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BEST TRAVEL CAMERAS 2014 review

Top recommended travel cameras (compact, mirrorless hybrid, DSLR) as of June 2014:

Research by Tom Dempsey recommends the following portable cameras and gear best for on-the-go photographers. In summary:Sony Alpha NEX-6 with 16-50mm Retractable Zoom lens

  1. World’s best pocket-sized camera: Sony DSC-RX100 (III, II, or I) packs the biggest sensor ever designed into such a small body.
  2. World’s best all-around travel camera:
  3. Best-value DSLR-style travel camera has more lens options: Nikon D3200, or D3300 upgrade.
  4. Best full-frame sensor camera for travel: Sony Alpha A7 Mirrorless for high resolution in dim light at high ISO.
What makes an ideal travel camera?

The “best” travel camera is the one you want to carry everywhere. When heading out the door, do you first reach for a handy compact camera or a bulky DSLR? The best light travel camera should minimize bulk and weight while maximizing sensor dimensions, zoom range, lens diameter, battery life ( ≥ 350 shots), and ISO sensitivity (for lower noise in dim light). Upgrade your camera every 3 years to boost image quality. A sharp zoom lens (optimally zooming 4x to 11x) instantly frames rapidly-changing travel subjects without the extra bulk or annoyance of swapping lenses. Lenses should autofocus fast (minimizing shutter lag ≤ 0.3 sec), optically stabilize images, and focus closely (for macro). Travel cameras should also pop a built-in flash. Look for cameras that articulate (flip out) a high resolution display to jump-start your creative macro, movie, and candid shooting at arm’s length. OLED displays usually outshine LCD. To save bulk, most pocket cameras sadly lack a viewfinder – which leaves you struggling with sunny-day reflections obscuring the display screen. For a superior view, get a camera with an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which by the way, gives more accurate feedback on the final digital image than a non-digital optical viewfinder.

TRAVEL TIPS: Keep a camera safely in a front pouch on your chest or hip for easy access. During adverse temperature and humidity fluctuations or near the sea, double-protect the camera in a zip-lock plastic bag inside the padded pouch (thereby avoiding the extra expense of a weather-sealed body and lens). Below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4 Celsius), camera batteries quickly lose charge, causing cameras to shut down or lock. Revive and extend battery life in cold or below-freezing weather by warming a battery or two in an interior pocket near skin and swapping with the camera’s battery after every 10 minutes of cold exposure.

Support my work — buy any camera and accessories after clicking any B&H or Amazon.com link here on my site, PhotoSeek.com.

In more detail, compare the best NEW travel cameras

A. Pocket sized cameras for everyone:

TIP: Sluggish autofocus shutter lag ≥ 0.5 second in many compact cameras can frustrate your capture of action, people, pets, or sports (except in newer models with Hybrid AF such as Sony RX100 above). As a workaround, prefocus (lock) on a contrasty edge of the subject by half pressing and holding the shutter button, then the subsequent full press will be instant, ≤ 0.15 second. But half-press autofocus lock doesn’t work in continuous focus or action mode. Instead, for surer action shots, clearer capture of high ISO sensitivities ≥ 1600, and a good viewfinder, consider a larger camera:

B. The interchangeable-lens compact (ILC) cameras best for travel have electronic viewfinders (mirrorless):

1. TOP TRAVEL CAMERA OF 2014: a bigger sensor (APS-C size) gathers more light through a larger lens:

2. Best splash-proof, dust-proof, hardy ILC camera for travel (with Micro Four Thirds sensor):

3. Good price-value for ILC camera (with Micro Four Thirds sensor):

Best price-value compact all-in-one superzoom lens cameras
Instead of an ILC camera, consider an all-in-one superzoom lens for capturing everything from landscapes to wildlife:
  • $500: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 (2012, 21 oz with lens) has a bright f/2.8 lens throughout its 25-600mm equivalent, 24x range, with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), HD Video with sound, and raw file support. Or try a cheaper FZ70 (2013). But their tiny 1/2.3-inch type sensor requires bright outdoor light and won’t enlarge big prints as sharply as an ILC or DSLR camera.
  • $700: Olympus Stylus 1 (2013, 14 oz with f/2.8 throughout 28-300mm equiv lens) is the world’s smallest camera having an 11x zoom on a 1/1.7″ type sensor. Its great viewfinder is same as Olympus OM-D E-M5. Good 410 shot CIPA battery life.

