Traveling with a camera – what to take?

"Sunset at Puerto Escondido" taken with Canon G11 camera
"Surfer and Sunset" taken with Canon G11 camera

02-15-2010

It’s always a dilemma when I think about selecting a camera (or two) when leaving for a vacation. How much gear do I want to pack? How much gear will I want to carry with me while I’m at my vacation destination? (If you’re not going to take the camera out with you, then it doesn’t matter what you bring.)

As Laura and I prepared to pack for our recent trip to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, I decided to travel as minimally as possible. The purpose of this trip was to relax, take in the sights and experience Mexico to the fullest. Since we were planning to not check any luggage and just do carry-on, I knew I was going with no more than one camera and one lens. My usual “go-to vacation setup” is a Canon Rebel XTi with a Sigma 18-200 zoom lens. This is a pretty compact, lightweight, yet good all-around rig. The zoom range of 18-200mm is the 35mm equivalent of 28-320mm on the crop sensor, so that works out well as a vacation camera. Wide enough for most vistas and interiors, yet the strong zoom would really pull in detail shots and candids. But I had recently purchased a Canon G11 point and shoot camera and I really wanted to give it a whirl. So I left the DSLR home and put my faith in the G11. That was it, just the camera. And fortunately, as I’ll explain later, lens cleaning materials.

 

The Canon G11 is a pretty formidable camera for a point and shoot. It is a bit too large to fit comfortably in a pocket, so it’s not exactly “compact”. I used a hip pack to hold the camera along with a few other essentials, like money and my ID. I took one extra precaution: since I knew we were going to be at the ocean, I packed the camera inside a one-quart Ziplock bag in the hip pack. I didn’t want a water splash to end my photo-making.

The G11 is no slacker point and shoot camera. It has plenty of manual controls available that allow for a variety of shooting situations. Using this camera in Auto mode would be like driving a nice roadster in first gear. In addition to the Program mode, it also features Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, and full Manual mode as well as the usual Scene modes, like Portrait, Sports, Nighttime, etc. The G11 allows for RAW capture, has a handy articulating view screen and makes images very nicely in low light. It also includes a flash hot-shoe, to allow for additional lighting options.  Many of the important controls (ISO, EV Compensation, and modes) are readily available via rotating knobs on the camera body, a reminder of the rangefinder camera days.

Canon had the foresight and courage to step away from megapixel race when they designed the G11 – the sensor sports an appropriate  10 megapixels. By not jam-packing the sensor with pixels, this provides for some better quality low-light photos than many point/shoot cameras. (Canon’s previous model, the G10, had reached 15 MP, so this was a very intentional step back to sanity on Canon’s part.)

So how did the camera perform? Check out some images:

Early morning light on beach umbrellas
Early morning light on beach umbrellas
Catholic Church, Puerto Escondido

 The G11 was a pleasure to carry on the vacation. It packed easily in my hip pack and handled a variety of image conditions very well. Its smaller size made it easy to use for candid shots of the local citizens. I would often hold the camera down at my side and trip the shutter as I stood or walked past people. Using Shutter Priority mode allowed me to set a fairly fast shutter speed to help freeze both subject and camera motion for these images.

Local guy on stairway.
Local guy on stairway.
Walking home from church.
Walking home from church.
Hostal 55
Hostal 55
Working on the tan
Working on the tan
On the beach
On the beach
Sunrise on the bay.
Sunrise on the bay.

Roberto, along with his family and some friends, took us out early one morning on his boat. We went about 12 miles offshore and encountered a massive pod of dolphins. They were very playful and put on quite a show for us.

Dolphins playing with the boats.
Dolphins playing with the boats.

I hadn’t planned to use the video feature of the G11, but it came in very handy when we found the dolphins. It was quite an experience to see them and this was one of those situations where still images just can’t convey the full sensation of being there – video did. This is a short clip of the dolphins leading the boat. I held the G11 out over the bow of the boat and used the articulating screen to help me compose the video. One of them thought it would be funny to splash me with his tail. You can see him roll over on his back and flip his tail to make the splashes – his second attempt was a direct hit. Fortunately I had brought along lens cleaning solution and tissue. It is pretty important to get the salt water off of the lens as soon as possible.

 

 

Pelicans on the hunt.
Pelicans on the hunt.
Dueling guitars
Dueling guitars

Overall, I was very happy with the Canon G11 as a traveling camera. I could just put it on Program mode and shoot away, and when I wanted to intervene and override the automatic settings, I had full control available. Most of the time it was sufficient to just adjust the exposure +/- to get the results I wanted.

Most importantly, I was able to capture some great memories without the overhead of carrying a lot of gear.

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