My Travel Camera Gear

by Gray Cargill on May 21, 2010

Nikon D40

Nikon D40 with zoom lens attached

Up until last year, the only camera I brought with me when I traveled was my Nikon Coolpix 885, a 2001 model that was practically an antique by the time I decided I needed to upgrade.  It took perfectly fine photos for 4″ x 6″ prints, but once I started my travel blog and started uploading photos to my website, I realized I  needed something better.  It’s also a bit chunkier than other point-and-shoot cameras, so I couldn’t even fit it in my pocket. Ugh.

Fast-forward to 2008, when I joined a local photography club to learn more about taking better pictures.  I was the only one still using a point-and-shoot.  One of the members loaned me his Nikon D70 to try out, and it was love at first sight.  I knew I had to have a DSLR.  After some research, I went with Nikon’s budget DSLR, a D40.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to buy an all-purpose 18mm-200mm lens, so I had to go with the 18-55mm (wide angle) lens that was included and buy a 55mm-200mm (zoom) lens as a supplement.  I love my Nikon D40.  Among its positive points:

  • It was less expensive than many DSLRs.
  • I can take much better pictures with it than with a point-and-shoot, without having much skill level as a photographer. But there is also great manual functionality for those of you with more skill.
  • The zoom lens is the best thing that’s ever happened to my photography.
  • It is very girl-friendly, meaning it fits my hand perfectly (whereas my friend’s D70 was clearly made to fit a man’s hand).
  • It’s lightweight.

But over the past year, I’ve realized it has some limitations. These are:

  • Despite how lightweight the Nikon D40 is for a DSLR, once I’ve been carrying it around for a couple of hours, it feels like a bowling ball around my neck.
  • It never failed that whenever I wanted to take a wide shot, I’d have the zoom lens on the camera, and whenever I wanted to take a zoom shot, I’d have the wide lens on the camera, requiring constant swapping out of lenses.  This is very cumbersome and annoying.
  • If you take a lot of photos when you travel, as I tend to, there is no way around the fact that you will have the camera on a strap around your neck for much of the day.  This identifies me as a tourist and the camera becomes a target for thieves.
Front LCD

Samsung DualView and its Front LCD

After my trip to San Juan, I realized what I really needed was a new point-and-shoot as a backup for my DSLR for those times when I want something small and lightweight that I can just slip into my pocket and carry with me easily.  I’ve been a Nikon loyalist for the past decade, but after reading this great review by Christine Ka’aloa at Grrrltraveler on her new Samsung Dualview camera, I took a closer look at it and decided this would be a great camera for me.

The front LCD screen makes it easier for the solo traveler to take her own picture.  One of my problems with solo travel is not having a lot of pictures with me in them from my trips.  I’ve tried asking people to take my photo with my DSLR, but have learned the hard way that most people don’t know how to use them.  (Even though it’s pretty much exactly the same way you use a point-and-shoot.  I think the size intimidates them.)

DualView in Pocket

The DualView is tiny enough to fit in almost any pocket

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be walking past Radio Shack in my local mall and decided to see if they had the DualView in stock so I could handle it and see how it fit my hand.  I’m not the kind of person who normally makes impulse purchases, but having read up on this camera for months, as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it and bought it on site. Since then, I’ve been practicing with it (though I need a LOT more practice, to be sure), and here is what I’ve found are its pros and cons:

Pros:

  • The front LCD screen rocks.
  • At $179 for the newest model, it wasn’t too expensive.
  • It’s very small and lightweight and fits in the pockets of all of my clothing.
  • The quality of most pictures is pretty good, though they certainly are not DSLR-quality.
  • Automatic smile detection.  This is one of those nifty high-tech features that makes me ooh and aah.
  • Not that I’ll ever use it, but there’s also a child photo feature that involves sounds to make the child smile and stay interested in looking at the camera.
  • It has video capability.
  • It takes the same kind of memory card as my Nikon D40, so I can use the same cards in both cameras without an additional reader to upload shots to my laptop.

Cons:

  • The zoom lens doesn’t zoom in very much, so you still have to get fairly close to things. This will never replace the zoom lens on my DSLR.
  • No stabilization for handshake.  My hands shake a lot when I take pictures, I’m not sure why. So with the Samsung DualView, I will either need to use  my tripod or rest the camera on something stable, or I’ll need to take a lot of pictures of the same subject to make sure something turns out well. [Edited to add:  Uh, yeah, actually it DOES have Digital Image Stabilization, I just hadn’t discovered it yet.  Excuse me while I trot off to read the rest of the user’s manual….]
  • No viewfinder.  This really threw me off. I’m used to using the viewfinder, rather than the back LCD screen, when I take photos.  Outside on a sunny day, it’s hard to see from the LCD if I’ve truly got the subject I’m aiming for in my shot.
  • The smile detector sometimes jumps the gun a bit.  “But I wasn’t smiling yet!” doesn’t seem to convince the camera otherwise.
  • I had to turn the volume to high when testing the video function on the camera, because I couldn’t hear sound with anything less than that (despite the fact that what I was recording was very loud).

Despite the cons, I’m pleased with my DualView.  It is definitely a step up from the Coolpix and serves the purposes I purchased it for.  I’ve decided that for my travels from now on, the Samsung DualView does one thing that will help me a lot:  Since it takes good wide angle photos, I could theoretically just throw the zoom lens on my  Nikon D40, throw the DualView in my pocket, and leave the 18-55mm wide-angle lens at home.  No more swapping out lenses.  That alone is worth the price of the DualView.

