Photography / Buying Guide

12 Portable Cameras for Travel Photography

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When it comes to choosing a main go-to camera, most pros and serious enthusiasts still gravitate to full-frame, pro-caliber DSLRs. But when you’re traveling, hiking, or simply enjoying your vacation, the prospect of toting a top-tier DSLR outfit can be daunting. Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue and there is now a wide variety of more compact, lightweight, travel-friendly cameras that deliver outstanding image quality and shooting performance in far more convenient form factors. They’re also less intimidating when you’re taking photos of the local people you may encounter.

Travel-friendly camera types:

  1. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras that provide the essential DSLR shooting experience, thanks to hi-res electronic viewfinders (EVFs) and full feature sets, including ultra-fast, precise hybrid AF systems that provide continuous AF and focus tracking.
     
  2. Handy all-in-one zoom cameras that deliver a fetching combination of a sleek form factor, wide-to-telephoto focal lengths, and fast apertures optimized for capturing shallow-depth-of-field effects and shooting in low light.
     
  3. Unique cameras that offer many of the capabilities listed above, but add their own distinctive style, and features that push the design envelope. While the 12 cool cameras featured below don’t constitute an exhaustive list, they’ll definitely give you a head start in choosing those models that best suit your shooting style when you’re on the move.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II: This upgraded upper-tier Micro-Four-Thirds-system camera retains that classic “downsized DSLR” look, but its real-world performance has been enhanced, thanks to an upgraded 16.1MP Live MOS image sensor, coupled to a TruePic VII processor that provides increased responsiveness, enhanced image quality, improved 81-zone AF performance, and better imaging at high ISOs. It also has a larger, wider-view, higher magnification, 2,260k-dot EVF; a 3.0-inch 1,037k-dot vari-angle touchscreen OLED monitor; and an innovative five-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system claimed to deliver a five-stop advantage in capturing shake-free images when shooting stills or 1920 x 1080 full HD video handheld. It can also shoot full-res bursts with AF at up to 10 fps, has built-in Wi-Fi for sharing and remote camera control, sensitivity to ISO 25600, plus a full range of built-in Art filters.

Nikon 1 J5: This stylish, compact fifth-generation Nikon 1 mirrorless camera employs an upgraded 20.8MP CX format CMOS sensor plus an enhanced EXPEED 5A image processor that improves speed and responsiveness, provides better high-ISO performance with settings to ISO 12800, Movie Electronic Vibration Reduction for smooth shake-free video capture, full HD 1080p video recording at 60 fps (120 fps slo-mo at 720p), and a full-res 20 fps burst rate for 40 frames with full-time AF. It also sports a new 3.0-inch 1,037-dot tilting touchscreen LCD, has built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, and an upgraded hybrid AF system with 105 phase-detection and 171 contrast-detection AF points designed to enhance AF speed and accuracy in any light. Other features: High ISO Noise Reduction that combines four separate images, Active D-Lighting, Creative Modes plus Glamour Retouch mode.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4: This brilliant top-of-the-line Micro Four Thirds camera provides the DSLR shooting experience and form factor, along with 4K 4096 x 2160 video capture at 24 fps, UHD 4K capture at 30/24 fps, and full HD up to 60 fps. It features a 16.05MP Digital Live MOS Sensor coupled to a cutting-edge 4-CPU Venus Engine image processor, enabling the GH4 to achieve a full-res burst rate up to an impressive 40 fps. It also features a 2,359k-dot touchscreen monitor, and a high-speed 49-point AF system. Other features: Pinpoint AF, Auto HDR, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, 3 Slow Motion video modes, a revised button layout to enhance the user interface, and a tough, lightweight, weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body.

Samsung NX1: Samsung’s sleek, top-of-the-line NX-mount model offers a combination of understated DSLR styling plus an impressive high-performance feature set. It provides a hi-res 28.2MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced DRIMe V image processor, a 3.0-inch 1,036k-dot AMOLED tilting touchscreen, and an ultra-high-res 2,360k-dot XGA OLED EVF. Biggest news: It can capture 4K video at 24 fps, UHD Video at 24 fps, and has a maximum full-res burst rate of 15 fps complete with AF! The NX1 also features a new Advanced Hybrid AF system that uses 205 phase-detection points and 209 contrast-detection points, dual-channel Wi-Fi and NFC to connect with smartphones and other devices, and ISO settings from 100-25600.

