If money is no object the ‘full frame’ 35mm Sony RX1 R2 at £2,500, boasting a Carl Zeiss F2 35mm lens, doesn’t come cheap for a general purpose, street and travel photography, and it’s hardly a ‘pocket camera’, although you can always ‘throw’ it into a rucksack. Staying with Sony there’s the smaller, more pocketable RX100, sporting a 1” sensor, and costing a pound short of a grand. It comes with a zoom lens – which may, or may not, be an advantage to you, depending on which side of the fixed lens versus zoom debate you fall on. If you’ve got £8,000 hanging around you might choose a Leica M10 £5,850 with an F2.5 35mm lens (£1,399), or a 50mm F2 lens (£1,900). For £1,249 you could opt for the Fuji X1000F, which comes with a fixed F2 23mm lens coupled with a 24MP sensor.
For non-professionals, there are basically two types of cameras now, ones that fit into our pockets, in both senses of the word, which are usually mobile phones, and ones that don’t (everything else). Very few general purpose, walk about cameras are pocketable. The closest are enthusiast compacts like the Sony RX100 Mk V and the Canon G7X Mk II. It’s the non-retractable lens that turns most compact-ish cameras into non-pocketable cameras. It’s a shame camera manufacturers haven’t been able to design anything similar to the Panasonic C1 from a few years back, combining the form factor of a mobile phone with a 1” sensor, paired with a high quality retractable lens (offering a normal field of view). And if there was such a travel camera it would most certainly come with a premium price. Anyway, that’s is the state of play if you’re looking for a general purpose / travel camera.
What about the cheap alternatives?
There are bargains to be had out there. Probably not Leica M10s, no surprise there, but lots of other camera bodies and lenses. You can usually find them in the seasonal Amazon sales. Yes, they’re going to be last years models, ones that didn’t excite mainstream consumers, but they have a lot to offer enthusiast photographers. This year’s model is usually more of the same, with a few added gimmicks (that’s the state of photography). Add a cheap but decent lens, maybe a Sigma, or a second hand bargain and you’re all set to go!
What was my bargain?
The Sony A5100 was an awesome purchase I picked up during a week long Amazon sale some time ago. It can fit into a roomy coat pocket, but it wouldn’t describe it as pocketable. The sensors on these APS-C format cameras lie somewhere in-between compact cameras and what’s called ‘full frame’. While the quality is significantly better than a compact, especially in low light, these sorts of cameras come with trade-offs – most noticeably, larger lenses. To be non-technical about this, basically, due to the laws of physics larger size sensors require more glass that must be spaced further apart to work properly. The kit lens supplied with the Sony A5100 is bad. It’s soft, especially anywhere off centre, and it suffers from distortion that requires correction in software. Simply put – if you buy this camera you should buy another lens.
As I had a cheap-but-decent camera, I needed a cheap-but-decent lens. The obvious choice (which I went for), is the Sigma F2.8 30mm. It’s a great lens, no question about it. This lens combined with the Sony A5100’s 24MP sensor produces sharp images. Nothing is perfect though. I’ve never been happy with the video produced by the Sony A5100, preferring an iPhone 6 Plus instead. For stills, which is what I was after, this is a great combo though. If you can find a bargain camera, and add a bargain lens to it, you can end up with an excellent travel camera that’s amazing ‘bang for your buck’.