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Holiday Photography Conundrum

As an avid, longstanding photographer, the whole issue of taking pics while on holiday is a vexing one. I always have a competition running in my head: one side is horrified at the thought of coming home with simple 'snaps' and so wants to take my 5kg of professional DSLR gear everywhere, while the other side wants to avoid turning the trip into a photoshoot, lugging all that expensive gear around and failing to see anything that wasn't in the viewfinder (also attracting thieves).

I have recently found a sort of accommodation for photogs like me (in other words, the Family Photographer PITA). The solution for me was to invest in a reasonably high-end 'compact' camera, in my case a Panasonic Lumix LX100. This amazing little camera, in terms of capability, sits somewhere between the ease of a point-and-shoot /smartphone, and a full-size DSLR. It satisfies my need for high image quality, having an extremely good lens (with plenty of wide angle - always useful on holiday) and a 'fast' aperture for lovely, shallow depth of field - great for isolating the subject from its background. Lots of auto settings mean it can be used by anybody, while its design and great little screen allows one-handed, discreet shooting that hopefully won't irritate your models (sorry, I mean family).

This isn't to say that I never miss the DSLR when on a trip, especially at night when a good DSLR will find light that a compact camera wouldn't know was there, but the advantages of light weight and unobtrusive packaging and operation, along with better than reasonable image quality, means I never miss the weight of the pro rig - and Mrs Wife doesn't have to wait around while I faff about trying to get the perfect shot with a DSLR and three lenses.

I have so far used the little Lumix on two big trips and I'm really happy with the result. An additional bonus is the ability to shoot frankly incredible video which, though not my thing, could be a real boon to folks who like to make holiday movies.

I'd be interested to hear how other photogs on this site deal with these issues and what solution or compromise they found (other than divorce).

Posted by
1705 posts

I am no great photographer but I discovered the Panasonic Lumix line about 10 years ago and I've never strayed from them. They are amazing cameras and so very simple to use. I travel with that and nothing else.

Posted by
4686 posts

I too switched to a Lumix "bridge" camera last year when going to Europe, after many trips lugging around a DSLR and several heavy lenses. And although I was nervous about missing out on some great pictures without all my gear, I too will probably never go back to a DSLR for travel - it was a successful experiment.

The camera I got was a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000, which is a surprisingly capable camera for its size (looks like a small DSLR but quite a bit lighter). It has a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 25mm to 400mm, which seemed laughably impossible to me just a few years ago in terms of being able to get great images at both ends of the focal range...but this camera is quite amazing for what it is. Images are impressively sharp even zoomed out to 400mm; the camera's built-in image stabilization is impressive. I zoomed out to 400mm much more than expected.

This isn't to say my Lumix has completely replaced my DSLR. The DMC-FZ1000 certainly has limitations, one obviously one being the limited aperture range. The smallest aperture is f/8.0 which is the "sweet spot" in the middle of some of my Canon DSLR lenses! I like sharp pictures and a large depth of field for landscape shots, so I tend to shoot almost everything at f/8.0 (or smaller) if I can, if there's enough light. And I occasionally missed my wide 17mm-40mm lens (on a full frame non-crop Canon DSLR) for getting some super wide shots - but I lived without it on my trip last year and I'm sure I will in the future. Manual focus on the Lumix is a bit challenging as well compared to a DSLR. But the trade-off of not having to lug around so much equipment, and to be able to react quickly without changing lenses all the time, was well worth it.

Posted by
6045 posts

You don't have to sell me on the Lumix, the whole line is a good blend of small size and large capability. Mine is getting old now and isn't as 'top of the line' as the LX100, but it's still clicking right along taking beautiful photos for my purposes and I love the compactness and light weight rather than the heavier SLR camera and lenses I used to haul around.

Posted by
4686 posts

My DMC-FZ1000 was already a few years old (in design) when I bought it last spring! But I wasn't sure how much money I wanted to invest in what was essentially an experiment - and I got the camera at a big discount. I haven't seen much that compels me to need to replace it soon. It has a huge sensor and is very low noise and seems to produce excellent images.

