Heading on a summer holiday is certain to provide you with some fantastic photographic opportunities. Whether it’s new and exotic landscapes, inspiring cultures or treasured family moments at the beach, you’ll need the right camera by your side to capture it all. But with so much choice out there, what is the perfect model to pack?
There’s lots to consider, from the size and weight of the body and lenses, to image quality and features, and of course, the price. Space is often at a premium in your luggage, so we’ve discounted bulky DSLRs from our round-up.
Instead, we’ve checked out ten of the best small and lightweight compact system camera (CSC) kits, to help you choose the perfect camera to accompany you on your next jaunt.
1. Sony Alpha 5100
With a 24.3MP APS-C sized sensor at its heart, the Sony Alpha 5100 offers the joint-top resolution of any CSC in our collection.
The large sensor is supported by a speedy BIONZ X image processor, which gives the camera an impressive ISO range of 100-25,600, while also suppressing noise at higher sensitivities. It’s capable of shooting at a reasonable 6fps, and the battery is set to last for 400 shots off a full charge, which should be more than enough for a busy day out-and-about shooting.
The camera comes with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and the 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C sensor gives it a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-75mm. Also built into the lens is an optical image stabilisation system to help keep your images sharp when shooting handheld at slower shutter speeds.
For focusing, the Alpha 5100 employs a Fast Hybrid AF system, which uses both phase-detect and contrast-detect for greater speed, accuracy and frame coverage. The AF system has 179 points available for selection, making it easy to keep track of moving subjects across the frame, even when shooting Full HD video. On the rear there’s a 921k-dot touchscreen which lets you set the focus point with the tap of your finger, or scroll through images with a swipe, just like using a smartphone. It also tilts through 180º, allowing you to compose accurately from challenging angles.
Also included with the Sony Alpha 5100 is both Wi-Fi and NFC, which allow you to instantly connect the camera to your smart device, and there are a number of apps available to help you share images with friends, edit your shots or enhance your shooting experience with remote Live View. On the front of the camera is a protruding finger grip with a texturised rubber surface that allows a firm hold. The top-plate and rear control panel are uncluttered, and the buttons are ergonomically laid out. At 399g, the Alpha 5100 is lightweight, and small enough to slip into your pocket.
All in all, it’s a very attractive camera to take on holiday, offering superb image quality and lots of useful features.
Fast AF performance
Small and lightweight
No 4K video functionality
2. Nikon 1 J5
Measuring less than 10cm across, the Nikon 1 J5 is the smallest CSC in our round-up, making it a great candidate to take on holiday.
Despite its slender size, Nikon has managed to cram a huge amount of features into this CSC, including 4K video. At the core of the camera there’s a 20.8MP Nikon CX format sensor, which has a 2.7x crop factor, meaning the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28-70mm. The lens comes with Nikon’s image stabilisation system, letting you shoot up to 4 stops slower without camera shake.
The smaller sensor means the ISO range is limited to 160-12,800, but equally also allows the J5 to shoot at a blistering 60fps with the focus locked, or 20fps with continuous AF. For focusing there’s a Hybrid AF system with 171 points and wide frame coverage. Also included is a 3in 1037k-dot tilting touchscreen, as well as Wi-Fi and NFC for pairing to smartphones and tablets for easy image sharing. You might want to pick up a spare battery though, as it only lasts for 250 shots from a single charge.
Smallest and lightest in group
Fast frame rate of 60fps
Small CX format sensor
Battery life could be better
3. Canon EOS M10
Priced at just £295, the Canon M10 is the second most affordable CSC in our selection, and you get a lot of features for your money.
The camera is built around an 18MP APS-C sized sensor, and is powered by a DIGIC 6 processor. This pairing gives the M10 an ISO range of 100-12,800, but the top shooting speed is limited to a fairly pedestrian 4.6fps – the slowest in our round-up. The sensor has a 1.6x crop factor, so the 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-72mm. The lens also has built-in image stabilisation, allowing you to shoot up to 3.5 stops slower without the risk of camera shake.
For focusing there’s the Hybrid CMOS AF II system, and it has 49 points available for selection, and makes use of phase detection for faster and more accurate focus setting. On the rear there’s a 3in 1040k-dot tilting touchscreen, which flips all the way round to shoot self-portraits, and you can set the focus point with the tap of a finger. Also included is Wi-Fi and NFC for pairing with smart devices, and Full HD for capturing video.
1040k-dot tilt and touch screen
18MP APS-C sized sensor
Slow top shooting speed
Fairly low native ISO range
Read the full review: Canon EOS M10
4. Panasonic Lumix GF7
The GF7 is notably smaller and lighter than the other Panasonic CSC in our round-up – the GX80 – making it a better partner for travel.
But despite being more diminutive, it still offers many of the same features. Both cameras employ a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, which provides users with a wide ISO range of 200-25,600 for low light shooting. They also share a 3in 1040k-dot tilting LCD, and offer the same touch functionality. Some sacrifices have been made in order to accommodate the smaller frame of the GF7, and it lacks the EVF found in the GX80. The contrast-detect AF system has been stripped back too, with only 23 points available for focusing.
The GF7 is also a little slower when it comes to the top burst rate, and is capable of firing at 5fps. Wi-Fi is still included, allowing you to connect the camera with smart devices via the Panasonic app. There’s no 4K video on the GF7, but you can still record Full HD video. These relinquished features not only save space and weight, but at £316 the GF7 is around half the price of the GX80.
1040k-dot tilt and touch screen
Small and lightweight body
Low battery life of 230 shots
Low number of AF points
5. Olympus PEN E-PL7
The E-PL7 from Olympus features a 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, and it’s accompanied by a 3-axis sensor shift system, which offers up to 3.5 stops of image stabilisation.
