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Best Camera to bring?

Hey everyone:

I have a DSLR that can be fairly heavy at times, especially with its extra lense. I don't want to add any extra weight to my suitcase than necessary. I'm wondering if anyone knows of a camera that is compact in size but has the quality and abilities of a DSLR.

I'm very particular and like to shoot in RAW and I don't want to just use my phone because the photos don't capture as much color/depth as I would like.

Any help would be appreciated. I've looked at some other cameras before but I don't want to spend $800 on a camera that might not be what I need/want.


Posted by
2914 posts

This topic has been discussed numerous times. Look at the tech discussions history. Basically, it's one of the common disagreements like wheels vs backpack, tours vs independent, etc.

The best camera is the one you will have with you and use.

I bring my DSLR with one lens...usually the 50 mm, but if dramatic landscapes then I have chosen differently, because that makes it lighter and easier to fit into my purse or small PI/pack. I have an iPod that I will use if running out in the evening and not expecting any photos...just in case. Not something I can enlarge or print, but something that will hold the memory. We have a small camera we purchased for the purpose of traveling, that has much of the characteristics of our DSLRs but the clarity is lacking. Off the top of my head, I don't recall the kind, but if you want to rule it out, just let me know. It's a Nikon (Coolpix 7800)... It's never made it to the packing list.

Posted by
4933 posts

I faced this choice about two years ago. I was tired of lugging my Canon DSLR and a bag of lenses on my European vacations.

My solution was a "bridge" camera - something between a DSLR and a P&S, a camera with a nice big sensor for low noise images and a versatile lens. I got the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000. By now (even then actually) this camera is a bit old - I got mine as an "open box buy" on Amazon for about $100 off, though it had only 135 frames shot on it and seem pretty new to me. (And if I hated the camera, I could still send it back within 30 days for a refund.) But this turned out to be a great solution: though the camera is definitely limited in some ways compared to my Canon DSLR, it has some unexpected benefits.

The DMC-FZ1000 has a zoom range of 25mm-400mm (35mm equivalent range). I never thought I'd shoot at 400mm or that the images would be very sharp, but surprisingly, I do, and they are quite sharp. The image stabilization system is built into the camera and is very good - better than that in the Canon lenses I think. I've been surprised that I can shoot sharp images hand-held at 1/125 sec at 400mm, if I can keep my hand steady.

I do miss being able to go wider than 25mm - but not often. I used to take my 17-40mm with me to Europe (my Canon is full frame so 17mm is pretty wide on it). But not being able to get a few shots is a compromise I've been willing to live with in exchange for not having to lug all that extra weight around - and not needing to change lenses all the time!!!

One other limitation is the limited aperture range. The FZ1000 opens up only to f/4 at maximum zoom, a little more when zoomed in, so it's not especially fast. On the other hand, because it's got a big sensor, you can crank up the ISO a little and still get usable images in low light. The camera can "blur" the background to simulate the narrow depth of field effect, though I've not tried it, as this isn't an effect I use very often anyway.

Aperture is limited the other way too - the smallest is f/8 which I find even more of a limitation. I like to shoot long exposure shots on a tripod (car light streaks for example), and at f/8 I'm greatly limited in how long the exposure can be. My canon lenses closed down to f/22 or smaller. I do have a ND filter I can add on the end to darken it a little, but it's still a pain.

The Lumix does shoot RAW - I shoot everything in RAW+JPEG. It was a whole new flow to learn and figure out vs. the Canon flow I was used to (I don't use Windows or standard photo software like Lightroom), but I did get it figured out, and I find the RAW files extremely useful.

Panasonic has successors to the DMC-FZ1000 you can look at. Sony's line of bridge cameras, the RX10, is superior to Panasonic's in a number of ways (e.g. better zoom range) though I think both companies use the same sensor. And the Sony is much more expensive, which is why I avoided it at the time; my Lumix cost me about 1/2 what the current RX10 would have cost at that time. I guess Canon and Nixon have them too - but I was kind of tired of Canon after years of having some design issues that Canon didn't seem to care about, even though I had paid a lot of money for their gear. Panasonic and Sony haven't traditionally been marquee names in professional photography compared to Canon and Nikon so have had to work hard with good designs to be competitive, and I like that.

Posted by
1324 posts

I also had the same problem. Carrying a DSLR with lenses just got too heavy. My solution was to go to the same brand's mirrorless camera that used interchangeable lenses. The whole package, including the equivalent lenses I carried with the DSLR, weighed 1/3 of what the same DSLR package weighed. I used it on my last 5 week trip and never felt tired from carrying it. Now, two consecutive days of walking 11 miles did make me tired. The only problem I had was in low light the focus speed was slower than the DSLR's focus speed.

Posted by
6358 posts

I make my living by taking pictures, I'm a TV and Film location scout.

Used to use the DSLR till I found the Canon G 15. Used it for a number of years and then switched to the even smaller Canon Powershot G9x Mark II 2 years ago.

Good zoom, wifi, video and fits comfortably in a coat or shorts pocket.

