12 August 2014

Adventures in Buying a Travel Camera: Olympus, Nikon, Canon

copyright cbl for BethFishReads.comAs some of you know, I had been shopping for a pocket camera for everyday photography. I thought I'd share my experiences trying out three different models.

In general, I was looking for something small, without interchangeable lenses, that would do what my phone camera couldn't. Thus I wanted a good zoom and a good macro. But I also wanted to have manual controls and wifi. I did not want to have to buy and change lenses. In other words, I wanted what is now called a travel camera.

I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews and narrowed my choices down to three models. I had a budget and hoped to spend no more than $350 for something that was going to live in a coat pocket or purse and be taken camping and hiking.

My three choices were the Olympus Stylus TG-3, the Nikon Coolpix S9700, and the Canon SX700HS. I also liked a Sony model and a Fuji, but neither of them had a good enough macro for my tastes. For a little more money, I could have gotten a camera that shot RAW, was mirrorless, and/or had a touch screen. I decided against moving up in class because I didn't want to spend the extra money and because I really wanted the camera for quick everyday photos, not for my best shots on a photo expedition. (I have a big camera for that.)

I should also mention here that I'm not really a camera reviewer. I didn't set up side-by-side tests under exact conditions. I'm simply reporting on my personal experience. I took the three photos shown below while standing more or less in the same place in my yard, using the zoom, and then cropping--but the shots were taken on different days. (Click on the images to see them full size.)

The Olympus. I decided to buy the Olympus Stylus TG-3 because it was waterproof and drop-proof and was supposed to have an amazing microscopic macro. I knew the zoom was not as powerful as my other choices, but there was an optional telephoto lens, which I thought I wouldn't mind in return for the ruggedness of the camera. So I ordered the TG-3 in April. And then I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And I finally got the camera in the last week of July. The short story is that I owned the camera for about 3 hours before sending it back.

  • The pros: The camera was light and fit in my pocket. The controls and menus were fairly intuitive. Olympus customer service was very easy to deal with, and they took the camera back, no questions asked.
  • The cons: The camera seemed to take forever to turn on and focus. The zoom was even slower, and almost all the bees and birds I tried to photograph had long flown away before the zoom had even extended. The macro too was very difficult to focus, and I knew I'd just be frustrated every day I owned this camera.
Look at the cropped and zoomed photo. Do I even need to say anything? I was so disappointed with the color and resolution.


The Nikon. It was a close race between the Canon and Nikon for my next try. I picked the Nikon Coolpix S9700 because it was supposed to have a bit better lens and much better battery life. I was initially impressed with the zoom and the clarity of the focus but I had major issues with some of the features.
  • The pros: The zoom was a pleasure to use; it was quick and focused nicely. The camera was light and generally easy to use.
  • The cons: The image stabilizing wasn't as strong as I'm used to in my old Canons or even in the camera app I use on my phone. I had a hard time standing still for long zooms and close macros. But the real issues with the Nikon were these: (1) There was no way to permanently turn off the flash in the auto setting. Thus each time I turned the camera to automatic, I had to remember to turn off the flash or it would pop up when I didn't want it to. (2) The automatic focusing was just plain annoying. There was no way to stop it from deciding what it was I wanted to focus on. I'd have to set the focus three or four times for each shot. I must have taken 30 photos of a nail head before I could get the macro setting to focus on it instead of the background. So maddening.
The cropped photo is much better than the Olympus and has a tiny bit of bokeh. But I think the focus is slightly off (the seed head looks a bit fuzzy), the pink is muted, and the center of the flower is too orange. In the long run, though, the focus and flash issues made me return the camera after two days.


The Canon. The question I've been asking myself is this, Since I've always loved my Canons, why didn't I just get the Canon in the first place? Well, the main reason was that SX700HS got consistently poor reviews in terms of battery life. Every single reviewer mentioned how it barely took 200 photos per battery and how annoying that was. Since I can easily take 200 photos in a few hours, that put me off.
  • The pros: I love the image stabilizing of the Canon and the terrific macro. There is a way to turn off the flash no matter what mode the camera is in. I can choose auto focus, center focus, manual focus, and several other focuses, so I am no longer frustrated by not getting the photo I want. Because I have owned Canons, the somewhat deep menus don't really bother me, and in fact I'm pretty used to them.
  • The cons: It has a little trouble taking night shots, but that might be because I haven't figured out all the settings. The camera sometimes gets confused when I focus on a cloud, but a switch to completely manual focus, takes care of that. Macros come out a little blurry sometimes, but not often enough to frustrate me.
I haven't had any battery issues at all. Either I use my camera differently from others (I'm in the habit of turning it off when not actively seeking a shot) or I've just been lucky. I do have extra batteries, though, just in case. I love the bokeh of the zoomed shot and the more natural-looking colors. The balloon shot at the top of the post was taken early one recent morning. I zoomed in and held the camera without a tripod and got a whole series of fantastic photos. (If you click on that balloon picture, you'll get the full effect.)


Conclusions. In general, I'm glad I spent the money on the pocket camera, and I'm having a great time taking photos with the Canon. My biggest complaints are with the category of cameras in general. If you're used to a lot of control with a wide range of speed, f/stops, and ISO, travel cameras are going to be slightly disappointing. On the other hand, a travel camera is perfect for taking walks, for family gatherings, and anytime you just want to get the picture and without any fuss.

Your mileage may vary, and you really need to do your research and decide on the features that are important to you. Make sure you can return any camera you buy, so you aren't stuck with an expensive mistake. Again, if you move up to the $500 and above level, you can get mirrorless, RAW, and interchangeable lenses, even with a small camera body.

8 comments:

Jen Forbus 8/12/14, 6:49 AM  

What timing on your post! I'm feeling very frustrated today as my Canon DSLR camera is saddled with yet another error that I don't seem to be able to fix myself. *sigh* I have times when I really prefer using it, but I'm actually considering just going to a good point and shoot after all the issues I've had with it. All my Canon point and shoots have been wonderful, so I think I just got a lemon this time...why did it have to be with the most expensive camera, though?!?

bermudaonion 8/12/14, 9:09 AM  

I have a small Canon camera that I carry in my purse and NEVER use because I have my phone. It makes no sense because I know I could take better pictures with the camera. I like the camera I have but wish it had wi-fi. I need to get in the habit of using it.

Beth Hoffman 8/12/14, 11:14 AM  

This post is great! Because of your research, I now know which travel camera to buy for my husband. Thanks, Candace!

Melissa (Avid Reader) 8/12/14, 3:19 PM  

I just bought a Nikon Coolpix for an upcoming trip. I'm a bit nervous, because like you I was going back and forth between a few different options. I hope it ends up working well.

Stacie 8/12/14, 10:15 PM  

Great info and thorough info on each camera. Thanks so much for sharing! I love your photos!

Daryl 8/14/14, 9:34 AM  

i love the photos you are getting, so its clear you made the right choice ..

nishitak 8/15/14, 10:03 PM  

I've been waffling between cameras too, so your post is pretty timely.

I do want something with wireless, because I really miss that with my current one.

Lu @ Regular Rumination 8/16/14, 7:31 PM  

This is a super helpful post. I've been thinking about getting a camera like this, but haven't known where to start. I want to eventually learn how to use a DSLR, but for now I do need something more than my camera phone!

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