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The Best Travel Cameras of 2021
Travel Photography Gear
As a professional travel photographer, I get a lot of questions about what’s the best travel camera. There are so many to choose from! Here’s what I would pick, and why.
If you’re into travel photography, exploring the world with a good travel camera can help you bring back vacation images that will stand the test of time.
Epic travel memories & experiences to share with family and friends for years to come. Travel photos are some of my most treasured souvenirs!
But what’s the best travel camera for capturing these special moments?
There’s no easy answer to this question. Different people will have different requirements and budgets for choosing a travel camera.
My goal with this digital camera buyers guide is to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices — and pick the perfect camera for travel so you’re prepared for your next trip.
Why listen to me? Experience! I’ve been traveling around the world for ten years as a professional travel photographer, licensing images to brands like National Geographic.
Here’s everything we’re going to cover (feel free to click to a specific section if you want to skip around).
Ultimate Travel Camera Buyers Guide
Some of My Travel Photography from Norway
Quick Answer: Best Travel Cameras Of 2021
Sony RX100 VII – Best Compact Travel Camera
Sony A6600 – Best Value Travel Camera
Sony A7 III – Best Mirrorless Travel Camera
Panasonic Lumix ZS70 – Best Budget Travel Camera
GoPro Hero 9 – Best Action Travel Camera
Important Travel Camera Features
We’ll get to the juicy stuff in a second (I promise!), but first, it’s important to understand what makes a camera good for travel.
When picking a travel camera, you must define what your needs are.
Are you looking for lightweight portability? Something weatherproof? Professional image quality? Reasonably priced? A well-rounded model for landscapes, portraits, but can also handle vlogging?
Here are some key camera features you should be aware of moving forward.
SIZE & WEIGHT – Gone are the days when a bigger camera means a better camera. If you want to travel with your camera, you’ll want something small & lightweight. Luckily technology has improved a lot.
MANUAL SETTINGS – Professional photographers want the ability to manually control all camera settings to dial in the perfect shot in different situations. Pick a travel camera with full manual control if you want to improve your skills.
MEGAPIXELS – Many people assume that more megapixels is better. This isn’t always true if the pixels themselves are small. However, more megapixels on a large sensor will give you higher detail, and allow you to “crop” your image without reducing quality.
APERTURE – Lens aperture is measured in f/numbers, like f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, etc. The lower the number, the better it will perform in low-light situations (and more expensive). Lower numbers also create a nice “bokeh” effect in portraits.
ZOOM RANGE – A zoom lens lets you get closer to the action, especially for wildlife or people. But the bigger the zoom the bulkier a camera gets. The amount of zoom is a personal preference. For travel, having the option to zoom in without changing lenses is nice.
HD/4K VIDEO – Most quality travel cameras will shoot video in HD 1080p. Some even have 4K capabilities — which most people won’t need unless you’re doing professional work. Travel cameras that can shoot in 4K are generally more expensive.
WIFI/BLUETOOTH – Some cameras have their own wifi network, allowing you to upload your photos instantly to your computer or smartphone. This can be handy if you want to share travel photos to social media without a computer.
INTERCHANGEABLE LENSES – High-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, allowing you to pick the perfect lens for different situations. Smartphones and compact travel cameras usually have fixed lenses.
WEATHERPROOFING – Will your travel camera hold up against the elements? Some cameras are better protected from moisture and dust than others. If you plan on shooting in very dusty or wet environments, it helps to have strong weatherproofing.
RAW – Not all cameras shoot in RAW format. Camera RAW basically saves the image without any internal modifications, as opposed to JPG. It’s preferred by advanced users for more leeway when editing their images with software later.
STABILIZATION – Some cameras or lenses offer Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). This feature compensates for “handshake” on slower shutter speeds, to help keep images sharp in low-light situations. Some cameras also have internal sensor stabilization, for even better results.
Understanding Camera Sensors
When choosing the perfect camera for traveling, you need to understand different camera sensors, and how they affect image quality and camera size.
In general, a camera with a large sensor is going to perform better in low light because that large sensor can capture more of it.
With a large sensor, you’ll also get more detail, allowing you to print your images large, or crop them smaller, and not lose any quality.
However, a large camera sensor means the camera itself will be larger as well.
Best Compact Cameras For Travel Photography
What’s the Best Compact Camera for Traveling?