Serious travel photographers should get a bigger sensor, at least 1″ type (13.2 x 8.8 mm), as in the new

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 (2013, 29 oz) with a bright f/2.8 lens throughout its 24-200mm equiv 8x zoom. But Sony NEX-6 has a bigger sensor and costs less.

ILC versus DSLR: mirrorless ILC (interchangeable-lens compact) cameras can pack more quality into a smaller box. In contrast, the design legacy of DSLR cameras (below) comes from the 35mm film era, where a mirror box adds bulk. But for more lens options and fast autofocus ( ≤ 0.3 seconds) with focus tracking (during continuous autofocus) for sports and wildlife, consider a DSLR:

C. Bulkier DSLR cameras have more lens options, fast autofocus, and an optical viewfinder (using a mirror):

Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology speeds past the excruciatingly slow Live View autofocus of rival DSLRs (except for 27-oz Canon 70D of 2013).

The following DSLR-style cameras focus fast using optical viewfinder, but autofocus very slowly in Live View on LCD:

DSLR cameras are best for shooting action (sports, birds) reliably with no shutter lag, capturing low noise in dim light, shooting indoors, making sharp poster-sized prints, and interchanging more lens choices. “DSLR” means Digital Single Lens Reflex, where a mirror lets the viewfinder see through the lens. During a shot, a mirror briefly flips up to expose a digital sensor. As of 2013, almost all DSLR cameras have excruciatingly slow autofocus (2-4 seconds) in Live View on the LCD, except for the super fast Translucent Mirror Technology such as in Sony Alpha SLT-A65V (2011) with fixed mirror, and Canon 70D (2013, 27 oz).

Join the exciting digital revolution — upgrade your camera every 2 or 3 years like I do to get better real resolution (measured in lines per picture height, LPH or LPPH), lower noise at higher ISO sensitivities ( ≥ 800), and quicker autofocus. Since 2009, most cameras take sharper hand-held shots using optical image stabilization (branded as Nikon VR, Canon IS, Panasonic OIS, Sigma OS, Tamron VC, Sony OSS). The latest cameras capture better highlight and shadow detail using automatic dynamic range optimization for JPEG, but you can get much better results using raw file format.

D. Full-frame (35-mm-size) sensor cameras excel at indoor or dim-light action shots at ISO ≥3200.

Recommended lenses for DSLR cameras

For close focus (macro enlargement of insects and plants), copy work, and extra-sharp general photography:

See related articles: “BEST TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 300mm+ for DSLR” and “BEST WIDE ANGLE LENS for DSLR.”

Important Accessories

Where to buy cameras and gear with reliable customer service

Gear history: Click here to see Tom Dempsey’s travel cameras carried from 1978 to now.

Terminology and metric conversions

Compare digital camera sensor sizes overlaid together: full frame 35mm, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, and more.

Above: compare digital camera sensor sizes overlaid together: full frame 35mm, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, 1/1.7″, 1/2.5” Type.

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24 thoughts on “BEST TRAVEL CAMERAS 2014 review

  1. Robert Couldry says:

    Fantastic website, thank you. I have a Canon 60D but am finding it plus a couple of lenses pretty heavy to handle on my travels (mostly involving trekking). The NEX-6/7 gets a great rap from you and I am really interested in it but am wondering how it goes in lousy weather. I note that the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is weather-sealed but your reviews seem to favor the NEX significantly over the Olympus. Is that the case and how do you protect the NEX from rain/dust etc?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      I agree that Canon 60D is a bit on the heavy side for trekking, which motivates use of a lightweight NEX-6/7 with great APS-C sensor. I keep my camera safely in a front pouch on a chest harness for easy access: my NEX-7 camera and 18-200mm lens fit nicely in a Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW Bag. In waterfall spray or rain, I take the camera out of the pouch quickly, take a shot, wipe all parts of the lens & body with a silk cloth, and quickly protect the camera under cover again. (A partner with an umbrella is better if possible.) After a few shots, I stop risking the camera and wait for drier conditions, or use a smaller Sony RX100 which is easier to keep dry under a big hat brim and quickly tucked into a pocket. In rain, frequent water drops on lens and flat light usually motivate me to wait for better weather. If you can afford it, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a great quality camera, especially if you find weather sealing desirable. (I loved the reliable, unsealed Olympus OM-1N as my main camera from 1978–1997!) But few Olympus lenses come weather sealed, and its Micro Four Thirds sensor captures a stop less dynamic range than APS-C, limiting crucial highlight and shadow recovery from RAW files. Bodies are easier to protect from rain than lenses. Risk of unsealed lenses fogging inside is the biggest issue, solved by pumping it in and out in a dry environment as soon as possible. Over 30 years of shooting mostly in temperate climates, I’ve never needed a sealed camera — except where snorkeling/rafting/kayaking sports required an underwater compact camera (also good against dust or rain). Weather-sealing may only pay off if you spend a lot of time in extremely cold, wet, or dusty conditions. The possible longer life of expensive sealed cameras doesn’t attract me due to great upgrades coming every three years for cheaper unsealed cameras.

