I have two big passions: travel and photography. This website combines both. Guess what? I spend most of my life travelling. When I don’t travel, and I am at home in Melbourne, I can’t stop myself anyway photographing this beautiful city.
How many times I got asked what is the best travel camera in 2016. As you may suspect there is no easy answer. And now that we are in 2017 I can’t wait some of the new announced models to come in the market.
Add the fact that what we have been experiencing in technology in the last months is incredibly different from only the 2013 or even the 2014, and that’s just 3-4 years ago!
So, I am said “Come on, what is the best camera for travel this year?”
I usually answer with another question “What kind of trip are you planning?”. This gives me at least an idea of the travel, and the weather condition, the person will experience. No much point to buy a DSLR if you are planning to spend the most of your time scuba diving 😀
Let’s proceed with order and see what are the most important points to take in consideration when you select you travel camera.
There is a final point. Sometime, when budget is limited, it may be worth checking the second hand market where you can find a 1 or 2 years old camera, working perfectly, at a great price. Also refurbished cameras can be a real bargain, especially when coming from the manufacturer itself.
This is a second-hand buy guide I have been updating with lots of tips, suggestions and what I have lately found on the internet.
I am sorry to say there is not a single best travel camera. There are actually many of them, it all depends on what you want to focus your attention on.
Are you buying the camera for a serious travel photography career or just for few shots to post on Facebook or Instagram? Or maybe you just want to print a photo book when you are back at home.
I change cameras on a frequent basis. Plus I get some units to review as well, which is great because it allows me to see pros/cons of some models. I also have different kind of trips that may require different kind of equipment (cycling or trekking with a big DSLR may not be a great idea after all 😀 )
I heard so many times that “the smaller, the better” when travelling. Do I agree with that? Not necessarily.
Let me explain
First of all I like to think there are 5 category of cameras in relation to size and weight
This above is actually a simplification. The Sony Alpha a7R II is, for example, a mirrorless with full sensor. It is also one of the best professional camera around, comparable to a pro DSLR. I really wander if in the next few 2-3 years we will have a merge of the last 3 categories.
To make it simple, you can see the sensor as the eye retina of your camera. It is a grid of millions of light-sensitive cells. When you make a photo, and your shutter is activated, you have light going through the lens to these cells. A signal is created and digitalised and you have the photo.
I tried to simplify the process as much as I could.
The more light the sensor receives the better chance you will have to take a greater photo. If the sensor in your camera is twice as big than you will be more likely to have a better quality image
I like to give the example of myself in the bedroom and during the day I can see perfectly everything around me. The more I close the shutters the less details I can see. When the shutters are 100% closed I may see just the things shapes around me and that’s it.
With a good light you may experience the same quality of photography even with smaller sensor. Things become tricky when the light is not perfect, and when travelling things can become quite challenging, especially in certain areas of the world where the weather can be quite dark, rainy, foggy etc
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the sensor, the more likely you will be to have greater quality in your photos. Of course, it’s not only about the size of the sensor in a camera, there is much more than that.
If you like to dig deeper in this subject I suggest a read to this sensor performance analysis by Roger Clark, a great resource of information
The typical point and shoot have a sensor size of 1/1.7″ (7.60 x 5.70mm2 = 43.32sq.mm) or 1/2.3″ (6.17m x 4.55m = 28.07sq.mm). In the mobile world, the iPhone 6 camera has a sensor size of 1/3″ and the one in the new Samsung S7, although bigger, it is still 1/2.6″. The full frame sensor is 24mm x 36mm or 864mm2 which is 20-30 times bigger than the one in a compact camera.
There are two drawbacks in the big sensor however
As an indication, the smaller sensor produce more digital noise at the same level of ISO than the bigger sensor. To simplify, in the dark environment your photo will have more “noise” (it was called “grain” in the film era)if your sensor is smaller
The second concept here is the resolution. We have nowadays cameras with 12MP, 24MP, 36MP or even 42MP. My priority is always on the sensor size than the resolution.
The fantastic thing about a 42MP is that you can crop your photos in post-production (sometime it is not possible to get closer). In saying that you need bigger memory cards and better computer to manage 42M files.
