There is an unspoken truth that most newcomers to travel photography ignore. It’s a dirty little secret that camera stores and dealerships avoid exposing to photo enthusiasts especially when these are set on the purchase of their first “capable machine”.
Blinded by the promise of amazing dynamic range, lengthy exposure times, 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 branded, enviable and wisely chosen machine dangling from neck or shoulder.
Travel, however has the extraordinary ability of pressuring one to come to terms with a minimalist and low key existence. For example, it forces one to accept the limited personal space of a back pack, a suitcase or a pair of motorcycle panniers. Not only that but it teaches one to manage this precious space with an eye firmly set on maximising convenience and comfort above all else.
As I have discovered for myself, the learning process here often involves painful en-route shedding of clothes, “good to have” but never used camping gear and also imposes a halt to most, if not all, on the road memento purchases.
Light, small, packable, robust, versatile are the most sought after adjectives the experienced traveller focuses on when selecting and packing his or her travel stuff.
Of course, it makes sense that the same should describe camera equipment taken on adventures around the globe and it is here, more often than not, that the flaws of the capable but cumbersome DSLR camera become apparent.
The DSLR is cumbrous, to say the least, with any lens greater than 50mm attached. It is fragile as it loathes knocks, drops, dust, sand, water and moisture. It is heavy, especially when extra glass (lenses) are added to one’s kit. It is also conspicuous and too often perceived as expensive, valuable gear to guard and keep an eye on.
Thusly, as the enthusiast carries his capable device around the world, the untold secret slowly reveals itself. The fact is that to this day the DSLR and its accessories are not travel friendly pieces of kit. In fact, the DSLR can become such a burden that there will be many, many times it is wilfully left in a hotel room, or in a car rather than lugged around like a brick on a neck strap!
But let’s not despair, technology comes to the rescue! Over the last seven or eight years the industry has acknowledged the drama and now, finally a shift in the Force of the photography world has delivered new sexy contraptions on the shelves of all reputable camera shops around the globe…….All hail the rise of the mirrorless DSLR, also known as a CSC (Compact System Camera)!!!!
Finally with the advent of the CSC, there is a sigh of relief within the travel photography community. With picture quality intact (CSC cameras use the same sensors as DSLRs of comparable level), many mirrorless devices offer the advantage of huge reduction in size, increased portability and versatility that should be beckoning the travel photographer in the same way the lights of a harbour beckon the sailor in the midst of a stormy night at sea.
In reality though, as with all things newish, there is a certain amount of inertia. Skepticism and perhaps denial and initial limitations such as on lens choice, have somewhat hindered the appeal of CSC systems at large and, perhaps regrettably, many a new shiny DSLR devices are still sold to the unsuspecting novice.
So, my friends, it’s certainly not my intention to discuss the merits of this or that camera brand or model . My desire is simply to reach out to the unsuspecting first time buyer of a capable camera who also desires to travel. The enthusiast that wants more than the capability of a point and shoot or a smart phone. Think carefully, I say, about your choice and look beyond the advertised selling points of a any DSLR or even higher end CSCs these days. Size when traveling is important and smaller trumps big and bulky.
In the end, when you’re “out there”, all things being acceptably equal, the most important feature will be whether you can stick the dam thing in your jacket pocket or not!