Best compact camera for travelling with zoom
The trip is booked, the flight tickets are printed, the Passport is ready. Now, what is the best compact camera for travelling within the available budget?
First 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.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential things to know for a point and shoot camera
- 2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 II
- 3 Sony DSC-RX100 VI
- 4 Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III
- 5 Panasonic Lumix TZ220/ZS200
- 6 Verdict on the top compact camera for travelling
You can read also
- Best travel camera for 2020
- Best lenses for your travel camera
- Travel photography workshops in Melbourne for Mirrorless and DSLR
- Travel photography workshops in Melbourne for iPhones/Android mobiles
- Travel photography trips in Vietnam and Cuba
- Reference Guide to Travel Photography
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 Mirrorless or 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 a few things as the limited zoom capability.
They are good for general use, especially when there is lots of light, but they have their 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 4 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 Mirrorless. It was time to concentrate on the compact camera segment.
Admittedly I was a bit ignorant. Practice, testing, reviewing made me understand a lot of these point and shoot cameras!
In my last holiday, 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 on 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.
FREE (no email required) Reference Guide to Travel Photography
Essential things to know for a point and shoot camera
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 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.
Sensor Size and Resolution
There was a time when photography manufacturers, especially the ones that produce mobiles, started increasing the resolution to unprecedented levels.
I still remember mobiles with a higher Megapixel resolution than professional cameras, and I am talking of just a 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 naturally 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 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?
The 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:
- you will be limited in cropping (I sometimes crop action photos otherwise it’s rare in my case)
- you will not be able to print in very big format (as an example, with 16MP you can print in perfect quality till 11×14″ and good quality till 30×40″ which is honestly very big). If you don’t print then this is not a big limit of course.
Usually, point and shoot cameras have sensors at 1″ size or below. There are however few exceptions with a bigger sensor. 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 😉
Zoom capacity suggested for a compact camera for travelling
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:
- usually, the cameras are more expensive
- the “glass” quality may not be as good as in the small range zoom (when the cameras are in the same price category)
- quite often the camera size is bulky (the “glass” has to go somewhere)
My preference goes to a 24-70mm zoom for travelling 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.
Would I suggest them?
Probably not. I would consider them only if you are planning to use the camera for street photography
Size and weight
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 your compact camera in your trousers pocket, however, this may be hard.
Surely it should fit in your jacket pocket. If bigger 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 impact)
It is really useful to have a weather-sealed 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 aeroplanes have today a USB charger.
Moreover, it’s quite common to find USB chargers in airports and sometimes 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.
Wi-Fi or wireless
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 think that the wireless connection is more of a nice to have.
In saying that, most of the new compact cameras have some sort of wireless connection, which is great.
My experience with a compact camera for travelling with zoom
This is what I would personally check before buying any compact camera for travelling:
- Sensor: 1″ in size, at least 12MP. Bigger sensors would be ideal however cameras may be not that compact anymore
- Zoom: 24-70mm covers most of travel photography opportunities. 100mm would be a bonus.
- Weather sealing: great to have but not essential
- Video: possibly 4K
- USB Charge: great to have
- Wireless: nice to have
Here below I have examined the pros and cons of the present small cameras for travel in the market.
Want to know the best part?
It’s all been updated to the latest models of 2020
Now let’s start
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 II
I start with one of the cameras I loved the most in my reviews, the Panasonic LX100.
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 24-75mm zoom. It would have been great if it was 24-100mm but, hey, we can’t have everything in life.
And now comes the best. It has the biggest sensor size of all the compact cameras for travelling with zoom. It is an MFT sensor, at least two if not even three times as big as most of the other compact.
It’s small but a bit overweight to be a compact (390gr instead of 300gr).
Still, it’s easy to put it in a jacket and forget about, till needed. It can be used in full-auto or full manual mode.
Another feature that takes this camera apart from the competition is the maximum aperture of the lens, down to F1.7 (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 a tripod.
I loved to have the aperture ring on the lens (it makes things quicker and easier).
