The Best Travel Cameras Of 2018 (And How To Choose) • Expert Vagabond
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure.
As professional travel photographer, everyone keeps asking my opinion on the best travel cameras for 2018. There are so many to choose from! Here’s what I would pick, and why.
If you’re into photography, traveling the world with a good camera can help you bring back images that will stand the test of time — memories to share with family and friends for years to come.
Amazing travel photos are some of my most treasured souvenirs!
But what’s the best travel camera for capturing these special moments on your journey? There’s no easy answer to this question. Different people will have different requirements and budgets.
My goal with this digital camera buyers guide is to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices that are out there — and pick the perfect travel camera for your next trip.
Important Travel Camera Features
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.
MANUAL SETTINGS – Photography professionals want the ability to fully control the settings of their camera so they can dial in the perfect shot in all kinds of different situations.
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.
FAST LENS – 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.
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. How much zoom you want is a personal preference.
HD/4K VIDEO – Most quality travel cameras will shoot video in HD 1080p. Some even have 4K capabilities — which honestly most people won’t need unless you’re doing professional work.
WIFI/BLUETOOTH: – Some cameras have their own wifi network, allowing you to upload your photos instantly to your computer or smartphone.
INTERCHANGEABLE LENSES – High-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, allowing you to pick the perfect lens for different situations.
WEATHERPROOFING – Will your travel camera hold up against the elements? Some cameras are better protected from moisture and dust than others.
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 loose any quality.
However a large camera sensor means the camera itself will be larger as well.
What Kind Of Photography?
When choosing the best travel camera for your needs, you must define what those needs are. Different cameras have strengths and weaknesses depending on what you’re using them for.
Are you looking for portability? Weatherproofing & ruggedness? Professional high-end image quality? Something reasonably priced? Are you going to be shooting more landscapes, wildlife, adventure activities, or people?
You often can’t have it all when it comes to travel cameras.
Keep reading below to learn the pros & cons for each type of camera, and which types of travel photography they work best for.
Travel Camera Comparisons
Point & Shoot Cameras
Point & shoot cameras have come a long way. As technology has improved, companies have managed to pack these pocket-sized cameras with tons of features. Some shoot 4k video and have manual settings, just like the more expensive ones in this list.
The big difference is the camera sensor is a bit smaller, and they don’t have interchangeable lenses.
In my opinion, a mid-range to high-end point & shoot is the best option for 75% of amature travel photographers. They combine the perfect mix of portability, power, and budget-friendliness.
Sony RX100 V – Lightweight & Versatile
The Sony RX100 V is my favorite point & shoot travel camera. It’s what I’d call a “professional” point & shoot. While it fits in my pocket, it has many of the same features as my larger primary mirrorless camera.
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 Sony RX100.
The Canon G7 X II is another fantastic point & shoot 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 on-board audio than the Sony. It’s a favorite for many YouTubers and Vloggers.
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.
Action cameras have really transformed the travel photography & video world over the years. These tiny, waterproof, indestructible cameras can go anywhere & record anything!
If you plan on hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or even swimming under waterfalls during your travels, an action camera can create epic video & photos of the experience.
The GoPro Hero 6 is GoPro’s best camera yet, with improved video stabilization, color, and 60p slow-motion 4k footage. It’s waterproof case and touch-screen will handle any adventures you dream up. A must-have for adventure addicts like me!
One cool feature of the newer GoPros is voice activated control. This means if the camera is mounted on a helmet, or to a surfboard, you can just say “GoPro start recording” and other voice commands without actually touching it.
Perfect compact travel camera for those of us who love adventure sports, especially if you need something waterproof, or are worried about breaking normal cameras.
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. 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).
The smallest travel camera on this list. It has a slightly smaller sensor than the GoPro 6, you can’t change batteries, and no touch screen. But better for regular people who aren’t jumping out of airplanes all the time.
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.
Sony A7 III – Power & Portability
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.
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.
The Fuji X-T2 is a popular competitor to the Sony A7 mirrorless camera. I’ve used it 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.
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.
The Sony A6500 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 A6500 also shoots 4K video and has a touch-screen, but a smaller battery and less low-light capability. For a more budget friendly version, the older Sony A6000 is almost just as good, for about $700 hundred dollars less!
I really love the Sony A6500. It’s cheaper and smaller than the Fuji, but includes many features of the higher-end Sony A7 (like internal camera stabilization). This is the camera my wife uses.
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:
Popular DSLR Cameras For Travel
Using Your Smartphone
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 to the web, most people won’t notice.
Another downside is lack of a physical zoom feature (digital zooming doesn’t produce great results).
Some smartphones can even shoot in RAW format these days though. I travel with an iPhone 7+, but the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 also take amazing photos & video. Smartphones are also great backup cameras too.
What About Camera Lenses?
You honestly don’t need a million different camera lenses. When I first started, I only used a single general-purpose lens while I was learning.
If you have money to burn, then get two: a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom.
These two lenses will allow you to capture a mix of landscapes, portraits, and wildlife from a distance. However lugging around multiple lenses and changing them back & forth can be annoying if you’re new to photography.
To keep things easy, I’d recommend only one lens at first. Something with a decent focal range, around 18mm – 55mm or 28mm – 70mm.
When looking at a lens aperture, the lower the number, the better it will be in low light. F2.8 or F4 should cover you for most situations. If you want to shoot star photography, go with F2.8 or lower.
Drones For Travel Photography
Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video in 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 a drone, I’d recommend the DJI Spark for beginners. It’s tiny, pretty affordable, and very easy to use.
Check out my DJI Mavic review video here.
What 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 7 years ago, all I used was a Canon 7D and a GoPro Hero.
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 — great as an airplane carry-on.
Travel Photography Tips
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
- Adjusting your white balance
- Framing shots for maximum impact
- Paying attention to light
- Post-processing your images with software
You don’t become a good photographer because you have a nice camera, your photography improves over time through practice, patience, and skills you learn from others.
So sure, invest in a new travel camera if you think you need it, but remember to invest money & time into learning new photography skills if you really want to create those jealousy-inducing images for your Instagram feed!
Here are some of my favorite beginner travel photography tips.
Free GoPro Session Giveaway!
If you don’t have a GoPro action camera yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win a GoPro to use on your next travel adventure!
I’m giving one lucky reader their very own GoPro Hero Session 5 (along with some accessories).
I love my GoPro, and travel with it everywhere. It’s great for capturing water sports, hiking trips, epic selfies, and hands-free video from my travel adventures around the world.
I’ve been traveling with a GoPro of some kind for the last 7 years!
Here’s an article I wrote about my favorite GoPro accessories for travel, along with examples of how you can use it to capture amazing footage.
Michael Trasatti has won a free GoPro Session.
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! ★
Have any questions about travel cameras? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!