Now That I’ve Played w/Travel Cams…..

Over the last year or so, I went on this crazy acquisition binge for cameras in this area called Travel Cameras.  This category has been around for a long time, but in this last little while, technology has accelerated to the point, where these cameras have gotten pretty powerful and pretty tiny, to say the least.

For me, this category holds a very strong interest.  It hits that wonderful line between size and function.  I’ve been in the photo game for a long time – back in the 35mm days, and in the last couple of years, give or take, time has permitted me to “dip my toe back in”, so to speak.  Not that I haven’t had an interest, just that my photo stuff was relegated to what I would call the snapshot side of things.   Yes, we’ve always had a camera of sorts kicking around AND we actually do take a fair number of photos, all things considered, but not as a hobby per se.  What prompted my interest in this area was actually a couple of trips we took a couple of years ago.  The first was a trip to ‘Vegas – it was our first chance in a lot of years to simply “escape” (doesn’t get any better than ‘Vegas – it’s not like any place else for me Smile)  So… off we went armed with a couple of point and shoots.  One of these units happened to be a newly acquired Panasonic SZ1 – it was sort of a travel cam that sported the equivalent to a 24mm wide angle lens and 10x zoom.  Yes we got some great pics, but their low light capability was very limited and though the 10x zoom was nice, I found there some shots that could have used more. 

Back in the day (talk about a cliche…) – low light photography was one of my “interest” areas.  I went looking for something to address this, but at the same time, I was looking for something that I could use that was capable of “going the distance”.  The end result of that search was the Fuji X10.  Not a travel camera per se, but a very strong starting point for me.  It had the low capability, good manual controls and this retro look.  To this day, it’s still my “ go to “ camera, despite the fact that I’ve gotten more sophisticated equipment since.  Onward.

Later that year – Honolulu.  Absolutely fell in love with the place!!!  In the meantime, I had acquired the mid sized Gorilla Pod and armed with the X10 plus  our pointy shooties, we managed to take over 2000 pics in that 10 days.  We didn’t want to miss a thing Smile  AND I don’t think we did from the pic side.  We do have to return, though, to see more stuff….  It’s in the plan….

On this trip, the only shortcoming I found was that there were times when I wish I had more than 10x zoom.  It was a nagging thing, but it was enough to prompt me to start looking.  Now, before I continue on here, it’s important to note that, at the time and for quite a while after, a lot of my decisions were based around mobility.  I simply wanted good equipment that could pack in my daypack so I would have a camera (or two as I did later) available.  At work, one of the things that prompted me looking and acquiring, was this building that was being demolished.  It afforded me aZS15stop, so why not?  This was in the fall, BTW.  After the first few shots with the SZ1, it REALLY became obvious that I could use more than 10x zoom for certain shots.  Soooo… the research started.  I happened upon the Panasonic ZS15 (24mm/10 megapixel/16x zoom) during a cruise– it was on a clear out to make way for the ZS25, I think.  I did a bit of quick research on it and bought it the next day.  This unit was actually what started it all Smile  Slightly larger unit, but a nice unit to say the least.  Getting it on sale was the bonus.  On the flipside, it REALLY got me going on this class of camera.  I started to research even more. 

Now, before I progress even more here – Part of the research I did at the time, was doing a bit of comparison work between the smaller cameras and DLSR’s.  I wasn’t what the market was doing at the time, and despite the fact that I could have used my budget to actually buy a pretty wound up DLSR system, I quite simply wasn’t prepared to put up with the bulk – so, I decided to use that money to see exactly how much I could get going a different avenue. 

