What is the best travel camera? Over the past decade that I’ve been working as a professional travel photographer and writer, I’ve had a lot of experience with travel cameras – both good and bad. As you look to purchase your own travel camera, I’d like to share with you which features I’ve found most useful and my recommendations on which camera might fit your individual needs.
As with most anything in life, there isn’t a “one size fits all” travel camera. To say that one particular camera is “the best” travel camera would be a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?
So instead, I’d like to make this list unique. I’m going to list out five different kinds of travelers that have different kind of needs. I’m then going to match those needs with specific features you’ll want to have in a travel camera and provide two recommendations: a premium and a budget.
Scroll through and see where you fit in this list of “traveler profiles”. Consider the features and choose one out of the list of these best travel cameras.
“The Backpacker” | Best Travel Camera
The first traveler profile we’ll focus on is “the backpacker”. As a backpacker, you’re usually most concerned about size and weight. You don’t have much space, so you can’t be hauling around lenses, massive batteries and a heavy camera body. Right?
Obviously, you want to capture high-quality memories, but you don’t have a big budget. Besides, other than your blog it’s not like you’re trying to sell your photos to a fancy travel magazine.
In this case you’re going for a balance of features and budget. In this case, you’re best to consider one of the following:
You might be surprised at how powerful the camera is already in your pocket! Apple, Samsung and Google all have phones whose cameras are better than most entry-level travel cameras.
Consider whether or not spending a little extra money on a better phone is a good investment if it will act as both your communication device and your travel camera.
Panasonic Lumix ZS50
If you’d rather keep your phone and camera separate, the Panasonic Lumix ZS50 is hands down the best travel camera you can buy for under $300.
In addition to the high-quality Leica lens, the Lumix is incredibly lightweight (.5 lbs!) and boasts a 30x optical zoom. Add to that the 3″ LCD screen and the ability to shoot RAW photos and HD videos, and you begin to see why it’s a popular travel camera option for backpackers.
“The Vlogger” | Best Travel Camera
For those travelers who want to film their travels, edit and upload them to YouTube, you’re looking at a different class of travel camera. You need crisp video, super-fast focus and a versatile LCD screen.
Most of the big-name YouTube travel vloggers use a larger and more expensive DSLR as their primary camera, but that’s not absolutely necessary. I’ve shot videos on my DSLR and my phone and most people can’t tell the difference.
My suggestions below reflect three different budget needs, listed in order of both budget and quality.
DJI Osmo Mobile
I’m a huge fan of DJI – I own both an Osmo and a Mavic Pro drone. The beauty of the Osmo Mobile 2 is the ability to take the quality of your phone camera and add amazing stability.
The Osmo Mobile 2 adds so much control to your shots, allowing you to eliminate the shake and create smooth movements that will make your videos look professional.
It’s such an inexpensive piece of gear, I love having it around even if only for quick shots and b-roll.
Canon G7x Mark ii
I’ve enjoyed using the Canon G7x Mark ii for about a year now. As a vlogger, I love the quality of the video, the manual features and the ability to flip up the screen so I can frame the picture.
The downsides to this camera are the poor audio (and the lack of an audio input), which means you’ll need to put a separate audio recorder. Also, the auto focus is a bit slow compared to the larger DSLRs.
All that said, it’s the perfect middle between the Osmo and DSLR.
Sony RX1000 VI
Sony has perfected what is known as a “mirrorless camera” that eliminates many of the mechanical parts that wear out fastest in a traditional camera.
If you’re serious about vlogging and willing to invest in the best camera, the newly released RX1000 VI is a perfect choice.
“The Adventure Traveler” | Best Travel Camera
A number of younger travelers fit into a category I call “The Adventure Traveler”. You’re the kind of traveler that wants to try adventurous things: hang gliding off a mountain, scuba diving in the ocean, rock climbing or canopy tours.
Taking any of the cameras I’ve listed above would be foolish. It wouldn’t take more than a day or two for the dust, water or other elements to render those cameras broken. That’s where an adventure travel camera comes in handy.
You’ll notice in the recommendations below that I only list GoPro products. While there are a number of alternatives, the truth is that GoPro dominates the market because they really are the best. You just have to decide which camera size is right for you.
