Smartphones have become the Swiss army knife of travel. They’re movie players, maps, travel guides, notebooks, phrasebooks, and more. Some crazy people even use them to make phone calls, if you can believe it.
One of their most-used features, however, is as a portable camera. Just take a look at all the camera apps on the market, or how manufacturers tout the virtues of improved lenses in each new model they launch.
Smartphone photography just can’t be beaten for sheer convenience, especially if you’re sharing your shots with others. Even so, many travelers get to a point where they want to lift their photography game.
Maybe you tried to print a phone photo and it came out all pixelated. Perhaps you’re frustrated by the lack of good optical zoom or limited control over exposure and focus. Maybe you’re just tired of the demands for more storage space every time you take a photo.
Whatever the reason, if you’re considering investing in a dedicated camera, don’t rush headlong toward a DSLR. Once the only real choice for mid- to high-end photo equipment, these types of camera no longer have the market to themselves.
Compact cameras have been stepping up to the challenge, and now offer some of the best combinations of price, size, and quality in the market. Whether you’re an occasional traveler or a seasoned pro, there’s likely to be a compact model that suits your style and is much easier to fit in your bag.
We’ve put together five of the best compact camera options for all kinds of travelers in 2023, from those on a budget to semi-pro’s, videographers to those who need to justify every ounce of luggage weight, and more.
- Weight: 10.7 ounces
- Size: 4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches
- Sensor: 20MP
- Video: 4k/30fps
- Interchangeable lenses: No
- Weight: 13.4 ounces (plus lens)
- Size: 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches (plus lens)
- Sensor: 16MP
- Video: 4k/30fps
- Interchangeable lenses: Yes
- Weight: 1.3 pounds (plus lens)
- Size: 5.3 x 3.7 x 3.3 inches (plus lens)
- Sensor: 26MP
- Video: 4k/60fps
- Interchangeable lenses: Yes
- Weight: 1.8 pounds (plus lens)
- Size: 5.5 x 4.0 x 3.9 inches (plus lens)
- Sensor: 25MP
- Video: 5.7k/60fps or 4k/120fps
- Interchangeable lenses: Yes
- Weight: 10.6 ounces
- Size: 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches
- Sensor: 20MP
- Video: 4k/30fps
- Interchangeable lenses: No
Best for Ultralight Travelers: Sony DSC-RX100 VII
Don’t judge a camera by its size. This tiny point & shoot may look like any other on the market, but its sleek body hides a remarkably-powerful camera that will dramatically improve your travel photos.
Since launching the range nearly a decade ago, Sony’s tiny RX100 cameras have been raved about by traveling photographers. It’s currently onto its seventh version, and the latest model is our top compact camera pick.
Quality comes at a price, however. If the cost just makes too large a dent in your travel budget, however, you can save a little bit by dropping back to the RX100 VI or V models instead. We wouldn’t go further back than that: the improvements have just been too great in recent years!
You’ll get exceptional image quality in bright conditions, and the 20.2MP resolution ensures you’ll be able to print photos at fairly large sizes without losing detail. The 8x (24-200mm) optical zoom is good for a camera this size, and there’s a touch-screen viewfinder for quickly setting focus points.
When it comes time to shoot video, the RX VII has solid optical stabilization, even when recording in 4k. There’s a new “Active Steadyshot” mode that helps deliver stable, watchable video even when you’re recording on the move, and a socket for an external microphone.
Full manual controls are available for those ready to take a step forward with their photography, but until then, the auto settings deliver great shots in a wide range of conditions.
At just 10.7 ounces (303 grams), this camera is super-light and fits easily in your pocket. If you’re short on luggage space but don’t want to compromise on photo quality, this is easily the best lightweight compact camera you can buy right now.Buy on Amazon
Best for Bloggers and Vloggers: Olympus PEN EPL-10
The Olympus PEN EPL range has been a big success for the company over the years, bringing quality mirrorless cameras down to a price point that more people can afford.
It has been particularly popular with bloggers and vloggers (we bought an earlier model ourselves), thanks to a winning combination of flexibility, price, and size.
The latest version, the EPL-10, is an attractive little camera. Available in black, brown, or white and silver, the aluminum body gives it extra durability despite its good looks. The signature fold-out LCD touchscreen on the back can be lifted up and around into “selfie mode” as needed.
While it’s not as tiny as the RX100, at 13.4oz (380g) it’s still small and light enough to stick in a jacket pocket or drop into a day bag. That weight is before you add a lens, though, some of which can add quite a bit of extra bulk.
A pop-up flash is available, but you can also mount your own if you’d prefer. The EPL-10 has an upgraded 16MP sensor that delivers good results even in low light, with automatic and manual exposure settings on a dedicated dial for quick access. You can record video at up to 4K/30fps with in-body image stablization.
