These are the best travel cameras of 2021, tested by pro photographers who cover everything from compact cameras to mirrorless and DSLRs for every budget!
In this complete buyer’s guide, we show you how to choose the best compact travel camera for you!
Best Travel Camera 2021 (Top Cameras For Every Budget)
While working as a professional travel photographer over the last 10 years, I’ve scoured the internet and tested camera gear in order to find the perfect travel photography kit.
When readers and members of our Instagram community ask us what camera we use, I always tell them that what works best for us won’t necessarily be the best fit for them. Choosing the best travel camera for 2021 is more about finding one that allows you to shoot the photographs you want.
Finding the best camera for travel photography is different from choosing a professional camera for things like wedding photography and portrait photography, or even just everyday use at home. With so many camera options on the market, it can be a little intimidating when you start your new camera search.
Best Travel Cameras of 2021
There are several types of travel cameras on the market (Point and Shoot, Advanced Compact Cameras, DSLR, Mirrorless) and each one has its own list of benefits. First, and most importantly, you should consider what is most important to you – size, weight, price, ease of use, etc. Below, I’ve listed the benefits and limitations of each type of camera as well as the top cameras in each of those categories.
Travel Camera Buying Guide: Terminology to Know
When it comes to sensor, the larger the size the more light it can capture. Sensor size is especially important when considering whether you’ll be taking a lot of low light shots, as if it has a small sensor size you’ll generally get a grainy photo.
For example, smart phones usually have a very small sensor size, and thus tend to not take awesome low-light pictures. Sensor sizes tend to increase as the size of the camera does, and in the DSLR realm, the sensitivity is measured as ISO.
The aperture controls the brightness of an image, and the number that correlates to it refers to the size of the hole that lets light into the sensor. Apertures are shows as f-numbers (for example, f/2.8, f/4, etc.), and the larger the number, the smaller the hole.
Generally speaking, if you’ll be shooting in low-light, look for smaller numbers, as these will let more light into the sensor.
The megapixel number on your camera refers to the size of image the camera can produce. One megapixel means one million pixels, and as the number goes higher you’ll get clearer resolution in your photos. This is especially important if you plan on making prints.
While megapixels are important, if you truly want excellent-quality photos then be sure to take into account sensor size and aperture as well.
Optical & Digital Zoom
With point and shoot cameras, zooming in on faraway objects with your optical zoom essentially allows you to magnify the image and make the objects in the frame appear closer without reducing quality. So, if you have 8x optical zoom option, that means you can make object appear 8x larger in the frame.
Digital zoom, on the other hand, is when your camera zooms in on a frame and crops what isn’t shown on your screen. This only reduces the quality of the image, so steer clear.
When picking out a lens for your DSLR, focal length refers to optical zoom, and is the distance between the sensor and the lens when the subject is in focus. Measured in millimeters, a lower focal length means the lens can be used for wider shots.
EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) and OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) are image stabilizers that correct small movements when taking a photo and eliminate blur. OIS is great for improving low light photography, while EIS is primarily a video stabilizer.
What to Look for When Buying a Travel Camera
Ergonomics & Navigability
Before you purchase, think about your travel habits and what features will suit your needs. Do you need a small, light camera for easy shots, or are you looking for a more professional DSLR? Comfort, size, and weight of the camera will all factor into this. Also consider if the camera is easily navigable, and if it has easy accessibility to common functions.
What about your WiFi needs? If you’re someone who likes to import straight to your smartphone or computer after you’ve taken a shot, then purchasing a camera with WiFi capabilities will be handy.
Also consider the lens selection that your camera can support, as you won’t be able to swap out different brand’s lenses due to the unique mounts. Most of the main lines will have many of the same lens options, but it’s something to look into if you have specific requirements.
Almost all cameras on the market today shoot video, but there are certain aspects to pay attention to depending on what quality you’d like to achieve. Frame rate is the most important, with 24 – 30 frames per second being in a normal range, while up to 60fps will give you smoother playback.
Compact Digital Cameras (Point & Shoot) For Travel Photography
If your main concern is price, weight, and purchasing a travel camera that is easy to use, then you will want to look at purchasing a Compact Digital Camera. This type of camera won’t weigh down your luggage and it will easily fit in a small backpack or purse.
Compact Digital Cameras are perfect if you don’t want to be hassled with too many controls and you want the least expensive option. Nowadays, you can still find a Point and Shoot camera that takes great photos. That’s not to say you should pick just any Point and Shoot because they are not all created equal. Here are the best compact travel cameras under $450.
Best Compact Travel Camera
Advanced Compact Digital Cameras (High-End Compact) For Travel Photography
Advanced Compact Digital Cameras are similar to Point and Shoot cameras, but they come with a few more bells and whistles. They are the high end of compact cameras with built-in lenses.
Advanced Compact Cameras are similar in size to the above mentioned ones and they offer full manual mode in addition to auto mode. (Note: Both of the cameras listed in the above section offer manual mode as well.) They also usually have the ability to capture photos in RAW format — which is important if you plan to make any edits to your photos once you upload them to your computer.
These cameras tend to be slightly more expensive than the regular compact cameras, but less expensive than DSLR or mirrorless cameras. See below for the best point-and-shoot travel cameras.
Best Advanced Point-and-Shoot Travel Camera
Mirrorless Cameras for Travel Photography
If image quality, size, and weight is the most important factor, you will want to look at purchasing a mirrorless camera.
What is a mirrorless camera, you ask? Unlike a Digital SLR, this type of camera does not have a mirror reflex optical viewfinder — hence, the name mirrorless. This type of camera is perfect for people who still want an interchangeable lens without the weight of a DSLR.
Another plus for mirrorless is the electronic viewfinders because you can view the real-time effect of aperture and ISO adjustments, unlike a DSLR. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of your photography, then mirrorless is the way to go. Below, you’ll find our recommendations for the best mirrorless travel cameras.
Best Mirrorless Travel Camera
Digital SLR Cameras for Travel Photography
Mirrorless cameras have come a long way and many photographers have decided to ditch their bulky DSLR cameras for this lighter option — including me!
DSLR cameras are better suited for sports, wildlife, and other types of action photography. If these types of photography don’t interest you, then you will probably be fine with a mirrorless. I often travel to photograph wildlife and I need a capable zoom lens, which is why I hesitated about switching completely to mirrorless.
However, there are a few zoom lens options out there for mirrorless cameras, just not as many. I currently use the Sony 70-200mm with my Sony a7ii and it gets the job done in most cases. I opted for the F4 instead of the Sony 70-200mm F2.8 in order to keep my kit light.
Choosing a DSLR means you will have more lens options, faster focus (although mirrorless is following close behind), and a slightly longer battery life. Eventually, I’m sure DSLR cameras will become obsolete, but we are still a little way off from mirrorless replacing traditional DSLR cameras entirely.
Best DSLR Travel Camera
The following DSLR camera is great for entry level or intermediate photographers who still want the benefits of more lens selection, longer battery life, great low light capabilities, and faster focus.
Best Travel Camera Under $500
Best Travel Camera for Underwater Travel Photography
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention underwater photography. If you are anything like us, then you love to play in any body of water and who doesn’t want to get the best underwater photos on vacation?
We’ve tried a handful of point and shoot underwater cameras, which have taken decent photos, but ever since GoPro came out with their Hero6 Black with LCD screen, this is now our favorite underwater camera for travel. The issues I had with their previous versions (fogging, no LCD screen, ultra wide angle lens) have all been fixed on the Hero 5 & 6. It’s great for action selfies on land too!