If you cannot get closer to your subject use the zoom, as simple as that. A great zoom range is a must if you go for a trip like a safari, less essential if you visit a city on a weekend trip.
Having a camera with interchangeable lenses has this exact benefit, you take with you only the lens you need for the trip you have planned.
I have a 200mm zoom lens however I almost never use it for my travel photography (I bought it for some cycling photography I nowadays rarely do)
I have a 12-24mm wide lens and I take it with me only if I think to visit interiors (cathedrals, etc)
I have a 24-120mm which covers 95% of my need during my trips
I have also a prime lens (fixed focal length), a 50mm, which has a fantastic quality and costs much less. Obviously there is no zoom capability. I use it in the markets or for street photography
Keep in mind that usually lenses do not perform fantastically at the extreme range values. For example my lens at 24mm or 120mm has some distortion
If the lens is built-in with the camera I would love to have the 25-150 range. Anything more is a benefit.
If I use interchangeable lens I usually go for two lenses, a prime 50mm and a zoom lens to cover part of the 20-120mm focal length.
When possible, it is better to buy the lenses on a separate deal and not together with the camera package. The main reason it is that usually the lenses that come in a package do not perform as great. They are very good deals but quality is the compromise.
My quick tip, for a mirrorless or DSLR, is to spend as much for the camera as for your main lens (in the range 20-120mm). Having an amazing camera but an average lens will defeat the purpose. Have a look to the Guide to the best lenses for travel photography 2017 for much more information and tips on what works best for any camera brand.
Why lenses with the same focal length have different cost?
There are many reasons. The number of elements, and their quality, drive the difference in price. This is the short answer. If you like to better understand, I suggest to start from this Wikipedia page that gives a very detailed description of how lenses are made.
If I want to instantly share the photos in my social environments the WiFi is a must, otherwise a plus. At the moment I would not use GPS to mark the location on my photos for the only reason that it drains my battery.
Speaking of battery, I do not see it as a feature that could drive my selection. I always travel with at least a spare battery anyway. It may be a valid point if you travel somewhere where you can’t charge your batteries for few days though.
Battery is an important feature for other kind of photography I think, commercial outdoor is an example
Is it important to have the camera waterproof and/or dustproof? It all depends on the trip you are planning.
It is obviously a must for any action camera however I see it more of a bonus on most of the other cameras.
If I am planning a trip to Thailand, mostly at the beach, and I want just to have some good photos without worrying about the water than a waterproof compact camera can be the answer
I am updating this post on a regular basis and in the last projects I could see how beneficial was to have a splash proof camera/lens. I was making photos in a rainy day in Australia and I did not have to worry about the drops of water. Definitely something I would love to have in any new camera or lens.
Although I have done few videos for this website and for some trips, I still have my focus on steel photography.
I like to have the video capability on my camera and the only great difference I can see on the new cameras coming out in 2016 is the 4K video capability.
You may argue that there are not that many 4K TV around and this is probably true. However they will become more and more popular. Beside that, I like to have the capability to crop a 4K video into an HD video. It’s actually quite useful during the interviews as you may go from half-body to close up using the same video track.
The 4K is not something useful just for video. Have a look to this DPReview 4K : What you need to Know page to see how it is impacting the photography world too.
I always have with me my mobile phone and, as I said, I use it a fair bit in my travelling.
If I am cycling during my trip (it often happens) I have a compact camera in my pocket. There are 3 main reasons. I can take it out very easily for a point and shoot, better quality than a mobile, sturdy and some of them weather sealed
If I keep moving every 2-3 days during my trip (but no cycling or similar activities) I take a mirrorless with me with a zoom lens and a small quick prime lens. I had a Panasonic GX85 in my last trip and it worked great!
If I am based in mostly 1 or 2 location I take my DSLR full sensor, the Nikon D610. It’s heavy however it does some great photos.
I take two, maybe 3, lenses with me:
Till now we talked about important features to know when selecting your best travel camera. Let’s see what is a great choice in the present 2016 market
I definitely use my mobile camera during my travel photography. It is the camera I have always with me and the quickest I can grab from my pocket for a quick photo. No wonder I love it.