Posted by
228 posts

I agree with the replies so far.

One of my pet hates (or perhaps limitations) is flash photography, particularly with a single, on-camera flash. I find it robs all the ambience and atmosphere that natural light provides. Better photogs than me produce great shots with flash, but it's tricky to do on-the-fly and with one flashgun. Think candlelit restaurant, the sort of situation where the lighting is dim but absolutely key to getting the right shot.

For this reason, I favour fast lenses and big, light-gathering sensors. The LX100 has both (f/1.7 aperture and four thirds sensor), though of course the sensor is only 'relatively' large in camera terms. Still, Panasonic weaved some magic when they designed the optics/sensor package, producing something far more capable than the spec sheet alone would suggest.

In fact, the indoor shooting capability is so good I don't bother taking the accessory flash with me. I'm pretty confident I'll get the shot no matter what the lighting. I got some good shots last year in Tokyo's Robot Restaurant - all flashing neon, smoke and lasers - without flash and they really captured the show.

Having said all this, I will once again go through sheer torment in the weeks leading up to our next planned trip to Italy, Switzerland and Austria in July. I have no doubt that I will pack the Canon 5D3/24-105L at least twice before taking it out again because it's too big and heavy. Then I'll put it back because photography! The Lumix will probably win in the end though. Probably.

Posted by
487 posts

Also switched to a Lumix g85 for travel- light and versatile it's an amazing camera - and takes up a fraction of the space and weight of my DSLR gear. For me it's been a great trade off.. although the electronic viewfinder still is a bit jarring!!!

Posted by
228 posts

Like Nancy, I struggled at first with the lack of DSLR-type viewfinder on the LX100, though one of the reasons I chose it was the combination of optical viewfinder AND LCD screen. I used to hate LCD screens.

Then I discovered just how easy it was to take 'ninja photos' with the LX100, one-handed shooting down low, out the side or overhead. The auto focus is pretty good, mostly nailing the subject if you give it some help. Now I never use the viewfinder at all.

Posted by
4686 posts

Flash photos from my DMC-FZ1000 look awful using the built-in flash. It's always a trade-off vs. using high ISO/open aperture in low lighting. The FZ1000's lens is not that fast, only f/2.8 at the 25mm-equivalent, but because of the low noise, high ISO looks OK if not great. However, a better flash system (which I haven't explored) makes a huge difference. Someone who knows how to use a flash properly (I can't claim to know) can make it look like no flash was used. The external flash on my Canon 5D Mark II is infinitely superior to my Lumix's built-in flash, and of course that's what I would use to take staged, not spontaneous flash photos. There are times I would love to use that setup to take candid pictures of my cat, who rarely poses for more than a second or two, but the Canon setup is much too bulky and awkward for that. The Lumix can at least capture moments, even if sometimes I have to use the flash and get that awful washed-out look. Always a trade-off in photography...

Posted by
228 posts

I should play around with slow-speed synch a lot more. It's a great way to light a foreground subject with a little bit of flash while also retaining dark, background detail. In the sort of holiday, run-and-gun situations I'm talking about though, especially when you don't want to ruin a romantic or relaxing moment by taking five minutes to set up the shot, it would require too much thought from a gumby like me.

Posted by
607 posts

I try to embrace the challenges of using limited equipment to take a decent photo, not just on vacation but at any time. Even a cheap point and shoot has the ability to have a long shutter exposure of up to 30 seconds to take a photo in very low light conditions. I do not carry a tripod. However, I try to brace my camera against a solid base to eliminate or reduce blur on long exposures. The bottom and sides of my camera are all scratched up from being pressed up against tabletops, walls, posts, garbage cans etc. I am willing to bet that i get a sharper picture of a dark church ceiling with my point and shoot laid on the floor on a timer than most tourists with a handheld $5000 DSLR. The other thing that I suggest is to learn how to change the exposure compensation on your equipment and take multiple bracketed shots. I usually recommend buying the biggest sensor and the fastest lens your budget will allow and eschewing big zoom (zoom with your feet). Good equipment helps but good technique and an eye for composition will give you better images. I have seen some amazing shots taken with a small sensor smartphone by very good photographers.

Posted by
228 posts

Some good advice and tips so far. I would add, for those who (1) have a camera with the capability (2) don't mind the effort required and (3) can wait till they get home before seeing their pics, always shoot in RAW format. Many cameras will save the images in both JPEG and RAW, which means you can at least download finished images onto a laptop for instance and share them, but for shots in challenging conditions, shooting RAW is vital.

For many years I shot with film cameras, then back in 2002 or so, I bought my first digital SLR. I had given up shooting semi-professionally and just wanted to shoot family and holidays etc, so wanted a way to shoot reasonably good shots quickly and easily. I was very disappointed with the results, especially the lousy dynamic range - I had to choose between properly exposed shadows with blown out highlights, or vice versa.

I walked away from photography in disgust. Then, in 2010, I gave it another go. By this time I had swotted up a bit and learned about the 'power of RAW', which essentially replaced the darkroom - the place where old-school photogs would spend time rescuing good/important shots with that were poorly exposed, within limits. Shooting RAW (which is the image file straight off the sensor in unadulterated form) gave me back my darkroom. Shooting JPEG is the modern equivalent of taking your film down to the camera shop to have it developed and printed - you have no control over exposure or colour. I'm sure the old timers like me will recall the disappointment we felt when we first looked at some pics from the holidays, only to find everything was purple. That said, modern digital cameras come with pretty sophisticated firmware to convert the RAW file into a JPEG and so get it more or less right, most of the time. It's those pesky low-light, high contrast or otherwise challenging cases where JPEG will let you down.

An investment in time is required, but if you want the very best shots and more creative control, forget JPEG, shoot RAW. I hardly ever use Photoshop, but I massage every single shot using the 'Camera RAW' software. Folks unfamiliar with RAW would be amazed at how really bad shots can be salvaged, or good shots made immeasurably better.

Posted by
3807 posts

I'm not a pro-photographer, but I do sell photos on etsy. I started with a Fuji P&S, then went to a Fuji super-zoom and now have a Canon mirrorless (their original 'M' - oh how I want to upgrade to the M6 (I think they are on) but can't justify it - yet - gotta save some $$).

When I first got the M, I had the kit lens, got a 22mm and since I like doing architectural details, so need the zoom, I got a 55-250mm. I hated having to switch between the two lenses so I sold the zoom and got an 18-200, which is perfect for my needs...I rarely have to switch the lenses...I still pack along the kit lens, in case - heaven forbid - something happened to the zoom. Downside - the video isn't that great - focusing not the best and the autofocus clicks and is noisy (if the video is quiet - in a crowd/noisy situation it doesn't matetr). I don't do much video - sometimes just use the ipad.

The Canon is lightweight enough it doesn't bother my shoulders (my sling strap from Joby is one of the best gifts my hubby ever gave me that I told him he needed to buy for me...lol). I see these people toting these large heavy cameras around their neck and don't know how their back/neck/shoulders aren't screaming by the end of the day.

Posted by
4686 posts

RAW is really useful - I've been shooting it since I got my first DSLR in 2001. I shoot everything RAW+JPEG. But it's quite a lot of extra work - beyond what most people are going to be willing to put in. I had to work up a whole new photo flow for RAW when I started using the Lumix last year - I use Linux on my laptop not Windows and I had rigged my Canon software to work in Linux, but it doesn't support the Lumix. There is some good free software that will mostly work in Windows too (Rawtherapee and GIMP, namely).

One extra step I've needed to add with Lumix RAW files is optical distortion correction. I do some with the Canon images (both RAW and JPEG - same image), but my DMC-FZ1000 auto-corrects the optical distortion in JPEG files but not in RAW files. And at the widest zoom, there is severe distortion - looks like a fisheye lens, with the black edges of the lens visible. (On the upside: I've found that when I correct 25mm-equivalent images, there is a little more picture on the images than the camera saved in the JPEG file.)

Posted by
1068 posts

It kind of depends on the trip. I don't find taking the Sony A7II-R with one lens or (occasionally) a second, a big deal. It, unlike many bridge, P/S, Micro 4/3 cameras really does have a full sized 35mm sensor which makes it great in low light and means I have a lot fewer blurry shots that I throw away. (as I am usually, not always, on a tour I don't usually take a tripod.) So at night, in museums etc., it is a champ. I have taken either my 16-35mm or 24-240mm as my daily lenses, but am considering taking both on my next trip. For more rugged trips (such as safari in Africa) I take a Sony RX10-III which is weather proofed and has a smallish sensor (like the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000), shoots RAW etc, but does not have the great low light capacity. The other nice thing about a full frame is that you can do a lot of cropping without much loss of clarity. I used to take an RX100 v1 as a walk around, but have used the phone for that instead. It takes fairly poor pics (when compared to one of my cameras) but does okay documenting restaurants etc. Of course, a lot of everyone's personal choice will depend on what they do with their photos. There is a big different between printing them and putting a few "on the net." It also depends on how into photography you are. I have seen people rant about how great a photo was until they saw it compared to one taken with a better camera (and to be fair, possibly post-processed.) So for me, no biggie to carry around a few pounds of gear.

Posted by
173 posts

I think one of the biggest game changers in digital has been the ability to go to a higher ISO & still get great pictures. For those who remember, pushing Tri-X to ISO 1600 was a big deal & forget about any color print film at that ISO due to the grain that it would create. My digital cameras today are set to auto-ISO of 3200 which helps with higher F-stop camera lenses.

Having said that, the compact travel camera I use is the Canon G7 X (there is a version II out now). I like the large sensor, the longer lens range (35mm eqv of 24-100) & the built-in flash to give you some fill light when needed. I do miss having an EVF for those sunny outdoor shots. A lot of good compact cameras are being recommended above & it is all a matter of personal taste. My "guerilla" camera is an older Panasonic G5 with a 14mm (28mm eqv), an easy to hide street camera & shoot without looking into the viewfinder.

I made the switch to Panasonic Micro 4/3 five or six years ago due to the weight issue & haven't looked back. My primary camera had been a Nikon D700 (IMO, a terrific value still in a full frame digital camera) with a dozen Nikon primes & zooms. I also still use my Nikon F100 to shoot color print film because color print film is the equivalent to listening to vinyl LPs over digital music today. I love the color pop of film vs digital images. If you haven't shot color film lately, give it a try!

Posted by
504 posts

I agree with the basic idea of taking a high-end point-and-shoot camera rather than a DSLR. My own is a Nikon Coolpix 100. It's getting old now, but at least it was high-end when I bought it! I have the programmed auto to take bursts of three exposures, at plus and minus one f-stop. I do a lot with HDR merges when I get home. I'm still working on my photos from my August trip.

Posted by
4686 posts

I'm still working on my pictures from my May trip, LOL! Kind of fun in a way - like re-living it. Leaving the French Riviera soon for Provence and finally Paris!

Posted by
30957 posts

I've travelled on domestic trips with just a Panasonic P&S, and usually miss my DSLR as I can't get the results I want. For trips to Europe, I pack both the P&S and DSLR. These days I only shoot RAW and only process selected photos, as that tends to keep memory requirements down as RAW + JPEG produces huge files.

Although the larger camera is a nuisance to haul around at times, photography is an important part of my travels so I'll continue packing it along.

Posted by
228 posts

So far, it looks like the compact cameras win, even among those who own a DSLR. I can't say I'm surprised. I suspect that result might be different depending on age though. At 61yo with arthritis, weight is a big concern for me, hence the recent acquisition of the LX100.

But, as I said in my opening post, I also find that, if I take my DSLR, even with just one lens, the photography becomes a little too important and I frequently slip into 'photoshoot' mode, which isn't nice for my wife. It can also detract from my own enjoyment of the trip and I feel sometimes, when I have taken the DSLR on holiday, that I only properly appreciate many of the places we went when I get back and process the pics, by which time, it's kind of too late.

The compact, being limited in capability, stops me from doing that. It's nice that it is good enough to work in most situations, and even grabbed shots look good enough for the album, but it's something I do almost without thought. That said, I still have to be reminded sometimes when I'm making a bit of a nuisance of myself, climbing onto things or bossing folks around, just to get the shot I want.

Posted by
345 posts

I'd be interested to hear how other photogs on this site deal with these issues and what solution or compromise they found (other than divorce).

Like similar threads at this site about photography equipment, the posts are all about gears and techniques. They seldom tell us how the captured images are used. Displaying them on monitors is very different from making poster size prints for sale or hang in the galleries. Gear and technique discussions are pretty meaningless without including such context.

Posted by
3807 posts

To answer the 'what do you do with them' question - I take the best of them and list them in my etsy store - generally they are printed 8x10 or 11x14. I also do up a photobook for my personal remembrance.

Posted by
228 posts

"Like similar threads at this site about photography equipment, the posts are all about gears and techniques. They seldom tell us how the captured images are used. Displaying them on monitors is very different from making poster size prints for sale or hang in the galleries. Gear and technique discussions are pretty meaningless without including such context."

I think the 'compact versus DSLR on holiday' is a perfectly legitimate - and relevant - question. I doubt that many (any?) members of this forum have had their holiday photos printed poster size and hung in a gallery, don't you?

That being the case, gallery display is an irrelevance, whereas weight, security, convenience and ease of use of a compact versus the capabilities and image quality of a DSLR in the context of holiday photos is a question I guessed many people who own both types have to deal with.

Posted by
30957 posts

" if I take my DSLR, even with just one lens, the photography becomes a little too important and I frequently slip into 'photoshoot' mode, which isn't nice for my wife. It can also detract from my own enjoyment of the trip"

Finding the right balance between taking pictures and enjoying the places one is visiting is always a bit challenging. I try to minimize changing of lenses, and have worked out some "shortcuts" (such as presetting the camera for the current conditions at the time) so I can get pictures quickly if I need to. I try to assess shots in advance in terms of framing and camera settings, so that I can minimize the time getting the picture. Speed is especially important when travelling on tours, in order to keep up with the group.

On some trips I pack a tripod for night pictures and don't find that going out for an hour or so in the evenings detracts from my enjoyment of the holiday.

One reason I pack around the big camera is that I may only get to many of the places I visit once in a lifetime, and I want to make sure I have the best pictures possible to remember those places.

Posted by
228 posts

"Finding the right balance between taking pictures and enjoying the places one is visiting is always a bit challenging. I try to minimize changing of lenses....."

Even when I take the DSLR, I compromise weight-wise by only taking one lens. That used to be a 24-70 f/2.8L but now it's a 25-105 f/4L, because I recently decided to have a go at shooting video with the DSLR and the 24-105 has IS, which the 24-70 lacked. I really miss the 24-70 because it produced beautiful images.

The IS on the new lens is an advantage, but to be honest, I rarely had a problem with the 24-70 in that respect. The extra reach is welcome when I'm shooting motorcycle trials, when 24-105mm seems to be perfect for most situations. I haven't taken the 24-105 on holiday yet, but I expect it will be pretty versatile. When on holiday, I find I rarely require more reach but I do occasionally wish I'd taken my 16-35mm for the wider angle.

Arthritis in my hands makes lens swaps a bit of a challenge, so I only own zooms, apart from a 150mm macro.