I am looking for a small camera for travel and want the best image quality available. What is your top recommendation, regardless of price?
It used to be the Sony RX100 series, but now that I have tested the Panasonic DMC-GM1, it's my top pick by a country mile. The DMC-GM1 offers the imaging power of a full-sized interchangeable lens camera in an impossibly small package.
If you appreciate good industrial design and love photography and nice cameras, the Panasonic DMC-GM1 is likely to invoke lust the moment you open the box. Its tiny form factor, retro-inspired styling, and jewel-like finish are stunning. Pictures simply don't do this camera justice. My admiration just added to the excitement of knowing the capabilities of the camera. This is no point and shoot camera, but an interchangeable lens camera with a big Micro Four Thirds sensor and the guts of Panasonic's critically acclaimed DMC-GX7.
The DMC-GM1 is sold with a collapsible 12-32mm zoom lens that is getting rave reviews for its optical quality. I took the camera to Paris and was able to fit the DMC-GM1 with its kit zoom lens and an Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens into a small belt pouch. This covered a 35mm equivalent range from 24mm to 90mm with two small, light, extremely sharp lenses. The zoom handled most of the imaging duties and I had a short, fast 45mm telephoto for portraits. The whole outfit was perhaps one-third the size of a typical digital SLR with kit zoom lens, while offering much more capability and no compromise in image quality.
The DMC-GM1 is really fun to use. Just use the sharp, responsive touchscreen to drag the focus point where you want, and press the button. It feels great in your hands and there are shooting modes and art filters to cover most every situation. Most importantly, the images it produces are outstanding in their sharpness, contrast, and color. Low-light capability is excellent as well.
The downsides are few. There is no viewfinder or external flash available, and the small size means you may hit the touchscreen inadvertently at times. At $749 (including lens) it is not inexpensive, but the price is a bargain given its quality and performance. I consider it an excellent value.