Essential Gear

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Essential Gear

Remember when your only photographic decision while on vacation was whether to splurge on color film for the plastic-cased Brownie?
By Douglas Gantenbein

Today, kids might sniff at the very idea of film, opting instead for Casio's QV-11 digital camera ($399). This compact scene-catcher stores up to 96 pictures and comes bundled with Adobe PhotoDeluxe. With a QV-11 and some software, you can send home vacation shots via e-mail — digitally retouching the way you look in that swimsuit.

Not that plain old film is going away. Hardly. Now two years old, Advanced Photo System cameras — which use "smart film" canisters that load easily, can be switched out mid-roll, and digitally record picture data for better photo-finishing — are beginning to catch on, with more models appearing monthly. Canon's Elph 490Z APS ($590) is a super-compact camera with a stainless-steel case that can withstand a lot of abuse. And its wide 4x zoom lens can catch the big scene from the chairlift at Whistler, or focus in on that koala in the tree.

If you like APS but also want interchangeable lenses, try Minolta's otherworldly-looking Vectis S-1 ($513 for body only). Its maximum shutter speed of 1/2,000th of a second is fast enough to freeze the holiday cash flying out of your pocket, and it will take lenses from a 50mm macro for closer shots ($427) to an 80mm-240mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom ($684) for distant shots.

If you'd rather use plain old 35mm film (which still yields pictures that are slightly sharper and less grainy than APS) and want point-and-shoot convenience, take a look at Olympus's new Stylus Zoom 115 ($454). It's compact, weatherproof, and lightweight, plus it has a 3x zoom with enough range to capture most any shot you're apt to find, as well as red-eye reduction for better flash photography. Pentax's IQZoom 115M ($385) has a 38mm-115mm lens, along with easy-to-reach buttons and a sophisticated light meter accurate enough to handle even finicky slide film. Fuji's Discovery 290 Zoom ($260), meanwhile, is easy to use even for the photo-impaired and has a 38mm-90mm lens that's zoomy enough to handle most shots.

If underwater photography is in your vacation plans, Epoque's new ET-100 Plus ($272.50) is waterproof to 150 feet. Picture takers convinced their holiday shots merit a place in National Geographic like Nikon's sleek N70 ($745 for body only), which has Nikon's super-smart eight-segment 3D Matrix metering for accurate exposures, plus fast autofocus and a top shutter speed of 1/4,000th of a second. For a camera and lens combination that's the do-anything equivalent of Deion Sanders, pair it with Nikon's 24mm- 120mm f/3.5-5.6 D zoom lens ($745), which despite its powerful 5x zoom ratio is just over three inches long.

Of course, people on the move often like pictures that move, too. Canon's ES 970 ($799) has an image stabilizer for smooth filming and a huge 22:1 ratio zoom lens. Put yourself in the action with its wireless remote control. Panasonic's PV-L657 Palmcorder ($900) has a flip-out, 3.2-inch color LCD PalmSight viewfinder that makes composing shots simple and compensates for camera shake. Sony's CCD-TR930 ($1,099) uses Hi8 format for greater resolution. Its features include a 30:1 ratio zoom and a battery-level indicator that lets you know exactly when to install a new power supply.

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