One of the most tempting times to invest in a new camera is just before you head off on a big trip abroad.
Whether you’re looking for a pocketable smartphone upgrade or a way to upgrade your travel photography, there are lots of cameras that are built specifically for life on the road.
For the time being, Sony’s Cyber-shot RX10 IV is the best overall travel camera you can buy. If you’re looking for a camera that’s a little less costly, or don’t want to worry about carrying an expensive camera on your travels, the Panasonic GX800 is the best-value travel camera you can throw into your holiday suitcase.
We test for colour, since different sensor and camera image processors can interpret colour differently, as well as shifting at different ISO sensitivities. We then get down to the nitty-gritty of resolution, with our lab tests showing us exactly how much detail each camera’s sensor can resolve.
Even though cameras can share identical pixel counts, some perform better than others. Then we look at image noise, since different cameras can produce cleaner images at higher ISOs than others.
Finally, we get out and shoot with every camera in real-world conditions, just as you will, to find out how it will perform in day-to-day use. All results are analysed by the very best industry software, making our reviews the most authoritative of any you’ll read.
Canon Powershot SX740 HS
- 40x optical zoom
- Largely accurate autofocus
- Good photo quality in daytime
- Shoots 4K video at 30fps
- Small sensor restricts low light performance
- No option to shoot in Raw
- Screen isn’t touch-sensitive
Smartphones have caught up with compact cameras in lots of ways, but one thing they can’t offer is 40x optical zoom – and that’s what makes the Canon SX740 such a fine travel camera.
Not that it’s just a basic, pocket-friendly camera with a big zoom clamped on the front. The SX740 is packed with lots of handy features, including five-axis image stabilisation, 4K video recording and the ability to fire off stills at 10fps.
Its performance largely matches this features list too, with generally speedy autofocus and vibrant stills, at least when you’re shooting in good light. The SX740’s one major downside is that its 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor struggles a little in lower light, with a slight of lack of detail and a little smudginess in places.
Unless you’re willing to splash out a little more on a compact with a one-inch sensor, like the Panasonic TZ200 or Sony RX100 V below, that’s to be expected of a compact camera at this level, and the SX740 otherwise does more than enough to justify its price tag and its status as one of the most versatile travel compacts you can buy.
Panasonic Lumix TZ200
- Stellar zoom range
- Respectable image quality
- Very usable electronic viewfinder
- Good grip in the hand
- Effective image stabilisation
- Average JPEG quality
- Rear LCD doesn’t tilt
- Controls don’t suit viewfinder shooting
- Slow maximum-aperture zoom is soft at telephoto
Panasonic essentially invented the ‘big zoom, small body’ travel camera – and the TZ200 takes things to another level. Following 2016’s game-changing TZ100, this 2018 update adds two major improvements: a much better electronic viewfinder and a 15x, 24-360mm equivalent zoom.
That lens is the headline feature. It’s longer than anything else you’ll find on a compact with a 1-inch sensor, providing fantastic flexibility when you’re shooting on the road. The compromise is a lower maximum aperture, down to f/3.3-6.4. Combined with a minimum aperture at all focal lengths of f/8, you get limited versatility at the far ranges of the zoom. Images are less detailed at the long end, too, and in low light you’ll have to boost ISO sooner.
Still, optical image stabilisation does well to tackle blur, and the 20.1-megapixel sensor delivers best-in-class image quality across almost all shooting conditions. The new viewfinder helps, too: it’s larger than before, with a higher 2.33m-dot resolution, and the LCD’s refresh rate makes flicker near-invisible. As a result, it’s a pleasure to shoot with.
In the hand, the TZ200 is almost identical to the TZ100, but for extra rubber on the grip, which makes it far less slippery than its predecessor. That said, the layout and small size of certain buttons is unhelpful – particularly when using the viewfinder – while the zoom control can be quite jumpy.
