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Planning a road trip? A new generation of cameras for the well-travelled photographer offers better image quality in smaller and lighter packages. Here's a look at a dozen cameras that we think are well-suited for travel photography.
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).
Related articles in the Adorama Learning Center:
- 8 All-in-one lenses that do it all
- Upgrade your 18-55mm kit lens and turn good photographs into great ones
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. Prices are accurate as of May 12, 2015:
Why? It's self-contained, and just a bit larger than a typical compact camera, but has a larger 1-inch sensor, and according to our review delivers outstanding, DSLR-level image quality. Its f/1.8 aperture lens makes it especially well suited for low-light photography.
Key features: 1-inch, 20MP CMOS sensor, 4x lens (35mm equivalent: 24-100mm) f/1.8-2.8, shutter speeds 1-1/4000 sec, RAW+JPEG, 1080p full HD video, six-way image stabilization, 3-inch flip-up touchscreen LCD monitor, 6.5fps burst rate, HDR mode. Built-in NFC with Android compatibility. 1080/60p HD video capture. Control ring, exposure and mode dials.
Portability: It won't quite fit in your pocket, but it is remarkably small and light considering the large sensor size and superior image quality.
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 APS-C (22.3x14.9mm) 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.
Why? With its logical retro-style control layout, a high-resolution eye-level electronic viewfinder encased in a DSLR-style housing and a 16MP sensor that has been compared with Sony's best for image quality, the Fujifilm X-T1 is a full-featured camera that is redefining the small interchangeable camera category. It is ruggedized so you can use it in rain, deserts, and extreme cold.
Key Features: 16MP APS-C (23.6x15.6mm) X-Trans CMOS Sensor II, 2.36K Eye-level EVF, 3-inch LCD, 8fps burst rate, shutter lag said to be 0.05 sec, ISO 200-6400, 256-zone TTL, Wi-Fi, weather-sealed.
Size/weight: 5.07x3.53x1.83", 15.52 oz with battery.
Portability: A little smaller than a small DSLR.
Why? If you're looking for an all-in-one camera that's capable of zooming in really, really close, the Nikon P610 is a versatile travel companion. The Nikon P610 gives you a crazy-long 60x long-range zoom (35mm equivalent: 24-1440mm!) in a relatively compact lens and an extensive array of controls for experienced photographers and point-and-shoot simplicity for snapshooters. At its native ISO of 100, image quality will be quite good for prints, and will still be fine at its highest speeds for web use. And, it's ready for on-line sharing thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and tablet/smart phone compatibility.
Key features: 24-1440mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.3-6.5 optical zoom lens, 1/2.3-inch (6.16 x 4.62mm) 16MP sensor, Vibration reduction, 6 autofocus options, focus range 1/2 inch-infinity in wide angle mode, 921k resolution electronic viewfinder, tiltable 3-inch, 921k dot resolution LCD monitor, 1080p/30fps HD video, ISO 100-1600, pushable to ISO 6400), 20 scene modes, in-camera image editing.
Size/weight: 5x3.4x4.2 inches, 16.4 oz.
Portability: Nikon has squeezed a lot of zoom into a small package.
Buying Advice: Don't forget to bring a couple of memory cards—the Lexar 16GB 400x is a good choice—and an battery. The Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod is a good tabletop tripod that will give you a little stability when shooting zoomed all the way out.
Why? This is the world's first (and as of this writing, only) mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact camera that is suitable for underwater and extreme outdoor photography. It's a great choice for outdoor/adventure and dive travelers.
Key Features: Waterproof to 49 feet, shockproof to 14 degrees F, shockproof to 6.6 feet. Compatible with AW lenses. 15FPS burst rate with AF on, 60FPS at fixed focus. 14.2MP 1-inch 13.2x8.8mm CMOS sensor, slow-motion video clips, built-in GPS, 1080p video, shutter speeds up to 1/16,000 sec, ISO 160-6400.
Size/Weight: 4.5x2.9x1.5 inches; 11.1 ounces.
Portability: Comparable to most mirrorless compacts. Underwater/ruggedizing does not significantly add to camera's weight or dimensions.
Buying Advice: The Nikon 1 AW1 can operate underwater only with the following AW-designated Nikon lenses: Nikon 11-27.5mm—which it is sold with—and the Nikon 1 Nikkor AW 10mm f/2.8. Other lenses are expected to join their ranks.
Why? The Nikon D5300 has borrowed the best features of its more advanced sibling, the D7100 (a solid mid-range camera, available with a 18-105mm lens from Adorama for $1,496.95 that's built to take a licking and offers killer image quality); it shares the same 24MP DX (APS) CMOS sensor and image quality that is among the top three in its class. If you're looking for a camera that's lighter than the big rigs (and therefore easier to take along) but has substantial image quality and control, here's one for the road.
Key features: 24MP CMOS APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm) 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, Wi-Fi, GPS, and a range of creative effects modes such as selective color and miniature.
Portability: The Nikon D5300 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 D7200.
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.
Why? Olympus has taken the classic retro SLR look that took the photography world by storm with the E-M5 and made a more budget-friendly model. The E-M10 is a well-built compact interchangeable lens camera with built-in WiFi that accepts Olympus's growing lineup of outstanding lenses. Its built-in EVF, articulating viewfinder, and fast responsiveness make it a good general-use camera for discerning shooters on a budget.
