Best Travel Cameras of 2015

Best Travel Cameras of 2015

An ideal travel camera is lightweight, versatile, and captures great images. Point-and-shoots are the smallest and least expensive option, but they have some limitations in terms of image quality. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have big sensors and are more compact than digital SLRs—any traveler should give serious consideration to going in this direction. Digital SLRs are the bulkiest and heaviest option but capture professional-grade photographs and offer the widest selection of lenses. Below are our picks for the best travel cameras of 2015 with a detailed description of each.

 

Point-and-Shoots for Travel

The only truly pocketable camera for travel is a point-and-shoot (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have a noticeably larger profile). Point-and-shoots have come a long way in recent years, offering larger image sensors and popular features like built-in Wi-Fi and in-camera panorama mode and HDR. They also are the most economical choice and the lowest liability should something happen on the road.

 

Panasonic DMC-ZS40S ($332)

Panasonic DMC-ZS40S cameraMegapixels: 18.1
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
Zoom: 27-720mm
What we like: Huge zoom, electronic viewfinder and Leica lens. 
What we don’t: Small image sensor.
 
The Panasonic DMC-ZS40S is an excellent compact camera for travel and any other use that requires serious zoom. With a small form factor and total weight under 10 ounces, you still get a massive 27-720mm. Others features include an electronic viewfinder, which is rare in the price range, and plethora of connectivity options including Wi-Fi and GPS. 
 
If you don’t need the zoom, we prefer the older Panasonic DMC-LX7 at 24-90mm equivalent. Boasting a larger sensor than the ZS40S and a faster maximum aperture of f/1.4, the LX7 has the best low-light performance of any camera on this list. Both cameras are solid options for travel in the $350 price range.
 
 

Fujifilm X30 ($499)

Fujifilm X30 cameraMegapixels: 12
Sensor size: 58 sq. mm
Zoom: 28-112mm
What we like: Fujifilm color.
What we don’t: Not everyone loves the retro styling.
 
For travel and street photography, the Fujifilm X30 sits just below the advanced point-and-shoots like the RX100 III below. The feature set is impressive for the price, including a fast 28-112mm lens, electronic viewfinder, Full HD 1080p video, and RAW capability. At around $500, the X30 is a direct competitor to the original Sony RX100, which currently is selling for $498. It’s a tough call between the two—the RX100 has a larger sensor but no electronic viewfinder. If you’ve shot with Fujifilm in the past and want a viewfinder, the X30 is a great option.
 
 

Sony RX100 III ($798)

Sony RX100 III CameraMegapixels: 20.1
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
Zoom: 24-70mm
What we like: Arguably the best point-and-shoot on the market.
What we don’t: The steep price tag.
 
Sony’s RX100 series has led the high-end compact market for three years and counting. Packaged neatly in a lightweight and durable body, the RX100 III has a large sensor that produces high-quality 20.1-megapixel images, a fast Carl Zeiss lens, manual settings, and RAW capability. It’s a camera that many enthusiasts and professionals use when they can’t carry larger set-ups, and it’s terrific for travel.
 
Compared to past versions, the RX1000 III has a pop-up electronic viewfinder and slightly better low light performance with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the telephoto end (you do get less zoom power at 70mm instead of 100mm). If you don’t need the electronic viewfinder, you can save with the RX 100 II and original RX100, both of which are very similar in specifications.
 
Editor’s Note: We gave serious consideration to including the Sony RX10 on this list, which essentially is a beefed-up version of the RX100 III with an impressive 24-200mm f/2.8 lens. We love the concept, but at nearly $1,000 and a hefty 28.7 ounces, we would opt for a mirrorless camera or digital DSLR with a larger image sensor and lower weight. The RX10 is a great camera, but not a good enough value.
 
