The pandemic may have changed when, where, and how we travel, but it did not stamp out our drive to see the world.
A return to travel means that wanderlust now has an outlet. “Traveling and making photos again is like seeing the north star on a voyage across the ocean,” says National Geographic explorer Kiliii Yüyan. “It feels like I am granted a passport into the hidden stories of the universe, and I’d better make the most of every minute of it.”
Making photographs is one of the best ways to enjoy your adventures in the moment—and long after you return home. As the photo engineer for National Geographic, I design and build custom equipment for professional photographers. I also test consumer products for this annual guide of compact cameras for travelers.
While this year did not bring revolutionary changes in camera manufacturing, there are some excellent new models and helpful updates to discover. Here is our list of the best cameras to bring along on your journeys in the year ahead.
Ricoh GR III and GR IIIx
The GR III may not be the prettiest or flashiest, but it packs a punch. The 24 megapixel (MP) APS-C sensor features in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and dual-type autofocus. The touch screen is snappy, and the menu system is easy to navigate. It’s the one camera I would consider purchasing as my own travel companion.
Released in 2021, the GR IIIx is identical to the GR III in every way except for its lens, which is a slightly tighter 40mm f/2.8 equivalent lens. I regularly recommend this camera to pros as a handy backup. For more: Ricoh
Tip: The camera’s battery does not have a long life span, but it comes with a built-in USB-C connector. Between shooting days, it’s easy to top it off with a phone charger.
The seventh-generation RX100 line is packed with useful features, yet each model is small enough to fit inside a jacket pocket. This version comes with real-time autofocus from Sony’s pro line, giving photographers highly reliable eye/face autofocus that now works with animals, as well as people. No other camera in this size has autofocus or shoot speeds close to this little wonder. Plus, it shoots electronically with almost no distortion of moving subjects.
In practice, this means silent shooting and high shutter speeds for working in bright light. The RX100VII sports a 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens that, while not as bright as I would like, covers a wide range for the traveler. I have regularly described this camera line as my “desert island” choice. Does it command a high price for such a small camera? Yes, but it delivers with outstanding performance. For more: Sony
While other cameras attempt to imitate or technologically usurp the X-T4, none seem able to match the camera’s design, technology, and performance. This camera can go toe-to-toe with professional full-frame mirrorless models and DSLRs in performance, autofocus, image quality, and handling. It shares the same sensor and image processor as the X-Pro 3, but in an SLR-style body that has all of the controls you could want at your fingertips.
One of the most impressive things about the X-T4 is that it retains retro charm (vintage dials) while providing professional-grade controls (modern, wheel based), weather sealing, and ports for video or still photography. This provides an enjoyable shooting experience for enthusiasts and pros. The X-T4 isn’t just an excellent travel camera, it’s one of the best mirrorless APS-C cameras on the market, which makes it—in my view—the reigning champion of 2022 travel cameras. For more: Fujifilm
Fujifilm used to be known for one thing: film. But the original X100 was a game-changer in the digital camera industry. The camera revitalized the brand and brought retro styling back to the forefront of camera design. Now the X100V, the fifth in the X100 series, brings a few significant changes. The lens has the same value (35mm f/2 equivalent), but a new design significantly increases sharpness corner to corner, both for wide open and close up images.
The camera's body design adds nearly full weather sealing, a flip-out screen, and a slightly changed grip, as well as improvements to the control layouts (including a control stick). Fujifilm cameras produce the best JPEGs in the industry, with amazing film simulations; cameras in the X100 line are often the backup of choice for photojournalists. This one has a leaf shutter that can sync to high speeds with a strobe and a built-in neutral-density (ND) filter for combatting bright sunlight. For more: Fujifilm
Tip: When photographing with the Fujifilm X100 always pack three things: a hot shoe thumb rest, a lens hood, and a wrist strap. With those you can easily ditch the camera bag and the lens cap.
