The Perfect Camera For A Nomad?

Derek Travel Gear 56 Comments

It’s time for a new camera.

At the moment, I have the above Canon PowerShot S5 IS and I’ve generally been a big fan of this camera over the 2.5 years that I’ve owned it. However, it’s once near-perfect photo quality has started to show some blurriness, the rotating LCD screen keeps on shutting off and the larger-than-compact size is quite awkward to use, making it nearly impossible to take quick photos.

I once believed that the larger the camera, the better and so I opted for this Canon assuming that I would one day move up to an actual DSLR. However, I’ve now realized that I don’t want a DSLR and I have no interest in carrying around larger pieces of equipment. And since all of the features on my current camera (plus much, much more) can now be found in a smaller, more compact camera, that seems like the best route for me to take.

I’ve already done a good amount of research and of course, my perfect camera simply doesn’t exist. With that said, the leading candidate seems to be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, a camera that seems to offer very strong performance and quality – not necessarily excellent quality, but much better than average – while offering the features I find most important.

Apart from being able to take high-quality photos, two must-haves for me are a longer-than-average zoom (at least 10x optical zoom) and the capability to capture excellent HD videos. Ever since the night I met the Taliban, when I didn’t have a video-capable camera with me, I’ve vowed to always have one by my side in case such a thing were to ever happen again.

I’ve thought about buying both a compact camera just for photos and one of those small hand-held video-cameras. But if I could squeeze all of my needs into one, then I’d certainly prefer that over carrying around (and worrying about) two separate devices.

So I’d love to hear any recommendations you may have and any help would be much appreciated!

Is there anything I’m forgetting to think about when it comes to finding the ‘perfect’ travel camera? Do you have a favorite camera that might be exactly what I’m looking for?

Since 1999 I've been traveling and living around the world nonstop. Sign up below for personal stories, real advice and useful updates from my adventures. Only good stuff, no nonsense.

Are you ready to earn money and travel?

How to Work on a Cruise Ship and Travel eBooksClick above and get started!

Comments 56

  1. Hey Earl!

    I commented on another post, wondering about your travel equipment but I found it! I’m going to look at a variety of different powershots and see what I come up with. Also with the new Iphone, it is nearing DSLR capabilities, so the phone may be all we need one day. But not quite yet.

  2. I think that nikon L320 is a perfect match for your needs. Following are specs:
    *16.1 mp camera
    *21x optical zoom
    *AA type battery
    *decent video qual
    It is very affordable also 10k indian rupees.

  3. – About 33% of the inspiration for my new lifestyle comes from
    – About 98% of the photos and video for comes from my Samsung Galaxy II camera phone. It’s nice, carrying only one little device. Not having a telescopic lens has been a bit of a sacrifice, however, I tell myself that price for enjoying the AMAZING scenery is to GO THERE!

    Thanks for everything – ray

    1. Hey Ray – Seems like an ideal trade-off to me 🙂 And you’re right, the camera on the Galaxy phones are quite good, so why not use that as your camera. Cutting down on devices is always something I wish I could do.

  4. Contrary to most travelers kit necessities, I carried no camera except for the one in my phone. My thought, or better said, fear, was that I would spend more time trying to capture an image rather than having the experience. Also, the people I met and networked with, while on the road, shared their photos with me. This allowed me a different perspectives of the locations we shared in common. This was foolish, as I missed opportunities to capture images that now are lost in my mind. Cameras are an extension of our memories, allowing us to capture friends, beauty, food and reference for story telling and future travel. With that being said, I need a camera. All of your suggestions and critiques of the many cameras available are very helpful.
    Thank you.

    1. Hey Robert – You might have missed out on some images but I’m sure you do have some powerful mental images of certain places and activities that other travelers tend to lose because their cameras are in fact in front of their faces the entire time. And now, with your future travels, you’ll have a camera and can decide each time whether something is worth a photo or worth enjoying with your eyes and keeping inside your head as a strong memory!

