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Choosing a Camera to Save Your Memories of Europe

Revised February 19, 2011

With the lower cost and improved quality of digital cameras and camcorders, you definitely want to bring a digital camera to Europe. The old question was whether to bring digital or film; the new questions are whether to bring a camera with interchangeable lenses, a video camera that takes stills or a still camera that takes video and how much memory do you need. And what about batteries.

If you do need a new camera for your trip, there are numerous online ways to purchase a camera. You certainly want to start your shopping online because you can see the full range of choices available and will become aware of many cameras that may not be available in your local stores. Before I started investigating prices for a specific camera, I researched the options at many different online camera reviews. My personal favorite is Digital Photograpy Review, which provides dozens of reviews, lots of detailed information and samples of the picture quality of the cameras they test.

Selecting a Camera

If you have the money or someone is going to purchase a camera as a gift for you, consider the size of a camera an important feature in your selection. As the page on personal safety discusses, a small camera that you can store in an inside pocket is the most convenient and secure. So keep that in mind as you make your selection. On the other hand, if you are an avid photographer with a great SLR camera, you are going to prefer quality over convenience and should definitely bring you4 favorite camera with you. Just be cautious about leaving it unattended in your car and keep it secure when you are riding on a train or the subway or traveling in busy tourist areas. As I walked through Prague, just beneath Castle Hill, with a compact digital and attached wide-angle lens, a young man made an effort to grab the camera but because I was holding it securely and didn't have a purse to worry about, I was able to get away from him with my gear. Repeatedly, kind people in Europe warned me that my camera made me a target for pickpockets/petty thieves; once, the potential thief noticed the duct tape holding the battery door shut and the effort ended (damaged cameras have little value, unless they are attached to an expensive lens). As I travel off to Bhutan this spring, I am grappling with the size/quality versus convenience question again; and leaning toward the convenience of a compact camera.

The next big factors for me were: power supply and battery power and the telephoto qualities of the lens. I have frequently found that I needed to change batteries multiple times in the course of a day. If you don't take lots of pictures, the new cameras with lithium ion batteries will suit you fine. But as a camper who may not always be able to recharge a lithium ion battery, I have always opted for a camera that uses rechargeable AA batteries, and have a 6-megapixel camera that uses AA batteries. My slim, pocket camera shoots 12-megapixel images and has enough energy for my typical day, though I carry a second charged battery with me as I wander the cities of Europe. With the large format of pictures now, the need for a telephoto beyond the available optical zoom is rare because I'm not shooting wildlife or other photos that would benefit. I opt for convenience over detail, but don't lose much of that when shooting in highest resolution.

The next big factors for me were: power supply and battery power and the telephoto qualities of the lens. I have frequently found that I needed to change batteries multiple times in the course of a day. If you don't take lots of pictures, the new cameras with lithium ion batteries will suit you fine. But as a camper who may not always be able to recharge a lithium ion battery, I have always opted for a camera that uses rechargeable AA batteries.

Because we had two cameras on our trips to Europe, I wore a fanny pack that held film and extra batteries for the digital camera, as well as other personal items I needed during the day. On the next trip, we will bring a film camera as backup but will only carry one camera as we sightsee. I have chosen a digital camera that I can conveniently tuck into an inside pocket of my blouse that has a 4X telephoto. I will store extra batteries in my purse.

What resolution should your camera be?

Which type of camera is best for you is answered by what you plan to do with your photos. If you are likely to put them into a photo album or scrapbook or send them along as email attachments, a 2 or 3 megapixel camera will do just fine,the one in y our cellphone is adequate. The majority of the pictures I took for this website were done with a 1.3 megapixel camera. If, however, you are likely to hang them on your wall, use a higher resolution camera or use a film camera as backup. I am now using a 12 megapixel camera so that I can do larger prints.

On our most recent trip, we discovered the real value of digital versus film. We had over 1.2 Gigabytes of memory for our camera that took pictures in any format from .4 megapixel to 12 megapixel. Because I planned to use most of the pictures on a website, I took most in the .4 megapixel mode and in 4 weeks of travel took over 4000 pictures. On the train or subway or back at the hotel, I would erase the poor pictures so that the memory could be used. Overall, the ability to take as many pictures as time or energy allowed increased the quality of the final pictures available from the trip.

Also, consider how much you enjoy photography. My husband finds cameras are generally distracting and take him out of the moment so he takes fewer pictures than I do. I, on the other hand, find that taking pictures makes me more observant and more aware of small details I might otherwise have ignored, so I quickly grab my camera. I spent 5 hours walking through and around Chartres Cathedral watching light come through the stained glass and make patterns on the stone floor. I not only came home with pictures that are unique and beautiful but had time to contemplate the history of that special place. For me, the camera was a microscope.

Recognize that you are likely to take many shots at night and want a camera that will give you decent night exposures. We now carry a small collapsible tripod to steady both our still and video cameras because many of the great night shots we took were shaky.

Camcorders and Video Cameras

Whether you bring a video camera depends on how you want to tell your travel story. If you love video, want to capture the ambiance of the places you visit, capturing video may be more appropriate than still images. As quality moves to HD, you should spring for a camera that captures HD video so that you can enjoy it for years to come.

Accessories

I realized I needed a tripod to shoot night pictures and had a 4-foot tripod that weighed less than 3 pounds. The tripod was a poor choice because of its weight. Too often, it was back at the hotel because I didn't need it during the day and we didn't make it back to the hotel until late into the evening. I tried propping the camera on railings and benches that would serve as a tripod and realized that those very small, ultra light six or seven inch tripods would have been really helpful and light enough to carry all day.

Be sure to have lens cleaning equipment with you. The close up of the young deer that started climbing on me for a piece of bread is interesting. The distortion of the next picture because the lens is coated in deer saliva is also interesting but I fortunately had packed lens tissue and a lens brush so that I could clean up my lens and take more pictures. You may not get attacked by a begging deer, but there will be rain or something that will smudge your lens so be sure to have the right material to get it clean. I use Bausch and Lomb tissues and a photographic lens brush but there are other good choices to complete the task.