When it comes to visiting exotic locales, you’ll definitely want a great camera by your side. Sure, you could carry your smartphone with you, but the benefit of real zoom will let you capture all kinds of scenes, from close-ups of that bust you saw in a museum to epic, wide-angle landscapes. Thankfully, there are a ton of excellent cameras on the market you can chose from.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III
If you want to up your travel photography game and wow your pals back at home, the Canon Powershot G7 X Mark III is an excellent choice. It’s a nice step up from previous versions of the same recipe from Canon, offering up perky performance and great image quality. The capable 4.2x optical zoom lens lets in plenty of light at its widest (f/1.8 aperture), giving a natural separation between subjects and the background. It's a great option for image stabilization.
It’s compact enough to fit in a pocket or purse yet has enough advanced controls to sink your teeth into, including a nifty stacked mode/exposure compensation control (letting you flip between shooting video and stills or control the exposure of photos with a flick of your thumb) and a large dial around the lens. Touchscreen controls make the G7 X III approachable, too, and the menus are fully optimized to make tapping around easy.
Its sensor and processor are an improvement from prior Powershot cameras, offering up the ability to shoot 4K/30p video and up to 20 FPS when shooting bursts of still images. This faster tech also gives autofocus a nice boost, and it feels confident and fast to focus on subjects when compared with other cameras we tested.
If you're on a tight budget, the Panasonic Lumix LX10 is the way to go. It’s not as zippy as the Canon, but it turns out pleasing images.
The marquee feature is the double zoom you get at 10x optical. This makes the LX10 is a bit bigger and heavier than the Canon, but it's still super easy to tote on a wrist strap or in a small bag. What also gives the LX10 a little edge is the inclusion of a tiny-but-still-useful electronic viewfinder. The EVF is a big help if you're on vacay somewhere with unrelenting sunshine that makes the rear display hard to see.
Compared to more expensive cameras in its class, the Lumix LX10 holds its own with image quality but be aware that this camera's older guts mean it can seem a little poky when trying to focus on a subject. And although it has a handy touchscreen, it's fixed to the rear of the camera, making it less flexible to use in certain situations. Finally, the LX10 lost points when it comes to ergonomics, due to its slippery metal body and wimpy grip. But, for the money, the LX10 still impressed and would make a fine addition to your sling bag the next time you go on holiday.
This previous-generation Powershot is a fantastic camera that you can probably get at a great price. It shares many of its core assets with our top pick in this guide such as a similar 4.2x zoom lens, a similar overall design, and a similar sensor. Unfortunately, this camera fell behind in speed, image quality, and features, which is why it scored a little bit behind its more modern sibling.
This compact Powershot is one of our favorite cameras for beginners. Not only does the touch-friendly control style make it easy to use, but image quality is pretty darn good as well. It's awesome for what it is, but its less capable 3x optical zoom lens put it behind the G7 X Mark III. Because there's no flexible rear display, it's harder to get off-angle shots like dramatic low-angles of architecture or overhead images of crowds. We think you'll like this camera, but it's not the all-rounder that the G7 X III manages to be.
The older Sony RX100 is a fantastic camera, but it's starting to show its age. Compact though it may be, we found that for the money, there are better values to be had. Its 3.6x zoom lens doesn't have a whole lot of reach, and its older processor and sensor means more noise and a tougher time in low-light conditions.
This traditional, so-called bridge zoom camera (a camera that’s physically like a DSLR but that operates like a simpler point-and-shoot camera) is a long-time favorite among travelers. Its compact body and nice grip make it a breeze to use. That's not even mentioning its prodigious zoom—65x optical gives you a lot of reach to zoom in on distant objects. Unfortunately, this camera's small sensor means image quality is often far worse than a phone and things like haze and heat can make the lens less useful than you'd think when you start to zoom in close. The SX70 HS is fine for what it is, as the bigger body and viewfinder makes it easy to use, but the tech inside likely won't yield the top-notch images you're looking for.
Nikon's last superzoom has a whopping lens with 83x optical zoom, but we found this to be just too unwieldy for travel. Even though it has a deep grip, the big barrel of the lens makes it the size of a DSLR. And then there's the tiny sensor behind all that lens, which puts out somewhat mediocre photos. At that point, you might as well pick a DSLR like our favorite camera for beginners, the Nikon D3500(available at Amazon for $396.95), which is lighter and more compact overall, with way better image quality.
We think that a good travel camera should be small, but also include enough optical zoom and other features to make it versatile. Ease of use is also a factor since having confidence in your camera can be critical to getting the shot you want. Because it may be hard to anticipate what exactly you'll see on your vacation, it's best to have a camera that can cover a number of bases, from landscapes to portraits and even zoom in enough to capture local fauna.
Ideally, you want a camera that's as light and portable as possible, without sacrificing anything. In other words, a compact camera is key. That way it won't weigh you down during hikes, guided tours, or other physically strenuous activities you might do on your trip.
