May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside's Annual Travel Guide, 1999/2000

Sure shooters for gear abusers

Rule number one about travel-friendly cameras: The camera that captures the most memories is the one that's easiest to use and easiest to carry. And we're not talking about dumbed-down models here; some of the most sophisticated technology in the photographic world is amazingly simple to use.

APS: Tiny

Case in point: Nikon's Pronea S ($520 with lens; all prices quoted are manufacturers' suggested retail; street prices will be considerably lower). This curvaceous little gizmo is simple enough to suit the most photo-challenged: Just drop in a cartridge of APS (Advanced Photo System) film and commence shooting. The standard 30–60mm lens, roughly equivalent to a 40–80mm zoom on a 35mm camera, is sharp and adequately zoomy for most photo situations, while the pop-up flash fills in the dark spots indoors or at night. Advanced photographers will love the Pronea's single-lens-reflex design—it accepts all Nikon autofocus lenses—and a metering system that allows shutter speed or aperture adjustment for different types of photography, whether artfully blurring the flow of a waterfall or freezing a speeding whitewater rafter.

SLR: Smart

Though a bit hefty compared with APS, 35mm SLR cameras now offer more sophistication for the money than ever. With Canon's EOS Elan IIE ($720 with 28–80mm zoom), the "E" stands for "eye control." The Elan knows what you're looking at when you peer through the viewfinder and focuses accordingly. Spooky, but it works. The Elan also has a quiet, fast motor drive and 11 custom functions, such as mirror lock (to prevent camera jiggle during slow-shutter shots) and fully manual operation. Another great SLR for active travel is Minolta's Maxxum XTsi ($598, body only). Its goodies include a blazing fast maximum shutter speed of up to 1/4000 second (a feature of the Canon as well), fast film advance, and a metering system that is not apt to be fooled by sunrises or sunsets anywhere. Pair the XTsi with Sigma's 28–105mm f/2.8–4.0 spherical zoom lens ($382), which can go wide for the Grand Canyon or zoom in on your four-year-old's face when she first meets Mickey.

POINT-AND-SHOOT: Splashproof

If you're attracted to any of the vacations in this guide, you're probably a camera abuser. You should add to your quiver a splashproof point-and-shoot like the new Olympus iZoom 75 ($454). It's extremely light and compact (5.8 ounces), with a 28–75mm zoom lens that's equal to a 35–94mm in 35mm terms. Since it's an APS camera, you get three framing choices—classic, panoramic, and the slightly elongated "H" format. A little bulky but equipped with a longer lens, the Pentax IQZoom 105WR ($367) is a 35mm camera with a 38–105mm zoom, powerful built-in flash, and reliably accurate automatic focus. Mine has survived a number of inadvertent dunkings. Finally, if you're willing to forgo a zoom, Yashica's T4 Super Weatherproof ($380) has a 35mm Zeiss lens, the sharpest eyeball you'll find on any camera under $500. It's compact, easy to use, and water-resistant. Of course, for excursions below sea level you need a waterproof model. The SeaLife ReefMaster CL ($169) will dive to 164 feet and features an easy-to-handle shutter lever for use with gloves, as well as a built-in flash. The lens is a fixed 35 millimeters, but you can add a macro lens for close-up work.

DIGITAL: Filmless

Prices for digitals are going down, while performance improves. They don't yet match film for taking sharp pictures, but they're great for e-mailing photos or creating PC-based picture pages. The new Kodak DC265 Zoom ($1,000) has 1.6-megapixel resolution, which packs 1.6 million bits of data into a photo for sharp enlargements up to 8 by 10 inches. You'll also appreciate the DC265's USB connection, which simplifies downloading images to your PC or laptop. A 38–115mm zoom lens, flash, and photo-editing software are all included. In the gee-whiz category, Minolta's new Dimâge EX Zoom 1500 ($800) can support an optional detachable lens on a five-foot cord ($109). You can use it to shoot over crowds, around corners, or out of tour bus windows. It has 1.5-megapixel resolution and an optional 3:1 zoom lens ($549).

VIDEO: Downsized

To bring home the action as it happened, pack Panasonic's PV-L759 camcorder ($800), a lot of camera in an affordable package. Its compact VHS-C tape plugs into your VCR with an adapter, and it features a 26x optical zoom lens (300x with digital enhancement), swiveling four-inch color LCD monitor, and low-light capability, all in a compact, easy-to-lug package. Digital also is taking hold in the camcorder world: Images are sharp, and editing is a breeze. JVC's GR-DVF10 ($1,200) is a fine example. It records CD-quality sound, has a 16x optical zoom lens (160x digital), and sports a three-watt light that turns on automatically when needed.


You can become a walking camera case by donning a Domke PhoTOGS Vest ($100). Its airy mesh back keeps you cool, while 18 pockets (three of them hidden) hold film, filters, and guidebooks. Or snug your stuff into Lowepro's Orion Mini camera bag ($50), a fanny pack that holds as much as an SLR and two lenses along with film, batteries, and a snack. To keep a camcorder safe, Ortlieb's large-size Aqua-Cam bag ($90) has welded seams and a rolltop lid for completely waterproof protection. It'll hold your camera, batteries, film cassettes, and accessories, and has removable foam pads so you can adjust the fit. The Aqua-Cam can be used as a shoulder bag, fanny pack, or chest pack when used with Ortlieb's Camera Bag Harness System ($25). —Douglas Gantenbein

For a Directory of Manufacturers, please see page 123.

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