The great thing about the mobile market is that there is a huge competition between the different manufacturer and every year we see better and better cameras into our mobiles.
If you are after documenting your trip and sharing it on your social environments, the mobile will work better than anything else.
If you are planning to post you photos on your travel blog, again the mobile does a great job. You will not be able to have any good narrow depth of field (I mean the background blurry on your picture) however you may be able to simulate that with some editing apps (I am not a fan of it I must say)
If you are thinking to print in a very small format it should be fine as well. Anything else may be an issue,
When I use my mobile I think more about the composition and the moment than anything else. There is no real depth of field control and the shutter speed, although changeable, has some big limits. Usually the sensor is small and the lens is another limit to the camera.
We need to remember that the manufacturers have to include everything in a very limited space with a limited budget, they can’t therefore afford to add fabulous lenses or super big sensors
For this review I am picking only 3 but I am sure this list will be updated on a more regular basis than the others below. The mobile world changes so quickly!
Why the Iphone 7 is into this list? Because the Iphone has a great camera combined with probably the best software market, or apps.
Based on the DxOMark, an industry standard for camera quality, the iPhone 7 come in position number 3 in the mobile world. And, honestly, I think the difference between the top camera phone (in position #1) and the Iphone 7 is probably not noticeable to most of the human eyes
There are a couple of things to say here. Someone may argue that other ratings have the iPhone in an higher position, which is fair enough. Ratings are there to be discussed however DxOMark is one of the most authoritative website in the market.
The Iphone 7 is brand new, being released in September 2016. New mobile cameras will be released in the next months with new technology for new quality improvement, as most of the time happens. It’s a no-winner market if you are after the Best of the best.
The Iphone 7 Plus is also another option, with two lenses with different focal length (bye bye digital zoom). Although the size may be an issue for someone, quite on the big side.
Pros of the Iphone 7
Cons of the Iphone 7
More on the Iphone 7
Improvement compared to Iphone 6
If you need more numbers, the Iphone 6 has a DxOMark Mobile Score of 82, meanwhile the new Iphone 7 has reached 86, quite a big jump.
This is the latest Samsung creation and, of course, number 1 in the DxOMark mobile list (till a new mobile will come out 😀 )
We are here in the Android world, which I prefer but that’s a personal thing of course. The apps market is actually bigger than the Apple one nowadays however it has to be said that the quality is not as good.
The S7 has a bigger sensor than the Iphone 6 as well as higher resolution, at 12MP.
Pros of the Samsung S7
Cons of the Samsung S7
More on the Samsung S7
This is a over 1 year old mobile phone but still one of my favourite. It’s actually more of a high quality compact camera than a real phone. I had the possibility to review the Panasonic CM1 and I was really surprised by the results
As a start, it implements a huge 1″ sensor with a 20MP resolution and a Leica lens on board. It uses a bear minimum version of Android with just the essential apps and the Panasonic ones dedicated to photography. Quick and clean
Pros of the Panasonic CM1
Cons of the Panasonic CM1
More on the Panasonic CM1
Check the price of the Panasonic CM1 in USA
If I would have to buy a new mobile phone with the idea to use it as a camera during my travelling I would probably go for the Samsung S7. If you have already an S6 or the latest Iphone, LG, HTC or Sony I would probably stay with that unless you are anyway thinking to upgrade.
Being the CM1 an older mobile you may find it in some sales. In that case I would not hesitate to buy one. Really it’s more like having a good compact camera with a prime lens that you can use it for few calls as well
Before you take your trip remember to download on your camera, I mean your mobile, the best travel photography apps 😉
If you are reading this section it probably means that you are happy with your mobile phone shooting, however you would like to take more control of your camera and setting and you wonder if a compact will do the job.
Many of my friends still tell me that they can take great shots with the mobile and they do not see the need to spend more in cameras. My answer is usually YES, they are right. If you want to take photos about your travel moments, probably the mobile is just what you need and it’s always with you
However the mobile does not offer a great deal of creativity, or almost no creativity at all if you use the standard camera app in automatic mode. You cannot control the depth of field, as a start, and you will miss out that blurry background which is sometime beautiful in your portraits. Even the shutter speed is not that easy to control (good luck with it).
