If you’re like most of us, your travel pictures have never been more important to you. Every day, we’re bombarded by the possibility as we scroll through social media. Who are these people who take amazing pictures of far-flung destinations, and how can you be one of them?
Your camera enables those photography dreams, but too often, buying a travel camera means compromises. You don’t have space or desire to lug a DSLR and all your accessories around, but you also don’t want to limit yourself to your phone.
We put together a list of camera brands with product lines designed seemingly with travel in mind. If you’re in the market for a new camera, check out one of these brands set for any price range.
How We Chose Our Favorite Travel Camera Brands
We chose our camera brands according to whether they were able to combine all the features we need in a travel camera (compact and wifi-friendly) with image quality. The six brands we recommended manage to do that across some of their product lines, and we highlighted the best version of the product below.
Ultimately, we understand better than anyone that photography is a subjective experience, so we looked for camera brands that had a standout feature that appeals to individual photographers.
Six Best Travel Camera Brands
Brand power varies across camera brands because the same brand that knocked a recent DSLR out of the park might also charge money for a camera that functions no better than a 2000s-era web cam.
We found six of our favorite camera brands and then picked out series where they got it very right for the average traveler.
Best High-End Cameras: Panasonic
Panasonic offers a range of high-end cameras like the Lumix ZS200 that stand out from the crowd in an otherwise saturated market.
Like all other brands on this list, Panasonic offers cameras across the price spectrum, but we can’t help but notice how Panasonic marries essential items like the 1” sensor with what the people want: zoom. Few other brands pair their large sensors with sufficient zoom.
While the sensor is important, we also need to acknowledge that zoom is also essential for photos where you’re not worried about quality: you want to take a picture and move on.
We also like the Panasonic range because they are impressive on paper but don’t hold your hand through the experience. It offers versatility that sometimes hurts functionality, but if you have technical skills, then you might be willing to sacrifice user experience for image quality.
Other cameras from Sony offer ease of use, which appeals to many travelers. But when it comes to embracing all the features, we prefer Panasonic?
Thinking about a camera with a larger sensor and an even better zoom function? Try the Lumix ZS200 or the Lumix FZ1000.
Best Mid-Range Camera: Sony
Sony marries value with advanced features to produce cameras that take great pictures without the extras that techies love but many of us don’t worry about. One of the things we appreciate most about Sony is that it creates a line and then builds on it. It gives you the chance to buy a solid camera with the latest tricks or buy an earlier iteration at a lesser price but without a sacrifice in quality.
If we had to choose one line from Sony, it would be the RX100. There are five versions of the RX100, and it gives you the option to choose from an original version up to the RX100 V.
We like the earlier mid-range Sony products but tend to find that Sony relies too heavily on brand recognition rather than providing the best specs. At this point, a 1” sensor is no longer a standout selling point, and other brands produce very competitive cameras. In our opinion, Sony’s high-end cameras don’t necessarily justify their price anymore.
Best Budget Camera: Canon
If you buy a budget camera, you want to make sure you still get your money’s worth. Unfortunately, when most brands create cameras that dip below $500, they start to shed all the value along with them. They become basic cameras.
We like Canon’s budget cameras because they combine ease of use and budget-friendly features without sending image quality to the chopping block. A budget Canon camera will never compare to the best ranked Fujifilm or a well-done DSLR, but it shouldn’t have to. Frankly, not everyone cares if they do.
We like Canon cameras for the ultra-compact bodies and big zoom. It won’t offer a 1” sensor or 4k video, but it does far more than the bare minimum.
If you choose a budget Canon, we recommend the PowerShot series. Canon started working on the PowerShot series several decades ago, and it keeps getting better.
The latest iteration of the series offers the ultra-compact body we love with a 40x zoom lens that’s perfect for travel. The sensor is a 20.3 MP BSI CMOS, but it does provide a few added features we like. A few reasons to buy include an optically stabilized lens, Zoom Framing Assist, and Wi-Fi. Each of these makes travel shots easy.
Want to save money, move backward in the PowerShot SX series, and you’re bound to find something you like.
Best Professional Point and Shoot: Fujifilm
The point-and-shoot models went professional when Fujifilm got its hands on it.
Fujifilm offers a small, lightweight point-an- shoot camera with many of the trappings of professional cameras. The most expensive camera in the range, the Fujifilm X100F, beats out almost every other camera in regards to price.
That said, you have only a few options if you want an APS-C image sensor in a point and shoot body. Fujifilm does this well because it combines the high-end specs but remains easy to operate. It includes advanced autofocus and fixed lens, so you really can point and shoot.
Best DSLR Replacement: Ricoh
If you’re one of those people who debate about whether to bring your DSLR on vacation, we solved your dilemma. Leave your DSLR at home and bring on of Ricoh’s enthusiast compact cameras.