  2. Amber Maywald says:

    Hi Tom, really appreciate reading all of your knowledgeable advice! I too am looking for the perfect travel camera to use on an extended trip in different climates including cold dry antarctica and Himalayas, dusty Australian desert, wet humid tropics as well as temperate European conditions. I plan to be trekking and backpacking so need something small and lightweight that maximizes it’s battery life. Something versatile enough for both low light indoor gatherings and bright light high contrast landscape scenarios. Also want the camera to be able to take nighttime sky & landscape pictures! I like to take a range of photo types including panoramic, wildlife, micro, portraits, action, and time exposure. Enough pixels to be able to print up to 24″ images, but without excessive mp’s which create ghastly huge files. I like common sense dials and settings so I don’t have to waste time navigating through long winded menus. I also want to be able to record high quality video on the same device. So basically a sturdy/compact/lightweight camera & lens combo that takes amazing photos with stunning color under all conditions and can do everything while operating straightforwardly! Does such a device exist?? Thanks :)

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      Your extended trip sounds fun, covering every possible climate. Your long list of desired features cannot be met by any one camera, but points towards a short list of cameras with APS-C sized sensor, the best currently being: Sony NEX-6 or NEX-7 with Sony (SEL18200) 18-200mm lens (read my complete article). As with Nikon DSLR cameras, Sony NEX menus are poorly designed, but are only a minor hindrance, once the camera is set. Canon and Panasonic have more intuitive, direct menus, but cannot match Sony NEX-7’s 24-mp image quality combined with great features in a 33-oz system with 11x zoom lens. Although cheap memory cards make big files no problem, processing a lot of 24mp RAW files may require upgrading to a powerful new computer. If that’s an issue, get a 16mp NEX-6, which autofocuses faster.

      Night photography usually works best around ISO 200 to 800 on a tripod. If you are really into low-light or night photography, you might consider a bulky full-frame sensor camera, which is especially great for indoor high-ISO work in dim light without flash. But my NEX-7 successfully shot an indoor theater production handheld without flash at ISO 6400, making a client happy!

      If you want to beat a NEX-7 with faster autofocus speed and weather-sealed body, consider a top DSLR: Sony Alpha SLT-A77 Digital Camera. But this adds an extra 11 ounces in the body plus significantly extra weight if lenses are added beyond the 18-200mm. You can increase autofocus speed on NEX-7 to match an A77 by adding a 7-ounce A-Mount lens adaptor for use with a broad catalog of Sony lenses. But an extra lens such as 70-300mm for wildlife adds 28 ounces. I’m happy with just one lens, the 19-oz Sony 18-200mm (which by the way is a bit fuzzy for shooting macro). For excellent macro and a backup camera, I add the amazing pocket-sized 8.5-oz Sony DSC-RX100.

  3. Anna says:

    Hi Tom, What’s your view on the latest Fujifilm X-E1?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      Fujifilm X-E1 is a good still camera but a poor choice for movies. But for me, a Sony NEX-7 or NEX-6 would be a better travel camera. Compared to Fujifilm X-E1, a Sony NEX-7 has
      - larger tilting 3″ LCD with twice the dot resolution (versus 2.8″ fixed)
      - bigger viewfinder magnification
      - sharper resolution sensor confirmed on test shots (24mp vs 16mp)
      - longer battery life (430 vs 350 shots on CIPA test)
      - much better movie capabilities
      - superior magnification of RAW Playback image to 100% with single button to check critical focus, versus X-E1 being incapable of zooming enough at playback (partial workaround: shoot RAW + JPEG and check JPEG focus at 6x, still insufficient)
      - a superior ergonomic grip
      - smaller body, less bulky
      - NEX-7 is 2 oz heavier, whereas NEX-6 is same weight as X-E1.

