Which Camera Should I Buy? (Part III)

Welcome back for the third and final installment in my 'Which Camera Should I Buy?" series.  Previously we covered camera basics and higher end SLRs.  This time we'll focus on the 'middle road' of cameras, which are the more advanced point & shoots. If you are…somewhere between the two worlds I mentioned in my previous posts, you probably need an advanced point & shoot.  This style of camera is a great mix between the SLR and more basic point & shoot.  Portable, advanced, and ability to produce sharp pictures make this relatively newer entrant to the market excellent candidates for a wide range of photographers .  There are two subcategories that we'll discuss: some still have interchangeable lenses for even greater creativity while others rely on a fixed lens with digital zoom.

The 'Fixed' Lens Compact This is what I carry on each of my trips when I'm flying for the airline each week.  In fact, it rarely leaves my messenger bag just in case I find something noteworthy in my travels whenever I have my bag (which is quite often).  For the last few years I've been using two different advanced compacts that I love for different reasons.  One of my two is the beloved Sigma DP1, which has no zoom, a slow start up time, slow shutter speeds and mediocre low light performance.  Why do I love it then?  The Foveon sensor contained within the camera is utterly amazing.  The color production, hues, saturation and sharpness this little camera produces are unparalleled in cameras this size.  Case in point from a courtyard in Guatemala:

This camera is more for the landscape and street art photographer who wants to take the time to compose images and make beautiful shots.  While I won't recommend this camera for everyone, a camera of it's quality just might be worth your investment down the road.

Now that I told you about a camera that I won't recommend for everyone, I'll move on to the my current camera that is my go to choice for this category.  For the last couple of years, the trusty Nikon P7000 has been the 'daily driver' that fits my needs for a true travel-friendly compact camera.  It does everything my beloved Sigma doesn't.   The newer version is the Nikon P7700 which has been upgraded from my current model in several areas.  Portability, great zoom capability, good ISO performance (low light capability), shooting in RAW file format and wide angle format are some of my favorite features of this camera.  Of course, the portablity factor is huge for outdoor action sports capability.  I can strap the camera case on my backpack when mountain biking for instance and be able to create great images on the fly.  Case in point this shot from Horsethief Bench Trail near Fruita, Colorado:

Definitely check it out and consider purchasing one in the near future!  Other options in this category include:

Canon Powershot G12 Sigma Merrill DP1

Interchangeable Lens Compact This is a category that allows for switching lenses on the go and a wider variety of creative options.  However, the trade off is you might carry more gear along thus it won't be quite as an all-in-one as a 'fixed' lens compact.  This category contains the hot up & coming mirrorless cameras that offer some distinct advantages to their predecessors.  While I don't own one of these yet, the Nikon 1 J2 is high on my list to be a partner to my other compacts.  This trend of compact cameras with interchangeable lenses does seem to be gaining strength, so if you want the best of both worlds between portability and creative options with lenses definitely consider this category.  Two other options which have garnered rave reviews are:

Olympus Pen E-P3Panasonic Lumix GF5K

I hope this series has helped narrow down where you should start your search and what kind of camera to look for.  Remember, always head to your local camera store and try before you buy.  And of course, being local-minded as I am - support local business and buy it from the store!  The support & knowledge that your local camera store will offer will pay dividends down the road as you embark on your photographic journey.

Which Camera Should I Buy? (Part II)

Last time we covered the basics of camera buying and simple point & shoot options.  This time we'll focus on the high end of my recommendations in this three part series. If you are…wanting the challenge of stepping up to an SLR with interchangeable lenses, feel your old point & shoot just doesn't do it anymore, desire to shoot sports of any kind, want to expand your artistic eye, and don't mind carting around bigger equipment: then it's time for an SLR!  This will be the high end of my recommendations so be prepared for perhaps a little sticker shock.  While I won't recommend the SLR that the guy from Sports Illustrated uses, there are plenty of more entry level priced SLRs that pack a serious punch in both quality and features.  And of course the ability to change lenses pushes your creative senses to new heights!

There is a saying in photography to spend the money on the glass (lens) and not so much on the camera body.  In my opinion it is a very accurate statement.  One of my favorite images I've ever taken came from my 'lowly' Nikon D40X which at the time was an entry level digital SLR.  I had a very nice lens that I had rented which certainly made a huge difference.  See below for my testimony to this belief.

Zebras - Madikwe, South Africa

With that said, you can feel good about buying an SLR camera body on the lower end of the spectrum even if you plan to step up your game down the road.  Whichever camera you choose, you'll be on solid footing as you begin to explore the creative possibilities of owning an SLR.

Nikon D3200

My recommendation?  The Nikon D3200.  This is Nikon's latest entrant in the do-it-all SLR category.  HD video?  No problem!  Low light?  No problem!  Fast shutter speeds?  No problem!  I think you get the point.  At $700 MSRP (lens included) it might be a little bit of sticker shock for the new entrant into higher-end cameras, but believe me that price is worth it.  One of Nikon's perpetual strengths is the quality of the image sensor in their camera bodies, even the lower end cameras as evidenced above in my Zebra image offer excellent output.  The sensor found in most SLRs will make or break the image quality and Nikon simply gets it right.

Most DSLR camera kits come with one or two lenses, often a 18-55mm lens is common.  It gives a good range to start with a decent wide angle option at 18mm and a bit of zoom on the other end at 55mm.  Just enough range and quality to get you started on your adventure and education in photography.

