There is an unspoken truth that most newcomers to travel photography ignore. It’s an uncomfortable secret that camera stores avoid exposing when new photo enthusiasts are set on the purchase of their first “capable machine”.
Blinded by the promise of amazing dynamic range, lengthy exposure times, high ISO settings, amazing pixel count, battery life, focussing speed and more, budding photographers often walk away from camera stores with new entry to mid range DSLRs confident that they should be considered seriously amongst their peers with a branded, enviable and wisely chosen machine dangling from neck or shoulder.
Extended travel however, has the ability of making us come to terms with a minimalist and low key existence. For example, it forces us to accept and deal with the limited space of back pack, a suitcase or a pair of motorcycle saddle bags (panniers). What space is available needs to be managed wisely with an eye on maximising convenience and comfort above all.
The learning curve here can be harsh. Throwing away grandmas hand knitted socks while on the road is no fun and neither is trashing costly “good to have” but never used camping gear. There’s no room for extras in rug sack and that includes souvenirs, books and 13” laptops.
Light, small, packable, robust, versatile are the most sought after adjectives that experienced travellers focuse on when selecting and packing travel gear. From clothes and footwear to sleeping bags and tents the mantra does not change.
It makes sense then to abide by the same rules when selecting camera equipment for adventures around the globe. Light, small, functional does the job and it’s here that the flaws of the capable but cumbersome DSLR camera become apparent.
The DSLR is cumbrous, to say the least, especially with any lens greater than 50mm. DSLRs are also fragile and loathe knocks, drops, dust, sand, water and moisture. They’re sometimes heavy, especially when extra glass (lenses) are added to the kit to carry. DSLRs are also conspicuous and perceived as expensive bits of hardware that can draw the wrong kind of attention, especially in poorer developing nations.
So, as the new enthusiast carries his new capable photo camera around the world, the untold secret from the camera store sunravels. The DSLR and its accessories are a burden. In fact, the DSLR can become such a burden that on many occasions it is wilfully left in a hotel room, or tucked away in a carrier bag or in the trunk of a car rather than carried around like a ball on a chain.
But, technology comes to the rescue. Over the last seven or eight years the photo industry has shifted in trend and delivered new sexy smaller photo cameras to the public known as CSCs (Compact System Cameras) or simply “mirrorless” cameras.
The advent of mirrorless cameras has brought a sighe of relief within the world of travel photography. With picture quality intact (CSC cameras use the same sensors as DSLRs of comparable level), many mirrorless devices offer the advantage of notable reduction in size, weight, increased portability and versatility compared to their DSLR counterparts.
Is it all good? No, in reality, as with all things newish, there is a certain amount of inertia to be won. Skepticism and perhaps limitations on the availability of lenses, have hindered the appeal of CSC systems at large as of 2017. As a result, many new DSLR devices are still sold to unknowing novices and will be for a while yet.
It’s not my intention to discuss the merits or demerits of brands or models. I simply want to reach out to first time buyers of a “decent” camera and encourage them to think carefully, to look beyond the advertised selling points of a any picture taking contraption. Size when traveling is parampunt and small, packable cameras trump bigger and bulky ones even at the price of slightly lower image quality. It’s a fact that the most reputable of glossy magazines such as National Geographic require pictures to be a minimum of no more than six mega pixels in size to be published, way below the standard pixel count of low level cameras on the market today.
In the end, when you’re “out there” with all things being acceptably equal, the most important feature of your camera will be whether or not you can comfortably carry it all day.
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