Selecting a Camera

All decisions about what to shove into a travel bag relate to your choice of camera. For most photographers, the camera is their most expensive and most important purchase. These days there are only two practical choices for the travel photographera point-and-shoot or a single lens reflex (SLR) (Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2. Compact cameras (also called point-and-shoot cameras) have the advantage of small size. The larger SLR cameras offer more capability, but are also more expensive and heavier. (Photo by Bill Durrence)

The term point-and-shoot is a misleadingit's used to refer to any compact camera without interchangeable lenses. An SLR camera is distinguishable from the point-and-shoot because it has interchangeable lenses. (Although some companies now make SLR cameras with a fixed lens and screw-on attachment lenses.) SLR cameras and specifically the cameras I'll talk about in this book are increasingly based on a digital sensor instead of film, making them dSLR cameras.

What's a Digital Sensor?

Digital technology in the camera market has increased the amount of choices available to the consumer, but it has also turned the photographic world on its head. For more than a hundred years, images were captured using a chemical process in which light striking a surface (most recently a film made from plastics and gelatin) would create a chemical reaction causing one part of the surface to darken create an image.

Until digital photography came along, consumers were limited by the size and shape of a roll of film. A variety of film sizes are available, but none are as small as the sensor in a digital camera.

Unlike film, the sensor in a digital camera is fixed in place. It is a piece of silicon that records incoming light not through a chemical change but by measuring the way light striking the sensor changes the electrical current in each of the little dots that make up the face of the chip. Every time the shutter release is pressed the digital sensor charges up with electricity and then gets struck by light entering the camera. The values of that incoming light are recorded, the sensor gets turned off, and the process begins again, all in a fraction of a second.

Point and Buy

Many first-time travel photographers, in fact many first-time digital photographers, opt for point-and-shoot (aka "compact"). Compact digitals are lighter and smaller than their dSLR counterparts, they don't have the hassle of interchangeable lenses, and they're often seen as less intrusive (Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.3. Compact cameras make it easy to shoot photos, like these buffalo along the road in Custer State Park. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)

Cameras come in a variety of styles for three categories of users. A large, solidly built camera designed for the professional photographer is, not surprisingly, called a professional camera. On the other end of the spectrum are cameras that are less expensive, less durable, and often with fewer bells and whistles. These are called "consumer" cameras.

In the middle lies a group of photographers who want some of the features of a professional camera (faster shooting speed, improved durability, a few bells, some whistles) but don't want to shell out for features they don't need. These shooters are often referred to as "prosumers," a horrible mashing of words that just means "a nonprofessional who wants some pro features."

Pull out a big prosumer SLR (Figure 1.4) with a long lens, and chances are heads are going to turn But take out a compact camera, even in remote parts of the world, and you're going to attract a lot less attention.

Figure 1.4. You won't be inconspicuous if you're using a big lens to take photos. (Photo by Corey Rich)

The biggest issue with point-and-shoots is their lack of flexibility. There's less room to grow as a photographer with them since you can't work your way up to better lenses and fewer accessories are available. A digital SLR often has interchangeable viewfinders, specialty lenses (such as macros and ultra-wide angles), lens-hoods, accessory strobes, and more. With a point-and-shoot, if you decide you want a wider-angle lens, or maybe a telephoto, you're stuck with what you've got, and you'll need to buy a new camera if you want greater flexibility.

Most digital point-and-shoots are equipped with a 3x zoom, providing a focal length equivalent to about 35-105mm. (See "Choosing a Lens" later in this chapter.) That's not too shabby, but it leaves you without a wide-angle lens or a long telephoto lens, meaning you can't capture wide landscapes or zoom in on a distant scene. Some models offer screw-on adapter lenses, but they are likely to produce photographs that are less sharp than ones taken with a single specialty lens.

Compact digitals are often slower than SLR cameras and are known to have a greater lag time, which is a measure of how long it takes between pressing the shutter release and having the camera actually capture a picture.

With a long lag time you're more likely to miss the perfect portrait shot as your subject moves, or capture a moving subject just a bit…too…late.

For the cost-conscious consumer, though, a top-of-the-line compact digital can be had for $600 to $1000, while a good digital SLR starts around that price. It's best to choose a full featured point-and-shoot rather than a shirt-pocket sized camera, as those are mostly designed for convenience not image quality.

If you're serious about getting good travel shots and opt for a point-and-shoot, you'll want to make sure it has at a minimum these features:

  • A durable body: Look for models that have metallic bodies and seem well built. If it feels light and flimsy when you hold it, it probably is.

  • A good zoom lens: A 3x zoom is OK, but a 4x zoom is better. Some cameras have the term "wide angle" in their name, which means that their wide setting is wider than average. That's great if you shoot a lot of landscapes, but you'll sacrifice a bit on the telephoto side as a tradeoff.

  • A high-resolution sensor: The minimum resolution you should look for is five megapixels. At that size you can enlarge pictures up to 8x10 while maintaining a high image quality. It's a good baseline for shopping.

  • A nice LCD screen: These built-in color displays are the center of the digital camera world. Make sure your camera's screen is large enough to let you read the menus, and to see the photographs you're composing.

  • Lots of accessories: This might not be as essential to the new or casual photographer, but if you go the point-and-shoot route, look for models with such niceties as add-on lenses, filter attachments, and remote shutter releases.

There are some wonderful point-and-shoot cameras on the market, and most professional photographers I know wouldn't be caught dead without at least a quality compact digital camera in their pocket, and they always have one for a backup when on the road. If you're traveling with a point-and-shoot, you can still grab great pictures (Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5. This photo of Opatija, Croatia was taken while walking back to the hotel after dinner, using a small point-and-shoot digital camera. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)

Some of the most familiar names in photographyNikon, Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, and othersmake incredibly powerful point-and-shoot cameras, but some lesser known companies also offer great bargains. Don't be afraid to look for cameras from Sony, Panasonic, Kodak, Casio, Samsung, or from any company that's better known for making things like microwaves and radios than camera gear. The technology used inside a digital camera is remarkably similar to that used in an MP3 player or any other bit of electronics, so some newcomers to photography are making a name for themselves.

Why Megapixels Are Important

When it comes to sensor size, bigger is better up to a point. For professional photographers, high-megapixel cameras are a great asset. Having the ability to blow up a photo to billboard size or crop down to a small area with still enough detail to create a good print is essential.

But for the nonprofessional, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. If your computer isn't up to speed, a camera that captures at a higher resolution than you really need just takes up hard drive space and requires more memory and processing power to open that file.

If you're not printing above 8x10, you don't really need a camera with resolution of more than five to eight megapixels. (A five-megapixel camera will allow you to print out a beautiful 8x10 print, while eight megapixels will allow you to crop part of your image and still have full 8x10 resolution.) Keep in mind that when you're shopping for a camera you can't always predict what you'll want to do with your pictures five or ten years down the road. That photograph of the shepherd in Scotland on your 4x6 holiday card this year might be the perfect poster some day.

Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography, The. Perfect Photos Every Time
Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography: Perfect Photos Every Time, The
ISBN: 0321356772
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 79
Authors: David Schloss © 2008-2017.
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