Also consider:

Canon EOS Rebel T2i Sigma SD15 Sony a57 DSLR

Whichever camera you choose, be sure to test it out at your local camera store and ask lots of questions.  Be sure to check back soon for the final part of my 'which camera to buy' series!

Seis días, una lente!

The title of this week's post sums it up nicely.  Similar to last week's post, I used one lens for six days on our trip to El Tunco, El Salvador.  As promised, this is a follow up to the actual gear used when traveling light and of course some accompanying pictures from the trip.  My wife and I had a relaxing week of surfing, drinking cheap beer and relaxing on the beach.  And of course, I managed to snap a few photos too! To start, pictured below is an iPhone happy-snap of all my gear I took with me to El Salvador.  It is the same basic setup that I mentioned last week but I'll go a little more in depth about each piece and it's importance.

We'll start from the left half of the picture and work from top to bottom:

Dry Bags (2) - The two bags you see that most of the gear is sitting on are Sea to Summit dry bags.  Absolutely mission critical to keep both water and sand/dirt away from your gear during transport or between shots.  The larger of the two bags holds my camera/lens and the smaller green bag can hold all the other important goodies that shouldn't get wet either.  Don't leave home without them!

Knit Pouch - Call it a ditty bag, pouch, carry-all or what have you; this sucker is useful.  We've picked up several different sizes of these guys during our travels to various Central American countries over the years.  I'll typically keep odds & ends in these bags that shouldn't be in danger of getting wet.  Staying organized is essential when you need quick access to your gear.

Memory Cards - I always carry a bare minimum of two memory cards with me.  This time I actually had three, as you never know what may happen to your cards or how many pics you'll take.  Whether one gets damaged, lost or simply fails - you don't want to be caught without backups.

Spare Battery - Similar to extra memory cards, always keep a fully charged spare with you.  You never know!

Remote Shutter Release - A very handy gadget for working at night or taking long exposures.  Using a remote keeps your shaky hands off the camera during longer exposures to minimize vibrations for extra sharp pictures.  I didn't get around to using the remote this trip, but look for some future posts with 3+ hour long exposures.  Quick tip - you can also use your camera's self-timer to help with camera shake!

Cleaning Apparatus - I've been regularly using a LensPen for quite some time for on-the-go lens/filter cleaning.  Simply put, there isn't a better tool out there for quickly and safely cleaning your lens.  One end of the 'pen' has a retractable soft brush to dust off small particles/dirt first and the other end has a cleaning element which polishes your lens to a perfect shine.  Having a clean lens is an important first step in making great photos, always check your lens before snapping that shutter!

Lens Filters - Pictured next to the LensPen sits my UV filter that is typically attached to the front of any lens at all times.  UV filters are an excellent way to cheaply protect the front of your lens and take a little bit of the haze out of the sky at the same time.  I shoot nearly 100% of the the time with some sort of filter attached to my lens.  Especially when on the move during travels as your lens is always susceptible to damage.  Also pictured are two other filters, a neutral density (ND) filter and polarizer.  ND filters allow less light to come through the lens to aid in using longer shutter speeds during daylight hours.  From making water silky smooth to blurring backgrounds in action shots, ND filters are very useful.  A polarizer does exactly what you probably think.  If you've ever worn polarized sunglasses, it is a similar effect.  Colors are generally more saturated, reflections are reduced and the sky will be darker in your photos.

[working back up to the top of the photo now]

Tripod - Never leave home without at least a small tripod of some sort.  If you haven't experimented with tripods you are missing out.  Stabilizing your shots is worth more than you might imagine.  Your pictures will be far more sharp and crisp, even in daylight hours.

Light Source - A small headlamp or flashlight always comes along too.  My phone will double as flashlight at times to, but having a hands-free way of setting up is quite handy at night.  Also useful for light painting foreground subjects during long night exposures.

Battery Charger - Unfortunately no one has invented perpetually lasting batteries yet, so we're all stuck bringing these guys along still.

Camera + Lens - The venerable do-it-all Nikon D300 SLR has won over photographers world wide.  Including me!  While not a full frame uber mega pixel power house, the trusty D300 gets the job done with little fuss.  When I retire this camera it will be a bittersweet day for sure.  As mentioned last week, I brought along the wide ranging Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 lens.  In the photos below, you'll see that the wide zoom range of a lens of this type is perfect for traveling.  From acceptably crisp action shots of surfers to wide angle landscapes this lens offers a lot to the photographer who wishes to travel light.  Also, a comfy and trusty camera strap is a must too.  I find the stock straps that come with cameras way to harsh for long walkabouts.  This freebie from SmugMug was a surprising winner!

Backup Device (not pictured since my wife was bogarting the iPad) - And lastly, if you don't want to chance losing your hard-earned shots always bring along some sort of device to backup your memory cards during your down time.  This trip we brought along an Apple iPad with the camera connection kit that enables you to download and backup your photos.  I'm not sure if the newer iPads are any faster, but one thing to note is that it takes quite a long time to download pictures if your cards are anywhere near full.  Other alternatives for on-the-go backup are of course your laptop (which violates my packing light rules!) or even better a digital backup device such as the Wolverine PicPac that you can plug your memory cards directly into.  Such a device is on my short list to add to my gear!

And that's it!  That is my bare minimum gear list when traveling.  Depending on my creative expectations of the trip I'll add more lenses or perhaps a flash but beyond that not much else.  So without further ado, some of my favorite captures from the trip...

brew revolution

playa el tunco