You might have noticed that many people like to take photographs when they travel. In fact, even folks who barely use their phone’s camera in regular life are often eager to document the strange (to them) and wonderful landscapes, buildings, water features, art, nature, people, animals, and, of course, sunsets available to their eyeballs when they leave their hometowns.
And did you know that a lot of the Instagram influencers you follow actually take their photos with better cameras than the ones on their phones, and then edit and upload the results to their feeds? Hopefully this knowledge will make you feel better about your own phone photography skills.
But which travel camera is the best for you? With so many options to choose from, we’ve gathered the best mirrorless, DSLR, point-and-shoot, instant film, and GoPro cameras to help inform your choice, starting with an explainer of each type of camera.
We get into the details of each camera and what it’s best for in our list below, but if you just want a cheat sheet, here are our faves:
Image quality and function: DSLR cameras are digital cameras with larger sensors that can capture higher-quality images, can use interchangeable lenses (meaning the photographer can adapt the camera to fit the specific environment they’re photographing), and have a long battery life.
Weight and size: DSLR cameras are the largest (and heaviest) of the bunch because the camera’s body houses a mirror inside, which reflects the light that comes in from the camera’s lens into the viewfinder (where one looks when taking a photograph).
Price: DSLR cameras tend to be expensive, but options at a lower and higher price point are detailed below.
Image quality and function: Mirrorless cameras also produce high-quality images. They’re also smaller than DSLR cameras, but they usually have a much shorter battery life.
Weight and size: Mirrorless cameras are lighter than DSLR cameras, but because of their relatively short battery life, you might have to carry around an extra battery depending on how long your trip is.
Price: Mirrorless cameras tend to be slightly more affordable than DSLR cameras, and the ones we’ve listed below are each less than $700.
Image quality and function: Point-and-shoot cameras offer pretty standard image quality in general; if you’re looking for a camera that will take a clear, simple photo, a point-and-shoot is a solid option. Some smartphone cameras have surpassed the image quality offered by a point-and-shoot camera, although the options listed below both capture higher quality images than most smartphone cameras. In addition, some point-and-shoot cameras are built to withstand underwater submersion or a couple of falls, so if you’re going on a particularly rugged vacation, a point-and-shoot might be the right option.
Weight and size: Also referred to as the “compact” camera, point-and-shoot cameras are lighter and smaller than mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
Price: Point-and-shoot cameras tend to be cheaper than or priced similarly as mirrorless cameras.
Image quality and function: The image quality on instant film cameras is low compared to the other choices on this list, however many enjoy the novelty of the simple, nostalgia-inducing photos taken by film cameras.
Weight and size: The camera itself is a manageable size, but keep in mind that when carrying instant film cameras around, you’ll also want to bring film and have space to safely store the photos you take.
Price: Instant film cameras are the cheapest of the bunch, however film is sold separately at $20+ a pack.
Image quality and function: GoPro cameras are primarily used for capturing first-person video footage and can withstand harsh conditions. GoPros aren’t as fit for traditional photography as the other types of cameras on this list; if you want to capture an outdoors-focused vacation on video, a GoPro is easily the best choice.
Weight and size: GoPros are the smallest of all the cameras listed and are so light that users can easily wear the cameras on their heads using a head strap (sold separately).
Price: GoPros are pretty unparalleled, which means their price is fixed. But the company’s latest model, listed below, is less than most of the cameras listed here.
1. Best overall travel camera
The Canon EOS Rebel SL3’s claim to fame is that it’s a small, lightweight DSLR at a mirrorless price that offers great image quality all-around. As is characteristic of DSLRs, the SL3 has an impressive battery life, which — in addition to its compact size — makes it all the more portable, especially if you’re traveling somewhere with limited access to electrical outlets. The camera also includes an optical viewfinder (rather than an electric one), which allows for a more natural look at whatever you’re capturing.
2. Best lightweight mirrorless camera
The Sony Alpha a6000 is super-small and lightweight, has an electric viewfinder, and runs on Sony’s BIONZ X image processing system to produce high-quality, rich photographs and HD video. In addition, the a6000’s autofocus capabilities are top-notch, and you can connect the camera to your smartphone via WiFi.
3. Best affordable mirrorless camera (with lens)
The Lumix has DED autofocus and post-focus, which allows users to re-focus images after they’re taken. In addition, one of the Lumix’s biggest draws is its 4K video recording and photography capabilities. The small, portable design offers detailed shots with dual image stabilization to resist shaking.
4. Best state-of-the-art DSLR
As the most expensive option on this list, the Nikon D780 offers 4K Ultra HD photo and video recording capabilities, fantastic image quality — even in low light environments. The camera can also connect to your smartphone and computer via WiFi and Bluetooth for immediate image and video sharing. Plus, with up to seven frames per second continuous shooting, you can capture fast-moving animals, vehicles, or sights you see throughout your travels, and eye-detection features make the D780 a great choice for taking vacation portraits.
5. Best high-quality point-and-shoot
Point and Shoot/Compact
The RX100 is the latest in Sony’s Cyber-shot compact camera collection and has notably long zoom capabilities. (This is version VI, and there is a later version, the RX100 VII, for $200 more.) The camera also includes auto focus via its touch screen and image stabilization. Like many of the other choices on this list, the RX100 has built in WiFi and 4K video recording capabilities.
6. Best affordable point-and-shoot
Point and Shoot/Compact
Panasonic packs a large and fast lens into a compact camera with the Lumix, which is the camera’s biggest draw. In addition, the camera has an electronic viewfinder, WiFi capabilities, and 4K video recording. However, it’s worth noting that the Lumix does not have built-in flash capabilities. So, if you’re photographing in low light while traveling, you’ll have to make room for the Lumix’s external flash component.
7. Best Action-Oriented Video Camera
The Latest — and Ultimate — GoPro
GoPro’s most recent model includes the company’s HyperSmooth 2.0 stabilization technology (with multiple levels of stabilization), automatic TimeWarp speed selection, night lapse in 4K, 2.7K, 1440p, or 1080p video recording, and three different microphones to capture all associated audio aspects. Plus, digital lenses and improved HDR quality produce fantastic images and videos. And, of course, the Hero 8 is waterproof and built to withstand rugged environmental conditions.
8. Best Instant Film Camera
The Lomo’Instant Automat Glass is known for its prowess in low-light environments and wide-angle glass lens. Plus, the camera auto adjusts its aperture, shutter speed, and flash output to adapt to a wide range of landscapes and photographic conditions. The Automat Glass is perfect for taking film portraits and farther away shots, and color gel filters are included to spice up photos.