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Travel Camera Gear

  • Digital Still Cameras
    We have two cameras;  a Fujifilm F440 (point-and-shoot) and a Pentax *istD (DSLR).  Having two cameras on board works great for us, as we can each carry a camera when desired, and we have a back up should one camera ever break or fall into the brink.  As our existing cameras are a bit outdate we've done some research on what we would buy if we were choosing a camera today.  Below are a few cameras that we like based on feature content, technical reviews, and user comments.

    Before you run off and buy a new camera be sure to take a look at what you already own.  First, decide if buying a new camera really gets you new and better features that you need & want.  Second, check what accessories you already own.  If you have made a large investment in accessories (batteries, chargers, lenses, memory cards, etc) than you might want to stay with the same camera line, getting an upgraded version that will still work with your accessories.

    Point-and-Shoot: Olympus has a line of water & shock proof cameras; the Stylus 720SW, 770SW, and 790SW.  These seem ideal for boating and traveling -- a camera you can get wet (good up to 10 or 33 feet depending on the model), and drop without breaking (up to 5 feet).  They have also received outstanding marks from current owners.  All three models shoot at 7.1 mega pixels and offer 3X optical zoom.  They are all light and compact, and offer a range of shooting modes, ISO settings, and exposure controls.  All three also support sequential shooting.  The downside is that, considering the higher cost, they are missing a few features we like, such as an optical viewfinder (an optical viewfinder will extend your battery life and works better in high-glare or low-light situations) and a larger focal length (optical zoom).  However it will be money well spent down the road when you inevitable drop your camera or take a wave into the dinghy!

    Point-and-Shoot (under $200)We like the Canon Powershot SD1000.  This is an ultra compact, lightweight camera (small enough to fit into a Witz plastic hard case - which protects it from water and other damage) .  It has gotten good reviews and owners seem to love it.  With 7.1 Mega pixels you’ll get good resolution photos and while a 3X optical zoom isn’t outstanding it will give you some flexibility.  It has a few scene modes, some exposure control and a good range of ISO selection.  We also like that it has an optical viewfinder and has gotten good marks for low shutter lag.  On the downside, because it is ultra compact, some users may find the dials too small.

    Digital SLR: Here is where taking stock of what you already own could save you some big bucks.  If you own lenses for a film SLR or DSLR then you may not want to start over from scratch, therefore you will want a DSLR that is compatible with the lenses you already own. 

    Since a DSLR is going to cost more money, We like it to be packed with features.  However, we still look for something easy to use, and something we can grow with.  What this means to us is that our DSLR should have a fully auto mode that takes great shots without any user input.  Next we want Aperture and Shutter Priority modes.  And finally we want a fully Manual Mode as well as a Bulb Mode.  We want adjustable ISO settings and exposure control.  We prefer to be able to take both RAW and JPEG shots, but are willing to give up RAW photos if the camera is priced right and has everything else we're looking for.  Ideally the camera would shoot at 10 mega pixels or more, but again, for the right price and other features, we are willing to settle for as low as 6.1 mega pixels.  Finally, you need to also consider the lenses, which company makes the lenses you will be most happy with?  Based on the above here are some of our picks:

    • High Cost: We like the Canon EOS 40D.  Canon is a good name and makes great (although sometimes pricey) lenses.  They have been evolving the EOS line for quite awhile now, so they have sussed out a lot of the issues.  This camera received top marks from both technical reviews and owners.  We also like the Nikon D200, which received great marks as well.  The D200 was released back in 2005, and the D300 in 2007.  Since the D300 is newer, we couldn’t find enough reviews on the D300 to decide if going for the newer model made sense.
       

    • Medium Cost:  Nikon D80 is our top choice with the Canon EOS 400D (Rebel Xti) coming in close second.  We also feel that these two cameras have enough features to consider saving a few hundred dollars and choosing one of these over the high cost camera.
       
