5 Review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

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.

Why we picked the Olympus Tough TG-6:

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-6 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. 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.

We should note while this is the latest offering from the Olympus TG series, little has changed over the Tough TG-5. That camera has been officially discontinued, but if you can still find one, it might be worth picking it up at a discount.

Read more about the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-6

The best instant travel camera: Leica Sofort

Leica Sofort
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: If you’re tired of lifeless images on a screen and want a physical picture in your hand

Who is it for: Those who like something cool and quirky when it comes to their cameras

Why we picked the Leica Sofort:

From the “upside down” Polaroid OneStep 2 to the soap-bar-like Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay, Instant cameras come in all shapes and sizes. But none are as stylish at the Leica Sofort. Consistent with the Leica brand, the design of the Sofort is sophisticated and understated. It’s the kind of instant camera that passersby will admire in your hand, rather than laugh at.

Sure, on the inside the Sofort is just a standard Instax Mini camera. Its f/12.7 aperture will deliver reasonably sharp images and the 60-millimeter lens is versatile enough to create a range of styles, but it’s certainly not its image quality that makes the camera ideal. Let’s remember when you’re on vacation, you’re there to have a good time. Especially if you’re traveling with children, instant photography is always a crowd-pleaser. It is a fun, interactive, and instant way of documenting all the good times you have while you’re away.

What makes the Sofort different is that you’ll still look like a “real” photographer while using it; and looking the part is half the battle.

Read our Leica Sofort hands-on impressions

The best travel superzoom: Nikon Coolpix P1000

Nikon Coolpix P1000 review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It has a 125x zoom

Who’s it for: Birders, or sports fans stuck in the nosebleed seats

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 a grand, 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.

Read our Nikon Coolpix P1000 review

The best advanced compact camera for travel: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

Sony RX100 VI review
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

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.

Why we picked the Sony RX100 VI:

Sony somehow fit a 24-200mm f/2.8-4 lens into this pocket powerhouse. While it’s not cheap, you can’t beat the versatility of that lens in such a portable form factor when it comes to travel. The RX100 VI isn’t the latest advanced compact cameras featuring a 20-megapixel 1-inch-type sensors from Sony, but the newer Mark VII doesn’t offer any real advantages for 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 a 3x zoom, but with a brighter f/1.8 aperture for shooting in low light. It also comes at a cheaper price.

Read our Sony RX100 VI review

The best cheap mirrorless camera for travel: Fujifilm X-T30

Why should you buy this: You’re getting a small, lightweight camera that has incredible image quality

Who’s it for: Those who want to create more than just a good holiday snapshot

Why we picked the Fujifilm X-T30:

The X-T30 is a high-performing compact mirrorless camera. Whether you’re going for a short weekend getaway or a long vacation, this camera won’t add too much weight to your travel bag. It comes with a backside-illuminated, 26-megapixel X-Trans sensor. With that you get stunning images that are rich in color in and detail. Depending on your viewing preference, the X-T30 gives you the option of looking through a central viewfinder or an adjustable LCD screen.

We absolutely loved the X-T30 when we tested it as it brings the best features of Fujifilm’s flagship X-T3 into a smaller, cheaper package. It can shoot continuously at up to 20 frames per second with the electronic shutter, so you’ll never miss a beat of the action. The face and eye-detection autofocus is great for portraiture, and it also offers 4K video if you want to record a cinematic memory of your vacation.

What sets this camera apart from those above it is that you have the option of interchangeable lenses. And when it comes to great glass, we’re pushed to find a better manufacturer than Fujifilm. So if your time away is mixed up of hiking, street markets, and lazy days on the beach, you’ll have plenty of lens options to suit the style of photography you want to create.

Read our Fujifilm X-T30 review

The best video camera for travel: GoPro Hero8 Black

Why should you buy this: Stunning image stabilization and versatile features

Who’s it for: Anyone with a love for POV videos or who needs a camera small enough to go anywhere.

Why we picked the GoPro Hero8 Black:

GoPro’s latest flagship is still the best action camera you can buy, but it does much more than provide the point-of-view perspective for extreme athletes. With the new “mod” accessories, it turns into a powerful vlogging tool. Add an LED light, mini shotgun microphone, and even a flip-up selfie screen.

The Hero8 Black is the first physical redesign since the Hero5 Black, incorporating a built-in mount that lets you forego a frame or case. This makes it faster and easier to set up, while also allowing you to swap batteries and memory cards while the camera is mounted to something. The camera is also thinner overall, making it more pocketable.

GoPro also turned up it’s impressive HyperSmooth stabilization to 2.0 in the Hero8 Black, offering gimbal-like steadiness that smooths out the roughest trail runs or mountain bike rides. It’s beyond impressive, and probably the number one reason I’d recommend the Hero8 over other action cameras.

It’s far from the only new feature, however. TimeWarp 2.0 offers new ways to create polished hyperlapse videos, automatically choosing the time-lapse speed based on camera movement and allowing you to slow down to real time at any point. New microphones and audio processing algorithms make voices easier to hear, even in windy and noisy conditions, and improvements to the interface make the camera even friendlier to use.

Read our full GoPro Hero8 Black review

What should you look for in a travel camera?

The most important thing is to make sure you’re getting a camera 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 (or you’re worried about it getting stolen), 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. Do you need better low-light image quality, the ability to shoot in all-weather conditions, or more versatile lenses?

Are digital cameras allowed on airplanes?

Yes. While x-ray machines can damage film (of ISO 800 or above), they do not have any ill effects on digital cameras. Most camera accessories are also allowed on planes, including tripods. The major thing to watch out for are your camera’s lithium-ion batteries. Keep these in your carry-on luggage, even if you are checking other camera gear. Airport baggage handlers may remove batteries from checked bags as they can pose a fire hazard. Don’t let this scare you, though — camera batteries pose a much much lower risk than phone and laptop batteries, as they are not nearly as energy dense.

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