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10 of the best compact cameras for travellers

Great things, little packages… Here’s a selection of the perfect pocket-sized cameras to take no-fuss photos while you’re on your travels

Snap-up one of these compacts for top-quality pics (Muha)

Check out Wanderlust's new magazine Take Better Travel Photos for this article and many other practical guides

Don't forget you can purchase this equipment, plus other gadgets from the Jessops' online store now

1. Canon PowerShot G12

Target price: £370

A supremely capable digital compact that edges its rivals in most of the areas that count

For those of you unfamiliar with the Gs, this is Canon’s series of compacts aimed at enthusiasts who don’t want an SLR cramping their snap-happy style.

In terms of picture quality, the G12 is good at realistic, with accurate colours and superb detail. There’s very little noise at high sensitivity settings (it’s very usable even at ISO 1600) with a nippy autofocus that makes it easier to get the right shot.

The optical viewfinder (almost identical to the Nikon P7000’s) and dedicated ISO dial are invaluable, while the tiltable LCD is a useful addition.

The G12 is just about pocketable if you wear baggy trousers or a big jacket, which means it’s a camera you might actually have with you when opportunities arise – the best kind.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 112x76x48mm
LCD size – 2.8in
Maximum movie resolution – 720p
Megapixels – 10MP
Memory card type – SD (HC)
Optical viewfinder – Yes
Optical zoom rating – 5x
Weight – 401g

2. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V

Target price: £280

A tiny camera with massive versatility and a huge dollop of user friendliness

Sony has crammed pretty much everything but the kitchen sink into this sturdy little snapper: it produces panoramic shots in a single sweep, can take several shots in a second, captures full HD movies and even takes 3D photos. So it’s versatile, but also well made and well equipped. Perhaps the only thing it lacks is features aimed at seasoned shutterbugs (like shooting in RAW).

If you’re looking for a versatile point-and-shoot that will document your holiday/party perfectly and delivers great shots straight out of the camera, this should be top of your list: point it at anything and nine times out of ten it delivers the goods.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 102x58x29mm
LCD size – 3in
Maximum frames per second – 50 Maximum movie resolution – 1080p Megapixels – 16.2
Memory card type – SD/SDHC/SDXC/Memory stick
Optical viewfinder – No
Optical zoom rating – 10x
Weight – 208g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3

Target price: £300

One tough son of a gun, but backs that up with first-class features and strong performance

A real tough cookie, not only can the FT3 take a bashing and a splashing but it also comes with GPS, a compass, an altimeter and even a barometer.

But the FT3’s rugged build doesn’t come at the expense of the image quality: shots look detailed, the camera keeps noise under control most of the time and the 4.6x optical zoom is impressive considering the lens is completely internal. Colours are realistic, metering is accurate, the autofocus is swift and the menu system makes using the FT3 a breeze.

There’s also a full HD movie mode. Video quality is certainly more than serviceable – and you can film underwater too, which as a bonus feature is pretty darn impressive.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 103.5x64x26.5mm
LCD size – 2.7in
Maximum movie resolution – 1080i
Megapixels – 12.1MP
Memory card type – SD (HC/XC)
Optical viewfinder – No
Optical zoom rating – 4.6x
Weight – 197g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

4. Sony NEX-5

Target price: £450

A highly desirable, clever hybrid camera offering pro-quality results in an amateur-friendly package

Compact cameras with swappable lenses are big news in camera town –
so here’s Sony’s take on mixing compact dinkiness with DSLR quality.

The NEX-5 has a 14.2MP APS-C sensor – the same size as those found in DSLRs – and its own range of E-mount lenses. The NEX-5’s sizeable sensor is good news for photo quality. Even at higher ISO levels, shots are amazingly crisp and it gives you the option to shoot with very shallow depth of field for arty blurry backgrounds and sharply focused objects. Just as sharp: the quality of the full-fat AVCHD video.

With its dinky dimensions, solid build, genuinely useful special shooting modes and excellent stills and video performance, the NEX-5 is a real contender for amateurs looking to move on from compact point-and-shoots.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 111x59x38mm
LCD size – 3in
Maximum movie resolution – 1920x1080p
Megapixels – 14.2MP
Optical viewfinder – No
Weight – 287g

5. Canon PowerShot S95

Target price: £310

The S95 is a point-and-shoot that will fit easily in your pocket, yet delivers professional results

The very, very small S95 is easier to slip into your trouser pocket than an iPhone, and yet it can compete with entry-level DSLRs for image quality. It has incredible noise control that can make usable pictures out of any sensitivity up to ISO 3200 with rich, well-balanced colours. You also have the option to shoot in RAW, which gives you full control over this.

The camera’s rotating lens ring lets you map certain controls. It can be set to alter any one shooting value from ISO speed to zoom, including manual focus. Arguably the best extra feature, though, is not a photographic one at all. The S95 shoots 720p video and has an HDMI-output.