      Fujifilm X-E1 seems about on par with image quality of a Sony NEX-6, but NEX-6 may autofocus faster. I like the retro appearance and handy external controls on Fujifilm X-E1, although the exposure compensation dial is too easy to bump and rotate by accident (fixed by applying tape).

      Fujifilm’s attractive 18-55mm F2.8-4 lens (11 oz) significantly beats the optical quality of Sony’s E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens (7-oz). But I prefer carrying a sharp Sony 18-200mm lens for travel. Unfortunately, Fujifilm X-mount offers no 18-200mm lens, thus requiring frequent lens-swapping, which is inconvenient for capturing action and rapidly-changing travel subjects. A limited number of native lenses exist for the X-E1, such as: 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 OIS, XF 14mm F2.8 R , 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4, and 60mm F2.4 macro. X-E1 adaptors support Leica M, Nikon F, Pentax K lenses, but adapting onto X-mount restricts you to manual focus (NO autofocus) and manual aperture control.

  4. Tom Dempsey says:

    Reader Steve S. asked me for advice on replacing his Pentax K-5 DSLR camera/sharp fixed lenses with the highest possible resolution system in a portable size. I ranked his cameras of interest in descending order of sharpness:

    1. Sony Alpha NEX-7 with 18-200mm lens (Tom Dempsey’s personal travel camera)
    2. Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Micro Four Thirds sensor)
    3. Fujifilm FinePix X100S (fixed lens, not interchangeable, APS-C sensor)
    4. Sony DSC-RX100 (28-100mm equiv zoom, 1-inch sensor)
    5. Pentax K-5 DSLR (2010 version, APS-C sensor)
    6. Fujifilm X100 (fixed lens, not interchangeable, APS-C sensor)

    How about Sigma compact cameras with innovative Foveon sensor? Sigma DP2 Merrill has too many fundamental flaws for me to consider for a travel camera. Compared to the above cameras, the slight advantage in sharpness of a DP2 (with excellent-quality fixed-focal-length lens, 45mm equivalent) is far outweighed by negatives: exceptionally poor battery life, poor low light performance and noise above ISO 400, no zoom, no stabilization, no EVF, no flash, and slow buffer writes disable image review too long. Among cameras in the size of a Sigma DP2, better value is found with a Sony RX100, NEX-6, or NEX-7.

    What do I think of Panasonic and Olympus? A Panasonic G3 or G5 would be a better choice than GH3 for excellent portability, money value, and sharp results. The Panasonic GH3 body is unfortunately 7 ounces heavier (and much bulkier) than the Panasonic G3. I would have little use for the GH3’s weather sealing and enhanced movie features compared to the G3 or G5. I don’t find weather sealing very important as my cameras are protected in a chest-mounted bag as I hike the dusty or drizzly trail. The Olympus OM-D is very sharp and attractive but the 4/3 sensor limits ISO sensitivity and dynamic range, and I don’t really need weather sealing. Camera sealing and longevity are a minor issue because I upgrade to the next leap in technology after 3 years and sell the old camera while it still retains value.

    In all cameras from large to compact, I favor zoom cameras over ones with a fixed lens for travel. Why? Zooming a typical telephoto 2x or more beyond an excellent fixed lens beats any sharpness advantage when digitally cropping the fixed lens is required to frame the desired subject. Zooms frame subjects more flexibly than fixed lenses without the extra bulk and annoyance of swapping lenses.

    Regarding lenses, Steve said “I think I am most surprised by your comment about the general sharpness of the Sony 18-200 zoom over that of the Zeiss 24!”: Surprisingly, Sony’s 18-200mm OSS lens is mostly sharper than a prime Sony 24mm f/1.8 E-mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar (8 oz, SEL24F18Z) lens. Sony Zeiss 24mm resolves optical detail no better than a Sony 18-200mm OSS lens, except for sharper corners at f/4. Test details: When compared to Sony’s 18-200mm lens in Blur Index tests (set at 18 and 35mm) at SLRGear.com, Sony’s 24mm Zeiss lens is blurrier from f/8 through f/22 (and the 24mm’s softness at f/1.8 to f/2 resembles its f/12). Also, Sony Zeiss 24mm lacks Optical SteadyShot (OSS). While its brighter optics f/1.8-2.8 let you shoot in lower light and defocus the background, the fixed angle of view is too wide for optimal portraits. Unless you need 2.3 stops brighter aperture and want a lens 1.4 inches shorter, the 18-200mm lens is more flexible than the Sony Zeiss 24mm lens.

    Steve also said, “First may I say that your PhotoSeek.com site is awesome!! I’m very much a ‘sharpness’ and detail fanatic…. Coming from large format view camera Kodak sheet film 25 years ago, I think I know sharpness and image quality when I see it…. I had also been slightly interested in the new Pentax K-5 IIs, which is basically my same K-5 body with no AA filter and improved AF. It would be 100% compatible with my Pentax lenses, weather-sealed, ergonomically excellent, in-body image stabilized for all lenses, and with zero learning curve as well. However, I am rather untrusting of my eyeballs to discern the absolute optimum focus, using the camera’s AF Adjustment, which is why I am now more interested in mirrorless systems that negate the need for in-camera AF fine-tuning/adjustment.”

  5. Kathleen Pierce says:

    I’m looking for a lighter weight camera for travel than my Nikon D700 or D300s with 2.8 lenses. My priorities are less weight, auto focusing, and low-light shooting. I have been looking at the Panasonic G5 or GH3 but am concerned about auto focusing and focus tracking limitations. What system would you suggest for our upcoming trip to Burma?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      A Panasonic DMC-G5 camera (14 oz body, 2012) would be great for foreign travel — a wonderful camera in a portable body, great with the sharp and fast-focusing Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. lens (16 oz, 28-280mm equiv). The GH3 is heavier and larger, so saving money on an older, smaller GH2 may be better for travel. The new Sony NEX-6 introduces hybrid autofocus, with continuous tracking faster than previous mirrorless cameras, potentially beating Panasonic G5, GH3, GH2, and Sony NEX-7. Most mirrorless compact cameras have had slow tracking during continuous autofocus mode due to use of contrast detection (instead of phase detection autofocus found on DSLR/mirror cameras). But in their favor, mirrorless cameras such as Panasonic G Series easily beat the autofocus capabilities in video/movies and Live View stills compared to most DSLRs (except for Sony Alpha SLT models with translucent mirrors which are fastest all around). Coming soon, look for more compact cameras with hybrid autofocus where sensor pixels are devoted to phase detection autofocus in addition to contrast detection. By the way, except for birds and fast action, I rarely use problematic tracking features and instead rely on my own timing.

      4/3 type sensor cameras like Panasonic G5 or GH3 have about a 1-2 stop worse noise difference in terms of ISO compared to APS-C size sensors at ISO 1600 and higher. I prefer larger APS-C sensor for less noise at high ISO. I recently photographed an indoor theater production at ISO 6400 on the amazing 24-megapixel Sony Alpha NEX-7 camera with versatile Sony E-mount 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OSS lens, which worked great for the Drama School customer. Sony Alpha NEX-6 camera (12 oz body + 4 oz Retractable lens, 2012) should focus even faster with its new hybrid autofocus.

  6. Erin says:

    Hi. I found your website very informative and I was really impressed by the Sony Nex7 or Olympus OM-D EM5. However, I was abit taken aback by the price tag in the $900 range to include the lense kit. Recently, The Pentax Q10 was launched and with almost half the price of the earlier two aforementioned. I know there is a difference in specs. But, what’s your take on the machine?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      The pocket-sized Pentax Q10 (2012) will be a fun novelty to own as the world’s smallest interchangeable-lens camera, but charges a price premium for the privilege. You get much more for your money and a 4 times bigger sensor area with an 8.5-oz Sony DSC-RX100. (Cheaper cameras such as Panasonic GF3, GF5, and pricier GF5X also easily beat the Q10 with their 4/3 inch sensor.) In comparison, Pentax Q10 has a tiny 1/2.3″ sensor (which limits print size, requires bright light), autofocuses slowly, and doesn’t capture action well. Pentax Q10 with 5-15mm Lens (27.5-83mm equivalent) is priced slightly less than Sony RX100 but performs much more poorly.
      Pentax Q10 camera features: Weight is 10.4 ounces (7 oz body with battery plus 3.4 oz 5-15mm lens, Pentax Q mount). It has raw file support, tiny but effective buttons, sensor-shift image stabilization, CIPA battery life of 270 shots. Body size is 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches (98 x 58 x 31 mm). At high ISO the Q10 surprisingly gets lower noise than a Canon PowerShot G12 (which has larger sensor, 1/1.7” type), but Canon S95 and S100 are still a better value. Despite its little sensor, a Q10 can make great 16×20-inch prints from ISO 125-400 and ISO 1600 makes a good 8×10 when shot at aperture f/2.8 (but diffraction makes images much fuzzier through smaller openings, such as f/5.6). An innovative flash pops high to the side to avoid red-eye or can fire in place. Without a practical viewfinder, you’re left with a good 3″ LCD with 460,000 dots. (Its optional rangefinder-style optical viewfinder adds $250 and impractically blocks the flash from popping up.) Lack of dedicated movie button hinders starting a video recording.