This camera also implements 4K photography which allows extracting, very very easily, a frame from a 4k video.
Perfect feature when the subject keeps moving, think children or sport/action.
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is probably the best compact camera for travelling with zoom and I would not hesitate to suggest it.
The prise is not the cheapest, however, the value for money is really amazing.
Best deal on Amazon Price in Australia
Sony DSC-RX100 VI
This is another amazing compact camera you can easily take in any trip.
It has a similar focal zoom as the Panasonic (24-70), smaller in size and weight, but it has a smaller sensor (half the size, 1″ 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 (Sony) 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 (Sony is definitely very advanced in sensor technology)
The RX100 VI has two spectacular unique features:
- a very high continuous shooting, up to 24fps (most of the competitors go up to 10fps)
- an amazing number of focus points, 315!! (most of the compact cameras go up to 50, when lucky)
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 sports events.
If this is your ultimate goal I would probably stop reading here and buy the Sony DSC-RX100 VI.
These two characteristics set the camera apart from any other in this category, however, it comes at a price, and I mean budget here.
Best deal on Amazon Price in Australia
If you are not really interested in action and sports photography you may actually save some money and buy the Sony RX100 IV which has much fewer focus points (just 25) and 16fps continuous shooting (quite good).
This is honestly more than enough for the day to day photography.
You will be saving 30% or more on the price and still get an amazing camera
Best deal on Amazon Price in Australia
Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III
The strength of this camera is the wider focal length range, 24-100mm (instead of 24-75mm 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 M3 is still a small and light camera and in this respect similar to the Sony for both weight and size.
Video is also good at 4k/30fps but you cannot do slow motion in 4K (most of the people do not really need it, it’s more for YouTubers)
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 with the other models.
Best deal on Amazon Price in Australia
Panasonic Lumix TZ220/ZS200
The most complicated thing about this camera is the Panasonic naming convention.
Somehow it has 3 names based on the market it is advertised: TZ220, TZ210 or ZS200
This camera has a feature that the other cameras offer only in a limited way. It has a superzoom, a super-wide focal range of 24-360mm, 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 a drawback though, a smaller aperture of f/3.3, basically 4 times smaller than the other cameras.
This means that if you take these two cameras to make exactly the same shot then the other compacts can capture 4 times more light.
In this respect, the TZ220 is more challenging in a low light environment.
Surprisingly enough the size and weight are similar to the others, although offering a focal length as big as 360mm, which is good news for any traveller.
Best deal on Amazon Price in Australia
The price is really competitive, probably the best of all, keeping in mind that 24-360mm zoom.
Verdict on the top compact camera for travelling
In this post, I did not include compact cameras that do not have zoom capability as the Fujifilm X100F or the Leica Q or the old, but still outstanding Fujifilm X70.
These are great cameras, however, more for street photography than travel photography where you need a bit of zoom
Having a compact camera for travelling without zoom is a bit like having an iPhone or an Android mobile. And in this respect, I would suggest sticking with it and not buying any camera at all.
Now, back to the best compact camera for travelling with zoom
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:
- Panasonic TZ220, if I want a really long zoom (25-360), best travel zoom camera
- Sony RX100 VI, if I am planning to do sport and action photography during my trip
- Panasonic LX100 II if I do not want to compromise on the photo quality, simply the best in this category
Do you still have questions or doubts?
Leave a message in the comment section. Believe you me, I have never missed a reply.
If you think that this post has helped and you want to know much more about travel photography then you should read and download the FREE Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (no emails required), a 70 pages PDF file.
Download the FREE Travel Photography guide
I do not like “pushing marketing” and that is why I do not ask email, name, phones, grandpa names etc in exchange.
However, if you want to be updated on new similar tutorials, free guides and spreadsheets and much more then you can always subscribe to the mailing list.
