Best Travel Camera? | The Nomad Way on Cameras

This article was originally written in October 2012 and was been updated after the launch of some new cameras. What is perhaps the most important item whilst travelling? A camera. Which camera should you buy? Well...there a number of basic features we think are essential: 

  • Image quality: As well as decent size sensor. Naturally you want great photos.
  • Manual control: Auto is great, but sometimes you need to adjust settings to suit.
  • Significant Zoom: At least 5x or 140mm equivalent. Capture that animal up close, building from a lookout or (discreetly sneak) the local guy smoking a pipe.
  • Portability: that is not having to carry a large heavy camera with extra lenses.
  • Flip Out Screen: To get that awkward angle, to peer over a crowd of people and to frame yourself in a portrait making sure that background is in.
  • Sound Clip: Record a sound clip to attach with photo. Remember what the building was, who the person with you was, or maybe the sounds of the city street, or a live band. Sounds can bring a photo to life.
  • Quality Video Recording: Allowing zoom and focus whilst recording.
  • One Hand Operation: maybe you're riding a bike, you're eating a burger or carrying a bag in one hand.
  • Wi-Fi and GPS Location: Relatively new, this is huge, allowing you to map your trip and back up photos.
  • Waterproof/Shockproof: This should be standard, yet is only available in a select number of entry level cameras. You're travelling, this makes sense!
These are all basic functions that exist today and have existed in cameras for years. However, would you believe there is not one camera on the market today which has all of these functions? Even if you take away, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS recording and the waterproof/shockproof ability, even though these should be standard!

Well, 1kg upwards, the neccesity to carry additional lenses, the inability to take spontaneous shots due to the camera's lack of portability or maybe the incorrect lens is on. One hand operation? No chance. Try taking an SLR with you whilst downhill mountain biking. Plus the unwanted attention it attracts.
Hybrid or Micro System? 
Sure, they are much more compact than an SLR, big sensor, great quality...but they lack portability. The interchangeable lens are still big, especially to get a significant zoom range. Plus as per SLR's, they are difficult to use with one hand and good luck finding one that has a flip out screen along with voice recording.

They are much better these days, some have great optical zoom, however they still have smaller sensors, no flip our screen and often lack manual control.
Long Zoom Compact? 
They tick some of the boxes but because they're cramming so muh zoom in, it is sacrificed by a smaller image sensor and therefore, poorer image quality.

A `Prosumer` Compact? 
Full manual control, larger sensor than a long zoom or compact, they are portable, record quality video, some have flip out screens and a decent zoom range. The category seems right, but hows this, Voice Capture once existed on the majority of camera brands but in recent years, the function has been dropped! Canon, Sony, Panasonic? No or not anymore. Nikon, Fujifilm? Luckily, Yes.

Flip out of the handiest features of a camera is also ignored by many manufacturers. The famous Canon G series, namely the G12 complete with a flip out screen was replaced by the G15 WITHOUT a flip out screen! Yet this feature is being used in their long zoom camera and SLR's. The G16 has now been announced, sadly the flip out screen is still missing.

Panasonic, Samsung and Fujifilm also serve up their contenders, with fantastic image quality but have decided to go with small zoom ranges and no flip out screens. Sony's new RX100 has been acclaimed by experts as perhaps the best compact ever made. It is very impressive, 1 inch sensor and amazing capabilities. Yet, it is limited to a 3.8x zoom, no flip out screen, no voice memo recording. This can't be an ideal option for travellers! 

This left in our opinion, the Nikon P7700 as the best travel camera available. Sure it won't match the quality of an SLR, or even the Sony RX100, but the quality will still be outstanding. Plus it will make a trustworthy travel companion, allowing you to capture the quality shots you want in the first place and record more of your travel experience. Always remember, no matter how good the camera is, it's the actual shot that matters. One year on Nikon has launched an updated version, the Nikon P7800. Very similar to the P7700, the P7800 adds a high resolution electronic viewfinder to the camera. A welcome addition for various conditions such as attempting to track fast moving subjects such as birds. The Nikon P7800 entails:
  • 1/1.7 inch sensor: not as large as others but larger than long zoom compacts.
  • Full manual control.
  • 7.1x or 200mm equivalent, larger than any other in its category.
  • Portable, sure not a small camera, but small enough.
  • Flipout screen, to easily frame and capture all those awkward angled shots.
  • Voice memo function to attach to a photo.
  • Quality video recording in Full HD with zoom and focus function.
  • One hand operation, well almost. They've fitted a lens cap to the new model which means if it's on, 2 hands are required.
  • GPS recording, although only via a separately sold adaptor.
It's not perfect but in The Nomad Way's humble opinion, the best camera available today for a traveller. If only they'd add a larger sensor, scrap the lens cap and take into account the importance of Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS and waterproof/shockproof abilities. For a little more bulk and expense, it would be well worth it.

So Camera manufacturers, who's going to step up to the plate? Electronic giants, Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have recently entered the camera market and have basically given us more of the same. Who's going to come in Apple'esqu style and give us what we want? Just a sneaking suspicion, surely the travel market is by far your largest!