And before I get lambasted for this camera not having enough oomph I've had a number of my images published in magazines and that's without doctoring them in Photoshop.

Have also used images to create photo books without loosing any clarity.

As the saying goes, "works for me."

Posted by
3933 posts

I've never had a DSLR, but started out with a point and shoot, moved to a bridge camera, then graduated to a mirrorless that I could change the lenses on. (I have the 1st gen of the Canon M - hoping to upgrade the body soon). It allows for shooting in RAW. It took me a few tries to find the perfect lens as well. I had the kit 18-55, then got a 55-250 to pair up. I hated having to switch back and forth between the lenses (I like lots of zoom as I like getting architectural details) so sold the 55-250 and got a Tamron 18-200. For me, perfection. I still bring the kit lens just in case something were to happen to the other one, but I rarely swap them out (I have a 20mm as well that I'll put on for close ups).

The best bet would be to head to your local camera place and try a few out if possible. Read up on best mirrorless and go from there. I head lots of good stuff about the Sony's, and if I was in the market starting out, I'd probably check out one of those. But since I don't want to spend hundreds of $$ on a new system, I'm gonna stick with my Canon. Although, as someone else mentioned - whatever DSLR brand you have, you could check into the mirrorless system if they offer one, then you should be able to keep your lenses.

Posted by
5579 posts

As stated above, only you can decide what's best for you.

I bring my mirrorless micro 4/3 (which although supposedly a bit compact, is pretty much the size of a DSLR - mine's the Lumix GH5, a great camera). I bring one, sometimes two lenses.

The second lens, a high quality looong zoom, is quite heavy and fragile (and expensive) but if I need to shoot something from a distance, it's the only way. I struggle with deciding whether or not to bring that lens. It's a difficult decision I make based on where I'm going. Sometimes it enables me to get shots that were otherwise impossible: I got some lovely photos of pink flamingos at dusk out in a lagoon in Sardinia, and a bear on a beach in Hokkaido (remote northern Japan). My wife tried getting the flamingos in her iPhone, but only got small pink dots (my photos showed their facial expressions); she couldn't even see the bear in Japan until we got home and I showed her the photo. Then again, on our last trip I brought the long zoom because we planned to do a hot air balloon ride over a castle in Lithuania. But it was windy when we were there and balloon flights were not happening. I never used the zoom lens but carried with me for the next 18 days. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so much. I don't regret bringing the lens, I do regret that it was windy that day. :)

I also bring a compact Canon point-and-shoot, and an iPhone. I use all three cameras, and all three have taken good photos. The best photos I bring home almost always come from the big DSLR. The other cameras generally work fine when conditions are favorable. I think that's the primary difference: if you just want nice photos when conditions are good, a compact camera or even a phone will usually work surprisingly well. But if you want to be able to take good photos even in marginal (or terrible) conditions, that's when you want a good DSLR - with a high quality lens - the quality of your lens makes as much difference as the camera - especially in low light, or when things (or you) are moving.

There are also special circumstances that give one kind of camera or another the edge. I was at an airport in Latvia this sumer where there was an old Soviet strategic nuclear bomber parked inside a fence. This is a huge plane, quite unique (and might have been used one day to nuke my house in Seattle). The Soviets abandoned it there when the USSR broke up, a guy towed it across the airport and parked it in a corner, it's now an odd relic on the capital city's international airport. I wanted a picture. The chain-link perimeter fence would have wrecked my photos, but I could just barely squeeze my compact Canon G7X through the chain link (with the lens retracted!) so with my fingers carefully holding it through the fence, I could get good shots. I also use the compact Canon (in a compact underwater case) for photos and video while scuba diving (the underwater case for the DSLR is just too big for most casual trips).

Anyway, the point is, only you can decide what camera gear is best for you. I will continue to bring multiple cameras on my trips, since taking photos is one of the primary reasons I like to go exploring. YMMV.

Posted by
1117 posts

I actually had this discussion with some friends before going to Europe this summer. One of my friends really cut to the heart of it. Are you looking to create a travel book, website or a commercial product? If so, take a really good camera. If you just want to capture memories of your trip, take a point and shoot. I prefer the latter. I Like having a better zoom so I use a P&S. Today with digital imaging its really hard to tell the difference. My phone is a backup for simple pictures such as food, quirky things I see walking around after dinner, etc. I think it really depends on what you are going to do with your photos after your trip and do you want to juggle a DSLR during the day. I actually saw several people with large cameras, tripods, camera bags and I know they were tourists. So, it is all a personal choice.

Posted by
72 posts

I use a Sony mirrorless A6000 in my travels and have been very happy with it. The size is not too cumbersome and the quality is very good. I used to take several lenses but have cut it back, as I primarily was just using the 16-70 lense most of the time. A good strap will also make a difference in the weight of the camera. Check out different strap styles.