  5. I have been using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 series this year and it is a great compact camera. It takes decent enough HD video and it is really quick to take pictures, from the moment you turn it on to click.

    1. Hey James – Thanks so much for the comment and sharing your thoughts! I really did take a long, hard look at those ZS series Lumix cameras and from the start I was certain I would end up with the newer ZS7. In the end I went with something different but I’ve really heard nothing but good things about both the ZS3 and ZS5.

    1. Hey Mike – Thanks for the suggestion. I did check out that Powershot SX210 but in the end, I went for a Panasonic Lumix that really impressed me. I’ll be writing about my experiences with this camera in the next couple of weeks or so…

  6. Buying a camera is such a personal choice. I liken it to buying a pair of shoes. Sure, people can advise you on every aspect of the purchase, but it all comes down to what you are most comfortable wearing.

    I’d recommend handling the cameras, testing out the functions in a store like B&H where you can take your time browsing. Almost any camera you buy these days will be way more functional than you ever need. After traveling with three expensive digital cameras, I’ve decided that my best photography and photo-shooting experiences come from my grandpa’s Pentax K1000, a 35mm film camera.

    Hope you find what you are looking for!
    .-= Jackie Rose (@letssitoutside)´s last blog ..I cant hide =-.

    1. That’s such a good point Jackie. In the end, you can find good and bad reviews about every camera out there, so in the end, a good part of the decision does rely on feel alone. I wish I was near B&H right now (or that I had taken advantage of that store when I was in NYC a couple of weeks ago!), but where I am in Florida there just isn’t a similar place.

      The funny part is, I’ll probably be happy with anything, but with so many choices it’s too hard to choose. Perhaps I should buy a disposable and call it a day!

  7. This is the perfect post! I have been toying with the idea of a new camera and want to go the DSLR route for quality but can’t imagine carrying something that big around. I am digging through all of these comments and look forward to seeing what you choose – I just might be a copy-cat 😉

    1. Hey Shannon – I’ll let you know the results of my extensive research as soon as I make a decision! Originally I was leaning towards a compact megazoom but I’m now thinking of a larger, yet still non-DSLR type. So I might end up with something that may be of interest to you!

    1. Hey Craig – Thanks for sharing that link although that makes the decision even harder! Based on those reviews I think I’d still lean towards the ZS7 as it seems to be the only one that offers above-average (although not excellent) quality in most areas. But a few of the others are definitely worth a closer look it seems. Are you looking for a camera as well?

      1. I enjoy being in the know in the photography field, and I’m a fond reader of dpreview (who does great news coverage).

        Now traveling as a family (wife + 2.5-year-old), we move about slower, so I plunged into the dSLR late last year. Have been enjoying it, but would still strongly recommend a pocket point-and-shoot to most everyone else.

  8. Earl,

    The title of the post caught my attention! 🙂

    No DSLR so? Okay. I’d probably say steer clear of those PEN’s too. You still end up carrying lenses around. Most of which are near enough to the same price as an SLR.

    Have you checked out Fujifilm range of Ultra Zooms? Likewise with Lumix. I can’t give recommendations to models as I’ve not tested a non dslr for a while now.

    But I’ve a friend with a Lumix, and Fuji bridge cameras. Both stood the test of African / Asian heat and humidity.

    Another point, depending on where you are going is warranty. Nikon & Canon don’t always offer international warranties. I know Olympus do. But Olympus is not that popular in Asia, so it might be hard to get a repair outside the main cities!

    Anyway, just thought I’d chime in this morning!

    All the best

    .-= The Longest Way Home´s last blog ..Finding Buddha in Davao- the Lon Wa Temple or Hua Temple =-.

    1. Hey Dave – Yeah, no DSLR for me. I actually don’t take a ton of photos when I’m traveling so it wouldn’t be worth it. I have yet to check out the Fujifilm ultra zooms but I did come across the Lumix FZ35 ultra zoom today and it was indeed impressive.

