Expert Recommendation

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Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $300
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
September 22, 2008 Updated: September 24, 2008
Overview

While there are many cameras in the ultracompact range, the Canon SD880 is one of the few which offer the wide-angle lenses that are most useful for photos of landscapes and landmarks. With an image-stabilized lens and good high-ISO performance, the Canon SD880 also performs admirably in all types of lighting, from daylight to indoors, making it a well-rounded camera that’s ready to deal with anything you encounter on your travels.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

As Canon’s 3rd-generation wide-angle compact camera, the SD880 IS is a solid all-around ultracompact. With a 28-112mm (4x) lens, the SD880 won’t be able to zoom in on far-away subjects or details, but can take great photos of landscapes and large landmarks with its 28mm wide-angle lens.

With an image-stabilized lens, the SD880 should have an easy time with still subjects like buildings or museum pieces. The SD880 also has slightly above-average high-ISO performance and an average f/2.8-5.8 aperture, which should allow it to perform decently, though not spectacularly, with moving subjects in low-light situations.

At 0.9 in. thick, the SD880 should easily stow away in anything from a small travel pouch to a simple pants pocket. The SD880’s battery lasts for 310 shots, which should be good enough for moderate use over several days of travel, which is important if you’re going someplace without electricity.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

While Fujifilm’s F-series of cameras have long been regarded as the best in high-ISO performance, the increasingly better image sensors of competitors and the F100fd’s less effective sensor-based IS system put its low-light performance about equal with cameras like the SD880. The SD880 provides better battery life and is a bit better in some other non-travel aspects such as autofocus speed and continuous shooting rate, but for travel they’ll both perform equally well.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

With its better high-ISO performance, the SD880 can adapt to far more difficult lighting situations than the FX37, making it the better overall camera for travel, since you never know what you’ll encounter. The FX37 does feature a wide 25mm lens, however, allowing for creative possibilities that the SD880’s 28mm lens can’t offer. If you don’t plan on doing many low-light photos, the FX37 may actually be the better choice.

Pros
  • +
    28mm wide-angle lens
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO performance
Cons
  • -
    Short 112mm telephoto lens
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS is the Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 4.0x
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
  • Size: 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 310 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

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
2
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
Customer Rating
Price $549.00 $299.95 $249.96
Size (W x H x D) 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 5.5 oz 6.0 oz 4.4 oz
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
28 mm 28 mm 25 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
112 mm 140 mm 125 mm
Optical Zoom 4.0x 5.0x 5.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.8 f/3.3 f/2.8
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.8 f/5.1 f/5.9
Battery Life 310 shots 230 shots 310 shots
High ISO quality Good Good Poor
Travel rating Good Good Average
2
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

Fujifilm’s F-series of ultracompacts have long been known for their outstanding high-ISO ability, and the latest model, the F100fd, is a well-rounded camera that is the first in the series to feature a versatile 28-140mm (5x) zoom range.

Featuring both an image-stabilized sensor and very good high-ISO performance, the Fuij F100fd is well-equipped for travel photography situations in low-light, whether it be a dimly-lit museum, a church interior, or moonlit landscape. The F100fd’s great high-ISO performance will even allow you to take pictures of moving subjects with good quality.

The F100fd is 0.9 in. thick, which easily fits into just about any bag or pocket, and should be a breeze to carry around while traveling. The battery lasts just 230 shots, which is a little below average - it should still last fine for a few days of moderate-to-light use, but if you’re going someplace without electricity, and plan to use your camera a lot, consider an extra battery.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

While the F100fd’s far better high-ISO performance makes it the better overall choice, the FX37’s 25mm wide-angle lens provides creative possibilities that aren’t possible with the 28mm offered on the Fuji. If you’re planning on taking photos exclusively in daylight situations, the FX37 may actually be the better choice.

Pros
  • +
    28mm wide-angle lens
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    Good high-ISO performance
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
  • Best Price: $299
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
  • 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
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

Having brought 28mm wide-angle lenses to the mainstream market, Panasonic’s FX37 ultracompact sets itself apart by offering an even wider 25-125mm (5x) lens. Like almost every other ultracompact, it won’t be able to zoom in on faraway subjects, but its 25mm wide-angle will give a huge scale to the buildings and landscapes often encountered on travel that even 28mm wide-angle lenses won’t be able to match.

The FX37 features image stabilization to help steady camera shake and take pictures of still subjects, but the FX37’s below-average high-ISO ability makes taking pictures of moving subjects much more difficult.

The FX37 is just 0.9 in. thin, so it’s small enough to be stowed away in just about any size pocket and taken anywhere. Battery life is 310 shots per charge, which should last several days under moderate use.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-W170

Though neither does a spectacular job in low-light situations, the W170 performs slightly better. The FX37’s overall versatility with its 25mm wide-angle, however, makes it far more flexible in daytime situations, so unless you plan to shoot exclusively in low-light, go with the FX37.

Pros
  • +
    25mm wide-angle lens
  • +
    Image stabilization
Cons
  • -
    Below average high-ISO performance
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
  • Best Price: $249
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Size: 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 310 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
4
Sony Cybershot DSC-W170

With a 28-140mm lens, the W170 provides the wide-angle range that’s often most used for travel photography.

Though it does have image stabilization to help with static subjects, high-ISO is below average, so shooting moving subjects will be a bit tough.

The W170’s 0.9 in. size should be easy to carry around just about anywhere, and it’s 390 shot battery life should be enough to last several days with moderate use.

Pros
  • +
    28mm wide-angle lens
  • +
    Image stabilization
Cons
  • -
    Below average high-ISO performance
Sony Cybershot DSC-W170 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for Travel Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-W170
  • Best Price: $488
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Size: 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 370 shots
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com

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