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The best travel compact cameras in 2018

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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.

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.

Some models now sport larger sensors for improved image quality

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?

Alternatively, if you’re going to be by the pool or on the beach, you might want something a bit more rugged, so take a look at our best waterproof camera and best action camera guides.

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

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 in a much larger sensor. We saw this with the Lumix ZS100 (known as the Lumix TZ100 outside the US), and Panasonic’s continued this with the new Lumix ZS200 / TZ200. This physically larger sensor enables much better image quality, but the slight downside though is the zoom range lens isn’t quite so extensive as some. That said, The ZS200 / TZ200 still sports a very versatile 15x zoom lens, while there’s also a handy built-in electronic viewfinder. 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. The best travel zoom compact camera available, if a little pricey. 

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS200 / Lumix TZ200 review 

Panasonic TZ100

Until the Lumix ZS200 / TZ200 came along, the Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 was our pick of the travel zoom compacts. Like it’s newer sibling, the ZS100 / TZ100 enjoys a large 1.0-inch sensor with a decent 20.1MP resolution, but the 10x zoom is one of the shortest available. Not let that put you off though, as the Z100 / TZ100 is a brilliant camera, with a built-in electronic viewfinder, large touchscreen, 4K video, Wi-Fi image  transfer and easy-to-use controls. There’s also more advanced manual features as well, including raw capture for those who like to edit their images at a latter date. It all adds up to be a powerful travel compact that should now be at an even more tempting price. 

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / Lumix TZ100 review

Panasonic TZ70

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.

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / Lumix TZ70 review

Sony HX90

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

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. 

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS70 / Lumix TZ90 review

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

Canon SX710 HS

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

Nikon S9900

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.

Also consider…

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