Compact cameras have come a long way. Improved technology means companies can pack these portable travel cameras with a ton of features.
Many shoot 4K video and have manual settings, just like the more expensive cameras on this list.
In my opinion as a professional photographer, a decent compact camera is the best option for 75% of amateur travel photographers.
They combine the perfect mix of being portable, powerful, and pretty budget-friendly too.
Here are my current top 5 picks for compact travel cameras that are perfect for shooting travel photography on your next vacation.
1. Sony RX100 VII – Best Compact Travel Camera
The Sony RX100 VII is my favorite small travel camera. It’s what I’d call a “professional” point & shoot. While it is compact enough to fit in my pocket, it has many of the same features as my larger primary mirrorless camera.
It’s not the cheapest travel camera, but you can also pick up older models like the RX100 IV for a bit less. They also make reasonably priced underwater dive-housings for this line. It’s a great one for travel blogging!
- 4K Video
- Fast Focusing
- Flip-screen for Vlogging
- Built-In Flash
- Small Sensor
- Fixed Lens
- Weak Microphone
This is usually the travel camera I recommend for most people. If you want something nicer than a smartphone, but are intimidated by the size & weight of larger cameras, you’ll love the small Sony RX100.
2. Canon G7X – Travel Vlogging Camera
The Canon G7 X II is another fantastic compact point & shoot camera that’s great for travel photography. A bit less expensive than the Sony, it has fewer high-end features but shoots great video with better onboard audio than the Sony. It’s a favorite for many traveling YouTubers and Vloggers.
- Flip-screen for Vlogging
- Built-In Flash
- Decent Microphone
- Fixed Lens
- Slow Focusing
- No 4K
You’ll save a bit more money with the Canon over the Sony RX100, but it doesn’t have as many high-end features (like 4K video). However the better microphone is a plus.
3. Panasonic Lumix LX10 – Portable Camera
The Panasonic LX10 is another nice portable point & shoot camera that’s good for traveling. It’s very similar to the Sony & Canon in specs. The big differences are no viewfinder (just the LCD), a slightly larger aperture, and less battery power.
- Flip-screen for Vlogging
- Fast low-light lens
- 4K Video
- No viewfinder
- Small battery
When it comes to these three compact travel cameras, the differences are negligible. Panasonic has a strong video fan-base, so it’s basically like the others but with the Panasonic brand name. I still think Sony has the better technology.
Best Mirrorless Travel Cameras
Picking a Good Mirrorless Travel Camera
Larger than a point & shoot, but smaller than a DSLR, mirrorless digital cameras are all the rage right now.
Even professional photographers are starting to switch over due to their small size and ability to produce high-quality images.
I use a mirrorless camera as my main travel camera. They offer more features than a point & shoot, like the ability to use interchangeable lenses, and a larger sensor with better low-light capability and detail.
1. Sony A7 III – Best Mirrorless Travel Camera
The Sony A7 III is the best travel camera money can buy at the moment. Sony has been on the cutting edge the past few years, and other brands are having trouble keeping up. Its sensor technology, focusing speeds, and dynamic range are incredible — while also being cheaper than competitors.
Sony has specialty models too. Sony A7S II is geared towards videographers, with extremely good low-light capabilities. The Sony A7R III (what I use) is for landscape photographers with a whopping 42.4 megapixels.
- Full Frame Sensor
- Internal Stabilization
- 4K Video
- High Dynamic Range
- Weather-sealed Body
- Lacks swivel screen
- No built-in flash
The Sony A7 is a very high-end travel camera. It’s something I’d recommend for “professional amateurs”. Meaning, you already know how to shoot in manual mode, understand concepts like depth of field, and are a competent photographer looking to take your craft to the next level. Check Price Here →
2. Fujifilm X‑T3 – Classic Travel Style
The Fuji X-T3 is a popular competitor to the Sony A7 mirrorless camera. I’ve used it while traveling before, and the Fuji is very well-made! My favorite part about it is the rugged all-metal dials that control this camera’s settings.
One downside is the smaller APS-C crop sensor rather than being Full Frame like the Sony A7. Another is less power in low-light situations. The Fuji also has fewer focus points, half the battery capacity, and no internal stabilization.
- APS-C Sensor
- 4K Video
- Weather-sealed Body
- Lacks swivel screen
- No built-in flash
- Limited Battery
- No internal stabilization
The Fuji is a favorite for travelers because of its small size, good lens options, and classic film camera design cues. It’s a nice option for those who don’t want to spend the extra money on a top-of-the-line Sony A7.
