Buying into a new camera system for 2020 is quite confusing as each system has compromises, and their own issues.
Disclaimer: I am not paid or offered incentives from ANY camera or lens manufacturer or retailer, I don’t have advertising on my site or send you to online retailers. I personally use a range of systems including Olympus OM-D cameras, Olympus and Panasonic pro lenses, Sony full frame cameras, Canon pro dSLRs and pro lenses to match as well as a range of 35mm and medium format film systems. These are my thoughts from my travel experiences, you may have different priorities to me.
2019 was the year that all the major brands finally committed to mirrorless camera systems which will eventually consign older dSLR mirrored cameras to a niche market.
Hence the following places emphasis on mirrorless cameras which will be the future of most photographers. Having said this, if you are budget challenged then you may be able to pick up an older dSLR full frame kit at a more affordable price than the newer mirrorless alternatives – HOWEVER, I would personally avoid the cropped sensor dSLRs from Canon or Nikon.
Whilst many of the new full frame mirrorless cameras are quite small and compact, they tend to be very expensive and their lenses are too large, heavy and expensive for travel, particularly if you are traveling to regions where a conspicuous camera kit may make you a target for attack and theft.
The new Canon mirrorless cameras still do not have sensor shift image stabilisation and lack pro features, and, along with the new Nikon mirrorless cameras, these systems lack a good range of lens choices, especially lenses for travel.
The Sony full frame cameras tend to be too small for their purpose and are uncomfortable to use and lack the fun and ergonomics of Micro Four Thirds.
Furthermore, whilst, cameras such as the new Sony a7RIV with its 61megapixels and awesome AF capabilities make it a great camera in terms of image quality, to achieve this image quality you need to shoot a fast shutter speed at low ISO and only a handful of super expensive, heavy lenses are capable of delivering the resolution to match the sensor – see THIS BLOG WHICH TESTS LENSES for the 61mp sensor.
My suggested requirements for a travel camera kit
The camera kit, including lenses should:
- be relatively affordable as risk of loss or damage is high (yes that excludes Leica!)
- be relatively small, light and discrete and easily carried on aircraft cabin luggage with weight limits of 5kg.
- have acceptable image quality and offer something more than your smartphone such as faster, more reliable AF, ability to use without needing your reading glasses, ability to shoot wide angle (eg. 24mm in full frame terms), at least short telephoto (eg. at least 150mm in full frame terms), ability to handle low light scenes hand held (MUST have sensor shift image stabiliser, adequate high ISO performance to ISO 3200 and at least 16 megapixels)
- be ergonomic and comfortable to hold for hours whilst walking without resorting to camera straps.
- be able to send images via WiFi to smartphone for uploading to internet without need for using a computer.
- have a viewfinder so you can see what you are shooting even in bright sunlight, and this also allows you to hold the camera more steady in low light.
- must have a nice selection of quality native lenses (this excludes most APS-C sensor sized cameras apart from Fujifilm)
- preferably be weathersealed so you can shoot in the rain or not have it damaged by accidental water leaks in your bag, and if that gelati or pigeon droppings hits your camera you can just wash it off with a bottle of water.
- preferably have a good sensor dust prevention mechanism – Olympus has the best ultrasonic system as they invented it, Panasonic has borrowed the system from Olympus, Canon R has a automatic shutter closure when camera is turned off which is promising, Sony and Nikon Z cameras have the worst issues according to Tony Northrup and the Sony cameras really need to have the sensor cleaned before each shoot!
- preferably have an articulated screen so you can shoot selfies or selfie videos while walking.
My preferred kits if you have the money
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
This is the only camera which fulfills all of the above and is a joy to carry and use even with larger, heavier, pro quality weathersealed lenses.
It is so feature rich that there are very few features that are missing from this camera and the larger battery allows better battery life, while the two SD cards gives you options of backing up SD cards on the run or shooting to both cards simultaneously for security against card loss or corruption.
