At the end of the day, the best travel camera is the one you have with you. Prioritize portability and the specific use cases you plan to be in, then pick the camera that best fits your bag, and your plans.
2019 is a great year to buy a travel camera. Seriously, there have never been more (affordable!) travel camera options for all levels of photographers. You can get your hands on waterproof action cameras with built-in stabilisation, drones that fit in your backpack, mirrorless cameras that weigh next to nothing, stellar point and shoots for a few hundred bucks, and of course a wide range of professional level DSLRs. But, how do you choose the right travel camera for your next adventure?
What makes a truly great travel camera?
We’ll take a deep dive into some of the best travel cameras of 2019 as well as a few important things to consider—like budget, versatility, and portability—when you’re shopping for your next travel camera. I’ve also included my picks for the best budget travel cameras, best travel camera accessories, and why we each of the travel cameras in this list might be perfect for your individual trip.
Things to Consider When Buying a Travel Camera
Instead of looking for the most powerful or pricey camera, think about the best camera for your style of travel.
How Much Should You Spend on a Travel Camera?
One of the most important parts of choosing a travel camera is price. Most “regular” travelers can’t afford a $3,000 camera body with expensive lenses that cost even more than the camera. And that’s ok.
Travel cameras, by the very nature of their use cases, are exposed to some rough environments. Grit, sand, water, dirt, mud, drops, shocks, bumps, and bangs are just part of the territory—and you need a camera that can keep up.
Instead of looking for the most powerful or pricey camera, think about the best camera for your style of travel. I don’t love taking care of my gear—my cameras get a little TLC, but often times I just sling them over my shoulder with nothing more than a lens cap on. So I don’t buy cameras that cost a lot of money because I know they won’t last forever.
Traveling with a really expensive camera is not only a huge investment, it’s also super stressful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to travel with $5000 worth of camera gear. Plus, most travelers just won’t be able to take advantage of all that expensive gear.
And remember, that a camera is just one piece of your photography gear. You’ll also probably want to bring filters, adaptors, flash, diffusers, straps, batteries, chargers, memory cards, backup hard drives, microphones (for video), and more.
All that extra gear makes a difference, and if you blow your budget on the camera you won’t be able to shoot in harsh sunlight (that’s what filters are for), get killer time-lapses (tripod) or capture quality sound (microphone) because you can’t afford the right accessories.
Choosing the right lens for the moment, maximizing the premium sensor size with the right ISO and exposure settings, and doing all the editing that transforms a good picture into a great one is more than most people want to commit to for photos and videos of their latest adventure.
Don’t be seduced by the promise of expensive travel cameras, because odds are you’re not going to scratch the surface of what these cameras are capable of and you’ll be constantly worried about keeping your gear safe.
Travel Camera Weight
I’d much rather pack a smaller, lighter camera and get the shots I want without sacrificing comfort or mobility all day long.
How much should your camera weigh?
If you’re committed to traveling in a carry on backpack (and I hope you are), bringing a huge travel camera means finding lots of room in your bag for your camera—and all your gear. At the very minimum packing even a point and shoot camera means you’ll be traveling with:
- Batteries (or portable battery charger if your camera charges via USB)
- Lens cleaners
- Maybe even an external microphone
If you bring a DSLR you’ll add considerable bulk and weight with the hefty camera body, but also the lenses. This extra weight is actually the primary reason I don’t pack a DSLR.
Mirrorless cameras are better in terms of size and weight—they’re about half the size of comparable DSLRs with similar image quality, but you still need those big old lenses to get the job done.
A lightweight, compact travel camera—like a point and shoot—is just easier to pack in your bag, and more fun to carry while you’re actually out shooting. I’ve always hated lugging around a big camera, since it dictates the way I travel, and what capturing things in the moment actually feels like. I’d much rather pack a smaller, lighter camera—ideally one that fits in a pocket or even a fanny pack—and get the shots I want without sacrificing comfort or mobility all day long. But hey, maybe you’re all about getting that perfect bokeh. You do you. Just be aware that lugging a camera through the jungle for a few good shots sucks.
