Do y'all bring your nice, expensive cameras on vacation these days?
March 20, 2017 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Please help me weigh the pros and cons of bring my DSLR to Cuba.

I am likely overthinking this, but I can't decide whether or not to bring my digital camera on our family vacation to Cuba, where we will be staying at a resort but also spending a night in Havana. I could just rely on my cell phone, which doesn't take the best pictures. I could also bring my film SLR. Help me decide? I'm sure that since the advent of good phone cameras, many of you have faced this problem and opted to just leave their nice digital cameras at home when on vacation. But what a shame.

* I realize Cuba is extremely safe and the chances of it being stolen from my person are practically zilch.
* I have seen the 2009 question about this - but that was before decent phone cameras

- It's quite valuable. If something happens to it - dropped, immersed in water, stolen from room, that would be terrible.
- It's bulky, so a pain in the ass to carry around.
- It will draw attention to me (although there will be no doubt we are tourists)
- It might make people in Havana more likely to approach me for money and other things (not awful, just somewhat annoying)

- Cuba will be so beautiful and so fascinating. How can I possibly be satisfied with just phone-camera quality pics?
- Why the hell do I own it if I'm not going to use it?
- My film SLR is of course less valuable but I have to relearn how to use it and film purchasing/processing can add up.
posted by kitcat to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The point of a camera is to take pictures. It would be a shame if it were stolen, but not taking photos with an expensive camera is pretty much identical to not having an expensive camera at all.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:32 PM on March 20, 2017 [31 favorites]

Agree with pseudo. Bring it. It's why you have it in the first place. FWIW, I moved from Canon to Fujifilm mirrorless cameras because the camera and lens combo is so much smaller and lighter. Very worthwhile move for me.
posted by cnc at 1:35 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had the same question going this summer to Colombia. I ended up taking it, being glad I did, and being sorry I didn't take a 55-200 lens with me.
posted by signal at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Option 3: Trade it in for a very good or great compact. Your photos will be loads better than with a camera phone, but not that different than from a DSLR. It wouldn't be quite as good, with less bokeh, not as great in low light, etc., but it would address your last three cons.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I travel 10-12 weeks a year mostly for photography. For peace of mind I never bring equipment I can't afford to replace.

Consider buying a second body (older, fewer features, used, etc) for travel you could afford to replace.
posted by Homer42 at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I sympathize. My personal rule: if I'm there to participate, I bring the tiny camera / phone camera. If I'm there to make art (i.e., I have something I want to say, learn, do, etc., through the images), I bring the big glass. If you can't afford to lose your phone, camera, etc., then don't bring it.

Example: when I plan to go ride in a bicycle race and, the day after, go out with some new friends to see the sights: phone camera only. When I plan to go to ride in a bicycle race and, the day after, sit on a Carolina mountaintop and think about the woods, I pack the bulky stuff.
posted by introp at 1:51 PM on March 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

I cannot imagine why you would travel without travel insurance, so I am struggling to understand why this is an insurmountable dilemma. This is what insurance is for; you just need to check the policy is sufficient.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I took my nice DSLR camera to Cuba and it was absolutely the right decision. Havana is so amazing to photograph and you will regret not having the best photos possible. I was never once worried about theft there. I brought spare batteries so I wouldn't have to worry about charging anything and I brought plenty of memory cards and a quality camera case. Don't overthink it! You own a nice camera for the express purpose to taking photos! If there was ever a time to have a nice camera it's in Havana!
posted by shornco at 1:57 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

As you write yourself, Cuba is a very safe country. The description here matches my experience from traveling through the country for the past three weeks. You may not miss your camera in the resort, but you will in Havana. One more vote to bring it along.
posted by insouciant at 2:11 PM on March 20, 2017

Data point: I got the "great" P&S in Mr.Know-it-some's answer for a trip to Morocco and am super glad that I did. (Not solely for; I was hoping to replace my old XTi with something pocketable for a while.) A friend I was traveling with brought her dSLR with long lens, probably got 10% better photos, but also probably 20% as many with 50% more hassle. (All made-up numbers, of course.)