The EPL-10 can be bought in various configurations, with the most common version coming with a 14-42mm kit zoom lens. Telephoto, prime, and other types of Micro Four Thirds lenses are also available, giving plenty of flexibility depending on the kinds of shot you like to take.
This is a great entry-level camera option that’s easy for newbies to get to terms with, while providing plenty of flexibility as skills and experience grow.Buy on Amazon
Best for the Semi-Pro Photographer: Fuji X-T4
If you thought you need a DSLR to take professional travel photos, the Fuji X-T4 is here to prove you wrong. With phenomenal video performance, serious image quality, and top-notch lenses, it dramatically narrows the gap between DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
The large 26MP APS-C sensor helps ensure great shots in a wide variety of conditions, whether you’re pairing the camera with its one of its two kit zoom lens options or one of the 15+ other X-series lenses.
The previous model already had arguably the best APS-C sensor on the market, so Fuji has looked elsewhere for its largest improvements. In-body image stabilization is probably the most noticeable, and is available all the way up to 4K/60fps.
Autofocus performance has also been improved, along with a new “RAW compression” format that theoretically provides almost all of the benefits of shooting in RAW without the enormous file sizes.
Able to shoot stills at 15 images per second, you’ll get up to 600 shots from a single battery to help ensure you’re not endlessly looking for the charger. The variable-position touchscreen can be used as both viewfinder and configuration tool, or folded away entirely out of site as needed.
If you’re looking to get much more serious about your travel shots but don’t want to deal with the size and weight of a DSLR, this is the camera for you.Buy on Amazon
Best for Travel Videographers: Panasonic Lumix GH6
Serious about video? Take a look at the Panasonic Lumix GH6, which offers arguably the most powerful video recording features in the mirrorless camera market. The GH6 lets you record at DSLR-level quality without the extra weight around your neck or in your backpack.
The GH6 is, unsurprisingly, the follow-up to the much-loved GH5 and GH5S models. They served slightly different markets, with the S variant being the pick for video, but the GH6 beats both of them for still and moving images alike.
The 25MP sensor, paired with the camera’s 10-bit native 4K video capture capability, ensures some of the best footage you’ll find compared to any other camera even close to this size and weight. You’ll get up to 120fps when shooting slow-motion 4K video, a noticeable upgrade from the previous models.
Pro features like exposure waveforms are included, as well as more common video settings like zebra warnings and focus peaking. You get proper in-body image stabilization (IBIS), along with nice extras like an inbuilt cooling fan that allows for unlimited shooting time.
The weather-sealed body provides plenty of confidence for shooting in challenging conditions, and can handle freezing temperatures as well. This is a camera that provides plenty of pro-level features for travel videographers, without the pro-level size and weight that usually accompany them.
The only real issues are the autofocus and battery life, both of which fall into the “good but not great” category. While the AF is absolutely fine for most general shooting, it doesn’t maintain focus on fast-moving subjects as well as competition like the Sony Alpha x when shooting at high frame rates.
Likewise, the battery is rated at 360 still images, and you’ll likely get around an hour of 4K video shooting depending on your settings. If that’s not enough, you can plug in a USB battery pack or wall charger and shoot semi-indefinitely.Buy on Amazon
Best for the Budget Traveler: Canon PowerShot SX740 HS
If you’re ready to upgrade from your smartphone, but not yet at a level to invest in a semi-pro camera (or you’d rather save your money for the road), check out the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS. It’s one of the best budget compact cameras available, and undeniable value for money.
The standout feature of the SX 740 HS is its zoom. Despite the camera’s compact size, it crams in a 40x optical zoom (24-940mm equivalent) that will let you get up close and personal with anything you can see with the naked eye, and many things that you can’t.
Available in black or silver, the camera has a 20MP sensor and 4K video recording at up to 30fps. Fortunately, image stabilization is also included, as there’s little chance of being able to hold the camera steady at maximum zoom otherwise.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also built-in, and there’s a tilting LCD screen (non-touch) that’s ideal for selfies. There’s an inbuilt flash, but no electronic viewfinder, so you’ll be using the screen to compose your shots. The SX 740 HS weighs a mere 10.6oz (299g), making it easily pocketable.
Image quality is generally good across the various shooting modes, including macro and low-light. There’s some loss of detail towards the far end of the telephoto range, but that’s entirely expected in a budget superzoom camera like this.
For its intended audience, the SX740 offers a lot. This isn’t a pro-grade camera, but rather a good all-round option for travel, small and lightweight enough to keep in your pocket, while still offering impressive zoom capability and 4k video. The sharp pricing is just the icing on the cake.Buy on Amazon
Main image via SplitShire, product images via Amazon
The problem with all of these point & shoots is that they removed the viewfinder. If you have any type visual impairment, you really need a viewfinder. LCD monitors are useless if you are shooting in sunlight and without a viewfinder, you can’t see what you are shooting!
