The 10 Best Cameras For Travel
10. GoPro Hero 6 Black
9. Nikon Coolpix W100
8. Fujifilm FinePix XP130
7. Sony DSCHX80/B
6. Olympus TG-5 Tough
5. Olympus OMD-EM5 Mk II
4. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100
2. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
1. Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 V
The Phones Still Can't Compare
There's an old adage in the photography world that says the best camera is the one you've got on you. Digital photography has made it so that you can carry smaller and smaller cameras on you wherever you go, and that the image quality from these cameras is pretty impressive.
For most people, though, the camera they always have on them is the one on their phone, and there are plenty of lovely billboards up all over the country touting the spectacular quality of their images. So, if the camera on your phone is so great, and it's always within arm's reach, why should you bother getting a separate camera like any of these for your travel?
Well, for starters, those billboards are a trick of perception and technical embellishment. Yes, they were shot using the phones in question, but those phones were outfitted with professional lens attachments and the images they captured spent hundreds of hours in the hands of photo editors, to the point where the image you see is less of what the phone captured and more of what Photoshop could convincingly paint into and onto the image.
Also, you usually see those billboards from a tremendous distance. If you looked at them up close, they would resemble the paintings of the Pointilism school, a branch of impressionism made famous by George Seurat, among others. The resolution really isn't that good, but your eye can't tell the difference from 500 feet away.
By comparison, the cameras on this list have larger sensors, better glass in their bigger, sharper lenses, and they aren't much bigger than the phone you carry around all day. Those larger sensors translate to more megapixels and better low-light performance (ever notice how the pictures your phone takes at night are exponentially worse than the ones it takes in the day?). Those bigger, sharper lenses translate to better light collection, optical zoom functions, and a greater range in depth of field.
All told, the features and benefits of these cameras make for better pictures. Get a physical map of wherever it is you're traveling, pack one of these cameras in your bag and leave the phone in the hotel room. You'll be surprised at how much more exciting an untethered adventure can be, and how much better your pictures will turn out.
Wet Or Dry
As you evaluate the travel cameras on our list, you'll notice that a few of them aren't only water-resistant, they're actually designed to go underwater and to function there. This may seem like a bit of a gimmick, or like an unnecessary feature if you don't plan on going scuba diving or snorkeling on your vacation in the Swiss Alps, but there are certain situations when a waterproof, shockproof camera would come in handy.
The most common of these situations is in the presence of children. I think it's incredibly important for children to encounter photography from a young age, as it gives them an early glimpse into the nuances of our perception, the nature of memory, and the impermanence of the world around them. Unfortunately, if you hand a camera off to a child who doesn't know any better at, say, a restaurant, you might find it sunk to the bottom of the lobster tank. A waterproof camera could take that kind of abuse and keep on ticking.
The one thing to note about the waterproof cameras on our list, however, is that they have a marked reduction in features. There's next to no space in the build for any meaningful optical zoom, and keeping the housing insusceptible to water requires extra care and maintenance for which your vacation schedule might not allow.
The other cameras on out list, while barely splash-resistant in most cases, uniformly take better pictures, as their lens elements aren't encased behind a waterproof plexiglass, and their bodies can utilize the space otherwise dedicated to sealants for additional hardware and processing power.
Get a sense of who's going to use the camera in question, particularly of how responsible he, she, or they are, as well as the purpose of your photos (will you show them to people after your trip?, will you make prints?), and you ought to be able to accordingly narrow down our list to just one or two great options.
Evolving Beyond The Clunkers
Early cameras were not built for travel. They captured light on plates that were enormous compared with the 35mm standard held for so long. Their bodies were enormous, their accessories filled suitcases, and their long exposure times necessitated the use of a tripod on even the sunniest of days.
Digital photography changed all that in the 1990s, as the need to cart around canisters of film that had to be protected from the elements for the duration of a trip transformed into the need to carry around an extra battery or two, and maybe a backup memory card.
What's more, the cameras themselves have gotten much smaller since the digital revolution, and the ability for the industry to pack more megapixels onto a smaller sensor, and to create lens elements designed with the latest computational advancements in glass work have raised the level of even the smallest, least expensive digital cameras leagues above the first film-free shooters.
It is very likely that our cell phones will eventually supplant the need for a digital camera like the ones on our list, but anyone who knows anything about photography will tell you that that time is not yet here, and that if you want to capture truly inspiring images, you need to carry a camera that can't also make a phone call.