Picking the Best Travel Camera

En Route: The demands of travel photography can be tough on a camera, even the sturdy Nikon D200.
En Route: The demands of travel can be tough on a camera, even the sturdy Nikon D200.

UBUD, Indonesia — After having journeyed across Indonesia, I thought it time to reassess my previous camera dilemma — and my choices.

Always compelled to maximize my technical ability and to do it with efficiency, I fretted about what would make the best travel camera for a trip of indeterminate length. I heard strong arguments from both sides, which boiled down as such: A lightweight, unobtrusive point-and-shoot lent itself perfectly to uncertain itineraries vs. a full-sized, semi-pro DSLR would provide the best quality images.

The candidates were: A Nikon D200 (with vertical grip — because, why compromise?), a Ricoh GR Digital II and a Canon PowerShot G9.

The Nikon would be accompanied by a ultra-wide-angle 12-24mm lens, which is my absolute favorite, and likely the 18-70mm kit lens, which has given me plenty of great images. Unfortunately, it came with significant heft, weighing more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) with the grip and extra battery.

But oh, so comfortable.

The Ricoh was a contender because of its fast 24mm f/2.8 lens and its 2:3 aspect ratio. Cons: Shutter lag, noisy video images and poor low-light performance.

The Canon offered great manual control and solid video performance, but its shutter lag, boxy shape and 3:4 aspect ratio did not endear it to me at first.

Nathalie, a talented photographer who made her way through Southeast Asia for eight months, further advised that such a conspicuous camera would be out of place in villages where a pricey DSLR represents a significant proportion of the local per capita income. (I thought of my travels across Peru, where this was also the case.)

After weighing everyone’s input, I decided to sleep on it and see how I felt the morning I left for the airport.

So, what travel camera did I choose?

Ultimately, I couldn’t bear to pick just one.

The big, honkin’ Nikon is my camera. It’s what I feel most comfortable with and it does everything I need it to do, nearly as quickly and effortlessly as I need it to. It’s responsive and tough. If it meets an untimely end, as it has once before, it will have died a good death. It holds two batteries, and I can see how much juice each has, so I can best judge when one needs recharging.

It means that when doing things such as driving a motorbike around Bali, I had no recourse but to sling it over my shoulder and expose it to the elements, including a sudden, heavy downpour that further loosened the camera’s rubber grip.

Bringing this camera also means I’m leaving nothing to chance. Sure, the poundage is one drawback — as is its high profile — but these are things I deal with when toting it around New York.

That said, it’s nice to have a video option when traveling — as well as a backup camera. So, I decided to pack both the Canon and Ricoh.

The decision allowed me to capture a bit of video of my bike adventures through Jakarta, as well as fun moments such as discovering the touch-phobic mimosa plant in Central Java.

The extra camera equipment, while not the best choice for everyone (and maybe not even for me), came at the expense of my total packing capacity.

For me, it’s a fair trade-off.

14 thoughts on “Picking the Best Travel Camera

  1. Are you kidding me. YOU TAKE ALL THREE!!! Ya can never have enough cameras. It has been keeping up with you and can’t wait to see what you are up to. good luck bruno!

  2. I’d have suggested the Ricoh GRD3. I bought one after seeing Nat’s shots and it blows away the GRD1/GRD2. Very usable at ISO800, fast 28mm f/1.9 lens, inconspicuous and wonderful ergonomics/screen.

  3. btw, that happened several times with my D200. if you email/phone ahead to any nikon shop they can get you replacement rubber and install it for you. it takes all of 5-10 min.

  4. I love that you took all three!!! I would have done the same thing. You can never have too many cameras … until your back starts hurting. 😉

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