3. Sony A6600 – Best Value For Travel
The Sony A6600 is an even smaller version of Sony’s awesome A7 mirrorless camera. The big difference is a slightly smaller APS-C cropped sensor, and less weatherproofing to protect against rain.
The A6600 is also wonderful for travel video with 4K resolution and has a touch-screen, but with less low-light capability. For a more budget-friendly version, the older Sony A6400 is almost just as good, for about $400 hundred dollars less!
- Very Portable
- Flip Screen for Vlogging!
- Internal stabilization
- No Built-In Flash
- Cramped Button Layout
I really love the Sony A6600. It includes many features of the higher-end Sony A7 (like internal camera stabilization), but it also has a flip screen so you can see yourself while vlogging. I use it as a backup camera.
4. Olympus E-M10 Mark III – Micro 4/3rds Camera
The EM-10 Mark III is Olympus’ latest excellent Micro 4/3rds model. Improving on the older Mark II by including 4K video, touchscreen control, and an enhanced sensor stabilization system, the Mark III provides a lot for a camera under $500 (body only).
In-body image stabilization (IBIS) is incredibly handy for travel and street photography because it makes traveling with tripods less necessary. By stabilizing the sensor you can use slower shutter speeds to create extra exposure to make up for the smaller Micro 4/3rds sensor and keep your handheld shots razor sharp.
- Compact M43 Body
- Interchangeable Lenses
- IBIS Stabilization System
- Poor Low-light Performance
- Lower Resolution Sensor
- No Weather Sealing
Micro 4/3rds cameras are a good middle-ground option for a travel camera. The smallish sensors allow the body to remain compact yet still create photos that rival larger DSLR and full-frame mirrorless cameras.
Best Action Cameras For Travel
Whitewater Kayaking with My GoPro Camera
Action cameras have really transformed the travel photography & video world over the years. These tiny, waterproof, indestructible cameras can travel anywhere & record anything!
If you plan on hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or even swimming under waterfalls during your trips, an action camera can create epic video & photos of the experience.
1. GoPro Hero 9 – Adventure Travel Camera
The GoPro Hero 9 is GoPro’s best camera yet, with improved video stabilization, color, and 5K(!) footage. It’s waterproof case & touch-screen will handle any activity you dream up. A must-have for adventure addicts like me!
One cool feature of the new GoPro is the 2nd front-facing screen. This solves one of the old problems of not being able to preview selfie style shots. There are also many great GoPro accessories for attaching your camera to anything!
- 5K Video
- 20 Megapixel Photos
- Ultra Small
- Touch Screen
- Small Sensor Size
- Limited Zoom
- Needs Accessories
Perfect compact travel camera for those of us who love adventure sports, especially if you need something small & waterproof, or are worried about breaking big cameras.
2. GoPro Session – Smallest Travel Camera
The GoPro Session is GoPro’s smaller & cheaper model. Without a screen, this tiny cube can fit just about anywhere — you’ll barely notice it while traveling. If you aren’t a complete action sports junkie, and just want a small waterproof camera for things like snorkeling or skiing, this will do for most people.
One issue with the Session is that it doesn’t have a screen. However, you can connect it to the GoPro App on your smartphone in order to frame your shots if needed (plus a wide angle lens means you really just point it at the subject).
- Ultra Small
- Small Sensor
- Limited Zoom
- No Screen
The smallest travel camera on this list. It has a slightly smaller sensor than the GoPro 7, you can’t change batteries and no touchscreen. But better for regular people who aren’t jumping out of airplanes all the time.
3. YI 4K+ – Budget Action Camera
While GoPro generally controls the adventure travel camera market the Chinese made YI 4K Plus is a solid alternative that’s significantly cheaper as well. The features are nearly identical, including 4K video at 60 fps and touchscreen or voice control as needed.
The YI also has digitally stabilized video, much like the GoPro, but offers little beyond basic 4K recording and a 12 MP photography experience. If you don’t need the additional features of the GoPro line the YI 4K+ is a decent budget alternative.
- Cheaper than GoPro
- Similar Quality
- Basic Recording Experience
- Tech Support Unreliable
This GoPro alternative is cheaper because it lacks more advanced features like HDR photography, tone mapping, and timewarp video. If you don’t need those, this will get the job done.
