Gear Up For Travel

Find your ultimate travel D-SLR
This Article Features Photo Zoom
Pentax

While photographers can (and do) travel with all sorts of cameras, it’s a welcome alternative to carry a lightweight model that incorporates features especially useful for travel photography. In compiling our list of travel D-SLRs, we used the following criteria:

Compact size. It’s easier to carry a light camera around all day than a heavy one, and it’s easier to fit a small one into your carry-on luggage.

Built-in flash. A built-in flash unit means you’ll always have enough light to photograph nearby subjects. Built-in flash units have ISO 100 guide numbers (GN) between 36 and 43, in feet; 43 is about a 2⁄3-stop more powerful than 36 (a high-end shoe-mount flash has an ISO 100 GN of maybe 190—nearly five stops more powerful than a GN 36 built-in flash). Built-in flash can be used as fill on a bright day with harsh shadows and can augment a powerful accessory unit.

Image stabilization. Stabilization allows you to get sharp, handheld images two to four shutter speeds slower than is possible without it. Several manufacturers offer in-camera sensor-shift stabilization, which works with any lens you attach to the camera (but stabilizes only the recorded image, not what you see in the SLR viewfinder). Others provide stabilizer lenses, which offer the advantage of stabilizing the viewfinder image as well as the recorded one, but you get stabilization only with those lenses.

Maximum ISO of 3200 or higher. A high ISO gives you leeway to be photographing in low light while still maintaining a reasonable shutter speed. High ISO films were a staple of National Geographic shooters who habitually work at the darker fringes of the day, which helped create a distinctive look. That’s one big advantage of digital imaging over roll film: You can make each shot at the ideal ISO setting.

Auto-bracketing. When traveling, you often encounter spur-of-the-moment photo ops that don’t give you time to adjust and fine-tune the exposure. Auto-bracketing makes it easy to get a good exposure of such scenes, even in tricky lighting. Set auto-bracketing, and the camera automatically shoots several exposures in rapid succession.

Modest appearance
.
Big, heavy D-SLRs attract attention, including that of potential thieves, local authorities and photo subjects who might react negatively to someone who looks too “pro.” More compact, mid-range models gather less attention and are less “threatening.”

Low price
.
For the cost of a top-end D-SLR, you can get a few mid-range ones, providing a second camera in case the first malfunctions. You generally can find these lower-priced models for sale in most cities, even airport electronics shops from Frankfurt to Singapore, should acquiring a replacement become necessary; pro models are available in far fewer places. Two lighter bodies weigh less than one top-level camera, too.

Anti-dust features
.
It’s not always possible to review photos regularly on the road, so you could take hundreds of photos without noticing dust spots until you get home. A good travel D-SLR will have built-in anti-dust features, including some that literally shake dust off the sensor assembly using ultrasonic vibrations.

Brand popularity
.
If you choose a popular camera brand, the chances are better that you might be able to borrow a needed wide-angle or telephoto lens from someone in your tour group.

There are other useful features for travel photographers. Scene modes quickly set the camera optimally for shooting popular subjects like people, landscapes, close-ups, action and night scenes. Live-view LCD monitors make composing in dim light or at odd angles easier. Extended dynamic-range features provide better detail in contrasty scenes. Weather resistance lets you shoot in fog and drizzle. If you really want to travel light, a wide-range zoom like an 18-200mm covers most travel-shooting situations. And remember to take plenty of memory cards and spare batteries for your camera(s).

travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Top left: The Samsung GX-20 is available with a power booster battery pack, which gives you more shots without changing batteries. Top right: Controls on the camera are easy to manipulate without removing the viewfinder from your eye. The combination thumb pad and wheel as well as the switch for the in-camera stabilizing feature are all placed for easy access. Bottom left: A mode dial gets you into the shooting mode you want without going through a menu.