Fujifilm X-T1: This rugged, DSLR-style mirrorless camera is the flagship of Fuji’s impressive X-series. It features Fujifilm’s proprietary 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor, claimed to deliver superior image quality and lower noise, and it’s coupled to an advanced EXR Processor II that delivers a continuous burst rate up to 8 fps and full HD 1080p video capture at 60 fps. The X-T1 also provides a 2,360k-dot 0.77x OLED EVF and a tilting 3.0-inch 1,040k-dot LCD monitor, Intelligent Hybrid AF that combines contrast- and phase-detection sensors in a 49-point matrix for enhanced AF performance, and has a Focus Peaking display for precise focus assessment and enhanced manual focus capability. Other features: built-in Wi-Fi, a sensitivity range from ISO 100-51200, and weather-resistant body construction.

Sony Alpha a6000: The a6000 takes the performance parameters of the travel-sized mirrorless breed up a few notches with 179 on-sensor phase-detect AF points, 25 contrast-detection points, full-time AF when shooting video, a 3.0-inch 921k-dot tilting LCD and Tru-Finder 1,440k-dot OLED EVF. Other features: an APS-C-format 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS Sensor, a high-tech BIONZ X image processor that enhances speed and provides ISO settings up to 25600, a maximum full-res shooting rate of up to 11 fps in continuous high mode, and full HD 1080p video at 60 fps or cinematic 24 fps.

Olympus Stylus 1s: This gorgeous, retro-styled camera resembles an ultra-compact DSLR, and sports a fast 10.7X, 28-300mm equivalent zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture for achieving shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh. It employs a 12MP 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor and can capture images in raw, as well as JPEG formats; has a 3.0-inch, 1.04m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD that enables focus point selection and shutter firing by touch; an excellent EVF that presents a bright, clear, high-resolution 1,440k-dot image at high magnification; and an eye sensor that automatically transfers the viewing image. An advanced Olympus TruePic VI enables the camera to deliver crisp images at up to ISO 12800, along with fast, responsive AF; short shutter-lag times; a 7 fps full-res burst rate for up to 25 exposures; and full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps. A clever hybrid control ring around the lens varies the function settings with the mode in use. Other features: built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, a hybrid control ring for settings adjustment, and an efficient image stabilization system to reduce the appearance of camera shake. In short, the Olympus Stylus 1s is a delightful camera with an elegant form factor that’s a lot of fun to shoot with, and it’s definitely capable of delivering outstanding performance in its class.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II: One of the more recent iterations in Canon’s iconic G-series of travel-friendly, self-contained, high-performance cameras aimed at pros and serious shooters. A ruggedly handsome camera, it features a big 1.5-inch 12.8MP CMOS sensor coupled to a cutting-edge DIGIC 6 image processor that delivers enhanced speed and imaging performance and a full-res continuous burst rate of 5.2 fps. Its fast Canon 5x f/2-3.9 optical zoom lens provides an equivalent focal-length range of 24-120mm and employs a 9-blade diaphragm for smooth transitions and beautiful bokeh, plus an Optical Image Stabilizer to ensure sharp handheld shots. Other key features: a 3.0-inch 1,040k-dot tilting touchscreen LCD; dual lens control rings; built-in Wi-Fi connectivity plus NFC; raw image capture in both 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratios; full HD 1080p video at 30 fps; in-camera HDR; a 31-point AF system with peaking display in MF mode; and an extensive range of built-in effects modes including Art Bold, Art Vivid, Art Standard, and Art Embossed.