Best DSLR Cameras For Travel Photography
Digital SLR Cameras (DSLR) wouldn’t be my first choice for a travel camera. Because these cameras use a physical mirror instead of an electronic viewfinder, the body is larger than on a mirrorless camera.
Personally, I think most people would be better off with a mirrorless camera system these days. Especially if you’re trying to minimize the weight and size of your travel gear. However here are some options below.
1. Nikon D7200
If you don’t mind a somewhat large camera experience the Nikon D7200 is one of the best entry-level APS-C cameras on the market. The 24.2 MP CMOS sensor is an oldie but goodie with hundreds of lenses to choose from.
The standard optical viewfinder and SLR mirror design mean it’s not as discrete as the Fuji X or even the Sony A7 series. While great for all types of photography it’s not the sort of camera that fits easily into a back pocket or a crowded event without notice.
- Large APS-C sensor
- Many Lenses Available
- No Exciting Features
- Slow Focus
- Heavy DSLR Body
2. Canon 80D
As a rugged upgrade for the many Canon Rebel users out there, the Canon 80D offers weatherization, a great feature to have on a travel camera. Dust and light moisture is prevented from ruining the electronics, as long as the lens is sealed.
The moderate-sized 24 MP APS-C sensor is a great compromise between size and exposure but the heavy DSLR body makes this less attractive for event and street photography compared to the likes of the smaller Olympus OM-D E-M10.
- Huge lens selection
- Large APS-C sensor
- Average Full-HD video
- Standard features
- Large DSLR body
Top Budget Travel Cameras (Under $500)
Trying to save money on a travel camera? Here are some of the best budget travel cameras for under $500 with a lens included. They have fewer bells & whistles but are much more affordable.
And if these are still too expensive for you, try looking at the “used” versions of these cameras. They can cost a few hundred less, and work just as good.
1. Panasonic Lumix ZS70 – Best Budget Travel Camera
If you’re looking for the smallest, most affordable travel camera that will fit in your pocket but can also take quality photos, look no further. It’s a great value at under $400 USD.
A large 20MP sensor, optical image stabilization, and a good zoom make this an excellent choice for beginners. But with the ability to shoot in RAW format, as well as full manual control — this camera will allow you to grow as a photographer too.
2. Nikon D3500 – Low Cost Travel Camera
The somewhat venerable Nikon D3500 was one of the most popular DSLR cameras ever created, and for good reason. It has a slightly lighter body compared to the likes of the Canon 80D and a significantly lighter one compared to the Nikon D7200.
The light body trades the weatherization that the other two DSLRs provide, but includes nearly every other features of the D7200 save wireless camera control. One standout feature of the D3500 is the insane battery life at 1200 shots per charge.
3. Canon Rebel T7 – Popular Beginner Camera
Canon’s Rebel line is where many photographers begin their journey into the world of travel photography. Fortunately, the Canon T7 offers plenty to get you started. The large 24 MP APS-C sensor provides plenty of resolution for sharp images or cropping as needed and the controls are easy to use.
With many lenses to choose from, you’ll find an aperture and focal length combination to suit any sort of photography style. While not a particularly discrete camera the T6 is affordable and provides great photo and Full HD video quality on a budget.
4. Olympus E-M10 Mark II – Older 4/3rds Model
The Olympus EM10 II is just a slightly older model which has seen a price reduction after the Mark III was released. Now you can pick up this highly-capable compact micro 4/3rds camera with the kit lens for under $500.
The big differences are that this model doesn’t include 4K video recording, and it doesn’t have a touch-screen display. But if you can live with that to save some money, this is a great option!
Best Smartphones For Photography
Top Smartphone Cameras For Traveling
Can you use your smartphone as a travel camera? Of course you can!
You’ll sacrifice a bit of quality due to the super small camera sensor in phones, but if you’re only publishing images online, most people won’t notice.
Some other downsides to smartphone cameras are the lack of a physical zoom (digital zoom looks bad), not many lens options, few manual controls, and of course the battery drain on your phone if you’re using it all the time.
Here are some of the best smartphone cameras for traveling…
Smartphone cameras are continuing to eat into the camera market share and the iPhone 11 Pro is one of the best on the market. With THREE dedicated lenses built-in: ultra-wide 13mm f/2.4, wide 26mm f/1.8, and telephoto 52mm f/2.0 — you have a variety of viewing angles to choose from.