Travel Cameras – we should maybe stop and look a little closer at this category.  For starters, there must be a market for these cameras, otherwise, they wouldn’t be making so many of them Smile  They come in all shapes and sizes but they share a common theme.  Big zooms and wide angles.  Add to this some pretty impressive movie specs (I don’t shoot movies per se, so you won’t seen anything here that pertain to this area…), reasonable low light capability and you’ve got a pretty powerful piece of photo taking gear.  For the “target market”, which appears to be the person who wants to “one up” their game for photos, this is a nice place to jump to.  You can get a lot of functionality in pretty small package if you want.  In looking closer at this “demographic”, if you want to call it that, in trying to stay objective, I would say this particular group wants to simply get a better range of photos.  Good quality is secondary to getting the photo.  When you look at the more technical side – this group probably won’t typically go beyond red-eye correction, limited cropping or maybe even some simple color correction. From what I’ve found out, overall quality is there.  A very serious amateur probably wouldn’t be happy with some results but you know what?  For what they do, it’s not so shabby.  Heck, I have friends who a serious amateurs and have some pretty serious gear, and from their standpoint, if it isn’t DSLR is not a camera Smile  My argument here?  I got the shot because it was on me, not sitting in the bag at home Smile  People in this prepared to spend a bit more money to get functionality, but not a lot more.  For all intents and purposes, the cameras will all function pretty well out of the box (usually need to fully charge….) and you can leave it in Auto and simply go for it Smile WHAT it does becomes personal preference – a little research and understanding what YOU want to do goes a long way here.

So… what happened?  Well, I happened to catch a technology “turn” or two, and what I started to see, was these things started to get more and more powerful in a small package.  Small was key for me. Over the last year or so I acquired the following in sequence: Fuji F800 EXR, Panasonic ZS25, Sony HX30V, Nikon S9400 and lastly, the Canon SX270 HD.  Each unit was acquired based on two things – how would it fit what I was doing at the time and quality of image for a particular situation.  The end result, of course, was to find a camera or cameras that could compliment the X10 or other “serious gear” that I acquired along the way. 

Running in parallel to this, was that I’m constantly looking for ways to keep my commuting things in one daypack and still be able to carry it.  PLUS, as I started to get more serious, more serious equipment also got acquired.  For instance – the Panasonic LX7 – it replaced my X10 in my daypack.  Smaller unit by a long shot, better low light.  Picture quality – equivalent.  I used the X10 in my weekend “go bag”.  No switching – awesome!!!  So… let’s look at the reasoning behind this sequence.  I’ve come to some interesting conclusions about these units.

Fuji F800EXR – Near as I can figure out, this particular style has been out for a while before I got the F800 – F700 for sure.  I initially bought this one first because the menu system was similar to my X10.  One of the key things with Fuji, if you’ve ever experienced their 35mm films, was that they had excellent greens, blues and yellows.  Flesh tones were a bit on the rich side, but for scenics, it was one of ways to go.  There are a couple of things that are bit unique about both the X10 and F800.  First, is their EXR mode, which gives you the ability to prioritize how you want a certain shot to be taken given a certain condition.  It does cut the resolution down from 16 Megapixel down to 8 in this mode, but at the same time, it does retain good quality. The other key thing is that you can emulate the old Fuji films and their characteristics.

Is there a downside to this camera?  Yes – the menu system is a bear to work with.  This camera is not designed for a novice to say the least.  Sure, you can keep it in Auto and it’ll do a good job, but it’s strength isn’t in the Auto mode.  This is a camera that is designed to be used by the advanced user.  It can shoot both JPEG AND RAW, so all in all, quite a powerful unit.  Coupled with it’s 20x zoom, it makes a great companion to the X10.  This isn’t really a camera the you can literally take out of the box and shoot with. Autofocus can be a bit finicky in low light and the flash is, well, typical to a camera in this calss I would say.  Nothing too spectacular here.  There is a pretty steep learning curve here.  If you have the time, it’s a winner for sure.  It’s not for everyone.