Nikon COOLPIX P7800: Sporting a cool, rounded-edge, minimalist form factor, the sleekly ergonomic P7800 incorporates a 12.2MP 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced EXPEED C2 image processor that enhances operating speed and overall imaging performance, especially at high ISO settings, and enables a full-res burst rate of 8 fps and full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps. Its 7.1x zoom, 28-300mm equivalent Nikkor lens has a fast maximum aperture of f/2-4, a 7-blade diaphragm, and incorporates a built-in 0.9 (3-stop) ND filter for greater control over movement rendition and selective focus. Other key features: a 3.0-inch 921k-dot Vari-Angle LCD monitor that can swivel up to 180 degrees laterally and tilt up to 270 degrees backward and forward for high- and low-angle shooting; a 921k-dot electronic viewfinder; lens-shift VR image stabilization for crisp handheld imaging; full manual control options; plus raw file support. The P7800 is also compatible with Nikon’s WU-1a Wireless Adapter and GP-1A GPS Unit.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX-100 IV: What makes this sleek minimalist camera unique is that it packs a unique high-performance feature set, including a large 1-inch 20.1MP Exmor BSI CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced BIONZ X image processor, into an amazingly slim, compact form factor. What sets it apart is its signature 2,349k-dot Tru-Finder OLED EVF that pops up from the body to give it eye-level viewing capability. It’s backed up with a full-size 3.0-inch 1,229k-dot multi-angle Xtra Fine LCD that can show slow-motion video captured at an astonishing 960 fps. The RX-100 IV incorporates a fast Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm-equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, provides a continuous full-res burst rate of 16 fps and ISO settings to 12800, and can capture UHD 4K video clips, as well as full HD 1080p movies. Other features: built-in 0.9 ND filter; Super-Speed Anti-Distortion Electronic Shutter with speeds to 1/32,000-second; and built in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, enabling instant sharing and Smart Remote Control.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1046766-REG/leica_18181_t_digital_camera_silver.html

Leica T: This classically styled minimalist mirrorless camera from Leica is beautifully made and gorgeously finished (in traditional black or striking silver) as you would expect, and it lacks the usual array of buttons and dials, being controlled entirely via the big 3.7-inch 1.3m-dot TFT touchscreen LCD. It incorporates a 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor, an advanced contrast-detection AF system, and it can capture full HD 1080p video at 30 fps and shoot continuous full-res images at up to 5 fps. Its robust body is built on a solid unibody design, precision machined from a single piece of aluminum! It also has a powerful built-in flash, 16GB of internal memory, Wi-Fi connectivity for easy sharing and remote operation, and it comes with a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Among the chief attractions of this camera are the legendary Leica lenses designed for it, ranging from the Super Vario Elmar-T 18-23mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. to the APO-Vario Elmar-T 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. Standard prime lens is the Summicron-T 24mm f/2 ASPH.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1158515-REG/panasonic_dmc_cm1_lumix_16gb_unlckd_camera_phone_blk_slv.html

Panasonic Lumix DNC-CM1P: This remarkably adept pocket-sized slim-line device combines a high-performance digital camera with a 1-inch 20.1MP CMOS sensor, and a state-of-the-art smartphone. The phone, which uses the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system, is carrier unlocked and will work with most GSM carriers, but a service plan and SIM card must be purchased separately. The camera features a Venus Engine image processor; a high-quality Leica DC Elmarit 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens; provides raw image capture; UHD 4K video recording at up to 15 fps; and full HD 1080p video at 30 fps. Other features: A handy control ring on the lens lets you access manual controls, setting modes, and focus; a large well-placed shutter button; 23-point AF system; focus peaking and MF assist; GSM/4G LTE wireless connectivity; Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 for fast charging; a large 4.7-inch TFT LCD touchscreen; and a selfie-friendly, front-facing 1.1MP camera.

86 Comments

Hi!

I have no idea about cameras so please bear with me. I'd like to know what the best cameras are, or ones you can recommend for everyday use? Definitely should be portable. Just for travel, portraits and every day things. 

Thanks! Hoping to hear from you guys :)

An article on portable cameras but no mention of their weight. !

That's all you got from this article?

Yes, well Lance has a good point. The article was about the top, lightweight travel cameras. Of course knowing how much they weigh, is very important. Maybe not to you but to Lance. 

My girlfriend and I are planning on a series of trips around the world soon, and I'm planning to get her a camera as an anniversary/pre-travelling gift. What would you recommend? The number of great cameras out there overwhelms me so much that I'm seeking for experts' advice.

Easy to carry, budget from $500-$1300

Hope you guys can help me out on this! Cheers!

Below are links to a few recommended options that will definitely serve as suitable travel cameras for your girlfriend and yourself.

Fuji X100T:  http://bhpho.to/1tYBe3d

Sony A6000:  http://bhpho.to/MOMpsO

Panasonic LX100: http://bhpho.to/1sisujF

Fuji X30:  http://bhpho.to/VT6677

Canon EOS M3:  http://bhpho.to/1MUEcRE

I would like to know why no come nor info to read about aPentax K-3

Reading Josh Taylor vision about 12 Portable Cameras for Travel Photography I wonder why all strong, tough & all weather cameras are not mentioned. Olympus Tough-3, Nikon 1-AW-1 and so much more brands. It depends how you want to travel. Dust, Water, Ice proof?? Pocket-handy? Yes I am not Pro. But my TG! !! worked well in Canada. Here in the Philippines I use my Panasonic DMC-GX7. It is just what you prefer. Greetings, Petrusr de Ruijter 

Thanks Petrus de Ruijter, you are preaching to the choir with me. I love "tough" point and shoots and mentioned them at length in this article. I am also finishing up a hands-on review in which I took three tough cam models with me to Mexico and ran them through their paces. Keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks on explora.

This! article.

What are your thoughts on the new Canon G3?  Great versatility with the lens and other features, but a bit large.

I have been a G series fan and user for a long time (currently shooting the G1 X) and it does have some pretty great features. However, and to be very clear, I have yet to try the G3 X, but I am not such a fan of long lenses on compact cameras, kinda defeats the purpose. It's also a style choice but I think for the few times I would zoom to 600mm equivalent, I would prefer to use a DSLR. I am sure image quality is very good and having the long zoom as an available option clearly has its benefits. More important though, Iet's hear from anyone out there who has used the G3 X....    Thanks for the comment Pete

I mostly shoot with heavy Nikon DSLRs for work, but wanted somthing lightweight for travel that would give me the same hi quality images. After speaking with other pros and fine art photographers, I purchased the Fuji X-Pro 1, X-E2 and some hi end lenses. At first, the X-E2 felt a little cheap, until I mounted their hi-quality 18-135 zoom lens. This combination has been a wonderful all around 1 lens travel camera that gives you the range of 27mm - 202mm. Being an industrial and architectural photographer, I use my 10-24mm. But, if you only want to cary one lens, the 18-135 and the X-E2 is a nice combination. Battery life is not great, so extra batteries are a must to carry.        

Great comment thephotomaker!  Thanks for the input.

Canon SL1 with EF-S 24mm pancake, 60mm EF-S macro and Zippo lighter is all you need. 
(I don't smoke but I find that some times  good looking do)

Thanks Deryl...this writer agrees with your choice....but be careful with that Zippo! 

I agree that these remarks simpy regurgiatate what the manufacturers marketers have provided. Consequently I glossed over them without much analysis at all. I put as much effort into reading aswas done for the production.

If you're going to do this add a spread sheet with side by side comparsion of features and price and value for money. Oh and if these are for travel photography I think these days GPS is almost mandatory. Saves taking notes and photos of signs and much easier to drop into maps in Lightroom

I'm very careful about where I use GPS. Sure, it's nice to tag your photos with the precise location where they were taken. BUT, government authorities in some countries take a dim view of people photographing near sensitive locations...military installations, public utililities, airports, harbors, rail yards, etc. And the most innocuous photos might result in interviews with any number of law enforcement or governmental agencies.

Sony RX1R nedds to be at the top of this list.  Zeiss 35mm optics at fulf frame, magic!