Of course, since you have a dSLR and not a P&S, another vote for "bring it". I can't imagine that Cuba is any less safe than Morocco and I never felt weird or iffy about having it/using it.
posted by supercres at 2:14 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

(More relevant to you: nor did my friend about her larger SLR, as far as I know.)
posted by supercres at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2017

I've not brought my DSLR to situations I thought might "endanger" the camera. Still regret those decisions and think about the photos I could've gotten.
posted by monologish at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I rarely take pics with my SLR anymore because it's a pain to carry around and it makes you less able to blend in. My pics have not suffered really. I think SLRs really do it for depth of field; if you're not taking portrait shots you might not miss it.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will take my DSLR with me on family trips to the beach in the summer as well as on hiking trips where weight matters. I was the same when I had a film SLR. The one time it may have gotten me into trouble was when I was in Cambodia in 2003. One evening, me and some travelling companions ended up in some kind of pool hall in the back of a market in Siem Reap. One of the players there started asking questions about my camera (a pretty average Nikon DSLR with a pretty average lens) which was hanging around my neck and I was more than happy to answer. My companions had more developed Spidey-senses and they managed to drag me out of there fairly quickly. For the duration of the trip I still had my camera around my neck, as well as for the trip I took to Thailand the following year. I just don't learn.

I wouldn't bother with the film SLR because you don't really gain anything beyond not losing your DSLR body if it gets damaged or stolen (the lenses are still gone) but you'll probably be taking fewer pictures and have to deal with buying film and getting it processed. I don't think they make my favoured film anymore (Kodak E100VS) and even if I got some Velvia I'd have to trek down to the one place in Toronto that can still process it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:29 PM on March 20, 2017

Introp's answer is similar to mine, though maybe for somewhat different reasons. So this might be a different take on the dilemma that may or may not resonate with you....

I used to take my SLR (sometimes more than one) and fancy Canon L glass on every trip. But then I realized that on trips where we were trying to relax (e.g. Hawaii), I was treating it too much like a photo gig. I was spending a lot of time fiddling with the cameras, planning outings based on their photography potential, etc. And it was not only hurting my enjoyment of the trip, but also my wife's. Photography is a hobby I enjoy, but not to the exclusion of all the other things I go on vacation for, so it felt like it was getting out of balance.

These days, before a trip, I think a bit about what I (and my wife or travel companions) hope to get out of a trip. If "a bunch of pretty photos" is one of the top things, I'll bring the good camera gear, and have at it. But if it's more about relaxation, adventure (not often -- I'm lazy), or leisurely exploration of a new place, I leave it at home and shoot with my iPhone. The photos I get from my iPhone are more than good enough for remembering the wonderful things we saw and did on the trip. The only times I want more is if I am planning to make big prints or a fancy album. And honestly, right now I have a 36" wide print on my wall that I made in the spur of the moment with my iPhone 6, and it looks amazing.

I know that doesn't directly answer the question, but maybe it's something useful to think about.
posted by primethyme at 2:30 PM on March 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

I combat bulk by taking as small a kit as I can. A pancake lens on my Canon 5D makes it substantially less awkward to wield on holiday. If I can, I'll just pop it in the bag I already have with me. If not, I have the smallest padded bag I could find. It barely fits my camera with a small lens mounted, plus a spare battery, and a couple of memory cards. It's perfect for low-hassle photography.

In my opinion, those bulky "gadget bags" with a million pockets have damaged too many people's hobby.
posted by Magnakai at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2017

It's a side-step from the question -- and my answer there is "I take it EVERYWHERE" -- but I behave as I do with complete zen because I carry a personal articles policy on my camera.

It gets lost, stolen, or destroyed? State Farm makes me whole, and by "whole" I mean "purchase price, with no depreciation."

Ask your agent.
posted by uberchet at 3:10 PM on March 20, 2017

Havana is one of the most amazingly photogenic cities I've been to; there's so much that looks like the image you form in your mind when you think of it. It's also potentially endangered given US - Cuba relations; five or ten years from now there may be a Starbucks on every corner, etc.

I have since gone to a mirrorless camera, which packs most of the image quality and controls of a DSLR in a much more portable package. Unless you use your DSLR for a specific purpose like a home macro studio or something, if you don't want to take it travelling, is it the right camera for you? If they say the best camera is the one you have with you, then the best camera to own is the one you're willing to take with you - and your first two cons suggest it might not be the best camera.

Regarding the second two con points, I've found the overlap in the Venn diagram between the places I reasonably blend in as a travelling Canadian (camera or no) and the places where lots of random strangers will come up and try to get money is a small-to-nonexistent space. The only places I've noticed a difference between with and without DSLR is in some museums and the like, where professional photography is restricted.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:39 PM on March 20, 2017

- Why the hell do I own it if I'm not going to use it?

Quoted for truth.

