Wide angle lens, face detection, HD video recording and HDMI output are common features that you find in most digital cameras these days. In addition to these features, what you need most while you’re travelling or sight-seeing is a good zoom lens that helps you capture fine details in distant objects. And you would want all of this in a compact form factor rather than toting a bulky digital camera that does the same job. DSLRs and super-zoom cameras are different stories altogether, but travel zooms are all about zoom lenses housed in compact, lightweight bodies along with a good feature set.
Those who swear by full manual controls can go with models that offer the same, while others can pick from a variety of models that don’t require users to know anything about exposure parameters and how they work – the camera automatically detects the type of scene and uses optimal values. In addition to this, you get effects such as fish eye, toy camera and miniature that help you capture great-looking shots without having to post-process. Some models also allow capturing videos with effects enabled. An interesting feature that’s gradually becoming common is a built-in GPS receiver.
The camera automatically records the coordinates of the location in which the photos are shot and embeds them in the image files. You can then use geo-tagging tools to place your photos on the map and perform location-based searches. Read on to find out more features and what you should look for when buying a travel zoom camera. Our detailed table with scores will help you make a good decision.
The Canon PowerShot SX240 HS and SX260 HS are successors to the SX220 HS and SX 230 HS respectively. Just like their predecessors, the newer models feature the same specifications, except that the SX260 HS features a built-in GPS receiver. While the design and form factor hasn’t changed much, many features have been upgraded. The most significant changes are improved optics and the new DIGIC V image processing engine. The former models featured a 14x zoom lens with a focal length of 28 mm at the widest end.
The SX260 HS improves on both the wide and telephoto ends with a 25-500 mm lens which translates to 20x optical zoom. This means you can capture wider shots from the same distance and also zoom farther. The size of the LCD display hasn’t changed but Canon has changed the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 4:3. So, no more black bands on the sides of the display while you’re shooting. One thing quite annoying about the former models was the flash which used to pop up as soon as the camera powered on.
Canon SX 250
Canon has ironed out this issue with a motorized mechanism that sticks out the flash only when required. The UI is very intuitive. With the presence of a mode dial and a 5-way d-pad and jog wheel for menu navigation, even a first-timer would get used to the camera in no time. In addition to the Auto and Program modes, the camera offers semi and full manual exposure controls. The effect filters are a common feature of most Canon digital cameras.
You can tinker with fish-eye, miniature, toy camera, soft focus and a few other effects to get some really creative shots. Since the SX240 HS and SX260 HS are almost identical, they shouldn’t differ in performance. The SX260 HS delivered stunning results in daylight. The reproduction of colors and details was excellent. The indoor performance was good, particularly results at high ISO. You can safely go up to ISO 800 without worrying about below average results. The SX260 HS is one of the best travel zooms you can pick, but if GPS isn’t of importance to you, then you can opt for the SX240 HS, which costs Rs 3,000 less.
The Canon SX150 IS makes for a great budget superzoom camera, featuring a 14.1 MP 1/.3-inch CCD sensor. It boasts an ISO speed range from ISO 80 to 1600 and aperture value of F3.4 – F5.6. The camera uses the old-school AA batteries which can either be a boon or a pain. But if you plan on using regular branded batteries and a slow speed SD card, we suggest you keep a couple of spare batteries at your disposal. We suggest using some high power rechargeable batteries along with a class 10 SDHC memory card. We also noticed the flash recharge to be pretty slow. It can take you at least five seconds to get the next shot in low light.
The SX150 IS has a very rugged shell, but the camera is pretty bulky thanks to the use of AA batteries. We initially thought that the size and the weight would hinder the ergonomics, but the easy-to-use interface and the control panel (especially the jog dial) makes handling the camera a breeze. The control panel is ergonomic and it features all the buttons and shortcuts you would need conveniently placed within the reach of your fingers. But we did notice a big flaw—the video recording button is placed right under the thumb, which can accidentally be triggered when using the camera singlehandedly.
Canon SX 150
The manual mode on the mode dial gives the user complete control over the exposure, which is similar to what you get in DSLRs. This makes the SX150 IS an ideal budget choice for beginners wanting to get their hands dirty with professional photography. The camera also performs at par with the elder brother, the Canon SX260 HS in terms of RAW performance. Speaking of performance, the camera does very well in broad daylight and above average when shooting indoors. It has excellent sharpness, good contrast value with an excellently close macro range of just 1 cm. But the camera loses out completely when shooting in poorly lit areas.
Shooting videos was also pretty disappointing as we noticed a lot of jittering especially during panning. Videos can be shot at HD resolutions with stereo audio, but sadly, we witnessed below average video results.
We tested a total of 7 cameras of which the above mentioned proved to be better options. Here's a quick look at the full list complete with specs and ratings. Please click the image for larger viewing.
Scores out of 5, Prices are indicative and are subject to change, taxes extra