It's that time of year...people are making their travel plans and getting ready to hit the road. A new generation of cameras offers better image quality in smaller and lighter packages. Here's a look at a dozen cameras that are well-suited for travel.
Additional research by Jena Ardell
This is a very subjective list of digital cameras, available from Adorama, for travel photography and vacation photography. It is geared towards snapshooters and hobbyists—not pros, who often need to bring along a back-breaking load of big, heavy cameras, several lenses and flashes, and a sturdy tripod. Instead, this list is designed for everyone else: people who need to travel light, but want to bring back high-quality images that they can turn into sharp enlargements to hang on a wall or share with friends.
In other words, this selection of travel-friendly cameras is for globehoppers like the guy on the left. Hopefully, you'll wear a quieter shirt.
Smaller and smarter
The good news is that you can get great images with the latest generation of smaller cameras. Innovations in camera design have resulted in dramatic changes and intense competition among manufacturers to create a camera that is flexible (read: choice of lenses and/or long-range built-in zooms) and can deliver sharp prints and good quality, even when light is low. Shake reduction is a standard feature, eliminating the need for tripods in some situations that previously called for one (although there are times when a tripod is still necessary to get the best quality shot).
In compiling this guide, I looked for the following features:
Size and weight: The camera should be small
Image quality: You should be able to make a nice, sharp 11x14-inch print at least when the camera is set at its lowest ISO
Low-light performance: Shake reduction, fast lenses, big sensors and good performance at high ISO are all possible ways to improve low-light images. I looked for at least one of the above.
Ease of use: You don't want to be fidgeting with setting as scenes pass you by.
Flexibility: Is the camera part of a system? Does it have a choice of lenses or a really good built-in one?
Here are a dozen cameras (and where appropriate, suggested lens or lenses), in alphabetical order, that I think will let you travel light but bring home great images on your summer vacation...and beyond:
Canon PowerShot G1X
Adorama price: $599
Why? It's self-contained, and just a bit larger than a typical compact camera, but has a larger sensor...and according to our review delivers outstanding, DSLR-level image quality.
Key features: 1.5-inch, 14MP CMOS sensor, 4x lens (35mm equivalent: 28-112mm) f/2.8-5.8, shutter speeds 1-1/4000 sec, RAW+JPEG, 1080p full HD video, six-way image stabilization, 3-inch LCD monitor, optical viewfinder, 6fps burst rate, compatible with Canon Speedlite system, HDR mode.
Portability: It won't fit in your pocket, but it is remarkably small and light considering the large sensor size and superior image quality.
Buying Advice: Consider adding a flash unit such as the Canon Speedlite 270EX to extend this camera's night-time shooting options.
Canon SL-1 w/18-55mm kit lens
Adorama price: $799
Why? The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is the world's smallest and lightest DSLR, but it's loaded with features, including the same high-resolution sensor found in the larger Canon T5i.
Key features: DSLR with loads of features, 18MP sensor, auto-everything settings but you can also choose manual or aperture or shutter priority. 3-inch touch-screen LCD monitor is convenient for over-head or low-angle shooting in live view mode. Wide ISO range of 100-12,800 means it's ready for any lighting situation. Shoots RAW and/or JPEGs for more post-production options. Also shoots 1080p video at 30 and 24fps and yes, it has a microphone jack.
Size/weight: Did we mention this is the smallest, lightest DSLR on the market (as of this writing)?
Portability: For a DSLR, this is the most portable one you can find. Period.
Buying advice: Team this camera up with the tiny new Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake lens ($149 at Adorama) and you've got a really, really small DSLR package that you can almost slip in a pocket! The standard kit lens is a good overall travel lens.
Adorama price: $599.95
Why? Quick, quiet little camera with fast lens, classic camera feel and operation. Fujifilm claims almost no shutter lag, making this camera and particularly well-suited for unobtrusive candids of the locals, and street photography.
Key features: 12MP 2/3-inch 12MP CMOS sensor, Fast 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.0-2.8 optical zoom lens, macro focus to about half an inch, JPEG and RAW image capture, ISO range 100-3200, 256-zone multi-spot-average metering, shutter speeds 30-1/4000 sec., 7fps burst at full resolution, manual focus available, "super Macro" focus down to approximately half an inch.
Portability: Almost pocketable, offers a lot of options (and bless 'em, an optical viewfinder) in a very small package.
Buying Advice: Consider the Fujifilm EF-20 flash to increase flash range, and choose a class 10 memory card for best performance.
Nikon Coolpix S9500
Adorama price: $326.95
Why? If you don't look carefully, you might think the Nikon S9500 was just another "me-to" compact digital camera, but a closer look will reveal that its 22x superzoom lens zooms as far as 550mm (35mm equivalent), and amazing feat for such a small camera! Plus, you can download your images straight from the camera to your favorite photo sharing site when you're in a wireless hot spot, thanks to the camera's built-in Wi-Fi.