I would take it a step further and say that, if you're not going to take it on this trip, you should sell the dSLR and get a good quality compact camera to take on the trip. If a trip to a famously photogenic destination isn't enough to get you to take along your dSLR, then there's really no good reason to own one.
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I managed to drop and completely destroy my digital camera only halfway through my Cuba trip and had to rely on my phone for the rest of the trip... I definitely regret not having quality pics for the whole thing, and was glad that I salvaged the memory card from the camera. Take your camera, enjoy it (and backup your pics each night if you're worried about theft, which is highly unlikely if you take standard precautions).
posted by TwoStride at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2017

Was recently in Havana and suggest you bring it. You will draw just as much attention without it and just as many people will approach you for money so that isn't a reason to leave it behind. Cuba is crawling with tourists, many of which are carrying around their own exciting items so don't imagine you are in some unique situation with your camera. Try not to drop it in the water, though.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:41 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Take your good camera and your lenses, take your pictures, then post some of your favorites online and let us see them ;)

I'm not much of a photographer, but my brother is. Last year when we visited Paris he took his Nikon body, two lenses and—for when he felt lazy—a good point-and-shoot. He spent some time messing with lenses, composing shots ("I'm just waiting until that lady moves to take a picture of the Venus de Milo" or "hurry, we have to get to the Hall of Mirrors before it fills up with people"), and whatever.

The trip to Paris was almost a year ago, but when I look back at the best of the photographs it's like I am there again. iPhone pictures sent to Instagram are just not the same thing.

Take your camera.
posted by codex99 at 4:53 PM on March 20, 2017

Are we talking a D3100 or a D750?

I have a lower end DSLR, Nikon D3100, and decided not to take it on our last big vacation as I decided it didn't add enough value over our new iPhone 7(s). No regrets. I considered buying a really nice P&S before the trip, but ended up not.
posted by LoveHam at 4:54 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

So much depends on what phone you have and what you photograph. It's quite possible to create photographic art with an iPhone 6S or 7 or the other high end smartphones. As an ethnographer I've stopped carrying the DSLR both because of its conspicuousness and because I'm often going to be shooting in dynamic situations where I have other duties to participate, many of these in wilderness situations where caring for my DSLR and schlepping its weight and bulk were formerly real challenges. I've missed out on telephoto shots in particular, but frankly my iPhone 6S takes portraits and landscapes and the like that are often better than I'd get from my now 7 year old $1000 Canon DSLR. Having sharp video easily to hand is indispensable for my purposes too. (Yes you can shoot video with a DSLR but not easily in the situations where I want video.)

Are there times I regret not having a telephoto lens or manual focus? For sure. I've taken to using the ProCam app as my main camera because it gives you much more granular control over settings you'd find on a DSLR. There's no doubt you're shooting through inferior glass and relying on digital wizardry to think for you. But at some point convenience and ubiquity (where I go the locals are likely to be shooting with iPhones anyway) and image quality have converged to the point that I leave the Canon at home. I realize I'm not comparing what I get to a state of the art DSLR, but what I get is always good enough and sometimes spectacular at a huge discount in opportunity cost to the old days (and I go way back shooting film too).

That said it depends a lot on whether you're trying to make art or memories. And an older/cheaper smartphone won't satisfy. So in your situation I'd say bring it, insure it, and leave it behind in as safe a early as possible if the situation calls for a lighter load or a lower profile.

I used to struggle with this on every trip to someplace beautiful. About two years ago, with an iPhone 6 even, it stopped being a thing i thought about. But I'm a traveler who seeks either primarily contact with people or the experience of being there in the moment in wilderness, not a "photographer" by motivation.
posted by spitbull at 6:58 PM on March 20, 2017

To add, a lot depends on indoor vs. outdoor settings too. Smartphone cameras have gotten amazing in good light. They still lag in low light.
posted by spitbull at 7:03 PM on March 20, 2017

I've been to Cuba and other "less safe" places. I have a fancy DSLR with fancy lenses. When I travel, I bring one prime lens (35mm), and use a BlackRapid camera strap that makes it easier to walk/hike/explore and has the added benefit of securing to the camera through the mounting hole at the bottom of the DSLR, though this does nothing to protect a determined person with a knife to cut through the strap. This particular style of strap allows your arm and hand to be extremely close to the camera itself, to protect it from walls or people.

If you value dynamic range, high resolution, low-light capabilities, and most importantly, are familiar with the operation of the camera, I'd say bring it.*

To address your points:

* I realize Cuba is extremely safe and the chances of it being stolen from my person are practically zilch.
Yep. Cuba is safe. You'll see tourists all around from all over wearing expensive watches and carrying expensive gear. Police presence is strong in Havana to the point of harassing locals (they draw their police force from citizens outside the city, who have no love of the cityfolk from what I've been told and have seen).

