Best Compact Camera for Travel

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Handheld image in a very dark church using the low light feature of the RX100. Even when you lighten the shadows they are free from noise.
Handheld image in a very dark church using the low light feature of the RX100. Even when you lighten the shadows they are free from noise. Click the image to see a larger version.

In my previous blog post I mentioned how I now view the Olympus OMD as my perfect Travel Camera. And whilst this camera is a great package and quite small, it’s still a lot larger and heavier than a compact camera? On my recent trip to France however there were times when I wanted the size and weight of a compact. What I needed was a small camera that would fit easily into my pocket and yet produce good sized image files, with great quality.

Here is why I now think the Sony RX100 meets my requirements better than any other compact camera that I know of:

  • Camera Size & Weight – This camera is small and fits neatly in the hand. Initially I had trouble with it being a little too small and slim but since I purchased the Sony leather half case I have found it very easy to grip. Despite weighing very little you can feel the quality of the build due to the metal construction. It easily fits into a pocket and can be carried (even around my neck) without causing any problems. The small size also makes it very discrete and people tend to ignore you taking pictures where they are very aware and avoid people carrying SLR sized cameras.
  • Image Quality & Resolution – If you are not already aware, this is a 20Mpixel camera with a much larger sensor (1 inch) than a traditional compact, even those that have oversized sensors. The sensor size is just a little smaller than the Micro 43 cameras which helps ensure low noise and good image quality for such a high resolution. The camera has a good sharp lens that will resolve a remarkable amount of detail and will produce good results even when used wide open at f/1.8. The zoom range of 28-110mm could do with being a little more at either end (24-140mm would be perfect) but I am probably splitting hairs here. The camera shoots RAW images so you have lots of flexibility in extracting maximum quality from your images. This all adds up to a camera that produces very clean images at the base ISO but which produces very usable images up at ISO1600 (I am very picky about noise). I have also been submitting images from this camera to photo libraries and have not had any problems with them being accepted.
  • Features – Normally I am not one for being impressed by lots of technical features; I am much more interested in image quality, resolving capability and camera size/weight. With this camera I have to admit that there are a few features I am finding very useful and considering important. These are HDR, Sweep Panoramic and Handheld Low Light shooting.
    • With the HDR feature you simply select the dynamic range you want to cover (or place it in auto). The camera then shoots the required number of frames in quick succession when you release the shutter and merges them into a JPG. The JPG’s look very natural and are of a high quality. I feel the results are quite impressive with the only downside being that the image isn’t recorded as a RAW file. This can however work to your favour as you can set up the camera to shoot as normal using RAW or, when you switch the quality to JPG, start shooting HDR images automatically.
    • Sweep Panoramic isn’t yet perfect but it appears to be an improvement over the Sony NEX5 I used to own. Switch the dial to the panoramic mode and start shooting whilst moving the camera in the indicated direction. The image is then stitched in camera and the result is quite a large, detailed image. If you want straight lines then this feature won’t work for you but the results are very interesting, effective and fun.
  • Low Light Hand Held is something I haven’t used before but I now think is wonderful. When you release the shutter the camera shoots a sequence of images at a high ISO and with the aperture quite wide. This means you will achieve a fast shutter speed but each image will contain a lot of noise. The camera then blends together the various images in order to produce a very clean and sharp image. The results have amazed me. I was able to shoot hand held at night and indoors and produce images that are of sufficient quality to publish (in print). It even handles well situations where people are moving, producing a nice soft blur rather than ghosting. I don’t know how Sony has managed this but it’s very impressive.
100% magnification from the above image. It doesn't look as clean as the original as I added some soft grain in the black and white conversion.
100% magnification from the above image. It doesn’t look as clean as the original as I added some soft grain in the black and white conversion. You can still see th image is sharp and crisp despite this.

So, now you know why the RX100 is now my top tip for a compact travel camera. I definitely won’t travel without this camera (or possibly the RX100 MkII if I decide to upgrade)

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