A true all-rounder, Panasonic’s small-aperture superzoom isn’t flawless, then, but for sheer versatility it’s hard to beat. Equipped with a raft of shooting modes and tools – including an intervalometer for time-lapse shooting and new Bluetooth functionality for remote smartphone control – there’s little the TZ200 can’t do. Add in 4K video at 30fps and respectable battery performance and you’ve got a pocket-friendly powerhouse.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V
- Small and lightweight
- Tilting screen
- Useful electronic viewfinder
- Large sensor & fast frame rate
- 4K video recording
- Very expensive
- Screen isn’t touch-sensitive
Sony’s RX100 VI is on the horizon and, on paper, promises to be a world-beating superzoom. Until it arrives in July 2018 with its new 24-200mm lens, the RX100 V remains one of our top picks in the travel category. If you prefer to shoot at closer range, it may even be preferable to the forthcoming RX100 VI.
This is no pocket-money camera, but you get an impressive spec sheet in return for your £999. Besides 4K video, there’s a 20.1-megapixel sensor, a 24-70mm lens and 24fps shooting – all in a diminutive shell that will easily slip into a jacket pocket.
Small and solid, the RX100 V feels every bit the premium compact in the hand. Controls are few but useful, with a Fn button that provides instant access to a customisable quick menu. Unlike the newer RX100 VI, the screen isn’t touch-sensitive, although the small-but-clear viewfinder – which pops up by means of a fiddly switch-and-pull process – compensates in sunny conditions.
Autofocus is one of the areas where this fifth-generation Sony excels. Fast in almost every situation, only when shooting low-contrast subjects in low-light does it noticeably slow. Tracking autofocus is more impressive, pairing with the high frame rate to offer fantastic opportunities for capturing action.
The RX100 V is a speedy camera, too, thanks to its Bionz processor. It will start-up in just a second and shot-to-shot delay is minimal. Battery life does take a hit, mind, with just 220 shots from a single charge – making a backup cell essential if you’re out all day.
In action, the wide aperture 24-70mm lens, carried over from the RX100 IV, remains stellar. Even at zoom, aperture only rises to f/2.8, helping keep ISO down and giving you flexibility in depth of field.
To top it all off, the RX100 V delivers detailed, colourful images with controlled noise and reliable exposure balance. It might be prohibitively expensive, but it’s an unrivalled package – until its successor arrives, at least.
Panasonic Lumix GX800
- Small and easy to use
- Capable of 4K Video and 4K Photo
- Cheapest Panasonic CSC around
- No viewfinder
Panasonic’s cheapest compact system camera might be simpler than its GX8 and GX80 siblings, but it’s unbeatable as an entry-level travel camera.
Closer in size to a premium compact, it’s the manufacturer’s smallest CSC and, with the 12-32mm kit lens fully retracted, it will happily slip into a large pocket. Despite that, it benefits from a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, which does without an optical low-pass filter in favour of greater detail in shots.
Although it sits at the bottom of the Panasonic lineup, you get two killer features: 4K Photo, which lets you pull stills out of 4K video shot at 30fps, and Post Focus. The former is useful for action photography, while the latter’s option to retrospectively change the point of focus is great if you’re into macro.
You won’t find too many controls on the body, which speaks of the model’s beginner status, but what’s there is grouped well and makes for easy one-handed shooting. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you want a viewfinder, though. However, in its place is a touch-sensitive, flip-up LCD that’s responsive and intuitive, making it an ideal option for those stepping up from smartphones.
Fitted with the 12-32mm kit lens, the camera starts up quickly and is largely fast and accurate. Lock-on can be a challenge in low light, but it’s otherwise reliable and tracking is reasonable, provided you’re following something predictable. Overall image quality is excellent, with warm colours and rich detail. The highest ISO levels are best avoided, but in most conditions you’ll get well-balanced results – and it’s a similar story with 4K footage.
If you’re looking for budget performance that’s a step up from your smartphone or compact, the GX800 is avery capable option. And if that viewfinder is a deal-breaker, Panasonic’s GX80 isn’t too much more expensive.
Canon G1X Mark III
- Class-leading image quality
- Excellent control layout
- Robust construction
- Lens offers little creativity
- Relatively poor battery life
- No 4K video recording
Styled like a mini-DSLR, the G1X Mark III is the ideal travel camera for those who want a more portable version of their full-size camera. With its pro-friendly controls and built-in electronic viewfinder, it’s a premium zoom camera for enthusiasts rather than beginners.