Ricoh isn’t one of the best-known camera brands, but it does have a loyal enthusiast following because they work under the radar to produce luxury cameras for a photography enthusiast market. We recommend them because they’re practical, stylish and not flashy.
If you’re looking for a pocket-size point and shoot, we recommend the Ricoh GR series. The GR II was a well-reviewed camera that won several awards, but the GR III, which is due out in early 2019, is something else.
It brings an APS-C CMOS sensor to the game and includes a focal length of 28 mm. You get Full HD Video, optical viewfinder support, and a hot shoe.
We like that you get some of the better features alongside a hybrid autofocus system and a sensor-shift shake reduction system to encourage usability.
All this comes in a small, lightweight camera that packs a punch.
Best Adventure Camera: GoPro
GoPro set the bar for action cameras, making them both known and affordable to the everyday adventurer. While GoPro comes with a lot of hype, and it deserves it. If you weren’t impressed by old models, be glad you waited to get involved.
The GoPro has a lot of imitators, but one item that continues to set it apart is the recording notification. Once you mount your GoPro, you often either can’t see or don’t have the capacity to mess with it. The beep lets you know when recording starts and stops. You don’t get that with many imitators, and it limits functionality.
If you’re buying your first GoPro, start with the Hero 7. It is the latest action cameras, and like many devices, passing time has made it sweeter and cheaper. It comes with a 12 Mp lens and 4K video. It comes with a video stabilizer that works with some but not all settings. We also love that you can tether the camera to your phone and live stream your adventure.
Brands like SJCAM or Yi are cheaper than some GoPro models, but they aren’t as refined.
Travel Camera Buyers Guide
Finding the right camera depends on where you intend to shoot, how much stuff you’re prepared to bring, and what kind of control you want.
Throw in the “travel” option, and you add in concerns about size, weight, and accessories. Choosing the right travel camera then differs from one prefer to use closer to home.
Because the choice is so personal, we can’t tell you what to buy. However, we can highlight some of the attributes that transform a good camera into a great travel camera.
Back in the day when a carry-on, personal item, and checked baggage where all part of your airline fare, camera size was less of an issue. As airlines get stingier and our bags get smaller, camera size and weight become a central issue when you decide what to pack.
If your travel photos aren’t for professional use, then we recommend buying a point-and-shoot camera. Twenty years ago, the suggestion was akin to heresy. However, point and shoot cameras now offer incredible specs without the heft and accessories that come with a DSLR camera.
Today’s point and shoot cameras are small, lightweight, and offer creative controls once relegated only to high-end mirrorless cameras or DSLRs.
Is a point and shoot out of the question? Your next best travel option is a mirrorless camera. These come with larger sensors and more control. You can also use them with a pancake lens for more discrete shooting on vacation.
DSLR cameras are an option, but even the pros tend to leave their big cameras at home and travel with a point and shoot or mirrorless. Remember, your camera isn’t the essential ingredient to a good shot. Skill and vision make up the difference, and with today’s point and shoots, you have enough control to execute both.
Sensor Size and Type
Everyone talks about megapixels, but the spec you want to look out for is sensor size and type.
Your sensor size determines how much light it captures. Large sensors allow more light in, which allows for more details in each image. Larger sensors also create a shallower depth of field and improved dynamic range. The combination is useful quintessential vacation photos: landscape and architecture shots.
If photo quality and diversity is your goal, skip any camera without a minimum 1” sensor, which is now a staple of mid-range and high-end point and shoots. For the ultimate experience try a Full Frame sensor, which doesn’t crop the frame on your photos.
Sensor types are also important. A travel camera works best with a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor because it operates at high speeds and doesn’t drain your battery. The CCD sensor upgrade comes with better quality, but you’ll need to charge your camera more readily.
HD video is now standard on cameras, so avoid settling for less than 720p. Ideally, a camera choice has at least Full HD (1080p).
Some travel cameras now include 4k video as a feature. The difference between 4K Ultra HD video and Full HD is significant. Full HD offers 1080p horizontal lines, and 4k boasts 2,160 horizontal lines of vertical resolution.
Other Essential Options
Cameras are more than their sensors even if the sensor is the most central component. To make the most of your travel experience, look out for other features.
Image stabilization is an excellent tool because unless you plan to drag your tripod with you, you shoot the majority of your photos from a hand-held position. Image stabilization reduces camera shake for smooth HD videos and sharp images. It also gives you the freedom to play around with the settings without missing out on a shot altogether.
Other fun features include GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, and NFC functions. These have more use in travel cameras because they make sharing images simpler. You’re free to take a beautiful photo with your own camera and share it instantly with someone else or on social media.