Travel with a Digicam

Having recently spent five weeks in central Europe with a digital camera and having taken 1768 images and movies during that time, I have some experience that may help others with their decisions about digital camera management and image storage.

Unseasonal snow
Unseasonal snow
Equipment taken

  • Canon S30 camera (3.2 megapixels, 3x optical zoom)
  • Spare battery
  • 3 Compact Flash cards (2 x 256Mb, 1 x 16Mb)
  • Mini tripod (6″, lockable ball joint head)
  • Battery charger
  • 240V plug adapter x 2 (Europe and UK)
  • Camera soft case (neoprene)
  • Marking pen for burnt CD’s
  • Camera manual (just in case)
  • Camera software on CD (in case of desire to set up on friend’s/family’s PC)
  • Umbrella

Locations
Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Scotland, Germany

Rationale/decisions

  • Wanted the best image quality and chose mainly the second largest image size (1600 x 1200) with occasional images at largest size (1536 x 2048). Consequently most images were between 860kb and 1.2Mb or up to 3Mb for the largest images.
  • Investigated iPod and equivalents for downloads and storage – decided against them because of cost of devices ($350-$800 plus card reader) and frequency of downloads from 1 x 16Mb card (could only take 15-20 images per card at preferred image size and quality). It would be nice to have an iPod but not at THAT price!
  • Considered taking a laptop for ease of download, easy access to larger display of images for review, storage capacity, camera and other software and familiarity with the PC. Decided against laptop because of weight restrictions, lack of portability in backpack (size and shape) and lack of security in accommodation (hostel, hotel, B&B) during daytime.
  • Considered IBM MicroDrive or 1Gb CF card. Decided against MicroDrive because of potential damage (e.g. bumping, dust) to moving parts as opposed to Solid State of Compact Flash. Chose 2 x 256 Mb CFII cards as opposed to 1 x 512 Mb because damage to one 512 Mb card would leave me with limited storage. 1Gb card was too costly and would be over capacity for burning to a CD when filled. I don’t know how to explain putting half a gig of pictures onto one CD and the other half onto another CD in Hungarian!
  • Internet research indicated reasonable availability of CD burning shops/services in cities (we were staying mainly in cities).
  • Wanted to NEVER run out of power or storage capacity. Spare battery is essential for a digicam when out on day-trips or weekends. Requires discipline to charge batteries nightly. Chose camera with Lithium Ion batteries because they are apparently less prone to memory effect and can be topped up frequently without loss of power.

Results/issues
This is NOT telling you how to take good photographs. I’ll leave that to the experts and the textbooks. This simply suggests ways to be ready for interesting pictures.

  • Camera worked without fault despite being bumped around in pockets and packs all day every day. Keep camera accessible.
  • Battery charger charged in a short time (1 hour) so I could top up at short notice (e.g. after a full day out I wanted to get some night shots and could top up at hotel/hostel before going out again).
  • Umbrella was useful on occasions – I didn’t want to have to use my hand to protect from rain/snow but if using a viewfinder rather than the LCD be careful not to include the edge of the umbrella in your shot.
  • Tripod was fine for places where there was a place to rest it e.g. bridges, walls, church pews and tables. If in the open, a taller tripod would have been required. A small bag of beans (6″ x 4″ x 1″) is OK instead of a tripod in certain situations.
  • Most images were well exposed, some were blurry (hand-held, low light). Camera can accommodate White Balance (WB) for different types of electric light but often shots were taken quickly and changing WB was usually not feasible.
  • Candid shots (shooting literally from the hip with no looking through viewfinder or LCD) gave mixed results but was worth the effort.
  • Digicams are so easy to use, especially on the program setting. You can hold them anywhere to get shots at unusual angles or unexpected situations. Occasionally it would have been good to have a tiltable LCD for ‘overhead’ shot framing.
  • One CF card required formatting after I had taken 4 images. Don’t know why. Formatting seemed to be the only option. Did it on the spot. Thank goodness I had read the manual and knew how to do it. I read manual later and checked if that was the best action to fix problem. Still don’t know…
  • Don’t burn to a Kodak CD in a supermarket. The images I got were unreadable except by Kodak printing places. Thankfully I didn’t delete my 240 images from the memory card until I had checked!

Recommendations

Prague spires
Prague spires
Settings

  • Some cameras remember the settings they were on when the lens cap was last closed (e.g. flash turned off, white balance set for fluoro light, self-timer ready). Others return to a default setting. Check your settings when getting ready to take your first picture for the day (or before!) If you have changed them to a smaller image size or been experimenting with sepia or a lower quality image and you shoot all day with those settings, it’s too late to go back to all those places again!
  • To conserve power I turned the LCD display off for most pictures and used the optical viewfinder. Learn before you go how to turn it on again quickly if necessary.
  • Always check the picture selection wheel (e.g. auto, program, movie) to make sure you don’t take a shot on manual when you wanted auto or take a movie when you wanted a still.
  • When entering a quiet church or museum that disallows flash photography, turn off your beep function and flash before going in so you are not beeping when everything else is quiet. Learn how to use time exposures, self-timer and tripod. If photography is banned altogether, respect their wishes. In dark places (e.g. theatre), turn off the LCD before going in.
  • Try the hi-speed shot function (e.g. 2-5 frames per second) for a series of images of action when the subject is doing something interesting in good light (maybe choose a smaller image size or lower image quality so data can be transferred more quickly to the card allowing you several shots a second.)

Equipment

  • Make sure your batteries are fully charged each morning and that you have your spare battery, CF card/s and other equipment in your bag.
  • Always have the wrist strap on your wrist. It saved me dropping the camera once. That was enough! It is added security from pickpockets too.
  • Always take your tripod with you. You never know when you might need it.
  • Try not to use the full extent of the zoom (especially the digital zoom) – images can become very ‘soft’, hazy or washed out.

General Comments

Fishermen's Bastion - Budapest
Fishermen’s Bastion – Budapest

  • Take shots of anything and everything. A shot will be memorable because that’s what was happening when YOU were there. A good castle shot will look pretty much the same anytime but a streetscape will show you what people were wearing at the time, what sorts of shops were there, what the street signs said and so on. Several shots of the same thing allows you to choose the best one for showing or printing.
  • At night time in your hotel/B&B, briefly review your shots and remove any obvious rubbish. Keep the half-good ones as well as the good ones. You never know what they might remind you of later. Don’t spend too much time deliberating; it is more fun to see them all again at length when you get home.
  • When you are ready to burn to CD, make an effort to rotate images on the camera to their correct orientation BEFORE you burn. It saves a lot of time and angst later.
  • Try to keep a journal or map of where you went and what you did. It will help with naming or sorting images when you get time. Voice marking of images is possible (depending on your camera) but sometimes embarrassing in public.
  • Chronicle your travels with representative shots of both good and bad experiences. It’s sometimes a challenge to take a picture in bad weather or of your friend in a bad mood or a major disaster but they can be the most compelling shots to look back on.
  • Don’t be embarrassed about taking pictures of people or in public places.
  • If you are travelling with someone else and you stop in a busy place to take a shot, let them know you’re stopping so you don’t get separated.
  • Don’t wait for the rest of the tourists to get out of your picture. Many are helpful but most are not.
  • Wait for the right lighting on a special scene rather than just snapping and moving on. It’s worth the wait.
  • Remember to get some panoramas. The Canon software I used can “stitch” images together very successfully.
  • As with any camera, make sure your lens is clean before shooting. Drops of rain or smudges can ruin everything.
  • If something you see makes you laugh or cry or jump, take a picture of it! Chances are it will appeal to others as well.
  • Experiment.