      And that’s a great point about the warranty and something I’ll take a look at. That never even crossed my mind before.

      Thanks so much for your input, truly appreciated!

      1. Hi Earl,

        No problems. Carrying a DSLR and all the kit can be a real pain. Especially long term. I’ve seen so many problems with dust on sensors, and high altitude freezing it’s nearly terrifying 🙂

        Also, these days, unless you want a few extra options,and like to fiddle. Many bridge cameras offer pretty much the same as a DSLR. Though many pro’s would rather boil themselves in oil than admit that one.

        I think you’ll find in the next 2 years, non mirror cameras with DSLR quality rising up and seriously challenging the prosumer market.

        I forgot to mention previously, but am sure you know this one. Whatever your choice. Test the camera out in store first at. How does it feel in your hand. How does it take low light (night) photos.

        Lumix is nice.

        All the best in your quest,

        .-= The Longest Way Home´s last blog ..Finding Buddha in Davao- the Lon Wa Temple or Hua Temple =-.

        1. Hey Dave – I actually spent about three hours today in a few stores testing out various cameras, which helped narrow it down to the final three. And in the end I’m still leaning towards a Lumix. Thanks again for your advice. It’s definitely helpful as I’m a lot more clueless about cameras than I should be considering I’m always traveling!

  9. I have a compact Canon camera that takes excellent photos and great macro shots. I also carry a compact HD video camera that I recently couldn’t resist buying in Hong Kong. The combination works pretty well even though they are two seperate thins. I love the small size so I can carry both with me wherever I go!
    .-= Migration Mark´s last blog ..The Stickiest Business in Brunei =-.

    1. Hey Mark – Would you mind sharing which Canon and compact HD video camera that you use? The idea of two small devices is one that I’m considering if I can find the right combination!

  10. Hi Earl,

    If you don’t want anything heavy, I recommend the Olympus EPL-1 , light weight and have some DSLR + Compact Features. I just tried it out few days ago, the photos quality is excellent too. I’m thinking of getting 1 myself. :o)
    Or if you want something smaller, check the Olympus Stylus 8010 (In Asia they call it MJU 8010). Canon S90 is a good camera, however it’s not shockproof, waterproof, or freeze-proof.
    .-= vewe´s last blog ..vewe- Getting Lost in Hanois Old Quarter travel photograph vietnam by -Hintman https-owly-27ku8 via -Cnngo =-.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations Vewe! The Olympus Pen series has caught my attention and I plan to do a little more research on them. And that Stylus does appear to be the toughest compact camera on the market, some of those claims are unreal!

  11. Hi Earl, Ryan and I happen to look for camera to buy as well. We’ve been using pocket cameras, and now we want to get an SLR. My dream camera will be SLR in pocket size, waterproof and shockproof. My current one is waterproof and shockproof, so wonderful I can take photos in all wet situation. I guess that dream camera doesn’t exist. So we might be settle with affordable smallest SLR. I’ll be back again to this post searching for some SLR suggestion in people comments!
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top 3 Temples by Travelers Around the World =-.

    1. Hey Dina – Yeah, dream cameras just don’t exist, or else there would never be a reason to buy a new one every few years! Definitely let me know if you find something appealing during your search…I’m always open to ideas!

    1. Haha…I agree Andi, it’s not easy at all! Are the India photos on your blog from your Nikon Coolpix? Did you take any videos as well?

  12. Dave switched from his Canon SLR to the Panasonic Lumix DMC GH1. He loves it. It is still an DSLR, but smaller and more lightweight. It takes excellent photos. When we went to Alaska, we had the room to bring more equipment, so he brought both cameras. He ended up using the Lumix almost all the time. The lense that he uses on the Lumix is a 14 to 140 zoom. It caught some excellent faraway wildlife shots. While Dave still loves his Canon, the Lumix has become an excellent choice for a traveling nomad.
    .-= Dave and Deb´s last blog ..Mt McKinley from Denali National Park- Snapshot Sunday =-.

