How to Pick the Right Travel Camera

As photographers, we often have a lot of different horses for different courses, and when it comes to traveling, it often seems really, really hard to choose the right one to take with you. If you're struggling with this dilemma, you're not alone. Photographer and YouTuber Omar Gonzalez is right there with you.

It's good to have options, and Gonzalez examines the pros and cons of taking the big DSLR with you (in this case, his Nikon D700) versus smaller options such as the Fujifilm X-T3 or X-T20 cameras, ultimately settling on a Sony a7C, which if you cruise to the end of his video to look at his photos, seemed to be an excellent choice.

In the stone age of mirrorless cameras, I'd often struggle between half-baked Micro four thirds cameras or pathetic efforts from Canon and Nikon, such as the original EOS M or Nikon 1 series cameras (how things have changed with the R and Z lines). Then, in later years, I'd convince myself that a 1-inch sensor was alright and head out with a Canon PowerShot G9 X or G3X with its insane 600mm-equivalent zoom if I was really feeling adventurous.

Of the choices that Gonzalez takes a look at here, between a Google Pixel smartphone, a GoPro, and various DSLRs and lenses, there is another sensible option these days and one that's experiencing a bit of a renaissance with the new Olympus OM-1 and Panasonic Lumix GH6: Micro Four Thirds.

It's when I got my hands on the 2013-era Panasonic Lumix GM1, a camera that was the same size as a G9 X (roughly a deck of cards), that I realized the sweet spot between sensor size, image quality, and portability. Combined with Panasonic's tiny-but-mighty 12-32mm kit lens that came with the camera, it made a smaller-sensor compact completely irrelevant. It allowed me to travel all through London and shoot stellar photos at a cousin's wedding with ease. I wouldn't be able to do this easily with a point-and-shoot compact camera or my phone:

The Micro Four Thirds system had some really portable gems, such as the Panasonic Lumix GM1 used to take this photo.

The GM1 is a bit long in the tooth, but similarly small-size options exist in Micro Four Thirds that pack some more modern tech. The Olympus E-M10 series is a particularly great travel camera that's compact with excellent image quality.

So, while Gonzalez settled on a Sony full frame model, there's plenty to choose from in between that and a cell phone. What are your picks for a travel camera? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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21 Comments
Tony Clark's picture

I felt like his Therapist listening to him justifying his Travel setup. If it's a fun trip that doesn't involve work then take the smallest point and shoot. I take my Canon G15 on those trips and it makes nice images, snapshots or quick videos.

John Sully's picture

Yeah, pretty much. One of the bloggers I follow (not a pro, but a very good hobbiest) uses a Sony RX10. For a travel camera I might choose a Sony RX100 of whatever the current generation is. I'm an Olympus shooter so i use my workhorse body and the 12-100 f/4. But if I really needed to travel light, I'd choose one of the above-mentioned Sony cameras.

winzehnt gates's picture

If Panasonic ever had released a successor of the GM5 (which is basically a GM1 with EVF) with a flip screen, I'd probably still using it. What I missed most when I had a Panasonic MFT camera was the lack of numbered distance scale. If only has the "rubber band" between a flower icon and a mountain icon. At some otherwise great shots, I realized to late that the AF was of. Now I use Fuji and can check which distance the AF chose.
Still the GM1 and GM5 delivered on the promise that a smallish sensor mirrorless camera can be really compact.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I tried to track down a GM5 for years after it was discontinued. Finding one in good shape at a reasonable price is like finding a unicorn. Still, that generation sensor was pretty good (still using it in some of my cameras today).

winzehnt gates's picture

At the moment I use a Fuji X70 as everyday camera. The X-trans II sensor is also not new, but the results are still great. It lacks an EVF but at least it has a flip screen. (It even flips up to be used as selfy screen.) And the wide angle converter is a great addition when city traveling.

winzehnt gates's picture

I only take stills and don't shoot video when travelling. So, my ideal all purpose combination for travel photography is:

1) A Fuji X100V for WR and the pure joy of using it. (I've no problems using the digital teleconverter)
2) A Ricoh Theta; mine is a Theta V, but any compact 360 sphere camera will do. It's just great to be able to revisit the places you have been with a smartphone and a google cardboard.
3) A compact one-inch-sensor zoom camera. Mine is a Panasonic TZ202 (340g), but a Sony RX100 mk6 or mk7 are equally great. In good light, the one-inch-sensor produces good quality images and such a camera provides the focal lengths the X100V doesn't cover.

Together they weigh 478g + 121g + 340g = 939g
(If you choose an RX100 mk6 or mk7 instead of the TZ202, you even stay just under 900g.)

Greg Edwards's picture

You’ve gotten me thinking now. I use an eos m5 and usually take the 18-55mm as a general purpose walk around lens and the little 22mm as an alternative walkaround (it’s great in low light too). I also take my 55-200mm if I know we’re going to perhaps a zoo perhaps.

I don’t love my system and I love the idea of a high quality fixed focal length camera such as the x100 series but I’d miss the extra reach afforded by my 55-200mm. But a 1” zoom camera like you mention could fill this gap.

Admittedly I use the camera in my iPhone quite a bit these days, but I love the feel of a real camera in my hands. Not to mention, the Fuji is a lot more stylish, less black-plasticy, and less touristy than my canon.

winzehnt gates's picture

An additional benefit is that if one camera gets broken, you still have a backup. Plus, if you're traveling with your significant other you can share one camera and you will have more images with you in the frame.

PS: I wish Fuji had an equivalent to the Canon 22mmF2 pancake lens. Fuji's 23mmF2 is much bigger.

Stuart C's picture

I think the moral of the story is, own less gear.

winzehnt gates's picture

Ideally (as a hobby photographer) you have just one piece of gear for any given use-case.
I really try to follow this idea, but sometimes my GAS is stronger than me.

Stuart C's picture

Yeah 100%, I even feel like I have way too much, thats with an X-T2 I won in a comp, a used X-T20 and an X-E2s I picked up for £399 in an Amazon sale brand new. Lens wise id love the new 33mm but ive not been out with my camera in a month, so spending that money on a lens is a waste of time when I have 2 zoom lenses covering that range.

Leon Kolenda's picture

NO! More Gear! More Gear! LOL! It keeps Digital Photography & Video Alive!

Stuart C's picture

Haha yeah bless the gearheads for keeping us all doing what we love, where would we be without them upgrading to the latest 6 grand camera body every year.

Tom Egel's picture

I tried Fuji (XT1, XPro2, XE3), but never got along with them (I have never used Sony or M43). When traveling, I want a light kit with a compact zoom, and the Fujis are just a bit too large for me. I also prefer the Nikon UI, so when the Zfc came out, I gave it a go and it’s just what I’ve been looking for. When paired with the 16-50, it is extremely compact and lightweight (I barely notice it). Add the 50-250 and focal lengths are covered. The articulating screen and long exposure setting (up to 900sec) provide a versatile kit for just about any situation. If I need a faster lens, I can add the Z 35 prime or even some old MF primes. There has been a lot of (unjustified) criticism of the Zfc, so I thought I’d give it a shout out here.

Stuart C's picture

Great camera, ignore the criticism.

Richard Twigg's picture

I'm in love with my X100V for travel.

Scott McDonald's picture

"Travel kit" really depends on where you are traveling to. If I were landing somewhere that had a reputation for your camera gear likely being stolen from you then I would opt for my Lumix LX100ii which is a great performer and small enough to not only fit in a jacket pocket but would probably not attract the attention of would-be thieves. If somewhere that I'm comfortable with then my Canon M50 (which I only use for video) would be a good option as it is both small and lightweight...including the EFM lenses!

