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.
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
Quick Answer: Best Travel Cameras Of 2021
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
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 & Instagram photos!
2. Canon G7X III – Travel Vlogging Camera
The Canon G7 X III 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.
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.
Best Mirrorless Travel Cameras
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. A smaller camera allows you to pack more lens options into your camera backpack.
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 additional 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.
And the new Sony A7C is an even smaller version of the Sony A7, which might be ideal if you’re looking for the smallest Full Frame travel camera option.
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.
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!
Best Action Cameras For Travel
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!
2. DJI Osmo Action – Budget Action Camera
While GoPro generally controls the adventure travel camera market the DJI Osmo Action is a solid alternative that’s significantly cheaper as well. The features are nearly identical, including 4K video at 60 fps, dual screens, and voice control.
The Osmo Action 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 Osmo Action is a decent budget alternative.
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.
Best Smartphones For Photography
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…
1. iPhone 13 Pro
Smartphone cameras are continuing to eat into the camera market share and the new iPhone 13 Pro is one of the best on the market. With THREE dedicated lenses built-in: Ultra-Wide 13mm f/1.8, wide 26mm f/1.5, and telephoto 77mm f/2.8 — you have a variety of viewing angles to choose from.
The out-of-focus areas are surprisingly well rendered; it is 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. It’s a super powerful travel camera in your pocket.
2. Google Pixel 5a
Google’s new Pixel 5a 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. The phone has a powerful 12.2 MP Duel Pixel lens at f/1.7, as well as a 16 MP Ultra Wide lens at f/2.2.
Best Camera Lenses For Traveling
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.
To keep things easy, I’d recommend just one lens at first. Something with a decent focal range, like 18-55mm or 28-70mm. Because I’m a Sony guy, I’d pick up the 24-70mm F4 or the 24-70mm F2.8.
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
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.
If you REALLY want to travel with a drone, I’d recommend the DJI Mavic Mini for beginners. It’s tiny, pretty affordable, and very easy to use.
If you eventually want to make money from your drone photography, and have a larger budget, than you’ll completely fall in love with the small DJI Mavic Air 2.
Which Travel Cameras Do I Use?
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 10 years ago, all I used was a Canon 7D and a GoPro Hero.
My Current Camera Collection
- Sony A7R III – My main travel camera.
- Sony RX100 – This is my backup camera.
- GoPro Hero 9 – Action camera for extreme sports.
- DJI Mavic Air 2 – Drone for aerial photography & video.
The camera backpack I use is called a Peak Design Travel Backpack. It has room for a 13″+ laptop, jacket, and incredibly fits all 4 travel cameras, lenses & some accessories if I need it to — perfect as an airplane carry-on and day hikes with my camera gear.
But I’ve owned a lot of camera backpacks over the years, and every photographer will have different requirements. Here’s a review of some of my favorite camera backpacks for hiking & travel.
How To Improve Your Travel Photography
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
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 model you decide to pick for your next vacation! ★