* I have seen the 2009 question about this - but that was before decent phone cameras
See bottom of this reply.

- It's quite valuable. If something happens to it - dropped, immersed in water, stolen from room, that would be terrible.

Same could be said about your passport or any other gear you might have with you, including a cheaper point-and-shoot or your phone, or the photos and memories on those devices. Your homeowner's insurance may cover off-site/travel loss, you may want to check with them if you have such coverage. Be sure you take photos of your DSLR, including its serial number.
- It's bulky, so a pain in the ass to carry around.
With the strap I use and linked above, I've comfortably walked, hiked, and in once case speedwalked from a questionable situation. The more you use it, the less of a burden it will seem and the more enjoyment you'll get out of it.
- It will draw attention to me (although there will be no doubt we are tourists)
There are so many other tourists in Cuba. So. Many. The attention I'd drawn from being an obvious tourist resulted in pretty great experiences and conversations and food and the like.
- It might make people in Havana more likely to approach me for money and other things (not awful, just somewhat annoying)
To be sure, there are touts/jineteros. They will approach you whether or not you have a DSLR hanging from your neck or shoulder. Most of the ones I encountered were friendly and not aggressive at all, and will leave you alone. Some have definite scams and plans that you could find in many other places in the world (eg: help you find your way back to location X, help guide you to a "real" or "genuine" site where Che drank where they ask you to buy them booze, or try to convince you to buy them, say, baby formula, at an inflated cost, which they'll sell back for cash). Just know where you're at, feel free to say "No, sorry," and move on. I'd been out in all hours of the night, and never felt like I was in danger. Of course, your tolerance for minor peril may be significantly less than mine.

- Cuba will be so beautiful and so fascinating. How can I possibly be satisfied with just phone-camera quality pics?

It IS beautiful. With a decent lens and a DSLR that can bump up ISOs above 6400 with tolerable noise levels (shoot, even 12800 can be acceptable to me), you'll capture so many things indoors with beautiful, natural lighting. But phonecam pics are pretty good, as are a lot of point-and-shoots and mirrorless cameras. Question is: what are you most comfortable using? If you're a pro at adjusting focus and locking exposure and the like with your phone, go for it. The best camera is the camera that you have with you. The second best camera is the camera you know how to work well, and quickly when it comes to making adjustments to aperture, pushing/pulling stops, shutter speed, etc.
- Why the hell do I own it if I'm not going to use it?
ZACTLY. Plus, it'll develop wear and tear and prove its use and durability.
I still miss a DSLR I gave to a friend that still had a bit of playa dust from Burning Man and worn edges from where the the magnesium shines through as the result of clamboring up difficult to access places, squeezing through narrow corridors, or just banging into things.

- My film SLR is of course less valuable but I have to relearn how to use it and film purchasing/processing can add up.
Not gonna go into the pros and cons of film vs digital but to say I love film (TMY 400 pushed to 800 and Tri-X!), though digital affords a ton of convenience.

*All this being said, I've also traveled with a very small, simple point-and-shoot that had a zoom lens and all of 12.1MP. It was fun to work within its limitations, and still took great shots. And that's the key: cameras are tools, and great photos come from how you use them.

Edit to add: oh, and you're gonna drop your phone. Count on it. You'll also lose your lens cap, so don't bother with it. Keep your DSLR on, count on your lens filter as protection. Don't miss a shot!
posted by herrdoktor at 10:05 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

What works for me is if I'm out to be with people or doing some other activity, the kit is limited to an archaic Nikonos II with a 35mm amphibious lens for b&w negs maybe a 80mm amphib if it looks like foul weather, plus an old 12 meg Panasonic super zoom. When it just me and the dog (who's very patient with camera geeking) its time to break out the toys and be obsessive as I want on each exposure.

As far as theft goes, I went a little nuts when digital knocked the bottom out of the used film market and bought at least one of every Nikon and Nikkor I had ever wanted. :] So for over 10 years I've been taking multiple expensive looking bodies and over a dozen lenses lots of places, some pretty sketchy. Never had a problem until this winter, after renting a room right on the lake, and going out to get some snaps of freezing rain with the Nikonos, I came back to find every Nikkor prime I had was gone. It happened less than 20 miles from home.

Tl,dr; live your life like you've only got one, just don't take stupid risks while you've got dependents.
posted by ridgerunner at 12:27 AM on March 21, 2017

Super helpful answers, everyone. Thanks so much. I'm going to take it. Might even buy a new lens.
posted by kitcat at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

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