A 24-megapixel APS-C sensor is hidden in its compact shell, delivering image quality to match some DSLRs, while Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology means on-chip phase detection for rapid and accurate autofocus. Canon’s Digic 7 processor is there, too, serving up processing tricks that tackle difficult lighting conditions with aplomb.
There are limitations, though. At £1149, you’re paying a serious premium for that compact performance, while the built-in 24-72mm equivalent lens isn’t perfect, either. The range is usable enough, but its f/2.8-5.6 maximum aperture is relatively limited compared to contemporaries, restricting background blur at the business end of the zoom.
Battery is also a blight on all-day shooting, with stamina that’s good for just 200 shots on a single charge, while certain controls are laid out in an awkward way.
All of that being said, the G1X has some real highlights. One of them is the electronic viewfinder, which sits centrally above the fantastic flip-out touchscreen. A 2.36m-dot OLED unit, it’s bright, accurate and clear, and feels like the best way to shoot with the Mark III.
Canon has also made it very easy to connect the G1X to other devices. Besides Dynamic NFC and Wi-Fi, always-on Bluetooth is a real stand-out feature, letting you use your phone as a wireless remote and to fire up the Wi-Fi for advanced remote shooting.
Flaws and all, this is a remarkable camera. Squeezing an APS-C sensor and zoom lens into such a small body is no mean feat, and paired with quick autofocus and class-leading image quality, it’s up there with the best.
- Good low-light performance
- Well-rounded specification
- Solid design
- Good connectivity
- Now over four years old
- Lacks a standout feature
- LCD could be better
It pairs the speed of a Bionz-X processor with a 24.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor to deliver a shooting experience that still feels very current. And while its A6300 successor features improved autofocus, the A6000 can still lock onto a target in just 0.06 seconds. An impressive 11fps in burst mode makes it a good option for rapid action, too.
The A6000 was also the first Sony E-mount camera to carry AF-A, which allows the camera to switch focusing mode depending on the subject it detects. If a subject starts to move then it will switch to AF-C, for example. The hybrid autofocus is also adept at locking on and tracking.
In the hand it’s well-balanced, compact and comfortable, with good weight distribution and a control layout that makes one-handed operation a genuine option – although you’ll probably want to use two for viewfinder shooting.
Speaking of which, the 1.44m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder is clean, vibrant and offers a 100% field of view, while a quick refresh rate cuts out the majority of lag. The 3-inch tilting LCD, meanwhile, matches that of the older NEX-6 and works well for video, although it isn’t the best out there.
There’s no 4K here, but Full HD capture is decent enough. More impressive is still image quality, with improved noise reduction and detail reproduction technology serving up sharp, textured images – even at higher ISO levels, particularly when shooting in RAW.
Add Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity to the mix and the A6000 looks like the consummate travel companion. Yes, the A6300 and A6500 have more autofocus points, improved sensors and, in the latter, image stabilisation (you can read more about the differences in our detailed comparison). But at this price, the A6000 remains an excellent choice for travel.
GoPro Hero6 Black
- Superb electronic image stabilisation
- Impressive image quality
- Good frame rate and resolution combinations
- Waterproof to 10m without a case
- Voice controls can be a little unreliable
- Most expensive GoPro Hero to date
If you need a fully rugged travel camera that’s equally adept at video and stills, then the GoPro Hero6 Black is hard to beat. With improved frame rates, video resolution and image stabilisation from the Hero5 Black, not to mention decent still photos, it’s still the strongest choice for adventure travellers.
Almost identical in build to the Hero5 Black, the Hero6 Black remains waterproof to 10 metres without a housing. Similarly, it still carries a 2-inch touchscreen on the rear. Quality has been improved, however, with punchier colours and better responsiveness to touch. A wake-on-voice function has also been added to complement the existing voice controls, though in practice it struggles in noisy conditions.
