Living Small / Simplify / Technology / Travel

Travel Zoom Cameras: The Perfect Compromise

Photographers

We’ve written extensively about the importance of downsizing, living small, and simplicity in our personal lives. And as might be expected, these ideas carry over into our lives as travelers.

Our prime directive is traveling light, and as in all things, it’s always about priorities. And one of the important things we always pack is a camera.

Photos are an important part of our blog, and we endeavor to make them as interesting and attractive as possible. But when it comes to photographic gear, it’s difficult to find a balance between capability and portability. Small, lightweight point-and-shoot cameras have limited capabilities, and feature-rich DSLRs are big, heavy, and cumbersome to use. Enter the travel zoom camera.

Camera

Travel zoom cameras are all about zoom lenses squeezed into compact, lightweight bodies along with a good set of useful features.

Camera Zoomed

And for weight and size conscious nomads, the primary attraction of these cameras is versatility. You can whip one of these babies out of your jeans pocket, and shoot a wide angle shot of the lone prairie one minute …

Prairie_Homestead

… and then, zoom in to the face of that skittish prairie dog the next.

Prairie_dog_(1)

And because they’re only slightly larger than compact point-and-shoot cameras, this sounded like the perfect solution. Therefore, after some considerable online research, I finally bit the bullet and bought one a couple of weeks ago. For about $250, I bought a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. It has a 25-500mm optical zoom with a 20X zoom capability. For most people, these numbers are probably mumbo-jumbo, so I’ve taken a few shots to demonstrate the sweet “zoomage.”

Lighthouse 1

Lighthouse 2

Lighthouse 3

Lighthouse 4

In addition to the marvelous zoom, the technology packed into this small package is amazing. For point-and-shoot types, it has full auto, and produces outstanding shots. On the other end of the spectrum, for those who want more control, most of the shooting parameters can be set manually. It also has lots of special effects modes, HD video capabilities, and GPS for geo-tagging photos. In fact, there are so many features for this camera (and its competitors) that the reviews run 6-8 pages.

Camera with Key

I’m very happy with my choice, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the camera for you … different strokes and all that. But this website, which reviews the Canon and its competitors, is a good place to start, and should enable you to make a decision best suited to personal needs.

In my opinion, travel zoom cameras are a quantum leap in technology which will make life better and easier for all travelers. Whichever model you chose, they all seem a great value for their size, performance, and capabilities. The only disadvantage that I see for these cameras, is that I can no longer blame my mediocre photos on my crappy gear.

Happy Zooming,
James

prairie dog

Photo Credits:
1. Photographing protests at 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City by Jonathan McIntosh via Wikimedia Commons
5. By Chitrapa via Wikimedia Commons

60 thoughts on “Travel Zoom Cameras: The Perfect Compromise

    • Virginia, if you see me at a cocktail party, don’t get me started on how cool this camera is. I will slip off to the deep end of the geek pool in a hurry. For instance, it can memorize up to 25 faces … how cool is that. ~James

  1. awesome information. I have a nikin D5100 but I am really looking for a good “travel” camera where if it gets banged up I’m not out thousands of dollars. I have an FZ28 that has served me well but it’s still a little bit bigger then what I would like.

    • Thanks Aurora. You sound like a perfect candidate for a travel-zoom camera. Mine really isn’t much larger than a compact point-n-shoot, and you won’t believe all the features. And best of all, the zoom is brilliant. BTW, the Amazon free book list is a wonderful public service. I’ll be gettin’ me some of them! Thanks. ~James

  2. Hey, cool… I also have a Canon Powershot! It’s lightweight enough (even for me, who is weight-carrying-challenged) to usually carry around pretty much all the time so like an Amex card (& umbrella), I don’t leave home without it ;)
    Thnx for sharing the term ZOOMAGE, love it!

    • Thanks Amit. I looked at pages and pages of reviews and specs for this purchase. But, as you know, when traveling, it’s all about size, weight, reliability, and performance. We’ve traveled with Canon cameras for years, and they’ve never let us down. And honestly, being able to carry the camera in my pocket is a big deal as well. Travel zoom cameras are a technological leap that’s long overdue. And BTW, if “zoomage” shows up on this year’s new words list, we’ll know where it came from. All the best. ~James

  3. Thanks so much for the information. Since I already have a Canon S100 and love the quality, I will definitely look into this one as I am ready to purchase a camera with better zoom capability.

