Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $400
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
January 10, 2010 Updated: January 11, 2010
Overview

The upper end of the travel camera market is saturated with many capable but similarly-spec’d 15x or more ultrazoom cameras, all featuring similar SLR-style ergonomics, good image quality, manual controls, and often HD movie modes. The FZ35 doesn’t do too much to break from this mold, but beats out the rest of the pack based on better overall image quality.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35

Panasonic’s FZ35 is a large ultrazoom camera packed with features, from huge zoom versatility to high-quality video to a variety of manual controls for more advanced users.

The FZ35’s 18x zoom lens ranges from 27mm at the wide-end to 486mm at the long end - wide enough to take in sweeping landscapes or tall skyscrapers, and long enough to zoom in for a close-up of subjects hundreds of meters away. No matter what you encounter on your travels, the FZ35’s expansive zoom range will be able to handle it.

The FZ35 has good low light ability - its high-ISO images are above average and Panasonic’s image stabilization system is one of the best on the market. Combined with a somewhat large f/4.4 aperture on the telephoto end, the FZ35 can produce significantly less noise and blur in low-light situations.

If you’re looking to record a few videos on your trip as well, the FZ35 will let you leave the camcorder at home - the FZ35 packs a 1280x720, 30fps video mode (720p30) that does comparable video to many midrange videocameras.

The FZ35 weighs 12.9oz - it’s not quite a featherweight, but it is a bit less chunky and significantly lighter than other ultrazoom cameras, making it less of a burden to lug around on travel. The battery lasts for 470 shots, which should be more than enough for an extended trip.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

Panasonic’s FZ35 and Canon’s SX20 are extremely similar cameras, with near-identical specs and capabilities. The FZ35 produces slightly better images, especially in low-light situations where its larger telephoto aperture and somewhat more effective IS help to reduce blur and keep ISOs low. The FZ35 is also a bit more compact, features more manual capabilities such as RAW mode, and is cheaper.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR

Panasonic’s FZ35 and Fujifilm’s F70EXR are really entirely different beasts - while both offer large zoom ranges that are well-suited for travel, the FZ35 is a large SLR-style camera loaded with features, while the F70EXR is an ultracompact that emphasizes portability.

In terms of featureset, the FZ35 has the F70EXR mostly beat, with a much larger zoom range at the telephoto end, full manual controls, and an HD movie mode. While it’s much larger, the FZ35’s SLR-like ergonomics does afford it better grip and easier to access controls.

The F70EXR’s advantages are its size, and pure image quality: its SuperCCD EXR sensor simply blows the FZ35 away in the difficult low-light and harsh lighting conditions that are often encountered on travel.

Pros
  • +
    18x zoom
  • +
    27mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p HD video
  • +
    Lighter, smaller than other ultrazooms
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is the Best Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
  • Best Price: $249
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 18.0x
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Size: 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in.
  • Battery Life: 470 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
2
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS
3
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR
Customer Rating
Price $249.99 $519.00 $145.79
Size (W x H x D) 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in. 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 in. 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 12.9 oz 19.8 oz 6.3 oz
Max Video Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 640 x 480 pixels
Max Video Frame Rate (max resolution) 30 frames/sec 30 frames/sec 30 frames/sec
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
27 mm 28 mm 27 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
486 mm 560 mm 270 mm
Optical Zoom 18.0x 20.0x 10.0x
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.8 f/2.8 f/3.3
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/4.4 f/5.7 f/5.6
Battery Life 470 shots 600 shots 230 shots
High ISO Ability Good Average Superb
Daylight Image Quality Good Good Superb
Travel Rating Good Good Good
2
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

Canon’s SX20 continues the long line of S-series ultrazoom cameras. The SX20 ups the ante with a massive 20x, 28-560mm lens that covers just about any subject scale and distance imaginable, from a miniscule mountain range miles in the distance, to a towering landmark just a few dozen feet in front of you.

SX20’s image quality is good but not spectacular. Like most cameras, daylight photos will turn out great, but the SX20’s low-light images aren’t quite as sharp and detailed.

The SX20 does feature a 720p30 HD video mode, making it a great all-in-one replacement for the camcorder if you’re looking to do travel videos as well.

The SX20 can take 600 shots per charge, plenty for even an extended trip without recharging.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR

As with the FZ35, Canon’s SX20 and Fujifilm’s F70EXR are different cameras. Canon’s SX20 is large, versatile and feature-packed, while the F70 is minimalistic and focused on portability and image quality. If you’re concerned with the absolute best image quality, the F70EXR, despite lacking some zoom and HD movie capabilities, is a compelling choice. Otherwise if you don’t plan on shooting too much in difficult lighting situations, the SX20’s versatility makes it the better camera.

Pros
  • +
    20x zoom
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p HD video
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS
  • Best Price: $519
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 20.0x
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Size: 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 in.
  • Battery Life: 600 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR

Fujifilm has long been known for their unique SuperCCD sensors that deliver superb image quality far above any other non-DSLR camera on the market. While previous Fuji cameras have been short-zoom ultracompacts or bulky bridge cameras, the F70 takes the latest EXR version of the SuperCCD sensor and combines it with a versatile 10x zoom lens, making it a fantastic all-around camera for travel.

The biggest feature of the F70EXR is its sensor, which excels at producing quality images at high ISO situations (for low light), and providing expanded dynamic range (so you can make out details better in shadows and brightly lit areas - think a landscape with a dark ground but very bright sky). As a result, the F70EXR delivers fantastic image quality, especially in the types of lighting situations that are the most difficult for travel photographers.

The F70’s 10x zoom lens spans a 27-270mm range, allowing you to capture both large, expansive scenes (a sweeping landscape or the inside of a building, for instance) and to zoom in on far-away details as well.

At 0.9in thick and 6.3oz, the F70 is far smaller than most compacts, and will fit into just about any bag or pocket. Battery life lasts only 230 shots, which is a bit on the low-side if you want to go without recharging for several days.

Pros
  • +
    27mm wide-angle
  • +
    Superb high-ISO ability for low-light
  • +
    Superb dynamic range for harsh lighting
Cons
  • -
    Mediocre video mode
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR
  • Best Price: $145
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
  • Size: 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 230 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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