Compact Travel Cameras For Your Next Journey
Sony HX50V vs Panasonic / Lumix ZS 40
Why even consider a compact camera for your travel photography? After all, there is really no doubt about it. If you want to get the best quality in your travel photography it is best to use a nice DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. But sometimes you might want something different. You might want to travel really light and not carry that big DSLR body along with a variety of lenses. You might think it’s a good idea to carry a “back up” camera in case your DSLR breaks down far from the nearest camera repair shop. Or you just might want an additional smaller profile camera for occasional use in situations where the big DSLR might not “fit in.” If you ever find yourself considering those types of scenarios – well, maybe you should consider a Compact Travel Camera.
There are many compact travel cameras on the market today. I’ve had a chance to use two of them recently and thought I would share my impressions. Here are the cameras I have used.
The Sony HX50V
20 mp – 30x optical zoom
(note good grip on left side)
The Panasonic/Lumix ZS40
18 mp – 30x optical zoom
(note tiny grip “bump” on left side)
These cameras are very similar in many ways, sharing essentially comparable sensors, form factors, lenses and specifications. They are what are termed “super zoom” cameras providing great reach for such a small camera. They also shoot HD video with sound.
I used the Sony for a trip to India. It performed very well. I used it a great deal for video, finding it much easier to manage with the smaller size camera while riding in tri-cycles, boats, etc. It also didn’t intimidate subjects as much as the larger DSLR allowing me to get shots otherwise unavailable. Overall I was very happy with the performance of the camera. So why, you might ask, did I look at the Panasonic / Lumix? One very basic reason. The Sony has no optical view finder. You are limited to the LCD screen on the camera back for focus, composition, targeting, etc. Many times this works very well. But there are situations where it was a major limitation. If shooting in a bright sunny situation, well you can pretty much forget about seeing what you are shooting using the LCD screen. You can try and shade the screen, but that just creates other problems. Also – when shooting at the extreme telephoto reach – it can be almost impossible to find and stay with your subject. This is especially true when shooting video. While in India I was trying to shoot video and stills of a large tiger as it walked to and bathed in a water hole. I got some shots but I missed many while I was “hunting” around trying to locate the tiger with that LCD!
By now you may have guessed – The Panasonic / Lumix has an optical view finder. It is small but it is very usable. Way better than being limited to the LCD. Shooting with your eye to the view finder makes it much easier to locate and track subjects. And additionally, holding the camera to your eye allows you to have a more “braced” hold on the camera resulting in a more stable shooting stance. (In all fairness I should say that you can get an optical view finder for the Sony. Unfortunately it is an “accessory” which must be purchased separately. And it is not cheap – essentially doubling the price of the camera! To me that makes no sense.)
Here’s the back of the the Sony – note – no optical view finder:
And here is the back of the Panasonic / Lumix. See the little view finder in the upper left corner? Small – but it is a big help.
The fact that the Sony has no optical view finder is, for me, a deal killer. And this is truly unfortunate because in many other ways I like the Sony camera much better. How? Well, first of all, while it is essentially the same size and weight as the Panasonic, it has a “feel” to it in your hand which is just more substantial. This quality is enhanced in large part, no doubt, to the contour of the body with a built in full length protrusion on the right end which greatly helps your grip of the camera. The Panasonic, in contrast, has a simple and small protrusion essentially tacked on to the front of the camera to aide your grip. It is better than no grip enhancement, but not nearly as functional nor as attractive as that on the Sony.
Top View of Panasonic (left) and Sony (right) – Hard to really see here but note the top of the Panasonic runs straight across while the Sony has that nice, grip enhancing budge on the right end.
Both cameras have a built in flash. The Panasonic is built into the body while the Sony sports a tiny little “pop up” flash. To me, it looks like something that is just waiting to be broken. It really doesn’t extend far enough from the camera body to offer any advantages such as better subject coverage or red-eye avoidance. And it takes up the space that the Panasonic uses for the optical view finder. The Sony does has a “hot shoe” so you can add your own strobe for better flash photography. Interesting idea. But for light weight travel photography it kind of defeats the “light weight” part of that description. Most strobes would likely be larger than the camera!
Every compact camera suffers from the need to use “menus” to make adjustments to settings, etc. So far I seem to like the overall set up of the menus and the organization of setting adjustments on the Sony a bit better than the Panasonic – but I admit this may be in part due to my having had more experience with the Sony.
Both cameras have an extensive variety of settings for shooting and adjustments. The Panasonic will shoot in RAW while the Sony does not.
The Panasonic also manages to hit on one of my on-going points of irritation with electronics in general. Both cameras recharge via a USB cable. The Sony uses one of the smaller “standard” sized cables for camera connection ( I think it is called a “mini” or “micro”). So you can use USB cable on multiple devices. Not so for the Panasonic. It uses a proprietary USB camera connection. That means you have to travel with yet another special cable! Not really user friendly thinking on the part of Panasonic.
Photography, of course, is all about the images. I’m in the process of shooting a variety of comparison images with both cameras. So far my totally subjective opinion is that these two cameras produce very comparable images. And the images are really quite good considering the size and cost and multiple functions that the cameras offer. At this point it seems that I will likely be able to squeeze very good images out of either of these cameras if I take the time to use proper shooting technique and am willing to do some final post processing adjustments. Time will tell if that assessment is correct.
So, which of these compact travel cameras will I be shooting on my next photo travel outing? Will I take the Panasonic or the Sony? I think I’ll be taking the Panasonic / Lumix. I can adjust to and work around it’s limitations as noted above. But I can’t find a good “work around” for the Sony’s lack of an optical view finder.
Travel Light – Travel Right ………. And Enjoy the Adventure!
Dr.B, The Photo Trekker