I also shy away from any camera gear that requires packing an extra dedicated camera bag since it means you’ll always have two bags on your trip. Get a good packable day bag and find room in your main bag for all your camera stuff. It’s better that way.
There’s no one “right” travel camera for everyone, but there’s definitely the right one for you.
How are you going to use your travel camera?
Hopefully, you have some idea how you’re going to document your trip using your travel camera. If not, it’s important to consider exactly how you’re going to use your camera before you do any more research, since every camera has strengths and weaknesses depending on use case.
- If you’re after stunning landscapes, maybe a DSLR with a wide range of lenses is the right way to go
- If you want intimate street photography, a mirrorless camera or point and shoot that lets you fly under the radar while still getting high quality RAW images is essential
- Maybe you want to shoot a couple of vlogs. In that case you’ll need a camera with a flip screen so you can frame your shot accordingly
- Nighttime photography requires a bigger sensor, so make sure you get a camera that can handle low light
- Smartphones and pocket cameras like the DJI Osmo Pocket have easy to use built in software for capturing mesmerizing time lapse video or even motion lapse shots (that’s where the camera moves but the image stays steady)
- If you only want to capture backflips into the ocean off a cliff, you need an action camera
There’s no one “right” travel camera for everyone, but there’s definitely the right one for you.
Ease of Use
Bottom line: if you’re using manual mode on a $3000 camera, you don’t need a $3000 camera.
Are you actually going to use your travel camera?
The final thing to think about is how you’re actually going to shoot on your travel camera. Again, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras pack the most punch when it comes to image quality—but only if you know what you’re doing. If you’re fiddling with ISO without the proper ND filter, or can’t dial in the shutter speed to get the right exposure, you’re wasting your money.
Bottom line: if you’re using manual mode on a $3000 camera, you don’t need a $3000 camera.
It’s much better to buy a budget travel camera and push it to its limits until you feel like you have to upgrade to a bigger sensor, better lens, and more premium camera. Physical limits on your camera might also push you take more creative shots, use better angles, and *gasp* become a better photographer than getting a professional level camera before you know what to do with it.
Crawl before you walk.
Also, nothing is worse than lugging around a camera that you don’t really use. If a camera is too bulky, confusing, or just not what you want, you’re not going to use it. Also, if there are too many steps to get setup—like choosing between multiple lenses, settings, filers, etc—you’re going to miss a lot of spur of the moment shots. And that’s a shame, because those off the cuff moments are usually the things you’ll want to capture.
A camera that’s always ready to go is worth a lot more than the best camera in the world five minutes after you need it.
The Best Travel Camera Features
Today’s travel cameras are about a lot more than just capturing the best images. Modern travel cameras are basically computers with lenses—heck, you’re smartphone is a great travel camera.
Traveling also brings a few creative constraints that some travel cameras help solve. You can’t always hook up your memory card to your laptop to edit and upload a picture on the go.
Some of the best travel friendly features to look out for in a camera include:
Having your photos all tagged and organized, automatically, according to date and location is a great feature.
Being able to wirelessly send your photos to your phone or computer without dongles and cables is huge while you’re traveling.
Optical Image Stabilization
Most cameras do a decent job stabilizing images and video with in camera stabilization. And while software is getting really good, the best stabilization systems still feature physical, hardware stabilization as opposed to electronic stabilization, but you should have some kind of stabilization for any good travel camera.
This should go without saying, but you should always use manual controls while shooting. Every DSLR and mirrorless camera includes intricate systems, but so do most point and shoots and yes, so does your phone. If you don’t have manual controls in the native phone app (I’m looking at you Apple), download one of these manual control mobile camera apps. If you’re a videographer, pony up a couple of bucks and download Filmic Pro for the ultimate granular manual video controls.
And that’s about all you need to know to choose a great travel camera. Here are some of our favorite picks for the best travel smartphone cameras, best budget travel cameras, and best travel cameras for all sorts of situations.
