LINKS, Photography, Technology, Travels

Searching for the Perfect Travel Camera

Whether you are a travel writer, photographer, blogger or just a by-standing tourist, a camera is probably not too far away from you. We use these as a way to record our best moments and there are many to be had while traveling.

Chase Jarvis says:

 The best camera is the one that you have with you.

And it is with good reasoning this is so. Just because you have a $20K Hassleblad does not necessarily mean that you will take the best shots. Keep in mind that my primary body is a Nikon D4, which is no light lady either. You could very well miss the best shot you would have ever taken simply because your heavy-duty workhorse of a camera is tightly packed away in your carry-on. Jarvis (and I) would ideally like to have a camera permanently attached to our heads or something. We just want something that is “always there”.

However, while our iPhones or smart-phones may have a decent built-in camera, it is really not the best piece of equipment for a lot of situations. Right now, the biggest bugger is that these phones have very small sensors which result in a lot of noise and a lack of data captured in low-light or high-action situations. The technology is getting better, but for me, it is not quite there yet.

Enter point-and-shoot cameras. I recently picked up a Sony Cyber-shot WX50 for my mom. It is a decent 16 megapixel camera, but when I did some test shots in the dark, I noticed substantial noise and an odd wavy-painted look to the images. There is absolutely no way I’d use the images from this in my portfolio of work.

In recent years, mirror-less camera’s have been all the rage. I even picked up an Olympus EPL-1 back in 2011 just for something more portable. This was significantly better than a point-and-shoot solution and I actually really enjoyed using it. However, the kit lens it came with was slow and made of cheap plastic. It is a kit lens after all right? Olympus does make “pro” level micro four-thirds lenses but they cost almost as much as a Nikkor 24-70 f2.8! Also, another downfall going mirror-less, such as the Canon EOS-M, Nikon J and V etc. is that yes, they are more compact than a dSLR, but their interchangeable lenses are still pretty large. They will not fit into your front or back pocket unless you buy a pancake lens. So, I see these types of cameras has something that doesn’t really solve any problems.

Interestingly enough, the answer to the traveler’s camera dilemma might actually be point-and-shoots…that is, the high-end P&S cameras. In the last year or so, pretty much all of the big name manufactures have started selling these. The most notable of the lot are the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A and recently announced Ricoh GR series.

Obviously for me, the Nikon Coolpix A stands out because it features a famility user-interface as my Nikon D4. Its has a slick design and is very compact. The killer selling-point with this camera is that it has the same DX-format (APC-S) sensor the Nikon D7000 dSLR has. That is incredibly!

Jmeyer describes:

Focusing speeds are also a little lacklustre, making it a little slow for the street photographer that this camera is so very clearly aimed at.

Another negative for the Coolpix A is that it only has a 28mm equivalent fixed lens. While decent for street photography, I really do enjoy the comfort of having a zoom. And because this isn’t an interchangeable lens system, that ain’t going to happen. A turn off from many will be the cost of this baby. The Coolpix A is priced at around $1000 USD and this amount could buy yourself a low-end dSLR! What gives Nikon? But personally, I understand who their target audience is. It’s for the professional or enthusiast like myself, who owns high-end gear and wants to maintain the same level of quality, manual control but in a pocket sized form. Nikon succeed here to an extent and I realize that this is just the first one many A’s to come.

This brings me to what I believe is currently the best camera for travel photographers: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100.

Steve Huff approves:

The RX100 literally squashes any previous P&S or pocket camera. The new upcoming Leica D-Lux 6 better have something special inside because it may be tough to beat the RX100. Seriously.

David Pogue confirms:

No photos this good have ever come from a camera this small.

Quotes such as these by two leading technology reviewers really add some strong credibility to the RX100 and Sony should be given an award for its creation.

Why do I think this is the best traveller’s camera right now?

I have a list of 5 criteria:

  1. Camera should have a large sensor, at least a APC-S to allow for high ISO shooting
  2. Must have a ranged-zoom lens
  3. Must be “flat” when the camera is in the off-mode
  4. Must be able to fit in my front or back pockets
  5. Must not break the bank

So, the RX100 features a generous 20 megapixel 1” sensor which lets me be confident when shooting in low-light situations. It does indeed have a 28-100mm equivalent lens that becomes completely packed away when off and did I mention is it is a Carl-Zeiss lens? Check! How much is this miraculous camera? An affordable and worthy $649 USD.

