Thursday, June 22, 2006

Have Camera, Will Travel

My friend Jon, whose latest book Invisible Armies is out soon and a great read (buy it!), just called to ask my opinion on the Canon PowerShot A700, as his S30 had died and I'd expressed some concerns over my recent upgrade to the S70.

Having not used the A700 I can't speak to how it handles, but it raised a few points that are relevant in general as Jon is a regular world traveller and although writing is his main talent his photography is also very important. So here are...

Considerations for a Travel Camera (the A700)

Aside from the obvious elements of 'must take a good picture', 'must work', 'lots of memory card space' and 'can afford' - here are some of the less obvious facets to take into account.

  1. Batteries: The A700, like many of the mid-range PowerShots, takes AA batteries rather than a rechargeable battery. Day to day this is not so useful as rechargeable AA batteries aren't the best thing in the world, but on the road the ability to carry a rugsac full of spare batteries will win over finding a power socket in deepest, darkest jungle any day. Of course there are manual or solar powered solutions for recharging that can also be considered but are generally expensive.
  2. ISO Range/Lens Speed: Firing off a flash, aside from giving crappy red eye nine times out of ten, will kill the local light ambience stone dead in a second. So having a camera that either has a fast aperture (< f2.8) or a quality high ISO (800+) will help produce more interesting photos. The A700 (like my old S30 but unlike the S70 - grr) has 800 ISO, however the noise levels are pretty bad.
  3. Robustness: On the road your camera gets knocked and scraped all the time, so something that isn't made of flimsy plastic will make you feel less nervous as you're jostled in the crowd at a bazaar.
  4. Size/Weight: Unless you're a serious travel photographer (and even if you are), then you really want to minimize the camera's size and weight.
  5. Time to fire: You see a shot, you reach for your camera, turn it on, wait a few seconds, aim, it focuses, wait for it then takes the shot.. Meanwhile the beautiful image you captured in your minds eye remains just that as the subject wanders away. Whether it's children smiling and playing with a hoop or Steve Jobs, subjects often move and having a camera that reduces the delay between point and shoot will help you capture what you want.
  6. Manual Settings: If you have any interest at all in controlling your image rather than vice versa you need some access to the aperture and shutter speed settings on your camera. The easier it is to get to them, the more likely you are to work out the best settings before your chance has gone.

Also, if you're intending to take any underwater shots then make sure your camera has a custom case available and ideally some settings for dealing with all that blue.

I'll let you know what Jon's final decision was in a future episode.. Or maybe you'll just have to read his next book and find out yourself.