Panasonic DMC ZS25 – I was spoiled a bit with the SZ1, so I’m a little biased here Smile  Now, one of the key factors around Panasonic cameras in general is they do offer a lot of functionality against the price point.  The downside, is exactly that – it doesn’t come cheap.  Not as expensive as the Sony HX30, but not far off either.  After using all my other ones, this one is perhaps one of the better ones in this class of camera.  From a picture standpoint, it has one of the best metering systems out there and if you leave it in it’s multi-point meter mode, will deliver a pretty good “as you see it” type photo.  In it’s Auto mode. So.. what the heck do I mean by that?  Well, one of the things that’s a little finicky on digital from what I’ve seen so far, is that when you take a photo that incorporates land, sky and clouds, perhaps a bit of sun, or beach or snow (you know – the average travel photo), especially in auto – is that the sky, if it’s blue and clouds will wash out and the camera tries to preserve other parts of the photo.  Most people wouldn’t know enough to drop the EV down to –1.5 or lower, they are just going to take the shot.  The ZS25 is a little better at this than the others.  Couple this with it’s 25x zoom, and ease of use, plus color rendering, I personally would rate this one really high on the list.  It has a lot of functionality especially in it’s Scene mode, but at the same time, it can be used in it’s Auto mode and you can cover off most things easily. 

Is there a down, side to this one?  Well, maybe Smile  It’s very subtle IMHO.  If you don’t compare to other cameras, you simply may not catch this but I’ve found that photos tend to be ever so flat.  Don’t get me wrong here – it does most things right – colors are pretty true, it renders flesh tones well, though every so slightly rich, etc. BUT if you compare against say the Sony HX30V or Nikon S9400, you would see the difference.  Those two, in particular, tend to show things “brighter”.  The average person would probably never notice this – BUT, it’s there.  Do I worry about this?  No.  The bottom line – IF I had to take one camera on a trip, this would probably be the one.

Sony HX30V – When I read the reviews on this one, they all hinged around a similar theme – good camera and MIGHT be worth it if you can take advantage of the extra features it offers.  From my experience they got a lot of things right Smile  The one key thing about this one is that the flash is more powerful than the others. It’s also the pitfall.  On closer shots, it’ll wash out on you, so you’ve got to be a little careful of that, but if you going to take that standard 3 or 4 person head and shoulder shot, you’re good.  Anything closer – well, it’s hit and miss.  I would put this one in the same class as the Fuji F800 – it’s not for everyone.  It’s got a menu system that is almost if not more complex than the F800.  From the photo taking side – for the most part, it’ll serve you well.  Colors are slightly brighter but render pretty true of most shots.  This camera is bragging 18 megapixels, but the two megapixel difference isn’t noticeable for most things that I with it.

Is there a downside to this one?  As I mentioned, the menu system isn’t the friendliest out there.  But then again, it’s a more advanced unit, so maybe for the more advanced person.  The other thing that was immediately noticeable was build quality.  I’m a long time Sony user and I’ve always expected that when I picked it up, it would literally “glow” quality.  This one doesn’t do that, and if it wasn’t for the fact I was looking for certain things, like the flash in particular, it might have been a deal breaker.  This one has a pop up flash, and it has it’s moments for being annoying. In fact, out of the bunch that I have, this one actually feels cheap by comparison.  I’ve used this one actually a lot, and so far, it’s holding up.

Nikon S9400 – I almost didn’t get this one based on the reviews.  BUT it went on sale and was well within my budget so I went for it Smile  Now one thing about this one, is that comparatively speaking, it’s a lot thinner than the others.  The Canon SX270 is pretty thin but this one is thinner by a little bit..  You could put this into a shirt pocket quite easily, though it might be a tad heavy for that.  Now this one has a very specific target market from what I can figure out.  This one IS designed for the person who really doesn’t want manual Smile  One of the things I’ve noticed about Nikon in this and pointy shooties, is that they tend to really “keep it simple” in this class.  Menus are simple, and you do have some control, but at the same, if you want to do anything that is manual related, this probably isn’t the camera for you.  It was rated as being expensive in this class of camera, and that maybe so, but you know what?  It does a lot of things right.  It does take a good picture – colors are good – a bit on the bright side, but nonetheless pretty good.  If one is looking at a travel camera that gets things done with minimal fuss and bother, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.  This one falls in line to the Panasonic ZS25.

