Sunday 23 September 2018

And if you're in need of a 'proper' camera...

What about those who want a proper camera? For all their advances, cameraphones can only get you so far. Here's a look at some of the best cameras to get for travel and serious or semi-professional use

The Panasonic FZ2000 is a great value option for your travels
The Panasonic FZ2000 is a great value option for your travels

FOR TRAVEL

Panasonic FZ2000 (€969)

If you're looking for a pure travel camera, Sony's RX10 (mark IV) is arguably the ultimate model. But at €2,000, it's very overpriced. A much better value option is Panasonic's FZ2000, which delivers most of what the Sony offers at half the price.

It packs a massive 20x zoom into a camera that's around the same size and weight as the smallest DSLR.

This focal flexibility takes it from the equivalent of 24mm (which is quite wide, for landscapes and detailed indoor shots) to 480mm (which can turn a speck on the horizon into a recognisable feature). And that's what makes the FZ2000 an awfully versatile and capable travel camera.

Long zooms are very under-rated for landscape photography. But a zoom is no use unless the camera has something to stop blurry photos happening from the naturally-occurring small wobbles in your hand. This camera has an incredibly impressive five-axis stabilisation feature on it that lets you zoom all the way out and still take a steady shot with clear details resulting.

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The Panasonic FZ2000 is a great value option for your travels

As for the relative quality of those shots, I found them to be good. This camera has a 1in sensor, which is considerably smaller than a professional 'full frame' sensor but not that far off what you get in some DSLR cameras and much bigger than other 'superzoom' bridge cameras. As long as the lighting level is reasonable, you'll get nice clarity and really good shots out of it.

Other things of note with this camera include its flip-out, articulating touchscreen. This is a brilliant feature for flexibility, particularly if you want to use the video-recording features. It also captures video in full 4K ('ultra-HD') resolution.

GETTING SERIOUS

Sony A7iii (€2,299)

Sony has taken the vast majority of cutting edge features from its top-end professional cameras and crammed them into a device that is much more cost-friendly to enthusiasts and many professional users.

Crucially, this is a 'full frame' camera, meaning its sensor delivers better depth of field and better performance in low light.

Sony has put in a backside illuminated sensor, which gives it low light performance that's considerably ahead of peer devices. (For comparison, top-end models such as Nikon's excellent, but much pricier, D850 have similar BSI sensors, but few cameras priced below those have them.)

It has also considerably improved the ergonomic performance and build quality of the device over the predecessor, the A7ii.

And it has given entry-level professionals and enthusiasts features they really want, such as dual-card slots, much better battery life and earphone ports for monitoring audio levels during video.

Meanwhile, there is now a genuinely decent selection of both reasonably-priced and premium lenses to compete with what has recently been a lens duopoly between Canon and Nikon.

It also has one feature that wasn't available on previous A7 models - fully silent shooting. For many people, this is one of the main reasons to go mirrorless in the first place. It means you can shoot away in a church wedding or at a hushed sports event and not disturb anyone. The A7iii shoots silently at up to 10 frames per second, which means you're totally covered.

Fuji X-T2 (€1,399)

It's impossible now to consider an ambitious camera system without mentioning Fujifilm. The mirrorless X-T2 is one of the best overall cameras on the market for either beginners or ambitious amateurs and semi-professionals. The metal camera has a range of knobs and dials that make it easy to understand how photos actually work.

The X-T2 has dual card slots and a flip-out screen. It shoots either silently or with a mechanical shutter.

It's also arguably the most enjoyable camera to use, aesthetically. It feels lovely to pick up and shoot with, which can make a difference when you're wondering whether or not to pack a camera.

The Fuji X-series sensors are smaller than 'full frame' sensors on high-end Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras, so why choose this Fuji camera over a similarly-sized Canon 80D or Nikon D500? The answer is the lenses. Fuji's X-series lenses are simply better than Canon or Nikon lenses, which are made for their smaller-sensor cameras. Even the budget Fuji lenses, like the 16-50mm or 50-230mm are absolutely excellent, way better than equivalent kit zoom lenses for Canon and Nikon. It's true that you can put higher-end Canon or Nikon lenses on the smaller-sensor Canon and Nikon cameras, but you lose crucial control over the focal range - for example, a 24mm wide angle perspective becomes something closer to 40mm, which isn't the same at all.

BUDGET

Panasonic FZ82 (€329)

Without any doubt, the main attraction of the 18-megapixel Panasonic's FZ82 is its monster zoom. Its "60x" lens extends from a wide-angle 20mm equivalent to a ridiculous 1,200mm. So you can capture the contents of a room or the eye-colour of a cat on a wall 100 yards away.

It's also helped considerably by the camera's excellent image stabilisation, which lets you shoot as low as one-sixtieth of a second (to make up for the lack of light) and still get a very sharp photo.

Make no mistake, this is a budget camera with a sensor that's a fraction of the size of the other models mentioned in this review. As such, don't expect great results in low light, especially with a maximum ISO level of 3,200.

But you still get quite a lot of detail when taking photos in moderately-lit rooms and dusky outdoor scenes. This is helped by the camera's f2.8-5.9 lens (although you only get the benefit of the bright f2.8 when it's zoomed out at 20mm).

Still, this is very much a budget zoom camera to bring for the outdoors.

It also provides a totally different type of photo style. Pictures taken at a range as extended as 1200mm in focal length have a very different look to ones taken at more normal telephoto lengths of 200mm or 300mm. Items are compressed together, allowing you to bunch lots of landmarks or structures together in the same photo. It's a really interesting effect.

For me, it turned out to be the main advantage of the camera.

One thing it doesn't have is a flip-out screen which can be very useful for video or selfies. But at this price, that's not too surprising. The 3in LCD screen is clear and vibrant.

Like many Panasonic cameras, this one shoots video in 4K 'ultra' high definition. It also lets you grab eight-megapixel still shots from 4K bursts (taken at 30 frames per second).

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