Help me consider the pros / cons of different cameras.
December 29, 2006 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Travel Photography Filter: Take the good, clunky camera or the less good, compact one?

I'm a college student who will be spending 14 weeks abroad this term (10 of them living in London, 4 roving around Europe).

My dad wants me to take his Nikon D-80 with me, but I'm concerned about its size, particularly during the "living abroad" portion of the trip (how well will that clunker travel to a nightclub, for example?), and also during the roving about portion of my trip, when I'll have to worry about it's steal-ability in and out of youth hostels and on trains.

I'm considering purchasing a far more compact (along the lines of, but not necessarily the Canon Powershot SD900) model that I can fit into a purse or daybag. My dad argues I'll be disappointed with the picture quality, which will never rival that of the D80. I'd like to get good pictures, but I'm not sure I agree with him that going compact will sacrifice that much quality.

Anyone have experience traveling with a camera the size of the D80? Would you lean one way or the other? Any aspects I'm failing to consider?
posted by irregardless to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the small one... i have a dslr and a point and shoot... which one do you nthink i want to bring out with me when i go out to the club? BUT if you enjoy going out specificallt to photograph, bring a DSLR
posted by joelf at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2006

I'd bring the smaller one even if I owned them both. If I had to borrow the bigger one it's not even a question, I'd be worried about it the whole time. You could always get something in the middle - say the Canon A series. High zoom for a pocketable camera, lots of manual controls, and very very small. Not SD900 small, but very small. Unless you're a pro the A series will be able to do more than you need and you won't have to worry about someone stealing your dad's camera.
posted by true at 11:12 AM on December 29, 2006

I would bring both if you can.

I took my first trip to California last year and decided at the last minute to leave my high quality SLR at home because I just didn't want to be bothered hauling it and its accessories around. Instead I took a smaller but less capable camera with me, and then regretted it throughout the trip. That's because I kept finding all these phenomenal picture taking opportunities that I really couldn't take advantage of with the camera that I had.

So, if coming home with great pictures is important to you, then bring your father's camera (talk to him about your concerns about losing it or breaking it) AND a smaller camera for those times when it would be more convenient.
posted by 14580 at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2006

yeah go small , travel light , all that stuff.
posted by nola at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2006

If you're not really into photography, most of the benefits of the D80 will be lost on you. If you are into photography, you probably still won't want to be constantly worried about hauling the D80 around with you to clubs, hostels, trains, etc.

A good compact digital camera can take great photos in good light conditions. You're gonna have a hard time getting photos from an SD900 published, but they'll be great to show to your friends, remember good times, etc.

I gave up the opportunity to travel with my dad's DSLR to travel with my Canon S2, significantly bigger than the camera you're looking at. I am really happy with my pictures, but I was often annoyed as hell carrying that thing around. If I had a DSLR, it really would have put a crimp in my style.

The D80 is an awesome camera, it is also big enough to be almost impossible to conceal. You'll have to be at least wary of thieves whenever it is on your person.

Enjoy London and Europe!
posted by bluejayk at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2006

If you're a budding photographer you want the D80, but if you're going for the experience, and photos are only a secondary part of the trip for you, a way to make visual notes of what you've seen, the smaller camera is a much better choice.
posted by zadcat at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2006

Go small. The camera you'll actually use is the better camera; in this case, you're much more likely to be out and about with the smaller one.

It would certainly be nice to have the D80 with you, in case you decided to set aside some time for serious photography with it, but if you are concerned about theft, overall load, etc, leave it behind.

Go to a camera store and get a feel for how large a camera you are comfortable with—you might decide you want a super-sub-compact, or a merely compact. I know that at the end of a recent two-week trip, my wife and I were regretting having packed the heavier of two guidebooks.
posted by adamrice at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2006

Personally, if I'm traveling rough I want all my valuables to fit in a pocket. The D80 doesn't work for this, so it's either in a separate bag on your person or locked up, both of which give you something to worry about.

Beyond that, when I've taken an SLR, I didn't have it on me half the time I wanted to take photos. So the better quality was wasted.
posted by smackfu at 12:00 PM on December 29, 2006

I'm going to agree with the above posters and say go with the smaller camera.

However, I'm going to suggest that you also look into the PowerShot SD800 IS instead of the 900. It's basically the same camera, but it has a wider angled lens. My friend who studied abroad in Europe brought home all these great pictures of castles and cathedrals and stuff, and I think that those would benefit from the little extra wide angle. When I scrape up the cash, I'll be purchasing the 800IS for my everyday pocket camera.

Also, here's a little photo tip - zoom with your feet. Use your telephoto zoom sparingly.
posted by MrZero at 12:05 PM on December 29, 2006

If I borrowed a D80, I'd be a bit paranoid about carrying it across Europe with me.