    1. He Dave and Deb – Like the interchangeable lens GF1, the GH1 seems to receive nothing but overwhelmingly positive reviews as well. Not sure if I’ll go for something of that size but I did notice the photos from your Alaska adventure were quite amazing!

  13. We carry the Canon S90 and the Flip HD with us. Both are small and very easy to use. The S90 takes excellent photos and has a lot of power relative to its size, including the ability to shoot RAW, but it does have limitations versus a digital SLR and it lacks the zoom you require. In terms of video, however, we couldn’t be happier with the Flip and have posted several videos on our site using it. Good luck!
    .-= Kate Watson´s last blog ..Photo Friday- Place of Refuge- Hawaii =-.

    1. Hey Kate – That does seem like as near-perfect a combination as possible! With all of the positive reviews of the S90 I think that camera will have to be on my final short list. And that’s good to know about the Flip HD as well. I’m going to check out some of the videos on your site now. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Interesting. I had never checked out the Pen series. Now I have some more research to do. Thanks for the recommendation Margo!

  14. Earl, Your right on your thinking with staying small. It actually the best idea for most travelers, because unless your seriously going to be trying to sell or do something with a DSLR, then the drawbacks aren’t worth it. They weigh a lot, you must have a lot of other gear to go with them and as you said before, there are many shots i have missed because i didn’t want to break it out (because of fear it would get stolen, broken or scare people away).

    There is merit to going small and if your posting only for the internet then a compact point and shoot is perfect for most. You can see on my page here all the gear i carry to get my shots and i won’t lie, 1/2 my weight is camera related. I hate it but is something i’m willing to do because i’m in the field of this business. I wouldn’t trade it for anything but at times it does limit me in other ways.

    I’m a big fan of Canon and like the G’series they have but yes they don’t do HD video.
    .-= T-roy´s last blog ..Faces of Cuba- 008 =-.

    1. Thanks for that great comment T-roy! That was definitely the line of thinking I had as I really don’t plan on doing anything more than putting photos and videos on the internet for now. And considering how strict I am with the size of my backpack, I literally wouldn’t have any space at all to fit any more gear.

      I actually couldn’t get the link to work to your site. I’ll try again in a little while but wasn’t sure if there was something going on that you might want to have a look at.

    1. Hey Phong! It seems that everyone is considering the Canon S90 before making a camera purchase! And after seeing the photo quality first-hand myself, I can perfectly understand why. I just wish it had a larger zoom and better video capabilities…perhaps the next version will.

    1. No worries Liz! I’ll be sure to write a follow-up post once I finally decide, which might give you some more information in case you’re looking for a camera in the near future!

  15. I used to use point and shoot cameras, but moved to a DSLR a few years back. I don’t regret it. That said, I also bought the Panasonic ZS7 for the video feature and the fact that it was more practical in some situations. It’s a great camera and is much better in terms of features and picture quality than many cheaper alternatives.
    .-= Adam @ Sit Down Disco´s last blog ..What are Lifestyle Designers Searching For =-.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Adam.

      I’d be curious to know what have been the best and worst aspects of your ZS7 so far. Have you run into any problems or disappointments with the camera? The one time that I played around with one I was quite impressed but that was just a quick 15-minute test drive in a store. Any further first-hand info you may be able to provide would be greatly appreciated!

  16. I travel with a Canon digital SLR and Tamron superzoom 18-200mm lens and although it does fit in my 30 litre backpack there are times when I’ve wondered whether it’s worth the weight. We also have a tiny Canon Ixus 100IS which we use for HD video and when we can’t be bothered to take the SLR out. In cities especially I found I much preferred the smaller, less conspicuous compact camera.

    I am still not ready to give up the SLR yet but this post about the Canon S90 did make me reconsider:

    Otherwise the Lumix does look like a very good option. Looking forward to seeing what you choose!
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..The Lost Girls Book Review =-.

