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The best travel camera you can buy

By Daven Mathies

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There’s no arguing that the smartphone has become the favorite camera for everyday, casual shooting. But when you’re venturing hundreds or thousands of miles to see something new, there is no beating a traditional camera. Whether it’s a rugged model that can withstand water, snow, and sand; a superzoom that lets you reach a distant landmark without schlepping there; or an interchangeable-lens camera that will let you make detailed prints of your favorite memories, a dedicated camera brings extra tools to the table that can pay dividends on a vacation.

The camera you pick depends on the type of travel you’re planning to do. You can go for an all-purpose model that covers the basics, or a niche camera designed for precisely the activity you’re doing. Maybe you need a camera that can keep up with a high-speed adventure and rough-and-tumble lifestyle. Or perhaps you prefer to take your time setting up to capture the perfect sunset. Either way, there is an ideal camera for you to bring along on your next vacation — and you can likely find one that won’t break the bank. We compiled a list of some of some of our favorite travel cameras below, organized by category.

At a glance

Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5The best travel camera overall4 out of 5
Fujifilm XF10The best premium travel cameraNot yet rated
Nikon Coolpix P1000The best travel superzoom3.5 out of 5
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VIThe best premium travel compactNot yet rated
Olympus PEN E-PL9The best interchangeable-lens camera for travel3.5 out of 5

Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5

The best

Olympus Tough TG-5 Review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: RAW photos, great macro ability, rugged, and weatherproof

Hitting the rough and rugged outdoors? The TG-5 is the camera you’ll want to take to preserve your adventure.

Who’s it for: Enthusiast photographers who need a camera that can survive the elements.

How much will it cost: $399

Why we picked the Olympus Tough TG-5:

Rugged point-and-shoot cameras are similar to action cams, except they put still photos first, video second. Perfect for beach trips and snorkeling, they are meant to be shot by hand, rather than mounted to something. Such cameras are also waterproof, dust-proof, and freeze-proof without requiring a separate housing, as is sometimes the case with action cameras.

The Stylus Tough TG-5 continues Olympus’ dominance in the rugged camera game, and offers several advanced options not normally found on this type of camera, like the ability to shoot uncompressed RAW photos. It also has a stellar macro mode and even an incredibly easy-to-use light-painting mode, perfect for some nighttime creative fun on your next camping trip. At $399 (after $50 instant rebate), it’s one of the more expensive options out there, but it packs a lot of power for the price and should last for years to come.

Our full Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5 review

Fujifilm XF10

The best premium travel camera

best travel cameras fujifilm xf10 black brown

Why should you buy this: Large-sensor image quality in a compact form factor

With sleek styling, compact design, and great image quality, the XF10 is for the discerning travel photographer.

Who’s it for: Street, food, and landscape photographers

How much will it cost: $500

Why we picked the Fujifilm XF10:

The XF10 blends Fujifilm’s classic style with the ease of use expected of the smartphone generation. It foregoes physical controls in favor of touchscreen operation and a streamlined exterior. At 28mm equivalent, its fixed, non-zoom lens matches the field of view of most phone cameras, but it’s 24-megapixel APS-C sensor is up to 14 times larger than that of the average phone. That gives it vastly superior light-gathering ability, meaning better performance in low light without resorting to the computational trickery employed by modern phones.

At $500, the XF10 is relatively affordable for the quality, but not everyone will be content with a lens that doesn’t zoom. This is a good camera for street photography, or for snapping shareable pictures of all the amazing food you plan to eat on vacation, but if you need the flexibility of a zoom lens, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Read more here

Nikon Coolpix P1000

The best travel superzoom

Nikon Coolpix P1000 review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It has a 125x zoom

The P1000 continues Nikon’s legacy of making ridiculously long zooms that you can somehow still use handheld — mostly.

