Travel | Travel Tips

Cameras

Cameras come in different varieties, mostly separated into three categories:

1. Consumer – Lightweight, easy to use with a lot of automatic modes and can be found at nearly any store that sells cameras. They are very often all in one cameras (often referrer to as point and shoot cameras) and low end Digital SLRs (single lens reflex cameras that offer the option of interchangeable lenses). The price range is generally $150 to $1000+ depending on the feature set. If you are a photography student on a budget or have a serious photographic bug to itch and don’t want to go broke then you should consider one of the following higher end consumer cameras: Nikon D90 (12.3 megapixels), Canon Digital Rebel T1i (15.1 megapixels), Canon XSi (12.2 megapixels), Nikon D5000 (12.3 megapixels) or Canon 50D (15.1 megapixels). The reason I am only recommending Canon and Nikon is because most serious photographers gravitate that way to be able to rent additional equipment or accessories and swap or borrow each others equipment. All of the recommend cameras shoot in camera RAW and JPEG mode for the most flexibility and highest quality files. Canon and Nikon cameras can also be serviced at most camera repair outlets in the world, not just the US... they are the two 800 pound gorillas in the photographic world.

There are literally hundreds of consumer cameras produced by many manfacturers and it would take too much time to try to choose the best cameras for personal vacations or family pictures on the consumer level, but I would base my decisions on several factors – ease of use, quality output, accessories, and availability of supplies (type of batteries, memory and/or film the camera uses).

2. Prosumer and Advanced Amateur  – These cameras are a substantial step up from the typical consumer based cameras. Most prosumer cameras are SLRs and since 2006 most of them are Digital SLRs. These cameras have a majority of the functions offered to professionals and only a slightly less durable build. The price for entry is fairly high, because the camera body comes by itself and most accessories have to be bought separately (i.e. lenses, flash, compact flash cards, etc.). Prosumer cameras are very good options for professionals as a second or backup body and for advanced amateurs, higher level photography students and those who find professional equipment cost prohibitive. The cost is usually in the $1,500 to $3,500 range. The most common Prosumer cameras are the Nikon D700 (12.1 megapixels, full frame sensor), Nikon D300 (12.3 megapixels, smaller DX sensor) and the Canon 5D  Mark II (an amazing 21.1 megapixels in a full frame sensor), are outstanding cameras.

3. Professional – High end Digital SLR cameras with automatic functions, manual over ride modes, fast automatic focusing, high burst rates (continuous frames per second), heavy and/or durable construction build (which leads to physically heavy cameras), wireless file transfer to computers, etc. another differientating factor is that all these cameras have a full frame sensor. The price for a professional digital SLR is generally $3,000 to $8,000. The leaders in this category are the Nikon D3X (24.5 megapixels), Nikon D3 (fast 12.3 megapixels), Canon 1DS Mark III (21.1 megapixels) and the Canon 5D Mark II (21.1 megapixels at a very reasonable price - yes it does overlap in the Prosumer and Professional categories). Canon has an edge in the professional market at the moment because Nikon let their professional customer service go down over several years (they have seen the light and brought it back) and Canon beat them to market with higher megapixel digital cameras that had great image quality. All these cameras are excellent and each has their strong points. Currently Canon has a price advantage in the professional category.

 

Professional cameras are going to fall into other categories as well, the most common being medium format, large format or view cameras and panoramic cameras. Most of these are not suited to the typical traveler.If you have questions on these cameras please do not hesitate to contact me and I'll help point you in the right direction(s).

The current race is no longer centered on megapixels, although image size and pixel density continue to be a factor, the ability to use  very low or very high ISO/ASA settings, color quality (more natural colors) and lack of noise (especially in longer exposures; such as night photography, low light conditions and sporting events) are where most of the research and development is headed.  

When you purchase digital cameras please take note on how they are packaged. Most SLR cameras are sold as a body only. All accessories must be purchased separately.

