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Compact or DSLR?

Travel Forums Travel Photography Compact or DSLR?

1. Posted by Kingmob05 (Budding Member 3 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Now this may seem like a no brainer, but I'm going on a 6 month backpack through SE Asia, NZ, Fiji, Oz and a few days in Tokyo, and really interested in purchasing a Nikon D50 to take with me.

I've owned one of the first Pentax Optio S for a few years now, and for what it is, it takes a reasonable photo.

Now, I've been asking around what the bare minimum in terms of equipment I'll need considering SE Asia and Oz are going to be both hot and humid, and NZ could be hot too. Things like gel, a blower and a good bag have been mentioned.

I won't be able to afford anything more than the standard kit lens and flash, and am a little concerned about security, but as a camera is the Nikon quite durable?

As, I'm a first timer with an entry level DSLR, am I wasting my money, and should I just take the compact considering my inexperience?

Bit of a messy post, but if anyone has any advice, it would be greatly appreciated.



2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5236 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I started out travelling with a compact (powershot S30; probably comparable to your pentax), and during the 2+ years on the road bought first a D70 and then a D200. My answer is: the DSLR is absolutely worth it. If you know how to make use of it (the person taking the pictures is still the most important piece of equipment), the increase in quality of these pictures for what will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime trip is totally worth it, and will blow away your expectations of how much of a difference you'll see. (With both my purchases, I fully expected to keep on using the old camera to the side; but never touched it again. For a comparison - these were probably the best pictures I took with my point 'n shoot, eeking out every last bit of quality from it that I knew how to (and at that point, I *knew* how to!). I went back to the same location just one week after I'd bought the D70 (my first ever SLR of any kind), and ended up with these pictures.)

The 18-55 DX kitlens that comes with the D50 is supposed to be barely worth the $100 that it costs, but the 18-70 DX (which I _think_ is also available as a kit option for the D50, although don't quote me on that) has been my main lens for a very long time, and for the still quite cheap price ($300), its quality is beyond compare. 18-70 is also a very useful zoom range. I bought the dirt-cheap 70-300 G zoom alongside it, and have taken some decent pictures with that on the few occassions where I really needed a long zoom, but I wouldn't recommend buying it; yes, it's lightweight, but it's also unwieldy, and even I could see its lack of optical quality right at the start of using it with my first ever DSLR.
If you can somehow manage to spare the money, I would look into the 18-200 DX VR (vibration reduction) lens instead ($750); that's probably my ideal travel lens. On the wide end it's not as good as the 18-70 (suffers quite badly from chromatic aberrations; or at least badly in comparison with the impressive lack of this of the 18-70), but beyond this it's comparable or better, and the extra length, not to mention the VR, all in one handy package, makes it damn near perfect for travelling. The main benefit about the 18-200 is that you'd never need to switch lenses, so don't run the risk of dust gathering inside. (Unless of course, you're like me and decide to also get a 12-24 DX to make up for the not quite perfect wide-end performance of the 18-200, but given your budget, I think you're safe from that particular trap.) :)

I don't have gel (?), and I don't have a blower. (And although I didn't go to SE Asia, I did experience some humidity around Cairns without the camera giving a crimp.) My bag is a simple lowepro triangular toploader (something like this one, although I don't know if it's that exact model - try it on in a camera store) which fits snugly around the camera with lens attached (even a D200 with 18-200, although that's really stretching it), which I keep in my regular backpack so as to not scream "steal me" when not actively using it. Since I mostly photograph landscapes - not people - I also make do with just the on-camera flash. (And alas, without a tripod, much as I'd like otherwise.)

I can't tell you how durable the D50 is, but my D70 - though mostly plastic - was very durable and survived its one and a half year run in my bag with barely a scratch. Generally speaking I think you can trust Nikon to make solid products.

Hope that helps. :)

[ Edit: Edited at Jul 1, 2006 3:41 PM by Sander ]

3. Posted by Kingmob05 (Budding Member 3 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

That's fantastic. Really great help.