As a result you will be limited in your photo creativity. To me, unless I am planning to travel in the same place multiple times, it is worth to have a nice camera that allows to take better photos of a site that most probably I will not visit again, just my 2 cents here.
Now, what are the three best compact cameras for travel?
This is the cheapest Leica camera on the market, however, being a Leica, it is also between the most expensive cameras in this review. It can still be seen as a compact because of its size and the fact that it does not have interchangeable lenses
Leica is world famous for its lenses. The quality is just exceptional. The Leica Q (Typ 116) has a prime focal lens of 28mm (no zoom), the sharpest in the market based on several tests performed by DxOMark and others reference websites.
Pros of the Leica Q (Typ 116)
Cons of the Leica Q (Typ 116)
More on Leica Q (Typ 116)
When travelling, I love just to walk in the street, go into markets, visit local shops, talk with people and make photos. This camera, with a full frame sensor and a wide lens at f1.8 does a great job in these environments
I was lucky to have this Panasonic TZ110 for a review that lasted 2 weeks and I had a blast. I was impressed by the overall performances. I personally prefer to use my legs instead of the lens zoom, however in few occasions this is not possible. The Lumiz TZ-110 comes with a 25-250mm lens, that is a remarkable 10x zoom which is great even when travelling in a small safari trip or for some close-up of buildings in the city
Pros of the Panasonic TZ110
Cons of the Panasonic TZ110
More on the Panasonic TZ110
I personally tested this camera and I was really pleasantly surprised by the great quality of the produced photos. True, the price is above that $500 mark that many people have in in mind to spend however the jump in quality is quite steep.
It’s a great small camera that you can keep in your pocket, with a wide zoom as well.
This is one of the earliest and greatest success in the Sony camera world. We are now at the 5th incarnation of this beautiful camera with Zeiss lens however I find the IV a better value for travel photography.
The V has a greater burst shooting, up to 24fps from 16fps and a quicker autofocus, nice to have however, if you are on a budget, the difference in price may be a concern.
Pros of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Cons of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
More on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Having a compact camera in your pocket is always a big plus. Mobile phones have the own limits and having a nice compact always with you does allow to spread your horizon of photography possibilities.
Which one I would buy?
This post is about the best travel camera and if I want to document my trip with a street style approach than the Leica is the camera of my choice, although the budget is a concern. Otherwise the Sony will do the work greatly and will give me the extra zoom that it may be needed in few occasions.
If I am looking for an overall camera I would go for the Panasonic Lumix TZ110. At the moment it is a real winner with a 10x zoom, Leica lenses and great price too. It is my favourite
Can we consider the mirrorless as small cameras? I believe so. There are a few in the market that have a weight, including a prime lens, just above the compact camera.
I do have a huge interest for this camera category.
These are the main reasons from a portability prospective.
It has to be said that having a small camera does not mean that you need to compromise on the photo quality. It would be hard for 95% of the people, if not more, to understand the difference in quality between a full sensor DSLR or a mirrorless print, up to A4. If you think that most of your photos will stay in digital, than there is no difference at all.
Can I say that the Sony Alpha 7R is the camera that most of the people, including myself, dream of? I started my photography life with Canon. I eventually switched to Nikon. I am evaluating now if I should move to Sony all together.
When travelling, the weight and dimension of a camera is an important factor to evaluate, especially when you keep travelling almost on a daily basis with a rucksack or, even worst, with your bike. The less you have the better.
This is a mirrorless camera that you can use for any kind of photography, beside travelling. It opens up few horizons, especially if you start taking photography as a profession. Starting with the right step is always a plus
Pros of the Sony Alpha 7R II
Cons of the Sony Alpha 7R II
More on the Sony Alpha 7R II
Yes, this camera is expensive, however I am not saying that it is not good value, just saying that it costs at least twice as much as the other mirrorless but you have so much more. You can use this camera for travelling, for wedding photography and any photography business you can think of.