So they may be small and do all kinds of wonderful things, but if you can’t see what it is you want to photograph, they are pretty much useless.
Yeah, it’s an unfortunate size/weight/convenience trade-off. It’s one of the reasons we mentioned electronic viewfinder options where they’re available.
The Sony DSC-RX100 III has a pop-up viewfinder.
Couldn’t agree more ReAnn.
For those of us blessed with glasses, a viewfinder is an essential feature and a screen somewhat useless in bright and high glare conditions.
I have been super impressed with the Panasonic Lumix LX100. No it doesn’t have a touch screen (fingermarks are not a good look!), but it is still a remarkable piece of equipment when you don’t want to travel with extra clutter/weight and bits to lose. Plus excellent 4G video.
Did you consider the Fuji X100F? It has the same sensor as the Fuji XT-2 but is smaller and has a great viewfinder. I’ve found it to be the perfect travel camera.
It’s at a tricky price point compared to most other compacts, but it’s a great little camera as long as you’re happy without interchangeable lenses. It does have an unusual ‘convertor’ setup that gives you extra zoom or wide-angle from the fixed lens, but that’s not really the same thing.
It nearly made the cut for this article, though, and if it was a bit cheaper, it likely would have been included — it’s hard to argue with the image quality vs size for most travel shots.
Ok-Here goes, A hole that I am: I’m on a budget(i.e cheap) so how to achieve all of the above w/o laying out 1-2K? I’ve been traveling with a Canon S90 (goes to S120 before they dumped it). I paid ~$350-it’s AWESOME, shoots raw, full manual, has Canon color which IMHO is alive. The camera fits in my shirt pocket, shoots great at night
I just bought a Sony Nex 6 for $250 on CL. Mirrorless E mount lenses. I bought it cause I use a fisheye for street photography. So I got the Sony 16mm f 2.8 pancake plus their fisheye adaptor, so I have the same set-up as my 5 pound Nikon in 24oz. . That said, I’m a Canon boy. I don’t care for the Sony image. But hey, I can buy a Canon 50mm f 1.8 lens with an E mount for $50 and have an 85mm equivalent portrait lens which Sony charges $250.
(On a side note, I just bought a used Macbook Air 11″ with an i7, 8gb ram, and 500gig ssd for $550, with 49 battery cycles. (F Apple: they refused to put ports on their “new” Macbook. I’ll be dead before they get it right)
I’m an artist. I care what it looks like, not how many megapixels
We used to recommend the S90 and 100, back in the early days of this site. They were definitely one of the best affordable point and shoot options at the time.
As you’ve found, if you’re not as worried about having a long (or any) warranty and don’t need the latest and greatest, the second-hand market can throw up some pretty good deals at times!
Nice write-up. Quick question, why the X-T2 over the X-T20?
on the Sony RX you may want a note that the zoom is much less than many of it’s competitors, something a few users have been complaining, if that’s important for them (where i would think the decent Lumix would be on option)
Anyone travel with a Sony A7? How do you find it?
Hello Dave and Patricia,
How about the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 (also marketed as TS100 outside the US and Canada)? It’s got a 1″ sensor, X10 optical zoom (with image stabilization), runs full manual if you want , shoots RAW or JPG stills and HD or 4K video.
The only downside I’ve noticed is that the low end of the F-stop range is a bit high because of the zoom.
There’s even a very good 3rd party ebook manual on Amazon for about 10 bucks, so you don’t have to rely on the manufacturer’s dense instructions.
All in all, the Lumix ZS100 seems to check all the boxes for someone who wants pro camera capabilities and control without the big camera body. You can get all that in other compact cameras, but not with a travel-friendly X10 optical zoom and 1″ sensor.
The Lumix ZS100 also has a viewfinder, addressing ReAnn Scott’s concern (above). It’s not the greatest, but better than no viewfinder at all.
Here’s my 2 cents. I’ve been travelling with Canon S90 for years. It’s specs are probably outdated (you can upgrade to S110 or S120). They fit in your shirt pocket I am a fine artist, and what I care about is what the picture looks like. This little thing has FANTASTIC color and does things in low light I couldn’t even imagine.
I’ve added a second hand Sony NEX 6 ($250 + $200 for 16mm Pancake and Fisheye adaptor) because I do fisheye street photography. The Nex seems good so far-has fast burst, does what I want. I’ve added some MF prime lenses like Canon 55mm FL 1.2. That said, I miss Canon color. So fore not so much $ I have a very compact, modular travel rig.
Do any small point & shoot cameras have dual voltage charger? My camera is only reason I have to carry a voltage converter when traveling in Europe
The Olympus PEN models have a dual-voltage charger (I’ve used mine around the world for several years, and the current models have a similar 100-240v charger). Failing that, I’d suggest looking for a camera that charges via USB — many now do, and there’s no need for a voltage convertor in that case.