On photography while traveling

BRENT PENNINGTON Savannah City Hall on the evening of 17 April 2016.

I’ve just returned from a week-long stay in Savannah, Georgia, and before I start to post photos and talk about my adventures down south, I want to start at the beginning with a few words regarding travel & photography.

Obviously if you’re doing “travel photography,” the following discussion is a moot point.  But if you’re like most people and are just traveling, then you’ve found yourself in the dilemma of what gear to bring.

There are some trips that are photography trips, where I bring part or all of my kit: bodies and lenses, filters and the tripod, and I don’t think anything of it.  For these trips, photography is, if not the primary purpose, then an integral element.

But then there are trips that aren’t about photography.  Such as my honeymoon, where I knew I should be focused on spending time with my wife, instead of lost behind a camera.  Or lugging around a large gear bag everywhere we go, and worrying about its safety.

BRENT PENNINGTON

At the same time, I wasn’t going to go without a camera – I’m not crazy, and I’m not about to trust my travel documentary to a cell phone.  So in my case, the solution was to do a bit of research and settle on an advanced point & shoot.  In the end I opted to rent an Olympus Stylus 1.

When I narrowed down my list of features, it came to this:

  • RAW capture
  • Built-in IS
  • Manual exposure controls
  • Sized to fit in a jacket pocket (roughly)

Olympus-Stylus-1

Turns out there are several cameras that fit those points, one from nearly every major manufacturer.  I chose the Olympus largely because it’s familiar to me, its design being almost a compact version of my E-M5s.  Familiarity is a good thing, especially when your rental arrives Friday afternoon and you’re leaving Saturday morning.

The Stylus 1 also has a built-in 28-300mm f/2.8 lens.  Given my love for birding and wildlife photos, the 300mm reach was very attractive, and the fact that it was a constant f/2.8 was a great bonus.  This one camera would let me do pretty much anything I wanted while I was traveling.

But of course there’s a downside, too.  The Stylus’ sensor is small – less than half the size of the m4:3 sensors.  So no matter how good the quality of the photos it takes, they simply cannot be as good as the quality from my E-M5s.  I knew that walking in, and it was the price I chose to pay, the gamble that the photos would be good enough, and would be better than no photos at all.

BRENT PENNINGTON Egrets congregate to feed in a pool at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge on the morning of 18 April 2016.

The outcome?  I enjoyed using the camera and found that it met all my requirements from a technical standpoint.  Plus it was small and discrete and didn’t make me feel like a tourist with a giant Nikon & lens slung over his shoulder (and a target on his back!).

The photos are not as good as what I get from my m4:3 gear.  But they aren’t bad, either.  I have a much more limited cropping ability if I want to maintain quality, and the images aren’t as smooth or refined as I might prefer.  I was careful to keep the ISO at 100 or 200, only occasionally bumping it to 400 in deep twilight, so noise wasn’t an issue.

The photos also have more contrast in them, and of course I wasn’t able to use filters.  But overall I’m happy – I came home with 1000+ images, which I’m working down to the final set in line with my 10% keepers rule.  There’s some really good stuff in there!  And there’s some shots that just didn’t fly technically.

I won’t be buying myself a Stylus 1.  I’ve owned a number of advanced point & shoot cameras and have never once been satisfied with any of them.  But I don’t regret the rental, and I truly feel that I was happier with the little P&S than I would have been lugging my regular kit around.

BRENT PENNINGTON Ancient graves and live oaks define Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, GA, on the afternoon of 20 April 2016.

I want to throw some props to LensRentals before I close.  I’ve rented from them several times and it has always been an excellent experience, at what I consider a fair price.  The gear arrives clean and in good shape, and with the camera they even sent a Lowepro case to use with it.  When you’re done, you put it back in the packaging, slap the sticker on the box, and ship it home.  It’s a piece of cake, and to me, a no-brainer for when you need additional gear for a few days.

BRENT PENNINGTON Sunrise over the Savannah River, looking eastward toward the Atlantic, on the morning of 20 April 2016.

The hardest part of this whole process?  The stigma I felt, the taunting voice in my head saying, “A real photographer would bring his camera when he traveled.”

Maybe I’m not a “real photographer” then.  But I was a happy photographer.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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1 Comment

  1. Marie Pennington

    Nice! Didn’t know there were ‘rental’ cameras available. Can’t want to see more shots of Savannah!

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