Travelling cameras: the verdict is in

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Before I left on my 2013 European trip, I introduced the two cameras I’d be travelling with this time out — you can read about them here and here. Now that I’m back, it’s time to review my experience with them: were they the travelling companions I’d envisioned? To a large extent, the answer is yes.

The Nikon P330: Many of the shots you’ve seen in my posts from Europe, like the one above of the acropolis in Athens, came from this little compact, partly due to technical issues with getting the photos into my tablet. But it was also due to the fact that the P330 is so handy and so versatile.Nikon-P330-camera

For me, this camera is the perfect combination of small size and high quality. While it’s small enough to fit easily into a pocket, it’s built sturdily enough to withstand the rigours of travel. As well, though it has capable Auto and Program modes, it provides manual controls so I could set the shutter speed and aperture myself in tricky lighting situations. For example, in low light, Auto modes often choose a very low shutter speed. Result: blurred photos. By using the shutter speed mode, I could avoid that pitfall. I also liked the little meter at the bottom of the screen that showed the settings as they changed.

That said, even in Program mode, the P330 came up with good pictures again and again, in bright outdoor settings, night markets and the dim lighting of ancient cathedrals. Part of this was due to the camera’s sharp, fast Nikkor lens, but it’s also a tribute to its sophisticated exposure system.

The big, three-inch monitor was sharp and easy to shoot with, not throwing off a lot of reflections to obscure the subject (mind you, I didn’t see many sunny days, which pose the real test). And the well-located movie button let me switch into video mode quickly and easily.

Downside? The camera could be slow to focus in dim lighting and when the subject was less than distinct, but that’s pretty common with compact cameras. The 5X zoom could be a little jumpy, and there was a significant delay when it started to record a movie. Other than that, the only thing I didn’t like was the tiny on-off button, which often took me two or three tries to find and then depress with a fingertip.

But the proof is in the pudding. And the P330 turned out sharp, good-looking shots in most conditions, with very little grainy “noise” visible at 400 and even 800 ISO (that’s camera talk for light sensitivity). I rarely push a compact camera past those settings, since that’s when real noise appears. I did notice a little “smearing” in people’s faces at high ISOs, the result of noise reduction, but this was only apparent at big magnifications. The video was equally sharp and good-looking — really top-notch.

Overall, this is a camera I’d be happy to take with me whether I was going around the world or around the block. Here are three samples to show the picture quality the P330 delivered. These haven’t been downsized or edited in any way: clicking on the images will take you to the full-sized files.

Brussels: 1/80 second, f4.7, ISO 80 Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Athens: 1/60, f4.7, ISO 280Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Istanbul: 1/60, f2.8, ISO 800Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The Olympus OM-D E-M5: This camera was a big hit with the critics when it came out last year — it was even named Best Camera of 2012 by Digital Photo Review. But that’s not the reason I took it along on my trip: I was looking for a camera that gave me the quality and functionality of my single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with a fraction of the size and weight.Olympus-OM-E-M5

The E-M5 fit the bill especially well, since it’s modelled on one of Olympus’s vintage SLRs. That means it sports a viewfinder, something missing on a lot of mirrorless cameras.

On the road, I did appreciate the relief in size and weight. Suddenly my shoulder bag didn’t feel quite so much like a dead weight, even with a lot of paperwork and gadgets inside. The water-sealed body was good to have when walking around European cities in the cold and wet — the E-M5 was even small enough to fit under my coat without creating a huge bump.

Despite its size, though, the camera didn’t feel small in my hand — it was comfortable, with just enough weight for some added stability. And shooting was easy: the E-M5 focused quickly and surely, even on the move, and I could change settings easily using the handy on-screen menu. You can customize the controls, but I found the basic setup adequate for the situations I was in. The control dial located just above my thumb made scrolling through the settings easy.

The 12-50mm “kit” lens (equivalent to 24-100mm) zoomed smoothly using a wide, grippable control ring — especially valuable when shooting video. I found it a bit oversized for my taste, however. The big, sharp monitor was a great tool when I wanted to shoot using Live View, holding the camera in front of me. It tilted up or down, as well — very handy for shooting over crowds of other tourists. Finally, the camera fired with a nice, soft click, great for shooting in museums with guards lurking everywhere.

I had some niggles with the E-M5, though. Chief among them was the exposure system. The electronic viewfinder, though quite sharp, tended to “white out” a bit while I was shooting, making it difficult to see if I was exposing properly. And in tricky situations, such as the dark interior of St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, I had a hard time getting an exposure when using the auto ISO setting. Of course, with the camera’s manual controls, I was able to find the right exposure with a few clicks.

I also found the placement of the review button kind of odd: it’s a little squarish button set alongside the Function button at the top of the camera. In fact, it took me a while to find it. And while it’s handy to have the viewfinder power up when it you bring your eye up to it, that feature could be an annoyance when reviewing my shots, since putting a finger in front of the vf jumped me back to shooting mode.

This camera has a lot of features — in fact, many more than I could even get around to using. The touch screen worked well, and was handy when scrolling through my shots. However, I never really used it for focusing and shooting; it’s just not my style. Then there’s the art filters for applying special effects to your shots — nice, but not what I want to use when recording my experiences in foreign cities. As well, it came with a cute little snap-on flash that I didn’t use much, since I prefer natural light shooting.

Overall, the E-M5 was a handy and capable travel companion, and I’m glad I took it with me. I wouldn’t call it the perfect travel camera,,but it certainly has all the capabilities you might wish for. Again, the proof of quality is in the photos. And exposure issues aside, they were sharp and good-looking, with very little visible noise up to ISO 1600 or 2000. Video looked great, as well, adding a lot of value for those who shoot a lot of movies. Here are some full-sized samples, so you can be the judge.

Bruges: 1/60, f6.2, ISO 200Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Vienna: 1/30, f4.1, ISO 1600Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Istanbul: 1/50, f3.5, ISO 1600Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

4 Comments

  1. I’ve just bought an E-M5 (which is how I found your blog). Looking at it for travel and street photography, seeing as how the Canon Eos M I bought for those purposes turned out to be too slow for snapshots. Travelling with a big DSLR can be awkward.

    Certainly better image quality than any point and shoot I’ve owned. The 5-axis in-camera stabilisation is incredible. I’ve been able to take sharp handheld shots by candlelight.

    Enjoying your photos and writing. You’ve been to many of the same places I have. Istanbul and Vienna and New Zealand. I’m looking forward to returning over the next few years, this time with a decent camera.

    • Thanks for your comments, Skyring. Glad you enjoy the blog — if you want to receive new posts by e-mail, drop your address on the home page (top right). I guess we have the same tastes in travel. I’d love to go back to NZ one day: loved the country and the people, and it’s paradise for birders.

      The OM-D E-M5 certainly turned out some sharp and good-looking pictures throughout my European trip, though I had some reservations about it, as you see. The mirrorless cameras are a great choice for travellers, though — half the weight and size of an SLR but the same-sized sensor and comparable photo quality. I haven’t bought one yet but I may do so for my next bog trip.

      Happy travels!
      PJM92 recently posted…Sailing through Istanbul’s past on a Bosphorus cruiseMy Profile

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