Best travel compacts: Group test of digital cameras for travel photography
- Thu, 29 Apr 2010
Travelling can be a stressful time especially when it comes to packing. Fitting everything you want to take with you, while keeping your bag light enough to carry will always be a compromise and when it comes to taking a camera, though a big heavy DSLR may get you the best possible shots, it's not always practical.
Compact cameras, however, aren't quite the concession they once were and the latest range of long zoom creative models can certainly impress. These models are all small in size - rather than a bridge SLR-styled camera - so will easily fit into your pocket and yet include the very latest features, including at least 10x optical zoom, creative shooting modes and HD video.
We've picked four of the very latest models that will be on the shelves in time for your next break, priced between £250 and £350, all of which have something special to offer. These include Canon's PowerShot SX210 IS, Nikon's Coolpix S8000, Panasonic's Lumix TZ10, and Sony's Cyber-shot HX5. We've put each of them through their paces and directly compared the results to make your choice easier...
Travel compacts between £250 - £350
The SX210 is an update on the SX200 model and sits mid range amongst the PowerShot models. It is however the most powerful compact sized model and comes with an impressive feature list.
What we like: Clean design, lots of creative control, impressive
What we don't like: 16:9 format screen that leaves a small image display
What Digital Camera score: 89 %
This is Nikon's flagship Coolpix in their Style range, and is therefore designed much more for looks and usability than for ultimate creativity, which comes from their P prefixed Performance range.
What we like: Easy to use, nice looking images, affordable
What we don't like: AF, video mode, lack of true wide focal lengths
What Digital Camera score: 82%
The TZ range has produced some impressive cameras over the years and following on from the TZ7, this one has a lot to live up to. The TZ10 is Panasonic's flagship superzoom and is aimed squarely at the more advanced travel shooter.
What we like: Solid, well built camera with plenty of creative control
What we don't like: AVCHD lite format needs specific software
What Digital Camera score: 89%
The HX5 is a flagship for Sony's compact range and offers a full assortment of its latest technologies, all rolled into one camera to create what they believe to be the ultimate creative tool.
What Digital Camera score: 92%
What we like: Heaps of really clever functions
What we don't like: Overly bright low res LCD screen
What did we think?
All of the cameras featured have their unique abilities and will appeal to slightly different users. It does depend on how much control you want over your images and how much you are happy to let the camera take over. Though all of the cameras will let you put them into autopilot, as it were, some will allow you to regain far more control than others. If budgets are tight then the Nikon does offer the cheapest option and from the simple point and shoot perspective it does deliver nice looking images. Being the smallest and lightest it is certainly pocket-friendly and means you can always keep it with you. For just £30 more however, the Canon PowerShot SX210IS offers a really flexible range of creative shooting modes, superior HD video recording while taking up mere millimetres more of pocket space. The SX210IS however does only offer a small image for composition due to the 16:9 format screen and relatively low resolution. It also lacks the advanced features such as GPS that feature in our final two models.
Both the Lumix TZ10 and the Sony HX5 offer a similar proposition; both with 25mm wide-angle lenses, both well built, both with GPS data, and both with high quality AVCHD video variants. The TZ10 offers a more manual ability, with a greater range of apertures and a full range of creative exposure modes such as aperture priority. The video mode is also impressive but the format requires the latest version of an additional video editing package to be able to work with it, and the Panasonic software must be used to view.
Sony's HX5 packs in the largest amount of features, adding twilight shooting, sweep panorama, backlight HDR, 10fps burst mode and directional GPS to the mix. It may not have the longest zoom but it does offer a wide 25mm at one end produces some of the most pleasing and noise free results here. The LCD screen is a let down but is still workable and the 1080i HD video looks great, though still suffers some of the afflictions of the Lumix in terms of compatibility. Overall though it narrowly edges past the other models and is truly worthy of our gold award.