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Please do not reply to this thread, where I will be gradually building as complete and informative a FAQ as I can. If you have a question, search this FAQ and the other theads, or post a new thread yourself one step back from here at the photo forum.
Here's the contents of the FAQ at the moment:
- CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR YOU: COMPACT OR REFLEX?
- THE RIGHT COMPACT CAMERA
[This message has been edited by Photog Rob (edited 09 January 2001).]
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR YOU: COMPACT OR REFLEX?
Hi there. So you're undecided, pondering whether to go for the real deal and buy an slr, or be a weenie and opt for a point and shoot. Well let me tell you, nothing further from the truth: nowadays, compact cameras are great little jewels, often with great photographic might and lots of nice features to make your life easier. Best of all, they are incredibly light, small and relatively affordable to anyone. SLR's are the tools of choice for the pros, of course, but they're big, heavy, cumbersome and expensive, and we often carry along a small compact point and shoot for "spur of the moment" pics, or where we don't take our full gear.
So, why don't you give this little test a once-over to see if you've made the right choice before you buy? One thing's for sure: you'll hate lugging an overfeatured SLR around all day for one roll of pics from a 30 day trip even more than you'll wish you had it when you're trying to shoot beyond your compact's abilities. So go ahead and dig in!
1- How important is your travel photography for you?
a- Don't give a darn. Seldom take pics, I live the moment.
b- I'll take a pic sometimes as a souvenir, or snap some friends once in a while.
c- I try to have pictures of those places I visit and people I meet for my albums.
d- I enjoy the challenge of having good photographs of people and places, and put some effort into them.
e- My travels are photography-heavy. I enjoy being there, but try to take the best images with me and work at it.
f- Some of my travels are photo assignments for myself or others. I work like a pro and really don't need this faq.
A point and shoot is cool if your answer is somewhere among "a", "b", "c", or even "d" if you're knowledgeable and have a high-end compact. "e" and "f" answers should raise a flag to take a look at that cool reflex camera in the shop window (but don't go yet, there's more...)
2- How much do you know about photographic technique / technology?
a- I guess this round thing is the lens...
b- I know my ISO's from my f-stops, but not much more.
c- I am well versed on composition, manual exposure, panning, and reciprocity failure correction.
d- Frans Lanting and Steve McCurry are my assistants and raise their prayers to me.
"a" or "b" are usually compact shooters. Most serious photographers and pros use compact cameras, but not as their main gear but as "visual notepads" or "just in case" cameras.
3- Do you mind carrying big/heavy photo gear with you at all times?
a- Man, my bike is loaded enough for that. If it weighs more than two ounces my panniers will snap off and run for their lives.
b- rather not, that's an unnecesary aggravation.
c- I will if I have to, but let's keep it trimmed down.
d- Have to put up with it. Cameras and tripod are very much taken into account when I load the bike.
Again, "a" and "b" are typical answers for a point and shoot candidate. "c" and "d" are SLR-prone.
4- Do you need to use extreme wide angles, telephotos, high luminosity lenses, external flash, or special film?
b- I'll use whatever is built in
c- Those would be nice, for sure
d- Is there any other way?
"c" or "d" guys are already ogling a sexy Single Lens Reflex...
5- Do you use slide film or print?
a- I only shoot print film.
b- Mostly print, with some slides once in a while.
c- Print? you've got to be kidding...
"C" guys should head straight for an SLR or at least a bridge camera like the Olympus IS-10, or a PPS (Posh Point and Shoot: still a compact camera, but more expensive than a mid-range SLR, like a Nikon 35 Ti or a Contax TVS). "B" dudes better think about no less than a mid-range compact, "a" guys will do with just about anything.
6- Do you plan REALLY (as in within 18-24 months) to gradually buy and build a complete photography kit?
a- what? I have a camera, one roll of film, neck strap, camera pouch, extra battery. Why would I want more?
b- I'd like to have an SLR so I can buy a longer lens in the future.
c- I'd love to have a full set of gear (5 lenses, 2 cameras, 2 flashguns, tripod, etc) in no more than two years.
d- I already have it, this is an addition.
