Authored by Mark Condon
You’ve probably heard the old adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. For most of us, that means our best camera is our humble mobile phone.
Modern mobile phones do a decent job at taking a pretty picture, but they do have their limitations. If you want to get creative with your photography, or get that envious ‘blurred-background’ look, you’re much better off investing in an inter-changeable lens (ILC) camera, or at least, a good compact camera.
Buying a decent camera doesn’t mean breaking the bank – there are plenty of great cameras available for under $500 and some great dSLR lenses which cost much less than you’d expect.
What I will say though, is that by stretching your budget a little further, you can get a camera that will serve you well for many years to come. But let’s first decide what makes a good travel camera. Here are my criteria:
What makes a good travel camera
- Camera must be small & lightweight
- Camera must be inconspicuous
- Camera must have good image quality
- Camera must be rugged and durable
- Camera must be a pleasure to use
For me, the ideal travel camera should be small enough to fit into a handbag, light enough to carry around a neck all day, non-flashy looking to avert unwanted eyes, take a great photo, not break when bumped, and above all, must be great fun to use!
Cost is of course another major factor when choosing a camera, so below I’ll recommend a few cameras for travel at different price points.
The Best Travel Cameras
The Budget Option
Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS
Type: Compact Camera
Sensor Size: 1/2.3 inch (6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 12x zoom (25-300mm eq.) f/3.6-7
Weight: 147g (0.32 lb / 5.19 oz)
Price: Approx $195Click to View on Amazon
Canon has had a long history of making well-built, good looking compact cameras. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS isn’t a particularly new camera, but for it’s price, it’s such a great performer.
Packing a 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilizer into such a small, slim body is pretty impressive!
A 12x zoom equates to roughly a 25-300mm lens, meaning that you can go from wide angle (for shots of large groups, wide panoramic vistas and city-scapes, for example), all the way to distant shots of wildlife, all in the press of a button!
The aperture range of f/3.6-7 doesn’t make the lens on the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS particularly ‘fast’ (i.e. one that can let in a lot of natural light), but the optical image stabilizer does help you achieve a sharper image when the sun begins to set.
A neat feature of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS is the Intelligent IS mode, which helps even the most novice photographer capture clear, steady images, even in lower light. The Intelligent IS automatically analyzes camera movement and applies the ideal shake correction method for the shooting situation, allowing you to focus more on framing and capturing your shot.
Make no mistake – there are many better cameras than the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS, but none that are this good value for money. If you’re on a strict budget, it’s a great option to get a photo that’s a step above one that even the best mobile phone can produce.
The Mid-Priced Option
Sony Alpha a6000
Type: Interchangeable Compact Mirrorless Camera
Sensor Size: APS-C (23.5 x 15.6mm)
Weight: 0.76 pounds
Price: Approx. $648Click to View on Amazon
The Sony a6000 uses a combination of a 79-point focal plane phase detection AF sensor, 179 AF tracking points and 11 fps (frames per second). Thanks to this machine-gun like shooting ability, you’re sure to get the shot you want.
Remember one thing though – the more photos you take, the less present you are in the moment… not to mention, the more photos you’ll have to ‘cull’ through later!
Aside from impressively-fast autofocus, the focus on the Sony a6000 is no slouch either, using contrast-detection and something called Spatial Object Detection to achieve autofocus speeds of 0.06 seconds – definitely among the fastest performance of any camera.
My two favourite features of the Sony a6000 are to do with how you view the image. A 1.4m dot OLED electronic viewfinder delivers 100% frame coverage and am impressively fast refresh rate. This means that you can preview exactly how your image will look through the viewfinder, before you press the shutter button.
Electronic viewfinders are specific to a genre of camera called ‘mirrorless’. I’m a big fan of mirrorless cameras, and always recommend them to beginner photographers in particular. Why? Well being able to see how shutter speed, aperture and ISO affect your photographer in ‘real time’ is so useful in understanding the components of exposure.
Another great feature of the Sony a6000 is its 3″ tiltable LCD screen which allows you to get creative with your angles. I always recommend cameras with tilting LCD screens as they’re so good for getting unusual angles.
Low light performance of the Sony a6000 is also impressive, with a range of 100-25600. You’ll get some ‘noise’ (basically specks of white) when really pushing up the ISO, but this is normal for most cameras at this price point. However, there’s always the pop-up flash to rely on, ensuring you won’t miss any of the action when light falls.