Test shots:

View from Davis Ctr

The DualView takes great wide angle shots

Goose Family

The DualView’s zoom leaves a lot to be desired

Goose Family

I took this shot with my D40 zoom lens

White Bird

Shaky hand syndrome with the DualView means a not-so-crisp photo

White Crane

The DualView can’t replace my D40 for shots like this

GRRRLTRAVELER May 31, 2010 at 6:25 am

Don't worry- I've gotten used to having to image stabilize “myself” whenever I shoot, esp. in low lighting. I don't recall battery power being so short tho. Maybe if there's a 30day, you should see if you can switch out… you might have a bum battery unless you keep it on for long periods. My cam can go a long time without charging if I dont' use it much… I'd say a week +. I think my cam is also on auto sleep, so it turns off if its not being used so as not to waste batt. power. Happy Shooting, Gray!

SoloFriendly May 31, 2010 at 3:04 am

I'm surprised you didn't call me on my comment about the lack of image stabilization, Christine. Doh. It's there. I just hadn't discovered it yet! Given my persistent shaky hand syndrome when I take photos, I do believe the Digital Image Stabilization (DIS) setting is going to become my own personal Auto setting! I'm not crazy about the battery life, though. I was a little ticked tonight when I was going to use my camera to get some photos of the baby geese in my neighborhood, and lo and behold, the battery was dead. Already. I haven't used it that much. In any case, it's clear I need to spend more time with my user's manual. 🙂

SoloFriendly May 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Good to hear from you, Christine! Thanks for the additional tips! I definitely need to spend more time with this camera before traveling with it. I haven't even begun to master all its abilities.

GRRRLTRAVELER May 30, 2010 at 5:33 am

LOL. I've been a way for a while… but your DSLR drew my attention. Thanks for the mention & i'm super glad you got it. When I was in Thailand & drooped my zoom from all the switching of lenses (& w/ mini camcorder to add…) I was like– that's it! Lugging around heavy but delicate equipment isn't fun– now my problem is getting back to my DSLR. As a consumer camera, there are some aspects of quality, you may have to surrender, but it beats a lot of cameras in its range is what i found. In comparison, you will feel frustrated with the inability to zoom as tight as a DSLR– i get that– but then I remember what I'm trading in weight for consumer comfort & multi-tasking ease. Smile detection- I usually point it away from me until I'm ready to shoot. There's much more that the camera does (like flipping thru pix via iPod finger flipping, etc..), you may want to check it now to maximize your use… when it masters your smile better, it may actually take longer to snap… its almost like its looking for your best angle. A bit frustrating. I might have to go in and find a way to clear that. Hope you have fun w/ it!

SoloFriendly May 24, 2010 at 12:25 am

Well, you seem to be more knowledgeable than me about photography, let's say that then. I agree with you that it's much easier to indulge in a photography habit when traveling solo. Unless a companion shares the passion, they tend to lose patience with the process

Ted May 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

For the record, I'm not a professional photographer (although I do make just enough income from selling pictures to cover the costs of paying the various taxes on that income). But a professional would either have a lot more than two lenses (which would be high-quality single-focal-length “primes”) or perhaps just one “prime” lens. A professional would also readily admit that the extensive and expensive equipment he or she is lugging is there only to make the job easier, since it's the photographer who makes the picture rather than the camera.

It's the patience and persistence that make the good shot. It's really about taking the time to look at a scene and think about the possibilities before raising the camera to the eye. That's what makes the difference. Ken Rockwell (who is a professional) describes the process succinctly with an unforgettable “mnemonic for a creative process,” at http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/fart.htm This may be where the solo traveler can have an advantage, since he or she need not be distracted by a non-photographer travel companion. Of course, that advantage disappears when the sun goes down, or at meal time.

The other secret to being a “good photographer” is ruthless editing. I typically discard about 90% of the pictures I take. I do the full Photoshop post-processing routine on the remaining 10%, and publish maybe half of those on my Web site. That makes me appear to be a much better photographer than I really am.

SoloFriendly May 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Ted, it's reassuring to me to know that even professional photographers have the two lenses instead of one. Of course, being a professional, you probably have more patience than I for the process of swapping out lenses and staying in one place long enough to get the perfect shot. And thanks for reminding me that I need to get a camera bag in the not-too-distant future. I've been using a backpack, which is just not convenient for reaching in to get the camera.

Ted May 23, 2010 at 1:41 am

Like all pocketable point-and-shoot cameras, the Dual View has the disadvantage of poor image quality in low light. The laws of physics dictate that a tiny sensor packed with megapixels will suffer from a lot of noise at ISO settings greater than 100 (or 200 if you're lucky). And if the camera attempts to reduce the noise while creating JPEG files, you'll get “cartoony” pictures with little detail. Still, the Dual View is a very clever camera that seems ideal for the solo traveler who recognizes its limitations.

In a way, you're perhaps fortunate you couldn't afford the “super-zoom” lens for your D40. An 18-200 range involves optical compromises, usually lack of sharpness at the long end and distortion at the short end. Using two lenses gives you better image quality, at the cost of convenience (I have 12-24 and 28-135mm zooms with a Canon Rebel XT). I mitigate the lens changing problem by making two “passes.” I first explore the possibilities of a location with one lens, and then start over with the other. That's a useful technique, but not a foolproof one. Too often, I'll find a composition that needs the other lens.

I don't keep the camera on a strap around my neck, but in a small camera bag that I call a “man purse.” It's somewhat more discreet that way, and it's easy to get the camera in and out of the bag whenever I need it.

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