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.
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.
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.
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.