The Best Travel Cameras of 2019
Honestly, you probably already have one of the best possible travel cameras right in your pocket. No, really.
Smartphone cameras have been scaring the crap out of DSLR manufacturers for years now, and for good reason.
Smartphone camera sensors are getting bigger, more sensitive, and a lot better at low light than the flip phones of a few years ago. The insane portability and versatility of modern smartphones makes them a solid contender for best travel camera—no caveats. Here are the three best travel camera smartphones you can get in 2019.
Best Smartphone Travel Camera: Samsung Galaxy S10+ ($999)
- Variable f/2.4-1.5 aperture (that’s a lot of range)
- 12 mp sensor
- Super wide angle lens
- Removable storage micro SD slot
- Like packing a full lens kit in your pocket
If you want a DSLR that fits in your pocket, get the Samsung Galaxy S10. It’s a mobile photography beast.
The triple camera setup on the back of the phone includes a regular, telephoto, and wide angle lens so you can take a (literal) wide range of shots from macro close ups to zoomed in shots from a 1000 yards away.
But the best part is the wide angle camera. This lens alone is a game changer for travel photography, allowing you to shoot stunning landscapes, take awesome portrait shots (where the whole person is in frame), and great city shots, namely low angle buildings and monument photography.
Video quality is also great on the Samsung Galaxy S10, with solid stabilization, a ton of manual features, and built in filters to play with. But one of the best parts about the Samsung phone vs an iPhone is removable storage. Insert a micro SD card for an additional 256GB of storage, then swap that SD card for a new one if you (somehow) manage to fill it up.
Transferring tons of photos to your computer is faster and easier than waiting for hundreds of photos to airdrop. I treat the micro SD card like a mini hard drive to backup my photos (in addition to the unlimited free storage on Google Photos).
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is simply one of the best travel cameras you can buy in 2019. Oh, and it’s also a really, really good phone. Waterproof, for go-anywhere portability, it features a 4000mAh battery for all day performance, the best display screen in the world (yes, it’s better than the iPhone) for framing your best shot, and next gen features like wireless charging, reverse charging, and all the other gizmos make it a great do-everything travel camera.
If you’re not traveling for work, or you’re traveling for a long time, upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and document the heck out of your trip. If you don’t need that big screen, you can save $100 and pick up the Samsung Galaxy S10 for just $899.
Best Low Light Smartphone Camera: Google Pixel 3 ($599)
- 2 mp sensor
- f/1.8 aperture
- Unmatched low light photography
- Advanced software features for all kind of photos
- Considered by many to be the smartphone camera to beat
Night sight changed the game when it comes to mobile photography. Using just one tiny camera lens (what!?!) and a whole lot of sophisticated software, Google managed to transform how we think about low light photography.
See, the problem with low light pictures is that you A) need a really big sensor to capture enough light for a compelling image—which smartphones don’t typically have and B) have to keep the shutter open for long enough to get light on that sensor—which used to impossible without a tripod.
Handshake, small sensors, and lack of manual shutter speeds mean that handheld low light photos on a smartphone should be terrible. But on the Google Pixel 3, they’re amazing.
Google solved all these problems by using software that stitches together photos taken from your camera as the “shutter” stays open for 6 seconds. The results make midnight appear like noon, and poorly lit interiors look like the friggin’ Louvre.
If you like to shoot lots of late night photos as you explore the nightlife at your destination, this pocket sized low light beast is perfect for you.
Yes, the iPhone XS is a great travel camera. If you don’t like playing around with manual controls, and don’t plan to heavily edit your photos, this iPhone XS is a stellar travel camera. The upgraded IP6 water rating is a big boost, allowing you to take this phone anywhere, and the dual camera lens, while underwhelming when compared to newer phones still takes beautiful photos.