If you’re after professional-quality shots with the minimum of weight or fuss, the S95 is the camera for you.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 99.8x58.4x29.5mm
LCD size – 3in
Maximum frames per second – 3.9fps
Maximum movie resolution – 720p
Megapixels – 10MP
Memory card type – SD/SDHC
Optical viewfinder – No
Weight – 193g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

6.Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3

Target price: £250

Superb 3D images bring a new meaning to ‘depth-of-field’. Easily hooked up to your shiny new 3DTV

In the digital 3D photography race, Fujifilm was first over the line by a country mile with its Real 3D W1. This successor, the W3, ups the ante further still. 3D images are captured using two lenses set far apart on the front of the camera, with each taking the shot from a different angle. The two images are then overlaid and displayed on the special lenticular LCD, or can be hooked up to a 3DTV (yes, they do exist!).

When you’re shooting in 3D, a 2D JPEG is still stored, which is handy – although the photo quality is no better than many sub-£200 compacts. You need time to adjust to the layering effect of subjects and scenery, but it’s amazing fun: this is easily the best 3D stills camera out there.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 124x66x28mm
LCD size – 3.5in 3D widescreen
Maximum frames per second – 30fps
Maximum movie resolution – 720p 3D
Megapixels – 10MP
Memory card type – SD (HC)
Optical viewfinder – No
Optical zoom rating – 3x
Weight – 230g
Zoom function during movies – No

7. Panasonic Lumix LX5

Target price: £350

An impressive camera that’s easy to love, but hard to wholeheartedly recommend

The large Leica lens that dominates the front of the LX5 isn’t the only design debt that Panasonic owes the German giant: the LX5’s styled with the rugged charm of a classic rangefinder. For a compact, the LX5 has a load of dials, switches and buttons scattered around its various edges. As a result, it’s bigger than similarly specced cameras and acts for all the world like a slimmed-down version of Panasonic’s own excellent GF1.

The image quality is slightly disappointing – to get the best out of the pictures you’ll need to shoot in RAW format – but with its sophisticated shooting controls and demand for post-processing attention, many people will enjoy the photo-fiddling fun that this throws up.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 109.7x65.5x43.0mm
LCD size – 3in
Maximum frames per second – 2.5fps
Maximum movie resolution – 720p
Megapixels – 10.1MP
Optical viewfinder – No
Weight – 271g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

8. Canon PowerShot SX220 HS

Target price: £230

Powerful and pocketable, this camera is the ideal all-rounder for your travels

The PowerShot SX range offers big muscle from skinny bodies, and the SX220 has been pumping iron with even more dedication than its predecessors.  

The pocketable chassis houses a 14x optical zoom, ranging from a wide-angle 28mm equivalent to a massive 392mm. It also offers the de rigueur option of 1080p Full HD video recording.

The SX220 takes excellent photos throughout most of the ISO range and the autofocus is both fast and accurate. Video quality is also impressive, while effective optical image stabilisation helps to prevent blur. Once you’ve got the hang of the intuitive controls, there’s also a decent selection of manual settings to help you free your creative side.

In short, a stunning all-rounder at a good price. Buy the optional waterproof case and you’ve got the perfect pocket travel companion.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 106x59x33mm
LCD size – 3in
Megapixels – 12.1MP
Memory card type – SD(HC/XC)
Optical zoom rating – 14x
Weight – 215g

9. Olympus XZ-1

Target price: £340

Not a DSLR-beater, but a damn fine compact camera that shoots fantastic images

With its bright F1.8 Zuiko lens, dual image stabiliser and ultra-sensitive CCD sensor, the Olympus XZ-1 makes shooting on gloomy evenings a piece of cake. That F1.8 aperture is as big as any you’ll find on a compact and you can merrily snap away in poor light without having to lash the camera to a tripod. The ability to use higher shutter speeds than normal in such conditions, combined with the image stabilisation, allows you to get handheld shots without motion blur.

But while the Olympus XZ-1 doesn’t beat a DSLR or other swappable lens camera on the quality of its images, it does have a lot more to offer than most of its compact peers. It’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a premium shooter, it’s up there as a top choice.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 111x65x42mm
LCD size – 3in
Maximum movie resolution – 720p
Megapixels – 10MP
Memory card type – SD (HC/XC)
Optical viewfinder – No
Optical zoom rating – 4x
Weight – 275g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

10. Nikon Coolpix P300

Target price: £250

Small and more than decent in most respects, but a couple of odd choices stop it from being a classic

A dinky wee camera that packs some serious imaging tech. Aimed at the sort of clued-up shutter nutter that knows their aperture from their exposure compensation, it comes with no less than four manual control modes, a bright F1.8 lens and a brand new 12.2MP sensor.

ISO goes all the way up to 3200 but noise becomes a big issue once it’s past 400, so ideally you’ll want to stick to the lower ISOs of 160 and 200. But despite some disappointing features – there’s no RAW and the menu is not user-friendly – the P300 is still a very impressive little camera. You can capture 1080p video with stereo sound, and very nice it looks too.

Tech Specs:
Dimensions – 103x58x32mm
LCD size – 3
Maximum frames per second – 30
Maximum movie resolution – 1080p
Megapixels – 12
Memory card type – SD/SDHC/SDXC
Optical viewfinder – No
Optical zoom rating – 4.2x
Weight – 190g
Zoom function during movies – Yes

Versions of these reviews were originally published in Stuff Magazine. Each issue, the team put the latest cameras (and other gadgets) through their paces. For more info, pick up the latest issue or head online to: www.stuff.tv

This article has also been reproduced in Wanderlust's new photography magazine Take Better Travel Photos

You can purchase these cameras, equipment, gadgets and more from Jessops' online shop here

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