  7. Chris says:

    Hi.. Great article. I am also off traveling to Australia and around Asia for over 12 months. I am a professional photographer and I want a camera up for the job of being able to produce nice images in a small, manual package. I’m very drawn to and almost certain I want to take the Fuji X100. What’s your thoughts on this camera for travel photography whilst backpacking?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      Hi Chris: instead of a Fujifilm FinePix X100, you’ll get better quality for the money with one of these:
      1) Sony Alpha NEX-6 with 16-50mm Retractable Zoom lens (2012, 12 oz body + 4 oz lens 24-75mm equiv, 16mp APS-C sensor) (which saves $350 and 2 oz of body weight compared to my 24mp NEX-7).
      2) Or, get a slightly larger retro-looking camera with interchangeable lenses: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds Camera (2012, 15 oz weather sealed body, great viewfinder) with splash-proof M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens (24-100mm equiv, 7.5 oz, splendid video, macro down to 36×27 mm).
      3) Or, for lighter weight backpacking or general travel, get the best shirt-pocket-sized camera of 2012: Sony DSC-RX100 (8.5 oz, 28-100mm equiv lens, f/1.8-4.9, 20mp 1″ sensor, unusually quick autofocus 0.15 sec, sharp LCD, but no viewfinder). It easily beats my old 2004 Canon PowerShot Pro1 in both sensor size and miniaturization.

      - Think twice before getting a Fujifilm X100 (12mp APS-C sensor) and maybe consider the next version Fujifilm FinePix X100S (16mp) which adds fast phase-detection autofocus, fixes numerous problems, and improves EVF, menus, and manual focus. The earlier Fujifilm FinePix X100 not only charges a price premium for retro look-and-feel but also performs slowly compared to competitors (above). X100 problems: It has slow RAW write times and inability to manually focus or change the ISO or AF point while it’s writing to card. X100 autofocuses slower than competitors and manually focuses (by wire) unresponsively. Important Auto ISO and flash exposure compensation options are deeply buried in poorly organized menus. Continuous drive mode switches to a different file-naming convention, creating confusion. Advantages include an excellent viewfinder (hybrid between optical and EVF), good image quality, good at high ISO, in a portable body+lens combination of 16 oz (445 grams). Although the fixed-focal-length lens (35mm lens equiv) is sharp, bright (f/2 widest aperture), and compact, its lack of zoom and no image stabilization restricts creative freedom. As a professional photographer you can work around the limitations of any camera, but Sony RX100 and NEX-6 give better performance and quality for the money in this size range.

      Note also the world’s smallest full-frame sensor camera: Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1 compact digital (17 oz with fixed 35mm f/2 lens, 24mp, 3″ LCD, costly add-on optical viewfinder/rangefinder).

      • Chris says:

        Thank you for your great reply. I’ve had a good in depth look at the cameras you’ve recommended. Seems I have a lot to consider. My main gripe with the Sony [NEX 6] is that it still isn’t pocketable, but neither is it one to wear over your shoulder or around the neck. Silly gripe but I’ve tested them all here in the uk and also they are rather pricey. I can get the x100 for around £600. Sony [RX100] looks amazing. I really need to get my hands on one. Also.. I forgot to mention that the [lack of] viewfinder is a deal breaker. But the oly is way out of my price range. Olympus PEN may be more in my reach.

  8. Nathaniel Steeves says:

    Hi there, I’ll be travelling to China at the end of this month and had previously been to South Korea, Japan, Australia and parts of the US using a Kodak M1033 point and shoot camera. I’m looking for something with a bit better image quality. Will be making some small prints for a photo album and posting pictures to Facebook. I’ve been looking mostly at the Canon Powershot 40SX, Canon Rebel T3 and the Nikon D3100. Any help would be great! I’m not looking at becoming a pro photographer or anything, I just want good quality pictures to share with others.

