The Cameras We Carry

The Cameras We Carry

On a trip of a lifetime, or everyday, when you’re taking photos you want them to be great.  Years after traveling your photos will be your memories.  As the trip slides further into the past, photos will transport you to memories, the feeling of awe when you saw something for the first time, and the funny stories that seemed forgotten.  How those pictures look will be determined by your choice of camera.

During the past decade LOCAVORista and I have owned and used a wide variety of cameras including film and digital, point-and-shoots and SLRs.  Preparing for this trip we drew on our experience, tested equipment, and did further research to select the equipment we are carrying.

On our “trip of a lifetime” we are carrying:

At you are seeing photos from both cameras.  Most of the food, night, around town, and videos are from the Canon S90.  The pictures of tourist sights are generally from the Nikon D90 SLR.  The main reason one camera is used over another is convenience.  The S90 lives in my pocket and is readily available for the snapshot, whereas the SLR is often in our backpack.  When we are walking around tourist sights we generally have the D90 out, so we use that.

At maximum zoom (105mm effective), the S90 is able to crisply photograph these wishes in a Hoi An temple.

Roughly 60-70% of the photos you see on come from the point-and-shoot S90.  This is a huge change from previous trips where every photo was taken with a SLR.  While the D90 gives you more control, shoots faster, and feels professional, yet the difference in picture quality between it and the S90 doesn’t match the 10x price differential.  The Nikon D90, with lenses and accessories weighs in at about 7 lbs, the Canon S90, including charger weighs in at about 12 oz, or 90% less.  To get 80% of the substance and save 90% of the weight, you really need a good reason to pack the SLR these days.

There are times nothing less than an SLR will do: high-speed action, portraits, and photos for very long zooms.  The reality is that for the average person, most of the features on an SLR go unused or may make photos worse.  While fiddling with the settings on a SLR, the dog has fled the scene, the shopkeeper is no going about their business, or the light has changed.  Good point-and-shoots provide the manual modes people need: Aperture Priority,  Shutter Priority and Manual.  The controls aren’t perfect and the response time a little slower, but unless you are doing specific photography the SLR is overkill.

You wouldn't believe how dark it was here and the S90 produced a clear photo without a flash of Erica playing Vietmanese bingo.

What most people taking photos need, myself included, is more knowledge on how to properly compose photographs.  Spending money on how to photograph is better spent than on equipment.  Only after you know what you are doing and find yourself pushing the limits of a premium point-and-shoot would I recommend a SLR.  If you must carry an SLR, I’m going to be honest with you, a cheap SLR (under $1000) using a cheap lens (under $1000) is not going to be as good as a great point-and-shoot.

I am as surprised as anyone that point-and-shoots have come so far.  Just two years ago, I couldn’t imagine arguing against SLRs.  The world has changed though, and today’s premium point-and-shoots give you 80% of the functionality and 90% of the image quality as an SLR in a much, much better package.  I am not recommending any point-and-shoot camera, there are only a couple cameras I can honestly recommend.  These are the Canon S110 (the successor to our camera) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.  Apparently the Canon S95 is sold out in many places and Amazon isn’t even taking orders for it.  Canon offers the another version, the SD4000IS, with less manual controls (and lower price), that may suffice for most.

Even when it's stuck out the window of a bus, the S90 performs brilliantly.

In researching for this article, I looked into the Canon and it’s ability to replace an SLR.  Thankfully I found that I am not alone in my opinion.  David Pogue in the New York Times actually wrote a love letter to the Canon S95.  Here is a Gizmodo review and photographers on Flickr having a lovefest.  I have some used the Panasonic and can tell you it may take better photos than the Canon, but is slightly larger.   If you are not going to use the manual settings much, I would argue that the Canon SD4000IS is probably the best affordable camera available.

These cameras are much more expensive than other point-and-shoots, but are significantly cheaper, and better, than an entry-level SLR.  While I assure you that a $3000 SLR setup like ours will outperform our S90/95, one must consider the weight and cost differential.  For most travelers, us included, the S90/95 should be the camera we carry most of the time.

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» dad :
Jan 17, 2011

you are the techno wizard!!……your photos are exceptional and provide great visual to the text……we share your web page daily….sorry to say we are out of your business cards, may have to order more……take care… bka

» Tim Morrison :
Jan 17, 2011

I am just getting back from Guatemala where I took my d90 and camera phone. I’ve posted my camera phone photos to facebook. Needless to say alot of people, myself included, were impressed with my camera photos. I honestly believe camera phones will actually replace traditional point and shoot cameras like the S90. In fact, when iPhone 5 comes out, I will probably buy the device unlocked. Does this mean I will stop traveling with my D90? No, I will still take it with me to have the ability to capture those spectacular photos and special situations where a point and shoot just won’t do.

» Mom :
Jan 19, 2011

You’ll get a kick out of this, I think. I referred our photographer friend Tim to your web site for camera advice. He has been out of town and hadn’t seen this post. He is looking for a different point and shoot. I told him his research had already been done for him! Can’t tell which pictures on this web site have been taken by which camera. Of course there are other uses for the pictures that make each type of camera important , which you have pointed out. Always fun to refer people to your blog in different ways, or refer them back to it for something the regulars have missed. The photos, along with the stories, make it really feel like I was there. Dreamed about playing bingo last night!

» Lara Murphey-Waite :
Aug 25, 2011

I found your web site through the NY Times “Why We Travel” photo. Just want to say, I’m very impressed and inspired by your posts and great advice. I’ve been looking for a good travel ready SLR, but wasn’t sure about carrying something so expensive/ heavy on backpacking trips. After reading this, I think I’ll go for the Canon S95- which is now available on Amazon. I’ll be following your journeys! Best regards, Lara

» Shannon J :
Jun 17, 2013

Thanks for your post! I have been looking for a travel friendly camera – there are so many to choose from – this info was really helpful

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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