DPReview Recommends: Best Compact Cameras for Travel
There's a big world out there, just waiting for you to explore it. In our opinion, a camera is one of the best traveling companions you can have. They don't smell, they don't have any annoying food preferences, and you can stuff them in a bag without attracting the attention of the police.
Depending on where you're going, you might have specific priorities. Maybe you're heading to the mountains? In that case you'll want something light and tough. Or perhaps you're exploring a city? For that you'll probably want a quiet, discreet camera with a fast aperture lens. Or perhaps you're doing a round the world tour - in which case a super zoom camera which can go from landscape-covering wide-angle to long telephoto in a second might be the best choice. Here are our top five recommendations.
Prices given are representative of street pricing, and our recommendations are arranged from most to least expensive.
Recommendations are subject to change and are current as of November 2013
$1300 / £955 | 16MP | 35mm F2 lens | 2.8" 460k-dot LCD | Hybrid EVF/OVF viewfinder
The Fujfilm X100S is one of our favorite cameras of the past year. Built around a 35mm (equivalent) F2 lens and APS-C format 16MP sensor, the X100S is small, compact, and capable of extremely good image quality. Compared to the original X100, Fujifilm made many improvements in the X100S, most obviously in terms of speed and reliability. The X100S is all-around a faster, more reliable camera, and its hybrid phase and contrast-detection AF system makes a real difference in everyday photography, increasing AF speed and reliability.
The shutter is virtually silent, and its hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder makes it easy to compose images in a range of different environments in lighting conditions. The X100S's manual focus mode is also very useable thanks to aids like focus peaking and a digital 'split image' view. The small, discreet X100S is a great camera for candid, street and portrait photography.
Ricoh GR The 16MP APS-C format Ricoh GR was one of the quiet stars of 2013, offering excellent image quality, good overall performance and a great lens for a reasonable price. Although its fixed 28mm F2.8 lens is a touch wide for some subjects and F2.8 isn't the fastest aperture in the world, the GR's convincing high ISO image quality makes the camera very useful for street and interior photography in poor light.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10
$1300 / £1040 | 20MP | 24-200mm F2.8 lens | 3" 1.29 million-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
Sony's Cyber-shot RX10 marries the 20MP 1"-type BSI-CMOS sensor from the RX100 II with a 24-200mm Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens that has a constant maximum aperture of F2.8. Although relatively expensive it's a cut above conventional smaller-sensor 'super zoom' cameras, and represents an impressively versatile, albeit not strictly speaking 'compact' package for both still and video capture.
The RX10 is the first Sony camera to feature a 'Direct Drive SSM' focus motor, which uses piezoelectric materials to position the focus element, rather than linear motors. This translates to snappy, accurate focus and in terms of image quality the RX10's 1-inch sensor delivers excellent images even at high ISO settings, which rival entry-level mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II is built around a back-side illuminated 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor and 28-100mm zoom lens. A small, pocketable form factor, high quality images in low and good light, combined with fast autofocus make this a great compact camera for travel if you can live with the relatively small zoom range.
Olympus Stylus 1
$700 / £550 | 12MP | 28-300mm F2.8 lens | 3" 1.04 million-dot LCD | 1080/30p video
The Olympus Stylus 1 is Olympus's flagship zoom compact camera, offering an optically-stabilized 28-300mm F2.8 lens, which means that it slots in nicely (in terms of both cost and specification) between longer zoom cameras like Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ200 and Sony's larger-sensor RX10. Its 12MP BSI-CMOS sensor is of the 1/1.7"-type, and ISO sensitivity spans 100-12600. The Stylus 1 is a little more pricey than most consumer-oriented compact cameras, but its F2.8 constant aperture zoom is worth the extra cash, producing sharp and detailed images at all focal lengths.
As well as the usual details like RAW mode and full manual control the Stylus 1 also features built-in Wi-Fi, a built-in 3EV neutral density filter (useful for shallow depth of field portraits in bright light) and a 1.44 million-dot electronic viewfinder. The Stylus 1 adopts the useful dual mode stepped and stepless control ring from the XZ-2.
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS The SX50 HS is Canon's flagship 'super zoom' compact with a zoom range spanning 24-1000mm (equivalent). It's quick and responsive, and in favorable conditions the SX50 HS is capable of very good image quality for its class.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
$460 / £375 | 12MP | 25-600mm F2.8 lens | 3" 460k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
Although it is a relatively bulky camera which resembles a small DSLR, the FZ200's 25-600mm (equivalent) zoom is fixed. In one sense this makes the FZ200 less versatile than an interchangeable lens model, but no DSLR could replicate a zoom range like this with a fixed constant aperture of F2.8, and thanks to its long-ranging zoom lens, there are few situations in which you'll struggle to frame a decent shot.
The FZ200 offers good image quality for its class, but its small sensor can't match the performance of cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 and larger-sensor interchangeable lens models. But for traveling, the combination of full manual control and a super-versatile zoom lens make the FZ200 a fantastic 'carry everywhere' camera.
Nikon Coolpix P520 The Coolpix P520 is the latest in a series of Nikon super zooms, and builds on the abilities of the very capable P510, including the same 24-100mm zoom, but with the addition of an 18MP BSI-CMOS sensor. Compact and lightweight the P520 delivers good image quality and reliable metering and focus, with plenty of automatic modes and the option of full manual exposure control.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 (TZ40 in Europe)
$350 / £230 | 18MP | 24-480mm lens | 3" 920k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
Panasonic is often considered the inventor of the so-called 'travel zoom' class and it's still a major player in that market segment. The 18MP ZS30 incorporates a wide-ranging 24-480mm zoom lens in a compact body which can easily be thrown into a pocket or backpack, and is small enough to be used in a crowd without drawing too much attention. The ZS30 gives good all-around image quality, but can't quite match larger-sensor zooms in poor light.
Panasonic's 'intelligent Auto' mode is one of the best point-and-shoot modes around. This gives you a real head start when it comes to snapshots in a range of different conditions, if you don't want to get too involved with manual exposure or tone adjustments. The ZS30 is also equipped with built-in GPS and Wi-Fi via NFC (Near Field Communication) for connectivity with compatible smartphones and tablets.
Canon PowerShot SX280 HS The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS is Canon's latest offering in the travel zoom market. If offers good all-around image quality and comes with a lot of bells and whistles including a 25-500mm zoom lens, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS and full manual exposure control.