Posted by
1666 posts

The dpreview buying guide is to my opinion a good source of info for choosing my next camera. For travelling I like to rely on compact cameras (like previous posters) too, easy to carry around and once familiar with the camera settings they are well capable of producing pictures I am happy with. The next camera I fancy for the moment is the Canon GX7-II or one of the Sony DSC-RX100 series. Zoom is a bit limited, but image quality is well above average for compacts. If you are prepared to compromise a bit about image quality (however some are as good as some DSLR’s) there are enough good compacts for around the price point you are looking for, nowadays most if not all are capable of shooting in RAW too.

Posted by
3933 posts

What revelssn said about straps is so true. I could never stand having the camera hanging around my neck, causing strain and bouncing on my chest. I would use the strap that came with the camera and make it as long as I could and wear it cross body. So some Xmas's back, my husband got me a Joby sling strap - cross body - it's so great to be able to tuck the camera into my side, not have to worry about bending over and having the camera hanging in front of me/knocking into things.

Posted by
607 posts

Lugging a DSLR kit is like lugging a 10 pin bowling ball. A mirrorless kit is like a 5 pin bowling ball. Either way it is still a bowling ball, and not light enough or small enough to stick in a shirt pocket or small purse. Plus the new mirrorless kits cost more than a consumer DSLR, so you will not get much for OP's $800 budget.

Best advice above is to consider a camera like the Canon GX7 or Sony RX100. They have a decent 1 inch sensor to capture more detail with less noise, and larger aperture lens (lower f-number) compared to lower end point and shoots (and most entry level dslr or mirrorless). If you cannot take a decent photo with one of those, the problem is not the camera.

Posted by
186 posts

I bought a Sony RX 100 IV back in the spring for a trip to Sicily and have since used it in Bulgaria. Amazing photos. My other cameras include a Nikon DSLR and a Nikon Coolpix 900 (an amazing camera with 2000 mm zoom). Since long zoom is not really an issue for most of Europe, I am extremely pleased with the Sony. A pop up viewfinder, RAW, lots of scene modes, and a large sensor plus it fits in my purse. You will not go wrong with it.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks for the replies everyone.

I looked at the Sony RX100 and I realize that I had looked at that one but found the view finder to be in a very awkward position. (Why in the world would they put it on the side??? I like my viewfinders in the middle) I think I found one I like even if it is out of budget at the moment. Perhaps I can ask my family to chip in for Christmas lol

Thanks again everyone!

Posted by
1806 posts

This might be a little late, but I'll add my experience.

After lugging my 22 pound Canon full frame DSLR kit during two recent trips to Europe, I decided I wanted something more lightweight. I do have an older Panasonic Lumix LX7, which is a nice little camera, but it suffers in low light and any ISO above 400 is very noisy.

My wife had a business trip last October and I wanted to get something before that trip (I got to tag along). I researched the usual suspects, including Sony, Panasonic and Canon mirrorless. The system that ended up making the most sense for me was Fuji X. I ended up buying the X-E3 with their "kit" lens and a 12mm wide angle. It was brand new and arrived just 10 days before the trip.

The camera did a superb job on the trip. My photos were every bit as good as what I achieve with my big DSLR. For the last year, I have rarely used my DSLR.

Posted by
638 posts

This is too late for the OP, who seems to have found what they want, but I want to say that I've enjoyed reading this discussion.

"Which camera/gear to bring" is always a question for me. Not something I decide once and it's done for the future. I really hate carrying heavy stuff around all day, and I have some nice mirrorless cameras (Sonys), and I've started printing some of my photos large to hang on the wall - and I'll be dithering about what camera gear to bring along on a trip until I literally finish packing and head out the door. Every. darn. time.

I suppose it's all part of the fun. I no longer own a big heavy DSLR, and my "best" Sony mirrorless with strap and a small 35mm lens attached weighs a mere 29 ounces (830 grams). OTOH the Sony RX-100iii with strap weighs 11 ounces (305 grams) and is much smaller. [Weights according to my old digital postal scale which has a bad case of twitching today so who knows how correct they are, lol.] I'll probably take both; the small guy for everyday/street photography, the bigger guy for night shots and images I'll want to print big and hang on the wall. The joy of being based in the same hotel room for the entire trip is that I don't have to haul everything at once save for arrival and departure. :-)

BTW, for those who would like to get good photos and haven't wasted, er, spent a lot of time delving into the technology - it could help to learn a bit about the sensor size of a camera - that link is to a 2013 article which gets to the basics.

Here's a long 2018 discussion of sensor sizes which gets pretty deep into the weeds, but the first part and the chart I think are pretty accessible. That writer's opinion is that for travel purposes a recently-issued (last year or so) model of a camera with a 1" sensor is optimal in terms of image quality and portability as of today. (Prior to that he was more in favor the larger APS-C sensor cameras but as they say, technology marches on.)

For an example of that, the Canon camera that Claudia uses, has a 1" sensor. So do all the models of the Sony RX-100, which have also been mentioned here. If I didn't already own an RX-100iii (the latest model is the vi), and were shopping today for a 1" sensor camera, I'd probably buy the Canon model that Claudia uses.

There's some great advice in this discussion, both general and specific. Thanks to everyone who contributed.