Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $300
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
December 22, 2009 Updated: January 11, 2010
Overview

The Fuji F70EXR is, simply put, the perfect handle-anything camera for travel. It features all the zoom, low light, and dynamic range capabilities of larger cameras (even coming close to some DSLRs), and at just 0.9in thin, has none of the bulk that can weigh down your travels.

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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 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.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Both the F70 and ZS3 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. At 0.9in, the F70EXR is also slim enough to fit into most pants pockets, which the 1.3in ZS3 may not be able to do.

The ZS3 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 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

As with the ZS3, the F70EXR has a big overall image quality advantage over the ZS1, and is significantly more pocketable as well. The ZS1 does have better wide-angle ability and has a little better video as well, though not as dramatically better as the ZS3.

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 Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $300
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
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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
Best badge
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Customer Rating
Price $145.79
Size (W x H x D) 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
Weight (without batteries) 6.3 oz 7.3 oz 7.3 oz
Max Video Resolution 640 x 480 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 848 x 480 pixels
Max Video Frame Rate (max resolution) 30 frames/sec 60 frames/sec 30 frames/sec
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
27 mm 25 mm 25 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
270 mm 300 mm 300 mm
Optical Zoom 10.0x 12.0x 12.0x
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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/3.3
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.6 f/4.9 f/4.9
Battery Life 230 shots 300 shots 320 shots
High ISO Ability Superb Good Good
Daylight Image Quality Superb Good Good
Travel Rating Superb Superb Superb
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Panasonic’s ZS3 - the flagship to the TZ series that created the compact ultrazoom market - is epitome of the do-everything, take-anywhere camera. Its huge 12x zoom lens will cover just about any scene you might encounter while traveling, from wildlife or architectural features off in the distance to wide landscapes or huge building interiors. The 25mm wide-angle lens is among the widest available among digital cameras, and will allow you to take pictures of sweeping vistas or large landmarks that simply won’t fit into the frame of most cameras.

The ZS3 features 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 ZS3 will let you leave the camcorder at home - the ZS3 packs a 1280x720, 60fps video mode (720p60) that does significantly better video than almost any videocamera in this price range or size.

The ZS3 comes in at just 7.3oz and 1.3 inches thick, making it one of the lightest and most compact cameras around, even in the compact ultrazoom category. It can take 300 shots on a single battery charge, which should be good for a few days of travel.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

The ZS1 is a junior version of the ZS3, with a slightly smaller sensor (though similar image quality), larger LCD and lower-resolution video mode. If the above features (mostly video HD capability) don’t excite you, then the ZS1 is a great choice for about $50 less.

Pros
  • +
    12x zoom
  • +
    25mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p60 HD video
  • +
    Small size
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 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 Excellent by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

The ZS1 is a lower-end version of the ZS3, missing some of the niceties such as 720p HD video and a 3” LCD screen in exchange for a more affordable sub-$200 price.

In the still photography areas, the ZS1 is just as capable, featuring the same 25-300mm 12x zoom that offers both a large range and fantastic wide-angle capability. High-ISO capability is slightly below that of the ZS3, but it still employs the same image stabilization and is a solid low-light performer.

The ZS1 does video as well, albeit at a lower 848x480, 30fps resolution (still better than most videocameras).

The ZS1 is the same size and weight as the ZS3, making it equally as easy to take around anywhere. The ZS1 can take 320 shots on a single battery charge, which should be good for a few days of travel.

Comparison with Samsung HZ10W

The HZ10W and ZS1 are very comparable cameras - both feature expansive zoom ranges with very wide-angle lenses (the ZS1 starts at 25mm and the HZ10W beats it by a hair at 24mm) in a small, pocketable size. The differences lie primarily in low-light ability, image quality, and video features: the HZ10W is better at reducing blurry images from camera shake, thanks to its digital IS technology. However, the HZ10W tends to overuse noise reduction, resulting in a lack of detail in high-ISO and even low-ISO images. The resulting poor image quality places it a step below the ZS1.

The HZ10W does have the ZS1 beat with its 1280x720 HD video feature, compared to only 848x480 video on the ZS1. If you’re looking for a camera that can do both stills and video, the HZ10W is an attractive option that sacrifices some still image quality but offers much better videos.

Pros
  • +
    12x zoom
  • +
    25mm wide-angle
  • +
    Small size
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
  • Battery Life: 320 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
4
Samsung HZ10W

Though widely known in the world of consumer electronics, Samsung is fairly new to the digital camera market, and the HZ10W is Samsung’s first offering in the compact ultrazoom category (along with the higher-end HZ15W, which has a slightly higher pixel count and LCD size - not worth it).

The HZ10W offers a 10x zoom lens, with an incredible 24mm wide-angle lens - currently the widest there is, this side of a DSLR with a specialty lens. If you’re looking to record videos of your travels, the HZ10W has got you covered as well with a 1280x720, 30fps (720p30) HD video mode.

The HZ10W is a decent low-light performer - heavy noise reduction smooths out a lot of detail, even at lower ISOs used in daylight. For still scenes (building interiors or cityscapes, for example), however, the HZ10W uses a dual image stabilization technology that combines the standard lens-based stabilization with a digital-alignment stabilization method that greatly excels at reducing camera shake blur.

It also comes in a fairly small 1.4 inch thick frame, allowing you to easily take the HZ10W just about anywhere. The 270-shot battery life should be good enough to last a short to medium-length trip on one charge.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The SX200 offers better overall image quality than the HZ10W, though in low-light travel situations the balance tips in favor of the HZ10W, which features about equal high-ISO ability and a better image stabilization system. Ultimately, it’s the versatility of HZ10W’s 24mm wide-angle lens (compared to 28mm on the SX200) that makes it the more capable camera for travel photography.

Pros
  • +
    10x zoom
  • +
    24mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
Cons
  • -
    Low detail even at low ISOs (daylight)
  • -
    Mediocre high-ISO ability
Samsung HZ10W is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Samsung HZ10W
  • Best Price: $129
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
  • Battery Life: 270 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
5
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Though it’s perhaps the most widely-known brand in photography, Canon was late to the compact ultrazoom game, and the SX200 is a camera that plays catch-up to the likes of Panasonic’s ZS3 and ZS1. While the SX200 is bested in areas such as wide-angle capability, high-ISO ability, size, and price, it’s still a good performer in its own right.

Boasting a 28-336mm (12x) lens, the SX200 can cover almost any situation you might come across. With average ISO performance and image stabilization, it’s a competent camera for low light situations. The SX200 can also do 720p30 HD video as well.

It’s a little bulkier and heavier than the ZS models, at 1.5in thick and 7.8 oz, but is still a pocketable camera that can be taken anywhere with ease. The 280-shot battery life should be good enough to last a short to medium-length trip on one charge.

Pros
  • +
    12x zoom
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
  • +
    720p30 HD video
Cons
  • -
    Mediocre high-ISO ability
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
  • Best Price: $313
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in.
  • Battery Life: 280 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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