Last updated on August 8th, 2018 at 03:01 pm
The trip is booked, the flight tickets are printed, the Passport is ready. Now, what is the best compact camera for travel within the available budget?
First a great news, there’s never been as much competition in the pocket cameras as today. This translates in better quality and lower price for the customers, which is great.
One of my first digital cameras was actually a small Canon, a compact camera that I paid over 1,000 Pounds. It had a 4MP sensor, great quality for that years, 1998 or 1999.
Why did I spend that much money for a pocket camera?
Probably for exactly the same reason as I would do now, convenience. Having a DSLR is great however it’s not really as practical in some cases, it does not really fit in my pockets, it weights way too much, it attracts attention from people around.
Moreover, my partner wanted to have a good starter camera, step up from the mobile world. In 2000 the mobile cameras were, well, let’s say in the experimental phase. It was easier to justify the money.
Nowadays the mobiles have great cameras. They lack however in few things as limited depth of field or zoom capability. They are good for a general use, especially when there is lots of light, but they have the own limits.
Another reason I bought a compact camera for travel was, in true honesty, also the price, still reasonable compared to the first digital SLR!!
I have been reviewing photography gear for more than 2 years now and I came across some interesting small cameras. I was actually surprised myself of how good they are. Last year I started a monthly comparison list of the great cameras for travel photography including DSLR and Mirrorless. It was time to concentrate on the compact camera segment.
Admittedly I was a bit ignorant. Practice, testing, reviewing made me understanding a lot on these point and shoot cameras!
In my last vacation I even decided to leave at home my DSLR and take only a compact with me.
How did it go?
Read on for the lessons I learnt and what you should focus when selecting your best small camera for travelling
If you are after travel photography tips, compositions, tutorials and much more then why not reading and downloading for FREE (no need to pass your email, no worries) this ultimate guide for travel photography. Over 70 pages that may change your way to make (not just take) photos when travelling.
What I like the most of today’s travel compact cameras is that they can be used in auto mode (as point and shoot, in a similar way to the mobile), in semi and in full manual mode, like I would do with with my DSLR, adding so much more creativity.
Now, how can you select the pocket cameras based on your budget and vacation? What are the most important things?
These are some of the characteristics I check before buying any camera, especially if I plan to take it with me when travelling.
There was a time when photography manufactures, especially the ones that produce mobiles, started increasing the resolution to unprecedented levels. I still remember mobiles with an higher Megapixel resolution than professional cameras, and I am talking of just few years ago.
The more the better, that was the popular demand. But did it really help? Did it make sense?
The simple answer is NO and let me explain why.
In a very simplistic way, inside your digital camera there is a sensor which basically takes the place of the old film. The sensor captures the reflected light that comes through the lens and sends this information to the internal processor (which is the computer of your camera). The photo is created and it is sent to the Memory Card.
Of course there are many variables in this workflow however this is not the place to go into the details. You may read more on this tutorial if interested to go deeper.
It comes natural to think that a bigger sensor captures more light than a smaller sensor and in general terms it is true.
The sensor however is made of photosites (analog devices) that collect the colours/light intensity and record that in the pixel as a digital information.
The larger the photosites the more light they capture and therefore more information can be stored in the pixel. Also in this case I suggest a technical tutorial for more information.
Now let’s take two cameras with exactly the same sensor. The first one has a resolution of 12MP meanwhile the other one is 18MP. In the first case the pixel is going to be “bigger” and will record more information.
What is that more information by the way?
Better dynamic range for example, where your camera can capture more details from the shadow areas even in the middle of the day. Or better low light performance.
What is the best choice when you look for a compact camera to buy?
It all depends on the available budget of course however ideally the bigger the sensor the better. If two cameras have exactly the same sensor size then I would probably go for the smaller resolution. .
There are however at least two drawbacks on the smaller resolution:
Usually point and shoot cameras have sensors at 1″ size or below. There are however few exceptions with bigger sensor, APS-C or even full-frame 35mm. In the review below I will list also the sensor size for your reference.
Just keep in mind that bigger means also heavier and more voluminous.
Sensor size and resolution are important characteristics. I hope that above information will help you in the selection of your compact camera for travel. Please, leave a message in the comments below if you still have questions 😉
This is an easier characteristic to check.
The question is more what is a good zoom for a point and shoot when travelling (much more information here)?
The obvious answer would be to have it as big as possible. For example, a focal length range of 14-600mm would cover all of the needs, from super wide to super zoom, just perfect.
There are at least three issues with really wide ranges:
My preference goes to a 24-70mm travelzoom, or even better 24-100mm. This is a focal range I use also on my DSLR or mirrorless when travelling.
Keep in mind that, with compact cameras, the manufacturers talk always in equivalent focal length terms (as it used to be with the 35mm film or today the professional full frame cameras). If you want to go deeper on this concept you can explore this page.
There are nowadays in the market pocket cameras with a fixed lens (no zoom). Usually they have a bigger sensor. Basically better photo quality however no zooming capability.