Not sure if I can get another lens with the kit itself, and I have heard the lens isn't that great, though apparently better than the one that comes with the Canon of comparable quality.

I will still bring my old Pentax for nights out etc, when you know you'll have a drink or two, but looking at some of the great photography on here, it'd be a shame to look back at a photo and feel it could have been so much more with a better bit of kit.

However, I would be learning on the road. That's my big concern in terms of forking out cash and then balancing it with the risk of theft. Is it worth it basically?

Oh, and very impressed with your dawn shot with the compact. What settings did you use for that?

[ Edit: Edited at Jul 1, 2006 3:52 PM by Kingmob05 ]

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5236 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I think you'll learn to get about 80% of the quality increase the DSLR can give you in the first week or two - and then spend the next year learning about the remaining 20%.
If you can before you set out, definitely take out a day or two with the new camera to learn the ropes. Devour the manual, and then go out (or stay in), shoot anything and everything that catches your interest for two hours, go back home, spend two hours (no more! set yourself a time limit) identifying the best pictures from that batch and editing them till they look perfect (that is, pay attention to what you're editing; do you need to pay attention to cropping, blown highlights, brightening shadows, etc - and more importantly, do you see why you picked these pictures, and not the others as the best ones - what worked about them?). Rinse, repeat. Play with different focus modes (if you don't see the difference they make, you don't understand them yet / aren't using them under the right set of circumstances), figure out white balance, figure out everything that's new.

If you at all have the money, get the camera "body only" and buy a better lens than the 18-55. (Or find that kit-option with the 18-70 if that indeed exists, assuming you can't quite afford the 18-200.)

Oh, and which dawn shot of the many? They'll all have had different settings, and pulling up my originals folder, I see that I took about 200 that morning... :)

[ Edit: Edited at Jul 1, 2006 4:31 PM by Sander ]

5. Posted by Kingmob05 (Budding Member 3 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

It was the last one on the first page of the link you sent for the compact photos. It was surprisingly well focused and clear considering how bad compacts are (for me anyway) under low light.

And thanks again for the other info. I'm going to take a few more days to consider my options, look into some insurance and then decide whether or not to purchase. Really not sure I can afford that other lens and considering my inexperience I'm not sure if I'll notice the difference until I get practiced and by that time I'm sure I'll be able to afford the new lens anyway.

6. Posted by Q' (Travel Guru 1987 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

gels = dessicants I assume.

Get the big industrial packs and dry them well in an oven every few days depending on how wet your environment is. Get a big (I mean big !!) ziplock and put the packs, camera bag, etc. inside. Then zip the whole thing up. Or if you have the money a Pelican case. I've only heard of people who trop into the rainforest for like months shooting squirrel monkeys (meaning they're in probably the wettest environment on earth) doing this though. In the end, it's your camera, your images, your trip, so your judgement that counts. Take care.

7. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5236 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Ah yes - those are some of my favorite shots. (The second of the batch is my personal favorite nowadays, although at the time the way the duck was flying through the third shot made me literally jump for joy with how lucky I was to have been able to get that shot; similar to this one from the DSLR batch, which was a one-minute lasting perfectly tranquil moment. It's being able to anticipate and recognize those moments that tell me I'm doing something right, every so often.) :)
It actually was quite light already at that point; there's a gap in the pictures where I trudged all the way down from Mt. John - about an hour after the sun came up behind the hills, which in turn was half an hour after sunrise.
Don't have a program handy which can tell me what shooting mode I used (I assume it'll have been manual, given that it's slightly underexposed), and I was shooting nearly straight into the sun - which luckily was hidden behind this thin haze, causing those gorgeous silver colors. Anyway, I shot that third picture at 1/640, F5.6, focused just three meters out, roughly on where I thought the duck would be. (All I can say is, thank the Light for the deep depth of field of point 'n shoots.) :)