Searching for the best camera to pack for your next trip? Look no further than our guide
While your smartphone is perfectly serviceable for your day-to-day photography needs, when it comes to holidays, trips and special occasions, it makes sense to pick up a dedicated camera that can elevate your photography to the next level.
That said, you don’t want to be unnecessarily weighed down with something bulky and heavy – especially if you’re travelling with hand luggage only.
In this roundup we’ll be looking at a variety of cameras that make for fantastic travelling companions, looking at everything from compact cameras with long zoom lenses, to action cameras which are great for adventure seekers, and small and light mirrorless cameras which are ideal for those who seek the highest image quality.
How to buy the best travel camera for you
What kind of travel camera should I buy?
There are lots of types of cameras that work well for travelling, but which one is right for you can depend on many different factors.
Compact and bridge cameras with long zoom lenses are often positioned as travel cameras because they give you the flexibility of lots of different focal lengths, but the convenience of a lightweight and portable body. However, as a sacrifice, you tend to find that sensor sizes are smaller which can be detrimental when shooting in low light.
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras have made huge leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. These cameras are much lighter and smaller than their DSLR counterparts, but feature the same kind of large sensor making them ideal for high image quality.
How much should I spend?
Travel cameras come in at a wide variety of price points – how much you want to spend will largely depend on how serious you are about your photography. You can pick up some great models at cheaper price points, but there’s usually some kind of compromise to be made. If you’re looking for a simple point and shoot, you’ll want to factor in at least £330, while you could be spending thousands on some of the more expensive cameras available on the market.
It’s worth thinking about how much you will use the camera, what kind of trip you’re going on (is it a special, once-in-a-lifetime trip, or is it a bog-standard beach holiday), and whether you’ll be going on further trips where the camera would come in handy.
Do I need a long zoom lens?
Long zooms which get you closer to your subject are often highlighted as a key factor for travel cameras. However, a very long zoom lens – such as 30, 40 or 50x – requires a very small sensor which is detrimental to image quality. It therefore makes more sense to go for a compromise, and look for a camera with a larger (at least 1in) sensor with a more limited zoom lens.
What about battery life?
Battery life is an important consideration when travelling – especially if you’re not sure when you’re going to be reunited with a plug socket. Consider cameras which feature USB-charging, allowing you to charge on the move with a power bank without necessarily needing an outlet.
What about lenses and accessories?
For the utmost in flexibility, focus your attentions on cameras which allow you to change lenses – but be mindful of how much you want to carry with you. Other accessories you might want to consider when travelling include a case or bag, miniature tripod for low light, night or landscape shots, spare batteries or a battery charging pack.
The best travel camera to buy from £329 in 2019
1. Nikon Z6: The best all-rounder camera on the market right now
Price: £2,499 (including 24-70mm f/4 lens)
If you’re used to having the best possible image quality, and don’t want to sacrifice that for your travels, a mirrorless system like the full-frame Z6 makes a lot of sense. It’s much smaller and lighter than a DSLR, but retains the large sensor needed for the highest quality images. It also features other useful functions such as USB charging, a tilting touchscreen and a high-resolution electronic viewfinder. The Z7 is Nikon’s flagship mirrorless camera, but the Z6, with its lower-resolution sensor comes in at a much more affordable price and is quite probably the best all-rounder you can buy right now. Pair it with the 24-70mm f/4 lens for a great walkaround optic, while also having the opportunity to swap for specialist lenses should you need it – including existing Nikon optics with the optional lens adapter.
Key Specs – Sensor: 24.5 megapixel full-frame; Lens: Z mount; USB charging: Yes; Screen: 3.2in, 2100k-dot tilting touch-sensitive TFT LCD; Viewfinder: 0.5in, 3,690k-dot electronic viewfinder; Video: 4K
2. Sony RX100 IV: The best pocket-friendly camera you can buy
This £1,000 compact camera is, obviously, not cheap, but it’s by far and away the best compact camera on the market right now. It features a larger than average 1in sensor, and comes with an 8.1x optical zoom lens. That might seem like a small figure when compared to the huge zooms you get in some models, but it should still be more than enough for most ordinary situations. Indeed, it gives you a 35mm equivalent of 24-200mm, all while still fitting very neatly in your pocket. On top of that, you also get a tilting screen, a pop-up viewfinder, 4K video recording and the ability to shoot at 24 frames per second. On the downside, the camera’s small size means it can be a little fiddly at times – if you’re on a stricter budget, look at older models in the RX100 range, such as the Mark III or the Mark IV.
Key specs – Sensor: 20.1 megapixel 1in Exmor RS CMOS; Lens: 24-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens; USB charging: Yes; Screen: 3in, 921k-dot, tilting touch-sensitive TFT LCD; Viewfinder: 0.39in, 2359k-dot pop-up electronic viewfinder; Video: 4K
3. Panasonic TZ200: The most flexible travel compact you can buy
This super-versatile compact camera is a great compromise between reasonably large sensor (1in) and extensive zoom range. Giving you a 15x optical zoom range, you’re covered for a wide range of shooting situations – all the while still being able to fit the camera in your trouser pocket. It’s also got a small but useful electronic viewfinder (particularly handy if it’s super sunny and the screen is difficult to see), a host of 4K Video and Photo options, USB charging and a range of different shooting modes. The only major downside is the lack of a tilting or articulating screen, plus the relatively high price. Still, if you want something which can produce the goods in lots of situations, it’s a great option.
