Best compact travel camera 2016

These pocket-sized superzoom cameras will let you travel light and shoot almost anything

TZ100 lifestyle

When you're going on vacation you're going to want to take a camera too, and the one in your smartphone probably won't cut it because it doesn't have a decent zoom.

In fact zooming is the key, because you won't know what you want to shoot until you get there and quite often the things you want to photograph will be off in the distance. Now is not the time to find out your zoom isn't powerful enough.

This is why the 'travel camera' genre is so popular. These are compact cameras barely larger than a regular point-and-shoot model, but with massive 20x or 30x zoom lenses. You get the portability of a regular camera, but with much more scope for shooting different kinds of subjects.

You're not going to get the same kind of quality you'd get from a DSLR or a mirrorless camera because the only way to make cameras with big zooms small enough to go in a pocket is to use a smaller sensor. But the picture quality is still pretty good, and perfect for sharing with friends and family.

If you're not sure this is the kind of camera you need, check our step by step guide: What camera should I buy?

Otherwise, keep reading, because here's our list of the top compact travel cameras you can buy right now.

Panasonic TZ70

1. Panasonic TZ70/ZS50

Panasonic practically invented the travel camera and this is its best yet

Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 12.1MP | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Electronic viewfinder
Manual controls and raw
No touchscreen
Not cheap

Panasonic's TZ-series cameras kicked off the whole big-zoom travel camera genre, and they still lead the field. The TZ70 is the latest and best, with a big 30x zoom, auto and manual controls and the ability to shoot raw files – a big bonus for keen photographers who want the best quality from a small camera. The TZ70 even squeezes in an electronic viewfinder. It's the Swiss Army Knife of travel cameras, combining convenience, quality and control. There are lots of imitators, but this is the original.

Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ70

Sony HX90

2. Sony HX90V

The HX90V matches the TZ70's zoom range and adds GPS to embed location data

Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 18.2Mp | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.5-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Tilting screen
GPS built in
Can't shoot raw
Tricky pull-up viewfinder

The HX90V shares the same 30x optical zoom range as the TZ70 but has a few neat tricks of its own. These include built-in GPS, so that you'll be able to check the location of your photos, and it also has a pop-up electronic viewfinder – a big bonus in the glare of harsh, bright light, when regular LCD screens can be hard to see. There's even a 180-degree tilting screen, and while you can't shoot raw files the HX90V does put your pictures on the map – literally – by recording the location using its built-in GPS receiver.

Read the full review: Sony HX90V

Panasonic TZ100

3. Panasonic TZ100/ZS100

Panasonic's premium travel camera has a larger sensor than the rest of the range

Sensor: 1-inch type, 20.1Mp | Lens: 25-250mm, f/2.8-5.9 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

1-inch type sensor
4K movies
Limited 10x zoom lens
No touchscreen

With the rise of high-end compacts stealing the thunder from compact travel zooms, Panasonic needs to do more to attract buyers. Its response has been to keep the camera body about the same size as earlier TZ-series cameras but to squeeze a much larger sensor into the TZ100. This enables the pixels to be about 2.4x bigger than they are in models like the TZ70 and this helps the TZ100 produce much higher quality images. The zoom lens isn't quite so extensive though, but you still get an electronic viewfinder that makes it easier to compose images in bright sunny conditions and in addition to 4K video recording, there's Panasonic's 4K Photo mode to help capture 8MP images of fleeting moments. It all adds up to be a powerful, if pricey option.