I personally own a Nikon P3 and I'm about to buy myself a D80 -- the logic being, for taking a camera places that I don't want to lug my camera bag, I can use the P3, which is a decent point-and-shoot, and for serious photography, I'll use the D80. In a situation where you can't be sure of the security of your goods, I'd definitely opt for the cheaper camera from a practicality standpoint.

If you want to see some P3 photos, email me (its in the profile) and I'll set you up with my flickr pool. Alternatively, you could probably search flickr's tags for photos taken with whatever camera you're thinking about purchasing to get an idea of the quality.
posted by Alterscape at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2006

I own a D80 and an SD700 (and if you buy a little canon (and I love mine and highly recommend them) do NOT get the 900 - get one with IS, the image stabilization makes a WORLD of difference)

The SD700 is always with me in a shoulder bag. The D80 travels with me more often than my darling girlfriend would like, probably, but you can't compare the two experiences. The SD700 fits comfortably in a coat pocket or clips to the back of my belt (a $8 blackberry case with a swivel-clip from Target holds the camera wonderfully). The D80 fits nowhere comfortably and it's a potential $1000 loss if you drop it or have it stolen.

Does the SD take pictures as good as the D80? No. The simple fact of the larger sensor yields a better picture. But the best picture is the one you get and you can't get it without having the camera with you. If you're into photography you might be happy having the D80 with you but if you're at all reluctant I'd say don't do it.
posted by phearlez at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2006

I travel with a D200 and a tiny Lumix. I shoot most of the time with the D200. BUT, if I was "roving around Europe" I'd only take the Lumix since the big Nikon is simply too much weight and too much money to be worrying about.

The difference in the quality of the pics has far more to do with the quality of the photographer than the quality of the camera. You can take some incredibly bad pics with the D80 and some great pics with the Powershot. I seriously doubt you'll see a huge difference unless you are after Ansel Adamsy landscapes (in which case you might well be disappointed by the D80 anyway).

As smackfu said, if you aren't carrying the camera you can't take the photo. The smaller the camera, the more likely you'll be carrying it.
posted by johngumbo at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2006

I second MrZero. Skip the SLR, because it doesn't sound like your main concern is taking the best possible photos. I've taken some very nice photos with my compact camera, but I'm sure they'd look even better if I used my SLR. I also expect that I'd be able to get good photos with the SLR in conditions where the compact would only take mediocre photos.

Look at the SD800IS because of the wider angle lens, and also because you can take video clips.

If it were me, I might take both cameras, but photography is one of the closest things I have to a hobby right now.
posted by Good Brain at 12:22 PM on December 29, 2006

If you are borrowing the D80, I assume that means you are not the serious photographer in the family. If so, not only will you not get the most out of the camera, you will also not be likely to bring along all the gear needed to get the most of it. I'm talking about things like a tripod, external flash, additional lenses, and of course memory cards, batteries, and so on. What to take depends on how important the photography aspect of the trip is to you.

Having said that, the difference between a DSLR and other digital cameras is phenomenal; for me, having no perceptible shutter lag is great, but the optical viewfinder, wide range of accessories, and so forth all make it worthwhile. You might also want to consider a less expensive DSLR or advanced digital camera in place of the compact. These can be had for a similar price ($500-$600 in many cases) but offer more features and capability.

Finally, this is only incidental to your question, but have you thought about what to do with your pictures? In 14 weeks I would probably take dozens of gigabytes worth of pictures. If you don't plan to download them somewhere, you will get more pictures per memory card with a camera around 6 megapixels or so. That is still enough to make a good 8x10 print (or even larger) if the camera is a good one, but the files will be much smaller.
posted by TedW at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2006

As someone who has carried thousands of dollars of camera equipment on his trips to Europe, the idea of capturing such a wonderful holiday with a point-and-shoot when you have a real camera available is just wrong. It's. Wrong.

Get some insurance and take the real camera. Geez. I pay a tiny increase in my renters insurance so that if anything happens to my camera, it's covered. Stolen? Covered. Lost? Covered. Broken? Covered. Damaged? Covered. Zombies? Covered.
posted by Tiddles at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2006

are you sure about Zombies? I heard that was a higher premium.

Here's my vote for:

Into photography? SLR. Photos as a memory? PnS
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:45 PM on December 29, 2006

I've travelled with both an Elph and a D70 (sometimes at the same time). They're good for different things.

"Picture quality" is mostly a red herring. Both cameras will take beautiful pictures. If you're planning on making poster-sized prints, there may be a quality difference, but otherwise I wouldn't worry about it.

The DSLR offers a lot of flexibility. It's much better for things that require you to be able to take a picture with no delay (wildlife, sports) and with the right lens can be much better for natural light (no flash) photography. But that raises the question: a D80 with what lens(es)? Do you know how to use the flexibility? If you're going to leave it in Auto mode all of the time, you won't be taking advantage of it. And there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of beautiful pictures can be taken with the default settings.