However, if you’re on the fence about buying a new iPhone, I’d definitely wait until the iPhone 11(XI?) comes out at the end of the year. A few new features are expected, including, most notably, a third rear camera lens, and (hopefully) better low light performance to try and keep up with Google, Huawei, and the rest of the Android smartphone cameras.
Best Smartphone Travel Accessories
When it comes to smartphone photography (and videography of course), it really does pay to add a few key accessories to your kit.
Smartphone Battery Case
Shooting (and editing) pictures and video for the gram takes up a lot of power. It sucks to run out of juice right when golden hour hits, so make sure you’re charged up for every occasion with a battery case for your phone.
Moment makes a great battery case that fits their (fantastic) suite of lenses, so if you’re going to go the smartphone lens route, it pays to knock out two birds with one stone.
If however, you’re happy with your lens set up as is, the Mophie smartphone cases are incredible. I’ve been using one on my old iPhone 6s and it gives me four full charges on a single charge. That means I can go days without charging or I can go nuts with mobile video editing software on the go without worrying about my phone dying.
A smartphone battery case is leagues better than a portable battery charger simply because it’s one less thing to worry about. You don’t have to “charge” it since it charges while you charge your phone. Also, you can flick the juice on or off with the touch of a button—no more dangling cords and balancing a battery on your knees.
A battery case changed the way I travel, and made mobile photography that much easier.
One of the quickest ways to upgrade your mobile photography chops is by adding a high quality lens to your kit. Moment lenses are the best you can get, and won’t break the bank.
Yes, $100+ is a lot to spend on a phone accessory, but if you’re serious about getting those likes or just documenting your trip in the most beautiful way possible, pick up a moment lens and start taking better photos on your phone
And for all you mobile filmmakers, the Moment anamorphic lens is guaranteed to give your mobile footage that cinematic look that you crave. In fact, Moment just celebrated their second annual Mobile Film Festival with 12 featured films shot exclusively on mobile phones. Check it out and get inspired.
Joby Gorillapod Tripod (in two sizes)
Stop shooting handheld. It’s great for candid shots and on the go stuff, but once you embrace the power of a tripod, it unlocks so much more in your mobile photography arsenal.
Shoot luscious time lapse videos, ethereal long exposure shots (and yes, this is a built in feature on most standard camera apps), and just plain better portraits and landscape shots. Get a tripod and start taking better pictures.
The Joby line of Gorillapods comes in two sizes, one “regular” and one “mini,” but they’re both still super mobile friendly. If you want the flexibility to shoot on larger cameras later, opt for the larger gorillapod.
I used to think those little attached hooks on the back of smartphone cases were silly, stupid even. Until I got one as a gift. These things rule.
The ability to shoot more adventurous angles on moving trains, boats, and cars will immediately up the narrative of your travel photos. Not only will you not worry about dropping your phone, which is huge, but there’s a secret hidden mode to these ring attachments.
If you place the adhesive square at the edge of the phone case and line it up with edge of the ring, you can get a great static tripod mount that’s always on the back of your phone. While this isn’t perfect for all situations, it’s miles better than other “smartphone tripod attachments that either point your camera up in the sky or down at the ground.
I’ve gotten tons of great spur of the moment video and time lapse shots in weird terrain using nothing more than the ring on the back of my phone to balance the phone for the shot.
Best Compact Travel Cameras
Compact cameras (aka “point and shoots”) get a lot of grief for not having the larger sensor size and features of mirrorless or DSLR cameras. And you’re right, they don’t have those things. But they more than make up for it in size, durability, and portability.
Panasonic Lumix ZS80 ($449)
I’ve had the Panasonic Lumix ZS50 (it’s the slightly older model) for a few years now, and while it’s not always my daily driver (I use my phone a LOT now), this was a great travel camera for one good reason—I always had it with me. The Lumix ZS80 is a better, yet still budget version of one of my favorite travel cameras.
If you’re looking for a truly pocket-sized travel camera that can run circles around most smartphones, this is your camera. The 20mp sensor is beefy enough to get lush detailed RAW images, and the flip touch screen lets you take selfies or videos with perfect framing every time.