This is a real professional camera, you just need to allocate the budget 😀
If you still question yourself if you are doing a good investment I suggest you to read my full review.
I had the possibility to have it for 4 weeks. I took it with me on a 2 weeks trip in the south coast of Australia, I used it to teach in my workshops and I “abused” it over all. What was my impression? In true honesty I was surprised. Amazing photo but …..read more on the review
This is another camera that I was able to review in late 2015 and I still love it so much. There are some great deals on the net. The overall feeling was great. I had it again for a safari in March 2016 with the new 100-400mm lens and I was impressed even more.
What I like of the new Panasonic cameras is that they include a fair bit of firmware on it to make photography easier, like the handy Post Focus and the 4K photo mode that allows to select a frame from a 4K video, perfect for some action photography.
Pros of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Cons of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
More on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
I had a great time with this camera and I can only suggest it.
It is an impressive tool also if you like to do also some street photography, so small and unpretentious.
It is probably not my first choice because I like more the vintage-style design, but that’s a personal preference I guess
What do I love the most of this camera? the 60s-70s design, just great. Fujifilm has set a great stylish standard with all the cameras made in the last few years. It’s a bit of a trademark.
Inside the frame you find another fabulous camera which is a great competitor of the GX8.
I had recently the X-Pro2 for a 2 weeks test case review. I stressed it in poor light conditions with some amazing results
Pros of the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Cons of the Fujifilm X-Pro2
More on the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Ultimately you will love or hate the Fujifilm design and that will drive your choice.
The mirrorless is the present and future of travel photography with interchangeable lenses.
They have two of the most important characteristics that, as traveller, I always look at: light and small.
The Sony Alpha 7R II is probably the choice for anybody with some spare cash that has the idea to take photography as a career. Sony is a great brand and, even if I am a Nikon person, I must say it is is also the most promising one between all the manufacturers.
If you are more into design then Fujifilm has to be. If you are more of a practical person than the Panasonic GX8 is a great choice, less expensive and with more available features.
I know, it’s always hard to decide.
I want to keep this paragraph quite short. The quality of some DSLR is just outstanding. I have a Nikon D610 and I have a blast with it. There is unfortunately one big drawback. They are heavy and bulky.
My suggestion is to move your choice versus a mirrorless camera. Travelling with a DSLR is always a pain, especially if you walk a good part of the day. You tend to leave if your room more times than you do with any other camera.
Yes, it’s true, when similarly equipped, the DSLR are less expensive than the mirrorless.
It must be said that even if you save $100-$200 you will remember that when you will carry them on your shoulders
I personally can suggest just 2 models. The main reason is that both cameras are not that heavy and bulky for a DSLR. Also they are both full sensor, therefore in case you decide to take photography at a professional level, you will have already a camera that will do the job and the lenses that could be used also for any new model you want to upgrade to
the small brother of the Canon 5D. It’s a great camera that will give you fantastic photos, no question about. The video production is on the poor side as you don’t have an audio port and only monoaural microphone. No flash either, although with the high ISO you will be able to cover most of the situations.
the small brother of the Nikon D810. Again a great camera. This is basically what I use on a regular basis and I can only suggest it (mine is actually a D600 with the D610 shutter mechanism, one of the really few differences between the two cameras). This is a camera you can easily use for video too, with both audio and microphone ports and the possibility to record the video in raw format too.
They are both cameras weighting around 800g with a dimension in the range of 145 x 115 x 75 mm. This means you will have to carry almost twice the weight, if not more, than the previous cameras. Also the size is at least 1.5 times.
They are both “small” to be full sensor DSLR however, by experience, carry a camera like this is not something you look forward too.
If you decide to go under $500 you probably need to compromise on quality. This usually comes with smaller sensor and/or bulky build and overall not that great quality of photography you will experience with other cameras we just covered above.