Key Features: 16MP Live MOS 18 mm × 13.5 mm sensor, 3-axis image stabilization, 8fps burst rate, built-in Wi-Fi, 81-point AF grid that covers the entire image, 1080p HD video at 30fps, 2 HDR modes with exposure bracketing, art filters.
Size/Weight: 4.7x3.2x1.8 inches; 14 oz.
Portability: Even if you carry 2-3 lenses the EM10 won't take up a lot of room in your carry-ons.
Buying advice: Extend your focal range with the Olympus M.zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/4-5.6 R lens and the M. zuiko 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which along with the kit lens gives you a focal range from 18-300mm (35mm equivalent).
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. As the first in its class to capture RAW, this camera is sure to make serious shooters drool in the pool.
Key features: 16MP 6.17 x 4.55 mm 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. Built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, ecompass.
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: Consider the Olympus LG-1 LED Light Guide, which provides steady ringlight illumination for close up and macro subjects and is great for underwater photography.
Why? Designed for candid and street photography, the Panasonic GX7 is the first kid on the block with a built-in electronic viewfinder that flips up 90 degrees. A mirrorless compact digital camera that accepts the entire Panasonic line of interchangeable lenses. It has one of the fastest autofocus systems we've seen and virtually no shutter lag, as well as Focus Peaking to help with manual focus. If you prefer capturing the world at street level, this camera's a great choice.
Key Features: 16MP 18 mm × 13.5 mm Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor, 90-degree tiltable EVF with 2,764k resolution, tiltable touchscreen viewfinder, 1080/60p video, WiFi, NFC, EV compensation to +/-5 stops, up to 1/8,000 sec shutter speed, 40fps electronic shutter burst mode, built-in flash, focus peaking, stereo mic.
Size/weight: 4.8x2.8x2.1 inches, 0.79 pounds
Portability: Not pocketable, but small enough to not stand out in a crowd. It might fit in a jacket pocket.
Buying Advice: Don't forget to bring memory cards and an extra battery. You can expand the GX-7 by adding lenses such as the Panasonic Lumix Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 lens. Street photographers might appreciate the 14mm f/2.5 lens.
Why? Samsung has hit the re-set button on its MILC lineup, starting with the strikingly small NX Mini, which is built around a 1-inch sensor, rather than the previous APS chip. The smaller chip size means smaller lenses and a smaller camera, but since the lenses are interchangeable you still get a wide focal range. The result? A versatile camera that will fit in a pocketbook or carry-on with room to spare.
Key Features: 20.5MP 1-inch (13.2 x 8.8mm), ISO range 100-25600, 180-degree tilting 3-inch touchscreen LCD monitor with 460k dot resolution, 6fps burst rate, 1080/30p HD video, 530-shot battery life, 1/6000 sec max shutter speed.
Size/weight: 4.3x2.4x0.9 inches, 6.9 ounces.
Portability: As the slimmest interchangeable-lens camera currently available, the NX Mini will fit in a jacket pocket, even with the kit lens.
Buying advice: The camera comes with a 9-27mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (25-73mm 35mm equivalent) and a 17mm f/1.8 (45mm) model is expected this summer.
Why? Of all the cameras on this list, the Sony Alpha A7 offers the best combination of killer image quality, affordability (for a full-frame camera) and travel friendliness. The lightest full-frame interchangeable-lens camera on the market, independent image quality tests conducted by DxOMark Labs show the Sony A7 produces the best image quality of almost any digital camera. If you're looking for a full-frame system that won't weigh you down, and are able to pay the price, the Sony A7 is a top contender.
Key features: 24.3MP 35mm (35.9 x 24 mm) sensor with 14-bit RAW recording. Hybrid AF with Phase Detection, Compatible with E-mount and FF lenses, 2.5-million dot EVF, Wi-Fi, NFC. Records RAW & JPEG, 1080/60p HD video, customizable interface, 117-point AF, 13 picture effect modes, dynamic range optimizer, ISO 100-25,600, 1200-zone evaluative metering, up to 1/8000 sec top shutter speed.
Size/weight: 5x3 3/4x1 15/16 inches, 14.7 ounces
Portability: The lightest and smallest full-frame interchangeable-lens system on the market.
Buying advice: This camera uses SDHC cards so have a bunch ready. For lenses, start with the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens and build your system from there. Want the very latest version? The Sony A7S offers several key upgrades including 4K video, but it costs about $900 more.
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, a unique pop-up electronic viewfinder for eye-level shooting, selfie-ready flip-up LCD monitor,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 (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS sensor, 24-70mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens, 1080/60p HD video, JPEG and RAW image capture, ISO range 125-12,800, 3-inch, 1.3 million dot resolution viewfinder, 1.44 million dot EVF, aluminum body, optical image stabilization, auto HDR, face detection and registration, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC.
Size/Weight: 4x2.4x1.6 inches; 7.8 oz.
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.
Buying Advice: Great for low-light photography so if you're going to be enjoying nightlife or taking lots of pictures indoors, this is a great camera to have.
Top photo credit: ranplett/istockphoto.com