Written by 3:20 pm Gear Reviews, Photography, Travel and Vacation Photography

Small Cameras with Big Impact: Traveling Light without Compromising Quality

Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE our big cameras, especially those pro bodies with huge, high-quality glass. Lugging it around, however, is not so ideal – especially while on vacation or during situations where there just isn’t a lot of room to shoot.

High-quality sensors are coming in smaller and smaller form factors, which is good news for globe-trekking photographers or for those who simply need to pack lightly. These small cameras are perfect for:

  • Hiking to get that great sunrise/sunset shot from a high vantage.
  • Inconspicuously taking candids out on the street.
  • Using auto or fully-manual settings on a simplified system.

Here are 5 recommended small cameras with incredible image quality:

These full frame cameras sport 24 MP sensors and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lenses. They shoot full HD 1080p video and have incredible low-light performance. The “R” version lacks an optical low-pass filter, which is ideal for catching extra detail in landscape shooting. The only bummer about these? You’re stuck with that lens. However, on the full frame sensor the 35mm is a great walking-around focal length and the all-metal Zeiss construction is top notch. Another great small-form-factor offering from Sony is their NEX series of mirrorless cameras (with some sample images here).


Plus, the RX series is just lovely looking.

This retro-looking, handsomely-built micro four thirds camera does full HD 1080p video and shoots stills up to 9 FPS on its 16MP sensor. It is very slim and yet still accepts interchangeable lenses, like the fast 17mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO. Many of our street photographers extol the virtues of this camera.

Another retro beauty, the X100s comes equipped with film simulations, a fast 23mm fixed lens, and a 16MP sensor. It also shoots full HD video and supports a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. Don’t like the idea of a fixed lens? Try out the Fuji X-Pro 1 instead. It shoots RAW, sports cool analog dials and pairs with the following lenses: Fuji XF 18mm f/2.0 RFuji XF 35mm f/1.4Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, and the XF 27mm f/2.8. More info on the Fuji X100s here.

Canon’s first mirrorless system allows you to use this diminutive body with any Canon lens with the help of an EF to EF-M adapter. It’s equipped with Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 Image Processor and an 18 MP sensor. Don’t want to mess with an adapter? Rent the M-compatible EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens, which includes the new Stepping Motor technology that can auto-focus quietly and provide continuous tracking of a moving subject. The rental of the Canon EOS-M automatically comes with a 22mm EF-M f/2 STM lens.


This defeats the purpose of using the Canon EOS-M for its size but, with the adapter, you CAN do this. Which is sort of awesome.

While only supporting a 10MP sensor, the Nikon V1 is one of the quickest shooters in the small-camera world with 10 FPS bursts in autofocus mode. It’s CX mount offers a variety of tiny (TINY!) lenses, such as the Nikon 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1 Nikkor 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6. It can also shoot interesting and effective slow motion footage (up to 1200 FPS) at 320×120.

The Leica M9 is kind of a different beast being the only rangefinder in this bunch. It has a “range-finding” focusing mechanism that shows two images of the same subject, one of which moves when a calibrated wheel is turned and the two images coincide and fuse into one. It is a wholly different way of focusing on your subject and takes some getting used to.  It is full frame, 18MP, and has that satisfyingly retro-sounding (and discreet) metal blade-style shutter. Pairs with a decently large range of lenses. Check out Rolling Stone contributor, Drew Gurian’s, sample images from our Lecia M9.

All of these cameras have the option of shooting in fully manual mode, so you do not have to give up creative control to carry a lighter load. Simply toss one of these in your day bag knowing that you can travel comfortably toward your next unique shot.

Tags: , , , , Last modified: June 4, 2020