    Thanks!

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      - Of those cameras that you listed, you may most enjoy Canon PowerShot SX40 HS (21 ounces, 12 mp, 2.7″ screen, 24-840mm equivalent, 35x zoom range). But I recommend a superior camera within the same superzoom style and price range: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 (19 oz with lens, 24x superzoom lens, 25-600mm equiv, 3″ screen) for wildlife & landscapes. This style of camera is more flexible and easier to use (but slower to autofocus on active subjects like children or wildlife) than a traditional DSLR style cameras from Canon or Nikon. Or upgrade to newer Panasonic FZ200 (2012).
      - Note that pocket-sized cameras can capture sufficient quality for small prints and web posting. You don’t necessarily need a camera as bulky as the above, especially if you are accustomed to your current 5 ounce Kodak M1033 (3x zoom, 10mp, 3″ LCD, 2008). You can jump in features above your current camera and still keep it pocket sized as follows: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS (2012, 8 oz, with GPS, 25-500mm equiv superzoom lens, 3-inch screen) (or Canon PowerShot SX240 saves money without GPS or touchscreen). Have a great trip!

  9. Dominic says:

    Firstly thanks very much for the post. I’m heading off round China, SE Asia and Australia over their summers and I was looking to get a camera in the £300 – £450 range. It’ll be hot and humid. How much of a problem is that going to be? I am I better off getting something like the Canon G12 which I’ve been told is more resistant, or I can still get a compact system camera which will give me more flexibility in the future and take extra precautions?

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      - In your target price range 300-450 British pounds (US$500-700), you can beat Canon G12 image quality by getting a newer Sony DSC-RX100, the world’s best pocket-sized camera (8.5 oz, 28-100mm equivalent lens, f/1.8-4.9, sharp 20mp “1-inch-size” sensor, autofocus as fast as 0.13 sec, sharper and brighter LCD, but no viewfinder). The extra sharp resolution of the RX100′s larger sensor can easily make up for the camera’s smaller zoom range by cropping images as needed.
      - Or in this price range, for a compact travel camera with a good interchangeable lens system with a larger sensor, try a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5X Micro 4/3 camera (9.4 oz body) with unusually compact Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS lens (3.4 oz). If you want a viewfinder, upgrade to a Panasonic G5, G3, or GH2. An even more expensive upgrade ($1600) would be the excellent weather-sealed Olympus OM-D EM-5 with sealed M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens, new in 2012, one of the best-ever portable travel cameras.
      - Tropical humidity and salt spray hanging in the air near oceans can occasionally cause erratic behavior in cameras and electronic devices (but more frequently in cheaper, low-end models). Most problems are avoided in well-built non-sealed cameras (such as Sony DSC-RX100 or Canon G Series or Panasonic G Series) by keeping your camera in a pouch or bag at all times when not taking a shot. Immediately wipe off any water drops that accidentally might get on the camera or lens. Whenever you transition between sudden indoor/outdoor extremes of temperature and/or humidity (or anywhere along sea coasts or in a boat), you should double-bag the camera and allow it time to temperature balance: inside a resealable zip lock bag put inside a camera pouch. The best camera bag mounts in front of you on a chest harness or hip so you can grab the camera within seconds. (Storing a camera in a backpack will miss more shots.)

      Dominic replied: Fantastic thanks very much, the Panasonic Lumix was on my short list but without any knowledge of how good it would be for travel. I’ve had several friends who’ve been around that part of the world with the Sony NEX series, I think specifically the 5N, have they been lucky or is it a solid camera? How does it rank up to the Panasonic? Also any suggestions on what king of bag to purchase, is it worth getting any specific kind of camera bag?

      Tom replied: The excellent Sony NEX-5N has a 16mp sensor which is similar quality to Panasonic GF5X, and both beat the image quality of the bulkier Nikon D3100. (NEX-5N is less sharp than Olympus OM-D, which is exceeded by Nikon D3200 sharpness, and NEX-7 is sharpest of all.) After buying a particular camera, bring it to your local camera store to find a bag that fits camera plus extra batteries. These days finding a desirable chest-harness for a bag is difficult. But most bags come with a usable shoulder strap. A bag with built-in rain cover is helpful (or a plastic shopping bag can easily suffice by tying on with its handles, using a twist-tie to keep bag from flying away). Look for a bag with convenient quick access to the camera under a variety of travel conditions.