    1. Hey Erin – That is quite a convincing review of the S90 and it pretty much matches exactly what my friend (who also owns one) told and showed me when I was just in NYC. My only problem is the lack of HD video, however, with the reviews of the Ixus 100IS I just read, that could be a decent option as well.

      I also have trouble in cities pulling out a larger camera or in places where I don’t want to draw much attention to myself and that is another reason I’ve chosen to go smaller instead of moving up to a DSLR. I often think about the amount of photos I’ve sacrificed over the years just because I didn’t want to reach for my current smaller-than-a-DSLR Canon!

      And thanks for sharing the link to, not only did I find the review useful but I enjoyed some other posts on their site as well.

  17. After spending more than three months backpacking through three countries (India, Vietnam, and currently Nepal), I would have to say the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 is the best travel camera ever. 🙂 12MP photos, 720p HD video, small size, durable, and awesome 20mm wide-angle lens for incredible shots.

    Here’s the camera:

    Here are some videos I shot with it:

    And here are a few thousand photos from the past three months:
    .-= Raam Dev´s last blog ..Frugal Travel Report for June 2010 =-.

    1. Hey Raam – I have noticed that the photos and especially the handful of videos you’ve used on your site, have been outstanding quality. I think it was the video of you in your hotel room in Delhi that first caught my attention. The GF1 is definitely on my list if I decide to consider some of these higher-priced cameras.

      And thanks for sharing those links, I enjoyed flicking through all of those photos and watching some of the videos I’ve missed!

  18. Being a bit of a camera guy myself, I’ve shot with many different cameras and have my favorites. My DSLR is a Nikon D70 which back way back when and still love it. The camera I chose to take with me when I travel or go ANYWHERE is my Olympus Stylus 1030SW. I don’t think they are making it anymore but if I were to buy a new one I’d opt for the Stylus Tough-8010.

    Waterproof, shock and dust proof, HD video, etc, etc. It’s just a hardcore camera that can get tossed around. Pretty decent quality photos and video and can take a beating.

    Just my $0.02

    1. Thanks Adam! I’d never come across the Stylus Tough-8010 before but it certainly looks quite appealing after checking it out some more. Such a durable camera would come in useful as my current Canon is quite fragile. Crushproof sounds too good to be true!

      1. Apparently it’s freeze-proof too, though I doubt you will ever need that in your neverending summer! I even read reviews where people have tried jumping on it and throwing it on the floor, and it survived most… though it only lasts so long if you bring it in the water regularly. I’ve known various people who travelled with one and it took pretty decent shots.

        My mother owns the Lumix ZS7 and it takes very good shots for a compact, though I haven’t seen any videos myself I’ve heard they’re very good. Personally I’m interested in the Lumix LX3, for it’s size/photo quality. I’m also looking at the Lumix GF1 but not sure if I want to spend that much right now. What I usually do is buy from a shop that has a good return policy, try the camera (or computer, or mp3 player…) for a few days in all sorts of situations and keep in mind that I can return it if I’m not satisfied!

        Let us know what you choose!

        1. Hey Rose – That GF1 would certainly be the ideal camera but I’m also hesitant considering it’s heftier price tag. Although, every time I read a review (or Raam’s comment!) I start to think that it may be worth it in the end.

          I haven’t looked at the LX3 before so I’ll take a look at that one tonight. Does your mother use her ZS7 often or just every now and then? I was curious as to how well it’s been tested by her!

  19. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Perfect Camera For A Nomad? | Wandering Earl --

  20. Totally agree with you on trying to find the ideal travel camera.

    A DSLR would be overkill for me. Though I’m at a stage were I want more than the average point-and-shoot cameras offer.

    I’ve been looking at both the Canon G11 & Canon S90. Leaning towards the S90 because it’s more compact.
    .-= Francoise´s last blog ..My 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets =-.

    1. Hey Francoise – I keep hearing about both of those Canons (especially the S90) but neither of them have HD video mode, unfortunately. But I have seen the S90 in action and the photo-quality is amazing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.