Features
Sensor: 14.6-megapixel CMOS, 1.5x
Weight: 25.2 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 42, in feet
Stabilization: Sensor-shift in body
Maximum ISO: 6400
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $1,299

Samsung GX-20
Travel photographers on the move will appreciate Samsung’s sensor-shift optical image stabilization, which is built into the body and functional with all lenses. The GX-20 is a very close cousin of the K20D (thanks to a partnership between Samsung and Pentax) and features the same 14.6-megapixel Samsung CMOS sensor and the same feature set (except the 14-bit RAW images are Adobe DNG only). RAW files can be converted to JPEG right in the camera. The ability to use nearly all Pentax K-mount lenses increases your chances of being able to borrow a needed focal length from a fellow traveler. Samsung also markets several Samsung and Schneider lenses designed specifically for Samsung D-SLRs. The 2.7-inch live-view monitor, weather-resistant and dustproof construction, sensor-dust remover and very good performance add up to a camera able to handle just about anything you’ll encounter in your travels.
Lineage
: The GX-20 builds on the GX-10, upping the resolution to 14.6 megapixels from 10.2, increasing the LCD monitor to 2.7 inches from 2.5 and adding live-view, in addition to adding a host of digital filters like HDR (high dynamic range), B&W and color effects.

Cool Factor
: A combination wheel-and-thumb-pad navigator makes changing modes and metering choices easy without moving your eye from the viewfinder.

Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Samsung GX-10 10.2 MP 25 ounces ISO 100/GN 36, in feet In body 1600 Yes $1,300*
* including 18-55mm zoom lens


travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Clockwise from top left: Despite its compact size, the Pentax K20D has a large, bright LCD monitor. AF, stabilization, focus point and metering modes all can be selected with your thumb while composing. The LCD panel on top of the camera shows the pertinent shooting data, and the mode dial is simple to access. Below, left: The pop-up flash is especially convenient in a travel camera.

Features
Sensor: 14.6-megapixel CMOS, 1.5x
Weight: 25.2 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 42, in feet
Stabilization: Sensor-shift in body
Maximum ISO: 6400
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $1,299

Pentax K20D
Those who want to make huge prints of their travel photos will love the K20D’s new 14.6-megapixel Samsung/Pentax image sensor—a pixel count exceeded only by Canon’s $8,000 pro EOS-1Ds Mark III among current 35mm-form-factor D-SLRs, and at a price less than some 10-megapixel models. If you don’t like to stay in your hotel room in less-than-perfect weather, you’ll enjoy the K20D’s weather-resistant and dustproof body. Sensor-shift Shake Reduction works with all lenses and coupled with ISOs up to 6400 make it easy to capture the real atmosphere wherever you travel. High-frequency vibrations remove dust from the sensor each time you switch on the camera, a dynamic-range expansion function helps with high-contrast situations, and the 2.7-inch LCD monitor provides live-view capability. You also can shoot in either of two RAW formats: the “universal” Adobe DNG or Pentax’s own PEF—and can switch from JPEG to RAW shooting with the touch of a button. Pentax offers a number of compact DA-series lenses designed specifically for its digital SLRs, including super-compact 21mm, 40mm and 70mm models, but the camera also can use virtually all Pentax lenses (with some Supersonic Drive limitations on shooting features). New SDM lenses provide quick, quiet autofocusing and share the body’s weather and dust resistance.

Pentax

Lineage: The K20D expands on the K10D concept, with a number of improvements over that fine weather-resistant, dustproof camera, including: 14.6 megapixels (vs. 10.2), a 2.7-inch LCD monitor with live-view capability (vs. 2.5-inch) and new Custom Image and Expanded Dynamic Range functions.

Cool Factor
: The weather-resistant and dustproof body combined with new SDM lenses give you the flexibility to shoot in any conditions.


               
Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Pentax K200D 10.2 MP 22.2 ounces ISO 100/GN 42, in feet In body 1600 Yes $720
Samsung GX-10 10.2 MP 25 ounces ISO 100/GN 36, in feet In body 1600 Yes $750

This Article Features Photo Zoom
travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Clockwise from top left: Menu text is large and easy to read on the Sony A350. Super SteadyShot image stabilization is toggled on and off with a thumb switch that’s easy to access with or without the optional power booster attached. The large, articulating LCD is a great travel feature for composing tricky shots.

