For travelers, there’s hardly anything better than snapping the perfect shot of a perfect moment that encapsulates an entire journey. The thing is, no one can ever be quite sure when that moment will be, and in most cases, it’s at a time when you least expect it. Those who place a lot of value on the quality of their travel photos, be it for pleasure or business, have historically had to haul around a hulking DSLR and an assortment of lenses. We’ve all seen “that guy” at Disney, with the massive camera around his neck, and if that describes you, I’d like to offer some alternatives.
The advent of the Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) has changed everything in prosumer photography. In the span of just a few years, this new product category has enabled near-DSLR quality photos to come from cameras that are significantly cheaper and (perhaps more importantly) significantly more compact. Many of these are barely larger than the point-and-shoot cameras of yesteryear, but offer incredible color accuracy and sharpness – with one caveat, that I’ll address in a bit. For now, let’s talk product.
1. I’ve used almost every ILC to hit the market, and there’s no question that Sony has this segment mastered. The new NEX-6 is the current flagship, and comes highly recommended. It offers manual controls, a built-in flash, outstanding battery life, and an exterior that’s built to take a beating – a highly important amenity for travelers who frequently toss their cameras into whatever bag happens to be around their neck. It’s just under $1,000 with a mid-range zoom lens included, but considering that a DSLR can easily cost two to three times more, it’s a bargain especially with the stellar image quality. (And if you’re willing to wait until April, Sony’s NEX-3N will ship as a more basic alternative that starts at just $600.)
2. If you’re looking for something even more compact (and more stylish), Nikon’s 1 J2 is a solid bet. It’s priced at a more palatable $550 with a basic mid-range zoom lens, and is tiny enough to slip into an average clutch. Nikon’s lens collection is one of the best in the industry, and the ease-of-use can’t be understated. For those who don’t want to mess with manual controls, the automatic mode on this camera is top-notch.
3. If you’re willing to buy a camera that doesn’t support swappable lenses, Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 should be at the top of your list. Why? It’s a traveler’s dream, boasting an extremely rugged exterior that can survive drops, freezing temperatures, and dips in the pool. Plus, it’s less than $200 and is about the size of an average wallet. In fact, it’s probably more compact than your phone!
As mentioned above, the one “gotcha” with all of these units is low-light performance. The one area where bona fide DSLRs still rule the roost is at night. If you’re going to be taking a notable amount of shots after sunset, you should still spring for a DSLR and perhaps a dedicated flash. For decently lit scenarios, however, save yourself the trouble, money, and the backache by selecting something a little smaller (and to most eyes, just as capable).
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