Choosing A Camera For...
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Portability and image stabilization are excellent features for trip equipment
By Rob Sheppard
No matter where you travel, similar issues influence your choice of camera: portability, versatility, lens focal lengths and battery power. Many travel pros try to manage with the minimum of gear so they can move quickly and easily through local photo opportunities. It's a model most of us can follow.
I've traveled from Peru to Pennsylvania, and I know how challenging it can be to balance what you think you'll need for picture-taking versus what you want to carry. I end up erring on the side of portability usually, even if it means I sometimes miss certain shots.
Travel photography involves shooting a variety of subjects. You'll often want to switch quickly from wide-angle overall shots to telephoto details. A good range is 28-200mm (all focal lengths are in 35mm equivalents). Commonly available with digital SLR lenses, this range can be found on compact digital cameras, too. If you do a lot of indoor shooting, you'll need a lens with a fast maximum lens opening (ƒ/2.8 or faster) and probably wider angles (at least 24mm).
Digital SLRs come in two sizes today—the large "pro" models and the more compact "consumer" models. The latter are quite a bit smaller, weigh less and won't wear you down as you explore a foreign town. Advanced compact digital cameras are another excellent choice; with them, you gain a lot of capability in a small package. They have the advantage of size and price, so it's possible to buy and carry two for safety at the price and space of one digital SLR.
Tripods offer maximum sharpness, but a tripod isn't always convenient. Compact and lightweight tripods will help, especially those with carbon-fiber construction and magnesium heads. Don't buy the cheap, flimsy models, though, as they can be worse than using no tripod at all.
You have other options as well. Cascade Designs and Leki offer hiking staffs that adapt to use for steadying a camera (get a small ballhead; attaching a camera directly to a stiff screw on a hiking staff is very limiting). Adorama has a useful beanbag with a tripod screw called The Pod.
With image stabilization, either the camera or lens has moving elements to compensate for camera movement at slower shutter speeds. It's a great feature for travelers as it can mean sharp images without a tripod, at slower shutter speeds and with the use of lower ISO settings.
With an SLR, you can buy lenses with stabilization features, such as the VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses from Nikon, IS (Image Stabilizer) lenses from Canon and OS (Optical Stabilizer) lenses from Sigma. Konica Minolta's new digital SLR includes a different form of stabilization; its AS (Anti-Shake) system moves the sensor to respond to camera shake so every lens acts like it has stabilization built into it.
In the compact digital camera arena, Canon, Konica Minolta and Nikon offer stabilization. Nikon and Canon use optical adjustments inside their cameras, the Coolpix 8800 and PowerShot S1 IS, respectively, while Konica Minolta uses a moving sensor for its AS system in the DiMAGE A series of digital cameras.
If your travels take you to outdoor settings mostly, ISO choices won't be much of a consideration in choosing a camera. You can shoot most cameras at ISO 50 or 100 for very high-quality, low-noise images in those conditions.
If your photography takes you indoors and you need to use higher ISO settings, however, you'll need a camera that can do this seamlessly. Digital SLRs offer remarkable results at higher ISO settings, thanks to larger sensors and higher-level noise reduction. Advanced compacts at ISO 400 have a lot of noise, while a digital SLR set to ISO 1600 (or higher with the latest cameras) offers results that match or beat advanced digital cameras at ISO 400.
Lens: At least 28-200mm capabilities are important
Although the advanced circuitry in digital cameras provides good results with most automatic settings, students and beginners need a camera that allows them to work with manual settings themselves to fully master the effects of each. A responsive shutter is important, too.