When travelers, hikers, and backpackers begin planning their gear list for an epic trip, a device to ‘capture the memories’ is usually one of the more difficult pieces to decide on. Some adventurers are content-creators with specific needs like stabilized 4k video, high fps wildlife capture, great low light astrophotography, and/or high resolution landscapes. Others may be content with a hybrid camera that can simply capture personal memories to share with family and friends. Regardless of one’s needs, an adventure camera needs to be portable, durable, and reliable. In this guide, I’ve picked the top 10 cameras that meet these requirements.
Getting StartedBefore I jump into my top ten camera picks and why I picked them, I wanted to quickly address a few topics for readers that might not be up to speed on all of the marketing terms in the camera world.
Sensor Size and MegapixelsThe most frequently talked about and marketed camera spec is the camera’s megapixel count and sensor size. The two most popular sensor sizes for travel cameras are the compact APS-C and the larger Full Frame (35mm). A full frame sensor has around 2.5 times the amount of surface area when compared to an APS-C sensor. This can be important if you want superior low light performance and/or maximum resolution. This comes at a cost though, as full frame cameras are more expensive, the lenses are large, and the lenses are expensive. The larger sensor of full frame cameras are really only needed by photographers that print large and/or shoot a lot in low light. The same can be said about max resolution high megapixel camera sensors. Unless you plan on shooting billboards, print large, or need a ton of room to crop in post, you’ll be fine with 20-30mp. In the guide below, I’ll provide options for both APS-C and Full Frame formats.
Video Resolution and StabilizationMany travelers also want to capture high resolution video of their adventures. The main marketing in the video segment revolves around resolution. Some people have upgraded to UHD 4K tvs and monitors, but most people still view videos at 1080p and 720p. The main reason for this is that many people view content on smaller phones and tablets where the advantages of a high res video is lost. All this is to say you shouldn’t get caught up in the video feature marketing unless you plan on a major production. Almost all cameras shoot stabilized UHD video now, which is more than enough for great looking YouTube videos and highlight reels.
Pick the Camera that Works for YouThe most important thing to do before looking at my top ten cameras and picking and option that works for you, is to sit down and think about your needs and what you hope to get out of a camera. Here are a few topics to get your ideas moving in the right direction:
- Lightweight: If you plan on covering a lot of ground on foot with a pack, you’ll want a compact and lightweight camera. Keep an eye out for body size and the size and weight of a systems lenses. If you’re a car camper or city traveler, you can afford to have a heavier and larger system.
- Weather Resistant: If you spend a lot of time outsize in dust, dirt, rain, or snow, you’ll want a camera system with weather sealing. This will keep your gear protected from the elements.
- Durable: Find a durable system without any fragile elements that might break under heavy use. You’ll also want to make sure your system can handle cold/hot weather, humidity, and constant use.
- Affordable: Find an affordable system you can afford to use. Try to avoid expensive systems you’ll be afraid to break or get stolen.
- Battery Life: Look for a battery system that can go all day. A minimum of 400 shots on a charge is a good benchmark.
- Dual Card Slots: I like cameras with dual card slots. I’ve never had a card fail me, but it’s nice to have that redundancy.
- Hybrid Functions: If you plan on shooting photos and video, find a camera that does both well.
- Customization: Make sure your camera has decent manual features available with hardware and buttons. Unless you plan on shooting in auto mode all day, you’ll want to be able to make adjustments on the fly to your composition.
- Inconspicuous: Avoid special edition cameras that stick out. This will make you a target for thieves.
- Sensor: I touched on this earlier, but purchase the sensor that works for your needs.
- Lens Offerings: Each camera system has its own compatible lenses (unless you use adapters). Make sure the lens offeries of the body you pick work for your needs.
- Connectivity: Many people take pictures with their phone and then edit and post them online right away. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers have yet to streamline this process. Some do better than others, but nobody is perfect. Most have apps though that allow for image transferring and GPS tagging.
The Fujifilm x100v is a small and light aps-c camera that’s perfect for travel. I’ve reviewed this camera on the blog, and found it to be one of the most enjoyable cameras to shoot with. It is weather sealed, has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, a fast f/2 max aperture, and a gorgeous hybrid viewfinder. The x100v also shoots beautiful jpegs with Fuji’s renowned film simulations, which are great for quick shares with family and for social media.
Best For: Adventurers that love the 35mm focal length and are looking for a simple single lens solution camera
Pros: Beautiful photos, hybrid viewfinder, 4k video, small
Cons: Fixed focal length, lagging auto focus, no IBIS
If you like the size of the Fuji x100v, but want a full frame camera with interchangeable lenses, the Sony a7c is a great option. This camera is lightweight and very compact for a full frame offering. There are an abundance of e-mount lenses to choose from, allowing travelers to find the lens options that work best for their shooting syle.