Key features: 25-550mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom, 18MP CMOS sensor, close focus to 0.5 inches, optical vibration reduction, 3-inch, 614k dot resolution LCD, 23MB internal memory. HD video up to 1080p at 30fps, ISO range 125-1600 (we recommend staying under ISO 400) for best image quality) 19 scene modes, in-camera image editing, shutter speeds 1-1/1500 sec. Built-in flash, Wi-Fi, GPS. The Nikon Coolpix S9500 is available from Adorama in Black, Silver, and Red.
Portability: It zooms out to 550mm (35mm equivalent), and yet, it closes up and fits in a shirt pocket. An impressive optical engineering accomplishment!
Nikon 1 V2
Adorama price: $796.95
Why? The Nikon 1 V2 offers the fastest autofocus on the planet (this isn't just a claim; we tried the camera in the field, and the AF is, indeed, screamingly fast), growing fleet of small interchangeable lenses make this a good, flexible compact photography system that you can carry on and tote anywhere that is especially well suited for action shots. You can simultaneously shoot stills and HD videos, another plus.
Key features: 14MP CMOS sensor, new CX-mount lenses (10mm, 10-30mm, 30-110mm), 1080p HD video, 1.44m dot electronic viewfinder, 3-inch LCD monitor, shutter speed range 30-1/16,000 sec, 10,30 or 60fps burst, slow-motion video to 1200 fps, ISO 160-6400, AF, Manual focus modes, Hybrid phase detection/contrast detect) AF.
Portability: Not quite pocket size but small for an interchangeable-lens camera. The diminutive lenses are a huge convenience when space and weight are an issue.
Buying Advice: Get it in a kit with the 10-30mm and 30-110mm zoom lenses for the most flexible out-of-the-box setup and a 35mm equivalent range of 27-297mm. If you want to geotag your photos, consider the GPS unit instead.
Nikon D5200 w/18-55mm
Adorama price: $796.95
Why? Nikon has refreshed lineup of DSLRs includes the D3200 (a basic beginner model), the D7100 (a solid mid-range camera that's built to take a licking and offers killer image quality) and now the D5200, which is not as solidly built as the D7100 but shares the same sensor and spectacular image quality, which gives it an image quality advantage over the D3100. If you're looking for a camera that's lighter than the big rigs but has enough image quality and control, here's one for the road.
Key features: 24MP CMOS APS sensor (highest resolution at this price) with a super-accurate 39-point AF system. It offers a 5fps burst rate, and has a wide ISO range of 100-6400 that can be extended to 25,600, a precise metering system based on feedback from 2,016 RB pixels, and a range of creative effects modes such as selective color and miniature.
Portability: The Nikon D5200 is small and light and comparable to other cameras in its class, but it gives you access to the kind of image quality you can get from the flagship APS mode, the D7100.
Buying Advice: The Nikon 18-200mm lens is a good all-around superzoom that covers a wide enough range so you won't need to swap lenses constantly.
Olympus OM-D EM-5
Adorama price with 12-50mm kit lens: $1,149
Why? Olympus brings back its fabled OM camera, but now it's a digital interchangeable-lens semi-compact with a high-resolution electronic viewfinder. It uses the best sensor currently available on a micro four thirds format camera, and produces near-DSLR quality images. It has a growing line of outstanding lenses but is lightweight and easy to carry, even when using its longest-range zoom lens. If you're a serious hobbyist but a full DSLR's bulk and weight are an issue, this is a great alternative that has enough serious features to give you full control over your photos.
Key features: 16MP Live-MOS Four Thirds sensor, fast AF thanks to 35 area AF areas, built-in image stabilization, 3-inch, 610k dot flip-out, touch LCD monitor, 11 art filters, magnesium-alloy construction, 1.4 million dot EVF, dust reduction, durable shutter, wireless flash control, digital leveler, 1080p HD video, manual and auto exposure, JPEG and RAW image capture, 3D stills, shutter speeds 60-1/4000 sec, face detection, ISO range 200-25,600.
Portability: While shaped much like a DSLR, the Olympus EM-5 is considerably smaller. Even when outfitted with a larger lens such as Olympus M Zuiko ED 75-300mm f/4.5-6.7 II, it is still lighter than most DSLRs and less bulky, while retaining full DSLR features.
Buying Advice: While there are several good kit zoom lenses available, also consider the superb, larger-aperture Olympus 12mm f/2 Zuiko or Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Zuiko for more specialized use. The OMD EM-5 is also compatible with Olympus's wireless flash system, including the pro level Olympus FL-50, available from Adorama for $499.