Surprising the lack of bridge cameras, such as the Lumix FZ1000. Size of a 4/3rds or small dslr with 25-400 zooming in raw and 1600 in jpeg Lica branded lens that is pretty fast (2.8-4.0). With 4k video, it's a grab your kit and go and have all phographic situations covered. When traveling that's what I want.

Long zoom point and shoots or "Bridge" cameras definitely have the versatility advantage. Take a look at this article for some examples and wow -- more Panasonic recommendations! Thanks GeezerMike.

I find the Sony RX1 to be a superb travel camera. It is full frame and the image quality is second to none. It lacks an inbuilt viewfinder and you will need to carry a second battery but that is a small compromise for the brilliant photos this camera can take

Undoubtedly a great camera. Thanks Michael.

 We just returned from the Arctic Circle photographing Narwahl whales beluga whales and polar bears.  we were a group of 11 and all the other Nikon and Canon cameras were having problems because of the cold but my three Sony cameras just kept right on going awesome under  severe weather conditions   

Donna: Thanks for that interesting feedback and to be sure, exteme conditions call for a more careful examination of the gear you will bring. However, I have shot in sub-freezing temps with my Nikon DSLRs without a glitch. Just be sure to keep your batteries warm. Check out Todd's infographic piece on Cold-Weather Photography

Recently came back from a 10-day trip. I took a Leica M-E with a 35/2.8 Zeiss Biogon, 50/1.4 Lux and a CV 21/4. A Fuji X100 was taken primarily as a backup. I also took a Ricoh GR. It's so small as to inconsequential to take along. The M-E with the 35 was used 90% of the time, but I wound up with keeper images from every lens and both other bodies. 

Nice gear selection, but for the cost of that kit you could have hired a professional photographer to come along and take the pictures for you.

It all depends what you would like to do with the pictures you take during your trip. If you just want to demonstrate to your friends that you were here and there, then a smartphone with its tiny sensor would do it. But if you also want to be proud of your pictures and enlarge some of them, then you would need any of the cameras in the article.

As a seasoned international traveller who has tried a variety of cameras on different trips, I have settled on lugging my Pentax DSLR (with the weather seal feature on the camera and lens) for daytime use (there is still nothing like a full size IMO) and my pocketsize Sony RX 100 for nights walking around, use in restaurants, etc. as well as daytime adventures when the full size would just be too much.  I also think the two cameras provide great backup if something should happen to one of them.  I manage to fit everything in a smallish Tamrac bag.

Agree with Pentax.  I've only used Pentax cameras   .  One time trips call for a good DSLR camera.  As for a back up camera, I've found the new phone cameras serve that purpose well enough.  

Thanks Deborah...good combination and yes, I tend to want two types of cameras with me on vacation too. The more casual camera I take to dinner or breakfast strolls but want it to be able to catch good moments and serve in low light.  The RX100 series certainly do.

There are 3 cleasses of cameras shown with the Olympus E-M5 Mark II having an electronic viewfinder that can be used like a normal SLR camera for selecting the focus point and shooting, but requiring the addition of lenses, and ones that have an integrated zoom lens. The Olympus has pro level f2.8 constant aperture lenses which provide far better image qualtiy but at t cost of thousands of dollars.

The Olympus is the only one of the cameras mentioned that I would want to use 100% of the time, at home, traveling localling, and traveling overseas. The Olympus MFT kit will be half the bulk, half the weight, and half the cost of a standard DSLR camera with its lenses. This camera also produces files at ISO 12,800 that are good enough to be made into prints.

GPS integration is great for automatically geotagging travel pictures and only the one Nikon camera mentioned has this capability. With the others the users will have to try to do this in post processing by combining the information from a separate data logger used at the same time as the camera.

The Nikon, Canon, and Sony have integrated zoom lenses that are fast enough for low light and indoor use without flash and I would select from these cameras for this reason alone if looking for a backup camera to my DSLR.

Thanks Bruce.

Does the Nikon Coolpix P7800 have a viewfinder?

Yes, the Nikon Coolpix P7800 Digital Camera has both an electronic viewfinder and an 3" LCD screen.