Features
Sensor: 14.2-megapixel Super HAD CCD, 1.5x
Weight: 20.5 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 42, in feet
Stabilization: Sensor-shift in body
Maximum ISO: 3200
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $799

Sony DSLR-A350
Budget-minded, quality-conscious traveling photographers will love the A350—it’s by far the lowest-priced 14-megapixel D-SLR and features a 2.7-inch tilting live-view LCD monitor on which you can view the subject while shooting at 2 fps. The camera accepts a wide range of Sony, new Zeiss and Minolta Maxxum lenses, and Super SteadyShot sensor-shift stabilization works with all of them. A very effective Dynamic Range Optimizer holds highlight and shadow detail in contrasty scenes, while Eye Start AF activates the AF system when you bring the camera up to your eye—no need to press the shutter button halfway. Scene Selection modes quickly set the camera for photographing subjects like people, landscapes, close-ups, action and more.

Lineage: The A350 doesn’t really replace anything in Sony’s lineup; rather, it and the similar 10.2-megapixel A300 are new additions to the line. The tilting live-view monitor is a first for a Sony D-SLR.

Cool Factor
: The articulating live-view LCD gives you the ability to compose in awkward positions.

 

 

               
Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Sony DSLR-A200 10.2 MP 18.8 ounces ISO 100/GN 39, in feet In body 3200 n/a $600*
Sony DSLR-A700 12.2 MP 24.3 ounces ISO 100/GN 39, in feet In body 6400 Yes $1,400

* including 18-70mm zoom lens

travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Clockwise from top left: The large, bright LCD panel on top of the camera shows all of the important shooting data. Equipped with the optional power booster, the D80 extends its already impressive 2,700 shots between changes, and it takes universally available AA batteries. The rugged body has Nikon’s usual AF-L and AE-L button for on-the-fly use.

Features
Sensor: 10.2-megapixel CCD, 1.5x
Weight: 20.5 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 39, in feet
Stabilization: Via VR lenses
Maximum ISO: 3200
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $730

Nikon D80
The D80 boasts up to 2,700 shots on a battery charge, which is ideal when faced with the all-too-common uncertainties of power availability. For even greater freedom, an optional MB-D80 Multiple Power Battery Pack will accept widely available AA batteries should your proprietary rechargeable conk out. The camera is a great choice for the traveling photographer who wants a rugged, yet compact D-SLR with excellent performance and image quality and a wide range of features. The bright pentaprism finder features on-demand grid lines, handy for keeping things properly aligned in landscapes and shots of buildings. Seven Digital Vari-Programs automatically set the camera for shooting in portrait, landscape, close-up, action and other modes, while seven in-camera retouching features include D-Lighting, which enhances detail in bright and dark areas. Nikon offers several light, compact DX-series Nikkor zooms with Vibration Reduction, including a versatile 18-200mm.

Lineage: The D80 replaced the D70S in Nikon’s lineup in 2006, offering major improvements like a 67% increase in resolution, 11 AF points (vs. 5 in the D70S), a top ISO of 3200, quicker startup, a more powerful built-in flash, a 2.5-inch LCD monitor (vs. 2.0), in-camera retouching, including D-Lighting (see Cool Factor below), more shots per battery charge and a more compact size.

Cool Factor
: Nikon’s remarkable D-Lighting helps maintain highlight and shadow detail in an image that was shot in difficult lighting conditions.

               
Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Nikon D60 10.2 MP 17 ounces ISO 100/GN 42, in feet With VR lenses 3200 No $750*
Nikon D300 12.3 MP 29.3 ounces ISO 100/GN 39, in feet With VR lenses 6400 Yes $1,800

* including 18-55mm VR zoom lens


travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Top, left: A thumbwheel and a joystick give you access to a range of camera controls from AF point to AE mode without pulling the viewfinder away from your eye. Top, right: Next to the LCD panel, you’ll find quick access to ISO and drive modes. Above, right: The AE/AF lock and metering mode/AF mode buttons. Above, left: The handy pop-up flash.