Most people don't need it and will do just fine with a zoom compact camera. If you're not buying within a couple years you could be better off buying a compact now and a more advanced SLR in the future. Remember there's always room for a compact camera, no matter how good a photographer you are.
7- Do you often ask your wife / husband / companion to carry your camera for you while you do something else?
a- yes, let's split the load. She's also on the trip, no?
c- maybe once or twice, but I take care of it 99% of the time.
This is not a joke. As a traveller, I've seen companions (mostly girlfriends and wives) abused to unbelievable limits, to the point of making her upset, ruining her day encumbering her with a payload she didn't ask for, or even driving her to tears or verbal fights. This applies to men too, of course, but women are most often the victims of the "caddie syndrome". Be prepared to carry your gear yourself at all times, and the heavier it is, the more you should heed this advice. Fighting is never nice, but on the road it can be the pits. If you often need relief from carrying your gear, go for a compact camera... or have a paid "caddie". "C" entitles you to an SLR, with "b" you're pushing it.
8- Are you worried to death about having your camera(s) stolen?
a- That deprives me of sleep.
b- I'm reasonably worried, but not more than with anything else.
c- I'll give my $1500 camera to a guy with an AK-47 and a face mask to snap a pic of me with my legs in a cast.
I'm leaving this one to you, but if you're worried about your camera you'll be always taking it with you, and concealing it sometimes. I've seen a small point and shoot concealed in an armpit. Do that with an SLR, man.
Now's the time to give it a thought. Remember, just like with bikes, there are no bad cameras, only wrong choices. Most people would balk at the thought of carrying my gear with them, out of sheer volume and weight. Others carry twice as much.
Practice makes perfect, make a mental note of what you use a lot or not at all this time. Next time you'll leave those unused items home, and sure enough, you'll be missing them to the very last day of your trip. Ah, the joys of choosing gear...
What, still here? Oh, I see: You've taken photog Rob's "compact or SLR" test, and you've decided to go for the lighter option. You won't regret it! (and if you do, I'll be too far away for you to chase me) ;-)
Now's the time for truth: which compact camera? As always, I won't be giving you specific models - too many fish in the sea, to many women on earth..., er, no, that's illegal in some countries, I recall.
WHAT I CONSIDER "A KILLER COMPACT CAMERA" FOR BIKE TRAVELLING:
BUILD: Contrary to popular belief, size is not critical since you won't have it in your pocket most of the time (see the bonus on my answer to "digital camera" by "lost1" elsewhere in this forum). Sure, small aluminium or titanium cameras are sexy, but not essential. You want to check for ruggedness, resistance to wear (avoid silvery paintjobs on plastic, they rub away in days inside your panniers), comfy controls, and o-rings or rubber seals at least in the camera back door and shutter release. If you're mostly road-wise, you'll be ok with that. If you plan to cross Cambodia off-roading thru the rainy season, you'll need a wheatherproof camera you can confidently drop in the mud. Pentax has one, and I believe Minolta does, too. By the way, you also need to have your brain checked if you're seriously thinking of doing that.
VIEWFINDER: Yes, that little window you squint through when you snap a pic. You want it big. You want it clear. You want the best viewfinder you can get within your array of candidates. Make sure you take a long careful look through them all, one immediately after the other, and you'll find amazing differences. This is an often neglected point to check. Oh, don't forget to check it in low light if possible.
FLASH: While there are subtle differences obvious to the trained eye, newbies won't find huge variations in power or size. If that's important to you, check the red-eye reduction features, but NO compact camera is free from redeye. If this is citical to you, you want the flash unit to be as far away as possible from the lens. The non-zooming Olympus Mu-1 (Infinity 1 in the US) is particularly wretched on this, although it's a superb camera otherwise.
