The right cameras to take on the road

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

1999 Family Vacation Guide, Unsung Heroes

The right cameras to take on the road
By Douglas Gantenbein

Vacation means pictures. But it also means a decision: What kind of camera to schlepp along? 35mm? APS? Digital? Camcorder? Digital camcorder? Digital products in particular have improved tremendously in the past year, but may still test your patience when it comes time to download images to your PC and make a print. The fact is, it remains hard to beat tried-and-true 35mm cameras for ease of use, flexibility, and high-quality pictures. In a single-lens reflex camera, Minolta's 600si (body only, $733; prices quoted are manufacturers' suggested retail; expect to pay significantly less at discount camera stores) incorporates autofocus, two-frames-per-second film advance, and multiple exposure controls. Mate it with a Minolta Maxxum AF 600si 28-105mm zoom lens (f/3.4-f/4.5; $581) or, for shooting in dim light, a Tokina 28-70mm f/2.6-f/2.8 Pro lens ($990).

If you're backpacking, rafting, or mountain biking, you may just want the simplicity of a point-and-shoot camera. For compactness and ease of use, the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($325), with its 38-80mm zoom lens and water-resistant body, is a superb choice. Get close to your subjects with the Pentax IQ Zoom 200 Date ($647), which comes with a whopping 48-200mm zoom along with an illuminated control panel and powerful zoom flash.

APS (Advanced Photo System) hasn't taken the world by storm as its creators had hoped, but it does offer several advantages for photographers: regular and panorama picture modes, full-page picture proofs, and the ability to take the film out midroll and reload it later. In point-and-shoot models, Canon's Elph 370Z ($500) comes in a compact, 7.2-ounce, stainless-steel body and has a sophisticated autofocus system for its 3:1 ratio zoom lens. Konica's Revio ($390) comes with a useful 2:1 zoom lens and weighs just a hair over five ounces. And for sheer gee-whiz factor, there's Nikon's sleek Pronea S ($520 with 30-60mm lens), a single-lens reflex design that Nikon bills as the world's smallest. The Pronea S has an LCD control panel, shutter speeds to 1/2000th of a second, automatic or manual exposure, and the flexibility of the entire line of Nikon autofocus lenses.

Digital cameras are just about ready for prime time, with new features, better ease of use, and lower prices. New this spring is the Fuji MX-700 ($599). Kodak's digital cameras also come highly rated, including the DC260 Zoom ($899). It employs megapixel technology for excellent sharpness, and its USB (universal serial bus) simplifies connection to a PC. The 260 has a 3:1 zoom and sufficient sharpness for an 8 by 10 print that compares favorably with film-based formats.

Camcorders are going digital, too, with models such as the Sony DCR-PC1 ($1,899). This tiny camera has a sharp Carl Zeiss lens, stereo audio recording, and a swivel-screen monitor for easy viewing. Another digital offering is the Panasonic PV-DV910 ($1,400), which has a three-inch viewing monitor, a high-speed port for editing on a PC, and a huge 300x digital zoom (18x optical zoom). Canon's spiffy

Optura ($2,699) offers the ultimate in vacation spontaneity — it's a camcorder/SLR hybrid that takes moving or still pictures.

Photographs by Eric Swanson

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

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