As for recommended lenses to use with the Sony a6000, I’d advise you to start off with the 16-50mm power zoom lens which covers a useful focal range and isn’t too heavy or bulky.
The High Priced Option
Type: Interchangeable Lens Mirrorless Camera
Sensor Size: APS-C (23.6mm x 15.6mm)
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Price: Approx. $899Click to View on Amazon
As I mentioned before, I’m a big proponent of mirrorless cameras. Keeping up pace with bulkier and older dSLRs, mirrorless cameras use the latest technology to produce high quality images in smaller bodies.
The Fuji X-T20 uses a 24MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor, which delivers gorgeous, vibrant, clean and crisp images that rival even the best dSLR cameras.
The Fuji X-T20 offers a speedy start-up, meaning that as soon as you turn the camera on it’s ready to shoot.
Autofocus speeds are also excellent, and there’s very little shutter lag time or shot-to-shot delay. All this means that this camera won’t get in the way of you capturing your shot.
Speaking of the auto focus, 325 selectable AF points deliver some of the fastest and most accurate focusing capabilities ever seen on a mirrorless camera at this price point.
Fuji offers a range of excellent lenses to pair with the X-T20. I put together a selection of 10 of my favourite Fuji lenses here, which should serve as a helpful starting point for investing in your first lens.
For travel, a lightweight zoom lens provides the most flexibility, but for the ultimate in compactness, you should consider a prime (fixed focal length) lens.
The Fujifilm X-T20 is a great value mirrorless camera, especially when you consider that it offers many of the features that its ‘big brother’ the (much more expensive) X-T2 offers. If you want to invest in your photography, the Fujifilm X-T20 really is a great travel camera.
Now You Choose
So there you have it – 3 cameras for travel at 3 different price points to choose from. Whatever you decide, remember that a camera is an important investment in the preservation of your memories!
I should also say that even with the best camera gear and gadgets, investing in education is the fastest way to improve your photography skills. I wrote a big post on the best photography books that may be a good starting point for you to delve deeper into this wonderful art.
Travel Photography Academy has a brilliant course led by award winning travel photographer Gary Arndt. It takes you through improving your photography skills (including photo critiques by pro photographers). Learn more about what’s included in the course.
Now get out there and start shooting!
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I have been a Minolta guy for decades (more than FIVE!!!) I love them. They are not small (although it seems that Sony has made one so), but they are useful. I might consider the Sony you mentioned to add to my collection. (Oh. Yes. Sony bought the Minolta/Konika camera business.)
It’s nice to have found a brand which you really know and love – if you are looking for an upgrade or an addition to your collection, the Sony is a great choice, especially if you’re used to Minolta :)
I love the canon powershot! I have travelled previously with a huge lens and it literally slowed me down! not only did it do that, I found I was spending more time behind my camera than enjoying the moment!
Now I only carry my equipment when I am hitting on destination and the trip calls for it (like a safari).
Isn’t the Cannon powershot the best! We upgraded ours to a DSLR, but we kept it, and it’s still our camera of choice for wildlife, because it has a far superior zoom to anything else we’ve found yet. It’s a really powerful camera for being a mid range point and shoot, and super light.
We’re the same, traded in all our heavy equipment because it was too cumbersome to travel with. Pull it out very rarely, but as you said, sometimes the trip does call for it :)
There are so many good cameras out there with amazing amounts of memory, even if you’re shooting raw. These cameras look particularly good. I used a power shot for a long while because it was so compact. The hard part is culling afterwards. We call that “Waldoing” because you keep looking through pictures that look almost identical but there is one that is ever so slightly different.
The powershot is amazing for a camera that is so compact. We swear by ours – we’ve upgraded to a DSLR, but still use our powershot regularly, when we need something smaller to quickly grab.
The hard part is definitely culling your shots though!! Haha I love the term Waldoing – you’re so right, usually I end up with 10 of the exact same shot, but ever so slightly different – it does take up a crazy amount of time, but one of the funnest parts of the process :)
I am using a GoPro and my phone cam for the pics and video. My travels are usually on the adventurous side and I find DSLRs too bulky to carry around though the mirrorless ones are a good option.
DSLR’s are definitely the bulky option, and for sure, if you’re doing a lot of adventure sports and moving around a lot, it’s probably not too practical for you. I’ve been super impressed with the quality of photo and footage which comes from the GoPro though, definitely my camera of choice for action / adreanline or underwater activities.