    • A note on the Pentax DSLR:  Since we own a Pentax DSLR we feel we should give a quick note on why they aren’t in our choices above.  First off, while we originally purchased the Pentax *Dist because we already owned a set of Pentax-mount lenses, we ended up being extremely happy with our Pentax and we are currently looking at purchasing the K100D or K10D.  We think Pentax is coming up in the ranks and quite competitive with Nikon and Canon.  We also like that the Pentax cameras tend to be just slightly more affordable.  Where we feel Pentax lags is in lens development, in this arena we feel that Canon and Nikon still out perform Pentax, and that is why Pentax is not in our top two choices for the categories above.  That said, for the average shooter, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference between a Canon lens and a Pentax lens.  If you are interested in a Pentax or looking to save a few bucks, check out the K100D Super and the K10D.  Be aware that while we like the K10D, it has gotten some mixed reviews on JPEG image quality and ease-of-use; from our understanding it is better off for a person looking to tweak the camera a lot and one who prefers shooting in RAW.  One cool feature that both the K10D and K100D cameras have is built in shake reduction (usually this comes inside a lens and you have to pay quite a bit for it).  Also Pentax is currently offering a $100 rebate for the K100D, K100D Super, and K10D - rebate lasts until Jan 31, 2008. 

    DSLR Lens:  What we have found cruising and traveling is that we want two things: we want to be able to zoom in to capture faces and far away wildlife, and we want wide panoramic shots.  We also don't want to lug around a zillion lenses.  Smaller zoom ranges or single focal length lenses produce better quality images, however aren't always practical for hiking trips or traveling.  The average photographer won't notice the difference, so we recommend taking advantage of the good quality zoom lenses.  Which lens brand you choose will depend on which DSLR camera you have, however here are our suggestions for focal lengths

    • Hyper-Zoom:  We love our Sigma 28-300mm.  This lens provides a good range of f-stops and is compact and light for its zoom range.  300mm gets us into the action without always requiring a tripod (300mm is about the maximum focal length you can hand hold).  And with it coming all the way down to 28mm we can get good scenery and portrait shots.  There are many other zooms with varying focal ranges to look at; consider 18-200mm and 50-200mm.  A good zoom also makes for some great face shots of the locals.  South Pacific Islanders tend to act crazy around a camera, making it nearly impossible to get a natural islander shot.  With the telephoto they don't realize you are taking their photo until you show them after the fact.
       

    • Wide Angle:  Our current wide angle is a Pentax 16-45mm.  This does pretty well, but there are times when we wish we could go wider.  We do like the focal range though, as it means we don't have to change the lens if we want to go from a wide scenic shot to a group photo (something closer to a portrait shot). We are considering getting a Sigma 12-24mm, 10-20mm or perhaps a digital fisheye.
       

    • General:  Other focal ranges that are appealing to me are:  24-70mm, 17-70mm, and 18-55mm.  These all have small focal ranges, but still provide some flexibility.

    Accessories:  Regardless of what camera you choose be sure to get extra batteries, a 12V charge adapter, plenty of memory cards, and some type of case for protection & storage.  DSLR cameras tend to require additional care and maintenance in lens and CCD cleaning, so it is important to have proper cleaning supplies aboard. 

    • Stabilization:  If you think you will be taking action shots, low-light shots, or wanting to use extensive zooms we also recommend a lightweight tripod and/or monopod.  Hiking-stick monopods are also available, however we have not yet tried one and every brand we have found seems to get extremely mixed reviews; the bottom line being that the combos don't make really good hiking sticks or really good monopods so you have to be willing to compromise.

    • Underwater:  If you are big on snorkeling and diving then you will also want to look into getting an underwater case, most are good to about 100 feet.  Even the Olympus Stylus waterproof cameras offer a case for those wishing to go beyond the 10/33 foot limit.

    • Filters:  For the lenses consider a polarizing filter and a UV protection filter (true, keeping a protection filter on at all/most times means worrying about two extra surfaces being clean, but it sure beats scratching your lens when you are out in the middle of nowhere and unable to replace it).  Make sure to get the correct size based on the lenses you own.

  • Good Camera Bag:  A good bag will allow easy camera access, be comfortable, and keep the camera safe. We carry all our gear in Kata Camera Bags. They are designed for professionals and you can certainly tell. The bag we love is the camera sling. It goes over your shoulder and straps around your waist, keeping the bag and camera snug against you (so it's easy to hike with), and gives access to the camera right where you want it, in front.  Who knows how many photos we would have missed if we had to take off a backpack to pull out the camera.   The Kata bag is well padded, water proof (minus the zippers), has a rain hood, and has enough room for the camera body plus two lenses and some accessories (we can also manage to squeeze in the camcorder, but this tends to make the bag quite bulky).  They also make a Rucksack for those who have extra gear.  It attaches to the sling (or not) to make one unit that doesn't swing all over the place as you hike.