Best For: People wanting a small full frame camera with interchangeable lenses
Pros: Small, light, great battery life, industry leading auto focus
Cons: Terrible viewfinder
If you want a large sensor camera in the body of a point-and-shoot, the Ricoh GR iii is a great option. This is one of the top picks for street photographers due to its size, weight, and ability to blend in.
Best For: Street photographers and those wanting a pocketable large sensor camera
Pros: Small, compact, lightweight
Cons: Terrible battery life, fixed lens, no viewfinder
The Sony a7riv is a 61mp beast of a landscape camera. To get the most out of the a7iv, you’ll also need to invest in the higher quality Sony G and GM lenses, which makes for a pretty expensive travel combo. If you’re okay with the size, weight, and price of this combination, you’ll be very happy with the tack sharp compositions.
Best For: Landscape shooters wanting max resolution. Car campers.
Pros: Phenomenal resolution, auto focus, lens selection of e-mount
Cons: Expensive, requires top notch glass, large/heavy
The Fuji X-T4 is a fantastic hybrid camera, with a full feature set for stills and video. The camera is fully weather sealed, and has physical controls for exposure when shooting outside and wearing gloves. Fuji also has a compact set of weather resistant lenses that pair nicely with the X-T4. I’ve reviewed quite a few of them.
Best For: Hybrid shooters. Those wanting the best APS-C camera on the market.
Pros: IBIS, sturdy weatherproof build, great controls, pairs with many compact lenses
Cons: Same price as some full frame offerings
6. iPhone 12 Pro Max
Price: $1110 – $1400
Sensor: 3 x 1/3.4″ – 12mp
It’s often said that the best camera is the one you take with you always. For most of us these days, that camera is a phone. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is one of the most capable camera phones ever providing wide, standard, and tele lens options… and the ability to edit, save, and share instantly. Yes, the sensor is small, and manual exposure options are limited, but most people traveling don’t use those features anyway. If you don’t plan on printing large and just want to ‘capture the moment’, keep things simple and shoot with a phone.
Best For: Travelers that want to go minimal and light
Pros: Compact, light, instant share features, functional
Cons: Small sensors and limited customization
7. Sony Z-V1
Weight: 10.37 oz
Sensor: 1″ – 20mp
The Z-V1 is billed as Sony’s vlog camera. If you’re a shooter that likes filming yourself for vlog style videos, the Z-V1 is a great choice. This camera is built to shoot high quality video on the go, but can also take decent stills when called upon. There is no weather sealing, and a small battery means limited life. The Z-V1 does come with a really nice ZEISS 24-70mm zoom lens for a versatile range.
Best For: Vloggers
Pros: Zoom lens, small
Cons: Small sensor, no weather sealing, battery life
Canon was a very late arrival to the mirrorless camera market, which is why you see mostly Sony and Fuji cameras on this list. Their high end offerings are very large, heavy, and expensive. They do have a very interesting low end option in the EOS RP, that comes in at only $1000, making it one of the most affordable full frame offerings available. The Canon RF lens lineup is very limited at the moment though, and there aren’t many good compact options.
Best For: Canon loyalists willing to wait for more RF lens options or adapt EF glass
Pros: Full frame, small, and decent feature set for an affordable body
Cons: Limited lens offerings
The GoPro Hero is probably the most widely known travel camera on this list, but should only be purchased by those wanting to take video of action sports. The stills are terrible, the battery life is subpar, and the exposure options are mostly all automatic. But when it comes to capturing video while moving at high speeds, the GoPro is the gold standard. Few cameras provide the mounting options and durability the GoPro provides for action sports like skiing, kitesurfing, mountain biking, skydiving, snorkeling, and more.
Best For: Capturing video of action sports
Pros: Durable, affordable, small
Cons: Low quality stills, battery life, customization
The Leica Q2 is a camera that provokes a form of lust in the world of travel photography. Many of us would love to shoot with the Q2, but as the Rolls Royce of the travel camera world, very few of us have the funds. And even if we did, taking a $5k out and about with the well known red dot definitely makes you a target in many cities. That said, this 42mp full frame gem is weather sealed, compact, and provides some of the most beautiful stills you’re likely to see from any camera. The fixed 28mm lens is perfect for street, environmental portraits, and landscapes. If I ever win the lottery, the Q2 will probably be my first camera purchase.
Best For: Big budget shooters wanting the best compact camera on the market
Pros: Attached 28mm Leica lens, compact, full frame 42mp sensor
Cons: Cost, limited video features