The Best Travel Product of the Year May Also Be the Best Travel Camera Ever Made

In an era when every traveler has a smartphone in their hands, Fujifilm makes a case for putting it away — and pulling out a real camera instead.

Chandler Bondurant

This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.

The idea of a “travel camera” is a confusing one in 2019. Just about everyone who’s traveling already has one on their phone, and odds are, it’s pretty good. Multiple lenses paired with technological effects like portrait mode, HDR and ultra-low-light settings all mean that not only are high-end smartphones incredibly convenient, their images are more than attractive enough to induce #FOMO when viewed at 600 pixels wide on Instagram.

So where does that leave something like the Fujifilm X-T30? Dollar for dollar, it’s maybe the best travel camera ever made, but —- like an idyllic sunset seen on vacation but not posted to social media — does it even matter?

Simple, intuitive controls and perfect neo-vintage design put the X-T30 over the top.

Before we dive into the deeper question, a little justification of that rather bold claim about the X-T30. Fujifilm is generally considered (at least among our photo staff) to make the best cameras available for less than $2,000. There’s a greatness about their cameras, going all the way back to 2011’s X100 and ramping up with the introduction of its X-Trans sensor in the X-Pro1 in 2012. (Without getting too nerdy, X-Trans is a rearrangement of the color filter that sits in front of the sensor, helping to improve issues like noise and grain structure.) The colors are fantastic, the sharpness and micro-contrast are great and the film modes (simulations of old Fujifilm film stocks) are way better than they have any right to be. The current flagship, the X-T3, reflects these qualities better than any camera the brand has made.

The X-T30 is effectively the travel-size brother of that phenomenal X-T3. It’s a bit smaller and lighter, gives up a couple features and is a full $600 cheaper than the $1,500 XT-3. What’s most important though, is what remains unchanged: the 30 boasts the excellent X-Trans sensor, color science, autofocus, processing speed, burst speed, physical dials (sans ISO dial), general control scheme and semi-retro aesthetics as its bigger brother. What, then, makes it 40 percent less expensive? The camera isn’t weather sealed, the video capability is (slightly) stunted and the viewfinder is smaller— but these compromises are more than fair for the price. You’re not going to find another camera under $1,000 that can surpass the X-T30.

Further Reading
The Best Vintage Cameras You Can Still Buy
3 Great Cameras to Buy Under $1,000

So what makes a good travel camera, and why is this one so well-suited for the task? Outrageously high image quality is a must (gotta justify using it over your phone, after all) and the X-T30 has that in spades. That’s in part thanks to the excellent sensor, but it’s Fujifilm’s suite of lenses — especially its fast and compact prime lenses — that make the biggest difference. No portrait mode in the world can get close to the pure optical perfection of Fuji’s 35mm f/1.4. Other requirements for travel camera excellence? Straightforward controls, good battery life, a lightweight body, easy wireless connectivity (for all-important social media posting), decent video capability and a reasonable price. There are individual cameras that can do many of these things better than the X-T30 — but holistically, nothing else ticks all the boxes.

The biggest downside of the X-T30? That’d be the viewfinder, it’s bright and it’s sharp but you just can’t fit a viewfinder as big as the X-T3 or other, larger cameras in this compact of a package. Photo: Fujifilm

All of this skirts around the bigger, more difficult question: Why bother with a stand-alone camera at all? After all, an iPhone 11 Pro has no fewer than four cameras on board, not to mention computational photography, studio-lighting modes, a form factor that can’t be beat — and it’ll let you play Angry Birds. The answer is twofold. There’s the objective reason: the photos are better, plain and simple. On top of greater resolution than a phone camera, the X-T30 offers vastly superior lenses, sensor performance and user control.

The other reason…well, that’s more subjective. By nature, a phone is an everyday object, mired in loathsome associations with work, stress, social media and other parts of your life that you’re on vacation to avoid. These days, a camera can represent purposeful, meaningful engagement with one’s surroundings. The very act of shooting on a device dedicated solely to pictures adds emotional depth to the photos — at least, in the eye of the shooter. Grabbing a travel camera to shoot with can enrich an experience in a way a smartphone rarely will. So while you’re grabbing one, you might as well grab the best one of 2019.

Sensor Size: 26.1 megapixels
ISO Range: 160 – 12,800
Max Continuous Shooting: 8 frames per second
Price: $899 (body)

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