Best new compact cameras for travelers

Travel generates moments you know you’ll remember forever: spotting an elusive blue whale, reveling in a colorful street festival, reaching the summit of that windy peak. Sometimes the experience is so transformative you want to share some of that magic with family and friends. As the photo engineer for National Geographic, I design and build…

Best new compact cameras for travelers

Travel generates moments you know you’ll remember forever: spotting an elusive blue whale, reveling in a colorful street festival, reaching the summit of that windy peak. Sometimes the experience is so transformative you want to share some of that magic with family and friends. As the photo engineer for National Geographic, I design and build custom equipment, such as a robotic camera platform shaped like a bird, so pros can capture that hard-to-get image. But I also test consumer products to help travelers record their global adventures. I took several compact point-and-shoot cameras on my own trips to try out their features in real-world situations. The result? My list of top 10 best compact cameras for 2020.

Fujifilm X-Pro 3

The X-Pro 3 has an unorthodox design. Its main screen flips up and away, leaving just the small color E-ink screen—which mimics the film box windows of vintage film cameras—as well as rangefinder handling and a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. But the hidden main screen prevents the practice of “chimping” or checking the screen after every frame—encouraging you to keep moving, keep shooting, and keep experiencing. After all, cameras should be unassuming participants that enhance the travel experience, rather than distract from it. This camera also has the same great sensor and autofocus (AF) system as the X-T3 but in a package that further pushes Fujifilm’s film simulation ethos. The new Classic Neg, akin to Fuji Superia, adds to the excellent film emulations found in earlier Fuji cameras. Get it: Fujifilm

Tip: To understand the full power of Fujifilm’s emulation system, set the camera to shoot in JPEG format. Better yet, use it with just a couple of fixed focal point lenses (rather than zoom) in the range of 24-85mm, so you can enjoy less screen time, more you time on your travels.

Ricoh GRIII




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Best for: Portability and ease of use. Ricoh’s GRIII is a little workhorse that does it all, and it’s small enough to carry in your pocket.

This little ninja made me want to take photos all the time. At first glance, the ergonomics on the cell phone-sized GRIII appear to be nothing special. But Ricoh has achieved a beautiful balance between pocket-ability and easy one-handed operation. The touch screen is snappy, and the menu system is easy to navigate. The GRIII may not be the prettiest or flashiest, but it packs a punch. The 24 MP APS-C sensor features IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) and dual type autofocus. I could wax on for pages about how wonderful the 12thiteration of the GR line is, but in short, it’s the one camera I could see myself purchasing as my everyday photographic travel companion. Get it: Ricoh

Tip: The camera doesn’t have the biggest battery, but it comes with a built-in USB-C. Between shooting days, I simply topped it off with my car charger or my bedside phone charger.

Sony RX100VII




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Best for: Speed and accuracy. Real-time AF from Sony’s professional line means the RX100VII can shoot 20 frames per second with virtually no image distortion.

The seventh-generation RX100 line is packed with features yet each camera fits inside a jacket pocket. This version comes with real time AF, from Sony’s pro line, giving photographers highly reliable eye/face autofocus that now works with animals as well as people. No other camera in this size has autofocus or shoot speeds close to this little wonder. We’re talking 20 frames per second (FPS) with real-time autofocus/auto exposure. Thanks to new sensor tech borrowed from Sony’s flagship a9 series, this model also shoots electronically with almost no distortion of moving subjects. In practice, this means silent shooting and high shutter speeds for working in bright light. The RX100VII also sports a 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens that, while not as bright as I would like, covers a wide range for the traveler. I have regularly described this camera line as my “desert island” choice. Is it a high price for such a small camera? Yes, but it does deliver performance in spades. Get it: Sony

Leica Q2 and Q-P

This year I road-tested Leica’s Q-P and the new Q2. The Q-P is just a Q with a fantastic matte black paint job. The Q2 has the same lens and similar handling as the Q-P plus a new massive sensor with 47.5 MP of pixel-peeping madness as well as significant weather sealing. The newer technology found in the modern Q2 sensor is terrific, though the large sensor creates massive files, which slowed performance. I prefer the button layout of the Q-P and smaller native file size for the style of shooting this camera lends itself to. So if you want the latest, buy the Q2. If you want to save some money and get the same experience, get a Q-P (or a Q). You can’t go wrong with any of these models. Get it: Leica

Fujifilm X-T3




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Best for: Overall performance and ease of use. With all the bells and whistles, the Fujifilm X-T3’s mirrorless APS-C camera works well for newbies and pros.

Last year’s overall champ is still no slouch. This camera can go toe to toe with professional full-frame (FF) mirrorless and pro DSLRs in per

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