Features
Sensor: 10.1-megapixel CMOS, 1.6x
Weight: 26.1 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 43, in feet
Stabilization: Via IS lenses
Maximum ISO: 3200
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $1,150

Canon EOS 40D
The EOS 40D includes six PIC (Programmed Image Control) modes to set the camera quickly for shooting popular travel subjects such as portraits, landscapes, close-ups, action and more. The camera packs pro performance and features into a solid, easy-to-use body that sells most places for under $1,200. Canon’s latest DIGIC III image processor and 14-bit A/D conversion work with the 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor to optimize image quality and performance. A self-cleaning image sensor keeps images free of dust, and a three-inch LCD monitor provides live-view capability. The 40D accepts all Canon EF and EF-S lenses, the latter including several compact zooms with built-in image stabilization. Efficient power handling provides up to 1,100 shots per battery charge. The optional BG-E2N battery grip holds two rechargeable proprietary batteries or six widely available AAs.

Canon 40D
The optional battery grip can take AA batteries

Lineage: The EOS 40D improves on the EOS 30D in many ways. Among its features are 10.1 megapixels (vs. 8.2), a 3.0-inch live-view LCD monitor (vs. 2.5-inch LCD without live view), a maximum shooting rate of 6.5 fps (vs. 5 fps), a self-cleaning image sensor, a DIGIC III image processor and 14-bit A/D conversion.

Cool Factor: An intuitive thumb wheel and rear AE and AF control buttons make fast work of selecting the 9 cross-type AF points and controlling the meter.

               
Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 10.1 MP 16.8 ounces ISO 100/GN 43, in feet With IS lenses 1600 Yes $800
Canon EOS 30D 8.2 MP 24.7 ounces ISO 100/GN 43, in feet With IS lenses 3200 Yes $800

This Article Features Photo Zoom
travel dslrs travel dslrs
travel dslrs travel dslrs

Top, left: The Olympus E-3’s fold-out, fully articulating live-view LCD monitor gives you flexibility when composing any kind of shot. Top, right: Thumb controls are logically placed for access while shooting. Bottom, right: Pop-up flash bracketing and shooting modes are accessed via the buttons on top of the body. Bottom, left: White balance, ISO and exposure compensation are controlled through the buttons above the large LCD panel.

Features
Sensor: 10.1-megapixel Live MOS, 2x
Weight: 28.5 ounces
Built-In Flash: ISO 100/GN 42, in feet
Stabilization: Sensor-shift in body
Maximum ISO: 3200
Auto-Bracketing: Yes
Estimated Street Price: $1,699

Olympus E-3
The Olympus E-3’s tilting/swiveling live-view LCD monitor makes it easy to compose high- and low-angle shots quickly. The professional model in Olympus’ lineup, it has a number of advanced features in a rugged pro-oriented chassis. Its built-in sensor-shift stabilization provides steady handheld shooting with all lenses, while a Supersonic Wave Filter vibrates dust off the image sensor assembly each time you switch on the camera. You can shoot up to 5 fps and set ISOs up to 3200. The 2x focal-length factor of the Four Thirds System image sensor means any lens frames like a lens twice its focal length on a 35mm SLR, so you get a smaller, lighter, easier-traveling package that covers all your focal lengths: Olympus’ 300mm ƒ/2.8 frames like a 600mm ƒ/4 on a 35mm camera, but is much smaller and a stop faster. Autofocusing is super-quick with the new SWD lenses. Wide-angle lenses down to 7-14mm (equivalent to 14-28mm on a 35mm camera) are compact and fast, too.

Canon 40D
A wide range of shooting accessories are available.

