Plugged In: Gearing up for travel photography

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

As Christmas approaches, many central Kenai Peninsula residents travel out of state to visit family and friends. Several readers have requested some suggestions about suitable travel cameras.

Which equipment works best for you is obviously dependent on where you’re going and what you’ll want to photograph while traveling.

  • If you’re taking an African safari, then a camera with exceptionally high-magnification telephoto capability is important. Good cameras in that regard would include traditional digital SLR cameras if you can handle the weight and bulk. A pocketable “travel zoom,” such as Panasonic’s ZS30, would make more sense when small size and light weight are crucial, as on a strenuous hiking or mountain-climbing jaunt.
  • When our family traveled to Europe in March on a Soldotna High School band trip, we decided to travel as light as possible, with only carry-on baggage. I took a small Olympus Pen E-P3 Micro Four-Thirds camera with its standard, 14- to 42-mm kit zoom lens for general use and a small but very bright Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 prime lens for indoor and after-dark use. I found this simple kit to be very handy as well as sufficiently versatile. In fact, several of the photos I took with this basic kit were of sufficiently good quality to include in a later solo exhibit. I also took a pocketable Canon S100 for those times when even a Micro Four-Thirds camera was too obtrusive, as when we visited the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.
  • Several months later, I happened to be a speaker at a Canadian legal technology conference in Vancouver, B.C., and was warned that the weather would likely be very wet. For that reason, I took my Olympus OM-D E-M5, the older, midrange model in the OM-D line of interchangeable-lens, compact-system cameras. Both OM-D models are highly weather-resistant, as is the 12- to 50-mm kit lens that comes with the E-M5 model. That was just right for the predicted Vancouver rainy season. Even though the weather turned out beautiful, I didn’t regret bringing the slightly larger OM-D E-M5 and got great travel shots with it. Again, I brought my small Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens for dark indoor use. So, the first consideration is to determine what conditions and photo opportunities you’ll encounter when traveling. If you anticipate wet or dusty outdoor conditions, then the compact OM-D E-M5 makes a great deal of sense. If you expect to take mostly close-up indoor photos of family and friends, then a large-sensor, fixed-lens compact camera like the Canon S120 or Sony RX-100, or a compact Micro Four-Thirds camera like the Panasonic GM1 or Olympus E-PM2, would be suitable.

  • Trips oriented around grand outdoor scenery require greater versatility. A Sony RX10, although not truly compact, would be attractive in these situations. The RX10 includes a fairly large, 1-inch sensor and a good-quality zoom lens ranging between the equivalent of 24-mm superwide-angle and 200-mm medium-telephoto magnifications. Although not exactly tiny nor inexpensive, with a $1,300 list price, the RX10 is a high-quality and quite-versatile weather-resistant camera. I recently tallied which cameras were used to make images included most frequently in my own solo photo shows. To my surprise, the majority of images in my current University of Alaska Anchorage gallery show were taken with a Sony R1, the direct 2005 predecessor of the RX10. A somewhat smaller and less-expensive alternative to the RX10 would be Olympus’ Stylus 1, a high zoom-range camera that also includes a good f/2.8 lens with a good wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom ratio, and a larger than average 1/1.7-inch sensor. Unlike the RX10 and OM-D cameras, though, the Stylus 1 is not weather-sealed. Panasonic’s FZ200, with its even higher telephoto magnification, would make sense for the long shots on an African safari, but its lack of sealing against weather and dust might prove fatal in a tough environment.
  • Another reader asks about the best all-around camera and lens kit available for $2,000. That’s fairly easy — a weather-sealed Olympus OM-D E-M5 with its sealed 12- to 50-mm kit lens ($1,100, and the lens has a useful macro mode) plus an Olympus M.Zuiko 40- to 150-mm telephoto zoom (not an outstanding lens, but much better than you might expect given its $120 current price), along with Panasonic’s excellent 20-mm f/1.7 ($400), and Sigma’s supersharp 60-mm f/2.8 ($240) prime lenses. The 20-mm works well as a high-quality, medium wide-angle and lowlight lens, while the Sigma 60-mm lens is an excellent portrait and medium-telephoto lens. That leaves enough to pay for shipping, a good weatherproof carrying case, UV filters to protect the front of each lens and third-party lens hoods.
  • A different reader asked for some recommendations for the best Micro Four-Thirds lenses. Most of these lenses do not include optical image stabilization built into each lens, so they’ll be most useful on Olympus M 4/3 camera bodies, because those stabilize every mounted lens via image stabilization built directly into the camera body.  My choice for the best all-around M 4/3 lenses include Olympus’ 12- to 50-mm zoom, new 12- to 40-mm Pro line zoom lens, 75- to 300-mm II supertelephoto zoom, their 17mm f/1.8 prime lens, 45-mm f/1.8 telephoto prime lens, 60-mm f/2.8 macro lens and the incredibly sharp Olympus 75-mm f/1.8 telephoto prime lens. Among Panasonic M 4/3 lenses, I particularly like the 14-mm f/2.5, 20-mm f/1.7 and 25-mm f/1.4 prime lenses. Sigma’s 30-mm f/2.8 and 60-mm f/2.8 DN “Art Series” lenses also make the list of excellent optics, especially given their low price, while Rokinon’s 7.5-mm fisheye lens and Olympus’ 15-mm f/8 body cap lens are quirky, fun and reasonably priced.
  • Don’t forget the Kenai Fine Arts Center’s opening receptions Dec. 6 for the “Emmanuel” group show of spiritually inspired art, and the center’s annual kids group show. The opening receptions run from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, 816 Cook Ave. in Old Town. The exhibits are up through Christmas Eve.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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