The size and weight are, in my opinion, two important characteristics for any camera you are going to buy for travelling.
The less you carry around the better it is for your back.
The less voluminous is you gear the less eye-catching you will be. When travelling, looking like a professional photographer working with big gear is something you do not really want. You are going to intimidate your subjects and, even worst, someone may try to steal your expensive stuff.
It would be awesome if you could store you compact camera in your trousers pocket, however this may be hard. Surely it should fit in your jacket pocket. If bigger than that then you may be limited during your trip because it will be mostly in your bag.
I think that around 300 grams is a reasonable weight for a point and shoot. The dimension can be around 105 x 60 x 40mm (this is just a guideline, 2-3mm more or less do not make a huge difference)
It is really useful to have a weather sealing camera when travelling.
Unfortunately most of the compact cameras are not environmentally sealed. The main reason is cost. The camera would become too expensive.
In the list below I will highlight when the camera is weather sealed otherwise you can assume it is not
Is video an important factor for you?
It is very subjective of course.
If video is not essential then HD is enough, otherwise 4K becomes essential as well as timelapse or a tilting LCD for self videos.
This can be quite useful on a trip.
Most of the modern air-planes have today a USB charger. Moreover, it’s quite common to find USB chargers in airports and sometime in hotels and this is great, especially when travelling overseas (you do not need plugs adaptor). Basically you can charge your camera in lots of places with a simple and light cable.
And nowadays things get even better. You can travel with a multi-port USB charger for your mobile, tablet and camera gears. My favourite is the RAVPower with iSmart Technology for a faster charge.
This may be really important if you are a social addicted, otherwise not an issue.
Without Wi-Fi, or any wireless connection with your mobile, you will not be able to move instantly the photo to your mobile, make some post-production (check my favourite apps here) and post it straight to Facebook or Instagram.
In my thinking the wireless connection is more of a nice to have. In saying that, most of the new compact cameras have it, which is great.
This is a summary of features I would check straight away in a compact camera I would buy for my next trip:
Here below I have examined pros and cons of the present small cameras for travel in the market.
Want to know the best part?
I have organised a comparison table with the most important findings and a price indication with my personal final suggestion.
Now let’s start
I start with one of the cameras I loved the most in my reviews, the Panasonic LX10.
This point and shoot has most of the characteristics I listed except the weather sealing, which is a real pity. Anything else is there with a 24-72mm zoom. It would have been great if it was 24-100mm but, hey, we can’t have everything in life LOL.
It’s small and light, easy to put in a jacket and forget about, till needed. It can be used in full auto or full manual.
One of the features that takes this camera apart from the competition is the maximum aperture of the lens, down to F1.4 (the other cameras have F/1.8 or above).
What does it mean?
It simply means that this lens can open up wider and therefore capture more light which is great when shooting in low light or at night without tripod. You can read more on my deep review.
I loved to have the aperture ring on the lens (it makes things quicker and easier) however because of the variable max aperture it may not represent the real value. I know it’s a bit confusing.
This camera also implements 4K photography which allows to extract, very very easily, a frame from a 4k video. Perfect feature when the subject keeps moving, think children or sport/action.
The Panasonic Lumix LX10 is probably best budget camera for travelling and I would not hesitate to suggest it. Price is very competitive
This is another amazing compact camera you can easily take in any trip. Very similar characteristics to the Panasonic LX10 as the focal zoom (24-70), the size, the weight and the type of sensor, BSI-CMOS.
Previously I described how important is the sensor size. I should have added that also the construction plays a role. There are at least two technologies of which CMOS is the most popular. The BSI-CMOS is a variation with backside-illuminated sensor (BSI is for backside illumination) which increases the amount of captured light. You can read more information on this article.
The RX100 V has two spectacular unique features:
Having so many focal points will help you to focus on your subject wherever he/she is in your frame, without the need to re-compose.
Both features become really important when shooting action or sport events. If this is your ultimate goal I would probably stop reading here (just go to the comparison table maybe) and buy the Sony DSC-RX100 V.
These two characteristics set the camera apart from any other in this category, however it comes at a price, and I mean budget here.
If you are not really interested to action and sport photography you may actually save some money and buy the Sony RX100 IV which has much less focus points (just 25, compared with 49 of the Panasonic LX10) and 16fps continuous shooting (compared with only 10fps of the LX10). This is honestly more than enough for the day to day photography.
You will be saving 30% on the price and still get an amazing camera
The strength of this camera is the wider focal length range, 24-100mm (instead of 24-70mm in the previous 2 cameras). This means more photo opportunities, although in travel photography I always prefer to use my legs before any optical zoom.
The Powershot G7X is still a small and light camera and in this respect comparable with the previous two models. The video features let this camera a bit down with HD the highest quality format (this may be not an issue if you are not a VBlogger).
It’s a lovely camera, based on the successful predecessor. Unfortunately it does not have an EVF (Electronic View Finder) however the LCD is tilting and touchscreen.
Price wise it is well positioned between the very economical LX10 and the well priced RX100 IV.