  10. Tina says:

    Hi, I am going travelling later this year for about 8 months and am looking for a dslr camera (or a camera capable of dslr-like photos), which is compact and lightweight. A lightweight zoom lens would be great too. I would greatly appreciate your recommendations. Many thanks

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      - For an 8 month trip capturing DSLR quality photos, your best bet is one of the interchangeable-lens compact (ILC) mirrorless cameras listed in this article, such as Panasonic LUMIX G3 or GF5X, with flexible travel lens 14-140mm OIS. Click each link in the article for detailed specifications. Buying at those links also supports my work. :)

      Tina responded: Thanks for the information. I will check it out. Out of interest what do you think about the Sony Nex 5 or 7 or the Olymus Pen range? The fact that they are so compact really appeals to me.

      Tom responded:
      -The Sony Alpha NEX-7 (13 oz) with Sony E-Mount 18-200 lens (18.5 oz) is now my main travel camera! Compared to all mirrorless & APS-C DSLR cameras as of August 2012, NEX-7 has sharpest real image resolution (24mp) and focuses fast. NEX-7 easily beats a NEX-5.
      - If you are concerned about weather-proofing, consider the great new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera (15 oz, 16 megapixels) with weather-sealed M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50 mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens (7.5 oz), which has image quality almost as good as Sony NEX-7 yet lenses which are more compact (due to physically smaller sensor). Get a longer travel telephoto 14-150mm, which currently isn’t available in weatherproof version. This new 2012 Olympus OM-D is superior to Olympus PEN-3 or earlier PEN.
      - Getting a Panasonic G Series camera might save money: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 camera (2011, 15 oz body) has lower price, fully-articulated touch screen, good EVF, built-in flash, slightly older sensor. For travel, get an excellent Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. lens (16 oz, 6.35 x 8.38 cm). The weight is similar to NEX-7 system but lens is more compact. For the lightest, smallest system with a sensor superior to the Panasonic G3, get similar features in a smaller body, with improved 2012 sensor: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5X Micro 4/3 Camera (9.4 oz body). These Panasonics are better than Olympus PEN series in overall features and sharpness.

  11. Jhon says:

    Hi – Heading away traveling for the summer looking for a camera/video to capture all the different animals, buildings and landscapes on my travels. Want to take up photography on a more permanent basis when I come back amateur level. Thinking of a DSLR camera any advice appreciated thanks.

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      Nikon D3200 or D3100 is the best value for an excellent DSLR, as described above. A one-lens solution is very convenient: Nikon 18-200mm VR II (or new Nikon 18-300mm is bigger and heavier but covers more range). Or swapping the two excellent Nikon “kit lenses” covers that zoom range with the same quality and saves money. If you want to spend for the best, get a Sony NEX-7 with Sony E-Mount 18-200 f3.5-6.3 OSS lens (my new travel camera as of July 2012). For a cheaper option that also captures excellent quality rivaling a Nikon D3100, go for a Panasonic G series mirrorless camera (GF5X, G5, or G3) with 14-140mm travel lens and electronic viewfinder.

  12. janelle hicks says:

    I am a novice birder and backyard animals (rabbits, chipmonks, birds, etc)lover looking to purchase a camera with telephoto cabability to capture the animals. Also landscapes from vacations. In my web search came across YOUR website.Can you make a recommendation for under $500 FIRST camera for wildlife photos. No safari scheduled yet….May be interested in taking your online classes. thanks

    • Tom Dempsey says:

      Backyard birds and small wildlife at a distance require a good telephoto lens. Within a $500 budget:

      Option A. For a more portable camera that is easier to carry while traveling yet can capture birds at a distance, a good “first camera” may be: Panasonic FZ150

      Option B. Or, for better quality images and quicker autofocus, try a heavier DSLR style camera with interchangeable lenses. Sony can be a good value DSLR camera because image stabilization is built into the camera body, so lenses can be cheaper than Nikon or Canon. Find a good value used Sony Alpha 550 camera with “kit lens” (2009), or a Sony SLT Alpha A33 with 18-55mm kit lens (2010, with great new translucent mirror technology). Add this sharp telephoto lens for wildlife: Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Compact Super Telephoto Zoom Lens for Sony Alpha.

      See also my page discussing telephoto lenses.

      Let me know if you want to do a class by phone or email. Best regards, Tom

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