EQUIPMENT & TIPS FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Thanks to the many APS members who contributed to these ideas and tips;
There is a camera to suit everyone; a complete continuum from professional-quality brick to miniature marvel. Decisions at a few break-points in that continuum help to narrow the choice for travel purposes;
- a traditional single lens reflex (SLR) with mirror and prism enables you to see exactly what will be recorded including focus and depth of field. However it adds bulk, vibration and noise. It is also a very conspicuous target for theft.
- interchangeable lenses offer huge range from fisheye to extreme telephoto, prime to zoom. However the body may be bigger and a bag of lenses is heavy, expensive and you never have the right one on the camera. The sensor is also exposed to dust and contamination that you might not want to deal with on the road.
- optical viewfinder vs back-screen vs electronic viewfinder will be a consequence of the body style and everyone will have a preference.
- sensor size determines low light capability and camera bulk. Full frame sensors deliver ultimate quality at the expense of lens and body bulk. The smallest sensors need good lighting. Sizes of between 1” and APS-C, together with some post-processing of noise where necessary are probably the sweet spot for most people for travel purposes.
- long zoom vs short zoom vs fixed focal length. The former involves some optical compromises and the latter limits your flexibility to take a variety of shots. A short zoom (around 3x) might be the best for most people for travel. Bear in mind that a high quality image of 20Mpx or more can be cropped heavily to produce a telephoto–like result albeit perhaps without the same optical characteristics such as out-of-focus background and foreshortening effect.
Technology improvements in sensor, lens and software design in recent years have enabled smaller cameras to deliver spectacular images. As a result, bulky SLRs have become less popular generally and especially on the road. Enthusiast Compact Mid-Range Zoom cameras or Compact Mirrorless System Cameras (eg Micro Four-Thirds) have become mainstream and deliver flexibility, portability and quality.
My two Sony RX100’s have delivered spectacular results under all conditions whilst still fitting easily into a pocket. Whatever you buy I would recommend that you ensure that it has the option to shoot raw images – even if you don’t do so at the moment.
Consider a tough camera, perhaps as a second choice. Water, freeze, sand, dust and drop – proof. It’s a worry-free companion. The sensor may be small but you probably wouldn’t use it in low light conditions. One tip – don’t forget to clean the glass window. One dried splash can deliver smeary pictures for days!
Finally, don’t dismiss your smartphone camera. I have taken competition-quality images with my iPhone so long as the light is good. You can also stitch together very high-res panoramas in-camera so the lack of a wide-angle lens need not be a problem. Also the hundreds of photographic apps (they’re not all for fun) provide endless entertainment. Check out the ‘You Gotta See This’ app for generating Hockneyesque Joiners. Brilliant!
dpReview has comprehensive buying guides for cameras in all of the above categories and many more.
When memory cards were expensive we used to carry around portable hard disks to copy them onto before (nervously) re-using the card. They are still available (eg Nexto) but memory cards are cheap as chips today. I prefer to buy lots of small ones (up to 16GB) and change them every day or two. So long as you don’t lose them they are pretty bullet-proof. If you do suffer a card corruption, just put it aside. The images can be recovered later with free software, so long as you haven’t over-written the card with more images.
Tip; when re-using a card always re-format it on the camera itself. Don’t just delete the images and don’t format it on a computer.
In time, cloud storage will become ubiquitous but at the moment uploading may be slow and expensive especially abroad and taking raws. Meanwhile, if you do want to backup your images on the road (and if your camera doesn’t have dual card slots), a laptop is probably the best solution.
TABLETS AND LAPTOPS
I went on a big photographic trip in 2013 with an iPad for backup, processing and review purposes. It proved to be a disaster. The iPad was incapable of handling raw images or even distinguishing between raws and jpgs. In the end I used the dual slots on my Nikon to write jpgs on one card and raws on another. I then fed the jpgs to the iPad. Even then, the software available for bulk image handling was pathetic and everything took forever. Never again. The iPad is good for many things on holiday but is not a serious photography tool, in my view. From what I read Android is little better.
It’s a perfectly sensible decision to leave all photography processing until you get home, so long as you are happy to check your images on the camera alone.
If you do want to check, backup and maybe process your images on the road, the laptop would be my tool of choice. As with cameras there is a complete continuum from cheapies to Macbooks and desktop-replacements. Having the same operating system and apps that you use at home is a major bonus. Indeed with the addition of a separate screen and keyboard a decent laptop can be your everyday home computer. There is probably enough storage built-in for all your backup needs and if not, tiny portable HDDs are available with staggering capacity for a staggering price (£70 for 2TB!).
