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November 01, 2007

Cameras for Travel

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm drafting this November 1st, having survived yet another birthday. (I need to write my -- extremely liberal -- congressman regarding what happens when I subtract my birth year from the current year. For some reason that result keeps getting larger. That seems unfair. Clearly a Republican plot: heartless bastards.)

I'm also on the road. In the Bay Area right now and heading to points south and a possible Michael Blowhard sighting. And today my sister is off to Bhutan, of all places.

Nancy (my sister, not my wife) packs two cameras when she goes to exotic places. One is a pocket-sized digital and the other is a digital single lens reflex (SLR) type digital.

I own a couple of film SLRs -- Nikon Fs that I bought 45-ish years ago while stationed in the Far East. Plus four or five extra lenses. Not to mention Dad's Nikon F, which I inherited. None of these cameras has been used in about 30 years. Nor are they likely to be used again (for one thing, they probably need reconditioning).

The travel pix I post here from time to time are taken with a Nikon S5 pocket digital. It does a surprisingly good job, though telephoto shots are iffy even though the camera seems to try to stabilize the images while in that mode.

On my recent trip to Italy, a tour group member was a woman who paints murals in houses. Apparently Tuscan scenes are a popular subject, so she thought it was high time to see the place in person rather than rely only on reference photos from books and magazines. She shelled out something like $1,400 for a Canon with a huge zoom lens to take her own reference photos. I took a picture of her and her husband with it, and the viewfinder, etc. were mighty impressive.

I'm sure my photography would improve if I had such gear. Still, I'd hate to have it stolen: Lord knows one can't discretely hide heavy artillery of that sort. Which is why my little pocket Nikon is my weapon of choice on trips.

But still ...

Camera packin' readers: How do you deal with the digital camera convenience versus quality issue when you take a serious trip?



posted by Donald at November 1, 2007


It is a puzzle, isn't it? Like all rubes I dream of one camera that does it all -- quality, convenience, portability, precision. And that fits in a small pocket. And whose video clips are great, and editable in iMovie. And costs less than $300. No such thing, I guess. But soon!

Real photographers I've known tell me that they own and use many cameras, and pack the one (or two) that's likely to suit the circumstances best. Might be a giant SLR for one thing, and a P&S that fits in a jeans pocket for another.

Me, I carry a $150 Kodak that takes perfectly fine snaps, decent vidclips, and (most important for me) is very easy to use. It's a little lame in low light, though.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 1, 2007 1:06 PM

My Sony Ericsson phone/MP3-player has a decent enough camera to never leave home without it. Even though it has fixed focus, it works amazingly well under low light conditons.

I would say that has been the major change in photography for me, over the years. I moved over to digital photography fairly early, but until that phone there always was the hassle of not forgetting to take that camera along, and to have its battery loaded, or whatever, that made picture taking a planned affair, not a spontaneous one.

So, just to be able to point and click at any moment, was a breakthrough.

Posted by: ijsbrand on November 1, 2007 2:26 PM

This is all you need to know about a good travel camera...

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on November 1, 2007 2:57 PM

The megapixels & memory are getting so big these days, a little pocket camera can take great pictures with the right settings, and a little time with Photoshop. Unless you are a pro photographer, then the convenience of putting the sucker in your pocket or on your belt beats the extra performance you get lugging a camera bag around.

Happy birthday!

Posted by: AP on November 1, 2007 3:05 PM

Canon has moved on to the S5 by now, but I love my S2 IS. Doesn't fit into a pocket, but is small enough to carry in a pretty small bag, or some other carry-on item.

Posted by: missgrundy on November 1, 2007 3:27 PM

Charlton takes a lot of mighty fine pix with his Panasonic. And updated version of his camera that I've been drooling over (but haven't yet bought) is this. 10x zoom! With wide-wide-angle at the short end! And pocketable? And less than $250!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 1, 2007 3:34 PM

Canon PowerShot. Mine is outdated already - 510, there are newer and cheaper models now (of course). Good enough for me, an amateur. I use it to document, not self-express. Surprisingly, quite a few people liked the result.

A companion, professional photographer, on a recent trip to Quebec used much more sound equipment. It'll be interesting to see and compare our pictures - of the same subject.

Posted by: Tat on November 1, 2007 5:10 PM is a great site for reviews and news on the best digital cameras. If they give a camera a highly recommended rating you can pretty much take that to the bank.

I personally, schlep a major amount of photo gear on driving trips, where trunk space allows a digital slr (Canon 5D) with multiple lenses, tripod and paraphernalia. Additionally, I usually have a decent Point and Shoot handy for those snap shot moments. When I fly, I pair my gear down to a slingbag with a single body, one lens, and a point and shoot.

Currently I'm thinking about upgrading my point and shoot to the Canon G9. It shoots RAW, which is important to me, but may be of less interest to you.

Posted by: Rick on November 2, 2007 9:58 AM

If you want to avoid an SLR, there are really two classes of cameras: small, pocketable cameras, and larger all-in-ones with long zoom lenses.

For both, I recommend older machines that can still be bought new, refurbished with warranty, or used in good condition. That makes them cheaper and less worrisome if lost. Moreover, they were made before producers started to go insane putting 8 or 9 or 10 useless, noisy megapixel specs in tiny cameras whose sensors aren't that good.

For a small cam with low light capabilities (low noise), it's hard to beat either the Fuji F30 or F20. Very good at ISO 400 or 800, so very useful inside museums when used without flash or in restaurants. Modern point and shoots have more noise.

For a superzoom all-in-one, I recommend the classic 5 Megapixel Panasonic FZ5. The latest Panas have too many pixels and waaaay too much noise. The Fz5 is harder to find than the Fujis, but is a really good buy and allows you to take pics.

Both are cheap, though you mostly have to buy used (I think you can still get the F20 brand new from some retailers?)

Posted by: wonk on November 2, 2007 1:22 PM

I'm still torn on what sort of digital camera I'd want largely because of the travel/ease-of-carrying issue. Manual options or convenience?

While browsing the camera selection at Target, I noticed the Canon A720 Powershot, a compact P&S, has 6x optical zoom for $250.

Likewise the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3K with 10x Optical that people have mentioned both would seem to negate the need for the larger super-zoom style cameras that are not DSLRs.

Posted by: claire on November 4, 2007 5:29 PM

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