Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera for Travel and Low Light Photos Under $700
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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December 14, 2008
Overview

When it comes to travel and low-light, there are several good candidates that fit the bill - some like the Panasonic TZ5 are exceptional travel cameras that perform decently in low-light, and some like the Panasonic LX3 are other-worldly low-light cameras that are also suitable for travel. The camera that best handles both tasks, however, is the Fujifilm F100fd, which combines best-in-class high-ISO quality for low-light situations and is one of the more versatile cameras around for travel use.

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My Best In Class Pick
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

Fuji’s line of F-series ultracompacts have long been famed for their low-light ability, and Fuji’s latest offering, the F100fd, boasts both very good high-ISO performance to combat blur and a sensor-shift image stabilization system to reduce camera shake.

While its high-ISO ability doesn’t approach SLR quality, it does deliver significantly less noisy images than the average non-SLR camera, allowing you to freeze most kinds of motion in low-light situations. The F100fd also features a sensor-shift IS system, which doesn’t work quite as well as the more mature lens-shift technology in other cameras, but still helps to reduce camera shake.

The F100fd covers a 28-140mm zoom range, which doesn’t quite reach that far on the telephoto end, but has the wide-angle that is useful for everyday travel photography. The lens aperture is f3.3-5.1, so the lens captures slightly less light than average, requiring a higher ISO or longer shutter speed.

The built-in flash for the F100fd is embedded into the camera body, making it susceptible to red-eye effects.

The F100fd is a scant 0.9” thin, allowing it to easily fit into just about any kind of bag or pocket. The F100fd takes 230 shots on a single charge - good enough for a few days under moderate use.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

In terms of low-light performance, the F100fd actually performs better at high-ISO than the LX3. However, the LX3 makes up for this with a much larger aperture and a more effective IS system. Combined with its greater RAW and flash control for more advanced users, the LX3 simply offers a wealth of options for low-light situations that the F100fd doesn’t have. The big drawback for the LX3 however, is its limited 24-60mm lens - while the 24mm is fantastic for the majority of scenes encountered on travel, you simply won’t be able to capture shots of those faraway subjects, which may be a dealbreaker depending on where you travel.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

In most regards, the Fujifilm F100fd has the advantage over Panasonic’s TZ5 - it possesses the same all-important 28mm wide-angle, and performs significantly better in low-light situations due to its best-in-class high-ISO performance. The TZ5 does offer a much larger 28-280mm (10x) zoom range, making it a more versatile option if low-light situations aren’t that important.

Pros
  • +
    Best-in-class high ISO
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
Cons
  • -
    Embedded flash can cause red-eye
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd is the Best Compact Digital Camera for Travel and Low Light Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
  • Best Price: $299
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
  • Max ISO: 12800
  • Size: 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 230 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Customer Rating
Price $299.95 $402.09
Size (W x H x D) 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
Weight (without batteries) 6.0 oz 8.1 oz 7.5 oz
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
28 mm 24 mm 28 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
140 mm 60 mm 280 mm
Optical Zoom 5.0x 2.5x 10.0x
Battery Life 230 shots 380 shots 300 shots
Important low-light features
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.3 f/2.0 f/3.3
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.1 f/2.8 f/4.9
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Image Stabilization Type Optical (sensor shift) Optical (lens shift) Optical (lens shift)
Flash type Embedded Pop-up Embedded
High ISO quality Superb Good Poor
Low-light rating Superb Superb Average
Travel rating Good Average Superb
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Part of Panasonic’s LX-line of high-end cameras, the LX3 is truly in a class of its own, offering the extensive manual controls and solid build quality that the series has been known for, RAW capture, and a unique 24-60mm (2.5x) lens. While the 2.5x lens covers one of the smallest zoom ranges around, its 24mm wide-angle is extremely useful for the landscapes or large landmarks that are often encountered while on travel.

Though Panasonic’s previous cameras have been dogged by noisy sensors and poor high-ISO ability, the LX3’s new sensor and processing engine do a good job of handling noise, producing better than average high-ISO images in low light. The ability to capture RAW images in addition to the usual JPEG also gives users more control over noise processing, in addition to other low-light problems like white balance.

As with all Panasonic cameras, the LX3 also features an image-stabilized lens system that effectively reduces camera shake. The low-light feature that really sets the LX3 apart, however, is the lens - the camera’s 24-60mm not only provides an extremely wide 24mm wide-angle, but also features a huge f2-2.8 aperture, an unheard of range for a zoom lens on any camera, even among SLRs. The large aperture allows the camera to use lower ISOs and faster shutter speeds, reducing noise and blur.

The LX3 features a pop-up flash, so redeye should be a minimal problem. For more advanced users, the LX3 also has a hotshoe that can be fitted with an external flash, allowing for even more creative lighting options.

At just 1.1 in. thin, the LX3 should be easy to take just about anywhere. It’ll last for 380 shots on a single battery, which should last for plenty of days under moderate usage.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Though they’re both produced by the same manufacturer, the LX3 and TZ5 play to completely different strengths - while the LX3’s 2.5x zoom lens extremely limits its versatility (despite its 24mm wide-angle being so useful), it’s undoubtedly a better low-light performer than the TZ5 in all areas. The TZ5, on the other hand, provides far more versatility to cover all the scenes one might encounter on travel. If price is no object (and given that the LX3 is about twice the cost, it should probably be a consideration), then the decision boils down to whether low-light or travel is a more important use-case for you.

Pros
  • +
    Huge lens aperture
  • +
    Good high-ISO
  • +
    Image-stabilization
  • +
    RAW capture
Cons
  • -
    Limited zoom range (24-60mm, 2.5x)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel and Low Light Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
  • Best Price: $402
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 2.5x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Max ISO: 6400
  • Size: 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in.
  • Battery Life: 380 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (4 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

While moving to a compact body always introduces compromises, the Panasonic TZ5 is one (and perhaps the only) compact camera that nearly matches larger, more expensive travel cameras feature-for-feature. With a large 28-280mm zoom range that includes both a wide-angle (great for landscapes and big landmarks) and a long telephoto range (for portraits and zooming in on small details), the TZ5 is the most versatile camera in this class. Best of all, especially for travel, the TZ3 packs this versatile zoom range into a body that’s half the size of the large, high-end ultrazoom cameras, and does it at half the cost!

The TZ5 is a slightly weak low-light performer, however. Though it does have an image stabilized lens to reduce camera shake, the TZ5’s high ISO performance is somewhat below-average, and its f/3.3-4.9 lens doesn’t let in a particularly large amount of light, meaning low-light photos will either end up being blurry when using longer shutter speeds or noisy when using high-ISOs.

The TZ5 is equipped with an embedded flash, so red-eye may be a slight problem as well.

Travel isn’t all about low-light, however - the best travel cameras need to be sufficiently competent across a wide variety of photography. In this case, the TZ5’s range and versatility across all shooting situations partially makes up for its ho-hum low-light performance and is actually the better all-around travel option if you don’t plan on shooting in low-light all that often.

The TZ5 lasts about 300 shots, which is average and good for several days of shooting. Its 1.4 in. size isn’t quite tiny, but it should definitely fit into most large pockets and be carried around anywhere.

Pros
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
  • +
    Versatile 10x zoom range
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO performance
  • -
    Embedded flash can cause red-eye
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel and Low Light Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 9.1MP
  • Max ISO: 6400
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
  • Battery Life: 300 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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