Leica Q2, Q2 Monochrom, and Q-P
While the venerable Q series cameras are anything but affordable, they are wonderful to use. If you can overcome the price, these cameras reward in spades. The Q series comprises full-frame, fixed-lens cameras with a 28mm f/1.7 lens providing built-in stabilization. The Q and Q-P are the first generation with a 24.2 MP sensor; the Q2 and Q2 Monochrom have a 47.5 MP sensor, a larger battery, and full weather sealing.
I used to prefer the Q-P to the Q2, but the Q2 Monochrom is a totally different animal with a defining feature you may have guessed: it shoots only black and white. The Q2 Monochrom is nearly identical to the Q2, except that its sensor is missing the color filter stack (or Bayer array) and it has a sleek black paint job.
Removing the color filter makes for astounding black and white images; it also increases sharpness and high ISO performance because more light reaches the pixels. If you’re happy with only black and white, you’ll love the Monochrom. If you prefer color, the Q2 or the elder Q-P will be more your liking. You can’t go wrong with any of these models. For more: Leica
This model takes almost everything we love about the Fujifilm X-T4 and offers it up at an excellent price, with even better ergonomics and minimal tradeoffs. The only major downgrades from the X-T4 to the X-S10 are a smaller battery, only one memory card slot, no official weather sealing, a smaller viewfinder, and other features such as a lower top shutter speed (which only serious photographer will miss). Other than that, this option has the same internal electronics as the X-T4, thus making it the most affordable new model of APS-C mirrorless camera with IBIS. In all, it may be the best deal on the whole list. For more: Fujifilm
Tip: Thanks to its ergonomic grip, this camera pairs well with an all-around zoom lens, such as the Fujifilm XF18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, to make the perfect one lens travel kit.
Canon EOS RP
Although I have never chosen a full-frame, interchangeable lens camera for this annual list, there are now a few compact full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market and a few tiny lenses to go with them. This year I tested both the Canon RP and the even smaller Sony a7c. While the a7c is more technically competent in every category, the Canon RP crushes the a7c in a few ways.
First and foremost, the RP is far more comfortable to use in the hand and up to the face. The RP is an affordable full-frame camera, and one of the least expensive cameras on this list. That’s amazing, considering what the camera brings to the table. It wraps all the fundamentals of photography into a package that is forgiving for the beginner and inviting for the enthusiast. For more: Canon
Tip: Purchase a Canon EF-RF mount adapter so that you can take advantage of countless affordable used EF DSLR lenses on the market.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
A stalwart of this article is the Olympus E-M1 series. This camera series has always impressed me with the sheer number of features it provides. Yes, you have a smaller size 4/3 inch sensor, but this allows for ultra-compact long lenses. The E-M1 Mark III brings various superlatives to the list: best ergonomics, best weather sealing, smallest super-telephoto lenses, and the best stabilization system in the still camera industry.
These highlights are coupled with outstanding new special features such as hand-held high-res shooting (you can take 50 MP images out of a burst of 16 frames) and the Live-ND filter, which simulates a neutral-density filter. In addition, computational photography for handheld shooting emulates some tripod-based long exposure shooting (for example, blurred water of a waterfall). The slightly updated 20 MP sensor from the previous generation E-M1 camera leads to a small increase in sharpness and clarity. The pro line lenses have a high-quality build and sport features such as integrated lens hoods, smooth zoom and focus rings, and round bokeh visualization (background blur).
The fantastic ergonomics, excellent image stabilization, all-weather durability, high-speed performance, and easy-to-use small lenses add up to a potent wildlife photography kit that won’t weigh you down. Note: The firm that bought the Olympus imaging division seems to be keeping its promises of continuing lens and camera development, so I can confidently recommend the brand. For more: Olympus
Tip: The best lenses include the Olympus 12-100mm F/4 IS PRO (24-200mm kit lens), 40-150mm F/2.8 PRO (80-300mm pro zoom), 7-14mm PRO (wide-angle zoom), and 300mm F/4 IS PRO (600mm F4 equivalent).