The most complicated thing of this camera is the Panasonic naming convention. Somehow it has 3 names based on the market it is advertised: TZ110, TZ100 or ZS100
This camera has a feature that the other cameras offer only in a limited way. It has a super zoom, a super wide focal range of 24-250mm, which is huge. Basically you are covered on any kind of trips (probably except the safari although I did as you see below 🙂 ).
It comes with drawback though, a smaller aperture of f/2.8, basically 4 times smaller than the LX10.
This means that if you take these two camera to make exactly the same shot then the LX10 can capture 4 times more light. In this respect the TZ110 is more challenging in low light environment.
Surprisingly enough the size and weight is similar to the others, although offering a focal length as big as 250mm, which is good news for any traveller.
I had this camera for a long review (you can read more here) and I absolutely loved it……till I had good light. I had a very dark day and I struggled a bit with high level of ISO and noise. We can’t have everything, can we?
The price is really competitive, probably the best of all, keeping in mind that 24-250mm zoom.
The new TZ220 has just been announced and you may want to hold on if your decision is for this camera. It should be in the shops in May/June
This is a beautiful camera, the kind of people would stop to ask you what is it. Fujifilm is famous for the beautiful design and I believe the X100F has surpassed any expectation, surely mine 🙂
This comes however with a high price tag especially considering it has only a fixed focal length lens at 35mm (no zoom).
It has to be said that the X100F is just on another level. The body construction is in magnesium alloy. It has a the latest Fujifilm APS-C sensor at 24MP, 325 focus points and both an electronic and an optical viewfinder.
It’s not really a camera to be compared with the others above and you need to get used to not having the zoom. It’s more about the photographer moving, getting closer to the subject. And with 24MP you can crop a bit to have a 50mm equivalent, or more, in post production.
This is really a camera dedicated to the photographer that wants the top quality and he/she is ready to budget for that. I would probably not buy it for travelling around the world as I would miss that critical zoom range unless most of my trips are actually city explorations.
The X70 is still a lovely camera however not the most attractive in the Fujifilm range. It does not have a viewfinder and this may be a problem for someone. It has however a tilting monitor.
Inside the Fujifilm X70 you will find an APS-C sensor at 16MP which I prefer for the low light photography. I was in fact very impressed by the results when light was a problem, especially inside buildings
It has a max aperture at F2.8 and considering it has an APS-C sensor that is fine for most of the travel and street photography.
The price is just amazing and honestly I think I am gonna buy it soon. This is a camera I would always use when a DSLR is either too big and scaring or too heavy to take around. This is a pocket travel camera to be forgotten in my jacket pocket.
I reviewed it for few weeks (read more here) and I just loved it. It took me few days to get used to it; the lack of a zoom meant I had to move, sometime quickly, to catch the moment.
This is the cheapest Leica camera on the market, however, being a Leica, it is also the most expensive camera 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 other authoritative 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
Here is a summary table of the best compact camera for travel.
|Camera||Sensor size||Res.||Zoom||Video||Best Price||AU Deal||Pros||Cons|
|Panasonic LX10||1"||20MP||24-72||4K||$||$||Great 4K Photography||No EVF|
|Sony RX100 V||1"||20MP||24-70||4K||$$$||$$$||Action photography||No touchscreen LCD|
|Sony RX100 IV||1"||20MP||24-70||4K||$$||$$||Cheaper than V||Limited AF points|
|Canon G7X II||1"||20MP||24-100||HD||$$||$$||Longer zoom||No EVF|
|Panasonic TZ110||1"||20MP||25-250||4K||$$||$$||great superzoom camera||Smaller lens Aperture|
|Fujifilm X100F||APS-C||24MP||35mm||HD||$$$$||$$$$||Best photo quality||No zoom|
|Fujifilm X70||APS-C||16MP||28mm||HD||$$||$$||Great value||No EVF|
|Leica Q (Typ 116)||FF||25MP||28mm||HD||$$$$$||$$$$$||High quality in all components||Expensive|
Personally I see the Leica Q and both the Fujifilm dedicated to people that have already an interchangeable lens camera and they would like to buy a second small travel camera to carry always with them, being the DSLR, or even the mirrorless, too bulky.
I am probably one of these people. The Leica Q is absolutely a gem and it costs like that, or even more. I find hard to justify the price honestly. In this segment my choice goes to the Fujifilm X70. It is such a great value compact camera. There is only one missing feature that few people may dislike, the lack of an EVF.
Let me say that I considered the viewfinder to be essential in my cameras…..till I tried to work only with the tilting LCD and I now love it, especially when I take photos of people. The viewfinder, in my opinion, is like a wall between me and my subject. I prefer now to keep the camera a bit lower so that my eyes and face are visible and I can have a direct conversation with my subject.
If you are stepping up from a mobile camera you can choose between Sony, Canon or Panasonic. My choice would be for:
Do you still have questions or doubts?
Leave a message in the comment section. Believe you me, I have never missed a reply.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.