The one time that almost all of us have a camera within easy reach is when we are travelling. A lot of us actually put off buying a camera until just before the big trip, to make sure we are getting the latest and greatest for the time that we need it most.
Add to that the fact that overseas travellers can buy their new camera duty free, and you can see why so many manufacturers are designing cameras with features aimed squarely at the snapper on the move.
The improvements to this genre of cameras in the past couple of years are breathtaking. Many are now designed for the more adventurous, with underwater and extreme-climate capabilities.
Zoom lenses have improved on the point-and-shoot cameras, most notably with improvements to the wide end of the zoom.
The current batch of travel cameras has the ability to not only shoot high-megapixel images (that you can enlarge for a great print on your office wall), but also to record movies in 720p high definition. Compare the size of these little compact cameras to your old standard-def camcorder (that you might have lugged halfway around the world a couple of years ago). Now view the results of both movies on a large plasma, and you won’t believe the difference.
Here we look at five cameras with differing features and prices, as well as the new iPhone 4. The iPhone is being included because, with its 5-megapixel camera and HD movies, a lot of people are happy to rely on their phone to record their memories and not bother with the extra equipment. And when we tested it side by side with the other cameras, we were quite surprised at how it compared to the cameras that aren’t phones.
All of the other cameras record an image of 10-14 megapixels, which is outstanding resolution for a point-and-shoot compact camera. Most of us look at this as meaning that we can comfortably do a poster print of our image, but what this also means is that we can safely crop an image without losing too much detail. This is important in travel photography where you may not have had a chance to recompose your frame or zoom in (from the window of a train, for instance).
The other area of dramatic improvement is in light sensibility. Often when you are travelling you want to record a bit of the atmosphere of your subject, and that often means using available light. These cameras can handle ISO up to 1600 in the lowest, and 6400 in the highest. Perfect for photographing a sarcophagus in an Egyptian tomb.
The Nikon Coolpix even has a built-in projector, so you can have a slideshow or movie night on the wall of your hostel to show your travel buddies all the day’s highlights. I’ve been told that it even works really well on the sides of a tent.
The standout camera as far as the resulting images it produced, was the Olympus PEN. With its extra bulk you would want to be pretty keen to carry it around, but at the end of your trip, you would be glad you did.
This Lab Test originally appeared in the December issue of Australian Macworld magazine.