A camera is only as good as its lenses.  Lenses make a tremendous difference in image quality. Lenses can help you focus (auto focus or larger apertures to allow more light through the lens for focusing), can maintain or decrease contrast (due to higher quality glass or special glass elements), can control color through their coatings, can provide stability in shaky conditions (via the vibration reduction or image stabilization feature), etc.

 

Accessories include:

1. Lenses – I have a collection of lenses, each used for different purposes, and always carry a variety of lenses in my bag. I recommend three lenses, some people carry less, others carry more.

a. Wide Angle (18mm, 20mm, 24mm or a zoom such as a 17-35mm or similar) - officially anything below 43mm.
b. Normal (35mm, 50mm or a zoom such as a 28mm-70mm)
c. Telephoto (longer lenses… 135mm, 150mm, 180mm, 200mm, 300mm, 70mm-200mm zoom, 80mm-400mm zoom).  

Everything in photography is expensive, but the camera body and the lenses are the most important parts of the equation. The quality and speed of the lens is reflected in the price. f/2.8 lenses are very good. Some standard lenses go below the magic f/2.8 number, but zoom lenses rarely do. You actually get what you pay for in glass, it is one of the few places where a little extra money makes a big difference in the final product.

2. Flash – not a pop up flash, but one that can be mounted on top of the camera in the hot shoe, on the side of the camera or used off camera. Canon and Nikon both make excellent flashes. A good flash can cost $200 to $400+.  An internal camera flash is good for very short range photographs, mainly portraits and pictures less than ten feet from the camera. I recommend a top mounted flash or off camera flash to get more power and the ability to bounce it off walls or ceilings for a more muted or diffused natural looking light.

3. Compact Flash Cards, SD Memory Cards or other camera memory Cards – plenty of space for your digital pictures. I recommend nothing smaller than two gig. high speed memory cards. Most of the cameras above use compact flash cards (although the Nikon D80 uses SD memory). I recommend at least one, if not two, 2 or 4 gig. 133 Mhz. compact flash cards. It is much easier than you think to fill a card up, particularly when shooting in RAW mode or RAW + JPEG mode.

4. USB 2.0 Card Reader – a fast transfer of digital picture files to your computer or portable viewing device. Will work with PC or MAC.

Please note that USB 3.0 card readres should be available by the end of 2009 or the first quarter 2010.

5. Portable Downloader or Portable Viewing Device - This may come in the form a of a portable hard drive that has a card reader built into it. Simply plug the compact flash card into the hard drive and it downloads all your data which allows you to erase the compact flash card and continue using it. Manufacturers include Wolverine, Epson, Jobo and Smart Disk.

6. Comfortable Camera Bag – a camera bag or back pack that you feel comfortable carrying all day. Load it up and see how much it weighs, carry it around for a while and make any adjustments before you leave. I recommend Tenba, LowePro, Tamrac and/or anything else that you feel comfortable carrying on your shoulder(s) and/or back all day. 

7. Small, Lightweight Tripod – A tripod that is fairly unobtrusive (all tripods get in the way, but smaller ones are more often tolerated), light weight, easy to carry and must fit in your suitcase. I recommend a quick release head so it is fast and easy to place cameras on/off a tripod, but it is a personal preference. Please note that you often have to buy tripod legs and tripod head as separate pieces. Tripod legs and tripod heads can range from $30 to $600+  depending on what material(s) they are made of - aluminum, composite metals, carbon fiber, etc.

8. An additional battery (or set of batteries) is recommended, but is only warranted if you shoot a lot. If your cameras or music devices take AA batteries, buy a fresh pack or two before you leave. They are usually easy to find overseas, but you never want to get caught without them.

9. Microfiber Cleaning Cloth – I love these things. Use them to clean lenses, glasses, etc. They are approximately $5 to $7 depending on the brand name and where you buy them.

Last updated Saturday June 13, 2009