Expert Recommendation

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Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $350
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
January 6, 2010 Updated: January 11, 2010
Overview

Squeezing all the optics, sensors, and controls of a digital camera into an ultracompact size usually means compromise, but you won’t find any in Fujifilm’s F70EXR. It’s an ultracompact camera (6.3 oz, 0.9 in thin, small enough to fit into your jeans) that features all the same do-everything capabilities of hulking ultrazoom cameras, allowing you to shoot subjects near and far (10x zoom range), and in tricky lighting conditions (its EXR sensor can be optimized for low-light and high-contrast situations).

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My Best In Class Pick
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 has a bit more heft to it than other cameras in this class, but is still plenty slim enough to take anywhere and 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.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1

Both the F70 and ZR1 are solid cameras that will do nearly everything you expect a travel camera to do - provide good quality, work in difficult conditions, and be versatile enough to handle a variety of subjects, from landscapes to wildlife. Fujifilm’s SuperCCD sensor affords the F70 a big advantage in pure image quality, especially in low-light situations and harsh lighting. The ZR1 is a more versatile camera overall, however, with a more useful wide-angle lens (25mm vs. 27mm), and a much better HD video mode. If you’re very interested in making travel videos as well, the ZR1 would be worth a look.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

Sony’s WX1 is a bit slimmer and more portable, and also has a more versatile wide-angle lens (24mm vs. 27mm) and much higher quality HD video mode. Where the WX1 can’t much up with the F70EXR is in zoom versatility (it only extends to 120mm, vs. 270mm for the Fuji) and in pure image quality.

The WX1 is also quite a bit more expensive (more than a $100 premium) than the F70EXR as well.

Pros
  • +
    10x zoom
  • +
    27mm wide-angle
  • +
    Superb high-ISO ability for low-light
  • +
    Superb dynamic range for harsh lighting
Cons
  • -
    Mediocre battery life
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR is the Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $350
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

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
3
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1
Customer Rating
Price $145.79 $366.60
Size (W x H x D) 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.9 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
Weight (without batteries) 6.3 oz 4.9 oz 4.2 oz
Max Video Resolution 640 x 480 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 1280 x 720 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 25 mm 24 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
270 mm 200 mm 120 mm
Optical Zoom 10.0x 8.0x 5.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.3 f/3.3 f/2.4
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.6 f/5.9 f/5.9
Battery Life 230 shots 330 shots 350 shots
High ISO Ability Superb Good Good
Daylight Image Quality Superb Good Good
Travel Rating Superb Superb Good
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1

Having dominated the compact ultrazoom market with their TZ and ZS series - shoot-anything cameras that are also thin and light enough to be taken anywhere - Panasonic’s newest ultrazoom, the ZR1, offers a similar do-everything capability in an even smaller footprint that can be tucked away into pretty much any bag, jacket, or even pants pocket.

The ZR1 features a 25-200mm (8x) lens, giving you a good ability to zoom in on far-away things (animals or building details, for instance), and allowing fantastic wide-angle ability to take in large vistas or building interiors.

The ZR1 has above-average low-light ability. Its image stabilization systems works to reduce camera shake blur for night and indoor situations, and its high ISO mode is decent at freezing motion without too much noise.

If you’re looking to record a few videos on your trip as well, the ZR1 can replace the camcorder as well - the ZR1 packs a 1280x720, 30fps video mode (720p30) that does decent video - better than most dedicated videocameras, especially at this size or price range.

The ZR1 weighs just 4.9oz and is 1 inch thick - about the size of most ultracompacts and far smaller than any other camera with its zoom capabilites and image quality. It can take 330 shots on a single battery charge, which should be good for a few days of travel.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

Both cameras offer solid image quality, good low-light performance, and HD movie modes. The WX1 is quite a bit more pocketable, but the ZR1 is already small enough to take anywhere. Where the ZR1 trumps the WX1 for travel is zoom range - both cameras offer superb wide-angle lenses to take in large scenes, but only the ZR1’s 8x zoom is capable of close-ups on far-away scenes.

The ZR1’s price tag, about $100 cheaper than the WX1, makes it a much better value proposition as well.

Pros
  • +
    8x zoom
  • +
    25mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $350
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
Specifications
  • Zoom: 8.0x
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Size: 3.9 x 2.1 x 1.0 in.
  • Battery Life: 330 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com
3
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

Sony’s WX1 is one of the most polished all-around ultracompacts on the market. It features a 24-120mm, 5x zoom lens. Like most cameras in this size class, the lens can’t zoom very far, but the WX1 more than makes up for this with its very wide 24mm end, which is perfectly suited for the large vistas/landmarks and cramped shooting conditions often found while traveling.

If you’re interested in making videos, the WX1has you covered in that department as well, offering a good 1280x720, 30fps video mode that rivals many dedicated video cameras.

The WX1 is a good low-light performer - with both great high ISO ability to freeze motion and an image stabilization system to reduce camera shake for still scenes.

The WX1 weighs a tiny 4.9oz and is just 0.8 inch thick - about as small and light as you’ll find in any camera. It can take 350 shots on a single battery charge, which should be good for a few days of travel.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

The WX1 and SD980 are very similar cameras - both offer the same 24-120mm zoom range, and have HD movie modes. The WX1 is slightly pricier, but has better low-light capability, and a much longer battery life to make up for it.

Pros
  • +
    24mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
  • +
    Good high-ISO ability
  • +
    Thinner than most
Cons
  • -
    Pricey
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $350
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • Size: 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
  • Battery Life: 350 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com
4
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Canon’s SD980 is a decent all-around ultracompact with great versatility, with a 720p movie mode and a useful 24-120mm (5x) zoom lens. Image quality and low light ability are a bit above average, though not quite as impressive as some other models. The SD980 is about average size for an ultracompact camera - plenty small enough to take just about anywhere.

The battery life on the SD980 only lasts for 240 shots - still good for a short trip but a bit less than most other cameras.

Comparison with Samsung TL320

Canon’s SD980 and Samsung’s TL320 have similar featuresets, and perform roughly the same, with the SD980’s overall image quality slightly edging out the Samsung. If you’re somewhat cash-strapped though, the TL320, at about $100 less than the Canon, is a fantastic bargain for a similarly capable camera.

Pros
  • +
    24mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $350
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
  • Best Price: $220
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Size: 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 240 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
5
Samsung TL320

Samsung is a relative newcomer to the digital camera market, but is quickly making a name selling quality cameras for prices for significantly less than the competition. The TL320, featuring a 24-120mm (5x) lens and a highly capable dual image stabilization system for low-light situations, is a solid ultracompact with good overall capability and portability. Image quality is slightly lower than some similarly spec’d cameras from Sony and Canon, but the Samsung runs about $100 less while offering the same features, making it one of the best bargains around.

At 0.8 inches thin and 5.6oz, the TL320 is one of the thinnest cameras around, and can easily be taken just about anywhere. The 280-shot battery life should be good enough to last a short to medium-length trip on one charge.

Pros
  • +
    24mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
  • +
    Dual IS system
Cons
  • -
    Mediocre high-ISO ability
Samsung TL320 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $350
Where to buy
Samsung TL320
  • Best Price: $141
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 12.2MP
  • Size: 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.9 in.
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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