 

Mirrorless Cameras for Travel

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras were built entirely for digital, fitting DSLR-like image sensors into compact bodies. This class of digital camera is arguably the best for travel, offering outstanding image quality in a lightweight set-up. Below we’ve picked three of the best options for travel from the A6000 up to the new full-frame Sony A7.

 

Sony Alpha a5000 ($448 w/ 16-50mm lens)

Sony Alpha a5000 cameraMegapixels: 20.1
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
What we like: APS-C image sensor.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder. 
 
In the $500 price range, it’s tough to argue for a point-and-shoot when you can get a mirrorless camera like the Sony Alpha a5000. This relatively small camera has a large APS-C image sensor than can run circles around any of the cameras above (it’s the same size as most DSLRs). You also get a tilting LCD screen and wireless connectivity for uploading and posting images. All of this comes in a small camera body that weighs less than 10 ounces.
 
The 16-50mm kit lens, which is equivalent to 27-82.5mm on a 35mm camera, is a decent travel lens and you can add the 55-210mm lens for a complete set-up (you can also see our list of 11 great Sony E-Mount lenses for other options). One cost-saving omission on the a5000 is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, but you can upgrade to the pricier Sony Alpha a6000 for that.
 
 

Nikon 1 J5 ($497 with 10-30mm lens)

Nikon 1 J5 cameraMegapixels: 20.8
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: Fast shooting and image processing.
What we don’t: Smaller image sensor than the big guns below.

Nikon hasn’t been a huge player in mirrorless cameras to date, but we really like the looks of the new Nikon 1 J5. At around $500, you get a CX-format image sensor, which can’t measure up to high-end mirrorless cameras below but is roughly the same size as the RX100 III. The 1 J5 also shoots ridiculously fast at up to 20 frames-per-second and comes with full Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. 
 
The 10-30mm kit lens included with the Nikon 1 J5 is equivalent to 27-81mm, a healthy zoom range for travel. We love that the camera and kit lens weigh a total of just 12.4 ounces, roughly the same as many advanced point-and-shoots. You can add the 30-100mm telephoto for a few hundred dollars more. The Nikon 1 J5 will begin shipping on April 30 and is available for pre-order. 
 
 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II ($1,099)

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II cameraMegapixels: 16
Sensor size: 225 sq. mm
What we like: Weather resistance and wide selection of lenses.
What we don’t: Pricey. 
 
Olympus hit the mark with past mirrorless camera models like the OM-D E-M1 and E-M5, and the new O-MD E-M5 Mark II continues the tradition. This compact camera offers big-time image quality in a small package—you won’t find a better balance of size, functionality, and features. 
 
In addition to the Micro Four Thirds image sensor, the E-M5 Mark II is weather resistant for protection from the elements and boasts a number of improvements over its predecessor. It has a larger rear LED screen, improved video, faster burst rates and shutter speeds, and a beefed-up grip. For experienced photographers who may be considering a DSLR for travel, or beginning photographers with a higher budget, the Mark II is a very enticing option. 
 
 

Fujifilm XT-1 ($1,198)

Fujifilm XT1 CameraMegapixels: 16.3
Sensor size: 368 sq. mm
What we like: A camera we carry on a day-to-day basis. 
What we don’t: Video is disappointing.
 
Fujifilm cameras are known for their colors and overall image quality, and the company hit it out of the park with the X-T1.  The photos produced by the X-T1 are sharp, the colors exemplary, and it has a much more classic feel than some of the overly electronic mirrorless cameras to date. We love this camera—it’s one that we often carry in our bag for travel and outdoor photography. One downside of the X-T1 is that the video is subpar for the price, but the stills simply can’t be beat. 
 
In terms of kit lenses, Fujifilm didn’t buy into industry norm when creating the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0, which produces great images with little distortion or need for post processing. We also like the 18-135mm kit lens, which isn’t quite as good in low light but adds weather resistance for travel and outdoor photography. 
 