PS You can unsubscribe whenever you want
Support MEL365. Shop in US with amazon.com and in Australia with CameraPro
13 thoughts on “Best compact camera for travelling 2020 [within your budget]”
Hello I read your list above and just wondered if the list had changed for 2019. I’m a point and shoot type person and just want the best camera for that, making sure it will deal with both high and low temperature changes eg Egypt to Iceland. Thinking the Panasonic TZ110 1″ 20MP 25-250. i would appreciate your suggestion.
Hi Pam, I am in the process to update this post with the latest cameras. For your information, there is now the TZ220 out. This may be great news for you. The TZ110 is now cheaper than before (the shops need to unstock old models). The TZ220 has new features, but unless you like to “abuse” your camera, it may be worth to save some $ and get the old model 😉
Enjoy your photography and your trips 🙂
Nice Article! Love the usability stuff!
Thank you Stefano,
I actually forgot to mention zoom capability. i could need to zoom to object items approximately 100 feet away and still have a clear shot. Is there a certain macro lens you recommend on the Gx85? I had also viewed Canon Powershot G9 X Mark II and the Panasonic Lumix DMC F70, Nikon Coolpix S9900, and i also saw the panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100 as one of the option. Would the Gx85 perform better than these under low light and etc.? thank you very much i really appreciate it.
No worries Carl,
the GX85 would definitely perform better. You have to budget in also the lenses though. The MACRO 30mm f/2.8 is, for example, a great lens on paper (I have not tried it though, so it’s all I can read).
The good thing with the GX85 is that you can start with the camera and a lens to cover your focal length and step up and buy the macro lens in a later stage.
All of the other cameras may struggle a bit with the macro functionality. The TZ100 can come quick cheap though as the new TZ200 is selling right now and the old models have been reduced.
I would personally go for the GX85, but keep in mind you have to change lenses if you do macro.
One last thing, as I constantly move around I don’t use a tripod so they’d have to be hand taken photos
The one I would suggest the most is the Fujifilm X70. It has most of your requests and the price is just above the 500 mark (you may be able to find second hand at a better price). It does not have any zoom capability but I understand it’s not one of your requirements.
You may read the review here, included a few photo samples, with some “macros/close up” too. If you are after a real macro, unfortunately, you would have to increase your budget and in this case I would suggest a Panasonic GX85 with a Macro lens.
I hope I was able to help 🙂
I have a question. I might seem picky I am not a camera expert but I need a camera with the following most to least important since I work in forensic:
2-Clear and crisp high detailed camera on the full immage including edges of the photo. Cause often I end up realizing there’s an important clue in these edges and corners.
3- True colors and as close to reality
4- macro capabilities since I tend to take photos of hairline thick cracks.
5- low light capacity.
6- dust resistant and rugged
7- light and comfortable on the grip
8- economical I’m looking in the 500s range
Is there a camera you’d advice. The main thing I didn’t see mentioned in your thread is the macro capabilities that’s why I am asking.
I would appreciate your advice. Thanks
What’s your view on the Sony RX100 M3 ?
the biggest difference between the M3 and M5 is the Auto Focus system that on the M5 is quicker and more selective thanks on a mix of 315-point phase-detect AF and 25-point contrast-detect AF system. Basically this means that you can have your subject wherever you want in your photo without the need to re-frame, something that it may not be very useful on static subjects but very important on action photography. The M4 is exactly like the M3, no change.
Burst shooting goes higher with the model (10-16-24). Again useful for action photography or moving subjects
Also the viewfinder is way much better on M5 than M3. The EVF on M4 sits in the middle.
The RX100III has still the 1080p video format (no 4K), although if into photography only then this should not be an issue.
My view? I would buy the M5 if action photography is my thing (local sports & children events etc).
I would buy the M4 if I want 4K video and I may do action photography, but not very often.
I would buy the M3 if not/low interested in video and I rarely attend any action event. I save quite a bit too
Lens, body etc are the same for the three models. Meanwhile battery on the M3 is way much better than on M5 (almost 50% more duration) which again may help to travel for a weekend without any worry of a charger with you.
I hope I was able to help
Wow, this is such a detailed post!!
x finja | http://www.effcaa.com
No worries Finja 🙂