Adorama Price: $379
Why? If your travels take you on outdoor adventures that require a waterproof, rugged but flexible compact camera, can be used underwater down to 50 feet and can be dropped, subjected to sand or sub-freezing conditions. You can expand its 4x optical zoom lens by adding an optional fisheye lens or a telephoto converter, both of which are also waterproof.
Key features: 12MP CMOS sensor, 25-100mm (35mm equivalent f/2-4.9 optical zoom lens, 3-inch, 610k dot resolution OLED monitor, close focus to 1/2 inch, 30 shooting modes, in-camera panorama. 5fps burst rate at full resolution, up to 60fps in lower resolution. HD 1080p video, as well as up to 240fps high speed capture. Waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof to 7 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees F, crushproof to 220 lbf.
Portability: Near-pocket-sized, lightweight and easy to use for diving, snorkeling, and above-water adventures. Auxiliary lenses are lightweight and easily fit in a backpack outer pocket.
Buying Advice: Available in black with red trim or mostly red. Olympus FCON-T01 Fisheye Converter and Olympus TCON-T01 Teleconverter lenses, at the Adorama price of $99 each, extend zoom range via required Olympus CLA-T01 conversion lens adapter ($19.99), all available at Adorama.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1
Adorama price: $499
Why? They said it couldn't be done, but Panasonic has proven them wrong: They've taken a posh point-and-shoot and added an eye-level viewfinder. Why is this a big deal? Because you can see the image in bright sunlight and holding the camera up to your eye promotes better framing and reduces camera shake. And yet, it offers a wide zoom range and is a versatile pocket camera.
Key Features: Auto and manual exposure, 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens with f/2 widest aperture, 12MP CMOS sensor, on-board photo learning tools, optical image stabilization, 15 filter effects, NFC and easy Wi-Fi setup. You can share your images via your tablet or smart phone, and transfer images to electronic devices.
Portability: Small, solid body that can fit in a shirt pocket, and enough wireless capabilities to make any hipster happy.
Adorama price: $499
Why? WiFi! Samsung is the first company build WiFi into its standalone digital cameras, and the NX210 is the first interchangeable-lens compact camera with this feature. Not only is it small and easy to use, but it lets you upload on the go to online image storage or social networks whenever you're in a wireless hot spot.
Key Features: 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor, 8fps burst rate, 1080p 30fps Full HD video, Wi-Fi, filter modes for special effects, ISO range 100-12,800, Panorama, 3D Panorama, touch-screen monitor, i-Function lets you make camera adjustments using lens ring.
Portability: Small and Internet ready.
Buying Advice: Get the electronic viewfinder so you can shoot at eye-level. Also consider the Samsung 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for a portable all-in-one package.
Adorama price with 16-50mm kit lens: $498
Why? At the time this update is being written, the Sony NEX-3N is the world's smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera—despite the fact that it sports the same APS sensor found on many DSLRs. It's designed for anyone who might be intimidated by an extensive feature set but still wants the superior image quality and range of lenses that can be found on a DSLR. Sorry, no eye-level viewfinder.
Key features: 16MP APS-C CMOS sensor, full HD video at 60i and 24p, ISO range 100-16,000, intelligent AF, Auto Object Framing, burst mode up to 4fps, power zoom lever, 15 picture effect modes, Superior Auto Mode, anti-motion blur, hand-held twilight mode, face detect/smile shutter, up to 480 shots per battery charge.
Portability: The smallest interchangeable-lens camera makes this a no-brainer for travel photography.
Buying Advice: The Sony NEX-3N is sold by Adorama in Black or White , bundled with a 16-50mm kit lens. Sony also offers a growing range of lenses and flashes such as the Sony HVL-F20S SOHVLF20S for the NEX system so you expand its range.
Adorama price: $648
Why? For more advanced users who are looking for outstanding image quality and low light performance, the tiny Sony RX100 may be one of the best compact cameras currently on the market. It has a built-in modest zoom lens, and produces outstanding images even when shooting in low light at high ISO. It is packed with features including fast burst rate, built-in high dynamic range, and several special effects and creative style modes.
Key features: 20MP, 1-inch CMOS sensor, 30-108mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens, 1080/60p HD video, JPEG and RAW image capture, ISO range 80-6400, expandable to 25,6000, 3-inch, 1.3 million dot resolution viewfinder, aluminum body, optical image stabilization, auto HDR, face detection and registration, continuous shooting up to 10fps,
Portability: Almost pocket-sized, despite its large-aperture lens and big-camera sensor, this camera has been cited by many knowledgeable photographers as an excellent balance between size and image quality.
Top photo credit: ranplett/istockphoto.com