Hello everyone, well i will write about my point of view and my case why i choose DSLR instead of mirrorless or similar. Remember that is my case and my situation when i travel, im not saying if one is better then other just put my pov for your guys before buy something, see some alternatives.

1) Most mirrorless are too expensives, of course there are some about 500 dollars but in my opinion doesn't worth the price.
2) Battery life, for me this is a problem (again, of course ther are good mirrorless with good battery life but check the price, for me too expensive)

So, regarding this what i did? Considering the money vs benefits I bought an Iphone 6 with 128gb and Canon EOS 70D with 18-135mm + 50mm Lens and im very satisfied with that combination because i can take good photos near, far, landscape, fast, slow with good or low light conditions. EOS 70D is a great camera too take photos and for movies with live view the camera are very good and the battery life is exceptionally great.

Ok i dont have 4K but for me this is not important. So that is my point of view, i hope i could help you guys

Regards,

Leonardo Bissoli.

Thanks Leonardo, that is the kind of comment I like!  We all have set-ups that work for us and you have found a combination that serves you well, thanks for sharing. Also, you bring up the important point of battery life...nothing worse than running out of battery power as golden hour arrives and you approach the last, best tour attraction of the day.  

I have  found the Panasonic DMC-ZS20  to be an excellent pocket-sized  camera. Excellent images, equivalent 24-240mm  zoom, and built in GPS.   I  now leave my  Nikon DSLR at home when I travel.  I  bring along another DCM-ZS20 as a back-up, just in case.   Current model  is  ZS-50 with even more features including WiFi. $400. 

I agree that the ZS series make nice travel cameras.I traveled this summer with a ZS-40 and enjoyed it. A very useful viewfinder, big zoom range, and reliable results. It's small enough to tuck into a leg pocket of cargo shorts comfortably. I got some terrific macro shots of flowers, bees and butterflies, and nice landscape shots. Easy camera to use but very capable. I've heard good things about the ZS-50.

Panasonic is rocking the comment section!! Thanks for the input Bob and Joe.

This is a sad article, meanders all over the place and is so painfully evident paid content. The same article that has some small little cameras that can be packed away can't have huge cameras (albeit mirrorless) who can't be packed easily away. It seems to be more of a catch-all than a real honest-to-goodness POV on what to take when travelling.

+1. It reads like copy provided by the manufacturers.

MSA and Allen p: Thank you for the feedback. Your points are well-taken, but I can assure you that our articles are not copy provided by manufacturers. We are always striving to be better and provide info that we feel will serve all of our customers. Perhaps this article on "Cameras for Vacation" will be more to your liking. It throws the net wide but I hope also offers some insight into the many and varied choices available.

The best camera in the world is the one you have with you. That's why I love the Lumix GM for travel. With a 20mm 'pancake' it is a p&s sized pocketable, light and strong with magnesium alloy frame. I prefer the remarkable 12-32 micro zoom as a versatile travel solution. I have put many miles on the previous GM1. The new GM5 adds a high-res e-viewfinder. A couple of words of caution: the camera body can take a beating but the super-light 12-32 is more delicate - care must be taken. Secondly, you might be enticed into dragging along one of the 4/3 super-zooms. Works great...and completely defeats the portability purpose.

Thanks pd...good advice and the GM5 is a wonderful and very compact mirrorless but your point is important, the portability of a mirrorless camera is dependent on your lens choices.

Should have included Oly EPL-5 series.  

I would like to see a grouping of good compact or pocket cameras that have good viewfinders. I always feel if I am holding the camera out at arms length I am defeting having a good camera. 

The GH4 is Panasonic's top of the line. Also worth considering is the new G7 which is substantially less expensive but is surprisingly capable. At least you owe it to yourself to find a G7 review if you are considering one of the mirrorless "DSLR style" cameras shown above.

I think these travel cameras should be more affordable not the high end cameras. Other than the Sony a6000 a lot are big buck buddies

Thanks Joseph, the Lumix DMC-G7 is well worth the consideration.

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