At the cheap end of the range, Chromebooks and Aldi laptops are almost disposable yet with enough power for basic needs. At the expensive end of the range, a tiny, thin Dell XPS 13 ultraportable is reckoned to be better than a MacBook Air and certainly a match for most desktops. SSDs are standard in such devices for size and speed. Tip: I bought a low-spec version without 4K touch-screen and don't regret it.
The third way is a convertible such as a Microsoft Surface or HP Spectre. These are both laptop and tablet in one. The Swiss Army Knife of computers.
You may never use a tripod and that’s fine – especially with the high ISO and stabilisation capabilities of modern cameras enabling sharp images in the lowest light. However if you do like to use a tripod – perhaps to deliberately slow you down, or to take bracketed shots for HDR, or long time exposures, then there are lots of lightweight tripods available. Carbon Fibre is the material of choice for the legs and magnesium for the castings but these can be very expensive indeed and aluminium is far cheaper. Personally I like a tripod to be either tall enough for me to see through the camera when standing, or else short enough to go in a pocket.
On a windy day, a slender travel tripod won’t hold a heavy camera steady. One suggestion is to carry elastic bungees with which to hang your camera bag under the tripod but just touching the ground to prevent it swinging. Another tip; where you are not allowed to use a tripod, stuff a closed table-top tripod into the top of your camera bag and put that on the ground. Use the self-timer or a remote to trigger the camera.
I have a mini tripod that has a Velcro strap for attaching to a branch, railing or ski pole. I use this more than its tripod legs. Gorillapods are also very popular and adaptable.
OTHER PHOTO ACCESSORIES
- camera bag or case
- filters (I use just UV, polarising and neutral density)
- flash (I have one in the cupboard somewhere…)
- remote control (or wifi app, if available)
- spare batteries (a member’s tip is to number them and use them in rotation)
- charger (multi-port chargers and power banks are also available)
- a better strap than came with the camera (some models come with a built-in wire security cable to prevent a cut and run theft)
- (say it quietly) a selfie stick, but one with a tripod screw for high and low camera angles (that’s my justification! Oh, and it was a present).
Members have also suggested; the shower cap from your hotel room to protect the camera from rain and a foam pad for kneeling. A couple of flash tips; a small pop-up flash can be diffused with the addition of an old white 35mm film canister, or if it is on a spring (like the RX100) it can be tilted upwards with a finger tip to bounce it off the ceiling.
WiFi and mobile networks are your options depending upon availability and cost
WiFi need not be the poor relation – apps such as Skype enable global free calling. However even WiFi can be expensive in some hotels and onboard ships.
Mobile data costs are coming down across Europe. Local SIM cards or even renting a local phone can be very good value.
For occasional use, texts are relatively affordable.
Many smartphones can create a local wifi hotspot so, for example a local SIM in one device could be shared with others (if tethering is allowed on the data plan).
A roaming wifi dongle can create a local hotspot in the same way.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL APPS
If you have a smartphone, apps can become invaluable part of your travel experience. Here is my essential app list for the iPhone;
- Google Maps (if you have data. Once the local map is loaded, type eg ‘coffee’ or ‘ATM’ to find them near you).
- TomTom Navigation (I have used Google, Garmin and CoPilot. TomTom is far-and-away the best satnav, but download overseas maps before you leave home)
- City Mapper (endless source of information but only for certain cities)
- Around Me (lists and maps every imaginable service near you – right now)
- 1Password + Dropbox (all my essential information in my pocket but encrypted to the strongest level)
- Contacts, of course
- Music (Ecoute is now a better music player, since Apple have become obsessed with pushing their paid Music service)
- Podcasts (Desert Island Discs is an endless source of entertainment and nosing into people’s lives)
- Books / Kindle etc
- iPlayer Radio works worldwide but iPlayer only in the UK
- BBC News / Flipboard / also the free Guardian app gives a more in-depth analysis of the news
- Photo Manager Pro (for showing your portfolio and snaps - the included Photos app is surprisingly pathetic)
- Nite Time (a simple bedside clock with torch button. Big enough to see without your glasses on but dim-able)
- Antenna Aligner (this is an obscure one, but our narrowboat TV aerial needs pointing to the nearest strongest transmitter daily)
- Go! Trivia. A not-too-American pub quiz for when you’ve run out of things to talk about over the dinner table.
Tip; in case everything doesn’t go well, an In Case of Emergency (ICE) record on your phone can help police to assist you. This needs to by-pass any lock-screen. On the latest iPhones it can be created in the Health App > Medical ID.
Happy travels in 2016!
Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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