The Elph is a great pocketable camera. It's not quite as responsive as a DSLR, but it's easier to have it with you all of the time.

Consider insuring the camera if you're worried about it. I pay about $30/yr for a "Personal Articles" rider on my renter's insurance to cover my camera and lenses against pretty much anything.

I take my DSLR on all of my trips now because I'm addicted to the responsiveness and I actually use its flexibility, but it took me a long time before I got to the point where I was taking pictures with it that I couldn't have taken with my Elph. If you want to explore Europe instead of exploring photography, just take the Elph.
posted by aneel at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2006

The best camera is the camera you'll have with you. While your father's suggestion has merit -- the D80 is almost certainly a superior camera to all but the most expensive point-and-shoots -- a crappy camera in the hand when you need it, is always superior to a great camera back at your hostel/hotel/car.

If you're going to be sleeping in hostels and generally bumming around Europe, carrying a big SLR system and a camera bag is probably going to get obnoxious. When I went around Europe a few years ago, I passed over my big SLR for a Minolta Z series, which is sort of an SLR/PaS hybrid. It was a good compromise; I got photos that were almost as good as my big camera, and I got photos of many places that I wouldn't have brought the camera otherwise.

If you were going on a cruise, bus tour, or other more 'relaxed' vacation, then I'd say take the big camera. But if you're going to be doing any amount of walking with all your gear, stick to something small.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2006

I would take the DSLR in your backpack and a point and shoot film camera like a Olympus Mju II (I think they're called Stylus in europe now) in your pocket - the one with the 35mm f/2.8 lens. It'll run you like $70 and if it explodes (or whatever - although there is NO reason it should, mine is 8 years old and works great) you just get another one without shedding a tear. Shoot lots of different film, buy a roll whenever you need to and mail them back home (or just keep them around til the end of the trip).
posted by jedrek at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2006

I'm a serious amateur photographer, and I'd take the D80 because the quality of the shots is so much higher, but I have the SD800IS and it's a great little point-n-shoot for all its limitations, so if it were me I'd take both - carry the SD800IS with me everywhere in my pocket, and take the D80 out for places where I feel safe with it and anticipate opportunities for high quality shots. If you're just a student wanting snapshots, take the smaller one only. And the 800 is better than the 900 because of the wide angle lens, and the image stabilization will suit you well in dark places like bars and nightclubs.

Oh, and take a Lomo or a Holga film camera too, for some cheap fun.
posted by matildaben at 2:13 PM on December 29, 2006

Go with the small. In my experience, the reality is that the smaller camera takes much better pictures, because you actually have it with you at the right moment and thus can take the pictures. When you're just nipping out to the store to get some minor thing, you don't lug the SLR around, you leave it behind. You end up spending more time without a camera than with.

Enjoy your trip. Lugging a heavy camera everywhere reduces that enjoyment at every turn, and in addition, produces worse photos for the reason mentioned.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:30 PM on December 29, 2006

Take the one you'll use.

I own two cameras, a high quality digital SLR and a tiny one that is in my pocket all the time.

I have photos that I wish I had taken with a better camera, but I never would have been carrying my SLR when I took those photos, so I never would have gotten them.
posted by Ookseer at 5:44 PM on December 29, 2006

If you don't know any better, the point and shoot will suit you fine, as long as it's decent. Definitely get one with image stabilization/vibration stabilization (Canon calls it one thing, Nikon calls it the other).

Unless your dad is also loaning you a nice VS lens for the Nikon, it'll be a waste without a tripod unless you plan to only take shots in good lighting conditions. Now, if your dad has that 28-200mm vibration stabilizing zoom lens for it, take the D80, even though you're risking $1200 to $1500 worth of equipment (and an difficult to get lens!), since it can do basically anything from wide angle to high zoom and with no tripod needed unless you're trying to take shots in complete darkness with no flash.

Unless you know what you're doing, you shouldn't futz with film, because you won't know until it's too late if you've f'd up the shots. With the digital camera, even a bare bones point and shoot, you'll have instant feedback as to the quality of your shot and will know immediately whether you need to take another.

If I knew I were going to be in places with safes or other secure storage, I'd definitely take the D80, but I enjoy photography for photography's sake.

In short, if I were in your position, I'd take the D80 and buy myself a Powershot with image stabilization, that way I'd be covered for any type of shooting I wanted to do.
posted by wierdo at 9:52 PM on December 29, 2006

both. you cannot bring the hefty one to a nightclub (and trying would be silly) but it will beat that smaller thing like a gong anywhere else.

personally, I go nowhere without slr or cameraphone.
posted by krautland at 4:30 AM on December 30, 2006

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