FEATURES: This is pretty much up to you, but don't let yourself be fooled: many "features" of today's cameras are little more than gimmicks, or seldom-used ones. Here's what I'd look for (in no particular order):
- Self timer: an absolute must, not only to include yourself in the pic, but also to allow the camera to be triggered motionlessly while perched on a table or the bike for shake-prone long exposures.
- A shutter capable of exposures of at least 1 second. The longer, the better.
- Some "slow flash" mode that will blend flash plus long exposure (ask your dealer if you don't know what this is).
- Some form of backlight compensation.
- A DX (film sensibility) range as wide as possible: check the spec sheet on the manual. 25-3200 is ultra-cool for a compact. Also, check the number of gold-plated electrical "finger" contacts you see in the film chamber, you want to see at least four - six is the maximum. Sometimes they're arranged in very close pairs, those count as one. VERY important if you travel outside the developed countries: DX rating should revert to 100 iso if a non-DX roll is used. Some cameras won't take non-DX, or revert to 25 iso, killing all your sunny landscapes in the mountains.
- A decent light metering system: Evaluative (aka matrix) metering is your friend. Centre-weighed is a nice-ish acquaintance. Average is like the tax man, and so is spot metering if you don't know how to use it. If you know nothing about this, check the spec sheet, and stick to reputable brands
- An easy to find battery when you're away from home. AA is best, 2CR5 or CR123 are quite available too. ALWAYS carry at least one set of spares with you (no, I don't mean in the bike, I mean with you when you're shooting: spare battery and spare rolls of film are a must).
LENS: Certainly a zoom lens is best for general shooting unless you are a master of composition with a 35 mm. wide angle. Zoom is cool and I wouldn't recommend a non-zoom point and shoot unless you're heavily into low-light shooting (then the zoom stays home and you take a fast fixed lens - the Yashica T4 with its awesome Tessar design lens is for you).
This said, now repeat after me: I won't crave long zooms on a compact camera. I won't crave long zooms on a compact camera. I won't crave long zooms on a compact camera. I won't crave long zooms on a compact camera... you get the idea. Long zooms are hot, with their great range and their obscene erection-like growth, but unfortunately they are the pits on a P/S (point and shoot). Their luminosities at the long end are pitiful and wide ranges only decrease their resolution and freedom from spheric aberration. If you're now staring blankly at this text, thinking "uh?", take it from me - I'm your friend, and I've warned you. Long zooms on a P/S are a sure recipe for blurry pictures, and disappointing flash images at the long end. Confine yourself to less than 100 mm. and look for the widest low end you can find (38 mm. is blah, 32 better, 28 cool, less would be supercool... if you find one).
FORMAT: 35 mm or APS? Up to you. I won't touch APS, but that's a quirk of mine (and interestingly, 95% of the pros I know). APS cameras can be devilishly small (oh, the Canon Ixus (Elph in the US)...). If you're into exotic or underdeveloped countries, though, I strongly recommend you go with 35 mm. or you run the risk of running out of film for good.
Of course, your mileage may vary. You're encouraged to detour from this if you have good reason and / or know what you're doing. If not, be a good boy and take it from me as it is. And don't let camera-shop dealers talk you into something different: stick to your guns and I guarantee you'll be fine.
Bonus: If you're going the P/S camera and print film route, I have a golden, golden piece of advice for you: ALWAYS use a film sensibility of at least 400 ISO. Make it you all-around film. Don't take the 100 iso people will be pushing your way except on very, very bright conditions. Go 800 ISO when needed, but make 400 your standard. You'll be rewarded with less blurry pics, less darkies (no, not more overexposures - lab magic!), and sharp, colourful images. Those of you that are now thinking me nuts because of pale colours and increased grain: you're hopelessly outdated, guys. Go grab a couple rolls of Kodak Gold Max 400, Fuji NPH 400, or similarly state-of-the-art-film, shoot it and blow it to 8x10 (or 18x24 cm for us metric people). I reckon you're not going back to your old 100 ISO for your P/S.
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