Every iteration of the Panasonic Lumix has been a solid travel camera, and the latest model is another home run.
Panasonic Lumix ZS200 ($799)
Yeah, the next compact travel camera on the list is another Panasonic because this is a different camera than the other ZS models. Obviously, at nearly double the price, you are paying a higher premium for some upgrades, but you do get the upgrades.
Namely, a bigger, better sensor for higher quality images in the same form factor as the ZS80, 5-axis stabilization for better video and long exposure shots, and a sick zoom lens set up that accommodates 35-360mm ranges (or the equivalent since it’s using zoom assist).
This compact camera is about as close to DSLR quality that you can get under $1000, and it still fits in your pocket, making it a great travel camera for travelers with a little more to spend.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI ($1198)
If the $800 price tag of the Panasonic Lumix didn’t scare you, you might be excited by the Sony Cyber Shot RX100 VI.
Considered by many to be the powerhouse of compact cameras, this point and shoot rivals some great mirrorless cameras for image quality while still managing to fit in (most) pockets. Honestly, I wouldn’t pay $1200 for a point and shoot, but if you really don’t want to mess with changeable lenses and a heavier camera body, this is one of the best compact cameras money can buy.
The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Travel
But enough about smartphone cameras and compact cameras. You want the “real” travel cameras. Ok.
While I still think smartphone and compact cameras are the best travel camera, simply because you can always have them with you, the quality upgrade to mirrorless cameras is a big jump. If you’re itching to try a DSLR, but not sure if you can handle the extra size (and cost!) start with a mid-level mirrorless camera. It’s a great way to find out exactly what you want before you spend $2000 on a camera and lenses you don’t really need.
Here are the best mirrorless cameras for travel photographers who want to take it up a notch without having to lug a ton of gear.
Canon makes a great mirrorless camera. The much larger 24.1 mp sensor is a solid upgrade from most point and shoot sensors, and when you unlock the power of the camera with the right travel lenses, you’ve got a powerhouse travel camera for under $1000.
The touchscreen swivels to face any direction (which is nice for sunny days or vlogging), and this camera comes equipped with WiFi to effortlessly transfer files on the go.
Sony A6000 Mirrorless “Hybrid” Camera ($549 / camera body only)
Yes, you’ll need to buy your own lenses to use this camera. But once you do, oh man. The ridiculous 24.3 MP APS-C sensor is better than practically any other camera at this price point—DSLR or not—and the sleek form factor is designed for one handed use.
The ISO range is nuts (up to 25600) for great low light performance, and the auto focus in both photo and video mode are some of the fastest on any camera. That’s great for travel photography, when you only get one shot for the photo of a lifetime.
This might be the best travel camera money can buy. The only drawback is stressing out about which lens to use to best complement this incredible travel camera.
Best DSLR Cameras for Travel
Nikon D3500 ($459 camera body only / $549 for two lens kit)
At just $459 this is an absolutely bonkers entry-level DSLR. The massive 24.2MP sensor will help you get superb shots, and the ISO range 100-25600 is more than enough for almost any lighting situation.
But the best part about this DSLR is how well it fits into your travel bag. It’s small enough to carry easily with one hand, and with the lenses off, the body isn’t that much bigger or bulkier than most mirrorless cameras. Oh, and it’s got Bluetooth built in for easy photo sharing.
If you’re curious about a DSLR camera for your next trip, this is a great investment. Make sure to opt for the two lens travel kit that includes an extra battery and both and 18-55mm lens for everyday shots as well as the 70-300mm zoom lens for those epic shots.
Canon EOS 6D Mark II ($1499 / camera body only)
Honestly, there are a few other mid-level options in the DSLR space, but if you’re going to go mid-level, just invest in a great mirrorless camera and sweet lens kit. However, if you want one of the all-time best travel camera money can buy, it’s the Canon 6D Mark II.