 

Sony a7 II ($1,698)

Sony Alpha a7 II mirrorless cameraMegapixels: 24.3
Sensor size: 855 sq. mm
What we like: A terrific camera for travel and the outdoors.
What we don’t: The lack of lens options, although it is improving.
 
For travel photographers who want professional-grade images, give the Sony Alpha a7 II a serious look. This full-frame mirrorless camera offers 24.3 megapixels of resolution and tips the scales at just 19.6 ounces (it’s considerably lighter and smaller than any full-frame digital SLR from Canon or Nikon). You also get 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization and the lens mount on the A7 II has been reinforced.
 
The biggest downside of choosing the A7 II is the lack of lens options—Sony currently has 8 E-mount full-frame lenses with more on the way. You can use a variety of adapters for your Canon, Nikon or Leica lenses, but the selection still is a fraction of the competition. For even higher resolution, the Sony A7R has 36.4 megapixels, and the Sony A7R II is rumored to be released later this year.
 
 

Digital SLRs for Travel

Digital SLRs have the largest sensors, the most precise lenses, and capture the highest overall image quality of any type of camera. They also are bulkier than mirrorless cameras or point-and-shoots and come with a higher price tag. For travel, many of the entry-level models are lightweight, offer great image quality along with features like built-in Wi-Fi and GPS.
 
 

Nikon D3300 ($497 with 18-55mm lens)

Nikon D3300 DSLR cameraMegapixels: 24.2
Sensor size: 372 sq. mm
What we like: Lightweight and a great value. 
What we don’t: LCD screen is stationary. 
 
Digital SLRs are larger in size than their mirrorless counterparts, but it’s tough to argue with the image quality or price. For under $500, you can get Nikon’s leading entry-level DSLR with an 18-55mm lens. This camera excels for both still photography and videos, and you have Nikon’s large selection of DX-format lenses to choose from.
 
Compared to the older D3200, the improvements were enough to give the nod the D3300. First, Nikon removed the optical low pass filter for better sharpness. Second, they added an EXPEED 4 image processor to speed things up and improve low light performance. Finally, Nikon lightened the camera body slightly and cut the weight of the new 18-55mm VR II kit lens by 20%. This all means that the Nikon D3300 offers impressive images in a lightweight body.  
 
 

Canon Rebel SL1 ($499 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel SL1 CameraMegapixels: 18
Sensor size: 328 sq. mm
What we like: The whole package in a beginner DSLR.
What we don’t: A bit heavier than comparable models from Nikon.
 
For Canon shooters, the company’s extremely popular Rebel series of digital SLRs are known for their ease of use and photo and video quality. The Canon Rebel SL1 is the lightest in the Rebel line, and it’s a solid all-around camera for travel and daily use. You get an 18-megapixel APS-C image sensor, a large LCD screen for navigation, and Full HD 1080p video capability. If you’ve used Canon before and prefer that brand over Nikon, the Rebel SL1 is a great travel DSLR. For more features and functionality, try the slightly bulkier Rebel T5i. 
 
 

Nikon D750 ($2,297)

Nikon D750 CameraMegapixels: 24.3
Sensor size: 864 sq. mm
What we like: A full-frame DSLR from Nikon at an affordable price. 
What we don't: Has an optical low pass filter unlike many new Nikon models.
 
We certainly didn’t include the Nikon D750 on this list for its size, which at 26.5 ounces for the camera body is the heaviest camera on this list. But if you want the best image quality, you have to go full-frame, and the D750 is an attractively priced way to do so. For just over $2,000—or around $3,000 with the 24-120mm lens—you can get photos and functionality to rival top professionals. 
 
The D750 is Nikon’s leading “entry-level” full-frame digital SLR. Compared to Nikon’s high-end full-frame camera like the D810, you get fewer megapixels and features, but we love the accessibility of this camera to the masses (just a handful of years ago full-frame cameras were all $5,000 and up). For a complete list of the options in this category, see our list of the best full-frame cameras of 2015.