I like to travel as light as I can for a few reasons. First of all, I don’t seem to be getting any younger and hauling around unnecessary weight and bulk gets old real fast. Secondly, I always carry professional level camera gear, which includes the camera and a few lenses as well as a tripod and laptop. So saving weight makes my travels more enjoyable.
If you are serious about photography on your travels and want to bring home images that are worthy of making large prints and you don’t want to carry one of the heavy full frame cameras and lenses, there are now many great alternatives available.
Here is a diagram of the most common sensors sizes available for high quality cameras. You can see that the full frame sensor is more than twice the size of the APS-C and almost 4x the size of the Four Thirds (also know as micro four thirds).
These new cameras achieve their weight and size savings via the absence of the bulky mirror/viewfinder system found on DSLRs. This new breed is known as “Mirror-Less”. Some have electronic viewfinders while others only have the LCD on the back of the camera for viewing. I much prefer the cameras with the electronic viewfinders for composing. Composing and seeing on an LCD can at times be impossible in bright light.
MICRO FOUR THIRDS SENSORS
The Olympus OM-D-EM1 retails for $1,400 for the body only. This is not an inexpensive option but the reviews and quality of this system are stellar. The Luminous Landscape has named the E-M1 “The Best New Camera of 2013”.
This sensor is approximately 30% larger than the micro 4/3 and will offer better clarity as your prints get bigger.
Fujifilm X Series. The Fujifilm X-E2 with the 18-55mm lens is a great choice for this category. The focal range of this lens and quality of the sensor will please most users. The camera with lens retails for $1,299
Sony just announced the A-6000 with a 16-50mm E mount lens for $800. They claim that it has the fastest autofocus in it’s category. It features a new 24.3 megapixel sensor, accepts the Sony E Mount lineup of lenses and has an electronic viewfinder. The body comes in at just over 12 oz. This one looks promising for the price.
Ricoh GR. If you really want to go light and not sacrifice quality, the GR is great. The camera and lens weigh only 8.6 ounces and retails for $697. The lens is incredibly sharp. The disadvantages are that the lens is a fixed focal length (28mm equivalent) and the viewfinder is an LCD which can be difficult to use in bright situations.
Sigma has a very similar offering in the Sigma DP1 Merrill retailing for $899.
FULL FRAME SENSORS
There are not too many choices in this category but we should be seeing more in the near future. I won’t even address the offerings from Leica as they are quite expensive.
The big news maker is Sony with the recent introduction of two full frame mirror-less cameras, the Sony a7 and the Sony a7R. Weighing in at less than 15 ounces for the bodies these two compacts offer a lot of punch. The a7 features a 24.3mp sensor while the a7R comes in at 36.4mp which is reputed to be as good as the stellar but heavy and bulky Nikon D800E. There have been some negative reports of vibration at certain shutter speeds which can render images soft. If this is indeed a problem there is speculation that the issue could be remedied with a firmware update.
I am excited about these new offerings for travel especially for those situations where I don’t want to carry my full frame DSLR. Magrit and I will be taking a break from our Photo Tours in June and will be doing a 12 day, hut to hut hike in the Italian Dolomites. I will be carrying the new Sony a7R.