I don’t know many RV travelers who purchased a motorhome just to park it in the driveway. Nope, the main reason to get a motorhome is to go out and travel – to visit beautiful places, enjoy the scenery and to pack in as many unique and exciting experiences as possible. And the best way to remember all of your travels is with a camera. But what’s the best camera to have when you’re travelling in a motorhome? Well, that depends on how much time, money and space you’re willing to devote to your new hobby. So, to help you make up your mind, I’m going to tell you about all of the types of cameras available today.
For all of us who didn’t get a new camera for Christmas this year, there’s no need to fret. Most of the big camera manufactures don’t come out with their latest, wiz-bang technology until the first of the year anyway. And if the early rumors are correct, 2014 looks like the wiz-bangiest year for camera technology yet.
But before you start pouring over product announcements, reviews and specifications, it’s a good idea to narrow down your wants and desires so you end up buying the camera that best suits your needs. And to do that, you need to know a little bit about the types of cameras that are available.
There are at least four different “classes” of cameras available today. Actually, there are lots more than that, but they are generally subsets of the big four. Let’s take a look at them all, beginning with the least expensive and easiest to use, and moving up to the most expensive and most complicated professional models.
Point and Shoot or “compact” cameras can cost as little as $75, though there are some that cost as much as $500. They are small enough to fit in a pocket or purse and they take reasonably good pictures if you have plenty of light and your subject stays relatively still. The market for Point and Shoot cameras is falling apart right now because most people are simply using their smart phones for this type of photography. Still, they can be useful if you don’t want to use up your phone’s battery taking photos. And most importantly, if you’re motorhome storage space is already jam-packed with necessities; a compact camera won’t take up any more room than a deck of playing cards.
One thing a phone can’t offer, at least not yet, is a good zoom lens. That’s where our next category of cameras, Super-zoom Bridge Cameras, comes into play. Larger than the compact cameras, these Super-zoom cameras are called “Bridge” cameras because they cross the divide between compact cameras and large DSLRs. I have to admit, having a smallish, affordable camera with a built-in lens that can reach out far enough to capture birds and wildlife is pretty enticing, but there are drawbacks. The biggest drawback is most of these Bridge cameras use the same tiny image sensor as their itty-bitty point and shoot cousins. If you’re only going to post your photos on-line, the quality is probably adequate. But if you plan on making larger prints, you’re going to be disappointed. If a Bridge camera sounds right for you, make sure you read some reviews and do your research. All Bridge cameras are not created equally. The most important difference among them is the lens itself. And while they are significantly larger than a compact camera, they don’t come with all of the additional lenses and peripherals that can take up space in your motorhome.
If you’re a novice to photography and you don’t want to make the investment in the time it takes to learn about advanced controls and techniques, a compact or a bridge camera might be the perfect camera for your needs. The same holds true with your actual investment of money too. You can find a great compact camera for under $150, and a fantastic bridge camera for less than $400.
You may have heard about the next classification, Mirrorless Cameras, already but weren’t sure what “Mirrorless” actually meant. Don’t worry; you’re not the first to be confused by camera industry technology. To understand “mirrorless” you first need to know about cameras that still use a mirror, the DSLRs. (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
The mirror has been used in cameras for a hundred years and it’s pretty easy to describe. A camera works by capturing light and transferring the images created by that light onto an image sensor. A small mirror sits in-between the lens and the sensor and diverts the light to the viewfinder so you can see through the lens. When you take a photograph, the mirror rises up and out of the way so the light can reach the sensor.
Mirrorless cameras don’t use this technology. The image is sent directly to the sensor, and an electronic version of the image is sent to the LCD on the back of the camera. Some cameras also include an electronic viewfinder that is simply a smaller version of your LCD. The main benefit of a mirrorless camera over a DSLR is size. The mirror assembly in DSLRs is pretty big and mirrorless cameras tend to have fewer control buttons and dials than DSLRs.
I wish I could just leave it at that, but I can’t. There are now more “flavors” of Mirrorless cameras then there are of ice cream, with variations in sensor size, lens type and other feature sets. There are two major differences that will probably make up your buying decision; does it come with a single attached lens, or can you change lenses, and does it have an electronic viewfinder in addition to an LCD. I’ll talk about each of those, and other feature choices in my next post.
Mirrorless cameras can cost anywhere from $500 to over $2000 and that doesn’t include the cost of additional lenses, a larger flash, SD cards, tripod, bag…and the list goes on. And while the camera and its lenses are considerably smaller than with a DSLR, you’re still going to have to devote some real space in your motorhome for your new camera gear. To give you an idea of the room it takes to store all of this high-end equipment, see my post titled Digital Photography Packing List.
If you thought there were a lot of choices in mirrorless cameras, you’ll be shocked at how many choices you’ll have if you decide to buy a DSLR. However, you can cut the work in half simply by deciding if you prefer a standard DSLR or a higher end DSLR with a full-frame sensor.
I’ve known more than a few photographers who start off their photographic hobby with a DSLR. I understand the attraction. Just walking into a Costco, or browsing on Amazon, you’re overwhelmed with enticing offers on DSLR equipment. You can get a camera from a well-known brand, plus a couple of lenses for less than $1000. That sounds good, until you realize your brand-new camera is actually a couple of generations behind the times, and the lenses that came with it are “kit” lenses that won’t satisfy you for long. Many people who buy these types of cameras end up upgrading everything they own in just a year or two. And those upgrades don’t come cheap. A very good DSLR plus a couple of very good lenses can easily cost upwards of $4,000 to $5,000. And if you decide to move up to a full frame model, everything goes up. The price. The size. And the investment in time it takes to learn how to take advantage of all of the high-end features.
Don’t get me wrong. High-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras can capture wonderful photographs. And if you’re willing to spend the money, devote the space and take the time to learn how to use them, you’ll have photographs even a pro would be proud to call their own.
A final note. I’ve stayed away from mentioning specific brands or models in this article because I believe you can’t go very far wrong with any current camera. So don’t stress yourself trying to decide if you want a Nikon or a Canon or a Sony or an Olympus – they’re all great. Just make sure that you’re buying a camera that you’re going to be happy bringing with you and using on every wonderful RV vacation.
Next time – We’ll continue the camera-choosing discussion by covering some popular camera features. And, we’ll try to figure out what kind of photographer you’d like to be.