    • Hey LuAnn. I’m not on commission, I promise, but if you liked your S100, you will love this camera. I read through a number of mind-numbing, detailed reviews, and this camera is where I stopped. Whatever your choose, you will love the technology. Your bird pictures are great, and will be so much easier with a travel zoom. All the best ~James

    • Hey Kathy. I’m with you on digital photos. I was a photo hobbyist for years and shot on film. I envied the pros who could take 50 photos to get the best shot, and I had to take 5 and hope for the best. Digital solves this. And the zoom is exactly what I need. ~James

  4. Thanks for the information. I am always striving to get better pictures and experiment with different settings on my Canon Rebel XS, but this camera would be great to just slip in my jacket pocket.

    • Hey Melanee. I think that the picture you paint is exactly what many professional photographers do every day. Sometimes, things happen quickly and pulling a decent camera out of your pocket may be just what’s needed. ~James

  5. LOL. We got the same camera for our RTW trip. We got great images as you can see from our blog. I am very happy with the camera and I am glad that we weren’t lugging those DSLR’s on our hiking trips!

    • Thanks so much! This is exactly what I needed to hear. Obviously, you’ve put this camera to the test, and it did great. Where were you when I was reading through all those boring reviews and tech specs? ~James

  6. Thanks for the advice. Comes just at the right time as we’re planning new cameras. Something like this Canon [small, pocket size, with great zoom range] for my wife and a digital DLSR [very likely the Nikon D 5100] plus some lenses for mayself before our next vacation trip [England and Scotland on May/June].
    Best regards from southern Texas,
    Pit

    • Pit, a travel zoom sounds like just the thing for your wife. To be honest, I’m probably way behind the curve on photo tech, but I have to say, that I’m very impressed with my new camera and its capabilities. You sound like a serious photographer, so you’ll be able to use all the complex features available. On the other hand, when fast action is needed, the zoom and point-n-shoot capabilities will be useful. Let me know what you decide on. ~James

      • Hi James,
        We’ve just got a Nikon Coolpix S9500 for my wife. I’m still staying with my D70. I had considered switching to the D7100, plus getting some new lenses, but then decided against it. I’m not that good a photographer that spending a lot of money on new equipment is worth while.
        best regards from southern Texas,
        Pit

      • Hey Pit. I checked out the Nikon S9500, and it looks cool. The wifi should be a useful feature. My camera has GPS, which I haven’t yet found a good use for, but the technology is there if I need it. The capabilities of these travel zooms is amazing to me, and I wonder where the technology will go from here. ~James

      • Hi James,
        I must admit that, for me, too, the GPS feature is the one I can do without most easily.
        Best regards,
        Pit

  7. I went through two ‘ultra-zooms’ (bought new, traveled, then sold on eBay) before I finally realized that a pocket zoom was the way to go. Bought a Panasonic Lumix with a Leica lens (nearly identical to your Canon) and never looked back. Thanks for the reassurance.

    • That’s pretty funny Tom. Because for me, it came down to two, and the Lumix was one of them. Ultimately, I have experience with Canon, and I like the 20X zoom. And as I said in this post, now the problem is with the monkey behind the camera.

  8. Love! This is very timely as I was thinking i needed to hang one of those 10lb cameras from my neck in order to be a pro travel blogger, you’ve saved me. already a cannon G10 owner and fan. Thanks!!!

    • Thanks Sara, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. As you’re obviously aware, when traveling, carrying 10 lbs of anything is serious business. And travel zoom cameras seem like the perfect place to cut some weight from the luggage. In addition to weight and convenience, the ability to carry the camera in my pocket reduces the likelihood of theft, etc. They really are the best of all worlds. ~James

  9. It’s incredible the amount of zoom they pack in to such a small package. I’ve always felt the ultra-zooms have low quality, but these new pocket zooms, while they don’t quite go as far as the ultra-zooms, definitely have good quality for the most part. Gotta ask, what the heck were the people in the 1st picture so interested in? A parade? Marathon?