The biggest upgrade is internal, with GoPro’s custom GP1 processor giving the Hero6 Black the power to capture footage at higher resolutions and faster frame rates. While the Hero5 Black could do 4K at 30fps, its successor can do the same at 60fps. It will do silky-smooth 1080p at 240fps, too, and even 2.7K at 120fps. In short, it’s very capable.
That custom chip has also helped to improve electronic image stabilisation and it’s now offered all the way up to 4K/30, alongside roll correction. What’s more, colour and dynamic range are better, as is auto-exposure, which is noticeable in stills as well as video.
Talking of stills, the Hero6 Black now has Full HDR for punchy colours, and there’s also RAW support if you fancy doing some post-processing. The flatter ‘Linear’ field-of-view option remains if you want more natural shots without the usual GoPro barrel-distorted look too.
Things get really smart when you plug captured footage into GoPro’s automated QuikStories app. The GP1 analyses information from the on-board sensors, as well as algorithms that can identify faces and sounds. With a bit of a machine-learning, the app is better able to make an arresting edit with no human input.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV
- Huge zoom range
- Fast, accurate autofocus
- Excellent image quality
- Screen only tilts up or down
- Lacks some expected features
- Bluetooth used for geo-tagging only
Anything that promises all-in-one performance has a lot to prove, but the original RX10 showed that adding a larger sensor to a bridge camera could achieve peerless versatility. Five years later, its fourth generation has raised the bar to staggering heights.
Sony has overhauled the internals, adding a 20.1-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor and Bionz X processor. In consequence, it’s blisteringly fast – to a degree that eclipses most DSLRs. It will shoot at 24fps with continuous autofocus, while its silent electronic shutter can deliver speeds of 1/32,000sec. That chip even has enough power to buffer 110 RAW files.
What’s more, there’s on-chip phase detection which, combined with 315 focus points, allows the camera to group points around a moving subject for supreme accuracy.
The RX10 IV’s lens has an equivalent range of 24-600mm, offering incredible versatility without switching lenses. While the maximum aperture is f.2.4-4, things do change quickly as you zoom, with f/4 your lot beyond 100mm. Still, with the ability to focus just 3cm from the front element at wide angle, it’s a very flexible setup.
Enthusiasts might rightly bemoan the lack of several features, including in-camera RAW conversion, an intervalometer and a greater variety of aspect ratios, while Bluetooth LE is limited to geo-tagging only – but the breadth of the RX10 IV’s shooting capabilities is hard to fault.
Video options are similarly comprehensive, with 4K at 25fps, along with manual exposure control, the option to re-focus while recording, and the ability to pull 8-megapixel stills from 4K footage. There’s even a limited but impressive High Frame Rate mode that can capture at up to 1000fps.
In short, the RX10 IV really is an all-in-one answer to the travel camera conundrum. It will tackle almost any situation and subject and, short of the usual 1-inch sensor noise at higher ISOs, performance is almost flawless.
Panasonic Lumix G9
- Superb design and handling
- Excellent 4K & 6K photo modes
- Good range of Micro Four Thirds lenses
- High-resolution 40MP & 80MP modes
- Positioning of AF toggle could be better
- Lacks battery percentage indication
- Burst shot mode descriptions aren’t clear
- No in-camera panoramic mode
Panasonic’s most advanced mirrorless camera to date launched in November 2017, topping both the two-year-old Lumix G7 and the capable Lumix G80. Pitched at serious stills photographers, it carries a host of tempting, series-first features that make it a cracking choice for safaris and wildlife photography.
Deploying a 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor backed up by a Venus image processor, the G9 is rapid in almost everything it does. Enable the electronic shutter and you can utilise shutter speeds of 1/32,000sec and 60fps continuous RAW shooting in AF-S mode.
Autofocus is similarly speedy, with focus acquired in 0.04 seconds in bright conditions. Only at the extremes of low lighting does it show any delay; its raft of AF modes – from pinpoint to 225-area – means it can tackle just about any shooting situation.
Image stabilisation is adept, with the G9 combining 2-axis lens stabilisation with the camera’s own 5-axis system to great effect. That system is also behind the G9’s well-executed high-resolution modes, which take just a few seconds to shoot and merge 40-megapixel or 80-megapixel compositions.
