It’s an age old battle in photography: Haul the heavy gear or go lighter and sacrifice some quality in an effort to avoid exhaustion and a stiff neck at the end of the day.
Then there’s taking your gear on a plane, which either means a padded hard case you pay extra to check or having security paw through your gear in a carry on.
Most photographers solve this problem with a travel camera; one that strikes a compromise between weight, portability and image quality. The good news these days is the sacrifice in image quality is becoming quite modest with some of the newer travel cameras using the same size image sensor and matching resolutions with some DSLRs.
Here are my picks for five cameras that travel. At least one, the Canon M series, is new to the list because Canon finally lowered the price enough to make them a compelling choice.
The Sony RX100 will appeal to both still and video shooters with a 20.2-megapixel 1″ Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor behind a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T f/1.8 lens that is not click-stopped. With HD video frame-rates of 60 and 24 fps, the video from the RX100 can blend with cameras costing thousands more.
The lens fully retracts into the body of the camera making it breeze to slip into a jacket pocket or briefcase. Priced around $750 it’s amazing that photos and video so good come out of a camera so small. With cameras like the A7, A7R, RX10 and RX100, Sony is firing on all cylinders lately.
Canon’s “me too” entry into the mirrorless camera market was too expensive for what you got when the camera was first introduced. Today, though, Canon has cut the price nearly in half and at $359 with an external flash the EOS-M is worth a look as a travel camera. Sporting a 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor behind a Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens you’ll get big camera picture performance out a pocket-size little camera.
Two dings on this pocket size champ are the external flash, which is inconvenient to carry around, and the non-standard Canon lens mount. You can use your EF/EF-S Canon lenses with an adapter but that’s kind of a weak solution in my book. Also. somewhat bizarrely, it’s a camera from the company that started DSLR video that doesn’t do 24 fps. You’re limited to 30 fps, which will seriously gripe video shooters.
Nikon COOLPIX P7700
Portable and powerful the CoolPix P7700 delivers Nikon quality and 12.2-megapixel resolution from a CMOS sensor. The P7700 is another model that the lens retracts into the body for easy carrying and storage. The P7700 consistently gets rave reviews from users and is a very capable travel camera.
Not a well-known name but Ricoh’s cameras get very high marks from users for quality, portability and rugged dependability, all highly-prized qualities in a travel camera. The Ricoh GR has a 16.2-megapixel APS-C Format CMOS sensor that yields excellent results in low light. If you need more light the GR has a built-in popup flash when it’s really dark or for outdoor fills. The GR also has a full set of manual controls for people who like the control. Compact, powerful the GR is a super travel camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3
The budget model in our group, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3 is currently listed at around $120. At that bargain price you get a 16.1-megapixel 1/2.3″ CCD sensor, which is not as capable in low light, but that’s a really decent sensor for a pocket camera at that price and it has a built-in flash anyway. You don’t get RAW and you have to settle for 720 HD video, but you get a really compact camera with a decent size sensor that takes great pictures and won’t break the bank. It’s also pocket size and really easy to take on vacation with you.
Any of these cameras would be a breeze to get through airport security and easy to pack around not matter how far you’re traveling. They all take great pictures and all but the Panasonic shoot full size HD video. There’s enough stress involved in just getting where you’re going these days, so no need to add to the burden by hauling heavy camera gear with you.