The sensor is paired with the TruePic VII engine, allowing for a wide ISO range of 200-25,600 and a top burst rate of 8fps. A 2x crop factor on the sensor means the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28-84mm. On the rear there’s a 3in 1037k-dot LCD. It tilts up 80º and down 180º – so you can shoot selfies – and it’s also touch sensitive so you can scroll through images or adjust settings with a tap or swipe of your finger.
The contrast-detect AF system offers a respectable 81-points, covering a good portion of the frame. The E-PL7 also includes Wi-Fi so you can transfer images to your smartphone or tablet without the need for cables. It’ll also shoot Full HD video and the battery will last you 350 shots. In terms of size and weight, it’s comparable to the waterproof Nikon 1 AW1, and the £399 price-tag places it in the middle of our CSC selection.
Fast shooting speed of 8fps
Impressive tilt and touch screen
Not particularly light or small
Cramped button layout
Read the full review: Olympus PEN E-PL7
6. Nikon 1 AW1
If your holiday involves snorkelling or plenty of pool time with the kids, then the Nikon 1 AW1 is worthy of your consideration.
It’s the only waterproof CSC on the market, and is tested up to a depth of 15m. It’s also rugged, as it’s shockproof up to 2m and can even operate in temperatures of -10ºC, so no matter what kind of holiday you’re taking, the AW1 won’t falter. Inside the fully-sealed body you’ll find a 14.2MP Nikon CX format sensor, which is the second smallest in our selection. It produces a 2.7x crop factor on the included 11-27.5mm f/3.5-6.1 kit lens, which gives it a 35mm equivalent focal length of 30-74mm.
The sensor is paired with the EXPEED 3A processor, giving the AW1 a fairly limiting ISO range of 160-6400. The small sensor does allow for an incredibly fast burst rate though, and the AW1 can shoot at 60fps with the focus locked, or 15fps if you want to use continuous AF. The Hybrid AF system has 135 points, making it easy to lock onto subjects across the frame. The AW1 is too big for your pocket, but being waterproof it’ll be a stand-out option for some.
Waterproof up to a depth of 15m
Super-fast 60fps burst rate
Small format 14.2MP sensor
No tilt or touchscreen
Read the full review: Nikon 1 AW1
7. Sony Alpha 7
Sporting a 24.3MP full-frame sensor, the Sony Alpha 7 offers the best image quality of any camera in our top ten.
It’s paired with a BIONZ X engine and delivers an ISO range of 50-25,600, giving it a wider sensitivity span than any other contender here. The Fast Hybrid AF system has 117 points, allowing more focusing control across the frame and greater accuracy when tracking moving subjects. Sat on the top of the solid magnesium alloy body is a large and bright EVF which packs in a 2359k-dot resolution. On the rear is a 3in 921k-dot LCD that tilts to help when composing, but there’s no touch functionality.
Also included is Wi-Fi and NFC to connect to smart devices, there’s Full HD video and the battery is good for 340 frames. Included in the kit is a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 lens with an optical stabilisation system to keep camera shake at bay. The Sony Alpha 7 is the largest and heaviest CSC in our round-up, so it won’t suit everyone. At £875 it’s the most expensive too, although it’s exceptional value for a full-frame camera.
24.3MP full-frame sensor
Fast Hybrid AF system
Large and heavy body
Read the full review: Sony Alpha 7
8. Panasonic Lumix GX80
The Panasonic GX80 is built around a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor which features 5-axis image stabilisation.
It’s paired with a Venus Engine and delivers an impressive ISO range of 200-25,600, with a fast top shooting speed of 8fps. On the rear there’s a 3in 1040k-dot tilting touchscreen, making it easy to snap a selfie or scroll through shots with the swipe of a finger. If you prefer to compose with a viewfinder, there’s a 2764k-dot EVF too. The GX80 also offers 4K video, which lets you grab an 8MP still from a movie clip, or even set the focus after shooting with the Post Focus feature. Included in the kit is a 12-32mm lens, which has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-64mm. However, it’s expensive at £599 and is also one of the biggest and heaviest CSCs on test.
1040k-dot tilt and touchscreen
4K video and Post Focus mode
Large and heavy body
Read the full review: Panasonic GX80
9. Fujifilm X-A2
The Fuji X-A2 will keep shooting longer than any other camera in our round-up, as the impressive battery capacity lasts for 410 shots from one charge.
It powers the 16MP APS-C sized sensor, and a 1.5x crop factor means the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II kit lens has a full-frame equivalent focal length of 24-75mm, which also features in-lens image stabilisation. The X-A2 has a native ISO range of 200-6400, a 3in 920k-dot tilting screen and a 49-point Intelligent AF system. Also included is Wi-Fi, Full HD video and a shooting speed of 5.6fps. However, the X-A2 is one of the biggest and heaviest CSCs in our round-up, so there are more portable cameras out there.
Good battery performance
175º tilting 920k-dot LCD
Heavy and larger body
Limited ISO performance
10. Pentax Q-S1
The Q-S1 is the most affordable and lightest CSC in our selection, making it ideal for those on a budget or travelling light.
However, the 1/1.7in CMOS sensor is notably smaller than its rivals, and offers a resolution of 12.4MP. The chip has a 4.55x crop factor, giving the 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 kit lens a 35mm equivalent focal length of 23-68mm. The ISO spans 100-12,800, the contrast-detect AF system offers 49 points for setting the focus, and the sensor features built-in Shake Reduction to help keep detail sharp at slower shutter speeds. The Q-S1 can also fire at 5fps, record Full HD videos and the battery will last you for 250 shots.
Small and lightweight
In-body Shake Reduction
Physically smaller sensor
Low resolution and basic LCD
This group test was first published in the July 2016 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.