Despite its stills bent, video capture remains excellent. The G9 will do 4K at up to 60fps and smooth Full HD slow-motion at up to 180fps. You also get improved photo modes, which let you extract 8-megapixel frames from 4K footage at 30fps or 18-megapixel stills from 6K video at 3fps.
In use, both the 3680k-dot electronic viewfinder and 3-inch, 1040k-dot vari-angle screen are excellent. Notably, the EVF doesn’t black out during continuous shooting, which makes tracking that much easier.
The only real niggles are a slightly sensitive shutter button and the lack of a battery percentage indication. In reality, with such rapid shooting, focusing and processing, together with capable stabilisation and a stellar feature set, the G9 is about as good as you can get without going fully professional.
Best travel cameras buying guide – six things to look out for
Even the best screens can be hard to see in direct sunlight. If you’re heading somewhere sunny, it’s worth considering a camera with a viewfinder. Less common on budget models, viewfinders are protected from the light, so offer an unhindered shooting experience in which the image and framing can be seen clearly.
DSLR cameras often carry optical viewfinders, which give the eye an unaltered, natural image, while many premium compacts and CSCs use electronic viewfinders. These relay a bright, clear preview to a small, high-resolution display. Better EVFs can give a truer impression of what the camera will capture and are very useful at night, but less-effective variants can suffer from flickering and lag.
Unless you’re a fair-weather traveller, it makes sense to consider weather-proofing when buying a camera. Fully rugged cameras are designed to withstand knocks, drops and even immersion in water for extended periods, so you’ll want one of these if you’re going on an adventure holiday.
Most standard cameras are less extreme, but many offer a degree of weather protection. Some of the premium compacts in this list are dust- and drip-proof, which should give you peace of mind when shooting in the rain, while it’s also possible to find weather-sealed DSLRs that rely on rubber housings and seals to keep moisture out – although lenses also have to be weather-sealed for full protection.
Many cameras in this list ship with Wi-Fi built in. Use it to connect wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet and you’ll be able to transfer your latest holiday shots across for editing and sharing on the go, without a PC or cable in sight.
Certain models also offer NFC, which similarly permits contactless file transfers to NFC-enabled phones. Bluetooth, on the other hand, is generally used for controlling your camera from your phone, but not all of our picks implement it in the same way. Choose a model with a partner app and you’ll likely be able to trigger the shutter from afar for the perfect postcard selfie.
4) Dimensions vs battery life
Size is everything when it comes to travel cameras, and not all are created equal. If you’re travelling light and rucksack space is at a premium, a compact is your best bet, since these tend to be smaller and lighter, yet still versatile enough for most shooting conditions. DSLRs, on the other hand, are weightier and any extra lenses will add bulk to your bag – although image quality is the big selling point.
Compact system cameras sit somewhere in the middle, offering decent performance and the option of multiple lenses, with less heft than DSLR equipment. The flip-side is that bigger cameras tend to offer better battery life. Compacts frequently sacrifice longevity to achieve their diminutive proportions, so you’ll usually need a spare battery for all-day shooting.
5) Image stabilisation
Travel photography often involves shooting on the move, which is where image stabilisation (or IS) comes in handy. This technology reduces the effect of hand-shake or camera movement on photos.
Different manufacturers give it different names but there are essentially two types: sensor-shift, where the sensor moves to compensate for shake; and lens-shift, where the lens adjusts instead. Whichever system is used, the result is sharper shots even when the camera isn’t kept still. This is also a boon when you’re shooting at slower shutter speeds or long zoom lengths, both of which would otherwise magnify any movements.
6) 4K video
While most cameras are capable of shooting video in 720p or 1080p, only some can do so in 4K. Whether you need the added resolution depends on how you watch your videos. It’s worth bearing in mind that 4K footage takes up a lot more storage space than HD, too.
If you want to shoot video as you travel, there are several choices in this list that can deliver both high-quality stills and smooth 4K footage at 30fps. Some also give you the option of picking out individual video frames as still shots, which is useful for capturing fast action.