Mirrorless is a good option too, though I definitely feel like my GoPro can take more of a beating so I don’t feel as on edge about damaging it if we’re being super adventurous on a trip.
We upgraded a few years back to a mirrorless camera from Samsung (NX300) and have never regretted it. It’s easier to take around with us thanks to its slim body size compared to our older, bulkier DSLR, but image quality has not suffered at all. It was 100% worth the investment!
It’s amazing the image quality they’re managing to pack into smaller, more compact camera’s now! Even some smart phones are starting to rival previous big chunky models, it amazes me!
This is a really handy guide, especially as you get into the nitty gritty like aperture range! We have the Sony a6000 and love it. Although, by the sounds of it, you know more about it than we do! I also like that it has the viewfinder and screen; this really comes in handy on bright days. I still have so much to learn to get the best out of the camera, but it’s a work in progress ☺ I’ll have to check out Travel Photography Academy so I can improve asap! Thanks for the tips!
I love the viewfinder and screen on the Sony too – it’s so handy, as you said, especially on brighter days. Learning about your camera and the best ways to use it is half the fun though – definitely check into the Travel Photography Academy if you’re looking for mentorship and ways to improve – Gary is an incredible resource.
Thanks for this post. I have been thinking of changing brands for my camera and with your post and comments made by the readers, I think I’ve found the best reviews.
Glad we could help Lydia – feel free to reach out if you have any other questions in making your final choice :)
Some nice choices up there, a great guide for various cameras. Olympus do great micro 4/3 cameras, they are my choice I have to admit. Though I’m now having a good look at the Sony A7 range. We really are spoilt for choice with any budge these days.
We really are spoilt for choice regardless of budget – one of the hardest decisions nowadays is which to choose!
This is a great guide! Wish it was published when I was first looking for a camera for travel. I ended up with a Fuji X-A2 so also great. :D
Thanks Aleah! Glad you’re enjoying the Fuji X-A2 :)
I have been toying with the idea of ditching my DSLR for a mirrorless camera. I still am not sure and maybe would like to compare the shots between these two types. However, your post gives me a fair idea of what models can be used to compare with a DSLR. I would definitely try out the Canon and the Sony as they look pretty much what I would like to have. Not so sure of Fuji. Thanks for the same.
I’m glad that we could help with information to guide your decision Ami – mirrorless camera’s these days offer incredible image quality, and if you don’t need a DSLR, they’re a lot more compact.
Feel free to reach out if you have any further questions. Happy to help where we can :)
Oh man! your Suggestions here are so good! I have been trying to run a blog for wannabe vloggers on Youtube, But many of my readers have reached out to me saying that my recommendations are too expensive for them to afford.
Of course, I believe that you can buy a DSLR under $ 1000, but as you know, YouTube stars use something else entirely. I’ll be looking forward to putting up a blog inspired by this one.
Cheers! Please don’t hesitate to say Hi if you think we can network.
So glad you enjoyed the recommendations Sudarshan – yes, filming is a different beast entirely, though I’ve found great image quality in terms of video footage from our mid range canon and Nikon DSLR. I haven’t jumped into learning about microphones for sound quality yet though.
Look forward to reading your blog about the best cameras for travel video – feel free to share it here when you’re done :)
Oh sorry, forgot to leave my blog link if you ever wanna reach out :D
Awesome, thanks Sudarshan, will check out your post :)
Thanks Meg <3 :)
I’m using canon 60D for 5 years and it’s quite heavy for a long trip so I’m thinking buy a compact camera like mirrorless or prosummer. but Still confused between Sony and Fuji. Still not decided yet.
What should I do?
Hi Endah, if you’re looking for something less bulky, which still retains the same picture quality you’re used to, I would go with the Fuji – it delivers gorgeous, vibrant, clean and crisp images that rival even the best dSLR cameras.
Hope that helps!
The Huawei p20 has a phenomenal (Leica) camera and storage capacity, which has rendered my Canon DSLR obsolete on travels…
Glad to hear you’ve had success with it! Thanks for sharing your experience :)
The canon powershot is my go to camera. It’s affordable, lightweight, and can do the job required!
Best bang for your buck
Thanks for sharing Adil, my husband uses the Canon Powershot and has done for years, loves it for his wildlife photograph because of the quality of the zoom. Agreed that it’s a fabulous all round camera :)
Thanks for reading!