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

I watched and listened just to see the winner! But all in all it is the camera at hand. And lens selection is a personal choice. To add to the winner some lenses not known about. In 2012 a lens that started the EF mount for the newly acquired Manota Co. by Sony is a APS-C lens E 10-18mm OSS f/4 (15-27mm) But on a full frame can be used at 12mm to 18mm (18mm if the light shield is removed) and since Sony Cameras can do both APS-C/FF then you have 12-27mm all in one and for $800 and so small with threads for screw on filters and many other extras, I used in 2014 nights for astro milky way BEFORE a 12mm was ever available on a A7s. The next lens yes not fast glass but with reach is the FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS (APS-C 36-360mm) and for those who want bokeh separation that is really about the focus point of and lens and Sony as the best on the fly selection. I use the A7iii BUT the A7c looks great too (thanks for the info). I keep a A7iii with the 24-240 in a teardrop type bag with the 10-18 in the separated pocket area along with a Datacolor cube and battery charger, a bag with a blower/ lens cleaner stuff a inside pocket with a spare battery or two. I also have most all Sony Primes and all the great zoom fast glass zooms for specific planned shots in a suitcase not to look like a camera bag (traveling you know) with attachable backpack strap for the cleaning, charging and maintenance. The teardrop bag is with me driving in town or on a short trip for those great spotted shots.
10-18, 24-240, 24-240, 10-18

Peter Mueller's picture

Nice timing on this article... I took family to Disneyland a couple of weekends ago. First time in more than ten years for me. This was the first visit for my grand-daughter, just about four years old. I struggled with the whole idea of lugging my kit, or even a part of it, around and being the "photographer" (like I usually am). I decided that I wanted to enjoy the family, and especially her, without the distraction, but did want to take some pictures of course. I could have used cell phone, but just haven't been that impressed with control and quality issues.

I resurrected an old P&S Camera I used 13-plus years ago (Pentax Optio Z10 8MP Digital Camera with 7x Optical Zoom - release date September 30, 2007); I needed to replace a set of batteries that had failed, and actually had to do some surgery and replace the soldered-on CMOS battery also.

I was impressed with the results considering the vintage of the equipment (I was really pleased with this camera back then, FYI.)

Along with a little bendy-leg tripod for evening/nighttime, I got some really delightful pictures without incurring the "gammpa - no piktures!" complaint from her (yes, she has the patience of a four-year-old... no surprise there).

I got what is by far the "best" picture of her yet in these four years, taken while we were snaking through the line at the Radiator Springs Racers ride... early afternoon, sunny day but inside a "garage" building open on one side and out of the direct sun, with her caught looking at camera over her shoulder against a vintage gas pump, and a priceless expression of pure joy/happiness/amazement/satisfaction. Technically excellent, and subjectively excellent. Clear and sharp that I was able to print as a 12" x 18" and frame (and give to my kids).

At night while at the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, I got some awesome (landscape) images on tripod that I also printed large with impressive sharpness, clarity and quality.

Best photographic decision I've made in years, hands down. In all of it I was able to thoroughly enjoy the visit as it should be... not from behind the viewfinder.

sam dasso's picture

Sony RX100 VII. Best travel camera ever.

Kevin Harding's picture

As a travel and landscape photographer / backpacker all over Asia and Europe (work can be seen on thedragonsfather by adding the usual dot com) I cannot fathom why people insist on saying this or that camera is better for travel when, within reason (not large format!) virtually any camera is going to be just fine. Go with what you usually use.

More important is the overall pack weight and so considering camera / lenses / tripod / bag / filters / ballhead choices as an ensemble will have a far greater impact on weight savings than 200-300 grammes in camera difference. Even just personally slimming down by a kilo or two (which I always try to do) before your trip is a far far greater weight saving !

If travel to you means towns and cities then even taking more lenses than you need for any single day, and keeping the extra in the hotel safe when not in use, has never been an issue for me in over 50 years traveling.