Recently I was reflecting on a road trip that my wife and I took through the Southwest a couple years after college. When I started to think more about that trip, I could not recall what camera we used. I think we used my wife’s point and shoot, brace yourself, film camera. See kids, back in the day, people had to carry rolls of film with them when they went on vacation. All joking aside, I think that camera was the most advance piece of technology we took with us on that 3500 mile journey. How we made it back to Santa Barbara, I will never know.
There are currently five tech tools that I am not without on most trips. I figured I would provide my thoughts and insights as to the usefulness (read necessity) and the disadvantages (really there aren’t any) of each. So here they are, read ‘em and cheer!
Over the course of the next few weeks I will be posting an article on each of these five tech tools for travel. Make sure you register for the site or subscribe through RSS or email to make sure you are notified when each part is published.
The Digital Camera:
With no less than five digital cameras in our home now, I think we are prepared for any number of Kodak moments. Why so many? Two reasons. One, the rate of technology changes can drive anyone insane or at least empty you checking account. Second, based on your travel and photography need, you may find different devices are more suited to one situation over another.
Our first digital camera, a Fuji, was bought just before a trip to London. I was so excited, we could take over a hundred pictures on my huge 128MB memory card. Don’t laugh, that was a decent size card in 2002. While just a simple point and shoot, it did the job just fine. Enough reminiscing though, what do I carry today and what would I recommend for most travelers? Keep on reading.
Different travel situations can call for different camera needs. For example, if you are going on safari to Africa, my Fuji point and shoot 1.3 mega pixel, probably would not be my camera of choice. For an adventure where you will need to stop motion, zoom, and take wide angle shots, I would highly recommend a digital SLR camera. The SLR will allow you to change lenses based on your current photographic need. There are tens if not hundreds of books written on digital SLR so I will not go into any further detail here. I currently use a Canon Rebel XT with multiple image stabilizing lenses for these travel situations.
The most current model of the Rebel is the Rebel XSi. It is a 12.2 megapixel. Among the many improvements over my model is the 3.0-inch LCD monitor and the CMOS sensor and DIGIC III processor which can optimize pictures for highlight-shadow control.
For our point and shoot needs my wife uses a Canon SD870 IS. This is a very capable 8 mega pixel point and shoot digital camera. It has multiple scene modes, a high quality movie mode (we do not even use our digital video camera any more), and a 3 inch screen to preview and review our pictures. A useful feature has been the face detection. A common issue with portrait photography can be ensuring you have your subject in focus. Most PowerShot models now come with face detection. This feature can detect faces in the frame and ensure they are in focus when you snap the picture.
The PowerShot SD990 IS, the newest model in SD line up boasts a 14.7-megapixel sensor and improved face detection. Since technology is advancing at such a rapid rate, you can almost get everything you need all in one camera.
So what are the most important features to look for in a digital camera for your next travel adventure? If you are going to take one camera, I would recommend you stick with a smaller, point and shoot camera over a SLR camera. A key aspect of the point and shoot cameras are their size. A couple of key advantages over SLR cameras is that many are lightweight and they are small enough to fit into your pocket. In addition to size and weight, there are three features that stand out to me, focal length, a wide variety of shooting modes, and optical image stabilization.
Focal length is critical because you will only have one lens with you if you bring a point and shoot and that lens is built into the camera. Optimally you can find a camera with a wide angle some where in the 28 to 30 mm 35mm film equivalent range. This will give you a wide enough lens to capture those breathtaking landscape scenes. As far as zoom, you should be fine with a 3x to 4x capability. This will not get you super close, but if the camera sensor has a capability of 8-megapixels or higher, almost the minimum these days, you will be able to crop the photo when you get home to meet most of your needs.
A wide variety of shooting modes are key because you will most like be shooting photos in many different light situations. The ability to manual control exposure and shutter speed are features found on all SLR and many advanced point and shoot cameras. If you do not know what these features are you are probably better off finding a camera with multiple shooting modes until you can learn to use the manual settings to create the image you want. There are many different shooting modes on cameras these days. The ones I find most useful are “foliage”, enhances the contrast of the greenery in your photos; “beach and snow”, prevents over exposure in these bright situations; and “night mode”, helps you take better pictures of people with city scenes in the background.
Optical image stabilization is a feature that is finding its way onto most midlevel digital point and shoot cameras. This features is important to you because you probably will not be carrying around a tripod with you on your travels. Optical image stabilization works by sensing your hands shaking as our are about to take a picture and then uses mechanics to compensate for the shaking. It works amazingly well. This also allows the camera to use a slower shutter speed in low light situations, making for higher quality photos.
In summary, I have found that a small point and shoot digital camera meets most of my travel photography needs. Certainly, if you are a more advanced photographer, this camera alone will not meet your needs. Still, for most travelers, the jack-of-all-trades digital point and shoot cameras fit the bill. What are your thoughts? Please join the conversation by writing comment below.