When you're going on vacation you're going to naturally want to take a camera along with you too, and the one in your smartphone probably won't cut. Why? While it might be fine for snapshots, the fixed wide-angle lens on most smartphones won't allow you to zoom into your subject.
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. And don't think that you can simply digitally zoom in on your smartphone's screen - quality will drop off rapidly.
- Check out our guide to the best compact cameras
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, while some models now sport larger sensors for improved image quality.
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.
1. Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100
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: 3.0-inch touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate
With the rise of high-end compacts like the excellent Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V stealing the thunder from compact travel zooms, Panasonic's response has been to keep the camera body about the same size as its earlier ZS/TZ-series cameras but to squeeze a much larger sensor into the Lumix ZS100 (known as the Lumix TZ100 outside the US). This enables the pixels to be about 2.4x bigger than they are in models like the Lumix ZS50 / TZ70 (see below) and this helps the Lumix ZS100 produce much higher quality images. The slight downside though is the zoom range lens isn't quite so extensive, but you still get an electronic viewfinder that makes it easier to compose images in bright sunny conditions. Not only that, there's the addition to 4K video recording and Panasonic's 4K Photo mode to help capture 8MP images of fleeting moments. It all adds up to be a powerful, if pricey option.
2. Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70
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: 3.0-inch, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate
Panasonic's ZS/TZ-series cameras kicked off the whole big-zoom travel camera genre, and they still lead the field. The Lumix ZS50 (Lumix TZ70 outside the US) might not be the newest model in the range, but 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, there's little to fault for the price. The Lumix ZS50 even squeezes in an electronic viewfinder. Okay, it's not the largest EVF out there, but it can be really handy in bright light. It's the Swiss Army Knife of travel cameras, combining convenience, quality and control. There are lots of imitators, but this is the original.
3. Sony Cyber-shot HX90V
The HX90V matches the ZS50'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: 3.0-inch, 921K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate
The HX90V shares the same 30x optical zoom range as the ZS50 / TZ70, but has a few neat tricks of its own. It 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 our in-depth Sony Cyber-shot HX90V review
4. Panasonic Lumix ZS70 / TZ90
Panasonic's latest travel compact is good, but a bit pricey
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.3MP | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate
You might be wondering why the Lumix ZS70 (Lumix TZ90 outside the US) comes lower down our list than the ZS50 / TZ70 - a camera now two generations old. The answer's simple - the jump from a resolution to 12MP to 20MP has seen image quality actually suffer in low light thanks to the increased pixel count. That said, there's the welcome addition of 4K video capture and a great a touchscreen interface. There's also a really good touchscreen that now flips out from the body for selfies and built-in EVF - this could be better, but some rivals at the same price don't even feature one at all.
5. Canon PowerShot SX730 HS
Huge zoom in a svelte shell
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.3MP | Lens: 24-960mm, f/3.3-6.9 | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilt-angle screen, 922,000K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 5.9fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate
The Canon PowerShot SX730 HS is something of a tale of two halves. The good news is that it exhibits a fine build and is generally pleasing to use, with good response across most aspects of operation. If you want a no-nonsense camera with a broad zoom range, and most of the decision-making left to it, the SX730 HS may just be what you’re after. The flipside of this is that the PowerShot SX730 HS lacks several of the features of its rivals, despite being one of the dearest options of its kind. 4K video, touch operation, an electronic level, even the option to move the focusing point; if you want any of these you'll have to look elsewhere.
Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot SX730 HS review
6. Canon PowerShot SX710 HS
The SX710 HS can take your movies and stills and turn your travels into story
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 16MP | Lens: 25-600mm, f/3.2-6.9 | Monitor: 3-inch, 460K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 11.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate
The Canon PowerShot SX710 HS offers a 30x zoom, just like the Panasonic ZS50 / TZ70, and costs quite a bit less – but you don't get raw format shooting or an electronic viewfinder. What you do get is 5-axis image stabilisation and a neat set of movie options, including Full HD at 60p for slow-motion playback and a Hybrid Auto mode that captures both stills and movies – you can then create a Story Highlights movie in-camera. The SX710 HS shoots movies just like other travel cameras, but takes them a whole lot further to make them an easy and fun way to capture your travels. Worth considering if you're on a budget and going to be shooting just as many movies as stills.
Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot SX710 HS review
7. Nikon Coolpix A900
Slim and solidly made, the A900 delivers a big zoom at modest cost
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.3MP | Lens: 24-840mm, f/3.4-6.9 | Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate
Looking a lot like the Coolpix S9900 that it replaces, there's a lot packed into the A900 from Nikon. The combination of its slim build and 35x optical zoom range are the key attractions here with this travel zoom compact. Handling is good on the whole, and the tilt-angle screen is a nice touch, though there's no built-in viewfinder. The Coolpix takes advantage of Nikon's SnapBridge Wi-Fi system to transfer images and while the image quality from this camera isn't the best here, but is solid none-the-less and on the whole is good value for money.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV
If you want even more zoom, this is it
Sensor: 1-inch CMOS, 20.2MP | Lens: 24-600mm, f/2.4-4 | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1.44m dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 24fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate/Expert
Like the idea of an all-in-one camera with a quality sensor, but want an even longer zoom lens? Then a bridge camera is the answer and Sony's Cyber-shot RX10 IV is the best there is. Featuring a huge 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom lens, the RX10 IV builds on the RX10 III with an overhauled AF system that now does justice to the rest of the camera, while the 1-inch, 20.1MP sensor is capable of achieving excellent levels of detail. Handling is very polished, feeling like a DSLR in the hand and complemented by a large and bright electronic viewfinder. That's not forgetting the ability to capture video in 4K and shoot at up to 24fps. Impressive stuff.
Read our in-depth Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV review