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Always Sweating the Camera Decisions

I am headed to southern Italy and Rome in about a month. I have no problem figuring out which clothes and shoes to take, but I can never make up my mind about what camera equipment to take. I am sure I will obsess my camera choices up until the day I leave. (FYI, I am an artist, and picture-taking is always an important part of my trip.)

Here is what I am thinking about taking (in addition to my iPhone) and why:

1) Point-and-Shoot. My trusted Panasonic LX-7 is small and light, has a beautiful fast Leica lens, has lots of manual controls, and can shoot raw. It's a no-brainer that I will take this camera with me. On my last trip, it served me well except for two things --- the lens wasn't quite wide enough (24mm equiv.) inside some of the churches and tight spaces, and the lens wasn't quite fast enough for extreme night work.

2) dSLR. For my upcoming trip, I am thinking about taking my Nikon d90 (crop frame) dSLR to address the two shortcomings -- wide angle capability and extreme low light capability -- of the point and shoot. This leads to some odd lens choices: an 11-16mm (16-24mm equiv) f2.8, a 35mm f1.8, and a 50mm f1.4. I am figuring that I will leave my kit zooms (18-55mm and 55-200mm) and my 18-200 at home. (I really want to take my 85mm f1.8, but I honestly don't think I need it.)

3) I contemplated buying a micro 4/3 camera to take instead of the dSLR, but I decided against it because getting what I want would cost around $2000, and the micro 4/3 would only shave 2 pounds off the weight. Also, the micro 4/3 would not solve my wide angle issue without shelling out an additional $900 or so.

What do you think? Is a dSLR going to be to heavy to carry around? (The camera and 3 lenses weigh 4.35 pounds, and I am not a large person.) Is it crazy not to carry a mid-range zoom if I am going to the effort of bring a dSLR? Or, should I just ditch the dSLR idea altogether?

I would welcome any feedback and advice.

Posted by
597 posts

I've come to realize that I won't be happy if I don't pack my dSLR (Canon 60D). It's a pain to pack but in the end, I think it's worth it. I use an 18-200 lens. That's cover most shots pretty well. I also take my pocket-sized Canon S100 for my walking around shots.

Then the issue becomes whether to pack a lightweight tripod. Again, I usually pack it as well. It makes such a difference in challenging situations. Including the tripod means taking a bag that I have to check and it won't fit in my carry-on.

Posted by
6 posts

Ditch the DSLR, I say. I just got back from a week in Norway and am so glad I left my GH2 micro 4/3 camera at home and brought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS25. I also was shaving weight. If you're going on internal flights in Europe, and just using carry-on, the rule on KLM and others is a maximum of 26 pounds...for everything...the roll-aboard and purse/daypack or whatever. And while traveling, I could quickly whip out the little Lumix and was probably using it much more than if I had the GH2. The little Lumix has a good optical zoom, and I was getting great shots. I also was less worried about carrying around this little camera than with my precious micro 4/3. If you want a super wide angle, consider the new lens adaptors for iPhone. Another idea, as you sound like a serious photographer: buy something like a used GH2 which I got for $1,000, and pick up a 14 mm lens.

Posted by
266 posts

Thanks, Eric. I have an 18-200 but I have never felt much affection for it. It's a wonderful lens, and many people love it, but it's always been a little too bulky for me.

The tripod is an excellent idea! My main tripod is a sturdy old Bogen/Manfrotto that would be a nightmare to carry. I may, however, take my gorillapod.

Posted by
45 posts

Taking my Canon PowerShot A630 next week and it will have to do. It has some serious limitations, but will just have to work around them and accept the fact that I won't be bringing any Pulitizer Prize worthy shots home. Even so, usually if I work around the shortcomings of the camera, I can manage decent photos. My DIY solution for a tripod will be a quart size ziplock bag to fill with rice or beans once I am in-country. I do have a tele-converter for the PowerShot, but am leaving that home as well. This decision was driven by the fact that we are going to four locations, and with all that train travel in between, so I want to stick to carry on. If we were staying in one location, I would not mind checking a bag and having more equipment. Cab to hotel from airport, cab from hotel to airport - easy peasy. Trains, not so much.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
266 posts

Mary, I agree about the Panasonic cameras. I adore my LX-7. Oh, and a micro 4/3 is definitely in my future, I am just not quite ready to pull the trigger. (The $2000 price tag did include several lenses.)

I am not terribly worried about weight restrictions on this trip. On the last trip, my main luggage clocked in at 19 lbs, which would have left me 7 pounds for the assorted cameras and electronics in my personal bag. Also, this trip will be a Smithsonian tour, and I am not going to have to worry about schlepping my main bag around. This may be the only time that I don't have to worry too much about weight restrictions. (I am planning yet another trip for next spring, which will most likely be cheaper hotels, hostels, and lots of train travel. The dSLR will be out of the question for me on that trip.)

Posted by
4686 posts

I could never do without my DSLR on a trip. Yes, it is heavy and bulky - but I always have better pictures when I come home and remember them for years after.

I learned my lesson in the past by using a P&S camera while on a trip - even though I had a DSLR with me, I left it at the hotel a few times because I was tired of carrying it. Later I was disappointed at some of the pictures I know would have been better with the DSLR.

The other issue for you at this point Marie is: if you buy a new camera now, how quickly will you get used to it? Breaking in a new camera while you are on a trip can lead to some learning mistakes and perhaps some blown pictures. That's normal, but do you want to do it in Italy?

Posted by
4498 posts

A tough dilemma as you have an excellent P&S camera that is better than most.

Personally, I never would consider going on such a trip without my DSLR. I have an 18-200 lens and love it. A little long and bulky, but I absolutely love the flexibility of the wider angle to good zoom. I've never felt much that I needed a wider angle than 18. But I use the zoom all the time as I love to get architectural details. I can shoot interiors almost no problem without a tripod.

I wouldn't want to carry around two cameras, that's for sure. And I don't like carrying around multiple lenses, which is the main reason I use the 18-200. Nowadays if I want a snapshot, I use my iPhone.

Posted by
287 posts

I am alway conflicted about cameras when I travel. My P&S has an awesome zoom, but it is soooo slow. My DSLR is fast and has great pictures, but it is sooooo heavy. When I traveled to NYC, I thought about my Iphone, but it was even slower than my P&S and had a very limited zoom. As for buying a new camera, I would rather spend my money overseas instead of spending money state side.

That said, I would ask, how often do you think you will be taking pictures in extreme night work? How often are you in tight spaces. I would be tempted to take the P&S and supplement with the DSLR and only take one or two lenses. Or just take the P&S. Or just take the DSLR. The digital photography school blog has a ton of great suggestions on lenses to take.

Good luck!

Posted by
266 posts

Thank you all so much for your responses. There’s a lot of good food for thought here.

Martha, yes, I find that careful composition and technique usually gives me more mileage than a fancy camera.

Andrew, I hear what you are saying about breaking in a new camera on a trip, which is one reason I have pretty much decided to hold off on a micro 4/3.

Douglas, having a good point and shoot does indeed make the decision more difficult. You and several other folks swear by the 18-200. It’s a very fine lens, but I find that it wears me out to walk around with mine for more than a few hours. I am still leaning toward a fast prime (or two). And I love to shoot with my iPhone, too. (Actually, I have won a lot of awards my iPhone work, and it has been exhibited internationally and featured in books, CNN, etc.)

Susan, I do like to take pictures at night. Maybe not every night, but often enough that I think I want to take a camera that would allow me to take respectable night shots. The tight spaces are basically churches — specifically, the Pantheon, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale in Rome — where I found myself really wishing for something wider that than 24mm on my last trip.