At the end of the day there is a budget for everything and if $500 is dedicated to photography than let’s see what the possible choices are:
this is quite a stylish camera, probably my favourite in this category. You may want to buy the 14-42mm lens kit and you are ready to go, you will cover most of the travel needs, with a compromise in final quality. Still the Micro Four Thirds image sensor (18 mm × 13.5 mm) is quite big for this money, therefore compromise up to a point
slightly more expensive than the Olympus it has a bigger sensor (APS-C at 23.2 x 15.4 mm). With the 16-50mm kit it comes close to the $500 border. It has everything you need for your travel. It’s also quite small and light, at 269g. Definitely to keep in mind
another retro style camera. It’s quite discounted in these days and it includes also a Lightroom 5 license (valued at $150). Although Samsung is not my favourite manufacturer for cameras, I must admit I am quite impressed by the size of the sensor (APS-C, 23.5 x 15.7 mm), the reviews and the fact that it includes a great software too….well you can’t get wrong with it, can you?
Check the best price of the Samsung NX300 in USA
As we said there is no best camera travel in the market. I wish there was. The budget is obviously something to take in consideration.
From there I would move my attention to weight and size, that $100-$200 you save at the shop can cost you a backache along your trip. The size is important too, the more you are invisible to the eyes of the people around you, the more relaxed you will feel when taking at the markets, in the street and local events. Also you will be less visible to the thief 😉
Than I would check the sensor size and the quality/availability of lenses, Leica and Zeiss can only reasure
I may also pay that $100 more if the camera design is cool. I love that retro style and it’s a great subject of conversation with people
Weather proof, WiFi and GPS are not a concern to me
I do not shoot much video. If you do, you may want to re-elaborate your priorities
In the table below I classified the budget with a $ sign ($<500, $$<1000, $$$<1500, $$$$<2000 and $$$$$ above $2000). You may have to budget lenses as well, when not included in the kit or built-in.
Some of the cameras in this list are weatherproof (WP), it may be an important feature to have, based on how you want to use the camera. I added also a column for the design of the camera. They may just look as, well, cameras or mobile phones, or they can have a well thought design behind it.
|Olympus PEN E-PL6||Mirrorless||$||325||111x64x38||224.9||Interch.||Retro||No||USA/AU|
|Sony Alpha a5000||Mirrorless||$||269||110x63x36||368.25||Interch.||Camera||Yes||USA|
|iPhone 7||Mobile Camera||$$||138||138x67x7||17.94||28mm||Mobile||Yes||USA/AU|
|Panasonic CM1||Mobile Camera||$$||204||135x68x21||116.16||28mm||Bulky||No||USA|
|Sony DSC-RX100 IV||Compact||$$||298||102x58x41||116.16||24-70||Camera||No||USA/AU|
|Samsung S7||Mobile Camera||$$$||152||142x69x7.9||23.21||26mm||Mobile||Yes||USA/AU|
|Canon EOS 6D||DSLR||$$$||770||145x111x71||864||Interch.||Bulky||No||USA/AU|
|Leica Q (Typ 116)||Compact||$$$$$||640||130x80x93||864||28mm||Retro||No||USA|
|Sony Alpha 7R II||Mirrorless||$$$$$||625||127x96x60||864||Interch.||Camera||Yes||USA/AU|
I guess everybody has the own view, the own requirements, the own budget, the own feeling.
Here below my personal suggestions
If you are a beginner and/or with limited budget, with a bit of exposure into mobile photography I would probably suggest to go for the Samsung NX3000. It’s a great small light camera with a nice design at an incredible low conservative price, especially because it comes bundle with Lightroom, a software which is essential for any kind of post-processing and photo organization. I work with it on a daily basis.
If you want to step up from your mobile experience but without having to deal with lenses I would go for the Panasonic Lumix TZ110. The powerful zoom will open up a broad range of photography possibilities beside having a great image quality and some cool in-camera firmware features as Post Focus and 4K Photo
If you have already experience with an entry-level DSLR but you feel you want to upgrade, going smaller and lighter with a touch of nostalgia than the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is probably the answer to your question. If you are more of a practical person than the Panasonic DMC-GX8 will do for you
If you want to have the best with the idea to move into a photography career and you have a good available budget I would not hesitate to buy straight away the Sony Alpha 7R II
Whatever decision you will take, always remember that the best travel camera is always the one with you
Enjoy your travel photography!!