The best affordable travel and general-purpose cameras

"What camera should I buy?" I've been asked this a few times recently so I thought I'd pull together a few notes about some of the best sub-$1000 cameras on the market at the moment.

Firstly, some key considerations:

Sensor size - A larger sensor can absorb more light and so is generally better in darker situations. Some photographers prefer or even insist on the traditional 'full-frame' (35mm) size, but all the cameras I list here have sensors that are plenty large enough for most applications.

Lens options - The lens you use has more impact on the quality of an image than the camera itself. Some manufacturers have a wider range of lenses available than others. Typically the quality of the 'kit' lens that comes with the camera is lower than that of other lenses available.

Handling - Although you'll generally get used to any camera, some will naturally feel more comfortable than others, partly depending on the size of your hands. Weight is another factor here too, especially for travelling.

Speed - Depending on the type of shooting you do, autofocus speed might be a key feature. Similarly if you want to take multiple images in quick succession, some cameras have better 'frames per second' (FPS) capability.

Viewfinder - Rear LCD screens are great and easy to use but are not always easy to see in bright sunlight. Having a viewfinder (either electronic or optical) gives you a better option in bright light, and you might prefer it at other times too. An electronic viewfinder (EVF) has the advantage of giving you a preview of the shot taking into account the current camera settings.

So here are some suggestions, firstly interchangeable lens cameras (approximate prices include a kit lens), then a few fixed lens options. I've included a link to a video review on each so you can get more info and opinion that way if you need it.

Sony A6000 (~$700)
Even though this isn't a new camera, it still just might be the best value-for-money around at the moment. It's small, fast, has a comfortable grip and has a good range of features. Lens options are decent, helped by some good value prime lenses made by Sigma currently selling for about $200.

Fujifilm X-T10 (~$900)
Most of the features of the more expensive Fujifilm cameras in a smaller body. Retro-styling, beautiful image quality and much improved speed over Fuji's earlier cameras. Fuji use a different control system to other manufacturers with dedicated aperture and shutter speed dials but no 'mode' dial. To me it's logical, intuitive and fun to use. There's a good range of excellent lenses, but they can tend to be expensive. This is my main camera at the moment.

Panasonic G7 (~$700)
Another great value camera, this time including the option of 4k video recording. Larger than most of the others cameras that I've listed here, and mostly plastic rather than metal, but with an extensive range of features. Panasonic and Olympus share the same lens mount system (micro four-thirds) so there's a wide range of excellent lenses available. Try it to see if you like the size though.

Panasonic GX8 (~$1200)
Ok, so it's over the $1000 mark but the GX8 is a beautiful high-quality camera and you might be able to find it for just under $1k without a lens. Not that you'd be able to much with it that way. All the features of the G7, including 4k video, in a smaller, prettier metal body.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 mk2 (~$1200)
Again sneaking over the $1k, Olympus doesn't have the 4k video capability of the Panasonic camera, but it does have reportedly amazing in-camera image stabilization. This means that the camera is compensating for any tiny movements when you're not using a tripod and can allow you to use a slower shutter speed in dark conditions but still get a sharp image. I haven't tested it personally, but the reviews seem to indicate that it works very effectively. Most of the other manufacturers rely on stabilization within each lens rather than in the camera itself.

Now for a few options where you can't change the lens:

Panasonic LX100 (~$800)
A very interesting camera, with a good quality zoom lens and 4k video in relatively small package. The LX100 also features a 'multi-aspect' sensor, meaning that you can control the aspect ratio of the pictures you take and the camera will make best use of the available resolution from the sensor. You won't have the option to build up a range of lenses, but as a small package for travel this could be a great option, especially if you plan on shooting some video too.

Sony DSC-RX100 mk4 (~$950)
The smallest camera here, and probably the only one that is truly pocketable. It also has the smallest sensor but it's still 1" with 20mp crammed in so still very high quality in such a small body. As with the LX100, it has a high quality (Zeiss in this case) zoom lens. It even has a small EVF (electronic viewfinder) that pops out from the camera body when you want to use it.

Fujifilm X-100T (~$1000)
Lastly, another option from Fuji. The X100 series is many a street photographer's favourite. This time you have a fixed 23mm lens (so a fairly wide field of view) with no zoom. So you have less flexibility, although you can buy add-on 'teleconverters' which do change the focal length. So it seems expensive but the X100T does have a few unique tricks that make it such a popular choice. Aside from the classic styling, it has a hybrid viewfinder meaning that you can choose to use it as an optical viewfinder (seeing exactly what's in front of you) or electronic (giving a preview of what your image will look like) or a combination of the two. It can also manage very high shutter speeds and has a build in ND (neutral density) filter. Maybe an unusual choice as a single camera but many photographers rate it as their favourite.
 

So why nothing from Nikon or Canon or Samsung? Firstly Samsung are rumored to be pulling out of the camera market. They've produced some great cameras and lenses, but I can't recommend it as a technology to invest in looking forward. Buying a Canon or Nikon gives the great advantage of the massive amount of lenses available for both, as well as a wide selection of camera bodies. But only for their DSLR cameras, which are significantly more bulky than the cameras I've listed and don't offer electronic viewfinders. Canon and Nikon do both offer smaller mirrorless cameras but they are currently lagging behind the competition.

I hope that helps. Let me know if there are any I missed that you think should be considered, or if you want my thoughts on any particular choice. Happy shopping!

Sony A6000 (with a long zoom lens) and Fujifilm X-T10 (in a leather half-case)

Sony A6000 (with a long zoom lens) and Fujifilm X-T10 (in a leather half-case)

Sony A6000 and Fujifilm X-T10. Note the dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the Fuji with aperture setting on the lens, compared to the mode dial and blank programmable dial on the Sony.

Sony A6000 and Fujifilm X-T10. Note the dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the Fuji with aperture setting on the lens, compared to the mode dial and blank programmable dial on the Sony.