Downsides?  It’s simplicity.  If you are going beyond the simple point and shoot stuff, this one has it’s limitations.  Above and beyond that, it’s pretty hard to fault this one. Yes, it’s a bit on the expensive side, but then again, it’s Nikon Smile


Canon SX270HD – The previous version of this one got picked as one of the top travel cameras in it’s class last year.  This one was like the Nikon S9400 – I almost didn’t buy it because I already had so many Smile  BUT when I looked at reviews for the “Best of 2012”, this one was the only one I DIDN’T own, AND there was a bit of sale on it, so I figured why not?  Smile

In using this camera, there are some pretty impressive things about it. One of the key things I noticed right off the bat was that it did a better job of capturing those “generic landscape” photos a little better.  Colors were quite true and in general, just a nice camera to hold and use.  Menu system was easy to use, and offered a good combination of auto and manual modes.  Interestingly enough though, I found this very lacking in it’s scene mode.  Now, the average person may not care, but I was expecting to see at least a sunrise/sunset setting and it didn’t have one.  This setting has proven very handy for me at times when I need that quick shot.  Minor point, but still…..  I got the feeling it was targeted just a bit above the Nikon but a little more aggressively priced in my area.

Without getting into too much nitty gritty, it’s easy to see why this one is so popular.  It works and works well.  Represents good value for the dollar.  It’s an established brand that everyone can associate with.  When I was in the world of 35mm – Pentax and Canon were deemed the “everyone” camera and Nikon was the “Pro” class.  Olympus was out there too, but nothing like Pentax and Canon.  In the world of digital, it really hasn’t changed that much from what I can see.  At the top end, I’m seeing Canon and Nikon still slugging it out, but now you also have Sony and Panasonic in the mix.  Anyway …onward.

Downsides?  Yeah there are a couple but not necessarily deal breakers but they are annoying to me – actually VERY annoying.  First is the flash – it’s one of those pop up ones that pops when needed.  OK – fine. What’s annoying about this, is that you can’t just always push it down – you have to go to the flash mode and turn it off to get the flash to retract.  Not always, there’s the odd time you can push it down, but very much an annoyance.  The next one is in deleting a photo in camera.  It takes a couple of extra steps in the menu system to do this. And then there’s the case.  On one side, it’s a nice case – in fact the only manufacturer in the ones I bought that actually provided one.  Kudos – it saves me money.  BUT, I have to thread the strap thru the hole in the case before I can close the case!!  UGLY if I need the camera quickly.  Maybe that’s not a consideration for many, but for me it was downright frustrating.

In Conclusion

So that’s life in the fast lane for me. I didn’t go into some of my other cameras like the Panasonic ZS15, but that one’s old news at point.  There are other things – some come with external adapters and USB cables, whatever.  The real bottom line here – this is perhaps a tougher call than going out a buying a pointy shooty.  I’ve only covered what I would call the “middle tier”.  There are the quasi DSLR ones and ones with smaller zooms that also fit into this category.  I looked at it from the point of tiny but with a wide angle and big zoom.  I KNEW I would get a reasonable photo, that went without question and in many instances, I’m startled at just how good they are.  BUT then again, I did my research and also knew a lot about what I was going to do. 

I have many people who ask me what I would pick Smile  I try to reply by asking another question “What do you want to do with it?”.  Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  In reality, with the answers I get, they could pick literally anything and it would work Smile  I try to steer them away from the more complex ones like the Fuji or Sony, but it’s hard to explain to someone about big zooms, or wide angles if they don’t have the experience with it. It gets even harder when they simply don’t have a lot of experience beyond snaps.  I always tend to have a couple with me and I can show them to try and establish a “point of reference”. One that I get a fair amount is “I don’t need the big zoom”, but in the same breath I’m being told that their 3 or 4x zoom isn’t enough.  AND they don’t have a tripod or Gorilla Pod Smile 

The comment I get the most – “Wow – does your camera take good pictures” Smile    In the back of my mind – it AIN’T the camera Smile

About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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