Lineage: The E-3 offers many improvements over the E-1 pro D-SLR (there was no E-2). Among its features are 10.1 megapixels (vs. 5), tilting/rotating 2.5-inch live-view LCD monitor (vs. a fixed 1.8-inch with no live view), maximum shooting rate of 5 fps (vs. 3 fps), built-in sensor-shift image stabilization that works with all lenses, improved image quality (especially at higher ISOs) and super-quick autofocusing with the new SWD lenses.

Cool Factor
: The Four Thirds sensor doubles focal lengths. As such, Olympus’ line of high-end Zuiko Digital telephotos are small, lightweight and extremely fast. You can get an effective 600mm ƒ/2.8 lens that weighs just 7.25 pounds.

               
Alternative Travel Camera
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Estimated Street Price
Olympus E-510 10 MP 16.6 ounces ISO 100/GN 39, in feet In body 1600 Yes $500

Other Notable Cameras For Travel
Here are a few cameras that didn’t fit in more than one of our criteria, but are terrific travel cameras nonetheless:

TokinaCanon PowerShot G9. The G9 isn’t an SLR, but we like it for travel. This 12.1-megapixel compact features a 3-inch LCD monitor (live-view, of course), plus an optical zoom finder. You can shoot in RAW format and even RAW + JPEG. Built-in optical stabilization reduces the effects of camera shake, and the built-in 6x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35-210mm on a 35mm camera) is ideal for most travel needs. It focuses down to 0.39 inches in macro mode. There’s even an ISO dial for a fast “analog” selection process—no menus to wade through. TamronOlympus E-420. The smallest D-SLR as of this writing, the 13.4-ounce E-420 is loaded with features, including a 10-megapixel sensor, 2.7-inch LCD monitor with live-view capability, sensor-dust remover and slots for both CompactFlash and xD-Picture cards. The Four Thirds System lenses it uses are compact for any given focal length, and the sensor’s 2x focal-length factor effectively doubles the focal length of any lens.
SonyPanasonic Lumix DMC-L1.
More ruggedly built than the L10, the 7.5-megapixel DMC-L1 is sold in a kit with a faster 14-50mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 Leica zoom. The 2.5-inch LCD monitor provides live-view capability, but doesn’t tilt or rotate like the L10’s. Seven film modes emulate the effects of switching film types for different looks. A sensor-dust remover and easy analog operation are additional assets.
SonySigma SD14. The SD14 is the only current D-SLR to feature the unique Foveon X3 “full-color” image sensor, which records all three primary colors of light at every pixel site. This results in image quality well beyond what one would expect for a given horizontal-by-vertical pixel count. Sigma offers more than 40 lenses for the SD14, from a 4.5mm circular fisheye to an 800mm supertelephoto; with the sensor’s 1.7x focal-length factor, that means 35mm-camera-equivalent focal lengths from 7.65mm to 1360mm are available.
SonySigma DP1. Our other non-SLR entry, Sigma’s new DP1 is a compact digital camera featuring the same Foveon X3 image sensor used in the SD14 D-SLR. This sensor is 7x to 12x the size of sensors typically found in compact digital cameras, which means the pixels are much larger. Bigger pixels capture light more efficiently, producing better image quality. The DP1 features an SLR-quality lens designed especially for the DP1 and Foveon sensor. It’s equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera.


               
Camera Resolution Weight Flash Stabilization Max. ISO Auto-Bracketing Est. Street Price
Canon PowerShot G9 12.1 MP 11.3 oz. Yes Optical 1600 Yes $500
Olympus E-420 10 MP 13.4 oz. ISO 100/GN 39, in feet No 1600 Yes $500
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 7.5 MP 18.7 oz. ISO 100/GN 35, in feet With OIS lenses 1600 Yes $1,500
Sigma SD14 4.7x3 MP 24.7 oz. ISO 100/GN 36, in feet With OS lenses 1600 Yes $800
Sigma DP1 4.7x3 MP 8.8 oz. ISO 100/GN 19.5, in feet No 800 Yes $800

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