Best travel camera 2020: 10 vacation-friendly models for your holiday

Choosing the best travel camera depends on what kind of traveling you're planning to do. Want to go on safari? You’ll need a long zoom. Fancy shooting night scenes of city lit by scattered street lights and the odd shop front? A large sensor and fast lens matter more. 

But wherever you're going, the best travel cameras won't weigh you down – so we've picked a variety of options that offer top specifications without needing their own suitcase. Specs like large sensors, long zooms, 4K video and more.

You may read that and think, “my phone has all of that already”. But a good travel camera can offer better image quality, far greater compositional flexibility and much better manual control. Or, in many cases, all three. 

The first thing you’ll likely want to think about is the type of camera you’re willing to take on your travels. For many, a bulky DSLR or mirrorless camera will be too much hassle, making a long zoom premium compact camera the obvious choice. On the other hand, if you really want your shots to stand out, packing something versatile – but still – makes a lot of sense. 

In this guide, we’ll select a few different kinds of camera that are just perfect for your next vacation. Whether you want to travel as light as possible, or you don’t mind having a little more to carry around, we’ve got you covered here.

Best travel cameras 2020 at a glance:

  1. Panasonic Lumix ZS200 / TZ200 
  2. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III
  3. Canon G5X Mark II
  4. Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
  5. Fujifilm X-T30
  6. Nikon Z50
  7. Panasonic LX100 II
  8. Nikon Z6
  9. Canon SX740
  10. Sony Cybershot RX10 IV 

Before we take a look at our best travel camera list, we wanted to highlight an alternative that is a few generations old but still packs a punch. The RX100 III from Sony is a couple of years old now and was originally selling for near $1,000/£1,000, but with the arrival of newer models (including the RX100 VII below), it's dropped massively in price. Downsides? Well, the zoom is pretty short compared to other rivals here, but otherwise there's a lot to like. There's a decent 20.1MP 1-inch sensor, a pop-up electronic viewfinder and 4K video recording, while it's packaged in a premium, metal body. Definitely worth a look if the zoom range isn't your main concern.

Best travel cameras in 2020:

With the rise of high-end compacts like the excellent Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V stealing the thunder from compact travel zooms, Panasonic's response has been to keep the camera body about the same size as its earlier ZS/TZ-series cameras but to squeeze in a much larger sensor. We saw this with the Lumix ZS100 (known as the Lumix TZ100 outside the US), and Panasonic has continued this with the newer Lumix ZS200 / TZ200. This physically larger 1in sensor enables much better image quality than would otherwise be the case, but the slight downside is that the zoom range from the lens isn't quite as extensive as some others with smaller sensors. That said, The ZS200 / TZ200 still sports a very versatile 15x zoom, while there's also a handy built-in electronic viewfinder, which makes it easier to compose images in bright light. It's a bit pricey, but this is still the best travel zoom compact camera available right now.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

Compact, versatile, capable – pick any two and you’ve got a good travel camera. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III is all three, and then some. Its weatherproof polycarbonate shell is small and light, yet handles wonderfully. It offers on-the-go photographers a raft of modes and features that guarantee great holiday snaps. And the combination of a powerful image processor, on-chip phase detection autofocus and some of the best image stabilization skills around make it an incredibly capable piece of kit to shoot with as you move. Yes, its outright image quality can’t match larger formats in trickier conditions – low-light, for example – but you’ll struggle to find a travel camera that can tick so many other boxes. Add 4K video into the mix for those roaming vlogs and you’ve got a mirrorless camera that deserves a spot in your carry-on.

What the G5X Mark II loses in zoom, it makes up for in other areas. With a wide maximum aperture throughout the focal length, this is a camera which is well-suited to a wide range of lighting conditions. Besides which, having up to 120mm (in 35mm terms) available is still pretty flexible. Elsewhere, there's a high-performing 1-inch sensor, great 4K videos and a pop-up electronic viewfinder which pairs well with the tilting LCD screen. There are undoubtedly more advanced cameras on the market, but not many combine a good range of features like this in one competitively-priced package.

Sony revolutionized premium compact cameras with the original RX100 as it was the first pocket-sized camera to feature a large 1.0-inch sensor. They were always great for travel, but thanks to a relatively limited zoom lens, were perhaps sometimes overlooked in favour of other models. Things changed when we got to the RX100 VI, which paired a much longer lens than ever before – and now we've seen some refinement of the model for the latest, the RX100 VII. The sacrifice for making the lens longer is losing the super wide aperture of previous generations, but if you're mainly going to be shooting in sunny climes, it may not be such a big deal. There's also a heck of a lot of power under the hood of the RX100 VII. It houses features that you might not ever use, such as a ridiculous 90fps burst mode, as well as those that are more commonplace, such as 4K video. The big downside of this model is its super-high asking price, but if you want the best of the best for your travels – it could just be the one for you. If your budget doesn't quite stretch to the asking price of the RX100 VII, take a look at older models throughout the range for better prices.

Fujifilm X-T30

For those happy to tote a compact system camera, the Fujifilm X-T30 is one of our favourites, and one which makes a heck of a lot of sense as a travel camera. Distilling many of the best elements of its older, bigger and more expensive brother, the X-T3 into a pleasingly small form, the X-T30 will help you get gorgeous shots while also looking gorgeous itself. There's lots of great lenses available for the Fuji X system, so you'll be spoiled for choice there, while 4K video recording, a tilting touch-sensitive screen and a high-resolution EVF help to round out the spec sheet.