    • For my purposes, the travel-zooms are the best of all worlds. And I agree about the zoom capabilities. Re: the photo of the photographers. This photo was featured on wiki commons, and the photographers are shooting a protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC. Interestingly, the guy that posted this photo specializes in protest shots.

    • Thanks for dropping by. This camera has so many bells and whistles it’s astounding. Like most of these cameras it has an “Auto” mode that sets parameters for you. In auto mode, it even recognizes whether a baby is asleep or smiling, and sets the camera for the shot. Now that’s amazing. ~James

  10. i think this is a very useful post. I personally carry a DSLR and a couple of lenses, but for someone who has a less casual approach but still wants to take nice pictures, I can see this camera being perfect.

    • Hey Jeff. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Since you have a DSLR, you’re probably familiar with all the bells and whistles on the travel-zooms. But I’m new to them, and am amazed at the technology packed into this small package. The user’s manual is 241 pages! ~James

  11. I recently graduated to an entry level DSLR and don’t enjoy the extra weight at all. Especially hate having to carry a large bag when we go out in the evenings. The Canon Powershot sounds like the ideal traveling partner :-)

    • Thanks Madhu, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I carried an SLR for years, and I have to say that I don’t miss the weight and hassles that came with it. The camera market is super-competitive, and as photographers, we all benefit as manufacturers try to stuff more and more features into small, lightweight packages. ~James

  12. Yes, I agree. I have a Canon Powershot 30x and I love it. I am so glad I chose that one over an SLR. That is how I got the shot of a bald eagle perched on a tree, from inside my house. I posted the photo on my last blog post. It was far but I was able to zoom and get the picture.

  13. Thanks for the info and the illustrative photos! I’ve been considering purchasing a camera for our trip to Europe – currently all I have is an iPhone and an old point-and-shoot Coolpix. I would hate to squander the opportunity to take high quality photos during a trip that promises as many memories as a mother/daughter Europe trip. But I also don’t want to go all in on a DSLR either. This sounds like a good compromise!

    • Jen, these travel zooms really aren’t much larger than your Coolpix, and you’ll be amazed at their capabilities. They have an “auto” mode that is just point-n-shoot, but there are lots of others settings that cover lots of different conditions (ie night time, low light, etc) If you decide to buy one, I recommend that you get it in advance so you can read the manual and practice a bit before your trip. ~James

  14. Yep, I totally agree! I bought a fancy chmancy Nikon DSL…xyz whatever. I really wanted to upgrade my photos for blogging and for the work I do here in Egypt, but I often end up reverting back to my little Canon (I have the same one you do). It’s great. I don’t have to carry around a bulky load and I’m almost invisible in a protesting downtown crowd….well, almost invisible! And the pictures are fantastic. Great entry.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. And I’m with you for a couple reasons. First, as most seasoned travelers know (at least the ones that carry there own gear) carrying extra weight gets old really quickly. And second, flashing expensive gear in many parts of the world is asking for trouble. We lived in Khartoum for a couple of years (in the bad ol’ days) and recently spent a month in Athens, so we’ve had a bit of protest and riot experience. Thousand-dollar cameras take great photos, but they send exactly the wrong message in an angry crowd. Stay safe. ~James

  15. great informative article. We have a Panasonic Lumix, less zoom than yours and at a $100 it fit right in our budget. For around town hubby lugs its big brother Panasonic DMC-FZ8 We enjoy using both of them though it can be difficult getting non-blurry long zoom shots with the point and shoot.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Looking back on my life as a novice photographer, the pendulum has swung from the complex, heavy SLR side to the disposable point and shoots. These days, I’m all about downsized, simple and lightweight. Recently, we’ve been using Canon cameras, and this new travel zoom was just what we needed. I love it that the technology has finally provided something very useful that’s also compact and lightweight. As I said in the post, it really is the best of both worlds for me. ~James

  16. Thanks for visiting my blog – thought I’d come visit you, especially as I saw this particular post. Just the info I needed as I was thinking about where to go next with cameras! I gave up my beloved Canon (film!) SLRs because they just got too heavy. I also wanted something nippier that I can have on me all the time – but the little point and shoots aren’t so satisfying. Several years ago I bought a Canon PowerShot SX120 IS which is what I’m using at the moment. I imagine there is a significant difference between it and the 260 HS? I love the idea of a 20x zoom. Do you use a tripod?