The out-of-focus areas are surprisingly well rendered as well; while not as good as what you’ll get with a larger sensor and fast aperture, still amazing given how small smartphone sensors are. You can even adjust the background post-shoot using Depth Control to enhance background bokeh and make your subject stand out.
2. Honor 20
The Honor 20 Pro is another competitive smartphone camera that packs a surprising punch for a hybrid device. This smartphone packs 4 different cameras on the back! The main one has an impressive f/1.4 aperture — making it amazing in low-light.
There’s also an 80mm telephoto lens, a 16mm ultra-wide lens, and a macro lens for shooting small things at very close range. Pro Mode gives you as much control as you would using Manual on a dedicated camera, with ISO, shutter speed, color temperature, and more to control at your fingertips.
Google’s new Pixel 4 has one of the best portrait modes you can find and intelligently sharpens the borders around your subject while allowing for micro-adjustment of the background blur. The low light photography experience is also very good.
Night Sight allows for exposure stacking using multiple images taken in tandem and even non-stacked images properly preserve dark areas and bright highlights without excessive noise. With three total lenses available the Google Pixel 4 is one of the best smartphone cameras on the market right now.
Best Camera Lenses For Traveling
My Travel Camera Lenses for the Sony A7
You honestly don’t need a million different camera lenses for travel. When I first started traveling, I used a single general-purpose zoom lens that was perfect for most things.
If you have money, get two: a wide-angle zoom and a telephoto zoom.
Two travel lenses will allow you to capture a mix of landscapes, portraits, and wildlife from a distance.
However, lugging around multiple lenses and changing them can be annoying if you’re new to travel photography.
When looking at the camera lens apertures, the lower the number, the better it is in low light. F2.8 or F4 should cover you for most situations. If you want to shoot star photography while traveling, go with F2.8.
Best Drones For Travel Photography
Flying my DJI Mavic Over Italy
Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video from a totally different perspective. But this probably isn’t the most important travel camera for the average person.
Many places have restrictions on flying personal drones, for example, US National Parks, and even entire countries. So you need to do your research to avoid heavy fines or confiscation.
Which Travel Cameras Do I Use?
What’s in My Camera Bag?
I actually travel with 4 different cameras on my adventures around the world. This is a bit overkill for most people.
However travel photography is how I make my living, so I invest in gear to help me accomplish my job. When I first started 9 years ago, all I used was a Canon 7D and a GoPro Hero.
My Camera Collection
The camera backpack I use is called a LowePro Whistler 350. It has room for a 15″ laptop, jacket, and incredibly fits all 4 travel cameras, lenses & some accessories if I need it to — perfect as an airplane carry-on.
How To Improve Your Travel Photography
Portrait from my Trip to Afghanistan
I want to let you in on a little travel photography secret. Even if you have a top-of-the-line $10,000 camera, your photos aren’t going to be spectacular if you don’t know how to use it.
And I don’t mean pressing the shutter — I mean things like:
- Learning how to shoot in manual mode
- How to expose images properly
- Framing shots for maximum impact
- Paying attention to light & timing
- Location scouting & seeking photogenic situations
- Post-processing your images with software
You don’t become a good travel photographer because you have a nice camera. Your photography improves with practice, patience, and learning new skills.
So sure, invest in a new travel camera if you want to, but remember to invest time into learning new photography skills if you really want to create those jealousy-inducing images for your Instagram feed!
FAQ: Top Travel Camera Questions
What Cameras Do Travel Bloggers & Instagrammers Use?
While travel bloggers & Instagrammers use all kinds of different cameras, some of the most popular models are the Sony RX100 and the Sony A6500. Both are small yet super powerful with many great features.
How Do You Travel With A Nice Camera?
Great question! If you’re traveling with a nice camera, I always recommend buying insurance. Just keep in mind that popular travel insurance often only covers cameras up to $500. So if you have expensive gear, it’s worth it to pick up some professional photographer insurance, which costs about $500 a year.
What’s The Best Small Camera For Travel?
Well, I hope you learned a little bit more about the different kind of travel cameras available, and are able to choose one that fits your budget and needs.
Happy travels, and let me know which camera you decide to go with!
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READ MORE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
I hope you enjoyed my guide to the best travel cameras of 2020! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more photography articles that I recommend you read next:
Have any questions about the best travel cameras? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!