The absurd 26.2 MP sensor, 45 point AF, wifi, bluetooth, and GPS features, and ISO range up to friggin 40000 make this camera a professional level travel camera. However, to obtain this sweet camera you have to pay thousands of dollars for the camera and a bag full of lenses.
This DSLR isn’t for the minimalist traveler or the budget traveler, but if you want the absolute best travel photos, this is the way to go.
Best Travel Video Camera: DJI Osmo Pocket ($349)
Every camera these days can shoot video. From DSLRs to smartphones, you can get reliable video footage on just about anything. However, if you want to take your travel videos from shakey handheld (unwatchable) garbage to the next level, it’s nice to have a travel video camera with a built in 3-axis gimbal.
I’ve been using the DJI Osmo Pocket for a few weeks, and I’m seriously impressed with the footage I’ve been able to get out of such a small package. The pan and tilt options offer some great cinematic transitions while I’m editing, and the physical stabilization from the gimbals means that I always have steady, useable footage—even when I’m on the move.
I like the face tracking and advanced photography features, but honestly, I got this for the stable video footage and ultra portable package. And I couldn’t be happier.
Best Waterproof Travel Camera
Honestly, most smartphones can handle the occasional dunk or dip in the pool, but if you’re on the hunt for great travel photos and video in any environment, look no further than the GoPro Hero 7.
GoPro Hero 7 ($349)
You don’t need me to tell you that GoPro is still the king of action cameras, especially for adventurous travel.
The newest GoPro packs a ton of great features for adventure filmmakers, but the buttery smooth in camera stabilization claims to be a “gimbal killer.” And while that might be a bit of an overstatement, the latest GoPro is smooth, sleek, portable as heck, durable as hell, and priced just right at $349.
I used to recommend the GoPro Session since it’s half the size of the GoPro Hero lineup, but this new entry makes it tough to justify given that insane stabilization, touchscreen controls, and voice control. Forget selfies, you can tell this camera to take your picture.
However, there might be a new competitor on the rise.
A possible contender to GoPro’s action camera reign could come from Sony with their new vlogging style action camera—the Sony RX0.
With a compact body, similar to the GoPro, this camera manages to dodge the “GoPro” distortion look that’s so common with other action cameras, allowing filmmakers to use this like a “real” camera.
It shoots 4k video, allows for continuous shooting to get the perfect action shot with moving subjects (at 16fps), and even allows for super duper slow mo video at up to 960fps. That’s ridiculous.
This camera just launched (so it’s still early days), and the price is significantly higher than other action cameras, but larger sensor and rugged design of the Sony RX0 might be the perfect sweet spot as the ultimate travel camera that can go anywhere and still shoot professional grade photos and video.
The Best Travel Cameras Under $500
The best budget camera still really depends on how you plan to use it and what kind of travel you do, but here’s a quick rundown of my favorite budget travel cameras under $500 (in order of price):
- GoPro Hero 7 ($349)
- Dji Osmo ($349)
- Panasonic Lumix ZS80 ($449)
- Nikon D3500 ($459)
TL;DR: The Best Travel Cameras
At the end of the day, the best travel camera is the one you have with you. Prioritize portability and the specific use cases you plan to be in, then pick the camera that best fits your bag, and your plans. It’s that simple.
Luckily, there’s never been a better selection of travel cameras for all levels of photographers in all types of budgets. The most important part of picking a travel camera is to get something you can start using today. So grab your phone, GoPro, mirrorless camera, point and shoot, or bulky DSLR and get out there and start shooting!
- You don’t have to spend $1000 for a DSLR – Nikon, Sony, and Canon have budget options under $600 (some even come with lenses!)
- Weight is a big deal in a travel camera – Not just in your carry on bag, but while you’re shooting and walking around all day. Optimize for lighter mirrorless cameras unless you really need that next level professional look
- Great video is all about smooth camera work and stabilization – Opt for physical gimbals or Optical vs electronic stabilization when you can
- Get a camera with Wifi or bluetooth to share and store photos – It’s 2019, you have no excuse anymore