There is an unspoken truth that most newcomers to travel photography ignore. It’s an uncomfortable little secret that camera stores and dealerships avoid exposing to unsuspecting photo enthusiasts especially when set on their first purchase of something other than a “point and shoot”.
Blinded by the promise of great dynamic range, lengthy exposure times, broad ISO settings, pixel count, battery life, focussing speed….whatever, the neophyte usually walks away from the camera shop with an entry to mid range digital DSLR (or even a bridge camera) and a reassuring feeling that, if nothing else, he or she now deserves to be taken seriously with a wisely chosen machine dangling from neck or shoulder.
Travel, however has the ability of forcing you into minimalism: a low key, no frills existence. The limited personal space of a back pack, a suitcase or a pair of motorcycle panniers is a resource to manage carefully with an eye firmly set on maximising convenience and comfort above all else.
As I discovered myself, the learning process often involves regrettable en-route shedding of “good to have” but never used accessories including camping gear, clothes, books and imposes a stop to memento purchases too all kind.
Light, small, robust, versatile are the adjectives to describe what goes into our luggage for our adventure trips.
Of course, it makes sense that the same should apply to camera equipment we choose to carry and it’s here, more often than not, that the flaws of cumbersome DSLR cameras become apparent.
The DSLR is bulky, to say the least, with any lens greater than 50mm attached. It’s fragile as it loathes knocks, drops, dust, sand, water and moisture. It’s heavy, especially when extra glass (lenses) are added to the kit. It’s also conspicuous and too often perceived as expensive, valuable gear to guard and keep an eye on.
And so the untold secret is slowly revealed. The fact is that the DSLR camera and its accessories are not travel friendly pieces of kit. In fact, travelling with a DSLR can become such a burden that there are times the camera is wilfully left in a hotel room, or in a car rather than lugged around like a brick on a neck strap.
But, technology comes to the rescue. Over the last ten years the photography industry has shifted in trend and delivered new machines that address these to address the issues above. Hence, the rise of the CSC (Compact System Camera, aka mirrorless cameras)!
Finally with the advent of the CSC, there is some relief for the travel photographer. With picture quality arguably left intact (CSC cameras use the same image sensors as DSLRs of comparable level), many mirrorless devices offer the advantage of an appreciable reduction in size, a reduction in weight and increased portability.
Unfortunately however, there are drawbacks to jumping wholeheartedly onto the CSC bandwagon. Full frame mirrorless cameras are still in their infancy and the choice of lenses for some systems is limited. Some professionals argue that the features on higher end mirrorless cameras don’t quite match those of their equivalent DSLRs but it’s reasonable to think that these are all issues that can and will be solved over time. Ultimately, many DSLR devices are still being sold to the unsuspecting novice regardless of bulkiness and weight.
Size when traveling is important and smaller trumps big and bulky.
In the end, when you’re “out there”, all things being acceptably equal, it’s best to have a machine that’s light, easy to hold, delivers acceptable quality images and can be packed away without too much hassle.
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