Th e WINNER IS…
It’s not the smallest or lightest camera on test, but it really is the best
It’s easy to forget that travel photography isn’t just about sunny beaches and rolling landscapes. For indoor shots of cathedrals, museums and the like, and for cityscapes after dark, you need a camera that gives good handheld results in low lighting conditions. Both of the D-SLRs on test give much better image quality than the 1 series and Coolpix cameras in these conditions, with greater retention of fine detail and less image noise. The D5500 edges ahead of the D3300 for cleanlooking images, the J4 and V3 perform rather less well but slightly better than the AW1, and the Coolpix compact cameras produce much noisier images, even at low ISOs.
In well-lit scenes the D5500 wins out again, with unbeatable sharpness, excellent dynamic range, sumptuous colour rendition and superb all-round image quality. Again, the D3300 comes a close second, followed by the 1-series cameras, while the Coolpix models bring up the rear. The Coolpix P610 is about the same size as the D-SLRs, and is only worth considering if you’re desperate for its monstrous 60x zoom range, at the expense of image quality. Indeed, it’s the Coolpix P7800 that gives the best overall image quality of any of the compact cameras with integral lenses, although the S9900 gives an arguably better compromise between quality and versatility with its 30x zoom lens.
The Nikon 1 bodies are all slim and lightweight, but the AW1 is much chunkier when you add its ‘all-weather’ zoom lens. The later-generation J4 and V3 deliver better image quality, but without the AW1’s thrill-seeking spirit. Overall image quality is a step up from the Coolpix cameras.
Undeniably, the D5500 and 18-55mm VR II kit lacks telephoto reach, but pop an additional Nikon 55-200mm VR II (just 300g) into a spare pocket and you’re good to go. You might also consider buying just the body, to use with one of the latest generation of Sigma 18-200mm or 18-250mm lenses, both of which are surprisingly small and lightweight for DX-format superzooms.