This photo is a bit deceptive. The Hero 5 Session is unbelievably small and portable. It’s a simple design that lacks any sort of preview screen or too many buttons, but it can go anywhere you want to take it and endure any type of adventure sport you want to capture.
The rugged durability of the Hero 5 Session, in addition to its small size, are what make this a desirable travel camera. It’s cheaper than the Hero 6 and although it lacks the bells and whistles, it captures the same quality footage.
GoPro Hero 6
The Hero 6 is the flagship camera of the GoPro lineup and boasts some amazing specs. It captures brilliant 4K footage, an LCD preview screen and the ability to take it anywhere, even underwater.
Recently GoPro introduced a 360 degree action camera call the Fusion, and while this camera shows a lot of promise, you’ll probably be better off with the tried-and-true Hero 6.
I’m a big fan of the GoPro There’s a good reason it’s a workhorse travel camera for countless adventure travelers.
“The Photographer” | Best Travel Camera
Not everybody cares about video. As “The Photographer”, your goal is to capture the still image in the best quality possible.
Most of the travel cameras that you’ll see will still have the ability to capture video, but that’s not what they’re designed for. At this point you’re looking at a larger DSLR camera that gives you the option to experiment with various lenses and focal lengths.
Obviously there are numerous cameras that can do this well, but here are the two I recommend for both the smaller and larger budget.
Both the Canon 70D and the 80D are excellent first steps into the world of DSLR. While you can get some beautiful shots with the compact travel cameras listed above, the Canon 80D is going to give you much more control as well as the ability to switch lenses.
These Canon DSLRs may not shoot 4k video (which is why it’s not listed for vloggers), but it does have lightning fast auto focus and image stabilization. You have the ability to shoot RAW files for better editing later.
The Canon 80D is my workhorse and I love it. It doesn’t just get the job done, it produces excellent photos.
Canon 5D Mark IV
Of course, as much as I love the Canon 80D, for $2,000 more you can upgrade to the top-of-the-line. We’re talking about a full-frame sensor, an ISO range of 100-32000 (excellent in low light), and an even better auto-focus system.
If you’ve already invested heavily in good lenses, you’re going to want a camera that can really capture the full spectrum of colors and dynamic range. If you know anything about cameras, you’ve heard of the 5D and probably know somebody who has one.
This camera is overkill for anybody but the most professional travel photographer. It is, however, an amazing camera.
“The High End” | Best Travel Camera
Perhaps you’re the travelers that trots across the globe with the latest Macbook Pro stuffed in a fancy leather carrying case while sporting Oakley sunglasses, an Apple Watch and the best, travel-worthy wireless headphones.
Don’t be ashamed! You are the person that has a bit more cash to spend and prefers to invest in the best, high-quality products on the market.
Why should that be any different with your camera?
The first high-end travel camera I’d like to recommend is the Panasonic GH5. If you lean more toward filmmaking, this will probably be the best choice. The GH5 shoots 4K at up to 60P, which makes for some unbelievable slow-motion shots.
Talk to anybody who owns a GH5 and they’ll rave about the versatility of features and overall quality of the camera body itself. This camera is one that put Panasonic on the radar of many professional travel videographers.
Click below to check out all the GH5 features on Amazon to see if this might be the right camera for you.
Canon 1DX Mark ii
This. is. a. BEAST. Oh my word! Be warned: this camera is heavy. It’s also the most expensive camera on this entire list by a factor of 2. You could probably buy a pretty nice used car instead 😉
That’s said, it’s an unbelievable camera. Whatever feature you might think you want in a camera, the 1D Mark II has it best. The best auto-focus. The best sensor. The best burst rate. The best working temperature. I could go on.
There’s really no need for me to go on about this camera because if you’re the type of person who’s going to buy it, you probably didn’t need me to tell you. Still, I have to mention it. Check it out:
Conclusion | What is the Best Travel Camera?
As you can see above, I recommend different cameras for different personas and situations. You don’t have to break the bank to get a good travel camera, but you do need to make sure you’re matching the features with your needs.
Above all, make sure that you love whatever camera you decide to buy. Smaller isn’t always better. I often tote around my massive DSLR despite its size because I would rather have professional-standard photos and videos. You can certainly do the same.
Is there a best travel camera that you think I’m missing out on? Let me know in the comments below!