Best camera setup for geo fieldwork?
January 5, 2009 11:46 AM   Subscribe

What's the best digital camera and equipment to use for high-quality photography during geophysics fieldwork?

I'm responsible for writing a proposal asking for more cameras for graduate student use, and I want to know what kind I should ask for. Is the image quality of a DSLR worth the extra expense and complexity, or would a high-quality non-SLR camera be better? What equipment will help make the best use of the camera in field conditions (e.g. carbon-fiber tripod, specialty camera case, additional lenses)?

Budget-wise, value-for-money is more important than hitting a specific number, although I think it would be difficult to get approval for more than a few thousand dollars.

Should be reasonably durable and low-maintenance, though it may not need to be actually "ruggedized." Should take good pictures in a variety of lighting conditions and not require too much fiddling. Probably does not need to be good at action shots.
posted by fermion to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you need photos in low lighting conditions, you basically need an SLR. If you need exposure times >~1/focal length, you'll need a tripod.

It'll help if you can provide some info about what kinds of photos these will be - close-ups of rocks? photos of large-scale geological formations? I have no idea what geophysicists would want photos of, though I'm reasonably well-informed about cameras.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:00 PM on January 5, 2009

Many of today's and shoot cameras offer manual exposure control.

I personally think a Canon G10 would work great for what you describe.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 12:21 PM on January 5, 2009

Tomorrowful--I'm afraid I can't give a very specific answer, as our department has a fairly wide range of activities. Both of the things you mentioned (close-ups of rocks and larger-scale landscape photos) would be important, as well as things like documenting the way experiments are set up and perhaps taking pictures of the sky and surrounding environment as a record of weather conditions. The camera should be more generalist than specialized, since I suspect students will end up inventing new ways to make use of it in the field.
posted by fermion at 12:34 PM on January 5, 2009

I went through this in my old department, and I found that teaching someone some basic photography techniques may help more than a really fancy camera. Lenses are great only if the grad students know how to use them. The camera you pick also depends on what the students do with images too. Are they going to be putting these on huge posters or in high quality publications? What is their skill level with image software? And what Tomorrowful asked.

For me, I have a Canon Powershot, and I *love* it for fieldwork. I take lots of close-up and large scale photos and it's been great.

There are lots of field-worthy suggestions in this thread.

As a side note: for fieldwork I've recently started using the Gigapan system. Best investment I've ever made for large scale photos of outcrops and formations - it takes some time in the field but once in the lab, the ability to zoom in has been *priceless.*
posted by barchan at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2009

Seconding the Canon G10. Or you could maybe search for its predecessor, the Canon G9, which is a fantastic camera.
posted by cazoo at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2009

DSLR, wide angle lens for shooting areas you're interested in, good macro lens for shooting detail on rocks. I suppose the ideal for that would also be a full-frame sensor (for better wide-angle), but that's still quite an expensive option.
posted by rodgerd at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2009

Sounds like the Canon G10 is the go-to non-SLR camera. Is Canon is also a good bet for DSLRs? Any suggestions on useful accompanying accessories?

Barchan, thanks for pointing out the Gigapan. Cheaper than I would have expected, too.
posted by fermion at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2009

I have to say (as a semi-pro photographer) I hear a lot of people talking about the G10 but I borrowed one and was severely unimpressed with the image quality. It may not be an issue for you, and a lot of people are into them, but I returned the one I bought (I never opened the box).

If you are thinking about an SLR, the new Pansonic G1 looks like a really awesome camera for the money. It has adaptors to use just about any lens ever made, ever. Live view and all kinds of cool stuff. The next update will likely have video, which probably won't be of use to you but will be super cool.

Pentax SLRs are extremely good values.

Canon and Nikon are both the industry standard, but they are expensive and their lenses are expensive. ANd some of their lenses suck a@@.
posted by sully75 at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2009

nthing the Canons for non-dslr. I loved mine until a large man fell on it in Changi airport. Ruined the lcd screen though the rest works fine.

For a DSLR, I am very happy with my Pentax K200D - which is a bottom of the price range DLSR @$550 or less. I use mine in dry dusty mining sites, as well as for in-studio work. The best thing about the K200D for outdoor purposes is its very hardy dust and water resistant body. Over 60 individual rubber seals keep the camera very clean and sealed.

And for a tripod use on uneven ground - the old screw-tied-tied-to-string-affixed-to-washer-under-foot trick will give a steady hand held shot - the K200D also has hand-held shot steadying mechanism.

Also, the Pentax will take any pentax lens of any age so money can be saved by purchasing good second hand lenses.
posted by Kerasia at 4:00 PM on January 5, 2009

« Older Hummus goes with what veggie?   |   Pinched Pelican Problem Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.