Key Specs – Sensor: 20.1-megapixel 1in MOS sensor; Lens: 15x optical zoom (26-390mm equivalent), f/3.3-6.4; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 3in, 1240k-dot touch-sensitive TFT LCD; Viewfinder: 0.21in, 2330k-dot electronic viewfinder; Video: 4K
4. GoPro Hero 7 Black: The best camera for adventure and video lovers
If your idea of a holiday includes chucking yourself around the ocean, mountain climbling, skiing, paragliding and the like, the best camera you can get is the GoPro Hero 7. Designed to capture all the action, there’s a good reason why the GoPro brand has become synonymous with action cameras. The Hero 7 features a brand new interface and a touchscreen to make quick changes easy, as well as a range of video frame rates and qualities. It now comes with HyperSmooth electronic image stabilisation to help keep your footage as slick as possible, but if you’re on a tighter budget, look down the GoPro range at models such as the GoPro Hero 7 Silver and the GoPro Hero 7 White.
Key Specs – Sensor: 12 megapixel; Lens: Wide field of view; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 2in touch-sensitive screen; Viewfinder: N/A; Video: 4K
5. Panasonic FZ2000: The best bridge camera for all-round travel shooting
There was a time when bridge cameras had a bit of a bad rap, but cameras like the FZ2000, as well as the much-more-expensive Sony RX10 IV, prove that they can be exactly the kind of versatile model that are perfectly suited to travel photography. The FZ2000 is a little older than the other models in this roundup, but it is still an excellent performer. With its 1in sensor, a 20x optical zoom lens and a host of other useful features it gives you plenty of flexibility without taking up too much room in your carry-on luggage. Overall, the FZ2000 is about the size of a small DSLR, but with its 24-480mm equivalent lens, it’s oh-so-much more convenient than carrying around a bag full of lenses. Other great features include the high-resolution electronic viewfinder, and the fully articulating touch-sensitive screen.
Key Specs – Sensor: 20.1-megapixel 1in MOS sensor; Lens: 20x optical zoom, 26-520mm equivalent, f/2.8-4.5; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 3in, 1040k-dot fully-articulating touch-sensitive screen; Viewfinder: 2360k-dot OLED electronic viewfinder; Video: 4K
6. Canon G1X Mark III: The best small camera with a DSLR-sized sensor
If you want small, but you don’t want to compromise on image quality, then Canon’s G1X Mark III manages to squeeze a DSLR (APC) sized sensor into a teeny-tiny body that you can fit into your jacket pocket. It’s got a 3x optical zoom – that sounds limited, but in reality it will suit most situations just fine. The design is great to use, with an electronic viewfinder and fully articulating touchscreen rounding things off nicely, while all the usual modes you’d find on an advanced DSLR are all present and correct. What’s not so nice is the price, but if you’re somebody who does a lot of travelling, it could be the ideal companion for some time to come.
Key Specs – Sensor: 24.2 megapixel APS-C Sensor; Lens: 3x optical zoom, 24-72mm equivalent, f/2.8-5.6; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 3in, 1040k-dot, fully-articulating touchscreen; Viewfinder: 0.39in 2360k-dot electronic viewfinder; Video: Full HD
7. Panasonic GX9: The perfect mirrorless camera for lightweight travelling
Price: £689 (with 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens)
If you crave the flexibility of interchangeable lenses but want a small and light system, Micro Four Thirds makes the most sense right now. With these systems, you get a smaller sensor than the likes of the Nikon Z6, but lenses are also small, light, compact and portable – you could easily pack a GX9 and 4-5 lenses in a small bag. The GX9 has a small and compact body, and is discreet enough to not stand out too much while you’re on your travels. There’s a tilting screen, as well as a small but useful electronic viewfinder. There’s a huge number of different lenses available for Micro Four Thirds, while a host of 4K Video and Photo features help to make Panasonic models stand out from the rest.
Key Specs – Sensor: 20.3 megapixel Four Thirds MOS sensor; Lens: Micro Four Thirds mount; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 3in, tilting touch-sensitive1240k-dot TFT LCD; Viewfinder: 2760k-dot tilting electronic viewfinder; Video: 4K
8. Olympus Tough TG-5: The best compact for underwater shooting
Suitable both for adventurous types and those who need an indestructible family camera, the TG-5 should survive whatever you throw at it (quite literally). It’s waterproof, crushproof, freezeproof, and dustproof making it perfect for all your escapades. It’s also got a 12-megapixel sensor, supports raw format recording, and can shoot video at 4K. If you like scuba diving, the TG-5’s excellent wide-aperture lens equips it for shooting well in low light. Overall, it’s the ideal camera to just chuck in your bag no matter what kind of holiday you’re about to embark on, knowing it’ll survive – whether that’s a trip to the seaside, or a full-on tough adventure.
Key Specs – Sensor: 12 megapixel 1/2.33in CMOS sensor; Lens: 4x optical zoom 25-100mm f/2.0-4.9; USB Charging: Yes; Screen: 3in 460k-dot fixed, non touch-sensitive; Viewfinder: N/A; Video: 4K