Despite being so great, I am still putting off on investing in another camera until I at least see what the second version of Nikon Coolpix A’s turns out to be. If they can fit a ranged-zoom like how Sony did, I am all in.

In the next 3-5 years, I predict significant technological advances to be made. Manufactures might be able to fit full-frame sensors like the D4 and Canon 1DX being fitted into compact bodies.

Photography, Travels

South American Paradise

Words cannot begin to describe the paradise that is Iguazu falls. I was fortunate to be able to visit both Brazilian and Argentinian sides to gain as much perspective as possible. From my experience, I don’t think anyone could cover the complete scope of the falls with one shot. If that is what you are after, I suggest taking a video from a helicopter tour.

Let’s be clear, Iguazu falls isn’t just one, two or three waterfalls such as Niagara. It is made up of many varying in different heights and widths. And because of its astonishing geological features, it was named one of the natural New Seven Wonders of the world in 2011. I think what makes Iguazu so spectacular is just how much fresh water is pouring over the huge cliffs. As you can see from my photos, the landscape looks like curtains of white rapids hanging in the air.

There are differences between the two sides of the falls however. From what I experienced, the Brazilian side “Foz do Iguacu” features nice buses that take visitors from the entrance of the national park right to the falls with a moderate amount of walking on level terrain. On the other hand, the Argentinean side “Puerto Iguazu”, does not have air conditioned tour buses, but features a lot more advanced walking and hiking trails. Don’t get me wrong, but sides offer absolutely stunning views and when you think about it, to see the Brazilian side of the falls you have to be standing on the Argentinean side and vice versa. Thus, I would recommend exploring both sides of the falls for the full experience.

If you happen to be traveling as a family with young children or seniors, I would suggest visiting the Brazilian side for sure or just the superior circuit of the Argentinean side.

As I mentioned, the Argentinean side features a lot more walking in the form of different levels such as the superior and inferior circuits. The inferior one takes you right up and close of the mighty waterfalls and you will definitely get soaked and exhausted when the day is over. For some reason, I decided to even go the extra mile and venture onto San Martin island, which is a short boat ride to a rock formation in the middle of the falls. Warning, the climb up is extremely steep and it is not for the faint of heart. I admit that I am not the fittest fellow you will meet, but I recall being extremely tired as I have never walked or sweat so much in my entire life. But was it worth it? Y-E-S.

Photographer’s Note: I captured most of these shots of Iguazu falls with the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8. Either leave this baby on all the time or bring a secondary body and telephoto lens. Trust me, you do not want to be switching lenses in this kind of environment. 

To keep updated with awesome content, you should follow me on Twitter here: @SeanChin

Photography, Travels

Colours in Rio

Inspired by the photos and articles in National Geographic, one of my goals on my trip to South America was to document the favelas in Rio. A favela is a pretty much a shanty town that were built in the late 19th century by people that had no where else to live.

I found that there are actually more a two dozen of these tight communities, the largest being Rocinha, housing over 70,000 people. However, I adventured into the second largest one called Complexo do Alemao. This favela is considered very safe by the BBC. One could not ask for a more safe, sophisticated and modern cable car system for such as community. It is almost awkward, but is a way for locals to get from their homes to work in the city. Otherwise it would take people ages to travel outside of the town.

The government imposed aggressive measures in the “pacification” strategy. The plan was to get all of the drug lords and gangs out of the favelas to boost the safety of Rio because the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games.

Despite being homes for the poor, the housing structures are just so colorful and when bunched up together like they are, it just makes for an epic photograph. If you plan on traveling to Rio de Janeiro, I highly recommend that you visit a “pacified” favela. It really opens your eyes to the real Rio experience in my honest opinion.


To keep updated with awesome content, you should follow me on Twitter here: @SeanChin

Inspirational, Photography

Omo Child and Steve McCurry

My all-time favourite photographer Steve McCurry was at it again, making stunning images of different cultures. This time, Steve helped out Omo Child by documenting their lifestyle, clothing and spirit.

From their website:

“OMO CHILD’s mission is to provide a safe, nurturing shelter and education for rescued children in the Omo River Valley of Southwest Ethiopia who were declared Mingi. These children will be future leaders in their tribes and communities. Our immediate goal is to raise money to care for our children. Operating our shelter is costly and is dependent on supporters just like you.

Mingi is the ritualistic killing of infants and children in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia. We work to raise awareness about Mingi and hope to see it eliminated.”