A new wave of compact digital cameras has been hitting the market steadily over the past few years, with each new release getting closer to pro-level DSLRs in terms of optics quality and resolution. Pocket-sized and powerful, these compact cameras are changing the way in which consumer and prosumer photographers capture moments while on the road. Before you head out on your next adventure, consider leaving the DSLR behind and opting for one of the more sensible options below.
What to Look for
Unlike “DSLR” or “Mirrorless”, the term “travel camera” is a bit murky. So, for the sake of this article (and our advice to you) let’s say that we’re looking for a lightweight camera (DSLRs: out), preferably with a fixed lens but potentially interchangeable if things don’t get too bulky. It should be attractive, too. We want to be able to plunk this thing on a cafe table and not look like a total neckbeard.
Otherwise, it should be pretty user-friendly, sure the Leica M11 is a fantastic travel camera, but we don’t have the time or money to get into manual focus rangefinder systems. Let’s stick to snappy autofocus cameras with the ability for some quick artistic controls (nix the ultra-cheap point and shoots) like aperture. Good phone connectivity is a huge plus.
Generally, you should be able to see a cool fleeting moment, capture said moment and have it on your phone within a pretty short amount of time, and you shouldn’t have to look like a dork while doing it.
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 VII
Sony’s RX100 line of compact shooters has long been a fan favorite and the VII is the latest and greatest model — it’s really just a great all-around travel camera. It’s packing a solid (if a bit petite) 20.1MP 1-inch sensor behind a quality zoom lens and a very cool pop-up viewfinder. Plus, with 4K HDR video capabilities, terrific advanced tracking and autofocus features, a flip-around viewfinder and an external mic port (a first for a Sony RX100), the VII is really the perfect camera for amateur (and even serious) bloggers.
- Sensor: 20.1MP 1-inch Exmor RS BSI CMOS Sensor
- Lens: Zeiss Vario-Sonnar f/2.8-4.5 Lens, 24-200mm (35mm equivalent)
- Year released: August 2019
The normal GRIII is a great little camera and the GRIIIx is an even greater little camera. The GRIII line is basically defined by having a honking big 24.2MP APS-C sensor, a fast, non-zoom lens, and nearly nothing else. It’s a purist camera that does one thing very well: taking photos. Though technically personal preference, we like the GRIIIx more because of its tighter 40mm focal length which is right in the middle of what people would consider normal, instead of the original GRIII’s 28mm lens (wide). Generally, the 40mm focal length is gonna feel more special/different when compared to your phone camera.
- Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
- Lens: 40mm f/2.8 Lens (35mm Equivalent)
- Year released: 2021
The Fujifilm X100V is just so. dang good. It’s got a fast, 35mm f/2 lens projecting onto Fuji’s omnipresent (see below) and a fantastic 26.1MP APS-C sensor. It’s got classic looks and intuitive external controls for key settings, but what really sets this camera apart is the viewfinder. It’s this super trick/weird hybrid setup where you’ve got the option to either look at a very high-quality electronic viewfinder or a real-deal optical finder with all sorts of cool info overlaid. If you think it sounds like a gimmick…you’re mostly right, but it’s a very fun experience to shoot around in the optical viewfinder mode (even if you’ll spend most of your time in the EVF mode).
- Sensor: 26.1 APS-C X-Trans
- Lens: 35mm f/2 (35mm equivalent)
- Year released: 2020
The Leica Q2 is the company’s fixed-lens full-frame digital camera and it looks basically identical to the company’s original Q, which was a smash hit amongst photographers who valued portability, fast speeds, minimalism and, most importantly, could afford the massive Q’s price tag. Like its predecessor, the Q2 once again proves that a Leica can have autofocus, an electronic viewfinder and a fixed lens – and still be a real Leica. The new model is more durable (and splash-resistant) and has better connectivity, but more importantly a significantly upgraded sensor, with almost double the resolution (47.3 vs 24.2).
The Leica Q2 will likely be a grail item for most people. If money is no object (or you just want to splurge), however, this is a travel camera to buy if you want to be the envy of all your friends. For bonus points, track down the ultra-cool “Reporter” edition.
- Sensor: 47.3MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
- Lens: Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH. Lens
- Year released: 2019
Fujifilm X-T30 II
Best to think of Fuji’s X-T30 II as the sensible upgrade from a fixed lens system. It’s not necessarily more expensive, but you’ll be lugging around some extra lenses. The interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera is a pretty perfect travel camera for those that want to do the photo deep dive and have the ultimate flexibility that you can only get by having multiple lenses. It’s small and lightweight, plus it’s not terribly expensive, but the performance levels you get with this thing are off the charts. It has a huge APS-C image sensor, fast processor, incredible autofocus (on par with Sony’s APS-C offerings) and shoots 4k video at 30 frames per second.
You’ll get some top-notch design and Fujifilm’s X-mount lenses – particularly the non-zoom lenses – are top-notch and not too expensive. If you’ve got this body, a 23mm f/2 and a 50mm f/2 in your bag, you’re golden.
- Sensor: 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans BSI CMOS 4 Sensor
- Lens: multiple X-mount lenses available
- Year released: 2020
Read Our Full Review
It’s best to think of Sony’s full-frame A7C as an A7III in a new housing with smarter autofocus. That is to say, it’s an absolute unit. Its main selling point is cramming a huge, 24.2MP full-frame sensor into a tiny body with an interchangeable lens mount. Autofocus is snappy and it somehow manages to fit a 5-axis sensor stabilization in there too. The performance-per-cubic-inch of this camera is incredibly impressive and the fact that you get access to Sony’s massive (and very good) line of full-frame E-mount lenses is just gravy.
- Sensor: 24.2MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI Sensor
- Lens: Sony E-Mount
- Year Released: 2020