Who’s it for: Birders, or sports fans stuck in the nosebleed seats

How much will it cost: $997

Why we picked the Nikon Coolpix P1000:

The P1000 is overkill in the best of ways. Its crazy 125x zoom offers an equivalent focal length range of 24-3,000mm, a bonkers super-telephoto that was simply unheard of before it. Even though it’s technically a point-and-shoot, the massive optics required for that lens pushes the camera to over 3 pounds. Yeah, that’s not exactly portable and pocketable like other options on this page, but you won’t find anywhere near that much zoom power anywhere else.

Don’t expect superior image quality from the P1000’s relatively small sensor (more or a less a requisite for fitting such a long lens), but Nikon has done an admirable job with the image stabilization, so you can at least handle that lens without requiring a tripod — provided you have enough light, and a little patience. At nearly $1,000, this isn’t an impulse buy, but if you need one camera that can shoot everything from wide vistas to close-ups of birds, this is likely your best bet.

Our full Nikon Coolpix P1000 review

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

The best advanced compact camera for travel

Why should you buy this: Great stills and video, good zoom, impressive speed.

A 1-inch-type sensor paired with a 24-200mm lens in an impossibly compact body.

Who’s it for: Enthusiasts after a compact camera that won’t sacrifice performance.

How much will it cost: $1,198

Why we picked the Sony RX100 VI:

Sony somehow fit a 24-200mm f/2.8-4 lens into this pocket powerhouse. The RX100 VI is the latest in a growing line of advanced compact cameras featuring 20-megapixel 1-inch-type sensors that boast superior image quality to most point-and-points. This one also has the longest zoom range of the series yet. While this has also made it the most expensive model, you can’t beat the versatility of that lens in such a portable form factor when it comes to travel photography.

The RX100 VI is also fast, capable of focusing in as little as 0.03 seconds and shooting bursts at speeds up to 24 images per second. It can also handle your video needs admirably, thanks to support for 4K resolution and a host of advanced options that will sate the appetite of even professional videographers.

If you can get by with a shorter lens, the older R100 V has an 8x zoom with a brighter f/1.8 aperture for shooting in low light. It also comes at a cheaper price of $998.

Read more here

Olympus PEN E-PL9

The best interchangeable lens camera for travel

Olympus PEN E-PL9 review
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Good image stabilization, fast performance, easy to use

The GX85 is a compact interchangeable-lens camera with a rich feature set including stellar image stabilization and sharp 4K video.

Who’s it for: Photographers who want a compact camera without sacrificing versatility.

How much will it cost: $699 (includes kit lens)

Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GX8:

This svelte and stylish mirrorless camera is about as close as interchangeable-lens cameras get to smartphones in size, and that makes the E-PL9 very appealing for serious travel photography. Its fully articulating screen is great for family selfies, and the responsive touch interface makes using it a breeze. Its Micro Four Thirds sensor sits between the 1-inch sensor of the Sony RX100 and the APS-C sensor in the Fujifilm XF10 in terms of size, helping it achieve good image quality without scarfing too much portability. The included 14-42mm kit lens is also designed for maximum space savings, retracting into itself when not in use.

While the camera is compatible with the full line of Micro Four Thirds lenses, enthusiast photographers may not appreciate the E-PL9’s dumbed-down physical controls, which make the camera harder to use in manual mode. Such users may be happier with the more advanced, but slightly larger Olympus OM-D E-M10 III.

Read more here

How we test

When testing a camera, we look at its features and tech in the context of real-world use. For models we haven’t fully reviewed, our opinion is based on what hands-on experience we’ve had, as well as the general public reception. When it came to selecting models for this list, we specifically focused on cameras that combined strong feature sets with portability.

Helpful advice

When shopping for a camera, perhaps the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting something you will actually use. You could spend $2,000 or more on a top-of-the-line machine for your next vacation, but if you never take it out of your hotel room because it’s too big and heavy, it’s basically worthless.

If you already shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have a good idea of what you’re willing to use. If, however, you currently shoot with just a phone, you should consider in what ways your phone is most lacking before making a choice, such as low-light image quality, the ability to shoot in all-weather conditions, resolution, etc.

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