  • Digital Video Camera
    We have a Canon ZR70 MC.  It uses mini-dv tapes and has 22X Optical Zoom (note: when comparing video cameras ignore the digital zoom – it is poor quality; you are only interested in the optical zoom number).  We bought it as a “kit”, getting both wide angle and zoom lens attachments.  We don’t use the zoom attachment too often, however we use the wide-angle lens all the time.  Assuming you aren’t going to do any production movie making, we recommend going with a light, small video camera, something that is easy to carry around and that will actually make it off your boat!  In terms of newer cameras we like the following:
     
    • Top Dollar: The Panasonic SDR-H200 and the Panasonic SDR-H18 both look like good camcorders and received good reviews.  They are both 30GB hard drive camcorders (which gives you about 22 hours of video) and offer optical image stabilized zoom.  They both have still photograph capability and are compact, light units.  The SDR-H200 is about $120 more expensive than the H18, due mostly to the 3CCDs(3 CCDs should give you better detail and more accurate color representation), but only has 10x optical zoom (versus the H18's 32x).  Our current camcorder is only a single CCD and we do notice that sometimes the color seems drab, however we love having the 22x optical zoom, and am not sure that 10x would be enough for us.
       
    • Budget: For something a bit less expensive take a look at the Canon ZR850.  With its 1 mega pixel CCD you will get a crisp image (better than our ZR70).  The canon also has a 32x image stabilized optical zoom, a wide-screen shooting mode, and still image capability.  Being part of the ZR family we can attest to its ease-of-use and portability.  This Canon brings in decent reviews but nothing really outstanding.  It lacks a bit in low-light, but for the price it's a terrific choice.  It takes mini-dv tapes so you'll need to purchase a few before heading off (each tape holds about 1 hour of video).  And while, with the single CCD, you'll miss out on the better color your wallet won't take such a big hit!
       
    • Accessories:  Like with the digital still camera, you'll want an extra battery, a charging system, and extra media (if applicable).  You may also want to look into a polarizing lens, wide-angle attachment, and zoom-attachment.
       
    • Underwater:  You can purchase an EWA Marine water-tight bag that your video camera fits into … they make them for a variety of video cameras.  We love this bag, although it can be a bit buoyant and hard to control (view a camcorder-ewa bag compatibility list).  Most EWA bags are rated to a depth of about 30 feet, if you are really serious and price isn’t an issue, you can get an underwater hard case, but these run anywhere from $700 to $2,000 versus $200 - $300 for the EWA bag.  Underwater, the wide-angle attachment for our Canon camcorder really comes in handy, providing smoother footage.
      Professional underwater video packages are also available if you really think you'll get into it.


  • Memory Cards & Photo Storage
    We recommend always shooting at the highest resolution/quality possible.  This will take more space and you’ll need to take that into consideration when purchasing camera memory.  For our Pentax we have two Compact Flash cards; a 1 GB and a 500 MB.  For our Fuji camera we have one 512 MB XD card.  If you are going to go big, it is probably best to get two smaller cards rather than one larger (ie instead of a 2GB card, get two-1GB cards or instead of a 4GB card, get two-2GB, etc) … this is just a safety precaution in case one of your cards gets damaged.  Of course the downside is it also means you’ll have to remember to carry both cards on longer excursions.  Memory and video tapes (like mini-DVDs) are hard to find and expensive once you leave home, so buy before you depart.

    Portable storage units are now available, and extremely handy.  These units are battery operated and read multiple memory card formats.  You stick in your memory card, push a button, and your photos are saved to the hard drive.  Now you can clear your memory card and continue shooting.  The units come in various sizes from 40GB to 120GB.  These units are extremely useful for multiple day trips, especially if you are carrying more than one camera.  If you want to go all out, you can get one with a LCD screen that allows you to preview your photos after downloading and share your photos without lugging your camera or DVD player around.  Or, for about $150 less you can get one without the LCD screen.
     

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