Whether you are a travel writer, photographer, blogger or just a by-standing tourist, a camera is probably not too far away from you. We use these as a way to record our best moments and there are many to be had while traveling.

Chase Jarvis says:

 The best camera is the one that you have with you.

And it is with good reasoning this is so. Just because you have a $20K Hassleblad does not necessarily mean that you will take the best shots. Keep in mind that my primary body is a Nikon D4, which is no light lady either. You could very well miss the best shot you would have ever taken simply because your heavy-duty workhorse of a camera is tightly packed away in your carry-on. Jarvis (and I) would ideally like to have a camera permanently attached to our heads or something. We just want something that is “always there”.

However, while our iPhones or smart-phones may have a decent built-in camera, it is really not the best piece of equipment for a lot of situations. Right now, the biggest bugger is that these phones have very small sensors which result in a lot of noise and a lack of data captured in low-light or high-action situations. The technology is getting better, but for me, it is not quite there yet.

Enter point-and-shoot cameras. I recently picked up a Sony Cyber-shot WX50 for my mom. It is a decent 16 megapixel camera, but when I did some test shots in the dark, I noticed substantial noise and an odd wavy-painted look to the images. There is absolutely no way I’d use the images from this in my portfolio of work.

In recent years, mirror-less camera’s have been all the rage. I even picked up an Olympus EPL-1 back in 2011 just for something more portable. This was significantly better than a point-and-shoot solution and I actually really enjoyed using it. However, the kit lens it came with was slow and made of cheap plastic. It is a kit lens after all right? Olympus does make “pro” level micro four-thirds lenses but they cost almost as much as a Nikkor 24-70 f2.8! Also, another downfall going mirror-less, such as the Canon EOS-M, Nikon J and V etc. is that yes, they are more compact than a dSLR, but their interchangeable lenses are still pretty large. They will not fit into your front or back pocket unless you buy a pancake lens. So, I see these types of cameras has something that doesn’t really solve any problems.

Interestingly enough, the answer to the traveler’s camera dilemma might actually be point-and-shoots…that is, the high-end P&S cameras. In the last year or so, pretty much all of the big name manufactures have started selling these. The most notable of the lot are the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A and recently announced Ricoh GR series.

Obviously for me, the Nikon Coolpix A stands out because it features a famility user-interface as my Nikon D4. Its has a slick design and is very compact. The killer selling-point with this camera is that it has the same DX-format (APC-S) sensor the Nikon D7000 dSLR has. That is incredibly!

Jmeyer describes:

Focusing speeds are also a little lacklustre, making it a little slow for the street photographer that this camera is so very clearly aimed at.

Another negative for the Coolpix A is that it only has a 28mm equivalent fixed lens. While decent for street photography, I really do enjoy the comfort of having a zoom. And because this isn’t an interchangeable lens system, that ain’t going to happen. A turn off from many will be the cost of this baby. The Coolpix A is priced at around $1000 USD and this amount could buy yourself a low-end dSLR! What gives Nikon? But personally, I understand who their target audience is. It’s for the professional or enthusiast like myself, who owns high-end gear and wants to maintain the same level of quality, manual control but in a pocket sized form. Nikon succeed here to an extent and I realize that this is just the first one many A’s to come.

This brings me to what I believe is currently the best camera for travel photographers: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100.

Steve Huff approves:

The RX100 literally squashes any previous P&S or pocket camera. The new upcoming Leica D-Lux 6 better have something special inside because it may be tough to beat the RX100. Seriously.

David Pogue confirms:

No photos this good have ever come from a camera this small.

Quotes such as these by two leading technology reviewers really add some strong credibility to the RX100 and Sony should be given an award for its creation.

Why do I think this is the best traveller’s camera right now?

I have a list of 5 criteria:

  1. Camera should have a large sensor, at least a APC-S to allow for high ISO shooting
  2. Must have a ranged-zoom lens
  3. Must be “flat” when the camera is in the off-mode
  4. Must be able to fit in my front or back pockets
  5. Must not break the bank

So, the RX100 features a generous 20 megapixel 1” sensor which lets me be confident when shooting in low-light situations. It does indeed have a 28-100mm equivalent lens that becomes completely packed away when off and did I mention is it is a Carl-Zeiss lens? Check! How much is this miraculous camera? An affordable and worthy $649 USD.

Despite being so great, I am still putting off on investing in another camera until I at least see what the second version of Nikon Coolpix A’s turns out to be. If they can fit a ranged-zoom like how Sony did, I am all in.

In the next 3-5 years, I predict significant technological advances to be made. Manufactures might be able to fit full-frame sensors like the D4 and Canon 1DX being fitted into compact bodies.