The best digital cameras for travelers in 2023

The best digital cameras for travelers in 2023

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Now that the world is traveling again, the desire to capture precious moments is stronger than ever. A powerful travel image not only tells a story, it also reminds us of the wonders that await around every bend in the road.

With that in mind, we tapped the National Geographic photo engineering team to tell us which compact cameras they recommend for travelers. They design and build custom equipment for professional photographers and test consumer products for this annual guide. Here are their best bets.

Best camera for most travelers: Fujifilm X-S20

  • The X-S20 gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It follows the X-S10 (another outstanding model featured in past camera guides) with most of the top features that the Fuji X line offers in an affordable, versatile, and stylish package.
  • Comfortable to handle, the X-S20 performs well with a balanced 26 megapixel (MP) sensor and a new, larger battery.

Tip: This camera is best paired with the all-around XF 16-80mm f/4 OIS WR lens. For a second lens, try the ultra-compact XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR, which gives human eye-like perspective at 40mm.

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Best camera for street photography (and most compact): Ricoh GR III

  • The Ricoh GR III has appeared on our list four times, since it packs a ton of power in a pocketable size.
  • With a stabilized 24 MP APS-C sensor, phase-detect autofocus, a highly responsive touch screen, and an easy-to-navigate menu system, the GR III works well for casual point-and-shoot settings and controlled manual shooting.

Tip: If the 28mm f/2.8 effective focal length is too wide, try the GR IIIx. Released in 2021, it’s identical to the GR III, aside from its lens, which has a tighter field of view with a 40mm f/2.8 equivalent lens.

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Best camera for overall performance: Fujifilm X-T5

  • Fujifilm’s XT series provides an excellent shooting experience for amateurs and pros alike. This line blends vintage dials with modern, professional-grade controls, rugged construction, weather sealing, and strong autofocus and speed performance.
  • The X-T5 model remains one of the highest performing cameras with its combination of image quality, autofocus, size, lens choice, weather sealing, and battery life.
  • Slightly smaller than the X-T4, it’s packing the 40 MP sensor from the X-H2 model—one of the highest resolution APS-C sensors on the market—keeping the X-T5 the reigning champ of travel cameras again this year.

Tip: We love Fujifilm’s selection of compact prime lenses for traveling, including the 27mm f/2.8 R WR and the 23mm f/2 R WR.

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Best luxury camera: Leica Q3

  • At $5,995, this camera isn’t cheap. In the mirrorless full frame market, only one camera model not made by Leica currently sells for over $6,000—the Sony A1, the highest performance 35mm camera in the world. What does all that money get you? Arguably the finest shooting experience for travel photography, in one author’s opinion. The elegant controls and stunning looks make this camera a joy to use.
  • The image quality is second to none on this list, with massive 61 MP raw files that leave generous room for cropping. The camera is weather sealed and built like a tank.

Tip: We also suggest the Leica Q2, or the Q2 Monochrom, which sports a black-and-white-only sensor.

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Best camera for a full-frame interchangeable lens: Nikon Zf

  • A rock-solid sensor, rear screen, the same high-quality electronic viewfinder from the Z6II model, and charming retro style make the Nikon Zf our top pick for this category.
  • It also features eight sensor stabilization stops and the same EXPEED 7 processor as Nikon’s flagship models, offering exceptional AF and VR performance.
  • The weather sealing, magnesium alloy body, and etched brass mechanical dials show that a lot of thought and care went into the user experience. This camera was the most fun to test.
  • The full-featured Zf sports tech (unique to this model) allows you to shift your focus point with the touch screen while using the viewfinder, use pixel shift shooting to create 96 MP images, and focus point stabilization. The Zf centers stabilization around your focus point, rather than the middle of the sensor. And it has a dedicated black-and-white mode.

Tip: If you get only one lens, make it the 24-120mm f/4. We recommend pairing that with one of the brand’s compact primes, such as the 40mm f/2 or the 28mm f/2.8.

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Best camera for wildlife photography: OM System OM-1

  • Like other flagship cameras from major brands (Sony A1, Nikon Z9, Canon R3), the OM-1 is stacked with features, and it’s incredibly fast. With continuous autofocus, the OM-1 can shoot up to 50 frames per second (fps)—faster than most video.
  • Its outstanding subject detection system tracks all sorts of animals in high-speed situations.
  • OM System’s flagship OM-1 has a unique Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor, which means the aspect ratio is 4:3, rather small at about half the size of full frame.
  • The camera also has multiple computational modes, including a hand-held high-res mode (makes a 50 MP file from a burst of 16 frames), and our favorite, the Live-ND filter, which simulates a physical neutral density filter. This allows for slower shutter speeds in brighter conditions to capture motion. Think blurred ocean waves or majestic waterfalls.
  • With the best weather sealing of any camera on this list, this model stands up to even the harshest conditions.

Tip: The top lenses for this camera are all in the pro line, which have outstanding build quality, often integrated lens hoods, and smooth focus/zoom rings. For the wildlife enthusiast and birder, the best lens is the 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO. It gives you a lightweight 300-800mm range and an integrated teleconverter up to 1000mm handheld. The best overall lens for this model is the 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO (24-200mm).

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Best camera for beginners: Canon EOS R50

  • Canon continues to fill out its lineup of APS-C mirrorless bodies, and the R50 is a great choice for beginners or anyone wanting to upgrade from their cell phone.
  • It’s compact and comfortable to grip, with an integrated electronic viewfinder, and a small pop-up flash. It also has one of the best touch interfaces, with easy menu navigation and a touch control panel for adjusting your settings while shooting.
  • The greatest strength of the 18-45mm lens that comes with the R50 is its size. The APS-C line’s greatest weakness is the lack of lens options.

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Best budget camera: Nikon Z30

  • Nikon introduced the Z30 last year as the third model in its mirrorless APS-C lineup. The absence of an electronic viewfinder keeps the size compact, so it’s easy to carry around and fun to shoot with. Yet it still has great features. Plus, besides Nikon’s own line of DX lenses, there are many affordable third-party lens options.
  • For an entry-level camera, the Z30 has impressive stills credentials, including excellent low-light performance, a mechanical shutter capable of shooting 11 frames per second with AF tracking, the option to save images as high-quality raw files, and strong autofocus capabilities.

Tip: This model is a perfect match for Nikon’s compact DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR. For added fun, shallow depth of field, and improved lowlight performance, look no further than the DX 24mm f/1.7. It’s a compact prime that you may want to leave on your Z30 full time.

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Most versatile camera for travel: Sony RX100VII

  • Sony’s RX100 line remains one of the most versatile ultra-compact cameras. Featured in past lists, the RX100VII still has the same features we praised before: the pro line’s real-time autofocus for highly reliable eye/face autofocus for people and animals; electronic shooting with almost no distortion of moving subjects; silent shooting and high shutter speeds for bright light conditions.
  • The RX100VII’s 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens still isn’t as bright as we would like, but it covers a wide range. Tom continues to consider the RX100 line his “desert island” choice.

Note: In future versions, we’d like to see a USB-C type connector for in-camera charging and image offloading. A model that sports Sony’s current menu system that’s easier to navigate and supports touch controls would be a welcome improvement too.

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Tom O’Brien is a mechanical engineer and runs the photo engineering department for National Geographic. He spends his days in his workshop designing and building custom equipment for the magazine’s photographers. Follow him on Instagram.

Eric Flynn is a machinist/fabricator who works in the photo engineering department of National Geographic, where he manages equipment loans. Follow him on Instagram.

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