Discounted price is currently around $AU1870 body only.
This could be mated with lenses such as:
- Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO for the ultimate in telephoto zoom versatility and image quality (I would leave the bulky lens hood off unless you expect to shoot in the rain, and I would remove the tripod mount to reduce bulk and weight). I often use this as my ONLY lens for walk-around, knowing I can use my iPhone for wider field of view shots, or I might add in a compact, light lens such as a 12mm f/2 or if I am thinking of capturing ultra-wide images, I will take the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens but there is also a nice Panasonic 8-18mm or the awesome 10-25mm f/1.7 lens.
- Olympus micro ZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS PRO for a smaller, lighter, one lens option with awesome image stabilisation of 6.5 stops allowing many seconds of hand holdable exposures at the 12mm end. You may wish to mate this with a compact wide aperture lens for moving subjects in low light or for use at night or indoor social events such as an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 or 45mm f/1.8 lens.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III
This has most of the capabilities of the E-M1 Mark II, and adds in 5x SLO-MO video in a smaller, more compact camera making it THE BEST SELFIE VLOGGING CAMERA when combined with a small, compact wide angle lens.
Discounted price is currently around $AU1615 body only.
The main issue with the camera is that it is TOO SMALL for comfortably holding larger, heavier lenses such as the PRO weathersealed lenses, HOWEVER, this can be easily addressed by adding in the optional grip although availability at this time may be problematic.
But the small, compact size when mated with a small pancake lens does allow this camera to fit into a jacket pocket for even more discrete walk about use in high risk places or just in pubs, etc.
This could be mated with lenses such as:
- Olympus 12-200mm lens has a super zoom range in a compact, light, weathersealed lens is more a priority than the sharpest image quality (it is not the sharpest lens at 200mm, but then you are getting an amazing telephoto zoom reach in such a small, light lens!
- Olympus “consumer” prime lenses if not buying the grip, although these are not weathersealed, eg. Olympus 12mm f/2.0, Olympus 17mm f/1.8, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and perhaps the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 if you are want blurred, less complicated backgrounds for your portraits, or just need a brilliant short telephoto lens for low light.
- any of the lenses as for the E-M1 II IF you buy the optional grip.
Alternatives include the Panasonic G9 (an excellent, larger, less expensive camera which lacks PDAF AF and instead uses the less effective DFD technology which only works with Panasonic lenses but worth considering and is better value than the cheaper Panasonic GX9) and perhaps the Sony a7III (but this requires larger, heavier, expensive lenses and has poor ergonomics requiring a grip), or a Fuji system (most do not have sensor shift IS apart from the XH-1 and the lenses are expensive).
My suggestion for those on a budget:
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
This is a similarly sized camera to the E-M5 III but lacks many of its features including PDAF for focus on fast moving subjects, the articulating swivel rear screen for selfies, weathersealing, and the image stabilisation is not as effective while the sensor is only 16mp not 20mp, shutter only to 1/4000th sec instead of 1/8000th sec, and there is no HiRes mode, but it does have a built-in pop-up flash instead of the separate bundled flash.
Despite these issues, it is great value and you can get a TWIN lens kit (standard zoom and telephoto zoom) with the lovely low light Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens thrown in for free at a great discounted total kit price of only $AU799 which is pretty awesome when you consider the 25mm lens itself normally sells for $AU399 and will give a boost to this kit’s low light, and portrait capabilities.
The Panasonic G7 is also available in a twin lens kit and available for a discounted $AU755 after EFTpos gift card redemption. It has the advantage over the E-M10 of having DFD AF which is better for fast moving subjects than the CDAF only technology on the E-M10, but you don’t get the extra low light portrait lens thrown in and it doesn’t have sensor-shift image stabilisation.
Most of the alternatives at this price point have significant deficiencies such as EVF issues, poor flash sync speed, and lack of sensor-shift image stabilisation (Sony a6100, Fujifilm X-A7).