Nikon Z50

The Nikon Z50 is a great option if you like Nikon and are after your first 'proper' camera. It works well as a travel camera and has a very comfortable button layout. The 3.2-inch screen can also flip underneath the body to compose selfies of an altogether higher class, although it and the tripod mount compete for space. At this point, not many lenses have been made specifically for the Z50’s DX format, but the range will naturally grow larger over time, and you can use those made for the full-frame Nikons too. We prefer the Sony A6500 for high-speed action shooting, but this is a good-value camera and generally a joy to use. 

Panasonic LX100 II

The first LX100 camera arrived way back in 2014 and was notable for its use of a large Micro Four Thirds sensor in a compact camera frame. There’s still no worry about getting sucked into a wallet-draining well of lens-buying in this second-gen version, and the high-quality 24-75mm glass will do the job for most scenarios, bar a safari. Handy travel-friendly changes in the second generation LX100 include Bluetooth, USB charging and quickie monochrome filter modes. Its sensor is also higher resolution than the original, with a 21.77MP chip that ends up with 17 megapixels after applying the crop the camera uses for stills. It's no point-and-shoot camera, but if you need a big sensor in a small body, this is one of the best around.

When it comes to the best possible image quality, full-frame is what you need. Time was that full-frame cameras were packed inside huge bodies which were decidedly unfriendly for travel. While Sony did a huge amount to change that with its Alpha range of mirrorless cameras, it's the Nikon Z6 which we'd recommend as a perfect all rounder. Despite being the bulkiest on this page, it's still conveniently sized for travel and gives you all the benefits of travelling with a full-frame sensor. There's also 12fps shooting, 4K video, a tilting touchscreen and a beautiful high resolution viewfinder. Although still fairly limited, the native lenses available for the Z range are rapidly expanding – the 24-70mm f/4 lens is the ideal travelling partner. If you want to make things even smaller, also consider the brand new APS-C Nikon Z50, which also has smaller lenses to pair with it.

The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS is something of a tale of two halves. The good news is that it exhibits a fine build and is generally pleasing to use, with good response across most aspects of operation. If you want a no-nonsense camera with a broad zoom range, and most of the decision-making left to it, the SX740 HS may just be what you’re after. The flipside of this is that it's missing a few features which are becoming the norm elsewhere – there's no touch-operation, no option to move the focusing point, no electronic viewfinder, nor raw shooting. Still, if the ability to zoom is your main concern, you won't find anything longer than this.

Sony RX10 IV

In terms of offering something for everybody, the RX10 IV ticks a lot of boxes. It's like having a bag full of lenses, but with the benefit of never having to change them. There's a very long zoom, while the maximum aperture is pretty wide throughout the lens. The sensor might not be as a large as the ones you'll find on a DSLR/CSC, but Sony's 20.1MP one-inch device has proven itself to be very capable regardless. You also get 24fps shooting, cracking 4K video quality and handling to rival a DSLR. The major downside? The high price – if your budget is tighter, don't forget about this camera's predecessor, the RX10 III.

Honorary mentions

These cameras are slightly different to the more traditional models in our list – if your main priority is waterproofing or video quality, then the Olympus TG-6 and GoPro Hero 8 Black are well worth considering:

Olympus TG-6

Not all holidays and stretches of travel are all about capturing wide-angle vistas and subjects in the distance. For some photographers, having a camera that can withstand being dropped, knocked, splashed or frozen would be more appropriate, and that's precisely what the Olympus TG-6 offers. In addition to its rugged credentials, the camera offers 4K video recording, built-in Wi-Fi and a ring of LED lights around its lens to throw plenty of light on close-up subjects. There's even the option to capture raw files.

Hero 8 Black

If video quality is your main priority in a travel camera, then it's well worth considering GoPro's latest flagship. The Hero 8 Black uses the same sensor and a similar lens arrangement to the previous Hero 7 Black, but there are some fairly significant changes here. The camera now has built-in mount fingers, so a shell is no longer needed. Video stabilization is also much improved and you can use the Hypersmooth judder-buster in all modes. If you're doing something really extreme, a new Boost stabilization feature crops further into the view for even more effective smoothing. 

How to choose the best travel camera for you

Need a bit more guidance on how to decide the right type of travel camera? Have a think about the following options:

Travel Zoom Compact

These small pocket-friendly cameras give you great scope for shooting lots of different kinds of subject, with a zoom lens that gets you close to the action, as well as giving you the opportunity to shoot nice and wide. The trade off for having all of this in a neat compact size is generally a smaller sensor which is less useful for shooting in low light. 

Premium Compact 

If you want to stay pocket friendly, but you’re happy to lose the ultra long zoom, think about a premium compact. These generally pack a one-inch sensor for better image quality, but will normally have a shorter zoom. Some may give you both – but you’ll pay a very high price for it. 

Bridge Camera

A bulkier option than a standard compact camera, but with better scope for zooming, a bridge camera is also ideal for those who like more intuitive and comfortable handling. They’ll usually have a solid grip, decent electronic viewfinder and a flexible screen. You get many of the benefits of having a bag full of lenses, but without the extra luggage.

Mirrorless / Compact System Camera 

This is the option if you want the best possible image quality and you’re prepared for a little bit of hassle. With lots of different lenses to choose from, you can pack different optics depending on the type of trip you’re on, or pack a good all-round lens and not worry too much about swapping optics. You’ll have the best possible handling, too as well as plenty of advanced options. 

Many of the current compact system cameras on the market have been specifically designed with travel in mind – and are as small as possible. We’ve included some of the best options here.

If you’re still unsure about which kind of camera you need, check our step-by-step guide: What camera should I buy? Alternatively, if you’re going to be by the pool or on the beach, you might want something a bit more rugged – in which case, take a look at our best waterproof camera and best action camera guides.

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