Many modern point-and-shoot cameras are made of metal, making them impressively strong. But don't be careless—these gadgets contain precision-engineered motors and glass lens elements that can be dislodged or damaged. Take care of your travel camera by keeping it on a strap and try to keep the bumps and scrapes to a minimum.
Does Sensor Size Matter?
Yes. The general rule of thumb is that a bigger sensor can capture more light, making it more capable in a wide array of shooting scenarios. Bigger sensors can also render images differently, making for blurry backgrounds of subjects. This look is known as "bokeh," and even though smartphones can fake it with software, the real deal can often look much more convincing.
Do I Need a Camera Bag?
It's a good idea. Camera bags often give you enough room to protect not only your camera but also your must-have accessories. It's a surefire way to keep track of your camera, charger, spare batteries, and memory cards.
Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Modes
These modes let you set either the aperture (how much light is let into the camera's lens) or the shutter speed (how fast the shutter opens and closes) while the camera controls the rest of the aspects of taking a photo. These two modes will either let you control the depth of field with the aperture or how much blur is in a photo of a moving subject with the shutter while taking other considerations out of the equation.
Exposure compensation is a control that lets you easily tell the camera that you want an image to be brighter or darker. The camera will then alter its own settings to accomplish the effect you want. Some cameras even have a dial that lets you set how much you want to change the look of the final picture.
Mirrorless vs. DSLR vs. Point and Shoot
When it comes to picking the right camera for a beginner, there's one choice you'll need to make immediately: point-and-shoot, DSLR, or mirrorless? These are the three main types of digital camera, and they differ greatly in design. While there are simple and complex versions of all three, here's how they generally work:
DSLRs (or Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras) are the traditional "real cameras" that you've seen for decades. They're bulky, mostly made by Canon and Nikon, and they have a large viewfinder on top that lets you see through the actual lens, giving you an exact view of what you're shooting. Though there are entry-level models that make things simple, they all offer full manual controls and lenses you can take off and swap when you want a different type of shot.
Mirrorless cameras are similar, but typically smaller cameras because they don't have this optical viewfinder. Instead, their viewfinders are usually digital, giving you basically a small video of what the camera is looking at. There are a lot of advantages to this, mostly if you care about shooting video, but the biggest difference is they're smaller and lighter cameras with fewer mechanical parts.
Point-and-shoots are any camera in which the lens can't be removed, though some have big zoom lenses and some have lenses that don't change at all. Though you may think that smaller point-and-shoots are less fancy than the larger ones with giant zoom lenses, there is a spectrum. There are compact point-and-shoots that have full manual control and large "superzoom" cameras that are meant to be used by true novices.
Prime vs. Zoom Lenses
Lens terminology is extremely confusing to first-timers, but the most basic thing you'll need to know is prime vs zoom. Zoom lenses are any lenses that let you "zoom" from one perspective to another. Though we most often think of this as getting a close-up shot of something far away, there are wide-angle zooms as well that do the opposite. If a lens has two different focal length numbers (e.g. 18-55mm or 16-35mm or 18-200mm) then it is a zoom lens.
Prime lenses don't let you zoom in or out, but just give you one fixed perspective (e.g. 50mm or 35mm or 24mm). Since the glass lens elements don't need to move at all, these lenses are usually lighter and cheaper than similar-quality zoom lenses.
One confusing note here is that you can't easily compare the millimeter focal length numbers from between two cameras unless they have the same size image sensor. Explaining why is a bit beyond the scope here, but most lenses are listed with a "full-frame equivalent" focal length. A "full-frame" equivalent from 35mm to 50mm is pretty close to "normal" or roughly what your eyes would see standing at the same distance. If the focal length number is bigger, the lens will produce pictures that are close-up, if they're smaller, it'll give you a wide-angle view.
In a nutshell: if you want to take pictures of things far away, look for a lens with a bigger focal length, if you want to shoot wide-angle photos, get a smaller focal length.
What Else Do I Need?
For most cameras, the only thing you'll need to add to your purchase is an SD card to record your pictures to. You can check out our roundup of the best SD cards here, though pretty much any newer card will do great. Many mirrorless and DSLR cameras are sold as bundle deals from major retailers, so you can usually get a camera, a bag, some filters, and maybe an extra battery thrown in with your purchase.
The biggest thing to consider if you buy a mirrorless or DSLR is another lens. In most cases, your camera will come with a 3x zoom lens that isn't worth much. For these cameras, we always recommend getting a basic prime lens. You especially want one with something like f/1.8 or f/1.4 in the name, since these give you the really smooth out of focus backgrounds that make shooting with a proper full-sized camera so appealing.
Brendan is originally from California. Prior to writing for Reviewed.com, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz and did IT support and wrote for a technology blog in the mythical Silicon Valley. Brendan enjoys history, Marx Brothers films, Vietnamese food, cars, and laughing loudly.
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