    • Thanks for dropping by the blog Susi. I’ve had the new camera for a few months now, and am totally happy with it. It has lots (and lots) of bells and whistles, and I must admit that I haven’t tried all the capabilities. But, I primarily bought it for the zoom and its small size, and this has been brilliant. As you saw in my post, there are certainly quite a few similar cameras on the market, but I couldn’t be happier with the Canon. RE: tripod, no I don’t use one. I have thought about getting one, but in the meantime, I try not to do the max zoom unless I really need to. Also, I think that Canon has come out with a new model, so if you look around online you might find last year’s model at a discount (mine cost approx $250). Best of luck and let me know how it goes. ~James

    • Thanks Kim. After a few months, I’m totally sold on my Canon travel zoom. It seems that I use it just about everyday. I also have a smaller Canon Powershot, and when I use it, it seems limiting. ~James

  17. This is a problem I’m sure lots of people have! That zoom is pretty good! My dslr camera is so big and heavy, that often I just use my phone. I hope that in the future the phone cameras get even better than they are already. But in the meantime thanks for this other suggestion!

    • It’s funny Tanny. This post has gotten much more attention than I expected, and I suspect that as you say, lots of travelers have this problem. I’ve been using the camera for 7 months now, have taken it on trips big and small, and I couldn’t be happier. Back in the Pleistocene, I lugged around an SLR, and ultimately, I just got tired of the hassle. The price on these travel zooms keep dropping, and the feature list keeps growing. They can’t be beat for weight (fits in my pant’s pocket – yay), ease of use, and value. If you buy one, let me know how you like it. ~James

  18. Your pictures are absolutely amazing! Definitely much better than the pictures I’m getting with my little point-and-shoot camera. On the other hand, there’s also the potential issue of operator competance :)

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Joanne. I’ve had this camera for 8 months now, and have taken it on trips large and small. It continues to be perfect for my needs, and the size is great as well. If you want to improve your point-and-shot pictures in a small, lightweight package, a travel zoom camera is the answer. ~James

      • Thanks! I will certainly take into consideration when I replace my camera – which I suspect might be nearing end of life. There are only so may times you can drop something!!
        Safe travels! Looking forward to following your adventures!

  19. I will definitely consider this. I’m actually contemplating on ditching my huge DSLR (also a Canon) not because I don’t like it anymore but it seems to be inconvenient carrying it around. What did you do with your big camera? I’m thinking whether I should sell mine then buy a zoom camera like yours. Thanks!

    • Dahlia, I couldn’t be happier with my travel zoom. After using it for 9 months, I can highly recommend it. Canon has a new version out (SX260 I believe) which downloads your photos over a wireless network. I really don’t think that you’ll be disappointed in a travel zoom. I’m a big believer in Canon gear, but I’m sure that there are lots of good brands on the market. Re: my old camera, I didn’t sell it I just gave it to the teenage son of a neighbor. But, I’ve had great results selling electronics on ebay. If you get one, let me know how it goes. ~James

  20. I should not be surprised this story came in #1 in 2013. Your post motivated me to check back on my own top stories, and three of the top 10 were of the ‘How to…’ variety. As much as people love to read the tales from our travels, they are also curious to learn how to do a similar thing themselves. You have been quite informative and entertaining in both areas, for which I am grateful.
    Happy New Year, James and Terri! – Mike

    • Mike, as I looked at our blog stats for the year, I realized that there’s probably a good lesson for travel bloggers. As you say, people like destination info, but we also gets good feedback on “how to” posts. But, as a blogger, I’d get really bored just doing one type of post. So for me, I guess the lesson it to mix it up a bit. Another aspect that I’ve noticed is there doesn’t seem to be a predictable correlation between how much energy I put into a post and how popular it is. I put my heart and soul into something I see as meaningful, and it gets a big yawn. And then, I whip out something quick and fun, and it gets tons of comments. But, I’m not complaining. These surprises are one of the things I enjoy about blogging. All the best for the New Year. ~James

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